Tuesday, March 26, 2013


60 AD

Euodia stood under the cypress tree, hugging her traveling cloak to her body.  Still she shivered—neither the heat of the summer night nor that of the raging fire could reach her.    But the sound of the blaze insulated her from the gathering crowd.  She saw nothing but the fire, watching almost against her will as the flames danced up the side of her home, consuming everything.   Everyone.

 Atticus.  Jace.   Jace.
It could have been seconds she watched, or hours.  And then she crumbled to the ground and let out a single, piercing shriek.  It was there, huddled on the ground and silent, that Syntyche found her.  


 Several years ago, after my 27 year-old brother had been diagnosed with lymphoma and gone through 9 long months of treatment, my sister-in-law asked me to write about suffering.  It was a super-hard time for my family, bringing my parents home from overseas for a time.  All of us were asking who and where God was and how something like this could happen to someone so young.

Years later, I find myself sitting in a place of a deeper and more sustained type of suffering.  One of my long-term housemates has been struggling with chronic, debilitating nerve pain and brain damage since a lightening strike 6 years ago.  Both of us have lost our fathers to tragic accidents in the intervening years, and daily I face evil and brokenness as I represent criminal clients.

Juxtaposed with all this distress, I find exhortation from Scripture to "embrace suffering" and to look on it as a gift.   In a culture that seeks comfort above almost all else, this Kingdom value is difficult to even get my mind around.  

So it's from this place that I am embarking on this new writing project, as yet untitled.  It's meant to be a novel, with the dual purpose of exploring issues related to suffering and providing background to the book of Philippians for readers who are unlikely to study the biblical back story before trying to understand and apply it to their lives.

In many ways, this project overlaps with what I have been writing about for the past few years.  The question of suffering and evil existing in a world where God is supposed to be good and all-powerful is a question that people ask at an emotional level.  Many seek to have that question answered before they can begin to trust Christ.  For me, and probably for them, the clipped answers of things like "God is in control" or "God is good" simply don't answer the issues of the heart.  And many of my questions are more about what sustainable faith looks like in the midst of suffering - like what does it look like day by day?  And how do you go on trusting and walking with Christ when you're facing down 30-50 years of the same type of suffering with no real possibility of relief aside from miraculous intervention? 

So I don't know what this is going to look like or how often I'll be able to post meaningfully.  I don't know how much of the fiction writing I'll share as compared to the wrestling with the idea and theology of suffering.  But I'm going to aim for the once-a-week posts that I've been doing for the last couple of years.  And I'm going to experiment with involving you as much as I can as the book develops.   

So if you're up for the ride, I'd love to know what you think of the opening scene.  What questions do you have about the characters?  What do you want to hear about next--where Euodia and Syntyche came from, or what they're going through now?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Free stuff :)

In lieu of actual thoughts for the week, I thought I'd take the chance to share 2 resources that are free to download tonight and tomorrow all day on Amazon.com.

Second Story
     Alex Cunningham's recent motorcycle accident changed his life - now he sees every day as a mission to share the good news of the gospel. But his long-time girlfriend, Annie Russo, just doesn't understand. And if that isn't enough, every time Alex opens his mouth to say something about God at work, everything backfires: his co-manager Drew rarely even looks at him now. But help comes in the form of Sara Locke, an ex-missionary widow with wisdom to spare. Together, Alex, Annie, and Sara discover how to see people's unspoken emotional barriers to faith in God. Along the way, Alex and Annie explore how to engage those barriers in natural and nonjudgmental ways as they begin to talk about their Christian faith with their friends. But one of them has more success than the other, and the stress on their relationship might just be too much. A blend of fiction and evangelism training, author Anna Rapa uses narrative storytelling to communicate key truths about evangelism in today's postmodern world. Dive in to the story of Alex and Annie, and let this story show you how to reach people in today's culture with God's transforming story of rescue.

Encounter Jesus
    Have you ever wondered what it was like to meet Jesus? This book is a set of imaginative stories based on seven important dialogues Jesus had with people in the gospels. Written in first-person, they invite you to experience Jesus as these people did. There are also discussion questions and questions for reflection if you want to discuss the stories with others.

These resources were created out of my own experiences walking beside people for the last 10 years or so.  They're based on things I've learned and observed and felt like I would've wanted when I was first starting to analyze what it looks like and means to live a life of faith in front of people who may or may not have any interest in that type of thing.  Hope they're helpful!  If you want more information about the resources, there's some good stuff at Da[w]bar House--the publisher's website.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The long view

I often wonder what it is that brings a person to finally surrender their life to Christ and begin to follow him.  Especially when I have been praying for a person for a year--or years--and I don't see any discernible effect.

And sometimes when I hear people talking about evangelism and transformation, they equate it with convincing someone to come to church with them.  Somehow, we have the idea that if we can just get someone inside the doors of the church, something magical will happen.  And many times, if we ask a friend or neighbor to church and they say no, we drop it forever.

When Jesus talked to Nicodemus about people entering the kingdom of God, he talked about how those who will find the kingdom of God must be born again.  And he described the Spirit of God as the one who brings this about.  So as I pray for my friends, I often pray that God will awaken the spirit of the person I am praying for--so that he is able to hear the voice of God and see God's interaction, so that the words of Scripture will come alive, so that the person will find that he is hungry to know the God who created him.  Sometimes I even pray this song, that calls out for people to awaken to God's activity and presence.

As I've done a lot of reading about the conversion process, I've also noticed the pattern that there is almost always a person of faith who is part of that process.  In the last book I read, Prof. Rambo called that person of faith the "Advocate," and explained that it's a dynamic and unpredictable process where information is shared and a person is invited into a new way of thinking and believing.  The advocate plays the role of an ambassador, illustrating what a life of faith looks like and being there to answer questions about how and why and what is going on.  So as I'm waiting and praying, I'm also trying to be that person of faith who is that ambassador or advocate.

For example, I do my best to live my life according to kingdom values.  This raises a lot of questions, like why I'm driving that old white mini van that I got for free instead of something a little more like what a lawyer would normally drive.  And when people ask, I am prayerfully prepared to answer and explain how God's example of selfless love motivates me to give a lot of time and money away.  This may ultimately lead to more conversations and more opportunities, or it may just be a visual example day by day.

Bottom line--it takes a long time to see someone come to follow Jesus.  The process is complicated and mysterious.  And yet, Jesus invites us to be involved.  He invites us to pray for the Spirit to transform lives--may his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  But he also invites us to get involved, to be there sharing live with those who are not yet followers.

What about you?  What kinds of prayers do you pray for your friends?  Do you see yourself as an ambassador or an advocate?  How do you persevere even when you don't see immediate signs of interest in spiritual things?