Monday, June 29, 2020

Thoughts on faith, or the lack thereof

This was originally written as a response to a family member who shared that the questions posed by the lead singer of a prominent Christian band, admitting he had questioned his faith for years and finally abandoned it in great relief, were questions she shared. I know others share the same questions and doubts. And while it feels like the social dialogue has suddenly changed, it's my belief that it really hasn't--that these issues are so basic to the Christian worldview, and much could be remedied by proper knowledge and understanding of what the Bible actually says, I decided to make my response public. I welcome questions--but reserve the right to delete unhelpful comments.

So if you have questions about the faith and feel that no one has ever adequately addressed them--this is for you. I pray you find a deeper understanding, and ever-deeper trust in the only One who can ever make sense of all the madness.

First … questions are normal. Doubts are normal. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference …

I just had one variation of this conversation with one of my kids yesterday about the guy from Hawk Nelson. How Christian entertainers and artists need prayer because they’re as visible, maybe more, than people in ministry, and thus even more of a target for the enemy. But I’m not sure that approach is what you need, personally.

Last night I went to that guy’s Instagram account and read everything he had to say, and then later lay awake for a couple of hours thinking about it all. It’s ironic because I’ve been reading through the book of Job, and then teaching the youth group out of Ecclesiastes, and both books grapple with these same questions. Where is God in the face of injustice? Why do the same evils happen to everyone, regardless of how they live their lives? If you know anything about the story of Job (and I wouldn’t be surprised if not—that one gets ignored by “faith” teachers because it doesn’t line up with their theology), then you already know that God never, this side of heaven, answers Job’s questions. He basically shows up, asks Job if HE was the one who set the stars in place and laid the foundations of the earth, etc. etc. etc., and brings Job to a place of realizing that hey, he’s really in no position to question things that we aren’t capable of understanding in this life. Sounds really unfair of God, doesn’t it?

So let me tell you another story. This morning, after sleeping only half the night because, well, Big Questions about Life, the Universe, and Everything, I got up, threw on my bathrobe, and after just a sip of coffee went out to feed the chickens. I needed to make sure first thing that they were all right after the door to the coop was left open all night—last fall we had trouble with a mink or some other predator getting in behind the high fence of their yard and killing 1-2 each night, and I’d been scrupulous about making sure they were safely shut in at sundown every day, until last night. The chickens were fine, though, just very hungry! I tossed them a can full of scratch over the fence, then went into the coop via the storage room to fill their regular feeder and set that out in the yard before turning back to begin the task of gathering eggs. That’s when the rooster—right after I’d fed him, the ingrate!—decided to sneak attack, and I was so startled, I tripped and fell in the floor of the chicken coop. (I am fine, too. LOL) Fortunately I had a hoe to hand and used that to fend the silly critter off so I could get back on my feet and push him back long enough to pull the coop door closed to let me gather eggs in peace.

Dumb bird. Humans feed him, every single day. And still he sees us as a threat to his harem. I mean, he literally turned from pecking at pellets, to throwing himself at me as I was “retreating” with the empty feed can.

How often, though, do we do that with God?

I have no way of communicating to this rooster that I’m not a threat—quite the contrary, I’m a good part of why he’s even still alive. We at least have the advantage of some communication, however limited, with God. But even so, there’s so much we don’t, and can’t, understand. Think about how limited we are sometimes even as parents to explain to our own children why we have to do what we do! How much greater is that divide between us and the Creator of the Universe??

Even so, there is much He gives us. Going back to our questions and wranglings over evil and injustice. If there is no God, why do we even care? What’s the basis of our indignation over wrong, if there is no Absolute to define what good is, to start with? Why is abuse such a big deal, including wrongs that have been done us, personally? And what about music and art? How can we even recognize and appreciate beauty? C.S. Lewis made the comment that every physical human craving is met by something: are we hungry? There’s food. Are we thirsty? There’s water. Tired? Sleep, or at least rest. But emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, we find ourselves craving something that this earth holds no answer to. That in itself, he says, is proof we’re made for something outside this world. I was thinking last night how all of history holds questions and dilemmas that will not, cannot, be answered this side of eternity. All of humanity, literally all of creation, is holding its breath and waiting for the culmination of all the answers.

But … we are not there yet. We’re still caught in the agonizing grind of the day by day, where life is full of questions and contradictions and paradoxes and ironies. Like stupid roosters who can’t recognize the being who provides them food. And then bigger things that seem impossible to get past.

The thing is … no other religion or philosophy or worldview offers what Christianity does: HOPE. Meeghan and I have been watching this Korean drama that’s part historical, part adventure/intrigue, with what appears to be a thread of romance shoved in there sideways. It has struck me time and again how completely without hope the historical Asian mindset is—and yet such a deep respect for beauty and craving for wisdom and truth. Yes, it gets overlaid and mixed in with all the usual gunk—human ambition, pride, selfishness, greed. And those things are what muck up the basic message of the Good News of Jesus coming to die for us. I read that guy’s questions about that as well—why all the killing, always the killing, even in regards to the Son of God. And again I ask, why would it matter unless there IS a God and He’s woven that longing into our very souls and spirits to look for more? I can offer answers to those questions, BTW, but are the intellectual answers what we really need? Or just a deeper assurance that God really does KNOW, and He’s got it, and all of it WILL BE ANSWERED when the time is right? But in case you’d like my attempt at the intellectual answers as well …

Why the killing? Well, death entered as a result of man’s disobedience. Think about this: God gave Adam and Eve absolute perfection. They lacked nothing. And … it wasn’t enough. The serpent persuaded Eve that God was somehow being unfair or withholding a rightful good by telling them not to eat of the ONE tree. (… sound familiar??) And then … blood was shed to cover the result of that disobedience. (God killed two animals—two of Adam and Eve’s pets, for crying out loud—to provide skins to cover their nakedness. Which, nakedness was not the problem! It was their newfound consciousness of it, and the potential issues THAT was going to cause.)

So, that initial shedding of blood was not just practical, it was symbolic. It was setup for the whole Jewish sacrificial system, which in turn was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would make for our redemption, indeed, had to make. Nothing can make payment for our violating God’s law except for blood. Think too of the earliest law—after Cain killed Abel, it says that “whoever sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why God let Cain off the hook, I don’t know, except that he begged for mercy, and so we see that God is also merciful even though bloodguilt demands payment.

Let’s go forward in time to the Israelites taking the land of Canaan. Mention is made at one point of the sin of the Canaanites not having reached full measure of awfulness—but then, somehow, it was, later. The people of that land were terrible, brutal … parents selling their children into ritual prostitution, other people using those prostitutes without thought—indeed, as an offering to their “gods”—children and babies being sacrificed to appease those same gods. Was all of that okay?

Also, notice that it wasn’t too different from some aspects of our culture today, even though we sanitize it and dress it up in nice clothing. But maybe I digress. God told Israel to go in and wipe out those nations, yes, but they also had instructions that if anyone wanted to follow God—the one true God, who does indeed extend mercy and grace throughout the Old Testament, and anyone who thinks He was just “angry” hasn’t read much of their Bible—then they were brought in and became part of the congregation of Israel. Trouble was, Israel didn’t do that completely, and instead started adopting the ways of the Canaanites, down to the whole thing of child sacrifice.

Was that okay?

Sooo … fast forward some more to Jesus dying on the cross. Did you know He fulfilled every single prophecy in the Old Testament, and then some? (I say this because most people aren’t aware that even the design of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system is a picture and foreshadowing of Him and what He does for us.) And … did you know that God even gave us historical evidences of the Resurrection? There are a handful of facts that even skeptics admit:
  • Jesus was a real person who lived and was killed by the Romans (writings of Josephus)
  • His followers saw something that they believed was the risen Jesus, and it so convinced and transformed them that they devoted their entire lives to the cause of Christ—to the point that EACH ONE OF THEM died for it, or were willing to
  • A confirmed opponent of this Way, Saul of Tarsus, also saw something that he was convinced was the risen Jesus—and he also devoted his entire life to preaching Christ, to the point of being beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and all kinds of other persecutions, and eventually dying for it
[Note: my thanks to former professor Gary Habermas, who has devoted years to defense of the faith, specifically in reference to the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus]

All these together give us some pretty hefty confirmation that Jesus was real and that He died, and that He rose again. What other religion claims that? And other philosophies sometimes convince groups of people to kill or commit mass suicide—but each one of them, separately, dying for it? If it were a hoax, someone would have cracked and admitted it. And then those who didn’t believe would have been all over it.

And why is the Resurrection important? Because without it, we have just another religion. Just another theory about how people should live. Has it been mistaught through the years, or distorted? Of course. Humans are still stupid, even redeemed humans. We still fail each other. We still garble the message, even when our intentions are good. And—you know already that [the representation of faith given us by a particular family member] isn’t a good one, or wasn’t (I can’t speak to where [they] might be right now—and yes, I do pray for [them] even if I still can’t bring myself to resume a relationship with [them]). But those scars go deep, and I’ve found just in the past 2-3 years that I still deal with repercussions of things done to me in my childhood. Which—yes, some things are just plain evil, no matter how you slice it. But again, who’s to judge that, unless God really IS and has laid down a real standard of right and wrong?

Anyway. That’s just a sampling of the abundant intellectual reasons available. But I suspect what most are looking for are the emotional reasons to believe. My Philosophy professor said years ago, when reason and emotion conflict, emotion will win. It’s ironic, really, and more than a bit paradoxical, that people crave the emotional answers so strongly … and yet we can’t throw reason out the door, either.

Ravi Zacharias, who recently went home to Heaven, spoke so much about all this. An immigrant from India, he attempted suicide at 17 and then gave his life to God, and as a result of his study offers some of the best defenses of Christianity I’ve ever heard. Here is a brief introduction of this man and his work:

 

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Rebel Bride release day!

Release Day!!!

Ahem. Pardon me while I squee a little.

Today marks the official release date of my fifth--count 'em, FIVE--published title. I can hardly believe it.

This was my second-hardest story to write. (The one coming out in March 2020 rates as my hardest.) In fact, as I state in the reader's note, I never wanted to write a Civil War story, and yet ... here it is.

God has a really keen sense of irony.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Shenandoah Hearts by Carrie Fancett Pagels

This week I'm featuring the first novella in The Backcountry Brides Collection, titled Shenandoah Hearts, by the woman who started it all! Carrie Fancett Pagels founded the team blog Colonial Quills 7 years ago this month (we celebrate TOMORROW with another tea party), and an all-colonial novella collection has been her dream for quite a while now.

Shenandoah Hearts is set in 1754 on the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia down into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. As the French-Indian War commences, Magda Sehler wonders if Jacob Owens lost his mind to have abandoned his Philadelphia business and moved to the Shenandoah Valley. Or has he lost his heart?

Of the setting, Carrie writes:

Jacob Owens is a prosperous merchant, owning and running a Philadelphia shop. He’s had the wonderful ladysmith, Madga Sehler, working with his family for years. But the Sehler family is relocating to the Shenandoah region of what is today Virginia. This backcountry area was dangerous. Beautiful but dangerous. Far from Jacob’s home. And did I mention dangerous?

In romance we always have the “why?” and the “why not?” I’m a big proponent of understanding the characters’ backstories. So what do we have in Jacob’s present day and in his backstory that would lead him to abandon his livelihood in Philadelphia? Jacob’s parents lived in Philadelphia and brought him up there. But wait – his grandparents had lived in the backcountry. And every visit to Philly brought tales of the glorious beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains. So his grandparents had lived there in the early 1700's, my oh my – and what adventurers they had to have been. Jacob’s eldest brother is, in fact (and fiction!), living in western Virginia, developing a forge and iron working business in which Jacob will share partnership.

But…Jacob’s next eldest brother is in the military. He has been sent to the western area of Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, to guard against encroaching French interests. And he tells Jacob this is an area brewing with trouble. These two brothers are particularly close. And Jacob’s brother has planted the notion that if ever Jacob should wish to journey to their grandparents’ former “backyards” that he’d be welcome in the milita. Or as a supplier to the forts, which was badly needed.

What’s a man to do? When Magda leaves with her family, apparently accepting an offer of marriage from the older wagonmaster, many a man might decide – she’s made up her mind. But a wise customer shares her advice. And Jacob seeks God’s direction in his life.

Want to know what happens?  Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the collection! Also, don’t forget to enter our Rafflecopter giveaway, which runs through May!

Shannon notes: This story is companion to the Colonial Quills serial, A Forted Frontier Holiday, which ran November 2012 through January 2013. A richer understanding of Carrie's novella is gained by reading the serial story alongside. :-)

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of fifteen Christian historical romances, including ECPA bestsellers. Twenty-five years as a psychologist didn't "cure" her overactive imagination! A self-professed “history geek,” she resides with her family in the Historic Triangle of Virginia but grew up as a “Yooper,” in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. Carrie loves to read, bake, bead, and travel – but not all at the same time!

Carrie's Website: www.carriefancettpagels.com
Carrie's Pinterest page for 18th Century clothing:  https://www.pinterest.com/carriefpagels/18th-century-clothing/

Other places to connect with Carrie:

Where to find our book:

Christian Book Distributors

Check at your local Christian bookstores, e.g., Lifeway, to see if they have copies, too

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LAST TWO DAYS FOR THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!!
EnterHERE!

 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Love's Undoing, with Gabrielle Meyer

Continuing with the settings of the Backcountry Brides novellas, today I'm hosting Gabrielle Meyer with Love's Undoing. Gabrielle writes:

My story begins in what would one day become central Minnesota on the banks of the Upper Mississippi River in 1792 at a Scottish fur post. Abi is the daughter of a Scottish fur trader and an Indian mother. Early in the story, she leaves the post and travels to Montreal to find her sister. She and the hero, Henry, are accompanied by a Chippewa guide, Migizi, and the man her father hopes she’ll marry, Robert. She longs to get away from the confines and expectations of the fur post and see what the world has to offer.

I loved creating the setting, especially at the beginning when they are in the fur post. My daughter and I visited The Northwest Company Fur Post in Pine City, Minnesota, and that was the inspiration for the McCrea fur post in my story. I live in central Minnesota, so it was easy to set Abi and Henry along the lakes and rivers I know so well. They travel from central Minnesota to Montreal by dogsled (also known as a cariole), and the countryside they traverse becomes almost like another character. It was fun to bring early Montreal to life, as well. It’s the first city Abi has ever seen, and because of that, she experiences it in a way others probably wouldn’t—with complete awe and wonder.


Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Upper Mississippi River with her husband and four children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people, places, and events. You can learn more about her and her upcoming releases by visiting her website: www.gabriellemeyer.com or her Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/AuthorGabrielleMeyer.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Land of the Noonday Sun, by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Welcome to the next installment of The Backcountry Brides settings, and welcome to Jennifer!

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Annis Shunk, b. 1832
Deep in the mountains of western North Carolina is an area where the sun’s rays only reach the ground when it is directly overhead during the middle of the day. The Cherokee Indians called this land Nantahala, which means “land of the noonday sun.” This is where I set my Backcountry Brides novella, Heart of Nantahala, in 1757. The Cherokee built a town in Nantahala and called it Aquone, or “by the river.” It consisted of a church, a school, a post office, and a couple of cemeteries. Very little is known of the people in Aquone, as it now lies beneath Nantahala Lake, a man-made lake built in 1942 for electrical power.


In 1835, President Andrew Jackson decided to forcibly remove about 15,000 Cherokee from the eastern states of NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, TN, and marched them by military escort to a reservation in Oklahoma. This removal was gruesome, on foot, and hard on the Cherokee. Over 3,500 died on the 1,200 mile journey, which became known as The Trail of Tears. They suffered whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation.
A Cherokee house

After forced removal of the Cherokee, their homes and property were confiscated and opened as homesteads to white settlers. In spite of these cruel injustices, a small band of 800 Cherokee refused to leave and hid in the Appalachian Mountains. Their descendants became known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

They now live in the Qualla Boundary, a chunk of land that has been transformed into an Indian reservation where they have their own nation, government and laws. Most of their income is from tourism and their casinos are outlawed everywhere else in the state. If you visit the Cherokee today, they have a teepee where you can get your photo taken with a Cherokee Indian. This is purely a tourist attraction, but the truth is, the Cherokee never lived in teepees. Instead, they lived in small houses.

To protect the natural habitat of the area, the Nantahala National Forest was established in 1920, covering multiple counties with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 5,800 feet. Part of this forest merges with the Appalachian Trail where hikers flood the area in autumn during peak season and visit the many waterfalls.

Bennie Thomas Hudson, left
The Cherokee have always fascinated me, as I can only imagine what it must have been like to be forcibly removed from their homes. What must they have endured while hiding out in the mountains to stay here in North Carolina? I believe they were strong-willed, determined, and loyal to each other. If it is true what my great-grandfather told us, that his mother was full-blooded Cherokee, I hope I have inherited that inner strength from my ancestors.

My husband's family is from the Nantahala area and I have always enjoyed visiting the beautiful mountains where my father-in-law was born and raised. In fact, I have included a photo of his ggg-grandmother. She is also from Nantahala, and to me, she looks very Cherokee.

The hills and Blue Ridge parkway call to a writer's muse. I am always inspired to write when I visit, and for a long time I’ve wanted to write a story set here. I hope you get the opportunity to read Heart of Nantahala in the Backcountry Brides novella collection.

Sources:
Trail of Tears, The History Channel
Nantahala, North Carolina, Wikipedia

Jennifer notes:

The historical image of the woman is my husband's ggg-grandmother who lived in the Nantahala area near the Cherokee Reservation. Her name was Annis Shunk (b. 1832). I believe she is most likely Cherokee. 

The photo of the two men is of my great-grandfather, Bennie Thomas Hudson, on the left. He is half-Cherokee. 

The image of the log cabin is of a North Carolina Cherokee home. Contrary to popular belief, the Cherokee did not live in teepees. They built more permanent structures

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Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of inspirational fiction set in historical Europe & the Carolinas. She provides keynotes and presentations on the publishing industry, the craft of writing, building an author platform & digital marketing.

Her debut novel, Highland Blessings, won the Holt Medallion Award for Best First Book and she has had reviews in USA Today, Publisher's Weekly & the Library Journal. Jennifer's work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, RT Book Reviews, The Military Trader and USAir Magazine. Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism. When she isn't writing, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, visiting historical sites, horseback riding, cycling, long walks, genealogy and reading.

Jennifer's website: 

Amazon Author Page:

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Jennifer's Pinterest: