Monday, October 26, 2009
I am not ashamed of the gospel,
because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes:
first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Are we, the body of believers, ashamed of the gospel? Why are we so easily intimidated into silence—into letting those whose hearts are blinded by unredeemed sin remake our holidays, determine what is politically correct, and remove any mention of God from our schools, our government buildings, and our national treasures?
Perhaps we lack the passion to safeguard what is sacred because we’ve lost the courage to share our faith in our daily lives. Do we believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him—that without Him, and Him alone, unbelievers are doomed to hell? Are we deeply concerned for their eternal welfare?
I confess to you that this was a difficult book to write. I did not start out writing a story that made a bold statement about the choice we all have to spend eternity with God or without Him. But my characters fought me the whole way and forced my hand to proclaim the truth, even at the risk of sounding preachy.
As I’m writing this afterword, the war against Christmas is raging all over America. How dare we “offend” the godless by holding to a blessed tradition that pays homage to the Word made flesh who gave His life so that we don’t have to live in darkness. These well-meaning individuals believe they can find peace on earth without turning to Him who is our peace. It can never happen. The only light in this dark world was lit in Bethlehem two thousand years ago and continues to burn today in the hearts of believers. He is both the Giver and the Gift, our only hope.
Most of us will never have a divine appointment like Brill’s, when our faith will be tested to the death. But almost every believer will face situations when, like Vanessa, we must choose to stand firm on that which cannot be compromised, even if it costs us dearly.
I have a feeling most of us don’t have to look past our own family, friends, and coworkers to find people who need to hear the message of the cross. Have you lamented that if these should die without a saving knowledge of Jesus, they would be doomed to a fate far worse than death? Perhaps you’ve tried to broach the subject but have been rebuffed?
Are you bold enough to try again? Or to give this book to them because you care more about their eternal future than the possibility they’ll figure out why you gave it to them? When we stand before God and give an account of our lives, it won’t matter if our efforts to share the gospel were met with jeering and rejection. What will matter is that we were obedient to the Great Commission.
Isaiah 55:11 promises that the Word of God never returns empty and that it will accomplish His purpose. Brill certainly experienced that, and so did Vanessa. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a person to the place of repentance and faith. Our job as believers is to tell the good news, and I loved being able to weave it into this story. If it touched you, please pass it on to someone you care about.
And if you read this story and would like to know more about how to become a Christian and begin a personal relationship with God, feel free to contact me through my guestbook page on my Web site (listed below).
I can hardly believe we’ve finished book two. Join me in the final book of the trilogy, The Right Call, where we go back to Sophie Trace and see how the Jessups are doing—and what Vanessa decided to name the baby. And whether Ethan’s friendship with Vanessa turns into something more. But don’t get too comfortable. Mystery and suspense abound!
I would love to hear from you. Feel free to drop by my Web site at www.KathyHerman.com and leave your comments on my guest book. Or look me up on Facebook. I read and respond to every email and greatly value your input.
1. In Romans 1:16, the apostle Paul makes a bold declaration: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” What do you think it means to be ashamed of the gospel?
2. Is there ever a legitimate reason not to share the gospel? Can you give examples of what might be a legitimate reason and what would be an excuse?
3. Can you think of times you’ve been bold about sharing your faith and times when you’ve been reluctant—or even ashamed? Can you explain what motivated you either way? Do you think God wants us to share our faith, even if we haven’t been called to the “mission field” as it’s generally understood? What might be a broader definition of mission field?
4. First Corinthians 1:18 tells us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What do you think this means? Do the words make you feel more inclined or less inclined to share your faith with an unbeliever? And why?
5. Do you know people who see the salvation message as foolishness? Have you ever tried to explain to an unbeliever what the Christian life is all about, only to be ridiculed? Patronized? Made to feel defensive?
6. Have you ever tried to hold an unbeliever to the same moral standard as yours? Should you? Who or what brings a person to a saving knowledge of Christ? Without the mind of Christ, can that person even understand he or she is lost?
7. If you found yourself in Brill’s circumstances, dialoguing with your attacker, do you think you would have the courage to share your faith? Do you think Brill’s firm belief that when she died she would be with the Lord gave her strength?
8. Why do you think Brill’s persistence in the face of death made an impression on Merrick Fountain—was it just what she said about God, or was it more than that?
9. Do you agree with Brill’s assertion that everything happens for a reason—even the really difficult things? If so, can you give a Scripture that supports it? Have you ever seen evidence of this in your own life? Could you believe God would use it for good even without seeing evidence?
10. Romans 8:28 makes a strong statement of faith: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” How did God use Brill’s dire circumstances for good in this story? If she had been murdered, would that have negated the truth of Romans 8:28? Is it possible that a believer’s suffering, even at the hands of a killer, might serve God’s higher purpose? Is that hard for you to accept? Be honest.
11. Vanessa’s sinful choices resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, and her choice not to abort the baby resulted in a severed relationship. Both choices, one wrong and one right, initially brought her sorrow. What was it that motivated her to make the right choice and not abort the baby? Do you believe she could have been happy for long if she had gotten an abortion? Or if Ty had changed his mind about breaking up with her?
12. Do you think God can use even our mistakes for His higher purpose? How did He use Vanessa’s good and bad choices to bring Ty to the place of realizing he needed God?
13. Which do you think is the better teacher: blessing or suffering? Does God use both? Which has made a bigger impact in your life?
14. Which do you think is more important if we are to be ambassadors of the gospel—what we say or what we do? Or can the two be separated? Which do you think is more likely to offend an unbeliever—our sin? Our hypocrisy? Our apathy?
15. If you could meet one of the characters in this story, which one would it be? What would you talk about? What did you take away from this story?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Writing a novel set in the world of the restoration of old buildings has always been a dream of mine. The idea of renovation is in my family’s blood. I’m an interior design professional. My brothers are rehabbers. My husband, Jim, and I have survived the renovation of three houses.
I know the upheaval well, the despair of having no control, the agonizing over style decisions, the budget constraints, the disagreements between contractor and owner, and the emotional roller coaster of unexpected problems and unanticipated gifts along the way. Together my clients and I have accepted big disappointments, celebrated tiny successes, and experienced the inexpressible elation at seeing what was once in ruins—old, broken, useless—become, with all its quirks, a beautiful, completely renewed, and usable place for people to share life again. Looking back on all those projects, I can echo the sentiment in the opening line of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Many of you are probably, like me, HGTV fans who watch the many shows about fixing up old houses. You find yourself glued to the glimpses of contractors and owners engaged in the process. You live vicariously through the rehabbing, renovating, and restoring.
I can relate. I’ve always been captivated by old buildings. Poring over books about art, architectural styles, and decoration from all over the world has always been one of my favorite pastimes. As I’ve traveled internationally and visited many of the places I’ve studied independently and in the course of my education in design, I’ve become even more passionate about restoration. (I’m the woman you might see sitting on a bench along the wall of the Sistine Chapel, silently weeping as I take in Michelangelo’s magnificent masterpiece in the simplicity of that sacred space.) I can talk forever about the importance of preserving buildings that are testaments to the creative impulse, the hours of painstaking effort, the motivation and dedication of artists, designers, craftsmen, and artisans from previous eras. All were, no doubt, imperfect people—but people used as instruments in God’s hands to create perfectly rendered works of art that endure and can stir our hearts so many, many years later.
For me, there’s something quite magical about walking into an old place, with all its history, where so much life has been lived, where so many events and significant moments have taken place—the happy ones, the sad ones, and all the everyday moments and hours in between. Imagining who might have inhabited a house, how the family came together, the love they shared, their conversations, the tears and laughter, is irresistible to me. I find inspiration as I imagine how they celebrated and grieved, how they overcame adversity, how they survived tragedy, then moved on to enjoy life
within the old walls once again.
One of the joys of my life was visiting the little northern Italian village, nestled among olive groves high up in the Apennine Mountains, where my maternal grandparents were born, grew up, and married before emigrating to America in 1920. A short lane connects their two families’ farmhouses. In between them stands a small, now empty house of ancient, mellowed stone where my grandparents lived as newlyweds. How full my heart felt as I walked over that threshold! I pictured them as a young couple in the first blush of matrimony, with all their hopes and dreams … before their brave journey (separately) across a wide ocean to a strange land where all was unknown. Within those aged walls, did they speak of their fears as they prepared to leave their homeland, certain they’d never see their parents and siblings again? What kind of courage did that require? What words did they use to comfort and reassure one another? I wondered. I could see, in my mind’s eye, my grandmother stirring a pot of pasta as my grandfather stoked the fire. I could even hear the crackling of the firewood, smell the slight wood smoke.…
A few artifacts remained of their time there, and I was delighted to be able to take them back to America with me. Now I treasure and display them in my own home because they connect me with that place and time and remind me of my rich heritage—all stemming from that small structure, still standing, solidly built so long ago.
I love the metaphor of restoration, which is why I came up with the idea for the Project Restoration series—stories that would follow both the physical restoration of a building and the emotional/spiritual restoration of a character. Perhaps in the Project Restoration series, you’ll find a character who mirrors your own life and points you toward the kind of restoration you long for.
After all, God is in the business of restoring lives—reclaiming, repairing, renewing what was broken and bringing beauty from ashes. I know, because I’ve seen it firsthand. For many years, I’ve worked in women’s ministries. I’ve seen many women—as well as the men and children they love—deal with scars from their past that shape their todays and tomorrows. They all long for restoration—to live hopefully, joyfully, and productively once again—but that also requires forgiveness. Forgiveness of others (whether they deserve it or not) and, perhaps most importantly, forgiveness of oneself in order to be healthy and available to God. Clinging to past hurts or “unfairness,” hostility, anger, grudges, resentment, bitterness, or allowing abuse to alter your self-worth renders your life virtually useless. Unforgiveness shapes your perception of yourself, your outlook on life, the kind of relationships you have, and keeps you in “stuck” mode. It leaves you without hope, in a dark, emotionally paralyzing, spiritually debilitating, physically draining state and causes so much unnecessary pain … even addiction.
Yet God Himself stands and waits, extending the gift of restoration. The light of His love shines on all those dark places deep within us, exposing what needs His healing touch, renewing hope, providing freedom from bondage. This is the type of restoration I’ve become passionate about too. For when our souls are gloriously freed through God’s renovation, we become whole, useful, and able to extend the forgiveness we have experienced to others. Our hope is renewed. Then individuals, families, churches, and entire communities can be transformed!
What event in your past do you need to let go of? It is my hope and prayer that you, too, will experience the renewal that awaits you through saying yes to God’s invitation of heart restoration … and the life-transforming joy that will follow.
2. What struck you about Pastor Han’s story? Were you comfortable with him sharing his secrets with Samantha? Explain.
3. How would you describe the relationship between Oliver and Taller, as brothers? In what ways does their perception of each other affect that relationship? Are there ways in which you can relate, with your own siblings?
4. What’s the first hint that Oliver has some “issues” with his mother, and her expectations of him? How are these hints confirmed as the story develops?
5. In what ways has Oliver been affected by his father’s death when he was a young boy? How was the Barnett family dynamic affected? Look back on your own childhood. What issues have influenced the way your family interacts, even now?
6. In what ways has Samantha been affected by her mother’s death—and the manner of her death—when she was a teenager? How was the Cohen family dynamic affected? Looking back on your teen years, do you remember words spoken that you wish had never been spoken? If so, how have those words altered your perspective of that person? Of yourself?
7. How did you feel about Oliver hiring the Pratt brothers as carpenters on the project? If it was your decision, would you have hired them? Is it easy for you to give people “second chances”? Why or why not? What was your reaction when Oliver receives conflicting advice about his decision from Pastor Mosco and Barth? Whose view was closest to your own? Explain.
8. Would you call Paula’s faith “authentic”? Why or why not? What clues can you give as proof of your theory? Do you think Oliver believed her faith was authentic? What would make him think so—or wonder? What, to you, are signs of true Christian belief?
9. How is Oliver different from all of the other men with whom Samantha has had relationships? How did the way he refused to compromise his moral beliefs impact their relationship? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to stick to your guns, morally, and it cost you something? What happened as a result?
10. Besides Oliver’s influence, what other factors came into play to cause Samantha to think about her relationship to God? How did Sarah—a fellow and “completed Jew,” someone more like Samantha than Oliver or Cameron—make a difference in her understanding of Christian belief? In what way(s) can you reach out to those who are similar or different from you in faith and/or background?
11. What’s the difference between law and grace? Explain, using a couple of examples from the book. What do you tend to lean most toward—law or grace? What factors in your background have led you to respond that way?
12. What was your response to Barth’s opinion on how God views suicide? In what way(s) do Barth’s words influence situations you may have faced with hurting people in the past?
13. Do you think there was something special about the church building? The windows? Is there such a thing as “sacred space”? Why or why not?
14. What did you think was going to happen when Paula discovers she’s pregnant? Were you surprised by the outcome? Explain.
15. How did God use Oliver to fulfill His plan for “the church,” even when he struggled with transforming a church building into something else? How might you use your current circumstances and stresses to help touch others’ lives and build “the church”?