Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Wise Man Hats

wise men 006This year I have a problem. Five kids and teens want to be wise men for our Christmas program. It’s a great problem to have. I love to see kids willing and eager to dress up, learn lines, and play a part. We don’t know how many wise men worshiped the Lord Jesus. We only know that they gave him three presents. So why not have all of them be wise men?

We need a simple program this year so we are doing a part of a program we’ve used before. Christmas Disaster if a full hour program with many parts, but inside that program is a nice little part done by three wise men. I’ve pulled that part out to use this year. I’ll be redistributing the parts so that all five of my wise men have something to say. And they can all sing the song.

That left me with a costume problem. I had three nice wise men costumes that we had used before. I found I could also use costumes we had used for Joseph and Mary if I added fancy collars and jewelry. Most of our costumes come from this one easy, flexible pattern. (McCall’s Easy-to-Sew Christmas Costume Patter #2339.)

This worked well, but I needed hats and wanted something different from the crowns on the pattern. I used an idea I’d come up with from another year and then added a new one that I figured out by glancing at hats on the internet. These two style of hats, the Band Hat and the Tube Hat, are easy to make. When you use different fabrics and accessories you can come up with many different looks. If you need wise men hats for your program this year, check out these simple instructions.

Whatever you using as an outreach in your ministry this year, may all the glory go to God. And may he guide your preparations to use Christmas to share the message of salvation.

Thanks to my husband, Art Brammer, for modeling the hats. They look great on the kids with the costumes, but I don’t post pictures of kids on my website without parental permission as unbalanced people have been known to use internet pictures in perverted ways.

Sneak Peek at My Upcoming Mystery

Broken Windows cover thumbnailToday you get to be the first people to get a sneak peek at the cover of Book 1 of my upcoming Keyhole Mystery Series.  Today is the cover reveal.  What do you think?

Each of the Keyhole Mysteries will unlock new worlds. Broken Windows will allow you to peep through the keyhole of the art community as well as the world of wheelchairs and disability.

Q: When will Broken Windows be released?

A: Early in 2015.

 Q: What are you working on now?

A: The book is entirely finished. I’ve had several people pre-read it and give input. Based on that, I’m making some minor changes. I’m also working on the sequel. Waiting until 2015 to release the book will allow me to link it better to the sequel. Today my husband is working on some of the images that will be included in the book. I’ve also received permission to include pictures of several of the statues that are part of the artwork featured in the book. Then come the various publication issues: uploading, formatting, printing, Kindle conversion, proofreading, and approving galleys.

 Q: What burning issues do you have yet to resolve?

A: Should I call it a cozy mystery or just a mystery? I know this seems like a small matter, but if I choose a category that doesn’t fit it well, readers could be disappointed. It does have many of the characteristics of a cozy: amateur sleuth, quirky characters, minimal violence and gore, no sex or profanity. It also emphasizes the mystery puzzle and character development more than danger and chase scenes. On the other hand, though much of it is lighthearted, it does deal with some weighty spiritual issues like why God allows bad things to happen and how to define success.  My pre-readers seem to like this aspect of the book, but they, and I, wonder if this takes it away from the cozy mystery classification.

Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten from your pre-readers?

A: My pre-readers have given me good input that helps me to know changes I need to make. I appreciate that so much.  They’ve also responded with encouragement and enthusiasm for the project. Here’s an example of some of their comments:

 “Having a special needs grandson, I really appreciated the way you brought to life the struggles and feelings of special needs folks, as well as helped us see their side of interaction with “normal” people.” 

 “The struggles of the main characters seemed too weighty to me to be in keeping with the “cozy” mystery category. This book was much more thought-provoking [than cozy mysteries], but in a very good way.”

You did a good job, but . . .

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunWhen was the last time you heard those words? It’s hard to focus on the compliment when you hear the word “but.”  Usually you get the idea that the speaker wouldn’t have bothered to  give the compliment if that’s all she had to say. She’s merely using the compliment to lead into the advice or criticism which is her main priority.

First let me give some disclaimers.

  • Telling someone what they did right before you say what they did wrong is a good way to soften the blow.
  • We should be open to constructive criticism because it can help us improve and grow.
  • When the person is ready to hear it, carefully worded advice can be extremely helpful.

In spite of that fact, I believe most people need encouragement more than advice.  Encouragement gives confidence to try again and perhaps do better the next time. Think about the last time someone told you, “You did a good job, but . . .” Which part did you remember the most, the positive or the negative? Did it inspire you to do a better job, or was the negative comment impossible to get out of your mind? Do you drive better when someone sits beside you and points out all your mistakes? Do you speak or sing or play an instrument better when someone comes up to you afterward and tells you how you could have done better?

There is a time when constructive criticism is in order. Here are some of them:

  • When you are in a teaching or mentoring position with the person.
  • When they ask you for advice or help.
  • After you have developed a give-and-take relationship with them and earned the right to be heard.
  • When you have learned from them and know they are open to learning from you.
  • When they are making some very dangerous choices and don’t realize it.

It’s like listening. We need to listen to hear and understand, not just to find an excuse to say what we want to say. And we need to give compliments to encourage, not just to give us an excuse to offer advice. When we give frequent compliments and encouragement the person will probably be more ready to listen to occasional advice or criticism. But some of us, face it, seldom give compliments that don’t come with a “but.” Some of us dispense advice and criticism generously, but aren’t ready to listen to advice and criticism ourselves. We need to become good listeners and good encouragers.

It’s easy to compliment children and people just learning to do tasks. It’s often harder to compliment the person who faithfully does a task well. But my experience tells me that most people would thrive if they had more encouragement, compliments, and thanks.

“The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they needed to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond our wildest dreams.” (Sidney Madwed)

Who needs your encouragement today?

[Image courtesy of EBreHNN ATaMaHeHKO/Deposit Photos.]

Living as a Conservative Christian

Family 4I am a conservative Christian. You may think you know me, but you might be surprised.

Being a conservative Christian doesn’t make me think that I am better than you.

I’m not a Christian because I am so good. I’m a Christian because I know I can never meet God’s standard on my own. I think and feel and do wrong things. But God has granted me salvation on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus was completely holy and didn’t deserve to die, yet he took my punishment. I’m sinful and don’t deserve God’s mercy, yet I have believed in Jesus as my Savior, so he has given me his righteousness.

Beyond that, being a conservative Christian doesn’t make me better than a more liberal one.  You may be less conservative than me, and yet please God in areas in which I fall short. I may please God in areas you in which you struggle. I don’t look down on you because you are different, but I may disagree with you on some things. We each have to answer to God for what we do. I’m simply trying to do the right thing.

Being conservative doesn’t make me a legalist.

What is a legalist? Many people define a legalist as anyone who is more conservative than they are. At the same time, anyone who is less conservative than they are, is a liberal.

The book of Galatians talks about true legalists. A legalist tries to keep a list of rules in order to gain merit with God. Sometimes legalists try to earn or keep their salvation by keeping this list of rules. Other legalists obey rules to exalt themselves rather than glorify God. Their emphasis is on keeping a list of rules in their own strength, rather than living to please God by the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Myron Houghton says:
A distinction should be made between lists and legalism. It is certainly true that believers differ on their lists, and we must evaluate each item on a list in light of relevant Scriptural teaching. But disagreeing with fellow believers over whether or not Scripture supports their lists has nothing to do with legalism! Legalism is related to why one should obey a list rather than to the rightness or wrongness of the list. If people think they gain merit with God by keeping a list [any list!!], they are legalistic!

True freedom is living obediently to Scriptural guidelines in the knowledge that all of our sins have been forgiven because Jesus Christ died and now lives for us. (Romans 5:10) . . . And true liberty does not use itself as an excuse for sinful living (see Galatians 5:13), but rather, recognizes that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:11–15).

We need to be careful who we call “legalists.” Just because someone is more conservative than I am doesn’t make him a legalist. He may have good reasons for his standards. I have no right to call him a legalist just because his rules are stricter than I think they need to be. I can’t see his heart. I don’t know his motives, unless he reveals them to me.

Being conservative doesn’t mean I’m too stubborn to change.

I know Christians who have less strict standards than I have, and some who are more strict. If you are a Christian, I’m glad you are. I don’t hate you because you have come to different conclusions than I have. I may not be able to work with you in certain ways if we can’t agree on some issues that are important to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you.

The world changes quickly and so does the church. Sometimes I see people change in ways that I don’t feel would be right for me. I’m trying to please God and live the way he wants me to. You may see an issue as a matter of preference, where I may see it as a conviction. Thus you feel free to do something that I do not. That doesn’t make me mean. I’m simply trying to please the Lord in the best way I know how.

Remember, if I feel something is not pleasing to God, yet do it anyway, that is sin. (Romans 14:23) So please don’t push me to do something against my convictions. I’m not just trying to be stubborn.

Being conservative doesn’t mean I’m a scrapper.

Yes, I know the world, and much of the church, is changing faster than I am. I expect to be different from the world. The Bible tells us to expect that. (1 John 2:15) But sometimes I even struggle to find a place in the church. Much of genuine Christianity would find me hopelessly conservative and I actually grow weary of wearing a legalist label simply because I’m trying to do the right thing. Very small differences sometimes divide the more conservative segment and I feel ostracized from Christians who I would like to consider as friends. Living today as a conservative Christian is not easy. Sometimes I struggle to know how God wants me to do certain things, but I am trying to figure out God’s pattern for me and then live that way.

So you may not agree with me. I may seem hopelessly conservative to you. But please don’t assume that I’m a fighting legalist who thinks I have all the answers, refuses to change, and wants to force you to be like me. I’m actually just an ordinary Christian who is trying to please God in a sinful world.

(See this link for Dr. Houghton’s entire article on legalism: http://www.faith.edu/resources/publications/faith-pulpit/message/what-is-legalism/read )

[Image courtesy of Basheera Hassanali/Deposit Photos.]

 

Is God Smiling on my Ministry?

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunI don’t mind pouring my life out for God as long as I know he is truly pleased. But how tragic it would be to spend my whole life, working hard for God, and find out I somehow missed the entire target!

Some people evaluate their ministry by results. If lots of people get saved and the church chairs are full, God must be pleased.  If hardly anyone gets saved and numbers are down, God must not be pleased.  Study Jonah, Noah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah and you’ll soon realize results are not always indicative of God’s approval. So how do you know if your work is good enough for God? How do you know if you are basically pleasing Him?

Warren Wiersbe says, “There is a difference between fruit and results. You can get results by following formulas, etc, but fruit comes from life. Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God.”

My husband and I have worked on two different fields for 35 years. We have been through years in which we have seen little visible fruit.  This question, “Am I pleasing God?” is crucial. If I’m not, I might as well go back to America and life a more comfortable life. If I am pleasing God, I will continue to serve in this place as long as He keeps me here. But how do I know?

Steve Saint must have had similar questions when he took his entire family to live, for one year, with a primitive tribe. His teenage daughter died shortly after leaving the tribe. As he reflected on her life he said, “Whenever I got terribly discouraged, she was the one who reminded me that we had not come for results. We had come for love and to be obedient to what we were convinced God wanted us to do. “

At one point, when our work seemed to be failing, I was desperate to know if God was smiling. We felt God had called us to our work there in Taiwan. We had worked hard, doing what we felt he wanted us to do. Our hearts are deceitful by nature and we can never completely know them, but we felt we were doing our best out of love for the Lord. God wasn’t showing us any major thing we were doing wrong, but, as far as we could see, the work was not moving forward.

I asked God to speak to me and show me if he was happy with my ministry. I searched Scripture for answers. This is what I came up with:

  • God understands. He knows what we’re like.
  • He’s not impossible to please.
  • If we are searching for what he wants us to do, he will let us know.
  • If we ask Him to show us ways that aren’t pleasing to Him, He will. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Isaiah 40:27-31, Psalm 103:11-14, Psalm 139)
  • Therefore, if I am serving Him the best I know how, depending on Him, following His guidance, and He doesn’t show me otherwise, He must be pleased!

God sees and rewards. Our labor is not in vain. God won’t forget our work when we serve Him out of sincere love. (1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 6:10) God sees my imperfect efforts. He sees my heart. As an earthly father is pleased with his child’s best effort in drawing him a picture, however imperfect it may be, so our Heavenly Father is pleased by our best efforts to show our love for Him.

Have you been through times in your ministry when you struggled to see God’s smile? What verses helped you?

[image courtesy of EBreHNN ATamaheHko/deposit photos}