Deb’s Books Blast/Deb’s Ministry Blog

Deb’s Book Blast gives you a front row seat to what’s happening with Deb’s books. If you sign up on this email list you’ll get:

  • News about the release of Deb’s upcoming books
  • Insider information about her books
  • Notice of free and discount Kindle promotions of her books
  • Deb’s perspective on distinctively Christian fiction
  • Articles directly related to issues in her books

You’ll receive occasional emails. You may unsubscribe at any time. Your privacy will be respected. Your name and address will not be given to anyone else for any other purpose.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 3.30.04 PM

Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

Again, you’ll receive occasional emails. You may unsubscribe at any time. Your privacy will be respected. Your name and address will not be given to anyone else for any other purpose.

A Christian Parent or Teacher’s Response to Maori Creation Stories in the Classroom

I’ve lived in New Zealand for 22 years and one part of the culture here is hard to pin down.

Maori people are the New Zealand natives who have been here for hundreds of years. The Maori culture comes with many stories about creation and other topics that come into their belief system. Europeans began to arrive about a hundred and fifty years ago, bringing Christianity with them. The two cultures have mixed together to become the New Zealand culture we have today. Some people borrow from both belief systems along their spiritual journey. Some don’t believe either one.

About 20 years ago, my husband did a funeral for a baby whose father identified strongly with the Maori culture and whose mother was a member of our church. Because Maori have many funeral traditions, planning the funeral brought us to the marae (Maori meeting place) to work out the details. We were welcomed onto the marae with a ceremony, touched our noses to theirs in the traditional Maori greeting, washed our hands and ate lunch with them there. They sang a Christian song and talked about being inclusive in their religion. But by the time we left we had unknowingly taken part in some traditions that had religious meaning that we had not intended.

In recent years New Zealand has been seeking to integrate the Maori culture and language (Te Reo) into the school system in a stronger way. Some aspects of the Maori culture, such as loyalty to family and community, are good concepts to teach to children. But teaching their ancestral stories to school children comes with some dangers. These stories are contrary to the Christian belief of one true God in heaven Who created all things.

I have known for years that children are taught Maori stories about creation in school. Many times I have asked New Zealanders, “Are these stories taught as fact or legend?” The answer always comes back the same. “The stories are just taught.” Even in early childhood education, children aged three to five may hear some of the Maori stories and learn about Maori “guardians.” How should a Christian parent feel about this? What should they do about it? How can the church prepare children for this?

This year I am planning to teach several sessions of Discovery Club that deal gently with some difficult subjects our children face in public school. We’ll talk about gender identity, race issues, and the what to believe about Maori creation stories. While preparing to teach about Maori stories I’ve given new effort to finding out the answers to these questions:

  • Does the Maori belief system teach their creation stories as fact or as myth?
  • Do Maori actually worship their spirits as gods?

To a Christian from a Western culture, these seem like sensible questions that should have straight-forward answers, but these answers aren’t easy to find. Because I’m dealing with the issue as it relates to students in the public school system, I wanted to find out what schools are expected to teach. I found this very helpful website which helps teachers to include Maori language and culture in their classroom. Their article on the Maori creation story helped answer my questions. I’m not an expert on these things, so I am basing my information on this website.

Are Maori creation stories taught as fact or myth?

In the beginning of my study I thought that surely educated Maori people today don’t really believe that the world was created in the way their stories are told. That Sky Father and Earth Mother separated to allow their children to leave the dark, cramped space they lived in. According to the story, their son Tane, God of the Forest, pushed Earth Mother downward so she would not see Sky Father’s sadness. Tane clothed her in trees and plants. Sky Father was pushed upward and Tane’s sweat from the exertion became the stars.  Another god was so angry that he gouged out his eyes and threw them into the sky to become a star cluster. Maori people might like the story, but surely they don’t consider it to be scientific and factual.

I found the answer in this part of the article:

Examine how you approach the words “Myths” and “Legends”. If you use these words, make sure you understand what you are conveying.

Although the word myth has a dictionary meaning….”a traditional story of historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon”, it has become a word used for “unfounded or false notion”.

“Oh, that’s just a myth!”

Please examine your introduction of these whakapapa pūrākau (ancestral stories). I prefer to call them this rather than “Myths and Legends”.

Remember there may be tamariki (young people) in your class who consider these very strong whakapapa (ancestral) links.

As part of colonisation there has been a view that perhaps Māori pūrākau (stories) somehow have less value. ( We know better than that).

 I don’t think I could have understood this answer without my experience as a missionary in Taiwan. As Americans in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we tried to show our unsaved students that the Bible’s view of creation and salvation were right because they were true. Why would you follow a religion or belief that wasn’t true? They were strangely unmoved by that argument. We grew to realize that Chinese culture doesn’t care a lot about absolute truth. Their culture has not come out of a culture that believes or emphasizes absolute truth. They care more about the question “Does it work?” than “Is it true?” They wanted to know if Christianity would help them prosper. That’s what they expected from their gods. If their gods didn’t help them, they would abandon their gods. They also worshipped their gods to fit into their family and community. Some even believed Christianity was true, but wouldn’t follow Christ because of the division it would cause in their family.

Fast forward to our ministry in New Zealand. With my Taiwan background in mind, I interpret the explanation above to mean this: It doesn’t really matter if the Maori stories about their gods are true, factual, or scientifically correct. The ancestral stories are important to the Maori culture and values. So they should not be considered inferior to European stories that are based on Christianity.

Do Maori actually worship their spirits and gods?

 In Taiwan it is easy for us to see how people worshiped their gods and ancestors. On certain days of the lunar calendar our neighbors would set up tables outside their house. They might have a cooked chicken on the table, some fruit and beer on it. They would light incense sticks and maybe burn paper spirit money to the god or ancestor. Sometimes we would see a procession fill a street with worshippers carrying a god from one place to another. Certain holidays filled the temples. It didn’t seem to matter a lot what the worshipers thought or felt as they worshipped, but there was strong pressure from family and community to engage in the visible aspects of worship.

In New Zealand we don’t actually see Maori people worshiping gods in this kind of way. They do have rituals and blessings that are important to them on certain occasions. But if they aren’t actually worshiping false gods, should it matter to Christians if they share their religious stories?

Dangers in teaching Maori creation stories as significant to our lives.

  1. Maori guardians are actually false gods, an important part of Maori beliefs.

 Whether you call them gods, guardians, or atua (ancestors with influence over certain domains,) these stories are about false gods. The stories are similar to gods of Greek mythology and other gods that cultures have invented.

You see from the article that, among the Maori stories “there is considerable diversity among various … versions of the creation story.” While the various versions contradict each other, the story of God’s creation given in the Bible is always the same. Conflicting accounts of an incident can’t all be true. Christians believe, however, that the Bible gives a scientifically accurate, true account of what really happened at the beginning of time on planet earth. Bible history comes from actual events that really happened, not made-up stories.

People in Bible times often believed in false gods whose history came entirely from made-up stories. At times they sacrificed their babies to these gods or engaged in despicable practices like prostitution to appease these gods. In the Old Testament even God’s people, the Hebrews, worshiped these gods. God always condemned the worship of false gods and showed the foolishness of trusting in a made-believe deity. (Isaiah 44:9-20)

  1. Some use Maori stories to influence their lives.

 Note the importance the Te Reo Maori Classroom article gives to the Maori creation story.

 The Māori creation story and its tradition is so strong that it can influence all aspects of life. In this way customs, practices and institutions can become an expression of a culture’s foundation story. The essential elements of the Māori creation narrative influence many aspects of the Māori world view. These practices give us structure and support to live in a way closely aligned with our tīpuna (ancestors).

As Christians, our beliefs, who we are and what we do all need to be based on the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:17-6-17) When we allow other, conflicting beliefs to shape our thinking and decisions, we place ourselves on dangerous ground.

  1. Non-biblical creation accounts rob our Creator God of His rightful glory.

 Take a fresh look at Genesis 1 and 2. In six days our Creator God created everything on earth out of nothing. He created mature plants, animals, and people who were able to reproduce from the beginning. All life on earth today comes from God’s creation some six thousand years ago. Nothing man can do comes close to this original act of creation by God.

When someone takes this incredible act of creation and changes the story to give credit to false gods that don’t even exist, that demeans God and His act of creation.

How can I help my children when they encounter teaching about Maori gods in their classroom?

You could try to have your child taken out of class when these stories are taught. You could complain to the teacher or principal that you don’t like to have these religious beliefs taught during the school day. But if you continue to educate your children in the public school system in New Zealand, you are going to face this issue. Here’s an approach that I believe can help you navigate your way through this situation.

You need to teach your children these things:

  1. The truth about how the world began comes from the Bible.

Maori stories of creation and other stories of this kind are made-up stories. Different stories may share some common ideas but the details vary widely. Since the stories are conflicting, they can’t all be true.

Today’s scientists also continue to offer theories about how the world and its universe came into being. Some scientists today say the earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, plus or minus about 50 million years. Since their dating of the beginning of world changes constantly, by millions of years at a time, you can tell their dating methods are unreliable. Scientists are also constantly changing their theories about how the earth evolved. As new evidence comes to light, the theories constantly change to accommodate the evidence. Many non-Christian scientists readily admit that the theory of evolution has problems and they don’t know how the earth came into existence. Evolutionists have never been able to explain two questions. 1. If the earth is the result of an explosion of very dense matter, where did the first matter came from? 2. Where did the first life come from?

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches the true history of the beginning of the earth. God, the only eye witness to creation, revealed this to man. The Bible is a reliable source of history backed up by historical evidence. The creation details don’t change because the account of creation is true and accurate. For more about the reliability of creation stories from the Bible versus other creation stories see this article.

The Bible gives us the only authoritative truth about how our world began.

  1. Some stories are made-up and aren’t meant to be true.

 The story of the ant and the grasshopper is clearly not true. Ants and grasshoppers don’t talk to each other. In some versions of this story the grasshopper plays the fiddle and dances, which is scientifically impossible. The story is clearly a make-believe one which teaches us a good lesson. In the same way, the Maori creation stories are stories which were made up to explain the beginning of the world. They aren’t scientifically true. They are just stories.

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Grinch that Stole Christmas are examples of other made-up stories. Of course, if you tell your children that Santa Claus is a true story, at some point you will have to admit you lied about this. Your children may realize they can’t trust your word. I believe Christian parents need to tell the truth from cradle to grave to their children and model a clear distinction between truth and make-believe or falsehood.

  1. Even when we disagree with people, we need to treat them with respect.

When it comes to Maori stories they learn in school, students should be allowed to say to their friends that they believe the stories are make-believe, that the Bible gives the true creation story. They should be allowed to say the same thing to teacher on the side. But it wouldn’t be respectful to speak up in front of the whole class and tell the teacher that the stories are false and they shouldn’t have to study them.

*Special thanks to The Te Reo Maori Classroom website for their helpful article on Maori creation stories.

Here’s a short summary of the Maori creation story.

Dear Reader,

How are you doing today?

2020 has been a year for the record books. Covid-19 brings uncomfortable restrictions and uncertainty about the future. In New Zealand, where I live and minister, Covid was eradicated in June but has come back to haunt us in August. Then add protests, riots, and elections with every kind of opinion about how we should respond and what we should do. Even when you’re trusting the Lord, sometimes you just want it all to stop.

2020 has made me dig deeper in God’s Word for assurance that God is still in control. Psalms like Psalm 94:17-19. Uplifting Christian fiction is also a good break from all the noise and confusion around me.  The most interesting character I’ve read recently is Margot De Wilde in The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White. (See my book review at the end of this Book Blast.)

Do you ever tire of formulaic fiction characters? The beautiful model with the troubled past meets the strong but sensitive hunk. Immediate physical attraction (hormones) makes for love at first sight. Constant danger, several car chases, and a rescue from kidnapping assures them they are meant for each other. These elements might make a strong fiction plot, but they aren’t exactly a good way to find a godly partner for life. And these aren’t the kind of characters I write about.

Three characters from Broken Windows:

Jordan Axtell’s faith is challenged by something authors rarely talk about. His missionary parents have been faithfully serving in Taiwan, but have seen few visible results for their efforts. Why doesn’t God bless their ministry?

My husband and I spent sixteen years serving in Taiwan, and at the end of that time we had to close two ministries that weren’t going to go ahead. I know what that feels like. We believe we were in God’s will in Taiwan and God did use us, but we had hoped to see more visible results. We had to leave that in God’s hands. Since then God has brought us to a new ministry in New Zealand that seems like a good fit for us. We now have many Asians in our church and we understand them better because of living in Taiwan. We know God used our Taiwan time in our lives and the lives of others. But we had to come to terms with that part of our lives like Jordan had to.

Zophie Zobel isn’t the kind of girl that many guys long to date, but she has a passion for ministry and a caring heart that drives Jordan in a good direction and causes him to grow.

More than anyone else I know, Zophie is like my oldest daughter. No wonder I love this character so much. To get the perfect look of this character in my head, I chose a photo from a magazine from our mission. Once I saw “Zophie” in a crowd. Now I find she will be working with a missionary friend of ours in Peru. Maybe one day I’ll get to meet the face that inspired this character.

Jordan’s black ’69 Mustang also becomes a character in my book. Jordan introduces her as “Mustang Axtell, the Mrs. Jordan Axtell, my beloved. She’s the only girlfriend I need right now.” If you’ve read Broken Windows you know how the car speaks to him and brings him to the point of significant spiritual change.

Since I’m definitely not a car gal, I had to rely on my brother, Jim, for the details and feel for this character.  Jim told me, “that scene in Chapter Thirteen where Bradley is riding his skateboard close to the Mustang, that’s not funny, you know.” Jim wasn’t joking. He told me how a real car guy would never allow a kid and a skateboard anywhere close to his classic car and the stern warning he would give a kid like Bradley who was anywhere in the vicinity of a classic car. Which told me this scene would resonate with a true car guy.

If you’ve read a book with interesting characters lately, why not leave us a comment and tell us about it?

I’ll end this Book Blast with my book review of the book mentioned above.

My book review of: The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White 

 This book was unlike any book I’ve ever read before. It’s definitely historical and yes, it is mystery and has romance. But the characters are what make this book a 5-star read. The author takes you deep into the mind of Margot, a girl who lives, breathes, thinks, feels and prays in numbers. She counts compulsively and is a genius with numbers. She doesn’t care about fashion and avoids shallow friendships. But the qualities that restrict her social life make her an excellent codebreaker during the Great War. She is intensely loyal to the friends she does have and pushes herself into social situations when she senses the need.

This book demonstrates friendship that looks beyond first impressions and the outer facade of a person to the heart. Unlike the author and me, the characters are Catholic. Salvation is never mentioned, but Margot relies heavily on prayer and learns to trust in God when she doesn’t understand. God speaks to her in numbers and when she doesn’t hear the numbers she doubts that God is speaking to her. I wonder about that. But the characters are unique and compelling. They grow to appreciate the differences of others and learn to work with them, flaws and all. I love that this book is outside the formulaic plots of romance and suspense and yet compelling in a way that is hard to describe. It grows on you until you don’t want to put it down. The most interesting book I’ve read in a long time.

Living as a Conservative Christian

I 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.

The late Dr. Myron Houghton said once said:
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.

Free Christian ebooks! Great deal for Kobo readers!

My book, Broken Windows, is featured with ten other authors in this promo. This is known as a list builder because you sign up for an author’s newsletter in exchange for that author’s free book. My newsletter, Deb’s Book Blast, only comes out about four times a year. I give away a free book by another Christian author to someone on my list with every regular post. My subscribers already get any free books I’m promoting to new readers..

July 3-6 Kobo readers can get Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story for 99 cents. God worked in amazing ways in this incredible true story.

Unprecedented Opportunities

“Unprecedented” was the foremost adjective for the first half of 2020. And we haven’t even started the second half.

The Covid-19 pandemic moved us to repeat, “I’ve never seen anything like this before” again and again. Around the world people have been locked in quarantine, and restricted in travel. We’ve been required to observe social distancing, record contact tracing, wear masks, and sanitize our hands wherever we went. That’s all new.

Just as some countries have made marked progress in their fight against the virus, George Floyd’s death ignited protests of many kinds along with widespread violence and vandalism. The videos of action related to this event are often tragic and alarming.

These events incite strong and polarizing opinions, cramp our style and frustrate our plans. Yet if all we see are the negatives, we miss a substantial element of God’s work in believers.

While experiences like these may rock our world, God has allowed them for his own purposes. He not only gives Christians the strength to get through these trying times. He gives more. If we will, we can use these events as unprecedented opportunities to shine our light in unusual ways.

How can I shine my light into the darkness? By modeling these qualities:

 Submission to authority.

As I read my Bible, I see God’s command to submit to authority, even when I don’t agree, as long as that authority isn’t asking me to violate God’s standard. (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, 1 Peter 2:17)

As a Christian leader, when I submit to the government in something that seems unreasonable or silly to me, I model a biblical principle. Every person on earth is under some kind of authority. Christian leaders are not a law unto themselves. If I pick and choose what rules I want to follow, I’ve missed the opportunity to model submission.  All Christians are under authority of some kind. Submission to any rightful authority over me is part of my submission to God.

Patience in dealing with annoying requirements.

Rules about social distancing, masks, hand sanitizers, and the like can be extremely frustrating. Even more so if I don’t believe they are necessary.  It’s easy to lash out at the worker in the store who is enforcing these rules, complain to my friends, or quietly disregard the rules. Week after week of compliance can sorely try my faith — which is precisely how it works for my good. Things that try my faith are a gift from God. These annoyances give me the building blocks to build patience into my life. (James 1:2) That silly, senseless rule that irritates me presents an opportunity to vent my frustration or build my patience. My choice determines if I become better or bitter.

Compassion for those in crisis.

While the pandemic and the protests cause me inconvenience, the same events cause true hardship and crisis in the lives of some people. If God gives the opportunity, I can show his love in a tangible and striking way. I have to look beyond myself to recognize these opportunities. My compassion can bring hope to others and have eternal consequences if I use the opportunities God puts in my path.

Dealing with debatable issues in a respectful way.

We live in the unprecedented age of social media when we can share our opinions with a few clicks of a mouse. Social media stirs our anger and gives us an outlet to vent with an efficiency we wouldn’t have dreamed of a few decades ago. Memes and videos are so tempting to share. They can be a good way to share my opinion about an important issue when I can back it up with the facts. But it’s also easy to share exaggerated and highly emotive posts just because they are funny and they allow me to vent. But consistently dealing with issues and people I disagree with in a respectful way shines a light of integrity into a world that greatly needs it.

Playing fair with the facts.

 Any political event can be shared by various reporters in a way that supports their agenda. Even truthful accounts of an event can be presented in a variety of ways that may make a political figure look brave or cowardly, smart or foolish, nice or mean-spirited. It’s easy to believe the best about the politicians you support and the worst about the ones you don’t. It takes little effort to share reports these days, but it takes real effort to check the facts. Many times it’s impossible to know for sure what the facts are. Posting claims that damage a person’s reputation when we can’t verify the facts is reckless, if not slander. (Proverbs 6:16, 19) We model integrity when we show respect, but also when we resist the temptation to share posts that don’t play fair with the facts.

Peace during uncertain and unprecedented times.

Recently I’ve been listening to the song “My Hope Is Jesus” by Ron Hamilton. The chorus goes like this:

My hope is Jesus – the anchor of my soul,

the ruler of the universe, the One Who’s in control.

He saved me, and He will keep me till the end.

The rock of my salvation – on Christ I will depend.

My hope is Jesus.

Our dark world is desperately in need of hope. Even our churches need Christians whose hope truly is Jesus. 2020 has become a disturbing year in many ways. I can let these troubling events steal my peace, but then I’ve lost the opportunity to model hope. I may not understand what’s going on in my world. I may not have the answers to the problems around me. But when I focus on Christ instead of the tidal waves of current events, I can model unshakable faith.

Submission, patience, compassion, respect, fairness, peace. Our world needs to see these Christian virtues more than ever before. The church needs to see living, breathing models of these virtues. We have opportunities to let our light shine in unprecedented ways. Today. Right where we are.

Let’s take advantage of these opportunities and let our light shine.

Listen to “My Hope is Jesus.” 

 

Download the sheet music to “My Hope is Jesus.”