Introducing the Art Spotlight Mysteries

As a subscriber to my Book Blast, you are the first to get a sneak peek at the book covers for my new series. Ta da!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll recognize the covers of Broken Windows and Déjà Who? as similar to the first two books of my “Keyhole Mystery” series. What’s going on here?

Rebranding

The text of Broken Windows and Déjà Who? is not changing, but I’m rebranding my “Keyhole Mysteries” as the “Art Spotlight Mysteries.” Why?

The new design does three things:

  • The similarity of design identifies them better as part of a series.
  • The new title for the series does a better job of presenting the main plot line.
  • The design style fits a lighthearted mystery.

Why didn’t I do this in the first place?

Writing is a process. Now that I’m finishing the third in the series, I can see things I couldn’t see when I had finished the first.

As I wrote Broken Windows, about 2010, I began to recognize that the mystery genre had broken into several new genres. Suspense promises readers lots of action and cliff hangers. Chase scenes and shoot-outs keep readers on the edge of their seats. Mysteries are more about character development and solving the mystery puzzle. Cozy mysteries had just made their debut. These light-hearted novels often feature cats or crafts of some kind.

Where did I fit into that picture? When watching a movie, I found myself falling asleep during car chases. Gore was definitely out for my books, but many cozies seemed too shallow to be meaningful. Most Christian novels seemed to feature broken, immature believers recovering from some deep sin in their past. Where were Christian novels I could identify with? I wanted to write about ordinary characters who were fairly mature Christians, challenged to live by a high standard of Christ-like conduct. And I had to ask myself why almost all mysteries, even Christian ones, feature murder as their main mystery.

I ended up with Broken Windows, a mystery centered around four single young adults who were struggling with career choices and finding God’s will for their lives. For the most part it fit the light-hearted nature of a cozy, but it did deal with some serious issues. With a male protagonist leading readers into the world of car guys and professional art, I wanted to avoid some of the girly issues that turn men away from cozy mysteries. Broken Windows helps the reader discover new worlds along with the characters. They enter the world of handicapped people, art professionals, and graffiti art. I made Broken Windows Book One in the “Keyhole Mysteries” with the tagline: Discover New Worlds.

In Book Two, Déjà Who?, Jordan and Zophie enter the world of international students in Minneapolis. They encounter the new world of forgery as they have to distinguish real from fake. But I began to realize that the most obvious common thread for the series would be art rather than the worlds the characters were discovering.

Now that I’m getting ready to launch I Scream and I realize that the series needs to be rebranded as art mystery. As a result, I plan to change the name of my series to the “Art Spotlight Mysteries” as I launch Book Three and change the cover design as well. The stories of the first two novels haven’t changed, but they will work better as a series this way.

When can I buy I Scream?

Soon. Right now beta readers are reading the book. I hope to launch this book before Thanksgiving, in time for Christmas. You’ll get more details in future Book Blasts.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a Christmas Program to Fit Your Small Church

September means “back to school” for most North Americans. While moms are buying school supplies, you may be quietly, and desperately, searching for a Christmas program to fit your church. The prospects may be discouraging. Maybe your church is too small to do a cantata and many Sunday School programs demand more than your church can provide. Christmas may be a major evangelistic outreach for you. You want something nice, but you are discouraged with your limited resources. What can you do?

4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Christmas Program

1. What is my purpose for the program?

Often Christmas programs are mainly evangelistic. It is the one time in the year to reach the families of kids who come to church. If that’s true for you, you want to be sure to feature these kids, not just your core church kids. Parents come to see their kids perform. Showcasing their kids is more important than showcasing more talented performers.

2. What do I have to work with?

How many people will participate? What ages are they? How willing are they to work? Are they musicians or are they more inclined toward drama? Consider how you can use the people you have in a way that will make them feel good about their participation.

3. How can I make the message meaningful for the audience, yet fun?

You may have people attend your program who only rarely attend church. You want this experience to be a positive one. If the overall tone is heavy and preachy it may push them further away. You certainly want a strong salvation message clearly presented, but lighter moments may help your unsaved audience better receive the message. Look for a Christmas program which will keep the atmosphere friendly and positive.

4. How can I make the program meaningful for the performers?

Program practice needs to be well organized, moving through the practices in an efficient manner. Some sense of discipline is necessary, but the general atmosphere should be upbeat. You want to emphasize that the purpose of your performance is God’s glory, not to show off. Yet the whole experience should be fun and fulfilling.

You may choose a program that your church is capable of producing through hard work, but you also need to consider how willing your people are. If your kids, performers, and workers are not highly motivated, you are probably better off not choosing a very difficult program. If you are going to have to threaten your performers and workers and drive them mercilessly to memorize lines and attend long practices, you’ve probably chosen the wrong program. On the other hand, a few highly motivated people can form the core of a more difficult program, with less motivated people playing less demanding parts.

I offer eight Christmas programs which I have used in a small mission church. Some are more demanding than others. “No Room for Jesus” is my personal favorite. Most are free, but some you have to order. Happy planning!

 

Faithful Workers

h7039537_sWhen we travel across America on furlough and I find myself deeply moved at things others hardly notice.

In Casper, Wyoming a deacon hurries to vacate a table so we can set up our display. He’s trying not to annoy us. I am touched. This deacon drives to church every Sunday, early, ahead of his family, to fold bulletins and add inserts so the pastor doesn’t have to.

In Kalispell, MT I stumble upon the lady who has kept the church financial records for 25 years. She even keeps track of the small change the children put in the offering year by year. (“They tithe too. They need to be acknowledged.”)

In Sheldon, Iowa a small church has a rotating schedule of pianists and organists. Many musicians play special numbers for services, sometimes more than one special per service.

Two different churches maintain mission houses all year long, year after year, which we can use on furlough. Our short furloughs make it impossible to rent, but living by ourselves for short stretches helps us keep our sanity.

In every church we find people who mow the lawn, watch the nursery, count the offering, prepare dishes for pot-lucks, scrub toilets, type bulletins, play the piano, direct programs, teach Sunday School, and do a thousand other small jobs around the church. Deacons, trustees, secretaries, treasurers, clerks, hospitality committees, and other volunteers. Yes, a pastor and his wife can and do fill some of these positions. No pastor should be too important to scrub a toilet. But if you have people to help with these tasks in your church, thank God for them. You are rich. So many missionaries would love a fraction of the help you have every week.  In our mission church we have a small corps of people who faithfully help us. We are so thankful for them. But I am so touched when I see the wide variety of small jobs filled by people in the average church.

Take time to thank God for the workers in your church. While you’re at it, why not thank them for all they do?

Why I don’t tell people, “God told me to.”

Success highway curve stop go sign progressMaybe you’ve had this experience. Someone you know is moving into new territory by a major decision that makes no sense to you. You ask them why and get this answer: “God told me to.” What can you say to that? Not much, actually. Who are you to argue with God?

I get nervous when I hear someone give this answer. Do I want people to obey God and follow his leading? Certainly. But I think the “God told me to” answer has some dangers that we often miss.

Does God speak to us today? Yes, he speaks clearly and specifically from the Bible. If you want to know if God wants you to steal, cheat, lie, take his name in vain, or engage in immoral behavior, his answer from his Word is a resounding, “No.” He also speaks clearly about Christians marrying unbelievers, being kind to others, obeying those in authority, and telling others about Christ. He also gives many principles that help us make decisions in areas that are not specifically spelled out in Scripture. God has spoken and continues to speak from his Word. The Bible speaks with authority from God and, where it is clear, we don’t have to second guess what God wants us to do.

Today, however, many people want to speak their own words with the same level of authority as Scripture. They may say, “God told me to tell you,” or “I have a word from the Lord.” I believe those are dangerous words to say.

You might as well know that I am a cessationist. By that I mean that I believe there were certain “sign” gifts given to the church which passed from use early in church history, about the time of the completion of the New Testament and aren’t given to believers today. While God can do anything in any age, I don’t believe that he gives these gifts to people today: the ability to speak in tongues, that is speak a foreign language without learning it; to heal people miraculously and instantaneously; to foretell the future authoritatively and without error; to speak or write with authority equal to the Bible and without error. If you are a continuationist and believe the gifts of tongues, healing, and special prophecy to write the Bible are for today, then you won’t agree with me. It’s not the purpose of this blog to change your opinion. If you are really searching to answers to these questions, one good book is The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective by John F. MacArthur, Jr.

But if you are a cessationist, I caution you to avoid using phrases like, “God told me to do this,” or “God told me to say this and write it down,” or “I have a word from the Lord for you.” You may feel God wants you to do or say something, but phrasing it this way leads to misunderstanding. Some who believe the sign gifts are for today also say that their words carry equal authority with the Bible. They may even state that the Bible is outdated but we have newer, better revelation. Unless you want to identify with those groups you may want to word your thoughts in a different way.

Can we know what God wants us to do in given areas of our life? Yes, God promises to lead us. As I’ve noted already, God leads us authoritatively through his word, both specifically and by principle. Of course we need to be careful to take his Word in context. God told Abraham, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Gen 12:1 NKJV) That doesn’t mean God wants every Christian today to leave their family and go to another country to live.

God also leads us through circumstances, godly counsel, even feelings and desires that are in tune with him. But we need to be careful not to put feelings and circumstances on the same level as the Bible. Feelings and circumstances can be subjective. No counselor is always right. A course of action can feel right at some point and still not be what God wants for us.

So saying “God told me” is often sloppy theology which leaves us open to error. But there is another reason I believe this is dangerous. When someone says, “God told me to do this” they are, in effect, closing off all other input. “God told me” can mean, “I’m going to do it because I know it’s right. I’m not going to listen to anyone tell me otherwise.”

I prefer to say, “I believe God is leading me to do this.”

God’s leading through life is a process, a long path with many twists and turns. Sometimes it changes direction. Sometimes God seems to lead toward a certain goal or destination, only to change our course before we arrive. I believe he sometimes does this to lead us away from where we are, even when there is not yet a clear course to lead where he eventually wants us to go. He promises to lead us, but sometimes we only see a few steps ahead.

Each person is responsible to determine God’s leading for his life, but sometimes that leading is subjective. Most of the time God uses a combination of ways to lead us. He may use his Word, our circumstances, our desires, and the advice of godly people whom we trust. When I say, “I believe God is leading me to do this,” it shows I am moving ahead with confidence, but I am open to a change in direction in his leading. If I were to feel the Lord leading me to do something, but at some point several godly people whom I trust greatly express real concern about my decision, I would want to listen to them and consider their point of view. I might need to go back and ask the Lord to show me more clearly if I truly am following his leading and not just my feelings.

On a flight from Minneapolis to LA several years ago I noticed my seatmate was reading a New Testament.

“I see you found something interesting to read on the trip,” I said.

She told me it was her favorite book. I asked her if she was a Christian and she said she was. We chatted for a few minutes about our churches and ministries, then settled into reading.

As we approached our destination she interrupted my reading. She had just read the parable of the talents. She said she believed God was telling her to tell me that Art and I were doing a good work in New Zealand and he wanted us to be encouraged. She meant to be nice and encouraging. I didn’t launch into a long theological discussion and chew her out. I just said, “Thank you. That’s nice of you to say.” But I reminded myself that she really knew very little about our ministry and how faithful we were to it. What she was saying actually follows the pattern of many who claim to have “a word from the Lord” and speak authoritatively for God on a subject of which they have little knowledge.

One of my greatest joys is knowing God’s leading in the direction of my life. I do have to be careful, however, to acknowledge the fact I may be wrong in discerning this at times. I need advice from godly Christian people. I need to continually ask God if I am truly following his leading. And I need to remember that no other source of direction should be set on the level of God’s Word, which is authoritative and without error.

[Image courtesy of Michael Brown/Deposit Photos.]