A year ago I hadn’t even heard of the Museum of the Bible (ohmygosh who’s been to this incredible interactive museum in Washington, DC?). Today, not only am I itching to take a fieldtrip there, but I’m also excited to announce the release of this book I wrote for them--The Curious Kids Guide to Heroes and Villains in the Bible. A beautiful set of God-directed circumstances allowed me to write this book with my co-author, the brilliant theologian, Doug Powell. I pray Jesus will use it to teach curious kiddos and curious grown-ups how amazing His love and grace is.
For this writing project God enrolled me in Bible 101. I pored over page after page of books like 1 and 2 Chronicles and Job—books I rarely wade any further than ankle deep. Let’s just say I got soaking wet in the Word, which was incredible. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, I also got to be doused with a wealth of Biblical knowledge from my co-author. So after all that reading, and learning here was my biggest takeaway. Ready?
It’s going to sound a lot like The Breakfast Club. Remember the letter at the end to the principal, Mr. Vernon?
We’re all heroes and villains. Each and every one of us.
We’re all created by God—given unique talents and gifts from our Creator. If we’re followers of Jesus we’re handed God’s armor to protect us (Ephesians 6) and have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) planted inside us. Which enables us all to be good guys. If we want to be.
But God also gives us free will. And we exercise it liberally. Which leads to some of our bad guy tendencies. After spending time in the stories of over ninety historical folks, it’s easy to see how, where, and why so many of them slipped. And unfortunately, how I falter in some of the same ways.
King Saul was doing great, until he tried to do things his way instead of God’s way. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to take the wheel. Mine’s in the air.
Pontius Pilate was this close to letting Jesus off the hook, but then he worried about what people would think. Ugh. How often do we worry about what someone else thinks? About even something small like if our family will like the dinner we cooked?
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but he got frustrated when Jesus didn’t do things the way Judas wanted Him to—overturn the corrupt government. Ever wish God would do things differently—hurry up with this, make this cost or hurt less, change your circumstances? Yeah. Me, too.
This is starting to look bleak. But not really. Because if we take a peek at the lives of the heroes of the Bible, they were also a hot mess. David stole his friend’s wife. Peter pretended he didn’t know Jesus. The Apostle Paul murdered Christians, to name a few. How did those guys end up as heroes? They turned back to God. And God ALWAYS welcomes His children back with open arms. No matter how villainous we've been. This is amazing news!
We will mess up. We have days (or weeks, or even years) when we feel like villains (or other people might feel like we’re villains). But as long as we go back to Jesus, lay our sins down at the foot of the cross; and allow Him to love us? We get to be heroes. We get to trade in our black hats and wear the white ones. Because as the prophet, Isaiah reminds us, If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. —Isaiah 1:18-19 MSG
This is worth celebrating! Jesus intentionally came down to earth to live among us, to die for us, so all our sins could be removed once and for all, so we could be heroes.
I don’t know about you, but in the final scene, I want to end up wearing the white hat, not the black one. So, I’m going to work on keeping my eyes on Jesus, on day after day turning back to Him. Will you join me?
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
Have you ever become unexpected friends with someone?
On my first young adult novel, Skinny, I had no idea how the whole editing/publishing process worked. I received an email from a woman named Amy Parker, the editor assigned to my book, saying she had sent me a previous email but hadn’t heard from me, and our deadline was approaching. I was intimidated just by the word editor. And WHAT email? How had I missed it? And deadline? Yikes! How could I have already messed things up?
I typed back with shaking fingers a giant apology, begging to chat on the phone, because I was a rookie and was clueless as to what was expected from me and when. I was anticipating someone firm, hard-edged, in a suit with black glasses. Too many movies, maybe. Instead a comforting, friendly voice packed with Southern charm and smiles filled my ear with reassurances, “no problem,” “plenty of time,” “minor changes,” “no big deal.” My shoulders relaxed. I smiled, too, even laughed, and we completed the project on time (much improved with her edits).
Amy was assigned as editor on my next two novels, Hot and Angry. And through the process we learned about each other—our shared love of coffee, chocolate, Jesus, Jack Johnson, and family. We discovered we both had a passion to share our faiths through the written word: we didn’t want to be pushy, we just longed to be genuine, and we strived for our work to be quality, to stand out.
Because God is God, Amy’s family vacation brought her within an hour of my home. We met for mochas and true confessions. Since then we’ve attended a writer’s conference in California together, she hosted me in her home, her writing brought her back to Ohio, and we’ve chatted on countless Skype sessions waving dictionaries, Bibles, and laughter. God knew I needed Amy Parker in my life. In many ways she helped launch my writing career, because she encouraged me back on that first novel to keep writing the kinds of things I was writing. But way beyond helping with my writing, she’s become one of my dearest friends. Her heart fills the room. Her faith is even bigger. And her passion for others is a result of the enormity of her heart and faith.
One of our visits was when Amy was in Columbus, Ohio. The zoo’s annual Fete, a fundraiser to protect Rwanda, the land of the gorillas, brought her to town, and I got to be her date. Amy introduced me to a man named Frederick. Frederick’s smile is as bright as a full moon on a dark sky. Immediately upon being introduced, he embraced me in a tight hug. He showed me his beautiful, colorful paintings of his homeland, Rwanda. The fete was also helping support Frederick’s foundation, a place where Rwandans disabled by the genocide can find life again, where they are taught life skills, and learn to play sports, and are given food and shelter, and most importantly, hope. Oh, did I tell you Frederick had his arms severed in the aftermath of the genocide?
Yup, that’s Frederick, grinning from ear to ear, helping others, fighting the good fight, even though he was left for dead on the side of the road. Painting bright images, embracing people he’s just met, and riding his bike around the country to raise money to help others, even though he has no hands. And, Amy, with that passion I told you about, has written with Frederick his story. You know what they named it? Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope.
Where are you today? Does something seem too big? Are you unsure? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Defeated?
Hang in there. A friend like Amy Parker is just around the corner. A man like Frederick is changing people’s lives, when he could have given up on his. Read their story. Find hope again.
I love award show season. I ogled over George Clooney during the Golden Globes, because; well, because I do every year. I’m counting down until Sunday night so I can glue myself to the Grammy’s. And don’t even get me started on the Oscars, but I do hope Les Mis sweeps.
Every year it seems like there are more and more award shows rewarding everything from Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards to Outstanding Performance Under Pressure for an athlete at the Espys.
In our house we give The Goat.
Although not quite as glamorous as a golden statue of a phonograph or a little bald man, The Goat is coveted and treasured in our home. We don’t select special outfits or write speeches in hopes of earning The Goat. Instead, we just try to be good people. And some days that’s easier than others.
Each night the recipient of The Goat from the previous night, sneaks into someone else’s room and places The Goat on the winner du jour’s pillow. Whoever is in possession of The Goat can award The Goat to whomever they want for any reason at all. There are no criteria. But, in the past The Goat has been awarded for listening to someone when they’ve been upset. It’s been snuck onto the pillowcase of someone who did somebody else’s chores. Some days The Goat appears in the bed of the person who had the hardest day, who cried and screamed (either literally or figuratively) but needs to be reminded how special they are.
We all love to be recognized for our accomplishments. Whether that’s running the fastest mile at our school or at the Olympics, writing a moving song or a powerful essay, or sometimes just making someone smile.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. Matthew 5:12
And we all have the ability to reward others for jobs well done. It doesn’t have to be a crystal statue. It can be a cookie (especially if it’s chocolate chip) or a text or a hug. Just something to let someone else know they’re special.
Who can you make feel like a superstar today?
“We were made to be courageous,” The Casting Crowns belt out in their song. But what does it mean - to be courageous?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines courage as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
My lovely friend, Amy Parker, co-authored the new book, Courageous Teens (click on the picture to order) with Michael Catt. In the book they delve into not only what it means to be courageous, but also how to attain that courage. I had the pleasure of interviewing them about the challenge to be courageous.
Laura: Courageous Teens focuses on people in the Bible who displayed great courage when it would have been easier to play it safe. Which one of these characters do you most identify with or are most inspired by? Why?
Michael: I think Daniel, especially when thinking of teenagers and the next generation. They are the future of the church, our future leaders, pastors, and missionaries. We need a generation of Daniels if we are going to take back the culture.
Amy: Esther is such a powerful, inspiring role model for women. Here is an orphaned girl who is able to influence an entire kingdom, to save her people, simply because she was brave enough to stand in courage. When I’m faced with a difficult situation, I can hear Mordecai telling Esther, “Maybe you were chosen for such a time as this.”
Laura: In what areas of life do you think teens need to be courageous?
Michael: There is little difference between teens and their parents—it’s the “fear of man” which is “a snare.” Peer pressure, what others think, is it cool, are all subtle forces that cause us to cave in.
Amy: Wow. In every area! We don’t realize it when we’re young, but so many decisions made in our teen years shape the rest of our lives. That’s why it is vital to train and educate teens and young adults to make courageous decisions now. From this point forward, they must learn it’s okay—encouraged, actually!—to make choices that dare to go against the grain of popular society.
Laura: But that can be so difficult. How do you advise teens to stay strong and be brave when it seems like everything is against them?
Michael: Read the Word, get their examples from people that God marked out as Courageous.
Amy: In Courageous Teens, we help readers start small, to make one courageous decision today. While Michael and I hope the content will help teens think more courageously in general, we also put that courage to work. After every chapter, we give readers a prompt that helps them decide one thing they can do to apply that chapter’s principle to their lives. Right then and there. By the end of the book, they will have done at least ten courageous actions. Actions become habits. Habits form behavior. Before you know it, you’ve got a whole society of courageous teens, standing strong together, making a better world for us all. “Courage is contagious.”
Laura: The book is divided into four sections; Courageous Faith, Courageous Leadership, Courageous Priorities and Courageous Influence. Which one do you think is most important?
Michael: I don’t know if one is more important than the other. I rather think it’s about the flow. You have to have faith if you are going to be a leader. Leaders set priorities, and those who have faith, lead. Leaders set priorities and are influencers.
Amy: I think they all work hand-in-hand, but you’ve got to start with courageous faith. It has to start within you. From there, you’ll build your priorities and lead and influence others. Each part strengthens the other.
Laura: Where do you find courage?
Michael: From The Word of God, from the indwelling Holy Spirit and from reading the biographies of great men.
Amy: This book was just as much a reminder for me as it is for anyone who reads it. It’s a daily quest. I know that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 HCSB). And I know where to find that perfect love. But I have to seek it. Every day. Every day I’m faced with something new, something that scares me, and I have to look perfect love in the face before I have the courage to stand up and step over my fears. I remind myself who and what I’m fighting for. I’m not doing this for me. And I’m not doing this alone.
Joshua 1:9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
What one thing can you do today to be Courageous?
Who commands crowds so large, there’s standing room only?
Many people came to the house where he was staying so they could hear him speak. The house was so crowded that there was no room left anywhere. Mark 2
When George Clooney was filming The Ides of March on our college campus, students and townspeople huddled around his trailers in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Hollywood heartthrob. When Dave Matthews played at our University’s arena, the show was sold out in less than an hour, not a single seat left in the house. When our hockey team plays, despite their sleeping bags and overnight vigils, many students are turned away before getting limited, coveted tickets to the games.
“Which do you think is easier to do; heal this man so he can walk again or forgive his sins? But I will show you that I do have the power to forgive sins.” So Jesus said to the paralyzed man. “Stand up! Pick up your stretcher and walk!” The man got up at once, picked up his stretcher and walked out in front of the crowd. Mark 2
Who saves people today?
In our childhood imaginations there were Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman who always saved the innocent, locked the bad guys up and restored order to Gotham City or Metropolis. These guys weren’t just heroes, they were SUPER heroes. But they weren’t real.
In reality, we do have people who save lives; doctors, nurses, fire fighters, policemen, EMT’s, soldiers -- who save human kind from tragedy from danger – sometimes they help the lame walk. Often, they save lives. They are heroes. Real life heroes.
They can save our lives. But they cannot save our souls.
“How can this man say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Only God can forgive sins. Mark 2
Only Jesus can do that. He is the ultimate Superhero – saving the innocent, saving us, banishing Satan so he is powerless and restoring order to His people – restoring order to us, when we ask.
Who would you camp out to get a chance to see? Who is your hero?
Laura L. Smith