Monday, September 15, 2014

50 Shades of the NFL

50 Shades of the NFL

I had every intention of staying away from anything controversial this week. Playing it nice and safe. It's so much more fun. But then . . . all the news broke last week about domestic violence and how we must stop it and who is to blame and whatever shall we do?

And I remembered this piece I started writing a while ago and planned to use in February, when a certain movie gets released in theaters. But I think the time is now, not later.

See, here's the thing. We condemn domestic abuse in all forms, which is absolutely right. We call it out in the NFL, and we should. But when we wring our hands and wonder how on earth we can stop it? When we point our fingers everywhere for blame? We're ignoring the fact that it is part of our culture, and that's where it has to start to end. And our culture includes—us. 

We can start to end it when we start to change what we accept as culturally OK.

Which is where that movie comes in. Fifty Shades of Grey. Aka, How to Abuse a Woman and Still Have Thousands of Other Women Swooning over You.

I've seen a lot of explanations for why women read the book and are excited to see the movie. 

It's freeing. 
It's sexy. 
It's just a story, so there's no harm. 
She changes him in the end, so it's redemptive.

But what about when it's not fiction? What about women for whom physical and emotional abuse, whether in the bedroom or the living room, because there is really no difference, is no breezy little story?

Here are some statistics on the harm:

  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers.
  • One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States.
  • 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.
That means that for millions of women and children, this is not a fun piece of fiction. It's their life. So here are the reasons I don't plan to hand over money to the theaters this winter.

Because to millions of women, pain is not romantic.

Statistically, there are women sitting in our churches whose husbands/boyfriends physically, emotionally, or verbally abuse them. They are there. They are silent. And every time they hear another woman talk about how “sexy” or romantic it is to read about Christian Grey dominating his girl, they're a little more silent. They live that life. It's not romantic, or glamorous, or safe. They are afraid, always.

Then they see us imply that they can change that man (they used to dream that, too) and that he's really exciting when he behaves this way, and they die a little more. We feel genuine compassion for these women and offer help and prayer. But it only confuses them when they know we find their real life great fictional entertainment.

Because our daughters are watching.

How about we prefer this fantasy for
their future?

Bad boy fantasies aren't uncommon among girls. Why do they say yes to dating the boy they know isn't good for them? One of the most common reasons girls go ahead and date that bad boy is that they want to be able to change him. They'll feel powerful and redemptive, and that feels good. They'll be like Anna, and we're telling them that's great. That it works. If it works in fiction, it will work for them, right?

That's the fantasy. But fantasy it is. A lot of young girls have this fantasy. They don't end up with the hot guy and the thrilling life. Girls who take this route find themselves abused, stalked, and threatened by the bad boy they believed they would change. Too often, they end up dead. 

Dominating a young woman is a sociopath pattern of behavior that nearly always ends in at best entrapment they can't leave for fear of retribution and at worst death at the hands of that man. It's cold, hard statistics, not fiction. The myth of “I can change him” truly kills girls. That's not redemptive entertainment.

A formerly abused woman tells her story:
During my first semester of college, I dated a young man who tried to control whom I talked to and what friends I could have. When he got drunk – which was often – he called me “a stupid whore,” he threatened me with physical violence, and he pushed me. Afterward, he would cry in my arms, tell me that he was broken, and beg me to help him. I didn’t stay, not forever, but I did stay for a while, because I loved him, because I wanted it to work out, because his emotional vulnerability made me feel more responsible for his emotional well-being than my own. Mine is not an unusual story. Ours are not isolated incidents.”

Can we look our daughter in the eye, or a niece, little sister, best friend's daughter, and imagine her choosing to be with a man like this? Tell me you didn't turn away and cringe. Please, stop telling her that it's OK to give up your dignity and safety because a man is attractive and you feel good being his personal Messiah. It never ends well outside of fiction.

Because our husbands need to know they're enough.

Think about it a minute. When a woman bids her husband goodbye and heads out to the theater, consider what he's feeling. You know, that man you promised to honor through everything life throws at you? Sorry, dude. You're not exciting enough. You're not good enough. You're just not . . . enough.

Real Supermen? They do dishes. There is nothing sexier
than a man doing dishes.
In real life, a husband may work long hours, have dirt or grease under his fingernails, and forget about the baby spitup on his sleeve. He gets tired, cranky, and sick. In real life, there aren't very many men with no real work to do, good looks that never get messed by playing with the kids or sweating through a car repair, and enough money to give a woman anything she desires.

Most husbands are normal, average guys trying to do their best for their wives and keep their wedding vows in good and bad. Don't tell them that's not good enough. Ladies, that's as good as it gets. That's amazing. That's a blessing from God, and don't forget it.

It's not only the NFL culture that turns a blind eye to domestic violence. It's our culture as a whole when we take the same real thing that happened in a elevator and put it in a bedroom story and call it entertainment. It's not harmless. It's not fiction. And it's totally our call whether we want our daughters to believe the myth or not. I choose not.
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

30 Days of Savings

Hobbits, Elves, and Dragons—More Real Than You Believe?

Hobbits, elves, and dragons have become common fantasy characters but do they have more relevance to your life than you think? Are they as real as, or the same as, people you meet every day? Maybe not literally, but J.R.R. Tolkien's famous characters bring to life real character qualities we all can learn from, whether good or bad. 

What can the bravery of a hobbit, the faith of a elf, or the greed of a dragon teach teens about themselves? How can their stories lead us to the real Kingdom where God is working out way more than a fantasy for his people? Dig in to these familiar characters and relevant Bible passages to find out. Come out understanding how to live your own epic story!

In honor of TODAY--Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' birthday (yes, both of them) you can purchase Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World for only 99 cents on kindle! It's never too early to shop for Christmas! (Or to gift your youth group leader with this resource.)

Today, September 22 only! On sale here for 99 cents. Also, print version can be purchased here.

Tomorrow, check out this site for the next sale book in the John 316 network--Random Ramblings by  Roving Redhead, by Dana Rongione. (The title makes me want to check it out!)

This month only too you can win one of three Amazon gift cards by clicking below.

Don't Forget to Pack the Kids

Think mission trips are only for teenagers and adults? Think again.“Because much of short-term missions is geared toward adults and youth groups, Richardson fills her pages with encouragement for bringing young children on short-term missions. Writing from personal experience, she shares the opportunities her daughters had to actively participate in service during a family trip to China.

She helps parents know how to prepare spiritually and practically before taking the family to an international mission with step-by-step instructions, She even includes a Spiritual Gift Inventory families can evaluate to identify each person's individual gifts and talents. For anyone who is considering taking their children overseas, this book is a great resource for encouragement, preparation, and settling back home.” Amy Bither, Free Methodist World Missions

On sale today only here on kindle.
Print version here.

Tomorrow take a look at Lorilyn Roberts' The King, on sale here

Other books in the 30 Days of Savings lineup:

Lorilyn Roberts The King 9/8

Michelle D. Evans Spiraling out of Control 9/9

Cheryl Colwell Secrets of Montebellis 9/10

Laura J. Davis He Who Has an Ear 9/11

Krystal Kuehn In Christ, I Am 9/13

Violet James God Restores 9/14

Emma Right Keeper ofReign 9/15

Pearl Nsaih-Kumi The Last Train at Sunset 9/16

William Burt The King of the Trees 9/18

Kimberley Payne Women of Strength 9/19

Cheryl Colwell The Proof 9/20

D.K. Drake The Dragon Collector 9/21

Jill Richardson Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World 9/22

Robin Johns Grant Summer'sWinter 9/24

Elizabeth Paige He's Looking for a Bride 9/25

Shoshana Rhodes One LambRedeemed 9/26

Michelle D. Evans Spiraling Out of Control 9/27

Sharon A. Lavy Deadly Secret 9/28

Lorilyn Roberts Children ofDreams 9/29

Dana Rongione Through Many Dangers 9/30

William Burt Torsils in Time 10/1

Laura J. Davis Come to Me 10/2

Kmberley Payne Fit for Faith 10/3

Emma Right Dead Dreams 10/4

Val Newton Knowles Everyday UpliftingYou 10/5

Elizabeth Paige Boo-Hoo Moo Cow 10/6

Jill Richardson Don't Forget to Pack the Kids 10/7

Monday, September 8, 2014

God's Not Dead. But He May Be a Tad Unwell

God's not dead. This is true. I believe it with all I have. But I won't be tweeting it or texting it. In case anyone was waiting.

It's big news that the DVD version of God's Not Dead is out, and Christians are lining up to buy it. I admit right now—I've not seen it. Nor do I plan to. So maybe you think I am unqualified to offer up an opinion, and maybe you're right.

But some reading and thinking I did over the weekend made me consider that, maybe, I should. Not necessarily a critique of the movie, nor a judgment on anyone for purchasing it. If you liked it, we're brothers and sisters. Let's not infight. But a discussion of the message, and how it impacts more than we realize, might be in order.

That reading led me to two places this weekend—an atheist's blog (not my normal reading fare, but perhaps it should be), and the book Almost Christian. Both address the thing that had been bothering me about this movie, and the blogger put it in a way that should certainly make Christians pay attention.

Here is the important part of his critique:

In the end the central injustice of this movie is its failure to fairly represent a class of people whom Christians purport to love. But it’s not loving people well to misrepresent them this badly. This movie caricatures, dehumanizes, and depersonalizes people like me, portraying us in the worst possible light.

This is not love. You cannot love people while ignoring everything they tell you about themselves. You are not loving people when you refuse to listen to their stories. You are not loving them well when you decide before hearing them that you already know all that you need to know about them. This movie represents a grievous failure to love people like me.

Ouch. Double ouch. Infinity ouch. He's right.

It is simply impossible to accuse an entire group of people of having no moral compass and then claim you are taking the moral high ground by virtue of being a Christian. 

It's impossible to characterize and degrade a person I do not even know simply because he belongs to a particular belief system and call it a Christian perspective. When it is done to us, we balk, and rightfully so. When it is done to a racial group, we call it evil, and rightfully so. But if we do it, and call it “defending God”? Well OK then. Carry on.

Yes, I know that there are professors on our campuses who are hostile to Christian faith. The university I attended began as Unitarian and got more liberal from there. So, I get it. Yes, I know that there are those who will argue and criticize and outright mock Christians for their beliefs. They will use any public forum they can to do so. I have atheist friends who refer to Christians as fools (and far worse things I won't repeat) on Facebook. We are friends, and it hurts.  

But that does not make it acceptable to return fire in like manner.

Jesus said others would know we were his by our love. But somehow, we've decided, it's OK not to love atheists because, hey, they called us names first. We're only giving back what we've gotten for decades. Which sounds suspiciously like “Do unto others as they do to you,” a version of the golden rule that deletes a few vastly important words.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus didn't make any exceptions. He didn't say, “Unless they were mean first.” “Unless they don't believe in me anyway.” “Unless by being unloving you can make a big impact for Jesus in theaters. Then, well, it might be OK.”

He said love your enemies. Pray for them. Look for ways to do good to them. Give them the shirt off your back if need be. Why, why do we ignore those words, given with no condition, when we think we have some sort of holy culture war?

It just seems sometimes that while we are desperately trying to prove Christianity is true, we're missing the one hallmark Jesus said would prove it. 

Jesus will have none of a graceless following.  [tweet this].

In Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean puts it beautifully:

"Mission is not just a matter of geography—where Jesus was sent into the world. It is also a matter if identification—as Jesus was sent, as a person, and specifically as a person whose love for humanity was of such divine proportions that he chose to share human suffering in order to overcome it with God's death-shattering power. 'As the Father has sent me, so send I you,' Jesus tells his disciples. In other words, Jesus not only sends the church where he was sent; he sends us in the same way that he was sent, as human translations of divine love, people whose words and actions do not grasp for God as much as they reveal a God who grasps for us.

The church's identity is not defined primarily by its edges but by its center: focused on Christ, the sole source of our identity, no intruder poses a threat. No alien hops a fence, because there is no fence. Boundaries are determined by proximity to the Holy Spirit's centripetal pull, not by arbitrary human borders. The more churches lose our ability to barricade ourselves off from one another, the more God's grace flows from us into the world.”
This neighbor built a fence.

So what would it look like if, while we ably and thoughtfully “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” we remembered the second half of that verse: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience . . .” (1 Peter 3.150-16).

This one tore one down. Guess which neighbor we
actually talk to?
What would it look like if rather than do anything to defend God, who needs no one to prove him or defend him, we would do anything to love like God?

As the Father sent me, so I send you. How do you want to be sent? As one of the commenters on the atheist's blog added: 
"Christians, we can do better than this."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Hesitant Heiress--A Musical Heroine

Here is the second in the Hartline Blitz series. Hey this book--you get to read the first chapter! How cool is that? Then decide for yourself if The Hesitant Heiress is for you. Here is author Dawn Crandall's summary of this historical romance.

   With the rare ability to play the piano by ear, Amaryllis Brigham wants nothing more than to someday found a music school. However, someone keeps undermining her hopes and dreams at every turn. 

    Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself quickly falling in love with the most unlikely of men—the son of the very man she suspects has been bent on ruining her life. However, Nathan Everstone turns out to be much more than he seems… and everything she never knew she wanted. But can she trust an Everstone man?

Read the first chapter here.

Dawn Crandall writes long inspirational historical romantic suspense. She has a BA in Christian Education from Taylor University and lives in northeast Indiana with her ever-supportive husband and their newest addition, a little baby boy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Look for Secrets at Crescent Point

As part of something we're calling The Hartline Blitz (because it sounds cool, right?), I'm going to be featuring from time to time a book by another author in my agency. Today, it's Raquel Byrnes, author of The Noble Island Mystery series. Enjoy this short blurb from Raquel if you like mystery, romance, and a bit of suspense.

This week the second book in my Noble Island Mystery series came out! Set on the same mysterious Noble Island as the first book, this one delves into the strange and secretive ways of the island's Romany people. Secrets at Crescent Point is a Gothic Romance with intrigue and thrills, I know you'll love Raven and Siyah's adventure!

Here is an official blurb...

Leaving Noble Island amid scandal and accusation, Raven vows never to return, but when her sister’s fiancĂ© goes missing, Raven has no choice. Shunned by the island, if she is to unravel the mystery of Niklos’s disappearance, she must rely on the only man she’s ever loved, Siyah Cavaler.

Siyah was devastated when Raven left Noble Island, but as the clan’s heir apparent, he has a responsibility to keep the families from falling into ruin and crime. To preserve the island’s future, he agrees to a bride from a rival family, but Raven’s return stirs his heart and jeopardizes his position in the council. Giving in to his love for Raven would mean turning his back on all he’s ever known.

When Raven’s investigation uncovers a grisly discovery, a darkness is unleashed that threatens them both.

Bizarre accidents, unexplained deaths, and strange apparitions shroud the island. Raven and Siyah struggle to save the families and their love as they race to stop another death and unveil the Secrets at Crescent Point.

Buy at Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Christian Book Distributers

Monday, August 25, 2014

Family Feud

The third in a series on discipling the family, originally appearing in Light and Life Communications.

In Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, Ruth Bell Graham reminds readers that, “Lord, You have trouble with Your children, too.” A family fractured by the estrangement of a child or parent has unique discipleship needs. Yet it also has unique opportunities to grow beyond what might be experienced in easier circumstances. Having gone through the experience, I've discovered the value of those opportunities.

A few verses put into perspective what God can teach during a family feud.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers.” (John 15.5-6)

Often in loving an estranged family member, we feel thrown away. But when dependent, abiding prayer is all we have, we find out it's what we most need. We learn the absolute truth of how little we can do without our Vine when we are forced into helplessness. It's scary--until you discover its deep peace.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12.15). Until we know the pain of a child turning from God, let's be honest, we tend to be judgmental of other parents.

But when it happens to us—suddenly we re-recognize grace. We discover that everyone has a backstory. We hurt when they hurt. We grasp the depth of God's mercy and become profoundly grateful. It's not so easy to criticize—and that leads to relationships you never imagined you'd have with grace you never thought you'd yield. The beauty of that becomes overwhelming.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15.20).

The father's heart is broken and his trust shattered. Yet he doesn't interrogate his son about intentions and sincerity. He doesn't wait to see how it's going to work out. He welcomes him completely back into the family. My guess is the only way this father could do that was to practice praying for his son and offering forgiveness daily.

*What can you let go of today in true forgiveness?
*What is the hardest thing for you about trusting a family member who has hurt you? How can God help that?

Pink towels and new adventures

Who knew a laundry load of towels and sheets could ambush you like that? It's been things like that today. Little things that put me on the floor in a puddle. Cleaning the bathroom and noticing her towel is no longer on the hook. Turning around while packing and seeing the preschool picture on the shelf, tentative smile and leopard dress her sister made for her. 

In two hours we pack the van. She is ready. I so am not.

Those were my words last Thursday. And now it's done—the baby is off, packed into her dorm room (on a day where the heat index read 114 degrees), happily organizing her new life. While I organize mine.

Borrowed van. Because you know what?
An entire life will not fit in a Prius.
There is plenty to do. I will never be one of those who wonders what to do with my time. I know there are new adventures to find and old ones to give my full attention to. I know God has a new chapter for me as well as for her, and I am ready for it.

Yet there are last words to say, and things I want her to know. I'm not going to take this space to lament the passing of time or the loss of a smile and someone who speaks simultaneously the same thought. 

Although, I will definitely miss her uncanny facial expressions that can always light any situation. But you know, the child is texting me as I write this, so it's not like she's in Siberia or anything. There is that. At least that.

With all the “you can succeed at anything,” “you are awesome,” and there are no limits to your adventure” talk our kids have been getting as they head into college, I want to add something. Something I don't think they hear as much, Something I think they may need to hear more. So here, dear Child #3, is what I want you to know as you begin this, indeed, limitless adventure.

You will fail.

When you took that Buzzfeed quiz about “What place in the family are you?” and you got “the perfect one”? Please don't believe that's got to be you.

You will fail. You will make mistakes and have regrets. You will disappoint yourself and others. There will be tears. There will be days when you feel your entire identity is tied up in whether or not you get the grade, make the team, or impress the instructor/choir director/interviewer.

And you won't.

Did you think I was kidding?
Because part of this new adult thing you're trying to get used to is that the cushion is gone and stuff happens that lands you on your butt. Hard. I'm not there to catch you, and the tough truth is, if I was, I should not, and I hope, would not. You never know with mommas.

Is this depressing advice on your first week when everything looks so rosy happy? I hope not. I hope it's encouraging, really. See, I know somewhere, in the back of your excited, anticipating, expanding mind, there is fear. 

I know it. I am your momma. 

Fear that this is going to be harder than anything you've done before. Fear that you're standing on a tiny outcrop of stone, and it's a long, long way down if you misstep and there is no net below. It's all on you now. Scary.

Please do this at school. You will make
friends. I guarantee it.
So know now that it's OK to take that misstep. You will fall. But it will not be the end. It will not be disaster. You will have the courage and the resourcefulness to learn from it and make other choices, and new mistakes, next time. You will stand taller after you fall, not smaller. You will have looked fear in the eye and defeated it.

We will still love you. Your community will still love you. Your roommate will still love you. (Just don't wipe her computer like you did your sister's. That may tax her love a bit.)

You will still be of infinite value, because your value depends on things other than your output, GPA, or face in the mirror. Eternal things. Things that don't change like the day's classes. 

You will fail. But it will not define you. 

Falling will not be the end. It will be the beginning of discovering for yourself that you have wings. And God is holding you up on his wings. So fly, kid.

Old door.
New door.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Discipling Today's Kids Like Yesterday's Church

Because kids can sign a church charter.
And mean it.
Third installment of discipleship articles published in Light and Life Communications.

Most Christian parents have one main goal—ensure their kids grow into mature believers. But we also know the scary statistics. About sixty percent of those raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. Only four percent of Millennials attend church regularly. Discipling kids has never been so important or so challenging.

But what does that discipleship look like now? A lot like it looked in the beginning.


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer....They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need....They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2.42-46).

The number one reason youth stay in the church is they have seen a Christian lifestyle modeled with integrity--first in their parents and then between their parents and other church members. Their parents genuinely love God and his people. They've grown up in a community—not a building.

An Acts-like community of believers doesn't seem very normal in today's disposable-relaytionship culture, does it? But if we could keep our kids in church, would it be worth it to start making some changes in our priorities, schedule, finances, or church programs to create that community? What would it look like for your family?


When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos teaching), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).

Barnabas mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul mentored Silas and Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos. It's tough to find a place in the new church where relationships did not take priority and disciples were not made as a result. Young people remain in churches where someone took individual time to listen, model, and mentor.

*If you have teens, who in your church could come alongside your child in this kind of relationship? How will you move forward on that?


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1 Timothy 4.12, 2 Timothy 1.6).

Paul felt young people should be active in the ministry of the church, not fans watching the game. When young people feel valued, they are much more likely to find value in church. We need to stop calling youth the church of tomorrow and empower them to be the church today. They are not a threat to our power. They are our hope. Yes, they will make mistakes. So do we. Life is an imprecise science.

*What gifts do your children have from the Holy Spirit?
*How can you help them fan them into flames of ministry?

 *Where is there room for that in your church?

It's not as difficult as we make it to disciple kids. Just--listen. And take time. Not much has really changed in that respect in 2000 years.