Saturday, February 13, 2016

40 Days of Jesus ~ Day 4 (Mark 4)

Mark 4

And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Taking a big chunk here so we get both the parable and the explanation. 

I daresay we've all read this parable quite a few times before. But I was thinking about it recently when discussing the question of "once saved, always saved." We've been studying James in our Sabbath school, and in chapter 5, James tells us that he who tells a fellow Christian when he had slid away from the path and turns him back to righteousness, he has saved a soul from condemnation. To me, both James and this parable are pretty definitive on the question--people hear. People believe. Faith springs up . . . then sometimes it dies away.

If they're not turned back--if the soil isn't improved--they end up condemned. 

But part of having faith spring up is yielding fruit. It's enough to just be a plant. The whole point of it is to do something. Jesus uses the example of grain, because it's so incredibly useful, the basis of a diet. It's life. And it yields more life. One seed of grain that grows into a stalk of wheat will make hundreds of seeds that can each yield plants that produce as well. That's what our faith should be like--productive.

21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

This fits right in with what I was just saying. =) We have faith--so what are we doing with it?

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

I don't think I've ever really paid much attention to this little one! But it's kind of true, right? Even if we could diagram the life of a seed (ahem--yeah, we did that last year in our science, LOL), do we really understand the mystery of it? Not fully. We know what works. But we don't know why sunlight and soil and air and water mix to create this amazing little plant that can turn that mixture into food for itself, and for us too. 

We don't really know why faith works the way it is--but we know that it does, and what it does. And we can be those workers in the field.

30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”

I love this--the counterpoint to the traditional mustard seed parable we know better. We tend to think If I had the faith of a mustard seed . . . so tiny! But I could do so much. But this, I think, is how we need to understand that mustard-seed faith. Not that it's so tiny, but that what starts as something so tiny will grow and flourish into something so huge. So strong.

33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

I've written about this before. =) This isn't the only account of Jesus calming the storm in the Gospels, but it's my favorite. Because in this one, the order stands out to me. When his friends come and wake him up--fearful, panicked, faithless--what does he do?

He calms the thing causing them fear. And then he talks to them about it.

That's my Jesus. When I come to him distressed and distraught, first he comforts. Then he teaches.

But our part is to have faith in who He is--when he's asking his disciples why they have no faith, he's saying, "If you know who I am, if you know me, then you know my purpose isn't to be swallowed up in a storm. My purpose cannot be derailed by something like this. You need to have faith that God's purposes here are bigger than this."

Sometimes it's so hard to see the mission, the ministry, the calling when the waves are crashing around us. But we just need to have faith that He isn't threatened by them. And so, our part is to have faith and not feel threatened either--because our hand is in His.

Friday, February 12, 2016

40 Days of Jesus ~ Day 3 (Mark 3)

Mark 3

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Wow, it didn't take long for those in charge to get up in arms about Jesus, did it? In the first chapter we see everyone in the synagogues marveling . . . but word preceded him, and now people are starting to feel like he's dangerous.

And he was. Because he was challenging their carefully constructed religion and asking them to have faith. Two things that can go hand in hand but too often don't. I love this section--because strict adherents to the Law (and the traditions that had sprung from it) considered healing to be illegal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew that it was never, ever wrong to do good. And to not do good when you're able and willing is in fact wrong. And is it lawful to do evil on the Sabbath?

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. 10 For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. 11 And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.

This is in many ways like chapter 1, where Jesus silenced the demons. Because thought he was starting to stir things up, the religious leaders would have done more than plot had he come right out and declared himself the Messiah. They would have seized him then and there, before he'd had the chance to do the work he knew he needed to do.

But the people's hearts were yearning and eager. They felt that tug toward him, even if they didn't fully understand why. (Smiling at Joanne)

13 And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”
23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

I had always taken this "casting out demons by the ruler of the demons" bit at face-value. But as I was talking it through with my husband the other day, he pointed out something that made total sense. That they were saying, basically, "It's a trick."

Like when Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh and performed the signs . . . and his magicians replicated them. How? Well, we tend to say, "They did tricks. Or even if it was some black kind of magic, it wasn't as REAL as the miraculous. That's how Moses's staff/snake ate theirs."

This could well be what the scribes are saying. Not that He really is calling on the power of Satan to cast out a demon, but that it's just a trick that he did it at all--that he's as bad as they, and their demons are just playing along.

Jesus, of course, cuts to the real issue.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Here we have it--the Unpardonable Sin. So much discussion has risen about this. Can you accidentally commit this sin? What if you want to repent of it??

But this is something unique. This is when you're looking right into the face of Spirit and calling it Satan. That's not something you do by mistake. That's not something you do if you have a heart with any softness in it. That's not something you do if you'd ever even want to be forgiven. Because this is when you stand there and declare, knowing who you face, that you are His enemy.

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”
33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

 Question 3 ~ Mark 3

How do you interpret the sin can't be forgiven? Do you think one can do it accidentally?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Days of Jesus ~ Day 2 (Mark 2)

Mark 2

And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”
And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
 What a start to the chapter! First off, I'm struck by Jesus perceiving their thoughts. No big thing for God, I know, but still. Every time he does this, it just amazes me.

But then the actual conversation. So. Which is more difficult--to forgive sins or to heal a paralytic? Jesus has already performed the most amazing thing--he has given this man hope for his soul. But that isn't visible to the doubting crowds, is it? And so he heals him too. But Jesus knew that the better miracle was salvation--and though I have no evidence from the text above, I like to the think that the man who was healed knew it too.

13 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. 14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
15 Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. 16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Here we have another beautiful example of Jesus saying, "Follow me," and someone dropping everything to do so. So simple. Two little words. And Levi reacts with immediate action.

Do we?

18 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”
19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

I read this to my kids today, and they looked a bit confused at this part. And honestly, I was with them. I get the don't-mix-old-with-new thing . . . and I get the fasting thing. But how do the two meet?  My only thought harkens back to chapter 1, where the people are wondering, "What new doctrine is this?" Jesus was something new. He was approaching the law and the traditions in new ways. So I guess this is him saying, "Don't expect my ministry to be like any you've seen before. I don't fit with those old ways, and the old ways don't fit with me." He was there to work something new. Kinda like...

23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

 As someone who attends a Sabbath-keeping church, that last verse is important to me. Because sometimes Sabbath-keepers can get on a high horse about keeping the Sabbath (and Sunday worshipers can get on a high horse about worshiping on Sunday. Everyone seems to like their horses to be high...), but this puts it in perspective. The Sabbath was something SO MANY rules had sprung up around. But God had meant it to be a blessing to man. It was created for us. We weren't created to obey it. I love having my day of rest, and keeping it a day of rest as a reminder to me that it's God's day, and I'm setting it aside.

But Jesus teaches, here and many times later, that He is Lord of that too--and when He says to go or eat or heal or do good, we'd better do it on the Sabbath like on any other day.

Today's question is an echo of those two words I wrote about, as much a challenge as a question.

Question ~ Mark 2

If you're working, and you hear Jesus say, "Follow me," do you drop it all and follow?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

40 Days of Jesus ~ Day 1 (Mark 1)

Welcome to the first day of the 40 Days of Jesus challenge! I'll be experimenting a bit with how to run this here on my blog; and don't forget that the conversation is also being held on the Facebook group

For now, this post will be arranged like this--the heading for the chapter is a link to Bible Gateway. But I will also paste part of the chapter (in the NKJV, simply because it's what I use most often) into the post. It will be indented. Below the quoted section, in regular margins, will be my thoughts/questions. Then more of the chapter, more thoughts, etc. If you like this format, let me know--if you'd prefer just a link to the chapter and then my thoughts, let me know. ;-)

Mark 1

 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Last spring, we studied baptism and what it means. I think for most Christians, we have the pat answer of "it's an outward symbol of the inward change of accepting salvation." But that answer doesn't fit with this passage, does it? Because John's baptism was not one of salvation--it was one of repentance.

Do you see the difference there? It took me a while. But repentance is saying, "I'm sorry." It doesn't involve being forgiven. It's a crucial step, but not the whole story.

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
This right here is super-important. This is showing us quite clearly that Jesus, from this point on, was not operating under his power--he's operating with the Holy Spirit. Which means that we, who now are filled with that SAME Spirit, can do what Jesus does from here on out.

12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

I had never noticed before that it's the Spirit that drove Him into the wilderness. Does the Spirit ever draw you away? Or more, drive you away from your ordinary life? That seems like something we might resist. And if we obey it . . . well, it wasn't a cup of tea for Jesus. Mark doesn't go into detail, but forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan . . . that might make most of go, "God, did you really want me out here? Seriously? Did I hear you wrong??"

But this was important. For Jesus, absolutely. And for us. This is where angels ministered to him. I'm going to take note of where else in the Gospels we see that.

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

16 And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.
 So Jesus's message begins like John's: REPENT.

As for calling his disciples to him . . . I heard recently that it's a safe bet that these fellows knew Jesus. He grew up near them, they would have known each other as boys. So they weren't being asked to follow a stranger. 

Which kinda makes it even more of a leap of faith in some ways, doesn't it? Would you follow Jack from down the street if he asked you to leave everything and go with him to preach? A prophet is definitely without honor in his hometown . . . but the nature of Jesus had always been apparent, and these men didn't hesitate.

21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

I love this section. =) He taught with authority, and not as the scribes. As someone who teaches a variety of subjects to her kids, I know well the difference between teaching from words on a page and teaching from knowledge. The scribes could recite the words--verbatim, probably forward and backwards and with their eyes closed. But they were just that--words.

They weren't just words to the Word. He knew the spirit behind every letter, and so he wouldn't have just been reciting. He would have been teaching. The reasons, not just the facts.

And casting out an unclean spirit! I've never paused to wonder before what Jewish practice would have been with unclean spirits, but it's clear no one in this particular gathering had ever even heard of someone having the authority to cast one out.

29 Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. 31 So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them.

32 At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.
 I've often wondered why some things are healed and others not. This doesn't provide a definitive answer, but when he healed Simon's mother-in-law . . . we're not told she was deathly ill or anything. It just says a fever. It could have been a serious fever. Or it have just been a regular, passes-in-a-day-or-two fever. Right now, in my mind, it doesn't matter which. What matters is why.

Because she wanted to serve Him.

Because the people needed to know they weren't bound by their infirmities.

Jesus wasn't ready for everyone to hear him proclaimed the Christ, though--or rather, they weren't ready--so he wouldn't let the demons he cast out speak. So interesting. And it's also worth noting that though he cast out the demon earlier and healed Simon's mother right away, the majority of these healings occurred after the Sabbath was over, officially the first day of the week. I think Jesus was using this time as a building-up, not a challenging. He's not rocking the boat . . . he's demonstrating the power to calm the waves.

35 Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37 When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”
38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”
39 And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.

 Quiet time of prayer . . . Jesus was always so faithful in taking that time!

40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

Okay, quite a few things jump out at me here. First of all, the faith of this leper! Had he heard some of the stories that were going before Jesus? Is that what sent him seeking the Lord? Something must have stirred within him--something more than just a passing, "Well, it's worth a try." This man was begging. Imploring. Kneeling down in the dirt. Such perfect humility. If You are willing...

And Jesus--moved with compassion. Overwhelmed with love for this man. I love seeing that--and more, seeing His humility. He didn't want fame. Didn't want fortune. He just wanted to do the work of God.

That's the end of chapter 1. I'll try to leave you with a question each day; feel free to answer it, or to talk about any other part of the chapter that jumped out at you!

Question ~ Mark 1
In verse 15, Jesus says "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." We know "gospel" literally means "good news." And we as Christians identify it as Jesus dying for our sins and rising again, defeating death. What did "gospel" mean to these people, before Jesus had died or been resurrected? What is the good news that walks with Him? 

New Book Series!

I've been waiting and waiting to share the good news. And now, the ink is on the dotted line, and I can finally tell you all about the Society Thieves Series that I just sold to Bethany House! This series will launch in spring of 2017 with The Name Thief.

1914 – Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former orphan-urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they are no longer pickpockets—now they concentrate on stealing high value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary is given an assignment by a mysterious Mr. V to determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family’s history, their very name?

Peter Holstein is awkward at best in society. Stuttering and stammering as he does, no one ever would have expected him to gain the ear of the king…and given his family’s German blood, he knows there are plenty who are unhappy that he has, which is why his popular series of adventure novels are written under a pen name. With European politics boiling, Peter settles into his country estate debating whether the time has come to distance himself from his German roots and perhaps even change his name as the King is considering doing—and when a historian shows up at his door offering to help him trace his family history, he views the bookish Miss Gresham as a gift from God. Perhaps she can help him find proof that the Holsteins have always been friends of England and the Saxe-Coburg family that rules there. And perhaps they can manage it before suspicion in the small village he calls home reaches a fever pitch and sees his family home ruined.

The more Rosemary learns about the Holsteins, the more she thinks Mr. V sorely mistaken in his suspicions…and the more she comes to hate herself. These are a noble family and this a noble man—and though she always thought she’d do anything for pounds sterling, she finds herself fighting against the rabble trying to ruin him when war is declared rather than lending them a hand. Especially when she discovers that he is the writer behind the books that have inspired all of England. She doesn’t have it in her to steal his good name…but what are the chances that she’ll manage to steal his heart before he discovers who and what she really is?

I am so incredibly super-duper excited about this series! The next books in the series will follow other members of Rosemary's "family." In each story, the thief will find redemption as Mr. V sends them out on missions to claim things that hands cannot really hold or steal--a good name, music, beauty, time. All will draw on how arts were used as propaganda during WWI, and pull on some of the most interesting advances and peculiarities of the war. Each will also stand completely on its own, with no reference to the previous books. 

And for fun, each one will also have a ridiculous challenge issues by the other members of the family. In The Name Thief, Rosemary's older brother challenges her to steal a manor house. So naturally, she tries to figure out how to steal Peter's home, along with his name. Subsequent books will up the ante each time, and give the thief/hero something to pursue along with the job Mr. V assigns.

If anyone is interested in knowing what Peter and Rosemary and his manor house, Kensey Manor, looks like, I just made my Pinterest board public! You can check it out here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cover Reveal ~ A Lady Unrivaled

I have been so excited over the covers for my Ladies of the Manor series with Bethany House. The elegance. The simplicity. The colors.

We have oohed and ahhed over Brook in The Lost Heiress.
We have gone ga-ga over Rowena in The Reluctant Duchess. (Because seriously. That. Dress.)
And now, we get our first glimpse of Ella. She's fun. She's optimistic. She always, always finds something to smile about...even when no one else can figure out why. And when the world tells her she shouldn't, well...Ella is still going to love. She is indeed A Lady Unrivaled.

And here she is!

Lady Ella Myerston can always find a reason to smile--even if it's just in hope that tomorrow will be better than today. All her life everyone has tried to protect her from the realities of the world, but Ella knows very well the danger that has haunted her brother and their friend, and she won't wait for it to strike again. She intends to take action . . . and if that happens to involve an adventurous trip to the Cotswolds, then so much the better.

Lord Cayton has already broken two hearts, including that of his first wife, who died before he could convince himself to love her. Now he's determined to live a better life. But that proves complicated when old friends arrive on the scene and try to threaten him into a life of crime. He does his best to remove the intriguing Lady Ella from danger, but the stubborn girl won't budge. How else can he redeem himself, though, but by saving her--and his daughter--from those dangerous people who seem ready to destroy them all?

Monday, February 8, 2016

40 Days of Jesus Challenge - Begins Wednesday!

First of all, big thanks to everyone who signed up to be an influencer for The Reluctant Duchess. I have far more than I need this time around, so I'll probably be employing the wonders of to help me fairly narrow it down, and then will be emailing both those who got into the group and those who didn't. First I need time to sort through the list though. ;-)

And though I'll continue to post book news to the blog as it comes (including my cover reveal tomorrow and new series announcement on Wednesday!), usual Word of the Week and Remember When posts will be suspended through Resurrection Day as I accept and extend a 40-day challenge.

Beginning this Wednesday, I'm going to be participating in a 40 Days of Jesus challenge, where each day we read a chapter of a Gospel. We'll start in Mark and then go into Luke (40 chapters total), beginning on Ash Wednesday and going through the entire season of Lent (this has a built-in day off once a week, which I'll be taking on one of the weekend days). The idea isn't just to read it by yourself, but to talk about it--because it's through conversation that we see things from a new perspective and often discover new truths He wants to show us.

The purpose of all this? To focus my heart and mind on Him.

To look, each day, at this Life that changed the world, and maybe see something new.
To pray, each day, Lord, help me to be more like this Jesus I just read about.

 My church has done a shorter version of this before, and honestly, I fell way behind. I found myself getting bored reading the same ol' Gospel for the gazillionth time. And yet, when I did manage to read it and have a conversation about it, I saw something new.

This time, I don't want to fall behind and push it away. I want to really prepare my heart and mind for Him. So I'm hosting the challenge here on my blog as a way to hold myself accountable.

If you want to join me, I would love-love-love to get your insights into the chapters! We can converse in the comment section here, and also in the 40 Days of Jesus Facebook group. Please feel free to join that group and chat through the chapter each day.

So take a day (or two) to pray and see if God would like you to do this this year. Or just swing by now and then, when you can. Up to you. But I look forward to getting to know y'all a little better as we delve together into the Word.