Chatting Biblical Fiction with Lynn Austin

On the blog this week, I’m joined by the wonderful Lynn Austin!

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For more from Lynn, visit lynnaustin.org.

If you struggle with living out your faith in this culture, if you wonder about what all the buzz is about with recent and upcoming adaptations of Bible stories, if you (let’s be honest) have a hard time getting through the prophets without falling asleep, there’s something here for you. Pull up a chair, sip of cup of coffee, and listen in as we chat about ancient times, Sunday School stories, and stained glass windows.

Amy: What made you decide to write your series THE RESTORATION CHRONICLES?

I believe there is so much we can learn from studying Scripture, and that its truths have a great deal of relevance to our modern lives. In talking about Israel’s history, the apostle Paul wrote, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 10:11). I’ve heard many people say that they find the Bible difficult to read, so it’s my prayer that Keepers of the Covenant and the other books in the series will bring the Bible to life for those readers. I hope they’ll begin to see that the men and women in scripture were very much like us, and that they will be inspired by the walk of faith of biblical people like Ezra.

Amy: Absolutely. I felt that way reading Keepers of the Covenant, especially since it deals with a lesser-known character from a less-preached-on portion of the Bible. But I’m not the only one paying attention to the Old Testament these days. There seems to be a lot of interest in Bible stories and times right now (The Bible miniseries, various recent movies, etc). Why do you think even people who aren’t Christians are still interested in stories from the Bible?

Lynn: I think there are a lot of people who have a basic knowledge of the “classic” Bible stories such as Noah or Jonah—maybe from bedtime stories or from attending Sunday school or vacation Bible School—so they are curious about seeing them dramatized. I also believe there is a deep longing for God in all our hearts, and for knowledge of the unseen spiritual realm. Maybe it’s this longing that is drawing them.

Pictures from Lynn's trip to Israel.

Pictures from Lynn’s trip to Israel.

Amy: Let me just play devil’s advocate here for a moment: regarding biblical fiction in general, what would you say to someone who worried that fictional accounts of Bible stories might be reading too much into scripture or even distorting it?

Lynn: I would tell them that I understand their concern and assure them that I do extensive research before I begin writing. My goal is to stay as close to the scriptural text as possible and not add to it, but merely to fill in some of the historical and cultural background. I hope that my novels will bring the Bible to life and not only help readers visualize the stories, but also to see biblical characters as real flesh-and-blood people. I don’t want to replace scripture with a novel, but to draw readers back to the Bible so they will read it for themselves and maybe understand it a bit better.

Keepers of the Covenant

Keepers of the Covenant releases in October. Read more about it here.

Amy: Keepers of the Covenant focuses on the scholar-turned-leader Ezra. Which of Ezra’s many challenges do you think readers will relate to the most?

Lynn: I think all of us struggle to find the balance between being a productive member of our society and culture, yet not compromising our faith or God’s principles. We’re taught to have “the mind of Christ,” yet we face so many competing voices, telling us what’s right and what’s wrong, what we should believe and how we should live. One of Ezra’s biggest challenges was confronting the mixed marriages, which were a threat to the Jewish community. We also face this “mixture” whenever we’re tempted to let the culture determine our choices instead of God’s Word.

Amy: If you could meet the real Ezra, what’s one question you’d like to ask him?

Lynn: I would ask him to describe his reaction when he first heard the King’s edict that all the Jews in the empire would be annihilated in a single day. What did that news do to his faith in God? Was he angry with God for allowing such a thing or did he continue to trust, no matter what? And if his faith did hold strong, how did he acquire such faith?

Amy: Wow. Those are great questions. (I wish we could get Ezra to guest post on the blog now, too.) Do you have any tips for readers who are inspired to study books like Ezra or Nehemiah after reading THE RESTORATION CHRONICLES?

Lynn: I really enjoy using a study Bible as I read scripture to help me understand the historical background and customs. For instance, I’ve used the NIV Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, and the Archaeological Study Bible. When I read the Bible each day, I also keep a journal where I record what’s going on in my life and what I learned from scripture that particular day and how it applies to me.

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Amy: Finally, just for fun: if you had a stained glass window depicting one scene from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament that have been meaningful to you, which would they be?

Lynn: From the Old Testament, I would choose the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. It’s such a clear picture to me of how we need to obey God’s word even when we don’t understand it or agree with it, trusting God for the outcome. From the New Testament, I would choose the boy who gave his loaves and fishes to Jesus. It would remind me to faithfully give what I have to Christ, even if it doesn’t seem like much, trusting that He is able to multiply my meager efforts to bless others.

Thanks so much, Lynn, for your thoughtful answers! And, readers, now I’ll put that last question to you: if you had a stained glass window depicting one scene from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament that have been meaningful to you, which would they be and why?

Four Ways to Make Your Short Story Better

If you’re a writer, I wanted to let you know about an exciting short story contest sponsored by Family Fiction. You can read all about it here…and then come back for some tips on writing that short story!

If you’re a reader and not the writing type, good news! You get to read and vote on your favorite stories for the “People’s Choice” award! Go here to vote, although new stories will be added as they are approved, so check back! Also, you should share this post with a friend who you’d love to see enter!

Contest

Now, for some tips for those people thinking about entering: advice from some of your favorite writers (and two contest judges!). Continue reading

Our Authors’ New Year’s Resolutions

Happy 2014, everyone! In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I sent to following question to several of our fiction authors:

If you had to pick one fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) to work on in 2014, which would it be?

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For me, of course, the answer was simple. I mean there’s . . . but also . . . and what about . . . hmm. Maybe all of them?

To help me narrow down my choices, I read what our authors had to say. Here is how they responded:

Janette Oke

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All needed. All should be developing daily. I would love to see each one of them in my own life: plump, and rich in color, and ripened to the tastiness they were meant to be. To pick one—it would be love. Because love is needed for each of the others to develop to full potential. Delicious possibilities!

Siri Mitchell

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Patience. I think that as a fruit of the Spirit, it’s highly underrated. Mostly people just kind of skip over it for the more “righteous” gifts, but we live in such an impatient world. It’s easy to get caught up in the “right-now” culture, but really, impatience is making yourself and your needs more important than everyone else’s. So patience is what I’ll be working on this year.

Lisa Wingate

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This being the empty nest year of my life, I think mine would be joy. As a mom who always loved being a mom and loved all the routines that go with being a mom, I’m working on finding joy as life turns a corner. When one (dorm room) door closes, another door opens.

Kathryn Cushman

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Self-control. It’s a constant struggle in almost every area of my life. It’s the main reason my favorite verse is Psalm 9:10, “And those who know Your name put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not abandoned those who seek You.”

Laurel Oke Logan

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I tend to be a passion-driven person, so I would like to balance that with more self-control.

Melissa Tagg

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I think faithfulness—although, let’s be honest, I really could stand to use some work on patience and self-control, too. But I feel like in the past year or so, God has constantly been reminding me of His faithfulness . . . there is something so amazing about that constancy. It makes him dependable and trustworthy. I would like to be that way as much as possible in my own life: faithful, dependable, constant.

Leslie Gould

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I’d pick joy! We live in a broken world, but God’s redemption is evident everywhere. In nature. In humans. In art. In stories. I want to be aware of that redemptive work and rejoice in that beauty. I want to delight in creation and relationships and knowing God is ultimately in control.

Victoria Bylin

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Kindness, definitely. I work part-time in a doctor’s office. Every day I see people going through hard times. A little extra consideration—opening a door, getting someone a tissue—goes a long way to brightening that person’s day. It brightens my day too! We all need help now and then. It’s a fact of life.

Karen Witemeyer

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Self-control. That sweet tooth of mine just keeps insisting on having its own way, and I give in far too often.

Kate Breslin

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I could certainly work on them all, but I’ll choose faithfulness. As a new author, I’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” in publishing, both exciting and challenging; to keep my faith constant that all will work according to God’s plan is a blessing to strive for!

Lynn Austin

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Peace. I would like to get to the place where all of the disturbances in life, major and minor, don’t ruffle my composure or make me lose sleep.

Dani Pettrey

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Joy. It’s been a difficult couple of years with a lot of loss, but also with a ton of good. Isn’t it funny how God brings joy in the midst of heartache? This year, I’d love to dwell on the joy and praising God for it.

Melissa Jagears

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Love—I’m really busy at the moment and my kids and husband and other loved ones need to know that I love them. God too. And so I need to make sure I carve out enough time to show them in 2014.

Patrick Carr

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I’d choose them all! If I could only choose one, it would be self-control. This last year with work (I’m a teacher) has been such an eye-opener, and the change in perspective has been difficult but very worthwhile.

Anne Mateer

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Definitely joy. I have a tendency to get bogged down in all I have to do or things that are going on in my life and forget that the joy of the Lord isn’t dependent on my circumstances but on what He has done for and in me.

R. J. Larson

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I would choose love. I hope to reflect true and boundless love for everyone in this fallen world, even when some people challenge ideals I cherish, or threaten those who are vulnerable. Practicing and reflecting love also helps me as I pursue the other fruits of the Spirit.

Elizabeth Ludwig

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Patience. No doubt. I am not a patient person, and reminding me of that only makes me more impatient. Thank goodness the Lord does not grow weary with me. He’s got to shake his head every time I forget to put on the fruits of the Spirit.

How about you? Pick a fruit, and tell us a little bit about why you chose it.

Discovering Bethlehem: Lynn Austin

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The first time I visited Bethlehem more than 25 years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire, and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

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But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

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And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem.  We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with God that is the true miracle of Bethlehem. Continue reading