Monday, November 13, 2017

GOD WILL SPEAK THROUGH YOU


This week a teenage boy who attends our church and six other young people were in a roll over car accident. Three of the children, including the boy from our church, are in critical condition. The father of that boy gathered the families of those kids and asked our pastor to come speak to them all. He shared this in our Sunday worship. He mentioned Job's friends sitting with Job in silence for seven days, and said there are some situations where no words are sufficient. He asked us to pray for him as he was to speak to them because if God does not speak to the families, he we wouldn't have anything to say.
Thank God that He does speak through us from time to time. I recently listened to Ravi Zacharias tell of multiple times when God spoke through him and he had not thought beforehand about what he said. But God does not just speak through preachers.
Hebrews 1 reminds us that in the past God spoke through prophets at many times and in various ways. But God does not just speak through prophets.
I want to be the best writer I could ever be. I would like to be smart, even wise. And I would not mind being a popular writer. But more than any of these things, I would like God Himself to speak through me, at least from time to time.
I don't wish to stomp my foot here, but I do have some thoughts about this. We need a humility that recognizes that we have our greatest impact when God speaks through us. I believe it is dangerous, especially when we write, to tell people God spoke through me. But I should be able to quietly give thanks when I realize that He has spoken through something I wrote.
God must decide when and if He speaks through us, but I think it is important to realize that He may choose to do that. And that realization should lead me to ask Him to do just that. I am not sure I shouldn't regularly ask Him to speak through me.
What about writing something that isn't about God at all? I have written a number of stories about other things that interest me. I think God can speak quietly about character or truth or any number of other things through stories that are not so in people's faces. Tolkien used to say he was creating an “evangelicum” in his writings. His imaginary histories don't have a trace of the gospel, but he deals with deep issues of life. If God chooses, He can touch the lives of readers through much lighter fare than The Lord of The Rings.
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Monday, August 21, 2017

PRAYING AGAPE

This week I was working on a proposal for my book on AGAPE. And I thought this was something I should run here.
Okay, you are rushing to work in the morning. You got away from home without breakfast or even a cup of coffee. But you've made better time than usual and you have just enough time to pull into Starbucks. But the car in front of you takes an extra ten minutes trying to decide what everyone in the car wants to order. How do you react? You need agape to respond in a godly manner.
You are in the grocery store and although the line is longer, you go to the register marked “20 items or less” thinking it will move faster, only to discover that two people snuck into the line with baskets overflowing. How do you maintain your composure? Let me suggest that you develop the habit of praying for the overworked cashier, for each person in line, for all the children hanging on to the carts and begging their parents for candy and gum. If you finish praying for them, you can pray for your pastor or people you know who are sick or in the hospital. Praying draws you into awareness of the nearness of God. As you pray God will pour His love into you. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Years ago I challenged a group to pray for people in traffic on their way to and from work. Many of them commuted an hour or more twice a day. I told them they could pray for hundreds of people on the freeway. The next week they came back giving testimonies about how much better they felt when they arrived at work and when they got home at night.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

THE MARVEL OF STORY

The title of the book, On Stories, is taken from the first essay. In it Lewis said he was surprised at how little attention critics paid to story. They were much more interested in the development of characters, the writing style, or the message of a book or play. He went on to talk about the distinct pleasure of story. Lewis notes that there are some people who just enjoy the excitement, the tension, the danger of a story. To them one story is as good as another. But he asserts that there is a pleasure in the appeal of the imagination in the story itself.
He didn’t believe that was the case with motion pictures. Especially with modern effects movies bring us to the most beautiful scenes you can imagine. But does anyone go to a movie because of the beautiful scenery? Although some of you may disagree, the story is also secondary in many movies.
Lewis talked about Rider Haggard’s book, King Solomon’s Mines. In the book the treasure seekers find themselves trapped in a pitch black, cold and airless cave. A unique horror is projected to the imagination of dying in such a place.
But when they made that into a movie they had to “cut to the action,” in any scenes that required imagination. Of course they had to add a girl in shorts to the original team. And instead of the threat of cold, dark and silent death, the director had to throw in a volcano. Lewis admits that the director may have been faithful to the canons of his art, even if he is ruining a classic for those of us who read the book first.
However much you love movies, when you sit down to write you are armed with the powerful medium of story. Lewis talks about the unique ways a story appeals to the imagination. When you're character is being chased by ship anyone in that ship could conceivably be just as dangerous as a pirate, but there's something that appeals to your readers when the Jolly Roger is hoisted into the wind.
In the introduction to the book, Hooper says both Lewis and Tolkien had for years feasted on Ancient myths particularly those of Norse origin. The difference between them was that while Lewis defined myths as lies breathed through silver, Tolkien believed in the inherent truth of Mythology. He said to Lewis one evening in Oxford, “Just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth. We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will reflect reflect splintered fragments of the True Light, the Eternal truth that is with God.” This was earth shaking to Lewis, and he held to it his entire life. All stories point to the one great story of redemption and grace.
I became aware of this not so much in catching the reality that there really was only one story, but by the power with which a story strikes the heart, especially where the gospel is being introduced to a culture by Bible stories.
As we write, even non fiction, we can weave stories that come from the story of stories and touch to depths of readers’ hearts.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

BALANCING AMBITION

I am writing several blogs in a row on CS Lewis's essays published in the book, ON STORIES. I enjoyed these essays immensely. And I would like to whet your appetite for this book and Lewis in general.
I once heard a man, quoting from a book, saying he never read the introduction to a book because you got no new information in the preface. As a writer I try to set the stage for understanding the rest of the book in my introduction. The introduction to On Stories is written by Walter Hooper who was CS Lewis's secretary near the end of his life. After his death Hooper was the primary impetus for Lewis’ books coming into our hands all of these years. He kept at Publishers to make sure Lewis’ books were published again and again. (I highly recommend Eric Metaxas' interview with Hooper in Socrates in The City, https://vimeo.com/149724229.)
One of the things he talked about in the introduction was Lewis's ambition. All writers need ambition. But it must be balanced by devotion to God. Walter Hooper said “Lewis’ ambition was like a man living with a beast with only food enough for one. And the beast wants it all.” However, he said “Lewis's conversion spoke to everything in his life. There was no facet of his life that was not touched by it.” He said, “certainly Lewis would have been a writer of note. That was already self-evident. But he would never have become the good and great man that he was without his conversion.” And his conversion spoke directly to his ambition.
As it turned out Lewis kept his ambition. But it took a backseat to goodness, righteousness and truth. I feel toward ambition and even tricks to be published, a little like I think of church growth methods. I became convinced that I was to do what I believed was right as a pastor even if it did not gather crowds.
I would also rather write what I believe is needed, what I believe God is calling me to write and what pleases God, then to write what would please editors. I am aware those things do not always oppose one another. But I'm reminded of Ravi Zacharias’ Harvard Veritas Forum lectures, Can Man Live Without God. The publisher protested that people would never read the book if they didn't dumb it down. Ravi resisted and the publisher conceded. Ravi says it is still the best selling of his books.
When I had just finished my first book, Joy, and was approaching people to read it, I wrote a friend who already co-wrote a fabulous best seller with his father, and had published a number of successful books. He wrote me back and said, “David, I am also writing a book on joy. I don't want to see your book until mine is published.” Months later I was at a writers conference where I pitched my book to an editor. Interestingly enough the editor brought up my friend’s book on joy. I don't know if he suspected that I knew him. Even so, I feel he was out of bounds in telling me what he told me. He said he thought they should have published it. But his publishing house felt his book was too far above the average reader. And he said my friend quite obligingly made the changes they suggested. But after he had made the changes they said it had lost its greater spiritual significance.
I have been in contact with a writer (as a pupil) who in fact has more New York Times bestselling books than any Christian writer I know of. I'm afraid to say more lest he be easily recognized. He basically teaches people how to please editors. Much of what he says is helpful. But some of what he teaches gives me the creeps. I do need to admit that his books include significant spiritual depth. But I'm not sure I could do both. Whether I could or not, I need to be at peace with writing what I'm supposed to write. Rather than writing what might please editors. And I'm not convinced that editors know what would please readers any better than most writers.
What I have been proposing calls for prayer. Pray about the ambition that underlies your writing. Like you, I pray for my books to be successful. But I am convinced that you would need to come to a deep conviction to agree with my position. It is not enough that Lewis agreed with me, or that I got my thinking, to some extent, from Him. Such a conviction must come from God.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

LISTENING TO LEWIS

I need to tell you at the beginning of this series of blogs that none of these are more than indirectly related to writing prayerfully, or even prayer. I will be writing a series of perspectives given by C.S. Lewis. And I need to warn you that his views go as strongly against the current cultural trends as they did in his day. If indeed you do not like or appreciate these entries, I would like you to tell me. I welcome discussion on this. I really do want to know what you think, even if what you have to say is so profound or so harsh that I have no answer. I much prefer such comments to your expressing your thoughts by vowing never to read this blog again.
The nearest Christian bookstore to our home is in a city a half hour away.  We went sometime before Christmas looking for a particular classic (I think it was George Mueller of Bristol.) for a Christmas present. They didn’t have it. And the manager of the store said thoughtfully, “I need to stock more classics.” I pointed out that they had a nice selection, even though they didn’t have the particular book We wanted. But she repeated, “We need to carry more Christian classics.” And I realized she was not simply referring to our need. This was clearly something she had been thinking for some time.
Sure enough, when we dropped in a few months later, they had among other things a display with 6 or 8 C.S. Lewis books, some I had never seen. I purchased 2; POEMS and ON STORIES. I want to talk with you a little about both of these books.
I did not get to ON STORIES until a short vacation this summer. It was a wonderful blessing! First, I enjoyed it simply because it was Lewis. I thought I had read his entire canon. I also enjoyed it because it is to some extent, written for writers. However, I am glad I did not discover these essays in the 70s when I was hungrily consuming everything I could find by Lewis. I have been writing or trying to write for publication since I was 19. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed them on the same level.
I hope I have whet your appetite for these entries simply by this introduction. And even at this preliminary stage, I welcome criticism and other remarks whether you have read the book or not.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

DO YOU BELIEVE?

Question #4
“What do you believe, and why do you believe it?”
Faith is the final stage and expression of knowledge. These are the final questions of how we know. One of the mistaken notions about belief is that it is little more than supposition. That misunderstands the foundation and force of faith. Belief adds to knowledge the force of conviction and action. Belief or faith places your life on the line for someone or something. A scientist must believe in the consistency of experience or experiment. We all have unquestioned faith in gravity. Faith is a measure of knowledge. Absolute knowledge is beyond humanity. It is reserved for God. He has put enough knowledge in this world to make trusting Him reasonable. But He has limited our knowledge enough that we must step out on faith.
Biblical faith in God is personal and relational. One of my favorite pictures of faith comes from my own childhood. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when this took place, but I was pretty young. We had a pump house slanting down from the edge of our garage. And some old tires were leaning up against the pump house wall. I managed to climb up on to the tires. And standing on the tires, I was able to grasp the roof and pull myself up. I walked up the slanting shingles and put my arms over the parapet around the top of our garage. It was easy to climb onto the parapet and then over the arch onto the porch of our Spanish style house. Up to this time the second story of our house filled my vision. But when I turned around on the porch I realized that I was ten or twelve feet above our driveway. I was terrified. I began to scream and yell for help. My father came out of the garage where he had been working. He looked up at me with a deadpan expression on his face. To this day I can see Dad reaching up with the work gloves that he always wore, and saying, “Jump David!” I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and jumped into my father’s waiting embrace.
I trusted my father. I was not trusting our paved driveway to catch me. In faith we respond to God Himself. We courageously take Him at His word. This demonstrates as well as anything I know, the need to ask the second half of this question. “Why?” I believed even though I was afraid, because I knew I could trust my father’s word. This question also applies to whatever I doubt or disbelieve. As in most situations that call for faith, I was tempted to doubt. I was tempted to be too fearful to jump. But examining my doubts in that case would not have shown them to be logical, unless it would have been good for me to stay up on the roof in my terror.
As I pen these words I have metastatic cancer. I still do not know the day of my death, but I have sound reason to believe in my own mortality. I may not be close enough to the edge of that cliff to panic. But I know I will be tempted to be terrified when the time comes. That is the natural emotional response to this final leap of faith. But the best reasoned response I can make at this point is to trust God’s words to me, and keep my eyes fixed on Him.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Question #3
“What do you want, and why do you want it?”
You may be thinking this question does not fit with the others. But it does. Many of our conclusions are affected more by our wants than by our reasoning. I recently heard a joke about a guy who decided he should not eat donuts. But he was finding it very difficult to hold his donut free conviction. And in his struggle he said, “Maybe God just doesn’t want me to stop eating donuts. So he decided that if there was an empty parking space in front of the donut shop when he passed, that would be a sign from God that he was not to stop eating donuts. “And sure enough,” he reported to his small group, “on the fourth time around the block . . .”
What we want influences what we think. And it is important to examine our wants and the reasons for them as we are trying to determine the truth.
In his book, Ends and Means, Aldous Huxley wrote, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.”
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