Wednesday, February 21, 2018

WRITING THROUGH YOUR WEAKNESS

From time to time I have enjoyed rereading some of my favorite books. There are several books that I revisit every few years. I recently took up The Robe that I hadn't read for about 25 years. I was amazed by how much of it I did not remember. I do not mean I did not remember certain parts until I had reread them. Most of it struck me like a book I had never read. This is a fairly new and embarrassing experience for me. This past weekend we went on a short trip with my daughter's family. I was shuffling through books my granddaughter had brought to read and discovered, Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life. I begin to read and laugh out loud with delight. I told my granddaughter I needed to borrow the book from her. I was quickly informed that it was my book. Sure enough I turned back to the flyleaf and discovered that the book was given me with a marvelous dedication from a friend who happens to be a really good writer.
I have recently had several far more embarrassing incidents of memory loss. This is not my worst handicap. And I have had to ask myself if they will hinder my ability to write. The answer that came to me immediately was, 'They won't, if I do not let them.” Most of us who know God wants us to write have to work through numerous handicaps.
My favorite fiction writer is Bodie Thoene. She and her husband Brock research their their historical novels together. They have over 35 million books in print in more than 35 languages. I once heard them interviewed at the end of one of their audio books. I was amazed to learn that Bodie is dyslexic and has found it too painful to reread her own books. This is something like Beethoven writing the 9th Symphony and other marvelous works after he was completely deaf.
What are your weaknesses? All of us have them. But if you will not let them they probably will not keep you from putting words up on the computer screen and publishing them to bless lives.
Now, I fear I have been a little too simplistic. Handicaps can be terribly difficult to work through. And despite the two examples I gave, some of them are absolutely impossible to overcome as a writer. However, I do believe there are three obedient actional attitudes to apply to your weaknesses.
One of them is conviction. Do you sense a compulsion, possibly even a calling from God? Do not give up because what you face is difficult.
Another is endurance. Stay at it, work at it. Think continually about ways to cope with it or get around it. When I brought up some evidences of my memory loss to my 10 year old granddaughter she immediately begin to tell me about a study done with nuns who remained sharp because they continued to be mentally active. And it was discovered by postmortem pathologies of their brains that they actually had full-blown Alzheimer's. They had staved off the effects by keeping mentally and physically active. You can look this study up it's easy to find on Google. Whatever your handicap, don't give up on it.
Finally, and most important, pray about it. Of course God may take away your thorn In the flesh. But in many cases God will glorify Himself by turning your weakness into strength as you obey Him.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

YOU WRITE WHAT YOU ARE

Jesus said it in Matthew Chapter 7. “You can't grow grapes from thorn bushes.” This applies to every area of our lives from running a marathon to raising your children. And it especially applies to writing which is the fruit of your soul. I remember reading something Baxter Black wrote on how he began writing poetry. He told about writing a poem with a religious theme for an English class in college. He got the paperback with the words writ large and in red across the top of the page, “WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW!” Who does not agree with this principle? You must write what you think. You write about what you care about. And yes, you write who you are. Your own character is the foundation of all your writing.
I recently read a quote by Danielle Steel, a secular writer, in a secular book on writing.
“Where do the ideas come from? I don't really know. I've always had a deeply religious feeling about my writing. I feel very unimportant in the scheme of it all. I pray a lot before I start a book and as I work through it. And the less important I feel the better the book goes.”
Let me deal briefly here with four aspects of prayer that are essential to writing.
INTIMACY
We spend time in prayer to develop intimacy with God. The more time you spend in direct fellowship with God the more He shapes your character.
REPENTANCE
Character development is painful. We need to allow God to make changes in our lives. And we have to come to Him with a tender heart repenting of attitudes and actions that do not please Him.
NOURISHMENT
To get the most nourishment we need to pray the word of God. We take prayer to the level of meditation by memorizing a scripture and then thinking about it over time, maybe several days.
Many years ago I pastored church in a rural community in Texas. I am convinced that during the five years I served there a man who died shortly before I came continued to have the most Godly influence of anyone in that community. His wife told me every morning as he began his day he would fix a Bible verse in his mind. Then he would repeat that verse over and over all day long. And God developed his character and multiplyied the fruit of his life.
PRAISE
Praise is sometimes a neglected element of our prayer life. And yet nothing that I know of develops faith, courage, hope, joy, or peace as thoroughly as praising God for who He is and what He does.
MISSION
Do you spend time talking to God about His mission for your life? Sense of mission it is essential to the attractiveness and benefit of your writing. This is of course true in writing Christian non-fiction. But it is also an underlying foundation for all writing, fiction or nonfiction.
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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

TIGHTEN THE BELT OF YOUR MIND

I am embarrassed to admit how spiritually insensitive I was in what I'm preparing to tell you. I did a great deal of research over several years and in fact completed the first drafts of an entire book on spiritual intelligence before I was convicted that what I had to say was not from God.
First God convicted me that my motives were not pure. I said some things in the book that were true, and possibly helpful to some. But I also secretly wanted to insinuate that I was smart too. God forgive me.
But the broader problem was the focus on intelligence itself. We have seen this, possibly to a lesser extent, in the focus on natural intelligence in education. In the early part of the last century Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, who developed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, was obsessed with identifying children with exceptional intelligence. However, it turned out that a majority of the children Turman identified did not do well in life.
Scripture tells us that God is not as interested in bright minds as He is with tight thinking. Few things are as dangerous spiritually as loose thinking. 1 Peter 1:13 has a marvelous picture for this. King James Version translated this fairly literally calling us to gird up the loins of our minds. In the English Standard Version this verse reads,

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Here is the picture. In the ancient near East men wore flowing robes. There were a number of good things about this, but robes became a major problem if one had to run. If a man ran any distance at all he would soon be hopelessly tangled in the cloth. So if someone  knew he was going to have to run, he would gather sheets his robe up and tuck them into the belt around his waist.
Peter uses this as a vivid picture for preparing our minds for action. He links this word picture with being sober minded. Tightening the belt of your mind does not appear anywhere else in Scripture. However Peter uses being sober-minded twice more in this letter. 1 Peter 5:8 calls us to be sober-minded because our adversary the devil is stalking us. In 1 Peter 4:7 Peter says because the end of all things is near, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
Peter calls us to sinch our minds up on things of Ultimate Importance. What do you think about? Is your mind fixed on earthly success, earthly comfort, earthly satisfaction? Sober minded believers set their minds on what God will ultimately do in our lives.
This requires us to tighten our minds on Ultimate Truth. I was once talked with a close friend about errors in The DaVinci Code. He liked the book, and did not think most of my objections  were important. Then I mentioned Jesus being married. He object to this. I told him there is absolutely no ancient reference to any such thing. The notion only rose from speculations in modern times. He answered that he wasn't getting into the history, he  just meant that was how he thought it should be. I suppose he assumed truth and history would adapt.
If we want meaning in this life we must direct the motivation of our minds to Ultimate Hope. I was just trying to think of a C.S. Lewis quote that said something like, If you aim at truth you will get comfort as well. If you aim at comfort, you will get neither. Some of you Lewis aficionados know I was thinking wrong. What Lewis said was, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in. Aim and Earth, and you will get neither.” I am not sure the related thought would not be true as well. “Aim at truth and you will get intellect thrown in. Aim at intellect and you will get neither.

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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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