Thursday, July 5, 2018

WRITING FORCEFULLY

I am not sure forceful writing is something all of us strive for. But I do believe many of us would like to know how to add impetus to the words we write.

How do we write with overwhelming influence on our readers, on our culture? I have thought a great deal about this and I think I have some things to say about writing forcefully. However, before I begin I suppose I should grant you a disclaimer. My books are not, nor are they likely to be, on the New York Times best-seller list. My writing is hardly shaking the world. My lack of authority on this issue opens these suggestions up for discussion. What do you think about each of them? I suspect all of us thinking about our writing, would come up with some principles that could transform our writing and possibly the lives of our readers.

Let me begin with my oldest principle.
Brevity is Force.
Especially for young writers, this may sound counterintuitive. “You are saying, 'The less I write, the greater the impact,?’” Well, that is close to what I am suggesting. I am saying, “Expressing the same thought in fewer words will say it better.” I have a friend who is a riveting preacher. His exposition is brilliant, his illustrations are moving, his logic is cogent and often humorous. But it often takes him over an hour to preach one of them. I have been in some places in the world where that would be ideal, but he does not preach in any of those places. The length of his sermons takes much of the force out of what he has to say. This is every bit as true of writing as it is of speaking.

Clarity is Force.
Most of us would like our writing to be impressive. I remember a comic scene on the old Lou Grant show where someone found an article written 30 years before by their managing editor, Charlie Hume, when he was a cub reporter. The byline on the article read “F. Charles Hume.” He defended himself by saying, “All of us have been pretentious from time to time.” When one of the other characters asked him what the F stood for, he answered, “Nothing, unless you count F. Scott Fitzgerald.” It is always tempting to use big words and try to sound impressive. But the main issue of writing is clear communication. One of the passages of Scripture God has used to speak to me about my writing over the years is Habakkuk 2:1-3. Verse 2 calls us to “write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets.” Great writing is always understandable. A good writer makes what may be complicated plain for people to understand.

I am intimidated by the next of these.
Beauty is Force.
I never feel like my writing can be beautiful. And, indeed, I'm no C.S. Lewis. But writing is an art as well as a craft. Beautiful writing will affect people's lives. Most of us have a sense of beauty when we see it on a printed page. And while I will never be C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, or Philip Yancey, I can read such authors in the hope that their beauty will rub off. And I can strive to improve the beauty of what I have to say and how I write it.

Truth is Force.
I'm not sure this is not the most important of these principles. One of the best writing prompts I have ever seen, especially for poetry, says, “Write the truest sentence that you know.” I am writing primarily to Christian writers. You actually have an advantage over others in this area because you have a grip on ultimate truth.

Conviction is Force.
You need to know why you believe what you believe is true. A good writer is a clear thinker. A good writer is always asking why. You will spend time thinking through things until you come to a bedrock of conviction. A good writer knows what she thinks and why she thinks it, what she knows and how she knows it, what she believes and why she believes it.

Compassion is Force.
Good writers care about their readers. Christian writers pray for the needs of people who will read their work. The importance of what you have to say relates directly to the needs, sometimes the deepest needs, of those for whom you are writing.

God's Moving is Force.
The most life-changing force in writing is the hand of God on your words. At this point I'm talking about something that goes far beyond your craft. The hand of God on your writing flows from the depth of your relationship with God, and the effect He has on all of your life. I believe this is true whether you are writing a devotional book, a theological treatise, or a baseball story. What God is doing in your life we'll impact the lives of your readers.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A CHRISTIAN WRITER

Many years ago I had a friend who was a Medical Doctor. He had gone on some kind of retreat for Christian Doctors where they discussed the difference between a Christian doctor and other doctors. Their conclusion was fairly simple. They said a Christian doctor prays.

What does it mean to be a Christian writer? I'm not sure the answer to this is much different from the question, “What is a Christian?” But there is a crucial and specific application for a Christian writer.

A Christian writer begins everything she writes from a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. We are absolutely dependent upon Him. He determines our purpose and values. That does not mean that everything we write is devotional or theological. I may write a travel log on a trip across Canada. Or I may write a baseball story. But in both of them I must personally surrender to His lordship over my life. I trust His perspective on my thinking and writing. In what I write, I try not to project my own competence, but His.

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul wrote about his own Ministry.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”

I want to stop saying, “Listen to me.” Instead, often in subtle and creative ways, I want to say, “You can listen to Him.” This will radically change the underlying message of my writing and my entire life. If I belong to him, it is his message that I desire to get out.

And being, or at least growing, as a Christian writer will completely redefine my idea of success. If I truly belong to him, I will desire to honor Him rather than myself. In John 7:18, Jesus gave us this clear definition of our purpose.

“He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

As Christian writers we right from a Vital Relationship with Christ.
And as Christian writers we become Verifiable Representatives of Christ.

Similar things will be true of a Christian artist, a Christian carpenter, a preacher, or a godly janitor.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

MY WORDS INSCRIBED IN ROCK

Have you ever expressed this cry from the book of Job in the Old Testament?

“Oh that my words were written!

Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
JOB 19:23-27

Job’s longing to be published pumps from his very heart.

Words Formed in His Longing
This cry of Job could have been spoken by most writers. “Oh that my words were written!” “Oh that what I have to communicate were engraved in stone!” Are you driven by such a longing? You need such a driving desire to go through the difficulties and discouragements of writing.

Words Formed in His Suffering
What Job had to say was brought forth by overwhelming suffering. It must have been difficult for Job to understand how crucial his suffering was in the plan of God. I once heard Tim Keller say Job could not have understood that his experience and his words would still be seriously discussed by people five thousand years later.
Make no mistake, what Job discovered and was driven to say, was magnified by his suffering. God never explained to Job what readers of his book are told in the first chapter. But through his suffering Job still speaks to hearts of people to this day.

Words Formed in His Hope
In His suffering and the accusations of his friends Job became even more certain of his hope. His hope was not impersonal. He believed in his Redeemer. At this point Job still had no sense of the redemption or even the nearness of God. But he spoke with assurance about the personal Redeemer who would and will again stand upon this earth.
This week we drove along a Nevada highway where the cattle were free-ranged. And we saw no less than three animal carcasses on the side of the road. They were all partially consumed by scavengers. Job had boils all over his body and felt like his own final decay had begun. He knew he would die, although it did not happen as quickly as he probably assumed. But he knew that even after his flesh was destroyed he would rise again and see his Redeemer face to face.

Words Formed in His Assurance
Job cried out, “I know that my redeemer lives.” I sometimes hate to admit it, but I need a certain assurance, even arrogance to write what I have to say for publication. As a Christian writer much of what I write needs to come from assurance about God. Job's assurance came through suffering as it often does. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis called pain God's megaphone.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
It is important for a writer to understand that God not only speaks to you in your suffering, but he will speak to others through your suffering.

Words Formed in His Grace
Job's friends were convinced that Job's suffering came to him because of some secret sin. When Job denied this, they countered with the truth that no man can be righteous before God. It is not surprising to me that the strongest source of this information came from a demon spirit. Job 4:15 reads,
“A Spirit glided past my face;
the hair of my flesh stood up.”
And verses 17 through 19 repeat just what we would expect from the one the Book of Revelation calls the Accuser of our brothers.
“Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error. How much more those who dwell and houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like a moth?”
Job does not deny this reality. Instead he tells them he believes in the grace that God will provide through his Redeemer, who is Our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are made right with God because of His great grace.

Words Formed in His Presence
Job speaks as one who doesn't feel the presence of God. Yet he affirms his conviction that the day will come when he will see him face to face. 1 Corinthians 13:12 repeats this same promise.
“Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
By the end of the book God speaks clearly to Job. And Job repents of his pride in dust and ashes.
But even here Job is overwhelmed, and says his heart faints.

Words Formed in His Purpose
Generally in the Bible the word, heart, refers to the center of one's whole being. But this place the word that is translated, heart, is a word for reins like the reins of a horse. When he says, “My heart faints within me,” he is saying, “The direction of my life is overwhelmed by this.” He is saying again, “Oh that my words were inscribed in a book.” He's driven by the purpose that is welling up in him.



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Thursday, May 10, 2018

QUALITY OF LIFE

I was talking with some friends today about medical issues. I told them I had heard people say they didn't want any extreme measures if they were critically ill. But I said, “I want extreme measures.” Life is precious. And it is good even if I am in pain or debilitated.
Immediately one of them gave the common answer that I was reacting against in the first place.
“Well,” he said, “you don't want to live if you don't have quality of life.”
I did not answer him, but I have been thinking about what gives quality of life. I don't believe it is comfort or freedom from pain.
I believe quality of life has to be related to purpose. As writers you know something about purpose. But in fact, any believer in Jesus Christ should be aware of divine purpose. If you are still alive God has a purpose for you on this Earth. God has a purpose for you even beyond this life. And knowing hope beyond this life ought to make us want to fulfill every purpose God has for us until we step into eternity.
If you do not know God's purpose for your life, you need to seek earnestly to learn what He is doing around you. Even if you don't know all that God wants to do through you, you can begin by obeying Him in small things that you know to do.
Among other things, this will shape your prayer life. I have frustrated some loved ones by telling them, “Every time I have prayed for God to heal me, I have sensed Him reminding me that it is appointed unto man once to die. In fact, I have seen a kind of healing. I am still alive years longer than my doctors thought I would be. But I still have cancer.
Earlier one of the friends I was talking to said, possibly in jest, that he wouldn't want to live if he couldn't play golf. Particularly as a writer I know I can still enjoy things I can no longer participate in. This really relates to being an intellectual. I don't think being an intellectual necessarily means you are smart. I have explained it like this for years. I would rather hear or tell a story about a boy hitting a homerun than to hit a homer myself. I have enjoyed fly fishing for a long time. I am afraid I can longer negotiate the rough stream banks. But I can still enjoy fishing in my memories and imagination.
So how do I pray for my cancer, and my life for that matter? I pray what David prayed in Psalm 138. “Lord, fulfill your purpose for me.” If God allows me to live when I can no longer write, then I hope I can still pray for people around me. And I pray that He will be glorified in me however He brings that about.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

WRITING IN SACKCLOTH

What I have to say in this blog is particularly painful because I know it is quite likely that knaves will take the truth I write and twist it to make a trap for fools. But while what I say may be misunderstood and misapplied, I believe I have to say it.

I am afraid we have entered times where some of us will need write with a sharp but tearful pen. In The Revelation as God portrays the conclusion of judgment and the bringing forth of righteousness on this Earth, a mighty angel descends from Heaven placing one foot on the sea and one foot on the land declaring that there will be no more delay. John was told to go take a small book from the hand of the angel and to consume that book. Revelation 10:10,11 read's,

“And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

I believe we are already in days when God will give us things to say that will be as sweet as honey. But as we see those things being so alien to the world around us, they will become bitter in our stomachs, and we will have to proclaim them in sorrow.

Concerning his two end-time witnesses to the nations God tells us in Revelation 11:3

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Some of us will have to write in sackcloth.

Revelation 11;9-11 tells us how the world will celebrate the death of those two when, as their witness is complete, the beast from the bottomless pit finally overcomes them.

“For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.”

It is been at least 10 years since I first wrote that I was resigning from the church growth movement. I knew then that while I needed to say hard things in love and wisdom, I would have to allow God to draw people, and some would not be persuaded. This is not new. Jesus faced the same rejection. John 6:66 tells us,

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

I suppose the church growth movement would have instructed Jesus at this point. “Jesus did you have to use such inflammatory language as ‘Eat my flesh and drink my blood?’ Couldn't you have said the same thing in a more palatable way?”

Such a ministry is even more onerous in these days because there will be some whose message does not come from God. Let's face it. Most fake news that I read attacks others for not holding conservative values. You can be sure that lying and cheating and calling people wicked names like junior high bullies does not come from God. We will have to counter their proclamations with clear expressions of the truth in love.

Note also that these God-sent prophets in the last days will not prophesy in bitterness and hatred. They are prophesying in sackcloth and sorrow. Their hearts will be broken over the condition and judgment of our world. They will cry out for God to bring people back to Himself.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

LOVE IS AT THE HEART

I just finished writing a book on AGAPE, The Infinite, Ultimate Love of God (Not yet released) So I was especially attracted to Mary Harwell Sayler's Prayer-a-Phrase of 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, applying it to the writing life in her book, Christian Writer's Guide.

God's love in us is at the heart of preaching, bearing witness for Christ, teaching, and powerful praying. And yes it must be at the heart of Christian writing. I am convinced this will bless you as it has me.

“Though I speak with the most angelic voice heard in the hearts of men….

Though I resound as a clear bell calling all readers to ring with praise….

Though I prophesy with power, decipher mysteries, acquire insight, and utter wisdom well….

Though I have faith to move mountains of people with perceptive words and cast rejection into deep depths of the sea….

Though I write all I have been given and hand over my body of work without reimbursement or acknowledgment….

Though I can boast of publication and best-sells….

Without love for God and readers, my work is nothing.

The loving writer-poet must be patient, kind – not proud.

The loving writer-poet must not insist “My work, my way!” nor be scripted with resentment, but rejoice, rejoice in giving voice to truth.

The loving writer-poet bears all disappointments, believes all timing comes from God, and has hope without end to endure.

The loving writer-poet knows we know in part, but every part of every reader needs The Loving Word of God. This love story, theme, or purpose never ends.”

© 2000, Mary Harwell Sayler, poem previously published in Cross & Quill, publication of the former Christian Writers’ Fellowship International (CWFI)

I recommend Mary Harwell Sayler's blog that is filled with such delights.

https://marysayler.blogspot.com/?m=1/




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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

THE CHRISTIAN WRITER'S GUIDE

In an earlier blog I asked if there were any books written on Christian writing. Several of you suggested books dealing specifically with Christian writing. One of the books suggested to me was The Christian Writer's Guide, by Mary Harwell Sayler. What a wonderful surprise this book turned out to be! I, of course, had asked the question thinking somewhat academically about the differences in writing in the relationship and calling of Christ. But this book is satisfying longings I did not know I had.
One delightful concept she introduces “Prayer-a-Phrasing Scripture.” Although this was a clever way of presenting praying Scripture passages. The concept is not completely new to many of us. But two of her applications to writing struck me enough to be printed and put up on my desk.
She begins the first chapter with these words.
“Some writing projects might not even mention God’s name, but every project, including this one, needs to begin with prayer, asking God to guide, inspire, and be with us.”
Then she adapts The Lord's Prayer to the needs of writers.
Our Father Who Is in Heaven, let Your Name be holy in us.
Let Your Kingdom Come.
Let Your Will be done in our earthly writings as though written in Heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread to nourish us and our readers and strengthen the whole Body of Christ.
Forgive us for trespassing with old assumptions or biased words that intrude, and help us to forgive those who speak ill of You.
Lead us not into the temptation of accepting facts without checking or giving up when our work seems rejected.
And deliver us from evil – especially unloving words that speak unfairly of us or others and reflect poorly on our LORD God.
For Yours is the Kingdom – where our work and writing belong as we long to live and write in Your Power for Your Glory forever. Amen.”

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httphinkinginthespirit.blogspot.com/

http://watchinginprayer.blogspot.com/

http://writingprayerfully.blogspot.com/

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