Teens And Retirees In The Same Body

Western society has created two periods of uselessness in a person’s life — adolescence and retirement. Both are artificial.

Once upon a time, children moved gradually from the “can’t do” stage of life to the “can do” stage, and then to the “do it on your own” stage.

Today’s youth, however, largely as a result of child labor laws (instituted to curb the abuses of the Industrial Revolution), have little purpose in their lives. They do school and … party, play, gang-bang, hang. Little wonder that youth sports have grown — the team is the one place that a teen can find purpose, even if it is ephemeral.

Retirement is a mirror image of adolescence. Western culture doesn’t respect age, so the best we can do is retire young in order to get back to playing hard. Except, Mankind was made to fulfill a purpose, and travel, golf, gardening, travel, eventually gets old, especially for someone getting old. Sleeping in a strange bed isn’t so easy any more. And creaky joints don’t make hikes around tourist spots as fun as the pictures would suggest.

For the Christian there’s the same implication that what’s true out there in the world is also true in the Church.

So youth are given their own church or groups where they do a lot of silly games, sing a lot of contemporary songs, and hear a speaker who tells more jokes than he does exposition of God’s word. OK, I’m exaggerating for effect, but even in churches with good youth programs, we tend to talk about preparing the next generation for leadership rather than what those teens can and should be doing here and now.

Retired Christians aren’t so different — once retirement comes, it’s someone else’s turn to shoulder the load. That seems off to me. Christians who reach retirement should have the most wisdom and now the most time to spend in ministry. It seems to me, retired Christians should be the most fruitful because I don’t see anywhere in Scripture a place for retired body parts or retired branches. No, the Bible calls us members of one body whose head is Christ, fruitful branches of one Vine who is Christ. Are we to retire from the body? from the vine? And if not, then we have purpose.

Granted, the purposes of an adolescent and of a retirement-age Christian aren’t the same as those of the young or middle-age adult. All the better, though, because if we all were doing exactly the same jobs all of our lives, there would be a lot of stuff left undone.

Let me be specific. Teens have a lot of energy. Why not use them in some places that require a lot of energy — the nursery or toddler classes come to mind. Many are also very tech savvy. Why not put them in roles that let them use that ability — not alone with thousands of dollars of expensive sound equipment, but with an adult who can partner with them to do the job as a team.

Retirement-age adults, on the other hand, are slowing down, perhaps not driving at night any more, doing less, going less frequently. So what can they do? With the Communication Revolution, much, much more can be done from home. What about email to missionaries? Or maintaining a church blog? For the less tech oriented person, there are phone contacts that can be maintained. And what about prayer?

No matter who we are, what stage of life we’re in, we can all pray. No exception. God doesn’t honor the prayer of a forty-year-old more than that of a teen or a retiree.

Daniel was a youth when he went into service of the Babylonian king, and he developed the regular routine of praying. In only his second year of service, he was faced with the task of telling Nebuchadnezzar his dream and then interpreting it. His response?

Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery. (Dan 2:17-18a)

They prayed!

On the other side of the spectrum, the aging Apostle Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus, young pastors he was mentoring. But that wasn’t all. He also prayed.

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day (2 Tim 1:3 — emphasis mine).

Personally, I think it’s time teens and retirees take back the purpose God intends for them. The world can say those who fall within certain age groups are good only for a beer keg or a rocking chair, but God has a different perspective. Children can come to Him. Teens can serve Him. Retirees can produce a bumper crop of fruit through prayer alone. Isn’t it time the Church looks to all ages of life to fill up the Body with useful members?

Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Free The Whales, Diminish Man

Our understanding of creation is a central battleground in Satan’s attack against God. He chose in his confrontation with Eve long ago to call into question God’s character and His Word.

Of late he’s grown bolder, calling into question God’s very existence. Man’s philosophy of rationalism played right into his hands. According to this thinking Man only calls “real” what he can discern with his physical senses. Since no one in this era has seen a burning bush, a flaming mountain, or a pillar of fire, it is easy to declare God to be a myth, made up to keep the masses content and under control.

The problem was, people had that pesky Book — the one that told all about God and His work in the world. For many, this Word proved convincing, despite the fact that it so often seemed to contradict observable science. People relied on something called faith and the infallibility of God’s Word.

So Satan stepped up his game. He went after the image of God on earth — Man himself. If God did not exist, you see, there could be nothing pointing to Him. But first Satan had to change basic perceptions. Creation, then, came from an event much like spontaneous combustion — a result of chance, not of design; from the mind of nothing rather than from the mind of Omniscience.

From that happenstance, all of matter evolved, with Man, nothing more than the most intelligent of all that came into being. Nothing else separates Man from the rest of organic life. We are in the evolutionary chain, and the animals are our brothers.

Such a view, of course, means that Man is NOT a reflection of who God is as those who advocate creation contend. God, according to the Book, made all, then Man, in God’s own image.

But if Man is nothing more than part of the evolutionary chain, there’s nothing special about him. No image of God, no soul or spirit. He is matter like any other animal. When he dies, his dust returns to dust, and nothing more.

A group of people have been pushing this view to it’s logical conclusion. It’s wrong, they say, for Man to treat other animals with disregard and disrespect. We shouldn’t kill animals for their skin or fur; we shouldn’t use them in experiments; we shouldn’t eat their flesh. And the latest? We shouldn’t enslave them.

According to a lawsuit filed in San Diego last October, San Diego’s Sea World is holding their animals as slaves. On behalf of five orcas, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took the zoo to court, and a week and a half ago argued the case before a judge.

Said their attorney, Jeffrey Kerr, “For the first time in our nation’s history, a federal court heard arguments as to whether living, breathing, feeling beings have rights and can be enslaved simply because they happen to not have been born human” (as quoted in “San Diego judge to decide future of whale ‘slavery’ case”
by Julie Watson, Associated Press, emphasis mine).

Thankfully the judge threw the case out two days later, ruling that the 13th Amendment applied only to humans.

For intelligent beings, some humans seem to be … less than sharp. Why would humans, of all the animals, care about the “enslavement” of fellow creatures? Seemingly other whales don’t even care. Other animals aren’t going vegetarian either.

As misguided as it is, the very fact that members of PETA are trying to right what they perceive to be a wrong only proves that humans stand apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We have a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong, that other animals don’t have. Where did this come from? How could something with no root in the evolutionary chain be a part of the evolutionary process?

Who else in the world is moral besides Man? Well, God is, and the Bible explains that He breathed the breath of life into Man and he became a living soul. (See Gen. 2:7). The fact that Man alone is like God in this respect is consistent with the Biblical account of Man’s creation:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)

People are going to great lengths to show that some animals have language and feelings, that they bond much the same as do humans — all proofs, they say, that animals are our brothers. It’s all very logical — except the orcas don’t seem to think the fish they feed on are brothers, so why should we?

Unless we’re different. Unless we have a moral compass that determines some things are right and some things are wrong. Once, that compass was aligned with God and His holiness. More and more we are turning things upside down — calling evil, good and good, evil. Nevertheless, the existence of a moral compass is itself the image of God shining through. He continues to make Himself known through His creation, no matter what Satan does to distort the picture.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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But The LORD

While we live in the physical world, we also live in a spiritual world. Not only do we have spiritual natures, spiritual beings exist. God is not the only supernatural person in the heavens.

In talking about creation, Paul refers to rulers and authorities, thrones and dominions, the latter being part of the invisible world he mentions in Col. 1:16.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Who all these spiritual beings are is of interest to a good many people, but the truth is, the Bible tells us very little about them. We know there are two basic camps, however — those who do God’s bidding and are good, and those who stand in opposition to Him and are evil.

These spiritual forces have real power. Two angels, for example, were involved in the destruction of Sodom. Satan himself apparently decimated Job — destroying his property, killing his children, and striking him with disease.

Of course these beings are not operating independently. The angels are carrying out God’s commands, and Satan is doing only what God has given him permission to do. He was, for example, expressly forbidden to take Job’s life.

But still, Satan is active and so are any number of evil spirits. The New Testament records one man with evil spirits who had supernatural strength so that he could break free of chains meant to restrict him. Then there was the girl who had an evil spirit which made it possible for her to tell fortunes. Others caused a person to be mute or to lose control of their body so that they would be thrown into the fire.

The fact that we don’t see overt manifestations of evil spirits as a part of normal life here in North America doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t active.

The Bible tells us we need spiritual armor, so my supposition is that much of the spiritual activity we face has little to do with the physical, though possibly there is far more than we recognize as coming from spiritual causes. But that’s going astray from the point I want to make in all this.

Men and women throughout history have worshiped, but many have chosen a god instead of the LORD. For much of their history, the Jews dabbled with polytheism, though the LORD had specifically told them to have no other gods before Him. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome — they all worshiped gods. They were religious, and they recognized the existence of power that was beyond the physical.

The problem was, they credited created beings with supreme power and authority — whether Zeus or Baal or Molech or some other idol.

Interestingly, Isaiah wrote a stirring passage about idols being nothing but a man-made construction of no power. In chapter 44 he describes the process of cutting timber, burning half for fuel or to cook over, then fashioning from the other half an idol he bows to and worships:

No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (v. 19)

So which is it — are idols blocks of wood or are they evil spirits with actual power? I suppose spirits can inhabit the blocks of wood, but why would they? The people worshiping them are already doing so, and the wood, as Isaiah pointed out, is blind and dumb. I conclude the physical idol is nothing but a chunk of matter. But the people who worship idols may indeed be worshiping a spiritual being — a false god.

So I came across this verse the other day, and I thought, here’s the line of demarcation, the point that clearly separates false gods from the One True God:

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens. (Ps. 96:4-5 — emphasis mine))

Creation, as Romans 1 says so clearly, points to the One True God. It is in what He has made that His invisible attributes can be seen:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (v 20)

As I realized anew the significance of creation, I understood more clearly why it is such a battlefield. To discredit God, Satan aims to distort the work that inexorably points to Him.

There are a few key issues like that — the Bible as God’s authoritative word, the person of Jesus, and creation. Isn’t it interesting that these are the critical means of God’s revelation of Himself to Mankind, creation being the first and Jesus being the final and ultimate revelation, with the Bible being the authoritative source that explains both.

Praise God for loving us so much He has made Himself known.

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Friday – New Novel Preparation

As I’ve mentioned in a couple previous posts, I’m in the process of starting a new novel. I’ve done considerably more pre-writing than I have in my previous work. To date, I’ve written four novels and started three others. The four complete books are those in The Lore of Efrathah, which is really just one story. The partials were for either a contest or a critique group and I never fully developed the characters or story.

Two of the partials are fantasy and one is contemporary. In none of those have I done as much preparation to write as I am with the one I’m working on now. In many ways I’m curious to see how this turns out — will the story be easier to get down or not?

So here’s what I’ve done so far. After going through (for the second time) two and a half writing books (the third one was getting into some redundancy) that each had writing exercises I could do with my new story in mind, I’ve created a character profile for the protagonist, developed a time line to connect this prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, drawn a map of the city which is the main location of the story, mapped out a subplot, and finally listed out some of the scenes I envision including — the most basic list of “what happens.”

I feel pretty ready to start, so today I tackled that first paragraph. I know by this time that what I put down today will be unrecognizable by the time I’ve written the entire story and revised the necessary times, but still I wanted to head in the right direction. It’s much easier to tell the story the way it should be told, I think, if I can start it in the right place.

Of course, I no sooner finished than I remembered I had considered setting this one in wintertime. Oh, so already I have some revision to make!

But here’s the cool thing. I don’t think I would have considered having this story take place during winter unless I’d done the pre-write work.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about writing is to push beyond the obvious. So if it’s obvious for the main character to stop at a fast food joint and buy a burger and fries for dinner, then that’s what he should not do. Of course all the actions need to be properly motivated and logical. They just shouldn’t be obvious.

It’s a basic lesson, but I remember when I first started writing, I had some line about water. I don’t remember what it was exactly — maybe how someone leaped across a stream or how it gurgled between the rocks. At any rate, I asked a writer friend how he would say it, and to my dismay he used a completely different set of words. See, I thought then that I should be like everyone else. I should say what others were thinking. You can see, I had a lot to learn! In fact I had to change the way I approached writing.

The next hurdle for me was to be satisfying with suggesting scenes, painting with a light hand so readers had room to imagine rather than producing a detailed replica of what I was envisioning.

Honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how many different lessons I had to learn and how many old habits I had to break. In reality, I’m still learning and probably always will as long as I write. But what’s changed is that now I know a lot of what I need before I start writing.

Last point. Since I’m writing this post as part of the Fantasy Friday series, I should say a word about the fantasy elements in this book. There aren’t a lot yet! I decided to set this story in a period of time when a lot of the “magic” has become dormant. So one of the issues I have to deal with is how much do these people know about the special powers so central to The Lore of Efrathah. Writing a prequel, I’ve decided, isn’t as easy as it sounds! 😉

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Attack Has Begun

Photo by Gage Skidmore

No sooner did Rick Santorum sweep the three Republican primary or caucus races yesterday than the attacks began. As I’ve noted from time to time on Facebook, Mr. Santorum has escaped the scurrilous invectives up to this point because there’s nothing horrific in his background that lends itself to attack. Leave it to his opponents to find one: his religion. (He identifies himself on his Facebook page as a Christian – Roman Catholic).

The particular recrimination I saw most recently has a picture of Mr. Santorum on the left and one of Osama bin Laden on the right. Under Mr. Santorum’s picture is the caption, “This guy thinks religious law should override secular law.” Under Bin Laden the caption reads, “So does this guy.”

Well, assuming the person who put that bit of “humor” together had in mind some of Mr. Santorum’s socially conservative views, such as pro-life, that’s a pretty effective way of dismissing him as a nut no one need listen to. How sad! If you form an opinion based on selfishness or greed, it is fine if you want to supersede secular law with something new. But if your opinion is formed by a religious admonition such as “You shall not murder,” suddenly you’re viewed as a terrorist.

Of course his views on homosexual marriage received an immediate mention, too — as if this “secular law” has been around for centuries and suddenly this religious freak comes along and wants the rest of society to bend to his God’s laws. Well, news flash. The law of the land here in the bulk of the fifty states of the US is that marriage is between one man and one woman. The people trying to force a change are not the religious “nuts” but those who wish to redefine terms that have been in place for as long as this nation has been in existence.

But this caricature of Mr. Santorum serves a purpose — it demonstrates that there’s really nothing else his opponents can go after except the policies they hate so much, the ones they desperately want to keep out of the White House. All the “gains” the liberals saw under President Obama — specifically, government funded abortions here and abroad, aborted-fetal-tissue stem cell research, the movement toward socialized medicine — will come to an end.

At the least, now that the media can no longer ignore Rick Santorum, we’ll be forced to look at some of the issues that divide our country and need to be discussed … that is, until Saturday Night Live comes up with a skit to make him look like he’s off in left, make that, right field.

They did that with Mr. Gingrich, I guess. I missed the sketch but heard that it poked fun at his idea that our space program should work toward putting a colony on the moon. So now Mr. Gingrich is loony. Ha-ha-ha. Except, I heard him explain his ideas on one of the news shows, and it made perfect sense. He was addressing a crowd in Cape Canaveral, Florida — where people are greatly affected by the fact that we are no longer sending manned spacecraft to explore the heavens — and he was proposing a new way of doing business, one that would lean heavily on the private sector. As Mr. Gingrich said, It’s hard to imagine President Kennedy receiving the same kind of treatment when he proposed sending a rocket to the moon.

But that shows how our politics have changed. Now the person we differ with isn’t just misinformed or misguided or even wrong; he’s stupid, dangerous, the next tyrant or jihadist.

News flash for the Republicans — the Democrats have found the sweet spot. If they can paint a conservative candidate as stupid or foolish or ignorant, they are gold and the conservative candidacy is dead in the water.

They did it to Vice President Dan Quail (though some would argue that he did it to himself, I’d disagree; being a notoriously bad speller myself, I can testify that knowing how to spell potato has nothing to do with what you know or don’t know about governmental affairs). Since then, they’ve done it to President Bush with much less success, Sarah Palin, and a handful of Tea Party candidates during the 2010 election.

Somehow the Democratic candidates escape such accusations, though I can point to a number of their office holders from the state of California who ought to be scrutinized in this area. But why should anyone look back into their college records and see what their GPA is when they don’t hold any ignorant views such as creationism?

You see the bottom line, don’t you? It’s not intelligence or religious law or moon colonies. It’s all about authority. These people who don’t want “You shall not murder” to apply to unborn humans really don’t want anyone telling them what is right or wrong — not the Bible, certainly, but not the Constitution either, and not state propositions or amendments passed by the people. They want what they want, and until they get the law to let them have what they want, they’ll fight the rest of us however they can.

Even by attacking a moral, God-fearing … oops, there’s the problem. That’s what’s earned Mr. Santorum these attacks.

Published in: on February 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm  Comments (12)  
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The State Of Publishing

When I was in school, I read about the Industrial Revolution, and all the changes it brought, some good but some pretty harsh. I realized the other day that we’re in another one of those revolutions. I don’t know what they’ll end up naming it — the Communications Revolution, maybe, or the Technology Revolution, perhaps. Whatever, books are right there in the middle of the fray, it would seem.

Interestingly, five years ago, on this blog, an acquisitions editor for a reputable Christian publisher said, “As for Amazon sales, those are NOT indicative of true sales.” I doubt if anyone is saying that today. There’s been a revolution. In fact, I just read in The Writer magazine that projections say Amazon will have 50% of book sales by the end of this year. Fifty percent!

Of course this revolution isn’t happening without those who want to fight back. Amazon’s being accused of turning into a monopoly with plans, not just to become THE book seller but THE publisher, what with their print-publishing venture.

How you feel about this revolution probably depends on how you’re connected to the book industry. One thing most people in the know seem to agree upon: Amazon is ignoring the way things have been and has created a new model based on what’s best for the consumer ( i. e, the reader).

In an industry where publishers, distributors, agents, and occasionally authors bicker with one another about issues great and small, Amazon has simply turned its back and addressed the issues from the perspective of the customer. (“Consider The Elephant” by David Malki, The Writer, Nov/Dec 2011.)

Hence, readers can buy books at a lower price, with greater ease, and perhaps with more knowledge about the product, than ever before.

Authors have mixed feelings about the encroachment of Amazon on the publishing scene. They are changing the landscape, without a doubt. As traditional publishers hunker down, they have fewer and fewer slots available, so only The Big Name authors seem likely to be happy with traditional publishing. Those being squeezed out, not so much. Are they happy with Amazon? Not necessarily because they are competing with an ever-growing field of writers who have discovered the ease with which they can get their work in print or on e-reader screens. Make that, Kindle screens.

Publishers, acquisition editors, even possibly agents are in the opposition to this revolutionary take-over threat. After all, they’re losing their gate-keeper role. If they don’t come down on the side of opposing the greater Communication Revolution — that is, if they approach the changes in the business with vision, embracing the technology and the opportunities afforded by social media — they have a chance to maintain a small piece of the pie they so recently hoarded.

For an unpublished writer like me, this is an interesting time for certain. There are many more options available than ever before, but will they be paying ones? In other words, can a writer ever again make a living as a writer? Not that many did before the start of the revolution. But an accompanying question is this: will writing suffer if it becomes littered with hobbyists rather than professionals?

I suppose newspaper people thought the same thing when blogs first came out with all kinds of divergent opinion, but in the case of news and politics, I think consumers care more about facts and opinions than they do the prose with which those are expressed. Blogging suddenly made it possible for the guy who used to chaffed because his letter to the editor had once again been ignored, to suddenly have his own column and his own loyal readers and the chance to write those letters to the editor in the form of comments on other blogs. Suddenly his opinion was getting out there and getting read.

Fiction is a different animal. There’s a bit of art to entertainment, and passionate people who haven’t learned the craft may be disappointed that their books won’t find a way out of the growing morass of similar stories.

The new question — but really, it’s old — is, how does a writer separate from the pack and become noticed? Writers who find an answer will most likely be the ones who navigate the newest crossover — from digital/self-publishing, to traditional. Or will that be, from traditional publishing to digital/self-pubbed?

One closing thought. Thank God He knows what’s going on! 😀

Published in: on February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Riches Of Christ

In thinking about the urban poor and the ministry of World Impact, I couldn’t help but think that “poor” is so much greater than not having a lot of money. We can talk about how the plight of the urban poor impoverishes them intellectually — their education choices are limited. Even if they can make it through a public high school with grades that would qualify them for college, the schools they attend could well be limited because they would be dependent on scholarships and grants.

And what about the poverty of opportunity? How many family vacations do the urban poor take? Are they camping once a year? Taking off to Hawaii? And how about exposure to other cultures? Where they live, “other cultures” are likely in a rival gang. What about opportunities to learn about America’s heritage? How many urban poor are visiting Washington D. C. (besides the urban poor who live there)? Or Williamsburg? Or how many here in LA make it to the Reagan Library? How many make it to any library? Or museum?

Beyond this is moral poverty — where drugs and prostitution, gangs and adultery, abuse and prison are a part of normal life. Instead of breaking the cycles, however, our society that has turned the care of the urban poor over to the government knows little other than punishment and accommodation. Former U. S. Ambassador and Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes used to say that the most important issue before the government was the preservation of the family because that is the social structure that passes on values. He made a lot of good points.

The greater issue, however, is spiritual poverty. All other problems pale in comparison even as they stem from the heart of this one. In conjunction with what Jesus said in the beatitudes about the poor in spirit (“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 5:3), other Scripture calls our attention to the riches we have in Christ or to the fact that His riches are incomparable, worth whatever suffering might come our way.

Eph. 3:8 – To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ

Phil. 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Heb. 11:26 – [Speaking of Moses] considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

I especially like the passages in Colossians starting with the end of chapter one and continuing into the early verses of chapter two that identify riches, wealth, and treasure in association with Christ.

Col. 1:27 – to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col. 2:2-3 – that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In Peter’s first letter, he equates faith with gold, calling it “more precious” — that would be “faith that comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

Christ Himself is all the treasure we could want, but in Him are more treasures. When we have Christ, we are rich, but when we have Him and nothing else, we are abundantly rich.

If it were not for God’s grace declared in the preaching of the Word of God, I or anyone else would be spiritually poor. Rather, I and all who are in the family of God enjoy the riches of Christ.

How shameful, then, if we squat on this treasure that is never diminished no matter how many times we give it away. How important it is that we do not overlook those in our inner cities who desperately need to hear of the One Who is the image of the invisible God — He Who is treasure, who has treasure, and who gives treasure, Himself.

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Comments (5)  
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You Always Have The Poor With You

Three of the four gospels record Jesus’s statement to His disciples that the poor aren’t going away. Here’s Mark’s version (interestingly the other two are Matthew and John, not the third synoptic gospel, Luke):

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. (Mark 14:7)

Jesus was defending the actions of the woman who anointed Him with costly perfume. Some of His disciples — not just Judas — complained that she was wasting a valuable asset. Let her alone, Jesus is saying. What she did is good and right. You can focus on the poor any day, but you aren’t going to have Me here in bodily form very much longer. Her sacrificial act of worship is good.

Today the phrase, the poor you have with you always, is almost cliche in Christian circles, but unfortunately it seems to reduce the urgency of meeting the needs of the poor. Too often we think of the poor living half way around the world — inaccessible to us apart from our dollars which we drop into the offering, trusting that some portion of what we give is going to missions and to meet the needs of those babies with bloated bellies we too often see in commercials appealing for more donations.

How shocking would it be to realize that we have the poor with us here in a wealthy country like the US? I know I’ve been skeptical. I live twenty minutes from downtown LA, and what I see around me most are $150 athletic shoes, cell phones, satellite dishes, and tricked out all-but-new (and some of them, too) cars. Of course I know there’s also money floating around that ends up in the drug trade, so how poor can the urban poor really be?

Not that I don’t see the homeless, too. Depending on the time of year, there can be a bearded man with ragged coat pushing a shopping cart of belongings down the sidewalk a block or two from where I live. A couple weeks ago, I pulled up to a light and on my left was a man on a bicycle that had … the equivalent of training wheels, with a basket built on the back. Inside was a dog, standing patiently behind his master — a scruffy-haired, ragged-coated individual I assumed to be homeless. He and his dog.

On Sunday as part of my church’s missions month, we learned a bit more about the urban poor. Dr. Keith Phillips, president of World Impact preached from Luke 4:16-19.

And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,


This passage is important, Dr. Phillips said, because it reveals Christ’s purpose, which includes preaching the gospel to the poor; because it serves as a model for us to follow; and because it gives us a mandate to go to the most needy in our society: the poor, captives, blind, oppressed.

He went on to say that a barometer of the health of the Church might be how we treat the poor. The cool thing is that “how we treat the poor,” according to World Impact’s core principles includes a holistic approach that unashamedly declares the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I’ll be honest with you: I was still back there at the point of wondering how poor are the urban poor. And then he gave us a statistic that opened my eyes. Not about average income or number of homeless children or anything like that. He told us that in the downtown Los Angeles area there are forty-two Planned Parenthood Clinics (think, abortion clinics) and one World Impact mobile Crisis Pregnancy Clinic.

Think about that for a second. When we turn “care” of the poor over to government agencies, which is exactly what welfare has done, we, the followers of Jesus Christ, adopt the Mitt Romney attitude that we don’t have to worry about the poor — they have their safety net already in place. But what kind of a net? One that dictates the “care” a pregnant girl receives, that locks a family into public housing with no way of actually earning and saving (because when you make “too much,” that’s the end of “benefits”), that keeps kids in public schools where their very safety is compromised and actual learning is at a minimum.

But here’s the thing. World Impact believes in “Incarnational Ministry” — that believers should go into urban centers and live with the poor, in the same way that a missionary to Tanzania or Laos or Guatemala would go and live with the people in their village or town. In other words, ministering to the urban poor isn’t for everyone. Or is it? At their web site in the drop down menu under “Involvement” the first option is “Pray.” Right away, I know I, too, can be involved in a ministry to the urban poor.

Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm  Comments (3)  
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Starting Over

Not so long ago I mentioned that I’m starting a new book. I’m having a lot of fun thinking things through, getting to know my character, and fitting the events of this story in with what comes after in The Lore of Efrathah. I did mention the new one is a prequel to my four-book story, didn’t I?

The thing is, it takes place some 250 years earlier, so I need to figure out the history and what kinds of changes would be likely in the world.

Interestingly, as I’m putting this story together, I realize Lore is actually a kind of dystopian series, though I’m sure it doesn’t read like one.

Besides the fun, I’m finding myself hesitant to commit. Maybe I really am not ready to start the story yet, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m not simply experiencing “starting over” jitters.

Quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable to start over. I’m not on familiar ground any more. There are unknowns lurking at the bottom of every page, questions I don’t even know to ask yet. And playing in the back of my mind like a song I can’t shake is the real issue: Who are these people and how do all these ideas fit together into one cohesive story?

Like any number of others, I’ve used the metaphor of weaving a story together — particularly in talking about the theme. If you misplace that thread by putting it in too prominent a place, readers will think you’re being preachy, but if you push it too far in the background, it will lose all potency. It’s a good picture — threads everywhere, and trying to get them all through the loom in the right order.

Then there are all the technique things I know now that I didn’t know when I started my last book. Can I layer my plot and incorporate appropriate subplots that will enhance the theme? Will my character’s inner conflict play well with the external conflict?

So with the doubts swirling in my head and the satisfaction of preparation, I wonder if I’m missing the important point of starting over — actually getting words down. That first sentence, first paragraph, first page.

Will I know when I have all I need to actually start? Will there be nothing left to do but flesh out the scenes that have started to form in my head?

Sometimes I wish writers could apprentice, like craftsmen of old used to do. Then I could ask a wise, experienced author how it will be, when I will know. But the thing about writing, it’s not the same experience for everyone.

I know some writers who would rather sit down and start writing so they can get to know their character, the world, the bit players, the backstory. I understand that. I learn a lot when I write. It forces me to think things through before I can set them down in a coherent way.

But when it comes to fiction, I don’t know enough to start writing until I get some of those questions answered. Otherwise, I’m writing the same character, the same problems, just clothed with different made up skin.

So here I am, at the cusp of a new beginning, and I’m wondering, how will I know when it’s time to jump.

As I said, I learn as I write, so as I finished that last sentence, it dawned on me that as a Christian, I don’t have to worry about even such a thing because I’m not in this venture alone, any more than I’m in any other part of daily living alone. He who began a good work in me — that refining process to make me like His Son, Jesus Christ — isn’t going to walk away with the job half done. So whatever He wants to do with my writing will be part of that ultimate purpose.

Then these verses came to mind:

Deut. 31:6 – Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Deut. 31:8 – The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Yes, I know. Those verses weren’t written to writers. Moses said this to Israel and to Joshua before they crossed over the Jordan into the land God was giving them. But like every other verse of Scripture, these have been given to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness.

How much more should I who have the Holy Spirit living in my life be able to count on the truth that God will not fail or forsake me? Consequently, in the face of starting over, I don’t need to fear or be dismayed.

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm  Comments (8)  
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I hate change! Hate it! I’m guessing my reaction comes from my growing-up years when we were moving on an average of every two years. New houses, new schools, new friends, new churches, new neighbors, new everything.

I assumed life would be like that. After teaching in one place for three years, I moved. Then another three years passed, and I moved again. Since then, I’ve stayed put. I like it like that. Same church, same apartment, same … well, I changed jobs, friends moved, so did my neighbors … so changes are still happening. I’m not happy! 😦

Guess what my aversion to change means when it comes to the world of communication! First there was email — what a great way to communicate with people, even those living across the world! Then there were message boards and we could have discussions with complete strangers over issues we all had some interest in. Then there were blogs. Now I could introduce the content. Then Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Goodreads and LinkedIn and …

Give me a break!

The book business is in great flux too. Indie publishers are popping up all over the place. ebooks and ereaders are on the rise, whereas brick and mortar bookstores are struggling to hold on. (As an aside, my critique group which used to meet in a Borders Bookstore, may have settled on a name — Writers Without Borders. 😆 )

Whether I like it or not, the world changes. No one asks my permission. They just upset my world by “upgrading” or moving or inventing or wearing out or breaking. And truth be told, I can’t keep up with all the changes. Some of them cost too much. Some are too time consuming. Some don’t work for me, and some I can’t find. (Where, oh, where is the nearest bookstore now?!)

Change? Honestly, I think chaos is a better word at times. Or upheaval. Maybe mayhem, bedlam, havoc. OK, now I might be exaggerating a teensy bit.

But here’s the cool thing. We have an unchangeable God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is loving today, merciful, forgiving, just, kind, and omniscient. And I can count on the fact that He will be all those same things tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.

What’s more, because He’s sovereign and holds all creation in place, what looks chaotic to me, isn’t. Life has a purpose, and all the parts of life have a purpose — even the moves and changes, including the ones I like the least.

For one thing, none of those changes catches God off guard. He’s not scratching His head in wonder at all that’s going on, as if some of it has gotten away from Him. It hasn’t. Not the economy, politics, or those messy, messy, uncooperative relationships.

God knows what He is about. He’s got it under control. So even when I have to endure all those changes, it’s OK, because God has also got me. And without a doubt, He can do a much better job of orchestrating events than I ever could.

You see, there’s one thing I don’t always like to admit, but here it is: without change, there is no growth. So if I want to grow into the image of Jesus Christ, I can’t stand pat. God knows this, and He leads, prods, pulls, pushes, coaxes, carries, so that I get where He knows I need to go. Because one more of His unchanging qualities is that He is good.

A good, unchanging God. Now we’re talking my language! 😉

Published in: on February 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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