Gratitude, Day 8—For The Written Word

At some point last week I thought one of my gratitude posts should be about reading. I mean, I love to read. It opens up the world, the past, God’s revelation. It’s perhaps the most awesome human experience ever. But I’m too late. My friend and fellow blogger InsanityBytes already grabbed that topic: “Grateful for Reading.”

Unlike IB, I can remember a time when I couldn’t read. My brother and sister could. So once, int the car one of my parents spelled out something, and I knew that only I was supposed to not receive this piece of information. That hurt! At other times, on Sunday mornings when we pulled out the best part of the morning paper—the funnies, also called the Comics—my brother would grab one section and my sister would grab the other. I remember that one day I pleaded with them to please let me have a section first, because after all, it took me much less time to look at the pictures than it did for them to read the whole thing. Well, that request got nowhere, so then I pleaded with them not to read, either. Yeah, that plan didn’t meet with success, either.

I have another distinct memory of not reading, too, but better are the ones of finally learning, finally being able to read. And then discovering the library and all the books available for free. Reading introduced me to new friends and old places. But reading was the key to education. Without reading I would have missed out on so much—math word problems, history, instructions on literally every assignment, science. We even had P.E. tests over the rules of the particular sports we played. At every turn, reading was a component in education.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

And now I’m a writer. So the idea of words on a page has expanded from me only being a recipient of information to being one who generates ideas for others to digest. Of course, I was doing that long before I became a writer. I mean, how many papers did I write in college? But one thing I learned back then, even when I would bemoan a professor assigning a ten-page paper or giving us an essay test: I always felt I learned more when I wrote out my thoughts. I remember them better, but I also understand them better. The writing somehow helps me to organize my thoughts better than any other way of interacting with material.

Of course, as a novelist who writes fantasy, I have a special place in my heart for creating worlds and characters that show what I think in a way that is perhaps more meaningful than simply coming out and stating the bald facts.

I may have learned that way of communicating from the Bible, because it’s a book filled with stories that illustrate. Yes, there are statements of truth, places the writers, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, simply declared what God wanted us all to know. But even more, there are people and places and events that show.

But that actually explains another reason I’m grateful for written communication. One of the best parts of Christianity is the written revelation, the unchangeable word of God, the word that is fixed in heaven, that endures forever. What God revealed four thousand years ago, for instance, is still true today. We have it in black and white. We don’t have to wonder what God might decide to do today as opposed to what He did yesterday.

I had a principal once who changed like that. School rules were not codified. They were in his head, and he could change his mind whenever he wanted. So you never wanted to ask him for money to purchase necessary equipment if he was in a bad mood. You never wanted to do something questionable because today it might be OK, but tomorrow you’d be busted for it.

God is not like that. He gave us His word so that we can know His thoughts. So when He said, Don’t commit murder as part of the Ten Commandments, that was a Law He adhered to in the book of James in the New Testament. He didn’t wave it or qualify it or reverse it. His word is dependable.

So I love written communication. It opens up the world, history, culture, an understanding of people. It allows me to express my thoughts and ideas and even to understand what I’m thinking more completely, and it enables me to enjoy God’s revelation. In His word He’s told us about His person, His plan, His purpose. I feel privileged to be invited in to know His thoughts in this way.

For sure, I’m so very grateful for written communication—both sides of it!

Top Photo by Tamás Mészáros from Pexels

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Speaking The Truth In Love Is Not Victim Shaming

I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. But we in the church have picked up the verbiage and values of our culture, and it shows itself in the most ugly way.

First, the problem. In patriarchal societies, sinful men will act sinfully and they often sin against women. That’s a fact, and it has been since Adam first blamed Eve for his own disobedience.

In contemporary western culture, however, we have taken a strange turn. When men sin against women, to counsel women how they can protect themselves, is “victim shaming” and ought not to be done.

Here’s where all this is coming from. On Monday someone in a writers’ Facebook group drew our attention to a Publisher’s Weekly article about four Christian writers’ conference presenters who have been accused of and/or investigated for sexual misconduct.

One of the many people who commented said this:

The code of conduct [which conference directors are beginning to include for their staff] should apply to everyone–male and female, attendees or staff. Some of the clothing I’ve seen is really questionable, especially at a Christian conference. Not that it gives the other person any rights, but get a clue, folks. Don’t wear suggestive clothing!

Well, this opened the floodgates to the “victim shaming” accusation:
* What a sad, victim-shaming comment.
* I would love to think we’ve gotten past this way of thinking. Wow.
* that you think clothing choices lead to (and excuse) male misconduct is both shaming to women and insulting to men. [Never mind that the commenter specifically said: “Not that it gives the other person any rights.”]
* when I see someone implying that a woman brought abuse on herself because of how she dressed or what she did all my niceness goes out the window. It is never ever the victim’s fault.

And on the comments went, most taking the stance that any word to women was victim shaming. I admit, the comment was blunt and in my opinion should have carried a tone of compassion and love, but it caused me to think.

As a result, in another discussion of the PW article, I made this comment:

One thing that has dismayed me is that when someone says women can be discerning and can do something to shut down predators, their comments are considered “victim shaming.” How are we to have a conversation that will help young women if we can’t say anything about what they should do in response or as a precaution or to enhance discernment?

A friend of mine took the time to give a thoughtful answer:

The time to tell women how to protect themselves is not when we are discussing predators. It makes it seem as if we’re shifting blame. That comes during other discussions, not during the focus on predators.

It’s like when someone’s kid dies drunk driving. You don’t start lecturing on how bad it is to drink and drive to the grievers. You grieve with them and comfort them. Later, another time, another forum, you can be active in speaking against intoxicated operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.

But when women are talking about their pain and abuse is not the time to say, “Well, don’t stand so close, don’t be alone in their room or in an elevator, don’t sit next to them at a table if you know they tell racy jokes or touch a lot, don’t smile when you feel uncomfortable, speak up, etc.”

But . . . the comment that drew such ire was not directed to the victims. It specified that the men had no right to do what they did. And if not when the incident surfaces, then when?

I’d make this comparison. What if a serial rapist was on a university campus and had not been caught. This has actually happened. It isn’t a pretend scenario. On the news there will often be careful instructions about how women on that campus should call security if they must walk alone at night, stay in groups, even carry mace. Is that victim shaming? Of course not. That’s giving sensible instruction about how a woman can discourage an attack on her person from the rapist.

So I have to wonder, why are a clear warning and some helpful insights considered victim shaming? Why can’t we talk to women who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation about what they can and should do to protect themselves?

I think of Joseph, and one of the PW commenters actually mentioned him, when he was propositioned day after day by his boss’s wife. It wasn’t his fault, the commenter pointed out. So very true. But what did Joseph do? He ran!

Clearly that woman had power over him, but Joseph didn’t “go with the flow” or decide that she was just harmlessly flirting with him or that he could get further ahead if he let her have her way. He made a decision that what she was pressing him to do was wrong before God, and he left.

Reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18a—“Flee immorality.”

Today we talk about having boundaries, and in my opinion, that’s just another way of saying flee. Keep an inappropriate relationship at arm’s distance, or further, if necessary.

I know when I was young, I would have appreciated some wise counsel in this area. Because I was naive and stupid. I actually faced a couple scary situations, largely of my own making. Well, sure, not that the guys involved were free to have their way, but because I gave them the wrong impression—that I was available and willing. I was just goofing around, having fun, and these were strangers who I never saw again, but the situation could have had a very different ending, but for the grace of God.

Reminds me of a time I was taking a neighbor’s son home from school. He kept flashing gang signs out the window. I finally pulled over and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing could get us killed. Not that a real gang member (my neighbor’s son was not) would have the right to attack someone flashing signs at him. But the end result would be the same: we’d be innocent, and dead.

That may sound extreme, but listen to women who have faced abuse or harassment. They will say how much it has affected their lives, their marriages. We’re talking about something dangerous, so to basically say, Don’t tell women how to keep this man who wants to exert his power over you from doing so because that is victim shaming, in my opinion simply perpetuates the problem.

I get that the women who are suffering, who are dealing with confrontation and with forgiveness, and what all that means, don’t need to hear what they could have done in the past. That isn’t helpful to them. But it would be greatly helpful for the women coming along behind them to know that they don’t have to expect the same to happen. There are boundaries that the can draw, even if it means they lose something temporarily, as Joseph did. Sometimes there’s a cost, and that can be intimidating. Which is why we should talk about these things instead of hiding them under cover of the world’s “victim shaming” accusation.

The Church Doing What The Church Does

Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

Last week I conducted two workshops and took appointments at a local writers’ conference. A Christian writers’ conference.

In my first class, I was part of a panel of editors/former editors/publishers who gave feedback to conferees who had submitted their first 300 words of a manuscript to us ahead of time.

In the mornings I attended a fiction continuing session, and then the last day I taught a class on point of view. In between I ate meals with conferees and faculty, talked with them in the appointment room, and generally had a great time interacting with other writers about writing.

But one thing was absent—well more than one thing. There was no mean spirit. No jealousy. No angry response. Not that the professionals who were teaching softened the truth. Well, maybe the softening was there in the form of love. After all, the clear intent of all the interactions I witnessed was to help these writers become better writers.

Because I’m an editor, I even had other faculty ask me in a class they were teaching, to add or suggest or to give my opinion. No sense of feeling threatened. No selfish hoarding of the spotlight. And that attitude was replicated over and over.

In the appointment room another faculty member brought a conferee to me, saying that I would be a good fit as an editor for this person. No dismissal of the person attending her first conference, though the faculty member could have said flat out that she no longer did any editing and let the newbie go her way. Instead there was care and concern and a willingness to go the extra distance to help someone in need.

Over and over on Facebook, conferees have said how helpful and friendly and encouraging the faculty was. Even though we critiqued their work and gave them better ways to do things. Even though we told them their formatting was wrong, that there was this or that error in their first page.

These attendees stayed open and willing to listen, willing to try, willing to put their writing out there for the world to give them feedback. The faculty and their fellow conferees responded with truth and with love. This is the mix that works. This is the feedback that helps a writer to learn and grow and become better.

But in reality, truth and love are the ingredients Christians are to mix whenever we relate to others.

And there we were, Christian writers, supplying truth and love for one another. For people we had not known before last weekend. But funny thing, the love of Christ for fellow believers is not hard, not when we purpose to let it shine in our hearts and for other people.

I met people from Texas and Michigan and Tennessee and Florida and Arizona and here in California. I met fiction writers and nonfiction writers. I met some people who weren’t sure what they wanted to write. I met men and women. I met some older people and some young. I met people of various ethnic groups. Despite our differences, we were united in Christ. The way the Church is supposed to be.

We sang worship songs together, we listened to inspirational messages from the keynote speakers, we prayed together. I’m sure we were all from a variety of different churches and denominations, though that never came up. We simply were there to serve one another and help each other grow and prosper as writers. As Christians who write.

That’s the Church being the Church.

Beyond Plateaus

Mountain climbers are familiar with reaching plateaus. You don’t get to one without a lot of serious work. Often when you arrive, you’ll find a scenic view and certainly a good place to rest. But if you have set a goal for yourself, staying on the plateau will defeat you.

Staying on plateaus can be tempting — for mountain climbers, for writers, for Christians. One of the things the long journey of writing novels and waiting to find an agent and publisher has taught me is to keep working. There was a time I thought my work was ready for publication. In fact I confidently read other books and believed my writing equal or better.

Apparently I was the only one. Yes, I got good responses from critique partners and others in mentoring groups. But there is still that elusive “We want you to be our author” phone call. Something, therefore, needs to be better. It pushes me forward to improve.

But what happens when I don’t have that incentive any more?

Lady Gaga (bet you never thought you’d hear me quoting her here, did you 😉 ) said in anticipation of her next performance, she (mentally) takes the awards she’s won off the wall and stuffs them in the closet. In other words, she’s determined not to let past success affect her goal. She’s not going to stay on the plateau.

I think some writers are content with the plateau. Publishing was their dream. Now they have books out and enough sales to get the next contract. Who cares if they improve their writing or become better at plotting their stories? Who cares if their characters are retreads? I mean, those sales show the fans are there.

I think it would be easy to fall into that attitude, but the plateau isn’t the mountain top.

Plateaus can become traps for Christians in our spiritual walk, too. Our friends all believe pretty much the same way we do. We become comfortable with our church. We tithe and attend, and even participate in special work events in the neighborhood.

God is good. He’s forgiven us by His grace and we’re thankful. So very thankful.

And there we stay.

But look at what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)

What a statement! You’re doing a good job, now go out and do better!

In the next verses, it becomes clear that Paul has in mind, in particular, their sexual purity. But then in verse nine he turns a corner and commends that church for how they love other Christians. And yes, he follows up with the same admonition:

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (4:9-10)

A couple things I learn from this. The Christian life isn’t a “let go and let God” proposition. There is a “work out your salvation” aspect, and that doesn’t deposit us on a plateau at some point, where we can sit back and enjoy the view — not, at least, if we’re to take what Paul said seriously. Rather, the Christian life is dynamic.

Excelling still more is a logical goal for those who stand next to perfection. It’s impossible to rest and think I’ve arrived when I look at God. He is the gold standard of purity and love.

Finally, though I’m an active agent in this excelling process, so is God. Look at what Paul said right before his first “excel still more” statement:

and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. 3:12-13

The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of loving believers, but Paul prayed that God would cause this. The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of sexual purity, but Paul prayed that God would establish their hearts without blame in holiness.

It’s kind of like the really serious mountain climbers who are tethered together as they make their way up a rock face. One moves forward but not without the other. The first enables the second and the second supports and secures the first.

We have an incredible God who thinks and plans far beyond the ways we would choose. One part of that would seem to include our enjoying the plateaus He leads us to, but then we must keep going, thankfully, not alone.

Published in: on August 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Look At What’s Most Important

Baptist_Temple_cornerstoneBusinesses want to make money, or perhaps a better way of stating it is they need to make money to stay in existence. Employees want to do their jobs so they don’t get fired or get demoted. Parents want to keep their kids safe and out of trouble. Husbands and wives want to have a healthy, mutually beneficial marriage. Good citizens want to study issues and research candidates to the best of their ability to vote wisely. Generally all people want to have enough to eat, nice clothes to wear, a safe and comfortable place to call home, and something enjoyable or meaningful to do.

Nothing is wrong with any of those things people want. Of course there are some selfish or inappropriate desires people have which I’m not going to mention. I’m hoping it’s self-evident that desires for sinful, selfish things aren’t in the running for Most Important.

Completely missing from my list is any mention of God. Sadly I think that’s a reflection of many of our views of life. People are important, jobs are important, safety is important, sufficient money is important, even vacation is important. But God? Yes, He’s important too. On Sunday morning, and maybe during a regular Bible study time or prayer time.

Actually, I suspect most Christians understand and believe that God and our relationship to Him really is the Most Important. It’s figuring out how that looks that gives us problems.

If God is most important, but I have a business to run—a business that needs to make money, what does that look like? If God is most important, and I’m an employee showing up to do my job, what does that look like? What does it look like for parents (or for kids), for husbands and wives, for good citizens, for friends, for neighbors, for drivers stuck in traffic, for people waiting in line at the grocery story, for people sitting down to write their bills . . . for all of us, all the time?

I tend to think there’s not such a great difference in how each of those situations would look. The Bible calls Christ a choice stone, a precious cornerstone—that’s the key foundational piece upon which a building rests. It’s laid first, and it supports the rest of the structure. It’s the Most Important stone.

If God is to be Most Important, then, it seems to me He needs to be first in our thoughts and primary in our “buildings.” For me as a writer, that means I don’t make God my editor or my critique partner. Rather, He’s the one who brainstorms with me. In other words, He’s not my last resort. I don’t come to Him to clean up my mess or even to help me out of tight spots. Instead, I come to Him to begin with. I look to Him for inspiration and for “perspiration”—the strength to start out and to keep going and to get it right.

The great thing about God is that when I don’t start with Him as my cornerstone, He still holds my hand, still passes through the flood with me. He doesn’t fail me or forsake me, though I can’t say the same thing in return. But when I fail, He sets me right and gives me the opportunity to lay the cornerstone of Christ all over again, because He forgives sin.

But there’s more to making God the Most Important. Again, looking at this question from my perspective as a writer, I see He should not merely be first, but He should be the focal point in some way or another, in my stories.

In my personal life, God is the focal point if I love Him more than any other. In Isaiah the prophet says to his nation

Get yourself up on a high mountain
O Zion, bearer of good news
Lift up your voice mightily
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news
Lift it up, do not fear
Say to the cities of Judah
Here is your God. (40:9-10)

In many respects those lines are no different from the “Great Commission” with which Jesus left His followers: Go, give the good news to those near and far.

Giving the good news, however, doesn’t look the same for every single person. Some are preachers, some serve. Some prepare the soil, some plant, some water. All parts of the process are necessary for a harvest. But one thing is true—wheat doesn’t come up by accident.

My writing should be no different from any other aspect of my life. I ought not compartmentalize. God should be Most Important in every aspect of my life—my work as well as my relationships.

The thing is, I make God Most Important by loving Him and obeying His commandments—by keeping Him as God alone, having no idols, treating others the way He wants me to treat them. And in my writing? I keep God alone as God; I have no idols; I treat others the way He wants me to treat them.

But not every writer will put those principles into practice in the same way. Some may say, my writing is a tool by which I can say to the “cities of Judah,” here is your God. Others will say, my writing is a tool by which I can earn money to share with the crisis pregnancy center our church runs. Who’s to say one is better than the other? If both writers are making God Most Important, then who cares whether the two write the same kinds of stories? Neither should judge the other.

And neither should make their stories or their style of writing Most Important—a sure sign God no longer occupies that place.

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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Should We Forgive Authors?

working-man-131372-mWhen I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.

I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.

Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.

Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.

Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.

Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.

So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?

I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?

Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.

Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?

I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.

Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?

In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.

But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?

How are readers to respond?

I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.

So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.

So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? 😉

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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Was Frodo Called To Be The Ring-Bearer?

Frodo, Sam, GollumI’ve been thinking about God’s calling, in part because of recent fun-poking at Christian writers who believe God has called them to write fiction. I am one such writer.

The question often arises, How do you know? Does God call audibly? Is it something forced upon you? Does it fall into your lap? Does God wire your DNA so that you create with words whereas others create with paint or clay?

As I’m finishing up Lord of the Rings, I’ve considered that the protagonist, Frodo, felt called to his task of bearing the One Ring, even as his faithful servant and friend Sam Gamgee felt called to go with him.

Frodo, of course, initially inherited the Ring. He actually tried to get rid of it, first offering it to Gandalf, then proposing that they throw it away or try to destroy it. Finally he agreed to take it to the wise elf in Rivendell who, he believed, would know what to do with it.

Once he reached his destination, however, he learned that someone would need to take the Ring to Mordor and throw it into the Crack of Doom to unmake it. And he volunteered to be that someone. He felt it was his job to do. He felt … called.

This week I read of a group of real-life people who took up a calling, too. Persia’s king Cyrus issued a proclamation that whoever wanted to go up to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of God, could go, with his blessing and aid. A group of exiled Jews responded and went.

But here’s the significant thing. Scripture says that “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1b – emphasis mine) to make that proclamation. Further, it says that the people went “even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5b – emphasis mine).

Might not this “stirring” be the best way of understanding a calling from God? According to Strong’s lexicon, the word for “stir” means “to rouse oneself, awake, awaken, incite.” In context, then, God awakened or incited Cyrus to act and He awakened or incited the people to go.

Why is it a stretch to imagine that He still stirs people today to do things He wants us to do?

Back to Frodo. When he made the decision to head off to Mordor bearing the One Ring, no one told him to do it. He knew within his heart that it was his job. It is this knowing within the heart that I think God puts into a believer from time to time. Not always, certainly. And not everyone.

The prophet Samuel anointed David as king over Israel, but not every king was so anointed. I’ve wondered as I’ve read 2 Chronicles how some of these kings were chosen. Often they were not the oldest son, so it wasn’t because of a traditional line of inheritance. With an exception or two, no mention is made of them being anointed by God. A couple were made king by the people, and Egypt once removed a king and put his brother in place. Babylon also removed a king and put his uncle on the throne.

Clearly those people who had the office thrust upon them could know their calling. But what of the others? Absalom wanted to be king and died trying to usurp the throne. He was not called to be king. Solomon clearly was.

All this to say, I don’t think we can know today who God has called to do what–apart from what He calls us to do. And even that will have its moments of doubt when we might try to give the job to someone else or extricate ourselves some other way or if we simply doubt whether or not we can get it done.

Gideon felt that way. He couldn’t understand why God was calling him to lead an army against Israel’s oppressors. He asked for confirmation, and asked for confirmation. Then God said, if you’re afraid, sneak down to the enemy camp and I’ll give you more confirmation. Gideon went–which meant he was afraid. But sure enough, God gave him yet more confirmation.

In the end, he led that army. His doubts about his calling didn’t stop him from doing what God wanted him to do.

For David, it was Saul’s opposition, not his doubts, that interfered with his calling. Because God called David, Saul tried to kill him. Despite his anointing, David obviously questioned his calling, or else he would not have left Israel to live with the Philistines.

We can look at Gideon, David, Solomon and know they were called because we have the end of their story. It’s another thing to recognize the stirring in our own hearts.

Frodo knew he was the Ring-Bearer, that the job was his to do, though he might perish in the attempt. He had no assurance of success simply because he had assurance of his assignment. That I think is the true picture of someone called of God. Writers included.

Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction

The “weaker brother” concept comes from the Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 14 about Christians judging one another. He prefaces his remarks by saying,

and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:9b-10)

The next chapter opens with this directive:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

I surmise “accept” meant something different in Paul’s day than it does today, because in today’s understanding, if you “accept” someone, there’s no question about judging him. I’m thinking the connotation might be this: include the one weak in faith in your assembly (churches), but not with the goal to harangue him for being weak in his faith.

Paul’s first example of someone weak in faith was the believer who decided to become a vegetarian so he wouldn’t accidentally eat meat offered to idols–something the church leaders had specifically stated Gentile believers should avoid. (Presumably Jewish Christians, because of their adherence to Jewish law, already did refrain from eating meat offered to idols, so no special letter went out to them). See “The Misconception About Weaker Brothers” for more on this point.

What made this vegan “weak”? I’m not sure I get it. He’s trying to be hyper-vigilant, trying to obey the admonishment of the church leaders.

In some ways, though, he’s missing the point–the reason Christians weren’t to eat meat offered to idols. Paul spelled it out in 1 Cor. 10

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)

But perhaps Paul gave a window into understanding the brother of weak faith earlier. Leading up to verse 21, he said

What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. (vv 19-20)

Perhaps, then, the one weak in faith did indeed think the idol was something. His faith in God as the One True God, was weak. He was thinking, there are many gods, and Yahweh is one more. Perhaps.

But is he a legalist?

I suggest he is not. The Oxford English Dictionary defines legalist in the theological sense as “dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.” The Pharisees were legalists. They believed they could hold to the law in such a way that God would accept them for their righteousness.

They, in fact, were not Christians. No one who thinks he can earn his way into God’s good graces, is a Christian.

Is that what the vegans were doing? Some, I suppose, but I don’t think necessarily so. Paul called them brothers, for one thing. For another, he never chastised them for their decision to stop eating meat. He never said, Silly people, you’re being too picky. Don’t strain at gnats and don’t try to earn your way to heaven.

Rather, he told the meat-eaters to stop belittling the vegans and the vegans to stop judging the meat-eaters:

The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (Rom. 14:3)

Which brings me to Christian fiction. I see a lot of contempt floating around on the Internet, some by Christian writers aimed at “vegan” Christian writers. I also see a lot of judgment, vegan Christians accusing or scolding meat-eating Christian writers.

It grieves me, because we use this passage in Romans to bolster our arguments, not our love for one another! And yet Paul, who started out by reminding Christians they were to love one another, wraps up his case in the next chapter by saying this:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. (Rom 15:5-7–emphases mine)

One thing I think we can know for sure–if we dump on another writer, or on a reader who writes a review voicing opinions that seem vegan to meat-eaters or meat-loving to vegans, we can be sure we are in disobedience to Romans 15, and Romans 13, and to Christ’s admonition to love one another, to Peter’s command to love the brotherhood.

Love doesn’t mean we have to agree or that we need to change our convictions to match theirs. It does mean we don’t disrespect our fellow Christian because he embraces a different view, or hold his feet to the fire to try and convert him to our positions. It means we continue to love him even when he may not act in a loving manner toward us.

And therein might be the way we can differentiate strong Christians from weak.

The Importance Of Living Life

I don’t know if this is typical of other writers, but when I first started writing full time, I became nearly obsessed with my work. I loved writing. I often explained that my job was living inside that dream world readers get lost in when they’re submerged in a good book. It was pure joy, and I could work long hours and not even realize how much time had passed.

I wanted to work seven days a week, too. For some reason — I can only think that God’s Spirit directed me — I decided that so much time devoted to my writing could end up burning me out. That was such a sad thought — that the thing I loved so much could become tedious, boring, laborious — I was willing to take precautions against such an eventuality, so I decided to take a “Sabbath” rest.

Even with the day off, my life was radically different. As a teacher, I’d lived by the calendar. Holidays were special days that changed my routine, even if I used them for work. Summer was a different season, weekends always involved doing something non-work related.

But as a writer, one day was much the same as the other. Saturdays could be writing days just as easily as Tuesdays. Summers were no longer unique from the rest of the year. Holidays that didn’t involve family get-togethers were no longer special, unless I made them so intentionally.

Yet why would I? I loved writing. It was like going on vacation every day of the week.

At some point, however, I woke up to a fact I’d ignored: by expending myself on my writing, I was no longer doing the things that fueled my thoughts in the first place. I wasn’t living life. I wasn’t even observing it any more.

The fact is, to write, even something as simple as these blog posts, a writer has to have input as surely as a fresh water lake must have both an outlet and a source for the water filling it. Without the outlet, the water becomes stagnant, without the source, the lake dries up.

In short, a writer needs to write, but he or she must also live life — read good books both fiction and non-fiction, magazines, online articles, even newspapers (yes, they still exist 😉 ); spend time doing a non-writing related hobby; hang out with non-writer friends from time to time; go somewhere; see something; schedule in exercise, chores, the mundane we’d just as soon pass off to someone else — which, it turns out, helps our thinking processes.

Interestingly, these writer principles also apply to Christians. We need our spiritual tank renewed in the same way that a writer needs his emotional and mental (and spiritual) tanks renewed. And of equal importance is the outlet. We need to serve others, not just soak up truth. Of course it’s easy to think serving our families is sufficient, even all-consuming, but I tend to think we benefit from a wider channel that reaches more people.

I also tend to think we benefit when our service includes spiritual service. Shoveling snow for our neighbor is a great way to show love, but perhaps we need to broach spiritual issues with them too. I am the worst when it comes to bringing up spiritual matters with someone I think is uninterested. I don’t want to be offensive or preachy, but I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve passed up opportunities to talk with someone starved for the love of the Lord because I didn’t want them to be uncomfortable.

Here’s where listening to the Holy Spirit comes into play, I think.

I’m also reminded of Colossians 4:6 — “Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” The always makes me think there’s a pattern we are to build into our speech so that the knowing how to respond flows from it naturally.

Like the water overflowing from a lake.

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm  Comments (4)  
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Whose World Is It, Part 5 – In, But Not Of

One last important point for us to understand regarding the issue of who’s ruling the world.

First some linguistic background. The Greek word for world is kosmos (which you may recognize as the source for the English word cosmos). According to Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, the Biblical meaning of the word can be outlined as follows (excluding several points that seem irrelevant to this discussion):

3) the world, the universe

4) the circle of the earth, the earth

5) the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family

6) “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ

7) world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly

    a) the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ

I’ve always assumed that context made it clear which of these meanings applied to a particular verse, but now I see that some people might take a verse like John 3:16 and read into the word world, not “the inhabitants of the earth,” as I do, but “the world, the universe.”

I still think context reveals meaning. For example, John 3:16 follows “For God so loved the world” with “whoever believes in Him,” clarifying that this use of world relates to entities with the capacity to believe — humans.

Perhaps the most telling passage in this discussion is I John 2:15-17 because John clearly uses the world in several of its meanings. In other words, he puts the universe and the aggregate of things earthly together, under the same admonition:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. [emphasis mine]

James echos a portion of these thoughts when he says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

The Christian, then, is to be distinct. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, set our minds on things above, reject loving the world and things in the world.

But what about “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ”?

I haven’t done an exhaustive study of the word “world” to say categorically that I know this to be absolute, but I have reason to believe that, rather than rejecting love for the world of lost sinners, the Christian is directed to love each.

One passage that leads me in this direction is Philippians 3:18-19 where Paul says, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (emphasis mine).

Why would Paul be weeping unless he felt great sorrow at the condition, including the destruction, of these enemies of the cross?

“Enemies” brings me to the second reason. We are instructed in Scripture to love our enemies. In addition, Christ told us that we would be hated in the world.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:19; see also John 17:14)

On the strength of this hatred, I conclude “the world,” meaning, “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ” encompasses the enemies I am to love.

So here’s this final point: not loving the world but loving those trapped by their own sin nature in the system that hates God and teaches them to do likewise puts the Christian in a tenuous place. We must be close enough to “the ungodly multitude” so we can love them but far enough from “the aggregate of things earthly” that we don’t start loving them. Therein lies the tension of being in the world but not of it.

The significance for writers is this: while there is a place for writing to encourage, instruct, or admonish fellow believers, our call as a group is not limited to that type of writing. We have a responsibility to “the ungodly multitude” too. Who else do we think is going to see the light we are to be, in a crooked and perverse generation? (See Phil. 2:14-15)

As Jesus reminds us, light needs to be displayed prominently, not hidden away. Writers, including bloggers, aren’t exclusive in this opportunity, but working with words makes our light-showing job all the easier.

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm  Comments (3)  
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