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Share Your Comfort

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Consider the utter selfishness in having the peace that passes all understanding, and not sharing it with others. We will share recipes, funny memes, embarrassing video–and yet we keep our faith hidden. How shameful is it to see the despair and hopelessness among those who choose to live a lifestyle drowning in sin, and relish like the pharisees in the thought that we’re better than them? Scriptures like Philippians 2:4 teach that God never intended us to be self-seeking, and especially not with our Christianity:

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also forthe interests of others.

As a high school science teacher, I’m continually pointing out to my students the selfishness in understanding how to do something, but letting the person next to you sit in confusion. I try to instill in them a spirit of helpfulness, to seek out their neighbors who do not understand, and to be persistent in offering their assistance.

This is not second nature. It has to be taught and practiced. And like high school students, Christians sometimes get so caught up in our own daily lives and our own need for comfort and praise that we forget to share our peace in Christ with others.

This morning, posted 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 as their Verse of the Day, a gentle reminder that one reason God gives us comfort is that we may share it:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The Power of Writing Fear

Be anxious for nothing

Spare time isn’t such a good thing for me. If I have too much of it, worry completely takes over my entire being. I start thinking about everything that can and will go wrong. I say will, because as soon as this thought forms in my head, it’s like it’s already happened.

Is that you? Do you ever find yourself stressing over something small to the point that it consumes you?

We all know what the Bible says about this. Matthew 6:25 tells us not to be anxious about our life, and 6:34 reminds us that today’s trouble is sufficient–we need not worry about tomorrow’s trouble.

Well, confession. This past school year, after three weeks of snow days, I was worried about my students and the ACT. They hadn’t been engaged in focused classroom work. And I feared my really awesome, well-deserving kids would possibly score lower than they would have normally because of this. It was on my mind so much that I had nightmares about it days before the test.

Dream 1: We had to take the test in a raging hot attic. They kept forgetting to bring us things like pencils and such, so a lot of kids ran out of time because they had to share the handful of pencils I had.

Dream 2: My amazing angel students (They really were the best kids) turned into little ACT-shirking demon children. They were talking the whole time, wouldn’t stay in their seats, ran outside between sessions. It was a disaster.

Dream 3: We’re in the middle of the test and a tornado hits

See what I mean? Thing is, intellectually, I already knew what would happen. My well-behaved students would arrive at school early that day, because they’d be nervous, too. They’d be in their seats fidgeting, straightening their pencils, praying they could remember how to do all the math problems. And they’d try really, really hard, because they normally do. And guess what? They did fine!

So, why all the worry?

I read a blog post or heard a sermon once about how Satan is like a thief. It talked about how he stole our faith and placed thoughts of fear, doubt, and disbelief instead. And also, how these thoughts come from his deception. The idea was basically how we need to blame the right person for our worry, and realize that even though it’s a somewhat involuntary, physical reaction, it’s still sin.

If this is the case, then it seems we’d need some way to process our worry and make it easier to see the flaws in our logic. At the beginning of this year, I started a prayer journal. The plan was to physically write my fears every day in a notebook. I stopped, because my children got into the notebook for paper, and it bothered me that they might read my fears and become insecure themselves. So, I took to my computer, and now type them out in a file that I don’t save.

The simple practice of getting my irrationalities on paper has made a lot of difference. Just as I can go through a scene with a character and find holes in the plot, I can also spot holes in my logic about who’s in control.

Then, it becomes a very easy process. Pray about it, wait for God’s outcome, accept it as His will.

What do you do to ease your worries?

Platitudes in Christian Fiction?

Sometimes when reading Scripture, I come across words that make me curious about their origin, and then, once I find their initial meaning, I try to understand how I can relate it to life and writing. Take “platitude,” for example. A platitude is some kind of statement that usually has a moral or religious intent, but it’s been used so often it’s become boring or trite.

I didn’t dig too deep this time (wrapping up soccer!), but Google’s dictionary told me it originated in France, from the word plat, meaning flat, and it’s usage peaked somewhere around the mid 1920’s. In today’s society where people get paid to babble about whatever they choose on blogs and national TV, maybe it should make a comeback.

I came across the word in Job 13, where Job is talking to his critics. After questioning them and asking them if it will be well for them when God searches them out, he says this:

Your proverbs are platitudes of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.

Trite, flat, boring, and overused. Hollow, empty words.

To the modern world, many Biblical themes might be considered platitudes. Though we, as Christians, all know that God’s message is timeless and those moral statements are treasures, those outside of the faith might consider them old-fashioned and trite.

Still, I believe wholeheartedly that God’s moral wisdom belongs in our stories, and his themes should be resounded over and over. At the same time, there are certain themes that become our pet issues and we often beat them into the ground to the point that they become rote. How can we continue relaying the same simple truths time and time again without making them seem like platitudes to the secular world?

I think the answer, both in writing and in life, lies within relationships and attitudes. All the time, I hear people complain that they try to talk to someone about their faith and “they just won’t listen.”  This just makes me wonder how the message is being given.

I’m not saying I think we need to sugar coat God’s truth, but I do think the delivery needs to come from compelling characters that people want to read or be around. In life, are we that person, serving others and forging friendships to open doors for conversations about faith? Or, are we that pushy, “my way or the highway” person, who forces the conversation whenever possible, as if it’s the only reason we have to talk to a particular person.  In writing, do we interject our message to the point that it feels contrived, rather than the natural flow of the story? Do we throw a Christian message into the plot just to call it inspirational fiction?

I’ve learned this from teaching–the same general fact can be delivered to a class of students. From one perspective/attitude, they dismiss it. From another, they embrace it. And the perspective they embrace ends up being the one that requires the most effort, the one that makes it the most meaningful to them.

So, there you have it. We’ve come back to grit, which seems to be my favorite theme these days. It takes a little more effort to be that person who cultivates relationships so Biblical truths will be more palatable, as they are coming from a friend. It takes more effort to write characters who show their faith rather than just dropping it into a dialogue.

And for an extra bang for your buck, especially if you are interested in melodic trances, meet “Platitude,” mixed by Onova (otherwise known as Christian Lejon), released back in 2007.

Is Your Easy Button Destroying Your Faith?

Not Easy

More and more I’m becoming convinced that Satan’s greatest weapon against us is time. It’s attacking us from every angle. No time to spend with our children, so they raise themselves on electronics. No time to plan and cook healthy meals, so we overeat unhealthy processed foods. No time to pursue deeper faith, so we cling to shallow Facebook memes founded on opinion rather than truth.

Most are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, where everything is assigned its time. I think a lot of people stop there and fail to read on. I’ve thought about this passage a lot lately, in verses 9-13

 What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is  the gift of God. 

Then, skipping down to verse 22:

So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?

IMHO, we’ve become a generation of completers. Check this off our list, knock that off the plans, finish this project… But we often sacrifice quality for convenience.

In reading these scriptures, I have to ask myself these questions.

  1. Am I completing my God-given task? Do I even know what it is?
  2. Do I rejoice in my life’s work?
  3. Do I accept the fruit of my labor as a gift from God?

When I focus so much on completing and search for my “easy button” quick fix, I think the answer to each question has to be no. I say this to the first because God has warned me that serving him will not be the wide, easy path. If I’m trying to take shortcuts in every avenue of my life, how can I possibly serve Him to satisfaction?

As to the second question, the problem with a completion-oriented life is that as soon as you finish one thing on the list, you immediately shift your focus to the next thing. This is true even if that list is comprised of your service to God. How can you rejoice in something when you don’t take the time to reflect on it and appreciate how you’ve grown in the process?

And, to truly answer the third question, I have to ask myself if I’m satisfied with the outcome of my labor. How many times do we finish something only to declare it “not good enough” or “subpar?” My work is my heritage, and the fruit of my labor comes from God. A gift. As in not from me to myself. If I’ve put my all into something, using my God-given talents to the best of my ability, then my work should meet His expectations. How dare I call a gift from God unworthy?

Maintaining faith is not easy. God never intended it to be. The only way to keep it strong is continual service through Him.

So, rather than relying on my “easy button,” I need to remember 1 Corinthians 10:31 and do everything to the glory of God, taking the higher quality, more challenging path. In doing so, I think we’ll find it much easier to grow our faith.

Procrastinating Evangelism?

I spent a couple of hours tonight on a Facebook party supporting debut author Nadine Brandes with the launch of her new release, A Time to Die, first in a series of three published by the newly-branded Enclave Publishing. It was incredibly cool, and a great time. She had video interviews, giveaways, great discussion, and it was interesting to connect with other writers and fans.

One of the activities we did centered on the premise of the book–what if you knew exactly how much time you had to live? How might you live differently? I would evangelize more. Although, I fear that knowing a date and time would just lead me to do as I sometimes do in other facets of my life–wait until the last minute and make a good run at it.

I’ve heard people, both in the church and out, throw around the “life is a vapor” and “no one knows when He’s coming” verses like candy, but they live their lives as if they don’t believe them. And they don’t share their faith as if they don’t believe anyone else is lost. So I’ve been thinking a lot tonight about evangelism and procrastination.

The Bible makes it really simple.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.

Matthew 28:19-20 Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We whine all the time about how our churches are losing members and people are losing their faith in God’s existence. But I think it’s time we face a bitter truth–we aren’t doing our jobs!

Think about it. How many employers would be content giving us a task that we ignore day-by-day? God has given us a charge–to go into the world and make disciples. And if we aren’t actively working on talking to people about God each day, we’re ignoring that task. The message is simple. God exists. He loves you. He sent his Son to die for you. Obey him and receive eternal salvation. Why is that so hard to share?

And we ignore this task for what? Sports? Work? Entertainment? Fear?

Have we made these things our all, when the Bible clearly tells us that keeping God’s commandments should be our all?

One reason I want to write Christian fiction is because it gives me a tool to share my faith. Even if someone never reads my work, I can tell them about my books and it opens the door to a conversation about God. But I should do so much more.

How do you fit evangelism into your daily lives?

That’s a great first line!

So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area  is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!

Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.

One thing that stands out to me from the day–

As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”

I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas.  So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.