Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. John 10:10
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
On the writing road, there’s a fork of decision. I’ve been promoting the path of the knife: cut out all the unnecessary and get to the meaning of the work. There’s another path that many wanna-be writers take: the way of the gushing.
. Sometimes reading the bad makes the good more obvious. Check these out (and remember that learning and writing should be fun, too):
1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room temperature Canadian beef.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
Now do you see why I love the Michelangelo principle? Release the angel, don’t heap on the whipped cream.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Carrie had the fruit of the Spirit emblazoned across her bathroom mirror. Surely, if she saw the list every morning right after her shower, she could remember to behave herself all day. She’d scrubbed fog off of “self control” several times and tried to be sure she carried “love” to the breakfast table.
The kids weren’t always much help, though, as they dragged themselves through extended bowls of cereal while she prodded them to dress for the bus.
Usually, by 8 am, Carrie’s fruit felt as fogged as the list on the mirror and she trudged through her day, defeated by her own lack of self control.
You may have the fruit of the Spirit list on your walls, too. Maybe you’ve felt defeated, too.
But take a look at Gal 5:22 again. That is not our to-do list to be checked off each day as we grit our teeth and show patience to the sluggish driver at the stop sign. This is the fruit of the Spirit.
In other words, when we exhibit any of these traits, it’s because we’ve allowed the Spirit of God to shine through. These are his traits, not ours. This is his nature, not ours.
We can’t become gentle and good by determination but by surrender. The fruit list is more of a thermometer of our heart. If we see love, joy, peace, patience, etc. in our life, it’s because we’re allowing God to reveal his nature through us.
If we see impurity, jealousy, envy, selfish ambition and the like, we’re seeing our old nature. That’s a clue that we’re not submitting to God but are choosing to follow our own desires.
Read Gal 5:13-26. For what are we called?
What’s the danger to us? (v 13)
How does Paul advise us to live? (v 16)
How can you apply v 25 to your daily life?
Journal about this passage and God’s call to you. If you are not seeing the Spirit’s fruit in your life, what’s holding you back? Can you make changes?
Friday, April 25, 2008
Margaret Thatcher said:
and you would achieve nothing.
just as I do not belong to the world.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
My first savings account was seeded by the sale of a baby lamb. I was only 6 and had hand-raised the lamb from spring until fall, when it was sold.
“The money is for your college account,” my mother explained.
That was my first taste of savings accounts. Over the years, I watched my parents sock away every extra cent stoking their dream of ownership. We were farmers and so I had opportunity to raise many more animals over the years, funneling the income into my college account. I earned an English degree with the help of bottle calves.
“Treat your savings account like a bill,” my father told me many times. “Pay it with every other bill at the beginning of the month.”
Debbie commented last week on the value of a savings account. She called it an emergency account. I agree, although I might call it a dream account as well. Having a savings account prevents panic debt – that debt we incur because something new and unexpected hits us.
There’s freedom in planning ahead and setting aside. My parents bought their farm when I was 13 and had it paid off in 10 years. I went to college and came out with enough money to buy a new stereo system.
You can start now. Open the account and decide what you owe it each month. Pay that bill like any other, and consider it spent. It’s gone, no longer available to you except for pre-planned purposes.
Remember the ant from Proverbs:
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
We’ve talked about writing with focus, because knowing the purpose of your piece controls your word choices. We’ve talked about trimming all that isn’t part of that focus, calling it Michelangelo’s angel.
Now, here’s another author’s advice to writers:
Less is more. Sometimes publishers hire me to rewrite a book. The author had a great idea but had trouble bringing the writing up to expectations. I've noticed that all these books have something in common: tons of unneeded words. I can say the same for many of the manuscripts I've read by aspiring writers. My rule is this: If you can get rid of a word without weakening the sentence, then do it. Don't hesitate. Don't waffle over it. Cut it. Squash it. Exorcise it. Evict the little bugger. He's a freeloader who snuck on the train when no one was looking. Do this for the whole book. Perform literary liposuction. When you do, you will be left with what we arrogant writers call "tight writing." Will you do it perfectly? No. Some time ago I was listening to an audio version of one of my books while I tortured myself on the treadmill. I caught myself saying, "Didn't need that word . . . Could have done without the adjective . . . what was I thinking?" So my advice in a word is: cut. I wish I had learned this sooner.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
“Can I play with you?” Billy asked the group of children at the park.
“Sure! Here are the rules.” Susie spent the next five minutes going over the game kids were playing. Billy’s eyes glazed over and he wandered off to check out the circle slide.
Even children surround themselves with regulations.
But Paul had some other ideas:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
We could summarize the book of Galatians with this verse. Paul is pleading with his readers to reject the slavery of rules and embrace the freedom Christ intended for his own.
In this chapter, Paul is working up to impassioned proclamation. In verse 5, he reminds his reader that trusting in rules separates us from Christ.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
But we trust regulations, don’t we? We want to have a share in our own salvation, to contribute to our redemption. Somehow, regulations are easier than relationships. We want to show that we are worth saving.
Relationships mean we have to trust others while rules mean we trust the rules.
But freedom comes in relationship, not in rules. We are not worthy of saving on our own. We need relationship with Christ, not a pack of rules to provide how admirable we really are in obeying laws.
Paul begged his new Galatian churches to grip their new freedom. “You, my brothers, were called to be free.”
Journal about these questions:
Read Gal. 5. How would Paul define freedom?
What did the “yoke of slavery” (v 1) look like for you?
Where are you in the “race” that Paul describes in v. 7? Are you running in freedom or trusting in rules?
Friday, April 18, 2008
Debbie Fuller Thomas has just published Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon. An interview with her follows:
Your story is about a mother whose daughter was switched at birth. How does Marty find out that her child was switched?
Marty's daughter, Ginger, is the victim of a fatal genetic disease, Neimann Pick Type C, which often strikes every sibling in a family. Marty is concerned for her other 2 daughters, and when it's determined that she and her ex-husband are not carriers of the disease they know something's not right.
Where did you get the idea for your story?
My inspiration for the book came straight out of real life from a news story I heard about two families fighting over switched-at-birth babies when one child is orphaned. Of course, the circumstances and setting in my story are different, and the characters are completely fictitious. But I knew it would be a heartbreaking dilemma for any parent, especially for one who had suffered through the death of a child she thought was hers.
Do you have a favorite character?
I would have to say Andie, because even at 13-years-old, she doesn't become a victim. She's a little quirky, and she's had to mature quickly. Even though she's developed an attitude toward God and her situation in general, she keeps it to herself most of the time, and we understand her need to vent occasionally.
On what level do you think women will identify with Marty, her biological mom?
I think most moms would understand the panic of discovering they had the wrong child, and the guilt at not realizing instinctively that something was wrong all along. On another level, Marty is a caregiver who sets aside her own dreams to nurture her family. As women, we often set aside our dreams out of necessity, guilt or lack of support from our families, but like Marty, we don't have to abandon our dreams completely.
The story is set at a drive-in movie theater. What led you to choose that setting?
I think there's a nostalgic winsomeness about drive-in theaters and I want to encourage families to take advantage of the few drive-ins that are still in operation. I remember the smell of hot coffee when my mother poured cups from the thermos, and falling asleep in the backseat with my pillow and blanket. There's a sense of intimacy and togetherness that comes from being alone with your family, even though hundreds of other people are watching the same movie. I also used the run-down condition of the Blue Moon Drive-in as a reflection of the relationship between Marty and Andie and of the condition of their spiritual lives when they first meet.
What is the meaning behind the title: Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon?
Tuesday night is family night at the Blue Moon Drive-in. Andie needs a family, and the desire of Marty's heart is for her dysfunctional family to be a whole again.
Who are some of the other interesting characters in your story?
Andie is sandwiched in the birth order between Winnie, the needy younger sister, and Deja, an older teen who is bitter about the situation. Some interesting dynamics that take place when the three of them interact, especially when mom has to work long hours and there's too much unsupervised together-time.
What is the message that you would like your readers to take away from Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon?
I believe that God is our Father and that we were created to commune with Him on a deep level, but sin orphans us. When we're open to it, God is ready and willing to re-claim and restore us as his children.
How did you begin your writing career?
I operated a home day care for 6 preschoolers when my children were young, and I was in desperate need of a distraction to keep my sanity. So I began to write a novel during their naptimes. I finished it in about 2 years. It was my 'practice novel' which gave me confidence and helped me plot the blueprint for Tuesday Night.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a writer?
Don't quit. I sold the first article I ever sent to a publisher and didn't sell another thing for 19 years. It's not going to happen overnight. It's an apprenticeship - a craft to be honed. When you're tempted to give up, remember the encouraging things other writers, agents or editors have said about your writing. If God has given you some talent, what acceptable excuse can you give Him for not using it?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Jerry is going to replace the window in the dining room when his comes in. Sherrie is going to buy new clothes and that cute purse she’s been admiring for months. Shortly, Dustin will replace the sound system in his car and Jessica will buy a new computer.
What are you going to do with your windfall from the government this year?
I'm talking about both your tax refund and the stimulus rebate.
If you’d like to experience freedom financially, here’s a question for you: why are you giving the government a free loan for a year? That’s what your tax refund amounts to. Throughout the year, you’ve allowed your employer to take more money for taxes than you really owe, giving you a large return every year.
But it’s money you’ve loaned to Uncle Sam interest-free all year.
It’s your money that you could use to pay for the higher cost of gas and groceries through out the year. You may not get that new sound system but you may manage better month to month without using credit, thus avoiding more debt.
Go over your withholding so that you get a larger paycheck and less refund.
Now, what should you do with the stimulus refund? First, tithe on it. Then, if you have credit card debt, pay it down. You will have instantly earned that debt’s interest rate – which is probably high on a credit card. Apply the refund to your highest-interest debt.
If you don’t have debt, invest this refund. Build up an emergency savings account or, if you already have that, add the money to an investment.
Or, if God so leads, consider donating this refund to a worthy ministry. There’s incredible freedom in opening your fist to give flight to the funds God provides you.
Once Jesus, in talking with money-loving Pharisees, told them, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.”
Manage your money so that you bring honor to God, not to the values of people.
 Luke 16:15
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
“When we discovered that all the food was cooked and ready to be served, we opened all the cupboards, thinking to ourselves that there weren’t enough glasses in the cupboard but surely there were somewhere – those kids again! – and we put the plates on the table along with mismatched silverware and some jelly glasses.”
Are you snoring yet? Whew, this is a boring sentence but one with a little bit of promise.
Let’s talk about re-writing today.
The sentence above is wordy, lacks focus, and, in the end, winds to a insignificant close. Its length and complexity imply that it is important – but it is not.
So let’s re-write it:
“After the food was cooked, we set the table for supper.”
Or, “We discovered the glasses were missing when we set the table.”
Or, “With kids, it’s jelly jars and mismatched silverware instead of the china and candles we once enjoyed.”
There are many more sentences we can pull from that monster. I'll bet you can do better than I just did. Don’t dread re-writing. Play with it. Come up with several of your own sentences from my dreary lead sentence. Chip away the unnecessary and spring loose the meaning. Re-writing can be a game so have fun with it!
Put some of your sentences in the comment section below to help us all.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Hagar, the servant girl of Sarah, was young and healthy. When she bore a son to Abraham, it was in the ordinary way out of human effort and plans. Sarah knew child-bearing was not a problem for the young woman.
It was impossible for Sarah to bear Isaac, but she did because God had promised she would. Sarah represented the freedom of grace while Hagar represented the slavery of human effort.
Using a familiar story, that of Hagar and Sarah, Paul tried to convince the new Galatian Christians that they had choices. Yes, they were children of Abraham, but Abraham had two sons: one born of human exertion and one born of God’s promise.
The Galatians were children of Abraham, all right, but grafted in because of God’s pledge, not their own efforts. Paul was upset that the Galatians as new believers would allow themselves to trust human endeavor rather than God’s assurance. He didn’t want them to give up the freedom of God’s grace and the blessings of his inheritance. The law was about human effort and Paul wanted the new believers to know freedom.
We sometimes stumble as the Galatians had, thinking that a set of rules might be simpler than a walk in the open air. Paul longed for freedom for the Galatians, not a return to slavery.
Read Galatians 4:21-31. Write in your journal about any impressions you have.
What benefits are there to following the way of Sarah (God’s promise)?
Is your faith based on God’s promises or on your own efforts?
What steps can you take today to walk in the way of Sarah?
Friday, April 11, 2008
Sarah was only 8, orphaned and penniless, when Duke introduced her to a life of prostitution. By the time she met Michael, she was a hardened veteran who believed there was no hope and no future.
But Michael was send by God and, in the end, that made all the difference.
I’ve just finished reading Francine Rivers’ book, Redeeming Love, the second romance novel I’ve read in my life. But this one gripped me in ways I didn’t expect.
First, the warnings. This is not a book for teenagers. Although there are no explicit scenes, the ugliness action of Sarah’s life is implied. Her story includes incest, vicious beatings, and hatred that will curdle your stomach. There is no bad language but there is sensuality between a husband and wife – again, not explicit but not something my teenager needs to read yet.
Rivers has woven a rich story about God’s tenacious love – and given a reminder that no one earns their way to his compassion. This is a re-telling of the prophet Hosea’s command to marry a prostitute, set in the 1850’s in California. There are twists upon twists but God’s redeeming love is threaded throughout the story.
Sarah is rescued from prostitution by Michael, but the story is really about her heart. Can she believe in love again? Can she open her heart to hope and commitment, or has she been forever ruined by the shame of her past?
But what especially struck me is that God even had provision for those twisted with self-righteous hate toward Sarah. Although their bitterness was palatable, God didn’t give up on them, either.
Redeeming Love will challenge your ideas on sin and redemption. That’s not a bad thing for followers of Jesus.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Joshua’s final instructions before the battle tasted like ice cream with pepper sprinkled on top. He promised them victory but told them to leave the rewards behind.
The army was perched in enemy territory, vulnerable and untested, anxious for a victory over this fortress. The riches taken in battle would help the army pay for the food and provisions needed to complete the sweep.
But their general withheld those riches.
Instead, Joshua declared all the gold, silver, bronze and iron were for the Lord’s treasury. What if they ran short of food before the conquest? What if they couldn’t complete the maneuvers without provision? Joshua assured them the victory was the Lord’s – and so were the riches.
Through Joshua, God laid out a powerful principle: the first is his. That’s the tenet of tithing. I have friends who pay the bills and then see if there’s anything left for God. There usually isn’t.
God says, trust me. See if I’ll take care of you. To the Israelite army about to enter the Promised Land, the thought of forgoing those first riches in Jericho could have meant they wouldn’t have enough money for their month, so to speak.
But they obeyed. And there was enough food and provisions for the conquest.
Tithing is an attitude: do I trust God’s commands? Do I trust his provisions? Can I give over to him what he’s given to me anyway?
Freedom finances depend on my attitude more than my checkbook. Whom do I trust?
Pay your tithe first, right off the top, and see what God can do with an obedient submitted life.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
For being a romance, the first chapter of Ruth is pretty depressing. We walk with a family hit with famine, moving to a foreign country to survive. Then the men of the family die, leaving the women alone and destitute.
We see Naomi return home in defeat, angry with God for her losses. A fog of despair and bitterness settles over that first chapter.
But the last verse gives us a hint of the coming victory, for Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem during the barley harvest.
If you were to underline every reference to harvest in the second chapter, you’d have a long list. Here are a few examples:
"’Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain…’”
“So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.”
“She found herself working in a field…”
“Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters.”
There are lots more. Go find them when you’re done reading this. The author of Ruth eases us out of the depression of chapter 1, preparing us for the victory of chapter 4, by using harvest imagery.
Where Bethlehem (which means, “city of bread”) had once suffered a famine - a shortage of grain - now it is erupting in abundant harvest. Not only is there a plentiful crop for the harvesters to bring in, there is enough left over for a foreigner like Ruth.
The craft of writing ushers in the author’s purpose, which in Ruth is to reveal God’s nature of restoration
Word choices and imagery are a key part of strong writing. This is where the Michelangelo principle helps. First be clear on your “angel in the marble” and then choose the tools for intricate carving.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Nick thought he was a slave at age 14, forced to work weekends and summers in his father’s small business. He learned skills he didn’t want to know, sweating when he wanted to play. He left for college glad to be free.
But a few years later, his father offered him a partnership in the business. This time it was his choice, and he returned to a position that now offered some financial security and great opportunity.
There’s a difference between a servant and son. Nick was always a son but saw himself as a teenage servant for awhile, with no choices and no opportunities.
In Galatians 4:1-20, Paul questioned why the Galatian Christians would shuck their birthright for a servant situation.
“…before you knew God personally, you were enslaved to so-called gods…,” Paul declared.
But now, he continued, you are choosing to go back into slavery. Those who offer only a pack of rules and traditions are luring you to become servants.
Why would these false teachers do that?
Paul explained: “They want to shut you out of the free world of God's grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction, making them feel important.”
Paul pleaded with the people to remember their position as children, not slaves. “If you are a child, you're also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.”
Consider these questions in your journal:
Have you seen situations where people return to the comfort of servanthood?
What does Paul see as the advantages of a child of God, as opposed to a servant?
Have you ever struggled with the lure of rules and traditions? What would Paul say to you?
Friday, April 4, 2008
We needed a station wagon. I had an S-10 pickup and he had a battered old blue van. The station wagon was the compromise vehicle and we started reviewing our resources.
After some budget work, we decided we could afford a car payment. We sold the pickup for more than its loan value (because I had borrowed as little as possible when I bought it) and sold some other unused items.
We shopped for an older vehicle, waiting to buy for a couple of months until the one in our price range came available. Thanks to a Colorado hailstorm, it came on the market with some minor craters on the roof.
After some negotiating with the salesman, we walked away with an older station wagon and no car loan. That’s when we kicked in our new plan.
We made the car payments anyway. We treated that car payment just like any other bill and paid it promptly every month. Instead of paying out 8-10% interest, we were earning 2%. That’s a 10-12% difference – not bad return on investment.
So here’s the idea for you: keep your present vehicle as long as possible. Take good care of the maintenance, which will keep it running a little longer. When it’s paid off, put the car payments into a special account every month so that when it’s time for the next car, you won’t need to borrow as much. With that kind of plan, you will be paying cash for vehicles in a few years. And paying the interest to yourself instead of to a car dealership.
Debt is a form of slavery (take a look at Neh 5:4-5 to see its effect on families) and any steps we can take to ease that load brings us the light of freedom.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Once in Arizona I saw a tree growing oranges, grapefruit and lemons. How did that work? You can’t grow one of those orange-grapefruit-lemon trees from seed. Someone had grafted grapefruit and lemon branches onto an orange tree.
Grafting is an amazing way to give new life and Paul used that imagery in the third chapter of Galatians.
Galatians were grafting in the wrong teachings and Paul challenged them. Because they were considering a return to Jewish law, Paul gave them correct Jewish teaching in this chapter.
God made promises to Abraham that still apply to Abraham’s offspring. Followers of Jesus are grafted in, like a new limb onto a tree, and made part of God’s contract with Abraham. The law had not yet been given when that first happened, yet Abraham received God’s blessing – not because he kept the law but because he believed God.
The law came later, with Moses. When the law was given, we were all put in jail until Christ paid the price for us. When the law code was published, lawbreaking became clear. No one had an excuse now. We were guilty by the law.
Jesus died in our place so that the promises made to Abraham are also available to us. We receive the blessing of God as an inheritance, not because of our efforts but because of God’s grace.
Paul wrote to the Galatians to remind them that they did not need to earn God’s grace through following the law. In choosing to follow Jesus, they were grafted in to the tree of life. They were declared children of Abraham and therefore heirs of the promise.
Consider journaling on these questions:
Are you an heir of God’s promises? Why has God allowed you to enjoy blessings? What are examples of God’s grace?
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Gabby and DeeDee had been friends since fifth grade, going on 30 years now. They thought they’d been through everything but their friendship was suddenly rocked by a new turn in their lives.
Sharon Souza’s debut novel, Every Good and Perfect Gift, tackles friendship with humor and tears, creating a story of warmth and of dedication.
Gabby and DeeDee married college boyfriends and live in the same town, forging a David-and-Jonathan friendship that had sustained them over the years. Although both couples were content to live childless, DeeDee suddenly – at age 38 – decides she wants a baby. And DeeDee, the effervescent leader and optimist, usually gets what she wants.
As DeeDee and Jonathan struggle with infertility, Gabby is thrown into a new position in their friendship. Always the loyal and quiet sidekick, Gabby has to face her own faith as she walks alongside DeeDee.
Eventually – and joyfully - a baby girl is born but then a tragedy hits, stretching the boundaries of commitment.
Although the deep friendship between Gabby and DeeDee was enjoyable, I was also intrigued by the slow turn in their relationship. DeeDee was the strong-willed leader, with Gabby gratefully following, but that had to change as this story unfolded.
Gabby wrestled with new responsibilities within their friendship, causing her faith to ripen into something richer and more real than she had known before. She found that God was sufficient in her life.
You’ll laugh with these friends who are closer than sisters and you’ll cry with their disappointments. Check it out!
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
In the beginning, there was a list of names. We were introduced to Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Kilion. And in the end, there was a list of names. We learned the connection to Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and King David.
Ruth is an amazing biblical romance that rises above a love story to proclaim a truth: God can turn impossible situations to good for those who love him.
Last week, we discussed the angel principle which is the purpose of your written piece. You should be able to write that purpose in one sentence and that “angel,” or point, will control your writing.
In looking at how Ruth began, we quickly understand that this is a book about people. We meet a family in the early paragraphs which is beset by troubles – from famine to loss of loved ones. Naomi is angry with God and defeated by life.
In the end, we see how God took that impossible circumstance and produced the son who would head the kingly line of David.
Every scene in the book of Ruth further reveals either an impossible situation or the way out. The first readers of this story would know that King David had God’s hand on his family’s situation. Today, we carry this forward to know that Jesus, as a descendent of David, also had God’s hand on his family’s situation.
Biblical texts are brilliantly written, an excellent way not only to uncover God’s nature and plan for his people, but to see how to communicate ideas richly and clearly.
Be sure that your beginning and your ending are focused on your “angel” and watch how your writing will ripple with new richness.
Next week, we’ll explore more about how the craft of the writing reveals the purpose.