Saturday, February 26, 2011

Groundhog Day

The heaviness continued into the night. My sons were watching Groundhog Day, an old Bill Murray movie. He plays a jerk TV weather reporter. His assignment is to cover the "weather" at Punxatawney, PA on Groundhog Day. A cameraman and a lovely director (who Murray secretly loves) accompany him. Somehow, Murray the jerk gets to live the same day over and over again, screwing up each time as he attempts to get to know and finally get into a relationship with the director. She of course at first wants no part of him. But he learns from each day's mistakes and gets a little farther along with her until finally at the end they live happily ever after.

I don't know if God has that last part in mind, at least not in this earthly life. But I do think that sometimes the Christian life is a little bit like Groundhog Day. By His grace we get to live each day, learning from our previous mistakes, and hopefully making less screwups.

But after reading Jeff Dunn's posts the last two days on internetmonk I think, "Nahhh! Ain't gonna happen." What's next Jeff? I can't wait to see it in my life either. Will it be freedom or prison?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

God's Heavy Hand

As I reported a few days ago, one of my goals for writing "The Remnant" is to live the story first, then write about it. I now know that this is definitely a God-goal. This story is all about what the Church Body of Jesus Christ is to be doing in these last days. God wove a bunch of threads together with a heavy hand this week.

I bought the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I bought it for my son. Like me as a youth, he is shy and introverted. I knew about this book since I was a kid but never read it. As a Christian I avoided it for what seemed like obvious reasons gleaned from the title alone. On Wednesday morning I read chapter one. The point - never criticize or complain. Many of the stories hit home with me as God brought to mind many incidents of such behavior on my part. But that was not heavy enough.

I kept thinking about them the next two days. I bit my tongue raw to keep my mouth shut. More reminders at work and home flooded into my mind. Though I didn't speak a word of complaint or criticism that last two days, mind mind was equally raw with trying, not as successfully, to think such thoughts.

At lunchtime I read the internetmonk. This post was another of God's heavy handed blows from out of nowhere. Now I understand why brother Jeff has been having as tough, if not a tougher time of it than me since we met last May at a writer's conference.

This afternoon I had to make a side-trip to the grocery store on the way home from work. As I entered the store I recognized a friend from church. Ernie (not his real name) is an older man I have known for many years. He works where I work - as a janitor. He is a sweet Christian man. He is kind of slow in speech and you never know what he will talk about when you meet him. His eyes sparkle with gentleness. His hands are massive and when you expect a crushing handshake, he instead is soft but firm.

I hurried past him with a smile and quick "hello" and quickly gathered the few things I needed. I had plans for this afternoon with my son and did not want to be late.

We've had a lot of snow where I live this year. Eight inches fell Monday night. Folks around here don't know how to drive in the snow anymore and that just drives me nuts. I can complain up a storm bigger than the blizzard when I get stuck behind a slowpoke who doesn't understand the physics of driving on ice.

I pulled out of my parking spot at the grocery and headed for the exit. Not so fast. With nowhere to get around him, I was stuck behind another putz. That's when God's heavy hand sunk me down deep in my seat.

What if it's some old person? What if they really are scared? So what if they shouldn't be out here. They are. That's reality. Maybe it was an emergency and they needed medicine? It could be anything. The point was, I had no idea. God was just putting me in the other person's shoes. Would you like to be the recipient, that driver in front of you, and hear what just came out of your mouth? I'm sure Ernie wouldn't. Sure enough, it was him. Poor, slow, can't help it Ernie. My friend.

God is reaching out to me asking for repentance. Not just sorry for the complaints and criticism, but true repentance. A change of mind.

Chapter two of the book is all about that - offering praise. Nothing less. Stop thinking about yourself and think about the other guy. Encourage him. Build him up. Help him feel important. Lots more examples about raising kids brought more memories of just how bad I have screwed up so far.

I have forty-nine years of screw-up to repent from. Please Jesus. I want to be that new man, no more an Ebenezer Scrooge but the man who woke up to a new morning and knew without a doubt he was different, filled with the spirit every day of the year. Please Jesus. Please.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Constant Search - A Review of In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

A review of "In Constant Prayer" by Robert Benson for Book Sneeze and Thomas Nelson Book Reviewers:

When I first heard about the “Ancient Practices” series, the book on prayer interested me most. I loved the concept, the topic, and the series offerings. In Constant Prayer instead left me constantly searching for anything ancient or new about prayer. What I found instead was a recommendation to return to ancient church (not necessarily Biblical) practices. The author told me I could pray the same prayer as Jesus to His Father but he never told me what prayer that was. He told me all about this idea of the office but never gave an example until the appendix. He did provide plenty of excuses and anecdotes for not praying. This is old, nay, ancient material. It was certainly no encouragement to engage in prayer whether ancient or contemporary.

The support for his position seemed lacking as only two other works appeared in the bibliography. So overall, I learned nothing new from this book about the ancient practice of constant prayer. At one point I was excited by the prospect of finding out how, as an individual, I might learn to pray without ceasing. Instead, the author leads us to believe that this is accomplished corporately as individuals and churches around the world pray the “office” within their time zones of prayer.

I would have enjoyed learning about the ancient origins of the hours of prayer in Bible times. Instead, the author simply offered these as mere facts and then moved on with his personal stories, few of which directly had anything to do with prayer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Road to The Remnant

Three months after I finished the first draft of Christian Mythology, I finished the first draft of its sequel, The Remnant. That was about six years ago. A few writer’s conferences, writing classes, and a whole lot of prayers later, I have learned a few lessons about those manuscripts.

The first draft is not the final book-ready manuscript.

The way God personally teaches me is not the way most people prefer to learn when they read non-fiction books.

The craft of storytelling does not come naturally to me. It is a learned craft. There are some great teachers out there willing to help.

I put all that together along with disposing of my fear and loathing of editing. Yesterday my pastor told me how much he enjoyed my first book, Biblical Quality. Knowing what I know now (I self-published it in 2000), I told him it was a terrible book that perhaps one day I would re-write. It just wasn’t God’s priority right now. I think the reason he liked the book was because we share two similarities: we’re both engineers and tend to think like logical engineers; and God teaches us in that same way. So he liked the dry, logical, straightforward, lacking in story method present in that book. Bottom line – that first book requires a lot of editing if it will ever sell. It’s still a warm concept on the CBA bookshelves so….

My favorite storytelling teacher is Donald Maass. He has a few books out on the subject. What makes them appealing to me is his prolific use of real, published examples. Sometimes he is fortunate to provide pre- and post-published examples so readers can see the difference a little editing can make. I get that. Good process stuff. And if I like the book(s) he cites, I can buy it and then really soak in some good fiction. Someone once said if you want to be a great fiction writer, you have to also read a lot of great fiction. Sounds good to me. I recently divulged to my Sunday School class that I read a Karen Kingsbury book. That evoked a load chuckle from one woman. “You? But that’s so unlike you!” Sure, most people don’t know that this ice-cold logical engineer also loves a good chick-flick or even some good chick-lit. Even an engineer needs to let off steam sometimes.

Right now The Remnant remains in first draft form in the ethereal world of my laptop. Instead, my historical fiction novel is on the front burner. I’m immersed in storytelling, learning the craft, and putting it on binary paper. In the meantime, God is reminding me of the stories that went into writing The Remnant. At the same time, I am living the story real time, committing it to memory, and waiting to write it down later.

Christian Mythology was all about the sins and false teachings that have shut down the Church and blotted the Bride of Christ. The Remnant follows up with the glorious people and work of Jesus’ Body in these last days. It is a picture of what the Church should be doing in stark contrast to the institutional programs we take for granted as normal going to church routine. It is about being the Church.

The problem is there are so few examples. There is no one like Donald Maass who has put it into a book showing the before and after effects. Very few have dared to put the denominational church under a microscope and dissect it in light of God’s Word. We just assume that everything lines up. Some, like me, are willing to challenge this. Some excellent books on the subject include Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer, Radical by David Platt, and Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The latter gentlemen have a bunch of other books on the subject which I have not read yet like Pagan Christianity (with George Barna) and Reimagining Church.

But so far, we all struggle with putting together a book which says, here is what Church looks like from God’s Word. Of course we have God’s Word to guide us. We just want to have somebody living it for real so we can put it in print, copy it, and give it to other people who love God and desire to do His will. Uh oh - are we saying that all these other Christians in these mainstream churches don’t love God and don’t desire to do His will?

No. Not all of them. There are some who nod in agreement with us. They groan deeply in anticipation of Jesus’ return, broken by sin, saddened by the rampant deception in the churches teaching for Christian doctrine the myths of man. They want the real thing. They want God’s pure, unsullied, intended from the Beginning life and work of being God’s people – His remnant.

The ones who get angry at posts like this are most likely the same kinds of people who Jesus disputed in no uncertain terms – “Pharisees! Scribes! Hypocrites!” You’ll read books like the ones mentioned above and beat your chest and say in agreement, “That’s right. I’m glad I’m not like that. Off with their heads!” But in reality you are like the Pharisee praying in the temple, “Lord I thank you that you did not make me like other men.” Meanwhile, the remnant prays in a corner, beating his breast, “Lord, have mercy on me!”

While a book sale is a book sale, The Remnant is not for the Pharisees. It will just be more fodder and ammunition for them to twist to their advantage. Yesterday my pastor preached about Acts 13. He said that the reason Paul’s sermon was successful, one preached seven times in the book by one person or another, was simply because it was preached. He told people the truth, the right truth.

While I understood what he meant, I also found the loophole. The right truth is relative in the eyes of many Christians, church organizations, and denominations today. Pick any subject in the Bible and sides will be drawn. They will be equally armed with Scripture to defend their positions. The unlearned will sit on the sidelines and either wonder how this can be that God’s Word can be wielded as a weapon between groups who both call themselves believers, or else they will militantly join one side or the other and continue to promote the attacks and defenses.

Sadly, the books we write sometimes get used as vehicles to continue this fray. But nothing is worse than this, as Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “"You are too young to understand it ... but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of--oh, of your father."

Perhaps you see the quandary I am in. I want to write the story for The Remnant. I just have to live it first. I mined all the truth from God’s Word. He taught me a bunch. Now it has to become real. God wants it real, not just words. He wants His Church a glorious Bride ready for His Son. I have no idea what to expect on this journey. I suspect it will not be as easy as writing the first draft.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Plan

Here's the plan for my next book. It is an historical novel. Starting yesterday, I will write for 100 calendar weekdays at least 1000 words per day. By May 28, I will have a complete, 100,000 word first draft.

Two weeks prior to that I plan to attend a writer's conference. I will shop the draft idea around to editors and agents. I will take more fiction classes. What I learn, I will take back and edit the novel.

In August, I plan to attend another writer's conference. I will pitch the novel to editors and agents at that time. I'll take a few more classes too.

As all that is going on, I will continue to wait on hearing from editors and agents who have my Christian Mythology proposal. I hope one of them accepts and requests the full manuscript to sell.

Most of all, I will continue to live out the story of Christian Mythology's sequel, The Remnant. As I live it out and learn, I will write the story on top of the technical draft which already exists.

I expect this plan will keep me plenty busy this year. I just brought home a new laptop on which to write all this great work. Pray me Godspeed.