A Little Numbers Game

I wrote this back in 2006, so some of this will be a bit dated. I share it again, because I think it’s important to remember.

10,005 – 1 does not equal -10,006.

That’s an obvious statement above, but it’s something I think we all tend to forget.

I’m not talking about numbers, but negative critiques, rejections, or harsh comments.

My pastor last Sunday did a sermon on The DaVinci Code. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what happened, but this is the gist of what I heard:

After he gave his sermon, someone approached and commented at how it wasn’t appropriate to do a sermon on a fictional book.

Whether the person meant it harshly, I don’t know. But my pastor’s reaction is important. He took the comment so hard, inbetween the 8am service and the 9:30am service he kneeled before the altar and wept.

I know he had to be thinking he made a terrible mistake by preaching on that subject. I’m sure he completely forgot any positive comments people gave him. Top that off with having to do the same sermon two more times. I doubt I could have pulled it off like he did.

Why is it so easy to wrap our entire beings around one negative comment and ignore all the other 10,005 positive comments as if they never happened?

I wish I had an answer to that, because I do it all the time. It’s a grueling mental wrestling match to convince me otherwise.

So I use this entry to encourage you to ignore the comments that hurt, and embrace the ones that uplift (as well as consider the source; not everyone has your best interests at heart). I bet the positives outnumber the negatives in almost every case.

Apathy

Either I’m not getting enough Sun, my hormones are completely whacked out, or it’s a combination of both, but I’m suffering from a severe case of apathy.

I’m not sad or depressed, but I can’t seem to find a reason to care about much of anything more than what I’m required to do for work and family. I’m either in automatic or neutral, and don’t care enough to change gears even when I know I should.

I keep thinking I should be concerned, but I’m not. Mostly. Actually, I am concerned, but not enough to do anything about it.

Part of why I’m writing it down is so that maybe, just maybe doing so will push me out of this odd mood I’m in. Sometimes seeing what I’m thinking and feeling on the screen helps me to find a solution to whatever is bugging me.

Change o’ subject (sort of):

I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog again. This time to “Dear God. I Have Questions.”

Two reasons for this.

Once again, I volunteered to write several devotions for my church’s yearly Lenten devotional. Eight, actually, which is the most I’ve volunteered to write so far. In one of them I admitted I don’t love or trust God as much as I know I should. I take much of my faith for granted, and worse, when it starts to matter, I hide it away, afraid.

Many non-religious accuse religious people, Christians especially, as following blindly, never asking challenging questions. For some, that’s probably true. I’ve heard enough stories where church leaders have punished people in a variety of ways for daring to challenge their beliefs or orthodoxy.

Yet that’s far from biblical. In both the Old and New Testaments, God and Jesus encouraged questions and seemed to enjoy being challenged (as long as the questioner was genuine in wanting to learn). For example, in the Old Testament, Jacob literally wrestled with God–and would have won if God hadn’t cheated. In the New Testament, never once did Jesus condemn anyone for asking questions. Sure, he was tough on the Pharisees, but he also knew their motives; their questions were meant to trap him, not to learn.

I want to focus my blog on studying God’s word to strengthen my relationship with him, and hopefully show others that to be a Christian actually means to ask a lot of questions, to challenge our current religious thinking, and yes question what the Bible says about certain subjects we find objectionable or problematic (while at the same time knowing that my understanding of said scripture is what’s flawed, not the scripture itself).

I also hope that by increasing my time of study, it’ll kick me out of this apathetic funk.

Growth on a Concrete Past

Jesus said we must love our enemies. Many verses (both Old and New Testament) describe what that looks like.

From the Old Testament:

“When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.

When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” – Exodus 23:4-5 (TNK)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;

If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

You will be heaping live coals on his head,

And the Lord will reward you.” – Proverbs 25:21-22 (TNK)

From the New Testament:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

Social media is an unforgiving place. It’s been around long enough that things we’ve written a decade ago are still around for people to see–and judge. People far too often find themselves being condemned (some have lost their jobs, college scholarships, homes and family, while others have been so destroyed, they ended up killing themselves). Not one of those people judging them took into consideration that the person has grown and changed.

Yet too many forget the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), especially when it comes to entertainers, politicians and other famous people. We automatically assume that, based on past bad acts (real or merely accused), when they do something good, their motives are impure. We condemn them regardless–as if we can know their mind, and it’ll be forever unchanged.

I’ll bet if you go through my many entries of this blog, you’ll find entries where I was indeed wrong, and have since changed my mind. I would hope that anyone who reads them will at least give me the benefit of the doubt and ask if I still feel that way or not.

As I’m sure you would, too.

We also give that same courtesy to those we love. When they do something wrong, our first thought is, “Why would they do such a thing?” We don’t ascribe bad motive and condemn them automatically; we instead ask them why, and assume they perhaps had a legitimate reason.

We need to do better in giving people–all people–room to grow. We can’t change the past, but we can change our mind, learn and grow. So, too, can our enemies. Because, like it or not, we all have enemies, and I think we all hope they would love us as Jesus loves us–and give us equal benefit of the doubt when our wrongdoing is brought to light. Just like our loved ones do.

No one is above–or below–that level of grace. Jesus did that for us, and he expects us to do the same.

Not Big Enough

When Dave, my husband, and I first married, he spent some time with my parents, but not enough to know their thoughts on certain issues. Keep this in mind as I share this story:

Back in the early 90s, we attended Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado. He majored in gunsmithing while I majored in Drafting and Civil Engineering Technology.

We had to take jobs in the summer to help pay for–everything. He repaired roofs in Denver with a friend, while I worked at the Rio Grande National Forest as a land surveyor.

We visited our parents a few weeks before our prospective jobs started. I told my mom about my new job, and she said, “Do you have a firearm?”

I said, “My Ruger .22 revolver.”

She glared at my new husband and said, “You let my daughter carry a .22?!”

I stifled a grin knowing exactly where this was headed; I also knew that Dave didn’t know my parents well enough yet to know why my mom seemed so upset. He told me later that he thought, “Great. My mother-in-law is anti-gun.”

She asked the question again, but tish louder. I’m trying not to laugh at this point. All Dave could do was stare at her (she was a tiny thing, but could be quite intimidating when she wanted to be).

Finally she jumped to her feet and said, “That’s not big enough!”

I don’t remember for certain, but I may have finally burst out laughing here.

She stomped to her bedroom, came out a few minutes later and shoved a stainless steel, Smith and Wesson Lady Smith snubbed-nose .38 revolver at me. “Now that’s big enough for my daughter!” She also told me that if I decided not to keep it, she had first dibs to buy it back.

I still have it, and although she passed away almost eight years ago now, I have no plans on selling it. It’ll always remind me of her and how quickly (and uncomfortably) my husband learned that they had more than me in common.

Under No Uncertain Terms

I know I promised to talk about Philipians 4:7-9 in my last entry, but I decided to put that off for a bit. Instead, I want to talk about why I write, and why I can’t stop no matter how much I complain about it.

Back in 2000, I noticed that most mainstream science fiction contained little to no references to God (and many being downright hostile to religion and the idea of a higher power unless it was some ethereal “force” or “universe”).

On the flip-side, most novels labeled as “Christian” had scant little science fiction or fantasy.

I mentally lamented this one day, and a small voice in my head said, “then you write it.”

I ended up writing my first novel in three months. I did nothing with it for quite a few years, because I knew that while the bones of the story were good, the writing itself needed a lot of work. I attended some online writers courses, bought lots of books on writing, and attended writers conferences. I even queried several publishers and agents (to no avail).

In 2008, I had my son, and two years later I wondered if I should pursue publication. I would always write, including blogs, devotions, and journaling that few people would see, but nothing else. Taking care of my boy and working meant I had little time for anything else. I was fine with that.

However, at sixteen I gave my hands to God to use as he saw fit. Quitting on the idea of publication wasn’t entirely my choice, so I needed to ask him what I should do before making any decision.

At about the same time, I heard about a contest for unpublished novelists. It’s called “Genesis” and sponsored by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). An author submits a synopsis and the first fifteen pages of their completed novel. In return, regardless if a person’s novel wins or not, the three judges return a scoresheet with comments/critiques about where the story worked, and where it needed improvements.

I decided to submit my story, but at the same time set a “fleece before the Lord,” (see Judges 6). I asked God that if he wanted me to continue pursuing publication, tell me by allowing my story to make the finals. Not win, though. I figured that would be asking for too much.

Fast forward a few months. One night I received a phone call, but didn’t recognize the number. Figuring it was spam, I let it go to voicemail. The lady who called left a short message congratulating me on making the finals in the Genesis contest, speculative category.

My first response? Crap. A large part of me wanted to quit. I liked my life as is, and after so much time, so many roadblocks, money spent only to get more rejections, that part didn’t think continued pursuit was worth more of the same.

Fast forward almost twenty years since I penned my first draft, I’m still an unpublished novelist. That’s not to say I’ve been sitting idle, and have zero successes, though. I now have written five complete novels (two need serious work), have published short stories and am an acquisitions editor for Havok Magazine.

Nor do I have anyone to blame for my lack of novel publication other than me. I simply don’t submit enough. Part of it is procrastination, but it’s also extreme pickiness. Too extreme, probably.

Some might say I should go the indie route, and I have thought and prayed about it quite a bit. I keep getting the sense that God doesn’t want me to. At least not yet.

Writers tend to feel a lot. About everything. No matter what happens, we always think of the worst possible consequences. We can’t seem to help ourselves. No one should be surprised, because that’s what we have to do in our stories. That kind of thinking can’t help but spill over into reality.

I submitted a short story for another anthology, and received comments back in less than a day. Many of his changes would affect the plot significantly, but not it’s impossible. That same day, I received edits for my fantasy from a fellow writer who said that she feared her edits would make me think the story is terrible when it’s not (I haven’t looked at them, yet, though).

That knee-jerk-reaction-the-sky-is-falling reactionary part of my psyche once again told me I’m wasting my time. I suck as a writer, because after 20+ years I have scant little to show for it. That alone should prove how bad I am. After all, very few endeavors could have a worse track record. Imagine being a doctor with little success after that many years!

Granted that’s not the best comparison, because mere spilling words onto a piece of paper doesn’t physically heal or harm anyone.

In the end though, all that lamenting, pouting and whining is irrelevant and a waste of more time. God told me during the 2010 Genesis contest that under no uncertain terms am I allowed to quit. It might take another ten years (although I pray it won’t take that long) before I see any of my novels in a bookstore, but I have to keep working on it. Sometimes (most times), it’s all I have to fall back on to keep me moving forward. Luckily it’s been all I needed (even if I do grind my teeth while accepting it).

Oh, and my novel did end up winning the contest.

Fewer Rules, Higher Standards

More on Leviticus (sort of).

Along with describing the rules of animal sacrifice, Leviticus shows just how much the Jewish people were required to do with regard to cleanliness, disease diagnosis and control of its spread, and also criminal punishment (see Leviticus 24:17-22).

Then Jesus comes along and turns much of that around. We are no longer required to make animal sacrifices to atone for our sins, or expect an “eye-for-an eye.” Instead, Jesus became that sacrifice, so it’s no longer necessary. That’s not to say we don’t have to ask for forgiveness or atone for our sins in other ways, however. If anything, what God requires for forgiveness is a bit more difficult. Instead of sacrificing an animal, we have to sacrifice our pride, ourselves. It’s a sacrifice of the mind and heart that requires (gasp!) humility.

Aside: Does that mean we give up who we are and become mindless automatons? Not remotely! God wants us to continually seek him out, ask questions, sometimes, yes, even struggle with him when we’re angry or frustrated. That’s how human relationships work sometimes. What we must never give up, however, is trust. Although we may not understand what God does (or doesn’t do), we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and will always have our best (and eternal) interests in mind.

Many of the laws laid out in Exodus (the Ten Commandments) and in Leviticus, include punishments that were based on a person’s actions, whether murder, thievery or adultery to name a few.

While Jesus told us to forgive other people’s sins (accepting the legal consequences of those sins, whether they be murder, stealing and the like is a different conversation), he also changed the standards.

No longer are we guilty of murder if we literally murder someone; we are guilty of murder when we hate someone. We ‘re no longer guilty of adultery if we sleep with someone other than our spouse; we commit adultery when we lust after another man’s (or woman’s) spouse.

Not only did he raise the standards, it’s also God’s way of telling us yet again (because he also states this many times in the Old Testament, too; the New Testament is just a bit more emphatic about it) that sin always starts in the heart, not when we commit the act. If we refuse to entertain sinful behavior in our heart and mind, we can’t act on them:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” ~ Philipians 4:7-9 (ESV)

Next up: How the verse above can be misinterpreted.

About What’s Not Said

I’m reading Leviticus which is basically a manual of instruction for the Levites–the tribe of Hebrew priests.

A lot of it is repetition as far as animal sacrifices, when someone is considered “unclean,” and how to be cleansed. Some of it seems harsh, especially how women are treated with regard to their menstrual cycle, and how long they had to be sequestered after they gave birth. The time of sequestration also varied depending on whether they had a boy or a girl.

I have to remember, that was a very different time, and they didn’t know as much about hygiene as we do–much of which we take for granted today.

But I digress.

The Hebrews, before the Exodus were surrounded by people who worshipped false gods, many that made human as well as animal sacrifice.

Why God felt it wise to continue the animal sacrifice I can’t answer, but I trust that his reasoning was both important and logical for the Hebrews at that time.

Again, I digress.

Why did people sacrifice to their gods? What’s the first thing you think of? For me, in stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, people sacrificed to their gods in order to find some kind of favor.

In Leviticus 8, God requires sacrifices for forgiveness or thanksgiving (and animal sacrifice only. No human sacrifice, another stark difference with their neighbors). Leviticus says nothing about sacrifices in order to receive anything else such as wealth, status, children, and long life. I can’t help but wonder if that’s on purpose, as another means to set the Israelis apart from their neighbors–and to show that God can neither be bought nor bribed.

It occurred to me then that sometimes what’s not said is just as important as what is said.