Monthly Archives: May 2018

Another Big If

Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”

I wrote a devotional for my church called “The Big If.” It’s short, so here it is:

You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Scripture is replete with such passages. God promises us many things, but there’s often a caveat introduced with one little word: If. It is one of the largest words in the Bible, I think. Not the most powerful, but one with deep meaning. A word so small, it could easily be overlooked.

If (see what I did there?) we remove the “ifs” from scripture, we could too easily infer that God requires nothing of us in order to reap the benefits he offers us. That means I can move mountains with a thought and be saved with no other action on my part.

For more times than I can count, I have expected God to do all the work while all I did was show up to receive his blessings. Instead, however, I found myself accepting darker consequences, feeling lost and abandoned, and not at all blessed.

All because I neglected to notice that tiny, yet ever-important little word.

That’s not loving or being faithful to God. It’s taking him for granted, and treating him like Santa Claus instead of the Creator of the universe who makes the rules.

Still, God wastes nothing, not even our mistakes. When I ignored that little “if,” and faced the consequences accordingly, I learned just how important looking for that little “if” is.

I often hear the second part of Romans 8:31 above from other Christians, typically when they’re seeking some kind of social change. While they can be laudable goals, I always cringe at the declaration. The reason is two-fold.

One, it smacks of presumption. Is God really on their side? Or are they being a bit prideful, openly stating that God will not allow their failure. It also implies that those who might disagree with them are God’s enemy. And what happens if they do fail (for whatever reason)? How do they view God, and their relationship with him after that?

Having made that presumption many times myself, I have learned to avoid thinking, or stating that God is on my side. Instead I ask (less often than I should) whether or not I am on his.

Secondly, claiming that verse for the things we do, or intend to do, misses the point of the passage. Paul does not refer to the success of our deeds, but something else entirely:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

Does that mean God will not “take our side,” and help us succeed in the tasks he gives us? Of course not. I just think we need to be careful how we proclaim his help, be sure to give him glory above ourselves, and always make sure we don’t miss any more “ifs.”

Eureka?

I like that word mostly because of its history. It comes from ancient Greek meaning “I found it.”

From Wikipedia: “The exclamation ‘Eureka!’ is attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. “

I had a bit of a Eureka moment whilst taking a shower this morning. I think I figured out a better prologue for my novel (the one that failed so miserably in the contest).

I rewrote the first chapter already from a different point of view, but I’m not sure I like how it turned out. The first iteration contained a lot of information necessary to the rest of the book, but I couldn’t include it in the rewrite, because the new point of view character doesn’t have that information. Yet it won’t fit anywhere else. At least not yet. I did ask a few people to read the prologue and first three chapters to see what they think, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe it does work, and I’m being overly critical.

Perhaps I’ll have another Eureka moment whilst in the shower tomorrow, or at least by the end of June. I intend to present this novel to an agent at a writers conference in July.

Also, I signed up to write more devotionals for my church. The focus is on the minor Old Testament prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Nahum. Each day is a separate chapter of each book (except Obadiah since it’s only one chapter), so the series will encompass a month.

So far I signed up to write six devotionals. I wanted to sign up for more, but I thought that might be too greedy.

I look forward to writing them, especially the ones in Hosea. It’s about how God not only punishes his people (Israel), but about his relentless pursuit of drawing Israel back to him in spite of her sins. It’s a love story in many ways. Plus, as a writer, I can appreciate the beauty of the prose, and the parallels it draws between God and Israel, and Hosea and his wife and children.

Hmm. Maybe I should study Hosea as a writer, and see how I can apply those techniques to my own writing. Something to think about anyway.

Self-Deceit?

I received the score sheets and suggested edits to my contest submission three days ago, and I have yet to download or even open the attachments.

I’m still too uncertain as to whether or not I’m emotionally capable of handling more criticism — even though intellectually I know many of the comments will only help to improve my craft.

As writers we get so close to our stories that we can’t see what readers see. What seems obvious to us can be confusing to the reader.

As I continue to struggle with feelings of rejection and inadequacy, I am nonetheless thinking and simmering over the scoresheets themselves.

I believe I have come up with a way to “speed up” the first chapter, and give the reader a sense — at least at the beginning — of who the main character is. As a reader, I do like to pick one character — at least to start — to latch onto, relate to, and root for. By giving the reader three equally important characters, the reader has more difficulty making that choice.

All it will take for me is to switch the point of view to a different character. Everything else that happens won’t change, so it won’t adversely effect the rest of the story.

Still, by avoiding the judges comments, am I engaging in a bit of self-deceit?

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” once said: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m doing, both with my previous entry about my manuscript not being the best fit for the contest (and hence the low scores), and by rewriting the first chapter entirely without looking at and thereby digesting the other comments.

I won’t know for sure until I read the comments . . .

Nope, still not ready to face them. I prefer to swim in my chosen “reality” for a while longer.

Maybe tomorrow.

Well That Was Rough

I just received the score sheets from my contest entry, and boy were they critical. Out of a score of 100, it received an average of 50.

What’s interesting is the average scoring for the previous contest was 84 for the first round and 88 for the final round.

For the same book.

What’s even more interesting about the results is how consistent the judges comments are in each contest.

Perhaps the difference lies in that the first contest (where my novel received the highest scores) the judges judged the first five pages, and for the second contest, the judges judged the first fifteen pages.

A few consistent comments:

1. A Christian worldview not evident (which I was aware of; I wondered if it may be more appropriate for a more mainstream audience. Now I know).

2. Who’s the main character? This I thought might be iffy, because there isn’t one main character. There’s three.

3. It starts out slow with too much narration, not enough action, while at the same time not enough world-building details. Sigh. As one who has little confidence in writing intriguing, and story-moving detail as it is, I feel like someone just told me to climb Mount Everest with my stubby legs and arthritic knees.

4. First line (hook) needs work. Ugh.

I just had a thought. While I like entering these kinds of contests, I wonder if the questions asked of the judges are a bit too constraining.

For instance, the questions emphasize the importance of the first line. A lot of readers (at least the one’s I’ve asked about it) don’t seem to care as long as the first few pages are intriguing. Then there are the questions about whether or not the main character (singular) is obvious at the start. At least in my novel, I have three, and I’ll state with some confidence that most books have at least two, especially those with romantic plots and subplots. Add to the mix the questions about an obvious “Christian worldview”. Some novels will always be more subtle in that area than others.

Those questions almost guarantee a lower score for books that don’t necessarily fit into that mold — such as lacking an attention-grabbing first line (but the subsequent writing is), has more than one main character, and the “message” is subtle (or becomes more evident later in the book).

I can’t help but wonder if my novel wasn’t the best fit for this particular contest. Something to think about anyway. I don’t regret it though, because the remaining comments and suggestions are worth considering, and may result in a better book in the end.

Nor do I fault the contest, or the judges. I fact, they have earned from me a greater respect for having to muddle through my entry. I will forever appreciate them taking the time to read it, and give me their honest assessments.

In the final analysis, it’s my fault for not studying my own novel more such as its genre, sub-genre and target audience, and comparing it to the overall purpose of the contest.

I just saw this quote, and think it’s rather appropriate:

“Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” – Red Haircrow

The Journey of Discovery

We’re studying the book of Isaiah in church, and the instructor of the video study guide relayed a story of one of her classes.

Isaiah describes a person called the Servant in later chapters. She asked the students, which consisted of Jews, Christians, atheists and Buddhists, to name a few, to figure out who that person is, may be, or was.

In the end they determined that person would be both human and a deity.

As a Christian, I know exactly who the Servant is. I learned about him in ways that didn’t include Old Testament prophesy. In reading Isaiah, there’s no question. As Brandon, one of our pastors said, “That’s Jesus. Next!”

I heard a line on the show “Earth: Final Conflict,” where a character –a scientist — complained how scientists were no longer necessary, because the Taelons were giving humanity everything. Humans no longer needed to endeavor scientific advancement. He said, “The journey of discovery is what makes us human.”

What happens, then, when we are deprived of that journey?

I felt a little of that loss during last week’s study. Like getting the answers to a test without even knowing, let alone understanding — or discovering — the questions. Or someone telling me the end of a story before I have a chance to read the first page.

I don’t regret my journey with God, not even close. I mostly wonder what uncovering him through Old Testament prophesy would be like, to have that a-ha moment of discovering Jesus for the first time as I read the Bible instead of discovering Jesus before I read the Bible.

An Attempt at Losing with Grace

Well, I’m a little bummed. I submitted my latest novel to a contest, and just discovered it didn’t even make the semi-finals.

Part of me is thinking, “Wow. It must have sucked. Maybe I should give up on editing the darn thing, because it has no chance of even getting published.” (Don’t worry, I’ll get over it, because it did win a different contest last year. All this means is the competition was especially good, not that mine sucked).

Sure I was hoping to at least make the finals if not win, both for bragging rights, and because after each round, the judges submit a score sheet with comments for improvement. Win or lose, those comments alone are worth the price of submission.

The good news is I no longer have to think about going to the conference this year when they announce the winners.

Call it coincidence, or call it irony (or ironic coincidence), but less than 15 minutes before discovering I had lost, I commented on a Facebook post about one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked.” Ecclesiastes 7:13