Category Archives: Faith

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

Believe or Else — Until You Leave The House

I overheard a boy say, “I have to believe in God until I turn 18 or when I move out. Then I can believe whatever I want.”

I found that a little concerning. It almost sounded as though faith was being forced on him, and that he looked forward to not believing in God later in life.

Faith should never be forced on anyone.

Some could argue at this point that Christians believe just that. Even Jesus said that those who don’t believe in him will die (John 3:16-20 & John 8:24). History abounds of instances where churches killed or imprisoned those who refused to convert.

I won’t argue church history, except to say they got it wrong. Jesus never told anyone to force others to believe; he merely stated what will happen to those who refuse to believe (see Matthew 13:41-42 & 49-50).

We are all still free to make that choice, as long as we first consider the consequences of that choice.

Nor do I think we can force anyone to believe anything anyway. Sure, we can say we believe in God to appease others, but we are also fabulous liars. We, in fact, more often than not hide what’s true in our heart than what we reveal — both good and bad.

Jesus, however, knows what’s in our heart regardless. Sure, scripture says we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), but we must accept it as truth in our heart first.

Jesus will always know the difference even when those around us don’t: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” ~ Matthew 15:8 (& Isaiah 29:13)

I also had to ask a question of myself. Am I forcing my own son to believe in Jesus? After all, I take him with me to church twice a week, he goes to a Christian school, I pray with him every night, and I keep my car radio on a Christian station to name a few.

Yet I never once said, “Believe or else.”

Exposing and even immersing my son in my faith is showing him how important Jesus is. At the same time, I try to encourage him to ask questions, even (especially) the hard questions. Still, I know that no matter how much I encourage him to believe, that choice will always be his to make — the whole leading the horse to water stuff.

I think it’s important to encourage, and not threaten when it comes to faith, children most of all. They all rebel in one form or another, and if we present our faith as tyrannical, and unattractive, they will run away from it the first chance they get — perhaps permanently.

I’ll leave you with these:

“Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. ‘Honor your father and mother.’ This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, ‘things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.’

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” ~ Ephesians 6:1-4

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. “ ~ Deuteronomy 11:18-19

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6

Why I Hate The Phrase . . .

“God answered my prayer.”

People only say that when they get the answer they want and/or expect. What about the times when we don’t get the answer we want? Does that mean God didn’t answer it? That he turned a cold shoulder as a way of saying, “What a stupid prayer that was. Don’t waste my time.”

When we ask people for something and they say no, do we run around complaining that they didn’t answer?

No. Instead we say, “He said no.”

Same way with God. He answers all our prayers. Most of the time the answer is no, and that’s a good thing. We don’t always know what’s best for us, but God always does. I can look back at some of my more fervent prayers when God said no, and invariably I find out later he was right.

Instead of telling everyone, “God answered my prayer,” we need to say, “God said yes.” It works the other way as well. Instead of crying to everyone, “God didn’t answer my prayer,” we need to say, “God said no.”

And be thankful for it. God always says no for a reason, even if we won’t know that reason for a while, if ever.

That’s the definition of trust.

Addendum: I actually wrote this four years ago today. The program I use to write my journal/blog entries sends me automatic notices of past entries I’ve written on today’s date. It’s possible this same entry is on my blog, but I think it deserved a re-post.

The Power of Words

I’ve always believed writing is one of the most noble skills out there. Books, both fiction and nonfiction, when done well, will never lose their relevance hundreds, sometimes thousands of years later. They can heal, inform, and inspire. They can bring light to those drowning in darkness.

Here is one such example of how a teacher’s small act of sharing a book with a student literally (see what I did there?) saved his life. Warning. You may need to keep a few tissues on hand.

Never underestimate the power of words — even your own.

Walk with Me

As I continue my search for an agent, I can’t help but feel a little worn down and wore out.

Each time I ask myself, “Am I wasting my time? This agent’s time?”

God has told me time and again to keep on keeping on. It will happen. Eventually. And since he knows, why won’t he tell me which agents to approach, and which agents to pass on by?

After all, if God means for people to read my words, why won’t he show me the right path at the outset instead of allowing me to take so many dark and winding detours?

In Luke 24, Jesus had just risen from the dead, but none of the remaining disciples believed it.

While two of them traveled to Emmaus (verses 13-35) Jesus joined them to discuss his death, resurrection, and how scripture predicted all of it.

They didn’t recognize him until later that night.

Jesus could have revealed himself and the truth of his resurrection the moment he joined them on the road, but he chose to journey with them, to talk with, and teach them.

For him — and the disciples — the journey was of equal importance to the destination. Perhaps even more. That, and as witnesses, they were afterward better armed with scripture to help other disbelievers believe.

The same is true for for all of us. We can’t be so anxious, eager, and rushed to reach our destination that we miss walking with God, and allowing him to teach us along the way.

Sure, I want to know right this instant which agent will be the best fit, but by jumping ahead, what will I miss along the way? Lessons learned, people met, and wisdom gained?

After all, this journey isn’t only about me, but others who are, and will go through the same thing. I can only be a witness if I make the journey right along with them.

Eyes Wide Open

When it comes to photography, I’m always keeping my eyes open for something interesting to photograph and share. I loved today especially, because it was cold, calm and foggy. Hoar frost abounded on the trees, grass and shrubs.

What normally takes me fifteen minutes to walk around a few blocks during my breaks almost doubled today, because I couldn’t get enough of the frost-coated — everything.

Unfortunately, I too often don’t have that kind of “eyes wide open” mentality when it comes to my writing — or even my faith at times.

I ran into a quote the other day: “If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” ~ Dan Poynter.

I also found something I had written years ago to keep me motivated: “Write fearless. Anything less, it shows, and the words inevitably stumble and fall.”

Fear holds me back. Fear of offense, of being misunderstood, of boring my readers, my how the list is long!

Some people call writing — whether fiction or non-fiction — their ministry. They write to bring people closer to God. It’s a calling like any other type of ministry.

I, on the other hand, don’t. To me writing is my form of worship. Do I want to encourage people with my words? Absolutely. I’ll even admit that I hope my words will bring others closer to God; to see his love and beauty as I do. I also believe writing is my calling, because as much as I may complain about quitting, I never will. I can’t. God won’t let me (and believe me, I’ve tried).

I hesitate to call it my ministry, because I stumble so much. I don’t know enough about Jesus, scripture, or faith in general to claim any kind of authority. I see ministry as a form of spiritual leadership, and because I too often don’t know what the heck I’m doing, I don’t want anyone to follow me. I’ll only make them stumble as much as I do, if not more.

That kind of thinking, however, limits God. If God wants me to reach others with my words — whether it’s this blog or my stories — then I have to put those words out there, and trust that they will reach the right people at the right time.

Taking hoar frost pictures on my phone during my morning break may give me joy, but no one else if I don’t share them. Joy was never meant to be hoarded (see what I did there?).

Jesus’ love is the same way. It must be shared, and I can’t fear offending, being misunderstood, or boring my readers (be aware, yes, because writing is also a skill that requires a lot of practice, but never afraid). Doing so only means I would rather keep my eyes closed, and prevent others from seeing what I see.

I am no good to God that way. He gives us our gifts not for ourselves alone, but for others who need them even more than we do.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:14-16

Spiritual Fatigue

With 2018 less than two weeks away, one can’t help but take stock of the previous year, what we accomplished, and didn’t accomplish, our pains and our joys. We also look toward our goals and hopes for the next year.

One of my goals is to avoid politics (it’s an off-year election in the States, so I expect things to get almost as heated and divisive as both 2016 and 2017, if not worse), and spend little if any time on social media.

A few times this last summer, we camped at a local lake called Lake Tschida. With the heat and drought, however, the lake bloomed with blue-green and slimy algae that few dared to swim in. I was not one of them.

That’s what social media feels like to me lately. Just perusing it with all the vitriolic politics and constant hate and nasty insults to those who simply disagree on a particular subject feels like swimming in a bathtub-warm, and algae-choked lake. I leave feeling slimed, emotionally and sometimes spiritually drained.

In 2016, I took a full year off social media except my author page on Facebook and other writing sites. Not only did the spiritual ick leave me, but I wrote many blog entries and finished three languishing novels. All told, I wrote over 200,000 words in those twelve months.

I hope to meet or exceed that number this year.

First I need to write my 2018 Lenten devotionals which are due by the end of January. I’m not stressing about those, though. Yet.

My other writing goals are to write more entries here on multiple subjects, rewrite my fantasy, and perhaps submit it to ACFW’s Genesis contest. As with the First Impressions contest, while winning is great, the real benefit is the judges’ critiques. Having outside opinions of my work can only help me improve my skill.

My other writing goals are to continue to submit queries to literary agents (four down, fourteen to go of my current list). I’d also like to write and submit more short stories, but we’ll see. I’ve started two so far, but am having trouble finishing. I think it’s due to my spiritual fatigue. I lose both motivation and confidence when I’m so drained.

But I am also an eternal optimist. Having endured spiritual angst multiple times already, I know it’s a seasonal thing, and like every time before, I’ll get through it and hopefully a little wiser in the end.

Oh. And read. A lot.

If this be my last entry for 2017, I pray you have a stress-less holiday season, and 2018 ends up the best year ever for all of us.