Anybody who knows about NaNoWriMo is now in the throes of writing feverishly, hoping to crank out the elusive 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
I've done it. It's not all it's cracked up to be. Cranking out 1,665 words a day takes me about 2 hours, give or take... and that doesn't include breaks. The real question is, do I have two hours a day to devote to writing a book that I might have to go back and re-write anyway?
Well, no, I don't have time to waste. And in the grand scheme of things, I have to stop and ask myself, "Self, do I really even need to write another book?" This is a question every writer should ask themselves, really. And sometimes, the answer might surprise you.
What it boils down to is, "Did God call me to write a book?" and if the answer is yes, then by all means, do what you have to do to write a book. Don't stop until it's finished! But if the answer is "I don't know" then you've got some thinking to do.
Why do we write? Is it because we enjoy it? Is it because we'd like to make money at it? Do we write just because somebody once told us "Hey, you're good at writing, you should write a book"? Or maybe, just maybe, it's your calling. Maybe it's what God has gifted you to do. You believe your story is going to change somebody's life, and maybe (probably) change yours in the writing process. But after years of doing things, I've realized (i.e. God has shown me) that just because you're good at something, doesn't mean God has called you to do that thing.
This will come as a shock to many. It was a shock to me when I realized it. "Why would God give me a talent if He didn't want me to use it?" That's also a valid question, one I've asked myself countless times. He does want you to use it! But the answer to how we use it lies in where your life is going, and what God has called you to do with your life overall. You see, "writing" as a verb isn't a calling. You can use writing to do something, to accomplish something for God. But the act of writing in itself isn't a calling. It's what you do with your writing that matters. And honestly, if God calls you to do something that requires writing, you don't have to be the best at it for God to use you. But you need to use your talents to do the will of God.
Just let that sink in for a minute, okay?
So where do we look for motivation? Why are we writing? The only way to know for sure is to seek out what God wants for your life, and make sure you're doing what God has put you here to do. How you accomplish that is up to you, but you need to find your motivation first. Only then, once you realize why you write, can you find writing freedom.
Are you ministering to people? Are you touching people's lives? Are you bringing truth to them? Are you filling a need with your writing that you feel God has told you to conquer? Then by all means, get writing! I believe God has given me a reason to write, and so I will do what I can.
(by the way, this post is 580 words!)
Sometimes, you just have to stop trying to be happy.
Where in life do we balance "being content" with "reaching for more"? Paul says in Phillipians 4:13 that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He was referring to those who live in plenty, or live in poverty... this applies spiritually and physically. Sometimes we just need to be content with where we are, and understand that God will give us what we need, and get us through.
There are times, however, when being content with misery isn't going to work. You can say all you want about being humble, but God doesn't want us to be miserable, either. If there is more misery in your life than joy, there's a good reason for it... just not the reason you'd expect. The church today (little "c") has found success in promising people happiness and comfort. And yes, if happiness comes from physical comfort, then they're very good at making church members "happy." But Jesus never promised fame, fortune, or worldly success. Or happiness.
So if that's the case, where does our contentment, our peace, our joy come from? And what's the difference anyway? Well, our joy comes from God... not doing things for God, not learning about God, not talking about God. Joy comes from God Himself.
There is no formula. There isn't a "if X then Y" flowchart. The only way to have Joy is to be in the presence of God. And that looks different for everybody. You may feel closest to God when you pour through scripture. You might feel close to God when you're singing praises, or helping the poor, or painting a picture. But, it comes with common sense, too. You can't say "I feel closest to God when I'm downing a fifth of Vodka." Sorry, but what you're feeling isn't God... that's momentary happiness, maybe. Certainly not Joy, because the funny thing about Joy is that is doesn't wear off easily. If we spend time with God steadily, it doesn't wear off at all. And most importantly, Joy from God doesn't leave you feeling drained, worn out, or hung over.
When you get to the point where you're trying so hard to be close to God that you're worn out, you can pretty much bet you've left God behind. He's not in the maelstrom, he's not in the typhoon, he's not in the earthquake... God is that still, small voice, calling to you in your exhaustion and misery.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 - MSG
If you've never heard of it, there's this new thing in churches called Environmental Projection. There's a new company dedicated to expanding worship spaces using- you guessed it- projectors. This is just the latest in a long line of technology-driven "improvements" in worship services.
My initial reaction to this was disbelief, then understanding, then skepticism. I totally understand why it works, and I think it's extremely cool. But deep down, I'm very cautious of things that we add to the worship service just to make it "more appealing." Now, before you think I'm a fool, I don't mean we should try to make the service unappealing. We're not Franciscan monks. This does bring up a very valid point of discussion, however, and I'd like to indulge in it. There are generally two lines of thought on this. One, we should use whatever means possible to reach the lost and bring people closer to God. This is hard to argue, and with newer technology, it's getting more and more prevalent. There are even Seminary degrees for Church Media Arts.
The flip side to this is that it is very easy for things like beautiful sanctuaries, large orchestras, feel-good preaching, and so forth to take the focus away from God and His message. If you can only worship in a sanctuary with 360° projectors, a full orchestra, and nice padded seats, then are you worshipping God, or something else? Are we including new technology to reach the lost, or are we simply catering to a specific crowd? Honestly, I don't really think churches are using technology to "Reach people" as much as they are using it to satiate their existing membership (or woo other churches' members).
*Disclaimer* I am, as my website proclaims, a born-again techno-geek Renaissance Man. I love technology and the possibilities it brings. I'm also a Bible-believing man, who recognizes God, and more specifically, God personified in the form of Jesus Christ. I like technology, but I also understand that it is simply a tool, a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do not believe in technology for its own sake! Everything should have a purpose, and apart from that, it is by definition unnecessary.
So where do I stand on this? Where should the Church stand on this? Well, I wish it were simple, but there's a few things to consider.
1. Is the message compromised? This can happen in any church, for any number of reasons. Is the church trying to attract more people with flashy production, or just trying to draw people more deeply into worship? It's very easy to make up for lackluster preaching by putting polish on the service's production, but these things don't honor God, and they don't last. If your numbers drastically increase because of something like this, then chances are they're there for the production, and you will have to keep "upping the ante" or risk losing them. It is critical to grow the church through discipleship, not smoke machines and projectors.
I only have one word of advice on this point: slick productions are not a replacement for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19-20 - "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Is technology helping your church fulfill it's purpose? What is your church's purpose? Is the church being "seeker sensitive," and what does that mean to the existing congregation? How many of those people are simply hopping from another church, and who is hearing the gospel for the first time? Is it worth bringing in new people with light shows at the expense of your solid member core? How many people are actually getting saved because of it?
2. Is it really needed? Again, it's very easy to justify doing something because "all the big churches are doing it." This is about the worst possible reason! Let's assume your church is a Bible-believing body of members, and there is a desire to "make worship better" by things like better production and technology. Well, why? What's wrong with your worship services now, that you think better production values and technology will fix? In an article by ChurchProduction.com, two different pastors were asked if churches can be "too cool" and their responses were surprising. One said it depended on the church's vision. The other said there was no such thing as "too cool," only going into it too fast.
I disagree, and my thoughts on this are echoed by others. The "Corporate Church" has really just shifted its target audience, not gone back to Biblical principles. Growing the Church involves discipleship, emotional and spiritual growth, doctrinal teachings, evangelism, and genuine worship. Is your church interested in bringing people in, or sending people out? If your church isn't growing, then all the slick production values in the world won't get people saved. It will increase your attendance and offerings, though... a rather dangerous trade off.
3. Is there a better way to spend the money? Lastly, there's the issue of cost, and being a good steward of what God has entrusted the church with. It's not unusual for a large church to spend $10,000 on a projection system, $5,000 on personal mixing setups, and untold thousands on sound systems, stage setups, instrumentation, and software licensing. Is this really the best way we should be spending the church's money? Who is it satisfying? What need is it fulfilling? Is there something better the church could be using it for?
Let's say, for instance, your church decides to buy Bibles for closed-to-the-gospel countries. For the cost of a church's (honestly unnecessary) worship technology, the church could instead send 416 Bibles a month to closed countries... that's 5,000 Bibles a year in the hands of people who are begging for copies of God's word.
$30,000 could build entire ministries in other countries that desperately need them. Instead of a new sound system, the church could sponsor an orphanage. Or two. Instead of installing a Starbucks in the church, how about feeding an entire village for a year?
In the words of David Platt, "Will we choose comfort, or the cross?"
I don't think I can sum it up better than Platt, who is simply going off of what Jesus says in Luke chapter 9.
"We’ve taken steps deeper. We come to Jesus so we can get a comfortable place to worship, and we come to Jesus so we can get activities for our kids to do, and we come to Jesus so we can get a good life in Birmingham, Alabama. No, you come to Jesus and you get Him, He’s the end. It’s not a means to anywhere. He is everything. We don’t want comfortable places to worship, we don’t want activities for kids, we don’t want to promote ourselves, we want Christ. And this guy...Here’s Jesus to say, “I don’t have a roof over my head, you come to me, I’m all you’ve got.” Do we want that kind of Jesus? Do we want comfort or do we want a cross, that’s where Jesus is going, Luke 9:51 tells us."
And of course, the words of Jesus himself. I'm going to leave you with this to chew on.
“‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ’No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ’All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ’How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ’What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ’no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’” - Luke 18:18-30
2 Corinthians 10.
I have a problem... and chances are, you have the same problem, too.
I hate missing out. In modern culture, this tendency is called "FOMO," or "Fear of Missing Out."
And after I sit and think about it for a while, I realize just how pervasive and deep-rooted this is in my life. The more I look, the more I realize it's driven almost every aspect of where I've been and where I'm going. Social Media has only made it worse.
And why shouldn't we hate missing out? We should experience life to the fullest, right? We should reach for the stars, climb the highest heights, go big or go home! Right? Right??
But that's not how it works. It's taken me a long time, but I'm realizing that everything costs something. Every time I want to go run off and experience some cool new thing, there's something else in my life that has to give. When I want to go catch a concert (because hey, I may never see it again!) there's consequences. Someone else pays for my spontaneity.
We don't live in isolated little boxes, especially if you have a family. Everything you do affects everyone else in your family. More often than not, it's your spouse and kids that pay the price. (When I say "you" I'm really talking about myself. Just so you know.)
If you have very young kids, it might not be a huge problem. You can just throw them in a carrier, and bring them with you. Babies don't care where you take them, as long as they're with you.
Older teenage kids can follow you wherever, and heck, they might even be able to take a turn driving. They're old enough for them not to be a burden, and can help out tremendously. And what teenager doesn't like doing exciting things?
But it's the middle kids- the in-betweens... they take the brunt. They are still at a place where they benefit from routine, but are starting to form habits that will turn them into adults. They're old enough to think taking a road trip is cool, but young enough not to realize how exhausting it is, or how to control themselves when they're exhausted. They're old enough to love playing video games, but too young to know when to stop. They're old enough to spend money, but not responsible enough to understand there still needs to be some left over for food.
Part of me wants to chase after every single exciting opportunity there is. That's just the adrenaline junkie in me. But what is the meaning of it? Why do I do this? What am I so afraid of missing out on?
What it boils down to is this: I'm trained to be discontent with where I am. Being a Dad isn't exciting enough; I have to be a dad who skydives, or drives race cars, or something... anything... to keep from being ordinary or bored. Because, you know, being bored is a sin. And being a dad just isn't cool enough.
Ugh. It sounds so stupid saying it, I could kick myself.
The truth is, when I look back on the last 20 years of my life, I've accomplished more than a lot of people would in a lifetime. I'm not particularly proud of myself, because I know I had a lot of help. But somewhere in the back of my mind is a little voice telling me "You haven't done enough, you're not there yet, you need to reach for more. There's more fame and glory and excitement out there, just ripe for the taking! All you have to do is jump in the car, leave your family, and go grab it."
This is the voice of deceit. It is evil, and it will destroy your family (my family) if left unchecked. The problem is, those things I want to do won't make my kids into responsible adults. Excitement won't teach my kids morals and ethics and spiritual truth. Adrenaline rushes won't hold my wife and console her when she's had a bad day. A stack of award-winning novels won't teach my kids a love for writing, and a platinum album on my wall won't teach them a love for music. All it does it rob them of their father, and I just can't afford that anymore. I've let too much time slip away already.
Like Paul says, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ"
I need to be more concerned with seeking God, and His "thrills" than seeking after things that only offer temporary fun. More obedient to Christ. Yes, there are lots of people that want me to write another book. I'm one of them. But nobody is offering to father my children while I slave away at a full-time job and then put in another 2-3 hours on the word processor every night.
"But," you stammer, "doesn't God want us to be happy?"
Of course. But like fools, we assume we know how to be happy without God's help.
So... yeah. That's all I have to say about that.
I've noticed that in the last few years, I've accumulated a lot of scars. Everything from ant bites to major surgery seems to leave a scar on me. It's gotten to the point where I don't even care if I have scar spots all over my hands, arms, and legs... it's pretty much unavoidable.
But why do we spend so much time trying to hide our scars? Are we trying not to be judged? Will people think I'm not as attractive if I have staple marks on my head, or discolored lumps on my thigh? What about wrinkles and age spots?
I hate to say it, but I'm not young anymore. Not physically, anyway. I'm pushing 40, which is a long way from 18. Further away from 18 than when I was born. When I look in the mirror, I'm presented with a mix-n-match splatter of skin tones, based upon how long ago the scar was formed. Some of them you almost can't see. You wouldn't know they were there if I didn't show you, but each and every one has a memory tied to it. They remind me of times when I was more reckless... more spontaneous... and less inclined to care.
I have a lot of spiritual and mental scars, as well. They don't show up often, as I've learned to hide them well. We all do. However, you can't hide scars from everybody, and you can't hide anything from God. If you've been hurt, He knows.
Some people will say "It's God's fault I have scars!"
Well, yes. It's also a doctor's fault I have an 18" scar running down my left leg. If it weren't for that scar, I would probably have never walked without crutches or a cane. It's a scar I'm willing to deal with, because it's a sign of healing. The damage underneath would have been much worse without the scar.
Some of my scars are from my own stupidity. Like the time I cut my fingertip with a razor knife. Or the other time I cut a different fingertip with a pair of scissors. Or the time I... well, you get the idea. Sometimes it's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a lot of scars like that. Bug bites, scratches, cuts, you name it. After a while, I tend to forget they're there. They blend into my self-image so that even I don't see them. And I look good in the mirror.
But every now and then my scars will itch, and remind me of my past. I have one particular scar that is over two years old, and it's still healing. Still discolored. Still itches and aches when the weather changes. It's still ugly, but it's in a spot where nobody can see it unless I show them. It is fading- slowly- but at this rate it will be decades before it turns the same color as my skin, and it will probably never smooth down to where it's not noticeable.
I'm okay with scars now. It's taken some time, but over the years, God has healed my wounds inside and out. Every time it happens, I think "Man, what an ugly scar!" but it's proof that God is there, pulling me through, healing me. Now I tend to get scars from almost everything. And you know what? It doesn't bother me.
I'm not done healing. It may take some time. In your life, it may take some time, too. You might have some pretty big wounds, but God can heal them all. They do leave scars, but underneath, there is real healing going on.
Recently, I was reading a Charlotte Mason book on homeschooling, and came across this quote:
Children should be taught to distinguish between "I want" and "I will".
And it got me thinking. This is primarily directed towards teaching and training children, but it struck me how applicable this is to everybody, especially in today's ridiculously backwards society.
How many times have we said to ourselves, "I just want...." or even "I'd really like it if..." when we really are saying "I wish things were different." The truth is, we can't change anything except ourselves, which includes our attitudes.
What if instead of saying "I want to know more about God" we say something like "I will spend twenty minutes a day reading my Bible." Did you know you can read through the entire Bible in about 90 days if you read 20 minutes a day?
Instead of saying "I want to write a book" we say "I will spend an hour today writing." Did you know if you can write 1500 words a day, you can write a novel in about a month?
Instead of saying "I want to save for retirement" we instead say "I will stop eating out and wasting money, and put that into my 401K." Did you know you can retire early (and even be debt-free!) if you do simple things like this? It's not as difficult as it sounds.
What if instead of "I want to lose weight and get in shape" we say "I will eat smaller meals, and get a little more exercise?" Did you know, just controlling your meal portions and getting a few hours of exercise a week is all it takes? Like 40 pounds in 3 months.
What it boils down to, then, is that we always want things to happen, but we're not willing to take the first step. And truthfully, most things we want to accomplish are easily doable if we just take it one step at a time.
How do I know this? Because I've done all four of these things. I'm not a superhero, either. And they weren't that hard if you break them down into manageable chunks. It's not magic! It just takes the willingness to take the first step.
So... don't just say "I want." Nothing will change.
Get up and take the first step.
I can't believe it's been two years. It seems like much longer, considering.
Two years since what?
Two years since I had my life turned upside down, through no fault of my own, and ended up laid out in a hospital room with my femur shattered in about 8 pieces, indebted to the hospital for $100,000.
It's kind of a bittersweet remembrance. Of course, there are parts of it I wish I could forget, like the feeling of being slammed into a car's windshield. I wish I could forget when they installed a traction pin through my knee with a cordless drill. I wish I could forget screaming at the top of my lungs when they moved me from table to table to table in order to get MRI scans. I wish I could remember everything that happened in the hospitals, the people who visited me, the things people told me about when I wasn't strung out on painkillers.
But it's not just about what I do and don't remember. If life were just a series of random events, then all we'd have to do is wait for it to be over. Instead, I've chosen to look and actively see what God is trying to show me. Sometimes it's obvious, and sometimes it's not.
It's not about what I do and don't remember from the last two years that gets me. When I look back and try to remember the things I learned about myself, and about God, it reminds me that there is so much more to life than just waiting out your time.
I learned that God is extremely patient- to a point. Eventually He will get your attention.
I learned that no matter how strong you are, there are always situations that can and will break you.
No matter how broken you are, God still loves you, and He will bring you through it if you let Him.
It's easier to hear God when you're immobilized in a hospital bed with nowhere to go and nothing else to do but listen.
Sometimes listening to God is hard. Sometimes it's painful, but necessary (like surgery). Sometimes it's like a breath of fresh air. It always puts me at peace.
I learned that nothing in life is more important than spending time with God. Nothing. Without that, everything else kind of falls apart.
I learned that I could speak honestly with people, and more often, if I shared my hardships with them. People don't want to listen to advice from someone who's never been through hardship.
Hardships are well, hard. Sometimes unbearably hard. That's okay, sometimes. You just have to lean on God.
There are many other things I learned while I healed, and I'm trying every day to remember them and live them out. Once your life has been turned around by God, you begin to understand how He works, and how He works through the rough times. He's there.
Some days I wish I didn't have a messed up leg. Every time it rains, my whole leg aches. It itches. It twinges and aches when I exercise, it hurts even more when I don't. It's a constant reminder of how I could have died... but didn't. It reminds me that God is with me, every day, in every circumstance.
I wouldn't trade it for the world.
I admit it, I'm an old fogey. Sometimes I get grumpy, and I am getting to where I like things just so. I get irritated with noisy neighbors, I eat my vegetables, and gosh darn it, some days I just feel old.
But on the other hand, I've seen a lot of amazing things in the 38 years God has blessed me with. I've seen people's lives turned around, I've traveled the country, I've begun an incredible journey into being a husband and father- and been blessed with outstanding children (not to mention my one-of-a-kind wife) and so I have nothing to complain about. In the last two years, I've been at my lowest, and my highest, and everything in between. I've stared God in the face and what He reflected back to me was something I'll never forget. It's humbling, it's encouraging, it's exciting, and it's frightening all at the same time. I now know what I am to do with the fleeting days that God has given me. It's just up to me now to live them out, and do the very best I can at it.
I've come to realize that if I'm being the father I'm supposed to be, it doesn't matter if I never get a publishing deal, or a recording contract. Those things are cool, but they're fleeting. They don't last. I am thoroughly happy doing whatever God wants me to do. For now, it's writing on my blog. Tomorrow, it might be writing a national bestseller. I don't know.
All I know is, without God in your life, you don't have much of a life. Do you know where your life is headed?