Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading About Writing

I just finished and sent to the publisher my latest manuscript and found myself with unreserved reading time (a rare commodity these days). I decided to improve my writing skills so I picked up some books about the craft (much to my editor's good pleasure I'm sure).

I'm reading On Writing by Stephen King. I'm still waiting for a green glow and the evil clown to show up, but it isn't that sort of book. I've chuckled out loud several times while reading it but also doubted myself as a true writer more than a few. I want to go back and read some of my books and realize what I could have done better (now that would be a true horror story).

Someone asked Stephen King how he writes. His answer was, "One word at a time." I guess that is also how we get better as word at a time.

It is fascinating to read how other people write. I have much to learn. I need to find a steady balance between my travel, ministry, home and writing. I am not a very methodical person, so my balance will be different from others. So far, my writing pattern seems to be seasonal: summer and winter for writing, fall and spring for travel.

One of the strange things I have noticed is that I can't seem to write another book in the same place that I have already written one. I can tell you each place that my books were predominantly written and no two share the same space. It is like I draw a creative energy from the environment and it begins to reflect that book's unique personality, so when I try to write there again it doesn't work. I am just now discovering this, but of course that is something you wouldn't learn until you'd written a few books. I've written six so far (three other resources I've created are more like curriculum--those I can do anywhere). Imagine the difficulty of finding a new place if I wrote books as often as Stephen King! Considering my wife redesigned my eldest daughter's bedroom into a home office for me to write in after she moved out, this is a problem for even a writer with my own output. After Church 3.0 was done I haven't been able to write in the office again (save for blog posts and emails). Maybe I need to get over this idiosyncrasy and force myself to write in the same place. Perhaps this is just a rookie issue that can be overcome as a more seasoned writer. I wonder, does anyone else have this same little challenge? Any other theories about it?

Other books I am reading are: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (a classic all should read several times over), The Elements of Story by Flaherty (which I think I will turn to often as a resource) and The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Lamb.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Screwtape's Latest Advice Regarding Church

Correspondence between a senior demon (Screwtape) and his nephew (Wormwood) regarding nullifying the church's influence:

My Dearest Wormwood,

If you want to make sure that the enemy's people are relegated to obscurity, lead them to believe that the church is for them, not the other way around. Hire professionals to make sure their church experience is more personally satisfying. If they actually evaluate how much they like (or don't like) the worship than the efforts will actually be for them and not our enemy. Rob the enemy of the worship He desires all in the name of worship! In fact, if you can, get them to compete with one another over this so that some are considered better at it than others we will gain division as well. Ask for a small percentage of their money just to provide such a service for them and their families. Don't ask for too much money though, we do not want them to actually think church is important. Let them use the greater majority of their money on their life away from the enemies activities. Do what you can to assure that no one would put much expectation beyond that small percentage of giving on the disciples themselves, let them think: "That's what we pay the pastors and missionaries for."

Put the pros in robes (suits will do) and tell them they are specially called and anointed to do what mere mortals cannot--like hand out pieces of bread and pass a cup of juice. Diminish the enemy's love feast to simply passing a small stale wafer of a bread-like substance and a thimble of juice. We do not want them to enjoy one another's company and actually love (Yuck, I hate even saying the word).

Take the commanded practices out of the hands of the regular people and make sure that those who will actually do them only do them with Christians behind the veil of sacred institutions and stained glass windows. In fact, if you really want to keep disciples from being made, command them to disobey Jesus and make it a sin for them to actually baptize others. If you can make it a sin to obey the enemy you have won a great battle. Then they are our followers, rather than His, but they think they are following the enemy! How grand our task is.

Don't let many become one of these professionals, in fact, make it extremely expensive and difficult to be allowed into the club of the sacred anointed. The fewer people that obey Jesus' commands and take responsibility for the enemy's work the better. Those who do actually practice the commands will do so with pride which is even better for us than if they didn't do them at all! If you can get them to see this service as a career, then they will bring expectations into the work that will make the practices themselves a duty under their job description. You can take all the good out of these practices if you play your cards right.

Make the church obsolete. Let people start other organizations to accomplish what she was meant to do. Leave her the tasks of marrying and burying, baptizing and communion so she will feel sacred and special in spite of not doing anything at all. Let others do the mission work, the evangelism work, the social service work, the counseling, and the leadership development. Charge her people for all those services, so they feel like they are contributing without having to actually do any of them.

Let them find success in how many people attend their sacred event once a week so that they are not concerned with any sort of success the rest of the week. Oh what a victory if you can make them feel proud about doing barely anything at all! It's like having two wins for the price of one. In fact, if you can get them to feel like their lack of contact with the other people in the world is a spiritual obligation that God desires of them we will not have to worry about the enemy's work in the world. It will all be ours! If we can keep them from being in the world or doing anything of substance, and actually feeling proud of being more spiritual in doing nothing we can win this war entirely. Oh, I get so excited thinking about the possibilities!

Make their "faith" about everything they do not do, rather than the things they should be doing. If people think that they are Christians because they don't dance, drink, dip or double-dip then the attention is off of the actual responsibility of hearing God and doing what He says. Make it about everything other than love, keep love out of the picture in all ways possible. In fact, if you can get them to think they are serving God better with hate than the enemy loses everything. Let them evaluate how good a person is by how much they look like themselves. Oh we have done well if that is the case. Then they have actually come to see themselves as the standard of goodness and led them to live in judgment of all others. Imagine how good it will be if the church all looks the same--smug and content with so little!

In fact, remove from them any chance of actually hearing God's voice. Let them hear other people who tell them what God is saying...then pass off things that are not important through those other voices. Stay away from the real dangerous words that are in the Bible. Let the pros use the Bible to only defend their own opinions. Let them think the enemy is on their side so that they have greater confidence in spouting off their opinions about meaningless things. Do, however, allow them to speak some good things so everyone feels good about hearing them, but keep the actual words of the scripture away form the people. Good words are fine, and better than the truly powerful words that we all fear and hate so much.

Let a few of these pros become popular because they tell good jokes, stories and witty sayings, so that people are deluded into thinking that they have just heard from God because they got teary eyed after laughing. Let the people feel like the Bible is so magical and mysterious that ordinary people without the degrees (or robes) are incapable of using it right and would only create a mess. Keep the ordinary people from hearing the enemies voice at all costs. This is your most important task Wormwood. Do not fail in this.

Take my advice and you will do well.


Your Uncle Screwtape

NOTE: Please know this is not from C.S. Lewis, and that I mean no disrespect to this great mind in this post. It is just an attempt to use his same sly manner in addressing a spiritual problem. Read the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis if you want to understand this post and want to read a real good example of what this is attempting in a far less effective manner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

To the Ends of the Earth

I did some organic church training in Ethiopia a few years ago with church planters from all over the horn of Africa. Men traveled from as far as the Sudan and Somalia to be there and all had stories to tell of persecution.

Wow, it was a real blessing to be in a room full of people who have looked down the barrel of a gun or taken a blade in the side for Jesus and that are still preaching His word. I felt humbled. I had much more to learn from them then they did from me.

I carry in my Bible pictures of brothers who have lost their lives in this region for the sake of the Gospel. My favorite coffee in the world is grown by organic church planters in Ethiopia! I think about them daily when I have my morning brew. Join me in praying for their work as you sip the fruit of their labor as both organic farmers and organic church planters.

There was at least one way that I think I may have been able to help this movement, and in so doing may actually also have helped the rest of the world. Painted in bold letters on the wall in the room we met in was the purpose statement of the movement: To fulfill the great commission in the horn of Africa in this generation.

Admirable as that is, it is not correct, and can never be fulfilled. Why? because the great commission goes to "all the nations (Matt. 28:18-20)" and "to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)." You cannot fulfill the great commission in just one place of the earth. This was the problem the Jerusalem church struggled with until the persecution spurred on by Paul in Acts 8:1 pressed them out (amazing as it is, Paul is responsible for planting churches even before he followed Christ!). I actually wanted these noble apostolic church planters to raise their vision higher than the horn of Africa. The whole world could be blessed by their passion, faith and love, not just the horn of Africa.

This is something we all need to learn. Having a true Great Commission vision will affect all you do. For instance, when we evaluate our tools and methods, we ask if what we are doing will work in Calcutta as much as California. Will our methods work in Athens Greece as much as Athens Georgia? If it will only work in a US context we shelve it no matter how much we spent developing it (Note: TruthQuest is the one exception, we realize it is limited in where it will work, but encompasses enough of the world that it merits being produced).

A global perspective alters your view of what you are doing like nothing else. If what you are doing will reach the suburbs of South Orange County but will not work in the Sudan than you are not going to fulfill the Great Commission with what you are doing. This is why we scrutinize our materials so much and why we celebrate our "Shelf of Shame" where we place methods and resources we have created that will not multiply to the ends of the earth.

Is the Great Commission altering the way you do ministry? Perhaps it should.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Apparently Heaven Doesn't Like Gawdy Graven Images

Lightening struck this 6 story statue of Jesus, often called "Touchdown Jesus" because of his outstretched arms, last night (June 14, 2010). It was erected at the Solid Rock church in Ohio between Cincinnati and Dayton. It burned to the ground because it was made of styro foam, and fiberglass with a metal skeletal structure. I guess "Solid Rock" church is not as solid as advertised, nor made of Rock.

One article said the statue cost $500,000 to make and was shipped from Florida. The church has said it intends to rebuild it (resurrect?).

I have to think that there are better ways to let the neighborhood see the body of Christ. One must assume there are also better uses of kingdom resources.

We are left wondering if it is mere coincidence that lightening struck or is it from God? That is a question that the leadership of the church should probably spend some time asking before they rebuild it. What are some ways we can tangibly let people see the true beauty of Christ's body in our neighborhoods and nations?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lakers & Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals

I have a confession: I hate the Celtics.

It seems like I have hated them since I was a child. Perhaps that is because I watched them beat my team, the Lakers (with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich) so many times while I was growing up (6xs!). I got a little revenge in the 1980's when Magic, Kareem and Worthy beat them twice, even though they also lost once to them. Then two years ago the the luck of the Irish struck again.

Some classy players I have always admired have played for them, like Jojo White, Dennis Johnson, Nate Archibald, Paul Westphal, John Havlicek, even Bill Russel. Nevertheless I still don't like them. As cliché as it is, my two favorite teams are the Lakers and anyone else that is playing against the Celtics.

I am 50% Irish but I hate the Celtics with 100% of my being. I can't stand the green uniform, the parquet floor or the smoke from Red Auerbach's cigar. The smug look on Paul Pierce's face turns my stomach.

I just watched the first game of another NBA finals with the Lakers against the Celtics. I am nervous about it as I do not want to see my team lose again to the dreaded green leprechaun.

I found an important stat that has me encouraged a bit after watching the Lakers win the first game: Phil Jackson coached teams have won 100% of the 47 playoff series they have played in when 1st game is a victory. 47 wins...0 loses! Wow, that is an intimidating stat if your favorite color is green. Of course that is the kind of stat that is easy to slough off as fabricated by the media.

Yeah, but ten NBA championships for Jackson (one more than Auerbach BTW) and 47 series is a lot, and not once has Jackson lost a series after winning the first game.

A coincidence? Bill Plaschke, Times Sports writer, wrote:

“Smarter people than us say it is not. I thought about Boston, and thought about MIT, and decided that, yes, I should consult with someone from the brainiest university in the country. So I called the folks from Caltech (ouch). A couple of grad students in applied and computational mathematics —Stephen Becker and Mike McCoy — figured that the odds of going 47-0 by coincidence were less than three in a billion.”

Less than 3:1,000,000,000 I like those odds!

Nevertheless, I will be at the edge of my seat for every game. I seriously doubt that Kevin Garnett cares much about such a number. One win does not win a series.

C'mon Lakers!

Okay, don't comment that I am being overly passionate about a frivolous thing. I know its only basketball, but it is the Lakers!