Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Unfolding of a Life

       What writing novels has taught me about living.


I’m writing a trilogy. Book one, Wake the Dead, is available. Book two, Killswitch, has endured the editing process—thank you, Sarah Grimm, for making me a better writer.


While I’m awaiting the release date for book two, book three is dripping onto the computer screen. Chapter one thinks it’s done, but I know better. Chapter two actually involves melting snow rolling off the roof in cold droplets. Drip. Drip. Drip. Tomorrow, my protagonist thinks, the snow will clear and he can be on his way. I hope so. I need for him to get on with it.

Like book three, the first two books started with a whisper. But I know the closer I get to the middle, the faster the story will move. I love writing the middle. That’s when plot twists and dialogue surprise me. (Yes, I’m the one writing it, but I’m surprised anyway.) Then the end comes too quickly. I don’t want it to be over.

In the normal rhythm of being, barring untimely circumstances or tragedy, life happens that way. We’re born and we don’t know much. For a while we just have to lie there and let it happen. Then we struggle to get up, to learn, to speak. To live. When we’re young, we make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t know what we want. We might need to start over a few times. By the time we get to the middle, we hope to have it figured out. We know who we are and what we want, though we don’t always get it. Sometimes we’re surprised. We’re living a story filled with intrigue, sorrow, love, comedy, and hope. There are a few boring passages that might have gotten edited out of a novel. In real life, they roll by and nobody remembers them completely. They’re just sleepy shrugs in the wrinkles of our minds.

Writers don’t always finish what they begin. Some stories get cut off. But for most writers and most stories, the closer we get to the end, the faster it all seems to happen. Isn’t it the same with life? Perhaps we suffer a bit of regret that it’ll soon be over. We hope to leave a lasting impression—to make a difference. For those of us who follow Christ, the end is sweet. We long for the commendation of our Father…. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The gain is greater than the loss. For me, writing a novel is the careful unfolding of a life. Typing the last sentence brings great fulfillment. But I hate to see it end.

So here I am on book three—somewhere between just letting it lie there and watching it get up and do something. It’s still a babe. As for real life, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure I have it figured out, but I do know what I want. I won’t get it all. I will be surprised. The arduous beginning is behind me. The fast-rolling ride to the end is ahead. Maybe that’s why I love writing the middle of a novel—because that’s where I’m living. It’s where the best stuff happens.

Or not. The best is still ahead. When it reaches its end, a good book is a satisfying thing. Then it’s done. But a life redeemed by Christ, when reaching its end, is but a turn to a story never ending.

 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WEEPING AND MOURNING SHOULD NOT BE OLD-FASHIONED


If we weep and mourn now, our unsaved loved ones might not have to weep and gnash their teeth in the future. 




The Bible tells us there is a time for everything under the sun, “A time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NIV84). Nobody weeps just for the fun of it; there is always a reason. Weeping is the physical expression of grief. However, the absence of grief or the inability to express grief is not necessarily an indication that all is well. When the situation calls for grief, someone who does not grieve may either be ignorant of the facts or numb to the truth. Why do we grieve anyway? We grieve when we’ve suffered some kind of a loss, including times when things aren’t going as they should or as we expect. Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb, because Jesus was deeply concerned about Mary’s loss (See John 11:33-35).  
I wonder why the bride of Christ has not been weeping lately! Is it because we see no reason to cry? Is all well in the Church and in the world? When was the last time you wept for the Church or shed tears over the condition of the world, or even over your city alone?  I must not be looking in the right places, because it has been a long time since I saw real passion in prayer—where people are really heartbroken and burdened over sin and evil, the deterioration of morals! As someone asked, “Where did the passion go?”
On Ezra’s return to Jerusalem from Babylon, he grieved over the state of Jerusalem. The people, including the priests, were intermarrying with their pagan neighbors. Ezra was grieved. He wept, and prayed (See Ezra 9:1-10:1). While in Babylon, Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates burnt with fire. He wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed (See Nehemiah 1:1-4). Likewise, Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet, mourned and wept and prayed over the sins of his people and God’s punishment that resulted. When the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, the thought of home made them cry over their plight:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept.
When we remembered Zion
Psalm 137:1 NKJV
Daniel fasted, prayed, and petitioned God on behalf of his people Israel after he learned from the Scriptures what was going to happen to them (See Daniel 9:2-3).
Where are our tears? Have weeping and mourning become old-fashioned? Are they not needed, because all is well with the Church, our country, and the world? Is passionate prayer a thing of the past?
Allow me to jog our memory. Over the past decade, many things that made us frown, because we knew they were wrong, have been declared to be okay, and what used to be considered good is now considered evil. The Scripture says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20 NIV84). Aren’t we in trouble? Sure we are! When was the last time you wept over the state of your city, your state, or your country? When was the last time you saw another Christian do that? Weeping, for some reason has become strange, shameful, old- fashioned, and unacceptable. A few years ago at a prayer meeting, someone asked me if I was sniffling because I had a cold. How sad!
Folks, we have a lot to cry about! We need to cry over the condition of the world. There is increase in evil and general lawlessness, and there are all kinds of sin inside the Church. So why aren’t we crying? Maybe we are not crying, because we think nothing is wrong. Or is it that we don’t care? On the other hand, perhaps we are thinking that, because we are saved, we have no need to worry. Let’s remember that we have unsaved loved ones. Let’s not forget that our God is very concerned about all the evil around us. What else needs to happen before we care, before we mourn, or before we grieve? Nothing! What needs to drive us to tears is already happening.

Weeping and mourning are not as old-fashioned as we think or imply by our attitude. We need to weep in prayer, if we’d like to see God move and save souls. That is what must happen if we want a reduction in the evil that is plaguing our society! If we weep and mourn now, our unsaved loved ones might not have to weep and gnash their teeth in the future. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hope Trumps Disappointment



Hope Trumps Disappointment

How often have you wanted to be excited about a potential new job or the outcome of a relationship, but didn't want to set yourself up to be let down? Fear of disappointment is the enemy of hope. Disappointment in life circumstances, ourselves, God, and others is part of the human existence. God knows we need to mourn life's disappointments with one another so we can move from sadness into hope. Otherwise, we employ unhealthy, self-protective strategies that condemn ourselves or others keeping us in pain. To minimize hurt and disappointment, we refuse to live in hope. The story of the prodigal son is a perfect example of this principle.

A father had two sons. The older son worked on the family farm, but the younger son demanded his inheritance immediately. His hope was in himself. The prodigal son believed he could live a better life by making his own decisions, so he took his fortune and made some new friends in a new town. The folks he surrounded himself with all left when his funds ran out. Then a famine came and the son ended up in terrible circumstances. Eventually he decided to go back home and beg his father to allow him to become a servant. The prodigal son had absolutely no hope in forgiveness and grace. Fear lied to the son about the father’s heart, extinguishing any hope for the renewal of their relationship.

In truth, his father had been waiting and watching for his son to come home. Rather than being angry and holding a grudge, the father felt loving compassion and ran to his son, kissing and hugging him. Yes, there were barriers they needed to address, but the father wanted his son to hope into a full restoration of the relationship rather than settling for something less. Opening up to receive his father’s genuine loving welcome changed the son’s heart. It gave him the courage to see and confess his own brokenness and also hope into change.

Living the abundant life encompasses cultivating an excitement and passion to see and connect with God in our everyday life. It’s impossible to be passionate without hope. Unfortunately, mankind has learned how to beat hope down to a manageable size. We’re allowed to dream about things that are “reasonable” or “practical,” but to hope for a transformed heart and mind seems too risky. 

What if I disappoint God, myself, and others? What if I take a risk and I'm rejected or the disappointment is too overwhelming? Protecting ourselves from being disappointed and hurt is a life strategy based on managing fear rather than stepping out in faith that God will provide us with what we need at that moment. In 2 Timothy 1:7, we’re told not to live a life out of timidity and fear. Hoping into God’s heart gives us the strength and courage to triumph over fear. Step out of fear and ask God to instill hope into your soul.

Hope that God really does love you all the time, no matter how you feel
about yourself and your actions.
Hope that your heart can be transformed and your life changed.
Hope that you can trust in God and others rather than self-protect out of fear.

Hope that God has a wonderful, amazing plan for your life!

Just as darkness must give way to light, fear must give way when we choose to allow hope into our heart.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A World Without Intimacy or Even Real Relationships


I don't want to be hurt, and I don't want to hurt anyone

"It is not good that the man should be alone." Genesis 2:18

I am currently running the Kirk Hotel. Or at least that is what the my kids call it. My boys are at the age where they are off on their own for school or for independence, but then come back again for a weekend, week or months. Their friends have come to room here at times, and getting a bit of rent doesn't hurt.

I really love it. Each of them has friends, of course, so there are many nights when the house is very, very active. 

But I also see a lot of very isolated behavior. Maybe it has always been this way. Some folks don't need or want as much social interaction and just prefer to be alone. And we all need some alone time. Even Jesus frequently made off to quiet places to be alone.

I just wonder about the trend. And in reading other pundits and discussing this trend with some of my friends and associates, there is a general agreement that we may be moving towards a time of being less social or at least less intimate.

What might be at the root of such change?

I'm going to say that moving away from relationships doesn't start with the screens or the machines. Even though I have opined such elsewhere, I'm not sure the screens and machines are the cause. Rather, I suspect that many are doing the very human thing of running away from painful things and running towards comfort.

What is the most painful thing in human relationships today? Divorce. And to the kids and the senior citizens who think that living together is going to somehow lessen the pain of relationships ending...you couldn't be more wrong! We are breaking the most important bond in human relationships, and we are suffering the consequences. God hates divorce for a reason!

The end of that primary relationship, whether divorce or the end of a living together relationship, is destructive to both parties even if one or both parties think it will be better to be apart. But the destruction doesn't stop there. It moves to others in the family, friends, in laws, and everyone else in the circle around the broken home. And it sets up others for future breaks in their own primary relationship. It is so much easier to call it quits when the marriage isn't perfect if your mother, or brother, or cousin, or best friend is also getting a divorce.

So now that there is a painful consequence in that relationship ending, one or both may not want to be in pain again. One or both may not want to be seen as the source of pain in a new relationship. Who wants to be hurt like that? Who wants to be accused of hurting someone like that?

The young people today see those fractured relationships and wince. They don't want to go through that pain themselves. They also experienced some degree, from a little to a lot, of their own pain emanating from their parent's, grandparent's or aunt's divorce. They don't want their kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews to suffer pain brought about by their own future divorce. And since no one can control the decision by another to cause a divorce, the only choice is to avoid relationships in the first place.

So some in the culture run towards comfort. The screens and machines provide escape, thus comfort. The fake worlds are less likely to hurt you deeply. You can just try a new app.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Inspirational Reflections on God

by Lorilyn Roberts

I wonder if God looks back to His creation when it was untarnished by pollution, unblemished by famine and disease, and not scarred by the ravages of war.


When unpolluted oceans bristled with life as He walked in the garden with Adam; when He created strange-looking creatures just for the sheer enjoyment of creating; when sunsets danced to colors our eyes cannot see and waterfalls beat to the pulse of His heart before we broke it; when rocks proclaimed His glory and flowers sang His praises; when life was found in everything and death did not exist; a world we have never known -- at least not yet.

A world that was and a world to come, joined by a tiny thread of love woven through the fabric of time. A remnant of His perfection is hidden in our DNA. The crust of earth beneath our feet gives hint to His creations from ages past. The stars that shine as angels in the night sky proclaim His lordship over every living creature. The winds that mount on eagles' wings fill the earth with His spirit of redemption. Even the animals know.





"Ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you, or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:7).

God longs to live within our heart. He shouts to us in our suffering. At the crossroads of who we are and who God desires for us to become, we are either consumed by evil or we are conquered by love. If our sinful thoughts lose their grip, evil will lose its power. 





Some day God will fill in all of those cracks. But during our time here, He wants to prepare us for a better place; a place where we will be perfect, even as He is perfect.

God delights in the process of molding us. I take comfort in the fact that God wastes nothing and uses everything. Truly, no eye has seen or ear has heard what God has prepared for us. Our deepest hurts and failures will become God's fertile soil for something far greater than we could ever have imagined.





"...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5)."

Dirty Laundry

Does life feel like this?



One of our cats prefers to hang out in the clean laundry basket. Whatever. I'm so used to cat hair on my clothes I don't stress too much over the fact that he gets it there before I've even had a chance to put them away. But the other day he hunkered down in there while I was actually doing the laundry. So it happened that I began to toss clean folded laundry on top of him. Hey, if you're going to sleep where I'm working, expect to get buried in stuff. 

But he did not move. No matter how many clean clothes I piled on top of him, on he slept. He may have opened a slightly perturbed eye now and then, but he had no plan to get out of that basket anytime soon.

At first, I wondered what to make of this. I mean, wouldn't a normal human being (read that cat, here) want to maybe move away if he was being suffocated in stuff? Then I thought about it a bit more. And I wondered how often that was true in my own life. How many times have I sat there while life, or other people, piled things on top of me? I just took them and slept on. When it would make sense to wake up and say, “Hey! Didn't you notice me in here?” and then get the heck our from underneath all that junk, sometimes I don't behave any smarter than the cat.

There's a lot of junk being piled on top of me, but I am comfortable. Moving is work. Moving means finding a new place to be. It means giving up the known and comfortable basket and making the effort to walk away toward other options.

Raise of hands—how many of you do that consistently? I thought so.

I know so, because I hear it all the time.

  • I'd like more time together at home but I have to take my kid to four practices this week. . .
  • I would hang out but there's this project at work someone else was supposed to do and. . .
  • My family expects me to host this big dinner and I can't take the stress . . .
  • I'm going to feel so guilty if I don't do this the way my in-laws want it done. . .
  • There are two meetings and an outreach event and a kids' camp at church this week, and I really should be there . . .
  • It's my three-year-old's birthday and I have to make zoo cupcake trains. (Is that even a thing?!)


Did you notice some of the common words in those all-too-real scenarios? Expect. But. Supposed to. Guilt. Should. Have to.

There is all kinds of stuff being piled on us all the time, and we accept it because it comes with those magically guilt-inducing words: have to. When was the last time you looked at one of those expectations and asked, “Do I really?”

  • Do I really have to put my kid in all those sports, or can I step off that wild ride?
  • Do I really have to complete someone else's work, or am I just controlling how it gets done?
  • Do I really have to host a dinner for family, or can we call it a potluck?
  • Do I really have to craft a birthday party that rivals Martha Stewart and Disney combined, or will a family get together with a cake and candles do fine?


What are we afraid is going to happen if we question the have-to's in our life?

I believe we put too much blame on what others are throwing on us and take too little responsibility for not moving out from underneath it all. Their laundry is stifling, but at least we know we're comfortably in control of making others happy. We know we're needed. We know it will get done right. Let's be honest, more often than not, if we're sitting under a load of stuff, we have chosen to sit there. We could get out. But we're afraid to leave the warm security, even if it's slowly suffocating us.

  • What's the worst thing that can happen if I say no?
  • What terrible tragedy will take place if I decide to let something go I think I have to control?
  • What world will spin out if I choose to let others be responsible for themselves?


Will I still be a worthwhile, loved person if I get out from under the pile?

As Jen Hatmaker writes in her upcoming book, For the Love,

“We no longer assess our lives with any accuracy. We have lost the ability to declare a job well-done. We measure our performance against an invented standard and come up wanting, and it is destroying our joy. No matter how hard we work or excel in an area or two, it never feels like enough. Our primary defaults are exhaustion and guilt. Meanwhile, we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope.”

How simple? Get out of the laundry basket. Decide now that the world will not implode if you don't please everyone or control the outcome of everything. Start asking yourself the questions: Do I really? What's the worst that could happen? Will I still matter?

It's doubt on that last one that kills us. So let's settle it now. You are a human being made in the image of God. (At least I think you're human. If you're not, and you're reading this blog, pleeeease send me a video.)

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!"

That image has never been rescinded. It's never been recalled. It's never been contingent on how much you've done to earn it. It was a done deal at creation. If someone else wants to doubt that about you, that's their big ol' mess of laundry, not yours. Pitch it off.

Getting off the roller coaster?
That's why we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived. It was wired into us from the beginning. Lived in the sense of knowing all the way through us that it is freer outside of the basket where the air is clear. (Especially if it's dirty laundry being thrown on us. Eeew.) It only seems scarier just before you jump out.

What invented standard or expectation does God want you to cast off today so you can live His joy?




Thursday, April 23, 2015

All Our Meaningless Days

My husband's lot in life.


Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under
the sun.         Ecclesiastes 9:9

 These were the words of a king with too many wives to count. I guess if he wasn’t enjoying life with one wife he could move on to another. But he wrote Ecclesiastes as an observer addressing the common man whose life, the king concluded, was meaningless. So if a working man—an average Joe—had a wife, he might as well enjoy her.

I’ve never known a man who works as hard as my husband. His toilsome labor never seems to end. My hope and prayer is that he might prosper and rest, but at times the prayer seems to go unanswered.  

A few years ago the failing economy brought our small business to a standstill. One night we talked with friends about the struggle. Another couple knew from experience exactly what we’re going through, and they sympathized. Then a dear friend, meaning only to encourage us, gave a testimony of tithing in which a simple act of obedience caused everything to fall blessedly into place. She was not suggesting our giving was insufficient, or that God wasn’t blessing us because we were doing something wrong, or that He just didn’t love us enough. But that’s what I heard.

Another friend agreed, adding how many times he had been short of paying his bills on time, until the last minute. “The money always comes in,” he said. “God always takes care of me.”

At the time, our money coming in that month would not cover the bills. In fact, it wouldn’t even cover last month’s bills. Again my good friend, meaning only to encourage me, left me feeling like God cared more about him than He did me.

My husband spoke up. “You know, tithing doesn’t mean you’re not going to face hard times.”  

“Oh no, of course it doesn’t!” Our friends backpedaled a bit, but the rest of the evening was uncomfortable.

It wasn’t the first time a friend had spoken of his own blessing without considering what a person enduring trouble might interpret. Once after I told of a terrible accident that left my children and me badly injured, a well-meaning friend told me he prayed every morning for God to protect his wife and children from accidents, and they’d never been in one. His proclamation made me wonder if my husband had forgotten to pray the day my car was struck head-on by a drunk driver. I know that’s not what my friend meant. He didn’t mean God picked somebody who hadn’t been prayed for to take the hit.

The hardness of life sometimes gives us cause to wonder about concepts of God’s protection and provision. Christian faith, even when grasped firmly so that there is no room for doubt, doesn’t mean life goes by like a song. A worse trouble may strike. The friend who gave the tithing witness had a child with cancer. The friend who paid his bills on time had serious health issues as well. The one who still prays each morning for protection is not guaranteed anything. Will he rest in God’s peace if the unthinkable happens?

God brought us through that season of instability with our business. And He not only healed my children and me, the experience grew me up as a believer and opened my mind to what marvelous things God can do.  

Still, I have to wonder how a man can work so hard, take on so much physically, mentally and financially to find himself only near bottom at the end of the day. My husband is a jovial type, but stress turns even the most pleasant demeanor. And a wife is usually the first to know when that happens.

Over the years I’ve sometimes felt inadequate as a wife. I hear how so-and-so’s wife makes a lot of money—I think I’m not worth much. My husband tells me I’m beautiful—I wonder if he means it. I know he loves me but sometimes he’s so overwhelmed with the worries that enjoying life just seems like more work.  

But from a king who considered it all meaningless comes a hint of meaning—a man should enjoy life with his wife. I’m sure a man cannot enjoy life with a sullen wife, or one who questions her worth, or one who can’t forgive her husband’s temporal despair. So I don’t want to be that kind.

I will cherish the moments my husband smiles and tells me it’s going to be okay. I’ll laugh when he jokes about how bad his day went. I’ll agree with him that it really is meaningless. Or I’ll agree that it means everything. And when he’s not enjoying life, I’ll be patient.

We know how the struggle ends—that it won’t last forever. I’ll partner in the struggle, because what a man needs is someone to stand beside him. As long as we’re here playing fools trying to make ends meet, I’ll be a blessing to my hard-working man. If he wants to live by the Word, and I know he does, he’ll enjoy his life with me. Whether he likes it or not.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

IT IS POINTLESS and NEEDLESS TO PERISH


You don’t have to perish!


If you were hungry, and a friend told you where you could find some food, would you listen, or would you ignore the information and starve? How about the same scenario with thirst, nakedness, and illness—would you pay any attention? If you discovered a medication that was proven to cure whatever ails you, would you take it, or would you rather suffer with that ailment and die? What would you do if you were cold and homeless, and someone offered you a warm home and a warm bed? Would you choose to stay in the cold or accept this warm room and be comfortable?

I think the average person would answer yes to all of the above offers without hesitation. It makes no sense to suffer or die when help is available. Pain and death in the presence of help is pointless and needless.

Similarly, after God brought the Israelites out of captivity from Egypt, He made them an offer. He promised to be their God and their provider. He even promised to subdue their enemies. He simply asked that they listen to Him, submit to Him, follow His ways, and reject idols (See Psalm 81:8-14). But did they listen? No!
So what did God do? He washed His hands of them and left them to their evil ideas, and He said of them, “I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Psalm 81:12 NIV84). You might say that God said to the Israelites, “Have it your way!” 

Sounds very frustrating and heart breaking, but God has given man the power and ability to make choices. When man makes his own choices, God gets out of the way and lets man face the consequences of his choices. As the old adage goes, “You make your bed, you lie in it.”
Before we belittle the Israelites for being stubborn or disobedient, I’d like to suggest that, from the beginning of time, man has had this attitude—stubborn and disobedient!

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, they lost their relationship with God. Years later, God revealed His plan to restore the relationship with man. In the person of Jesus, He became man and died as the substitute for man. The only thing man must do is to admit to God that he is a sinner (sin passed on to all men after the initial sin), and ask God for forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ. The consequence of not believing in Jesus is clearly stated in the Bible. That consequence will be eternity in hell, which is also referred to as the lake of fire or the second death (See Revelation 20:14).
You probably didn’t know this truth before, but now that you do know it, and now that you know the outcome of not believing in Jesus, don’t you think you need to make the decision that will secure your future? Please don’t argue about this. If you make the wrong choice it cannot be reversed later. God loves you, but He will not force you to do anything against your will. Just as He left the Israelites to their own wicked devices, He will do the same with you.


Recently, there was an advertisement on television advocating separation of church and state. The character in the ad claimed to be an atheist. At the end of his presentation, he said, “I am an atheist, and I’ll gladly go to hell.” How sad! Does he know what it means to be in hell? My heart ached for him, but then I became angry. Going to hell is not something one should joke about or be cute about. Please don’t let this man’s attitude be your attitude, and please don’t perish, because you really don’t have to!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

12 Reasons Why Church Is Shrinking in the Western World



I have had the serendipitous opportunity to have long term house guests over the past 9 months who have all been from Eastern/Northern Europe. Three from Austria and two from Estonia. While there have been striking similarities in look, style, and even English accents, the one thing that really tied them all together was a very clear belief in science, and little-to-no understanding of Christianity.

Those who study the demographics of Christianity are quick to point to declines in the Western or developed world with increases in many emerging countries. This got me to thinking about the "why" of this shift. Below is compiled an outline of that thinking. I invite one and all to add to the list in the comments or to email me at RandyKirk77@gmail.com

#1. I Don't Need God
  1. Have plenty
  2. Medicine is excellent
  3. Science explains
  4. Heaven doesn't sound better
  5. Not suffering or needy
 #2. Don't Believe God Exists
  1. Atheist
  2. Maybe, but not convinced
  3. Agnostic
#3. Never lived under despotic rule

#4. Have no concept of worship

#5. Don't want to give up ________
  1. Sex outside of marriage
  2. Ability to divorce
  3. Other vices
  4. Party life style
  5. Money, Fame, Power
#6. Believe that Christians don't have fun, are judgmental, are easily swayed

#7. Haven't felt significant effects of sin
  1. STD's controlled with drugs
  2. Child out of wedlock seems ok
  3. Living together more exciting
  4. Drinking not hurting life chances (drugs, gambling)
  5. Divorce created issues, but not that bad
  6. Lying, cheating, etc., working out fine
#8. Don't want to help others
  1. No sense of giving back
  2. Government can handle poor, etc
  3. Others will do
  4. Too busy, poor
  5. No passion
  6. Don't want to
#9. Have co-dependency issues
  1. Parent
  2. Child
  3. Spouse
  4. Significant other
  5. Government
  6. Job

#10. Haven't given God a second thought - wrapped up in media/play/drugs/etc.

#11. Culture is not influencing or encouraging Christian world view - Is discouraging

#12. Many have not ever heard about Jesus from anyone




Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Christian Author and the Art of Writing


by Lorilyn Roberts 



I thought I knew how to write a children’s picture book. I didn’t. I attended the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference several years ago with my manuscript The Donkey and the King. I anticipated an editor might gasp with delight at the wonderful story and beg me to sign a contract right on the spot. I imagined floating out of the conference in storybook land and racing home in my red firebird, patting myself on the shoulder for my creativity and talent. Yawn. We’ve all had visions of grandeur.  

When do we realize, if ever, we aren’t as good as we think we are? The best of us need critiquing, teaching, input from others, and wise advice from those who have gone before. Rare is the writer who comes along and is so gifted he sweeps anyone off his feet. More than likely, the author will land on his buttocks when an editor points out all the flaws in his “Nobel prize-winning piece.” Or worse, his book or article may not even be fit to be fetched to the dogs (I know, too much hyperbole, but you get my point).

The truth is writing is hard. Rules need to be followed until you learn them. You can decide which ones you want to break once you have mastered the techniques. I was a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature at the time, but I was very much a newbie. For starters, I needed a critique group. There wasn’t one in my city, so I formed one. Word Weavers is the best writer’s group that’s entered the writing arena in the last few years. To find a Word Weavers group in your area, go to:http://www.word-weavers.com/ 

Fortunately, a kind author at the conference went over my book and gave me valuable input. I took her advice to heart. I went home and wrote and rewrote. What were some of my mistakes?  I used big words—three-year-olds don’t know big words. The story was too long. Little kids have short attention spans. I had some concepts out of order—I needed a fresh set of eyes, someone who didn’t know my story, to point these out to me.  

I learned a lot at that conference, including how important it is to attend them and soak in as much information as possible. While writing is a solo journey, publishing and marketing takes teamwork and contacts—even if you are self-published.   

Since I published The Donkey and the King, I’ve received my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. I’ve learned more about writing than I ever thought possible. I cringe now when I receive emails about “how to create content” or “how to outsource content” or “how to write a book in a weekend.”  Writing is an art. If you don’t have the fire in your gut to write good content, don’t expect a reader to have the fire in his gut to read your outsourced book. Whatever happened to passion and creativity and sacrifice and hard work? What about the desire to learn how to write better?  

I hear from time to time writers say, “I don’t like to write, I just like the finished book.” If you don’t like to write, why are you writing? If you aren’t willing to invest in the process to make your writing better, like attending writers’ conferences, joining a critique group, taking writing classes, and reading books on writing, how can you become the writer God gifted you to be? If you don’t have the passion to write, you won’t push yourself to reach a higher level in your writing. Will God bless your half-hearted efforts?  

Don’t let the “roaches” out there eat holes in your bank account either. Flee from those sharks who promise wannabes they can produce content without a sweat and make a million. Where is the roach spray when you need it? I zap those emails in a heartbeat and hope people aren’t gullible enough to pay them.  

Writing is an art—not just the artwork that is drawn or written on the pages of a book, but the art that is etched in the reader’s heart. Have you, the reader, been changed by the author’s message? Encouraged in your walk with God? Convicted of sin in your life? Art should add meaning and culture—and good art should represent some aspect of our Creator. Our words should convey that deep down; otherwise, for who or what are we writing? To glorify ourselves? God forbid.  



The Donkey and the King grew out of my visit to Israel in 1991. The story is an allegory to the book of Philemon in the New Testament. The slave, Onesimus, ran away from his master. Along the way he met Saul who witnessed to him and urged him to return home. On every page in The Donkey and the King is the hidden word “good.” The lesson in The Donkey and the King speaks to all of us:  There is good in the world if we look for it and listen for God’s voice. 

One of my fondest memories in my writing journey is when I read The Donkey and the King to a young Sunday school class. The kids stayed afterwards to find the “good” hidden on every page. Now available in Kindle, the drawings can be enlarged to search for the hidden word, and the font can be made bigger for easier reading.  


Creativity and the passion to share is what all authors should embrace—and strive to perfect. I want to believe I give my all for the reader’s enjoyment. And then, just maybe, I might get an Amazon review praising my well-written book. God rewards those who are diligent and faithful in His service—and I remind myself of that when my feelings don’t match reality or someone criticizes my book unfairly. It happens too often. Spiritual warfare is part of the Christian’s world and writers are not immune. In the end, we know who wins.  

My advice:  Learn all you can and enjoy the writing journey. Share your story, conquer evil with good, be passionate always, and leave your mark on the lives of others. Through your words, you can influence future generations for good, and that’s worth striving for.  


To learn more about the availabilty of "The Donkey and the King,"  please visit my website by clicking HERE.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Love Means (Often) Having To Say I'm Sorry

Yes, this church is made of exactly what you think it is made of.


 Warning – incoming honesty missile. This may be TMI on my relationship with my husband, but here goes. Trust me, I'm not telling you anything he doesn't know.

The biggest issue I am having with my dear spouse right now is that sometimes, I just want an apology. You know, when you mention something that bugged you, or something that didn't get done that was promised? And the response is, “But I . . .” “Well I did that because . . .” or “If you hadn't . . .”

I really, really hate that response. Here is the truth of our conflict. I don't need to be right. I don't require a lifetime commitment to change. I just desperately want to hear “I'm sorry,” with no excuses. I want to know my concerns and needs have been heard.

Defensiveness makes me crazy. (Plus, I am really good at it.)

Hearing words that immediately defend, justify, or condescend does things to a human soul. Words and actions of defensiveness shut down all potential communication. Any relationship that may have developed dies. They say, “I don't want to hear your heart.” “Your experience is invalid.” “My need to be right outvalues your need to be recognized.”

Should that make us think?
Imagine actually saying those things to another human being.

Yet that is exactly what a lot of us church people do. We don't use those precise words, but we might as well. What is true for us interpersonally in our closest relationships is true in all relationships – when we put up our defenses first, we lose all possibility of hearing another person's heart. When we refuse to hear, we refuse to be the image of God we were created to be.

Because God is all about seeing and hearing. Always.

God is given the name “The God who sees” almost from the beginning (Genesis 16). In the same verses, He declares that he is also the God who hears. From the very first covenant with His people, God sets himself up as the One who sees and hears his people. And for God, these are active verbs. They mean to deeply see, to recognize, to delve for need and hope and hurt and to provide for their remedy.

God is not the spouse who nods and assents, “Yep, I hear you,” all the while checking text messages and Buzzfeed. God is the one who looks you in the eye and sits until it's all out there, vulnerable and raw, and then begins to heal. That's his version of hearing.

How good are we at that?

  • Jesus saw the woman at the well's thirst, when no one, never mind Jewish men who were not “supposed” to see her, would look her way.
  • Peter heard Cornelius' faith when by law he should not have stepped into his house.
  • God saw a lonely, homeless, hopeless single parent (Hagar) when those responsible for her refused to take responsibility.
  • Jesus saw Zaccheus' shame when his neighbors overlooked and despised him.
  • God heard Hannah's pleas when no one listened to a woman in pain.


We must see and hear, too.

In all the sins that have been recently cast on the church, deserved or not, the common denominator seems to be this defensiveness. We are so busy defending ourselves, we forget that Jesus never told us to do that.

In this world you will have trouble.

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6.27-36)

It seems Jesus told us, repeatedly, to do quite the opposite of defending ourselves. But still, we don't get it.

I understand. It's so counterintuitive to what we believe. All that we've been told. Everything that screams the American way. We've been immersed in a culture of rights, independence, and individualism our entire lives. We equate it with “right” naturally, because it's all we've ever known. That's what all people everywhere do. Humans see what is as what should be, because no one else's reality has ever been part of their experience.

Unfortunately, that means white, (usually male), American Christians most often see the status quo that retains their position as what is right. It is what has always been. How would we know any different?

The only way to know is to listen. To hear. To see. To look someone else in the eye and say, “I want to know what your experience is. And I want to keep my mouth shut while you tell me.”

I know this is true because it's true in my own house. And human relationships are all basically the same. We just want to be heard.

In the last few months, how many issues have drawn the defensive shots of Christians?

*Millennials are leaving the church? Well, they just want a watered down gospel. They're looking for weak truth, and we aren't compromising.

*Gay people want wedding cakes or photos? They're targeting and persecuting us for our beliefs.

*People of color still believe white privilege exists? They're delusional hoodlums.

*Christians should be accountable for their historic atrocities? How dare anyone suggest that? We don't go around starting holy wars or abducting people and enslaving them. Now.

Here's a radical response: What if all many of these people really want is to be heard?

What if they're not saying Christians today are responsible for it all? What if they're not demanding we find a solution? What if they're not insisting we agree? What if they don't need a lifelong commitment to change our ways but simply a recognition that this is their experience? And it's worth hearing?

What if my knee-jerk reaction was not to defend my way of life but to be the image-bearer of God, to be the eyes and ears of the One who sees and hears?

You are someone worth listening to. My need to be right does not outvalue your need to be recognized. I see you as a fellow image of God. And however flawed we both may be, the one thing I must commit to is “acting as a child of the Most High, and being compassionate, just as (my) Father is compassionate.”

Acting as His child is irrevocably linked to acting with compassion. Jesus would not separate them, and He did not put my rights above that command. if I find one thing necessary to defend, that could be it.