Category Archives: thoughts

It’s Never a Good Idea to Turn the Bible Into a Low Budget Horror Movie

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mst3k-bible-revelation-end-timesThe Bible is one of those books that needs a lot of cleaning up and editing before its ready for young readers.

There are some pretty disturbing and violent parts in the Bible. It’s at best an “R-rated” book.

The latest in the end times movie genre is a film adaptation of the novel Final by the same name. The self-proclaimed “horror movie” is aimed at appealing to Christians who like the Bible and atheists who love horror movies—presumably atheists who enjoy B-movies on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Final is yet another sensationalist movie depicting a horror-laden future where thousands disappear, followed closely by confusion, terror, and destruction—lots and lots of destruction. The trailer is rife with explosions, beatings, and panicking civilians.

The creators of the movie suggest that their movie actually has a message of hope.

Following that?

It’s all fun and games to create a fictional retelling of the Bible, but the trouble is that the creators of this movie are hoping Christians will come to see the Bible played out on the big screen (or most likely streaming online). There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about what kind of book Revelation was and what it was supposed to do.

The extraordinary circumstances of the rapture inadvertently minimize the relevance of Revelation. Revelation is reduced to a prediction of future events that captivates and fascinates but has little to say about today. 

Far from predicting a chaotic future, Revelation was written to people living in a chaotic present—and there are many connections between that time and our own. Rather than promising a rapture and tribulation, Revelation addressed the evil already present in the world, the hope we find in the victory of Christ, the ongoing struggle against evil, and the final reign of Christ in a restored world.

Such a reading of Revelation minimizes the explosions and horror scenes for the big screen, but the final message is far more hopeful for us.

You can learn more about the hopeful message of Revelation in my new book The Good News of Revelation.

The Day My Calling to Write Hit a Roadblock

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book proposal editing penAt the start of 2005 I had just finished seminary and had a long, rambling paper from an independent study that I wanted to publish. I had no idea what I was doing, so I started asking around at my seminary, and my professor put me in touch with an editor. The editor sent me a book proposal template, I filled it out, hit send, and waited.

I waited, and waited, and waited.

Finally, he replied with a firm “No.” His message made two things clear:

This was not a good book idea.

I wasn’t the guy to write it even if it was.

Crestfallen, I tried to redeem myself by contacting two other publishers. I once again filled out my book proposal according to their guidelines, and they also rejected me. I’m sure I still have the emails buried in my GMail account, but I’m afraid to look.

I finally signed on with an agent who overhauled my proposal several times before we pitched the book again.

The idea was still basically the same.

I was still the same guy, albeit with a blog.

As if my agent had accomplished something magical, NavPress signed me to a contract to write what later became Coffeehouse Theology. It’s no mistake that my book was only accepted after I received professional help.

Need a hand with your nonfiction book proposal? Visit my writing blog for a limited time offer.

How to Meet Your Writing Goals in 2014

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new year writing goalsEach morning my alarm goes off or, more likely these days, our toddler goes off. Each morning, I face new challenges to meet my writing goals.

The sweet mornings where he would just play while I wrote are just about done. Now he’s walking over to me with pots and blocks and stuffed animals. Sometimes he wants me to interact with him. Some days he just wants me to hold the pot in a very specific position that cannot be altered or he’ll collapse to the floor in tears.

The new game that kills any productivity is what I call the trash dash. He lifts the lid on the trash can, watches me rise from my desk, and then dashes past me to slam his fingers on my unprotected computer that is perched precariously on the edge of my desk.

There are a few programs that haven’t quite been the same since he got to the keyboard without me.

I’ve generally given up on trying to get writing work done while Ethan’s awake. If I dare to work on anything, the interruptions are constant unless he’s gotten into the recycling in the kitchen. He has shelves full of PVC-free, phalate-free, and sustainably made toys, but he really just wants the empty plastic OJ bottle.

Some days I let him have it.

Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to complete quite a few writing projects over the past year. I’ve hit some low points and celebrated some high points, but when the dust settled, I’d met all of my major book deadlines.

I’m sure everyone has their own secrets when it comes to writing, but here are 3 simple tips for meeting your writing goals in the new year.

 

You’ll Meet Writing Goals That Matter to You

There is a world of difference between a writing project that I think people will find interesting and one that matters to me AND that people find interesting. If I’m just motivated by “popular interest,” then there’s a good chance I won’t get past day one.

However, if I’m writing about something I’ve been praying over, talking about, doodling notes on, and even outlining, there’s a good chance that it has enough of my interest to last longer than a one-page fling.

My challenges over the years have been figuring out the writing topics that matter to me and how to make those topics interesting to a wide spectrum of readers. I think a lot of writers fall off the tracks right here when they settle for something that is popular but isn’t necessarily of personal interest.

We see a writer who has enjoyed some success and so we imitate their style or copy their topics. Some writers just flat out copy. Ahem.

Don’t give up on finding your own topics, your own voice, and your own angle. You’ll enjoy writing far more when you start to rule things out and focus on what truly motivates you and on sharing something that comes from who you truly are.

 

Imperfect Writing Is the Key to Practicing

I rarely feel good about my writing after a first draft. Oddly enough, the longer I write, and I’ve been blogging since 2005, the more drafts I seem to require. At the very least, I’m hoping that means I have higher standards and am getting better at revisions.

Sometimes I need to know when to abandon ship and to admit that all is lost on a blog post or idea for a book. I’ve learned that I just need to chalk each “failure” up to practice.

However, more often than not, I regularly find that ideas need time to simmer before they’re ready for a final draft. Other times, I need to rethink how I tell a story, which details to include, or how I want to introduce the article.

Returning to a writing piece after a night’s sleep often helps.

Every professional writer starts with rough drafts, and the sooner I cozy up to that idea, the better off I am. I have a lot to learn, and while I can grow quite a bit by learning from other writers, the most important thing I could imitate from other writers is an unflinching acceptance of my “bad writing,” and re-categorizing it as a “practice” draft.

 

Develop Regular Writing Habits

One of the more painful conversations I have with people who want to write more regularly has to do with writing habits. This is what sets apart an aspirational writer from a person who actually writes, and it always requires some sacrifices.

I don’t know how anyone can meet any kind of significant writing deadline without habits or routines. I live and die by a schedule of sorts, and when I deviate from it, it’s really rough to catch up.

Specific goals are great, and having one or two in mind this year will really help. We all need them eventually, but habits and routines will accomplish them. And if I don’t have goals, habits and routines will at least create some space for writing that will help me sort out the next step. In other words, habits are way more important than goals.

There are a thousand reasons why I can’t write every day. A habit and routine prevent me from even asking, “Should I write now?”

If I have to ask myself that question, I’ll find a reason to put it off. The same goes for monks and any other Christian who prays the daily office or divine hours. If you are trying to find time to pray, you’ve probably already lost. If you know when you should pray, you’ll most likely take time to pray.

I just need to know that my day begins when I shower, eat breakfast, pray, and then start writing. It’s an unavoidable chain of events that lead to each other. By the time I’m at my desk I believe that my destiny has been written in stone because my habits and routine have set this course already.

I work on something for a client, I keep track of Ethan when Julie leaves for work, Ethan goes down for a nap, then I work on something for myself, and then I get back to work for a client either during his nap or when Julie gives me a break.

The only way to succeed at writing a book or maintaining a blog is to make time to write every day, and the best way to write every day is to develop a routine that you violate on pain of death. If chocolate helps, give yourself some rewards when you’re starting out.

But don’t worry if you’re counting calories…

The beauty of a good habit or routine for writers is that the routine itself becomes the reward.

When I get done work for a client and something for myself by the time lunch rolls around, I feel good knowing that I’ve earned a little money for our family and kept my own career as an author moving forward. It’s rewarding to know I’ve done good work.

Best yet, if I can keep at my writing every day (with Sundays off), I’ll eventually create something really big—like a book. And there are few things in my work more satisfying than uploading a book file for an editor or printer.

I love the way I feel when I’ve completed a book, and that keeps me working on the day to day writing tasks that make it all possible.

 

Jumpstart Your New Year with These Writing Books

Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity: A short eBook for $.99 that will encourage you to explore your creativity and to treat it as a gift that needs to be shared.

A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book: A simple and comprehensive introduction to nonfiction book publishing that has been endorsed by leading literary agents such as Rachelle Gardner and Chip MacGregor.

A Boundary Is the Best Present You Can Give Yourself This Year

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As a writer married to a graduate student, I feel pretty confident that we’ve got consumerism pretty much licked this holiday season. There’s no way in heck that we’ll be spending much of any money on presents because we don’t have disposable income.

Yay me for choosing an undervalued profession!

But even if we don’t plan to crash any Black Friday sales wearing brass knuckles or to stock up on iPads during Cyber Monday, there are some pretty significant ways that we can still fall prey to the rampant consumerism and insanity that has come to characterize the holidays in America: We can fail to set boundaries around our lives for the life of God.

Shopping on Black Friday is neither right nor wrong by itself. The problem for me is what kinds of lives we’re leading if we’re always pushing our boundaries into greater indulgence. Are we creating space for God to be present among us and are we making time for ourselves to be present around others.

I don’t like stores opening on Thanksgiving evening because it represents a cultural commitment to always break boundaries, to seek more, to indulge ourselves without a thought to what we lose in the midst of indulging. The focus is on what we stand to gain by breaking a boundary rather than what we lose.

This is why Advent is such a life-giving season for the church. There are all kinds of short devotionals and books that you can read during this season. And while we don’t actively give up something during this season, a la Lent, there is something good about creating space each day to actively consider what we could gain if we make more time for Jesus each day.

As we’re offered more and more and more by advertisers, has it occurred to us that our time and resources are non-renewable resources? The time I spend shopping online is gone once I’ve invested two hours looking for the perfect sale. While there’s nothing morally wrong with some shopping, the question is whether we’re neglecting God or others because we’re shopping.

There is a cost to our indulgence.

I like to think of my life in terms of managing a garden. I’ve learned over the years that there’s only so much I can handle at one time. The more I expand our garden, the harder it is to keep up. I end up neglecting parts of it, failing to prune the black berries or to add soil to the potatoes as they sprout.

What I’ve seen in my own life is that indulgence in shopping, sports, or social media in the evening can all take away from the space I need for God or family.

I’ve found that I don’t need rules as much as I need boundaries.

I need to know that there is a block of time in the morning and in the evening for prayer and scripture reading. I need to know that I will thrive best when I spend that time with God and listen to the direction of God. I need those boundaries to my day so that I can hear God and evaluate my choices. Without that time I’m just at the mercy of my impulses… or religious guilt—if only I’d prayed more

Consumerism and indulgence have a cost. We need to stop looking at buying gifts as right or wrong. We need to add up the costs of our lifestyles and how our lifestyles impact our time with God and with one another.

There is a wonderful place for generosity and gift giving over the holidays. The challenge for me is whether I can use this season as a time for spiritual rest in the midst of all that “has” to be done.

Go shopping. Buy gifts. But don’t make them your top priority. Create the space you need during the season of Advent to ask questions, to rest in God, and to even indulge in the life of God.

Give yourself the gift of a boundary. We don’t need more stuff. But there’s a very good chance that most of us need more time to rest in the presence of God.

And here’s the beauty of creating space for God. When we receive the love and peace of God, we have a valuable gift that we can pass along to others. These may be the gifts that end up meaning the most over the holidays.

Don’t Talk to the Introvert

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Dock-Lake-590I’m writing over at A Deeper Family today about the ways we recharge on vacations and the way I almost ruined a vacation:

At Prince Edward Island I grew obsessed with finding perfect beaches rather than, you know, just settling down at the really nice one by our camp ground and reading for a bit.

IF WE CAN’T FIND THE BEACH THAT LOOKS LIKE THE ONE ON THE BROCHURE I CAN’T BE HAPPY!

I didn’t fully understand what was going on in my head. My vacation idealism had been warring against my need to sit and recharge.

Read the rest at A Deeper Family today.

A Backwards Take on Following Jesus: Unfollowers

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pagesMy co-conspirator Derek Cooper is working with me on yet another book project. This time we’re looking at discipleship from an unusual angle.

We all look at the stories of “successful” disciples who managed to count the cost and follow Jesus in an attempt to imitate their good examples. Why don’t we ever look at the unfollowers who thought the cost too high, the teachings of Jesus too confusing, and his plans in conflict with their own desires?

These unfollowers may help us see the barriers that keep us from following Jesus. By placing ourselves in their stories, we’ll have a chance to see what sets apart a faithful disciple from an unfollower.

Here is the tentative title:

Unfollowers: The Oversights, Distractions, and Misconceptions that Keep Us from Following Jesus

It is due to release February 2014 with Wesleyan Publishing House.

 

Subscribe to my e-newsletter to keep updated about this project and to receive an advance preview of this book. If you subscribe today you’ll also receive two free eBooks:

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If you want to read an excerpt from our book, check out the chapter on Judas posted at Christianity Today: You have more in common with Judas than you think.

Hyperbole Causes the End of the World

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twitterLogoWe live in a tweetable, sound bite driven age. Everyone is trying to get noticed in a noisy world, wanting to be retweeted, shared, and pinned. The bolder, more opinionated, more dramatic, and more controversial you are, the more you’ll get noticed.

The shorter your statement, the better.

As much as I love concise copy, this state of affairs does not encourage nuance or deep thinking most days.

In fact, the pursuit of the profound has led us to the trite and hyperbolic.

Hyperbole is all over Twitter and Facebook these days, and there’s not just bad communication. There’s bad theology—especially when it’s laced with guilt, judgment, or fear.

Offenders on Twitter this past week included:

“What you do in that split second between what was & what lies ahead is crucial. Don’t look back too long or you’ll get stuck – Lots’ wife!”

“Faith is risky, unbelief is deadly.”

Do you see the fear?

Do you see the bold immediacy?

How about the dramatic, eternal consequences?

Aren’t these Twitter winners?

By the way, did you also see “Lots’” wife? Were there two Lots in the story sharing one wife? I knew Sodom and Gomorrah were bad but…

The driving force behind these tweets isn’t love, freedom, grace, hope, or Gospel. God is tiny and unable to save us unless we heed the advice of the sound bite. The power is all rooted in the fear of getting stuck or dying—the latter being what basically happened to Lot’s wife. That is, unless she became a talking pillar of salt.

That’s sarcasm.

These read like bold, brave statements. People share them. They sound motivational.

DON’T GET STUCK!

TAKE THE LEAP OF FAITH SO YOU DON’T DIE!

Instead, they just serve to beat up weary people and pressure them without any hope that God can empower them to live differently or guide them. God is somewhere with his arms folded, waiting to see if we’re going to fall on our faces in sin, spend our days screwing around on Angry Birds, or read self-righteous blog posts by former English majors.

God is separate from us, using Twitter as his holy mouth piece to build his Kingdom by scaring his followers into obedience.

Sounds like Jesus, right?

Yeah, yeah… sarcasm.

These half-baked hyperboles turn every spiritual decision into a life or death matter with eternal consequences which then breed anxiety and bad theology.

Paul spoke of the love of Jesus being higher, deeper, and wider than he could fathom. John figured the world could not hold the books that would be written if he captured every detail from the life of Jesus.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Twitter or Facebook can be inadequate tools for communicating the hope of the Gospel or the love of God. They work great for quickly sharing information, but if we’re expecting a single tweet or status update to change someone’s spiritual direction, we may be asking too much of 140 characters.

You can’t save the world in 140 characters.

When God wanted to communicate the story of his love to us, he used millions of characters. Maybe we should take notice of that.