Some Inspiring Writing Tips

If you feel compelled to write, whether or not you classify yourself as a “writer,” you know that something inside must be released through your fingers and organized on a page in order to think something through or to organize your thoughts or to release creativity.  Here are some writing tips that I personally found helpful from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life: 
Why to Write: Writing makes you stop and think about details.  This quality of attention gets lost in the course of a day, but when we write, it demands us to notice and forces us to pay attention.  It helps us to see who we are, why we behave as we do, how people relate with each other, even how to live and die. (15)
Where to Write:  Write everywhere.  Organize later.  Carry a notepad with you everywhere and jot down a few phrases to help you remember a scene or character or event that compels you to write.  You might think you’ll remember it later, but you won’t. 
When to Write:  Sit down at the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.  Compose sentences. String words together like beads to tell a story. Preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence; make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen.  It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. (7)
What to Write: All you can give is what life is about from your point of view.  Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision, and to do this, you must know who you are so you can see people as they really are. (97) 
How to Write: Write in short assignments, like describing a one-inch picture frame.
All good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on the page.  The first draft is to just get it down. The second draft is the draft you fix up. The 3rd draft is the dental draft – check every tooth to see if it’s loose, cramped, decayed, or healthy. (25)
How NOT to Write: Perfectionism kills.  Perfectionism means that you are trying desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess shows us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground; tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get.  Perfectionism keeps us from moving, causes us to write in tight, worried ways, and makes us stand back from life.  We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.  Just write – something may appear on the page you never though much of before.  (32)
Some notes I provided here are the bare bones that Anne Lamott shares in her humorous and inspiring book.  She builds up these tips with the muscles, joints, skin, and then dresses it up in a costume for entertainment.  If you find any of the above tips even remotely interesting, she will spin you into further vivid details and string together colorful images about writing in life that will forever burn itself into your brain.  She also gave me a few new vocabulary words, like “colo-rectal theology”:
To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own a** - seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that present a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one” (102)

One to One Bible Reading

Sometimes we have a hard time looking past programs or products in the church when we want to help others grow spiritually or build each other up in the faith, like join a women’s Bible study or small group, or got to a retreat or conference.  But how about just sitting down with someone at a coffee shop or over lunch and just read the Bible together?

David Helm sets forth how to get started, what to read, and how to talk about what you read in his short and simple guide, One to One Bible Reading.  This is a different approach than a more formal Bible study, requiring very little advance preparation.  It involves just meeting, reading, sharing, and praying to help each other grow spiritually. 

Helm places priority on context as he provides recommendations for Bible reading passages and ideas for how to discuss the various genres of the 66 books in the Bible.  Worksheets are available at the back of the book for photocopying to guide in reading through the different genres: Gospels and Acts, Old Testament Narrative, Epistles, Hebrew Wisdom Literature and Poetry, and Prophetic Literature. He also provides an 8-week guide through the Gospel of Mark that you can use in one to one Bible reading.

This short and simple book is a great guide to get you started in reading the Bible with a co-worker at lunch, neighbor, a new friend, or even your spouse or children.

This book and more information about it is available at Matthias Media.
I received a copy of this book from Matthias Media in exchange for my honest review.

How to Help without Hurting

A homeless man on the street corner asking for money – some pass by and give him a few coins or a dollar, some do not.  Recently, I have heard Christians say that we should give and leave the rest to God, to whom the homeless man is responsible in how he stewards it.  What would Jesus do?

Victims of a devastating tornado, refugees who fled from a destructive hurricane, orphans in Haiti after a shattering earthquake, family members who lose their jobs and their homes, single moms who have no job skills – many times it is easier to invest in their short-term/obvious needs, but this could be harmful, and not only harmful but actually exacerbate the problem, according to Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.

One of the biggest mistakes North American churches make is in applying relief in situations and throwing money at the visible needs when actually rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.  So why do we do it? We do it because we have a material definition of poverty. Because it’s easier, it’s not as time consuming or emotionally exhausting, and it’s easier to get people to donate to the cause of relief. 

Many times we don’t see that we are causing considerable harm to all parties involved, exacerbating the problem we are trying to solve.  How and when money is given is crucial.  We shouldn’t just blindly jump in and help with our underlying god-complexes of superiority.  There are many ways we can give that builds up both the giver and receiver, ways that empower both parties.

The major premise of the book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.  We must embrace the cross and say, “I am not okay; you are not okay; but Jesus can fix us both.” We must repent of our health-and-wealth gospel that says economic superiority goes hand in hand with spiritual superiority. 

Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation, moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation (page 74).  Our perspective should be less how to fix others and more how we can both walk together.

Corbett and Fikkert dissect the reasons for poverty, the problems with many church’s/organization’s approaches, and they provide answers.  They break down the different ways to help (relief, rehabilitation, development), when to do which, why, and for how long.  While this book leans toward being theoretical/academic, it is sprinkled with stories of failures and successes.  Particularly interesting was the application of the principles to short-term mission trips – detailing the problems with them as well as providing solutions and alternatives. 

This book forever changed how I will approach helping people – not with mindless generosity but with wisdom that keeps the end goal in mind of restoring each other to what we were created to be.  I believe this book should be required reading at Bible colleges and seminaries.  The principles in this book should be taught to every person who works in an organization or benevolent ministry whose goal is to help the materially poor.   To be frank, I think the principles in this book should be known and embraced by every follower of Christ because I think this is what Jesus would do.

For more information, check it out at: Moody Publishers

I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this review. 

Linking up with A Pause on the Path

The Key to Living the Spiritual Life

Most of my life I have associated with churches where emphasis was exclusively on believing in Christ and then bringing others to believe in Him too. Toeing the line of correct doctrine was essential.   Salvation by grace through faith was of central importance.  And I still believe it is. 

But by believing I have arrived because I assent to the truth that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that I am ready for the next step of heaven doesn’t mean that I will live the life of faith that God desires for me.  I look around and see plenty of dull, sluggish, and indifferent Christians who “live a life that is still half animal and who barely put up a struggle to keep the breath of grace alive in their souls” (Thomas Merton).  Too many seem to live as if being a Christian just doesn’t work for them, not looking any different than the rest of the world.  And then I have to wonder if that is me and what kind of life I am missing.

For years I thought that the Christian life after salvation was a life of service and good works as a natural expression of faith in Christ – a matter of duty that honored God, even if you didn’t feel much like doing it. This was the Christian life until I died.  Oh, but there is so much more between being born again and dying…

While reading about the faith of great Christians from a variety of Protestant denominations as well as Catholic, and even before there were such divisions, I am awed at the breadth and depth of their spirituality.  I discovered they all really have one thing in common, besides being Christ followers.  They lived lives of continual seeking.

C.S. Lewis wrote that doctrines are not God; they are only a kind of map.  The Christian life is a seeking life, a life of movement, not a statement.  It is not the extraction of data and knowledge from the Bible but is listening to and experiencing God’s words.  

A seeker desires more grace, more life, and more love that fills us and overflows, spilling on those encountered.  It is expressed more through the doctrine of love than the love for doctrine.  But it’s not a life without doctrine. The richness of theology grows as it is experienced.

Am I a seeker? The older I get, the greater my appetite for more of Christ, more holiness, more living in a moment-by-moment effort to follow His will and think His thoughts.  Thinking His thoughts means knowing His Word – meditating on it, memorizing it, talking it through with Him.  The more I feed this hunger, the more it grows and paradoxically the more satisfaction I find.

Once in a while, He gives clarity, insight, and truth over a span of time, and through it increases my ability to live the life of faith and love while growing in understanding of His character – a character to which I want to be conformed because I know that in that conforming is the ultimate joy, love, and peace, living life on a higher plane where circumstances cannot threaten me.

The seeking life is a life of continuous inner conversation with God.  Although I wish I could be more consistent, I find that when I keep Him constant before my mind, listening and acting as He moves my heart, I am more able to empty myself and be filled by the Spirit. Then I can see His working in the world around me, the real presence of Jesus in real people.  He opens my eyes so that what was cloudy and opaque becomes clear and beautiful.  When I begin to see what is ordinarily hidden in the world and His Word, I grow in deeper awareness of His beauty and love.  The rare moments when I get a glimpse from his perspective and see how things really are moments of grace that fill me with complete awe. 

There is no greater gift than sensing His immediate presence.  More…I want more…I seek more...more of His fire burning in my life, a supernatural kind of life ready to sacrifice it all for the treasure of Christ. 

A seeker – this is what it means to be a disciple - seeking the treasure of Christ and being gradually transformed by the process. 

Linking up with: A Pause on the Path

You Can't Make Me - Book Review

If you have a strong-willed child, it is not your fault.  And it is not a bad thing! Being strong-willed is not a negative trait and it’s not a result of bad parenting.  We tend to think of stubbornness and defiance, but steely determination, firm convictions and persuasiveness are also assets.
I really needed to hear that. 
It may be challenging and a rockier road as the strong-willed like to try things for themselves, but there are also abundant opportunities to guide and steer these world changers, according to Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, author of You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child. 
At the beginning of the book, she offers a quiz to help the reader to determine if any member of the family has a strong-willed personality.  She provides tips on bringing out the best in the strong-willed child, how to help them be successful in school and how to guide them along the right career path.  With emphasis on relationship, she shows how to motivate and inspire instead of engaging in power struggles and pointless battles.  She also explains what is normal and which types of behavior require additional help. 
Cynthia Tobias’s education and background in private practice, teaching and law enforcement has given her countless experiences with various personalities, but she is also qualified on a firsthand experiential level to speak about the strong-willed child.  Not only was she one herself, but she classifies one of her twin sons as one as well.  Knowing what worked for her and what did not as she was growing up, she was able to put those ideas into practice as a parent and illustrates the successful strategies in this book.
Sometimes all the time and energy that goes into parenting a strong-willed child may seem burdensome compared to compliant children, but Cynthia Tobias will help you see that it is also truly a gift.  This short and easy-to-read book gets straight to the point and provides useful examples and stories to keep the reader relating and engaging.  I recommend this book for parents of strong-willed children but think the strategies are great for parenting a variety of personality types.
For more information, click below:
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review.

Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day - Book Review

The way we live is rooted in what we believe - our faith and knowledge. Theology (the study of God), or more specifically, systematic theology (the categorizing of teaching according to broad topics covered in the throughout Bible), must be done in personal faith, humility, and with the motive of magnifying God’s greatness by rightly handling the entire Bible as a whole.  Daryl Aaron wrote Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day so that we can “dangle our toes in the deep ocean of the amazing things of God”.
Writing from an evangelical perspective, Daryl Aaron breaks down the main doctrines of the Christian faith by removing the scholarly lingo and illustrating them on a practical level . Each doctrine is addressed in a chapter formatted as down-to-earth questions, like: why should we believe that Jesus Christ is God, did Jesus die for everyone, and what is original sin?  Each doctrine is summarized in 4-5 pages.  On specific doctrines where opinions vary throughout the different denominations of Christianity (like views on baptism, the Lord’s supper, government of the church, Calvinism versus Arminianism- plus effectively describing what these terms mean), he provides the reasoning behind the beliefs along with strengths and weaknesses in Scripture.  But don’t expect too much in 4-5 pages.  It’s just enough information to get your feet wet.
While Daryl Aaron claims to attempt to mute his own theological convictions, he admits they bleed through in a few places, evidenced with words like “but it seems that...”.  Still, he seems to do a fairly good job representing various theological views and providing the basis for belief on those that he may not hold himself.  On the issue of eternal security versus the ability for one to lose their salvation, he confesses that he can’t remain silent on controversial issues that he believes contradict Scripture (p. 166).  I didn’t have a problem with the infrequent assertion of his opinions, maybe because I was also in agreement – much in align with my own beliefs and with the master’s level systematic theology classes I soaked up in seminary.
This book has many potential uses – a guide to understanding the Christian faith, a refresher for a seminary grad, a devotional book, or as Bible study material for a group.  I think that every believer should become familiar with the teachings of the Christian faith explored in this easy-to-read guide – and it only takes 15 minutes a day in 40 days.  I believe Daryl Aaron achieves the goal of whetting our appetites for knowing God better and as the supreme and priceless treasure.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life - Book Review

I have a history of being victimized and crippled by my own negative thoughts.  Over-thinking and allowing damaging self-talk affects how we live and the quality of life.  God knew this when He told us to take every thought captive, to renew our minds, and be thankful in all things.  But practicing thought control has not been an easy task for me.  However, after reading Tommy  Newberry’s 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, I have some tools to put into practice daily that will create a new habit in my thinking patterns.
The cute happy face on the cover of the book might give the notion that this is a fluffy positive-thinking book with little depth, but I was delightfully surprised that my first impression was wrong.  The book is a companion to The 4:8 Principle, which I read a couple years ago, but either one can certainly stand alone.  Basically, Newberry breaks down the same ideas in The 4:8 Principle into 40 short chapters of easily digestible chunks to help you absorb and exercise the concept of 4:8 thinking (based on Philippians 4:8 – Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, think on these things).
Each chapter provides a lesson followed by the “Activate 4:8” application, which includes a drill to think about the day’s principle in your life, and the “Extra Mile” assignment to exercise the day’s concept.  A handy “Make it Stick” illustrates a few words on a sticky note for you to write down and keep reminding yourself throughout the day to live it.  Each chapter ends in a prayer, so the book would be handy during your morning devotional time to mentally equip you for the day ahead.
Tommy Newberry proclaims that “though God’s grace doesn’t demand mental discipline, living a life of joyful excellence must be preceded by it” (page 83).  In this book, Newberry shows you how to:
·         upload gratitude and download grace
·         be a proactive thinker, not a reactive thinking
·         be aware of what unleashes your darker thoughts and how to handle them
·         how to keep from delegating control of your emotional life to others
·         how to broadcast your blessings instead of fuel your negative emotions
·         recognize that what you think is a choice and how you interpret experiences is a choice
·         become proficient at interpreting events in a way that empowers you to improve them
·         interpret adversity to build your strength instead of drain your energy.
While this book is biblically based, it is not filled with Scriptures and the name of Jesus is not prolific, so I wouldn’t substitute it for another devotional.  (Interestingly, The 4:8 Principle is more explicit in its Christian-ness.)    I read the book in a few days from cover to cover, but now I want to assimilate the principles into my life, so I am currently reading it again and working through the exercises over the next 40 days.  This book is a constructive tool to use in transforming your thought life.  I am hoping that 4:8 thinking will become a more natural habit in my life as a result of the Holy Spirit working in me through this book.
For information about this book, the author, and excerpts, check out this book at the Tyndale House Publishers website:  40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.