Faith

What Will You Give Up for Lent?

 

Lent

Believe it or not, Easter is just around the corner. Which means something else is almost upon us:

Lent.

I love the idea of a 40-day preparation for Easter, of refocusing our hearts and minds to spend more time in prayer and contemplation of what Christ has done for us. And I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of “giving up” something for those 40 days. Even more intriguing—and sometimes amusing–is what people choose to surrender. For example:

Watching TV
Playing computer games
Chocolate (now there’s a sacrifice!)
Going online
Sugar
Caffeine (just shoot me now!)
Wearing shoes

And on and on it goes. But I want to suggest something a bit different for those of us who make our living in publishing. How about giving up something really tough? How about giving up something like:

  • Comparing your writing, your craft, your career or anything else to anyone else. Make contentment the key word and concept for 40 days.
  • Checking your Amazon rank. Nope, not even once. For 40 days.
  • Reading reviews of your books. Not the good, not the bad, not even the ugly. Just like that wonderful old hymn: No, not one!
  • Complaining about your publisher/editor/agent/client/writer/spouse/career/family…okay, just complaining in general! My family and I gave up complaining at all for 40 days one time. It was terrible! (Just kidding!) But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In this Twitterized, FB posted, share-every-opinion-that-breezes-through-your-brain world, we’re programmed to complain, and to do it with impunity. So how about a 40-day fast from complaints? Maybe make it 40 days of living out Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
  • Worrying about sales, the market, changes in the industry, where you’ll come up with the next book idea, if you’ll meet your deadline, etc.
  • Careless words. Friends, we’re writers! We understand the power of words. And yet we so often use our words to criticize, judge, and hurt. We, above all others, should be purposeful in our words. So how about, for the 40 days of lent, anytime you’re tempted to let loose words of anger, criticism, sarcasm, judgement, you have to stop and look in the mirror. And ask yourself, “Will the words I want to speak reflect Christ?”
  • Talking down your brothers and sisters in Christ. Sure, the organized church isn’t perfect. Yes, there are people who call themselves Christians and yet their words and lives tend to challenge that claim. But I’ve noticed over the last 10 years or so how free we believers, especially those I encounter in the writing world, seem to feel to talk down the church and other Christians. To say they’re hypocrites, simple minded, and far, far worse. Why not, for these 40 days, focus instead on God, on what He is doing in people’s lives, rather than on how we think others miss the mark on our standard for Christian living?

So as the Lenten season approaches, think about it. What about your career, writing, calling, words will you give up from Wednesday, March 5th, to Thursday, April 17th? And how will you use what you surrender to focus instead what really matters–not the calling, but the One who issued the call?

May this Lenten season lead us ever deeper into understanding that One and what He seeks to accomplish through us in our writing.

And our lives.

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The Quiet Miracle

Jesus Christ being born of a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago was one of greatest miracles by God.  Ranking miracles is a silly pursuit, so I will avoid that, but consider this…

The Creator of the entire physical universe, who existed before time itself, with infinite power, majesty and holiness, restrained all that glory and squeezed himself into a tiny, humble, human baby, sleeping in a feed trough.  How much power would it take to restrain infinite power and glory?  How much power would it take to be fully God and fully man? How much love would it take to be willing to give your son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world?

In my tiny mind, the incarnation in such a manner would take more power than it took to carve out the Grand Canyon or push up Mount Everest, or to raise someone from the dead.

If you think about it, a common thread in both the birth of Christ and his crucifixion is about infinite power restrained. God held back his Glory and power to accomplish something amazing.  (Anyone remember the song, “He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels”?)

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The Anti-Christ-mas Redeemed

by Steve Laube

Ebenezer Scrooge shouted, “What is Christmas to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer….Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Not the most merry of sentiments but is illustrative of the unhappy and empty among us. In our American culture we have a backwoods duck hunter being vilified in the media while those same critics give a wink and a pass to a 21 year old pop star whose wiggle and shake made her a finalist for Time magazine’s Person-of-the-Year award. In Africa tribal members are killing each other. In the Middle East civil war and anti-Semitism is woven in the fabric of every day. A dictator in North Korea executes his Uncle. Global hunger. Global economic unrest. Many are clamoring for a legislative solution. The moral fiber of society is unraveling. Everything seems upside down.

It was a similar milieu over two thousand years ago described as “when the fullness of time had come” which set the stage for the advent of Jesus into our world. The Western world was ruled by a self-described benevolent dictator in Rome whose methods for keeping peace were brutal and vicious. The country of Israel was run by a despot who was quickly going insane while his paranoia had him slaughtering family members and dozens of innocents (Matthew 2:16).

Into that morass of godless society a child was born. A story was begun. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And that story is still worth telling.

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Handling Disappointment

by Steve Laube

I do not like to experience disappointment. I do not like rejection, even when it isn’t my personal project being turned down. I do not like to be the bearer of bad news.

And yet I do experience disappointment, rejection, and the telling of bad news…every week. That is the nature of the arts.

The arts (meaning music, writing, dance, and painting) is comprised of thousands of hours of practice; long days of solitude; truckloads of self-doubt; in a world where everyone is a critic.

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Let the LIGHT In!

People being gunned down.

Government shutdowns.

Families in financial crisis.

Politicians calling each other names.

Increasing assaults on religious freedoms.

All of this and more overflow us. On the news. Over the Internet. In our conversations. It would be so easy to think these ugly things are all there is of life nowadays. To feel sad and angry and hopeless…

Which is why you are so important to the world! Writers, we need you! We’re desperate for clear, bold voices that speak truth and hope into the chaos. Whether through blogs or articles, books or letters, Tweets or Puns, shares or posts…whatever you use to share God’s message of love and hope, know–KNOW–that it makes a difference.

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Make Today Count

by Steve Laube

This past week was my mom’s 91st birthday. When we talked she spoke about the possibility of doing a Bible study with other members of her retirement community. She is making every day count.

This coming week marks one year since the death of my father. Many of you have experienced similar loss. It is a reminder that our time on earth is finite.

Below is a great video that creates a visual reminder of the “number of our days.” (Psalm 90:12) Watch the video now and then rejoin my thoughts after the jump.

The jellybean makes for a rich metaphor. When you eat them do you separate them first by color, discard the ones you don’t like, and save the favorites for last? But, to carry with the metaphor, in life you can’t grab a handful, you only get one, and you cannot pick only your favorite. You have only that single jellybean each day.

The impulse is to interpret this to mean you should do something productive now. While that may be the outcome it would be wiser to look at each day as an opportunity to rest in God… to be.

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Miracle

by Tamela Hancock Murray

This time of year, Christians contemplate the marvel that is the resurrection of Christ. Such an event seems magical, though God is never a genie, ready to grant our every wish. Even Jesus was not granted His plea in the Garden of Gethsemane as He asked the Father to take the cup of death from Him. But was there any other way? No, there was not. How else could have the miracle of the resurrection have taken place? How else would we Christians today be washed in His blood? As he chastened the disciples for their inability to stay awake even an hour, I think of how short I fall in my efforts to follow Him.

What Jesus did for us was nothing magical. Love is not magical, but the emotions we feel knowing we are loved are, well, magical. Little children can nibble chocolate bunnies to mark the awesome day that is Easter and then, as they mature, come to the realization and understanding about Jesus’ resurrection, and what He really means to us.

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The Writing Book for Your Year

by Steve Laube

Note the title of this post did not say “of the year” but “for your year.” It is rare for me to recommend books on writing because there are so many good ones out there, but this one is an exception.

The spiritual foundation of the writer is critical to surviving and even thriving in the call as an artist.  Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer (published by Eerdmans) is a book each one of you should acquire and make a part of your reading plan.

The book description includes:  “This book offers prayers that correspond with each stage of the writer’s work — from finding inspiration to penning the first words to ‘offering it to God’ at completion. Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, experienced writers themselves, introduce each chapter of prayers with pithy pastoral reflections that will encourage writers in their craft.” Gary has twice won the Newberry Honor Award for his children’s books and is a professor of English at Calvin College. Elizabeth, Gary’s wife, wrote a wonderful blog called “Language and Prayer” where she introduces the book and she explores the weaving of faith and writing.

Throughout the book I was inspired by material from writers such as Augustine, Dante Alighieri, William Barclay, Thomas Merton, Dwight L. Moody, Reinhold Niebuhr, C.S. Lewis, Soren Kierkegaard, and Richard Baxter. Ranging across the entire spectrum of the Faith. It is a book that should be examined slowly and without haste.

Make this the book of your year and let the words from great writers be a cool splash of water on your soul.

Below is a brief book trailer citing one example from the book.

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2012: Defining Moments

A line from yesterday’s sermon has me thinking today:

“Don’t let the events in your life define your purpose. Instead, let your God-given purpose define you and how you deal with the events that come your way.”

 There are a number of events in 2012 that I could share, events that might be considered “defining”. Some wonderful, some…not so much. I’m so thankful to be working with the amazing group of writers I call clients and friends, and delighted that we’ve found publishing homes for many of these talented folks. And I look forward to the New Year with a sense of anticipation of what God has in store for the rest. I’ve had great fun traveling to visit with and mentor writers and to speak at writers’ conferences/retreats. I’ve had the honor of meeting many of you, and it’s been such a blessing.

But as I sit here, looking back on 2012, I can’t help but think of the host of events outside of publishing that impacted us. Events many would consider “defining”:

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Love Came Down at Christmas

This year I am being blessed with a stress-free Christmas. Why? Because I am spending the day with a few key people in my life who love me. Just before the Lord takes me home, these are the type of people I’ll want surrounding me at my bedside.

I am responsible for the dinner, but with these people, if the steaks burn, we’re fine. We’ll order Chinese. Or dig something out of the freezer.

We don’t care what’s under the tree. It’s all about who’s around the tree with us.

Who cares what time it is? If only the day could last forever!

My wish for you is that you will be able to spend at least part of this holiday season with key people in your life. If not, be sure to give them a call. God loves people. He sent His son to show us just how much.

Perhaps you can take a few moments to enjoy the song “Love Came Down at Christmas” as you think about what the Lord has done for you. And for all of us.

Merry Christmas!

May you always be blessed,

Tamela

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