My Goals and Prayers for 2017

ef1h5yttmz8-annie-sprattNew Year’s Eve provides a wonderful opportunity to review the past year spiritually. Where has God taken you? Where have you grown? Are you more like Christ now than you were at the beginning of the year? These are the questions I asked myself as I compiled my list of goals for 2017:

 

  • I want to love people more. Not only the people God has put in my life but everyone. Strangers. Sinners. People that God loves and Christ died for. Yeah, those people. When asked what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus replied, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). You simply can’t love God with all your strength if you aren’t loving the people He loves. I want to get better at this.
  • I want to tend to my holiness. God’s Word says, “15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). I don’t use the word holy in a holier than thou sense … I simply want to be more holy than I am now … because God is holy.
  • I want to write more. I want to get better at writing. Sometimes I read the things others have written and it feels like they are communicating at a whole different level. I want to write more devotionals, more blog posts, finish a fiction project, and finish a non-fiction project. Why? God chose to communicate through the written Word … and I feel like I can honor Him through my writing if I apply myself.
  • In 2016, I managed to lose a great deal of weight. Over one-hundred pounds actually. I did this after I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I started walking then running and tending to my diet. I managed to get off all my medications (diabetes and high blood pressure). At the time of this writing, I’ve gained a little back but am still doing fairly well. In 2017 I want to build on my progress. I’m praying God will give me strength and endurance as I address this goal. There’s a lot of “I’s” in this goal, however, I am well-aware this cannot be accomplished apart from God.
  • I want to continue to serve. God has provided me with a wonderful avenue to serve Him. I am the Director of Education in my local church, a Sunday School teacher, and a fill-in musician on the Praise Team. I am grateful for these opportunities to serve and I pray that God will continue to bless me in my service.
  • I pray God will temper my frustration. ’nuff said.
  • I pray for my church and the Church. In 2017, I will be praying for both my local church and the global Church. I am praying for the people in my church to grow in faith, love, knowledge, and service. I pray they will allow God to use them. I am also praying for the global Church. I pray the Church’s influence for Christ will increase. I pray for the Church in the United States to stand strong in the face of adversity. I pray for the Church to reflect the love of Christ.
  • Finally, I pray for the world and our Country. I pray for the United States. I pray for the spirituality of our country. I pray that as a people we will come to love and honor God. I pray for the divide in our country to diminish and for us to unite in purpose and prayer. I pray for our President-Elect and the incoming government. May they honor God with their leadership and decisions. I pray for the United States to honor God in its foreign relations and I am specifically praying for the country of Israel.

There are other goals and hopes I have for 2017; probably too many to list, however, I have grown comfortable allowing God to work them out. What are your goals and prayers for 2017?

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Book Review of Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life by Jerry B. Jenkins

WritingSoulWhen a guy that has sold more than 70 million books writes a book about writing, aspiring writers should probably pay attention. While Tim Lahaye was the theological advisor for the Left Behind series of books, Jenkins was the guy who put pen to paper and made it happen. If I’m being honest, while I read most of the Left Behind books, I’m not nearly as rabid about them as most Christian readers. While I liked the plot, I felt some of the characters were a little wooden with dialogue to match. But Left Behind is only a drop in the bucket that is Jenkins’ writing portfolio. His book I Saul, a historical-fictional account of the Apostle Paul’s final imprisonment is very well written and represents the kind of fiction I would like to model my own writing after.

In Writing for the Soul, Jenkins gives readers a book that is part memoir (detailing his own life as a writer) and instructional guide that is packed with practical and useful advice. Jenkins addresses practical matters such as equipping your writing space, scheduling time to write, and pursuing publication while, at the same time, exploring matters such as motivation, pace, plotting, and tension. I would recommend this book for all writers, Christian or not.

The Joys and Challenges of Christian Fiction

One of the side effects of attaining my masters degree was that my reading time was devoted to class assignments and research. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all. Pursuing my degree gave me an excuse to read many of the books I would be choosing to read on my own anyway and, post degree, I will still be devoting the vast majority of my reading time to learning more about God and Scripture. It’s what I’m passionate about. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed adding some fiction back into my reading diet. I had forgotten what it was like to escape into a good book simply for the sake of enjoyment. There’s something unexplainably cathartic about suspending the stress of “real life” for a few minutes and becoming emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters. I must say, I’ve been really excited lately about giving myself permission to balance out my reading time with good fiction.

For writers, there’s an additional benefit to reading fiction. If one wants to write good fiction, it helps tremendously to read good fiction.  My goal is to write believable and engaging Christian fiction. While this may seem to be pigeonholing myself as a writer, the market for such books is booming … and, quite frankly, most Christian authors fall short on the believability scale (by my assessment anyway). There are many traps a Christian author must avoid. Here’s just a couple i deal with in my writing:

1. Infusing fiction with too much doctrine: Christian authors must remember what genre their working in. Works of fiction are not meant to be guides to systematic theology. We can create characters that are flawed in their theology without endorsing such theology. Simply put, not everyone is well versed in theology. Believable works of fiction will include characters that realistically struggle with same questions, doubts, and flaws as the rest of us. It is a challenge for Christian writers to present works that are faithful to Scripture yet not too heavy-handed.

2. Christian characters tend to be wooden and robotic:  Christian writers must walk a fine line. We must be sensitive to our audience, most of which have no desire to read foul or crass language in our works. However, we are sill charged with writing dialogue that flows naturally and is believable. Most people in the real world simply don’t respond to life threatening moments by saying, “Golly jee whiz! That was a shucks-darn of a situation!” Such dialogue can ruin an otherwise decent work of fiction. So in this sense, the Christian writer must be better than others. We simply don’t have the luxury of falling back on base language when writing dialogue. Our characters must be believable and fall into the scope of our genre.

These are two of the traps I’ve been working to overcome in my own writing. So, I plan on reading works of fiction with the goal of learning from them. For instance, I just completed Joel C. Rosenberg’s David Shirazi trilogy. It’s good stuff. Rosenberg’s stuff is tremendously popular and, for the most part, Rosenberg avoids the traps I mentioned above. When his stuff is good, it is very good. However, even his books are not without their flaws. I found myself making mental notes as I read through the trilogy. Rosenberg’s audience is the audience I want to tap into. Not necessarily with works of international intrigue … but I would like to produce engaging and intelligent fiction that is both faithful to Scripture and believable.

I am that reading more will help me improve and perfect my craft. I am interested in your thoughts though. What traps do you see Christian writers fall into? How have you overcome them in your writing?