Tuesday, July 26, 2011

God is Love, But Love is an Action

What is love? I remember a teacher in grade school asking that question. I remember it appearing to be something that wasn’t very clear and I can’t say that it’s much clearer now. Some people say love is a feeling. Some people say that love is sexual desire. There are many things that people say love is. The Bible says that God is love. But it also shows love to be an action. We are commanded, for example, to love our neighbor as ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we always have to like our neighbor as much as we like ourselves. What it does mean is that we are to do those things that will benefit our neighbor. The Bible tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church. In other words, husbands ought to be willing to die to save their wives. That’s not just when a husband feels loving toward his wife, that’s something he’s supposed to be willing to do, no matter what. Most husbands fail in that regard, but that’s the example Christ gave.

I’ve kind of been trying to wrap my mind around the two concepts that God is love and that love is our loving actions. Since both are true, what does that mean? I don’t think it is so simple as to say that God = Love and Love = Our Action, therefore God = Our Action. The problem with that is that our actions are flawed, whereas God is not. But love is of God and love comes from God. Any action that we do that is truly in love is only possible because God is working through us. No act of love can be done apart from God. Since that is the case, it begins to make sense that God = Love = Our Action. But a better way to state it might be that God = Love = Our Action + God’s Action. Our inaction doesn’t prevent God from performing some act of love, but God is able to use us to show his love toward people. We become God’s hands and voice to a hurting world. When we give to help others, it is God’s way of helping them. When we encourage others, it is God’s way of encouraging them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Let Him That is Taught...

Sometimes, when you read the Bible, you miss some things, but then they come back as shining jewels when you look at the passage later. My pastor pointed out a verse on Sunday that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. It isn’t that I haven’t read it, I just hadn’t noticed it. The verse is Galatians 6:6. In the KJV it reads, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” In the printed KJ21 that I took to church with me it reads, “Let him that is taught in the Word minister unto him that teacheth, in all good things.” The KJ21 version available on Bible Gateway reads, “Let him that is taught in the Word share with him that teacheth, in all good things.” (Don’t ask me why Bible Gateway’s copy of the KJ21 doesn’t match the printed version.) But whether you translate the word as communicate, share, or minister, the original word conveys the idea of someone coming along side and assisting another person. In other words, the people who are taught are to assist financially, those who teach. But I don’t think it should be limited to financial support.

In context, a church ought to pay her pastor and maybe even her Sunday school teachers. I’ve actually never met a Sunday school teacher who wanted to be paid, but the principle is the same. It is good for us to take one the burdens of those who are teaching the Word so that they have more time to study. Their efforts are worth it. And if you are one of those people, don’t feel bad when people do things to help you in some way; your efforts are worth it.

But I also thought about authors. The effort authors put into writing a book is worth out support. These days, it seems like everyone wants things as cheaply as they can get them. A co-worker told me about a book he was reading on Kindle. For some reason, the sample he downloaded went to something like chapter 27 out of the 36 chapters in the book. He then told me of another place he’d seen the book, so a person could actually read the whole book without paying anything. And then there are libraries. I think libraries are mostly a good thing, but we’ve gotten away from the idea of people sharing books to the idea that libraries are just a place where you can read a book without having to pay for it. We’ve even got people who go around saying, “information wants to be free.” By that, they mean that we shouldn’t have to pay for things like books and music, so the people who sell books should looks for other ways to make money from the information they produce.

“Let him that is taught in the Word minister unto him that teacheth, in all good things.” Maybe information does want to be free. Maybe, there is so much information available that on an open market it trends toward zero. Maybe, but that doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility. I don’t mean to say that everyone who writes a book should make enough from it to live off of, but what I do mean to say is that whenever we find an author who is able to teach us something of value, we should support that author. Maybe it is financially. Maybe it is by promoting that person’s book. Maybe it is something else. At the very least, we should be happy to pay the purchase price of the book. But the value we receive from it may be much greater.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Do you believe miracles can still happen? Most Christians would probably say yes. They wouldn’t be wrong because the same God who worked miracles in the past is more than capable of working miracles now. But some people have the idea that God should just show up when they have a need, wave his hands and poof, all their troubles are gone. Some people might even struggle with their faith when he doesn’t. That’s a shame because, when you think about it, which is more amazing? That the God who created the Universe could speak and work a miracle or that God could provide for a person’s needs without the use of a miracle?

I’m sure you can guess that I think it is the latter. In books and movies, a wizard can show up on the scene when things are bleak, say some magic words and crush the enemy with a mountain. That seems like an amazing power, but it’s nothing compared to God’s ability to use the actions of our enemies to our benefit.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Plants Don't Like Coffee

Plants don't like coffee,
not much anyway.
It's poison to their leaves.
To the plant I gave too much coffee:
I wish you a speedy recovery.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Feel Sorry For the People in Heaven

I feel sorry for the people in heaven. It’s not because I think heaven’s a bad place or because they’re separated from their loved ones who are still here. But as I was eating a plum the other day (one of the best I’ve ever had), I got to thinking about the tree of life and how it has fruit for every month. And I got to thinking about how good that fruit must taste and how that no matter how good fruit may taste here, it will be better in heaven. And then I thought about how the people in heaven are already there beneath the shade of that beautiful tree. I thought to myself, “they must be enjoying that fruit.” But then I realized, that can’t be the case; they don’t have their bodies yet.

So I feel sorry for the people in heaven. There they are, beneath the oldest tree in the Universe, the granddaddy of them all, the tree that other trees can only imitate, and they can’t eat the fruit. Not being there to know what it’s like, that seems cruel to me. So I feel sorry for the people in heaven. They’ve got to wait until we get there before they can taste that fruit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Authors Reading Reviews

Alright authors, do you read your reviews? I’ve heard other authors say they don’t and before now, I’ve kind of dismissed that as silly, since reviews are part of how we get feedback from our readers, but I may have been wrong.

Someone asked me a question that caused me to look for one of my books on www.BN.com. While there I happened to see that someone had written a review of the book. It wasn’t a bad review, but it wasn’t as good as I might have liked. I understand where the reviewer was coming from, but looking back at the my original goals for the book, I’m not sure I could have produced a book to his satisfaction and met those goals.

Here’s the thing: I look at the review on Sunday evening. Sunday was an amazing day. I hadn’t been scheduled to teach our Sunday school class that day, but I got to teach anyway. We have five visitors in our Sunday school class and many more in church. We learned about a member of our youth group accepting Christ while they were on mission trip. We heard from a missionary to Mexico who has started a church that has grown by eighty people in the last ten months. And there was a man saved in our evening service. It was a great day. But then it was a letdown when I read that review. I suddenly had this feeling that maybe I’m wasting my time with writing.

The thing about reviews is that they aren’t written for the author. A reviewer writes a review because he wants people to know what he thought of the book. He may think other people should read the book. He hope to warn other people. He may just enjoy writing reviews. But the audience for his words is not the author. If he wanted the author to know what he thought, he would write an e-mail to the author (my e-mail address is published in every book) or he would leave a comment on the author’s blog.

Another thing is that people who write reviews aren’t always in the ideal audience for the book. That’s not to say we’re not happy they purchased the book, but there may be a disconnect between what they are hoping the book would tell them and what the author hoped to convey to the intended audience. While we want to improve, we have to be careful about writing to please reviewers. Some reviewers won’t be happy with anything we might write.

I’ve also seen authors who get upset with reviewers who write unfavorable reviews after having read a free version of the book that they only downloaded because it was free. I understand their point that the reviewers are biting the hand that feeds them, but we don’t have the option of telling these people they can’t review the book.

Even with good reviews, you can fall into the trap of thinking that you’re a better author than you really are because all your friends are writing good reviews. So while I may not completely quit reading reviews, I think it might be healthier if I do. There’s a point at which you have to say, “I’m doing the best I can. If people like it, they like it. If people don’t, they don’t.”

So what about you? Authors, do you read your reviews? Readers, when you write a review, are you hoping the author will read it?

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Can an Author Succeed?

A reader of this blog recently asked me to address the question, “What is it that separates the 1% from the 99%, how does an author by choice, cross over that line?” It was too interesting of a question to pass up, but it’s one that doesn’t have an easy answer. Another way of wording the question is “What’s the magic fairy dust that gets authors published?” I think if someone knew what the magic fairy dust was, they would’ve bottled it up a long time ago and they would be selling it on eBay. But look around; there are people more qualified to answer the question than me who have some good suggestions on what an author needs to do to get published—write better, read agent blogs, attend conferences, write better query letters—but most of the people who do those things still aren’t published. By all means, do those things, but there has to be something more if we’re going to be intentional about crossing the line into the 1%. And what of the self-published authors? That’s actually where this question started and self-publishing authors face the same problem. One author out of a hundred (or so) makes money from self-publishing and the rest are just happy to get their words out there.

The One Thing All Successful Authors Do That Unsuccessful Authors Don’t

Authors are a diverse breed. Some write fiction. Some write non-fiction. Some write both. Some write romances. Some write mysteries. Some write memoirs. Some write how to books. Some write textbooks. It’s hard to believe that we can find anything that authors who are successful are doing that applies across the board that all unsuccessful authors are failing to do, but I believe there is one thing—call it magic fairy dust, if you will.

That one thing is that successful authors give their readers something of value. Let me repeat that so the words will settle in your brain. Successful authors give their readers something of value. It almost sounds too easy. If successful authors give their readers something and unsuccessful authors give readers nothing, then why don’t we all just start giving stuff away? Readers will flock to our blogs and book-signings to get the stuff we’re giving away and we’ll make millions from book sales. Right? I’m afraid not. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re missing the boat. Ask the authors who’ve tried that. What you’ll find is that freebies isn’t the answer. Successful authors give their readers something of value.

Something of Value

I can’t help but think of “the pearl of great price” that Jesus spoke of (Matthew 13:45, 46). Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven, but that story fascinates me because the man valued that pearl so much that he was willing to sell all he had to obtain that pearl. It’s doubtful we’ll ever write a book that someone would value so much that he would “sell all he had”, but to a lesser degree we are asking the reader to give up something in order to purchase and read our books. It’s not just the $14.95 or whatever the price of the book is. The time the read invests in reading the book is worth far more. Successful authors write books that give their readers something the readers value more than the money and time.

But it’s not one thing that we can just package and place in every book. I purchased the Kindle version of Code Complete the other day. I paid $24.53. Some Kindle fans will be shocked at that. “You paid more than $9.99 for a Kindle book?!” Yes, and I’m glad I did. While many of the people who read this post will find little value in Code Complete, it is tremendously valuable to anyone who attempts to write computer software.

That also explains why you may see many successful books that you can’t understand why anyone would buy them. Or why you look at the best seller lists and can’t find anything to read. What you value and why someone else values may be very different.

Finding What the Reader Values

Some people read a novel because they want to escape into that imaginary world. Some people will read that same novel because they want something they can discuss with their friends. Some people will read a non-fiction book because they want to learn from the author. Some people will read the same book because they disagree with the premise and want to write about it. But in each case, the reader values the book.

To cross from the 99% into the 1%, you must find what the reader values and give it to him. That doesn’t mean we have to satisfy every reader, such as the guy who wants to disagree with us. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean we should aim to please only ourselves. A better approach is to think of yourself as a bridge builder. Once you make it across the river, ask yourself what would be beneficial to someone who is just now approaching the river. Ask yourself what bridge you could build. In other words, ask yourself what you could say to a person to help them get from where you once were to where you are now with less difficulty than you had. That is a thing of great value.

Placing It in Front of a Publisher

Publishers and agents value a book that readers value, but just because you’ve written a book that readers value doesn’t mean publishers are going to jump for it. Every letter an agent receives talks about how valuable the author’s book is. Most of these authors don’t know what they’re talking about. Most of these authors have written a book no one wants and they’re just trying to convince the publisher otherwise. The cream will eventually float to the top, but you can help it along by writing a query letter that highlights the things people will value about your book.


Though it’s not always what you might expect, every successful author gives the reader something of value. Unsuccessful authors think they are giving the reader something of value, but the reader disagrees. So, if you want to be intentional about becoming successful as a writer, focus your attention on the value you can provide the reader. Don’t write the book you want to write but write the book that will help the reader enough that the reader is glad he invested time and money in it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do Something Every Month

When I was in college, I decided I would buy a new tool every month. Some I didn't need. Some I did. But now I'm glad I have them and it didn't really cost me that much every month. I don't do that anymore. If I did, I probably wouldn't have room for all my tools. Now I buy tools when I need them, but I've been thinking that it might be good to start something new. Instead of buying a tool every month, I think perhaps it would be good to make an improvement to the house every month. It doesn't have to be something big. This month's improvement was that I put a nicer flush handle on one of the toilets.

I'm just thinking that instead of letting the house get in more and more disrepair over time, every month I could fix something or make something better and it will improve over time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Normal Than You Might Think

It's interesting to hear people's concept of heaven. I've got to admit that I wish I knew what we're going to do there and what life will be like there. The Bible gives us some idea, but some people either ignore what it says or they read more into what it says than I think is really there.

One idea that people have is that we're going to be spirit beings in heaven. The Stargate television series had this view of heaven with the concept of the Ancients' ascension. Some people have the idea that as spirit beings we'll be in a state of eternal bliss. And even if that isn't how people view heaven, it amazes me that some people think it is obvious that there will be no time in heaven. Granted, I don't have a complete understanding of heaven, but I don't find any of this to be obvious.

I realize the Bible uses the phrase "that there should be time no longer" (Revelation 10:6), but the Bible also tells us that we will have resurrected bodies. If time doesn't exist, what need have we of bodies? I think a better understanding of this verse is that this current season of time will be over. The time of delay will be over and the judgment will come. It is more like a person who is racing against the clock. The buzzer rings and there's no more time for him to do what he was doing. But we can't take that to mean that time itself disappeared when the time ran out.

The concept of time as something that can exist or not exist is a fairly recent concept. But it could be that many preachers have latched on to this idea and it flavors their understanding of the Bible. But the Bible talks about a New Jerusalem, a new heaven, and a new earth. While I don't fully understand what we'll be doing, we'll have physical bodies with which it is conceivable that we will be able to explore these places. It takes time for a physical body to move from one place to another.

We're going to be in heaven for a very long time. I can't fully imagine what it would be like to be without the fear of death. Nothing will harm us. We will have as much time as we need to do whatever it is we'll be doing. As millions upon millions of years go by(I can't even imagine that.), it seems to me that we will continually be searching for something new to understand. There is only one thing in heaven or on earth that is so fascinating that we can never understand it, no matter how much time we have to study it. That is God himself. So whatever else we do with our time, I think we'll reach the point where most of our time will be spent trying to understand God better.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Yesterday, I opened up Google Reader, looked at all the unread posts and decided not to read them. These days, we get so much information coming at us and lately I've had more than I can handle. In school, I remember reading about a battle that was fought after the end of a war. It's sad to think that people died for no reason, but sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't be better off if information too longer to come to us, like it did back then. For all the information we have, most of us are just as powerless as we ever were. My brain is full and it needs time to rest.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Of All the Strange Things

I had this weekend off. I needed the time away from work because we've been working a project that is mentally draining. I needed some time to do something other than look at computer code from morning til night. So what did I do this weekend? I looked at computer code from morning til night.

There's a tool that I use that allows for the development of plugins to extend its capability. There's a feature that I've wished the tool had for a long time, so I decided to try adding it. It seemed like a simple task. I thought I would just mess with it for a few hours and see where I got.

I don't know what I was thinking.

I ran into problem after problem. The first problem was in figuring out how to get a plugin to work in the first place. There is documentation online about how to do it and I found a simple "Hello World" example, so I thought it would be easy. Unfortunately, the tool and the documentation are not in sync. So after several hours of messing with it, I found other code that I was able to get to work. Then there was the issue how to add an item to the menu. And then the issue of how to get a menu item to call the code I wanted it to call. At last, it seemed like I had gotten to the problem at hand, but the tool wasn't displaying what I though it should display. For a long time, I thought it might be because I'm rusty with Java. I spend most of my time working with C++ and assembly, so it takes me a while to get back into the Java mindset.

But it appears that most of my code was working, it just isn't calling something that the tool requires it to call to update the display. I'm still not sure what that is. That will have to wait for another day. It just seems so strange to me that I would spend all week at work messing with problems that are difficult to understand, only to go home and do the same. On the bright side, it might make a good topic for a book.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How We Really Write Novels

I’ve been reading a book titled Code Complete. It’s the kind of book that if you write any computer code at all, from a simple webpage to a large software project, you ought to read. For the rest of you, you would find if very dull. But as I was reading it I thought about the similarity between software development and writing a novel. There is a debate, if you will, among novelists between the plotters and the pantsers. The plotters say you ought to outline the book first, then begin writing. The pantsers just grab a few interesting characters and jump right into writing. Which is better?

One of the things Steve McConnell talks about in Code Complete is that no one ever develops software completely using a top down or a bottom up approach. The top down approach is similar to what plotters do, in that you start at a very high level of abstraction and subdivide it over and over until you reach the point where it is manageable chunks. The bottom up approach starts with the parts and you figure out how to tie them together into a useful product. In writing, the top down approach is given names, such as The Snowflake Method. But in writing, as with software development, no one does the whole thing as either top down or bottom up.

Realistically, a plotter may start out with the idea that he will write a mystery novel. That is about as abstract as you can get. He might follow the three act structure and develop scenes that fit it. But reaching that level of abstraction, it becomes much more difficult to continue refining from the top down. Likewise, a pantser might begin with a character and a problem, but after writing several pages she realizes where this book is headed. Her book is also a mystery and that means she has to be careful about what she reveals and she has to wait till the end to reveal why whoever did it did it. It also means that most of the book is going to be about someone searching for the answers. What happens is the plotter reaches a point he finds it easier to just write, so he can get to know his characters and the pantser reaches a point where she has an outline, whether she wrote it down on paper or not.

Another thing Steve McConnell mentioned is that we often talk about what we believe we should have done rather than what we actually did. The Snowflake Method, for example, talks about more and more refinement, all the way down to the final product. I’m sure Randy Ingermanson believes that’s what should be done. But in the real world, people don’t write that way. I just doesn’t work. Others talk about just writing about the characters and seeing where it takes them. I’m sure they believe that’s the way it ought to be, but I doubt anyone can do that for a whole book.

I’ve also been reading Richard Mabry’s Diagnosis Death. I’ve read his other books and one of the things that I’ve noticed about this novel is how similar it is to his other novels. They are all about a medical doctor who has someone out to get her, for some reason or another. And yet, Dr. Mabry has claimed to be a pantser. I don’t know him very well, but I know him well enough to believe he wouldn’t lie about that. Even so, he knows where his books as going.

So, my conclusion is that while we may believe plotting or writing by the seat of our pants is how it ought to be done, in reality, we do both. We will start a book with one method, then switch to another. Before we’re done, we may switch back and forth several times. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is probably the best thing we can do because it allows us to see the story from different perspectives, giving us a better book in the end.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Tears Come

Tears come. All throughout life they come. There’s always something to make us sad. Friends die. Plans fall through. Wishes are unfulfilled. That’s life. And yet, some people have this idea that if we really wanted what God wants then we would never cry. That sounds spiritual, but I’m afraid it is unrealistic. Even Jesus wept. He knew how things would turn out and he still wept. Sadness is part of life, so while we don’t like to be sad, let’s not something we can avoid.

The fact is, this world is cursed. People die. Bad things happen. We desire things we can’t have. The end result is that tears come. But I think there’s more to it than that. God could wipe away our tears now, rather than later, but we learn from times of sadness. It is during the sad times that we learn to depend upon God. If things always went the way we wanted, we wouldn’t understand how much we need God. So he allows bad things to happen and we learn from those things. We may not understand why some things happen, but God can use it all for a good purpose.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Are Christians Thinking?

I’m shocked sometimes by how lax Christians are concerning right and wrong these days. Now I realize that the Bible doesn’t out and out prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but the other day I was listening to a young man that I believe to be a Christian who was talking about plans for his brother’s bachelor party. He mentioned one idea which is what is called a “Grand Slam.” You know, of course, that a Grand Slam is a menu item at Denny’s, but this Grand Slam was quite different. The idea is that you go from bar to bar and eventually end up at Denny’s where you eat a Grand Slam, but you aren’t supposed to remember any of the bars you went to.

I wasn’t in the conversation, but as I listened from some distance away, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would consider that fun. What’s the point if you’re so wasted that you don’t remember what you did? Not only that, but consuming that much alcohol is dangerous.

Whatever your thoughts on Christians drinking alcohol, the Bible makes it very clear that a Christian should never be drunk. We are to be sober. We are to try to be an example of righteousness. Sure, we fail in our example, but drinking makes success impossible.

We talk about the world getting into the church, but I don’t think people really get what we mean. This is an example of that. When Christians turn to drunkenness as a means of entertainment—even though they will never remember whether it was fun or not—the world has gotten into the church. It’s time for us to turn this ship around and get headed back where God wants us to be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Finding a Motive

I’ve been working on a story lately. I love the concept and I think it will do well on the back cover. But I have a problem. I haven’t settled on the motive of one of the main characters. Unfortunately, that motive is central to the story. It not only drives the story, it drives the motives of some of the other characters. It defines who they are as characters, so the choices I make there could change who they are significantly.

In this case, the character did something as a teenager that most of us wouldn’t do. That’s not to say that we might not have considered it, but if we’d gone through with it we would’ve come to our senses and realized that we’d made a bad choice. We would have turned around and undid what we did. But in this story, the character doesn’t attempt to undo it for fifteen years. She’s committed to what she has done. That means her motive has to survive even after she’s had a while to think about it.

If I can find a great motive, I think this story will be good. If I can’t, I’m sure this story will fail.

Friday, July 1, 2011

You Just Have to Take It

At the beginning of every story, there is a point at which we realize that if something doesn’t change, the hero will die. Often, this is a figurative kind of death more than a literal death, but the hero also comes to the realization and makes the necessary change that takes us into the meat of the story. That makes for interesting storytelling, but so often we find that life isn’t that way. How often do we come to that point in life where we feel we have the weight of the world on our shoulders and if something doesn’t change we’ll surely die under the load. But unlike the heroes of our stories, we don’t often have the option of choosing to change things. It will surely kill us.

But the thing about real life is that when you come to the realization that we’re on the verge of death and it is hopeless, we also come to the realization that death isn’t an option. Oh, death will come soon enough, but no matter how much junk life dumps on you, you don’t have the option of giving up. No matter how bad things seem now and no matter how bad they might get, you have to take it. There’s no option to refuse to participate. You’ve heard of the straw that broke the camel’s back, but life doesn’t give us the option of a broken back. No matter how many straws life loads on us, we have to take it. No matter how hopeless it might seem, we have to keep going because there is no other choice.

Life is like trudging through a cold rain shower. Each drop will chill you to the bone, but there’s nothing you can do about it. As miserable as it may make you feel, you just keep going because there isn’t another option.