Update – Keeping the Faith

DSCN0543I received word back from Pacific Press regarding publication of the second book in the Race trilogy, Keeping the Faith. Seems it cleared their editorial staff but not their sales staff. Translation: No. (A nice no, as nos go, but still a no.)

So I’ll be doing some prayerful research and regrouping — I’m just not sure where to take this book from here. I’ve known for some time that I need to get more savvy about book sales and marketing, because I’m truly terrible at sales. As a kid, I was always the sap that ended up buying everyone else’s candy bars rather than selling my own. It’s generally seemed wiser (and less expensive) for me to stay away from that particular field since then. But since this book has twice been tripped up at the marketing level (rather than from a deficiency in the writing), I’m guessing that’s where I need to look for a solution. I just hope I don’t buy too many candy bars along the way!

 

Handling Hostility

©iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

©iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

I’ve never understood politicians. Why would anybody want a job where, no matter what you do, somebody’s sure to complain and call you names? Talk about a hostile work environment!

Apparently running a country was just as tough in David’s time, and it sometimes got him down: “The enemy has pursued me, crushing me to the ground, making me live in darkness like those long dead” (Psalm 143:3, HCSB).

In David’s case, there was probably some literal pursuing, crushing, and darkness involved. Still, we’ve probably all shouldered similar burdens—unjust loads placed on us by other people’s anger, jealousy, or misunderstanding.

Maybe we can learn something from how David handled the problem. He left some clues about his method in the rest of Psalm 143:

  1. He called out to God. “Lord, hear my prayer. In Your faithfulness listen to my plea and in Your righteousness answer me” (verse 1). This was a pattern in David’s life—when he felt like grumbling, he grumbled to God rather than to other people. While  it’s sometimes appropriate to seek counsel from others, usually we don’t share our business with other people to find a solution—which makes it nothing more than gossip. Instead, our default setting should be to consult God first.
  2. He admitted his true feelings. “My spirit is weak within me; my heart is overcome with dismay” (v. 4). Some people seem to think it’s unacceptable, weak, or even sinful to express their feelings and fears to God. Yet the Bible records many of God’s people doing it, including Job, Moses, David, and Jeremiah. In order to solve a problem, we generally need to discover what the problem entails; defining our feelings is merely part of this process.
  3. He remembered God’s past leading. Reviewing the evidences of God’s work reminds us of His care and power. It boosts our confidence that He’ll come through for us again. David seems to have reviewed God’s actions in three distinct categories:
  • How God had led his ancestors—“I remember the days of old” (v. 5).
  • How God had led him personally—“I meditate on all You have done” (v. 5).
  • How God had manifested Himself through nature—“I reflect on the work of Your hands” (v. 5).
  1. He maintained his devotional routine. “Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning” (v. 8). When life gets crazy, maintaining a regular devotional time can be challenging. It may even be the first thing to go when our schedules need adjusting. But David didn’t allow even these crushing problems to disrupt his regular devotional routine, which included seeking God every morning (Psalms 5:3; 55:17; 59:16).
  2. He prayed for specific guidance. “Reveal to me the way I should go” (v. 8). David’s prayers weren’t the God-bless-everyone prayers we sometimes rattle off while thinking about something else. He made the effort to think about what he was saying. He took the time to delineate several specific problems, and he prayed for specific answers to each one.

If we want to receive the answers and the comfort from God that David did, we need to know Him as David did. We need to prioritize time with Him, trust Him, and rely on Him. We need to open our hearts and get real with Him.

We need to let Him be our Best Friend.

Knowing God’s Will

©iStock.com/dcdp

©iStock.com/ dcdp

Knowing God’s will is key to living a life that is both blessed and a blessing. But how do we know what His will is? Unlike the characters of The Race, we don’t have electronic devices that make His voice audible to us, so His leading isn’t always as easy to perceive as we’d like.

In “Determining the Will of God,” Pastor Doug Batchelor presents the most complete discussion of this topic that I’ve found to date. In less than an hour, he examines both trustworthy and questionable methods of learning God’s will, as well as some general principles to be aware of. I’ll summarize the trustworthy methods, but you can watch or listen to this talk for yourself here:

Trustworthy methods of learning God’s will:

1.  Pray for a Willing Heart. God speaks to those who truly want to know His will (Psalm 25:9). In his book, How to Know God’s Will in Your Life, Morris Venden talks about having no will of your own on the matter under consideration. That’s not to say you have no preference, but you should seek a place in which you’re fully surrendered to God and truly willing to go in whichever direction He indicates.

2.  Consult God’s Word. We can all safely guide our lives by the absolute expressions of God’s will found in the Bible (Psalm 119:105). For example, He clearly says that He wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), so we don’t have to wonder if that’s His will for us individually.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are another such absolute expression of God’s will. In them, He revealed certain basic laws of behavior that apply to all humans. Yet some Christians feel that these laws can be suspended simply because something else “feels right” to them. The wayward wife says, “I know he’s not my husband, but it feels so right when I’m with him—I just know God meant for us to be together.”

As a gynecologist, I’ve often seen the pain such false reasoning brings to families, even Christian families. God won’t force His will on us. He’ll let us go our own way if we insist on it. But we shouldn’t then wonder at the pain that results from our stubbornness, much less blame Him for it. Rationalizing won’t suspend the laws of human behavior or the laws of health any more than it will suspend the law of gravity.

3.  Be Faithful to His Revealed Will. If we aren’t following the path that God has already outlined, He’s not likely to shine any light farther down the path (Matt 13:12; John 12:35). So if you feel like you’re at an impasse, perhaps you need to ask, “Am I doing what He’s already shown me to do?”

4.  Obtain Christian Counsel (Prov. 11:14). Godly friends may be able to see your situation from a different perspective or to see talents/possibilities in you that you’re unaware of. When looking for counselors, look for Christians who seem to have their lives together, people in whom you see the fruit of the Spirit.

5.  Observe/Pray for Providences. God may sometimes arrange events (e.g., Ruth gleaning in Boaz’s field), or open and close doors (2 Cor. 2:12) to point us in the right direction.

6.  Pray. (This list isn’t in any particular order, by the way.) Throughout the Bible, God shows a pattern of revealing His will to those who ask Him to (Gen 18:17; Matt 7:7-8; John 15:15; 1 John 5:14-15).

7.  Fast and Pray. In some cases, particularly when it comes to big or difficult decisions, fasting may be helpful in drawing closer to God and becoming more attuned to His leading (2 Chr 20:3-4; Acts 13:2-3).

8.  Have Faith—on two fronts. First, have faith that God will show you His will (Prov 3:5-6). Second, have faith that He will strengthen you to accomplish His will once revealed (Phil 4:13).

9.  Do the Safe Thing. If God’s leading isn’t 100 percent clear, move toward the safest alternative. In other words, don’t take unnecessary risks.

10.  Make Sure the Decision Brings Glory to God (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 6:33). Your focus should be on God’s glory—not your own.

11.  Consider Others. If the decision will bring changes to others’ lives—for example, family members or roommates—bring them into your decision-making process (Rom 14:7; Gal 5:14)

12.  Pray for and be aware of the Holy Spirit’s Guidance (Isa 30:21). Learning to listen for the Spirit’s voice is a topic all to itself. But His voice becomes more familiar—and, therefore, easier to hear—as we mature in our spiritual walk. Once again, a key to recognizing the Spirit’s voice is understanding that He will never lead us in a path that opposes God’s will as clearly expressed in His Word. (Other spirits certainly will, though.)

13.  Be Patient. David repeatedly advises us to “wait on the Lord” (e.g. Ps. 27:14). In our hurry-up society, waiting can be a difficult skill to learn. But sometimes God simply doesn’t answer our requests right away because He wants us to stay put for a while. Maybe we need to learn something before He can answer us. Maybe He’s planning to bring someone to us or to bring an opportunity into our lives. Maybe He wants us to simply stand by and watch while He solves the problem Himself (Exod 14:13; 2 Chr 20:17). In any case, if we try to run ahead of Him, we’ll mess up His perfect plan.

14.  Tally the Evidence. If you feel as though God hasn’t given you a clear answer, try going through each of these categories and specifically looking for how God is speaking through each one. You may see quieter evidence of a clear pathway in the pattern that emerges (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16).

15.  What is Your Heart’s Desire? Even Christians seem to feel that following God’s leading must be difficult and disagreeable. But this notion isn’t biblical. Rather, our heart’s desires line up more and more closely with His will as we abide in Him (Rom 12:2; John 15:7-11). If we feel a passion for a particular ministry, it’s quite likely that God has implanted that passion within our hearts. Not only do we find our greatest joy in following these desires, but God finds great joy in fulfilling them (Ps 21:2; 20:4; 37:4).

Learning God’s will should not be an occasional pursuit. Rather, we should be constantly looking for indications of His will—constantly recalibrating, as Pastor Batchelor puts it—to make sure that we stay in the center of His will at all times.

Right Sacrifices

In Psalm 4:5, David gives us some good advice: “Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord” (NIV). Among the blessings we’re to reap from this are great joy and peaceful sleep (verses 7 and 8). Sounds great, doesn’t it? In our hectic world, such blessings are priceless.

©iStock.com/BibleArtLibrary

©iStock.com/BibleArtLibrary

Just one question: What are “right sacrifices”? In David’s world, this referred to unblemished lambs or goats offered with a willing, obedient spirit. But when was the last time you sacrificed a lamb? It’s probably been a while. So what does this refer to in our time?

In looking through my Bible, I’ve found a few things associated with the kind of “sacrifice” that pleases God:

1. Obedience – “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Cain got into—and caused—major trouble when he offered the wrong kind of sacrifice. And Saul lost the kingdom because he did only part of his God-given duty. Both exhibited an arrogant attitude, which, in God’s eyes, is “like the evil of idolatry” (verse 23). Our motivation matters to God.

2. A broken spirit & contrite heart – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). This isn’t some sick desire on God’s part to see us groveling in humiliation. Rather, He knows how our minds work. He understands that our drive to earn our own way is so strong that we can’t really seek His help until we truly recognize our need. Jesus called this frame of mind being “poor in spirit”—and this is the mindset of those who receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

3 & 4. Love for God & neighbor – “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). Sometimes loving that neighbor that absolutely drives you nuts with her gossip or bragging feels very much like a sacrifice. But God, who is love (1 John 4:8), enables us to love both Himself and others when we abide in Him.

5. Ourselves – “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Ultimately, God wants us, His children, returned to a state of communion with Him.

6. Praise – “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15). It’s interesting how often the idea of praise and celebration are associated with the sacrificial ceremonies described in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. God doesn’t seek our obedience, our praise, or even ourselves as some kind of tribute we’re required to pay; rather, He brings us into fellowship with Himself so that we can share His joy. This is the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).

7. Do good & share – “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). Once we’ve learned to experience the joyful communion God promises, we can share that joy with others.

How about you—have you found any other “right sacrifices” in your study of God’s Word?

Life’s Not Fair!

©iStock.com/cofkocof

©iStock.com/cofkocof

This is perhaps the most universally accepted notion in our society. Male or female, young or old, rich or poor, believer or nonbeliever—everyone agrees: Life’s not fair. We learn the truth of it at a young age, probably when a sibling steals our lollipop and gets away with it.

The Bible concurs: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve (Eccl. 8:4, NIV).

Yet Psalm 37:1 advises us, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong” (NIV). A more modern translation might be, “Don’t let jerks get under your skin.”

It’s good advice. Worrying over injustice, particularly when we’re not in a position to correct it, is a form of stress. And stress kills. But following this advice is another matter altogether.

Even David seemed to have trouble with that in his younger days; he often rails against the wicked in his psalms. Yet he apparently got a handle on it as he aged (he was older when he wrote this psalm—see verse 25). So how did he get to the place where he could see injustice, know it was unfair, and yet relinquish the anger associated with it?

David actually outlines his method in Psalm 37. He gives this advice:

  1.  “Trust in the Lord” (v. 3) — Trust Him to justify you (vv. 5-6, 33), to strengthen and encourage you (v. 24), to protect you from lasting harm (v. 18), and to settle the score fairly (v. 9, 13).
  2. “Trust in the Lord and do good” (v. 3) — Give up your rage (v. 8) and continue to be gracious (v. 21) and generous (v. 26). In other words, don’t allow the evil around you to interfere with the good God is working out within you.
  3. “Take delight in the Lord” (v. 4) — Elsewhere David links this with meditating on God’s Word (Psalms 1:2; 112:1) and enjoying His presence (Psalm 36:8-9). Other biblical references also mention submitting to Him (Job 22:21-26) and enjoying the blessings of His Sabbath (Isaiah 56:8-9) as ways of coming to delight in Him.
  4. “Commit your way to the Lord” (v. 5) — Trust God with the specific task of watching and establishing your path (v. 23), even believing that He’s holding your hand during trouble (v. 24).
  5. “Wait patiently” (v. 7) – David links patience with being still before the Lord (v. 7) and with keeping His way (v. 34). These disciplines—listening for God’s voice and obeying it—make us receptive to His Spirit; patience is one of the fruits of this connection (Gal. 5:22).

Life in this world is unfair. But God does not leave us alone in an unfair world: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).

Book Update

Finished!

Finished!

It’s been several months since I reported that I’d sent the manuscript for the second book, Keeping the Faith, off to the publisher. A number of you have been kind enough to ask about its status since then. Today I finally have something definitive to tell you, but it’s a good news/bad news situation.

Good news? The publisher (Review and Herald) has assured me repeatedly that they’re interested in the book.

Bad news? Review & Herald will no longer have a printing facility.

Bottom line? I’ll have to look for another publisher.

For those interested in more detail, I’ll try to be concise. You’re probably aware that the book-publishing business is changing radically these days. Book-and-mortar bookstores are downsizing or closing altogether, having lost much of their business to online distributors. Similarly, book publishers are dealing with a decreased demand for printed books in light of the increasing popularity of e-books.

During the last year or so, Review & Herald has been going through a process of reevaluation. During these months, they’ve been unable to offer me a contract since they weren’t sure they could follow through on their end of the bargain–i.e., actually print the book. We discussed other possibilities, including the option of publishing Keeping the Faith as only an e-book, but needed to await the final reorganizing decisions before we could proceed with any specific plan.

Yesterday Review & Herald informed its authors of the final decisions. Essentially, they will be responsible for the publishing aspect of certain materials required by the worldwide church (e.g., lesson quarterlies, some magazines), but their actual printing press is closing.

What this means is that I’ll need to re-start the process with Pacific Press. I sent their acquisitions editor a request for consideration of the manuscript today. He’s undoubtedly inundated with requests from other authors in the same situation, so it may be several weeks before he’s able to respond. What’s more, Pacific Press doesn’t generally accept (or even consider) fiction. But if he is interested in seeing the full manuscript, it will take another 2-3 months for it to be fully evaluated.

Some have asked me about the option of self-publishing. While I haven’t ruled that option out entirely, it isn’t my first choice. The process of traditional publishing can seem convoluted and lengthy, but it has the distinct advantage of requiring that the book pass through multiple sets of hands before it comes off a printing press. In this case, where I am brazenly claiming to represent God Himself through a fictional tale, I feel this process is vital to assuring that I do not inadvertently misrepresent His character.

Objective editors experienced in the written expression of thought are simply more likely to foresee how a particular word, phrase, or symbol may be misinterpreted. The editors at Review & Herald were able to catch several potential problems in the original manuscript of The Race: An Allegory; their conscientious reviews were invaluable in making sure that it became a better representation of God and His amazing plan of salvation. I’m confident that He has a purpose in all of this as well.

Inspired Housekeeping

©iStock.com/OSTILL

©iStock.com/ OSTILL

Have you ever wondered who cleaned that big, beautiful architectural wonder we know as Solomon’s temple? Did the high priest’s wife sneak an illegal immigrant across the border to do it? Did she hire a troop of maids for minimum wage and no benefits?

Actually, according to 1 Chronicles 23:28-29, the cooking and cleaning were done by (drum roll, please) the male Levites—a chosen tribe within a chosen people.

Housekeeping was one of four occupations assigned to the Levites. It seems to have been considered equally important as the other three occupations, which were musicians, gatekeepers, and officers/judges (verses 4-5). Apparently all were paid the same. And they were not appointed to these occupations because of their individual talents or accomplishments; rather, the assignment was essentially random, based only on which branch of the family they belonged to.

So who merited more honor—the Levite judge, or the Levite who dusted the candlesticks?

Neither. Because “God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted … so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:18-25).

Equality before God is a basic tenet of the Christian faith (e.g., Galatians 3:28). Yet sin has a way of sneaking prejudice into our lives. We may not even be aware of it, but it affects the way we relate to others. We listen attentively to the boring details of our boss’s morning commute but completely ignore his file clerk. We smile and laugh with our friends over lunch, but grumble and grouse at the waitress. We expect to be paid top dollar for our own work, but pay an illegal immigrant less than minimum wage to do our gardening. And when anything goes missing, he’s first on our list of suspects.

In each of these cases, we’re responding to the role someone fills rather than to the person she is. Yet in God’s eyes, our worth is based on what He did for us. And our faithfulness is not evaluated by our position, but by our commitment to carrying out the work He assigned us, whatever that work may be.

Some may consider housekeeping a dull job, one devoid of spiritual significance. Yet we can learn a lot from the way God chose to keep His house clean. He sees the faithful musician, the faithful judge, and the faithful housekeeper all in the same light—each is His child, loved and cherished.

Do we reflect this attitude in the way we interact with others?

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