Sunday, August 12, 2018

That Was Then, This Is Now

Fifteen years ago today, I embarked on a wee experimental journey: I created a blog called ‘robbymac’.

Blogging was still reasonably new at the time, as was the online software. For example, if you wanted to provide readers an opportunity to comment — and the whole point of blogging was ‘conversation’ — you were obliged to import third-party software (Haloscan was an early favourite).

When Haloscan eventually went the way of the dodo, all of the comments evaporated with it. That was a real shame, because in the early years of this blog (and many others), there was a great deal of conversation. Lively debates, thoughtful discussions, and the inevitable knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers (aka ‘trolls’) who just loved a good fight while insulting people they’d never met.

Looking back now, in the perfect clarity that hindsight provides, I can trace some noticeable shifts/trends/defining moments:
  1. The genesis of the “Detoxing from Church” series in the early years. This was probably what first drew a lot of readers and generated some good discussion.
  2. The ‘Post-Charismatic Project’, with its attendant interactive forum, certainly added a whole ‘nuther level of conversation about a decidedly “hot topic”.
  3. Online e-zines began publishing articles I’d written, including a cover story for Next-Wave. ‘Post-Charismatic’ caught the attention of a publisher in the UK and became a book.
  4. During my fourth year (2007), I began incorporating “creative non-fiction” — fun, creative story-telling written to get people thinking. The Younger/Elder characters were introduced and quickly became regulars, I indulged in some satirical ‘riffing’ on C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”, and even wrote a metaphorical tribute to worn-out denim.
  5. Conversations — and inter-connected webs of blog-responses and synchro-blogs — flourished like out-of-control weeds for a number of years, and then seemed to evaporate overnight. (For a number of blogs, not just mine. It was weird.)
  6. Blogging compadres came and went, for a variety of reasons. Some of their blogs no longer exist, while others remain online but it’s been years since anything new has been posted.
    (The diminishing level of conversation may have had a bigger impact than was first recognized.)
  7. My own shift in self-perception, after I took the “I am a writer” plunge. Obviously, I’ve been writing all along, but there’s a significant difference between writing “on the side”, so to speak, and the time, attention, and creative energy involved/required to pursue writing as a career.
I don’t make a yearly practice of marking each “blogiversary”, but the recent discovery that Len Hjalmarson had retired his blog — with the exception of a single post to say farewell — caused me to stop and reflect. Len was instrumental in encouraging me to begin robbymac.org so many years ago, and while other blogging compadres have come and gone, his departure hit me harder somehow.

The times... they are a-changing.

I will continue to write simply because I’m a writer. It’s who I am, and it’s what I do. Blogging has been and will continue to be a part of my creative rhythm. As a good friend (also an author) once advised me: “Writing is hard. Be a writer only if you simply can’t not write.”

She’s right, on both counts. And because I do want to continue to develop as a writer, I will also follow the advice of another author (Stephen King): “If you want to be a writer… you must write a lot.”

In other words, there’s still lots of gas in the tank. :)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bending the Rules: First Draft

Writing speculative fiction is not an exercise in chaos, nor is it the literary equivalent of “throwing spaghetti against the wall and keeping what sticks”.

At the same time, the picture at left does feel strangely familiar. Especially when writing the first draft of a new novel.

The “rules” for writing fiction are very much in the eye of the beholder. While there is a consistent body of wisdom setting parameters for the genre, even among some of the most successful authors, there can be a wide range of strongly-held opinions. A famous example on the topic of adverbs:
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King

“Adverbs and adjectives are rich and good and nourishing. They add colour, life, immediacy.” ~ Ursula Le Guin
The same can also be true for the age-old conundrum when approaching a new writing project: to plan, or not to plan?

Many writers and writing instructors insist that you map out the structure, storyline, and characters before starting to create the actual content.

Other writers advocate for sitting down with a blank piece of paper (or a blank laptop screen), and simply begin writing and “see what comes out”. A famous quote for this approach has been variously attributed to Stephen King and Terry Pratchett (and probably others):
“The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself.”
Elizabeth Lyon, author of ‘A Writer’s Guide to Fiction’, has a markedly different view: “Perhaps some writers believe that preparation or structure will stifle creativity... I can understand their choice — and predict their failure.”

So, which of the experts do you believe?

Honestly, when I write, I do a bit of both. The first draft of a new novel is more or less “free-fall”, and then I wrestle it into submission in subsequent rewrites.

My earlier books were in the ‘non-fiction’ category, where the subject matter — and the reams of research and citations — dictated the structure to a large degree. When I decided to write a purely science-fiction novel (and having just finished reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ — see quote above), I thought it would be a fun challenge to ‘tell myself the story’ first.

It was fun. And creative. And a huge, heaping pile of hard work in subsequent drafts, as I wrestled with “telling other people the story”.

The first book in the Tracker Trilogy was a free-flow, ‘tell yourself the story first’ adventure. The second and third books were mapped out beforehand — and yet, as the content was written, the map began to resemble (at times) Captain Barbossa’s interpretation of the Pirates’ Code: “it’s more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Creative writing is just like that sometimes. That’s why it’s ‘creative’ — it seems to have a mind of its own. What’s important to remember is this:
“First drafts don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be written.”

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ~ Terry Pratchett

“The first draft of anything is [dreck].” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“Edit. Or regret it. Depend on this, your story does.” ~ Master Yoda (okay, I made that one up, but it’s something he would have said, if writing were a Jedi art)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Soul Rhythm

“Why do you go to church?”

It’s a fair question. A lot of people — many of them long-time followers of Jesus — have been asking it with increasing frequency in recent years.

When my friend Luke Geraty posed the question online last week, it got me thinking about the thin line between why I go to church (regularly) and why I should go to church (regularly).

Here — in no specific linear order — are a few of the things that came to mind:
  1. First, the obvious one. Hebrews 10:24-25: “do not give up meeting together”.
    Not out of some religious sense of drudging duty or slavish legalism — but because I need other Christians in my life. In their original context, these verses were not intended as a whip to enforce attendance, but rather an encouragement to gather for much-needed mutual support.
  2. It confronts my consumerism.
    Like many people, I have an unfortunate tendency to evaluate church through a consumerist grid of “what’s in it for me?” I want to “get something” out of the worship, the teaching, the prayers, the fellowship (even the coffee). I need to be reminded that I’m called to serve. On any given Sunday, there are opportunities to lay down my selfish consumerism and grow up (mature spiritually) by serving others.
  3. Spiritual rhythm/soul care is a real thing.
    Everyone loves Eugene Peterson’s phrase “the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30), and we all benefit from regular soul care. For me, part of my ‘spiritual rhythm’ is going to church — regularly. Attending once every three weeks or so (a growing trend observed in many churches) isn’t much of a ‘rhythm’ — you’re there just often enough to say you still attend, but not enough that you make any real connections or impact. Generally speaking, it’s easier to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), when I see them on a regular basis.
  4. It’s healthy to be around people who challenge me.
    If I only hang out with a few like-minded friends in a coffeeshop or pub, we will have great fellowship and a good time. Church gatherings, on the other hand, are often much more diverse: populated by an admixture of broken, needy, opinionated people who may push my buttons. I won’t mature as a Christian if I don’t learn how to appreciate and minister to/among others who are different.
  5. It’s good to be reminded of the foundations of our faith, even (especially) when I naively think “I already know this”.
    You’ve heard the analogy about how bank tellers can spot counterfeit currency, because they’ve handled the real thing so much that the fakes become easier to detect? The same goes for our spiritual lives — the more we’re deeply, thoroughly marinated in solid biblical theology, the less likely we’ll be seduced by clever manipulators playing “alternative facts” or Twisted Scripture games.
  6. There’s just something about corporate worship that nourishes the soul.
    Whether I’m on the worship team or singing in the congregation, there’s something rich and deep and powerful that takes place when a myriad of voices are raised in song. There’s a solidarity — a unity — that transcends our divergent personalities, backgrounds, opinions, struggles, and questions, as we turn our absolute, unmixed attention to worshiping Jesus. Together.
  7. And finally, if I truly want to “be the change I want to see”, I can neither be the change — nor see it — if I’m not there.
    Regularly.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Prodigals & Pharisees

I thought it was a great idea for a song lyric: “Prodigals and Pharisees, equal at the foot of the cross”. Last week, I even suggested to a friend, who is a gifted songwriter, that he should compose it.

He gave me the same kind of benignly polite look that I suspect would be on my face, if our places were reversed and he had suggested that I write a book based on one of his flashes of insight.

Still, the idea stuck with me. Not being much of a songwriter, it was probably inevitable that it would turn into a blog post instead.

The idea was sparked by one of Jesus pithy stories, found in Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
The characters were chosen quite deliberately by Jesus. The Pharisees were the super-religious heroes (at least, in their own eyes), and tax collectors clung by their fingernails to the lowest rung on the societal ladder of the day.

The point of Jesus’ parable is exquisitely clear: only those who recognize their spiritual poverty receive God’s mercy. And let’s not lose sight of where Jesus is aiming the parable: those “who were confident of their own self-righteousness and looked down on everyone else”.

The great irony is that both characters in the parable were in need of God’s grace and mercy. They stood in the same temple, prayed to the same God, yet only one went home “justified”. The other wrapped himself in a cloak of his own making and wandered off without even realizing his desperate situation.

It’s the same today: you don’t need a membership card or initiation rite to be a Pharisee. It’s an attitude, not an organization. And there are multitudes of ‘prodigals’ who have wandered in some way from their faith, and yet later find themselves wanting to reconnect with God (like the tax collector in the parable).

At the foot of the Cross, pharisees and prodigals are on equal footing, with equal need for forgiveness and mercy. Whenever a church meets, it’s really just another gathering of “Sinners Anonymous”.

Some may be further along in their understanding and practice of “living by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25), but none of us earned it, never did and still don’t deserve it, and daren’t* take it for granted.
*It’s a real word. Google it.
“The Christian does not believe God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
~ C.S. Lewis ~

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Creative Non-Fiction = Readable Research

Creative non-fiction is a blend of genres that takes the best of both and combines them into something great.
  1. It’s non-fiction, because it involves real-world research and aims to educate/illuminate people on a topic that the author is passionate about.
  2. It’s also creative, because the style of writing is story-telling in order to communicate the research topic in an entertaining and engaging manner.
I’d done it here before; ie. Wormwood’s Apprentices and assorted posts featuring the Younger & Elder.
I’ve often pictured it, in my mind’s eye, as a disheveled group of academics sitting around a roaring campfire, toasting marshmallows while sharing their latest research under the guise of ‘ghost stories’.
I joined the circle around the campfire — figuratively speaking — for the writing of The Genesis Café: Conversations on the Kingdom.

After the release of Post-Charismatic, I was determined to follow up with a book on the Kingdom of God. I had read and researched a wide variety of authors on the topic, and was eager to put my thoughts into writing, but kept hitting a brick wall. I don’t mean writer’s block; this was more of a ‘what can I add to the topic that hasn’t already been said — and said well — by others?’
The net result was the same: I was stalled.
And so several thick binders of quotes, ideas, and research were shelved in my basement. That’s what writers do when stumped — move on for a season and come back to it with fresh eyes at a later time. As much as I wanted to put pen to digital paper, I was also loathe to write something that lacked originality and was simply a re-hash of what others had already said.

Four years later, I had an epiphany of sorts: rather than deal with a broad range of scholars, I would zero in on just one. George Eldon Ladd had written one of the go-to treatises on the subject, and most of the other writers on the topic of the Kingdom made reference to Ladd’s ground-breaking work. He was the common denominator.

But Ladd, while unquestionably brilliant, was heavy reading, to put it mildly. And that’s when the epiphany hit me:
I could take the creative non-fiction approach, delving into a layperson-friendly discussion on Ladd’s theology via two popular characters from my blog: the Younger & the Elder, and their supporting cast of the Crusty Irish Barkeep, the Barista, and a new character, the Proprietress.
What followed was an intriguing and challenging adventure in research and creative writing. The demands of being conversant with Ladd’s work, in order to write authentically about it through fictionalized characters, was one of the most rewarding roller-coasters experiences for an author to enjoy.

It was also fun to include myself, as the author, into the chapters at the beginning and end of the book. I’d emerge from our basement to share breathlessly with my wife about the great conversations I was having with the Younger and the Elder, and Wendy would look at me with real concern and cautiously inquire:
“You do realize all of the voices are yours, right?”
Creative non-fiction is a blast to write: researching and knowing your material inside and out, coupled with creating believable conversations between interesting characters, and not to overlook the challenge of writing good discussion questions for the end of each chapter — as a writer, it’s challenging, exhilarating, thought-provoking, muse-worthy, and exciting to see it all come together.

Yes, it’s also time-consuming, brain-bending, and good ole-fashioned work, but the end result of The Genesis Café was so rewarding that all the required effort just faded into the distance.

Creative non-fiction: where research becomes readable.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Presence

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:14-15)

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (excerpt from Psalm 139)

There are numerous examples in the Bible where the curtain is pulled back, and the omnipresent God reveals His manifest presence to His people. In other words, the God who is always there draws nearer in some way, so that His presence is unmistakably felt. As some people describe it: “God showed up.”

The Israelites, for example, wandered through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land, led by the pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the presence of God was so tangible that the priests couldn’t even perform their duties (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Conversely, there is a chilling vision given to Ezekiel when God withdrew His presence from the same temple, years later, due to corruption (Ezekiel 10:4-18).
All that to say: the presence of God is a Big Deal.

When I was a fairly new believer, we tended to use different language to describe our experience of God’s presence. Terms like “on fire” versus “cold”, for example. ‘Cold’ was probably an allusion to Jesus’ warning: “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), while ‘on fire’ was mostly likely inspired by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “were not our hearts burning?” (Luke 24:32).

I can recall a few times, as a teenager, when I would suddenly become aware that my heart had grown cold. I hadn’t ‘backslidden’ into a life of wanton debauchery or anything like that, nor was I defiantly shaking my fist at the Almighty. I was going through the usual motions of an average high school student who also attended church, but my heart had gradually grown cold.
The Spirit was always present, but my cold (distracted, inattentive) heart meant that I wasn’t aware of Him. Until I realized what had happened, and changed (repented).
There’s also those times where you have a sense of His presence being “on” something you are involved in. I recall instances in pastoral ministry where I was faced with a difficult meeting with difficult people, and would spend a lot of time leading up to said meeting in Scripture reading and prayer — for truth to be spoken with love and respect.

And yet despite the normal anxiety, I would enter the meeting with a definite sense of His presence going with me. There would inevitably be some level of fireworks before the meeting was over, but the resulting positive fruit was a testimony to His faithfulness to open and change hearts.

Conversely, like Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory departing from the Temple, there are times where you sense the absence, or even the withdrawal of His presence — some people colloquially describe it as: “God’s not on this”.
That can usually be understood or interpreted as one way the Holy Spirit warns us to not get involved, or when it’s time to walk away.
There was a time when I was asked by a church to do something that — no matter how I tried to look at it from multiple angles and viewpoints — I knew wasn’t what the Spirit was directing me to do.

The direction the church leadership insisted that I follow wasn’t anything illegal, unethical, immoral or even unbiblical. They simply wanted me to strip out all elements of worship or overt discipleship from a ministry that I was leading, and to focus on ‘purely social events’.

There’s nothing wrong with social events, naturally. I love having fun with friends as much as anyone. ‘Community’ is one of our deepest desires, and social gatherings are a natural expression of relationships.

So, again: the leadership of the church was not asking me to do anything illegal, unethical, immoral, or unbiblical.
But from the moment the directive came down — the proverbial ‘line drawn in the sand’ — I sensed the immediate withdrawal of the Presence. As sharply as if a guillotine had dropped.
It’s one thing, as a teenager, to suddenly realize you’ve gradually cooled-off in your awareness of God’s presence. It’s another thing entirely to sense the withdrawal of the Spirit’s presence, and continue on as if nothing significant had changed. I resigned my position at the church not long afterward.
I am not suggesting or implying that the Presence was withdrawn from the entire church in question — far from it. God is clearly at work there. I am speaking only of my individual following of His leading in one specific situation.
As David wrote in Psalm 139, God’s presence is everywhere, which is a comforting and encouraging thought. I just need to stay spiritually alert. And Moses summed up the other side of the coin succinctly: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

God’s presence — and our awareness and cooperation — is an integral part of what it means to be “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25). Whatever the cost may be, count me in.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Publishing Journey

From a writer’s perspective, the saga of Post-Charismatic is something of a guided tour into the strange world of publishing, and the various and sundry ups and downs associated with it.

In the early days of this blog, there was a lot of conversation back and forth about the growing number of disillusioned people from pentecostal/charismatic churches who were opting to leave the movements they had once considered a source of spiritual vitality.

I decided — at the encouragement of several blogging friends — to begin what I conceived of as “the mother of all research projects”: a series of blog posts to unpack the why’s behind the growing number of people who would self-identify as ‘post-charismatic’.

It didn’t take long in my research to realize that a blog series wouldn’t do the topic justice. Instead, what was tentatively billed as “the Post-Charismatic Project” would be published as a subsection of my blog — an extremely large (and growing) subsection, as twenty months of research and writing took shape.

Even before it’s release, several people suggested that I should look into getting the content published in book form. I did my best to “shop” the proposal around, but received zero response (note: possibly because my query letters sucked). So I went ahead with my initial plan and designed a website-within-a-blog for the content.


In hindsight, I have no idea what inspired me to create this banner art.

The website went public in early 2006, and word spread quickly around the digital world known as the ‘blogosphere’. A fellow blogger — Brother Maynard from Subversive Influence (who also provided invaluable critique/push-back of the early drafts) — created a forum for the website, where readers could interact on the various issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively debate would be a classic understatement.
The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that same year — what was considered the ‘holy grail’ of blogging: the opportunity for a blogger to become a published author. An email arrived from jolly olde England, inquiring about the Post-Charismatic Project.
At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I decided to contact the company in question, and inquired whether or not a certain name was associated with them.

“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “I would take any email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me: I had been ‘discovered’. I was going to be published.
After a whirlwind of signing contracts and untangling governmental red tape surrounding a Canadian writer and a British publishing house, I was knee-deep in the process of having editors scour through my book, suggesting additions, deletions, areas where the material could be tightened up, and so on. It was a fun learning curve.

I was even treated to that odd feeling that accompanies the first glimpse of the proposed cover art. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of either design, to be honest, but that’s part of the swirl of publication: you don’t have control over what the publisher decides (and they’re the experts, so you have to trust their instincts).

In the end, they chose the second cover design, which was the better of the two in my limited opinion.

And then another unexpected turn occurred.

It took almost two years for Post-Charismatic? to be released in the UK, and over a year later before it finally became available on this side of the Atlantic. The book was being marketed in the UK, and I was already receiving emails and letters from readers, yet the North American release was indefinitely delayed with no explanation.
As I later discovered, the British company had been bought out by an American publishing house, and their ‘rules’ for publication were quite different. In short, their sales department had determined I didn’t qualify to be published, but since legally-binding contracts had been signed, they were contractually obligated to the first print run. But that was as far as they would (grudgingly) go.

For a writer, this was understandably frustrating and not a little deflating. The three-year print run came and went, and the muffled thud you may have heard was the (apparent) end of my shelf life as a published author.

But in the months following the end of the print run, I continued to receive inquiries about the book’s availability, and also requests for a Kindle version. And I realized that there was another option available to me: self-publishing.

It took almost half a year of wrangling with the American company, but I finally managed to obtain an official ‘authorial rights reversal’ (on company letterhead ’n’ everything), which means I was once more in legal control of what I did with my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 was a proper second edition of the original manuscript — updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly) — and with the new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.

The learning curve to create both print and e-book formats was steep but rewarding, and having complete artistic control of my own work was well worth it.

I could never have predicted how this publishing journey would unfold, back when I began researching for ‘a few blog posts’, but it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Roots of Another Kind

I don’t remember how old I was when I chanced upon The Runaway Robot in my school library (twelve, perhaps?), but I believe it was the first science fiction book I’d ever read.

I suspect my earliest interest in what is known as ‘speculative fiction’ was sparked by the original Lost In Space television series, and later reinforced by Star Trek (TOS). I was already an avid reader as a child, but once I discovered sci-fi, I knew it was time to leave The Hardy Boys behind.

Junior & Senior high school saw my reading list expand greatly, as science fiction/fantasy became one of my favorite genres. Authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, and Jules Verne became household names for me.

One of the early gems that I discovered was Aaron Wolfe’s Invasion; Wolfe later turned out to be Dean Koontz, writing under a pseudonym. The Laser Books publishing imprint was curated by the late Roger Elwood, to whom I — at the ripe old age of thirteen — naively sent a manuscript of a sci-fi dreck-let that I’d written. He declined my submission (graciously).

Andre Norton was also one of my go-to favorites, as the bookshelf in my writing office demonstrates to this day. Her ability to write on both sides of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and to create complex and interesting worlds — often based on her research into ancient cultures — was remarkable and inspirational.

(Never underestimate the value of anthropological and historical research when it comes to creating fictionalized societies.)



Michael Crichton’s many books have joined Ms. Norton on my shelf. Crichton is an excellent example of ‘hard’ science fiction (as is Asimov) — speculative stories set in the future but based on real science of today. Crichton is another author who invests a great deal of time researching new technological break-throughs before crafting a story around them.

Sporadic diversions to authors with names like King, Grisham, Clancy, Koontz, Ludlum and Connelly have been known to occur, but they are just that: sporadic.

Fantasy continues to be represented by J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and associated tales, and the recent discovery of ‘The King-Killer Chronicles’ by Patrick Rothfuss (please excuse me while I add my voice to  those calling upon Rothfuss to take less the 5-6 years between installments).

As Stephen King states in his worthy tome, On Writing: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’m always doing the former, and am now seven months into an obsessive focus on the latter. (That’s called foreshadowing — it’s a literary device that means: “Currently writing the first draft of a new novel.”)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Crucible (Messy Revival)


photo source: Wiki Commons
“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.
But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)
At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.
That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.
‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.
There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Satan Sends an Emoji


image source: Wikicommons
In the Olden Days of Yesteryear, Satan would often phone church people to personally congratulate them when they took on tasks normally reserved for him. “You’re doing one helluva job. Keep up the good work!”

These days, things have gotten much busier, and wanting to keep up with the times and technology, the Devil is now sending diabolically clever emoji’s to signal his approval.

The task at hand, as it has been for many years, is two-fold:
(A) Demoralize church leaders to the point where they quit.

(B) Failing that, surround said leaders with enough toxicity that they can only survive by building walls of protection around themselves.
For example: in the Olden Days, the well-timed phone call — preferably during Sunday lunch — that interrupts the leader’s family time with a barrage of criticism. Meal-time ruined; leader’s motives, gifts and passion called into question; spouse & children witnesses to the carnage which in turn (dis)colors their view of church. Perfect!

The caller hangs up, tingling with a rush of self-righteous adrenaline — “I really gave them a piece of my mind held them accountable.”

And Satan sends an emoji.

For those eager not to miss out on the bandwagon, there are many ways to earn these congratulatory dopamine-enhancers (far more satisfying than a mere ‘like’ or ‘retweet’). Here’s a partial list:

The Declaration Of Defamation that shows up in a leader’s mail slot in the church office, from that most-prolific of all letter-writers: “Anonymous”. (No, not the hacker vigilantes...)
The recurring line-up of ‘the usual suspects’ outside the pastor’s office, ready to grind their Axe of Agenda because the pastor has (in their opinion) somehow failed them God in a recent sermon.
The young worship leader who devotes hours and hours of practice, prayer, and using their gifts for the Kingdom, only to be told that numerous people plan to boycott the next time they lead worship because they don’t like (a) the volume, (b) the drums, (c) the songs, or (d) (fill in pet musical peeve here).
Or the equally disembowelling dagger: “You’re not anointed” or “you’re leading from ‘the flesh’ and not from the Spirit” (because these people can discern a leader’s heart and motives, just like God can).
The prickly email sent from a parishioner with a laundry list of complaints spiritual concerns, speaking “on behalf of a lot of people” (to give their criticism added weight).
Those who delight in spreading gossip under the guise of ‘concern’: “You know, a lot of people are saying (blank) about you behind your back — I just thought you should know”.
The grumpy person in the lobby — arms crossed, brow furrowed — compelled by All That Is Holy to accuse the leader of being aloof, unapproachable, or ‘looking defensive’ (while remaining blissfully unaware of the irony).
This is only a partial list, of course. With time, effort, and a little creativity, the possibilities and permutations are simply endless. The Enemy appreciates the additional help. Be diligent, and don’t ever take your foot off the gas pedal.

And Satan sends an emoji.