“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words’ ” (Exodus 34:27).

Sunday, December 4, 2016

FESTUS’ WRITER’S BLOCK

From Acts 25:23-27

Festus, Governor of Judea, suffered from writer's block. He paced the palace porticoes, wondering what to write. Paul, the religious radical, was imprisoned, awaiting a transfer to Rome, and was a thorn in Festus’ side. To justify Paul's imprisonment, Festus had to write something down, any plausible accusation to justify Rome’s involvement and keep the troublemaker behind bars. But the words never came.

He invited King Herod to hear Paul’s babblings and suggest any viable allegations against him. Herod, however, had no ideas. If only such writer’s block prevailed today.

An unkind story may be just the anecdote to grab our readers or illustrate a valid point. But at what cost? A writer I know cast someone in a bad light. She didn’t name the person, and the story was ideal to illustrate a point, but an acquaintance recognized herself in the article, and a longtime friendship instantly soured.

Maybe you have an opportunity to use an uncomfortable experience with someone in your story. Think first. Is it worth it? Might it damage a friendship, cause a rift in the family, or heap needless criticism on others? There are ways to convey a point without a poison pen.

Festus’ difficulty in writing charges against Paul was a sign that it shouldn’t be done. Magazine racks are filled with gossip, and anger and criticism flood the internet and editorial pages. But if we’re tempted to add to it all, perhaps that is the time to sense a divinely given writer’s block.

Read also Ephesians 4:29.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

THE DAYS TO COME

From Isaiah 30:1–11

The Assyrian Empire was breathing down the neck of Judah. With the recent devastation of Israel to the north, King Hezekiah sent treasure-bearing emissaries to Egypt to purchase their allegiance against Assyria’s terror. But this deal would mean compromise of Israel’s spirit and loyalty.

The prophet Isaiah shouted in the streets. The road to Egypt would be peppered with deadly beasts, he said. Poisonous snakes and voracious lions awaited those bent on breaking faith with God. Even if they succeeded in such an alliance, it would be an act of futility. For if the Assyrian armies were God’s instruments of judgment, nothing would stop them.

Isaiah cried warning to all who would hear, but his spoken words were not enough. God demanded that he “write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll,” so a rebellious people would not ignore the impact of these actions.

Dystopian visions of devastation upon corrupt and violent nations are currently popular literature, but certainly not new. There is a place for written words of caution. There is a God-ordained role for words that warn of consequences of violence, greed, and lawlessness. Write them imaginatively and eloquently so others may know that a lawless life and corrupt culture bring consequences as imminent as nightfall. Write your concerns in poem or memoir, letters or song, but write to be God’s voice of warning, telling others that choices have consequences and our future depends upon the paths we take today.

Read also Jeremiah 51:59–64.

Monday, October 10, 2016

MORE COULD BE SAID, BUT...

From John 20:30–31

Every literary work has its purpose, and John is perfectly clear about his. He writes to bolster faith. John’s gospel is about believing in Jesus, about receiving the life—both joyous and endless—that comes only by trusting in Him. This is no small task for anyone, even a writer handpicked by the living Christ, even a writer whose fingers move by the Spirit of the living God. 

With eternity itself at stake, we might easily assume that the more words the better. When we’re passionate for our purpose, desperate to convince others of paramount issues, the words can flow freely, profusely, and voluminously—perhaps to the detriment of our cause. Overwhelming others with our words, we may even rouse a response opposite of the one we desire. 

With his words, John elegantly paints the wonders of Christ—changing water to wine, weakness to strength, sickness to health, death to life, darkness to light, and scarcity to amazing abundance. And there is even more that could have been written—far more, indeed—but John says the words he has written are enough for faith, enough for those who would believe. 

Editors tell us to trim and tighten, whittle down to essentials clear enough to convey a good story well-told. John, however, offers a divine reason for conciseness. When it comes to encouraging faith, voluminous words and stories aren’t needed. The right words, however, the well-chosen, prayerfully and carefully considered narratives—these will nurture the faith that brings life. 

For further reading: Ecclesiastes 12:9–10

Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE WRITING ON THE WALL

Detail of Rembrandt's "Belshazzar's Feast" (1635)
From Daniel 5:1–24

Wine flowed in golden cups as King Belshazzar played gleeful ringmaster amid a sloppy circus of inebriated nobility. The carousing soon quieted as one guest after another stared, pointed, gaped, and gasped at what the king saw. 

Their groggy eyes watched as a hovering hand scraped words into the palace wall. Belshazzar’s face paled and his knees knocked. When the mysterious hand had vanished, he called all his scholars and diviners to interpret the words, but no Babylonian sage could explain them. Only Daniel, the aging Jewish advisor, knew the meaning of the message—because he knew the Author.

What strikes me here, however, is not just God’s message of warning, but that with all His remarkable means to communicate, God had chosen to write. He thunders through the prophets, whispers in dreams, and sends messengers from heaven, but despite all the dramatic tools at His disposal, God chose to quietly write His warning upon the plastered wall.

God knows people grasp messages in various ways, by a song or sermon, or a close call with tragedy. Your life may be altered by a vivid dream or conversation with a friend, but there are many for whom seeing words etched out upon a flat surface, still and profound, is the only means that resonates with their hearts.

Your written words, quietly staring up at readers, may be the only way to impact them at this point in their lives. Will your words be there when they are ready for them?

For further reading: 1 Kings 19:5–16

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A CELEBRATION IN WORDS

 From Psalm 30:1–12

After being raised from a dark pit, his world black as night, David sees light and hope and cause to praise. There is a time for sadness and a time for joy, and for David it is time to rejoice. Sickness and loss bring quiet contemplation, but then he picks up his pen to write. Joy fills him within and covers him without. His heart cannot be silent, but will burst out in praise, for that is what grateful hearts do.

Now at the dedication of the temple grounds, David shares words of praise with those gathered round to consecrate the place where God’s house will be built. Sacrifices are offered; materials are gathered; workmen are assembled. Cedar and stone, silver and gold, bronze and iron would all be crafted and carefully set by builders and artisans for the glory of God. Just as carvers and carpenters crafted their work, so King David had crafted his own. Using words and meter, images and rhythm, he artfully assembles them to celebrate life.

As a pastor, I’ve been part of countless celebrations, gladly writing words to commend new birth, the joining of hearts, graduations and retirements, and the bittersweet moment a loved one moves from pain to the presence of God. But the words of a pastor will never replace the words within your heart—the words that you yourself must write.

Christian writers must not be silent, but rather mark our sorrows, celebrate our joys, and set down our lives with heartfelt words.

For further reading: 1 Chronicles 22:1–6. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

From 1Peter 4:10-11

 A missionary friend was confronted in Switzerland about his faith in God. “If there really is a God,” a wealthy man challenged, “then why do I have so much when countless African families have so little?”

“Because God wants to see what you’re going to do about it,” he answered.

In that exchange, my friend revealed one very important characteristic of God’s gifts—they’re meant to be shared. According to Peter, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1Peter 4:10, NIV). Christians have a wide variety of gifts and abilities, none of which are to be hoarded.

We know how to write. And no matter our efforts to improve our word craft, it is a gift of God and He expects us to use it for others “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1Peter 4:11, NIV). It is not about us.

We have our ideas about serving the world through our writing with award-winning poems, best-selling books, and widely published articles, all done for God’s glory, of course. But there are many ways to use our gift of words.

Someone needs help with a letter to a loved one or a résumé for a new job. A Sunday school class is writing letters to missionaries or poems for their own parents. Your neighbor wants to write memories of her childhood, but she doesn’t know how.

You have a gift of words. How are you using it for others?

Read also: Luke 6:38 and 2Corinthians 9:6–8.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

THE BEAUTY OF GOOD NEWS

From Isaiah 52:7–10.

Cowering in their village—with smoke rising in the distance, evidence of a still-raging battle—the aged, the young, the infirm all anxiously await the news.

Is the battle nearing an end? Will fathers and sons return, swords sheathed at their sides? Or will the enemy soon encroach upon their village?

One figure rises over the crest of the hill—the watchman. From the distance they see him, hunched over and panting, clutching his side. Quickly the messenger is sent to him. The watchman falls to his knees, steadying himself with his arm. As huddled villagers peer out their doors, they see the watchman, between labored breaths, speak into the ear of the messenger.

With a jump, the messenger sprints back to the people, dust spinning behind his feet. Waving his arms, he yells. Is it warning or cheering? As he comes closer, they hear. “Good news!” he shouts. “Our armies have won, and God still reigns!”

He collapses before them, his dust-covered feet now calloused and torn, are all the more beautiful for the news they bring. In grateful joy, the people burst into song, thanking God for good news and the weary soul who brought it.

With dispiriting words swirling about in a whirlwind of anger and fear, our world still needs good news. Your friends, your family, your readers desperately need words that heal. What encouraging words will you write this day that may bring comfort and joy to your readers?

Read also: 2 Samuel 18:24–28