And wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart
I am a multi-passionate writer of fiction and nonfiction. I was named honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Annual Contest 2018. My latest project discusses the relationship between faith/religion and depression.
I’ve got Billy Idol’s song “Blue Highway” playing in my head. Sometimes a song will just come into my head for no apparent reason. But then I remembered. My first podcast guest appearance was just released. And the podcast is called “The Dream Highway,” hosted by Steve Pederson. Dream Highway, Blue Highway … I don’t know if you see the connection, but my subconscious mind obviously does.
Anyway, Steve Pederson is a “musician, author, speaker, entrepreneur and family man [who] hosts this weekly podcast that helps you up-level your life.” In the podcast he wants you to “be inspired by teaching and interviews with people whose lives have been transformed. Hear the stories that have enabled them to overcome crippling obstacles and have propelled them towards their destiny. It’s all about real people overcoming real odds to realize their dreams.”
My end of the audio sounds like it’s cutting in and out at first. I think that might be because I couldn’t find my headset and had to rely on my computer’s microphone. It does seem to clear up as you go through, so please don’t give up on me.
I’ve thought about creating a podcast, maybe in conjunction with my YouTube channel. But for now, I am looking to be a guest on other podcasts. Last month, I took a class from Nancy Juetten on how to be a dream podcast guest. From our comments, Nancy saw a similarity in topics we wanted to specialize in and suggested we connect. After a brief email exchange, he encouraged me to fill out the guest application. That gave me a chance to be specific regarding what I wanted to talk about. I had my one-sheet after going through Nancy’s one week course. Just having that done and refined has given me more confidence in approaching podcast hosts looking for guests.
This is the first, but it won’t be the last podcast I do. In fact, there is an episode for another podcast already recorded that will be posted some time in December, and I’m looking for more.
I’m doing this as a way to promote my book. It will take time to know how effective it is as a marketing tool. All I can say now it was a great experience.
Steve and I had a great rapport, and I think that comes through in the episode. Some things we discussed:
Writing a contest-winning book on a depressed brain
The relationship between shame, faith and depression
The chemical imbalance controversy
The difference between situational and clinical depression
Some science-based ways to alleviate depression
Signs you may want to get tested for clinical depression
Depression is not a lack of faith or character
Faith should allow you to be human
Faith should encourage you to be honest with yourself and with God
The best career path is one that fits your personality, you have talent for, and you love doing.
It was one of those conversations I was sad it had to end, and I hope Steve will have me again when it’s time to talk about my next book.
The Secret about Introverts
On knowing your personality, the Meyers-Briggs test was helpful for me. I am an INFP on the scale. The most helpful information was knowing I am introverted rather than extraverted. You might be surprised that I enjoyed talking for these episodes. Here’s something you might not know about introverts. We may appear to be quiet, shy, or wanting to fade into the background. We are usually not good at small talk. But if you get us talking about something we are passionate about, we can talk all day.
I am passionate about faith that promotes mental health rather than tears it down, and I can’t thank Steve enough for letting me talk about it. Next time, I’ll have an extra headset in case one gets lost again.
As a writer and a Bible Geek, I get frustrated by verses like this:
Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah?
(1Ki 14:29 NRSV)
The author says this as if we could just go down to the local library to check this out, or search for The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah online. Apparently, he never envisioned a time when such a book would not be available to his readers.
Back in 1993, I went on an archeological dig organized by professors from Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Connecticut. (Good thing it wasn’t for basketball). The topic of theoretical sources like “Q” (which scholars say was a common source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) came up. Some students wondered why scholars would make up these sources if we don’t have any manuscripts of them. One professor pointed out about two-thirds of all ancient books we know of, we have no manuscripts for. We only know they existed because they are mentioned in manuscripts of books we do have, as in the example I gave above. If we had copies of them, who knows what more books we would learn about?
Among the books mentioned in the Bible that we have no copies of today are
The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)
The Book of Samuel the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
The Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29)
The Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
The Records of the Prophet Shemaiah (2 Chronicles 12:15)
The Book of Iddo the Seer (2 Chronicles 12:15)
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29)
And I have to include here Solomon was said to have written more than a thousand songs (1 Kings 4:32), yet only two are preserved in the book of Psalms (72 and 127), and of course the canonical Song of Solomon. The imagination boggles at the information lost because the Biblical authors assumed these sources would be preserved forever.
The Book of Jashar
One more of these is the Book of Jashar (also spelled Jasher). In Hebrew it translates as “The Book of the Upright” or “the Book of the Just Man.” It is mentioned in Joshua and 2 Samuel.
On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.
(Jos 10:12-13 NRSV)
This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, God making the sun stand still because Joshua prayed for it. Maybe you think this did not really happen. If so, I don’t blame you. But what I’m interested in is the mention of a book that we no longer have any copies of.
Then it is mentioned in reference to “The Song of the Bow,” which David likely composed, but again, we have no manuscripts.
[David] ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.
(2Sa 1:18 NRSV)
So imagine my excitement when I found out there is a copy of something called “The Book of Jasher” today. Turns out it is not the same book as mentioned in the Old Testament. It is an eighteenth-century forgery that alleges to be a translation of the “lost” Book of Jasher by Alcuin, an eighth-century English scholar.
Another book by this same name, called by many “Pseudo-Jasher,” while written in Hebrew, is also not the “Book of Jasher” mentioned in Scripture. It is a book of Jewish legends from the creation to the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, but scholars hold that it did not exist before A.D. 1625. In addition, there are several other theological works by Jewish rabbis and scholars called “Sefer ha Yashar,” but none of these claim to be the original Book of Jasher.
So potentially, there were at least three or four copies of the Book of Jashar that turned out to be fake. But just out of curiosity, I got a copy of one of these on Kindle. It presented some intriguing possibilities for biblical fiction, as I had hoped.
Making sense of Abraham’s first meeting with God
For example, Abraham’s first encounter with God is in Genesis 12. God just appears to Abraham and tells him to leave his father’s house and country and go to a land “that I will show you” (Gen 12:1-3), and he does it. I always wondered how Abraham recognized the God called Yahweh or El Shaddai when the only gods he had been exposed to were the gods of Ur and Harran. This version of the book of Jasher presents an interesting answer, even if it is speculation.
Like his neighbors, his father had idols of Babylonian gods. It was customary to offer food to these idols. In this version of The Book of Jashar, Abraham wanted to test the idols of his household. He prepared some savory meat (like Esau), placed it before them, and invited them to eat. Nothing happened. He invited them again. Don’t they smell that enticing aroma coming from the meat? Don’t they want to taste it?
He sat for hours, waiting for them to eat this delicious food he had prepared for them. They didn’t eat. They didn’t answer him when he asked why they didn’t want to eat it. And then it dawned on him. These idols have no power of their own. These gods have no power of their own. So he smashed the idols to pieces and waited to see if the gods would kill him. No harm came to him. He turned his back on the gods of his people, and that set the stage for Yahweh to introduce himself.
Helpful for biblical fiction. Sort of.
If I were to write a novel based on Abraham, that would present a believable scenario for how Abraham came to know the God he called Yahweh. There are many other examples like this that present intriguing possibilities for filling in some of the gaps in the Biblical narratives. The best stories were those associated with Abraham and his family.
But after Abraham, especially when it gets to the sons of Jacob, it goes too much into flights of fancy to be at all believable. For example, the sons of Jacob over and over again face armies in tens of thousands with one or two hundred and utterly destroy them. Two hundred shepherds obliterate armies of thirty, forty, or fifty thousand, even those in walled cities, which one man tears down with his bare hands? Not just once but several times? Come on!
“But it’s fiction,” you say.
Do you know the difference between fiction and real life? Fiction has to make sense. In Egypt, 150 Israelites kill 400,000 of Pharaoh’s army? That doesn’t make sense, because then, how could the Egyptians possibly have enslaved them? The book tries to explain it by saying they tricked the Israelites into making bricks in order to weaken them first. Then they enslaved them. But if 150 can kill 400,000 trained soldiers of the most powerful empire of the time, there is no way making bricks is going to weaken them enough to enslave them. There is no labor at all that could weaken them.
So it can be a source for Biblical fiction. But as with everything, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Have you ever played Tom Swiftie? I’m referring to the word game many of us learned as children where you make a sentence in the format: (Statement) + Tom said + (punny adverb). Here are a few of my favorites.
“This lemonade needs more sugar,” Tom said sourly.
“I’m not good at darts,” Tom said aimlessly.
“I only have diamonds, clubs, and spades,” Tom said heartlessly.
“I dropped the toothpaste,” Tom said crestfallenly.
If you have fun with this, keep it out of your writing. The adverbs in these sentences, while good for making puns, can suck the life out of fiction. Steven King perhaps popularized this notion more than any other fiction writer. The Dorrance Publishing website has a page with 20 of Steven King’s top rules for writing. Numbers 3 and 4 concern (not using) adverbs.
3. Avoid adverbs. You need to do the work prior to using an adverb so that it isn’t necessary as a descriptor. If your characters are in a heated argument, you need to create the drama leading up to an exit so that you don’t need to say that the character slammed the door, forcefully. Forcefully should be redundant.
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.” (Sorry, Tom S.) According to King, “While to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.” You don’t need to add an adverb after “he said” or “she said.” Just keep it simple.
“Authors’ Rules for Writing: Stephen King
In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he gets even more critical. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
Whether you are a fan of King or not, I believe the greatest reason for his success is his ability to paint vivid scenes and characters in the reader’s imagination. So we would do well to heed his advice. Why is he so down on adverbs? Let’s explore that for a few minutes.
#3 Avoid Adverbs
So what’s wrong with adverbs? As a kid who grew up on Schoolhouse Rock, I can still sing the chorus and most verses of “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.” Now, as a writer, the experts tell me I should let Lolly keep their adverbs. As with most writing rules, when I first learned this, my first instinct was to rebel. What did I spend those Saturday mornings watching cartoons for if it’s to forget the grammar I learned?
But as with most writing rules, as I sit with it, it makes sense. In the last post, I talked about the importance of using strong verbs instead of weak verbs. This rule is a corollary of that. As King indicated in Rule #3, strong verbs make adverbs unnecessary and redundant. If Tom slammed the door, there’s no need to add “forcefully.”
Think of this sentence. She walked slowly. The adverb here props up the weak verb walked. How could we say that without the adverb?
She crept.She tiptoed.She shuffled.
Do you see how using a strong verb makes any adverb unnecessary or even redundant? Not only that, the strong verb paints a more vivid picture than the verb/adverb combination we used originally.
So the lesson here is watch out for verb/adverb combinations. When you see one, try to find a stronger verb.
#4 “He/She said,” No Adverb
Now we go after Tom Swiftie. King’s 4th Rule refers specifically to using an adverb with “he said” or “she said.” Again, if you do the other parts of your writing well, you shouldn’t need an adverb in that case. The action and dialog should make the emotion behind it clear without any adverbs. One of Elmore Leonard’s cardinal rules was you should never need any dialog tag other than said. I think it’s safe to say he would agree with King on this.
Consider this example. “That’s not funny,” he said angrily.
The dialog here does not clearly communicate anger, so the writer used the adverb, angrily. But as an article on Autocrit said, “An adverb in a dialogue tag means you probably have to rewrite the dialogue itself.” How could we change this dialog?
“That’s not funny, you disgusting pig,” he said. Now there’s no need for an adverb.
You can also use action if you prefer. He grabbed the joker by the throat. “That’s not funny,” he said. Or something simpler. “That’s not funny,” he said through clenched teeth.
Those are just some examples, hopefully enough to demonstrate that “said” with an adverb is not the most powerful way to convey emotion. And this is really part of the “Show don’t tell” rule. Instead of telling the reader what the character is feeling—angry, frustrated, happy, sad, etc.—show the emotion through action and dialog.
“To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
Did you notice he used adverbs? Totally, completely, profligately. Yes they are adverbs, but they do not break the rules. You want to avoid verb/adverb combinations, and you want to avoid adverbs with dialog tags. His adverbs do not describe a verb but an adjective (“covered”). If you think covered is a verb, it can be. But in this sentence, it’s a past participle, which can be used as an adjective.
Bottom line, the goal is not to eliminate all adverbs. The goal is to make your writing vivid and compelling to the reader. And these two rules will help you do that.
On your work-in-progress, pull up the search function (Find in MS Word). Search for ly. This will be at the end of almost all offending adverbs. If your adverb is paired with a verb, replace it with a strong verb that makes the adverb unnecessary.
If it is a Tom Swiftie (“he said adverb”, “she said adverb”) you can try two things.
Remove the adverb. Is the meaning still clear? Congratulations. You wrote it well but just didn’t know it.
If the meaning is not clear, add some action or make the dialog sharper until the adverb is unnecessary.
Verbs are for action. That may sound obvious. But so many writers seem to forget that when writing the action in their scenes (myself included). If your verbs are strong, your action will be too. I’m going to show you an example of what a difference strong verbs can make from my current Work in Progress (WiP).
I’m editing my manuscript called Through Fear of Death. It’s historical fiction based in ancient Rome in 96 AD. Valentinius is the senior guard at the Carcer, Rome’s main prison. In this scene, Silas has just been brought to the Carcer, along with other prisoners. Silas is a big man, so Valentinius takes it upon himself to escort him, leaving the other nonthreatening prisoners to his partner. Valentinius pushed him in the back, but only once. Here is how I wrote it originally.
He gave a little push in the prisoner’s back. The man did not put up any resistance or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
In the editing phase, I noticed the first two sentences could be tightened up. So I changed it to this.
He pushed the prisoner from behind. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
Now the action is more vivid, because pushed is more direct than gave a little push. Did not resist is tighter than did not put up any resistance. Normally, you would not tell what the character did not do, but in this case it says something about Valentinius’s motive for pushing him. He’s gauging how the prisoner will react. No reaction, in his mind, is good.
Use Strong Verbs for Action
To keep the reader’s attention, you have to make the action in the scene vivid. This is why every fiction class says, Show don’t tell. In the first example, I followed that rule, but the action still wasn’t as vivid as it could be, which brings me to the next rule. The most important word for any action in a scene is the verb. Use strong verbs for action.
In the first version, I used push and resistance as nouns. That required me to use weak verbs, gave and put (up). Push and resist are stronger as verbs than nouns. If your verbs are weak, chances are you can replace them with stronger verbs. Your reader will notice and enjoy it more. They won’t necessarily say, “Great use of strong verbs.” But they will notice the action in your scenes leaps off the page, and that will keep them reading.
But I’ve read lots of books with weak verbs, and I liked them.
This is a common problem for beginning writers. They have read other authors breaking the rules. Classic authors, especially those who wrote before movies, TV, the Internet, video games, etc., could take their time unfolding action slowly, going into long descriptions of settings that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, showing off their fancy ways of putting words together, painstakingly describing every subtlety and nuance of a character’s expression or action, and telling, not showing. Authors today do not have that luxury.
I once read Dickens take an entire paragraph to describe how a woman raised her eyebrows. You might have read that and liked it, especially if you read a lot of classics. People accept that from Dickens, because he is required reading in just about every English literature curriculum. But today’s readers will lose patience if you take too long and too many words to get to the action or the point of a scene.
Knowing When to Show and When to Tell
Following the rules show don’t tell, and use strong verbs, I have shown the action rather than told it. He pushed the prisoner from behind. What was his motive for doing that? I have shown that. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble. He is not just being a bully. He wants to see how the prisoner reacts to it, so he can see how closely he needs to watch this big prisoner. This is a tactic he uses, not on every prisoner, but the ones who could challenge him. I’ve hinted at that, but I wanted to make the strategic aspect of this clearer, so I added a little exposition.
He pushed the prisoner from behind. It was a test he gave prisoners who might want to challenge him. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
That’s a bit of telling, not showing. You hear show don’t tell all the time when you are learning how to write. But the truth is at some point, every story requires some telling. So it’s more like know when to show and when to tell. The main action in a scene should always be shown not told. But other aspects might be better told than shown. In general, I try to show as much through action and dialog as I can. Then, if I feel there is something the reader needs to know that I can’t quite show, I will do a little telling.
It was a test he often gave prisoners who might want to challenge him. I can’t show you every time he ever did this or the details of how he chooses which prisoners to push. But this tells you something about how he does his job. Initiating physical contact might be a problem for prison guards today. For ancient Rome, however, one push on a big man, for whom it could not do any real damage, to see how he reacts, would have been considered reasonable.
Breaking the Rules I Just Told You
It was a test he gave prisoners who might want to challenge him.
You might also think that sentence is not as tight as it could be. I tried tightening it a few times, but it did not quite work. Writing tight is not as important there, because it is not action (This point is arguable). It is technically called exposition. I’ll explain more about that in a future post.
If I can sum up, for the action in a scene:
Show, don’t tell as much as you can.
Use strong verbs.
Convey as much to the reader as you can through action and dialog without resorting to exposition.
When you must use exposition, make sure there is a purpose for it, keep it brief, and make it relevant to the character’s action and reaction.
Exercise: Look at a scene in your work-in-progress (WiP). Did you use strong or weak verbs for the action? Change any weak verbs to stronger ones and see if you like it better.
In the next couple of months, I will be working on an audiobook version of Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain.
I am preparing my novel Through Fear of Death: A Novel of Ancient Rome to self-publish as an ebook. Afterwards, I will have print and audio versions available, but the ebook will come first. I’m looking for publication at the end of August, so I can enter it into this year’s Self-Published Ebook contest with Writer’s Digest. Hopefully, lightning can strike twice.
You will have the ability to sign up for exclusive updates leading up to these two publications. Details to follow.
The “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip by Bill Watterson ran from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. One recurring theme was his father telling six-year-old Calvin, “It builds character.” The things he said build character include:
Shoveling the walk
Playing sports (baseball)
Enduring cold weather
Suffering a tough life
Learning to ride a bicycle.
So basically, any time Calvin had to do something he didn’t like, his father said, “It builds character.” One in particular stands out to me. Calvin complained that it was cold in the house.
Calvin: It’s freezing in here!! Why can’t we crank up the thermostat?!
Dad: Consuming less fuel is good for the environment and it saves money.
I imagine, like Calvin, the last thing you want to hear about this crisis is it builds character. So I won’t do that. I’ll let Paul do it.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …
(Rom 5:3-4 NRS).
Suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. So Paul agrees with the dad. Sorry, Calvin.
But when we’re going through suffering or trials of any kind, it’s hard to see anything positive. It’s hard to “count it nothing but joy,” as James said (1:2). It’s hard to think about the perspective and maturity you will gain when all you want is for it to be over. After you go through a few trials, though, you can look back and see, “Yes, I am a better person for having gone through that.”
At some point, we all ask something like, if God loves us, why is there so much suffering? Why won’t God get rid of the Coronavirus? If God is love (1 Jn 4:8), why is God allowing all the chaos and suffering of this pandemic? We think love wants to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. And that is true, to an extent (Mat 7:9-11). But that is only part of the picture. My experience living with clinical depression and Irritable Bowel Syndrome has convinced me that God’s love cares more about our character than our happiness. I wouldn’t have chosen those trials and the crises of faith that came with them, but they made me more compassionate and wiser. They stripped away any what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of faith I had before. And they resulted in a WD Award Winning book.
As wonderful as that is, what I really hope for is people telling me after they read my book, they got diagnosed, or they started counseling, or they now understand why their son, daughter, spouse, or parent acts the way they do. In other words, that it really helps others living with depression. That is often where perspective and wisdom happens. God allowed me to go through this, so I can help others who are going through the same thing.
A New Prayer for Perseverance
The only way your faith can mature is to go through trials and experience God’s faithfulness through them. James said it this way.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
(Jam 1:2-5 NRS)
In that spirit, I wrote this prayer I am using to get me through this, and I hope it helps you.
“God, you said through your servant James that the trying of my faith would produce perseverance and wisdom. I would rather you remove it from me. For that matter, I would rather You remove it from my family, from my neighbors, and from the world. I am facing the brutal facts, and they are overwhelming. But if You choose not to remove it immediately, I know there must be a reason. There must be a lesson in this, even if I can’t imagine what it is right now. I confess that I am lacking wisdom in this trial. You promised to give me this wisdom, the perspective I need, if I ask. So I ask You to give me wisdom to see as You see, and to use this until You choose to remove it. Amen.”
Don’t Call It “The New Normal”
I added the word “immediately” because God will remove this at some point. Or our medical experts will find a cure and/or vaccine. We can take some comfort in knowing historically, no pandemic lasts forever. The plagues of the 14th and 18th centuries did come to an end, as did the Spanish flu of 1918. That is why I refuse to use the words “new normal.” New normal implies this is what life is going to be like from now on. Social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, washing hands and sanitizing surfaces several times a day are all good for flattening the curve. And the sooner we get everyone on board with that, the sooner it will be over.
But it won’t be like this forever. One day, it will be safe to gather together again. We’ll be able to go back to church, movies, and concerts with our friends and family, and without masks. We’ll be able to shake hands and hug those we love. I and others will be able to seek out speaking engagements in person rather than on screen. But for now, the loving thing to do is to protect each other by stopping the spread of the virus however we can. Remember who you are doing this for. I socially distance from you, so I don’t have to socially distance from my wife. No offense, but I’d rather get close to her than to you.
So stay safe and six feet apart. If you can’t do that, wear masks and wash your hands. And remember the words of Paul and James I shared with you. They had it right. Suffering and the trying of our faith does produce perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, so that the trying of our faith makes us mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Ask God for wisdom to see how this is forming your character to conform to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Because as bad as this may be, the only thing that could be worse is if we have to go through this and not learn what God wants us to learn from this trial.
The May/June issue of Writer’s Digest is out, listing the winners of the 2019 Self-Published E-book Awards. You’ll see in this montage my lovely wife put together, I am listed as the winner in the Nonfiction category. I know I’ve told you about it, but seeing it in print is so exciting.
I have my own YouTube channel called Almost Ordained. You can follow the link to check it out or even subscribe. “Almost ordained” because I have two seminary degrees, but never got ordained. That means I have the theological and biblical training, but I can’t pastor a church or perform sacraments or weddings. My sister took up that mantle.
I have links to the latest episodes below, along with running times so you can gauge whether you have time for it. This is an example of a vlog (video blog). As the name implies, it is a blog done on video. Keeping some kind of diary or journal is often helpful in getting through a stressful time, so I encourage you to do it, whether on video, your blog, or the old-fashioned way.
Kingdom Priorities (23:18)
Wisdom from Psalm 30 (30:05)
A New Haircut, The Stockdale Paradox, James 1:2-5; and Letting Perseverance Complete Its Work (28:08)
Confessions of an Ex-Prophet (58:07)
Coronavirus Confessions, and Why Gardening Is Good for Depression (12:08)
I originally published this on a different blog. But it struck me this is a perfect story to say Mother’s Day, to my mom and mothers everywhere.
If you remember your wedding day, how would you have felt if your wedding planner came to you during the reception and said, “We’ve run out of food and not all the guests have been served”? I suppose you would have panicked for a moment and then expected the wedding planner to fix it. Find some food. I don’t care where you get it. Just get it here now. You would not have expected any of the guests to get it for you.
When Jesus and Mary are at a wedding in Cana (see John 2:1-12), Mary hears they have run out of wine. She probably felt their embarrassment, especially if they were friends of hers. In Galilee in the first century, “those invited might be expected to contribute provisions such as wine” (HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible, John 2.1 note). So it was not necessarily unusual for her to ask her son to help.
Interesting fact about Jewish weddings in the first century: Receptions lasted a full week. During this time, the bride and the bridegroom had their honeymoon in their new home. The wedding guests celebrated outside.
Jesus appears unconcerned at first.
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
(Joh 2:4 NRS)
I know mothers are going to ask, why did he call her “Woman,” instead of Mother or Mom? That probably was not disrespectful in that culture (compare 19:26; 20:15). But the next line he says indicates her request is about more than wine. In other words, “This is not the time to reveal myself as the Messiah and Son of God.”
But his mother tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Joh 2:5 NRS)
I imagine at this point, she gave him The Mother’s Look. You know what I’m talking about. Your mother wants you to do something, and she gives you that look that tells you there is no arguing with her about this. That sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle–or sign as John prefers to call it–turning water into wine. She knows something about her son, something he does not want to reveal–at least, not yet. He does not think it is the right time to show his miracle working power. His hour has not yet come. Really Mom? You think this is how I should reveal to the world I am the Son of God? But he does it anyway.
Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
(Joh 2:6 NRS)
So the servants need to get wine fast. They are waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. He sees six large stone water jars, and as a Jew, he would know these are used to hold water for purification rites. He says to fill them with water. What were the servants thinking? How is purifying ourselves going to help us get wine?
But Mary is there, and maybe she reminds them. “I said, do whatever he tells you!”
They follow his directions, filling the jars to the brim. They draw some out. At what point did the water change to wine? When it was in the jars or when they drew some out (in a pitcher I imagine)? When the chief steward tasted it? Who knows. And I have to wonder, as important as washing for purification rituals was for Jews, how could these jars have been empty?
At any rate, this water that would normally be used to wash people and objects for ritual purification has turned into wine, and the social crisis is solved. With the capacity of each jar, they would have had 120-180 gallons of wine, presumably enough to last the entire reception.
It’s a strange story, so I feel more compelled than usual to ask,
What can we learn from this?
The purification vessels are empty then filled with water, which allows them to fulfill their original purpose. Jesus repurposes them when he turns the water into wine. One commentator says,
The pots contain only water. Soon Jesus will fill them with eschatological wine, a rich symbol in the biblical tradition inferring prosperity, abundance, good times; the wine will overflow the water pots. Their true purpose will be fulfilled. Changing the pots of water into pots flowing over with good wine becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry as he brings vitality to the ancient religion.
You can be spiritual and still join others in celebration. Two of the fruits of the spirit are love and joy. One way to show love is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. A wedding feast is a time for rejoicing with those who rejoice, and any religion should make room for joy when it is appropriate.
It is okay to pray for “unimportant” things. I hear people all the time say, “Don’t pray for that. God has more important things to do.” Did Jesus have more important things to do than keep the party going? Yes, and he would go on to do them. But for now, he is there, and they need wine. Someone asks for his help, and he answers.
Any religion should make room for “Cana Grace.” Cana Grace? This is a new term for me, but one commentator explains it this way.
…it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God—the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down; a new members’ dinner at someone’s home that ends with folks giving thanks to God for the welcome they have received at church—it is called Cana Grace. Give thanks for everyone in your church and in your life who has the knack for throwing a party. What a way to begin a ministry!
So what if there were much bigger problems in the world. Yes, it was almost incredibly embarrassing for the hosts, but social embarrassment is not the end of the world. But if we’re honest, it sure feels like the end of the world. Jesus saved the day by bringing “Cana Grace” when his friends needed it. It was not the way he planned to launch his ministry, which strangely makes it feel even more appropriate. And the reason is one we can all relate to. He had a very hard time saying no to his mother.
Did you know the joy of the kingdom of God/Heaven is often compared to a wedding or wedding feast? Just a few examples:
Hos 2.16, 19-20
Mat 22.1-14; 25.1-13
Rev 19.7-9; 21.2-4
 Cana was a small town in the middle of Galilee, about 10 miles north of Nazareth.
 Eschatological or eschatology relates to the end times. God’s future action to end this world and inaugurate a new one is a common theme in the Bible. What will this new world be like? That is what eschatology is concerned with.
 Bridges, Linda McKinnish. Exegetical perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.
 Brearly, Robert M. Pastoral perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.
In my newsletter, I mentioned an online resource where you can create memes. There doesn’t seem to be a name for it, Here’s a public service announcement (PSA) from Seinfeld about the Coronavirus.
I am putting the blog on hiatus to focus on other things. One thing is I’ve experimented with a few videos uploaded to YouTube. I’m using scripts I wrote for a Podcast, which I still want to do. But after a few tries, it seems these videos are easier to crank out. That will leave me more time to work on fiction and prepare to release my ancient Rome novel. I’m looking at July right now. So the blog now will be a Vlog. So far, the episodes are part of a series I’m calling “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus.” Here are the links if you want to check them out.
The new title for my YouTube channel is Almost Ordained. You can view the channel here.
A comparison between the Coronavirus and the golden image of Daniel ch.apter 3. One is an idol. One is not. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.
1. Everyone knew where Nebuchadnezzar’s image was. Where is the Coronavirus image we are supposed to worship?
2. No one is worshiping the Coronavirus. Not in the US or anywhere in the world.
3. No one is commanded to bow down to the Coronavirus or an image of it.
4. If you didn’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, what would the image do to you? Nothing. The king would have you thrown into a fiery furnace. But the image itself could do nothing. It had no life of its own. It had no power of its own. The only power it had was what people gave it through belief, superstition, law, or fear.
5. Does the Coronavirus have life and power of its own? Yes, it does. A virus of any kind is a living organism. Much simpler than a human, but it does have life of its own. It doesn’t need the government to give it power. It has power of its own to make you sick and kill you, no matter what the government or you say about it. That is how you know it is NOT an idol.
6. If you did not worship the image, what was the punishment? Death in a fiery furnace. That is persecution. If you don’t follow the rules of social distancing, what is the punishment? If you are caught, you might get a warning and a fine. If you are a repeat offender, they might put you in jail, though they’d probably rather not, since social distancing in a prison is already a challenge. No government official is handing out the death penalty for social distancing violations. That is not persecution. That is protecting the public health and promoting the general welfare, things the government is supposed to do.
7. Who or what would kill you in Daniel’s time if you failed to worship the idol? The government. Who or what will kill you if you catch the Coronavirus? The virus will make you sick and maybe kill you. If you have to go to the hospital, you’d better pray they have enough ventilators. Whatever the virus does to you, it’s all because of the virus. The government has nothing to do with it.
How the progress of Coronavirus is proving many so-called prophets don’t know what they are talking about. If we are to find encouragement from our faith, it has to be apart from them. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.
I’m going to put this blog on hold for a while. Instead, I will be posting a sort of video diary on YouTube. If you subscribe to this blog, you will receive announcements of when they go up. Here’s the first one.
But what if what they say does come to pass? Could he/she still be a false prophet? The Old Testament warned the Israelites it is indeed possible. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 told the Israelites even if what the prophets or those who divine by dreams say comes to pass, but they tell you to follow gods other than the LORD who redeemed you from slavery in Egypt, you must not follow them. Any prophet who tells them to forsake the way of the LORD their God and follow other gods was to be put to death. As I said in another episode, ancient Israel was a theocracy, but we are a republic. We can’t put false prophets to death here, and I’m glad for that. Because of that, I’m going to focus more on the New Testament.
Jesus said, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Mat 24:11 NRS). And again, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mat 24:24 NRS). What stands out for me in this is:
False prophets will produce great signs and omens.
False prophets will lead many astray.
Even the elect, those who are saved, can be led astray.
So don’t think if you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can’t be fooled by false prophets, because you have the Holy Spirit within you. Oh yes, you can.
A Warning to the Galatians (and Us)
Paul said this to the Galatians.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”
(Gal 1:8-9 NRS).
If it were anyone else, I would say, “What an egomaniac. He won’t let anyone say anything contrary to what he told them. That’s what cult leaders do.” But over the years, I have heard gospels contrary to what we received from Christ and the Apostles. They led me astray, so I understand why he gives such a dire warning about this. The members of the church in Galatia had the Holy Spirit. False prophets or false teachers came among them, and they were fooled. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.
And notice, Paul even says if we … proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you. He includes himself in this curse. He has shut the door on ever changing the gospel he first proclaimed to them. Ain’t gonna be no, “You know what? I was wrong. What I told you before wasn’t the real gospel. Let me proclaim a different gospel to you now.” No, he said if I ever do that, let me be accursed. That was how important it was to get this right.
And he also says … if an angel from heaven should proclaim a different gospel to you, let him be accursed. One would expect an angel to be able to produce some of the great signs and omens Jesus referred to. But if he proclaims a gospel different from what they received, they must not believe him or follow him. So is it possible that someone could produce signs and omens in Jesus’ name while proclaiming a different gospel? Absolutely.
When I Followed a Different Gospel
One church I was in was all about “the anointing,” which was supposed to manifest in signs and wonders, like the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12:8-10. In the vast majority of churches today, you are not going to see the kind of signs and wonders that are in the New Testament. Some people point to that and say, “That church is dead.” The implication is, “We’re not dead. We have the supernatural gifts. We have the anointing.”
I used to believe them. Now, I’m not so sure. If they really have those supernatural gifts of healing, miracles, signs, and omens, or whatever, as Jesus and the Apostles did, they should get the same results. But instead, when they fail to get those results, they make excuses that Jesus and the Apostles never had to make.
Our preacher referred to one particular televangelist in every sermon, and everyone in the church thought he was so anointed because of the healings he did, and the way people fell down in his services. It’s called being slain in the Spirit, and it’s quite common in charismatic and Pentecostal services. Anyway, our preacher was quoting this televangelist more than he quoted Jesus. That is always a bad sign. I mean, are we really getting the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he talks about some televangelist more than Christ?
Tithe or Die
The final straw for me came when he quoted the televangelist saying, “I can’t heal you, because you’re not tithing.”
I have read the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, multiple times over my life. One thing I know for sure. Jesus NEVER told ANYONE, “I can’t heal you because you’re not tithing.” He never connected tithing with getting healed. He would go into towns, and every sick person who was brought to him got healed. Not everyone who tithed. Everyone period.
But here’s a trick question. What if after saying that, they had some signs and wonders and portents that came true? Should we believe them? If they claim to serve the Lord Jesus and tell us, “You must give me 10% of your income before God will answer your prayers,” remember the Lord Jesus never said that. Even if what you say comes true, I’m going to borrow from Deuteronomy 13 and say, you must not heed the words of those prophets who tell you to follow a Jesus that neither you nor your ancestors have known. Okay, Deuteronomy did not mention Jesus specifically. But if we call him Lord, the meaning is the same.
They will usually use Malachi to justify this. “But Malachi 3:9-10 says you are cursed with a curse because you are robbing God by not bringing your tithes. God can’t bless what is cursed.”
God can’t bless what is cursed? That’s not in the scripture. You just made that up. That’s what I mean that they make excuses Jesus never had to make. Jesus raised people from the dead. You can’t get any more cursed than that. Don’t tell me God can’t bless what is cursed. That is a gospel contrary to the one we as the body of Christ received.
To Lead Astray Even the Elect
Even if some of their prophecies come true, don’t follow them. Even if some people get healed, or they produce signs, omens, and wonders that make you gasp and think the anointing is on them, don’t follow them. And don’t give them your money, whether they call it tithes, offerings, or “sowing a seed.” The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money (Acts 8:18-20). If they claim you can be healed by giving them money or solve your financial problems by giving them money, that is a different gospel. Do not believe them. Do not follow them. And do not give them your money.
Yes, Jesus received money from those who wanted to support his ministry, but he never charged anyone for healing, miracles, or any blessings of the Holy Spirit. And the Apostles followed that example. Read the book of Acts or the letters of Paul, Peter, and John, and you will not find any example that they made people pay for the gifts of the Spirit.
And I can’t believe I have to say this, but if they speak hatred from the pulpit, that is not the Holy Spirit. Even if they prophesy things that come true, even if they show the signs and omens Jesus mentioned, remember Jesus also said these are the kind who will lead you astray.
The Holy Spirit Is Not Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, or Xenophobic
“Social distancing is for pansies.” Yes, a preacher actually said that. Not only is he putting the public health at risk. He’s using a homophobic slur to belittle anyone who follows social distancing guidelines from the CDC. That is not the Holy Spirit. That is not the anointing. In the late eighties, one of them “prophesied” that the homosexual community in the US would be destroyed in ’94 or ’95 by fire. And the congregation cheered.
It did not come true, so he failed the first test. That alone proves he is a false prophet.
He did not tell them to stop cheering, so he failed the “love test.” This is a different gospel. If you follow him, he will lead you astray.
The fact that they would cheer that means he has been failing to teach them the Gospel for a long time.
What do I mean by the “love test”? Jesus said our love has to extend even to our enemies. I don’t care if you think it’s a sin. I don’t care if you know it’s a sin. Every one of them is a person Jesus died for (Rom 5:8). You still have to love them, because he loves them.
The Holy Spirit is not racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic. Anyone who preaches that in Jesus’ name is preaching a different Gospel. What if they do great signs and omens? It is still a different Gospel. I don’t care if an angel or some so-called apostle or prophet promises I will get those gifts of healing or prophecy that I used to chase after if I will follow them, that is a different Gospel, and I want nothing to do with it.
God Is Love
So we can recognize a different Gospel when we hear it, let’s remind ourselves what the Bible says about the love of God in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Notice speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries, faith so as to remove mountains. These are some of the supernatural gifts they thought proved the Holy Spirit was in their midst. But Paul tells them signs and omens are nothing without the love of God.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Giving 10% or even all your possessions to them is nothing without love. It won’t make God answer your prayers.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Love rejoices in the truth, not lies, no matter how good they make you feel. False prophets have been lying to us a lot, especially about the Coronavirus.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
Even when they had the supernatural gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, they did not make the congregation complete or “anointed.” Even at our best, we only know in part. Even when they prophesied, it was only in part. Love is the only thing that makes us complete.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(Verses 11-13 NRS)
Jesus preached a Gospel of love so all-encompassing it left no one out, even people that we may wish were left out. That is the greatest challenge of following Jesus, but also the most rewarding. And if anyone comes to you with signs and omens but preaches a different gospel, you heard what Paul said. Let him/her be accursed.