Friday, July 20, 2012

Words We Need

A favorite quote of mine and one that I need to take to heart more and more is: You can grow a lot if you actually listen to many of the things you hate to hear. Especially when they come from someone who loves you.

No one likes to be critiqued or evaluated. No one likes hearing criticism even when it is constructive. But if everyone just smiled and nodded and said what we wanted to hear how would we grow? How would we be challenged to go in new directions, look at things from a new perspective, or deepen the convictions we already have? Challenges strengthen us. Set backs are opportunites for growth. Every failure is a great learning experience. The problem often we hear criticism and bristle at it. We refuse to listen to those who try to correct us or have a new perspective for us. We ignore valuable advice or opportunities for growth because we don't like being challenged.  How we cheat ourselves!

I'm not saying all criticism is constructive. Sometimes people are out to hurt us with words and negative opinions. Sometimes without intending it people say things that dampen our enthusiasm or bring us down. Sometimes people truly don't know what they are talking about when they criticize. But even these experiences are valuable learning opportunities. Perhaps they just reinforce the course that we are already on or give us opportunities to grow in being patient. All too often though, we dismiss the criticism that truly is constructive. Maybe its a spouse or other loved one who has a few words that are aimed at making us think. These people love us. These people know us. They often truly want good things for us. Yet we still don't want to hear it.

It's far more dangerous when we dismiss the difficult things that God has to say to us! God loves us. He always wants what is best for us. Yet God has some very tough things for us to hear. Jesus tells us "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)  Wow. That floors me every time. That is a standard that is obviously something I haven't achieved. Perfect? Every moment? Every thought? Every word? Every action? Morally flawless in all I do? Pure self-less, God-honoring motives in everything? One break in that, one slip and its all over! Life-long perfection. That's a standard I've never achieved and already have fallen short of in the last minute...let alone the last 29 years of my life! That's really hard to hear. Yet God wants me to take a good hard look at myself and to see that I'm a failure. I have not and cannot achieve his standards for human life. God wants me to realize that I don't measure up. God wants me to see him (not anything I am or do) as my one and only hope. God used his words to open my eyes to see Jesus, his Son, my Savior, as my only hope. Romans 5:6, 8  says, "You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That truth just can never get old! That truth is my reality every single day. I am forgiven, bought and paid for by Christ's sacrifice on that cross. He paid the debt for every moment of my imperfection. He did that for every person in the world! Because of the salvation that is mine as a free gift from my God I am free to thankfully grow as his child. Part of that growth is listening to the tough things that I need to hear from his Word, and from the people he's put in my life. Thank God for that! Thank God for any growing that actually happens! So I want to keep listening to the things that are difficult to hear and I want to keep taking them to heart and acting on them. I realize that I have so much room to grow as a Christian man, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, as a friend, as a son and in every other role and responsibility that God has given me. I can't wait to grow as a way of honoring and thanking God for the amazing grace he's shown me!

So please, don't tell me what I want to hear...tell me what I need to hear! Be real with me. Be honest. Let's all listen to the words we need to hear most--God's. Let's all give and take good constructive criticism...and grow every day!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thought of the day...

Lately I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes I make the mistake of looking at the big picture and getting worked up over all the countless deadlines and problems and tasks that need to be done in life...(I'm not just talking about my writing project either). If you try to focus on everything...or list off everything that could go wrong or the long "to-do" list--it is naturally going to be overwhelming. It's like looking directly up at a huge mountain and saying, "I can never climb that!" But when you focus just on the next step and put one foot down where it needs to be then it isn't overwhelming any more. A passage I've needed to really keep in mind this week: In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9).

Sometimes I imagine everything depends on me and my plan and what I do. That's my sinful pride at work. God wants me to work hard and do my best...but ultimately the results are in his hands. I can plan out every last detail and worry myself silly over things and then God can take my plans and my work in a whole new surprising direction. He's in control. He knows what's best. He loves me. He's proved his love for me by sending his own Son to die for me and save me forever. He's set me free to live for him. This is not "my" life, but the life he's given me to serve him and other people. It's not about me, it's about him! I need that reminder.

I found a little thing I wrote a long time ago that was supposed to remind me of this truth. Thankfully it reminded me again when I needed the reminder:

Let go, just let go.
Relax that tight, incessant grip and let it slip
know that flood of desperate relief
when you let go of yourself
and find that God is still holding you up
His perfect promises tell you so.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Writing Takes Discipline

I'm finding that writing really takes discipline. It's a major passion of mine to write and create and I enjoy working on creative projects like this, but the distractions are endless!!

Fridays have become my free day. My weekly and daily schedule is quite flexible, but I find that my other studies and work occupy most of my week...even my early morning hours during the week. That doesn't leave much time for writing "for fun". I realize that I need to find some time to work each day on my book if there's any hope of reaching my goal: a completed first draft by the end of this year. Right now, Friday is one day when I can get up early and dedicate quality, quiet hours to writing. Those hours go by way too fast!!

Today I was re-working the opening of the book. I felt that my original opening just wasn't attention- grabbing enough. I wanted to launch into some major action right away while also introducing some of the internal and external struggles of my main character. (The previous opening was an internal struggle going on in his mind which I'll use a little later on.) I was really getting into it and getting excited about where I was going next and then ....I hear the gentle tapping steps of my 4 year-old son coming down the basement stairs. It was 6 am. His smile melts my heart. His curiosity is endearing. I love having little chats with him. It was a distraction worth having, but it was still a distraction.
Soon enough my 1 year old daughter is awake and wanting to come out of her crib. Breakfast needs to be made. My wife is up and getting ready to teach an exercise class. The daily schedule is off and running again and my computer and my writing are soon left behind. The kids need my attention...more than they have been getting. My wife needs me and my time and has things for me to do. The garden needs weeding...badly! The tasks of the day soon fill the open time slots and my "free" day is a "full" day and my book is collecting dust before it is even a completed manuscript! That's a bit frustrating. If anybody has tips for time management during the writing process...I'm all ears. I need all the help I can get...

I know its going to take major discipline. It's going to take a very firm schedule. I need to carve out quality, distraction-free, focused writing sessions not just every week, but every day--and they need to be carved in stone!  That is going to take discipline and determination, but that is what it is going to take to get this project finished and finished well.