Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reflections on not Being Reflective

I love my wife. Insanely so. She is beautiful, intelligent, and creative as well as very deep with a poetic heart...everything I love.

But I have to admit I'm a little jealous sometimes of just how deep and reflective her thoughts are. I mean, in the midst of the most mundane chores of daily life, she has these deeply reflective insights that, when she shares them with me, I think, "Holy cow. Why didn't reading that box of macaroni and cheese hit me that way?"

So, I suppose I just have to face it. As deep and reflective as I've always wanted to be, I'm just...not. I'm not saying I don't have my own moments of epiphany where God speaks to me in just the right way so that what he says resonates in my soul with the exact harmonic vibration that alters my DNA permanently. It just doesn't seem to happen nearly as often as it does for my wife. :)

Not being a reflective person does occasionally have its upsides, however. I can usually make it through the supermarket without getting overwhelmed by the majesty of a tomato. I can typically listen to a song and completely ignore the impact that's (sometimes though increasingly not) present in the lyrics. I can go for a walk on a beautiful day and simply feel normal.

The problem is, I don't really like being this way. I want to be more; to drink life deeply, to walk with an awareness of God every day, to look for Him in all of life's moments the way Hitchcock devotees look for the master in all of his films; to FIND the beauty and depth in this life that I fully believe God longs for me to have. I want to be reflective.

How do I do that? I dunno. I suppose I can just ask my wife.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Ubiquitous Book


Well, for anyone who's read this blog lately, you've realized... there hasn't been much to read. Sorry about that. I'll try to be more faithful, if for nothing else than just to stretch my writing muscles on something other than my novel. I'm not promising anything, but I am going to try and post here a little more regularly.

Speaking of the ubiquitous novel, things are progressing. I'm still busy working on rewrites and such; I've just finished rewriting ch. 9 and am moving on to 10 tonight. Only 24 to go! (Sigh...) Still, I've discovered a new way of rewriting that is surprisingly faster than editing on my computer. I actually PRINT the thing and read it on...get this: PAPER. With my pencil in hand, I take my sheets and go to work. Holy cow! It's like I'm a blazing torch, cutting through the black night of run-on sentences, overused adverbs and adjectives, poorly constructed wording, and choppy dialogue. All of a sudden, my masterpiece reads like a fourth-grade homework assignment (no offense to any fourth-graders out there reading this... I'm not as smart as you). "Why use a pencil?" you may ask. Two reasons: 1) So I can erase my corrections, and 2) If I used a red pen, it would seriously look like Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter had taken to messing with my pages. I shudder to think...

Still, with all things being considered, I burned through ch. 9 in two days and have discovered my best way of rewriting. So, hopefully, there will be a much improved draft of my novel ready in the near(er) future.

Well, for today, I feel I must share this with you. Some of you will remember I have a new business venture underway, and yesterday the Father started showing me something about myself: I'm a worrier. I never knew it, but it's true. I'm in the midst of transition, with a promising outlook, mind you. Yet, I still find myself getting anxious about so many things: will this contract come through, what if there's not enough money, what if I can't produce for my clients, etc, etc, etc. What the Father showed me was that it was my own worry that is causing my anxiety. There is absolutely nothing in my circumstances that I need to worry about. In truth, there never is. It is God who gives us the work we need to do, and it's God who provides us with our bread, our seed, our clothes, everything. My worry will only make my life worse. BUT, my FAITH, which is to say my belief in God's good nature, will help me enjoy the life that God has put me in.

God is SO GOOD! Not only does He bless us with good work, but He prospers our work and multiplies it. Then, if we ask, He gives us wisdom to know what to do with the money we make. Then, He blesses THAT money and gives us more good work to do. Okay, I might be sounding a bit strange talking about God giving us "good work" to do, but honestly, He has! I'm thankful for every bit of work God brings my way. I'm thankful for a smart wife who loves to handle our finances. God knows we'd be in a mess if I were solely in charge of the books! I'm thankful that today He's placed something in my hand to do, and when I'm finished with that, He'll put something else there. And, if I finish a project and He doesn't give me another one right away, I'll thank Him for the little vacation and rest! I have no doubt that God is GOOD all the time. It's who He is. It's His nature, and I'm thankful for it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Nature of our Father

A week or two ago, my friend Jeff and I had the chance to sit and chat and got into the subject of how it seems that several of our close friends and acquaintances are all in a season of transition right now, especially as concerns our various lines of work.  As we talked, I felt like I started to perhaps understand a facet of why God puts little groups of seemingly disconnected people together. It seemed plain to me that God, whose very heart is about the beauty of relationship – with him and with one another – brings people together to stand with each other during similar times of trial.  I don't believe that the whole "misery loves company" thing applies :)  Instead I think of the old adage "there is strength in numbers."  It's a lot easier to know how to pray for one someone when you're going through what they're going through.

Another thing Jeff and I talked about was that in times of transition like this, it's tempting to look at the stuff going on and think, "Okay, count it all joy when you go through trials…" Okay, yes, do count it all joy when you go through trials because those trials, according to Scripture, produce some absolutely amazing things in our lives.  And, yes, trust that God WILL produce those things in us when we go through stuff like some of us are right now.  But, in all of it, we must remember this: the very nature of our Father is that He is GOOD.  If you don't know his nature, or if you forget, and you start going into these seasons of transition, many times you won't remember that he is there to walk through it WITH you.  Some people even start to think that he brings bad things on them to "teach them a lesson."  But remember what Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:9 – "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."  Jesus was the exact representation of the Father.  He did what he saw the Father do; he said what he heard the Father say.  And not once did he condemn, curse, pronounce judgment, or bring affliction on anyone who sought the Father in truth and humility. Neither does he do that to us.

Jesus was GOOD!  Our Father is GOOD!  His nature is GOOD!  His plans are GOOD!!  This is not a "prosperity" message.  This is simple truth.  Yes we go through transitions and yes things are hard sometimes.  But God has good plans in store for you RIGHT NOW.  The worst thing we can do in the middle of trials is begin to worry and doubt our Father's nature.

I am in the process of leaving my job of 9 years to begin a business of my own.  Why did I quit?  My wife and I felt we heard the Father say to do so.  I know it might seem crazy, but I know my Father's nature.  He's said, "Do what I've placed in your hand to do."  So I am, and I'm trusting Him to walk me through the hard parts, surrounded by goodness and mercy every step of the way.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Grace For Today


Over the past week or so, Papa has been doing a pretty cool thing in me.  I got the opportunity last week to travel to Nashville and meet Paul Young, the author of the novel The Shack, and to hear him speak.  It was great; Paul is a truly humble guy who just loves God and his family and, in simply being obedient, has written a book that is turning so many hearts back to Papa.  So, that was cool.  But, the cool thing for me was that Father spoke to me about four times in little ways I wouldn't have expected, and mostly outside of the meetings with Paul.  But the things Papa said to me spoke to me in ways I'd been praying about for weeks.

I struggle with sharing stuff like this because a lot of times when God shows me things I immediately try to start teaching it to others instead of letting it grow in me.  So, please understand that in sharing this, I'm not saying I've "got it," it's just that it helped me so much, I kinda want to share it.  The main thing he spoke to me about was simply this: he has given me the grace for today.  Not yesterday for living in the past; not tomorrow for living in the future.  He has given me grace for today.  The thing that struck me the most is that God wants me to live in today.  He created us to live in the moment, to enjoy every second of every day.  When the scriptures tell us that we aren't promised tomorrow, don't think for one second that that's a sad thought.  God is simply telling us, "Hey, tomorrow may not ever come, so don't worry about it."  It's actually a relief!  I don't have to worry about the future at all because he has given me the grace I need just for today.  He holds my future in His hands, so it's not my responsibility to worry about it.  Does that mean I don't make plans?  I don't know, but I'm starting to think maybe not. :)

I can't tell you how much of a weight I feel has come off of me.  In receiving his grace for today, I know that today is going to be great, no matter what!  Whatever comes to me, God already knew it, and he already gave me the grace to handle it.  All I want to do is hold his hand and walk beside him.

Grace to you all,
Matt


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biblical Historical Novels: The Ghetto?

Okay, since this is my blog, I'm entitled to a rant. Don't worry, I have no one to villify and I'm not actually angry. I just want to know if anyone can explain something to me: why Biblical historical novels are categorized by many as the Ghetto of writing.

Now, admittedly, I am writing a novel set in Bible times. Plus, I love to read the Bible, especially the stories, and I KNOW I'm biased. I haven't read tons of Biblical fiction, mostly because there isn't just a ton of it. What I have read hasn't always been that great, either. But, some of it has been very good, even receiving some nice critical acclaim. Still, considering the sheer number of other fiction books that are published each year and the number of them that probably shouldn't have been published, why has it become routine to pigeon-hole an entire genre based on the relatively few books that have come out?

Now, here's another observation I've come across. Some people in the industry have said that one of the reasons Biblical novels are rejected so quickly is because everyone knows how the story will end. Oh, really? Is there any part of writing historically when it involves a well-known event in the past that we don't already know the outcome of? Isn't the point of the historical novel to explore different time periods and the people that were in them, even how they interacted - whether it be emotionally, physically, etc - with particular events that those of us in the present day can connect with because we recognize them? And I know that not every historical novel makes reference to a well-known historical event or persona, but my point is history has happened. If any reference to any actual event in history is made, we already know the outcome. What we don't know is how these characters in the book are going to react to it, take part in it, die or survive it... That's what makes a good novel. Deep characters with compelling story. I simply think it's unfair to write off an entire period in history as without merit for story telling simply because someone thinks they already know what happened.

Now, here's my other thought. If the reason Biblical historical novels in general have been rejected is because the writing has been bad, is it reasonable to assume that that is always the case? Can't good writers tell a compelling enough story to awaken a reader's mind to that era?

I'd love any feedback you've got on this. I'll be sharing more about my novels on this blog as I go, so stay tuned.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"The Shack"


Every now and then, we all pick up a great book and think, "You know, so and so really needs to read this." We might even buy a copy and give it to them. Well, if I could buy everyone I know and all of their cousins a book right now, it would be William P Young's The Shack.

I don't want to give too much away in this review, but I'll give you the gist of the story. Mackenzie Allen Phillips, or "Mack," is a loving husband and father of five who loses one of his children in a horrible abduction/murder. Over the next several years, he descends into himself, succumbing to an all-encompassing depression he terms the Great Sadness. The Great Sadness rules over his life and relationships, slowly eroding away his soul, leaving him void of anything resembling joy or life. He no longer knows how or has any desire to deal with anything emotional, whether it's really expressing love to his wife and kids or even relating to God in any sort of real way. He's literally dying in his spirit.

One icy, wintry day, he receives a physical letter in his mailbox inviting him to come back to "the shack" for the weekend. (The shack is where his abducted daughter was killed.) Strangely, the letter was signed, "Papa," a cherished name used by Mack's wife for God. After getting over his initial reactions, he inexplicably decides to go. What he finds there is an encounter with God that changes his life forever.

Now, this story is a novel. I have no idea if any part of it bears any resemblance to the real experiences of the author, but I must say that Mack's interaction with God at the Shack is nothing short of everything I have ever hoped God would be. Oddly enough, it falls right in line with everything about God I've come to believe over the last eight years of my life...and more. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but just know that reading this encounter will challenge every preconceived notion you have about God, but in the end you will come away with a deeper trust in and love for God than you may have previously ever known in your life.

I highly recommend any one who reads this post to get a copy of this book, read it, and then make sure you give it to that person that the Holy Spirit tells you to give it to. This message is what our spiritually hungry world is looking for. Read it with an open mind and an open heart. It will change your life.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Sense of Justice

This morning I was reading in Romans 3 and came across these verses:

"24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26 And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus." (New Living Trans.)

It just got me thinking how blessed we are to have a God who doesn't carry around our sense of justice. I've had a lot of discussions with people concerning the matter of God's grace and justice and how they don't seem to balance out. But, what struck me today is that most of us are trying to find that balace based on OUR sense of justice, not God's. If He, being God, wants to declare us righteous because we put our faith in Jesus to take away our sins, then He can. Period. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Deeper Meanings

Merry Christmas, everybody! This has got to be my absolute favorite time of year, especially now that I have kids. I don't know about the rest of you, but for now my kids believe in Santa Clause and I'm not going to stop them. I have a good friend who dresses up as St. Nick and comes over to the house, so you just can't beat the looks of sheer awe and delight in my kids' eyes when he comes to the door. It's simply too much fun.

Lately, I've had my car stereo tuned to a local radio station that plays only Christmas music through the entire month of December. It's amazing just how many singers and bands have made Christmas albums over the course of the past sixty years. And we still listen to them all! What has amazed me the most, though, is the number of artists who have put together their albums singing classic Christmas tunes that, if you simply listen to the lyrics, tell the truths of the Gospel in an astounding way. I was particularly struck by the magnitude of power I sensed in the song "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Yeah, I know. Not the first song to pop into your head when you think "powerful message." But, here, check this out: "God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day To save us all from Satan's power when we had gone astray O tidings of comfort and joy." I think what really got me was that the rendition I heard was an instrumental jazz version played with a hip kind of swing to it. But, as I was singing along, the power in the song's words struck me: to save us all from Satan's power... What an amazing thing God has done for us in sending Jesus to earth to save us from the power of death and bring us into His Kingdom of Light and Life. He is Emmanuel, God With Us; God who walked among us and, seeing us fully and understanding every aspect of our weakness, took our sins upon Himself and DIED FOR US.

Okay, that's more for Easter, but in this season, as you follow along singing the words to these wonderful Christmas songs and hymns, purpose in yourself to be aware of the power inherent in what you're singing. Jesus came to earth to be among us and brought comfort, peace, and joy - the very essence of our Heavenly Father's thoughts toward us. Now THAT is worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dallas Cowboys Don't Tickle

My family and I are and, as far back as I can remember, always have been Dallas Cowboys fans. Back when Landry was captain of the ship, when Dorsett ran for touchdowns; from Danny White and Herschel Walker to Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, I have stayed by the team. Granted, in the past few years, they haven't really been a great team to watch, but, of course, this year they're incredibly fun to watch because they're winning! It's a nice thing for me to be having fun in a football season again.

Well, as the saying goes, "Like father, like son." My 5-yr-old son has just this year become semi-firmly ensconced in the Dallas Cowboys tradition of my family. There was a brief foray into the Minnesota Vikings camp a few weeks ago, but that was mainly because their uniforms were purple and a guy in the stands apparently had cool horns on his head. Regardless, all things are once again Cowboys kosher in the Jones household . My son now likes to watch the games with me if for nothing else than to jump around and flop about when Daddy gets excited over a great play.

But this morning as I was taking my son to school, he taught me something I had never known about the Cowboys organization. We have a standing agreement between us that, because he asked me politely, I can't tickle him anymore. He simply doesn't like it and has voiced his dislike in a polite manner. So I've stopped. :( Anyway, on the way to school this morning, he was talking (as he is constantly doing) about something, this time it was about his desire to play "little guy" football next year. I said we would think about it. Then he asked me if playing football would make him a Dallas Cowboy. I said it might. Then he said, "Okay, Daddy. I'll be a Dallas Cowboy because the Dallas Cowboys don't tickle. There's no tickling on the Dallas Cowboys."

You just can't argue with that kind of logic.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Nail on the Wall

A few months ago, I read Stephen King's On Writing for the first time. It was a wonderful read, both educationally and simply for enjoyment's sake. I've never read one of his novels, not being very interested in the horror genre myself. Still, his style is uber-engaging and I really loved reading it. Maybe I'll pick up Carrie some time...

In the book, he talks about the first rejection slip he ever got. It was for a short story he tried to publish in a Sci-Fi mag. I don't remember exactly what his reaction was to getting the slip, but I do remember what he did with it. He stuck a nail in his wall and stuck that little piece of paper on the nail. Over time, that little nail got so full of rejection slips, he had to change it to a spike for the sheer volume of paper hung on it.

Yesterday, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2007, I nailed my proverbial nail to the wall and stuck something on it. Not a rejection slip but a comment that, unchecked, I think could have kept me from writing any more. At a local writer's group, a literary agent came in to speak about where he sees the CBA market going and so on. At the end of his lecture, we had a little Q&A. After a few questions, I decided to put up my hand (bad move as it turns out) and ask a simple question about word count in books. He gave a few lines in answer, stating how it sometimes depends on the genre then asked me what kind of book I was writing. Now, normally I've just told people "it's an historical fiction work." But, at the prompting of some of my fellow attendees I went further to tell him it is a Biblical fiction work. If you just uttered a groan, well, join the club. He went on to announce to me and everyone there that, unless you have a particular last name, "Biblical fiction doesn't sell. Ever." I closed my mouth and didn't say another word. At the end of the meeting, I left quickly.

My temptation was to get angry and rant and rave, but, thanks to my wonderful wife, I've opted to do something more constructive. I nailed that comment to my "wall" and I'm looking at it as an incentive to write the absolute best Biblical fiction book I can. I believe my story is great, I believe the subject hasn't been explored, and, what's most critical I think, I can't help but write this story.

Regardless, I have to admit that his words hit me hard. What do you do when someone tells you that two and a half years of your work is, in his estimation, worthless? I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The End of the Beginning: Part Deux

Tonight, I began chapter 33 of my novel, and, lo and behold, as I plotted out how I want it to go, I realized that I am probably only 2 chapters away from being finished with my first novel! Praise God! I'm actually feeling a slight dizziness at that thought, although it might be the 3:30 in the morning bedtimes I've racked up trying to get finished. Regardless, it looks like my goal of finishing up by the end of the year is going to happen.

Now comes the fun part: rewrites, edits, critiques, the works. Lately, it seems that God has been directing me to all kinds of tools for the next step in this process. I have honestly come across more great advice for how to really tighten down the screws on a manuscript in the past two weeks than I in the past two years combined. And, along those lines, I really get the sense that God has been preparing my heart for the steps I need to take next. Like the good Father that He is, He knows me. He knows that my skin has a tendency to be thin. So lately, I've come across so many articles and blogs about the absolute need for an honest, strong critique and edit in order to make a manuscript great that I'm actually welcoming the prospect of engaging in critiques so that my manuscript will improve. I feel like my eyes are open now to the importance of a thorough critique, and I'm looking forward to the process instead of shuddering at it.

Also, I'm getting my mind wrapped around the following step: having a professional editor work the book over with me. Yes, I know that means money, and probably lots of it. Oh, well, we do what we have to do to make our work shine. That's the only way to make it stand out.

Ok. Back to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bringing God With Me

For the past couple of years, my son, now five years old, has gotten increasingly good at losing things. Now my daughter, age three, is picking up on that skillset. My wife and I have always encouraged our children to pray whenever they lose something, trying to instill in them the trust that our Heavenly Father cares about the little things in our lives. So, they do. They pray about every lost toy. We seem to be praying alot along those lines these days.

One fantastic development that has come out of this practice happened recently in that my little daughter, having lost one of her favorite little plastic princesses (it's Cinderella, if by chance you find it), came charging into our room and announced that she was there to look for her princess. Now, for the heart-warming, proud-parent making part. She came into the room and said, "I'm here to look for my Cinderella, and I'm bringing God with me!"

At three, my daughter knows who best to turn to when she can't do something on her own, and it's not me.