Thinking Thursday: KISS the Gospel (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Do you have trouble sharing the gospel?
Do you lack confidence, or don’t know where to start?
Do you struggle to apply the Bible to your life?

Benjamin Francis

Our church has just linked up with a new missionary, via the Baptist Missionary Society. His name is Benjamin Francis and he is the native-born team leader in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. He came to speak to us, and his simple approach and directness touched all who were there.

Ben and his team have planted over 13,000 churches in the region in which they work, which have almost 500,000 people attending. God is doing remarkable things. Ben’s message to us was that God will do remarkable things in our own neighbourhoods too, if we let him.

He said:
If you want to see things you’ve never seen, you need to do things you’ve never done.

Here are three simple, easy to remember things that Benjamin taught us:

1. Jesus called us all to make disciples.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt.28:18-20)

This speaks of Power, Purpose and Provision.
Jesus was given Power from heaven, so that he has the authority to send us.
The Purpose for our sending is to take the gospel to everyone.
But we do not go in our own strength, there is Provision – Jesus is always with us.
Notice that Jesus does the first and last parts – we only have to do the bit in the middle.

2. Telling others the gospel is not just for special people.

Call from above says, “Go!” Go therefore and make disciples (Matt.28:19)

Call from below says, “Go!” Lazarus and the rich man – And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27-28)

Call from within says, “Go!” Paul’s words – Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)

Call from without says, “Go!” And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9)

3. When you read the scriptures, think of them in 4 ways:

Thumb upThumb up What is good here, that I can take for my benefit?

Thumb downThumb down What is bad here, that I can take for a warning?

Thumb inThumb in How can I change my heart in the light of this?

Thumb outThumb out How can I live it out in the sight of others?

So now you know that you are only part of God’s work in the world, but you are called to go. And now you know a simple way to apply the Bible to your life.

Alexander MeerkatAs Alexander the meerkat says, “Simples!”

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Writing Wednesday: To Make a Short Story Long

To Make a Short Story Long

This article by Adrian Magson appeared in Writing Magazine December 2009 .

How do you go about making a short book into a longer one without padding it into a soggy lump of dough?

Does it have ‘legs’?
If you are convinced about the strength of your work – that it has the ‘legs’ to be more than just a short story – you need to consider objectively what makes it so good in the first place. Is it the theme? The power of the characters? The pace of the storyline? The timing or relevance for the market? … Do you have such a genuine conviction about its quality that you can’t bear to drop it in a drawer and forget it? If so, then you have to look at ways in which you can use what you’ve already got, and build on it.

What to add, what to take away?
Any scenes added or taken out must enhance the story, not diminish it. Similarly, any new characters you introduce must add to the existing cast in a relevant and convincing manner, rather than simply cluttering up the place like discount night at the local bathhouse.

Throw in a sub-plot?
Could the storyline stand a second strand or a sub-plot, strongly related to the main events but coming from another start-point? This would allow you to bring in other points of view, with the characters coming together later in the story. In each case, you have to weave the new elements into the main story so that they are not seen as a bolt-on simply to fill up the pages… As long as your new characters or scenes don’t assume a greater sequence than your original or skew the story all out of shape, it can be done.

Introduce more oomph

Let’s pretend for the moment that your story is based on the Titanic.

* Expand the human element
For example, was the engineer who built the ship working to required specifications, and is there someone, somewhere who knows otherwise? Is there somebody with a long-term plan who wants to damage the ship mid-voyage for various reasons, but goes too far, with disastrous results? Any or all of these could be fed into the mix – along with suitable back-stories, of course.

* Adding more depth
Introducing these other characters, who are as closely connected to the ship as those on board (perhaps they are even on board too, and suddenly find themselves pitched into a nightmare of their own making), allows a greater exploration of the build-up to the main event. And the more points of view you have – and the very human drama involved – will give you plenty of material to ‘grow’ your book to a much more satisfactory size while retaining the quality.

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Thinking Thursday: Relating the Gospel part 2 – Connecting with Friends and Family

Relating the Gospel to Friends and Family

[Part 1 of this short series can be found here]

The fear behind evangelism

We do care, but lack courage to talk to strangers.
Evangelism will provoke hostility.
Jesus sent the disciples out as sheep among wolves (Matt.10:16), but told them not to worry. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt.10:20)

We must not respond with hostility, the Holy Spirit will help us to know how to behave.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
Rico Tice said, ‘God is the great evangelist, the great seeker.’ We need to be the same.

God has a plan

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)
Coincidences don’t happen in God’s plan. You are always in God’s hands, trust him.
If you’re not bubbly and confident, remember God made you that way. You can witness in your own way, don’t try to be something you’re not.

The marvel of grace

Evangelism begins in our hearts.
In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11- 32), the father shows outrageous grace. But the older son displays anger, lies, self righteousness. We need to show grace, as we have received it, not pride.

The priority of prayer

Prayer must be a priority, and in that we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty. By his spirit God gives us the words. See Matt.10:20 above.

The power of love

We are the first account of the gospel that many people will read.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col.4:5-6)

Loving others is about really wanting the best for them, not a project to share the gospel.
Sharing with family is much harder. Maybe they don’t need a gospel presentation, they just need to know we love them.

Bringing the Gospel HomeBringing the Gospel Home is a book by Randy Newman about sharing the gospel with family and friends. You may find it helpful.

 

Be humble not arrogant. For example, say, ‘I need forgiveness,’ not, ‘You need to repent.’
Listen carefully to them.

 

The value of patience

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:7)

As we continue to pray for them, we will grow and our love of and understanding of the gospel will grow.

[EMW Ladies Conference 25 April 2015: Speaker Kath Paterson from Bristol]

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Writing Wednesday: Do’s & Don’ts of Writing Historical Fiction

Do's & Don'ts Historical Fiction

This is a second article on Historical Fiction, but I can’t remember where I got it from! The advice is worth sharing though.

RESEARCH – Think out what you want to say: fact or fictional characters, plot, time, background, era, the society, and the place (even if it’s fictitious).

READ – Old newspapers (found in library archives) for the ‘feel’ of the era . Relevant biographies. Any family diaries or other diaries you can legally lay your hands on.

VISIT – Museums, historical centres, libraries, particularly ones with ‘living history’ e.g. tapes made by people relating momentous events in people’s lives e.g. a twelve -year-old boys first day in the pit, a child brought up in the 1930’s as illegitimate.

WATCH – Films from the period. Any period pieces on television or in the cinema. (If possible, British. The Americans are notoriously inaccurate about facts, costumes etc.)

USE – Ordnance survey maps as close to the period as you can get, if setting your book around an actual place. They can save hours of research. Walk the area, take photographs of buildings that existed at the time, note the gaps – check what was there. If setting your book in a fictitious place draw a map to avoid inaccuracies in the book.

BEG OR BORROW – Song books from the period. If possible, get hold of old records.

RESEARCH – Living conditions e.g. Don’t have people in depression-ridden UK calling out doctors, going down the dole. If writing about the aristocracy read social etiquette books. The working classes – check out contracts, conditions of employment, wages and the exact buying power of those wages. The leisure activities of the social class of your characters through contemporary newspaper advertisements, parish news magazines, contemporary novels etc.

WORK WITH YOUR CHARACTERS until you know their tastes in food, clothes, music, films,sex, etc. and exactly how they will react in any situation.

WARNING – This may take the plot down unexpected roads. Go with it – this is creativity working at its best – with luck it may even improve on your original idea.

SPEAK – to eye witnesses if possible but treat everything they tell you with caution. Some people have accurate recall and perfect memories, others remember what never happened.

DON’T write about an existing organisation without doing your research, especially the army, terrorist, Mafia or government organisations. Publishers and agents always send books with a factual background out to an expert reader. Many well-written, well-plotted, publishable books have bitten the dust over lack of research.

DO put a great deal of effort into fine-tuning your plot. I am not an advocate of plot being all-important over every other criteria including characterisation, in a crime or thriller, but it has to be interesting, sound and totally believable.

DO ultimately have good triumphing over evil, although the good can get severely battered along the way, and evil does not necessarily have to end in death.

DO make your characters believable, that means neither wholly good nor bad, including the heroes/heroines. Don’t forget Jack the Ripper was unexceptionable enough to blend into the East End at the height of the terror and presumably, even serial killers like Dennis Neilson and Myra Hindley had mothers who loved them.

DO make an effort to get your facts right, especially concerning weapons, ammunition, cars, computers etc. If you’re not sure, don’t guess. Consult an expert.

DON’T write about a scenario that is unfamiliar to you, but will be known to others e.g. setting a book in the States when you’ve never been there.

Collate research for reference in files, on pin-board, notebooks, on tape, computer – whatever is easiest for you to work with. Prepare tools and clean writing area – sharpen pencils, sort computer files and open new ones, polish keyboard – if you try really hard you can waste days doing this.

DO MAKE AN EFFORT TO FIND A TITLE THAT GRABS THE IMAGINATION

There are two ways of proceeding:

  • Block out character sketches, background and plot in detail. Keep research notes at elbow and begin.

  • Do none of the above – think of a scene that grabs you, sit down and start writing.

Either way you have to think characters into a scene, time and place. What do they hear, see, smell, taste, feel?

TO AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK AND/OR RUNNING OUT OF STEAM

  • Write in short blocks or chapters – 5 to 10 pages, and try to think no further than the end of the scene while you’re actually writing it. That way you may retain the element of surprise for the reader. Save consideration of the bigger picture for revision.

  • Try finishing work in the middle not end of a scene. It may give the momentum needed to pick it up later.

  • If unsure what to do next revise work already completed.

  • Some writers e.g. Stephen King write in three chapter cycles. When they reach the end of the third they revise all three then proceed to next three chapters.

  • If your novel seems slow and boring it may be because writing speed is very different from reading speed. The words you are agonising over for hours will be read by the reader in minutes.

There are as many ways of writing as there are writers. None are right or wrong, they either work or they don’t.

FINISH THE BOOK, SET IT ASIDE FOR A FEW DAYS OR WEEKS THEN REVISE! REVISE! REVISE!

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Thinking Thursday: Relating the Gospel part 1 – Getting to the Heart of the Gospel

Paul began his letter to Titus by saying that faith and a knowledge of the truth leads to godliness (Titus 1:1). The gospel shapes our lives – it’s about understanding, which transforms hearts, and that leads to transformed lives.

Some people say that the Bible speaks about themselves, but really the Bible is not about me, it’s about God: his character and purpose. When Moses heard from God in the burning bush, Moses protested.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:11-12)

God answered his protestations with a promise of his presence. Moses was an instrument to bring about God’s purposes.

What does gospel shaped living look like

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:11-15)

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

The gospel is not just to bring unbelievers to Christ, it is to be preached to believers so we can learn:

Humility:
We forget who we were.
There is too much talk, especially on Facebook, about ourselves.
Gospel humility is thinking of myself less and others more.

Joy:
The gospel is the best news anyone can hear.
God is generous with his grace.
When you have Jesus, you have everything.

Hope:
Hope of eternal life. Joint heir with Christ etc
Towns and villages teaming with people who think they have everything but are still unsatisfied.
Take careful thought, treasure the gospel. Only the gospel can change our lives.

[EMW Ladies Conference 25 April 2015: Speaker Kath Paterson from Bristol]

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Writing Wednesday: Writing Historical Fiction

Writing Historical Fiction

This advice was given by author Phil Carradice at the Swansea & District Writers Circle.

Historical fiction remains one of the most popular of all genres. The reading public seems to be infatuated with the past and, as a result, fiction based on or around historical events has survived the ‘assault’ of fantasy, romance, realism and so on and will undoubtedly continue to do so.

Over the next four or five years expect a surge of historical books, thanks to the two World War anniversaries – a ready market, if you can write quickly! And if you are knowledgeable about the two periods in question.

However, if you are intending to write historical fiction one thing is imperative – that you have – or develop – a feel for history. To some extent this has to be intuitive because without it your writing will be lacking in atmosphere. And, forget plot and conflict, atmosphere in historical writing is 75% of the product.

If history was taught through stories we would remember more – Rudyard Kipling

  • One of the great advantages of historical fiction is that the plot already exists – or part of it, at least. The defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Indian mutiny, the Battle of the Somme – they actually happened. You don’t have to invent them (although Hollywood usually tries to reinvent much of the past).
  • To make historical fiction really effective however, it’s not enough just to retell the story of the Crimean War or the Iron Age. That’s factual history. You have to create or invent your story within the framework of the actual event, that’s what makes it fiction. But the broad framework is, at least, already there.
  • Use the three p’s – places, people and problem. Voldemort is the most important person in Harry Potter because he links to the problem.
  • Place. This is one element that writers often fail to fully develop. But a sense of place – good or bad – is essential to the success of historical fiction. Place is the one most writers fail at – try writing about a place you really love or hate.
  • People. Characters are the lifeblood of all fiction. With historical fiction you have a choice – is your main character real? Or is he/she an invention? Both can be effective but I tend to think there is more scope with fictionalised characters.
  • Problem. Sometimes called conflict, this simply means presenting your characters with difficulties that they have to overcome – or not, as the case may be. Don’t have to resolve everything at the end.
  • For historical fiction there are three basic styles or formats – the relationship, the uninvited guest and the quest.
  • The relationship. Two (or more) people come together. The meeting is momentous and thereafter everything changes (e.g. Harold and Duke William meet in Normandy before the Battle of Hastings, John Kennedy encounters Marilyn Munro at a party in Hollywood, Dylan Thomas meets Caitlin in a London pub etc etc).
  • The uninvited guest. A preconceived circle (a country house, a village etc) is broken or entered by an uninvited guest – the problem then ensues. Cowboy books tend to follow this idea – Jaws, ET, several more films also use it.
  • The quest. Exactly what it says, this involves a journey (physical or emotional), a quest or a searching for something – the search for the Holy Grail, the biblical missionary journeys of St Paul etc. Obstacles to overcome, circumvent or go round. e.g. Hornblower. If you can get all three in it will be great.
  • A chronological narrative is always easier to write but there is no rule on this. It depends on your skill as a writer. Throwbacks can be extremely useful but you have to ask why they are there and why they were not used, originally, in their context. A combination of modern and historical writing is a good technique – a character goes back in time – something Ronald Welch did in his novel The Gauntlet.
  • Research is vital. This is fairly obvious but, amazingly, people do sometimes start to write a piece of historical fiction without knowing very much about the period.
  • Secondary sources. Use books, articles etc as a basis. Why reinvent the wheel? Others have undoubtably been there before you and you should give them the respect they deserve. But be careful, you might be on the wrong end of bad research.
  • Primary sources. Visit Records Offices, libraries, the PRO at Kew – really get a handle on the period and the event you are writing about. Hendon – National Newspaper Archives.
  • Think laterally. Historical fiction will give you a feel for your period and there are many good writers out there – CJ Sansom for Henry VIII’s England, Rosemary Sutcliffe for Roman Britain and such. Read as much historical fiction as you can.
  • Remember the most effective historical stories are really only stories about people – who happened to be caught up in historical events. The history is just a framework on which you hang your story.
  • You must write in context. It’s no good having Kit Marlowe pull out a pocket watch. Avoid less obvious anachronisms – if your character is in India during the Mutiny, remember that it took six weeks to get news to and from England.
  • Think about the narrative voice – third person, first person, the God’s eye view etc. In historical fiction the first person is often very useful, it makes the reader identify with characters and feel that they are there.
  • Dialogue is crucial but unless you can do it very well (Russell Hoban in Ridley Walker, Anthony Burgess in A Dead Man in Deptford) don’t try to use accurate dialogue from the period. Keep it simple but use the language of the 21st century. Remember Chaucer’s English is, now, largely unintelligible. Perhaps a mixture?
  • Avoid adjectives and adverbs. They tend to be grossly overused in historical fiction as writers think they are creating atmosphere. Strengthen the verbs and nouns – much more powerful.
  • Take a particular slant – you can do this in historical fiction. So your Richard III can actually be a good character, not the evil monster created by Shakespeare. Remember that history belongs to the victors! But don’t go too far. You can’t have the French winning the battle of Waterloo. Or perhaps you can. After all, Robert Harris did it very effectively when, in Fatherland, he had Germany win the Second World War.
  • If possible, visit the places you want to write about, there is no better way of drinking in the atmosphere. So plan your holidays and take that trip of a lifetime to the Taj Mahal or Raffles in Singapore.
  • Draw your actual characters from real life. So your Josephine or Marie Antoinette can be real live people you know. In my story Writer’s Block, the villain is actually an amalgam of two people I used to work with. As Michael Leggett said, “Characters are formed partly from observation and partly from within the writer.” Just because you are writing historical fiction it doesn’t mean you can’t use modern people.
  • Physical description is quite important in historical fiction particularly when describing real people. Charles I had a stutter and was of slight build – it would be wrong to portray him as a loud, six-foot bully who is renowned for the quality of his speeches.
  • Don’t always put in descriptions let the portrait unfold.
  • Don’t overuse coincidence – easy to do in historical fiction. Remember, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.
  • Flat or supportive characters are important in historical fiction. They help to create the atmosphere and mood of the time.
  • There is a really vibrant market for children’s historical fiction.
  • Read as much historical fiction as you can – there’s lots available.
  • The key is good research. You don’t have to use it all but you do have to gain the knowledge in order to write effectively. For my novel The Boson’s Secret I actually spent 10 days on an old Thames sailing barge, trying to get a feel of what it will be like living and working on a wooden sailing ship in the 19th century.
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Thinking Thursday: One vote – use it wisely.

Originally posted on eating.with.sinners:

7PartyLeadersGeneralElectionAfter the complexity and incoherence of the recent televised debate featuring the heads of the seven major parties competing at May’s general election, I guess many of the Great British voters are doubly confused. British politics is just not what it used to be. Times have changed and we are no longer faced with the simplicity of a two-party system, an “either-or” decision. It’s not even going to be like the current three-party stand-off with the LibDems holding the balance of power. With the significant recent advances of UKIP and the growth of the Green Party, the predicted landslide of the Scottish National Party north of the border and Plaid Cymru hoping to see the same political shift in Wales, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Whatever we feel about the relative merits or problems this will cause, that’s how it is, and no amount of moaning will change it. No…

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