You’re Not Stuck! COVID Delays Don’t Mean You Can’t Do Something As An Author

You’re Not Stuck! COVID Delays Don’t Mean You Can’t Do Something As An Author

Greetings all,

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Image by Achim Scholty from Pixabay. 

I want to share a frustration I have with people sometimes.  People can let one obstacle beat them. I can’t go to the gym, so I can’t work out. Really? So lack of access to a gym prevents you from doing pushups or sit ups?

 

I don’t have any ground beef, so I’ll order out. Why? Does ground beef constitute the entirety of your food options?

That doesn’t mean that people don’t face obstacles. It doesn’t mean that those obstacles aren’t frustrating at times. However, we as human beings choose. We choose to let our circumstances defeat us, or we choose to endure our circumstances and move forward in the ways God provides.

As a nation, America is face with more restrictions on their lives that they’ve ever face. The malls are closed. There are no sports. And, for me, all the conventions I had lined up were cancelled. That’s a huge bummer!

IMG_2318Since conventions are my number one method of sales (and not profit), this means I’m at an extreme disadvantage. The hardest hit is that no sales means no income, which means I can’t save up money for edits on Betrayed. I can’t save for a cover. Even the money I had been budgeting is set aside because we want to be prepared for any true financial issues.

So the challenge question: Does this really mean I can’t do anything as an author? No!

You can too. First, for you hopeful authors who constantly say, “I want to write, but I just don’t have the time!” What, exactly are you spending your time on now? Maybe you’re blessed to still have some form of employment. That’s great. However, it’s not like there’s a game you “need” to catch anytime soon. It’s not like there’s a new movie you “just have” to see.

You can write that book right now.

caught-front-coverWhat about people like me? Well, the first thing I’m doing is working hard on the outline to Discovered (which looks to be a big one, by far the biggest of the trilogy). The other thing I’m doing is working a bit more on marketing. I’m building more campaigns for Amazon Marketing. Even if no one is buying now (and they are, even I sold a book or two this week), when things start moving forward, I’ll have a new armada of advertisements ready to go.

I’m blessed to be able to telework during this time. I’m still working. Heck, I might be doing more work than I would be doing if the building were open. This means time is still an issue. It might still be the biggest issue. However, what time I do have to myself, I spend on some form of writing. I might also do something else, but I chip away.

In the Navy, a common phrase you’ll hear is, “I don’t care what you can’t do; tell me what you can do.”

This attitude, this frame of mind, is essential. This time in our lives is definitely a challenge. We’re all worried. We wonder if we’ll get sick. We wonder if our finances will hold up. However, if we focus on our problems, we turn a blind eye to the solutions that are out there.

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Image by Steve DiMatteo from Pixabay.

The challenge I offer you is this: Whatever you do, make sure you understand you’re making a choice. Even refusing to do anything or “failing” to make a choice is still a choice.

Naturally, you have the right to choose whatever you want. My problem would be if you try to avoid or lament the consequences of that choice as an excuse for why you can’t do something.

The guy who says, “I could write that book, but I’ve been meaning to watch the entire ‘How I Met Your Mother’ series for years now,” will get no beef from me. However the guy who complains about how he never has time to finish a book while watching that show may get a different reaction from me.

So here are a few things you can do if your finances prevent you from buying a cover or paying for editing services:

Draft another book.

Make revisions on another manuscript.

Study marketing.

Work on building your marketing plan.

Build your email list.

Send your readers an email (man I’m terrible at that).

This period of stress in our lives does create problems, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up on our goals.

I wanted to share these thoughts to motivate you to get moving in some way. This isn’t unique to writing either. Maybe spend some more quality time with your kids. Maybe turn this into an “in home” second honeymoon. Chip away on those home projects you’ve “been meaning to get around to.”

This time is stressful and challenging enough. Let’s use it to look for opportunities.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

Musings on Christianity 26

Musings on Christianity 26

Should We Be Afraid?

I gave some thought to this chapter and how to go about it. As with most of my non-fiction, especially with this particular project, it usually becomes a free-flowing process. Where to start and what I’m trying to say are the only main issues of consideration.

In this chapter, I start with frightening news. As I type this, I am in the middle of a fourteen-day quarantine, as I had (or thought I had) been exposed to the Corona virus.

All those teenagers and young men and women refusing to practice social distancing or stay inside reflect my very own thoughts maybe as little as three years ago. I’ve been blessed to have a fairly illness-free life thus far, and, not too long ago, I was quite alright with the risk of being sick.

Now I have a wife. Now I have three children. I’d endure any illness. I’d happily welcome any misfortune if it kept my family safe. But how do I keep them safe from me? Also consider my family history. The very idea that I’m a threat to those I love harkens my own mind back to a life of an abusive biological father and an oath to never be a threat to my children. Now, this is different. I might be sick. I’m not in myself the threat, but I carry the threat in me. There’s something there perhaps to consider, but I set that thought aside to stay on the main point.

Believe me when I confess I have been afraid. Believe me when I say I was worried. But where does fear actually come from? Psychologists have studied this far more than I have, but whatever dictionary you use, that emotion is based by a danger or threat.

Non-believers can have every reason to be afraid. Their lives and their possessions are all they have. I would appreciate and sympathize with a non-believer who is afraid of dying or losing his wealth or getting sick. This is because the threat of the things a non-believer has represents the loss of something critical.

But Christians have something greater than all of those things. Does that mean that the things we have don’t matter or that they aren’t dear to us? Absolutely not. However, the first thing a Christian knows is that no possession, or person is more important than God. Here is where people might balk or lash out. Here is where people become indignant.

We need to refer back to the most important law:  “‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-6).’”

One may argue intellectually that love is infinite. It is. You can love many things all at once. But Jesus expanded on that command in Luke Chapter 14 verses 26-27.

“‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Readers, that is the line drawn in the sand. The choice to step over and stand with Christ is one I leave to you, but that is the line.

“Hate?” you may ask in outrage. “What sort of God wants me to hate at all?”

That word is a problem of translation. You see, the Greeks had three words for love. A better meaning (though less word-for-word literal) would be “Whoever doesn’t love Me more than … ”

Again, I would understand any parent saying, “I’ll never love anything more than my child!”

Again, readers, understand I’m not telling you what to do. I am, however, showing you the mindset of a true Christian, based on the word of God.

An angry parent may be angry because while I say “more than,” the parent hears “instead of.” Please review these words and realize that is not the case.

Indeed, we are to love others as we would love ourselves. That is the other half of the law Christ gave as the most important. So we are to love others sacrificially. Love endlessly. However, when we love, we love God most.   

I have to express this thought because I can’t show you why you have no reason to fear if you still value things more than God. The love of God, valuing Him more than anything or anyone is the reason we have nothing to fear.

Neither I nor God’s word are telling you not to love anyone. But when you love God most and value Him most, you’ve placed God, the infinite, all powerful, and unchanging source of all things, on His proper throne.

And if you have Him, nothing can harm you.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Romans 8:31-35)?”

Again, fear comes when something important to you is threatened. But what happens when the most important thing in your life is the infinite, immortal, unchanging God? What’s anyone going to do to Him?

“What about our Earthly things?” you may ask. “They matter to me?” Of course they do. I love my family. I love all the wonderful gifts God’s given me. I love my life. I love my home. I love my job. I love my health (more on that later). But these are the gifts, and I’ll never put them (any of them) above the one who gave them to me.

Again, you may balk at this. You may have this mental image of me shunning my children and my wife. But to do so would violate the law of God. I can’t frustrate my children or be unloving to my wife for God’s sake without violating that very same God’s commandment. If you read these words in outrage and indignation, it’s only because you see these words as an either-or situation.

I want to give my children to God. Not in a psychopathic heretical sense, but in the same Christian, holy sense I and my wife have given ourselves to God. If I’m doing anything I’m giving the children I love to Him just as He gave up His son only son for me. I don’t want my children to worship me any more than I’m not going to start worshiping them. And that is what one does if they make the child the center of their universe.

A thing I’ve learned over the years is you can’t worship the child. Are love and worship synonyms?  Only in as far as you elevate one thing you love above another. I love cookies, but I’d never eat a cookie again if I had to choose between them and my sons. However, if my sons demanded to have only cookies for every meal, I could obey them if I choose to worship them. However, I love them, and I don’t want them to die of some sugar-related malady. The love I have for my children does not mean they control my actions.

However, the love I have for God means He does have control of my actions. This is the distinction to loving Him more than my family. There may even be some times when a choice may have to be made, but that would distract from the point of this chapter, and it’s just so much more rare a situation than one need consider when it comes to reasons for fear.

So at this point, you can choose to accept my words or (more importantly) the words of the Bible or not. I had to explain them in order to provide the comfort God brings.

If I give my life, my family, my home, my well being, over to God, then I am His. He can (and will) do whatever He wants to me.

The reasons that means I have no need to fear are many:

God is good (1 Chronicles 16:34).

God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6).

God is upright (Psalm 25:8).

God is righteous (Psalm 92:15).

God is a stronghold in times of trouble (Nahum 1:7).

God is mighty (Deuteronomy 10:17).

God is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9)

God is love (1 John 4:7).

What need is there to fear when God is in control of your life?

You see, Christ himself told us to be anxious for nothing; don’t be afraid of anything (Matthew 6:25-34).

God will always provide. We’ll never fail to get what we need (Psalm 23).

Yet even knowing this in my flesh, there are times when I fear. This is the subject I discussed with my children the day before I typed this very chapter. I spoke to my children about the faithfulness of God.

When we fear, believers have God to turn to. This, is comfort.

It’s comfort because I know the almighty, all-knowing, loving God of the universe is in charge, and His plan is perfect. Yes, I will be sad, but I can take comfort in knowing what happens is part of his plan.

Yes, readers, even this disease is part of His plan. Whether He sent this virus in his Holy judgement or He’s using Satan’s attempt to thwart that plan, it’s all part of that plan. I’m not particularly enjoying this part of the plan, but I trust it.

So my sons and I sat down and read several Psalms. I let them find chapters that speak about God’s faithfulness. They chose Psalm 2, 3, and 18. They read those chapters, and we talked about what they mean. We didn’t ask, “what do you think that means?”  I hesitate to endorse that sort of self-centered reading. Rather, we considered the literal meaning of the words (this is basic hermeneutics).

After discussing it, I asked my sons what they’re afraid of. They each gave a list (they were very worried their Dad had COVID-19). Then, we used those Psalms as examples. 

I asked my sons, “What do Christians do when the are afraid.”

They answered, “Go to God.”

“How?” I asked.

After a moment or two of thought, they said, “Pray!”

So we prayed together. Each son named his fear and asked God for help.

Minutes later, I got a text. The individual who I had come in contact with and been exposed to COVID-19, had just got his test results back. Negative.

Just like that, more than a week of concern and worry melted away. We’re still going to complete the fourteen-day quarantine as an added measure, but I sometimes marvel at how quickly God works in my life.

I don’t expect God to immediately give me whatever I pray for. I prayed for some 20-something years before I met Julie. God answers in His time in accordance to His plan.

However, in this tiny, glorious example, I offer this to you to say that we can always have faith and trust. We need not fear.

But what if that test came back positive? What if I get sick tomorrow?

My faith isn’t based on God giving me what I want. My faith is based on the list I gave above. I trust God. If I face death, I face it knowing I’m returning home to Him. If I face hardship, I face it knowing he’ll provide for me. And when I feel fear approach, I know I have God to turn to. I can tell him my fears and (as those Psalms all did) praise Him, reminding myself of his characteristics.

Does this mean I’m going to go licking toilets or jumping off buildings? No! Why? Because there’s a big difference between faith and challenge. We’re commanded not to put the LORD our God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). 

What it does mean is I can obediently (in accordance to his command) do as I should and have courage because I know He is with me, and He is with you too if you are indeed among his redeemed.

For our panel: What verses do you turn to when you are afraid? What are some distinctions between lack fear and lack of wisdom? How would you explain loving God most? How would you describe fear? What scripture would you have someone turn to if they were struggling with fear?

Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?