Friday, May 28, 2010

Pleasure or Pressure

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30 NAS)

Pleasure or Pressure It used to be said a job is no longer a job if we are doing what we like doing. Hypothetically, this also means when what we like doing becomes a job, it is no longer a pleasure doing what we like doing.

Life as a writer is very much the same. I used to write for leisure on topics of my own interest, and I enjoyed every minute and second while I was doing it. However, when the day came for me to make a living out of what I like best, writing became more of a pressure than pleasure. Deadlines now come as part and parcel of life and rushing is a norm. Inspiration and creative thinking no longer come easy as before, and hard work seems always the order of the day. All these often boil down to one question—am I writing for free or for a fee? When I write for a fee, expectations are always tagged with the price, and this is seldom fun. When I write for free, it is usually done with pleasure and there is no pressure.

Much like the way a writer enjoys writing for pleasure, many of us were also overjoyed with pleasure at the prospect of living in Christ when we received Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We would spend every minute and every second doing things that please God if we could. However, as time passes by, we realize how difficult it is to live holy lives in holding fast to the testimony of our faith (1 Peter 1:13-16). At times, we may even feel we have unwittingly signed up to our own death when we received the Lord (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22). Drudgery soon becomes part and parcel of life and sulking is a norm. Joy no longer comes easy as before, and disgruntlement seems frequently the order of the day. All these often boil down to one question—are our hearts focused on God or are we living our lives according to what others expect of us as Christians? When we live for Christ, we ought to live it out with pleasure and not under pressure.

Many of us when we are under pressure tend to have our minds swayed to think that living in Christ and keeping the Christian testimony is a burden as compared to the pleasures of living worldly lives. This thinking is far from the truth because living our lives according to the expectations of this world is never a pleasure, and in fact is more wearisome and burdensome. This is the reason why our Lord said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest … For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).

Let us therefore be wise and know that God is not putting pressure on us when seeking for us to live holy lives, but setting us free to receive the pleasure of living out the abundant life (John 10:10). Whether we are doing something for free or for a fee, let us do it heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord we will receive the reward (Ephesians 6:6-8; Colossians 3:23-24). Since therefore it is Christ whom we serve, regardless the expectations set on us by others, let us do our best with pleasure, not pressure.

Help us dear Lord never for a moment think that by receiving You, we have signed ourselves into trouble. Alert us Lord that we may not be tricked into thinking the pleasures of this world are better than living the Christian life. Purify our hearts Lord to desire to live holy lives, just as You are holy. Remove from us our wrong perception and the feeling of pressure Lord, and grant us renewed joy to rediscover the pleasure of serving You.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Own Worst Critic

Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40 NAS)

Own Worst Critic As a writer for a corporation, my duties encompass many tasks—writing, copywriting, proofreading, editing, and more. Reviewing another person's writing as well as my own is therefore part and parcel of my routine. Nonetheless, I must admit I am not a good critic when it comes to reviewing the written words of others. This is because I dislike offending or hurting another, and certainly do not wish to break the spirit of any aspiring writer. When examining my own writing, however, I spare no room for mistakes, because I am my own worst critic.

Reviewing one’s own writing is a good practice even if we are not a writer, but relying on oneself as the only critic is seldom ideal or good enough. This is because when we review our own writings over and over again, we tend to cloud our minds and create blind spots, which usually can only be seen by another critic.

Like the way we review our own writing, the Bible teaches something similar in principle about living the Christian life. As believers in the Lord, all of us should ‘review’ ourselves regularly to examine and probe our ways to ensure we stay the course and remain in the faith (Lamentations 3:40; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Probing our ways alone however is not good enough, because we tend not to see our own mistakes. We ought therefore to open up ourselves to receive constructive critiques from others, especially from those whose purpose is to guide us to the right direction. If, however, we receive critiques that seek to tear down or destroy, we should not take such critiques to heart. Only in this way will we be able to take a step forward in our walk with God to grow in spiritual maturity. Likewise, we should also do our part in giving constructive critiques to others, to warn and direct them in their walk with God (Matthew 18:15).

When giving critiques, therefore, let us remember not to be too judgmental in thinking too highly of ourselves as if we are always right or better than the other (Philippians 2:3). For in the way we judge others, we shall also be judged, and if our motive for giving critiques is to destroy and tear down, then by our own standard of measure, we will be measured (Matthew 7:1-2; Luke 6:37).

Help us dear Lord not to be too critical on others to want to destroy or tear down the spirit of one whose heart longs to serve You. Keep our hearts pure Lord to desire to encourage, teach and guide others in their walk with You instead. Remind us Lord to always examine our ways and our motives when giving critiques. Put within our hearts Lord the willingness to receive constructive critiques to improve ourselves that we may take the step forward in our walk with You!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Manuscript Authenticity

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NAS)

Ancient Manuscript Whether we are looking for a job, selling a product or service, persuading someone to agree with us on something, or requesting someone to accept what we have to offer, we all face rejections at times. Like everyone else, writers also frequently face rejections. Although not all of us are writers, to those who are, we know how difficult it is to get our manuscripts published. In the real world, many writers receive rejection letters more than acceptance to have written works acquired or accepted by publishers.

Many sites on the worldwide web have suggested various approaches to reduce the immediate rejections of manuscripts by publishers. Some of these sites suggest following certain guidelines to format manuscripts, such as using the right font type, font size, line spacing, adding page breaks, among many other advices. Other sites suggest writers to improve, redraft, revise and critically assess manuscripts before submission. Yet another site suggests going through literary agents rather than deal with the publisher directly, as agents have better contact with the publishers.

All these suggestions are good, but they are often useless because not many publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts submission. Even if they do, they usually put these manuscripts among other unsolicited submissions, and if they have the time, the acquisitions editor will take some of the manuscripts to review and appraise. If the editor likes our manuscripts, he or she will then hand it to the editorial staff. Depending on the size of the publisher’s organization, the manuscripts will then go through other processes for reviews by different people before they are accepted for publication.

Like the processes a writer’s manuscript has to go through before it is considered for publishing, manuscripts of ancient writings also have to go through many processes and stringent checks for historical value before they are authenticated. By using paleography, which is a scientific research methodology for studying ancient writings, scholars are able to accurately obtain information about historical manuscripts to find out where the document was originated and how old it is through analyzing the ink and mediums used, such as the type of writing instruments, handwriting and illustrations.

Archaeological evidences throughout history have shown the reliability and authenticity of the Old and New Testament’s manuscripts in its accuracy of transmission from ancient writings. According to information from AllAboutTheJourney.org, manuscripts of the Bible, when compared to other ancient writings, “stand alone as the best-preserved literary works of all antiquity.” Thousands of existing Old Testament manuscripts and fragments copied throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean and European regions phenomenally agree with each other, and these texts substantially agree with the Septuagint version of the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek some time during the third century BC.

The Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in Israel between 1947 and 1956 also provide astounding evidence for the reliability of ancient transcription of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) in the first, second and third centuries BC. Through the academic discipline of textual criticism, much of the Bible translations have been verified today as essentially the same as the ancient Bible manuscripts. Given this fact, if any other ancient writings are accepted as historical pieces even with much less evidences, we can all the more trust the reliability of the writings in the Holy Bible. Although archeology is unable to prove the spiritual truths in the Bible, it shows the amazing testimony to the accuracy of the Bible from the original text.

Knowing this, therefore, we can all appreciate how ancient manuscripts are painstakingly analyzed as compared to the haphazard selection processes of writers’ manuscripts by publishers today. We should therefore not doubt the authenticity of the Bible, for whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Thank You, dear Lord, for the Holy Bible, and for preserving its content so accurately even till this day that we may without any doubt put our trust in You completely. We know Lord that without Your written word, we would not have been able to receive Your instruction, so that through perseverance and encouragement we might have hope. Help us dear Lord, that in understanding how the Bible came to be what it is today, to readily defend Your word with full confidence.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Writing for God

what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:3-4 NAS)

Creative Writing Some years ago, I had the privilege of studying Christian Journalism as one of the subject units for a course at a Bible seminary. The main text used for teaching the unit was the book by Kathryn Lindskoog, Creative Writing: For People Who Can’t Not Write. In this book, the author suggested a number of areas writers should pay attention to in order to reach out to their readers.

First, write creatively, because the world will never be starved for want of wonders.

Second, write simply and correctly, not necessarily with large vocabulary, but with untangled thinking to keep sentences from going awry.

Third, avoid pitfalls and pratfalls, as they can make the writer look foolish sidestepping into the booby traps of misspelling or overwriting.

Fourth, show instead of tell. Make familiar things new and make new things familiar.

Fifth, write something funny or at least interesting. Write things that please the ear, tease the brain or ease the heart.

Sixth, think up ideas that can make some earnings out of writing. Get published, paid and read.

Seventh, let the readers see and hear what is going on for themselves instead of interpreting and summarizing it for them.

Eighth, continue to strive to do better and stretch the limits, because with each new piece of writing, it usually gets more difficult than easier.

All the pointers mentioned so far are good advices for writers to put into practice. However, if our desire is to write for God and our target readers are Christians or pre-believers, then we will need to look into other pointers as well. Here are some pointers from me.

Ninth, get to the heart of the matter. In order for us to get to the readers’ hearts, we must write with a heart that cares enough to want to know what matters to them.

Tenth, write the truth (Ecclesiastes 12:10). Do not just write what ease the readers’ hearts or what they like to hear. Write what we have seen and heard that our readers may have fellowship with us and with God (1 John 1:3-4). If writing Christian fiction, our plot can include true to life examples, like our own experiences or those of other people we know.

Eleventh, seek inspiration from God and ask of Him what He would have us write. God knows what our target readers need more than we do.

Twelfth, use scriptural references to substantiate claims or teachings when writing devotionals or Christian non-fiction. Use Bible-based principles to exemplify the characters in the story when writing Christian fiction.

Apart from the pointers mentioned in this article, there are of course many other areas we need to consider as writers. This article merely touches the tip of the iceberg what’s involved in the writers’ craft. In the real world, writing skills are very much dependent on one’s own flair for writing, the degree of our creativity, the inspiration we received from God, and the talent He has given us.

When we write for God, therefore, let us consider where we stand in choosing what story to tell. Let us ask ourselves whether we should write to please our readers and increase our earnings, or write the truth to speak to the hearts and risk not receiving our deserving returns?

Look into our hearts and spirits Lord, that we may with the skill You bestow on us, write what reaches the hearts of man. Help us dear Lord not to seek for our own riches, to change what we write just to meet the whims of what our readers desire to hear. Inspire us Lord and let us know what You would have us write that we may touch some souls and lead some back to You.

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