Monday, October 28, 2013

Modern Day Pharisee

A few years ago my friend Jim preached a message that hit pretty close to home. As I was exiting church he stood at the entrance and as I shook his hand I said, "You know if you are going to talk exclusively to me you might as well send the rest of these people home." 

I have more faults and shortcomings then this blog or all the blogs of the world could contain. One thing, however, I don't lack is introspection. The ability to be honest not just with others but with myself. On Sunday morning I don't assume that the minister is talking about the person behind me.

One thing among many I enjoy about our church is our ministers often rail about religious behavior. Of course it still exists in our church and I am pretty sure it does in yours as well.

What are the signs of religious behavior for you? Is it judgment of others who are not on a perceived spiritual level? Maybe because they have not missed church in ten years, or never go a day without reading the scriptures. Is it being comfortable with how the service should be conducted? How about when someone puffs up their chest and brags about how many people they have led to the Lord? The list is endless.

What I notice is not what they have it is what they often lack, and that is warmth. I see no benefit in cold religious behavior.  Jesus must not have either considering the company he kept. One thing I love about God is the people He chose to do the greatest works through. Flawed people who made big mistakes like David or my favorite Peter. Why did He not choose those who lived an exemplary life? The good religious folks of the day. He knew the scarred, flawed, mistake prone person would realize how much they needed Him on an intimate personal basis. They knew that they could not perform their way to relationship with Him. They knew they were lost without Him.

I have spent most of my life terribly lost but I always respected and appreciated those that radiated God's love. You could just see and feel this warmth inside of them and I knew they possessed something I did not. They had the light of God and with that comes love, caring, compassion, tenderness, and a desire to walk humbly with their Father.

We all have our bad days but if we are not walking with a visible warmth that sets us apart perhaps it is time to reevaluate and realize just maybe the minister's words are not for the person seated behind you.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The River Hideaway

On a day when my best friend, Jack and I were at home watching the movie 'A Time to Kill' an idea came to me. I asked, "Jack, what if this rich white guy and black guy meet and become friends back in the 60's when racial tension was so high?"

He looked at me strangely and said, "Where do you get this stuff?"

I took that as he thought I was crazy and at that time there was probably substantial evidence to support that theory. But later when I voiced this he immediately said, "No, I think it is great. I really  meant where do you get this stuff?"

That was 1998 and before I had a computer I began to write a fictional story starting from two young men meeting on a basketball court. My son, Micah reminded me yesterday of all the times we went back to the Park when the office was closed so I could write. I also remember a stretch where the ideas were flowing and sometimes I would wake at four and go to work early and write until my shift began at seven.

The second publisher that I submitted this story too gave me great hope. I received a very personal letter from Anne, the lady that read it. She loved it, however she was unable to convince the board to choose it as the one piece of fiction they published yearly. Still, with her glowing recommendation and five contacts she furnished I thought it was only a matter of time. Despite her recommendation three responded, no new fiction and no new authors. One publisher had decided to publish only children books. The other called and told me how interested he was and that he knew all about it from Anne, who personally had sought him out at a conference. But his company kept me on the hook for two years and despite how much they liked it in the end they decided to pass.

It seemed to play out that way often. I equated it to trying out for the varsity basketball team and making cut after cut but not making that final cut. That is not to say I did not have outright rejections I certainly did. The past few years I rarely tried as the process and life in general was wearing me out.

Some of you reading this may have ventured down the road of trying to get published. The realization sinking in quickly that it is very difficult to even get a publisher to agree to read your entire manuscript. Each company that I dealt with for the most part wanted only the one page query where you try to describe a manuscript that might be five hundred pages long. All in one nice tight page.

Right away you find out you have to rule out publishers of size because you have to have an agent. That is probably more difficult than getting published.

One small publisher in New York wrote something I never forgot. They received 7,000 manuscripts yearly from which they published seven books. Throw in being an unpublished writer and maybe less than half of the seven derived from that category. You do the math.

I can't recall in the past five years if I even tried more than two or three times. I was in a bad place for a long time where I thought I was good enough but that this God that was suppose to love me so much would never allow the desires of my heart to happen.

Many times I have shared the two great desires of my heart that were just for me. One was the right woman and Julie entered my life for good almost one year ago to the day. Today I am minutes away from signing a contract for 'The River Hideaway' and mailing it to a publisher in California.

I wasted so much of my life doing it my way because I thought my plan was better than God's. If you learn anything from my blogs I hope you learn to not be the fool I was. I turned the wheel over and God has so richly blessed me. I have a wife that loves me in ways I can't even comprehend.

Pastor Steve shared something this past Sunday that nailed my life before I turned the wheel over to God. He referenced a book and the following quote.

"The Christian life is so difficult because we seek God's blessings while we live in our own will! We would be glad to live the Christian life according to our own liking."

Absolute Surrender  by Andrew Murrey.

That was me. I was always asking the blessings of Jesus while I lived my way. Walking the path that I desired. Steve said it just doesn't work that way. I concur.

So now I have a writing break. I don't know what will come from it. The biggest dream is that it does well enough that I can get the other manuscripts already written published. But if this is it and this one little book sells 1,000 copies and that is all that ever comes from it I will say, "Thank You, God for your favor."

The publishing agreement came several weeks ago but the contract arrival took until this week. It gave me every opportunity to doubt and I did. I was extremely frustrated yesterday afternoon but even in my frustration as I was inclined to venture down that old path of anger toward God, I refrained. He has been far too generous to me.

I kept the news of this publishing agreement confined because I did not trust that it would not blow up again. I had been disappointed so many times. But it is okay because I have learned to trust God's timing better than mine.

Obviously, I shared the news with Julie who called me as I was reading the initial publishing offer and I was unable to speak. I called my son and he had to read the email to really hear clearly because I could not stop crying. That is my God. He reduces me to tears.

I don't want to leave anyone out and people close to me were all thrilled and your support means so much to me. Still, how can I not mention my adopted sister Katie's reaction? I placed the letter on a shelf under her water bottle one morning as she lifted weights with Julie and I. I told her she needed to drink some water. She did not understand but she picked the bottle up and read the letter. She got as far as the first paragraph before sprinting across the garage and leaping into my arms with tears already flowing. How blessed am I to have the people I have in my life. I am beyond humbled.

My sister Kay shared something when I called her and shared the news. First she was very happy and very proud of her little brother. Next she said, "Who knows Billy? Maybe Mom nudged Jesus and said, Lord, you know how long he has wanted this. Do this for my boy."

I like that. Thanks Mom. I love you and I think Kay was right.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Way We Worship

I spent several weeks early in 2012 working in Pine Knoll Shores, NC. The picture with the beautiful sunset that accompanies my profile was taken there at the end of a long day of work. The small company I worked for received a contract to plant seven rows of Beach Grass the entire length of the beach that winter. We would follow this in the spring with four rows of Sea Oats to enhance protection of the beach strand.

The majority of the beach grass planted was done mechanically. One person drove the tractor and another sat in an attached chair at the rear of it throwing plants down a rotating hopper. The low man on the job walked behind the tractor cleaning up the plants that did not get properly planted. That was my duty.

During the course of the day I could not keep up with the tractor so early the next morning my assignment was to hit the beach and catch up from the previous day while they prepared for the day. It was the best part of the day. The entire beach was virtually desolate as the winter sun had barely risen. My ipod would be playing worship music. This particular morning I was listening to my favorite group, Jesus Culture. But I was doing more than listening. I was so engaged with worship that I was doing my own style of freeing dance movements as I correctly planted plants that the tractor had not. It was then that that I heard that whisper I recognize as my Lord . This is how I want you to worship. Worship like there is no one else around.

Worship takes on many forms. Singing, hands outstretched, dancing, and for me their are times I just want to sit and listen to the music and voices of those worshiping God around me. Sometimes I feel awkward with my worship, or worry how it looks but when this time comes I dismiss it and I return to an early morning at Pine Knoll Shores where the object of my worship said, Worship like there is no one else around.

How we worship is not the big deal but that we worship authentically to our Lord very much is.