Becoming a better faith blogger

The PDF for today is one I downloaded as a freebie for subscribing to Ed Cyzewski’s blog a few years back. I’ve followed his blog on and off since around 2012. This same ebook is available on Amazon and NoiseTrade. The ebook is short, 47 pages of content. It is divided into sections so I will use those as headings in this summary.

In explaining why he has written an ebook focused on faith blogging, Ed states:

The goals for Christian blogs can become quite murky at times since we aspire to physically live out our faith. Thinking and writing about it simply won’t do for serious followers of Jesus.

I think of this from another angle: Because I’m seeking to live out my faith, my goals for blogging are strongly influenced by what I believe. This probably amounts to the same thing but is easier to get my head around.

Go Deep

In this section Ed extols the virtues of being succinct and to the point, then also recommends writers at least occasionally take the time to go deep on a particular topic.

Invite Guests

Don’t be afraid that inviting others to contribute yo your blog will make you look like less of an expert, it will probably make you look better.

I do wonder how this can be applied to a personal blog like mine? A basic premise of my approach is that this blog is mostly about stuff I am interested in rather than being a ‘niche’ blog. Though, asking people who I’m curious to learn more about would be an obvious way to include the contributions of others. This is worth some consideration.

The Essentials

Becoming a better faith blogger begins with zeroing in on the essentials for a blog post

Ed points out how easy it is to ramble on about our faith, obscuring the message by telling too much detail in the stories we share.

Make your point. Tell your story. Keep. It. Moving.

Read and Link

By reading other blogs and noticing what they do well, we begin to improve our own writing. Follow other bloggers in your area of interest, know what is being discussed about a topic, be informed.

I also note that Ed specifically recommends reading high quality blogs. Just as the people we hang out with influence our thinking, what we are reading will influence both the content and quality of our writing.

We read other blogs in order to share our unique perspectives with existing conversations or to start new conversations that aren’t happening already.

Be Yourself

Don’t try to pursue some abstract ideal of what a ‘good’ blogger should be. Write in a style and voice that is your own. This means finding a sweet spot between stiff formality and brash oversharing. A blog is not an academic journal, but neither is it drunken commiseration with your best mate.

… real life experiences, if shared with discretion, can be truly powerful.

A good question to ask in the context of being yourself is:

What does this look like to me?

An Unbound Niche

This section is a bit hard to sum up so I will just quote this one paragraph:

While we can’t always write for everyone, we can write for a niche in such a way that our work has its own integrity and power so that our niche is open and unbounded by insider jargon or divisive language.

Paint a scene

This is clearly an art, one which I have not mastered. The idea is to carefully paint a scene for the reader that draws them in and pulls them along. The big challenge is to engage readers in such a way as to make them care about what you are saying.

What Are You For?

Be a writer who builds up rather than tearing down. Twitter holds plenty of examples of folks tearing others down, don’t go there. This is a section that I think definitely applies to Christian bloggers – I’m baffled by the way supposedly Christian people write about other Christians in scathing and nasty ways. Disagreeing does not need to be nasty.

What Ed seems to be saying on this topic is to write about what you are wanting to build up and just leave behind the stuff you might be against. This enables you to write positively instead of standing in opposition to something you don’t like.

Self-Deprecating Humour

Ed recommends using humorous stories about ourselves to let others see us at our most cringe-worthy, embarrassed and vulnerable. People are able to relate to these sorts of stories.

I’m not even sure how to attempt this. Perhaps this shows it is something I need to try for myself and practise?

Summary

Ed uses examples of Christian bloggers to show what he means with each go the topics covered. All the links to these blogs are working in the version currently available via Noisetrade, except for the link to ‘Then I Like Being Naïve’ by Preston Yancey. Oddly the links to Ed’s newsletter sign up and his old blog at inamirrordimly, including the ‘women in ministry series’ which he mentions are broken.

Despite the examples of Christian bloggers, the ebook does not go into much detail about much that is specific to faith blogging, something I was looking for.

Rock bottom

The inside of an old industrial chimney shaft photographed from the bottom - circular stone wall with tree growing from it and blue sky with white clouds in the opening in the centre, vertical

In 2014 I hit rock bottom.

In just one year I dug myself into a huge credit card debt, gained 10 Kg of excess weight, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in a suicidal state, and almost ruined my marriage. Not my best effort.

Fortunately my depression has improved and my wife is graciously giving me a chance to make things better. I urgently need to change how I “do life”. This year my blog will trace my journey to ‘a better me’.

This is not about ‘radical’ or extreme changes, there is no room for such things when I am in debt, have health problems and have to work full time to support my family. It is also not a quest for perfection, all of us let ourselves and others down every day. What I am aiming for is to be a better person. Not perfect, not even ‘the best’, just better than I am now.

Because I have made such a mess of things and failed in a multitude of ways, this self-improvement project will range over many areas. Of particular interest to me is how to make changes stick and finding what will have the biggest payoff for even small improvements.

When I am weak

when-i-am-weak

As we stare down the rapidly looming freight train of Christmas, it drags with it the realisation that 2014 is almost at an end. Frankly, I will be happy to see the last of this year, or at least the difficulties it has contained. To quote Queen Elizabeth II, for me 2014 has been an ‘annus horribilis’. This year brought weakness and brokenness in my mind and soul of an intensity that nearly did me in.

Recovering from such a place has taken most of the year, and while I’m now much better it has left a sharp awareness of vulnerability along with some fear of ending up in such a mess again. It has been hard work to implement changes of lifestyle to improve chances of recovery, but much of the improvement is due to other people helping me, especially my wife. I suspect that it is by God’s grace that I did not fall so low while I was single and had nobody close to spot when I needed help.

There are many such graces which I now notice looking back over the valley we are emerging from. These attest to God having been with me despite my inability to perceive Him while passing through the darkness and gloom. This also reminds me of some parts of the New Testament where our human weakness is highlighted as having been taken into consideration in God’s plan for our salvation:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6 ESV).

There are times when we do not have the ability to even cry out to God for what we most desperately need, yet He has already preempted such times of desperation by taking our weakness and sin upon Himself so that even the barrier of being weak is no longer a barrier between us and Him. I consider this one of the most hopeful truths of the Gospel; that being weak, foolish, sinful, or despised need not keep us from God. And that nobody in the Church has the right to boast as if they get God’s favour by their own merit because in truth none of us do, or ever will:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV).

The great thing about this is that within the body of Christ (the Church) we all have various times of relative weakness and strength so when one member is weak those who are in a place of strength at that time can walk alongside and lift the weaker one up for a while. We all have ups and downs and I am convinced that it honours God more to ask for help when we need it than to feign strength and walk in falseness and pride, refusing assistance despite it being obvious to others that we need help.

Closing the gap between belief and practise

Nail_in_cross

I am on a journey. A quest to span the gap between what I believe and how I live. ​

As a Christian this should be pretty simple – just follow the teachings of Jesus and things will be fine. ​In practise I find that within days (if not hours) of resolving to be more committed in following Christ I have stumbled into the mire of selfishness and lukewarmness.

Therefore, I am going to embark on an outrageously scary project for someone like me who has long thought that spirituality should be internal and private: I am going to write as openly as I can here about my own attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ while living and working in a secular society. There will be mistakes, blunders, laziness, sin, doubts and fears. As God wills there will also be worship, rejoicing, and faith. This will not be an exercise in ‘correct’ theology or preaching at you. Consider it more like a window upon a soul stumbling in the footsteps of John Bunyan’s Christian.​

Other posts related to this topic:

Image: iStock

Back on track

a black antique abandoned car
Stuck because I’ve been off the road!

Do you ever have, “how could I have been so dumb” experiences? When you suddenly realise you’ve had something completely wrong, especially if it has been in front of other people.

I had such an experience this week, and the dumbness has been public – on this blog in fact.

For several months I have been floundering around trying to ‘figure out’ what I want to be writing about, in some ways wanting to imitate others who have sophisticated artistic blogs. The problem being that the creators of such blogs are sophisticated artistic people whose passion is creating fantastic work. In my more realistic moments I have to concede that such a description does not fit me well.

Then I happened to be reading 1 John chapter 2, particularly:

And the world is passing away along with it’s desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17)

Suddenly I could see why I felt so stuck for writing inspiration – there is a topic I am passionate about: God and knowing Him through Jesus Christ. The reason I’ve been stuck is because I haven’t even been on the road! Heading off on my own path has simply resulted in me becoming lost.

After resolving to focus on writing about ‘God stuff’, the ideas have begun to flow again. Back on track!

Other posts related to this topic:

Image: iStock

Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?

How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.


Image: iStock

Dance

Five Minute Friday:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat on the prompt: “Dance” with no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..

Go:
I am not really given to dancing. Gracefulness is not a description I’d easily wear. At a guess I would probably look like a midget immitation of Peter Garrett if I tried to dance.

The closest I’ve come to being graceful was many years ago when I was a rock climber, control and concentration made something very difficult look easy to others. A faster moving version was skiing, an exhilarating experience of being in the mountains and flowing down their flanks.

Now my moves are less agile, a lot more puffing is involved now as I walk in the freedom of fresh air and only nature’s eyes watching. Still, in such places where no one is watching, my soul still exhalts in God as at least feels like I could dance.

Stop

When good kids go bad

Over a year ago I first read a blog post written by a pastor who received a letter from a young  woman who grew up in a good Christian home and went to a Christian college. She describes how she ‘went off the rails’ at college despite being ‘a good Christian’ and that this is a common scenario.
Living in a university town and having worked on campus for many years I have seen plenty of students arrive here fresh-faced and reasonably tame, only to deteriorate into a drunken, debauched mess within months. Christian kids can find it especially hard at Otago as their peers party up and throw off parental restraints.

Very few Christians make it through their university years with faith intact. Some do, and they shine strikingly against the secular backdrop surrounding them. But unfortunately the attrition rate is huge. A shallow faith doesn’t last long in the pressure cooker of student life. Even those with deep, robust faith can find themselves stumbling.

There is no ‘easy-fix’ to this situation, it is an unavoidable trial of living in a secular nation and this is where we are called to live as salt and light. However, what has made this letter stick in my mind is what it highlights about the importance of a father’s faith and relationship with his kids:

Here are some excerpts from that letter:

… I found out when I went to college that I am not the only “good kid” who is or has struggled with or is still struggling with serious stuff. We struggle with issues like eating disorders, depression and suicide, cutting, pornography, gender identity, homosexuality, drugs, drinking, immorality, and the list could go on. We listen to “wild” music, we idolize pop culture’s heroes, we watch dirty sitcoms. We have no discrimination in our entertainment, dress, or any aspect of our lifestyle.

… the problems that are supposed to be bad kid’s problems belong to us too. Unfortunately, our parents and youth workers don’t know that we struggle with these things and they don’t know what to do with us when they find out. Quite frankly, I believe that if you grabbed the average Christian school teacher or youth worker and asked them, “What would you do if you found out that one of the kids you work with was a homosexual?” they wouldn’t know what to say.

… Our parents did not spend time teaching us to love God. Our parents put us in Sunday Schools since K4. Our parents took us to church every time the doors opened, and sent us to every youth activity. They made sure we went to good Christian colleges. They had us sing in the choir, help in the nursery, be ushers, go soulwinning. We did teen devotionals, and prayed over every meal. We did everything right. And they made sure that we did.

But they forgot about our hearts. …. Unfortunately, our fathers don’t have time for us. They put us where we are surrounded by the Bible. But they didn’t take time to show us that God was important enough to them to tell us personally about Him…

Many of us struggle with stuff that our parents have no idea about because they hardly know us.
Saddest Letter I’ve Ever Read by Cary Schmidt

My eldest child is not yet a teenager, so there remains time to deepen our relationship such that she can see for herself how my faith in Christ really works. Will I be brave enough to admit when I don’t have answers to her questions? Even tougher, will I allow her to see my struggles when I do not have answers to my own questions?

I’m not at all eager to face tough times, but maybe my children need to see me do so. They need to have seen me wrestle with hard decisions and choose to trust God. They need to see me weak and desperate yet clinging to Christ in all circumstances. As yet they are still a bit too young to understand the world of adults. What I don’t want is for them to be adults and still not understand it or have seen genuine Christian faith in action within the world they find themselves.

I would also like us to trust each other enough to be honest and share where we really are at. How will a child learn such honesty? Perhaps by seeing it in their parents’ relationship and by their father being brave enough to be open to them.

Pastor Schmidt has also posted a couple of responses to the letter, with a very good one addressed to parents here.

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6 ESV)

Expecting God to answer

This week’s 5 minute Friday topic is expectation:
Cute little boy gets a birthday gift from his father. White background.
Go

whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
(Matthew 21:22 ESV)

I should expect answers when I pray. It would be a lie to say I always do.

Perhaps this is why I pray non-specific prayers in front of my kids, prayers which could be answered by imperceptible progress so it is harder to say definitively whether the answer has been given or not?

Why such difficulty in believing that God will give me what I ask for in prayer? Logically I know it doesn’t depend upon how well I pray, whether I select the right words, or even if I get the theology exactly correct. God, the big powerful One, He gives the answers – it all depends on Him, not me.

Jesus told us what we need in order to receive what we ask for: faith.

Faith, the same stuff which got me saved. I have no problem trusting God for my salvation, my ever-present weakness helps me to be always trusting in Christ not myself. Surely this is what He was saying about praying, ask in faith based on who Jesus is and have an expectation that He who knows all I need and ask for will give it to me.

Stop

Check out this great blog post about this very topic:  Why do healings and stuff happen there and not here?


Related to this topic:

Image: iStock

Expecting Him to answer

This week’s 5 minute Friday topic is expectation:

Go

whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
(Matthew 21:22 ESV)

I should expect answers when I pray. It would be a lie to say I always do.

Perhaps this is why I pray non-specific prayers in front of my kids, prayers which could be answered by imperceptible progress so it is harder to say definitively whether the answer has been given or not?

Why such difficulty in believing that God will give me what I ask for in prayer? Logically I know it doesn’t depend upon how well I pray, whether I select the right words, or even if I get the theology exactly correct. God, the big powerful One, He gives the answers – it all depends on Him, not me.

Jesus told us what we need in order to receive what we ask for: faith.

Faith, the same stuff which got me saved. I have no problem trusting God for my salvation, my ever-present weakness helps me to be always trusting in Christ not myself. Surely this is what He was saying about praying, ask in faith based on who Jesus is and have an expectation that He who knows all I need and ask for will give it to me.

Stop

Check out this great blog post about this very topic:  Why do healings and stuff happen there and not here?

Related to this topic:

Image: iStock