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Hope is the Rope

People all around us are trapped in pits of their own making. These pits are too deep, their walls too slick to climb. And even though these pits are invisible, I know they’re out there.

I used to be in one.

Then someone lowered a rope. Finally, I grabbed ahold and they pulled me out.

Another word for these pits is condemnation. The earthly dungeon it traps us in is the consequence of sin. Adam and Eve dug the first pit, but then they left the shovel where we could reach it. And the Bible says that each of us have our fingerprints all over the handle.

It’s a waste of time to blame someone else. I heard a preacher say that as he traveled through a city, he saw something that had been spray painted on a wall. It read, Humpty Dumpty was pushed. True, we don’t really know how the Eggy fella ended up tumbling off the wall, but we do know the results: brokenness.

When I write a story, I often picture a reader whose soul is crying out,  Is there hope for me? Can I be lifted from the dark pit that sums up my life? Can I escape this condemnation?

The answer is YES, because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)! And I seek to communicate that in every story. The gospel is Good News because it is a message of hope for the hopeless, healing for the broken, and liberation for those who grope in the darkness to find something that can help them.

Well, HOPE is the rope. It is lowered–in Jesus’ name–each time we tell the gospel story in word and deed. I want to make sure that I give my readers something to grab ahold of. I want to lower hope into their pit…because someone did it for me. Yes, I will write about the reality of the pit–the slimy, taunting wall, the stench of filth, the darkness–but not to glorify the pit. My goal is to help people appreciate what they were saved from. I want them to understand that the rope of hope that was lowered to them is the most expensive rope ever known…if they look closely, and we all should, they will see that the rope is covered in blood. It is the blood that poured from the wounds of a Savior.

When Jesus died on the cross, He stained the rope with his blood. When He rose from the dead, He made it possible for the rope to be lowered into my pit. And yours. And, through repentance and surrender, we took hold of the rope.

And just like the shovel that dug my pit fits my hand, the rope that pulled me out fits my hand also. And I’ve been given a piece of the rope to lower down to others.

And I plan to use it. Will you use yours?

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Those Special Moments of Ministry

Dear God,

Thank you for allowing me to be your child.

Thank you that there is now no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ.

Thank you that you for allowing me to gather with others and teach your Word, for entrusting me with the soul-stirring honor of preaching the liberating truth that can lead others to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

And, thank you, for the power of story, and for the privilege of being a writer.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Friends, it is impossible for me to adequately describe the awe I feel when I stand to preach the Word of God. It is one of those “moments” that stands out as unique in my human existence. It embraces my mind, strength, and soul…leaving me exhausted but fulfilled.

Sometimes, during those moments right before I’m going to stand up and begin preaching, I’m so focused on how I intend to start the message that I simply don’t know much else. One time, a lady had called all the children to the front of the sanctuary for a little children’s lesson. That usually happened at some point in the order of service before the sermon. Well, while she was talking to the kids, my mind wandered to the opening few sentences I wanted to use to start my message when she was done. In other words, I zoned out of what she was saying and zoned in on the introduction to the message I’d prepared and would momentarily be preaching.

Then I heard her say, “And now, kids, we’ll have Pastor Larry lead us in the Lord’s Prayer.”

Folks, my mind went completely blank. Trust me, I reallydo know the Lord’s Prayer. I can usually say it in a couple different versions. But not at that moment. I couldn’t remember how it started to save my life! I mean, for Pete’s sake, that wasn’t what I was going to be preaching!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was rummaging through my mind in a panicked rush and all I was coming up with were things like, “Eeny, Meni, Miny, Mo” or “Who built the Ark? Noah, Noah,” or “Would you like fries with that?” And, until that moment, I hadn’t noticed how incredibly warm it was in the church! I mean, come on people, let’s crack open a few windows!”

I mean the words to the Lord’s Prayer may be printed in red in most people’s Bibles, but they were written with invisible ink in my mind that day.

Finally some dear merciful saint started the Lord’s Prayer and I was able to join in.

Yep, I can get zoned in and lose track of other things going on around me. I can do it when I’m teaching, preaching, and even when I’m writing. The moment of communication (spoken or written) grabs my attention and I’m captivated by the power of words…the stewardship of story.

And more than anything, I desperately want it to matter. I want people to hear what I have to say and read what I have to write because it can help them on the path to or with God. I believe that with all my heart.

Fellow communicators, what you are doing matters. So do it with all your might. Give of your best to the Master!

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Top 10 Unfortunate Responses to a Book Proposal

I just submitted my first book proposal. Now I’m worried how it’s going to be received. And that led me to today’s Top 10 list. Here’s what my weary and worried mind came up with:

Top 10 Unfortunate Responses to a Book Proposal:

# 10:  “ROFLOL! By the way, when will you sending the real proposal?”

#  9:  “Thanks for letting me read your book proposal. I haven’t slept this good in a long time!”

#  8:  “Were you drunk when you wrote this?”

#  7:  “Dear Mr. Timm, you can’t list Jim Rubart as an endorser of your book just because he said ‘Hello’ to you at a conference. And Nancy Mehl said the restraining order is not just a joke. Additionally, you can’t say that Chevy Chase is co-author simply because you sort of look like him.”

#  6:  “Your proposal was greatly appreciated. Our parrot, Mr. Snarky, has diarrhea, and we are out of newspaper.

#  5:  “Having read your book proposal, I’ve believe the best way to fix the problems within the pages is to hold the entire proposal by the upper left hand corner, and then set the bottom right hand corner on fire.

#  4:  “After reading your proposal, the editors of four publishing houses have met and unanimously agreed that you’re insane. Have a nice day.”

#  3:  “Please be informed that our legal department has carefully studied the marketing plan you submitted with your proposal–along with the photographs and drawings you unfortunately  provided–and we have determined that all of your ideas are either illegal, physically impossible, or would require surgery to undo.”

#  2:  “Dear Larry, while it’s true that Dr. Seuss wrote some really suspenseful stories, and although we agree that some might think of The Grinch that Stole Christmas as a real spine-tingler, you need to send us more recent comparable titles right away.”

#  1:  “I’m sorry to report that a swarm of dung beetles has rolled your book proposal away. Better luck next time.”

 

Okay, friends…if I get any of these responses I’ll let you know. Have a nice day.

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The lone writer

I’m blessed to have the support of family and friends as I travel on my writer’s journey. My wife is a source of great strength to me and my writing, even though she doesn’t read a word of it. LOL! Seriously! I write suspense and my dear wife doesn’t like to get scared to death. But she goes out of her way to cheer for me and let me know that she supports me as a writer. She, and the kids, share the ups and downs with me. They sacrifice time and money for me to be a writer.

But there are some writers who trudge through the ups and downs of writing without the strength and support from those closest to them. And that breaks my heart.

The solitude and monotony of writing can be hard enough without a writer feeling that their work is not respected and their passion is not shared by the people they love. The lows are lower alone.

This simple post is my attempt to get you to do two things:

  1. Make a list of the people who support & encourage you as a writer. And, starting today, take a few moments and send a note of thanks to one person a day until you have written them all.
  2. Be an encouragement to other writers, especially those who have confided to you that they feel alone and discouraged. Listen to what other writers say, because sooner or later a broken heart will reveal itself. Pray for them. Help them. Become their cheering section, even if it means you’re the only one sitting there at the moment.

If you are one of those who feels alone, please remember that God loves you and will never forsake you. And if I can do anything to help you, please let me know.

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Interview with Bob Ravener

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does a boy from a heart-breaking childhood, a military veteran, and a very successful corporate executive have in common? A lot, especially when…they’re the same person.

It’s my privilege to share with you an interview with Mr. Bob Ravener, the man whose personal history involves all the things mentioned above. And more. I’m sure you’ll be blessed by this candid interview, in which Bob offers straightforward answers from his heart. His story is told in a wonderful book called UP! After this interview I will give my review of his book, and remind you how you can contact Bob and where you can find UP.

Bob Ravener can be contacted at BobRavener.com and you can do yourself a favor and get a copy of his book UP at

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=bob+ravener

Note:  The answers expressed below are solely Mr. Ravener’s and do not necessarily express the views or opinions of his employer.

1.  How painful was it for you to relive your childhood as you wrote this book?

BOB:  In many ways it was therapeutic. In the book I discuss never mentioning any of the family strife to anyone until I met my wife, so it was bottled up for a long time. Writing it all down brought back some very painful memories but was also cleansing at the same time. Once I began to realize that I could help others with my words and experiences, the agony transformed into a purpose, which ultimately eased my pain. My siblings initially had mixed feelings as it also brought back some painful memories for them but I believe the process has begun to heal these emotions and is bringing us closer. I know I am doing more now than ever to re-kindle our relationships and become closer with them. In fact, my brother Tom, his family, and mine even vacationed together this year, something that had not happened in the past. So in that respect, this book has even helped me.

 

2.  What did writing  UP do for you personally?

BOB:  There are really three reasons I wrote the book:

  1. Since my family lost most of our possessions, including toys, bicycles, furniture, photos and other memorabilia, I wanted to have some kind of family history to pass along to my kids.
  2. Once I started to write down the stories, I began to realize that I have experienced many events that put me and many other family members in very dire straits, ending with both tragic and positive outcomes. I felt like these life stories carried a message that could help others and give people hope.
  3. I am a big believer in giving back to others. Since I have received so much help and guidance from many other people along the way, I felt like I owed it to them to “pay it forward” for others.

I think it gave me a sense of accomplishment but more importantly, some closure to open and deep wounds. Through the process I found myself forgiving both my father and mother as I had held on to much bitterness because of the family circumstances. What I found most interesting was it wasn’t until I started putting it all on paper that I began to realize that my life had been a long, windy, and dusty road filled with lots of rocks but also one filled with many blessings along the way. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been able to be associated with so many good people along my journey. It is in this context that I have realized that there are so many wonderful people out there, willing to help you if you open your heart and mind to letting them inside the tough outer defenses.

 

3.  You mention that there were various times in your childhood when you faced the painful/humiliating realization that your family wasn’t like most other families. Why do you suppose such realizations will limit some people but launch others (like yourself)?

BOB:  A lot of the outcome is how people approach those circumstances. I became a fighter, not a victim. I was determined to break out of the cycle and not get caught in the web of despair. People make so many choices throughout life. I am far from perfect but have made a lot of good choices because I had the benefit of a lot of caring people who took me under their wings. But I also had the wherewithal to take their guidance and advice. Others make a lot of bad choices and find themselves in challenging situations from which they can’t always unwind. I have also found a lot of calm and compassion from faith. At the end of the day, some people start building from wherever they are on their life journey and make something of themselves. Others feel like it’s too late and spiral downward. I say, it’s never too late to start over.

For me, I knew that I did not want to be stuck in the misery of my existence all my life. I saw what it did to people. The issue for me, and for others in similar circumstances, is finding a way out. I had the good fortune to have a godfather who knew my parents at a different time in their lives, a time when life was much better and more innocent for all of them. This may have very well been one of the plans God had for me and for my godfather, Dick Orefice. He was the peek into the ‘possible’ as he showed me a glimpse of what a different kind of life could be like. Along with his son Mat, he took me to the U.S. Open in tennis when it was still being played at Forest Hills in New York. He brought me to see a major league baseball game in Philadelphia along with a tour of the city. He paid and accompanied me to visit the Naval Academy, the first time I had ever been on a plane. I may have never attended the Academy or been given the great training the Navy provided unless that trip had taken place. Dick Orefice was instrumental in who I became because he invested in me as did so many other people. He gave me hope…

 

4.  After reading UP, it is obvious to me that your family is a top priority in your life. In the midst of your busy life, how do you protect and preserve that priority? What steps do you take?

BOB:  I have come to believe that our worlds are blended together more than ever. I don’t separate my work and family time as sometimes I have to do work related activities at home and personal things at work. I work a lot of hours but I plan and organize to keep these things straight, which enables me to juggle them as well as anyone can. I also stay in the front of deadlines to avoid eleventh hour stress and communicate with my boss to keep him informed of what I have to get done on the personal side. My experience is that communication is the key as it helps everyone stay informed and manages expectations. I have always found the organizations where I have worked support the balance I needed in my life. If an organization does not support work/life balance, then it’s time to find another place with which to utilize your skills.

Balance for me with my family was ensuring I could be there to coach my three kids in youth sports and attend the important events in their lives. I lost count at more than fifty teams I coached but it was worth every minute and helped me balance the challenges that life threw my way. Along the way, I gained a great deal of additional experience in working with teams, dealing with defeat and learning how to graciously win. Volunteering is a gift in itself but always a growth experience as well.

 

5.  How important is God in your past, present, and future?

BOB:  God has always had a presence in my life. Whether it was praying to God on those cold, distressed nights as a young boy, seeking a way to rise above my circumstances, walking to church as an eight year old, or asking for His help and forgiveness too many times for me to remember, God has always been there. I have always been a believer that God has a plan for us all and believe the trials He’s laid before me throughout my life have helped me become who I am today. I faced a critical juncture in my life early in my adulthood and career as I became much more self-centered and selfish. Once I regained my God-centered focus, I not only became less stressed, I found a great deal of peace in my life. I didn’t start reading the Bible until the mid-1990’s, but once I did, the words helped steer me in a better direction. I am far from perfect and make mistakes like everyone. What helps me and will continue to guide me in the future is that I believe God recognized our imperfections and forgives us for those shortcomings.

 

6.  How do you define success?

BOB:  Success for me is to ensure that my family is taken care of; my kids are given the opportunity to realize their potential; the world can become a better place than when I got here. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to help others succeed and realize their dreams. If I can help others, then their good can be multiplied to many others around them. My goal is to lift others up around me.

 

7.  In UP you mention that learning how to respond to circumstances in your life has been the greatest lesson of all. Do you think everyone is capable of learning this lesson? And what would you say to someone who doesn’t think they can learn this lesson?

BOB:  I use a quote in the book attributed to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said: “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Tomorrow and next year will come whether we want it to or not. Life will happen. The question is what are you going to do about it? As I see it there are two choices: Give in or fight on. I have always chosen to fight on and so can anyone else. Part of it is a choice. Another part is a strong will and in my case, a trust in God that He would bring me through the trials of life and help me become better for it. I think the potential exists in every person.

 

Thanks, Bob, for spending time with my readers today.

Bob can be reached at BobRavener.com

And I encourage everyone to go to Amazon and get his book UP.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=bob+ravener

Briefly, let me add that I highly recommend UP to you. I found this book to be well-written, extremely revealing, and powerfully inspirational. Bob’s story is one of triumph over turmoil. UP left me filled with hope. And, as far as I am concerned, that’s a gift each of can use again and again. Do yourself a favor and go get this book.

 

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Poem of a really bad pitch

Somewhere a writer is preparing to pitch to an editor. They want to stand out from the crowd, but aren’t sure how to make themselves different. The following poem is an example of how NOT to pitch. It is part poem, part song, and all one big mistake. 🙂

I stared back at the editor

and flashed a nervous grin,

and thought about her question

and how I should begin.

“What’s the book about? you ask?”

She nodded so polite.

“It’s about 400 pages,” I said,

“I counted them just last night.”

“There’s lots of words and pictures

and so the story you will know…”

I opened up my leather case

and pulled out my banjo.

“I wanted to be different,” I said.

“And, my pitch, it won’t take long.

You’ll find all of your answers

in the words to this here song….

[I played the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies and sang…]

Come and listen to the story of my bestseller

about a lady teacher and a wine-maker,

who met one day while walking on the vineyard path;

and this is a story I call The Grapes Of Math.

Love it was, purple love, bubbly love.

The next thing ya know the trouble did begin,

her kinfolk said, “Ellie, why did you pick him?”

Angrily she answered, “I don’t care what you say.

I derned proud to be Ellie Chardonnay!”

A grape that is, smushed by feet, for the juice.

Well now it’s time to say good-by to Ellie and Merlot

(that’s the winemaker’s name, I guess you ought to know);

they had a son, as the story will tell…..

and after a toast, the named him Zinfendel.

A boy he was, with big feet, for stompin’ grapes.

Just Book One in a series…ya hear?

[I put my banjo down, then winked at the editor]

She shook her head, her forehead creased;

she swallowed hard, then blinked.

“You might be sick or just insane.

I don’t know what to think!”

I handed her my one sheet,

grabbed my banjo and my straw hat

and said, “You will be sorry

that you rejected The Grapes Of Math!”

I came to a conclusion

as I stood and walked away:

Literature just isn’t ready

for Merlot Chardonnay!

 

I hope your pitching goes better. Could it get any worse?

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A Kingdom View

I’m an undeserving man who, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, has been shown grace and mercy by a Holy God. I am a Christian. And when I became a Christian, I was instantaneously rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Though not yet realized in the fullest sense, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I know the King personally.

And I’m a Christian who writes from a Kingdom perspective. I want what my King wants: for hope to be announced, redemption to be realized, and darkness to be scattered by light. My citizenship is personal…but not private. I honor the King by approaching life–which includes my writing stewardship–with a Kingdom view:  everything belongs to Christ. Everything. My writing is not the source of my Kingdom citizenship, but it is a responsibility that has been given to me as a part of the Kingdom. Because His Majesty wants others in His Kingdom too. And we are to use our gifts to extend the offer of citizenship…that’s a commission that has been given to every Christian. How you carry out that commission is where the different “callings” come in to the discussion. There are many tasks in the Kingdom, mine just happens to be as a teacher/preacher/writer; yours may be something different. Each is just a sacred when used for the King. But regardless of what you “do,” you are responsible to live out the implications of your citizenship and tell others about our King.

The Kingdom of God is not something that can be toyed with, yet one must be like a child to enter. It can’t be bought at any price, yet we must to willing to sacrifice all to get it. It can not be defeated, yet we are to daily surrender to God. It is open to all, yet few there will be who will find it. It is eternal, yet new everyday. It is the rule of God in the hearts of mankind. Its King is Almighty. Its life is unending. Its rule is love. Its goal is peace. Its citizens are forgiven.

As citizens, we long for our home, work for our rest, fight for our peace, pray for our enemies. We die to live, give to get, lose to win, learn to love, and love to learn. We are freed to serve. We fear no one but God, hate nothing but sin, hold nothing more important that Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And we refuse to quit no matter what.

And while we are serving the King with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we are waiting. Anticipating. Longing. We are homesick.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with he body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

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It’s God

It’s God who does the choosing of how He sees fit using and blessing us with riches of His grace.

And it’s God who sets in motion every dream, and thought, and notion, and answers us when we kneel to pray.

And it’s God who makes a winner from a helpless, hopeless sinner, and shows us how to better run the race.

And it’s God who knows the hour when He’ll show His mighty power, and all mankind will look upon His face.

 

Friend, you are not alone on the journey of following Christ. And, if you’re a steward of story, you are not alone I that special calling. You may be a published writer, or someone–like me–who dreams of that experience. But if you know God, you’ve already had the greatest blessing possible:  you are a child of the King! And, don’t forget, our God is a writer…He wrote your name in the Lamb’s Book Of Life.

Write on, my friend. You’ll never write alone when God is your Heavenly Father. Have a great weekend.

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Top 10 Ways to tell if a Writer’s Spouse is needing Attention

The writing journey is hard on writers. Can I get an “AMEN!”? Pressure…hard work…did I mention pressure?

But being married to a writer can also be stressful. With that in mind, I present to you the Top 10 Ways to tell if a Writer’s Spouse is needing Attention:

 

#10:  They’re making prank phone calls just so they can have someone real to talk to. And if the person is normal, that’s a bonus.

# 9:  They come to a book signing just so they can have some face-to-face time with their writer spouse. And they keep getting in line because they’ve “got a lot on their mind.”

# 8:  They walk around the house naked just to see if their spouse will notice.

# 7:  They get in trouble with the IRS because they tried to claim the characters of their spouse’s current writing project as dependents since “they’re sooooooooo important!”

# 6:  They picket their spouse’s writers group meeting and chant, “Watch more TV! Watch more TV!”

# 5:  They call the county courthouse and offer to “Track Change” their marriage license.

# 4:  They have a shirt made that says, I got your inciting incident right here!

# 3:  They refer to their children as “precious consequences of writer’s block.”

# 2:  After planning the family vacation, they dance around the house and giggle profusely because they managed to find a spot in the desert that is hundreds of miles from a Barnes & Noble or a Starbucks.

# 1:  They call 9-1-1 and claim that an unfinished manuscript is holding their spouse hostage, and add, “the office is in the apartment above the garage…bring tear gas and those things that flash and go BOOM!

How about we just be sure to take care of the wonderful spouses that support us, so we avoid any of the above?

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Kickin’ some “Buts”

Excuses abound. Every writer has them. They’re the “but” that finds its way into our day and brings a writing project to a halt…or stops it from ever taking its first step.

“I want to write a novel, BUT ________________________________.”

“I would finish this project, BUT _________________________________.”

“I know I should learn the craft better, BUT ___________________________.”

“I know what my critique partner said, BUT __________________________.”

“Maybe I should be more disciplined, BUT _____________________________.”

“It would be nice to attend a conference or writers group, BUT ____________________.”

“I’d enter my writing in a contest, or ask someone to read it, BUT __________________.”

BUT…BUT…BUT…BUT…BUT…BUT…BUT…………………

All together now, let’s get jiggy with it and scream, “I HATE THESE BUTS AND I CAN NOT LIE….” (that concludes the rap reference part of this post)

There are many other examples of when a “but” intrudes on our writing life. And there countless ways to fill in the blanks. I’m willing to bet that you are like me (no insult intended) and could fill in the blanks above with more than one reason/excuse/cop-out. Before you slap a knot on my head, let me hasten to add that undoubtedly there are legitimate reasons that we are unable to start or continue a project, or enter a contest, or go to conference or whatever the case may be. However, honesty and maturity will force us to face the fact that often–quite often–we are simply making excuses.

I urge you to sit down and have an honest chat with yourself and your muse and say, “It’s time to do some “BUT” kicking!

Are YOU up to the challenge?

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