Write for readers


Businesses are about customers. Doctors are about patients. Writers must be about readers.

Writers who start their articles about “How I spent My Summer Vacation,” are doomed to fail. Writers who begin their articles with “the definition of love is…” are doomed to fail. Why? Because readers have short attention spans.

It’s just fine to include definitions in your writing, but not to begin with them. You want to get the reader’s attention, right? Then start by engaging them.

Writers want readers to read their entire piece. Reading a thousand-page book is not that difficult if the book captures the reader and holds that person. If the book (or whatever it may be) is dull, lifeless and uninteresting the reader will leave.

Some people will disagree that writers must write for readers, but think about it. Newspapers are about circulation. Newspapers can’t afford to print long, uninteresting stories because next time the reader will buy another newspaper. Good newspapers write for readers. They sometimes think they write for Pulitzer and Peabody awards, but they don’t. They write for readers.

Beginning any written work must consider the person who is sitting reading what you’re writing. If you bore them, they will go elsewhere.  A reader has absolutely no obligation to sit still while someone pontificates to them.

Do you want to write well? Do you want people to read what you’ve written? Then make it your duty to write for readers.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Your opening paragraph should be no more than 15-20 words. If it’s any more than that, you risk losing the reader.
  2. Engage your readers’ minds. Readers are asking themselves, “What’s in this for me?” Robby the Robot said, “See a need, fill a need.” You need to create a need in your reader and then fill it.
  3. You’re writing to a human being. What interests you will probably interest them. Speak to them not as an academic, but as a person.
  4. Resist writing at length. If your work is more than 350 words, you’re on shaky ground.

Since I’ve already written 348 words, I’ll stop.

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Didn’t get it


 

ISAIAH

Something I wanted a great deal didn’t come my way today. I received an email notifying me.

I was sad about it for a few minutes, but then I remembered something. God has greater vision than I. He can see all sides of an issue and not just mine. In contrast, all I can see are my desires.

So, all I can say is, “May God’s will be done in all things through Jesus Christ.” He knows better for everyone involved.

Thus endedth the lesson.

Heal my loved one


PleasHealingHandse forgive me if this post offends you, but God cannot use miraculous means to heal anyone, not even your dearest loved ones.

He can’t do it because if he did, he’d show partiality. What if he healed your loved one and not mine? God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). If he used a miracle to heal one person and refused to do so for another, that’s favoritism and God does not do things that way.

Yet, at the store, in church and on the Internet I hear, “God please heal her/him.” Or, I hear, “God lay your healing hands upon so-and-so.” I realize people are under real stress when their loved ones are sick and I know how much we all want them to get well, but God just doesn’t perform miraculous healings like that anymore.

There was a time when God used his power to perform miracles, but there was a specific reason for doing that (John 20:30-31). To think that miracles still occur today is to miss the reason why the miracles were done in the first place: they were done to testify to the truth being preached.

I know. My cardiologist keeps telling me I’m his “miracle man” for surviving a heart attack last year. I keep telling him I’m not a miracle. God provided him, the hospital, the nurses and the medicines so that I could recover. It was not a miracle. It was hard work on their part, and hard work on mine, too.

Believe me, I wish everyone could lay claim to a miracle, but it just isn’t that way. God’s son and his apostles performed miracles in the New Testament to show God testimony to the truth they preached. Having done what needed to be done, miracles have gone away (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Happy Independence Day


It’s July 4th, and many people are extolling the greatness of our nation and rightly so. We should remember how close this nation came in 1780 to becoming a permanent satellite of England.

Because it’s Independence Day, preachers are trying to find clever sermons to preach that straddle the line between the Bible and the government of the U.S. I must admit early in my preaching I fell into the same kind of thing. I thought it was necessary for me to have some creative lesson theme that highlighted holidays.

Then I thought what am I trying to do? I have a responsibility to preach the gospel. Why would I compromise that duty by using my time to praise a government that has mostly walked away from the gospel? I realized how foolish I had become.

So, I don’t usually plan my lessons to highlight a holiday. I don’t preach about Christmas, Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc. I have always been impressed by the apostle Paul who wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV). A.T. Robertson wrote of this verse, “Paul means that he did not think it fit or his business to know anything for his message beyond this ‘mystery of God.'”

I think preachers sometimes forget just how much Paul loved the “mystery” of the gospel and little else. He was emphatic in this love of the gospel when he wrote to the Ephesians, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,
which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” (Ephesians 3:4-5 ESV).

But, it’s difficult to find preachers focused on the gospel. Instead, many of them are too focused on the world and how many compliments will be paid for their inventive speaking. I see vacation Bible schools where preachers dress up as cowboys and try to entertain rather than teach. I’ve attended gospel meetings where the focus was placed on how to help people through their financial problems. I wonder what Paul would have said.

Indeed.

Walk, Keep, Walk, Keep


The Old Testament’s book of Psalms is famous for its patterns, parallels and precepts.

Psalm 119 is a lesson of how important it is to read, study and obey God’s commands. Turning from God’s law is the first step into sin. If we read, study and obey God’s word, we can keep ourselves from becoming enslaved to sin.

Verses one through four have an interesting pattern of “walk, keep, walk, keep” in the King James Version. The American Standard Version departs from the KJV in verse 4 when it uses “observe” instead of “keep,” but it is the same idea.

To “walk” means to follow something or someone. In the New Testament, the word is often used to describe conduct or manner of life. The word in Hebrew most often means “to follow.”

The word “keep” means to observe, guard, or kept close. All of the meanings are about the same kind of thing. When we keep God’s word we obey it. We use it to act as a guard for our lives and therefore it should be kept close to us at all times.

Verses six through eight tell us what benefits await those who walk and keep. It’s a statement of plain logic. IF we walk within and keep God’s word, THEN the benefits will be the following.

First, the inspired Psalmist tells us we will never be ashamed of ourselves. When we have the utmost respect for God’s word and obey it, there will be no behavior contrary to it. Shame comes when we abandon God’s word and then commit sin. Leaving God’s word is always rebellion.

Next, “I will praise you with uprightness of heart.” This follows because right doing depends upon right thinking and right thinking only comes from God’s word. It’s amazing how the world uses the word, “ought,” when it really disconnects right thinking and living with obeying God’s word.

Verse eight makes a promise. The Psalmist says, “I will keep your statutes.” So should we all make the same promise.

News Media: “Hard-wired to worry”


If there was ever any doubt on which side the news media can spin Science, there can’t be much now. NBC News reported on its website that we are “wired to worry.” Here’s link to the article: goo.gl/3FP9qa

We have evolutionary and postmodern philosophies to thank for the way the news media (and many others) think. Like alcoholism, drug abuse, smoking, sexual aberrations, and every other type of behavior that relies on voluntary muscle and brain control, we are now “hard-wired to worry.” Our anxiety is not our fault, it’s just part of our genetic structure.

The author wrote that stress, of course, is the primary reason why we become more anxious, but the next most common cause? “A second, hidden reason is biological. As stress increases overall, more of us will develop a poorly regulated stress system as a result of stressful experiences in early life, while we are still in the womb or in the first year of life. If we become ‘stress dysregulated’ (SDR), we react more often, more strongly and for a longer time.”

In other words, it is the levels of “cortisol,” and other biological markers that cause worry. Again, nothing that happens to us is our fault. If we drink alcohol, it’s not our fault we become drunks. If we smoke, it is not our fault when lung cancer comes to call. If we kill someone, it must be because we have a mental aberration and not because of conscious thought. Thanks to Science and the news media, people are quickly becoming robots and, therefore, not responsible for any action(s) whatsoever.

Jesus taught differently. He said, “So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?'” In fact, Jesus said the phrase, “don’t worry” four times in Matthew chapter six. According to the Son of God, the Creator, worry is something we do, not something that is brought upon us. There endeth the lesson.

Prayer’s Ingredients


 

My wife, Judy, makes the best biscuits. She starts with a great recipe, but she combines that with a truly wonderful method.

She combines flour, water, milk, shortening and adds a little yeast (or uses self-rising flour). She knows the combination of the proper ingredients will produce a light, fluffy biscuit that is melt-in-your-mouth good. No one has ever duplicated her magical biscuits.

There is a recipe and a method for the kind of prayer that God likes, too. It is found in Colossians 4:2-3. It begins with persistence. We should be devoted to prayer. We must be busily engaged in prayer. Prayer is not an emergency device like many fire alarms that read, “in emergency break glass.” It is something God expects us to persistently engage in. The apostle Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This is persistent prayer.

Add to persistence, vigilance. In the original language of the New Testament, Paul wrote the Colossians to “keep awake.” The King James Version reads, “watch in the same.” Prayer combined with an alert mind is an important idea. Sometimes, prayers are said without any thought. But, that is a grave mistake.

It is an alert mind engaged in prayer that helps us know what we ought to ask God, and also can help us come to realize what shortcomings and needs we really have. What better way is there to keep out of temptation’s reach than by realizing our need and asking God to meet it?

There have been too many prayers said in worship services that are nothing but “said” prayers — said without thinking. God wants us to engage our minds before we start putting our mouths “in gear.”

Then, prayer with an alert mind must be combined with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2c). Just as dough needs to rise to make fluffy biscuits, prayer needs to be combined with thanksgiving to make our prayers rise. Look at it like this: an attitude of thankfulness shows God how much we want to please him. Sometimes our prayers don’t “get off the ground” because we’re so filled with our needs that we forget God wants us to show our gratitude (more than just once a year in November).

What follows in verse three is another interesting ingredient. We ought to pray for “open doors.” Picture the apostle sitting chained to two Romans and using this situation as a way to preach the gospel. Paul wrote the Philippians, “The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ,” (Philippians 1:13 NET).

Isn’t that amazing? Many people sit around and complain about an inactive evangelism because there isn’t enough money. Paul, chained to Roman guards and without a dime to his name even while he wrote Colossians said, “pray for more open doors.” Paul was interested in any possible advantage to preach the gospel even while imprisoned. How many times do you hear a prayer for an open door?

Prayer combined with all these ingredients is bound to be the kind of effectual, fervent prayer James wrote about in James 5:16. It is the kind of prayer God wants us to pray: persistent, vigilant, combined with thanksgiving and a request for open doors.

With faithful prayer like this, there can be no stopping the child of God in his work for the gospel.