March 26, 2015

Writing to heal the Body of Christ

Are you concerned about the decline in church attendance in almost every denomination? Are you as distressed as I am about the divisions among Christians? Do you wish you could do something. As communicators for Christ, we can! For example:

We can write honest, accurate, uplifting poems, devotionals, books, and stories to strengthen the faith of our readers.

We can visit the websites of each denomination and study their statements of beliefs then write to overcome assumptions, errors, or misunderstanding.

We can write about what we love in the Christian community and encourage forgiveness, acceptance, and respect for one another.

We can research what the Bible says about fellowship in Christ and write about what draws us together and makes us One.

We can investigate areas of dissension and pray to provide a voice of reason, balance, and healing.

If we write fiction, we can do so with a healing theme and purpose. For example, we might set a novel in another era where people dealt with similar concerns or write a Romeo and Juliette story between two lovers from opposing backgrounds, say, during the Reformation.

Most importantly, we can pray for discernment, expecting God to answer, and we can examine our minds and motives as we ask ourselves:

• Does my writing stir up debates or stir and quicken readers to consider differences from a spiritual perspective?

• Will my words help readers from diverse cultures to accept the forgiveness, redemption, and salvation of Jesus Christ, perhaps by showing that love and those blessings through story people, personal experiences, biblical truths, and practical suggestions?

• Does my writing speak ill of others or speak peace? In what ways can my poems, stories, devotionals, articles, and books bring reconciliation and healing to denominational or other church factions?

• The Bible gives us the wonderful analogy of One Body with many parts. Where do we see ourselves in the Body of Christ? Are any parts missing?

• Obviously, an elbow is not a toe, nor an ear a shinbone! But each part is vital to the whole. Can our writings show this? Can you think of another analogy that might speak to people today to show the need Christ has for each one of us to be One in Him?

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you would like Mary’s feedback on your book proposal, children’s picture book, poems, or devotionals for a minimal fee, visit Critique & Contact for information and pricing. For general help with your writing, revising, and more, order the Christian Writers’ Guide e-book.

March 12, 2015

How to know which writing contest to enter

If you ask other poets and writers what they think about writing contests, the responses will vary according to each person’s experience. The truth is, all writing contests are not the same, nor do they have the same goals. Some are reputable. Some are not.

To judge whether a writing competition is right for you, consider:

Is this a “blind” competition? If so, the judges do not know who enters what until the final decision has been made and recorded. Therefore, a “blind” reading assures you that no favoritism will be shown.

Who sponsors the contest and why? For example, the sponsor may be looking for a publishable book from the winning entry. If so, contestants will typically pay an entry fee, which makes them more apt to send in their best poems or manuscript.

Does entering a contest give you access to a publisher whose work you like? Many publishers will not look at a manuscript without literary representation, but if that same company sponsors a contest, your entry fee assures you of a reading.

What about a contest with no entry fee? Entering a free contest sounds good and may be to your advantage – or not. For example, a reputable e-zine that normally cannot afford to pay poets or writers may offer a no-fee contest in hopes of drawing manuscripts of higher literary quality than they usually get. If so, entering that contest could be a win-win situation. On the other hand, another sponsor who does not charge a fee might not actually judge the entries but instead include all of them in an anthology later sold to each “contestant” at an exorbitantly high price. Since the resulting anthology will inevitably contain all sorts of lame poems and stories, the real prize for your pricey copy might be the value you gain in seeing how your work compares with others.

Are entry fees in line with prize monies? Some sponsors have grants or other sources of financial backing that enable them to charge a low fee for a high prize with heavy competition. In such cases, you can expect a seasoned poet or writer to be the big winner, not only of the cash but of the prestige and far-reaching effects of winning a highly prized competition. Conversely, a low fee with a low cash prize generally means you have less competition and, therefore, a higher chance of winning.

Does the sponsor offer poets and writers professional assistance year-round? For years, for instance, Writer’s Digest has published a magazine, books about writing, and market guides to publishing in your chosen genre, so their contests offer another avenue of encouragement to the literary community. Something similar can be said of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Poets & Writers, and other writing-related groups, so visit their websites to see what help they offer.

For many years, I have belonged to the Writers-Editors Network, a professional organization with member benefits such as helping editors find writers for a particular project and vice versa. As a writer, I’ve benefited from job postings for Members Only and have kept up with publishing markets and writing tips. I’ve also found the founder and director to be highly conscientious and helpful.

Over a decade ago, however, I noticed their annual contest did not include a poetry category, so I wrote to ask why and discovered something important: A poetry contest requires a poetry judge. Since I had the qualifications by then, I volunteered and have chaired the poetry division ever since. So, I don’t recommend the contest because I’m involved. I’m involved because I recommend the organization.

That particular contest requires an annual postmark deadline of March 15 (or March 16, if that’s a Sunday), but throughout the year, the website lists other writing contests to consider. In addition, the site posts Contest Tips to give your entries as good a chance as anyone's of placing. In general:

• Write well.
• Revise well.
• Read each revision aloud.
• Make your work as good as it gets.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. Article originally posted in 2011 as “Writing contests: you be the judge.”


March 7, 2015

5 common mistakes in writing nonfiction for kids

Each year when I read the entries in the children’s literature category of the international writing contest sponsored annually by, I hope to find well-written nonfiction articles and interesting book chapters excerpted from dynamic nonfiction. Some do arrive, while others seem promising until 5 common flaws start to appear.

1. In an obvious effort to be fresh and lively, many writers start their nonfiction for children with scenes straight out of a novel. For example, they might begin with dialogue, a problem, a child’s thoughts, or an amusing conversation that reads like the opening of a sit-com. Often, a main character asks a grandparent about a subject soon to be addressed but, unfortunately, not nearly soon enough. These novel openings sound good at first but quickly bring confusion since readers will rarely be able to tell what the subject is until they have read an entire page or two or three.

2. Another problem arises with credibility and accuracy – or lack thereof. With no bibliography to cite sources at the end of a manuscript, no one knows if the author has spent weeks searching, sorting, and sifting through reliable information or passed along opinions and assumptions as fact.

3. A more common flaw occurs in the quality of writing. For instance, passive voice seems particularly prevalent with phrase after phrase stating, “It is” or “There was.” Such a passive voice seems to speak for a passive writer, who did not take time to search for active verbs and strong nouns that readers can readily picture.

4. Speaking of pictures, young readers need to be able to envision what they’re reading whether the pages contain illustrations or not. For the writing to be clear, each sentence usually needs an easy-to-picture noun that brings to mind a person, place, or thing, but not a vague idea. An active verb can then put that noun into motion. If the nonfiction manuscript happens to be the text for a children’s picture book, those mental images on every page become vital or, voila, no picture book.

5. That seems obvious, and, fortunately, so do some solutions to each of the problems mentioned. Most writers have fine minds and can figure these things out for themselves once they recognize a problem or even know to look for one. What often happens, though, is that we get caught up in stories we can’t wait to share with our children or grandchildren, forgetting they’re right there beside us with their own interests and preferences, waiting for the next enticing subject they can connect with and enjoy.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. This article first appeared as “Writing Winner Nonfiction For Kids,” posted on 2010/07/10.

If you would like one-on-one help with your book proposal, children’s picture book, poems, or devotionals, visit Critique & Contact for information and pricing. For general help with your writing, revising, and more, order the Christian Writers’ Guide e-book.

February 23, 2015

Spiritual Ministry Gifts and writing

Christian writers with creative ideas sometimes find it difficult to decide which writing project to focus on first. Quite likely all of your ideas have the potential to strengthen the Body of Christ, draw readers to God, and/ or help other people in general, so you won’t go wrong with any Bible-based theme or treatment. Nevertheless, one manuscript might be well-timed and another not. Or, one idea might fill you with enthusiasm (a word rooted in “en theos” – in God), whereas another project might leave you feeling ho-hum or put you into a panic. Regardless:

When you ask God to direct your work, expect that to happen.

Since the Holy Spirit promises to give every Christian one or more Spiritual Ministry Gifts, recognizing those gifts will guide you and give you insights into yourself, your work, and the writing to which you have been called.

We talked about this a little in a previous article on your “Writing talent and spiritual gifts,” so you might want to re-read that short discussion. Since then, I've had the opportunity to take a Spiritual Ministry Gifts test that differs from one I took years ago, and the current results confirmed the very projects to which I am now drawn.

Most likely, you also have some ideas that interest you more than others, but just in case you have not yet taken a test to discern your God-given gifts and confirm your next project, I did an Internet search to see which Spiritual Ministry Gifts test to recommend. As it turned out, I found several! So I took them all, and here’s what I found:

This excellent site provided by Ken Ellis not only has a Spiritual Gifts Test with online analysis but also a separate test for new Christians and another for youth. Since you’re encouraged to respond quickly and not over-think it, the main test takes only 15 to 20 minutes with immediate results and hotlinks to explain each gift with ideas and relevant scriptures. The results felt right-on, even though I initially had trouble responding to “Always” for areas that interested me.

Spiritual Gifts tested on this website did not include obvious gifts of healing or prophecy but, instead, clarified tasks that typically need gifted workers within the church.

Another site I recommend does not provide a test but offers insights and information relating to your Spiritual Gifts and Leadership, including definitions, scriptural references, and practical instructions.

The Spiritual Gifts Inventory by Paulist Fathers includes a test, which, like the others, encourages you to respond spontaneously and honestly to get the most accurate results. The site also includes helpful information and instruction for using your ministry gifts.

As you take a Spiritual Ministry Gift test, keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers!

Also, this may not be true of other sites, but the hotlinks above give you and only you an analysis, so no one else needs to know the results. What you do with that information is up to God and you and the writing ministry to which you feel most drawn.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler. This revision of a ©2011 post has been updated with a check of hotlinks included.


February 6, 2015

Writing on water

The Parable of Me

Jesus knows
I don’t swim well,
so He held my hand,
and we walked
across the water.

by Mary Harwell Sayler.

All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, freelance poetry editor, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

February 3, 2015

Reading and writing Bible stories for children

Recently I received review copies of two Bible storybooks from Tyndale Kids: My Keepsake Bible, which I reviewed on the Bible Reviewer blog, and Bible Favorites: One Sentence Storybooks, written by Nancy I. Sanders and illustrated by Hannah Wood.

Both of those editions have a fresh approach for presenting Bible stories to young children as I discussed a bit on the earlier review, but here I want to talk about the small boxed set of 10 stories told in one sentence because the author and artist managed to achieve an enviable level of simplicity.

That sounds odd, but try it!

Try taking a complicated Bible story and compressing it down to its essence.

Then try writing the story in one sentence.

Impossible it seems, and yet the writer managed to do this, not by including details but by removing everything except the most basic aspects of the story while giving the impression of far more.

To give you an example, the first story in the set, entitled The Sun and the Moon, encapsulates creation. The little booklet opens with the text, “God’s hand” and has a drawing of a hand on the opposite page. Next “God’s hand made the sun” shows both on the adjacent page, followed by “God’s hand made the sun and the moon,” then “God’s hand made the sun and the moon and the earth.”

Those few words put across the larger idea that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.

Besides providing young children with that important information, the little booklet has a page with key words to help sight-reading-spelling-recognition, followed by “One Truth to Learn,” “One Verse to Say” or memorize, and “One Prayer to Pray” with a child as you read.

That basic format continues for the other stories in the set, which includes:

Two Mice and the Ark
Moses and the Bush
David and the Giant
The City Wall
The Star and the Kings
Jesus on the Water
The Good Shepherd
The Sad Son
(aka prodigal)
The Angel and the Cave

Each story is written super tightly and well with lively drawings that also have few lines, but I wish the set had a different story for King David. I’ve noticed this same decision made for several of the Bible storybooks I’ve reviewed where the single story of many possibilities shows little David overcoming the big, bad Goliath. It seems to me that, if only one story can be included for David, it might be one with a more positive impact, for instance, his care for the sheep, his loyalty to King Saul, his confession of wrong-doing, his poetry writing, or something that does not involve hitting, as here, or killing, as shown in other Bible storybooks for children.

Despite my disappointment over that choice, here and elsewhere, I very much appreciate the choice to include the story of Jesus’ walking on the water. Told in a single, highly effective sentence, the story comes down to this:

The men
in the boat
saw Jesus
walk on water.

Surely anyone of any age who reads that sentence will recognize that something amazing is happening! something unique that only God can do.

That simple sentence also reminds us, as poets and writers, that we don’t need to embellish or strain for effect but to get the facts straight and keep it simple, so the truth of the story can come through as happens in this highly recommended set.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.

Bible Favorites: One Sentence Storybooks, set of 10 small paperbacks

January 22, 2015

Enjoying The Things of Earth

The Bible often mentions (and pastors often stress) the need to be in this world without being worldly. Obviously that danger exists, since we’re such sensory people, but most Christians have long learned to be wary of that pitfall – perhaps too much so!

The thing is: God created our senses. We hear, touch, smell, taste, and see a sensory-rich world around us, so God surely did not create such lavishness for us to ignore. Although temptations can come through our senses, our Creator does not tempt us! God is love. And, more than any earthly parent, our Heavenly Father wants to give us good gifts to receive with thanks and enjoyment.

As poets and writers, we draw on these senses each time we write or speak words into being. Nevertheless, I haven’t thought much about the need to enjoy – really enjoy – the things of the earth, except to note that one of my all-time favorite poems is “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” by the Pulitzer prized poet Richard Wilbur. So when Crossway released the book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney, I eagerly requested a review copy, which the publisher kindly sent.

If you have ever felt guilty for enjoying life and its gifts, read this book! If you think holiness cannot abide laughter, read this book. If you merely tolerate each day, read this book.

As Joe Rigney wisely says, “we can see that God is meticulous in his attention to detail” so that even “every ant has a genealogy. There are no rogue molecules. There are no random atoms. There are no wayward snowflakes. Everything has purpose. Everything has design. Everything has intent. We may not always know exactly what it is, but we can rest in the knowledge that God is working all things according to the counsel of his will, that his purposes are always for our good.”

Along those lines, this highly readable text develops a theology called “Christian hedonism,” which greatly differs from the no-no kind, especially if we see all of creation as “communication from the triune God.”

God the Father has given us a mind, body, and spirit akin to God’s own, so we rightly pull ourselves together as one person in three. As Professor Rigney says, “We don’t set God and his gifts in opposition to each other, as though they are rivals,” nor must we disintegrate in opposition to ourselves. “When we love God supremely and fully, we are able to integrate our joy in God and our joy in his gifts, receiving the gifts as shafts of his glory.”

And “So embrace your creatureliness. Don’t seek to be God. Instead, embrace the glorious limitations and boundaries that God has placed on you as a character in his story.” Then write your story or poem or article, and read this book!

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’s Guide and Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry.

The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, paperback

January 5, 2015

Step into the New Year: writing, revising, and marketing

Preliminary Steps:

Study classical and popular works in your favorite writing genre.

Consider what draws readers to a particular poem, story, article, or book.

Study magazines and other publications you like to read.

Get familiar with the book catalogues of publishers whose work you like.

Consider potential gaps that your story, poem, article, or book might fill.

Writing Plan:

Plan your fiction or nonfiction manuscript before you begin.

Decide on a theme, purpose, and reading audience.

Thoroughly research your topic or story setting.

Outline each article or nonfiction book.

Write a synopsis of your novel in present tense.

Both the synopsis and the outline should be from 1 to 5 pages.

Writing, Revising, and Marketing:

Let your writing flow without criticizing yourself, then let your work rest.

Later read those pages as if someone else had written them.

Read your work aloud and notice if anything seems “off.”

Pinpoint a problem, and you will usually find a solution.

Revise to make the manuscript your best before you send it to a publisher.

Find and follow writers’ guidelines located on the company's website.

Query several editors at once about an idea or book proposal, but when you submit your actual manuscript, send it to only one editor at a time.

When mailing your manuscript by postal service, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) to cover its potential return.

Keep track of where, when, and to whom you mailed each manuscript.

If you don’t hear back in 3 months, follow up with a brief, polite email.

While you wait to hear from one editor, query another editor about your next idea.

Repeat the above steps.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres is on a mission to help other Christian Poets & Writers through blogs, writing resources, and e-books such as the Christian Writer’ Guide.

December 22, 2014

Joy to the World

If you have heard the Christmas story your whole life, as I have, you might think, as I did, that you have considered almost every aspect of the Nativity. Nevertheless, I requested a review copy of the new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), published by Image books. I figured that if anyone would have new insights or a fresh perspective into this vital, 2,000-year old story, it would be Bible scholar, Christian author, former pastor, Catholic theologian, and university professor Scott Hahn.

From the first chapter “A Light Goes On in Bethlehem,” we receive this insightful light:

The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family…. We see the swaddling bands and know they’re for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling…. We hear tell of the manger-crib where he lay, but someone needed to place him there…. The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity....

That, indeed, is one of the most profound implications of the Christmas story: that God had made his dwelling place among men, women, and children, and he called them – he calls us – to become his family, his holy household.

Today, many people have no family. Many, including children in this country, have no home. They’re homeless, lonely, and alone.

Without Christ, the world was a joyless place; and anyplace where he remains unknown and unaccepted is a joyless place. Everything has changed since Christ’s birth, but everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith.”

With the joy of Christ in the world, no one needs to be without home or family. In the church, we can find loving, forgiving fellowship with one another as the Family of God. We can be grafted into Jesus’ family tree.

As Dr. Hahn points out, “The New Testament begins not with a discourse or a prophecy, not with theology or law, but with a simple declaration of family relationships.”

So the book of Matthew begins with a genealogy or, in Greek, a geneseos, which gives the root for genes, genetics, genomes, or generations and can be translated as “beginning” or “origin.” Therefore, “…the evangelist was suggesting a new Genesis, an account of the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ.” Likewise, “In the fourth Gospel, Saint John accomplishes something similar when he begins by echoing the first words of the Torah: ‘In the beginning’.”

In the book of Luke, we get Mary’s perspective and Jesus’ family line going back to Adam to show how Christ came for everyone. Matthew, however, wants to show his Jewish readers how they’re connected to Christ through their family heritage, and so his long list of begats begins with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people.

As the roll draws to its close, however, it identifies Joseph not as a father, but as ‘the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called Christ’.” Dr. Hahn goes on to say, this “final link breaks with the preceding pattern. Joseph is not called father, but spouse. The evangelist wants to be perfectly clear that Joseph had no biological role to play in the conception of Jesus.

When time came for the infant to be born, what a birth announcement! One angel visited the shepherds, as messengers from God often did in Old Testament Times, calming fears and announcing Good News. But this time, a multitude of heavenly hosts then appeared, singing “Glory to God in the highest,” and lighting up the whole sky with angels!

Later, when the magi visited the Holy Family, Matthew 2:10 reports, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Dr. Hahn then asks us to “linger on that single line. For it captures the very moment when God gave ‘Joy to the World’ – not merely to Israel, but to the whole world: the nations, the foreigners, the Gentiles.”

In the Family of God, the church Body of Christ, love holds us together, and joy radiates from the center. Or, as Dr. Hahn says:

If we truly celebrate Christmas, we’ll exude a joy that people will want to share.”

To be realistic, though, “there are those who would steal our joy by trying to steal our Christmas – by snickering at the lot of it: the Trinity, the virginal conception, the incarnation, the shepherds. How should we respond? By inviting them to the feast. By enjoying the feast ourselves, and by enjoying it for all of its infinite worth.”


May your Christ-mass be filled with love and overflow with joy, joy, joy in Jesus’ Name.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Note from Mary: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, but you can order it from Amazon.

Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), hardback

December 19, 2014

Imagination redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your mind

As an active Christian poet, writer, and occasional poetry editor, I know how important imagination can be. More often, however, I heavily rely on prayer and observation – listening for God’s guidance and paying attention to the details that make a poem or post or book come alive. So I have to admit: I often think imagination is over-rated or, worse, a way to conjure up unlikely thoughts or inadvisable ideas!

Reportedly, God’s people have had similar concerns from the beginning as Genesis 6:5 reminds us, saying, “...the imagination and intentions of human thinking is continually evil.” Ouch! But wait!

What if Christ has redeemed our imaginations along with everything else about us?

I love that idea, don’t you? So, when I saw that Crossway had recently published Imagination redeemed by authors Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Matthew P. Ristuccia, I immediately requested a review copy, which the publisher kindly sent.

The subtitle reveals even more about the authors’ intentions: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind. Excellent idea! But, how do we do that?

Second Corinthians 10:4-5 gives us the short version:

For the weapons of our warfare
are not of the flesh,
but empowered by God
to bring down strongholds.

Therefore, with God’s help

we can bring down everything opposed
to what we know of God,

– that knowledge that comes to us through the Bible, our experiences, our conscience, and our God-given ability to think and reason –

taking every thought captive
in obedience to Christ.

Authors Veith and Ristuccia fully develop that idea in their book Imagination redeemed, beginning with this definition from Gene:

“Imagination is simply the power of the mind to form a mental image, that is, to think in pictures or other sensory representations…. Imagination lets us relive the past and anticipate the future. And it takes up much of our present. We use our imaginations when we daydream and fantasize, to be sure, but also when we just think about things.”

In providing biblical examples from Ezekiel throughout the book, Matt had this to say:

“It is hard to imagine a more difficult faith crisis for Old Testament people of God than what Ezekiel and his fellow exiles faced. The combined loss of hope and reassurance of divine presence were overwhelming. God’s people were in desperate need for something bigger than an oracle. Their thoughts had wandered too far astray to be called back by prophetic logic alone. Instead, they needed to see what they could not see: God’s loyal providence…. So the Lord went after Ezekiel’s imagination, and through him the exiles.”

As Matt goes on to say:“If you capture someone’s imagination, you capture his mind, heart, and will.”

Typing that quotation now, I’m reminded that Matthew 22:37 reports Jesus’ word to us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Our imaginations can free us to capture our love for God – in our minds, in our writings, and in our lives.

With vibrant words and poetic imaginations, prophets such as Ezekiel give us examples to consider, which this book also does throughout the text. Sometimes, though, I found the references to Ezekiel distracting and would have preferred the text divided by each author’s emphasis, perhaps in separate chapters, parts, or even separate volumes. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book and the excellent ideas behind it.

Like the authors, I believe, “…the part of the mind known as the imagination – the ability to form mental images – is important in the life of the Christian. Though a realm in need of discipline and sanctification, the imagination is a God-given superpower, making possible some of the greatest achievements of human beings. It makes possible empathy and compassion, shapes our worldview, and is the way into our heart.”

For Christian poets, writers, editors, and other communicators for Christ, I pray that God inspires us and stimulates our imaginations to write in all genres with such winsome words and creative ideas that we bring countless readers to Christ and the church. Imagine what we can do in Jesus’ Name!

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Imagination redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind, paperback

December 10, 2014

Revelations about the church in Revelation

We’ve been talking about the church – where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we’re going as the Body of Christ. These conversations came about because of concerns we have as Christians who see church membership declining and people openly maligning Christianity.

Since I believe communicators for Christ can do something about this through our writings, I’ve been searching and praying for inspired ideas that might help us to minister healing and strength to the church – 1, 2, 3 steps we can do – with the grace of God. So, when a member of my Bible study group asked if we could please study Revelation, I sighed, thinking I really didn’t want to get into end-time expectations or personal interpretations about what this symbol or that might mean. I wanted to focus on the needs, concerns, and direction of the church now.

I’ve read the book several times, but actually studying Revelation brings all sorts of revelations about the church. For example:

The letters to seven churches in chapters one through three of Revelation reveal and reflect the very problems we’re having in and with the church today. Consider, for instance:

Sometimes our love needs rekindling in the Holy Spirit

Sometimes we’re so caught up in doing good, we have no time to soak up God’s goodness.

Sometimes we’re so politically correct, we let society dictate, rather than God’s word.

Sometimes we need to admit we’re wrong, repent, and intercede for others.

Sometimes we need to remember how to live in Christ and not just for Him.

Sometimes we need to encourage and strengthen one another in the faith.

Sometimes we need to prayerfully consider how we might fuel our gifts and stoke our passions for Christ.

After the letters to the churches, the next few chapters remind us of Christ’s Passion for us: Who Christ was, Who Christ is, and Who Christ will be in the church, in our lives, and throughout eternity.

Maybe we’ll be excused from terrible sufferings in the future, and maybe we won’t. Regardless, here’s the 100% sure revelation in Revelation.

We are marked as Christ’s own.

Through Jesus Christ, we have God’s Seal of Approval – the exact opposite of the “mark of the beast.” Most of us have heard and heard about 666, but have we heard – really heard – that we have no need to worry about this, because God’s seal is and will be on us.

God’s seal cannot be broken! God’s seal was, is, and will be on the church. And, this seal shows we have God’s authority, God’s ownership, and God’s protection because we wear and bear God’s seal through our belief in the redemption of Christ.

As we are the church, the church is us – you and me. May we all have ears to hear what God says to the churches and reveals to us in Jesus’ Name.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

December 3, 2014

The church: where we're going, why, and with whom

In the last post, we looked at “The church: where we’re coming from and where we’ve been” as individual and denominational parts of the Body of Christ. This time we’ll consider where we’re going, why, and with whom.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on our own assumptions and opinions. For the last couple of decades, the Barna Group has interviewed thousands of men and women with no church affiliation or ties. Editors George Barna and David Kinnaman then presented their findings in the book, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, published by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers.

As a highly ecumenical Christian who has loved Christ and the church in all of its parts since my early childhood, I welcomed the complimentary review copy of Churchless from Tyndale Blog Network. For one thing, I cannot imagine a world without the church, but more importantly, I cannot imagine – nor do I want to! – a life without Christ.

When I was growing up almost everyone “went to church.” In recent years though, Christians have begun to see and say, “We ARE the church.” So, I’m wondering: Are people falling away from Christ or from us?

In requesting this review copy, I wanted to see how other people see Christ. I wanted to know why church doors are closing and why Christian fellowship isn’t being sought. I wanted to find out if statistics can help us to assess and address relevant issues in our churches and/or our writing lives. But mostly, I just wanted to know what we can do!

Although the book did not answer all of my questions, the editors immediately laid out a statement that, typographically, slows down our reading and summarizes the situation:

“If we perceive the gap
between ‘us’ and ‘them’
as W I D E and
essentially uncrossable,
we are less likely
to get close enough
to offer ourselves
in real relationships.”

To that summation, the editors later added, “We hear again and again, both from the unchurched and from local churches that are deeply engaged with the unchurched in their communities, that loving, genuine relationships are the only remaining currency readily exchanged between the churched and the churchless.”

Thinking of ourselves as poets, writers, publishers, or other communicators for Christ, we might ask:

With whom will I get up close and purposeful?

To whom will I offer my poems, books, or other manuscripts?

How might my writing help draw others to Christ and the church?

To find out what we’re up against, I appreciated the quick overview of stats at the beginning of the book that offered this information:

• The Minimally Churched (8%) Attend church infrequently and unpredictably

• The Actively Churched (49%) Attend church at least once a month

• The De-Churched (33%) Were once active in church but are no longer

• The Purely Unchurched (10%) Do not currently and have never attended a church

And so, right away, we find out that 57% of the 20,000+ American adults interviewed do go to church, while 43% do not or never have. To put those present statistics into perspective with the past, only 30% of the people were churchless in the 1990s.

In those earlier years, of course, the Internet did not provide social outlets that meet or, perhaps, mask our need for fellowship. Not only that, but the “digital shift” shifted “the expectation, especially among young people, that they can and should contribute, not just consume. Online technologies… enable any connected person to add his or her image, idea, or opinion to the digital mix. If you consider how most churches deliver content – appointing one person as the authority and encouraging everyone else to sit (consume) quietly while he or she speaks – it is easy to see how that delivery system may come into conflict with changing cultural expectations.”

That same digital connectedness, however, gives poets, writers, and other communicators for Christ direct, instantaneous access to people from the proverbial four corners of the earth!

Nevertheless, we have gaps to fill and negative views to overcome. For example:

“Of those who could identify one way Christians contribute to the common good, the unchurched appreciate their influence when it comes to serving the poor and disadvantaged (22 percent), bolstering morals and values (10 percent), and helping people believe in God (8 percent)./ Among those who had a complaint about Christians in society, the unchurched were least favorably disposed toward violence in the name of Christ (18 percent), the church’s stand against gay marriage (15 percent), sexual abuse scandals (13 percent), and being involved in politics (10 percent).”

With “one out of every five young adults… an exile who feels lost between church culture and the wider culture he or she feels called to inhabit and influence,” we can help by coming together as one Body ready to love, serve, forgive, and heal cultural differences, perhaps through communal outings or community concerts or concerted efforts to reach the underprivileged in our local areas.

We can help by forgiving one another and encouraging others to forgive.

We can help by counseling and educating people about the work of the church throughout history, for example, in establishing some of the finest universities in the world and establishing – throughout the world – orphanages, hospitals, and other missions that meet needs.

As Christians come together, our primary purpose is to worship and fellowship with God, which gives us fellowship, too, with one another. This connection makes us one in spirit and one part of the larger Body of Christ, where we then have the strength, power, and purpose – as a church – to educate, influence, and evangelize others in Jesus’ Name.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, hardback