In love with God’s Word—even thru fiery trials

We sat in our typical living room spots, my husband and I, bingeing something on Netflix as we unwound that late August evening.

“Do you smell something?” he asked.

I did. A slight husky smell of smoke. He looked out the back door and noticed our neighbors’ bonfire.

“It’s next door.” He shrugged and added, “Let’s go get the mail.”

We live in a tiny town, so tiny that we only have a P.O. box and need to go there to get our mail. It takes about seven minutes to walk the few blocks to the post office. We chatted as we walked through the cool end-of-summer evening. It was still light, 6:30ish.

The post office is next door to the local fire house. As we passed, the big doors were opening and our local volunteers were loading into trucks and pulling out.

We waved cheerily.

We collected our mail and ambled down the side streets heading home. The volunteer fire fighters were squealing into town, the blue lights on their varied pickup trucks flashing.

“Wow! Wonder where they’re headed?” we asked each other.

Two minutes later and around the corner onto our street we discovered that the fire was – US! Our garage was burning.

Long story short, the small blaze had started on the outside of our garage, perhaps from a stray ember. The fire traveled up across the garage ceiling and then into the great room ceiling. I located a kind neighbor who rescued our terrified Shih Tzu (those big men in yellow suits with oxygen masks tromping into her domain!). Then I could do nothing more than hold her and sit helplessly in the back yard swing  watching smoke pour from our new roof, firemen bashing their axes through the great room ceiling, smoke ascending, water descending.

What does all of this have to do with God’s Word, you ask?

Well, for several days we waited for the restoration company to do their work and for the freedom to make our way into the destroyed great room. The overturned furniture bulged from under wet smelly insulation and soaked drywall. The computer I’d been working on was soaked. Books, papers, everything lost.

My Bible had been on a ledge under the coffee table.

This is the Bible that carried me through marriage and child-raising. The Bible that has pages stained with tears. It has underlinings, comments, thoughts, prayers, and dates when a particular verse resonated with a particular situation. It’s the past 30-plus years between blue leather covers. I purchased this Bible right after we had completed the Life Application Study Bible in the NIV.

I expected the poor book to be soaked—a congealed mess of thin, Bible-paper pages.

Only it wasn’t. It survived. Its place under the table must have protected it from the worst of the cascading water from the firemen’s powerful hoses.

It has a slight smoky smell and its cover shows a few new dents. But the moment I saw it, I was overjoyed. Don’t get me wrong; I have other Bibles. I can buy more. But THIS one, this one holds much of my life between its covers, and it holds the promises that have helped me live that life to the best of my ability to honor God.

I’m not claiming anything miraculous; I’m just very thankful.

Even through fiery trials.

In Love with God’s Word: The LASB Commentaries

After we completed several versions of the Life Application Study Bibles (as I’ve mentioned in the last couple of posts, here and here), someone came up with the idea of creating actual commentaries—one for each book of the New Testament. Seventeen red volumes—some including two or three of the smaller books in one volume.

Several more years of intense work. Our study notes for the Life Application Study Bible had been necessarily limited by word counts and physical space on Bible pages, so we couldn’t include much of the material that we had gathered in the course of writing the notes. And, in the process of writing the notes and working our way through the piles of commentaries in the middle of our conference room table, we learned that most commentaries are extremely difficult to read and, while they offer information, they lacked that vital “so what?” element that had become our mantra.

LASB commentaries

Our team set out on another five years of work, making our way through a verse-by-verse commentary of every verse in the New Testament. I was still at home, working as a freelancer. My job was to create the skeleton of a note for every verse. I would start with what we did on that verse in the LASB (if, indeed, we addressed it there). If not, I worked as we had in our meetings—checking every commentary, reading what it said, condensing it to something readable, tying it to the context, making it interesting, applying it to today. With my home office desk piled high with commentaries, I began the process of doing, on my own, what we had done in a group. Bible chapter by Bible chapter, my rough material would go to the same guys to do their own edits and additions.

Some have asked me in the past how I could possibly work on the Bible this way, actually writing commentaries. “You’re not trained. You’ve not been to seminary. I don’t see how they could let you loose on something this important.”

I took this to heart and at first was really frustrated. Working with the Bible is a huge responsibility. It has to be right. And some passages have many interpretations by sincere believers. Why were they trusting me with this?

Then it struck me. Part of my work had to do with the fact that I knew our process. We had honed it in those hundreds of hours working together in the conference room writing the notes for the Bible. And my part? I had to be able to read and understand, and then I had to be able to rewrite in a readable way.

That was it. And I was by no means the final voice. What I wrote as a rough draft was read by our team of pastors and M.Divs. and Bible scholars for their revisions and edits—piles of pages coming back to me with my skeleton often intact but lots of red markings.

I realized that I didn’t have to be a Bible scholar to do what I was doing. Of course, all of the reading was giving me a vast education—I might as well have been in seminary. But in the end, it came down to being able to write well. To take a tough topic and condense it down for an unscholarly audience (like me) to be able to understand it. Simplifying scholarly material for an unscholarly audience seemed to come naturally to me.

It’s the same with anything I edit. I don’t have to be an expert in the topic of the book I’m editing—indeed, there would be no way to do so. I just need to read each manuscript with fresh eyes (as a reader would) and make sure that I as reader am following, getting what I need, understanding, not getting lost.

That’s the key to being a good editor.

 

In Love with God’s Word — and Its Many Versions

When the complete Life Application Study Bible in The Living Bible paraphrase came out around 1988 (as I discussed last week in this post), I worked on other Bible versions of the LASB by revising every ancillary feature to match that version. We began in The Living Bible, then did the King James Version, the New King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, New American Standard, and Holman Christian Standard.

Seven years, approximately a translation a year. The life application concept was such a massive success and such a new approach to a study Bible that suddenly every publisher wanted it. (In the world of Bible publishing, there are public domain texts, such as some versions of the King James Version, and then pretty much every heavy-hitting Bible publisher owns its own—pays to have it created or purchases one. That way, they can create various kinds of study and devotional Bibles without having to pay royalties to another publisher.) Those publishers wanted to be able to sell the LASB in their own translation.

What that meant was that someone needed to go through all of the ancillary material and make it match the wording of the new Bible version text. During those seven years, I would receive the default original version of all of the Bible notes (thousands of them) and features (map copy, chart copy, people profile notes, book introductions) and a Bible (not electronic, just a book) with the new version. The base files of all that material came to me on 5-1/4-inch floppy disks. I would insert the disk in my computer, open Genesis and begin to work. Wherever we quoted Scripture, I had to look it up and make it match the new version. At times, place names or people names would be treated differently: Is that son of Saul named Ishbosheth or Ish-bosheth or Ish-Bosheth or Ish Bosheth (it’s actually all of them, depending on which Bible version).

Eventually I learned to watch for key words that might be different (NIV says the Israelites wandered in the “desert”; most other versions say “wilderness”). Some versions have John the Baptist’s mother spelled with a z “Elizabeth,” some with an s “Elisabeth”; some have his father as Zechariah and some as Zacharias. In some, Esther is married to King Ahasuerus; in others, King Xerxes. This is not an issue of error; it’s an issue of translation and sources and Greek and Hebrew—and I suppose, whatever the translation committee eventually agreed upon. And then, of course, some versions include upper-case deity pronouns (such as the NKJV) and some do not. For those that did, every single reference to God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as a he or a him or a himself or a his had to be tracked down and fixed with a capital H.

I went through the Bible several times over the course of those seven years. A couple of years later, Tyndale House set aside their popular but often-questioned Living Bible paraphrase for an actual translation done by teams of scholars. This became the New Living Translation, and, of course, Tyndale wanted their signature study Bible to be available in this new Bible text. And who do you think they contacted for that work?

Well, it was me. What a privilege it has been to read and reread Scripture and these notes across all these years.

I’m in love with this book. Reading start to finish over and over has given me appreciation for the big picture of God’s salvation from creation to the promise of His return in the future.

It’s all about my heart’s desire to help others to fall in love with God’s Word. Because when we do that, we’ll read it and we’ll begin to understand God’s great plan for us all.

Bible

In Love with God’s Word: The Life Application Study Bible

I have been privileged to be involved in some amazing publishing projects over the course of my thirty-plus years in the industry. But for sure one of my favorites and most life-impacting was in the early 1980s: a partnership between Tyndale House Publishers and Youth for Christ (where I worked) to create a brand-new kind of study Bible.

Bible-5What became The Life Application Study Bible involved thousands of hours and dozens of people and lots of meetings and lots of writing. Our purpose was to go beyond what most study Bibles of the day were doing, which was to offer a lot of information but little insight, a lot of esoteric and theological thinking but no real-world application. We wanted to create a Bible that gave information and insight but then also took the person from that to the “so what?” question. We wanted to help Bible readers understand what various verses and passages meant for their lives.

The partnership with Tyndale was marrying Ken Taylor’s Living Bible text (which had made such a difference in my life, as I noted in a previous post) with our vision for Bible notes (which would do the same thing). We wanted to focus on application. If some etymology or philosophy or theology were needed for understanding, we would make the explanations simple and succinct. Our focus was to make sure every note helped guide the reader to answer the question personally, “I just read this in Scripture. So what? What does that mean for my life?”

So we began work. A group of five of us kept our regular jobs at Youth for Christ, but each day several hours were set aside when we gathered in the conference room. We would stay late, sometimes come in on Saturdays. With the conference room table piled high with commentaries and Bible dictionaries, we’d begin the day’s work. One person got us started with a question working verse by verse, section by section, and everyone else dove into the commentaries and other Bible helps to read about various passages and knotty issues and then summarize them in an understandable way. My job was to sit at the end of the table, take notes on what they said (I was writing on note cards—gosh, a laptop would have been nice!), create a readable Bible note, and read it back to them. We’d edit until it felt right, and then the card would be set aside and go to the next question.

Sometimes whole teams of people joined us and were assigned to various sections of Scripture to do the same thing.

For instance, a note in a typical study Bible for John 3:16 says something like this:

3:16 God so loved the world: God’s love is not restricted to any one nation or to any spiritual elite. World here may also include all of creation (see Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:20).

In our Life Application Study Bible, the note at this verse says the following:

3:16 The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone dearly, you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of his Son, the highest price he could pay. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that he had bought for us. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

We sat around the tables, read the verses, read various commentaries’ comments on those verses, talked, discussed, argued a little bit, laughed, and ultimately tried to write a note on the note cards that explained to any reader somewhat unfamiliar with Scripture what the text says and, beyond that, what it means. What does it mean to take Scripture and apply it to life?

Now obviously, there are many interpretations of Scripture—from very liberal to very conservative. We tried to stay mostly “evangelical,” meaning centrist and mainstream, with our applications. When various opinions needed to be noted, we included them (for example, explaining the four main views of the end times in the notes in the book of Revelation). The applications do not tell readers what to do but instead attempt to help readers think about how Scripture is more than just words on a page; it’s meant to be lived.

My job after each of our marathon sessions was to take those note cards and type the contents into the brand new Digital computer purchased for our office just for this purpose. It had a black screen with orange lettering. I entered the notes in canonical order and then would print each Bible book’s material out on the wide paper with the holes on each side—the obnoxious holes that wouldn’t always stay on their little spindles as the paper jerked through the printer line by line, often jamming. These hard copies then went through a series of editorial passes by the head editorial team, then came back to me to enter changes. (Often with markings showing the hard work—a red splotch with the apologetic explanation, “Sorry, ketchup from my hamburger” or a brown circle, “My coffee mug leaked a bit.”)

As I entered the changes, if an edit was located far down in the file, I’d hit search and then go get a cup of coffee. By the time I got back, the computer might have finally found the note I wanted.

This process went on for a couple of busy years (66 Bible books, 1,189 chapters). In the end, we came up with an amazing product—totally and completely new in the marketplace, something never seen before.

And the privilege I had to work my way through all of Scripture with such deep study and application focus just made me fall in love that much more with God’s Word.

Scripture matters. Scripture must absolutely be the foundation and the focus for every believer’s life. It speaks. It applies to every situation, to every life.

In fact, Tyndale has just released the third edition of this best-selling Bible (along with Zondervan, who released it in the NIV). Read the news release here.

What’s a favorite verse that has made a difference in your life?

In Love with God’s Word

I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian home with parents who nurtured my faith, answered my questions, located churches in our many stations along my dad’s military career, and ultimately sent me to a Christian college.

Perhaps I was sheltered — I didn’t have a lot of doubts about my faith. I trusted God’s Word. I let it and my faith in its truth ground me through the tumultuous junior high and high school years. I know that looking into God’s Word and understanding the depth and breadth of my faith kept me from decisions that would have negatively impacted my life. I trusted its promises, knowing that I was a child of God, saved by my Savior.

Somewhere during high school I got a copy of a New Testament in the brand-new Living Bible paraphrase called Blueprint for Living! (complete with exclamation point!). When I was freed from my King James Version and could read Scripture in words I understood, God’s words to me began to make sense, the promises came alive, Jesus became more real.

Was I still confused sometimes? Of course. Do I now, 44 years later, understand the Bible completely? Of course not. But I understood the power of the book in my hands and how it had changed the world and could change me. In the words I had underlined in this very Bible comes an invitation I love to this day:

For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.

He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God.; nothing can be hidden from Him to whom we must explain all that we have done.

But Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us; therefore let us never stop trusting Him.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do , though He never once gave way to them and sinned.

So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.

–Hebrews 4:12-16, The Living Bible

The gold Eurofest ’75 sticker on the inside was from a youth conference I attended in the summer of 1975, just before my senior year of high school, with thousands of Christians from all over Europe. Held in Brussels, Belgium, this event gave me Billy Graham speaking in the evenings and Luis Palau in the mornings, with small group meetings of students in between. In the front of my notebook I wrote the names of the people in my group: Manima from Portugal; Katie from Colerhine, Northern Ireland; Richard from Bangor, Northern Ireland; and Janelle from Peoria, Illinois; plus me, who had traveled from Bonn, Germany.

This conference also gave me the moment that I understood that Jesus had to make a difference in every aspect of my life. He needed to be not just my Savior but also my Lord. As I sat in the stadium with thousands of Christian high schoolers from all over the world (in the section where the translators gave us English; everyone had to sit in a designated area where they could hear the speakers’ words translated in their languages), I understood and fully committed myself to following Him.

The letter in the front of our notebook explains the purpose of the conference: “God’s master plan for our lives is to become like Jesus.”  This is still the master plan for my life. And in my imperfect way, I awaken every day hoping to honor Him.

So there’s my testimony. It’s not earth-shattering. Perhaps it sounds lame to some. Maybe people see me as deluded in my simple faith in God’s Word. Yet it is what it is. This is me. Simple faith, yet the outworking is incredibly complex in our broken world. More thinking on that in coming weeks.

In the meantime, my little Blueprint for Living! has been just that for me. I’ve moved on to different translations and study Bibles, but this book has been a blueprint for building a life that I hope honors my Lord. Every day I need to go “boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help me in my times of need.”

Share your faith story with me. When did Scripture come alive for you?

 

Where’s Your Foundation?

As a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and now faculty member teaching Professional Writing, I have been considering my responsibility to my students about their responsibility as Christian writers.

The first concern, as noted in this post, is that my students stand firmly on the foundation of their faith. From the first day of the 101 class to the last day of capstone, I want to help them understand that they must stand on solid foundational truths that will undergird their writing (and, by extension, their lives).

bitumen waterproofing of the foundationMost of my students have a foundation of faith that drew them to Taylor University. Most are Christians but with a wide variety of perspectives on doctrines, social issues, and politics. There is room for all of those perspectives in my classroom, but I always want to draw them back to where we all agree: belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior. Scripture is pretty basic: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT). We have our theologies and our beliefs and our opinions, but it really comes down to that.

So where do they land? Where is their faith, personally? Much of this exploration occurs outside of my classroom in other classes, at chapel, in their small groups in the dorms, and just in living lives as college students. I want them to wrestle with these questions so that as they take the classes across the Professional Writing curriculum, they stand on a foundation as they think critically about how their faith matters in their lives and how it affects their writing.

It matters because their faith matters first and foremost. They don’t know if their words will ever get published into the world, but they do have a responsibility to write where they are called to write. They must not make their reason for being or their standard of success tied to getting published—that should never be the “be all and end all” for any writer. Far more important is their obedience to God wherever He places them and whatever words He gives them. Their relationship with God trumps anything else in life—it trumps every success and every failure, for it is ultimately what matters most.

I encourage them to pay attention in the Biblical Literature classes, to explore Scripture in small group studies, to read the Bible all the way through, to listen to God in a quiet time (in whatever way that looks to them). I want them to understand how God’s Word is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT) and how Scripture needs to be a daily “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). I want them to love the Bible.Bible

So then, what it means to be a Christian is to have foundational belief and, I would add, to seek in individual, faulty ways to live and act on those foundations through a daily personal walk with Jesus. It means staying in Scripture and prayer so as to always walk closely with the Father. This doesn’t mean that all Christians will believe the same, act the same, apply those foundations the same, or carry that faith into the world in the same way. We are each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). But still, the biblical faith foundation is vital.

Christian writers must be marinated in Scripture, in prayer, and in a daily walk with Jesus.

That’s the foundation we must have.

Christian writer friends, how do you keep your faith fresh and alive?

The Challenge of Christian Writing and Publishing

It’s been an interesting challenge, this past school year, as I’ve taken on new classes (translate—learn what I need to teach and then figure out how to teach it) and gotten out of my comfort zone.

But it has forced me to do some deep thinking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what really matters.

Why do I teach writing and publishing?

What do I really want my students to know?

In the past few months, three things have become more clear to me. For the Christian writers who come through the Professional Writing major at Taylor University, I am committed to them graduating with the following understandings:

  1. as Christians, I want them stand strong on the foundations of their faith, understanding that Scripture and their faith impacts every aspect of their lives; I want them to fall in love with God’s Word and see its power for the rest of their lives;
  2. as writers, I want them to understand that their love for and ability with words is a calling and a gift from the Caller that they should and must continue to hone and improve;
  3. as Christian writers, I want them to comprehend the power of those words and their responsibility to God for how they use their giftedness with words, especially as they seek to publish those words into the world.

How can my faith intersect my discipline as I teach the Professional Writing curriculum? How can I—a Christian publishing professional, editor, writer, and faculty member—bring these fundamental truths into our program? How can I bookend my students’ learning from their 101 introductory class to their final capstone class with these truths that matter?

It feels like a very heavy load.

But down deep in my soul, I sense that this is vital. This is more important than anything else I can do.

It is incumbent on Christian publishing professionals—whether authors or editors or publishers or marketers or bloggers or social media experts or agents—to deliver material that is well written, winsome, true, biblical, and honors Jesus Christ.

In a recent discussion, one of these Christian publishing professionals told me, “Too much of Christian writing is either preachy or saccharine. We need to bring wisdom, winsome words, and truth from our foundation into our writing.”

But what does that even mean anymore? The world is so deeply divided. Even among Christians there is so much division we sometimes act like a circular firing squad. I wonder how we can impact our world for good. How can we disagree about living out our faith (our politics, our work lives, our theological beliefs) but do so in a winsome and respectful way? How can we engage the questions so important in our culture, even as we disagree, while still being able to help others find what we have discovered in the foundations of our faith? In the end, that foundational piece is going to be all that matters to us anyway.

How do I guide my students to these understandings—even as we learn good writing and style tagging and editing and platform building and how to do a book proposal?

How do I guide them—even as we look for truth in Scripture and perhaps disagree on many other areas?

How do I help us all “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and work out our writing and publishing lives in the same way?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I invite you to join me both as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance and express my thoughts in the blog. I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas as I think this is a big conversation worth having.

Writers have a lot of power with their words.

And the world needs our very best.