My Way…or His Way?

Some of you may be old enough to remember singer Frank Sinatra and the song “My Way.” I wasn’t a Sinatra fan, and that’s probably the only song of his I paid any attention to. Although he didn’t write the lyrics, they clearly represent his attitude and were apparently written specifically for him.

I can’t legally quote the lyrics–you can read them here–but he lived his life the way he chose. Yes, he had a few regrets, and he had his ups and downs. He didn’t claim that his life had been trouble-free, but he was proud of doing things his way and saying what he considered genuine and “not the words of one who kneels.”

I don’t know if Mr. Sinatra was a Christian, but I take his scoffing at “the words of one who kneels” as a suggestion that he was so self-dependent he didn’t feel the need to pray. Or to depend on God.

God gave each of us strengths to do as much as we can on our own, but He also allowed each of us to have enough weaknesses to keep us humble. Christians recognize their need for God’s help. Day in and day out. Moment by moment. We know where our strength comes from.

I have a few regrets, too, and most of them have resulted from doing–or attempting to do–things “my way” rather than “God’s Way.” Regrets like those could easily result in guilt.

But they don’t have to.

God is merciful and forgiving when we turn to Him in repentance.  How thankful I am that my regrets don’t bog me down unnecessarily. I can’t change the past, but I can certainly learn from it and continually strive to do better as I attempt to follow God’s Way more closely each and every day.

Frank Sinatra may be remembered as someone who did things his way. I’d rather be remembered as someone who at least tried to live his life God’s Way.

Whose way do you live your life? Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

    

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If I Didn’t Live Here…

[NOTE: The Kindle version of Rosa No-Name is free today-only at Amazon.]

No, this post isn’t a rerun of October 1’s “Why Do I Live Here…Now?” This is what I intended to write then, but the emphasis changed, and so did the title.

Growing up as a Christian in the home of a Southern Baptist minister, ignoring the importance of missions–going throughout the world and spreading God’s Good News–was an impossibility. But I never felt that God wanted me to be a career missionary. He knew my limitations even better than I did!

Nonetheless, when I made a career change in 1984 that landed me at what is now the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, I couldn’t have felt more like I was finally where God wanted me. He didn’t want me out on the field, but  working behind the scenes as a programmer/analyst to support the work of fellow staff members and the actual missionaries.

The IMB held weekly chapel services on Wednesday mornings, and listening to reports from around the world thrilled me. More than once,  a report or a devotional led me to write a song related to what I’d heard. I was in “missions hog heaven.”

For many years I’d known about short-term volunteer mission trips, but I’d never felt that was something I could do. I wasn’t a preacher or a Bible expert, and the only speaking I’d ever done was giving technical sessions at computer user symposiums. What talents did I have that would be useful somewhere else in the world?

But then came the day I heard about an upcoming two-week trip to Australia. Almost as long as I could remember, I’d been in love with Australia.  As a teen I’d inherited a shortwave radio receiver, and the sounds coming from Radio Australia woke me up each morning for years. Was it possible God wanted me to go on this mission trip?

I got in touch with whoever was in charge and said, “I don’t have any special talents but singing and playing guitar, and I’m nowhere close to being a professional at either of those things. I do write my own songs, but I’m the only person who ever sings them.  Would there be any place for me on this team?” (I later learned that one of the special talents of a fellow team member was doing yo-yo tricks. God can use any talent.)

The family budget couldn’t pay for a trip like that, but when I received word back that my willingness to go and do whatever was asked of me when I got there qualified me, I started looking for funds. My parents were thrilled at this opportunity and contributed towards what I needed. And I jumped at the chance to work as a consultant for a week at the company a friend worked at.

I may not have had a lot of spending money on that trip, but I was able to go.

I didn’t need the two full weeks in Australia to make me realize that–if my home wasn’t in Richmond, Virginia, USA–Australia was the place I’d most want to live.

I’ll share more next week.

Have you been on mission trip, either overseas or locally or nationally? How about leaving a comment?

By the way, if you’ve been waiting for a sequel to ROSA NO-NAME or the final book in the ALTERED HEARTS series, you’ll find both in the just-released THE FLOWERS OF HIS FIELD.

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

       

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What Do You Associate with Old Age?

Before I go any further, let me hastily explain that I don’t think of myself as being very old. Just older than I’ve ever been before. And younger than I’ll be one second and one minute and one hour from now, assuming I’m still alive then.

Okay, so what do you associate with old age? What about the one obvious answer, the one I just referenced–death and dying? Not most people’s favorite thing to think about. Mine, either.

Not that I’m afraid of being dead. I know where I’ll be then, and will that ever be better than continuing to live on this sin-cursed earth. But like many of you, I’m not fond of the prospect of a lengthy or painful final illness.

Do you associate old age with slowness? Physical slowness–did my father ever poke along as he got older–and mental slowness. Thank goodness he never reached that point until perhaps a few days before his death. And how horrible would it be to suffer through the last part of life with dementia of any kind?

Or do you associate old age with garrulous folks telling the same old stories over and over again and you having to sit there and politely pretend to listen and be interested? I hate to admit it, but that typified my father many years before he reached old age, and it didn’t get any better then. Yet now I wish I could remember many of those stories which–for better or worse–are forever lost.

Or perhaps you think of old folks in an all-too-similar way: as living in the past?

But those are all negative, undesirable old age traits. Don’t we associate anything good with old age?

I’m not sure whether the Bible speaks about those old age-related stereotypes I’ve mentioned, but it’s fascinating to read parts of the Old Testament and learn how many years various familiar (and some unfamiliar) biblical characters lived.

But one thing it does talk about–especially in the book of Proverbs–is something very positive: wisdom. Just out of curiosity I opened my Bible to Proverbs and put my finger down at a random place on the page. Sure enough, Proverbs 30:2-3 says of Agur–I’m not sure who he is, uh, was–“I am the least intelligent of men, and I lack man’s ability to understand. I have not gained wisdom, and I have no knowledge of the Holy One.”

Okay. Maybe not the most helpful passage. And even though most of the references to wisdom in Proverbs speak of it as a desirable quality, I couldn’t find one wisdom verse there that related wisdom and old age.

The Bible refers to wisdom 211 times, however, and I think Job 12:12 is applicable. “Wisdom is with aged men. With long life is understanding.” I feel confident there are others.

If you’re like me, you may question how many old people are appreciably wise. Too often it seems that the advice they’re inclined to offer seems outdated and irrelevant. That’s sad. I don’t think they could’ve attained old age without gaining at least some wisdom and understanding about a few subjects.

Perhaps our unwillingness to listen reveals a lack of wisdom on our parts.

What do you think wisdom is? Do you think of old people as being wise? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

This Older Song Writer’s Ultimate Goal

Hopefully, friends reading the title of this blog will pipe up and say, “You’re not old. At sixty-nine, you have many good years left.” I hope they’re right.

But my outlook on music has changed a lot since I started learning to play guitar during the “folk fad” of the 1960s. After moving away from Norfolk, Virginia, where I belonged to a trio, and becoming a soloist, I continued to take music seriously. Even more seriously than before.

I recall telling someone that I wanted to transfer from my junior college to West Virginia University because traditional folk expert Dr. Patrick Gainer–how many people’s names can you still recall fifty years later?–taught there. But I wanted to major in music.

I didn’t. Go to WVU or major in music. Instead, I majored in English at Frostburg State.

I’d written my first song as a theme song for the trio in Norfolk and I wrote a few more songs in the ensuing years. Folk was on its way out–or at least it was being replaced by “folk rock,” something I wasn’t interested in trying. So what was I to write and perform?

As a Christian, that question wasn’t hard to answer. I would write Christian songs and use them whenever and wherever I could. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to sing in prisons, nursing homes, migrant camps, and even churches. My own church and other churches as well.

I also wrote half a dozen or so musical dramas, four of which were performed one or more times.

Throughout the first twenty or thirty years of my song writing, I had several goals. I was realistic enough to know I would never become a popular, well-known Christian singer myself, but I very badly wanted some of my songs to get published and–who knows?–maybe some popular, well-known Christian singer would use one or more of them.

Do you remember the first Christian youth musical Good News? It was written and compiled by Bob Oldenburg and began an explosion of other youth musicals. I met Bob at the conference center where I was working one summer and actually got to do a couple of songs on closed circuit TV for the youth one week. Bob asked me to send him a copy of that music. He was getting ready to work on his second musical and thought he might be able to use one of my songs.

Wow!

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to. That was just one of many disappointments in trying to get my songs into the hands of someone who saw their value and would make good use of them.

Years later, I chanced to correspond with someone who had a good publishing friend in Nashville. He had me send a CD–okay, I admit it, it was a cassette tape back then–and he forwarded it to his friend. Nothing came of it. Not even useful feedback. Or any kind of feedback at all.

I kept writing and singing wherever I could. I recorded many of my songs at home and gave cassette tapes to friends I thought were non-Christians. The funny things is I had a Jewish friend in Australia who shared those tapes with her American boss. No telling who ended up listening to some of my music.

In 1991 I went on my first mission trip, and I’ve been on numerous other trips since then–to Australia, England, Wales, Romania, and Nicaragua. And I’ve been able to use my music there.

Now I’m pretty much limited to two musical outlets: Singing in our church’s nursing home ministry. I have to give those old folks credit. They love my songs! The other is the youngest children’s choir at church. Their director periodically teaches them one of my songs and I play guitar for them to sing with in church.

I also post many of my recordings on my website, RogerBruner.com.

But what is my ultimate goal? Other than pleasing God, Who I believe is the biggest fan of my songs.

Don’t laugh. Not where I can hear you, anyhow. I would love to have one song–I’m not greedy; one will do–published in the Baptist hymnbook. Or some other hymnbook or collection of songs that are going to be around for a while.

Like many other songs in collections like those, it might not get noticed by a large number of people, but at least it would be “out there” where God could lead the people He wants to use my song to find it.

That way it will become part of the legacy I leave behind.

What about you? Have you pursued a goal that’s slipped further and further away? Have you altered your goal and changed the way you’ve gone about pursuing it? How about sharing in a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The First Seven Years of Retirement

ThreeBooks

When I retired seven years ago at the age of sixty-two, my intention was to become a full-time novelist. By that time I’d already written two or three novels. I hadn’t found an agent yet, however, and I hadn’t succeeded at getting anything published by a traditional publisher. The self-publishing of my first novel several years earlier had proven a good way to spend money, but not a good way to make a name for myself.

But at least I had time to read writing books by the dozen, attend writing conferences, and–most important–I had time to write. Although I kept cranking out more manuscripts, I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Two things changed that. James Scott Bell, a fine novelist in his own right and one of the best writing teachers around, looked at the first page or two of Found in Translation. “Roger,” he said, “this doesn’t even begin with a scene.” That led me to scrap the first fifty pages and write a new beginning. Had that not happened, who knows whether that manuscript would ever have been considered publishable.

And then Kimberly Shumate, who at that time was an editor at Harvest House, not only gave me a great deal of encouragement in spite of the fact that Harvest House couldn’t use any of my manuscripts but believed so strongly in Found in Translation that she went out and found an agent for me. Mr. Terry Burns, who has since retired, served nobly in that role until recently. And he got me the contracts with Barbour Publishing for my first two books.

I’ve since learned that even some of the most popular authors struggle to find publishers for the next book. Especially as a newbie, I found that to be true. Especially when Barbour discontinued their Young Adult line when I was 30,000 words into writing the third book in the series.

Thanks to friendships made at writing conferences, I was able to pitch The Devil and Pastor Gus to Eddie Jones of LPC (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). I agreed to make one basic change to my manuscript and to work with a wonderful editor to reduce it from 100,000 words to 80,000.

That was important because LPC uses POD (Print on Demand), which is a more expensive way to print, but prevents a publisher from having to make a gigantic outlay of money to print and house a certain number of copies that might or might not ever sell. My other option would have been to go with only an electronic book (Kindle, Nook, etc.).

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in November of 2014.

I have completed nine yet-unpublished manuscripts. One spent two years under contract to a small publisher who failed to carry through with getting it published. Fortunately, a friend and editor at LPC loves that book and will do whatever she can to help.

But even if she succeeds, that would leave eight unpublished novel manuscripts–approximately 800,000 total words.

I’m working on another novel now, but it’s hard to keep going at times, knowing that only three out of a dozen novels have been published. I keep praying that God will either relight that spark or give me another idea–for something He would prefer for me to be writing.

When I started this post, I didn’t intend for it to be only about writing. Sorry about that. I’ll try to do a Part Two on the subject of my retirement next time, and I promise not to mention writing except in passing.

Are you retired? How do you spend your time productively? If you’re not retired, what do you hope to do for fulfillment once you do retire? Please leave a comment.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The ACTS of Christian Prayer

Anyone who thinks prayer is the same for all pray-ers hasn’t paid much attention to those pictures we frequently see of Muslim men–sometimes hundreds of them at a time–prone on their prayer rugs and looking very intent and devout. I’m assuming their prayers are of a prescribed nature.

Kind of like Christians who always pray the Lord’s Prayer. And pray quite sincerely, But never a prayer directly from their own hearts.

While sincerity in prayer is desirable, I wonder how many Christians–even among those who pray frequently and faithfully–manage to keep from falling into a routine. One that makes them feel they must cover certain areas each time they pray. And makes them feel they’ve misspent their prayer time if they leave something out.

I’m constantly fighting against that routine, and what makes it especially tough is the “ACTS” way of praying I learned many years ago. ACTS is an acronym:

  • A =  Adoration (telling God how great we think He is)
  • C =  Confession (admitting our wrongs and asking His forgiveness)
  • T =  Thanksgiving (thanking Him for His many good and perfect gifts)
  • S =  Supplication (asking God’s help for self and others)

Pretty nifty, isn’t it?

One advantage of this approach is that in adoration we praise God for who He is rather than for his blessings. The distinction between adoration and thanksgiving is important.

Confession is a toughie for me. I haven’t robbed any banks or killed anyone, but there are still plenty of lesser things I’m guilty of. If you doubt that, you should see me turn my head the other way at the mall rather than “admire” the posters in the window at Victoria’s Secret.

Sin is anything that displeases God…and creates a needless barrier between Him and us. So my prayers of confession always include a request for God to reveal anything specific I need to repent of (that means “turn away from”).

I love thanksgiving, though. God has so blessed my life that I can’t begin to think of everything I’m thankful for. But there’s always something–or several somethings–that are on my mind at prayer time.

Supplication is where too many Christians–myself included–spend far too much of their time. At the same time, though, the Bible tells us we don’t have because we don’t ask.

I believe God is listening to all pray-ers. Don’t ask me how He keeps us straight or handles multiple simultaneous pray-ers; God is far beyond my ability to explain or understand fully.

I’d like to believe I spend far more time praying for the needs of other people than for myself. A plus, right?

Hmm. Not if I’m patting myself on the back for being unselfish. Better that I should start praying to be more unselfish in listening to others’ needs and trying to be helpful. Some problems are things I can ONLY pray about. But some I might be able to lend a helping hand with if I cared enough.

I hope you can see how useful ACTS is, but also how easily a pray-er c an fall into routine. While the details may change from one day to the next, there are certain things I simply MUST pray about every day without fail. Else I feel my prayer is incomplete.

I’m not offering a solution to that problem, although not praying ACTS in order sometimes puts a new spin on my prayer.

What do you think? Do you pray? Do you purposely or incidentally cover the elements of ACTS? Do you fight routine in praying? How about sharing a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger