Listening to a commercial

Last spring I published an e-book based on a Bible study class I led several years ago. (Read the background story and my blog about it here.)

I have not written much at my blog for a couple of months now because I was helping a friend. He had some book files that he wanted to get ready for publication. His late father, a minister and missionary, had left nearly three dozen manuscripts behind for his son to publish. It took awhile to proofread them and format over half a million words!

After my fingers had a chance to cool off from days of hitting the computer keyboard, I noticed that little e-book file of my own that I had worked on last winter. Still in low-energy recovery, I began reading it again.

As always happens, I found a couple of typos that had gotten past me. I also began “hearing” additional points I felt were needed to improve the text. I had not planned to publish this small e-book on paper. But I had just been reintroducing myself to the particular ins-and-outs of paperback books working on the titles by my friend’s dad. I decided that if I was going to revise and extend a second edition of my e-book, I might as well also do a paper version while my editing vibe was still echoing loudly around my desk.

Let me cut right to the commercial: you can order the paperback version here.

The whole marketing thing raises issues that are really the reason for my turning back to my blog today. My old class and this book based on that class have something to say to me as a writer wanting to sell my books. I’m rather amused at myself for not seeing the connection until now.

The Bible class was on Acts chapter 8 and 9. These chapters tell the story of the first season of growth and harvest for the fledgling Church in Jerusalem (hence the title I gave the book). In discussing the whole evangelism task, I presented a handy acronym for my class students:  SALT.

These letters are a mnemonic to sort out a sequence of steps to take in order to tell someone about Jesus. Most Christians know this is the Great Commission Jesus gave us. (Matthew 28:19-20) Most Christians struggle with stepping up to carry out the assignment. The world isn’t interested. Our friends in it are not interested. We cringe back, not wanting to annoy them. How do we start obeying the assignment and not do that? Is there any way to make someone listen to a commercial and like it??

The SALT acronym outlines a way. You start with the S which stands for Start. What you start is a conversation. Something neutral, even noncommital, like saying, “Nice weather!” to a stranger counts.

It’s a start. It’s a polite, metaphorical knock on the door that simply acknowledges another person’s presence. (Real knocks on a stranger’s door, like unsolicited phone calls, are not the same thing.) There’s space for the stranger to walk away. That will usually happen if you crossed paths on the sidewalk. At the laundromat, or in line at the store, or sitting next to the person on a bus or plane, where everyone is  likely stuck for awhile, there’s more space to be polite while still speaking up.

After everyone has agreed that the weather is indeed nice, what next? A is for Ask a question. The reason for this step is practical as well as polite. It says, “Since you’re willing to talk, let’s talk about something interesting! YOU!” These initial questions can be (and need to be) honest and sincere. Even if you’re not normally interested in sports, or politics, or diets, or weird hair styles, or tattoos… you notice something about them that suggests a non-threatening question. Ask.

And act interested in whatever they say. You do that by actually Listening to them respond to your question. Listening will suggest further questions. This LA-LA-LA (“listen-ask-listen-ask…”) can go on for awhile if the stranger feels comfortable and chatty.

If they have felt comfortable and there’s time, they may finally take opportunity to show a polite turnabout to you and ask you a question of their own. If they do, they remain “in control” of the visit. But you as a witness finally have an invitation to begin steering the conversation in a spiritual direction.

The other person may grow disinterested and bail out. Not every vine or tree with green leaves is ready and ripe with fruit. But a diligent farmer checks and keeps moving on until he discovers one that does have fruit that is ready to pick. In my book I also refer to Jim Engle’s scale that examines the spectrum of spiritual awareness or ignorance a witness can find in others when they first strike up a conversation. This also helps guide the early rounds of a conversation toward where a given person already is with their outlook on life. (I’ll leave those interested in following that trail to read the discussion in my book.)

It was while rereading my book, reviewing this pattern, that it finally dawned on me that this was just like the effort to identify readers interested in a subject already on a writer’s heart and pages. Every time I have finished a book, the challenge of how to “fish” for interested readers rises before me again. My friend with all his father’s books is in the same spot. A fisherman with a cooler of good, fresh bait and a box of colorful lures heads for the river already looking forward to finding the fish unable to resist what he offers.

But there are days when those fish just can’t be found. They’re all busy watching some other commercials at another bend in the river. On those days the fisherman just goes home and cleans up the fishing rod for the next trip.

Me, I’m pulling out a file of notes on a new topic that I’ve been adding to for over a year, ready to start my next book tomorrow.









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A study in brokenness

It occurs to me that in our current adventures in isolation at home, now would be a good time to again recommend an old church play from my video archive online.

The summer before I got broken myself, I had occasion to blog about it because the pastor’s wife who had given me the writing assignment had just died. (Indeed, her husband himself died just a few weeks ago now.) And, carrying on the theme of brokenness, the very church platform where the play was performed no longer exists. With broken days and expectations all around us, it’s a good time to rewatch the story of those Three Kings (no, not the ones from Christmas) and see how they dealt with their broken days.

The Sunday night audience that came out to see the performance at church that night in 1989 was around 600 people. Currently the You Tube counter of those who have watched the video online has clocked over 4,000 viewers. I’d be happy to see your comments there or here.

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Mercy and Judas

When the wise men did not report back to Herod about finding the newborn king they’d come to see, Herod demanded that all the male children two years old or younger in Bethlehem be killed. I wonder if it wasn’t a kindness for Jesus to stay quiet later about where he’d been born. Painful memories and tears from that episode would have lingered in that small town.

At this time each year, another question and mystery whispers at us. Why did Jesus choose Judas, his betrayer, as one of his disciples? Did he not know what Judas would do? Or was it because he had seen what sloppy, careless  actions that leaders jealous for their power would take?

The night in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, when Judas led the mob to capture him, Jesus made a point of saying, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” (John 18:8) Jesus protected his disciples from spill-over danger in the tense darkness of the night, so that the loss of the Bethlehem innocents would not be repeated.

The presence of Judas was a gift of mercy for the rest of the disciples. Judas carried out his job of identifying Jesus from among the the twelve men in the garden. Jesus had kept Judas handy all those years as an identity witness and to protect his disciples in that critical moment.

The disciples escaped to tell the story.

Judas, his role fulfilled, was finished.

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