Characters that are real

I’ve been revising my first book and something struck me.

I have given my characters a personality of their own. I have complete control over everything I write, but I personally don’t like making my characters doing anything out of … character. After all, if they’re “out of character,” then are they still the character that I created? I have created them uniquely with a specific set of wants and desires, habits and thought process. As part of my writing process, I even assign them each a specific Meyers-Briggs personality typography to help me understand them and how they would interact.

Now, as I’m developing those characters, there are things that I want them to do, but I can’t make them do it. I tell myself, “It would really help my plot if Evander would do or say this … but he’s not the kind of person who would do that, so I’m not going to force that kind of writing on him.”

Instead, I am left to incorporate into my plot whatever my characters would naturally do themselves. In my first draft I failed to do this and I do not feel my characters ever truly came to life. But restricting my control over them to the things they would naturally do – that somehow brings them to life. Instead of wheels and cogs in my plot-machine, they really drive the story.

I first started seeing this when I began my third book. I tried to develop an outline, but in the first 60 or so pages I found I had deviated from that outline so drastically that I had to re-write the whole plan. Why? Because my characters wouldn’t do what I had planned for them to do.

This is rather silly because I’m the one writing them. They’re just ink on a page (or, rather, pixelated letters on a screen). Yet somehow I’m forced to dance my plot around the fact that they don’t perfectly do what I want them to do, even though I’m the one creating them and their world and everything about them in the first place.

It’s rather infuriating when your creations, over whom you have total domination and control, won’t do as their told … Yet it is simultaneously beautiful to know that this is what proves they are real, at least to me, which in my story is all that matters. It helps to know that, one way or another, the book will end the way I want it to, and the major plot developments will still happen. But no one likes a book for the plot if the characters feel fake or contrived. For that matter, I wouldn’t like my own book if I didn’t love the characters I created and they weren’t real to me.

I bet many church folk can understand this concept.

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From Screwtape’s Lost Letters

My dear Wormwood, do not let the subject realize the extent of his own freedom. He is no longer bound by sin, but he only knows this in his head. If you can keep him from experiencing it in his heart, you will win the war over him in due time.

Humans are pathetically dumb-witted. They at first rely on God for their salvation, but are easily taught to believe that everything after this can be accomplished by their own power. Take advantage of this gap in their teachings, for few have told them otherwise. Few have even realized that our enemy’s work continues in specific ways after they have first come to know him. Convince them that his work is only general and they will never think to let our adversary assist them in specific ways.

Keep them praying for those general results that they want, but never let them think to ask in their prayers for a specific means of how that result will be accomplished. As long as they continue in generalities, you can easily convince them that coincidence can explain the answers to their prayers. If you can convince them of this, you are only a small step away from achieving in them a fear of praying for specifics, for they will worry that if they are too specific they might end up proving that prayer does not work – or even better: that our enemy isn’t hearing them or even real in the first place.

Although you may win significant ground with the subject if you can cause his prayers to fail, do not be tricked by our adversaries into allowing such specific prayers to continue, Wormwood. This is a trap they have laid for us, for you never know when our foe may decide to defy the odds in order to reaffirm the subject’s faith. No, you are better off letting him speculate about whether or not his specific prayers will be answered. This keeps the subject out of the enemy’s hands and into yours – and that fear of praying specifically will fester into doubt, and that doubt can be exploited.

But above all else, Wormwood, remember that our goal is not to keep him in sin. Rather the sin is only a tool to accomplish our true purpose: to keep him from fighting the enemy’s battles or winning souls. Once he tastes the delicious fruit of victory by stealing those who belong to us, he may never stop fighting again. Never let him experience this joy. Make him think that the battle is against sin. Then, when he wins he will feel a shallow sense of satisfaction and we will have suffered no losses. Let him keep winning in this way, from time to time, so that he will continue to think this is the way to beat us and never look to the true battlefront.

And even if he does manage to win a soul or two along the way, make him quickly forget them. Let him believe that it is enough that this new convert attends a church service regularly or that attending a study group or serving on a committee will somehow be enough. But always keep their relationship shallow. Of course, you are better off never to let him this far in the first place.

Moreover, if you can keep your subject fixated on his sin, he will become confused about whether or not he is actually free from sin himself, and he will not be concerned about whether his neighbor is free from sin. If you can do this, he will forget his role in this war. He will be fruitless. And that, my dear nephew, is what will be most helpful to our cause. Whether or not he sins is of no consequence, for you know that he won’t be judged by that sin, nor do we gain anything by increasing sin. Our victory is not in sin, for sin’s work was made complete when it first entered the world and condemned them all to die. The only matter of consequence since their curse is whether or not we allow our adversary to save them from that sin. Or to be more specific: our victory is not in sin itself, but in those who we keep from the enemy. Take advantage of his sin for this purpose if you can, but always keep your eyes fixated on whatever will keep him inactive from the true battle. Use all the tools I have given you to accomplish this goal, and not sin alone.

Affectionately,

Your Uncle Screwtape

Unreached People Groups

I don’t know what prompted this thought, but I imagined a missionary discipling people in a previously unreached people group. One of the new converts asks a common question: “What happens to people who die without ever hearing about Jesus?”

The missionary, remembering all of his studies on this theological issue, points him to Romans 1 and says, “Well, God’s power and expectations were made known to him, so he was held accountable to that knowledge and is without excuse.”

The missionary totally misses how deeply personal this question is. Although it is an intriguing hypothetical for many of us, for the new convert in this scenario, he had personal relationships with people who have died without ever knowing Jesus existed. They were going about their business the best they knew how in their tribal lands and in their mind, they didn’t know any better.

So, the disciple asks back, “You mean to say that my father is in hell because you didn’t get here a year sooner?”

Sure, the missionary could defend and say, “No, your father is in hell because he didn’t pay close enough attention to nature to know there’s a God and worship him” … because let’s face it, most of these unreached people groups are not loving and serving God; they follow the rest of the path Romans 1 talks about. But this just doesn’t seem to do justice to the question.

I have become all that much more convinced that our resources should be driven toward those who have never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. Although I love and have compassion for the already reached people groups as well, there is a sense where they have had an opportunity to know Jesus and have rejected it – even if only passively. But my heart breaks for those who have never heard at all.

I get that there are “already reached” people groups who have accepted the Gospel and require assistance spreading it in their locality – and missions to their aid are critical and important as well. But even so, they already have the power of Jesus working for them, through whom they can do all things and through whom all of their needs will be met (Philippians 4:11-13, 19). However, the unreached do not even have this level of general grace as to their spiritual needs until they become reached.


For more information, look into The Joshua Project, where you can find much more about this aspect of Christian ministry.

As my pastor notes, “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth” in Acts 1:8 are “and” and not “or” or “then.” Although many people are right to have their local area the focus of their ministry, we’re meant to be reaching all aspects from local to global with a heart for the nations now – not virtually entirely ignoring the needs of the world while we try to saturate our own locality.

What questions do you have about the Bible?

Now that I’ve established a baseline for the discipleship process, I’d like to start a series on some of the most common questions that people have about Christianity. ¬†This series is meant for two purposes:

  1. Because the first phase of the discipleship process is evangelism, and these questions are good things people will want to know when conversing with non-Christians.
  2. Because these questions can help ease the mind of new believers who have not had the opportunity to search the Scriptures themselves for answers.

My hope is that all of you will start prompting me with additional questions to address – and I will likely keep this series going for as long as there are questions. ¬†But if you’re all fairly silent, you’ll be stuck with the questions I come up with. ¬†So, ask away!

For those who haven’t seen it otherwise, here’s the first post:

What holds you back from reproducing?

We’ve already noted that what God does in a physical, tangible way on earth he really means for the purpose of expressing a deeper, truer spiritual reality. ¬†Dawson Trotman’s sermon “Born to Reproduce” makes use of this concept when he compares our failures in reproduction on a spiritual level with the way God has arranged physical bars to reproduction.

  1. The first hindrance is abstinence. ¬†If you’re not uniting with someone of the opposite sex you can’t reproduce. ¬†In the case of our ability to reproduce spiritually, the Scriptures call us the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), and we belong to Jesus, who is our bridegroom (John 3:29). ¬†Now, I know it gets weird for men to think about being a bride united to a groom, but this is the Bible talking, so you’ll just have to deal with it. ¬†The bottom line is that if we’re not living in union with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we’re never going to reproduce. ¬†That is, we need to be praying, having devotionals/quiet times, studying the Scriptures, and actively sharing the Gospel with Jesus. ¬†As we continue to unite with him in these ways, spiritual reproduction is the natural byproduct of our faithfulness in union, just as physical babies are the natural byproduct of the union between a husband and a wife.
  2. The second hindrance is disease. ¬†There are innumerable genetic or other physical conditions that can cause a person to become sterile. ¬†Our spiritual disease is sin. ¬†If someone is living in unrepentant sin, that sin can hinder a person from being able to live effectively for God. ¬†1 John expresses this quite well when he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ¬†If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (v. 9-10). ¬†If his word isn’t in us, we certainly can’t give it to anyone else.
  3. The third hindrance is maturity. ¬†Dawson notes that God gave every baby the parts for reproduction, but it’s not until puberty, after their bodies have matured, that they are actually capable of reproducing. ¬†Likewise, it is not until after we have spiritually matured that we are truly capable of reproducing. ¬†This doesn’t mean how much we know or how well we’ve studied doctrine and theology and one verse or another. ¬†It simply means: are we living in a way that is surrendered to the calling Jesus gave us to make disciples? ¬†I’ve known men who know far less and are far younger in their faith than I am who are far more surrendered and producing for Jesus than I am. ¬†They don’t do this out of legalism, but because they love him. ¬†This is maturity.

So, the bottom line here is: (1) keep spending time with Jesus; (2) repent and seek freedom and deliverance from sins that are binding you; and (3) continue walking in maturity with a heart for obedience, regardless the cost.