My 3 Rules of Writing

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Dear fellow travelers,

After a long stretch of daily posts, the blog went silent for a day.  The reason wasn’t that there was nothing to write about.  Ironically, the reason was that sometimes the topics I most want to write about are the hardest ones to do.  Around the time I launched the blog, I decided each post should meet 3 criteria as a way to keep myself disciplined not just to regular writing, but to the type of content I wanted to post.  It’s my blog, after all.

My objective is that every post should be Compelling, Clear, and Charitable, meaning:

Is it about something that matters eternally, and is written in a way that connects emotionally and is worth reading? (Compelling)
Is it logical and makes sense, or is it likely to be misunderstood? (Clear)
Is it written in love, to build up whoever reads it? (Charitable)

In a way, these criteria are just a modified version of Ephesians 4:15-16, which says:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16

The compelling and clear parts are the “speaking the truth,” and the charitable part is the “in love” part.  However, the three criteria are not equal.  If I am compelling and clear, I might come across as clever, smart or a good writer, but without charity, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  Without love, I’ve done it wrong, and therefore being compelling and clear should be tools used in service of being charitable.

Love is more important than keeping a daily schedule.  Fortunately, a blog doesn’t have to fill a scheduled hour of airtime in a 24/7 news cycle, where passion and (often faulty) logic dominate.  Yes, I’m not perfect and it happens here too, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Like the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  In some cases, charity means silence until I have something else to write, or a better way to write it.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

Giving Gideon the Benefit of the Doubt

Directions please. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

When we want to hear our Master’s voice, we all have to overcome competing influences, like the lyrics of “Breathing” by Lifehouse say, “I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?”  We all need a filter to pick the right voices, or influences, that we base our lives on, and filter out anything that competes for our Master’s attention. The Bible recommends it, as 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Proverbs tells us to make our ear attentive toward wisdom and to incline our heart to understanding, and to treat wisdom and understanding as more valuable than silver and treasures.[1]  But how do we do it?

Gideon from the book of Judges might also have related to Lifehouse’s lyrics.  Gideon needed to filter out the voices, and probably the best-known part of his story is his use of a fleece to do that.  During Gideon’s life, as recorded in the book of Judges, Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites, Amalekites, and others, who would wait until harvest then rob all the produce and livestock.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, saying he would use Gideon to “save Israel from the hand of Midian[2], but Gideon doubted that it was God speaking, and said “show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.”[3]  Gideon may or may not have doubted that God was able to save Israel, but he certainly doubted whether this was really God talking.  Therefore, Gideon needed to “test the spirits,” but how?

Gideon asked God for a sign, which God provided, giving Gideon confidence to break down an altar to Baal and destroy an Asherah.[4] But Gideon asked God for more proof that it was truly Him speaking, and that He was calling Gideon to save Israel.  This extra step was the sign of the fleece, which is worth quoting in full, from Judges 6:36-40.

Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’  And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’  And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.”

A quick survey of study Bibles on this passage brings these comments on Gideon’s “test” of God:

  • “Even though the Spirit has come upon him, Gideon still struggles to trust the Lord.”
  • “The gathering of the tribes should have been sufficient evidence of God’s presence with Gideon, but he wanted a sign that God would do what He had promised.”
  • “Gideon’s desire for a second fleece sign evidenced his less than complete trust in God…He wanted to make certain that the first fleece sign was not merely a coincidence or the result of the natural absorption properties of a fleece.”
  • “Unlike Gideon, we have God’s complete, revealed Word. If you want to have more of God’s guidance, don’t ask for signs; study the Bible”

It’s easy, even encouraged, to criticize Gideon for testing God but if we put ourselves in his place can we do any better, even with the whole Bible?  Sometimes the Bible is clear, as in “you shall not murder,” but what about questions like, “what should I write next?”  Or “how can I encourage a friend?”

Consider that if Gideon had not put out the fleece maybe his story would’ve stopped right there, with him wallowing in doubt.  After all, Israel was being persecuted by a powerful enemy – why take any risks?  However, not knowing with 100% certainty what God’s will is does not mean that doing nothing is the right answer.  If we have a decision to make where the Bible doesn’t seem to provide explicit direction, do we just follow Yogi Berra’s sarcastic advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?

I can relate to Gideon because I needed a filter, a reason to take the time to “test the spirits,” because I rarely know for sure what God wants.  Much of the time, I “go with the flow,” and think if I avoid the wrong “flow” I’ll be ok.  I write often not because I’m disciplined, but because I’m not.  Writing is a tangible way to build the spirit-testing filter into my routine, even if it sometimes looks no wiser than Gideon’s fleece.  So, why publish publicly to anyone with an internet browser?  Because I take it more seriously, working on filtering out voices that aren’t useful to me, and wouldn’t be useful to anyone else.  A published blog takes more effort than not writing at all, which is the point, and it helps me move forward.

The Benefit of the Doubt
As I’ve written about Jeremiah and others, the Bible records openly the doubts of God’s people, because we all have a lot in common.  Finding and trusting God’s voice is hard.  If we criticize Gideon for demanding tests from God, are we really just criticizing ourselves and making it even harder?  Our filters are also imperfect – does that mean we do nothing and get nowhere?  Do we give up the call to “test the spirits,” leaving ourselves to “go with the flow” until we find a perfect method?  Like Gideon, we are also prone to take the safe route, when offered what looks like a riskier alternative.  To do something involves risk of not only doing the wrong thing, but also of being criticized for our methods.  Doing nothing is sometimes the right answer, but it is also a choice, and we can’t always be clear why we choose it.

David sometimes encourages us to “wait for the Lord,” and he also wrote “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”[5] when he was feigning madness before Abimelech, a questionable decision.  We learn about God by experiencing Him, by taking action or by waiting, taking a chance either way, but over time learning that obedience is always the best decision, and also that He catches us when we fall.  We can’t be perfect in this world, but He wants us to try and He will help us grow.

Centuries ago, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”  He may well have written to me: “He who observes the trolls will not blog, and he who fears the comment section will not write.”  Or to Gideon: “He who observes the Midianites will not save Israel.”  We all begin our trip to eternity wherever God finds us, where we are not only sinners, but also have a lot to learn about focusing on God’s voice.  What might we all be observing that’s keeping us from sowing the seed of the gospel God has given us?  Sometimes it’s doubt in our filters, in our ability to know for sure.

When we’re afraid of being compared to Gideon and his fleece, know that he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a faithful hero, and was received in heaven as a good and faithful servant by the grace earned on the cross by Jesus.  So, let’s take it easier on Gideon and give him the benefit of the doubt.  We are all in this together, including the heroes of the Bible.  It’s God’s faithfulness that matters and He will overcome all of our doubts.

In the meantime, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13a

This post is second in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice, and continues here.


[1] Proverbs 2:1-4
[2] Judges 6:14
[3] Judges 6:17
[4] Judges 6:28
[5] Psalm 34:8

Greetings to My Dear Fellow Travelers

Dear fellow travelers,

Have you ever wondered why posts here often start with that greeting?  But before that, why start with a greeting at all?  It started with an observation.

There are 27 New Testament books, and 17 start with the words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or something very similar.[1]  It wasn’t an accident, which made me wonder: Do I greet others with grace and peace?  Do I intentionally bring grace and peace to relationships with others?  In real-time interactions, certainly not as often as I’d like, but in a blog, where I have the time to be very intentional, why shouldn’t I be able to?  So, what would be an appropriate greeting for this blog?

“Dear fellow travelers” first came to mind because it communicates motion and relates to the name of the blog.  In Taxi Cab by twenty øne piløts, God tells Tyler, the song’s author, that “We’re driving toward the morning sun; Where all your blood is washed away; And all you did will be undone.”  Where we are is not where we will be and becoming Christian changes our destination forever.  We’re going to a different place, but if we focus too much on the circumstances of our time and not enough on the implications of eternity, we lose sight of the Lord who is our Savior, and of the grace and peace He provides.

“Dear fellow travelers” also reminds us of this grace and peace.  The apostles started their letters acknowledging up front that everyone needs grace, even the author.  We are all travelers in this community of faith, and we should be dear to each other.  In addition, when Paul, Peter, or John wrote of peace, they didn’t mean just a sentiment or feeling.  The word translated as peace is rooted in a Greek verb meaning “to join”.  God’s grace enables us to overcome what divides us and to join together in Him.  Through grace, we all fellowship as one and experience peace.  We’re all in the boat together, and with Jesus as the captain we can be confident in the destination.

Since blogs can reach people in any place and theoretically at any future time through the internet, the blog’s greeting needed to be inclusive.  Nations and cultures don’t each have their own gospel of Christ.  There is one gospel, and it applies within, and above, all nations and cultures.  Christians in all places and times are traveling through a place that is not their home, to a place where we will all be together in perfect grace and peace.

So, dear fellow travelers, let’s keep driving!  Let’s strive to bring grace and peace to every encounter we have as we travel through this world.


[1] Refer to Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2, 2 John 3, and Revelation 1:4.

Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot

Every blog needs a mascot, right?  Well, maybe not every blog, but this morning I decided this one does.  Before I introduce him, a little backstory on where he came from.

Boston is one of my favorite places to visit, and when I was there last October, we got this great picture of a squirrel in Boston Common.  The squirrels there ignore people most of the time, instead of running away like squirrels usually do.  But this one was not afraid of us at all; he walked right up and stared us down.  He stayed like this long enough for us to take a picture and was still around after we walked away.  For squirrels, fear of humans is a learned behavior and, in some environments, they just go about their business, unconcerned.

Ebenezer, at home in Boston Common

He was a great contrast to the “squirrel moments”[1] dogs (and people) have when they are “distracted by random nothingness.”  The Facebook page where I share this blog is called “A place to inject hopeful reminders of eternity into the distraction that is Facebook.”  I’ve used this squirrel as my social media picture before to joke that it was the best way to draw attention, and if people are easily distracted by squirrels, why not use one to distract people toward the blog?

So, this squirrel is now the mascot for Driving Toward Morning!  But he needs a name.  What to call him?

Meet Ebenezer
Many people know the name Ebenezer from Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but in the Bible an Ebenezer is a stone monument constructed as a tangible and visible reminder of God’s past help for His people.  Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and such monuments were built in Genesis 28:18, 35:14, Joshua 4:9, 1 Samuel 7:12 and elsewhere.  Only this morning did I make the connection that when I write, I’m often trying to create a type of written Ebenezer.

For example, inspired by a devotional about Ephesians 2:4, I wrote a post about the power of the words “but God.”  In it, James Montgomery Boice says: “The words ‘but God’ show what God has done. If you understand those two words – ‘but God’ – they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”[2]

So, I’ve decided to name him “Ebenezer, the ‘But God…’ Squirrel,” but you can just call him Ebenezer.  Whenever I see Ebenezer, I hope to be pulled back into awareness of God’s help when I am distracted or frustrated.  I hope to be reminded to store up treasure in heaven as squirrels store food for the winter.  I hope to fear God and not man.  I hope to be encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), as every squirrel I see reminds me that interrupting the seeming chaos of the world with “but God” can change everything.

Next time, and every time, you see a squirrel, I hope you are reminded of the same.  The world is not random, and God is relevant to your situation, whatever it is.

If you’re ever in Boston and see Ebenezer, say hello to him for me.


[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SQUIRREL%21%21
[2] From “November 7.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

Happy 1st Anniversary to Driving Toward Morning!

Fellow travelers,

Although the blog was registered earlier, May 20, 2021, is the date of the first post and so today I wish Driving Toward Morning a happy 1st anniversary!  Thank you to everyone who has read, liked, and commented on the blog.  A special thank you to anyone who has shared it with their friends, or used what they found here to encourage others.

I am thrilled to still be writing and encouraged by the impact it’s had on my life, from challenging me when I am complacent, from encouraging me to be more public with my faith, from growing deeper connections with friends and family, to creating some new connections with other bloggers.  As the “About” page here says: “Purpose #1 of this blog is to force me to think about, ponder and organize my thoughts around Christianity’s relevance to my life and to others. Purpose #2 is to proclaim the truths of the Gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ into our present world.”

Although I thought for years about starting this blog, where I thought I had a plan, I found that things ended up differently:

  • Aiming for more than a post every two weeks seemed like too much, and it would take over a year to write the main ideas I had.  I’ve posted 115 times so far, but oddly most of those early ideas remain unfinished and unposted.
  • I intended Facebook as a way to advertise the blog to others.  Instead, I started a Facebook group in October, which became a driver for me to post more frequent, shorter, and often devotional-like content.
  • I initially struggled to keep posts under 2500 words, sometimes breaking things up into 2 parts.  Now the average post is less than 700 words, with some less than 100.
  • Keeping a thread going through multiple posts was harder than expected.  I’ve started and (so far) dropped several threads and series.

So, a lesson of year 1 is that planning is often futile!  On the “About” page of the blog I wrote very early that “If the Lord wills, I will continue to write and do this or that. (James 4:15)”. I don’t know how long this will last and what it will evolve into, but I’m grateful for the outlet and for any encouragement it has brought to its readers.

What to expect in year #2 (other than to expect the unexpected):

  • Re-blogging.  I plan to re-post existing content in an effort to post more consistently, to bring back some posts I liked or that got good responses, or to bring back topics I intended to continue, but didn’t.  Hopefully I can tie up some loose ends.  “Rewind Wednesday” is probably where these will end up.
  • An attempt to be more predictable about the size/length of posts.  On Facebook, I’m going to add a reading time estimate above each link to the blog.  Also, I’m going to try and keep the longer posts to a regular cadence.  Maybe reserve long reads for the weekend?
  • More posts on history, more holiday posts, more groups of (hopefully) thought-provoking quotes, but also perhaps posts on books I’m reading.

Lastly, the “About” page also says that “As a layman, I have only my own experience in life, study and prayer to offer.  This is not a ‘proof’ blog, but an encouragement blog.  As a writer, I consider how to stir up my readers to love and good works.  (Hebrews 10:24)”  Don’t be shy about letting me know how I’m doing.

Working on this blog has encouraged me, and I hope it has encouraged you as well.  Every one of us has something important to offer for God’s glory and for the benefit of the world around us.