Monday, May 31, 2010

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
Facing Your Kidron Valley

By Judy Vandiver
© Judy Vandiver 2010

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult spot or situation? I’m sure you have. We all have. And when we find ourselves in something that is foreign to us, we think it is foreign to all mankind and perhaps even to God.

How easy is it to believe that no one before you has seen the kind of problems you are experiencing? There is an old spiritual that says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrows.”

People have made this kind of complaint for thousands of years. Look at a passage from the Old Testament. This is during the Israelites wandering in the desert:

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14: 1-4 NIV).

When these same people had been slaves in Egypt, they thought that trouble was unbearable with no way out. Held as slaves, they worked hard, but Pharaoh was not satisfied. He ordered them to make bricks without straw. When the Israelites couldn’t meet their quota, they were beaten. “You have made us a stench to Egypt,” they said. Can you hear their voices, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Can you hear them crying in the desert? “Nobody knows my sorrows.”

Let’s move forward a little in the Bible to 2 Samuel chapter 15 where King David is being pursued by his son, Absalom. As he flees, his kingdom followed him. At one point, he stepped aside and let them pass. Verse 15:23 tells us, “The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the desert.” Again the Israelites are headed for the desert and again they are in distress, weeping aloud. 

The Kidron Valley the Israelites crossed lay beside Jerusalem separating the temple mount and the city of David on the west from the Mount of Olives on the east. The Kidron Valley was a gloomy place; cemeteries have been located in this area since the middle Bronze Age (before 1500 b.c). Some Bible references refer to a brook that ran through the Valley. This brook became more of a ditch where the waste of Jerusalem was carried away. Not only did King David cross the brook when he fled Jerusalem to escape from Absalom (2 Sam. 15:23), but later Solomon warned Shimei not to cross it or he would die (1 Kings 2:37). This is the place where certain kings of Judah destroyed idols and other pagan objects removed from the temple area (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 23:4, 6, 12; 2 Chron. 29:16; 30:14).[i]

Do you often have your own Kidron Valley? Have you ever been in a place filled with gloom? A place where physical or spiritual death surrounded you? A place where you cry, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow.”

Let’s move further ahead in the Bible to the book of John. The Scripture says, “When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.” (John 18:1 NIV). Jesus had to go through the Kidron Valley to get to the Mount of Olives. And he truly faced something no one had faced before or since. He was about to give His life in ransom for the entire world. The cross became his ultimate Kidron Valley and he went there willingly. Just as when Jesus physically crossed the Kidron Valley and came out in the olive grove, He also emerged victorious on the other side of the cross.

In a devotional by Charles Spurgeon, he asks, “What is our Kidron this morning? Is it a faithless friend, a sad bereavement, a slanderous reproach, a dark foreboding? The King has passed over all these. Is it bodily pain, poverty, persecution, or contempt? Over each of these Kidrons the King has gone before us.”[ii]

I can’t leave you with today’s devotional without telling you the rest of that old spiritual. The song goes on to say, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody but Jesus. Glory Hallelujah!”

As you face whatever Kidron Valley lies before you, trust that even if no one else knows the trouble you are going through, Jesus knows. He cares. He’s been to your Kidron. He’ll carry you through to the olive grove.   

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen-Facing Your Kidron Valley; © Judy Vandiver 2010

[i] Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., Butler, T. C., & Latta, B. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (983). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[ii] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Day Texas Exploded

The Day Texas Exploded
By Judy Vandiver

Tomorrow marks the 63rd anniversary of a tragic event. 

It was a picturesque morning with promises of a beautiful spring.  The sun rose above the horizon across the bay tickling the water with wavy shimmers.  The seaside community was beginning their work day in chemical plants, the docks and small business scattered throughout the growing boomtown, grateful for work.   Fathers had left home a few hours earlier carrying their lunch pails.   Mothers kissed their children goodbye and sent them off to school.   Children laughed as they skipped on their journey to their classes, stopping to enjoy the smell of the crisp salt air.   Everything was as it should be in Texas City, Texas.   Then Texas exploded.

It was April 16, 1947.  A ship was being loaded at the docks with ammonium nitrate.  There had been warning signs; signs that went unheeded.   The ammonium nitrate bags were hot to the touch, the bags were ripping and the ship’s hold they were being moved to sat close to ammunition that wasn’t unloaded when scheduled.  

Spontaneous combustion occurred in the ammonium nitrate bags and a fire broke out in the ship’s cargo area.  Attempts to douse the fire with drinking water were unsuccessful.  Within minutes the ship exploded, sending a mushroom shaped cloud skyward, blocking out the rays of the sun.  

Across the bay, Galveston residents watched as the sky grew increasingly darker.  The blast was heard as far away as 150 miles.  A seismologist in Colorado noted the vibrations on his instruments.  News of the explosion soon traveled around the world.  But the effects went much further.  The effects went deep into the souls that survived the raining hell.  

Over 500 died that morning on the Texas City shore.  Some were never identified.  For 63 years, family members have wondered what happened to their loved ones.  Remaining survivors are now in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  Some carry scars on their bodies.  All carry scars on their hearts. 


This story has meaning to me because warning signs were ignored.  I think sometimes in our lives we dismiss signals that something is not as it should be.  We continue merrily along only to discover that our world has been blown apart.   We traverse into danger zones; we disregard God’s forewarning that something is hot; and we try to handle the consequences with inadequate fighting power.  The catastrophe may end, but the results stay with us forever. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Partnership with Readers

Partnership with Readers
By Judy Vandiver
© 2010 Judy Vandiver

Today’s blog continues from where we left off last week in Philippians.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.3I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (Philippians 1:2-5 NIV)
Paul considered his writing a partnership his readers. He didn’t consider himself better than his target audience. He didn’t write “down” to them. In effect, he was saying, “Hey, we’re all in this life together.” Then he shared what he had learned in order to help someone else.

Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, it is important to treat your readers with respect. Give them credit for understanding what you write. Don’t over-explain what should be obvious and don’t beat them up with the moral message or theme of your work. When I come across a passage in a book where the author explains to me what they mean, I feel insulted that they didn’t think I was smart enough to “get it.” As an author, if I feel the need to explain something I wrote, perhaps I need to rewrite it.

Another way that authors tend to write down to their readers is with finger pointing. When an author continually tells a reader what “the reader” should do, it can come across as preachy. Be careful of the word “you.” Try substituting “I” or “we” when possible. By pointing out our faults and relating with the reader, we enter into a partnership with them.

Below is an example of how Paul partnered himself with his readers. Notice how he describes his own desires, shortcomings, and thoughts. He then gives advice to the reader, but does so by including himself needy of the instructions he gives them.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:10:16 NIV)
In partnering with our readers, we can help them identify with us, take our message in a non-preachy fashion, and apply spiritual truths that God has laid on our hearts.

Partnership with Readers / © 2010 Judy Vandiver

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking Aim with Your Words

Taking Aim with Your Words
By Judy Vandiver
©2010 Judy Vandiver 

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1 NIV)

Today’s blog is centered around Paul’s opening words in his letter to the Philippians. Another tip on writing can be found when we study the writing style laid out in Philippians 1:1. Notice that Paul wrote to a specific audience. His target audience was saints in the city of Philippi. While it’s true that over the last twenty centuries many people not from Philippi have been blessed by Paul’s letter, he kept his target audience in his mind as he wrote. By constantly remembering those who would be recipients of his letter, he was able to address specific needs.

It is important as writers for us to identify our target audience, then address the needs of that audience. When we write to one person or group, our writing becomes more personal. It’s a matter of addressing a specific need rather than trying to write one manuscript that is the end-all for the world’s problems. If your target audience is too wide, your words are likely to hit no one at their point of need.

By writing to a target audience and focusing on a particular need, we are able, with God’s help, to craft our words and focus our aim on one specific point of attack by Satan. This is how Paul constructed his letter to the Philippians. He addressed one area of vulnerability at a time. He didn’t try to take Satan out with a world-class explosion. He steadied himself, took aim at one demon at a time, and picked them off like a well-trained sharp-shooter.

Because the saints at Philippi were humans, we identify with their needs. So Paul’s letter continues to reach people and speak to people today. Most of the needs of our target audience are probably universal. While we may write something that appeals to a wider circle than our target audience, it is the writing to individual needs, problems, and attacks that make the writing personal to our readers.

So, choose your audience. Focus on a specific need. Take aim. By narrowing the focus, our words can knock out the enemy on one attack level at a time.

©2010 Judy Vandiver

Monday, February 22, 2010

God Speaks to Writers Today

God Speaks to Writers Today
By Judy Vandiver
©2010 Judy Vandiver

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1 NIV)

The disciple John wrote the above verse approximately fifty years after Christ’s resurrection. Because many new believers had not witnessed Jesus’ miracles first hand, commitment had waned. John wrote this letter to be circulated among the churches, to encourage them in their walk and strengthen their belief.

What John wrote is still being read and serving its purpose 2,000 years later. As writers, it will serve us well to look at how he went about constructing this letter.

Two things pop out at me in verse one. The first is that John is writing from a firsthand experience. He’s telling the reader what he knows. As a Christian writer proclaiming God’s love and grace, I had better make sure I’ve experienced that myself. If I’m going to convince readers that faith in God is real, I had better be walking in faith. If I’m going to proclaim that prayer works, I need to be a praying Christian.

John wrote about what he knew, what he had experienced. Writers are told all the time to write what you know. It stands to reason that if you are going to write about Christ, you must know Christ. Not that you KNEW Christ—but that you KNOW him.

The second gem for writers that I discovered in this verse is John’s plan for his writing. He understood that he needed to have his readers experience what he had experienced. He would do this by telling what he had heard, what he had seen, and what he had touched.

Contemporary books on writing remind writers repeatedly to use the senses to convey their message to the reader. John knew this and relied on his senses to convey his experiences.

I can tell my reader that God speaks today or I can tell them the message I have heard through Bible reading, through a pastor, through the testimony of a reformed drug user. I may tell them how God whispered to me in my despair or how he is shouting to a declining nation.

And do I write to my readers that God heals or do I tell them about my dad’s cancer? How I watched as his body declined and wasted away; how he could no longer stand on his own. Do I inspire my reader to believe that God heals when I describe how my healthy, vivacious, optimistic dad now rises early each day and volunteers as a morning greeter for a local Christian school? How at age 80, he has a bounce in his steps that is envied by those less than half his age?

Will I tell my readers that God provides or will I describe how my hands, shaking from hunger, gripped the firm roundness of each can of vegetables as I pulled one after another from a sack of groceries left on our door?

Yes, I think John gives good advice and a model for writers. Tell your reader what you’ve heard, seen, and felt. Do this so that they, too, may believe.

God Speaks to Writers Today ©2010 Judy Vandiver