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Saturday, April 29, 2017

This Changes Everything by Jaquelle Crowe // How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years

By On April 29, 2017
GUYS. We've got a book review today! And I'm PARTICULARLY excited about this one because it's written by a teenage author. HOW COOL IS THAT? Plus, I waited for this to release for a loooong time, so basically now I'm just forcing some of my excitement on you guys. xD

Also, on a sidenote, I'm not completely failing at my goal of posting one review a month. #win Even if occasionally I do end up sneaking the review in... very close to the end of the month... *coughs*


The teen years have been hijacked—by fashion, music, movies, and games; by the pressures of school, peers, and society; and by superficial expectations set by the world. But there is something more glorious than all these influences that has the power to change the life of a teenager: the gospel. Written by a teenager for teenagers, This Changes Everything is a deeply theological yet practical and accessible book on how the gospel radically transforms every aspect of the teen years, including pursuing relationships, managing time, combating personal sin, and cultivating healthy habits. In a culture awash with low expectations for young people, this book exhorts teenagers to embrace a gospel-centered perspective on their lives and pursue wholehearted devotion to Christ now.

I know the majority of my followers are probably Christians. You probably already know what the Gospel means and what it's all about. But I'm not going to assume anything- because I might have followers that aren't Christian. I might have people that are wondering "What's the big deal about this whole Gospel thing, anyways?" 

First of all, this book is absolutely right: the Gospel does transform us. It takes our sin and exchanges that out for Christ's righteousness. (1 Corinthians 5:21) It takes the judgement upon us and exchanges that out for grace. (Romans 3:23-24) It takes our lack of purpose and meaning and exchanges that out for eternal hope. (1 John 5:13-14) 

Truly, the Gospel does transform the lives of anyone it touches. And I've got something to tell you: your life can be changed also. Here's how. 

1. Realize that you're a sinner. 

Romans 3:10-12 - As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 

ALL of us have done some things wrong in our lives. We've lied. We've harbored rebellion in our hearts. We've broken God's law. 

2. Realize you face judgement for your sins. 

Hebrews 9:27 - And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Everyone has just one life to live. After that, we face judgement from a righteous, holy God. And we just saw that we've broken His law- multiple times. It doesn't look good. 

3. Christ paid for your sins. 

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

THERE'S GOOD NEWS. You couldn't pay for your sins on your own. There was no way. BUT. God in His mercy sent His only Son into the world so that you wouldn't have to pay the price for your sins.

4. Ask Christ to save you. 

Romans 10:9-10 - That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (also you can pretty much just read all of Romans 10 for more on this) 

Pray, ask Christ to save you, and repent of your sins! Then, live a transformed life as you strive to please and honor Him out of love and gratitude. :D 

I hope that makes sense, and if ANYONE has ANY questions, I have a contact form that goes straight to my inbox, so don't hesitate to shoot me an email!

First off, I'm just going to go ahead and tackle the elephant in the room: YES, THE AUTHOR IS A CALVINIST. And no, I am not. However, despite the fact that I respectfully disagree with her theology, it didn't prove to be a big issue for me in the book. 

There's hardly anything in here about Calvinism. A few references to Reformed beliefs in Chapter 2, but nothing major at all. So even though I disagree with the theology of the author, I'm rating and reviewing the book apart from that factor since it didn't come through a whole lot in the book. 

Now that we've got that out of the way: THIS. BOOK. WAS. INCREDIBLE. WOW. It's one of my new favorites and it's a book I think EVERYONE should read, especially Christian teens. 

Jaquelle has a lot to say- and she says it. She doesn't shy away from hard topics or write to make you feel good about yourself. She writes to challenge you. In world where Christian (using the word LOOSELY XD) self-help books oftentimes become NYT bestsellers, this book contains solid biblical principles. It encourages humility and a hatred of sin, and puts God first. 

This Changes Everything was just about a perfect balance between convicting and inspiring. Like I said before, it's not a "feel good" type of book at all, but it still inspired me to focus more on Christ now

Jaquelle uses examples to make the concepts clear and easy to understand, and she has a way of explaining her points in a concise, logical fashion that makes sense. Never did I have to think to myself "I wonder what she meant by that." 

Also, this was SUPER PRACTICAL WHICH I LOVE. It doesn't just tell us that we should live for Christ- it gives us solid, concrete tips on how to live for Christ.

5 shining stars. Despite theological discrepancies with the author, this was honestly incredible. So put down whatever you're doing and GO READ THIS. XD

SO YES LONG POST HERE. Basically what I should have expected when I blended a sermon with a book review. xD Has anyone else read this? What were your thoughts?  

~ Jonathan 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dear Writer, Find Joy in the Journey

By On April 25, 2017
Hey guys. Today, we're finishing up this (unofficial) series. And I've gotta be honest: some of this hasn't been easy and fluffy and fun.

We've dealt with some tough issues like our attitudes and our messages. Maybe you've decided you need to change some things about your own writing.

But even if you didn't, it's easy to get overwhelmed by everything you might be doing wrong. It's easy to feel all this pressure, because somehow, you have to keep pushing and working and striving before you're the writer God wants you to be.

Somehow, if you just work hard enough, and if you just spend enough time on it, and if you just keep working and pushing and sweating, then you'll get there. You'll get to where you need to be.

Sound exhausting? I agree.

Let's just pause for a second and take a deep, refreshing breath, and then let's put this into some perspective.

The fact that I'm the one who wrote the posts doesn't mean I've got all of this stuff down. (in fact, it normally means the opposite) I know most of you know that the things I post about are normally the things I'm learning about myself. 

But like I said in the intro- it's easy to beat ourselves up. It's easy to feel like we're doing EVERYTHING WRONG and we need to fix ALL OF IT. RIGHT NOW. 

We pressure ourselves into trying to get better, and never do we think of where we are. 

Just pause for a moment and think about how far you've come as a writer. (or, instead of thinking about it, look through your blog archive... *cough*) Whether you've been writing for 14 years or 3 months, you've improved along the way. You've gotten better. You've grown. 

And the only thing you did to achieve this growth is that you wrote. 

It's natural for all of us to analyze our novels. We're always trying to figure out how we can improve or how we can fix something.

The thing is- that's good. 

But not if you let it steal your joy from you. 

There's nothing wrong with trying to get better. In fact, you should be trying to get better. I know I am.  

But when we get too caught up in trying to get better, we lose the perspective we need, and we fail to realize this: 

We're all on a journey. We're all working at it. We're all falling down and climbing back up again. 

And NONE of us started out where we are now. 

There's always room to improve. Even if you're a bestselling author, there's still something you could be doing better. 

What's important isn't drinking up caffeine and writing till your eyes hurt and becoming the writer you want to be overnight. (spoiler alert: SORRY NOT HAPPENING XD) Instead, what's important is understanding that you're on a journey, just like everyone else. 

When we realize we're still a work in progress, just like our stories, we can find joy in the messiness and the imperfections within our own stories. We can approach them with determination instead of discouragement. 

Because we're ready to fix them. We know they're not perfect, but we also know that's okay. 

We know we'll get there. Right now, we're just doing the best we can: and we're loving it. 

~ Jonathan 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dear Writer, How's Your Time?

By On April 12, 2017
Let's be honest: WRITING IN GENERAL IS SO TIME-CONSUMING. And writing something that's more than 50k words (read: probably a novel) is even more time-consuming.

As an example, The Raven Project took me about 9 months to write JUST the first draft (oh, and did I mention I have an entire second draft to do? which will probably take me another 9 months. then there's editing...) and Library of Lies took me about 7 months to write. (and on this one I actually knew what I was doing. so. no second draft, thankfully. just edits.)

It's a loooong process. It takes time and patience and probably caffeine. (in any form EXCEPT for coffee xD)

Guess what we're talking about today?

Time, writing, and our lives.

Time is something writers think about a lot, even if we don't realize it. We have deadlines. We do word wars. We try and write 50k during a month.

And lately, for me, my time has been even more in the forefront of my mind then it normally is. Because I'm working on two projects at the same time, and it's a lot harder to stay balanced. 

Between blogging, and editing, and writing a second draft, it's easy for me to get caught up in just writing. It's easy for me to tune out the world around me and glue myself to my computer screen. 

But I know that's not healthy for me.

God's given me an awesome life, and He wants me to USE IT. And writing is only part of that. He didn't give me seven amazing siblings just so I could spend all of my time ignoring them. 

He didn't give me a church just so I could show up on Sundays and pretend to listen to the sermon. 

He didn't give me responsibilities so I could throw them out the window for the sake of getting in a few hundred more words. 

He gave me all of these things so I can bring Him glory, and so I can learn from them. 

Look around you. What has God put into your life? Family members? Friends? 

Invest in what God's given you. Don't glue yourself to your laptop. God might have a plan for you as a writer, but His plan for your life isn't just writing. Writing is important, but staying in a relationship with Him and others in your life is more important. 

How are you using your time? 

~ Jonathan 

Friday, April 7, 2017

4 Tips on Merging Fiction With Faith

By On April 07, 2017
Yup, you read that title right. We're here to (FINALLY) tackle this infamous topic- a topic that I think many teenage writers shy away from. 

Because it's the adults who are really the ones that can incorporate powerful Christian messages into their fiction. But us? We're just teens.

We often feel like we're not mature enough to write our faith into our stories, or not skilled enough, or somehow just not good enough.  If or when we try to, it will most likely come off as preachy, so let's just focus on getting our characters consistent, and our plot smoothed out, and let's try and get out storyworld developed.

Once we've got all that down, maybe we can broach the topic of our faith. But not too strongly; maybe just have the main character's uncle mention God once or twice.

And that's what we think- it's even what we're told in some cases.

Get the basics down.

Don't worry about Christian themes.

As long as there's nothing bad in there, you're good.

You can worry about those things when you're older.

It's time to stop listening to those voices, and it's time to start realizing that God has us where we are for a reason. He gave us this ability and love of writing right now. He knows that we're teens. He knows that we're younger in our faith than other adult writers out there.

And yet He still has called us to write. As teens.

Stop telling yourself that you're too young to serve God with your writing, and start realizing that it's what He wants from you.

He wants your everything, and that includes your writing.

But while that sounds nice and all- you're probably wondering "How? How can I do this without sounding preachy?"

And I'm here to tell you, it's not as complicated as many people make it out to be.
We've all heard this before, but it's not normally applied to our faith. What has God shown you? How have you seen God work in your own life and the lives of people around you?

Don’t write about things you haven’t experienced yourself. Don't try and write a theme about how to be a good Christian parent. Don't try and write a theme about marriage. Don't try to write a theme about Christians and depression if you've never had depression and don't know much about it.

But how about writing a theme that deals with God's views on peer pressure? How about a theme addressing the importance of a close relationship with your parents? Or- and I hope you can write this one- a theme that shows a character going from skeptical of faith to finding salvation in Christ alone?

As Christian teenagers, most of us have experience with some of these things, so when we write them, we will know what we're dealing with. We know how it feels. We can write the thought processes of our characters, because we've had similar thought processes.

Don't just focus on what you know. Think of what God is teaching you in your everyday life. What little nuggets has God shown you when you opened up His Word and studied it? What seemingly commonplace experiences have reminded you to focus on Him?

When I was writing my second novel, I was unsure of what I wanted the theme to be. But I went ahead and started writing, and pretty soon, I had my theme. I wanted to write about identity found in Christ alone- and so I set out to do it.

At first, I didn't realize how much this would mean to me. But as I was nearing the end of my book (the part where my theme shone through the strongest), God used experiences in my own life to show me I needed to change my outlook. Here I was writing about identity in Christ, yet I was still letting the wrong things define me.

Since I was experiencing what I wrote, I could write it realistically. It flowed with my story. And it wasn’t preachy- but it was meaningful.

In a way, this goes with "Write What You Know", but it's distinct enough that I'm giving it's own point. Because when we write what we care about, chances are it won't read like a lecture. It won't be stale or dry, but instead it will be real and will invoke emotions in your reader.

If God has given you a passion, then use it for His glory. What makes you excited? What gets you angry or makes you sad? What inspires you to reach out to others around you, or to try and speak out for change?

When you write your passions, there will be no lack of emotion for you or your reader. Don’t write an agenda- write a story with meaning.

Ask God to help you write what He wants you to. It's as simple as that.

1 Timothy 4:12 is a verse most are familiar with. It says this:

“Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

We know it. We’ve heard it. We might even have it memorized.

But are we applying it to our writing? What do our words say about our faith and our God?

~ Jonathan 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March Is Over

By On April 01, 2017
So yeah. Obviously March is over. AND WE ALL KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS. It means Camp NaNo (+insanity) has arrived.  More stuff about Camp below. :D 

Also apparently spring is supposed to be here? But my weather is rebellious so there's no spring for us. Yet. Despite the very spring-looking picture below. 

I actually didn't read that much this month? But I still got in seven books:

Favorite Fiction: 

MY REREAD OF THE HOMELANDERS, OBVIOUSLY. This was my second time reading through the whole series AND I LOVE IT. I LOVE IT TO DEATH. Even though book four, The Final Hour, does sag. A lot. D: 

Basically it's about this teenage guy who has both the police and terrorists after him- except he doesn't know why. He's lost his memory of the last year of his life. So he has to figure out 1) why terrorists are trying to kill him, 2) why the police are trying to arrest him, 3) how he lost his memory, and 4) what happened in the year he can't remember. 

However: the one disclaimer I have to go with this series is that the writing quality/prose isn't all that great. It's the incredibly creative and intense plot that carries the storyline. So if you can't stand books with mediocre quality writing, then this probably isn't for you. :D 

(also it's definitely got some violence in it so probably 13+) 

Favorite Nonfiction:  

Well I only read one nonfiction book this month? #OOPS. But Go Teen Writers was a FANTASTIC resource that covers just about everything writing-related. It's easy to read and understand, very informative, and it tells you the truth without being discouraging. Definitely a great read! 

I've been working on both the second draft of The Raven Project and going through alpha comments for Library of Lies. So yeah. Much editing stuff. 

The Raven Project 

I round the corner, keeping myself plastered to the wall. There’s a door at the end of this wall, and it’s open. Yellow light spills out into the field ahead of me, blending with the pale light of the stars to create a hybrid, golden light. 

The voices of the men pour out of the door along with the light, mixing with the rustling breeze to give their tones a ghost-like effect. My mind wakes up again, enumerating a list of worst case scenarios, telling me I have to turn back. 

But I can’t go back now. I’m so, so close. 

Another step. I hear a sound behind me. It’s loud enough that the other sounds don’t cover it, and I whirl around. 

Something slams into the back of my head. My neck jerks and I fall towards the ground. For a moment, I am so, so alive. I can hear the crickets around me. I can see the stars above me. I can feel the grass against me.

Then, I connect with the ground. A pinprick of black hovers in front of my eyes, growing larger and larger until it pushes everything else out. Now, there are no stars or chirping crickets. There is no field. There is no warehouse. 

Everything is black. 

Second drafting is a lot different than first drafting. (who knew, right? xD) It's a lot harder, haha. After a month of work I've added about 6k to the second draft. 

But my plot is much better this time around. I'm actually doing that weird thing called plotting and... it seems to work? (*gasps*) Plus I'm adding in some other fun/cool stuff. 

ALSO: Dry erase calendars are lifesavers for when you have more than one writing project. Just so you know. (spoiler alert: I might do a post about juggling multiple projects sometime soon.) 

Library of Lies 

Alpha reading!! So not much to be said here except I'm making great progress and many of the comments make me laugh way too hard. xD

On another writing-related note, I know you're all wondering: Am I doing Camp NaNo? (and if you weren't wondering then you are now) 

And sadly, the answer is no. I'm not. At least not officially. I have a loose word goal and I have a project on my profile but I'm not actually joining a cabin. Because I'm 1) technically still on internet break and also 2) I'm not first drafting anything. And do I have time to start a new first draft while editing two other novels? LOL NOPE. 

I know you can do NaNo with editing, but that really wouldn't work for me. At all. Just trust me on this one. xD

BUT. JULY NANO REALLY ISN'T ALL THAT FAR AWAY. So I'll hopefully be participating then. *halfhearted cheer*  

Not really anything exciting except for that I finally went into my html and put up my contact page. So if you need to contact me- YOU CAN DO THAT NOW. XD Or if anyone wants to send me a random email, I'm cool with that also. 

YOU GUYS KNOW THE DRILL. Now you get to tell me all about what you've been up to! :D Best book of March? How's writing? Are you doing Camp? What's your goal? TELL ME ALL THE THINGS. 

~ Jonathan 


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