Cyndi Carter: Faith is a Gift (guest post)

Today’s post is a guest post by Cyndi Carter, author of the fantasy novel ‘The Road Home‘, which I am currently reading.

Everybody loves getting gifts. Shiny, neat packages, wrapped with ribbon and topped with a bow. Sometimes people get stealthy, take a gift marked for them, and start shaking it to see if they can guess what’s inside. And it’s not just children – adults do it too. There’s surprise, excitement, and pleasure, both for the recipient of the gift as well as the giver of the gift.

When I was a child, I spent most of December waiting on pins and needles for Christmas to arrive. What was in the burgeoning numbers of boxes piled embarrassingly high under our Christmas tree? On Christmas Eve, my brother and I tore into our pile of gifts at breakneck speed. And on Christmas morning, there were still gifts from Santa to open.

Have you ever seen someone who didn’t like getting gifts? I have. I watched a kindergarten class exchanging small gifts just before Christmas. The gifts were piled in the middle of the circle of children sitting on the floor, and they were to take a present from the pile when the teacher called their name. But there was one child who, when his name was called, just sat there, staring straight ahead. Even though the teacher encouraged him to go get a present, he remained immobile, staring fixedly in front of him, the entire time.

In Ephesians 2:8, Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith. He goes on to say that we don’t even have the ability to have faith – it’s a gift from God. It’s not having faith in faith, but faith in Jesus. In Romans 3:22, he says that our righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ. From start to finish, it’s a gift from Him. And after we place our faith in Jesus for salvation, and acknowledge Him as Lord and Master of our lives, we live each day by that grace and faith. We can’t do anything under our own power. Things we do part from faith in Him leave a taste as satisfying as cardboard.

I believe God offers the gift of grace and faith to each and every person. However, not everyone opens that gift, or receives it. Just like that kindergartener, we can refuse to open the gift. Sometimes it’s because we don’t even want it or believe it exists. Maybe we don’t believe the gift is ours (“You must have gotten me mixed up with someone else who deserves this gift”). The result is the same. The gift is actually ours, but we leave it sitting there, all wrapped up its paper and bows, unopened.

My friend, open that gift of grace and faith. Tear into it the way my brother and I did at Christmas. Shred the bows, rip the paper off. Because the gift is yours, if you’ll only open the box.


Hi! It’s Nissa, back again. Thanks to Cyndi for her guest post, and also thanks to the new people who signed up for my newsletter, which is coming out tomorrow. It includes a kitten picture, a book recommendation, and a little blogging secret I’ve learned. If you want to sign up, either use the dreadfully annoying pop-up or go to: http://eepurl.com/FN2hr before tomorrow morning.

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Jon del Arroz: Faith in Writing

The following is a guest post from Jon del Arroz, the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction.

For a long time, I was hesitant to mention my faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of my science fiction writing. Within the halls of sci-fi conventions and within the major author community, there’s a scorn that’s held for “those backward anti-science” types, which is how they think of us. For years, I would be silent while I’d attend panels at conventions where they praised paganism, actually ran panels like “combating Creationism,” and created a hostile environment for Christians. It intimidated me, and actually succeeded in keeping me from talking about my faith as an author.

I feared that people would see my faith, and it would turn them off from reading my books, which I simply wanted to be fun science fiction for everyone—and I still strive for that within my books. But last year I made a determination not to hide who I was for the sake of the few who would get outraged. They did. They are some of the loudest people in science fiction and on the internet, but at the end of the day, their influence is small, and that’s what I found encouraging.

As I feared, my outspokenness has caused me to lose several of the contacts who I was afraid would. My sense on that was correct, but my perspective on it had changed. If these people who spent time with me broke bread with me, and shared my hobbies with me were going to hate me for being me—it’s a fault with them, not with me.

That mindset was freeing. It allowed me to speak what’s on my mind without fear, which is what’s important. Fear only holds us back, it doesn’t do anything for us. Living with fear makes it harder to produce good work and good art, and it’s not what God intended for us. How do I know this? Because fear is the opposite of love, and the scriptures clearly say that God is love. If you operate without fear, you free yourself from shackles, and that’s exactly what God’s grace is intended to do.

We’re also intended to praise Him. When you start to be more open about your relationship with the Lord, it starts to feel better inside, and it also helps you to more consistently think about Him, pray more, and live your life more as He intended. It really is a snowball effect where everything piles in a good way, and it starts with making a commitment to yourself to not be afraid, to trust God and not worry about your speaking being offensive to the non-believer.

It can be tough out there in the entertainment field, but I say this a lot and it also holds true—the more of us there are who are vocal, the less “odd” and “stand out” it tends to be. This is a good thing, because it also creates less fear of the other from the people who are vocally opposing Christianity when they see so many of us. As it stands now, very few are willing to take the slings and arrows, and for good reason, as they can be many, but the more we’re present, the safer it becomes for us to be able to speak our minds, and most importantly, create art that is true to ourselves. When you get to that point where you’ve got no critic who matters to you but God, your creativity can flow better than ever before, because you are made in the Creator’s image.

Jon Del Arroz is the leading Hispanic voice in Science Fiction, a multi-award nominated science fiction author. His new book, The Stars Entwined, is out now.


Thanks to Jon del Arroz for his post! I’ve enjoyed his books and follow him on Twitter. Go thou and do likewise!

Gun Defenselessness Laws: Feeling more safe, being less safe

The other day a bunch of indoctrinated school children marched out of class, probably with adult encouragement, to demand more Gun Defenselessness laws. They claim only more Gun Defenselessness laws will keep them safe.

Since people willing to break the law in a mass shooting are also willing to steal guns or buy them illegally if they have to, the Gun Defenselessness laws only affect the kind of people who would defend people from a mass shooter. One early school shooting was stopped by a teacher who went out to his locked car to retrieve his hunting gun. That action would now be illegal because of gun-free school laws.

Some people think that schools can be safe if armed police officers are forced to run into shooting scenes without knowing if they are running in to the line of fire. There is not enough money in the world to force police officers to do that. Nor will they be willing to search all American homes to search for guns— the only way Gun Defenselessness laws will affect the gun supply. You can’t pay people enough to sacrifice their lives uselessly.

Several mass shootings have taken place in buildings that proclaim themselves gun-free zones. Of course. Shooters don’t care to be shot back at.

Another proposal is to demonize people who have ever sought therapy of any sort, since they might be ‘mentally ill.’ Most mentally ill people are not dangerous, and a military veteran who went to marriage counselling should not lose his right to hunt and to protect himself with guns.

Statistics show there is actually more ‘gun crime’ in locations with a lot of gun defenselessness laws. Places where a lot of law-abiding people own guns have less ‘gun crime’ and violent crime. Because criminals are afraid of getting shot.

Gun Defenselessness laws make people less safe, even though they may feel safer because they have been indoctrinated. Let us hope that the indoctrinated children will somehow learn how to think logically and check their facts before they get to voting age.

What true crime stories can teach us about fictional characters

I like to read true crime books, if they are well-written or if the case is interesting to me. And one thing I’ve learned about true crime stories— it’s all about the characters. There are some true crime books published every year because the murder cases garnered a few headlines and people want to read more. But the books soon drop out of sight, because most people don’t find the cases all that interesting.

Other cases— like those of Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, and O.J. Simpson— remain of interest, no matter how much time goes by. Why is this? The difference is about the characters.

Some murders are almost routine. Armed robber kills victim. Pimp kills prostitute. Violent husband kills wife. Wife poisons husband— or a series of them— for the insurance money. These cases make headlines at the time, but most of them are quickly forgotten once the trial is over.

But the interesting cases are those with something special. A murderer that is notable and interesting— like O. J. Simpson, once the nation’s hero during his football career. Or perhaps an accused murderer that many believe is innocent, like Lizzie Borden. Or a sympathetic victim, like little Grace Budd who was lured away by Albert Fish and cruelly murdered.

Murderers aren’t normally the kind of people we want to spend time with, but the good true crime author presents the case as if it were a fictional tale with heroes and villains, and an ending that often brings a degree of closure.

Fictional stories are like that. It’s all about the characters. If the characters are dull and prosaic and walking stereotypes, the book is dull and you may not be able to finish it.

I knew an author that had a longish book out on Kindle. I read a lot of the beginning but I couldn’t find characters I much cared about or plotlines where I just had to know the outcome— perhaps because they involved characters that hadn’t caught my interest. But then the author wrote a novella about one of his more minor characters. He did a great job on the novella and on the Lead character. It still didn’t give me the inspiration to finish the longer book, though I did try. But my experience makes the point— the characters are the thing.

Many writers, like those with Asperger Syndrome or autism, lack the social skills and insight to learn enough about the real people around them to create book characters based on these real people’s traits. But reading books, both fiction books and nonfiction like true crime, allow you to benefit from some other person’s social insights. Of course, a true crime writer might be inaccurate about the details of some of the characters. Some writers repeat local gossip about a murderer to blacken that murderer’s name. I read a book about a woman who killed all of her own children, perhaps because of the mental disorder Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. The local gossips accused the woman of being part of a rumored witchcraft coven in the area. But the evidence seems to point to the idea that this woman was quite conventional and attended Christian churches.

Now, fictional characters are not exactly like real people. Each fictional character has a function in the overall plot of the story. Real life isn’t that neat. But learning more about real people, even through a habit of true crime fandom, can help you create more compelling fictional people.

The facts about ‘Satanic ritual killings’ #spiritualwarfare

Recently I bought and read a book called ‘Law & Disorder: Inside the Dark Heart of Murder’ by John Douglas, a pioneering FBI profiler. In one of the cases he covered in the book, he touched on the one-time hysteria over the concept of Satanism and Satanic murders.

At the height of the craze, Satanic ‘experts’, often Evangelical pastors or laymen, claimed that there were fifty thousand child abductions a year, mostly, it was implied, due to Satanists and their blood lust. Douglas said the statistic was about right, but the majority of those cases were kidnappings by a non-custodial parent.

Satanic ‘experts’ kept the fear up by making lists of Satanic symbols, many of which had other purposes, confusing Satanism with Wicca and Neopaganism, and declaring that young persons who were fans of Heavy Metal music, or who played games such as Dungeons & Dragons, were probably doing so because such things were ‘Satanic.’

The reality, as John Douglas’s FBI statistics show, is there was NOT ONE case in which one or more persons in a Satanic group or coven conspired to commit a murder. There were individual killers, such as the Night Stalker, who claimed to be inspired by Satan or who had Satanic-seeming tattoos, or who said that the Devil caused them to commit the crime in question. But these loners were nothing like what the Satanic hysteria claimed was happening.

The problem is that many Christians, particularly Evangelical ones, read books or heard sermons that made them believe in the Satanic ritual killings theory. Some took ‘facts’ from this and put them into spiritual warfare stories. Others to this day believe it because a sweet old pastor told them it was true back in the day, and their sweet old pastor, now gone to his reward, would not have lied to them.

But sweet old pastors and devout Christian mentors can be mistaken. If the pastor heard false information from a Christian source they felt was trustworthy, they may have passed it on thinking it was fact. In the same way, a sweet old lady teacher I had in a Christian school once told me that God refuses to listen to the prayers of Catholics because Catholicism was so ‘unchristian.’ While I am convinced that this lady would not have lied to me, I now believe her belief was wrong, that God would not have allowed Christianity to vanish from the Earth from the Early Church days until the ‘Reformation’, and that God listens to all prayers, even those from persons who have very little knowledge of religious truth.

Now, I know Spiritual Warfare novels are popular among some Christians. But the facts are important. While I was a Neopagan and rejecting Christianity, I read a book by Frank Peretti which seemed to me to be demonizing Neopagans and was very ill-informed. This book pushed me even further away from Christianity by these errors. Not, I expect, the effect the writer was going for.

Why German (Protestant) Bibles are bigger than English ones #Bible

Recently I finished reading the book ‘Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger’ by Gary G. Michuta. It tells the story of some Old Testament books not found in many ordinary Protestant Bibles. These books are called the Deuterocanonical books. Protestants today call them Apocrypha, which confuses these books with a whole set of ancient books such as the Gospel of Thomas.

An interesting point is that the Protestant reformers did not remove these books at the time of the Reformation. Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Schism and translated the Scriptures into his native German, translated the whole Bible, including the Deuterocanonical books, which he questioned. He also disliked the New Testament books of James, Hebrews, and Revelation. But he translated them anyway, and when I bought a Martin Luther translation of the Bible in Germany, it had ‘die Apokryphen’ tucked away in a special section between the older Old Testament books and the New Testament.

In England, the famous King James Version translation of the Bible included the Deuterocanonical books. But the KJV Bibles I grew up with lacked these books. Why, if the KJV translators took the trouble to translate them?

It started in 1804, when the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed. They did not have a high opinion of the Deuterocanonical books. Plus, it was cheaper to print Bibles without them. They decided to cut funding to foreign Bible societies that were printing complete Bibles with the Deuterocanonical books left in. There was a controversy for some time over this, since the foreign Bible societies being helped often did not want to provide people with partial Bibles. But in time British opinion hardened against the Deuterocanonical books and no Bibles would be printed in any language that contained the Deuterocanonical books. There were some that feared these books taught ‘popish’ doctrine and might make people Catholics.

Interestingly, this tradition of the English Bible society affected the Esperanto translation of the Bible. The English and Foreign Bible Society did the translation of the New Testament, L. L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto and a Jewish man, translated the accepted books of the Jewish Bible— which does not contain the Deuterocanonical books. Since the English and Foreign Bible Society did the printing, Esperanto Bibles containing the Deuterocanon were not available until recently.

Although I am now a Catholic, even when I was Protestant I didn’t believe that the British Bible Society was an authority chosen by God to make the final decision as to which books are in the Bible. I felt that since the early church, including the Apostles, seemed to favor the Septuagint, a Greek language Old Testament translation which included the Deuterocanon, that was a good argument for those books being included in the Bible. Why, if they were bad books, wouldn’t Jesus have had something negative to say about them rather than making reference to them?

If you have any curiosity about how it got determined which books are in the Bible, Michuta’s book is a good place to get started. His ‘Selected Bibliography’ includes works by Protestants as well as Catholics.

I personally prefer the KJV Bible when I read the Bible in English. For some years I used my old KJV Bibles along with a copy of just the KJV ‘apocrypha’ in paperback form. I now have a leather-bound complete KJV Bible for my personal Bible reading.

Should Sunday Schools teach moral law or not?

Jesus. He’s a Friend of mine.

 

I always understood that one of the things we were supposed to be taught in Sunday School was the Moral Law: things like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. How to do the right things God wants us to do, instead of behaving the way that the Devil likes.

But I’ve read that some people worry that doing that will teach the kids Works Righteousness— the idea you can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds and avoiding evil ones, no Jesus or cross required.

Works Righteousness does not work. Not even if you are Catholic. Not even if you are the Blessed Virgin Mary. I mean, we Catholics pray ‘Hail Mary full of grace’ and not ‘Hail Mary who is full of good works and doesn’t need grace.’

But children need to be taught, and God leaves it up to us. He doesn’t send down angels to teach kids that stealing is wrong even if they really, really want something that belongs to someone else.

Many of us Christians have been raised in the faith and taught well about the Moral Law from such an early age we don’t even remember all of our instruction. We don’t really know how far astray a young human can go if not taught.

I remember reading on the news years ago of some young woman who was auctioning off her virginity online to help pay for her college tuition. She didn’t seem to have any sense that she was doing anything wrong, rather she thought she should be praised for being responsible and seeking out a higher education. My thought was not to blame her, but the people who raised her who should have taught her the Moral Law to a much greater degree than they did.

When I was a young kid in the Presbyterian Church, we had catechism classes where we were to memorize the statements of a catechism, where we learned about the Ten Commandments among other things. My mother had to memorize these things in her church as well.

People discount this as rote memory and therefore not worth doing, but it is something to hang on to. And there is no rule that learning something by rote memory excludes the possibility of the teacher instructing the pupils to understand what they are memorizing and learn to apply it.

These days the Sunday School instruction tends to be far weaker— in my mom’s church instead of having a Sunday School hour for all ages, the children are trotted out after that pastor gives them a children’s sermon. I wonder how much time they have to teach everything to the few children that come to that church.

I think that these days parents have to take responsibility for the religious education of their kids. You can buy an old-time catechism book related to your faith. Or just teach the kids to memorize appropriate Bible verses. Teaching Biblical moral rules doesn’t teach your kids they can be righteous enough on their own. Just trying to keep moral rules teaches us the opposite— that no matter how much we want to do what is right in God’s eyes, we just can’t do it on our own. We need the forgiveness that Jesus Christ bought for us at the cross.