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!

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.

#Purgatory : Second Chance at Heaven?

Some of my Protestant/Evangelical have the odd idea that the Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a second chance at Heaven for people who failed to be ‘good enough’ for Heaven the first time around. Others, including nominal Christians (Christians-in-name-only) and secularists, adopt the idea of Purgatory as a path to Universalism, the idea that God is going to ‘save’ all people and eventually get them all to Heaven whether they want to go or not.

Universalism is a false belief within Christianity as we can see from the Great Commission in the Bible (Matthew 28:19.20):

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (KJV translation)

Now, why would Jesus give an urgent Great Commission if teaching and baptizing people made no difference, they would all go to Heaven in the end anyway?

This is what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Purgatory— it is for the Heaven-bound only! If you are ‘saved’, in friendship with God, regenerate, a real Christian when you die, you are eligible for Purgatory to get purified for Heaven. Jesus paid the ETERNAL price for our sins, so we don’t go to hell, but our souls may not be clean and pure enough for Heaven at the moment of our deaths.

This is why in the Catholic Church we call the people in Purgatory the ‘Holy Souls.’  They are Christian people who died with a little extra sin in their lives, who need to be prepared a bit before they are ready for the full glories of Heaven. It is not a second chance for damned souls.

C. S. Lewis, the beloved Christian author who was an Anglican, believed in something like Purgatory— we would be cleaned up and purified for Heaven. Most Protestants/Evangelicals do not. But all Christians believe in the Great Commission, or should— that we need to spread the Good News to everybody.

I feel it is a good idea for writers, particularly Christian writers, to have an accurate idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches if you are ever going to write Catholic characters that are believable to a Catholic audience. Don’t go to ex-Catholics who are now Evangelicals or extreme religious Liberals to find out what the Catholic Church teaches. Many of these people never did have a good religious education while they were Catholics.  There are good books that you can read that will help you understand Catholic beliefs and why Catholics think they are part of the Apostolic Tradition (the things Jesus taught the Apostles, that they passed on and often wrote down in the books that became the New Testament.)

If you are Catholic, you may be interested to know that the book cover that illustrates this post is of Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls by Susan Tassone, which is a nice devotional for those who are praying for the Holy Souls this November.

No #Christmas before #Advent

In the past couple of years, at the Family Dollar store in town, the week before Halloween they take the Halloween stuff down and replace it with Christmas stuff. I’ve already had alleged Christmas music— Jesus-free— imposed on me at a store when I went with my mom to pick up her prescriptions.

I’ve grown up with the fact that retailers are addicted to the Christmas season to make their profit for the year. My father, a Kresge and Kmart store manager, wasn’t around much during December until Christmas morning— he came home late on Christmas eve. At least he was retired by the time Kmart experimented with being open on Christmas day. (Remember, when you choose to shop on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, you are taking away those holidays from the families of employees and management.)

Constant Christmas causes stress, even though sentimental people may love months of Christmas music and Christmas movies on TV. It reminds people that they have to buy gifts and plan parties and events, send out Christmas cards, and so on. And what do retailers now want people to do with all that stress? Buy themselves new TVs, computers, and cars. People can always max out their credit cards and spend the rest of the year paying them off— and paying loads of interest which makes any Christmas ‘deals’ that actually were good deals to no effect.

And in all this retailer-induced madness, what happens if someone mentions the name of Jesus Christ? You’re a party pooper. Or, worse, you are a hater who is bigoted against Jewish people, Muslims and atheists. Which in the minds of the politically correct means you want those people to die and are probably willing to bring that about yourself. Yes, that means when you put up a sign on your lawn that asks ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ liberals are reading that as ‘I want to be like Hitler’ and they will whine to their friends about all the ‘haters’ in their town.

The church does not teach us to celebrate a Christmas buying fest with months of self-indulgence. The church teaches us to celebrate Christmas eve and Christmas day by going to church and worshiping. Before Christmas, we have the four Sundays of Advent to celebrate. It begins on Dec. 3rd this year.

Advent is not a good church season in which to buy yourself a new smartphone or car, or eat your favorite Christmas candy or cookies every day.  Originally Advent was considered a lot like Lent. You made sacrifices as a sign you were sorry about your sins. In the Eastern Church I believe Advent was called ‘Little Lent’.  What are YOU giving up for Advent?

Keeping Advent and Christmas in our culture is hard. Your workplace may demand that you participate in ‘Winter Holiday’ parties— Jesus-free Christmas celebrations. If you are a parent who is still letting your kids be raised by wolves— go to public school— they may be assigned to write Jesus-free Santa Claus letters. In our area the schools traditionally send these to the local paper to be printed in a special pre-Christmas edition so all the grandparents in the area can chuckle over all the kids ‘cute’ and usually greedy letters.

Of course the schools will never mention the truth about Santa Claus— that he is a mere nickname for an actual human person, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop (senior pastor) whose feast day is December 6th. That is the traditional day for gifts from Saint Nicholas, usually, in the old days, mostly candy and an orange, which at that time were not everyday fare for kids but a special treat. My mother, born in 1927 to German immigrant parents, remembers celebrating St. Nicholas day, even though they were Protestants. It was a general celebration in Germany.

If you want to celebrate Advent and Christmas in a Christian way, you have to kind of step back from our culture. Stop watching so much secular TV when the rush of Christmas ads begin, even though that is earlier each year. I have a hard time giving up TV because I live alone and putting the TV on makes me feel less lonely. So I start changing the channel to EWTN, a commercial-free Catholic channel, most of the day. I used to sometimes watch the Shepherd’s Chapel channel, which is a commercial-free Protestant Bible study channel, but I don’t agree with all of the theology, especially not now that I’m Catholic, so I don’t watch as much.

If you have kids that are TV or internet addicts it may be next to impossible to get to detach from that bad influence without a major battle. But our culture has gotten so far off the track that people are complaining when someone asks for prayers in the wake of a natural, criminal or terrorist disaster. Because ‘prayers don’t help.’ That’s how the TV and internet are raising your kids. And that’s a year-long problem not just an internet one. But an Advent celebration might be a way to wean your kids away from these bad influences, and, most importantly, towards good ones. Like having days during Advent when the only television watched is EWTN and/or Shepherd’s Chapel.

HINT: in the Catholic celebration of Lent the sacrifices you are making usually have Sundays off, since Sunday is always a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. So if you are avoiding buying and eating Christmas candy or cookies in pre-Advent and early Advent, you can allow yourself a little on the Sundays of Advent to make things more festive.

Infinite patience & sweetness with our readers

What relationship should a writer have with his readers? I remember once looking at author Stephen King’s web site. He was at the time expressing a lot of contempt for those people who had ‘hatefully’ voted for the Republican man who was at that time President of the US.  He didn’t seem to be aware that many of his readers did not agree with his politics, and so he was insulting people he should have been wanting to sell books to.

The other day I was reading a leaflet I got from the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization I joined in my parish. It gives as a basic principle for people doing church work ‘Infinite patience and sweetness must be lavished on a priceless soul.’ I think that’s a good principle for writers, too. Each person that might (or might not) buy our books is an individual precious soul that God loves.  Each soul is far more precious than all of the books we might write in a lifetime. We shouldn’t see them as just fodder for our book salesmanship efforts.

What do those precious souls want? More important, what do they need? If we are Christians we would probably say they need Jesus in their lives. Is our writing a help to that goal or a hindrance? Is our work more than just cheesy fiction to pass a few hours, or is there something of spiritual value hidden in there?

An individual reader may not choose to buy YOUR book. But the way you interact with that precious soul may have an influence on his life, including his eternity. It is a sacred trust. And so therefore a Christian writer probably shouldn’t be putting people down for liking Star Wars more than Star Trek, or being a geek or not being a geek. They are precious souls and even if they are being annoying as heck right now— perhaps condemning your whole body of work because one of your novels contains the word ‘heck’— you in your interactions with that person can have a great effect.

My mother tends to have annoying friends, who call her at all hours even when she tells them not to call at certain times. They talk for a long time without giving my mother a chance to say anything. But they are emotionally damaged people who need someone who will just listen. They don’t have the social skills to be people other people WANT to talk to on the phone. So they need someone like my mom, who takes their calls anyway. It’s a gift of charity that she has.

The rest of us may not have these special spiritual gifts, but we may be called to be listeners anyway. I suppose if we could master a hard-sell approach to book marketing, we could turn these annoying or critical people into sales of our books. But that would be not treating them as individual people with precious souls. Unfortunately, our book sales have to come in second to the needs of real people.