CSFF December Blog Tour


Becky asked me to let you that her computer is dead (or on life support, at least).

There will be a December blog tour, the 28th-30th. Digital Dragon Magazine will be featured. They can be found at http://www.digitaldragonmagazine.net/.

Becky won’t be able to compile a list of participants for this tour so please leave links to your posts in the comments section of the CSFF site. That way you can all find each other.

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Published in: on December 22, 2009 at 6:58 pm  Comments (3)  
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Two Sides to Everything


Arguments have two sides (possibly more), or they wouldn’t be arguments. The thing about two sides is, they can’t both be right.

We understand this in competition. Two football teams battle it out in the Super Bowl, and only one will be crowned champion at the end of the game. Two speed skaters compete in the Olympics, and they won’t both win the gold medal. (In that instance, with numerous competitors, neither one of them may end up winning).

Why, then, with the love of sports so high, seemingly worldwide, is it so hard to grasp the concept that competing philosophies can’t both be right?

I look at my life, for example, and marvel at God’s goodness and grace that brought me to a place of belief in Jesus and His work at the cross that reconciled me to my Creator. An atheist undoubtedly would look at my life and say that cultural influences have convinced me of a theist myth, and I’m merely showing my ignorance to hold to it despite the void of scientific proof for God’s existence.

Two sides—God is good and gracious; or culture is determinative, and I am ignorant.

The two are mutually exclusive. Did God choose my cultural influences as part of His plan for me, or did my culture superstitiously manufacture God to explain the unknown, and I am refusing to graduate to the modern (or post-modern) era?

I see the truth and the atheist is blind, or the atheist sees the truth and I am in the dark.

I see the light and the atheist is a fool (the fool has said in his heart, there is no God), or the atheist is insightful.

Who’s to say?

I submit there is only One who knows for sure. God, who transcends the universe, is the only one in position to reveal Himself to Mankind. So did He?

The Bible says so. He chose a people group to show the nations what He was like, sent prophets with messages about His purpose and plans, sent His Son to the earth in the form of a Man, gave His inspired written revelation, put His Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are reconciled to Him. Does any other religion present such an unrelenting God, willing to go to such extents to reveal Himself to Mankind?

Despite all God has done, however, people today still demand a sign. If God would only make it clearer, if He’d only show Himself.

I wonder why these people think they would believe a new sign if they haven’t believed the ones they already have. 🙄

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 1:19 pm  Comments (5)  
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Fantasy Friday – Who’s Your Favorite?


I don’t know what it is about December, but I’ve become programed to snuggle under a blanket and read my favorite fantasy. Or at least, one of my favorites.

So I got to thinking, I wonder who others consider their favorite?

I’ll list a few of the “big names” in a poll and you can vote for which of those you like best. But if your true, all time favorite isn’t included, feel free to leave a comment and tell us what fantasy author would get your nod.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 3:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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The People Who Couldn’t Smell – A Story


Once upon a time in a country far, far away, tucked into an isolated valley, there lived the Tsiehtas, a group of people with only four senses. They could see and hear and feel and taste, but they couldn’t smell.

One day a visitor from neighboring Htiaf arrived in the valley. He admired the quaint cottages and well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens. But when he stopped beside a rose bush and pressed his nose to a blossom, a smile came over his face.

“This is the most fragrant flower I’ve ever found,” he said. “You have a real treasure in your valley.”

The Tsiehtas looked at the visitor suspiciously. “No offense, sir,” said the lord high counselor, “but there is no such thing as ‘fragrant.’ Certainly we appreciate the beauty of the blossoms, and for that reason we treasure our roses.”

“No fragrance? Of course there’s a fragrance. A sweet, rich scent that lingers even after I move to another part of the garden.”

“Ha-ha! You have a rich imagination … unless you are trying to intentionally propagate deception.”

A crowd begin to gather.

The visitor raised his voice. “Please believe me. I’m not making this up. The scent is so strong it overpowers that of the newly cut grass.”

“You think grass has a scent, too?” the lord high counselor said.

The crowd laughed, but one small boy dropped to his knees and buried his face in the grass. “I do think I smell something,” came his muffled voice.

“Nonsense and fairy tales. We have no evidence that ‘scent’ exists,” said the lord high counselor. “Show me this fragrance you speak of.”

“How can I show you that which is invisible?”

“And how can we believe in something without any proof?”

“I’m your proof! And so is my young friend here.” The visitor patted the little boy’s shoulder. “The fact that we can smell these scents is evidence they exist.”

“Hardly. Another visitor might arrive tomorrow and tell us the sun smells disgusting. Should we believe him, too?”

“What about this boy, one of your own?”

“You said yourself, he’s a boy. He’ll grow out of his fantasy.”

Sadly the visitor from Htiaf turned away. “How can I convince the Tsiehtas the scent is real when they can’t smell? If only I could give then the sense they are lacking!”

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Surrender


I’m reading Not I, But Christ, a devotion book by Corrie ten Boom. Chapter six is entitled “Surrender.”

Interestingly, I remembered this chapter from looking ahead yesterday and read it just now because of something I put in a comment to Monday’s post, “The Religious Melting Pot.”

I quoted atheist Christopher Hitchens in his debate with William Lane at Biola University in which he refers to God’s rule as “celestial dictatorship.”

Corrie ten Boom, who lived under the Nazi dictatorship first in Holland, then in prison, and finally in a German concentration camp, understood surrender to a dictator. She contrasted the experience with surrender to God:

When I was a prisoner of Adolf Hitler and his followers, I had to surrender my will completely. During the time I was a prisoner, I could not decide anything myself. I just had to obey …

But we have to surrender to Someone else, to God, who is love. He is not a dictator; He is a loving Father. There is no limit to what He will do for us, no end to His blessings, if we surrender to Him. Surrender is trusting God.

Trust is the defining difference between surrendering to a dictator and surrendering to a Father. A dictator imposes his will for his own purposes. A Father requires surrender for the good of His child.

In the same way that a person drowning must surrender to the swimmer who wants to rescue him, we must trust that God isn’t grabbing hold of us in order to impose His control to our detriment.

A passenger in a jet plane trusts the pilot and his ability to take off, fly, and land. Rarely does an untrained traveler believe he could do a better job than those certified to control the aircraft.

A year-old baby trusts his mother and father to hold him, possibly even to toss him in the air and catch him. He often clamors to be picked up by a parent, even as he shies from less familiar adults. He trusts those he knows love him.

This is the child-like faith the Bible refers to (“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” – Mark 10:15). The teenager comes to a developmental state in which he asserts his independence in order to mature. But spiritually, maturity comes from remaining in that place of trust that keeps us wrapped in the sheltering arms of our Savior.

Essentially “surrender” is acknowledging that God knows what’s right, that His plans are sound, that His ways are safe. Ultimately I must give up any claim to the role of master or captain, even of my own soul, because God already holds that position.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm  Comments Off on Surrender  
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The First Christmas Quiz


We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praised to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

– – –

Answers:
1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

The Religious Melting Pot


Last week the news carried a story based on a Wall Street Journal article by Stephen Prothero entitled “A Hint of This, A Pinch of That.” It seems that a recent Pew study shows Americans “are swingers as well as switchers, flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation.”

In other words, a growing percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “religious” incorporate more than one belief into their lives or practices. According to the article, for instance, 23 percent of those who claim to be Christians also believe in astrology, 22 percent in reincarnation, and 21 percent in yoga as a spiritual practice.

How, how, how is this possible, I wonder. Surely these people can’t be sitting under Biblical teaching and come away thinking reincarnation is consistent with what they just learned.

But this is probably the critical point. They are NOT sitting under Biblical teaching. I know from scant exposure to religious TV programing that there are preachers out there claiming the name of Christ but declaring a false gospel.

Some dismiss parts of the Bible wholesale. Others I’ve heard yank verses out of context and string them together until they say what the preacher wants them to say.

Either way, the net result is a “Christianity” that is far from the teaching of the Bible. In fact, it reminds me of the error of the Israelites in the Old Testament, worshipping God but also keeping their household idols, first the ones they brought with them from Egypt, but eventually the ones deified by the nations around them (2 Kings 17:7-18).

Interesting, I thought, that Mr. Prothero started his article with this line:

So much for the jealous God.

Instead, it seems more and more people claiming the name of Christ are happy to claim the name of whatever other spirituality they think might be of help. A little Jesus, a little Eastern mysticism, a little humanism and … wa-la! Out comes contemporary religious experience that makes all roads lead to happiness as long as the seeker is sincere in his journey.

It sounds so consistent with a theology of peace. We need to love others by accepting them as they are and allowing then to hold their own beliefs without persecution, but also without challenge. After all, the most important thing next to freedom is tolerance.

Sadly, anyone declaring such is a false teacher. It is not loving to allow someone to march into eternity without Christ!

Promoting or Spamming


From time to time I bring up the topic of promotion in regards to authors getting the word out about their books. Because I’m in contact with a number of authors via email loops, writers’ groups, and Facebook, I see a lot of promotion. Some good and some … well, quite frankly, it feels like spam.

Last May I wrote a post about this topic called (cleverly 🙄 ) “Promotion, Promotion, Promotion.” As Christmas draws closer, I see even more frequent mentions of books by authors. Understandable.

But I also realize that my response to some has become automatic—delete without reading. I see some names and I know what’s coming. I don’t need to open the message.

Granted, I haven’t reported the sender as spam for various reasons, but I wonder if I shouldn’t unsubscribe or take some of these names off my list of friends. Already I’m picky about what books I want to become a fan of because I understand now that this is essentially signing up to receive promotional material. Do I really need more messages to delete?

But how else is an author to get the word out about his book?

I came across something similar when I was trying to let Christian speculative readers know about the Clive Staples Award. I sent group emails to people I thought would have a vested interest in the award, either now or in the future, but I wonder how many were deleted unread.

Whenever I think this through, I eventually come to a position I think is right—meaning, it is consistent with Scripture. Granted, the Bible doesn’t address marketing or promotion, but it does tell me to be kind; to love my neighbor as myself; to take the lower position at the banquet table, not the favored one. Jesus gave us an example of humility by coming in the form of a servant. John the Baptist pointed to Christ and said, He must increase and I must decrease.

So it seems to me those same principles can guide an author in decisions about promoting his work. If the notification is informative, helpful, more concerned about others than about sales, and pointing ultimately to Christ, then I think promotion won’t feel like spam. How could it? The recipient should feel placed in a position of importance rather than in the role of consumer.

Ah, but this seems so much easier to theorize about than to actually do! 😕

(By the way, is it spam that I linked to my own article in this post? YIKES! 😮 )

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sound Bites and Slogans


Authors are encouraged to “brand” themselves. (No, not get a tattoo! 🙄 ) Some develop taglines to identify their writing. One of the most successful, in my opinion, is Brandilyn Collins with her “Don’t forget to breathe” Seatbelt Suspense.

Then there are quotable lines. I read one this morning that I think is quotable (maybe you’ll disagree):

Christianity isn’t about being good enough, it is about being forgiven completely.

I don’t know about other writers, but I think having quotable lines, especially in fiction, would be fantastic—something like C. S. Lewis’s Aslan-isn’t-tame-but-he’s-good line. It cements a truth in our minds but also makes a story memorable.

All this seems to fit our contemporary culture. Possibly with the popularization of political slogans such as “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” in the 1840 Presidential election, we have become a society formed by sound bites.

TV commercials have raised sloganeering to a fine art! “It’s the real thing,” “Just do it,” “Where’s the beef?” probably evoke a product name in the minds of many long after the commercials have ceased to air.

Which, of course, is the point. We want people to remember. But here’s the question. Should thoughts about God be reduced to sound bites and slogans?

They are memorable, and people are apt to quote them. If they contain truth, then that seems like a good thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two related to Christmas: Jesus is the reason for the season and Wisemen still seek Him (I even used the latter for a title of one of my Christmas bulletin boards when I was teaching).

But here’s the trap with sound bites in declaring something about God—inevitably they say far less than what is true, but people latch onto them as if the nugget said it all.

For example, Jesus is the Answer is another one of these Christian slogans. Well, yes, Jesus is the answer. But does that mean people shouldn’t work to discover how He is the answer to their particular question? Hardly, but some folks seem to think no other questions are necessary since we have the Answer.

I think the slogan might actually rob us of discovering more about Jesus—His character and plan and work that make Him the answer for me as much as for a first century Jew, an eighteenth century English slave trader, a twentieth century Auca Indian or middle-aged Dutch watchmaker.

In short, it seems to me God is too big for sound bites and slogans. Perhaps rather than campaigning for Christ, or advertising Him as if He’s a buy-now option we’re selling, we should look into some ideas Scripture brings up. Things like mediating on His word day and night.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (4)  
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Do People Everywhere Complain?


I’m convinced the US has become a nation of complainers. Just watch the news and you’ll see what I mean. Here in SoCal we have dire stories about impending drought leading to probable water rationing and horrific fire danger … until it rains. Then we have dire stories about mud slides and traffic accidents and horrific fire danger (because of all the new vegetation the rain generates, which of course will be dry when “fire season” comes along in a few months).

I don’t know about anyone else, but this complaining wears on me. When you couple it with the discontent fostered by advertising, it would be easy to think the US is worse off than any nation or people of any time.

We have budget problems and health care problems and now Tiger has gone over to the dark side. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Oprah is leaving (in two years)!

And I don’t have the latest iPod or newest Lexus or Wii or Kindle or … After all, I DESERVE those things. The advertisers told me so, and nobody in the media would fabricate such a thing. I mean, we have government rules against such things, so I know it’s true. I should have more and more and more because I deserve more and more and more. Woe, oh woe is me!

Wouldn’t it be a novel experience for us to practice contentment? We Christians certainly can do so. We understand what we actually deserve, yet we’ve experienced God’s mercy and grace. All contentment takes, it seems to me, is to focus on what we have rather than on what we have not.

We can go one step further and praise God for those things and most of all for Himself because clearly, we who are in Christ are rich beyond compare.

My new understanding is that I have exactly what God wants me to have as long as I am walking in obedience to Him.

So there was Job, walking in obedience, and what he had was three miserable friends accusing him falsely of sinful behavior and a body ravaged by disease. Oh, yes. He also had God. And in the end, Job realized when he looked at God … really saw Him as He is … that was enough. Confession replaced his complaints.

Recently I reread The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill and followed it with The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom by Pamela Rosewell Moore. Let me just say, When I grow up, I want to be like Corrie! 😉

There’s a woman who knew a thing or two about being content. I’d say her willingness to walk through the fire without murmuring or complaining was a result of her abiding trust in her Heavenly Father. What a great example she provided.

So I guess I’ll have to start the ball rolling in my own life by stopping my complaining about complaining! 🙄 But I still have to ask, do people everywhere complain?

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