Advent


Advent_candle_1I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

Some years ago on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

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Promoting And Platforms


empty_stageI’ve been thinking about loving your neighbor, mostly because I was reading Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, but in the writing world, I’ve come across more and more talk about getting noticed. Somehow a book needs to stand out in the crowd. And believe me, with the ease of self-publishing, the crowd is growing.

These two concepts seem antithetical. I mean, with people in so much need around the world, I’m supposed to concern myself with … ME?

Not to mention that a couple situations of what I’ll call overly zealous advertisement–which is the euphemistic way of saying “spam”–I suggested in a Facebook update that unfriending/unfollowing the perpetrator might be the only answer. I was gratified to see that a good number of others agreed–not so much about severing ties as the solution, but about spamming others in the name of promotion being a problem.

Yet I understand where these aggressive promoters are coming from. They read articles that say they need a platform, the publishers are no longer looking at number of blog followers or even Facebook friends, but at Klout scores. They read other articles that say having a platform isn’t enough on its own. You have to hold contests and bring people together into teams, do book give-aways and participate in blog tours. Promotion. It’s part of the book business, whether a person is self- or traditionally-published.

But in the back of my mind, I hear a quiet voice whispering, But I want you to love your neighbor.

There really are only so many hours in the day to do all we need to do. How’s someone with a day job, a writing career, a family, and church responsibilities supposed to add in promotion . . . and loving that needy neighbor?

I don’t have an answer on the promotion part yet. I figured I didn’t need to face that one until I actually have a book that needs to be promoted. But the loving my neighbor seems to be the larger, more pressing, and urgent task.

And yet, it also seems as if I may be overlooking the obvious. It came to me today as I listened to a tribute on the radio program Family Life Today for Dr. Howard Hendricks, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, who passed away this week.

He taught for sixty years and continued to mentor seminary students even after his retirement. But what difference was he making in the lives of widows and orphans and strangers? How was he reaching the unreached with the good news of God’s good and free gift of His Son? In short, how was he delivering the cup of cold water or feeding the hungry or visiting the sick or imprisoned–the things Jesus said would be like doing those needful things for Him?

I have to believe that all the students–thousands and thousands, many of them in positions of leadership–who Dr. Hendricks taught may have learned from him the importance of loving their neighbor. His role, then was to love them by giving them not just a cup of cold water, but the whole well–or more accurately, the means by with they could go out and dig the well themselves.

And what about the rest of us who aren’t seminary professors? What about writers who are jammed up with edits and dirty dishes and stacks of laundry and grocery shopping and taxes and birthday parties? And promotion?

I think we’re simply to love the person in front of us. Whoever that might be. Whatever he might need.

Loving our neighbor isn’t going to look the same to each person. We’re not all going to travel half-way around the world to find a needy someone to love.

And the needy God puts in our path may not need medical care or bus fare or escape from an abuser. They might. But they might need someone to listen. Someone to cry with. Or even someone to sit beside. They might simply need us to stop talking about our book long enough for them to be noticed.

The Christian And Politics


For me, stepping into that voting booth the first time was a sort of rite of passage. I was, at last, really and truly, grown up. At least enough to vote.

And back in that day, we were taught in school that voting was not a privilege. It was a responsibility—a civic responsibility no less important than following the laws of the land. Voting was nothing short of doing the bare minimum for the community in which I lived.

Still, that first time punching a hole into the computer ballot didn’t feel weighty due to a sense of duty. It made me feel empowered. After all, I was transitioning into the world of adulthood. I now had a say in Things.

Unfortunately, that attitude didn’t last long. First came the results reporting—radio and TV routinely projecting winners before the polls closed on the West Coast. Often I would be driving home from work, planning to vote on the way, only to hear who would be the winners. So why should I bother?

Eventually such premature reporting was banned, but by this time, I’d seen a trend. In the gerrymandered district I lived in, nearly all of the local and state offices went to the candidate I opposed. My vote was not changing anything. My vote wasn’t really counting for anything.

And still I voted. Because I learned it is my civic duty.

The more I have come to understand my role as a Christian, the more I am willing, even eager, to do my duty.

The concept of doing ones’ duty is quite unpopular these days. In its place we have admonitions to be true to ourselves. Presumably that means, if I don’t feel like voting, then by all means, I shouldn’t vote. To do so when I had no desire to, would be hypocritical. 🙄

Interestingly, Christians seem to be at a divide when it comes to the issue of politics. What should be our role?

Some have jumped on the Focus on the Family bandwagon to transform the “Moral Majority” from silent to vocal. Others have rallied around preachers like Alistair Begg who says our efforts should be toward making disciples and our focus on things eternal. After all, this world is not our home; we are renting space, not buying.

Today the Campus Crusade sponsored program, Family Life Today discussed this issue. Author and guest Wayne Grudem discussed his book, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture.

What I liked most about the discussion was the admonition to take our place in the public arena when it comes to discussing issues of morality and ethics. Why should Christians be silent? Why should we withdraw?

Mr. Grudem made an excellent point about the various people in the Bible—from Esther and her uncle to Daniel and Nehemiah—who had influence and responsibility in foreign governments. Not just in the theocracy or even the monarchy of Israel. These various individuals held sway over kings and governors (think Paul). They held high office. And God used them in significant ways.

What I liked least was Mr. Grudem hedging by saying he thinks the Bible is saying this or that about our role. In other words, he admits some of his positions are formed by his own interpretation of the Bible.

I realize it is harder and harder to reach a consensus when it comes to declaring what the Bible says. But some things are clear. For instance, God says in Proverbs that He hates lies. The gospel writers record Jesus as saying that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. It would be contradictory, then for a Christian to formulate a principle that says lying is expected behavior. In other words, the Bible is clear on this point.

I would like to have seen Mr. Grudem restrict his positions to those things we can say unequivocally are clear in the Bible. Nevertheless, he gave me lots to think about when it comes to the idea of voicing our opinions in the public arena.

What is your view of the Christian’s role in politics?

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Comments (11)  
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Coach John Wooden, 1910-2010


Interesting that I wrote on Friday about God’s role as Father, featuring His discipline. Coach John Wooden played the role of father to many a young UCLA basketball player from 1948 to 1975. Of those who spoke publicly after Coach Wooden passed away Friday evening, a number mentioned that he was a disciplinarian.

Yes, he was an outstanding basketball tactician and had high standards for his players. First and foremost, though, he let them know they did not run the team.

One oft repeated story is about Bill Walton, one of the best big men to play the game. He came into UCLA in the rebellious 70s with his wild hair and surly attitude. Coach Wooden’s policy for his players was no facial hair. Walton reportedly grew a beard during a break, and when Coach reminded him of the team standard, Bill responded that he felt he had the right to grow a beard if he wanted. Coach Wooden responded that, yes, this was true. He did have that right and Coach admired him for his convictions, though the team was going to miss him. The Big Redhead shaved.

More than once this weekend I heard the story of Coach teaching his players FIRST how to put on their socks and shoes. I’ve read that in his book They Call Me Coach, too. Inevitably someone would question the value of “wasting” time learning what they already knew how to do. Coach would explain that putting socks on the right way would keep them from developing blisters, which would adversely affect their play. He then extrapolated from that lesson to teach the importance of paying attention to details.

He was known best for teaching life lessons through his coaching. The hardwood was his classroom, but basketball was only a means to communicate what all his players needed to learn—those like Kareem Abdul-Jabar destined for professional ranks and those like Kenny Booker who, among other things, became a secondary school referee.

I could go on and on about Coach Wooden. He was not an evangelist but identified himself as a Christian. Certainly he believed in God and had the hope of heaven. Today and tomorrow Christian radio program Family Life Today is airing a conversation with Coach taped in 2002. His words are wise, and he attributes much to his father’s teaching—the same teaching he passed on to those who came into his sphere of influence.

I can’t help thinking how different Coach Wooden was to others known to demand high standards of players on the court. I’m thinking of coaches like Bobby Knight, who used to scream at his players and humiliate them during games. I’ve watched coaches from the stands before, in any number of sports, and wondered why it is we tolerate behavior from them that would be deemed abusive in any other venue. Clearly, their “discipline” was not modeled after God’s.

Coach Wooden’s seems to be. Plus he had balance. His players remember his discipline but also his humor, his wisdom, care, and integrity. One sportscaster said he didn’t know any one else in the profession besides Coach Wooden about whom no one could say a bad word.

You might be interested in Agent Steve Laube’s encounter with Coach Wooden when he was a young man. It’s a good story, and a reminder how many people Coach influenced.

Myself? I never met the man, but I admired him, quoted him to my players, bought Wooden, one of his books filled with axioms like this:

4. Promise to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own …

8. Promise to give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

– From the “Nine Promises That Can Bring Happiness, pp 79-80

Or this:

4. Be more interested in character than reputation …

8. Remember that there is no substitute for hard work and careful planning. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

– From “Eight Suggestions for Succeeding,” p 72

Needless to say, there’s a wealth of material from Coach Wooden. After all, these are lessons he learned throughout his life, and he did live just a few months shy of a century.

Simplistic, some would say of his “down home” philosophy. But I’ll take simplistic any day when it makes so much sense, when, in fact, it mirrors the truths of the Bible.

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 11:22 am  Comments (2)  
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Safe Fiction – Part 4


The Tim Downs interview continued on Family Life Today, so I made a point of listening and jotting down a few notes.

One point Downs made was that the Bible is not naive or simplistic and neither should Christian fiction be naive or simplistic. Instead we need to talk about the real world.

I thought about that a bit. Many advocates of “safe fiction” use Phil. 4:8 as the guiding principle of writing. Think on things that are … not of this world, actually. I think, too, about Colossians 3 where we are admonished to set our minds on things above. Does reading fiction that talks about the real world contradict these commands?

Maybe. And maybe not. It depends on the person. For someone who is simplistic and naive, he just might need a dose of reality, along the line of the book of Judges, to better understand the hurting world. For someone coming out of a painful circumstance, he might need to read about someone who is struggling to do it right, a believer, along the line of Esther or Ruth, who is climbing out of hardship and finding victory.

Both kinds of stories are real. But they meet the needs of people who are in different places.

Downs went on to say that stories must conform to story rules. To stop and have a character deliver a sermon breaks the rules, so it is important to find subtle ways to get a message across. He said to reach people, authors must realize we are fallen beings. But our job in fiction is not so much to inform as it is to “woo the wayward lovers.”

One of the hosts asked Downs how readers would find Christ in his new book, First the Dead. He replied, “They won’t, not from my book alone.” He went on to elaborate that he sees his work as part of the whole that God might use in the wooing process. He said his books are the kind a person can give to anyone without apology, then discuss the themes, asking probing questions.

Well, I can’t help but applaud this approach. It is the very thing I’ve said about my own writing, though I think, from what I’ve read elsewhere, I might rely more on typology to make statements about God.

So all along, I guess I’ve believed in “Christian worldview” fiction. One thing I don’t think I’d say, though, is that this kind of story is necessarily safe.

Safe Fiction – Part 3


Ironically, a program I occasionally listen to on the radio, Family Life Today, is running a series of broadcasts discussing fiction with author Tim Downs, winner of the 2007 Christy Award for best suspense novel of the year with PlagueMaker. Downs’ new novel, First the Dead, features protagonis Nick Polchak, a fornsic scientist (an entomologist, to be exact). I haven’t read the book, but from the radio discussion, I gleaned that these “bug book” stories could be considered a Christian version of CSI.

At the end of the first day of discussion, the radio host begins his wrap with something like, These books by Tim Downs are safe and entertaining, with a subtle message embedded. Safe? I’d already been thinking about this topic as the men discussed the research Downs did to understand what a crime scene entomologist would have to do, and how Downs tries to steer into the waters of reality without swamping the expectations of bookstore owners and vigilant, pietistic readers.

It was clear the radio host had read the book. In fact, he mentioned receiving a pre-release copy, but what he doesn’t know is, what each of the listeners and potential readers are dealing with in their lives. Is the book “safe” for someone like me who can’t watch CSI because of the gore? Is the book “safe” for someone who has experienced the ordeal of a murder in their family? Is the book “safe” for a five year old? a ten year old? a fifteen year old?

Those questions may strethch the point, but here’s what I’m getting at: in declaring a book “safe,” it seems to me, the radio host is giving a “G” rating, a blanket endorsement, and here is where an unsuspecting reader can become snagged.

Mind you, I know nothing about Downs’s First the Dead. Possibly, it is truly a book for all ages and stages, that no reader would have difficulty with any aspect of the story or the writing. That idea then prompts me to wonder if the “Christian” story isn’t a moralistic whitewashing of reality?

I suspect, instead, that there are hard looks at death between the covers of this novel. Downs indicated that one thing he wants to do with his fiction is “cross over,” to write a book that non-Christians might read, and leave them with questions to ask about … life, I suppose, or maybe after life.

What I’m wondering … really, what I’m doubting … is if one person can make a determination for another that a particular work is “safe.” Especially if that statement is aimed at millions of unknown listeners who tuned in to the radio on a particular morning.

As clarification, I’m a big fan of this program and the men behind the mic day in and day out. I think their stamp of approval, this declaration that Downs’s book is “safe,” was given with the best of intention. The host liked the book, likes Downs, and wanted to plug First the Dead with his audience, even though some of them might be the vigilant, pietistic readers who would squirm if a book in their local store contained cussing or sex or gratuitious violence.

It doesn’t have any of those, he seems to be saying, so come on in, the water’s fine.

What happens, then, to the discernment of individual readers? If the “expert” rules a work is “safe,” is that any better than relying on where the reader bought the book or the publisher’s imprint on the spine? In all these cases, the reader is relying on someone else to do his thinking. And frankly, I don’t find that safe at all.