"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My wife Nancy believes my memory picks out what it will keep handy and what it will throw away. To her, that choice is based on what is in her interest versus what is in my own interest.         Pleas of innocence, unfortunately, fall on deaf ears, as I must grudgingly admit to some—purely unintentional—consistency in my forgetfulness. On other occasions, however, my memory drops things I desperately want to remember, to my ultimate frustration.         Wouldn't a purposeful, selective memory come in handy? We could remember everything that is important to recall, and forget the thoughts that drag us down or limit our potential. Those we love would benefit from our forgetting their accidental gaffes and offenses. A clean slate can be a beautiful thing.         Memory preserves events from everyone's past, events we would rather forget. Past unthoughtful words, lapses of character and corrupt thoughts that prick our consciences, become lashes that stripe the backs of our minds long after we've begged forgiveness and made reparation.         We recall the guilty feeling we get when a state trooper hangs in our car's rear-view mirror; "How fast am I going? Did I violate some obscure statute and attract his attention to my driving?" What a relief, when his patrol car finally roars past, leaving us to continue down the road without having seen flashing lights in the mirror.         That trooper's vision can't penetrate our minds and consciences, leaving our skelletons safely in their closet. Imagine, however, standing before the all-seeing Judge, weighed down by memories of our past offenses, some of which we have tried to correct, and some we have burried deep in the closets and basements of our minds. His memory has no involuntary dropouts, and you feel naked under his penetrating gaze.         If only we could make some excuse that would matter. If only our goodness could compare in the slightest way to his perfect holiness. The prophet Isaiah gives us the Judge's perspective, But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isa 64:6 KJV)         Since we have no basis on which to cop a plea, what hope do we have for an eternity of peace with God? Jesus' apostle Paul voiced his own despair when considering his personal uncleanness, For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:14-25 NASB)         If this renowned man of God could make no claim of personal righteousness, what of the rest of us?         Contrary to popular Christian lore, Jesus did not come two centuries ago to show us the way to his Father God. Rather, hear his own words, the kernel of his good news to humankind:         Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." (Joh 14:5-7 NASB)         Some feel that such a view is not inclusive enough. They throw out a smoke screen of questions like, "What about all those who have never heard of Jesus?" Or such pseudo-wisdom as, "There are many ways to every destination." Through the crystal-clear eyes of faith, however, we see the absurdity of such questions and philosophies. Jesus' eternal truth contradicts and rides above all human wisdom.         How, then, must we be saved from sin's shackles? God's simple truth is, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9 NASB)         Jesus said, "And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God." (Luk 12:8 NASB)         And what of all our clever excuses? For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:9-11 NASB)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Blood of the New Covenant

Matthew 26 27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the[new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."New International Version)         Yeshua, after declaring the cup to hold "my blood of the new covenant," said in vs. 29, "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on ...." Obviously, He would not contradict His words of only seconds before. He simply referred to the cup as the actual contents it held, rather than the "blood of the new covenant as He had just stated." So, in what sense did He mean, "This is my blood ..."?         He said "this" twice, once referring to it as His blood, and once as "fruit of the vine." Simplistic logic would suggest that He believed His blood was, in fact, wine. His thinking, however, only seems simplistic to those who cannot grasp His eternal perspective through His Holy Spirit's influence.         More likely, Yeshua referred to the cup's contents as His blood because he was about to pass it around to His apostles, indicating that each would share in the New Covenant of His blood. Seems obvious when explained that way.         The Catholic church has long taught that the Communion Cup contains the actual, transubstantiated blood of Yeshua, a teaching that I accepted whole-heartedly as a child. His word, however, does not substantiate(excuse the play on words) this belief.        Without harping on some Catholic conspiracy theory, I must clearly state that the Council of Trent, begun in 1545, officially adopted the doctrine of Transubstantiation as Church dogma. That doctrine, taught informally for about 500 years, was the elaborate rationale of Latin theologians attempting to harmonize the "three Eucharistic controversies," and its name was first coined by Hildebert of Tours around 1079*.        While a "leap of faith" must precede repentance and rebirth in the life of every believer, we must not blindly accept all such abandonment of natural reason, which is the stuff of heresy. Unquestioned acceptance of orthodoxy, on the other hand, can lead to the opposite error of formalism. All believers in Yeshua must weigh every teaching, regardless is source, with a diligent study of His word. * http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm#section3

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Dark Pursuit

Zondervan (December 1, 2008)


Brandilyn Collins

        This is the third Collins roller coaster I've ridden, and it's as unique as each of her other works.
        Just what does it take to justify murder? Is the compulsion by itself enough? All Craig knows is the horrible job of judgment has fallen upon him. And woe to any mortal who threatens his righteous appointment—even if it is the woman he loves.
        The label, Psychological Thriller, suits this novel more aptly than most of that genre. Not only do we witness the inner struggles of a warped mind, but in Dark Pursuit, the Murderer's twisted rationale comes full-circle, imprisoning him within his own cocoon of self-deceit.


Brandilyn Collins is known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®. She is currently working on her 20th book. For chances to win free copies of her work, join her Fan Club on Facebook. Here’s what Brandilyn has to say about why she wrote Dark Pursuit:

In John Milton’s Paradise Lost Satan’s followers, kicked out of heaven, boast about storming the gates and reclaiming their territory. Beelzebub scoffs at their boasting as merely “hatching vain empires” and suggests a different revengeful scheme: seduce mankind away from God. So Satan visits the Garden of Eden to teach humans the very thing he and his cohorts have learned to be futile—the dark pursuit of hatching their own vain empires instead of following God. He presented man with this “gift” of death, disguised as life. And man fell for it.

Upon this theme of man’s fall and spiritual blindness, I created the characters and events in Dark Pursuit. The story clips along at a fast pace, with much symbolism running underneath.


Dark Pursuit—A twisting story of murder, betrayal, and eternal choices

Novelist Darell Brooke lived for his title as King of Suspense—until an auto accident left him unable to concentrate. Two years later, reclusive and bitter, he wants one thing: to plot a new novel and regain his reputation.

Kaitlan Sering, his twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, once lived for drugs. After she stole from Darell, he cut her off. Now she’s rebuilding her life. But in Kaitlan’s town two women have been murdered, and she’s about to discover a third. She’s even more shocked to realize the culprit—her boyfriend, Craig, the police chief’s son.

Desperate, Kaitlan flees to her estranged grandfather. For over forty years, Darell Brooke has lived suspense. Surely he’ll devise a plan to trap the cunning Craig.

But can Darell’s muddled mind do it? And—if he tries—with what motivation? For Kaitlan’s plight may be the stunning answer to the elusive plot he seeks...

Read the first chapter of Dark Pursuit, HERE.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Death and Life of Gabriel Philips by Stephen Baldwin and Mark Tabb

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips

FaithWords (November 5, 2008)


Stephen Baldwin
Mark Tabb

I read everything aloud to my wife Nancy. First, my dyslexia slows my reading rate to not much over oral reading speed, so I may as well share great books with her. Second, her impared vision makes reading difficult and laborious for her, so reading aloud is a win-win for us. When I first opened The Death and Life of Gabriel Philips, I stuttered quite a bit, unable to vocalize the coarse language Baldwin included in the dialog. How could I, a born-again, Bible toting, church-going "man-of-God" pronounce the "S" word and the "D" word? I wondered what constituted "Christian" fiction about this book. Eventually I saw the CFBA administration's apologetic, strong language warnings. Yes it was a bit over the top for a bunch of Sunday school oriented, CBA writers and readers, but something entirely unexpected happened. I loved the book!
        Ultimately, it occurred to me that most of us weren't hatched as virgin-mouthed Christians. Some of the protagonist's language hearkened back to my B. C. and "babe-in-Christ" days. Saved as an adult who never believed in denying myself any of life's fleshly pleasures, this Blogger brought a rash of bad habits, verbal and otherwise, into his new life in Christ. Problem is, Yeshua only guaranteed His precious blood to cover the penalty of sin, not its habit. "Bummer!" I said on many blue-aired occasions, but usually not with that word. Bummer, yes, but not completely. The last outcome I expected was that this life-long struggle would be the best thing that could have happened to me.
        Enough with the language, already. Gabriel Philips haunted the whole book, and I wanted to know the boy as badly as Officer Meyers had wanted to know him. But come to think of it, I've already met him, under a variety different names. And I've loved his every incarnation.
        I used the word haunted. Even now, days after completing Baldwin's novel, John Philips' spirituality still haunts me; an authentic, but rare, spirituality, while early in the story, I had lined up with his accusers. A thought interrupted my self-righteousness: Would I have the strength to remain silent under such assailments? To pray for those persecuting me? To maintain a sweet spirit, though the target of unrelenting slander?
        The language was unregenerate, but so was Officer Meyers. Who would expect him to communicate like a Baptist on Sunday morning? The Death and Life of Gabriel Philips is not a book that welcomes pop judgments. And learning to defeat that habit is a great part of what the Way is all about.


STEPHEN BALDWIN - actor, family man, born-again Christian - makes his home in upstate New York with his wife and two young daughters.

Equally adept at drama and comedy, Baldwin has appeared in over 60 films and been featured on such top-rated television shows as Fear Factor and Celebrity Mole. He has his own production company that is developing projects for television and the big screen. These days, however, his role as director, co-producer and host of Livin' It - a cutting-edge skate video is bringing out his white hot passion for evangelism.

Writer and communicator Mark Tabb calls himself an “internationally unknown author.” Although his books have been published around the world, he is best known for his collaborative works. His 2008 release, “Mistaken Identity”, written with the Van Ryn and Cerak families, hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list for two weeks, and remained on the list for over two months. He and actor Stephen Baldwin teamed up on their 2005 New York Times bestseller, “The Unusual Suspect,” and with their first work of fiction, “The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips,”


Even years of experience haven't prepared Officer Andy Myers for this case---

When Officer Andy Myers met Loraine Phillips, he had no interest in her son. And he certainly never dreamed he'd respond to a call, finding that same boy in a pool of blood. Even more alarming was the father standing watch over his son's body. Myers had never seen a man respond to death-particularly the death of a child-in such a way. When the father is charged with murder and sentenced to death, he chooses not to fight but embrace it as God's will. Myers becomes consumed with curiosity for these strange beliefs. What follows is the story of the bond these two men share as they come to terms with the tragedy and the difficult choices each one must make.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips, go HERE

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Original Communism

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Communism says, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." What a wonderfully altruistic ideal, but in practice, human beings aren't wonderfully altruistic. Administering the "from-each-to-each" program has always required a powerful bureaucracy headed by powerful men who have no problem forcing others to cooperate with the program … and taking their own ten, twenty and sixty percent for their trouble.
        Human beings, exactly like domestic—or wild—animals, learn quickly to spoil themselves. Like grizzly bears at the dumpster, humans tear through any obstacle to get what they want. And once they become habituated to the easy gain, they loose their taste for gainful work. This is true both for bureaucrats and for those who receive the benefits of the welfare-state.
        It is curious how a government that teaches natural selection as the mechanism for evolution of biological organisms can't understand how disabled or impaired humans who receive a free ride complements of the welfare system, can become addicted to it. Tragically, there is little welfare, and the system doles out the goodies haphazardly and with little accountability—on the part of itself or its clients.
        So, what is the solution for this self-perpetuating "social disease?" We can't cut off a whole class of people who have become dependent on the government dole over the generations. And we can't miraculously transform bureaucrats into automatons who will not succumb to temptation's power.
        That leaves but two options: We might try to reform the system to wean the welfare class from the government dole, gradually, so as not to truly deprive the recipients. That option, however, still depends on a human bureaucracy that tends toward opportunism. And the second option involves spiritual rebirth.
        Odd, isn't it, how so many people who deal regularly with corruption cannot seem to admit the fundamentally flawed, human nature. We're very like small children who violently fight against the doctor's syringe when we're so sick we can't see straight. "No, thanks. I'm fine the way I am. I don't need that "God stuff."

Saturday, November 08, 2008


When my daughters were small, one word indicated their attitude toward life. After they got over their infatuation with the words "No!" and "Mine!" they discovered that helping their mother pleased her and made her happy. And as everyone knows, "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
        Since their mother and I always praised them when they showed a little initiative toward "helping" us, regardless how inconvenient it may have been, they came to know that being a "helper" was a very good thing. So, often one of them ran over to us when we began a chore, chanting the word "Helper." Their mother and I then invented some small job that wouldn't set us back too much when they messed it up. But even when they did, we always tried to find something about their work to praise.
        Jesus particularly valued each child's willing spirit, telling his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18: 16-18)
        Sure they were in his way, interfering with the "grownup" work of healing, preaching and teaching. Yet, he found time to nurture them with conversation and affection.
        The Bible says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, so we must infer that he relates to that childlike spirit of helpfulness as he did when, during his earthly life, he called the children to himself despite his disciples' well-intentioned interference. Their desire to buffer the teacher against distractions perfectly illustrates the contrast between child-likeness and the "grown up" attitude of practicality.
        An old religious truism says, "Ten percent of the folks do ninety percent of the work." Sounds a bit conservative, as that ten percent actually does more like one hundred percent of the work. The working ten percent, the ones who step forward like a child and, in effect, say "Helper," are citizens of God's kingdom. So, what about the rest? Jesus' words are specific: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Saturday, November 01, 2008

More Civilized Sins

2 Timothy 3:1-7 NIV But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, wicked, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
        What a litany of character faults to which we may look forward in the last days. Considering how contemporary the list seems, we may well be in the last days even now.
        These aren't the tribulations some expect after the church's rapture. I see nothing in this list of bowls of God's fury, a darkened sun, plagues or horsemen. What I see is a list of "faults" one might find in many of Christendom's congregations today … faults routinely tolerated even among the saints in leadership.
        "Can't love others if you don't love yourself." Pop psychology and group "sensitivity" didn't die in the '80s. Many congregations and seminaries actively espouse such principles as positive confession, assertiveness training, and seed-faith promotions.
        That leads into the sin of loving money. Seed-faith asserts platitudes such as "you can't out give God," which is quite true when not followed with "our address for contributions is …." High-living "televangelists" and alleged healers have become cliché, and provide anti-religious zealots with plenty of ammunition for their attacks.
        Boastfulness and pride tend to be somewhat understated in the church, but very much alive among many testosterone-enriched youths. Of course, pride is no respecter of "gender," with young women's keen-edged tongues surgically dissecting other girls. And this category naturally leads into the next series of tolerated sins with no age-related expiration dates: abusiveness, disobedience, ingratitude, fowl temper, lovelessness, unforgiveness, slander, instability, rashness, hedonism, conceit and arrogance. This infernal list leads into "having a form of godliness but denying its power," the culmination of societal sin that is reserved for only the most subtle, committed masters of hypocrisy. If we are desperate enough for controversy to attend interdenominational debates(Please note that a minor transposition of letters in "denomination" produces demonination. Curious coincidence.), we will witness the "having a form of godliness but denying its power" argument in all its trite glory. Religious debaters love it because it is so wonderfully generic, but the Apostle Paul had one specific offense in mind: promoters of the Gnostic heresy who prided themselves in their esoteric knowledge, through which they believed they would ascend to Enlightenment. But even that specialized sin reflects the broader sin of pride.
        Humanity has always taken perverse pride in its genius for creative sin, so any list of sins is guaranteed to omit several equally egregious moral gaffes. It is enough to recognize the "Human Condition" in all of them, and to realize that no one is immune from their deadly snare.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Be Careful With Comparisons

Luke 18 The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
       If there is a Scripture passage that has grown common through its preaching, it would be Yeshua's story about "The Pharisee and the Tax Collector." After all that attention, one would suppose the lesson had been learned if ever it could be.
        When reading any story, most people identify with one of the characters more than the others. So, here is a pop quiz to ascertain our position on the learning curve: As we listen to "The Pharisee and the Tax Collector," which character grabs our empathy? Do we identify more with the proud, religious guy, or with the publican who could only humbly beat his breast while begging God's mercy?
        Of all who have tread this globe, only one could claim perfect humility. Of course, any third-grade Sunday school student would correctly guess who that was. But if we further examine this familiar story, we might just gain a little more insight than demonstrated by that Sunday school answer.
        First, let's identify that one truly humble person. Yes, the only one who could qualify as truly humble is Yeshua himself. While he was certainly born on this planet to humble circumstances, and while he associated with the dregs of Jewish society, and his closest friends were simple, common men, who was he really? Where did he come from?
        We know from what he told us through his word that he shared heaven with the eternal, self-existent Father before time began. John 8:57-59 NASB So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
        We also know that he created time and the material universe. John 1:1-3 ESV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
        With his unique credentials in mind, we must ask ourselves, did anyone born to a woman ever have less reason to be humble than Yeshua the Anointed of God? Yet, when the time came he was conceived in Mary's womb, and necessarily emptied himself of his divinity to be born a man-child. He grew up in a tradesman's home without the preparatory schooling necessary for a teacher, yet when he was only twelve years old his parents found him teaching the teachers in the temple. The word "precocious" doesn't even begin to apply.
        Even in view of the eternal glory Yeshua enjoyed before his physical conception, mere human beings cannot imagine the magnitude of what he sacrificed, just becoming human, let alone the humble state to which he was born, because we have always been human. As if his life's circumstances weren't humbling enough, Yeshua's earthly ministry ended with humiliation, shame and agony of astronomical proportions.
        What is even more remarkable is he could have ended his ordeal at any time and forgone his grand plan of human redemption, but he never hesitated beyond his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. And even then he placed his Father's will ahead of his personal dread of the cosmic-level ordeal facing him.
        So let's review the initial question. When we read Yeshua's parable of the Pharisee and the publican, with whom do we most closely identify? Compared to Yeshua's humility, is our identification with the humble publican even possible? Even if the adjective "humble" in any way applies to us, comparing it with that of our Savior would be like comparing a five-year-old's scribbling to Rembrandt's art.
        Let us never be the least bit impressed, should we dare to venture any comparison between ourselves and our Savior. As followers of Christ, to think ourselves humble would be the ultimate arrogance.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dangerous Heart by Tracey Bateman

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Dangerous Heart

Avon Inspire (October 14, 2008)


Tracey Bateman

Leave it to me to order a book for the blog tour that is the "n"th title in a series. Fortunately, I was not disappointed with the story or the writing. The author has a warm, natural writing voice that makes her prose flow naturally, a bonus for one who reads aloud to his wife. Stories that chronicle a hard heart's pulverizing and a cold spirit's melting give me a great deal of joy, indicated by the volume of tears shed while struggling to continue reading aloud. I've finally discovered the secret, though: scoot close to Nancy and whisper the touching parts.
        Read this book, you'll be glad you did.

Tracey Bateman published her first novel in 2000 and has been busy ever since. There are two other books in the Westward Hearts Series, Defiant Heart (#1) and Distant Heart (#2)

She learned to write by writing, and improved by listening to critique partners and editors. She has sold over 30 books in six years.
She became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in the early months of its inception in 2000 and served as president for a year.

Tracey loves Sci-fi, Lifetime movies, and Days of Our Lives (this is out of a 21 year habit of watching, rather than enjoyment of current storylines).

She has been married to her husband Rusty for 18 years, has four kids, and lives in Lebanon, Missouri.


For the past seven years, Ginger Freeman has had one goal: find Grant Kelley and make him pay for allowing her brother to die. Growing up motherless with a father who leads an outlaw gang, Ginger isn’t exactly peaches and cream. So when she finally tracks down Grant on a wagon train headed west, she figured providence had stepped in and given her the chance she’s been waiting for.

On the wagon train, finally surrounded by a sense of family and under the nurturing eye of Toni Rodde, Ginger begins to lose her rough edges. She’s made friends for the first time and has become part of something bigger than revenge. Not only has her heart softened toward people in general, but God has become a reality she never understood before. And watching Grant doctor the pioneers, she’s realized she can’t just kill him and leave the train without medical care. Putting her anger aside, before long, Ginger’s a functioning part of the group.

But when the outlaw gang, headed by her pa, shows up and infiltrates the wagon train, she is forced to question her decision. Only self-sacrifice and her new relationship with God can make things right. But it might also means she loses everything she’s begun to hold dear.

If you would like to read from the first chapter of Dangerous Heart, go HERE

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No Whipping Post, or, Church Discipline the Right Way

Matthew 18 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Ban Careless Applications ...
        Before applying this passage from Matthew 18 as the rule for church discipline, we must investigate the other passages that are usually lumped with it. Matthew 18 deals with a personal affair between two brethren. This might be a business deal gone sour, gossip repercussions or family friction. Since it is not—or should not be—general knowledge we must deal with it quietly if possible.
        Also, before applying the Matthew 18 passage as punishment, we must decide what sort of treatment Yeshua meant when saying, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. How did Yeshua treat Gentiles and tax collectors? They were, after all, the very people to whom he was sent; Mar 2:17 ESV And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
        Two passages that bear on differently church discipline are: Titus 3:9-10, But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning ..., and 2 Thess 3:6, Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. Here we read of offenses where a brother or sister is either chronically unruly, or argumentative, especially about genealogical entitlements and legalistic hair-splitting. These verses do not speak to the same situation as Matthew 18, where the offense was a private issue, and best kept confidential until we see the offender blatantly has no regard for appearances.
        First Corinthians chapter five reflects the Apostle Paul's most acute concern. It deals with an offense that, while initially private, risks public scandal when exposed. And it will be exposed. Sexual sin often persists despite any corrective measure the church might take, because the offenders have so thoroughly rationalized their relationship's "rightness." Yet, for justice sake, the church must follow Scripture more diligently than in other situations. The key verses are, 1Co 5:1 NASB It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 1Co 5:5 NASB I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1Co 5:9-11 NASB I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; (10) I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. (11) But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one.
        Verses ten and eleven above should speak loudly to those in the news media who stereotype evangelical Christians as, "The Religious Right," or legalists, trying to force our strict, sectarian moral code on society as a whole. Here, Scripture instructs us to deal with our own problems, but always in view of the Apostle John's many "love one another" passages. This way, we would treat all offenders without rancor, demonstrating God's love even in the difficult situations.

... and Harsh Reactions
        Yes, this even applies when dealing with public issues, such as the entertainment media and government schools who try to make gross immorality a "viable, alternative lifestyle." We must not fuel the world's stereotyping by confronting its establishments with the strong emotions we feel at witnessing our society's moral standards being publicly trashed. Though Scripture tells us, For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, we must ensure that we do not cause the offense through our abrasive manor. Glaring the light of truth on those walking in darkness won't make them less blind. Rather than thumping the Bible at them, or on them, we serve God far more effectively by simply reflecting His glory to them; Mat 5:16 LITV So let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works, and may glorify your Father in Heaven.
        "But that's hard to do," some brethren might complain, "much harder than just telling people what to do." Well, isn't that the point of living Christ's life in this world?
        So we must move our whipping posts back to the junk room and deal with sin in the church exactly in the way, and by the Spirit, of Yeshua our Anointed One.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eternity's Bargain

Luke 9
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

        Looking back signifies longing for what is behind. Lot's wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." (Mat 5:13 ESV) Though God's word tells us to be salt to the world, he no doubt had something other than rock salt in mind.
        Yeshua's words in Luke chapter nine raises an impossible standard for flawed human beings. We spend the early part of our lives consumed with self-interest and greed. No, greed is not a sin exclusive to Wall Street wheeler-dealers. Most children's' first words are "No!" and "Mine!" With years, that attitude matures into a—usually—unspoken predilection for life.
        Why, then, did Yeshua tell us to be like children? And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mat 18:2-4 ESV)
        In what sense does he want us to be like children? Certainly he can't want us to act like little children, at least the children of this age. Therein lies the key to this quandary. In a permissive age, those who practice the latest, theoretical, politically correct child rearing technique, not only do not punish their children's smart mouths, but they feel compelled to encourage free expression, so each child will learn to be him or herself.
        Today's society shuns accountability, honoring instead, personal sovereignty and freedom of choice … whatever that is. What does unlimited freedom of choice produce for a child? Not fun or fulfillment, but injury or death. And that is just the physical danger for an uncontrolled child. If no one enjoys undisciplined adults, what can parents do to prevent their children from becoming such irresponsible people?
        If unlimited freedom is dangerous for a child physically and developmentally, how much control must we exercise over children? A parent's sacred responsibility is to, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Pro 22:6 ESV)
        Of course, such lessons from Scripture present us with challenges even today. As Yeshua challenged his disciples to emulate little children, we must pattern our spiritual nurturing after wise child rearing. We must subject ourselves to spiritual elders' discipline and nurturing, learning from those saints who most closely emulate Christ's character.
        So, how can we who have chosen to follow Christ avoid turning, or even just looking back to the bad old days? Only one thing will keep us from longing for our past corruption, and that is loving God far more than we ever loved sin. And the only way to achieve such great love is to intimately know the Lover of our souls. Loving God in that way might seem to carry a significant cost, but it is the Bargain of Eternity compared to the cost of not loving him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


For millennia, religious liberals, secularists, agnostics and atheists have torn through Bibles—at times, literally—to uncover all its presumed, hidden errors and inconsistencies. Hoping to counter the prejudice of faith, such free-thinking folks believe, without question, in a vast, ancient, Judeo-Christian conspiracy to protect the Scriptures from open scrutiny.
        "Through the tedious process of hand-copying manuscripts, generation after generation, onto scrolls, then paper," say such free-thinking skeptics, " the scribes obviously made mistakes, both in translating and in transcribing tens of thousands of ancient words thousands of times."
Scientific Versus Prejudiced Skepticism
        In answer to such assertions, Dr. Robert Dick Wilson once stated, "When a man says to me, 'I don't believe in the Old Testament, he makes no impression upon me. When he points out something there that he doesn't believe, he makes no impression upon me. But if he comes to me and says, 'I've got the evidence here to show that the Old Testament is wrong at this or that point' then that's where my work begins! I'm ready for him!"*
        Dr. Wilson bore an insatiable curiosity about ancient history, and more specifically, the histories of Old Testament peoples and lands. Yet, ever skeptical about the assertions modern histories present as absolute fact, Dr. Wilson set about to learn the ancient languages so he could conduct his own primary research without the influence of other scholars' hearsay accounts. His quest led him to a thorough familiarity with forty-five ancient tongues, whereby he consumed thousands of ancient, original language texts as handily as most literate people consume their native tongue's popular fiction.
        Therein lies the difference between the arbitrary, prejudicial skepticism of the atheistic or agnostic Bible critic and the truly open-minded, scientific curiosity of the scholar. As schoolyard bullies pick fights with kids they know they can beat, intellectual bullies pick controversies with ignorant opponents, hoping to make them and their beliefs a complete laughingstock. Somehow, the intellectual pursuit has become a personal vendetta; the refusal of faith has become its own, quite emotional, belief system. Simple Question ... Simple Answer? When leveling the telescopic sight of literary and historical criticism on the Bible, critics must be willing to question their own preconceptions as diligently as they do the Bible texts. Any critic must be willing to ask himself one question before challenging the Bible's accuracy: Why, through the millennia it took to finalize the Biblical canon, did thousands of scribes and scholars allow so many obvious textual contradictions and inconsistencies to remain uncorrected? In other words, if, as critics assert, ordinary men wrote the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, then assembled them into today's Bible simply to subjugate the superstitious, unwashed masses, why would they have not produced a more believable hoax?
* Is the higher criticism Scholarly? By Robert Dick Wilson, Ph.D., D.D. (Chicago: Sunday School Times, 1922)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On Observing the Sabbath

Disclaimer #1: Please feel free to take exception to this little study on God's Sabbath. You are welcome to contact me(jlthomp{at}gmail{dot}com) with scripture to counter my evidence, but without pique. Leave your rant for your own blog … er … please.

Disclaimer #2: Don't feel daunted by this post's length. You will notice that half of this tome is Scripture, pasted here for your reading pleasure. The blogger has also provided links to relevant Scriptures on the Internet.

And now, on to the study.
God commanded us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Though no believer can dispute that fact, we frequently dispute how it applies to His saints under the New Covenant.
        The following passage from the prophet Jeremiah reiterates the Sabbath law to the people of his time. Obviously, the eternal, self-existent One1 had not ended or fulfilled it by then.

Jeremiah 17
19 Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People's Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,
20 and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.
21 Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem.
22 And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.
23 Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.
24 “‘But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it,
25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever.
26 And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord.
27 But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’”
        The following passage from Mark's gospel demonstrates Yeshua's2 attitude toward celebrating the Sabbath one day each week. In it, Yeshua compared Himself with King David, who violated the temple and ate the bread of the Presence, yet suffered no curse for his disobedience of the law, in a time when such recompense was swift and sure. Then Yeshua applied that lesson to his violation of the Sabbath by allowing His disciples to pluck heads of grain on that Holy Day. His operative principle; "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
Mark 2
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.
24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him:
26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”
27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
        In Hebrews chapter 3, pasted below, the author established Yeshua's authority, even over Moses the law-giver, as compared with a builder over the house he built(including us), and a king's son over his servants.
        Then, writing under the Holy Spirit's authority and voice, he draws our attention to the Hebrews' rebellion in the wilderness over a period of forty years: As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Can any oath be more binding than one breathed by God? Because of their unfaithfulness and presumption, God promised they would not enter His rest. Does that mean their Sabbath rest was ended? Quite the contrary; their disobedience bound them to the ceremonial law, the Sabbaths and the holy days.
        Vs. 12 warns us against falling away from the living God due to the evil of an unbelieving heart. And verse 13 tells us to exhort one another "every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of (us) may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin," making every day the right time for such exhortation, not only the Sabbath.
        Does that mean we are bound to celebrate the Sabbath seven days a week? Chapter four, verse one, clarifies God's principle of the Sabbath as a perpetual rest to which we must aspire by faith.
        Verse three is the pivotal verse for this new application of God's Sabbath; For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest,'" although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. The challenge to the literal, calendar Sabbath is, "Does God still rest from His six days of labor creating the universe? Or is His Sabbath periodic, as it was for the Hebrews?" Since God's word tells us nothing of any of His further works of creation, His rest from creation is perpetual, and by entering into His rest, ours is perpetual as well.
        Verse six states that those under the Old Covenant failed to enter God's rest, even though they semi-faithfully honored the weekly Sabbath. And this verse reiterates the Sabbath as a rest to which we must aspire.
        Okay, verse seven tells us, again he appoints a certain day .... That must be Saturday, right? Try again. The day He appointed is Today. Which day is "today?" Every day.
        Verses eight through eleven are clear: For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Our weekly Sabbath was never God's rest, but a type of the rest we have in Messiah, not only on Saturday, but every day, unto eternity.

Heb 3:11-19; 4:1-11 ESV
11 As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'"
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
15 As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?
17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.
2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest,'" although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works."
5 And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest."
6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,
7 again he appoints a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,
10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
        In the following passage, John 5:16-17, Yeshua explains His reason for healing on the Sabbath. That explanation gives another perspective on the Sabbath of God, it completed His creation of the universe; since He rested, there was no more creation work to be done. Again, since God's word says nothing about God going back to His creation work after the sixth day, that Sabbath is still in effect.
John 5
16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
      Did the writer of the letter to the Hebrews contradict Yeshua's statement in John 5? Is God, or is He not, still working since He finished creation? The believer's answer is "No," and, "Yes." God's creation work finished at the end of the sixth day of creation, but His recreation work continues until now.

      From the reasoning presented above, we must at least admit that first-day worshipers have some basis for that practice. Seventh-day worshipers, though their arguments sound convincing as far as they go, have no justification for dogmatically berating others who do not share their convictions.
      This blogger will again visit this touchy issue at some time in the future. Until then, glorify the eternal, self-existent God every day, and you will do well.

1; The name most translations give to God is Jehovah. A few of them get it closer by using the name, Yahweh. Either way, however, His holy Name is only approximate. Through the centuries, Jewish scribes, believing His Name too holy to pronounce, lest they risk breaking First Commandment(Exodus 20:2-7) made it unpronounceable by omitting the word's vowels. Scholars since then have made a stab at its correct spelling by inserting the vowels from adonai, the Hebrew word for Lord. The author chooses to use the meaning of the Name lost to history because of religious piety, thereby avoiding any ambiguity.
2; The name Jesus is the English approximation for the Greek translation of Jesus' Hebrew name, Yeshua. Why use an approximation of a translation of a name when the name itself is perfectly valid? In a word: TRADITION

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Curse of Plenty

Proverbs chapter 30:1-9(ESV quoted below) begins in a dark mood, with Agur Jakehson(son of Jakeh), the oracle, introducing this Proverb with, "The man declares, ..." But who was the man speaking the subsequent, despairing words? For one thing, he was obviously discouraged from fatigue, but what were his other issues?. Vs. 2 shows his sense of self-worth is dismal, in that he assumes his intelligence is less-than human. Vs. 3 confesses failing to learn about the Holy One. Yet, anyone smart enough to know their own stupidity isn't all that stupid. And only those who know something of the Holy One can know how little they actually know.
        Vs. 4 lists the type of wonders only God could perform. Yet, this man whom the oracle is quoting, though he knows enough to ask the questions, seems not to know the answers. And though he knows of God's son, he knows neither his name, nor the name of his father.
        These are obviously rhetorical questions, asked as from the mouth of a dimwit. The truly remarkable question is how, other than by specially-given divine knowledge, did the oracle know of God's Son? All Old Testament appearances of God's Son treated Him as the LORD, or the angel of the LORD.
        The rest of this passage begins with the oracle praising God by acclaiming some of His attributes. Then he makes two requests that demonstrate the depth of his wisdom. And vs. 9 clearly shows the oracle as one who has either seen or experienced the curse of plenty.

1 The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle. The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out.

2 Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man.

3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

4 Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!

5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

6 Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:

8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,

9 lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Non-review Book Review, or, If I'd Only Read It

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Constant Heart

(Bethany House October 1, 2008)


Siri Mitchell


Boy! Did I space this one off. When Bonnie sends out lists of prospective books for these CFBA campaigns, I briefly look them over for the special one that Nancy would love to hear from my croaky voice. Obviously, this time I hadn't taken enough time in making our selection.
        Siri Mitchell is a name I should have remembered from reading The Cubicle Next Door, a wonderful book that had Nancy and me alternately laughing out loud, spitting out words of frustration over the characters' failure to read each other correctly, and squeaking emotion-laden words past a tightened larynx when they finally got it right. Mitchell's works are true emotional roller coaster rides.
        Why, oh why, did I ever start reading Nancy these romance novels. I should've stuck to my manly guns and refused to read any but guy stuff, like sports novels(ho-hum),gangster/crime/stalker/slasher novels(yuckey-pooh), and science fiction stories(well, alright!). But no, I had to go and act like I love my wife enough to read things she would like to hear. Too late now, though, I'm addicted to stories of relationships.
        To any guys reading this, let this be a lesson to ya. Never read anything but your favorite stuff if you don't want your literary tastes broadened.


Siri Mitchell graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she has lived all over the world, including in Paris and Tokyo. Siri enjoys observing and learning from different cultures. She is fluent in French and loves sushi.

But she is also a member of a strange breed of people called novelists. When they’re listening to a sermon and taking notes, chances are, they’ve just had a great idea for a plot or a dialogue. If they nod in response to a really profound statement, they’re probably thinking, “Yes. Right. That’s exactly what my character needs to hear.” When they edit their manuscripts, they laugh at the funny parts. And cry at the sad parts. Sometimes they even talk to their characters.

Siri wrote 4 books and accumulated 153 rejections before signing with a publisher. In the process, she saw the bottoms of more pints of Ben & Jerry’s than she cares to admit. At various times she has vowed never to write another word again. Ever. She has gone on writing strikes and even stooped to threatening her manuscripts with the shredder.

A Constant Heart is her sixth novel. Two of her novels, Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door were Christy Award finalists. She has been called one of the clearest, most original voices in the CBA.


In a world of wealth, power, and privilege...love is the only forbidden luxury.

“Trust was a valuable commodity at court. Traded by everyone, but possessed by no one. Its rarity was surpassed only by love. Love implied commitment and how could any of us commit ourselves to any but the Queen? Love implied singularity and how could any of us benefit another if our affections were bound to one in exclusivity? Love was never looked for and rarely found. When it was, it always ended badly.”

In Queen Elizabeth’s court where men and women willingly trade virtue for power, is it possible for Marget to obtain her heart’s desire or is the promise of love only an illusion?

A riveting glimpse into Queen Elizabeth's Court...

Born with the face of an angel, Marget Barnardsen is blessed. Her father is a knight, and now she is to be married to the Earl of Lytham. Her destiny is guaranteed ... at least, it would seem so. But when her introduction to court goes awry and Queen Elizabeth despises her, Marget fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to win him back, she'll do whatever it takes to discover how she failed and capture again the love of a man bound to the queen.

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Constant Heart, go HERE

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Faking Grace by Tamara Leigh

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Faking Grace

Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)


Tamara Leigh


For the thousands of brain cells who fanatically follow these precious pearls of profundity, here is not only the customary CFBA review, but also a special treat: this blogger's personal thoughts about Tamara Leigh's insightful novel Faking Grace.
        Leigh, with daring and humor, lampoons both "Cultural Christianity," and the holy grail of Christian literature, CBA publishing in one, hard-to-dodge, fell swoop. The fact that Multnomah Books, a main-line, Evangelical publishing house, was willing to back a novel that challenges so many of Evangelical Christianity's cliches, gives new hope to this borderline-disillusioned blogger.
        Anyone out there in Cyber-Land who has a hard time stomaching Churchianity's cavalier acceptance of hypocrisy and popular culture must read this delightful novel. And be prepared for a rare treat: Leigh's writing style and voice is a delicious, honey-coating on her otherwise hard-to-swollow Rx for hyper-orthodox believers.


After Tamara Leigh earned a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, she and her husband decided to start a family, with plans for Tamara to continue in her career once she became a mother.

When the blessing of children proved elusive, Tamara became convicted to find a way to work out of her home in order to raise the children she and her husband longed to have. She turned to writing, at which she had only ever dreamed of being successful, and began attending church. Shortly thereafter, her agent called with news of Bantam Books’ offer of a four-book contract. That same day, Tamara’s pregnancy was confirmed. Within the next year, she gave up her speech pathology career, committed her life to Christ, her first child was born, and her first historical romance novel was released.

As Tamara continued to write for the secular market, publishing three more novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester, she infused her growing Christian beliefs into her writing. But it was not enough, and though her novels earned awards and were national bestsellers, she knew her stories were lacking. After struggling with the certainty that her writing was not honoring God as it should, she made the decision to write books that not only reveal Christianity to non-believers, but serve as an inspiration for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Her inspirational romances are peopled with characters in varying stages of Christian faith, from mature believers to new believers to non-believers on the threshold of awakening.

Tamara Leigh enjoys time with her family, volunteer work, faux painting, and reading. She lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, David, and two sons, Skyler and Maxen.

Two of her latest books are Splitting Harriet and Perfecting Kate.


All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist, but her last job ended in disaster when her compassion cost her employer a juicy headline. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break.

A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but Steeple Side only hires committed Christians. Maizy is sure she can fake it with her Five-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith–a plan of action that includes changing her first name to Grace, buying Jesus-themed accessories, and learning “Christian Speak.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s managing editor and two-day-stubbled, blue-jean-wearing British hottie wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s boss at the newspaper decides that she should investigate–and expose–any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she must decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her Steeple Side colleagues–and Jack–will show her grace.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Faking Grace, go HERE

“Tamara Leigh takes her experienced romance hand and delights readers with Chick-Lit that sparkles and characters who come alive.” - Kristin Billerbeck, author of The Trophy Wives Club

“A delightful, charming book! Faking Grace has romance, truth, and a dollop of insanity, making Tamara Leigh a permanent addition to my list of favorite authors. Enjoy!”
- Ginger Garrett, author of In the Shadow of Lions and Beauty Secrets of the Bible

“Tamara Leigh does a fabulous job looking at the faults, the love, the hypocrisy, and the grace of Christians in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Maizy Grace is a crazy character I couldn’t help but like. I loved this book and highly recommend it!”
- Camy Tang, author of Sushi for One? and Only Uni

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Audience of One

        Since The Radio Bible Class publishes Our Daily Bread, one would expect that spiritual bakery to daily, declare some evangelical Christian theme, which is indeed true of today's title. "An Audience of One" suggests a solid, Biblical theme that we should expect to periodically hear from the pulpit, but its possible familiarity must never dull our hearing or sate our appetite for its always timely message.
        The author, Philip Yancey, kindly suggested reading Matthew 6:1-6,
to complement today's devotional, so I dutifully clicked on the link. My eyes embraced the Scripture passage at first glance as a familiar excerpt from Jesus' sermon on the mount. Of course, verse one elicited a sub-verbal "amen," as it always does. For years I've accepted and believed those words as part of Jesus' teaching that cut across the religious establishment's grain. So I charged into verses two and following with every expectation of more "same-ol'-same-ol'."
        What I found, however, was anything but mundane. What I found was a sword-thrust, fresh from God's hand to my religious-establishment heart.
        I tithe and give, not because it's a valid principle of Christian living, and certainly not because I expect God to return the favor a hundred-fold. I tithe and give because I love to, and because those funds aren't mine anyway—or that's what I always thought. Though these Bible verses had become as familiar and comfortable as old shoes, when I put them on this time it felt as if God had, without my knowledge, installed some radical orthotics. And they pinched!
        "Lord, those words fit just fine as they were. I've been walking in them for years, so why fix what ain't broke?"
        But they were "broke," at least, as I had always worn them. How many years had I read those words and applied them directly to the rich, elitist religious establishment of Jesus' time? And YEAH! They had it coming … in spades! This time as I approached those words, Jesus held up His mirror-finished, double-edged sword and blinded me with His Truth … blinded me to my self-delusion so I could see my motives as He did.
        Yes, Lord! Guilty as charged. All this time I've been giving during the Offertory—that is, when I thought I could afford it—and feeling good about it. And why did I feel good about it, especially when my giving has been inconsistent at best? Because people could see me put something into the offering basket.
        Why, it's plain as day now. I've been using that Offertory ritual to boost my own ego. I would have given anyway, but I chose that time when the Offertory music was playing, just like "the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, so they may be praised by others!" And during prayer meetings, when I utter a few holy words of profound wisdom aloud, I'm just like the hypocrites, who stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.
        The truth is, the Offertory, is for giving myself, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is my spiritual worship. And if that's my motive for dropping a check into the basket, then I can praise God for so convicting me.
        Now, I am NOT saying everyone should give at some other time than the Offertory segment of the worship service. And I am NOT saying everyone should sit like a wart during prayer meetings, for fear of appearing to grandstand. I am saying we must not do anything for appearance's sake—or avoid doing them for the same reason. We must only fear God—not what others think—and trust Him to illuminate our motives to us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uncivil Religious Warfare

        It usually starts like this: "I did nothing to provoke such a blatant snubbing! She's not going to get away with treating people that way … she needs to be taught a lesson." Okay, it may not materialize in such lucid terms, but that's often the attitude behind the declaration of uncivil war among church members.
        So let the games begin! The first shots fired are subtle, indirect warning shots, "Are you well, dahling? You seem to have lost weight, haven't you. This calls for a new wardrobe, I should say." (translation: "That dress looks baggy on you.")
        The target reels at the sudden realization that she's just been fired upon, so reflex action ignites a return volley, "Why, thank you for that observation. You're so fortunate to not have to worry about clothes bagging on you." (translation: "Better skinny than fat.")
        If looks could kill, the war would be over before it really starts. But they don't kill, at least not directly. So the exchange of "broad sides" escalates into offhand comments behind enemy backs. And of course those comments find their way back to their subject, more or less—mostly less—accurately, deepening the rift between the brethren.
        The original combatants begin confiding in friends, who become outraged, taking up the offense as their own. Each friend feels it is their Christian responsibility to lift up every last minute detail in "prayer" through a somewhat abridged prayer-chain. Factions form around both horribly mistreated brethren, and with volunteer armies enlisted, people's names are excluded from key social and church functions' invitation lists. After all, we can't have that sort of people poisoning the atmosphere at the dessert social/fund raiser. It simply wouldn't be Christian. "Why, I heard ...." And on it goes.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.(Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)
        If there is an ungodly behavior that much of Christendom passively accepts, unwholesome talk would certainly not be it—unless, that is, we were to drink deeply enough of God's word that we might understand His definition of the term. Is reading Ephesians 4:29-32 without grasping its message possible? Anyone who has spent much time around "church," would have to admit that it is.
        What may have originated as a thoughtless gaffe soon escalates to open warfare, with allies enlisted on both sides in a systematic campaign of attacks on the other's personhood. And all with airtight self-justification. Outright carnal behavior becomes a holy war as deadly in a way as an Islamic jihad.
        How can anyone who claims to follow the Biblical Christ justify such un-Christian behavior as bitterness, rage and anger? And that's just the short list of wrong attitudes.
        One might wonder how professed Christians manage to justify such character assassination. Perhaps if we isolate each clause of the above quoted passage from its neighbors, we can warp God's word enough to rationalize the message into oblivion. Wouldn't we be in the best of religious company by so doing?
        Today, ungodly people—whether religious or irreligious—can broadcast unwholesome conversation through e-mail, instant messaging and chat far more quickly than their infernal progenitors did by mouth or conventional mail. Though such uncivil war begins with righteous indignation, volleys of "justifiable" anger, bitterness and rage soon follow. While today's brethren may still consider bitterness, rage, brawling and slander to be bad things, we miss the fact that such aggressive behavior quickly follows the more passive sin of unwholesome conversation. Jesus didn't mince words when He said, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mar 7:21-23 ESV)
        Some will defend their spite with such excuses as, "evil things" aren't even in the same hemisphere as the "unwholesome talk" Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:29. But if a heart and mind hungry for godliness examines both passages, they will see that the offenses are disturbingly similar. They're not only in the same hemisphere, but cohabiters in the same household.
        War between brethren, whether civil or uncivil, is sin. And while Jesus pronounced judgment on the world's sin through His death, burial and resurrection, the church's sins of presumption on His grace remain to be judged.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Who Is Wise?

        The worst thing a preacher can do—the quickest way to get fired—is to "preach at" individual congregants' wrongdoing, especially those of the more tenured saints. On the other hand, Jesus' brother James—Ya'aqov in Hebrew—stood out from his brethren by living an entirely sanctified, righteous life. His community revered him as "James the Just." And other sources call him, in Hebrew, "Ya'aqov the Sadiq," or James the Brother. We can tell by the contents of James' letter that he didn't mind crossing the "saints" who had become smug and judgmental due to their position within the church, as the following excerpt attests.
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

15Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.

16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
(James 3:13-17 NIV)
        Wisdom and understanding are noble pursuits. Most of us will readily admit we possess far too little of those characteristics. And the ones who won't admit those shortcomings? Well, we just relegate them to the loony bin with all the other self-deluded wackos.
        There has to be some way of discerning the higher qualities in those we encounter, other than taking their word for it. The first direct product of wisdom that James mentions is a life of good works done in humility. Of course, discerning the works of those we don't know well can be a dicey proposition. And even those we think we know well can be clever enough to carry on an Academy Award Winning performance, both of good works and of humility. So there must be other ways of discerning genuine, heavenly wisdom.
        In verses 14 and 15, Ya'aqov the Lord's brother gives us the other side of the "Wisdom Equation." The "wisdom" that is not from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish, is often as hard to discern as the Gold Standard of true wisdom. Perhaps we can call it "fool's gold."
        Many who succeed in this world demonstrate that same worldly wisdom, and are proud of the bitter envy, and selfish ambition they harbor in their hearts. Others, depending upon their audience, flat-out deny the envy and ambition that fills their hearts. Oddly enough, we find blatantly religious folks in both camps. If one were to suggest to them that such worldly wisdom is carnal, unspiritual, or of the Devil, there'd be "hell to pay."
        Human affairs have always produced certain … ah … "fruit," such as vs. 16 enumerates: Such fruit looks and tastes a lot like disorder and every evil practice. The secular world's remedy of choice for this bitter fruit is regulation and control. We all know how well that works. Back in 1887, Lord Acton summed it up rather succinctly: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
        The corollary to Lord Acton's Law would be, "Laws are made to be successfully exploited by powerful men." Of course, we all know that "powerful" and "rich" are synonymous.
        One caveat is in order here: History has witnessed many wealthy people who refused to succumb to Lord Acton's Law, or, once corrupted, repented openly and liberally of their corruption. They were the philanthropists, the agents of righteous and social change, and even a few ministers who underwrote effective humanitarian and gospel works. Nowhere does the Bible say wealth is inherently sinful. But love, or even more often envy, of wealth has brought down many.
        But Ya'aqov the sadiq isn't finished with us yet. Verse 17 lists other characteristics that, if practiced successfully, guarantee the practitioner will conspicuously lack worldly power. Such things as purity, love of true inner peace, deference to others' needs, submissiveness, mercy, good fruit-bearing, impartiality and sincerity, virtually assure those who possess them of running at cross purposes with the world system.
        And the apostle's parting statement in chapter three sounds rather like a religious platitude. But listen carefully to the words and what they mean: Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

The Real vs. The Counterfeit

        Sounds so nicely passive, doesn't it. Just try it and see how easy it is. The world cries for peace, but do they really want it? No, the cost of righteousness is far too high.
        The Biblical fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter five sounds nice: Love-Joy-Peace-Patience-Kindness-Goodness-Faithfulness-Gentleness-Self-control. Let's all serve it up in HUGE portions. Just go out and pluck that fruit off the Tree of Life 'til the basket overflows.
        But there's one thing we harvesters must remember: The world is full of counterfeit spiritual fruit, and it is quite clever. They are infatuation instead of love, situational joy, aggressive peace-seeking, grudging tolerance instead of patience, altruism rather than kindness, and religious, Sunday-righteousness.
        And the last four are simply convincing performances of superficial goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These counterfeits are convincing enough to fool anyone, so we can't rely on our own discernment to know them. In fact, our attempts at discerning spiritual fruit can easily head us into the sin of judgmentalism. For that reason, Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.(Luke 6:37 NIV)
        So, how can we know the true fruit from the counterfeit fruit? Simple! Care for your own, and let God care for the rest.
        John the baptizer said it right. Speaking to all the religious leaders who came out to the Jordan River to make a show of righteousness, he said, Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.(Matthew 3:8 NIV)