"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.

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.