"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, June 30, 2010

Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson

            I want to say at the outset, Refuge on Crescent Hill was a pleasure to read; it has suspense, humor, vivid character development, vivid setting, and a great story.             So now you're expecting the "but" implied above. It's not much of a "but," but, ... please keep in mind that I'm a rabid editor ... Melanie might well have expended more resources on editing her manuscript. Let's just say, the finished product would have been a smidge different if I'd had my way with it.             Don't get me wrong. Refuge on Crescent Hill is a wonderful read, despite the few gaffes that jumped out at me. I heartily recommend that you get this book.             You'll be amply rewarded.

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Refuge on Crescent Hill
Kregel Publications (March 11, 2010)
Melanie Dobson

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good.
Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.
Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.
Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.
< Jobless, homeless, and broke, Camden Bristow decides to visit the grandmother she hasn’t seen in years. But when Camden arrives in Etherton, Ohio, she discovers that her grandmother has passed away, leaving her the 150-year-old mansion on Crescent Hill. The site of her happiest summers as a child, the run-down mansion is now her only refuge.
When Camden finds evidence that she may not be the mansion’s only occupant, memories of Grandma Rosalie’s bedtime stories about secret passageways and runaway slaves fuel her imagination. What really happened at Crescent Hill? Who can she turn to for answers in this town full of strangers? And what motivates the handsome local Alex Yates to offer his help? As she works to uncover the past and present mysteries harbored in her home, Camdem uncovers deep family secrets within the mansion’s walls that could change her life─and the entire town─forever.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Refuge on Crescent Hill, go HERE.

"You talkin'ta me?

Yes! You doobee talkin' ta me, Lord.
Colossians 1:21-23 ESV And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
            Every one of these words strikes home to me with divine power. Vs. 21 pinned me like a moth to a specimen board; Guilty As Charged!
            Colossians 1:22 is the good stuff ... not that it's not all good. Reconciliation is what life is all about. Never mind possessions or position or career, much of which is gained through compromise. As Scripture so eloquently says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2Pe 3:10)             John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, wrote something that can help us prioritize:
1 John 2:15-17 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. (17) And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
            Of course, this principle almost suffers from too much exposure from the pulpit. If we're not careful we'll dismiss it as we do tinnitus(ringing, hissing, ticking, roaring, pulsating sounds in our ears ... you do have tinnitus, don't you? All the best people suffer from tinnitus). Trouble is, over exposure to the truth is not an excuse for loving things rather than the Lord. Jesus requires that we be "holy and blameless and above reproach" when we stand before him(refer again to 1 John 2:15-17 above if you've forgotten).
            Colossians 1:23 is the part some folks like to ignore(there's always a catch, isn't there). In case you've forgotten what it says, go back and read it again. The word if is the biggest word in the English language. Technically, it's a conditional conjunction that says, "Hey, what follows is an essential condition."
            By review, that verse is saying we must continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, to be presented holy and blameless and above reproach before him. That's more airtight than a highfalutin' lawyer could write a contract. And it is part of the contract we call the New Covenant.
            Yes, lest we forget; God is "talkin'ta me," and you, throughout his word, our Holy Bible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More On Observing the Seventh-Day Sabbath

I was studying Matthew 19 and noticed vss. 16-18. What follows is my commentary on them:
Thus begins Jesus' teaching on the essential works required for eternal life. The seeker addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher." Then he asked the simplest of questions, "What good to perform in order to possess life everlasting?"
The seeker recognized and confessed to Jesus that he considered the Teacher good; not necessarily as a quality teacher, but as a good person who was a teacher.
Jesus inquired about the use of the word "good" as applied to to himself, and explained that only God is good. Note, Jesus did not contradict the seeker or rebuke him for using a word to describe him that should only be used to describe God.
Then Jesus answered the question in his own terms, "If you want to enter into the life, keep the commandments." Jesus answered the seeker's question about life everlasting by referring to the life as the only life that mattered.
In answer to the seeker's question, "But which (commandments)?" Jesus specified not murdering, committing adultery, stealing, witnessing falsely, (and in vs. 19) honoring parents and loving neighbors as self; all commandments regarding behavior toward other people.
Perhaps Jesus recognized that the seeker lived carefully with regard to honoring God through the ceremonial laws, but had issues with treating others according to the spirit of the law. In any case, Jesus did not specify religious observance as being required to gain life everlasting.
In the New Testament's context, this is a good indication that observing the seventh-day Sabbath was not a high priority to Jesus. While Jesus didn't specifically exempt us from observing the Sabbath, by not including it as a requirement to gain eternal life, along with all the other ceremonial laws, he inferred that he personally fulfilled them all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PC in the church

David H. Roper wrote a devotional for Our Daily Bread, posted on June 22, 2010. The following is my reaction, that I sent to Bro. Roper's facebook page:

Just read your Our Daily Bread devotional for June 22. Loved the message; it ministered to me. The parting thought, however, left me cold. "A wise person sets his earthly goals on heavenly gains." Yes, the thought is true, but you seem to have bowed(half-way) to political correctness in its expression. I would have preferred "A wise man sets..." or "... sets his/her earthly goals ..."

You guessed it; PC in the church is one of my hot buttons. The Bible often uses "man" in the generic, human, sense. Anyone who doesn't get it needs to study God more closely. So here's a suggestion: Write an ODB devotional on the subject of "Why God doesn't enforce political correctness in the church."

In its attempt to avoid offending anyone, much of today's church has adopted Political Correctness as its public relations policy. Seems we have forgotten that God is "no respecter of persons," meaning He (or she) considers all humankind to be equal, regardless their race, social position, finances, religion, morality, intelligence, physical characteristics or gender.

Acts 10:34,35 states, "So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." Though one of the Bible's oft-repeated themes is egalitarianism, many "Christians" routinely snub those considered in some way inferior. Obviously, that is not God's idea. And the list of applicable Scripture references goes on: Acts 10:45; Acts 11:2; Acts 11:3; Acts 21:20-25

There is, however, another form of political correctness that might better be described as ideological correctness. God's church discriminates against anyone who disagrees with us on issues of faith. Not only do we discriminate, we attack the infidels' personhood, defending our beliefs by attempting to demean those who disagree with us.

Yes, secularists, atheists, cynics, and doubters of all stripes practice the same sort of prejudicial aggression, but as part of the unregenerate world system they bear no responsibility to act more nobly. We, however, as God's body of called-out ones, must strive for godliness. That does not allow for expressing our vain pride in who we think we are and what we think is our infallible grasp on Truth.

When we become defensive in response to doubters' attacks on our faith or our personhood, we demonstrate our insecurity in those very things. That aggressive anxiety accomplishes nothing more than broadcasting our own ignorance or insecurity. The Bible says we must "study to show ourselves approved." (2 Timothy 2:15) And it also says, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (1 Peter 3:14-16)

If we have no reason for either kind of political correctness, why do we practice it? Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived." A statement more applicable for the Christian life might be, "I went to the Bible because I wanted to believe deliberately, I wanted to live wise and suck all the truth out of life, To put to rout all that was not truth and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not believed." Wisdom and truth are proven by their fruit, not by meticulous adherence to PC.

Friday, June 18, 2010

City of Ember

            Bill Murray's aim proved accurate in his film, City of Ember. True to his cynical persona, Murray succeeded in holding up all venerated things to ridicule.             As a Christian, I was at first a bit rankled by the religious fervor and blind trust displayed for "The Builders," as it was obviously a jibe aimed at religion in general. Yet, the message holds a truth well taken; religious folks too often accept what may indeed be Eternal Truth in a manner akin to pagans' adherence to their superstition. Truth welcomes challenge, and to hold truth sacrosanct makes it impotent.             One beauty of CITY OF EMBER is any passionate proponent of virtually any ideology will find a simple allegory for their cause in it. Of course, that is completely apart from the film's production quality. Somehow it seems just right in its delivery of "The truth will out." And what better moral could it proclaim?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Swing Vote Movie Commentary

            Bud Johnson(convincingly played by Kevin Costner), an ordinary, beer-swilling guy who's screw-up put him in the position of determining the free world's direction, suddenly realizes he's clueless ... thanks to his daughter Molly(played by bright young star Madeline Carroll). The world has ten days to pitch their causes and special interests, including the President of the United States(a Republican), and his opponent in the election(obviously, a Democrat), before Bud heads to the poll to cast his vote. Both candidates adopt him as their favorite good-ol'-boy and waffle their positions on the issues, based on Bud's clueless statements to the press, to try and placate him.             When in the course of Bud's celebrity, Molly manages to arrange a Presidential debate with her dad as the moderator, his need to get informed about the issues penetrates his alcohol-fogged brain. Finally he settles down to read mail from all the needy people in the country. Of course, they tell a tale of woe about losing jobs and insurance and everything else one can lose, appealing to Bud to make it right with his selection of the next President of the United States. As if government can cure what ails society. As if the President of the United States can give everybody what they want.             The night of the great debate—The Final Debate—arrives. Bud carries his bundle of notes gleaned from his brief study of issues, statistics and the folks' letters, to the moderator's desk. The dignified candidates walk onto the Great Stage at the county fairgrounds, sincerely shake hands and assume their posts at their respective podiums.             Bud Johnson humbles himself before a national audience and his daughter by confessing his shortcomings, and explains his change of mind.             "Tonight I am going to speak for people I have never met. These letters have touched me in a way that I did not think was possible." The first question from his mail bag says, "When you work hard and still can't take care of your family's needs you start to question yourself as a provider and as a man. I know I am one; I fought for my country and I'm proud of it. And it scares me to think about what would happen if one of my kids got sick. Can you ask the candidates, 'If we are the richest country in the world, how come so many of us can barely afford to live here?' "             The next day, as Bud approaches the voting machine, daddy-sitter-Molly has to let him go alone to do his civic duty. He looks back at her with a confident smile, fully ready to make his momentous decision, and closes the curtain as he turns to vote.             Roll closing credits.             Out of all the absurd idealism voiced in this movie, the whiny campaign manager(played by Nathan Lane) for candidate Donald Greenleaf(played by Dennis Hopper), made what may be the definitive statement with his question, "You know what it's like to be on the right side of every issue that never gets beyond the theory stage?"             He accidentally found the nail and hammered it squarely. Everybody's got a theory about the way things should be run. Some are highly idealistic, others are brutally pragmatic. But few if any government decision-makers—whether in office or aspiring—base their public opinions on the true wisdom of hindsight. As the wise man once said, "There is nothing new under the sun." And Molly, in her school essay early on in the movie made a statement it seems all politicians forget: "Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it."             Well said, Molly. Too bad you missed your own point.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Man from Earth

            I must write my reaction to Richard Schenkman's move The Man from Earth quickly, before it disappears like the recollection of a dream. The premise struck me as ingenious Sci-Fi, a refreshing switch from run-of-the-mill space-operas, mindless monster gore-extraviganzas and ray-gun totin' space cowboy yarns.             In its simple complexity,The Man from Earth pegs humanity, the simply complex race. And yes, I loved it the movie. As a Christian literalist, I take John Oldman's statements from the "Jesus" persona(played by David Lee Smith) as well-meant social commentary possessing more than a grain of truth. I happen to agree that popular Christianity bears little resemblance to the way of Yeshua, though my confidence that he was and is and is to come the divine Son of God remains unshaken by skeptics' trite arguments and clever works of fiction.             To be credible, Christians must pursue the childlike faith Jesus taught, that refuses to be threatened by intellectual and emotional human arguments. Unlike Edith's reaction to apparent sacrilege(played to the "T" by Ellen Crawford), we must simply listen to the inevitable challenges folks will throw at us and refuse to take them personally. As blasphemy doesn't hurt God's feelings, though it grieves his spirit, insults heaped on believers shouldn't hurt our feelings, lest we provide the enemy with easy victories.             We must remember that the enemy of our souls is a liar who will stop at nothing to break our spirit. To pay him heed will divert our walk from the way of Christ onto the wide, smooth, well-populated road of personal affront. Do we really wish to join the religious world's unholy warriors who would kill the infidels? When we strike back at challengers we do so from pride, not from righteous indignation. In fact, the only one who has a right to righteous indignation is the only righteous One, the very object of our faith.             Movies can't threaten us, unless we lust after the hedonism displayed therein. Arguments can't threaten us, unless we are so poorly versed in the truth that we're swayed by them. Even displays of force can't threaten us because our hope lies beyond this mortal life.             Jesus' apostle John wrote one of the most important lessons we can get from God's word: Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them(the spirit of antichrist): because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4 KJV)             Refuse to be threatened by human reason or rage against God. Sit back and enjoy the movie, even if it purports to challenge your beliefs. If a simple movie that presents another view threatens our spiritual well-being, how can we hope to stand against the real wiles of the enemy?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

No More Questions?

            That's the plan.             There I was, all snuggled into my warm, comfy bed, meditating on God and related stuff, when I realized(again) that God knows what he's doing. He made me the way I am for a purpose, and like-it-or-not, I came out right.             So I can quit bugging God about why I'm so glitchy. And I can quit(I hope) feeling sorry for myself.             Here I would normally launch into a litany of personal faults that I hate—or at least passionately dislike—about myself, illustrating why God did a boo-boo in making me this way. But I won't do that because I would inevitably wind up slogging in self-pity; what a detestable habit.             Instead, I'll go back to bed full of glorious, unspeakable joy for God's unsearchable blessings, and for the fact that I didn't procrastinate writing this post—which would have doomed it to terminal forgottenness.             Okay. Truth be told, some things about myself still irritate me. But I intend to initiate Operation-U.G.: Unconditional Gratitude!             Any Questions?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Deceit by Brandilyn Collins

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing DECEIT Zondervan (June 18, 2010) by Brandilyn Collins

            She did it again. But why should I sound surprised? I've come to expect not only heart-stopping suspense, twisted plots and quirky characters from Collins, but some of the best quality narration and dialog out there. In Collins' gifted hands, language becomes a display window providing deep insight into the heads and hearts of her characters, and a hi-res, full color view into their world. Collins is arguably the best story-teller out there.
            But if you're hanging back from getting this one because it is from a Christian publisher, forget it. Say good-by to fiction that smacks of Sunday school. Though she writes from an authentic, Christian world view, I doubt you'll find an easy-believist, down-the-sawdust-trail conversion in any Collins thriller (one of my pet peeves in CBA novels). Get the book, you'll see.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brandilyn Collins is an award-winning and best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline "Don't forget to b r e a t h e..."® Brandilyn's first book, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995. Its promotion landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. Brandilyn is also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons). She is now working on her 20th book.
In addition, Brandilyn’s other latest release is Final Touch, third in The Rayne Tour series—young adult suspense co-written with her daughter, Amberly. The Rayne Tour series features Shaley O’Connor, daughter of a rock star, who just may have it all—until murder crashes her world.
Skip Tracer Joanne Weeks knows Baxter Jackson killed his second wife--and Joanne's best friend--seven years ago. But Jackson, a church elder and beloved member of the town, walks the streets a free man.
The police tell Joanne to leave well enough alone, but Joanne is determined to bring Jackson down. Using her skip tracing skills, she sets out to locate Melissa Harkoff, now twenty-two, who lived in the Jackson home at the time of Linda Jackson's disappearance.
As Joanne drives home on a rainy winter night, a hooded figure darts in front of her car. In her headlight beams she glimpses the half-concealed face of a man, a rivulet of blood jagging down his cheek. She squeals to a stop but clips him with her right fender. Shaking, she gets out of her car in the pouring rain. The man will not let her see his face. Before he limps off into the night he warns her not to talk to police.
As Joanne tries to find Melissa, someone seems to be after her. Who was the man she hit on the road. Is Baxter Jackson out to silence her? Or is some other skip she's traced in the past now out for revenge?
If you would like to read the first chapter of Deceit, go HERE

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

It's About The Doing

            What is death?             To us humans, it is at least an end. Those who disbelieve in some sort of afterlife are gambling that it is the end.             Those of us who believe in a spiritual component to life share the hope that it is also a beginning. But, those of us who believe what the Bible says about death share the firm confidence that it is the beginning; all experiences leading up to death are nothing more than preparation for the life that follows.             Though Easter is behind us for another year, we can still consider its meaning, both to us and to God. It begins with the Passion Week, and most everyone knows what that means; we get all sad about Good Friday and Jesus' death. Then on Easter Sunday, the devout among us get up really early, don our fanciest finery, and go to church for the Sunrise Service, usually followed by the Breakfast Bash. And we're secretly thankful that Daylight-Savings-Time has yet to spring us forward one hour.             When we consider Christ's death, burial and resurrection, we find it easiest to figure, "Yeah, Jesus died, but not really, 'cause he resurrected himself after only three days. If I haven't consciously thought that, I've behaved as though I did. Let's consider what God's eternal Son had at stake back then.             We know from John's gospel that Jesus wasn't too hot on the idea of Good Friday, if his "sweating blood" is any indication. He knew his death wouldn't last, so why was he so upset about it? Was it the same sort of dread we have before going to the dentist? "This is gonna really hurt!"             The physical agony he endured to take away our penalty for sin is mind boggling, but that was just his humanity. As God's eternal, divine Son, he endured infinitely more than that. First, the One who shared the Father's divine glory and attributes humbled himself to be incarnated in flesh and blood as a human being. That in itself was the come-down of all come-downs. Think of Undercover Boss to the gazillionth degree.             Next, the Judge of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, endured the religious establishment's petty mind games, insults and outright persecution. He could have called down millions of angels to shut them up but good(the insubordinate peons).             Third, the infamous passion of Christ was completely voluntary. At any point he could have summoned the heavenly host to carry him away from all that humiliation, blasphemy and torture--even from the cross itself.             But he didn't. Not because he had to fulfill his destiny. Not because he followed orders as the Good Son. But because he loved every man jack among us enough to suffer more than we could ever imagine. In fact, some Christian zealots submit to actual crucifixion on Good Friday, trying to experience Jesus' suffering as penance for their own sins. But they have it all wrong; no mere human being could experience the kind of torment that Jesus did, because humans can only suffer physical pain and death. Jesus suffered infinitely more loss than that.             The one Bible verse nearly everyone has heard at some point in their lives explains God's motivation in the simplest terms.
John 3:16 KJV For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
            Those simple words both explain it all, and they explain nothing, because our human pea-brains can't begin to understand them ... not without faith. And where do we get that rare commodity? Only God can give it, to whomever he wants.             So, all this is about God's doing, because he wanted to. All we can do is believe if we can. And you know what? If you want to, you can. Because that "want to" comes from God.