"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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Free, But with Strings

They say salvation is free, and indeed it is, because God’s word tells us so, for example, in Ephesians 2:8-9. Living in this world has taught us that if we see something offered free of charge there are always strings attached. So our natural reaction to the gospel of Grace is to examine it for strings.
By the wisdom unique to God, something—in this case salvation from our guilt of and punishment for sin—is both free and costly. It cost our Father God the earthly life of His Son Jesus; it’s no small thing that the divine Creator of the universe willingly experienced our human frailty, sin, and death to ultimately free us from all of the above.

What does He ask in return?
Absolutely nothing that we won’t freely give. Of the many passages in God’s word that deal with our response to His grace, one stands out with the simplest, clearest statement: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

How can our response be mandatory if the gift is free?
God’s gift of eternal salvation doesn’t just give us a relationship with God and eternity in heaven, it changes us elementally: From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19 ESV)
The best part of God’s gospel is that He recreates those who believe and obey it. Sin is no longer our natural mode of operation, but to the new creation is an aberration, something to be avoided, or regretted and repented of.
So, what’s the big deal if God’s grace does come with strings attached? If we truly belong to Him, the strings are the best part.

Monday, July 25, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Canary Island Song
Howard Books; Original edition (July 5, 2011)
Robin Jones Gunn

Canary Island Song is a sweet story ... sweet, but not sappy ... that takes you to the bit of Spanish paradise just off the coast of Africa that gives this story its title. Romance is the kind of orchid that seems to grow best in such a tropical haven, where forty-something Carolyn anticipated anything but a budding romance. To say running into Bryan Spencer, her summer heartthrob from many years before, caught her unprepared is a world-class understatement.
        Author Robin Jones Gunn's research and familiarity with the localle and its traditional Spanish social customs give the reader a feeling of inside knowledge, as complicated family relationships unfold to reveal this novel's captivating story line.
        This is a romance even a guy could love, and it kept me up reading to my wife when we should have been busy sawing logs.

Robin Jones Gunn was born in Wisconsin and lived on a dairy farm until her family moved to southern California when she was five years old. She grew up in Orange County and spent her summers at Newport Beach with friends from her church youth group. After attending Biola University and Capernwray Bible School in Austria, Robin and Ross were married and spent the next two decades working together in youth ministry
        It was the young teens at Robin’s church who challenged her to write stories for them. She hadn’t thought much about being a writer, but took their request to heart and set her alarm for 3am, three days a week. With two small children it was the only time she could find to write the first story about Christy Miller. After two years and ten rejections the novel Summer Promise was accepted for publication in 1988. Robin hasn’t stopped writing since. Over 4 million copies of her 75 books have sold and can be found in a dozen translations all over the world.
        Robin and her husband now live in Hawai’i where Ross is a counselor and Robin continues to write to the sound of tropical birds chattering in the palm trees outside her window. Their children are grown but manage to come to the islands with their families every chance they get. Robin's awards include: three Christy awards for excellence in fiction, a Gold Medallion finalist, Mt. Hermon Pacesetter and the Mt. Hermon Writer of the Year award. Robin travels extensively and is a frequent key-note speaker at various events around the world. She serves on the Board of Directors for Media Associates International and Jerry Jenkin’s Christian Writer’s Guild.


When Carolyn’s grown daughter tells her she needs to “get a life,” Carolyn decides it’s time to step out of her familiar routine as a single woman in San Francisco and escape to her mother’s home in the Canary Islands. Since Carolyn’s mother is celebrating her seventieth birthday, the timing of Carolyn’s visit makes for a perfect surprise.
        The surprise, however, is on Carolyn when she sees Bryan Spencer, her high school summer love. It’s been seven years since Carolyn lost her husband, but ever since that tragic day, her life has grown smaller and closed in. The time has come for Carolyn to get her heart back. It takes the gentle affection of her mother and aunts, as well as the ministering beauty and song of the islands to draw Carolyn into the fullness of life. She is nudged along by a Flamenco dance lesson, a defining camel ride and the steady gaze of Bryan’s intense blue-gray eyes.
        Is it too late for Carolyn to trust Bryan? Can Carolyn believe that Bryan has turned into something more than the wild beach boy who stole her kisses so many years ago on a balmy Canary night?
        Carolyn is reminded that Christopher Columbus set sail from the Canary Islands in 1492 on his voyage to discover the New World. Is she ready to set sail from these same islands to discover her new life?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Canary Island Song, go HERE.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


        Few experiences can devastate a woman more than giving birth to a dead infant. Early reports of fetal distress can be erroneous. Even the absence of a prenatal heartbeat doesn’t necessarily mean the preborn baby is dead. The baby’s birth, however, erases any question; all indicators of life are absent. It doesn’t breathe life-giving oxygen. It has no desire for its mother’s milk. It neither cries nor giggles. Its little hands fail to reach out to explore its new world.
        Would a sane mother attempt to suckle the lifeless body or prop it up in a highchair and place fresh food before it? Of course not.
        Would she expect it to grow, to begin talking, or walking? Hardly.
        In fact such a topic is entirely distasteful, and discussing it could lead to depression or discouragement. And any woman who has experienced such a tragedy will likely storm away from the discussion in tears.
        Throughout the Bible’s New Testament we find examples of those who hear the gospel of Christ and seem to respond to the call of God’s Holy Spirit, only to fall far short of the christlikeness to which they were called. Such examples abound even today, filling church pews with the rotting spiritual corpses of those who responded to Christ’s upward calling, not by crucifying self to be reborn in His Spirit, but to simply adopt the religious lifestyle customary for those professing Christ.
        The analogy is clear. Just as a preborn infant’s life is not viable outside its mother’s womb, all human beings are born with a life of sorts, but that life can never sustain them into eternity without rebirth in Christ Jesus’ Holy Spirit. The difference between the two is the physically stillborn can never fake the growth and achievements of the live-born, while the spiritually stillborn often do.

The Remedy
        Is recovery from such living-dead pretense possible? The easy answer is, “But he said, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:27 ESV)
        That wonderful promise, however, comes with a caveat. Jesus said those words to His disciples after delivering some bad news to a wealthy man. The bad news wasn’t that the stock market had just crashed. Neither was it that his entire estate had fallen into the sea. The bad news Jesus gave this wealthy man came in response to his question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
        In response to the man’s litany of good works and religious faithfulness, Jesus said “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:18 & 22)
        To complete this teaching we must look to another of Jesus’ hard statements. When the crowds followed the Miracle Worker to a hillside He began His teaching with the basics: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
        We need to ask ourselves who Jesus meant by “the poor in spirit.” He certainly didn’t mean those who are spiritually poverty stricken. That group would include everyone who was ever born—save one. It is the natural human condition. Jesus meant the heavenly realm belongs to those who live in a spirit of poverty, as if they possess no material riches, regardless how affluent they are. In application, followers of Jesus who are wealthy must not jealously embrace their worldly possessions, but live as if they had a subsistence income.
        Are the “poor in spirit” limited to those with healthy attitudes toward money and possessions? Hardly! Jesus’ followers easily fall into the trap of religious pride, looking down their pharisaical noses upon those who haven’t attained to their elevated level of spiritual maturity. And how do such mature saints judge others’ spirituality? Why, by their actions, of course … including their worship style, their political affiliations, their dress and hair style, their recreational activities, and anything else that deviates from the religiously acceptable.
        But have such judgmental folks never heard of Jesus prohibitions on judging others? (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37; John 7:24) Of course they have, and they will be the first to condemn those who judge others.
        So, how does all this apply to the subject of the spiritually stillborn? The tragic truth is where religious pride and judgmental attitudes abound, God’s Spirit does not.
        This hook, however, has a rather nasty barb; God’s spiritual fruit-bearers will not be the ones pointing fingers at the prideful and judgmental.
        Holy mackerel! Does that mean we who are spiritual cannot get away with sniggering at the sanctimonious? O ye sanctimonious brethren, yes it does.
Gender Spectrum Diversity Training
            If you were to read conservative Christian sources such as Focus On The Family or The Moral Majority you might become alarmed by the trend in the more liberal public school systems to include "gender neutral" or "gender diverse" curricula. Such trends begin with a noble purpose, such as prejudice-based violence prevention, but lose focus when special interest groups climb aboard and convert the movement into an expression of their own paranoia.
            Taken at face value, such terms as "Gender Spectrum Diversity" hardly seem threatening. After all, boys and girls do express their masculinity and femininity in a fast array of degrees and styles. Not only do boys and girls differ markedly, but boys differ from other boys and girls differ from other girls. In that sense there is indeed a "diverse spectrum" of sex identity. If encouraging acceptance of such diversity among children were as far as these curricula went, they could be a distinctly positive thing. But they don't stop there.
            Curricula such as Gender Spectrum Diversity Training proactively teach children that traditional sex roles are "intolerant" and wrong. In attempting to create a "values neutral" secular educational environment, educators actually create a moral void where children are taught to reject the traditional "moral compass," and are largely left to their own devices to establish behavior standards. And the self-blinded authorities puzzle over increased bullying and corruption among young people.
            Arbitrary intolerance is indeed wrong. The Christ of the Bible, however, practiced violent intolerance of religious hypocrisy and social discrimination. Why, then, does the educational establishment not hold Him up as the example of progressive social and spiritual reformation? Heaven forbid they should make the atheists angry.

Monday, July 04, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Lion of Babylon
Bethany House (July 1, 2011)
Davis Bunn


        Now, to break my long silence on this blog, here is my passionate review(that is my intention at any rate) of Davis Bunn's latest novel. I wish everyone who blames Islam for all the world's evil would read Lion of Babylon. Davis Bunn speaks in this novel from first-hand experience with the various players in the Middle East. Through the eyes and voice of Syrian Christian Sameh el-Jacobi, Bunn offers refreshing insights into the dynamics of both Sunni and Shia terrorists, conservatives and progressives.

        Far from simply a treatise illuminating Islamic religious and political insights, Lion of Babylon lays out a fictional scenario that could have easily sprung from the pages of international news outlets. Insiders' perspectives provide the suspension of disbelief that separates great fiction from all other storytelling.

        Speaking of storytelling, in Lion of Babylon Bunn spins a yarn entangling Washington's halls of government with Iranian mullahs and Iraqi imams. This novel has everything from foreign intrigue to the deepest levels of human trauma and sacrifice.

        Reward yourself with a slow, luxurious reading of Lion of Babylon. Yes, read it slowly, because you'll hate to see it end.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Davis left for Europe at age twenty. There he first completed graduate studies in economics and finance, then began a business career that took him to over forty countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

        Davis came to faith at age 28, while living in Germany and running an international business advisory group. He started writing two weeks later. Since that moment, writing has remained both a passion and a calling.

        Davis wrote for nine years and completed seven books before his first was accepted for publication. During that time, he continued to work full-time in his business career, travelling to two and sometimes three countries every week. His first published book, The Presence, was released in 1990 and became a national bestseller.

        Honored with three Christy Awards for excellence in historical and suspense fiction, his bestsellers include The Great Divide, Winner Take All, The Meeting Place, The Warning, The Book of Hours, and The Quilt.

        A sought-after speaker in the art of writing, Davis serves as Writer In Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.
Marc Royce works for the State Department on special assignments, most of them rather routine, until two CIA operatives go missing in Iraq--kidnapped by Taliban forces bent on generating chaos in the region. Two others also drop out of sight--a high-placed Iraqi civilian and an American woman providing humanitarian aid. Are the disappearances linked? Rumors circulate in a whirl of misinformation.

        Marc must unravel the truth in a covert operation requiring utmost secrecy--from both the Americans and the insurgents. But even more secret than the undercover operation is the underground dialogue taking place between sworn enemies. Will the ultimate Reconciler between ancient enemies, current foes, and fanatical religious factions be heard?

        If you would like to read the first chapter of Lion of Babylon, go HERE.