"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, March 25, 2012

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Stuart Brannon's Final Shot
Center Point Pub; Lrg edition (March 2012)
Stephen Bly


Stephen Bly (August 17, 1944 – June 9, 2011) authored 106 books and hundreds of articles and short stories. His book, The Long Trail Home (Broadman & Holman), won the prestigious 2002 Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction in the category western novel. Three other books, Picture Rock (Crossway Books), The Outlaw’s Twin Sister (Crossway Books), and Last of the Texas Camp (Broadman & Holman), were Christy Award finalists. He spoke at colleges, churches, camps and conferences across the U.S. and Canada. He was the pastor of Winchester Community Church, and served as mayor of Winchester, Idaho (2000-2007). He spoke on numerous television and radio programs, including Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. He was an Active Member of the Western Writers of America. Steve graduated summa cum laude in Philosophy from Fresno State University and received a M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary. The Blys have three sons: Russell (married to Lois) and father of Zachary and Miranda (married to Chris Ross) and mother of Alayah; Michael (married to Michelle); and Aaron (married to Rina Joye) and father of Keaton and Deckard. A third generation westerner, Steve spent his early years working on California farms owned by his father and an uncle.

Janet Chester Bly received a B.S. degree in Literature & Languages and Fine & Performing Arts from Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho. She speaks at women’s luncheons and retreats and does writers’ workshops. She is a member of Winchester Community Church where she serves as music director. She has authored eleven nonfiction and fiction books and co-authored twenty others, as well as contributed to five books. Janet’s hobbies include decorating her home in “country clutter,” reading almost all genres of fiction and mall walking. She lives in Winchester, Idaho–elevation 4,000 feet, population 300– situated on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

The Oregon coast was a rough place as the Twentieth Century dawned, regardless how hard the social elite and business proprietors tried to make it seem otherwise. And when Stuart Brannon, the real life action-hero from scores of dime novels, rides his spirited horse—more like panicked horse—out of the train's baggage car and into the crowded, noisy streets of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, their wake of destruction fails to endear them to the affair's administrators and policemen. So much for easing into the background for a nice, peaceful investigation.

Steven Bly wove his last novel into a rich, subtle tapestry of intrigue and action that crosses genres with a satisfying blend of old west action and modern sophistication.


In 1905, at 58 years old, legendary lawman Stuart Brannon - now a rancher and widower - had no intention of leaving his beloved Arizona Territory to attend the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon, nor to participate in the celebrity golf tournament for the Willamette Orphan Farm. Even an emotional appeal for his longtime friend didn’t persuade him. His life no longer consisted of bloodthirsty men to track down . . . people trying to kill him . . . lawless gangs preying on the innocent.

Then the telegram came: Stuart, I need you in Portland. Tim Wiseman is missing. I think there’s a cover-up going on. Tell folks you’re going to the Exposition. Nose around. Find out how a U.S. Marshal can disappear and no one knows why. I’ll contact you there. T.R.

How could he refuse a request from the President of the United States?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Stuart Brannon's Final Shot, go HERE.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Artificially Sweetened

Saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose, mannitol—what’s a body to do? Aren't artificial sweeteners all “equal?” Please pardon the sour pun.
As chemically different as they are from each other, none of them qualify as sugar, despite their sweet taste. One of them leaves an off aftertaste, another tastes slightly bitter if used to excess, still another breaks down under heat, making it ineffective in cooking. Mannitol and sorbitol make a great-tasting candy, if you’re looking for a laxative-effect. Despite the differences, however, their one common purpose is to fool your taste buds, and some of them do so quite well.
King David wrote a song that attributed a kind of flavor to the eternal, self-existent God of Israel. He lyricised, “O taste and see that the LORD is good,” and he should know, as the Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart.
It also says that same eternal God dwells within all Christ-followers. Like sweetened food, regardless what form we take, we’re all characterized by the “taste” of one common Ingredient, the “sweetness” of God’s Holy Spirit.
Like our taste buds, however, our spiritual discernment can be fooled by people who display a form of godliness, or “artificial sweetness,” but don’t contain the authentic Ingredient that only the eternal, self-existent God provides.
I should know; at one time I was one of those spiritually fake sweets. In fact, I contained so much artificial, spiritual fruit that someone said I had, “a sweet spirit” about me. The pity was, I believed her. As they say in show-biz, “It’s truly pathetic when an actor believes his own billing.”
That was then, but this is now. Profound, yes? In a way, however, it is a profound insight, but I can’t claim it as my own. My Master is the changer of people, and after a lifetime of following a maze of misdirection—much of it self-inflicted—he brought me into his perfect Way. Please, don’t misunderstand my meaning; His Way is perfect, while I am anything but!
So, here’s where my carefully-constructed metaphor breaks down. My artificially-sweetened, spiritual fruit rotted. For years I smelled something off about myself, even while I had everyone else fooled. As my old dad used to say, “A fox smells his own den first.” Of course, he didn’t use the word “den.”
Was I saved during all that time? Absolutely sorta! If I had expired, I would have spent eternity with my Master. But then, even if I hadn’t been in Christ, I still would have gone to eternity with my master. Wrong master. The only reason my self-deception and hypocrisy didn’t condemn me to perdition was God’s grace, his wonderful, inexhaustible, eternal grace.
Was I on dangerous ground? Absolutely! If this speaks to something within you, dear reader, I beg you to fall on your face before the Creator of the Universe, but do not plead your case to him. Ask him to convict your heart of any falseness. Don’t let your artificially sweetened, fake fruit rot before finding the Real Thing in Him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Style at All Cost

A small nation’s space program needed an astronaut to pilot their new, advanced space plane on its maiden flight to establish a military base on the moon. General Whinsap had spent a year pouring over the Air Command’s personnel records, and had finally narrowed the field of applicants down to three crackerjack fighter aces whom he’d ordered to fly in for the final interviews.
General Whinsap stood on the flight control tower’s observation deck when a black spot appeared on the horizon. Within seconds the black spot became visible as an airplane streaking over the landscape, and the general barely had time to plug his ears before a massive sonic boom shattered all the control tower’s windows, showering the general and his aids with glass shards.
Soon, Captain Smithers, the general’s orderly, stood back up next to him and the General shouted at him, “Strike that pilot from the list! He’ll never fly in my space plane!”
Captain Smithers crisply answered, “Most certainly, General.”
A few minutes later a second black spot appeared on the horizon, eventually materializing the wings and tail of a fighter jet. General Whinsap watched the lethal weapons platform veer toward the flight control tower, and just before it would fly across in front of the officers the pilot punched his afterburners, pulled the stick back and shot straight up like a ballistic missile.
Searing exhaust gasses enveloped the men, blowing off their hats and singing all their hair. Again, when Captain Smithers regained his position next to him, General Whinsap shouted, “Have that man brought before a court-martial!”
Captain Smithers’ shaky voice responded, “Indeed, sir.”
Shortly afterward, a third black spot appeared on the horizon, approaching for a perfect landing, spot on at the runway’s end. But Captain Smithers panicked when the aircraft drew close. “General sir, wave him off! He hasn’t lowered his landing gear!”
Seconds later the fighter jet touched down in a shower of sparks and flame, and the pilot shot out of the cockpit on a plume of white-hot gasses from his ejection seat rocket engine. High over the wreckage a parachute opened, the seat fell away, and the pilot floated gently to the ground.
Captain Smithers volunteered, “General Whinsap, sir, I’ll have that man arrested the moment he walks in to ...”
The general glared at the captain with disdain, “You will do nothing of the kind, Smithers! That man has passed my test with flying colors.”
Smithers almost couldn’t respond for his stuttering, “But General, sir, he’s just completely destroyed a cutting-edge war machine worth millions.”
As I said, Smithers, you’ll not lay a hand on that man.” General Whinsap gazed down with pride at the charred and battered pilot limping crisply away from his parachute. “That man has style! Didn’t you see his smart salute as he shot skyward through the flames?”

Out of the Ashes

We flawed human beings put a lot of stock in style. Even in God’s church, we admire those saints who soar off above the wreckage of their sin-ravaged lives, firmly in control of their ejection seats.
Sin takes an awful toll on families, friendships, and especially leadership within God’s called-out ones. We behave almost as though sin doesn’t really matter in the Grand Scheme of things sacred. After all, sin is of the flesh, and we’re all about eternity, so the occasional oops seems comparatively trivial … so long as we don’t get caught.
And so what if we do get caught with our hand in the cookie jar. As long as we don’t make a practice of it, isn’t that what Grace is for?
The Master’s Apostle Paul had something relevant to say about that: God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom 6:2 KJV) As literally as the King James translators usually rendered the original Greek in which Paul wrote, they didn’t have a direct translation adequate to the Apostle’s forceful language. So “May it not be,” became “God forbid,” the ultimate expression that polite English would allow. We may safely infer that such an answer to the question asked in Romans 6:1 effectively disallows cheap grace.
Bible scholars have made careers of duking out the thorny issues of Wesleyan-Arminian holiness versus Calvinistic predestination. Overly simplified, one side claims believers must live like believers to be believers, and—wait a minute! So does the other side, only they get there by different theological gymnastics.
Personally? Any action of mine that cheapens anything about God, or his Son the eternal Word, is reprehensible to me. In the not-too distant past I felt that if I buried my sinful attitudes and actions deeply enough and hid them well enough, Divine grace would get me through to my eternal reward. I praise my Savior I didn’t get myself killed while in that error. Not only was I guilty of the horrible sin of presuming on Christ’s holy blood, but I was a hypocrite to boot.
Am I saying that one itsy-bitsy sin gets my name rubbed out of the Lambs Book of Life?
HARDLY! (Is that enough emphasis to get the idea across?)
The difference is between ignorant or inadvertent sin, and deliberate presumption. Point is, I knew better, and I preferred risking my Savior’s disgrace, to truly repenting.
As the TV pitch-men say, “But that’s not all …”
Even if the eternal security-people are right and I couldn’t loose my salvation because of my stiff-necked attitude, practicing that kind of marginal Christianity effectively kept me spiritually infantile! So while everyone thought I was “running the race,” I was actually just crawling along, trying to get to my colorful toys, and content with it. Or maybe I should say, complacent with it. I just pray that God will bear with all my brethren who still think they can get by with similar, less-than-best intentions until they get wise and begin honoring our Savior inside, as well as out.
Don’t count on rocketing clear of your spiritual wreckage. Religious style may get us the approval of our brethren, but it won’t hack it with our Commander-In-Chief.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Wrinkle In Time Movie Review

Eye candy. That’s what it is. A Wrinkle in Time is a joy to watch, but presents a challenge discerning its world view. I pegged it as a fun, kid’s movie until “It” came into the picture, and then I had to start thinking. What was It supposed to represent?
Every form of creative expression means something, if only blood—or sexual—lust. Okay, that may be a stretch for the words, “creative expression,” but even in porn, somebody has to yell, “Action,” and, “Cut.”
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen the movie and intend to watch it, stop here! You may want to draw your own conclusions.
The first red-flag was the phrase, “It was, It is, It will be,” an obvious reference to the living, eternal One, who introduced himself to Moses as, “I Am that I Am,” and identified himself to John the Revelator with the words, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, says the Lord, the One who is, and who was, and who is coming, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:8 LITV) As a kid movie, however, the Biblical reference to It will likely be lost on its target audience.
Hey, You! The guy who hasn’t watched the movie yet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Wrinkle surprised me with several Biblical quotations from the “Witches” who weren’t really that. One of the trio was a shape-shifting, dead star, a nod to C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The other two were beneficent women of some super-human race in another galaxy.
Any story is distinguished by the scale of its stakes, and in Wrinkle, they were as high as the universe’s very survival. A thick, smog-like cloud, invisible to mere mortals, spread across the universe and clutched planet Earth with its Darkness. Of course, its obvious analogy was sin in all its guises. And the master of the darkness? It!
If Steven King’s It! was evil, this nearly omnipotent being was evil to the nth degree. The ultimate antagonist, It appeared to be a humongous, writhing brain that controlled its enforcers, and through them, the home-planet’s population. In one scene, a teenage boy committed the crime of dribbling his basketball instead of bouncing it in cadence with all other Play Hour activities. Any demonstration of individuality was rewarded with “Remediation.” Not an enviable consequence.
Throughout what seemed to be the planet’s only city, a P.A. system blared such propaganda as, “Relax, It is in controll,” “It will take care of your needs,” “Give over to It,” and, “It was, It is, It will be.” This schtick sounded awfully religious, and I took it as a parody of conventional religious endoctrination. The whole system suggested to me a pseudo-theocracy. Am I too touchy about religious parodies? Maybe, but it seemed quite possible that young people or adults who are clueless about Christ’s Way, might generalize Wrinkle’s dark regime to represent all faith-based institutions.
Though It propagated the god-like image of an eternal being, it turned out to be nothing but a usurper. And the power it supplanted? The true eternal Power: Love. And what was its only vulnerability? The pure love of a big sister for her kid brother.
My question is, which message will prevail in impressionable minds?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect

We all want to be good at what we do, right? Well, there’s a Bible passage that tells us how to be good at being bad.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)
Do we really have to practice to miss out on God’s kingdom? That’s what the Bible says here. For the longest time I was scared spitless about accidentally getting my name rubbed out of the Lamb’s Book of Life, because though I gave my life to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, I still tended to be that guy described above.
I mean, just start at the list’s beginning and I’d have to say, “Yup, that’s me,” to many(too many) of those fleshly deeds. Did I practice them? No need to; I was already too good at my chosen vices.
Truth be told, I hated those things after I accepted Christ’s Lordship, even though I seemed compelled to repeat the same old garbage time after time. While my doing that stuff grieves the Holy Spirit within me and erects barriers between my Savior and myself, my problem was that I hated the sinner, more than the sin. In so doing, I played right into the enemy’s dismal little plan, immersing myself with condemnation straight from the pit of hell. Though I believed I was a blood-washed sinner, I was actually Satan’s chief ally in perpetrating my own spiritual suicide.
Enter the Cavalry, God’s eternal Word on His black-and-white steed, and the leading, double-edged sword was from Paul’s letter to the Romans: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
But wait, there’s more! Taking just that one huge promise alone is like eating the cherry off the top of the world’s most scrumptious ice cream sundae, then throwing the rest away. Break out your Bible, blow the dust off, and find that miraculous promise. Then read and digest the last part of chapter seven. Yup, that’s not a misprint.
Now that your momentum is up, push through to all of chapter eight.
Read it again.
Now throw on the brakes and digest the individual verses. Sure it’s slow-going, and hard work, and maybe even makes your brain hurt. But whadidja expect? Remember, this is God’s eternal Word!
If you ever want to end your painful cycle of self-condemnation, which is really Satan’s condemnation, you can’t ignore God’s number-one weapon, His double-edged sword.
Then, practice, practice, practice, refusing the enemy’s condemnation, until godly living becomes as second-nature as the works of the flesh used to be.