Who’s In Charge?


Christ as Lord 2Years ago, when I was a kid, someone explained how God wanted to be Lord of my life, but I had Self sitting on the throne. I like that picture, but in this day of democracy, we don’t get the king thing like we once did.

Perhaps today the real question is whether God is the CEO of my life. I’m not up on the way business works, but as I understand it, the CEO is in total control of the management of a corporation. This still may not be the best picture of our relationship with God, but one thing I know. He is not a silent partner.

He hasn’t simply put up salvation so that we can then go about living our lives as we please. Nor are we equal partners. I’m tempted to say our relationship is more like that of an employer-employee, except that’s not right either. God clearly states we aren’t any longer servants but sons.

father and sonSo children it is. The Father in charge, but lovingly so. And the child involved in the family affairs, asking questions, giving input, representing the father when away from home.

Except, in our confused western society, fathers aren’t always in charge and they don’t always know best. In fact, until recently, most sitcoms showed dads to be the dimmest bulb on the Christmas tree.

But maybe that picture, and even the one about the Lord or King on the throne is a more accurate depiction of Humankind’s relationship with God than I’d like to admit. They once were respected, they once ruled, but given time and circumstances, kings became titular heads and fathers became figureheads.

Have we done that to God? We say He’s on the throne of our lives, but have we started ignoring Him? Or treating Him as if He just doesn’t quite get how the world works these days. He’s not up to speed with the latest and coolest.

Take the idea of wives submitting to their husbands, for example. What a backward idea in the age of Feminism.

So, is God wrong in such matters? Or did people for centuries misinterpret the Bible when it says, “In the same way, you wives be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

Or could it be that we have purposefully climbed back on the throne of our lives and are doing what we want regardless of what God says.

It’s possible for Christians to do that. Scripture calls it quenching the Holy Spirit who was given to us to lead us into all truth. It’s a good metaphor since God is referred to often as a consuming fire. We’d need to quench a consuming fire to get to our own way of doing things instead of His.

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Published in: on September 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments (10)  
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Our Sin Is Too Small


Justice_Wills_Vanity_Fair_25_June_1896Years ago a little book came out entitled Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips (reissued in 2008). The title seemed to say it all. Christians were losing a proper view of God as transcendent, sovereign, majestic, holy, all powerful, omniscient.

Instead, we were turning God into whoever we wanted Him to be. He could be our buddy, for example–one that wouldn’t mind if we were too tired on a Sunday morning to keep our appointment with Him. He was OK with taking a back seat to . . . pretty much anything.

What a far cry that view of God is from the one Jesus showed us when He proclaimed that His followers would have to hate their family members and even their own lives if they were to be His disciples.

Today, it seems, a good many professing Christians have taken another step along the continuum of making God small. The way they’re going about it, though, is not by making less of Him, at least not initially. It’s by making less of sin.

    Sin, you see, was never so egregious that sinful people deserved a death sentence. In fact “sin” is such an ugly, old fashioned word. People all make mistakes, but sin?

    Most of us are simply living out learned behavior. It’s society who taught us to be prejudice and selfish and greedy.

    Not to mention that a good many people are sick. We have addictions and paranoia and all kinds of disorders that make impulse control difficult. But none of it is sin.

    Then there’s our DNA. I mean, really, is it our fault if our genes put us on a path toward alcoholism? Forget the old “the devil made me do it” line. It was our genes which we can’t control or choose. This “sinful” stuff is simply not our fault.

    So how can anyone ever think God should condemn people to death for such petty things as complaining against their leaders? Or eating a piece of fruit. OK, that killing your brother thing was pretty bad, but King Saul got condemned for actually sparing someone’s life.

    God apparently can’t make up His mind.

That kind of reasoning sounds so rational, it’s a little scary. The problem, however, is with the reduction of sin. Because God is sovereign, any command He gives is to be obeyed. Ultimately He gave us two: to love Him with our whole being and to love other people in the same way we love ourselves.

Basic. Short and sweet. But no matter how hard we try–and people in religions all across the world have tried for centuries–we continue to fall short. We can’t love God the way He deserves to be love or the way He requires us to love. And though we fully understand how we love ourselves, we can’t manage to treat other people in our lives the same way.

Instead of being heart sick at such utter failure, however, we simply shrug and say God is too demanding, too filled with wrath, too petty, too unloving.

Unloving!

When our sin becomes so small, our egos seem to grow in compensation, and they apparently block our view of who God actually is. Which leads us to say nonsensical things about His character.

    After all, WE would never strike down Korah and his 250 followers for simply wanting to share in the priestly duties. (See Numbers 16) Why should their desire to better themselves be viewed as rebellion toward Moses and Aaron, and why should rebellion against their leaders be viewed as rebellion against God?

    WE would be kinder and more willing to listen and probably commend the Gang of 250 for their initiative. And if we’d react that way, then God has to be a monster for not seeing things the way we see them.

    Yep, we are now the measuring stick, not only of sin but of God Himself. We can declare homosexuality off the sin list, just as we did wives submitting to husbands, adultery, pre-marital sex, and any number of other things. And because God wanted those things to actually be punished, well, that makes Him a tyrant.

Because, you see, we’re now judging God by our standards instead of Him judging us by His.

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm  Comments Off on Our Sin Is Too Small  
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The Wages Of Sin Are A Slap On The Wrist


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551This summer Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church USA was disallowing Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend’s hymn “In Christ Alone” into their hymn book because of a line that clashed with their theology. They sought permission to change the offending lines “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Until I read about this decision, I was unaware of the controversial nature of the doctrine referred to as “penal substitution.” To be clear, the PCUSA says the problem they had wasn’t with the idea of God’s wrath but with the idea of it being satisfied. Others, however, who have weighed in on the controversy, make it clear that they do indeed have a problem with the idea of God’s wrath. See for example this explanation:

What inevitably results from the penal substitution theory of the atonement is the picture of a God who is a blood-thirsty monster who demands violence and death in order to satisfy his boundless wrath and who apparently can conceive of no other response to sin other than murder (which ironically is itself a sin). (excerpt from “The Wrath of God Was Satisfied?”

I’ve heard similar accusations against God before. God is heinous, apparently, according to this view, because He actually meant what He said when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. What’s more, when He said through the pen of Paul that the wages of sin is death, He only compounded the problem. Now people couldn’t view God the Father as heinous but Jesus as nice and loving because the New Testament was agreeing with the Old.

The ironic thing is that people who are rejecting God’s right to judge, are setting up themselves and their values as the “better way.” They are, in fact, judging God’s act of justice against sin and calling it “murder.”

People, apparently, don’t actually deserve to die. Our sin isn’t worthy of such a harsh punishment.

I’m not sure how those who hold this view explain that in fact, one out of one persons dies. We are actually and factually suffering the wages that God said would be ours as a result of sin.

The good news is that God has made a way of escape and life awaits us after death, if we accept by faith the gift of a cleared debt made possible by Jesus’s willingness to be our surrogate, to take the penalty we deserved.

The thing is, nothing could offer us a more complete view of God than this act of salvation. He is holy, so our sin separates us from Him. His is righteous, so His judgment is without error. He is just, so He doesn’t condemn that which is innocent. He is loving, so He is willing to redeem us at His own cost. He is merciful, so He forgives us when we have no hope of paying Him what we owe.

I could go on. It’s inconceivable that people who claim to be Christians are so willing to deny God’s nature in one area or another.

It’s honestly hard for me to imagine that thinking people could read the book of Leviticus and not see the picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the sin offering or the peace offering or in the Passover, or that they could read Genesis and not see the substitution of a ram for Isaac as the substitution of Christ for sinners.

The only way I can make sense of these accusations against God is to suppose that those saying God is a murderer simply do not believe that the wages of sin is death. Apparently, in their view, the wages of sin is a slap on the wrist. What’s needed then, is not a substitute to pay the price, but a gentle reminder or a stern reprimand because surely sinners know better and simply need a refresher course in how to please God.

Purpose


Adam_and_Eve019What is the purpose of life? Not just any life, but the life of a human being. Christians schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism will immediately answer that “the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It’s hard to refute that statement, for surely all of creation is to glorify God and at some point in the future “every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-10).

The problem I’m having with this concept is this: why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve their purpose was to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever? And when Jesus came, why didn’t He correct any wrong thinking and state what His followers’ purpose should be? Then when Jesus left earth, why didn’t the Holy Spirit set them on the right path and give them their ultimate purpose?

In other words, this idea that Humankind has been given the central purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever seems to me to be something humans have cobbled together from various scriptures. By the way, the purpose the Westminster Catechism gives humans seems to me to be fulfilled by the angelic host. Are we to duplicate what they have been given to do?

According to Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a completely different directive:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

First, God made humans His image bearers. Second, He told them to multiply. And third, He gave them dominion over the earth and the rest of life on the earth. God never rescinded his commands to Adam. Therefore, I submit, these are the purposes of Humankind.

Because Humankind introduced sin into the world, Adam’s original purpose was subverted, but not eliminated. Humans are still to multiply. I don’t think that command was ever about filling the world with more bodies, however. Without a sin nature, a child born before sin would have had the same relationship with God that Adam and Eve had. They could have communed with Him in transparent intimacy. They could have represented God to the rest of creation by administering just and merciful dominion over all of life. In other words, God wanted more people carrying out His work in the world, and it was up to Adam and Eve to multiply.

In many respects, the Church, God’s redeemed and reconciled people, have been recommissioned to accomplish what Adam and Eve failed to do.

We are to represent Christ to the world. Paul terms this as being ambassadors:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20a)

We are also to multiply.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:18-20a).

I recently read that Christians are not primarily to engage in a “pyramid scheme” of evangelism. That term, of course, has negative connotations because those participating had to put in money with the hope of getting a greater return in the end. This goal can only be accomplished by bringing as many other members into the scheme as possible.

Of course Christians aren’t to be engaged in disciple-making with some ulterior goal or with some sort of works-based reward system in mind. We shouldn’t be trying to notch our belt to signify another redeemed scalp.

But trumpeting the good news, playing the part of ambassadors, teaching others who can then turn around a teach others, is precisely what Christians are called to do.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2)

As I see it, because of sin, we are now on a rescue mission. Our chief end, just as it was Adam’s chief end, is to obey God–which Jesus says we’ll do if we love Him–and His primary commands haven’t change, though the scope of them has. Now we are to be image bearers to the rest of creation, including people who do not know the Son. In the process, we are participating in the multiplication of His people:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29 – emphasis mine).

Throughout the New Testament there’s a discussion of “bearing fruit.” Primarily those references deal with one of two things–good works or people. In one parable, for example, Jesus admonishes His disciples to go out into the harvest because the fields are ripe. Then in the epistles, Paul talks about obtaining fruit among the Gentiles. Elsewhere he talks about some Christians planting, others watering, but God giving the increase–or bringing to fruition their work.

I suggest God receives glory when what He made works the way He intended it to work. The heavens, for example, declare His glory. How so? By the fact of their existence because what He made originally was good.

Because of the sin nature in Humankind, however, we do not glorify Him merely by our existence. We are not the perfect image bearers He originally made. We are flawed, which is the very thing Christ came to take care of. His work allows us to return to our work.

Yes, I happen to believe God will receive glory because of our doing what He made us to do. In other words, I believe that when we fulfill our chief end we will glorify Him. I also believe that when we fulfill our chief end, we will enjoy Him and that enjoyment will be without end.

Consequently, when we fulfill our purpose, we will bring about the things the Westminster Catechism declares to be the chief end of man. I just happen to think the men who put that doctrinal statement together put the wrong question to the answer. They should have asked, “What will result when Man fulfills his chief end?” Then the answer, “They will glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” works very well.

Cover Reveal – Goddess Tithe


GoddessTithecoverAnne Elisabeth Stengl, winner of this year’s Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction, will release her first illustrated novella, Goddess Tithe, November 12. Today is the day when she lets the cat out of the bag (though I don’t think the much-loved cat-man Eanrin from previous Tales of Goldstone Wood actually makes an appearance in this story) by revealing at various sites scattered throughout the web her cover and some specifics about the story.

The Story Tease

The Vengeful Goddess Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya‘s only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown’s garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend?

Cover Design Facts From The Author

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (www.phatpuppyart.com), whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.

You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

About The Illustrations

Mummy and Tu PichThere are eight full-page illustrations in Goddess Tithe featuring various characters and events from the story. This is the first one in the book. Anne Elisabeth decided to share it with all of you since it depicts her young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich.

Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.

Anne Elisabeth says she enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was her favorite. She loves the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

Excerpt From The Story

In this scene from the middle of the story, Munny has been ordered to Captain Sunan’s cabin to clear away his breakfast . . . an unexpected task, for a lowly cabin boy would not ordinarily dare enter his captain’s private quarters! Munny hopes to slip in and out quietly without attracting the captain’s notice. But his hopes are dashed when Sunan addresses him, asking how their strange, foreign stowaway is faring.

__________

“And what do you make of him yourself?”

Munny dared glance his captain’s way and was relieved when his eyes met only a stern and rigid back. “I’m not sure, Captain,” he said. “I think he’s afraid. But not of . . .”

“Not of the goddess?” the Captain finished for him. And with these words he turned upon Munny, his eyes so full of secrets it was nearly overwhelming. Munny froze, his fingers just touching but not daring to take up a small teapot of fragile work.

The Captain looked at him, studying his small frame up and down. “No,” he said, “I believe you are right. Leonard the Clown does not fear Risafeth. I believe he is unaware of his near peril at her will, suffering as he does under a peril nearer still.”

Munny made neither answer nor any move.

“We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly, won’t we, Munny?” the Captain said. But he did not speak as though he expected an answer, so again Munny offered none. “We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly and there let him choose his own dark future.”

“I hope—” Munny began.

But he was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. First a rising murmur of voices, then many shouts, inarticulate in cacophony. But a pounding at the cabin door accompanied Sur Agung’s voice bellowing, “Captain, you’d best come see this!”

The Captain’s eyes widened a moment and still did not break gaze with Munny’s. “We’ll keep him safe,” he repeated. Then he turned and was gone, leaving the door open.

Munny put down the pot he held and scurried after. The deck was alive with hands, even those who were off watch, crawling up from the hatches and crowding the rails on the port side. They parted way for the Captain to pass through, but when Munny tried to follow, they closed in again, blocking him as solidly as a brick wall.

“Look! Look!” Munny heard voices crying.

“It’s a sign!”

“She’s warning us!”

“It’s a sign, I tell you!”

Fearing he knew not what, Munny ran for the center mast and climbed partway up, using the handholds and footholds with unconscious confidence. Soon he was high enough to see over the heads of the gathered crew, out into the blue waters of the ocean. And he saw them.

They were water birds. Big white albatrosses, smaller seagulls, heavy cormorants, even deep-throated pelicans and sleek, black-faced terns. These and many more, hundreds of them, none of which should be seen this far out to sea.

They were all dead. Floating in a great mass.

Munny clung to the mast, pressing his cheek against its wood. The shouts of the frightened sailors below faded away, drowned out by the desolation of that sight. Death, reeking death, a sad flotilla upon the waves.

“I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Munny looked down to where Leonard clung to the mast just beneath him, staring wide-eyed out at the waves. “How could this have happened? Were they sick? Caught in a sudden gale? Are they tangled in fishing nets?”GoddessTitheBlogButton

There was no fear in his voice. Not like in the voices of the sailors. He did not understand. He did not realize. It wasn’t his fault, Munny told himself.

But it was.

____________

Author Bio

Anne Elisabeth StenglAnne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

Giveaway

Anne Elisabeth is offering two proof copies of Goddess Tithe as prizes in a drawing! Sadly, only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. Click on the link below to sign up for a Rafflecopter giveaway

Chasing Hope Sweepstakes


katiecushman

Yesterday I reviewed Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman, pictured above. As a reminder, here’s a quick summary of the story (no spoilers).

ChasingHopeSMBook Summary:

A talented runner fully committed to Olympic dreams, Sabrina Rice’s future was shattered. One forfeited scholarship and several years later, she has new goals and dreams that have nothing to do with running–something that’s become far too painful to think on.

Until the day she sees troubled Brandy Philip running across the community college campus. Sabrina immediately recognizes world-class speed.

When a chance encounter brings the two young women together, Sabrina becomes Brandy’s best hope for staying out of juvenile hall. Soon, Sabrina begins to feel an uncomfortable nudge that her new life is just about to be toppled–that God may be calling her to minister to this talented but troubled girl.

Intrigued? You can download a PDF of the prologue and first three chapters and find out for yourself how good the story is.

After my review, I promised to elaborate on the fantabulous (I’m sure it’s a word! 😉 ) sweepstakes author Katie Cushman and her publisher Bethany House are holding in conjunction with the book release.

Here’s the deal: the sweepstakes is already underway, but you still have time to get your name in the hat. In fact, you have until October 3 to enter.

And why would you want to? PRIZES, my friend. Six hundred dollars worth of PRIZES!! And all are related to Chasing Hope.

Check these out.

GRAND PRIZE:

CHAMPION’S CHOICE PACKAGE

grandprizeNike’s motto is: Just Do It, and Sabrina Rice of Chasing Hope lives out this attitude despite tremendous obstacles. But chasing dreams is hard work, and every champion needs fuel for their journey.

To celebrate everyday champions like Sabrina, we’re offering our Grand Prize winner the chance to fuel up, and have some fun as they chase their dreams.

The winner of this package will receive a $200 shopping spree to the Nike Online Store, and a 1-Year subscription to Runner’s World Magazine.

SECOND PRIZE:

secondprizeNEW STRIDE PACKAGE

In Chasing Hope, Brandy Philip has world-class talent, but she needs a fresh start, and a little extra help to get her on the right path. Just like Brandy, we all need a boost now and then, especially when it comes to our health and fitness goals!

While we can’t all have a personal trainer like Sabrina to help us meet those goals, our Second Prize winner will receive the next best thing: This prize includes a $175 value Nike + FuelBand accelerometer, which tracks each step taken and calories burned (and tells the time of day), and The Courage To Start running book, written by popular life coach and former self-proclaimed “couch potato”, John Bingham.

thirdprizeTHIRD PRIZE:

REST & RECHARGE PACKAGE

In Chasing Hope, Sabrina and Brandy find that even the strongest runners also need time to rest.

Whether you run marathons, a carpool, or just weekly trips to the grocery store, you can always use time to recharge!

Our third prize winner will get that chance with a $50 gift card to Spafinder.com, plus an inside look at the life of Eric Liddell, (Sabrina’s hero and inspiration), through the Complete Surrender biography, and the Chariots of Fire DVD, featuring Ben Cross.

So now all you need to know is how to enter. Easy.

Topbanner

How to Enter:

Go to the sweepstakes page and complete the entry box, anytime between now and October 3.

Winners will be selected on Friday, October 4, 2013, and announced on Katie Cushman’s web site.

Might I also suggest you buy the book. This one is a keeper!

Review – Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman


I’m a sports nut. I also love good stories. Imagine how much I love a novel about an athlete. Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman is a wonderful story which just happens to feature a female athlete. What’s not to love? 😀

Chasing Hope coverThe thing is, Cushman is a talented writer who delves into the lives of her characters, often setting two opposites in juxtaposition so that their contrariness clashes. (See my reviews for her previous novels: A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, Another Dawn, and Almost Amish.) By doing so, she allows them to grow, or to fail, however they choose. Chasing Hope is vintage Cushman.

The Story. When Sabrina Rice was twelve she knew what she wanted to do with her life. Just as Eric Liddell had, she wanted to win a gold medal and use her fame to tell others about Jesus Christ as a missionary. Ten years later, she’s on a different tack, heading into the corporate world. Apparently at twelve, she’d misunderstood God’s call because her hope for Olympic gold is a mere memory–one she tries hard to forget.

She’d done well to move past her dreams until Brandy Philip runs into her world, both at school and at home. There’s no avoiding the girl when Sabrina’s Nana begs her to intervene for the girl to help her stay out of juvenile hall.

Brandy has one talent–she can run. Fast. Sabrina knows the running world and is in a position to put in a good word for her, perhaps more. If she’s willing. The question is whether or not she can deal with the memories and doubts that come along with fulfilling her Nana’s requests.

Strengths. Cushman’s greatest strength is delving into her characters and pushing their emotional buttons by putting them into relationship with others who expose them for what they are.

In Chasing Hope the protagonist must confront herself because of a relationship with the guy she’s noticed and who’s begun to notice her; with her Nana who she loves dearly; with the granddaughter of her Nana’s friend who she pretty much detests; and with her parents who have differing ideas about what she should do with her life.

The result is a layered story with varied facets which make the main character seem like a real person, grappling with real doubts and questions, creating an invite for the reader to ask them as well. As a result, the story seems almost interactive.

The details of the running world are convincing. If there are errors, I didn’t pick up on them. The training regiments, the competition, the need for a runner to push herself beyond the point she thinks she can endure–the entire running milieu seemed realistic.

The story hung together beautifully, with one question after another driving the reader to keep turning pages. Why had Sabrina’s hope for Olympic gold died? What would she decide to do about Brandy? Why did she keep secrets from her love interest? Why was she trying to bury her past? What would become of Brandy? On and on, the questions are all delightfully enticing because Cushman makes the reader care about these characters.

The theme of the story is equally strong, never preached, perfectly wrapped inside the character development, and thoroughly Christian. No mistaking–this is Christian fiction.

Weakness. Reviews are always better when they are balanced, and more credible when the reviewer points out flaws instead of glossing them over. I know this, and I’m trying, but I honestly can’t come up with anything. Nothing pulled me from the story as I read. Nothing jumped out at me as I thought back over the story in the days after I finished reading it. And nothing comes to me know as I evaluate the elements. I’ll be interested to see if other reviewers managed to come up with something I’m not seeing.

Recommendation. This book is for Christians, and it confronts a question many committed believers ask. The protagonist is a woman, but she’s an athlete, so I have no doubt men can “get” this story, but I suspect women will make up the majority of the readers. Too bad. I think guys struggle with God’s calling on their lives just as much as women do. I think this is a must read for Christians. Non-Christians can definitely enjoy the story, but the main conflict will probably seem inconsequential to them.

In conjunction with the release of Chasing Hope, Cushman has a great sweepstakes going. I’ll give you details tomorrow.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher without charge with no requirement that my views would be favorable.

There’s A Reason The Old Testament Is In The Bible


The_Holy_BibleI heard a part of a sermon today emphasizing that the whole Bible is about Christ, not just the New Testament.

This theme is something my not-so-new-any-more pastor Mike Err has reiterated throughout his first year with us.

I admit, I’m always a little taken aback. For a moment. I have been blessed to sit under some outstanding preaching as an adult, and I forget that isn’t the case for everyone.

Over at Spec Faith the issue came up in a tangential way. Regular contributor Yvonne Anderson had occasion in her article to give Wikipedia’s description of “Christianity”

a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament.

Yvonne pointed out two things she disagreed with in that brief sketch, but my mind was drawn to that last phrase: “presented in the New Testament.” The statement directly contradicted the sermon I’d heard . . . and all the sermons I’ve heard this year from Mike Erre, and practically all the sermons I’ve heard over the years preached in my church.

And then something dawned on me. If Christianity was presented in the New Testament only, why did our Bible continue to include the Old Testament? What did the Old Testament have to say about Christianity if Christ wasn’t part of the Old Testament?

Some people accuse the Apostle Paul of making up a new religion, which is how Christianity came into being. But only someone who doesn’t know the Bible would come to such a conclusion.

All throughout Jesus’s ministry on earth, He made the connection between the Old Testament and Himself.

    * He compared Himself to the bronze snake Moses lifted up to cure the people stricken by disease brought on because of their disobedience.
    * He declared His existence before Abraham.
    * In the Sermon on the Mount, He expanded commands God gave His people from of old.
    * He connected Himself to a statement David made about the Christ.
    * Upon reading a scripture about the Messiah, He declared it’s fulfillment that very day.

Further, when He was talking with the two disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus, He scolded them for not believing what the prophets taught about the Messiah:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

“Moses” refers to the first five books of the Bible, and all the prophets would likely mean, all the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi.

In fact, throughout the forty days Jesus remained on earth after His resurrection, He apparently spent His time, or at least some of it, teaching His followers from the Old Testament.

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)

Then the apostles preached about Jesus by declaring His Messiahship, based on the Old Testament. Peter’s first sermon is a good example. After quoting a prophetic passage about the Messiah which David wrote, Peter drew this conclusion (words in all caps are quotes from the Old Testament):

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32(

All throughout the letters, Paul, Peter, James, the author of Hebrews, Jude, John continue to refer to the Old Testament to clarify, support, or illustrate their points.

It’s apparent Jesus didn’t see Himself as starting something new and His followers didn’t see themselves as starting something new. Rather, Jesus is the completion of what God has been doing from before the foundations of the world. And we know about His work with mankind from the beginning because of the Old Testament.

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

Published in: on September 17, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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The 2013 Carol Award Winners


Daystar-CoverOne of the best things about book contests is that readers get an idea which books they should add to their to-read lists. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) instituted a “best book” award some years back which morphed into the Carol Award a few years ago, named after a long time editor with Bethany House, I believe.

ACFW had its start as American Christian Romance Writers, and there’s still a residual emphasis on the romance end of things, though they tout themselves as the primer conference for the broad spectrum of Christian fiction.

Apparently between 500 and 600 writers, agents, and editors congregated for the conference in Indianapolis this year. At the banquet held Sunday, the award winners were announced. Here are the finalists in each category, with the winners noted.

Category [I have no idea what this encompasses, but it would seem to be romance, based on the publishers, and somewhat shorter than most novels but longer than a novella, based on the note about length at the ACFW site]
Seaside Reunion by Irene Hannon (Love Inspired * Editor: Melissa Endlich)
A Horseman’s Hope by Myra Johnson (Heartsong Presents * Editor: Rebecca Germany)
Winner Lost Legacy by Dana Mentink (Love Inspired * Editor: Emily Rodmell)

Contemporary
You Don’t Know Me by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House * Editors: Karen Watson/Sarah Mason)
Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane (Abingdon Press * Editor: Ramona Richards)
Winner Heart Echoes by Sally John (Tyndale House * Editors: Karen Watson/Stephanie Broene,/Kathy Olson)

Debut Novel
Proof by Jordyn Redwood (Kregel * Editor: Dawn Anderson)
A Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh (Guideposts Books * Editors: Beth Adams/Rachel Meisel/Lindsay Guzzardo)
Winner Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook/Multnomah * Editor: Shannon Marchese)

Historical
At Every Turn by Anne Mateer (Bethany House * Editor: Charlene Patterson)
The Discovery by Dan Walsh (Revell * Editor: Andrea Doering)
Winner Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick (Waterbrook/Multnomah * Editor: Shannon Marchese)

Historical Romance
To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander (Zondervan * Editor: Sue Brower)
Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House * Editor: Karen Schurrer)
Winner A Promise to Love by Serena B. Miller (Revell * Editor: Vicki Crumpton)

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Downfall by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan * Editors: David Lambert/Sue Brower/Ellen Tarver)
Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins (B&H Publishing * Editor: Karen Ball)
Winner The Soul Saver by Dineen Miller (Barbour Publishing * Editors: Rebecca Germany/Jamie Chavez)

Novella
You’re a Charmer, Mr. Grinch by Paula Moldenhauer (Barbour Publishing * Editors: Rebecca Germany/JoAnne Simmons)
Impressed by Love by Lisa Karon Richardson (Barbour Publishing * Editor: Rebecca Germany)
Winner A Recipe for Hope by Beth Wiseman (Thomas Nelson * Editor: Natalie Hanemann)

Romance
The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson * Editors: Natalie Hanemann/L. B. Norton)
An Uncommon Grace by Serena B. Miller (Howard * Editor: Holly Halverson)
Winner Saving Gideon by Amy Lillard (B&H Publishing * Editors: Julie Gwinn/Julie Carobini)

Romantic Suspense
Tidewater Inn by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson * Editor: Ami McConnell)
Saving Hope by Margaret Daley (Abingdon Press * Editor: Ramona Richards)
Winner When a Heart Stops by Lynette Eason (Revell * Editor: Andrea Doering)

Speculative
Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)
Judge by R. J. Larson (Bethany House * Editors: David Long/Sarah Long)
Winner Daystar by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)

Young Adult
Prophet by R.J. Larson (Bethany House * Editors: David Long/Sarah Long)
The New Recruit by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)
Winner Like Moonlight at Low Tide by Nicole Quigley (Zondervan * Editor: Jacque Alberta)

Of course the greatest drawback to the Carol Awards is that only members of the organization may enter their works. That means a lot of good books were not under consideration.

Be that as it may, of the books from ACFW members, these would seem to be the top of the line. Congratulations to all the finalists and winners. Hope you find something in this list to enjoy.

Published in: on September 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on The 2013 Carol Award Winners  
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