Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dawn of the Golden Promise - Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:



and the book:

Harvest House Publishers; Reprint edition (August 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karri | Marketing Assistant | Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



BJ Hoff’s bestselling historical novels continue to cross the boundaries of religion, language, and culture to capture a worldwide reading audience. Her books include Song of Erin and American Anthem and such popular series as The Riverhaven Years, The Mountain Song Legacy, and The Emerald Ballad. Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life. BJ and her husband make their home in Ohio.



Visit the author's website.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:



In the fifth and concluding volume of her bestselling The Emerald Ballad Series, BJ Hoff brings the exciting Irish-American historical drama to a climax with all the passion and power readers have come to expect from her.



The saga finds Morgan Fitzgerald adapting to life in a wheelchair as a result of an assailant’s bullet to his spine. Meanwhile, his wife, Finola, must face the dark memories and guarded secrets of her past. In New York City, policeman Michael Burke is caught in a conflict between his faith and his determination to bring a dangerous enemy to justice.



This unforgettable series began with the promise of an epic love story and an inspiring journey of faith. The finale delivers on that promise.



About This Series: BJ Hoff’s Emerald Ballad series was one of the most memorable series published in the 1990s. With combined sales of 300,000 copies, these beloved books found a place in the hearts of BJ’s many fans. Now redesigned and freshly covered the saga is available again to a new generation of readers—and BJ’s many new fans due to her highly successful Amish series, The Riverhaven Years—The Emerald Ballad series will once again find an enthusiastic audience.









Product Details:



List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers; Reprint edition (August 1, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736927964

ISBN-13: 978-0736927963



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Dark Terror



For hope will expire

As the terror draws nigher,

And, with it, the Shame…



James Clarence Mangan (1803–1849)



Near the coast of Portugal

Late June 1850



A little before midnight, Rook Mooney left his card game and went on deck. The starless night sky churned with low-hanging clouds, and although the wind was only beginning to blow up, Mooney knew the storm would be on them within the hour.



He hated sea storms at night, especially the ones that came up all of a sudden. The Atlantic was bad-tempered and unpredictable; she could turn vicious as a wounded witch without warning. Even the most seasoned sailor never took her for granted, and many a callow youth had been turned away from the sea forever by a particularly savage gale.



Had it not been for the brewing storm, Mooney would have been glad for the wind. Lisbon had been sultry, too warm for his liking. He was ready for Ireland’s mild skies.



Hunched over the rail, he stared into the darkness. Although they were another night closer to Ireland, his mood was nearly as black as the sky. He had thought to see Dublin long before now, but instead he had spent three months in a filthy Tangier cell for breaking an innkeeper’s skull.



The darkness deep within him rose up and began to spread. It was her fault. The Innocent. His hands tightened on the rail, his mouth twisting at the memory of her. All these months—more than a year now—and he still couldn’t get her out of his mind. She was like a fire in his brain, boiling in him, tormenting him, driving him half mad.



Nothing had gone right for him since that night at Gemma’s Place. He spent his days with a drumming headache, his nights in a fog of whiskey and fever. His temper was a powder keg, ignited by the smallest spark. Even women were no good for him now. He could scarcely bear the sight of the used, worn-out strumpets who haunted the foreign ports. They all seemed dirty after her. Her, with her ivory skin and golden hair and fine clean scent.



Like some shadowy, infernal sea siren, she seemed to call to him. He was never free of her, could find no peace from her.



His grip on the rail increased. Soon, in only a few days now, they would reach Dublin. He would go back to Gemma’s Place. This time he wouldn’t go so easy on her. This time when he was finished with her, he would put an end to her witchery. He’d snuff out her life…and be free.



All at once rain drenched him. Waves churned up like rolling dunes, pitching the ship as if it were a flimsy child’s toy. Angry and relentless, the gale whipped the deck. Salt from the sea mixed with the rain, burning Mooney’s eyes and stinging his skin as the downpour slashed his face.



He swore into the raging night, anchoring himself to the rail. He felt no terror of the storm, only a feral kind of elation, as if the wildness of the wind had stirred a dark, waiting beast somewhere in the depths of his being.



Drogheda



The small cottage in the field seemed to sway in the wind. Frank Cassidy resisted the urge to duck his head against the thunder that shook the walls and the fierce lightning that streaked outside the window.



After months of following a maze of wrong turns, Cassidy could scarcely believe that he now sat across from the one person who might finally bring his search to an end. It had been a long, frustrating quest, and up until now a futile one. But tonight, in this small, barren cottage outside the old city where Black Cromwell had unleashed his obscene rage, his hopes were rising by the moment.



Friendship had motivated him to undertake the search for Finola Fitzgerald’s past, but nothing more than the unwillingness to disappoint Morgan had kept him going. He owed his old friend a great deal—indeed, he would have done most anything the Fitzgerald had asked of him. But in recent months he had wondered more than once if this entire venture might not end in total defeat. Every road he had taken led only to failure. Every clue he had followed proved worthless.



Until now.



The possibility of finding his answers in Drogheda had first occurred to Cassidy months ago. A Dublin street musician’s vague remark about an unsolved murder in the ancient city—a tragic mystery involving a young girl—had fired his interest and sent him on his way that same week.



According to the musician, a woman named Sally Kelly and her son Peter were likely to have information about the incident. Cassidy had wasted several days in Drogheda trying to locate the pair, only to discover that they had gone north some years past.



He started on to Cavan, eventually traveling as far west as Roscommon, but found no trace, not even a hint, of the Kellys. He started back to Drogheda, discouraged and uncertain about what to do next. To his astonishment, a casual conversation with a tinker on the road revealed that a youth named Peter Kelly had taken up a small tenant farm just outside the old city only weeks before.



Now, sitting across from the lad himself, Cassidy could barely contain his excitement. Even the brief, fragmented story he had managed to glean so far told him that this time he would not leave Drogheda empty-handed.



“If only you could have talked with me mum before she passed on,” Peter Kelly was saying. “She more than likely could have told you all you want to know. There’s so much I can’t remember, don’t you see.”



Kelly was a strapping young man, with shirt sleeves rolled over muscled arms. His face was sunburned and freckled, his rusty hair crisp with tight curls.



“Still, I’d be grateful to hear what you do remember,” Cassidy told him. “Anything at all.”



Dipping one hand into the crock on the table, Kelly retrieved a small potato, still in its jacket, and began to peel it with his thumbnail. Motioning toward the crock, he indicated that Cassidy should help himself.



For a short time they sat in silence, perched on stools at the deal table eating their potatoes. The cottage was old, with but one room and a rough-hewn fireplace. Boxes pegged to the wall held crockery and plates. A straw mattress was draped with a frayed brown blanket. There were no other furnishings.



Peter Kelly had a friendly, honest face and intelligent eyes. “I don’t mind telling you what I recall,” he said, “but I fear it isn’t much. ’ Twas a good seven years ago, or more. I couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven at the time, if that.”



“And your mother was employed as cook?” prompted Cassidy.



The youth nodded. “Aye, she had been in service for Mr. Moran since I was but a wee wane. It was just the two of us. Me da had already passed on long before then.”



“Tell me about Moran,” Cassidy prompted. “Was he a wealthy man?”



Kelly took another bite of potato and shrugged. “Not wealthy and not poor,” he said. “He had an apothecary, but he also acted as a physician of sorts. His father before him left the business and the property. The land was fine, but not exceedingly large. There were some small crops and a few trees—and a lake.”



“And Moran himself? What sort of a man was he?”



Again the lad shrugged. “I recall he was an elderly gentleman. All alone, except for the daughter. His wife died in childbirth, I believe. As best I remember, he treated Mum and me fine.” He paused. “Mum said Mr. Moran doted on the daughter.”



“You mentioned the day of the shooting,” Cassidy urged. “I’d be grateful if you’d tell me about it.”



Peter Kelly licked his fingers before reaching for another potato. “I recall it was a warm day. Spring or summer it must have been, for the trees were in leaf and the sun was bright. I was in the woods when I heard all the commotion. I wasn’t supposed to go in the woods at all,” he explained, glancing up, “for Mum was always fearful of the place. But I played there every chance I got, all the same.”



Rubbing his big hands on his trouser legs, he went on. “But didn’t I go flying out of there fast enough when I heard the screaming? Took off as if the devil himself was after me, I did.”



Cassidy leaned forward, his muscles tensed. “What screaming would that have been?”



“Why, it sounded for all the world like a mountain cat in a trap! ’ Twas too far away for me to see, but I could tell the ruckus was coming from near the lake, at the far end of the property. I took off running for the house.”



He glanced at Cassidy, his expression slightly shamefaced. “I was but a lad,” he muttered. “All I could think of was to get away from the terrible screaming without me mum finding out I’d been playing in the woods again. She was a stern woman.”



“So you saw nothing at all?”



The boy shook his head, and Cassidy felt a shroud of familiar disappointment settle over him. Still, he wasn’t about to give up. “And what happened then, lad?”



“Mum hauled me into the kitchen, then went for Mr. Moran. He told us to stay put while he went to investigate.” He paused. “I saw a pistol in his hand, and I remember me mum was shaking something fierce. We heard the shots not long after Mr. Moran left the house with the gun.”



Cassidy’s interest piqued. He leaned forward. “Shots, did you say?”



Kelly nodded. “Mr. Moran was shot and killed that day.” After a moment he added, “Everyone said it was the teacher who murdered him.”



Curbing his impatience, Cassidy knotted his hands. “What teacher, Peter?”



Young Kelly scratched his head. “Why, I can’t recall his name—it’s been so long—but I do remember he was a Frenchman. Mr. Moran was determined his daughter would be educated, you see, and not in no hedge school, either. He hired the Frenchman as a tutor, and to coach her in the voice lessons. She was musical, you know.”



Cassidy’s mind raced. “This teacher—he lived with the family, did he?”



“He did. It seems to me he had a room upstairs in the house.”



“But what reason would he have had to shoot James Moran?”



Peter Kelly met Cassidy’s eyes across the table. “The story went that Mr. Moran must have been trying to save his daughter from the man’s advances, but the Frenchman got the best of him. Mr. Moran was elderly, mind, and would have been no match for the teacher.”



As Cassidy struggled to piece together what Kelly had told him, the youth went on. “I’m afraid I don’t know much else, sir. Only that Mr. Moran died from the shooting, and the daughter disappeared.”



Cassidy looked at him. “Disappeared?”



“She was never seen after that day,” said Kelly, crossing his arms over his chest. “Mum went looking for her after she found Mr. Moran dead, but there wasn’t a trace of her, not a trace. Nothing but her tin whistle, which they found lying near the lake. No, they never found her nor the Frenchman.” He drew in a long breath, adding, “Mum always said she didn’t believe they tried any too hard, either.”



Cassidy frowned. “Why would she think that?”



Peter Kelly twisted his mouth. “The police didn’t care all that much, don’t you see. The Morans weren’t important enough for them to bother with, Mum said. They didn’t know where to look, so they simply pretended to search.”



Cassidy drummed his finger on the table. “Could the girl simply have run off with the Frenchman, do you think?”



The other shook his head forcefully. “No, sir, I’m certain it was nothing of the sort. Mum was convinced the Frenchman had done something terrible to the lass, and that was why Mr. Moran went after him. But Mr. Moran, he was that frail; a younger man would outmatch him easy enough, she said. Mum was convinced until the day she died that the Frenchman murdered Mr. Moran and then ran off.”



Cassidy rubbed his chin. “But that doesn’t account for the girl,” he said, thinking aloud. “What of her?”



“It pained me mum to think so, but she always believed the Frenchman took the lass with him.”



“Abducted her, d’you mean?”



Peter nodded. “Aye, and perhaps murdered her as well.” He seemed to reminisce for a moment. “Mum never liked that Frenchman, you see. Not a bit. He gave himself airs, she said, and had a devious eye.”



Cassidy’s every instinct proclaimed that at last he had found what he was searching for, but he had been thwarted too many times not to be cautious. Getting to his feet, he untied the pouch at his waist and withdrew the small portrait Morgan had sent him some months past.



He unfolded it, then handed it to Peter Kelly. “Would this be the girl?” he asked, his pulse pounding like the thunder outside. “Would the Moran lass resemble this portrait today, do you think?”



As Kelly studied the portrait, his eyes widened. “Why, ’tis her,” he said, nodding slowly. “Sure, ’tis Miss Finola herself.”



Cassidy stared at him. “Finola?” he said, his voice cracking. “That was her name—Finola?    ”



“It was indeed,” the lad said. “And didn’t it suit her well, at that? Tall and lovely, she was, and several years older than myself. Wee lad that I was, I thought her an enchanted creature. A princess…with golden hair.”



A wave of exhilaration swept over Cassidy. He had all he could do not to shout. According to Morgan, the one thing Finola Fitzgerald had seemed to remember about her past was her given name.



“You’re quite sure, lad?” he said, his voice none too steady. “It’s been many a year since you last saw the lass, after all.”



Kelly nodded, still studying the portrait. “ ’ Tis her. Sure, and she’s a woman grown, but a face is not easily forgotten, no matter the years.”



“Now that is the truth,” agreed Cassidy, smiling at the boy.



“Is she found then, sir, after all this time?” Kelly asked, returning the portrait to Cassidy.



Still smiling, Cassidy stared at the portrait. “Aye, lad,” he said after a moment, his voice hoarse with excitement. “She is found. She is safe, and a married woman now.”



“Ah…thanks be to God!” said Peter Kelly.



“Indeed,” Cassidy echoed. “Thanks be to God.”



Nelson Hall, Dublin



For the second time in a week, Finola’s screams pierced the late night silence of the bedroom. Instantly awake, Morgan reached for her, then stopped. He had learned not to touch her until she was fully awake and had recognized him.



“Finola?” Leaning over her, he repeated her name softly. “Finola, ’tis Morgan. You’re dreaming, macushla. You are safe. Safe with me.”



Her body was rigid, her arms crossed in front of her face as if to ward off an attack. She thrashed, moaning and sobbing, her eyes still closed.



Outside, thunder rumbled in the distance and the lightning flared halfheartedly, then strengthened. As if sensing the approaching storm, Finola gave a startled cry.



Morgan continued to soothe her with his voice, speaking softly in the Irish. It was all he could do not to gather her in his arms. But when the nightmare had first begun, months ago, he had made the mistake of trying to rouse her from it. She had gone after him like a wild thing, pummeling him with her fists, scraping his face with her nails as she fought him off.



Whatever went on in that dark, secret place of the dream must be an encounter of such dread, such horror, as to temporarily seize her sanity. The Finola trapped in that nightmare world was not in the least like the gentle, soft-voiced Finola he knew as his wife. In the throes of the dream she was a woman bound, terrorized by something too hideous to be endured.



No matter how he ached to rescue her, he could do nothing…nothing but wait.

In the netherworld of the dream, Finola stood in a dark and windswept cavern.



Seized by terror, she cupped her hands over her ears to shut out the howling of the wind.



The wind. She knew it was coming for her, could hear the angry, thunderous roar, feel the trembling of the ground beneath her feet as the storm raced toward her.



Faster now…a fury of a wind, gathering speed as it came, raging and swooping down upon her like a terrible bird of prey, gathering momentum as it hurled toward her…closing in, seizing her.



Black and fierce, it seemed alive as it dragged her closer…closer into its eye, as if trying to swallow her whole. As she struggled to break free, she heard in the farthest recesses of the darkness a strange, indefinable sound, a sound of sorrow, as if all the trees in the universe were sighing their grief.



She tried to run but was held captive by the force of the wind. It pounded her, squeezing the breath from her, dragging her into a darkness so dense it filled her eyes, her mouth, her lungs…oh, dear Jesus, it was crushing her…crushing her to nothing—



Finola sat straight up in bed, as if propelled by some raw force of terror. She gasped, as always, fighting for her breath.



Soaked in perspiration, Finola stared at Morgan, her gaze filled with horror.



Still he did not touch her. “You are safe, Finola aroon. ’      Twas only a bad dream. You are here with me.”



She put a hand to her throat and opened her mouth as if to speak, but made no sound. Finally…finally, she made a small whimper, like that of a frightened animal sprung free from a trap.



At last Morgan saw a glint of recognition. Finola moaned, then sagged into his waiting arms.



Stroking her hair, Morgan held her, crooning to her as he would a frightened child. “There’s nothing to harm you, my treasure. Nothing at all.”



“Hold me…hold me…”



Tightening his arms about her still more, he began to rock her gently back and forth. “Shhh, now, macushla…everything is well. You are safe.”



He felt her shudder against him, and he went on, lulling her with his voice, stroking her hair until at last he felt her grow still. “Was it the same as before?” he asked.



Her head nodded against his chest.



He knew it might be hours before she would be able to sleep again. So great was the dream’s terror that she dreaded closing her eyes afterward. Sometimes she lay awake until dawn.



Her description of the nightmare never failed to chill Morgan. It had begun not long after their first physical union. Although he could scarcely bring himself to face the possibility, he could not help but wonder if their intimacy, though postponed, might not somehow be responsible.



At the outer fringes of his mind lurked a growing dread that by marrying her and taking her into his bed, he had somehow invoked the nightmare. He prayed it was not so, but if it continued, he would eventually have to admit his fear to Finola. They would have to speak of it.



But not yet. Not tonight. Tonight he would simply hold her until she no longer trembled, until she no longer clung to him as if he alone could banish the horror.

Unwilling to forsake the comforting warmth of Morgan’s embrace, Finola lay, unmoving. Gradually she felt her own pulse slow to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. “I’m sorry I woke you,” she whispered.



He silenced her with a finger on her lips. “There is nothing to be sorry for. Hush, now, and let me hold you.”



Something was coming. Something dark. Something cold and dark and sinister…



Thunder boomed like distant cannon, and Finola shivered. Wrapped safely in Morgan’s arms, she struggled to resist the dark weight of foreboding that threatened to smother her.



It was always like this after the nightmare, as if the black wind in the dream still hovered oppressively near, waiting to overtake her after she was fully awake. Sometimes hours passed before she could completely banish the nightmare’s terror.



Were it not for the safe wall of Morgan’s presence to soothe and shield her, she thought she might go mad in the aftermath of the horror. But always he was there, his sturdy arms and quiet voice her stronghold of protection. Her haven.



“Better now, macushla   ?” he murmured against her hair.



Finola nodded, and he gently eased her back against the pillows, settling her snugly beside him, her head on his shoulder.



“Try to sleep,” he said, brushing a kiss over the top of her head. “Nothing will hurt you this night. Nothing will ever hurt you again, I promise you.”



Finola closed her eyes and forced herself to lie still. She knew Morgan would not allow himself to sleep until she did, so after a few moments she pretended to drift off; in a short while, she heard his breathing grow even and shallow.



After he fell asleep, she lay staring at the window, trying not to jump when lightning streaked and sliced the night. She hugged her arms to herself as the thunder groaned. In the shelter of Morgan’s embrace, it was almost possible to believe that he was right, that nothing would hurt her ever again. She knew that with the first light of the morning, the nightmare would seem far distant, almost as if it had never happened.



But just as surely, she knew night would come again, and with the night would come the dream, with its dark wind and evil hidden somewhere deep within.



After a long time, Finola began to doze. But just as she sank toward the edge of unconsciousness, the wind shrieked. Like the sudden convulsion of a wren’s wings, panic shook her and she jolted awake.



Feeling irrationally exposed and vulnerable, she listened to the storm play out its fury. Thunder hammered with such force that the great house seemed to shudder and groan, while the wind went howling as if demanding entrance.



Again she closed her eyes, this time to pray.
My thoughts:
Reading this was kind of hard. Not because it bad but because it was the last in the series. It made me sad to think that their stories were ending. I'm always like that when it comes to series. I think if it's written well you come to feel a part of the characters lives. BJ Hoff did not disappoint. Throughout the Emerald Ballad series you've been rooting for a positive outcome for these people. Even though there may have been heartache along the way, you are not going to upset by the conclusion. A wonderful story that allows one to hope, dream, and love.



Monday, August 29, 2011

Music Monday: Britney


So I've always liked Britney. Yeah, she's had her moments. Not all of those moments have been good (and sadly many have been photographed) but she's pushed through and doesn't seem any worse for the most part.

Well last night I was watching the VMA's (for the first time in many, many years) and they had a tribute to Britney. I don't know why but YAY! Brit!! I was a little creeped out by Lady Gaga dressed (and acting) as a man and wanting to kiss her. Thank goodness Britney didn't allow that! *shivers*

Anyways I thought I'd share the song that started it all...


Life-Changing Bible Verses You Should Know - Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:



and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karri | Marketing Assistant | Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, Senior Pastor of The Moody Church since 1980, is an award-winning author of more than 20 books including Walking with God. He’s a celebrated international conference speaker and the featured speaker on three radio programs that are heard around the world. Rebecca Lutzer has used her gifts of hospitality, mercy, and teaching to minister to many women. She is an RN and enjoyed working as a surgical nurse for several years. They coauthored a book on the women in the life of Jesus and how He changed their worlds titled Jesus, Lover of a Woman’s Soul. They have been married for 35 years, live in the Chicago area, and are the parents of three married children.





SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:





Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of the Moody Church, and his wife, Rebecca, encourage readers to reap the blessings of memorizing Scripture in this gathering of relevant verses, 35 topics, insightful explanations, and engaging questions. This foundation of wisdom inspires readers to experience God’s Word in powerful ways.







Product Details:



List Price: $12.99

Paperback: 208 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736939520

ISBN-13: 978-0736939522



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Adversity



Psalm 46:1—God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.



1 Peter 1:6-7—In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.





When we think back to the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed nearly 200,000 people, many images come to mind, but one image that stands out well above the others is that of a young mother being interviewed on television as she held a baby in her arms.



“I lost my son…he died in the rubble.”



“Did you get to bury him?”



“No, no chance; his body was crushed in the rubble; I just had to throw him away.”



Just then the camera zeroed in on her backpack as she prepared to board a bus. Stuffed in a side pocket was a Bible. As she boarded the bus she could be heard, speaking to no one in particular, saying, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…” Her voice trailed off as she disappeared from view.



When the report was over we just kept staring at the television for a while, pushing back tears and letting what we’d just seen sink into our souls. A dead child with no chance to plan a funeral and pay respects to her precious little one, a baby in her arms, and she was boarding a bus that was going she knew not where. Yet she still expressed belief; she still trusted that God is her refuge and strength.



Faith in adversity!



This mother—God bless her—began quoting Psalm 46, which was written as a praise song after God spared the city of Jerusalem from an invasion by Assyrians who were threatening to annihilate the inhabitants. In the midst of a harrowing escape, the Israelites found God to be an unshakable pillar.



God is our refuge. A refuge is a safe place you can run to for shelter when life’s storms are swirling around you. No wonder this dear mother found solace in this psalm, which continues, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (verses 2-3).



Yes, the mountains did give way and fall into the heart of the sea, but God is unaffected by the fluctuation on events of earth; He is always there, solid, unmoved. When the mountains are shaking and the ground beneath you is quaking, run to God, and He will meet you. Yes, even when our world falls apart in the aftermath of a horrendous natural disaster, God is unchanging and remains with us.



In the midst of the devastation, God is our source of supply. The psalm continues, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (verse 4). Most likely that refers to a tunnel that had been built some time earlier to bring water into the city in case it was ever besieged. The people of Jerusalem saw this provision as God giving them specific help at their time of their need.



Then the psalm gives us a command: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (verse 10). Let us cease striving and let God be God. Even in adversity He is there; or perhaps we should say especially in adversity He is there!



Adversity should not drive us away from God; rather, it should drive us into His arms. He is there for the grieving mother, and for the family that has experienced indescribable loss. The psalm ends, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (verse 11).



God wants to be believed. And our faith is more precious to Him than gold, which perishes. When we continue to trust Him even when there appears to be no reason to do so—and we go on believing God’s bare Word, our faith will “result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).



Reverend Henry F. Lyte was a pastor in Scotland who battled tuberculosis most of his life. On his final Sunday, September 4, 1847, amid many tears the congregation sang a song he himself had composed, “Abide with Me.” It spoke of the unchanging God in an ever-changing world:



Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.



Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.



Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.



The young mother in Haiti—who was clutching an undernourished baby in her arms and had no time to mourn the tragic death of her son—found solace in the God who was still beside her when the earth gave way. “God is our refuge and strength,” she said amid her grief and uncertainty of the future.



In times of adversity, our faith can hold fast. And God is both honored and pleased.





Taking God’s Word to Heart



Reflect on the account of the Haitian mother who tragically lost her son. How has Psalm 46 been a source of strength for you during adversity? What other Scripture passages do you turn to for help in difficult times?

What does it mean to you that God is your refuge? In life’s journey, why is God’s unchangeable nature a source of strength for us?

Recall an instance when God provided timely help for a specific need. What did that experience teach or confirm for you about God’s character?

What are some ways God has used adversity to shape your life?

Why is God honored and pleased when we exercise faith in times of adversity?

My thoughts:
It's so easy in our every day life, when things are going well, to not stop and thank God for what we have. But oh boy let us come up against something and He's the first one we turn to...I'm not saying it's right but it's like that for many. And in those times of adversity sometimes we wonder where to go in the Bible for comfort and strength. Relying on Him to get us through.

Well this book is a great collection of verses that we can use a lot. These are great to memorize. With 35 different topics and questions you'll be able to experience the Word in a new way. I think it's so helpful. I really liked reading the explanations given and think it's a great tool for every one. If you have been wanting to memorize some Scripture I think this would be a wonderful way to start.

COTT Champ Lisa T Bergren

*Guest post by Michelle Massaro


Congratulations, Lisa T. Bergren, author of Waterfall! Lisa's winning excerpt was discovered by COTT's new Talent Scout, Katie McCurdy. You can read Katie's review here. This YA title is being highly-praised by adults and is only the second YA title to win at Clash Of The Titles. Visit Lisa's site to learn more about her.
About the book:
Gabriella has never spent a summer in Italy like this one.
Remaining means giving up all she’s known and loved…
and leaving means forfeiting what she’s come to know…and love itself.
Most American teenagers want a vacation in Italy, but the Bentarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives with their parents, famed Etruscan scholars, among the romantic hills. Stuck among the rubble of medieval castles in rural Tuscany on yet another hot, dusty archaeological site, Gabi and Lia are bored out of their minds… until Gabi places her hand atop a handprint in an ancient tomb and finds herself in fourteenth-century Italy. And worse yet, in the middle of a fierce battle between knights of two opposing forces.
And thus does she come to be rescued by the knight-prince Marcello Falassi, who takes her back to his father’s castle—a castle Gabi has seen in ruins in another life. Suddenly Gabi’s summer in Italy is much, much more interesting. But what do you do when your knight in shining armor lives, literally, in a different world?

Sounds amazing, doesn't it? No wonder it won! If you're ready to read it, head to Amazon now. You can read Lisa's COTT interview here or check out her excerpt here.

Lisa, welcome to the COTT Hall of Fame. We're very happy to have you join us!

Readers, do you hunger for a well-written convo--one dripping with sarcasm or perhaps laced with unspoken meaning? Maybe you like a quick wit or a character whose comments make you LOL. Wish you could influence the dialogue of the fictional characters you read? This week COTT is hosting a showdown for the Snappiest Dialogue. Hurry on over and let our authors know what you like, and what you long to see, in the spoken interaction between characters. See you there!

* Michelle Massaro is the Assistant Editor for COTT and has a passion for evangelizing through fiction. She writes contemporary inspirational novels with heart-rending themes intended to frame the message of God’s healing love. Michelle has written for Romantic Times, Circle Of Friends, and Pentalk Community, among others. Find her on twitter @MLMassaro, Facebook, or her blog, Adventures in Writing, and join the fun.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Get 2 Dave Ramsey books - ONLY $1

For just $1, you’ll receive a kids’ book and an adult lesson (both audio mp3) from money guru Dave Ramsey to help you and your kiddos understand, manage, and save money.

You receive "Cash Flow Planning" and "The Super Red Racer".

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You can only get this from Mamasource by Mamapedia for the next 5 days. So hurry and get yours now!!  


FREE Kindle books from Amazon

I love Amazon. And I love their Kindle apps even more. :)

As y'all know I'm a reader so when I can get books for free I'm one happy little chick. I thought I'd share some of the more recent e-books I've downloaded onto my Kindle app.

Hope you enjoy!

Steppin' into the Good Life

Finding Grace

Forever Mine (The Moreno Brothers 1) (And then I went and purchased the next 2 in the series - Always Been Mine and Sweet Sofie - for only $2.99 each. (: )

CRY UNCLE

Love In Bloom

The Oak Leaves

The Frontiersman's Daughter, The: A Novel

Fools Rush In (Weddings by Bella, Book 1)

Stuck in the Middle (Sister-to-Sister, Book 1)

Lye in Wait (A Home Crafting Mystery)

Blackbird Fly

Clear Blue Sky

RV Cooking Cookbook (Gooseberry Patch Classics)



Now remember these are just a FEW books that Amazon has - there are a lot of other free ones. Be sure and check the price - free only lasts so long :)


Friday, August 26, 2011

Simple Gifts

By Sharen Pearson

As a mother of five and now grandmother of seven, I’ve planned my share of birthday events. I am a creative person, so my problem is “going over the top.” My expectations supersede those of the birthday child. So, I have to step back and say, “Whose birthday is it anyway?” And, therein lies the key to a successful birthday party.
 
I recently assisted with my grandson, Waylon’s party. He was reaching that big-boy age of 5 years. He knew what theme he wanted: Herbie the Love Bug. He wanted a backyard campfire and a cake with Herbie on it. Simple—Herbie, campfire, cake. Got it! My daughter complied. She invited a few families from church that Waylon knew well and was comfortable around. Since entire families were represented, parents were there to help with crowd control. Bowls of chips and dip provided a place to gather around as people arrived. Children scattered to play in the back yard, parents grouped to watch and chat. Easy, huh? Daddy lit a small fire in the campfire ring in the yard. More talk, more easy playing. The cake was a simple giant chocolate chip cookie with a frosting “Herbie.” Waylon thought it was wonderful. 
 
Mommy announced that it was gift-opening time and everyone pulled up lawn chairs and sat in family groups. Waylon sat in the middle of the circle on the grass and guests watched as he opened each gift and thanked the giver. He received many nice gifts, but to everyone’s delight, a small, inexpensive VW bug toy car was his favorite. He opened it, raised it above his head as if it were a trophy and yelled in delight. Waylon slept with his “Herbie;” woke up and greeted it; placed it on the edge of the tub so he could see it. He had the birthday he wanted. Simple party, simple gift, simple fun!
 
Some suggestions to consider when planning your party:
  • If your child is old enough to have input, allow it.
  • For ages 1-5 years, simple is best. Simple decorations, simple food, simple games.
  • Invite only one party guest per age of the child. Young children are very intimidated by many children of the same age. Remember, “Whose birthday is it?”
  • If guests include family/friends with older children, add activities especially for them.
  • Home is the best place for children ages 5 and under. Big party venues are confusing, scary and do not position the “birthday child” as the center of attention as he should be. 
Some traps that parents fall into:
  • Making the party so complicated that you, as the parent, no longer enjoy it. (Been there, done that.)
  • Allowing young party guests to get close to and grab for gifts as as the birthday child is opening them. (Admit it, you’ve seen this haven’t you?)
  • Spending too much money. (Guilty as charged.)
  • Preparing food for adults and not age-appropriate to the guests. (The only thing to show off today is your wonderful child)
  • Engaging in sleepover parties before the age of 9 years. (Children younger than 9 or 10 years often find sleeping at someone else’s home frightening and uncomfortable.)

 
Author Bio
Sharen Pearson
Sharen Pearson’s Goof & Giggle classes and materials continue to provide a quality Mom/Tot interaction. Widely popular, Goof & Giggle’s child-focused play plans are offered in various Arizona communities. She’s also created a variety of Goof Juice DVDs and filmed episodes of Baby D.I.Y. and written workbooks for BabyFirstTV. Arizona Midday (NBC) tapes monthly segments with Sharen to provide their audience with a variety of original and creative “easy to do” activities for babies and preschoolers. Sharen’s creativity reaches a combined audience over 200 million viewers worldwide. Goof & Giggle classes and products encourage green living, repurposing materials from around the house into affordable objects for play and learning. Learn more at: http://sharenpearson.com/


1,001


OH MY GOSH!!! This is post number 1,001!

I can't believe I have actually posted over 1000 times. This is so awesome! :)



Sifted: God's Scandalous Response to Satan's Outrageous Demand - Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:



and the book:

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Rick Lawrence has been editor of GROUP Magazine, the world’s most widely read resource for Christian youth leaders, for 23 years and is the co-leader of The Simply Youth Ministry Conference. In his role as “Youth Ministry Champion” at Group Publishing, he leads the organization’s expeditionary efforts to challenge, encourage, and equip youth pastors. Lawrence has authored hundreds of magazine articles and is the author, co-author, or editor of 31 books, including JCQ’s: 150 Jesus-Centered Discussion Questions, Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, and the adult/teenager small-group curricula Make Their Day and Ten Tough Things. He’s a consultant to national research organizations and a frequent conference and workshop speaker. Lawrence and his wife, Beverly Rose, live with their two daughters in Denver, CO.



Visit the author's website.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:







Worn down by the troubles in your life? Overwhelmed by piled-up problems? Worried about others who are hurting? In his book, Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand, Rick Lawrence offers fresh biblical perspective on pain, based on a single Scripture snapshot: Luke 22:31-32.







Product Details:



List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 272 pages

Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1434700747

ISBN-13: 978-1434700742



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Introduction



“Show me a hero and I’ll show you a tragedy.”



—F. Scott Fitzgerald

For my birthday one year my wife gave me a book about Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary explorer who in 1914 attempted to be the first to circumnavigate Antarctica from sea to sea, only to endure epic hardships after his ship (prophetically named the Endurance) got stuck in pack ice.1 For most of the ensuing year the Endurance slowly morphed from a seagoing icebreaker to a ghostly frozen outpost, with its rigging sheathed in ice and its desperate crew counting on the spring thaw to set them free again. But instead the thaw sent hulking blocks of bluish ice crashing into the ship’s thick hull. And after a month spent bracing themselves against the pummeling, the twenty-seven men of the Endurance abandoned ship, camping on the pack ice as the sea’s frozen incisors slowly chewed and swallowed its timbers. The last to slip below the surface was the mast, a barren tree on the frozen expanse. And in the eerie aftermath Shackleton’s men knew that catastrophe was about to accelerate into tragedy. They were almost a thousand miles from help, with dwindling provisions, subzero weather, no means of communication, grinding ice behind them, and treacherous waters in front of them. And no Endurance.



One thing they had going for them—some historians would say the only thing they had going for them—was the remarkable will of Ernest Shackleton, a man whose capacity for hope seems borrowed from heroic fiction. By the following summer he had willed the entire party—every last man who’d been on that ship—safely home. They had to eat their beloved sled dogs to survive. They had to fit up salvaged lifeboats for a harrowing five-day journey over open water to the temporary safety of Elephant Island. They had to fashion a makeshift sail for Shackleton and five of his men, then point the largest of their lifeboats toward a distant whaling station on South Georgia Island, across the widow-making Southern Ocean. Along the way they had to survive twenty-foot swells that often engulfed their twenty-two-foot boat, a kind of sleepless dementia that reduced some of the men to a catatonic fetal position, frostbitten fingers encased in ice and frozen to the oars, and navigational challenges akin to sinking a basket from the upper deck (historians call it the single greatest feat of open-boat navigating ever). Once the men were in sight of South Georgia’s craggy shores, hurricane-force winds threatened to smash the boat on outlying rock formations. Finally, the half-dead men hauled their little boat onto the shore of a tiny rock cove. And then Shackleton and two of his men had to cross the width of the island’s forbidding, unmapped, mountainous interior in one thirty-six-hour all-or-nothing death march to the whaling station on the leeward side of the island.



The men, determined apparitions, stumbled out of the frozen mist of the mountains and shuffled into the Stromness station, where the shocked workers at first insisted their story couldn’t be true. From that moment, Shackleton’s name was legend.



Apsley Cherry-Garrar, writing about his experiences with the great Antarctic explorer Robert Scott in his book, The Worst Journey in the World, says: “For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time.”2

Now, that’s some kind of a man.



It’s an understatement to say Shackleton’s story captured me— the effect was more like addiction. I took the book with me on a four-day vacation, and every morning I’d get up at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. and eat through its pages like a starving man. Shackleton’s courage romanced me—his capacity for swallowing pain and then persevering mesmerized me. It was hard to resist the lure to worship him as if he were a kind of god.

But the final scenes in Shackleton’s life are unbearably and heartbreakingly human.

Away from the heroic challenges of his Antarctic explorations, he was ill equipped for the normal life of a husband and father. He grew restless for the financial security that had eluded him all his life, so he launched many wrongheaded and failed business ventures, ultimately descending into alcoholism and dying of a heart attack more than $1 million in debt.

The story’s end bashes hard against the soul.



How is it possible that the same kind of everyday frustrations and failures common to you and me should cut the legs out from under a man of this magnitude? How could he survive the harshest conditions on earth but crumple under the weight of his mortgage?



The thought of a transcendent figure like Shackleton disintegrating because of the assaults of his day-to-day disillusionments fueled a kind of outrage in me. I turned the last page then snapped the book shut to punctuate my frustration and dissonance. If the drip drip-drip of our everyday pains, those familiar discouragements and imploded hopes, can eat away the soul of a giant, then what chance do we relative midgets have? Titanic resolve compressed Shackleton’s soul into granite; then a thousand tiny pains consumed it, like rock eating termites.



Later that year I read about a similar dismantling at work in the story of Meriwether Lewis, the incomparable leader of the greatest expedition in North American history.3 He, like Shackleton, led a handpicked group of brave men in one of the most improbable feats of survival ever recorded, returning from his explorations of the western frontier with every last man (save for one who died of an unknown illness) safely home. But forced to merge back into the flow of normal life, Lewis tried and failed to handle its challenges, slowly disintegrating into a shell of his former self and ultimately committing suicide.

In my soul something dark and dreadful grows. How am I to beat back the rock-eating termites when they swarm? In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Eugene Peterson writes: “Unpleasant things happen to us. We lose what we think we cannot live without. Pain comes to those we love, and we conclude that there is no justice. Why does God permit this? Anxiety seeps into our hearts. We have the precarious feeling of living under a Damoclean sword. When will the ax fall on me? If such a terrible thing could happen to my friend who is good, how long until I get mine?”4

The Damoclean sword (“the threat of imminent harm”) that is Shackleton’s story reminds me that it’s so often not the big things that bring us down; even we midgets somehow summon the courage to face obvious life-threatening challenges. Rather, it’s the everyday holocausts that carry the leverage to take us out—the sucker punches that buffet us when all we’re trying to do is raise our kids, work our jobs, and make sure we have perpetual access to a good four-dollar cup of coffee.

The Attack of the Termites



In an email response to a close friend who’d written to encourage us, my wife chronicled our own infestation of termites after a church leader blindsided us with a painful accusation, leaving us feeling



pummeled and crushed:

Life has simply been overwhelming for me. I



received your emails after a very trying and exhausting



time. I haven’t had the energy to respond. Your



words were nourishing for my soul. Actually, it was



hard to really take them in. I wanted to dismiss



them in light of what recently happened to Rick



and me. On top of [the accusation], in the last ten



days:



• Both of our cars have needed expensive



repairs—Rick’s just suddenly stopped



on the street and could have led to a



catastrophic accident if it had been on



the highway where he does most of his



driving.



• We have mounting financial pressures



from my extraordinary medical care, and



we’re scrambling to find ways to address



them.



• Emma broke two bones in her wrist the



night before we were to leave for Seattle for



a friend’s wedding—we spent the night in



the emergency room with her, wondering



if we should simply cancel the trip.



• A copper water pipe broke in our crawl



space, pouring water into our basement



area an hour before we were to leave for



the airport.



• I reached a tipping point in my parenting



challenges, and we went to meet with a



family therapist this week to deal with our



issues.



• Our garage door broke, leaving us stranded



in our house an hour before Rick was to go



and teach a new class at church.



• I started on an antidepressant drug because



things just became too overwhelming for



me.

No, there are no capital-T tragedies on this list—they are simply the vanguard of the army of rock-eating termites. And, as you might suspect from your own termite infestations, a little over a month after my wife wrote this note we’d already fumigated most of them.…



• We’d met face-to-face with the person who’d



accused us and had started down the path toward



reconciliation.



• We’d somehow found a way to fix both cars.



• We’d refinanced our house to put ourselves in a



better financial situation.



• My six-year-old daughter, Emma, was out of her



cast and somersaulting around the house again.



• We’d met twice with a family counselor, and our



home environment was much more peaceful and



kind.



• A plumber fixed our water pipe while we were



away in Seattle.



• The garage door is as good as new.



• The mild antidepressant Bev took helped stabilize



a downward spiral of emotions.



No one died. No one was abducted by aliens or Richard Simmons. No one gave up or gave in. But for a long while we wondered how much we could handle before the walls crumbled around us, as Aragorn and his warrior companions must have felt defending the gates of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. So we survived the swarm … again. And the wizard Gandalf thunders down the mountain with his army of horsemen to save the fighters at Helm’s Deep—a day-late rescue that smells a lot like most of our own rescues.5 But what’s left of our ramparts after the assault? Smashed walls. The dead. The traumatized survivors. I’ve always heard that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”—well, it might also be true that “whatever doesn’t kill you maims you.” We walk with limps, but we hide them well behind our stiff upper lips.

Max Lucado writes: “Many live their lives in the shadows. Many never return. Some dismiss…. ‘Well, everybody has a little slip now and then.’ Some deny…. ‘These aren’t bruises. These aren’t cuts. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. Me and Jesus? We are tight.’ Some distort…. ‘I’m not to blame. It’s his fault. It’s society’s responsibility…. Don’t point the finger at me.’ When we fall, we can dismiss it. We can deny it. We can distort it. Or we can deal with it.”6



We know this truth about following Christ: Pain abounds, but grace abounds more. But is this alchemy mutually dependent? Has God decreed that we gorge on one to taste the other? And why is it such a certainty that pain abounds?

One of my favorite songs is Tonio K.’s “You Will Go Free”—the first stanza perfectly sums up what C. S. Lewis called “the problem of pain”:

You’ve been a prisoner …



Been a prisoner all your life



Held captive in an alien world



Where they hold your need for love to your throat like a knife



And they make you jump



And they make you do tricks



They take what started off such an innocent heart



And they break it and break it and break it



Until it almost can’t be fixed 7



Pain breaks and breaks and breaks. It’s as if we stumbled into the middle of the gods at batting practice, our heads repeatedly mistaken for the ball. And in the devastated emotional landscape that remains after our breaking, these questions sit in the rubble:



• “Who are the ‘they’ that are ‘breaking and breaking



and breaking’ my heart?”



• “Why are ‘they’ doing this to me?”



• “Why does God feel like such a fickle ally—if



He’s supposed to be for me, why does it so often



seem that He’s against me?”



• “Where can I find relief, and what will it cost me



to get it?”



• “What can I do to stop this from happening



again, and who will show me the secret formula?”



• “How will I go on, now that I know this can and



will happen to me?”

Our False GPS



Our questions about the pummeling we experience seem scandalous— we know we’re not supposed to ask them out loud in polite company. Our job is to be good soldiers, keeping our noses to life’s grindstone



even when God seems terribly unconcerned about the rock-eating termites chewing away at us. So we stumble our way around in the dark, trusting a kind of false GPS for our souls—the fundamental belief that the universe rewards good people with a good life and punishes bad people with their just deserts. When bad things happen to good people our first reaction is disbelief and amazement—it’s a sucker punch—because “it doesn’t make sense.” Right? Our GPS is no help here. And even though we wouldn’t phrase it just this way, we treat the universe of non-good people as if it were as tiny as a mustard seed—Hitler, for sure, and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and Pol Pot and child sexual abusers and the DMV in general. But pretty much all the people we know consider themselves “good” and therefore fundamentally undeserving of the beating they’re taking from the pain actually meant for the tiny secret society of “bad people.”



Peterson writes:

We have been told the lie ever since we can



remember: human beings are basically nice and



good. Everyone is born equal and innocent and



self-sufficient. The world is a pleasant, harmless



place. We are born free. If we are in chains now, it



is someone’s fault, and we can correct it with just a



little more intelligence or effort or time.



How we can keep on believing this after so



many centuries of evidence to the contrary is



difficult to comprehend, but nothing we do and



nothing anyone else does to us seems to disenchant



us from the spell of the lie. We keep expecting



things to get better somehow. And when they



don’t, we whine like spoiled children who don’t



get their way.8

Several years ago I surveyed almost ten thousand Christian teenagers and adults serving together in a summer outreach program and asked them this question: “Can a good person earn eternal salvation through good deeds?”9 One out of five Christian adults answered yes, and twice that percentage of teenagers agreed. And, I have to say, I think these were just the honest ones. After decades spent asking



Christian people questions like this one and comparing their answers to how they—and I—actually live, I’m positive that most of those who answered with the theologically correct no are functionally living



their lives in contradiction to their beliefs. I mean, we say it’s God’s goodness, not ours, that saves us. But you’ll understand your own “functional theology” when you realize how quickly you get defensive when someone hints that all is not “well with your soul” or how quickly you think ill of someone who’s going through repeated hardships.

As an elder at my church I’m on the list to receive a weekly report of all the prayer requests that have been formally submitted to us. I’ve noticed that there are a handful of people who always show up on the list, and I’ve also noticed that I must fight the temptation to agree with a subtle-but-brazen judgment that whispers in my head: “That person must be messed up.” Can you relate? If you can, we’re both in the company of Job’s friends, who were pretty sure the great man was hiding his festering sins under a legendary veneer of goodness. And they were even more sure that God had pointed a sewer pipe of catastrophic circumstances at their friend and opened wide the valve, essentially blasting away at him with the brown stuff until he admitted what had to be true—that he deserved what he was getting. In the functional theology of Job’s friends—and, as it turns out, our own—God is well qualified to work as an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. He will surface what we’re hiding by torturing it out of us….

This is exactly why the book of Job is known by most but studied by few—its premise frightens and confuses us. Good thing the outcome is a fairy-tale ending, or the whole thing would be unendurable—an even less likely choice for the midweek women’s Bible study. Job’s friends, later discredited and lambasted by God, believe exactly what we believe: that no matter what we tell ourselves to the contrary, good people are rewarded in life and bad people are punished. The certainty of this equation means that Job, because of his kitchen sink full of tragedies, must assuredly be hiding some secret (and whopper) sins. His friends’ approach to counseling makes logical sense—reveal what you’ve done wrong, repent of it, and maybe God will turn off the spigot.



So some of us, following the advice of Job’s friends, respond by repeatedly begging for God’s blanket forgiveness for the vaguest of sins or by finding someone or something to blame for our catastrophes.



Many more of us respond by determining to work ever harder to be good, or by keeping our bad carefully camouflaged, or by vowing to trudge on under an ever-increasing burden of doubt and guilt—or by metaphorically jabbing our finger at God and threatening to outwit and outlast Him, as if we were the last two competitors on Survivor. In the seasons of our lives when we feel as if we can relate to Job, we often struggle with shame. It’s the shame of our failure to measure up to God’s exacting standards of goodness, the same unreasonable shame that Job’s friends “gifted” their friend with.



We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For



One Saturday afternoon, I was running errands in my car and listening to National Public Radio’s award-winning show This American Life. Host Ira Glass is the medium for the life stories of average people



who’ve experienced extraordinary moments. On this day, I was captured by the story of a young woman, Trisha Sebastian, whose best friend had died suddenly from an aggressive cancer. She told Glass that



her friend was “such a good person,” and, therefore, her death was all the more a tragedy. Why, she asked, would God allow “someone like me to still be here when someone like Kelly … who spread so much good throughout the world, in her own little way … it just doesn’t make sense.” This was the reason, she told Glass, that she no longer believed in God. Soon after her friend’s death, Sebastian decided on a whim to contact a Christian football coach who’d been in the news recently. The coach had encouraged his school’s fans to root for their opponent, a team made up of kids from a juvenile detention center. Sebastian was looking for answers about her friend’s death, for a pathway back to God, and she admired what this man had done. “I’d been struggling with this grief that I feel over my friend’s death, and I thought that he would be able to counsel me and console me,” she told Glass. “And what happened instead was that he basically brought out argument after argument, like, saying that the theory of evolution is contradicted by a seventh-grader’s textbook, and—” Glass broke in to say, “Oh, I see—he was trying to argue with you about the existence of God instead of trying to comfort you.” Sebastian responded, “Yeah, I think that was it.… And that completely turned me off towards him. And now I’m left with all of these questions…. Deep down, I really want to believe again.” So Glass suggested she call the coach again, with him on the line, so that her real questions about her friend’s death could be addressed.

But instead of directly focusing on her fears and confusion, the coach tried to explain the ramifications of original sin to her. And that left the desperate, grieving woman full of angst and unanswered questions. I listened to the whole interchange and could feel my own tension mount as the coach tried to answer this disconsolate woman with an earnest lesson in apologetics. When she asked the coach to, instead, help her understand a God who would do this kind of thing, he responded: “This is the most common question that folks who are anti-God ask—this is the most common objection to God. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? You have to understand that sin entered the world through one person: Adam.



Now, if you read what the Bible says happened as a result of sin, every single person who’s ever been born was born into sin—” And at this point Sebastian interrupted him with this: “So, I’m sorry to break in, but you’re saying cancer is caused by sin?”



As earnest and good-hearted as the coach was, his explanations did nothing to bring peace to Sebastian’s soul. We, like her, just don’t understand the basic unfairness of pain. Even though we’ve prayed and read books and listened to sermons and talked to wise friends, we agree with Bono’s wail—“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”



Ultimately, the “Why this pain?” question haunts us because we’re profoundly unsatisfied with the answers we get. I’m inexorably drawn to Shackleton’s story at the same time I’m haunted by it, like a moth circling a bug light at night. It’s a mystery, and the solutions our theological Sherlocks offer us don’t seem to solve it for us. They explain it, it makes sense, and it does nothing to calm our souls. That’s because the Job story hints at something that is simply unacceptable—that not only does God Himself not intervene in all of our tragedies, He’s actually a coconspirator in some of them. If our good God, like a double agent, can unpredictably join in the destructive schemes of our enemy, “how great is the darkness” (Matt. 6:23)? In the wake of his twenty-five-year old son’s death in a climbing accident, philosopher and Yale University professor Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of



heaven and earth and resurrecter of Jesus Christ. I



also believe that my son’s life was cut off in its prime.



I cannot fit these pieces together. I am at a loss. I have



read the theodices produced to justify the ways of



God to man. I find them unconvincing. To the most



agonized question I have ever asked I do not know



the answer. I do not know why God would watch



him fall. I do not know why God would watch me



wounded. I cannot even guess.11



These are not entertaining mysteries—they are mysteries that wound and pummel and empty us. We can’t help ourselves; we’re driven to extremes just as King David was in the Psalms: “Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). This is why the conspiracy embedded in Job’s story is so unnerving to us, and it would be even more so if it wasn’t relegated to the Old Testament where, we tell ourselves, the stories seem so distant and over the top that they’re really more like moralistic fairy tales than actual accounts of actual people and their actual dealings with God. So we put stories like this not on the back burner of our lives but hidden under the stove where we don’t have to really look at them … ever.

But these stories, like cockroaches, keep creeping out from under the stove—especially at night, when the lights go out. We’re reading along in the comfortable environment of the Jesus-loves-me New Testament and we ram right into a story about Him that, finally, makes it nearly impossible to avoid the scary truth. It happens at the end of the Last Supper, right before Jesus is betrayed, stripped, scourged, paraded through the streets, and nailed to a cross:



In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,



saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,



which is poured out for you. But the hand of him



who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.



The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but



woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to



question among themselves which of them it might



be who would do this.

Also a dispute arose among them as to which



of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said



to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over



them; and those who exercise authority over them



call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be



like that. Instead, the greatest among you should



be like the youngest, and the one who rules like



the one who serves. For who is greater, the one



who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not



the one who is at the table? But I am among you as



one who serves. You are those who have stood by



me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom,



just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you



may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and



sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.



“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as



wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your



faith may not fail. And when you have turned back,



strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with



you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the



rooster crows today, you will deny three times that



you know me.” (Luke 22:20–34 NIV)

Here we are at the Last Supper, with the cross shading every interaction, and Jesus turns to Peter and reveals something that’s most certainly happening behind the scenes, right then at history’s crossroads.



He confides in Peter, like a friend who whispers in your ear what the neighbors really think of you, that Satan has asked to “sift [him] like wheat.” And, even more disturbing than this revelation, Jesus doesn’t reassure Peter that He will not allow this terrible thing to happen—instead, He tells him that He has prayed that his “faith may not fail” and “when you have turned back, [that you would] strengthen your brothers.” This “sifting” is going to happen, it’s going to happen with Jesus’ permission, and it’s going to happen for a reason.



You Will Go Free



Is it possible that God is a coconspirator in our own stories of sifting?

And if so, what is He really after in us?

And however I answer this question, can anything be worth the price of the pain I’ve experienced, or will soon?



In this story—in these three sentences uttered by Jesus to Peter— He pulls back the curtain on what’s happening, all the time, in an unseen spiritual world where the forces of darkness demand entrĂ©e into our lives. He also bares His goodness. I know this makes no sense on the face of it—our realities are too cruel and the pain too central for the shallow and offensive formulas that are pandered to us. But this is no formula—it’s a journey into the deeper recesses of the heart of God, a path well stumbled by the saints of God throughout history and in the lives of those who’ve had the biggest impact for good in our own lives.

All of the people and books and music and films you and I love the most are encrusted, like priceless jewels, with pain. Name something that captures your heart that was not formed by pain. It’s ironic, of course, that pain repels us more fundamentally than anything else in life but it produces things that are magnetic to us. Why do we live in fear of pain while, at the same time, we find ourselves drawn to its “produce” in the people and stories of our lives? And why does all great art, and why do all truly great people, seem positively marinated in pain?

The mystery of our sifting is a trek into the kind of raw intimacy God once shared with His beloved Adam and Eve—it is the brutal outworking of redemption, hope, and joy in our lives. But the journey



is no stroll—it’s an epic and terrible adventure. A treasure hunt.

And that treasure is our freedom.



Paul reminds us of the fundamentals: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1 NIV). And, it turns out, the “epic and terrible adventure” that is the story of our journey from bondage to freedom is fraught with danger and heartbreak. Danger is an essential aspect of any adventure; without danger, it’s not really an adventure. Stopping to buy a cup of coffee does not qualify as an adventure, but it might if you’re in Baghdad. Landing an airplane on a runway is usually no adventure, but it is if your runway is the Hudson River. The danger we must face down in our own adventures is the threat of the rock-eating termites—it’s the pain that eats away at us and the terrible offense of our sifting. But the point of our lives is not the pain—we are not pawns of a capricious deity or the collateral damage of an ancient metaphysical feud. We are prisoners—freedom is our only hope and sifting is its currency.



While the first stanza in Tonio K.’s song “You Will Go Free” describes the “breaking and breaking and breaking” we experience in life, his refrain is the counterpoint—it exactly describes the promise that carries us through the tunnel of our darkness:



Well, I don’t know when



And I don’t know how



I don’t know how long it’s gonna take



I don’t know how hard it will be



But I know



You will go free12



Copyright 2011 Rick Lawrence. Sifted published by David C Cook.



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