Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back to School ... Pray!

Guest PostBy Carla McDougal


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 6:5,7


Excitement’s in the air! Anticipation rises. It’s that time of year when the kids go back to school.

Who can forget watching your child go to "big school" for the first time? I remember those bittersweet moments as each of my four children kissed me good-bye. I always knew that day would arrive, but nothing prepared me for the moment.

Elementary school seemed to fly by and almost overnight they were in junior high and then high school. And in a blink of an eye, they were off to college. Where did the years go?

I learned early on that when my children were away from home, praying for them comforted me. By turning them over to God I experienced a calm peace. Year after year my prayers intensified, yet remained the same…


• Elementary School – Will he make a friend? Will he eat all his lunch, or just the cookies and chips? God help him to love You with all his heart.

• Junior/Senior High –Will he make the right friends? Is he paying attention to the teacher? God, help him love You with all his soul.

• College - Will he make some forever friends? Is he making the right life decisions? God, help him to love You with all his strength.


Just as our children face challenges, we as moms face our own set of challenges…
• To pray over our children no matter where they are in life.

• To be on our knees for those God entrusted to us.

• To ultimately pray for each child to love Jesus with all his heart, soul, and mind!

• Finally, to let them know we are praying for them each day! What a blessing it is to pray for our children.

I ask you to take advantage of this new season too. Do you need a fresh start? Where are you in your relationship with God? In my Bible study, Reflecting Him – Living for Jesus and Loving It, I encourage you to find Jesus in your everyday activities. He is there for us 24 hours a day, and He wants to hear our everyday prayers!


CARLA MCDOUGAL is founder of Reflective Life Ministries headquartered in the Houston, Texas area. Her true passion for her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, shines brightly, whether she is speaking or writing. She shares experiences from her own life to encourage women to live every day for Him. God is sending Carla around the world to speak to women from all walks of life—those living in the best of circumstances to those who have hit rock bottom.



 
Carla’s book, Reflecting Him: Living for Jesus and Loving It, is a 10-week study that encourages you to open your eyes to God’s daily life lessons. The more you ask God to be in your life, the more you will recognize His hand on everything you do. For more information on a growing number of products from Reflective Life Ministries, and to see about booking Carla for an event or interview, go to http://www.reflectivelifeministries.org/.

This article content is provided free of charge by the author through Kathy Carlton Willis Communications. You are welcome to place this article on your site or in your publication as long as 1) it’s used in its entirety, 2) the full bio is also used, and 3) you previously request permission through KCWC at russ@kathycarltonwillis.com.

All other standard copyrights apply.

Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Applying Amish Values Can Simplify Your Life, Health, and Career

Learning principles from a gentle people will help safeguard your time together as a family as you learn to slow down, prioritize, and value what’s truly important.

About The Book

Award-winning author Suzanne Woods Fisher inspires readers to slow down and understand the values that help build a strong family in Amish Values for Your Family (ISBN: 978-0-8007-1996-8, $12.99, 192 pages August 2011). Studies are finding some alarming trends in the daily life of modern families –family time is a vanishing commodity. Compared to thirty years ago, today’s parents spend 40% less time with their children. This decline coincides with the rise in internet use, the popularity with social networks, and the swell of children’s organized sports and activities. What is competing for your family time? Who is winning?

The Amish have maintained one of the strongest and most stable family systems in America. Harvard School of Medicine recently found that Amish people have a lower rate of heart disease than do average Americans as well as lower rates of cancer. Could their simple way of life, hard work, and value of family contribute to a healthier way of life? And, if so, how is it possible to incorporate some principles of the Amish into a modern family without “goin’ Amish?”

In Amish Values for Your Family, Fisher shows how you can adopt the wisdom of the Amish when it comes to family matters. In this inspiring and practical book, readers will find true stories interlaced with solid, biblical advice about parenting, marriage, and all aspects of family life – without selling your car, changing your wardrobe, or moving to the Amish countryside. Readers will learn to prioritize what's truly important, simplify decision-making, slow down as a family, safeguard time together, and letting go when the time comes.


My Review

Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Woods Fisher is simply a book about living... simply. Filled with stories from the Amish themselves, you will discover how they keep their lives focused on what matters most and how that decision affects not only the whole family, but the entire community as well.

One of my most recent goals in life has been to SIMPLIFY. Get rid of all the 'stuff' so I have more time to enjoy what matters most... God, family, and people. This book has not only increased my desire for simplicity, but it has shown me even more reasons for doing so. Filled with heart-warming stories from the men and women raised in the Amish community, it has only made me wish I had made the decision sooner.

One of the stories that struck me the most was of a man who worked for a company that builds houses. He said that they worked on custom built homes, some with a price around a million dollars. He said "I see these folks wanting these big grand houses, strapping themselves to pay the mortgage. Both the mom and the dad have to work to make those big payments, and then the house is empty all day. Little kids get stuck in day care, or older kids come in to cold, empty houses..."  I see this happen in all income brackets. If we only thought of these things before we get ourselves into debt.

While no family is perfect, we can always seek to improve the quality of our lives and those around us. The Amish seem to have it right... keep God, family, and others as a priority. I could learn a lot from the Amish and I'm glad that Suzanne Woods Fisher is willing to share what she's learned with us. :)

*Revell Books and Baker Publishing Group have provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review. ~ Thank you!


About The Author

Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, and The Search, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Benedict eventually became publisher of Christianity Today magazine. Suzanne is the host of a radio show called Amish Wisdom. She lives in California. To learn more about Suzanne visit her at suzannewoodsfisher.com



Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sifted by Rick Lawrence




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.


Publisher permission required to reproduce in any format or quantity. All rights reserved.

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh & Cindy Martinusen-Coloma



Book Description


"Without the storm, how would we know the sweetness of shelter?" -Ruth

Out of the clear blue, Wren’s Grandma Ruth arrives on her doorstep, dreaming of a grand party to celebrate her 95th birthday. Wren and her young son Charlie love the idea, but it quickly gets complicated: Ruth wants Wren’s estranged siblings to attend and she wants Wren to sing her all-time favorite song: “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” It’s the very song Wren sang one fateful day during her childhood . . . and Wren hasn’t sung a note since.

Though she’s glad to have Grandma back in her life, Wren’s sleeping on the couch in her own house now . . . and worried about the expenses piling up. After all, her job at the community library is in jeopardy after budget cuts, and the fancy music program she wants for her son is getting farther and farther out of reach. What’s more, Paul—the guy she's drawn to yet avoids—ends up being a major part of an important library project.

With family arriving and old wounds resurfacing, Wren’s about to fly when she discovers something special—a gift of grace beyond her wildest dreams.


My Review


When I first saw the cover and Sheila Walsh's name... I couldn't get this book fast enough! I absolutely love books that are set on the coast and I pretty much love anything written by Sheila Walsh. So put the two together and I have to read it!

Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma did a wonderful job of making the story realistic. I was drawn when I first read what the story was about. As a single mother myself for 12 years, I could easily relate to the struggles of being a single parent. Trying to make ends meet, wanting the very best for your child,  divorce.... all things we may all be familiar with. Throw in a good mix of  family members...  a Grandmother and estranged siblings... and I can easily connect with Wren.

Sweet Sanctuary is a great story of healing from your past and learning to lean on God. A very enjoyable read! Check it out! :)

*Thomas Nelson has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.-Thanks Thomas Nelson! :)


Thanks for reading and God bless! :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It) by Brian Jones





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 (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:



Brian Jones is the senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, an innovative community of faith in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Brian is a graduate of Cincinnati Christian University (B.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M. Div.) and has served in leadership positions in churches for over twenty years. His humorous and raw style has made him a popular speaker for conferences, seminars, churches and retreats.



Visit the author's website.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Recently, the media has ignited in a brimstone blaze of controversy over the question of Hell, and the idea that’s generating so much attention is that Hell isn’t real, and even if it were, a loving God wouldn’t possibly send people there. Is Hell real, or is it a concept that is misguided and out of place in today’s Christianity? Many believe the answer to this question will have profound implications on the future of the faith, and important personalities on both sides of this question are drawing lines in the sand.











If you would like to hear his sermon on Hell is Real, see video below...







Product Details:



List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 272 pages

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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0781405726

ISBN-13: 978-0781405720



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Eternal Damnation, Really?



The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.



—H. Richard Niebuhr1



My three daughters know that I have one sacred, unbreakable rule when our family drives anywhere on vacation: If you have to go to the bathroom once we’re on the highway, you better have a Pringles can close by because we’re not stopping.



I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to small bladders, you have to exert martial law on the hole van. Otherwise you’ll spend half your vacation touring the country’s finest rest stops and eating twelve times the daily recommended allowance of pork rinds. In fact, after years of driving to remote vacation spots, I’ve learned four key principles for a successful road trip with kids: Keep ’em sleeping, keep ’em separated, keep ’em dehydrated, and keep ’em watching videos. If complaining erupts, I’ve also found it helpful to have memorized Bill Cosby’s classic line: “I brought you into this world; I can take you out!”2



There have been times, however, I’ve been tempted to break my own rules. For instance, I’ll never forget the time we drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Dallas. We had just stopped in Louisville to fill up, and after twenty minutes we had successfully emptied all the bladders, gotten situated with our snacks, and pulled back on the road heading toward the highway. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the rooftop of a small apartment complex. I looked for a chimney but saw none. I reassured myself that surely someone had already called 911 and everything would be fine.



Besides, I thought, I can’t even tell for sure if there’s a fire.

Yet something inside of me kept wondering, What if I’m the only person who is seeing this right now? As I approached the onramp I went back and forth in my head, Should we stop? Should we keep going? Should we stop? We don’t have time for this! But what if I’m the only person—I swerved to the left at the last second, drove past the onramp, and circled back into the apartment complex. My guilt (or basic human decency) had won out.



As I pulled up I discovered that it was in fact a fire, and by then the flames had engulfed a large part of the roof. Worse, my suspicion was accurate—we were the only ones there. I asked my wife, Lisa, to call 911, and then I ran inside to warn people to get out.



Once I reached the third floor, I frantically started to bang on the doors, one by one, but at each door there was no response. I then ran down to the second floor and did the same. As I was about to go down to the first floor, a shirtless young man with disheveled hair stuck his head out of one of the second-floor units. He cracked the door open, and as I ran back to meet him, I was hit with a wall of marijuana smoke.



“Yo, my man, what’s up?” he said with a slight grin.



“What’s up is that your apartment is about to burn to the ground. Put your joint down and help me get people out of here!”



We ran down the steps to the first floor. Two couples responded to our knocking. “There’s an elderly lady on the third floor!” one woman shouted. “Did you get her out?”



My heart sank. After racing back up to the third floor, we began furiously pounding on her door. The first-floor neighbor yelled, “She gets confused easily. We may have to break down the door.” But just as she said that the handle slowly began to turn. Coughing, confused, and minutes away from being consumed by the fire, she followed her neighbors down to safety. As we stepped out the front door, we heard sirens in the distance. After we guided the elderly woman into the hands of the paramedics, I turned around and watched the firemen storm up the apartment steps to stop the blaze.



As I stood there, the weight of it all hit me. I let out a deep sigh and thought to myself, What would have happened if I had kept driving?



A few hours later, when my adrenaline had finally worn down and the kids were asleep, a bizarre thought came out of nowhere. I call it a “thought” because to this day I’m still not sure if what popped into my mind came from God or from the triple stack of chocolate chip pancakes from IHOP digesting in my stomach. Here’s what came to my mind:



Let me get this straight: You’re willing to run into a



burning building to save someone’s life, but non-



Christians all around you are going to hell and you



don’t believe it, let alone lift a finger to help.



Admittedly, I was a little freaked out by the “thought,” but at the time I blew it off as a lingering remnant of my conservative-evangelical upbringing.



Four years prior to this event I had graduated from seminary, and with the endless boxes of books I lugged into the moving truck when I left, I also packed my watered-down theology, a healthy dose



of skepticism about biblical authority, and a nail-tight conviction that hell was a mythological concept that no loving and thinking Christian could accept. I had weighed the evidence, read all the books, and sat at the feet of experts for three years. Now the verdict was in—the Bible’s teaching about hell was inaccurate at best and hateful at worst. What I was taught as a child was a lie, and now that I was becoming a pastor, I was sure I’d never perpetuate that ridiculous myth again.



Objections to Hell



Undoubtedly, you’re a smart person. You like to read, and you were intrigued enough by the topic of hell and eternal damnation to give this book a go (either that or the bookstore didn’t have that Dan Brown novel you were looking for). And so I think you can understand the six good reasons it seemed ridiculous to me that God would send anyone to hell. Read through these objections and see if you resonate with how I felt.

1. Hell Is a Very Unpopular Idea



Hell has always been an unpopular concept, and for obvious reasons. According to a recent survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 59 percent of Americans believe in hell.3 That’s six out of ten people, a slight majority in any room. But another poll narrowed the question even more and discovered that “fewer than half of all Americans (43 percent) thought people go to heaven or hell depending on their actions on earth.”4 Furthermore, in twenty-five years of being a pastor, I would add that maybe three out of every ten Christians I’ve met truly believe people who die without becoming Christians go to hell.



The fact that so few people believe in hell made me wonder if it was about as factual as the lost city of Atlantis.



2. The Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime



To my post-seminary self, sending someone to hell for all eternity seemed tantamount to sending someone to death row for stealing a postage stamp. Enduring physical, emotional, and spiritual torture not just for a year, or ten years, or billions of years on end, but for all eternity—it just didn’t seem fair. In fact, it seemed hateful and absurd. Who would propose such a punishment on anyone for anything done in this life? Atheist William C. Easttom put it this way,



God says, “Do what you wish, but make the wrong



choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell.”



That … would be akin to a man telling his girlfriend,



do what you wish, but if you choose to leave



me, I will track you down and blow your brains



out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath



and cry out for his imprisonment/execution.



When God says the same we call him “loving” and



build churches in his honor.5



When I looked at it from this vantage point, I understood why Tertullian, a well-known pastor in the early church, wrote, “We get ourselves laughed at for proclaiming that God will one day judge the world.”6 In eighteen hundred years that sentiment hasn’t really changed.



3. Life Is Hell Enough



The more I thought about the concept of eternal punishment, the more I kept thinking to myself, Don’t most people go through enough hell in one lifetime? Think about all the suffering people go through in this life. Hell just didn’t make any sense to me. One blogger does a fantastic job of illustrating this point:



Given life’s headaches, backaches, toothaches,



strains, scrapes, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, breaks,



PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, parasites,



viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness,



paralysis, retardation, deformities, ugliness, embarrassments,



miscommunications, confused signals,



ignorance, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom,



hard labor, repetitious labor, old age, accidents, fires,



floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes,



and volcanoes, I cannot see how anyone, after



they’re dead, deserves “eternal punishment” too.7



4. Hell Seems Intolerant and Hateful



One of the biggest things that weighed on me was how cruel and arrogant the concept of hell sounded when I talked about it with good friends of mine who weren’t Christians.

A friend once asked me, “How can you believe my great-grandparents who brutally suffered and died in the Holocaust won’t go to heaven just because they didn’t believe in Jesus? They were loving, God-fearing people.” I didn’t have a good answer, and the lack of an answer that sounded loving and moral troubled me immensely. The vast majority of people on this planet think that believing anyone—except people like Hitler who commit heinous crimes against humanity—would go to hell is arrogant, insensitive, ignorant, and hateful.



Victor Hugo wrote, “Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly.”8 I had to agree. What kind of God would send



anyone to hell? I thought.



5. Respected Evangelical Scholars Reject the Idea of Hell



What troubled me even more was that everywhere I turned, noted Christian scholars confirmed my inner struggle. For instance, evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock wrote,



I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in



body and mind an outrageous doctrine.… How can



Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty



and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting



everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful



they may have been? Surely a God who would do



such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.9



Statements like this made sense to me. Knowing that highly educated people like Pinnock and others thought this way gave me more confidence that it might be okay to veer away from my traditional



Christian beliefs if I chose to do so. If they veered from clear biblical teachings, why couldn’t I?



6. I Like Being Liked



Finally, truth be told, the need to be liked was a real factor in my personal struggle. I hated the fact that I could have friendships with people, but if I stayed true to my Christian beliefs, I felt like I had to spend all my time and energy trying to convert them. I wanted to embrace them, cherish their uniqueness, understand their beliefs, and celebrate our diverse cultural and religious upbringings. Hell was an affront to all of this. I didn’t want to be thought of as the nutty, intolerant guy who was always trying to get people to admit that they were sinners in need of a Savior. I wanted to be the cool, relevant, and intelligent pastor people liked and wanted their friends to know.



Do you resonate with any of those objections to hell?



An Unexpected Confrontation



The combined weight of the attacks by my professors and the sheer immorality of the idea itself finally broke the theological dam open for me. Over time I simply gave up on the idea, proudly. The problem was that believing the Bible is God’s Word is, well, up near the top of any pastor’s job description, at least in an evangelical church. I needed a job, so I came up with what seemed like a simple solution:



I would never tell anyone about my disbelief. In fact, I carried my secret around for four years after graduate school without ever telling anyone, not the people who went to my church, not the staff with whom I worked, not my friends, not even my wife. The secret was so well hidden that sometimes I was able to forget about it—until that apartment fire in Louisville, and then again a few months later at a monastery in northwest Ohio.



I was in the habit of going to a monastery roughly once a month for a spiritual retreat. I would arrive early in the day to pray, journal, take long walks in the woods, and leave late in the afternoon. On one such retreat I felt an overwhelming sense of spiritual pressure, the spiritual equivalent of the kind of pressure you feel in your ears when swimming in deep water. I sensed that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. For the better part of the day, I locked myself into a cold, cement-block room and asked God to show me the source of my consternation.



For the first three hours, I heard nothing—my prayers seemed as if they were bouncing off the ceiling. By noon I felt like I was starting to make a connection with God, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next, when I felt God’s Spirit impress upon my heart, “Brian, this charade has to end. You’re a pastor and your job is to teach people the Bible, but you don’t believe what you’re teaching. You don’t believe in hell.”



I was a little startled, so I picked up my Bible and did something I had up to that point discouraged people in my church from doing—I played what I call “Bible Roulette.” In his book Formula for a Burning Heart, A. W. Tozer said, “An honest man with an open Bible and a pad and pencil is sure to find out what is wrong with him very quickly.”10 I can attest to the truth of that statement.



I closed my eyes, wildly fanned the pages back and forth, and randomly pointed to passages and read them. The first passage was about eternal punishment. I looked up at the ceiling and said, “That’s a coincidence.” The second passage was about God’s wrath. This time I felt a little uneasy. Then I did it a third time and couldn’t believe my eyes—eternal punishment again. I’m not usually the most mystical person in the world, but I slowly closed the pages of my Bible, put it down on the table next to me, and said, “I get the message.” Church leaders must “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9), and hell is one of those “deep truths.”



I spent the next five hours reading and underlining every passage about hell in the New Testament, and as I did, I felt an overwhelming sense of conviction. What I discovered shocked me. I had always assumed



Take the book of Matthew, for instance, just one book among twenty-seven in the entire New Testament. Here is what we learn about hell from that book alone:



Twelve separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.11 Matthew 13:49–50 summarizes them all: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”



Jesus employed the most graphic language to describe what hell is like: fire (Matt. 5:22; 18:9); eternal fire (18:8); destruction (7:13); away from his presence (7:23); thrown outside (8:12; 22:13; 25:30); blazing furnace (13:42); darkness (22:13; 25:30); eternal punishment (25:46); weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51).



Jesus twice used the word eternal (18:8; 25:46) to convey that the punishment of nonbelievers would continue forever.



As I moved from the Gospels into the rest of the New Testament, I was struck by how the writers unashamedly addressed the issue. There is no hesitancy or apology in their words. The basic tone is,



“This is a reality. Now let’s get out there and tell people how to avoid it.” Second Thessalonians 1:7–9 summarizes what these other New Testament authors taught:



This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed



from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful



angels. He will punish those who do not know God



and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They



will be punished with everlasting destruction and



shut out from the presence of the Lord and from



the glory of his might.



My heart raced as I flipped page after page after page. I discovered, by the end of my study, that the New Testament’s teaching about hell is not an ambiguous topic supported by a few hard-to understand passages. It is inescapable: Virtually every book in the New Testament underscores some aspect of the reality of hell. Jesus taught it; Paul, Peter, and every early church leader taught it, but I wasn’t teaching it. I realized I had a decision to make. Could I discount what Jesus taught about hell if I based my belief in heaven on similar passages in the same books?



Could it be possible that Jesus’ disciples actually had some of the same reservations I had but still persisted in teaching it because they knew in the depths of their souls that hell was real? Wasn’t my hesitancy to believe in hell a sign of my compassion for people? Yet, if hell really exists, and I knew that but wasn’t willing to tell people how to avoid it, wouldn’t that also be the most extreme form of cruelty imaginable? Most of all, could it be that I was ultimately basing my acceptance of this teaching more on what people thought of me than on whether I felt it was intellectually plausible?



As the weight of it all finally set in, I dropped to my knees, stretched out my arms and legs to the sides, and fell prostrate on the unfinished concrete monastery floor. Not content, however, with the act of simply lying facedown, I shoved my face over and over against the concrete as if an invisible hand pushed against the base of my neck. I buried my face in the silence and wept. After an hour or so passed, I just couldn’t stomach listening to myself any longer. I stood up, gathered my belongings, and walked out of the monastery retreat house I had rented for the day. While my planning retreat certainly didn’t end quite like I thought it would, I left knowing exactly what I needed to do.



I drove straight home and met Lisa in our kitchen, sharing everything that had transpired from beginning to end, and then I begged for her forgiveness. Then I drove over to the church, gathered my staff, and did the same. Later that night at an emergency Leadership Team meeting, I walked our bewildered church overseers step-by-step through every detail of my secret. A few days later, standing before the church, I completely fell apart. Four long years of strategic rationalizing couldn’t protect me from the inevitable—my sin had indeed found me out.



Do you want to know what’s scary? When I confessed this, nobody really cared. In fact, the response from a man on my Leadership Team captured the response of just about everyone: “Oh, thank God. You really scared me,” he said. “I thought you called us together to tell us that you did something serious like have an affair.”



Want to know what’s even scarier? You probably agree with him.



I’ve shared that story hundreds of times over the last two decades, and each time I’ve always gotten the same reaction: “Let me get this straight—you started believing in hell again because you reread every passage in the New Testament that talked about hell and then fell on the ground and asked for forgiveness?”



When you put it that way, well, then yes, that’s exactly how it happened. But it wasn’t that simple. There was much more going on beneath the surface. Undergirding that experience were two foundational truths that I didn’t come to realize until much later.



Christians must repent of “sins of disbelief ” in the same way they repent of “sins of behavior.”



Most Christians I know think they need to ask God’s forgiveness only for things they do that are outside of God’s will for His followers. Did I lie today? I need to ask for forgiveness. Did I gossip? I need



to ask for forgiveness for that sin too. Did I take something that wasn’t mine? I’ll ask for forgiveness for that as well. Sins of disbelief are no different. 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.



Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”



It’s life and doctrine—we can sin against God in both how we act and how we think. Both our actions and our thoughts should be under Christ’s control because both have the power to negatively impact our relationship with God and the spiritual walk of everyone around us. We can’t live our lives guided by the Word of God and then allow our minds to function differently. Scripture tells us to love the Lord our God with … what? All our hearts, souls, and minds! How we think is a reflection of our love for God. Don’t believe me? Reread the New Testament and notice how many times the phrase false teachers pops up. Then look at how ruthlessly Paul and other church leaders deal with false teaching.



Christians don’t think their way out of a faith crisis; they repent their way out of a faith crisis.



When it comes to leaving behind “sins of disbelief,” recapturing a biblically correct position regarding the reality of hell (and the fact that non-Christians will go there) is never accomplished by laying out all the evidence and weighing the options. It’s about obedience to Jesus Christ. At its core, believing in hell is an obedience issue, not a theological issue. Am I willing to trust Christ to forgive my sins? That’s an obedience issue. Am I also willing to trust what He says about heaven? Of course. He’s my Lord. If He says it, I believe it. Then why would the issue of hell be any different? As Oswald Chambers wrote,

The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not



intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific



knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but



if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches,



he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark



to me, then I may be sure there is something I will



not do.12



The fact of the matter is: Hell is real. Deciding whether or not hell exists isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s a matter of eternal life or death. Of course I still have doubts about hell from time to time, but the point is my relationship with the risen Jesus supersedes all my doubts. The reality you and I need to grasp is that this is happening. Right now. On our watch. This is happening to friends and acquaintances of yours and mine who aren’t Christians. And you and I have one decision to make in this matter—are we going to keep on driving and pretend we know nothing, or are we going to turn around?



If you’re ready to slam on the brakes and do a 180, I’ll sit in the passenger’s seat and take that ride with you. I’ll help you understand why hell makes sense. I’ll also help you feel good about believing in the Bible—all of it. I’ll help you feel confident defending what you believe before your friends who lump you together with the crazy televangelists who make people want to throw up in their mouths. Together we’ll discover that believing what the Bible teaches regarding hell is logical, fair, and above all else—loving.



And finally, if you let me, I’ll also coach you on how you can have authentic conversations with your friends without getting creepy in the process. That’s really, really important. More on that later.



However, I have one tiny piece of advice: You might want to grab a Pringles can because we’re not stopping.



Notes



1. H. Richard Niebuhr, quoted in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?



(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 13–14.



2. Bill Cosby, “The Grandparents,” Himself (Motown, 1983), compact disc.



3. Greg Garrison, “Many Americans Don’t Believe in Hell, but What



about Pastors?” USA Today, August 1, 2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/



religion/2009-08-01-Hell-damnation_N.htm.



4. Christiane Wicker, “‘How Spiritual Are We?’ The PARADE Spirituality Poll,”



PARADE, October 4, 2009, 5.



5. William C. Easttom II, quoted in Gary Poole, How Could God Allow Suffering



and Evil? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 59.



6. Tertullian, The Apology, quoted in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson,



trans., Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 4:52.



7. Edward T. Babinski, “Hell and Heaven, and Satan, and Christian Superstition,”



October 22, 2005, http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/skepticism/heaven_hell.html.



8. Victor Hugo, quoted in Rufus K. Noyes, M.D., Views of Religion (Boston: L.K.



Washburn, 1906), 125.



9. Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent,” Criswell



Theological Review 4 (1990): 246–47, 253, as quoted in Randy Alcorn, Heaven



(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 24–25.



10. A. W. Tozer, The Formula for a Burning Heart, quoted in Martin H. Manser,



compiler, The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations (Louisville, KY:



Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 363.



11. See Matthew 7:21–23; 8:12; 10:15, 33; 11:22–24; 12:41–42; 13:30, 40–43,



49–50; 24:50–51; 25:11–12, 29–46.



12. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (New York: Dodd, Mead &



Company, 1935), 209.





Copyright 2011 Brian Jones. Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) published by David C Cook.



Publisher permission required to reproduce in any format or quantity. All rights reserved.


My Review:

To help us understand a very hot topic, Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It) brings even more of an explanation to the existence of hell. Brian Jones joins the debate of whether or not a loving God would send a good person to hell. The author himself has come from a belief that hell is non-existent. He has since come to believe that it does exist from the teachings of Jesus himself.  If you'd like some more information on the subject, this book is a good place to start.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rivers Of Living Water CD by Suzanne Lorente

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 artist is:



and the CD:

Lorente Publishing
***Special thanks to Suzanne Lorente for sending me a review cd.***



ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Suzanne Perry Lorente has been a child of the Lord since age 7. Her gift of music began at age two and has carried her through her life. She is an accomplished long time song writer, singer, guitarist and performer from the age of 13. At a young age, Suzanne chose a career of a professional entertainer as a single singer/guitarist in well known night clubs, dinner houses and special events, with a repertoire of more than 400 songs. During this same time frame, she achieved an Associate of Arts degree in Mass Media from Stephens College in Columbia, MO, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music from San Jose State University in California. As time marched along, she realized God's calling on her life to turn her heart toward Him as she could hear that "still, small voice" asking her to leave the relentless work of night clubs and secular entertainment. "It was a vow that took place in a day, and His promise took place over my lifetime. I am so blessed and God has kept His promise that He would give me the songs to sing for His children and for His glory." Suzanne has sung first of all for her family, then in choirs, started and sang in many small groups and trios, sang solo for so many audiences and congregations throughout the United States, and left behind a legacy of musical scenarios as she tells her stories of how each of her songs came about. She has recorded an ageless cassette that continues to be in demand, and a new CD, that has high-lighted the songs God has given to her. Suzanne has been teaching voice and guitar since she was 14 years old. She is presently singing in the little City of Dixon, CA for their Farmers Markets, weddings, and events, as well as with her trio, Suzanne Lorente and Friends, as they embark on recording a CD together. They are out doing concerts whenever possible and wherever the Lord leads. "It's wonderful to see God change the lives and hearts of people as we just sing our songs and allow Him to work through us. I love that!"



Visit the author's website.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

This CD is a wonderful spiritual uplift and encouragement for any Christian who wants to grow, not only by hearing God's Word, but by doing what He's asking us to do. We have to take that first step and that's what this CD motivates believers and non-believers to do. The songs are original Christian Gospel scenarios that anyone can relate to, and that's what gives you the anointing strength to keep on going. You will love the beautiful orchestral and vocal backgrounds with each song as Suzanne Lorente and her trio envelope you with their angelic harmonies. God has put His Hand of blessing on Suzanne and given her songs throughout her lifetime of ministry. She and her gals are planning a tour and would love to include your church or event if it's possible. May God bless every listener and urge them to follow the Lord by listening to His "Still, Small Voice!"



Product Details:



List Price: $14.99

Music CD

Publisher: Lorente Publishing

Language: English



AND NOW..A SAMPLE OF A SONG FROM THE CD:

(To hear more samples, please visit Suzanne's website)




Here is one of the songs, "Misunderstood." This song is an original of mine written on January 1st of 2010. I am the voice for those who have been aborted, abused and misunderstood. This is quite sad, but it's telling us that each one of these has identified with the misery, torture, and abuse that Jesus went through on the cross. Many 100's of thousands have died a martyr's death, and are with the Lord because He loves them. Please listen carefully! This could be such a blessing for the Christian pregnancy centers and homes of abused women and children.







Here are the lyrics:

Misunderstood – Matthew 18:1-7



Words and Music by Suzanne Lorente



Arranged by Jeannine O’Neal





How can it be they don’t hear them, they don’t see



What can I say? Jesus loves them, they are free.



No-one will take time to listen as they cry



Knowing that I have the answer, I know why.





They’ve been misunderstood time after time



Their tiny voices still ring in our minds



No-one to love them, no-one to care



What they have to say doesn’t matter…anyway.






There is a hard part to living, not to be heard



Hate takes the joy out of giving, their vision blurred



Where is the love that could give them wings to fly?



Knowing that I have the answer, I know why.





They’ve been misunderstood time after time



Their little voices still ring in our mind



No-one to hear them, no-one to care



What they have to say doesn’t matter…anyway.






Could you be one who can’t hear them, you can’t see?



Are you aware they are people like you and me?



What would have come of the children who were slain?



There’d be a world of compassion…no more pain!





We have misunderstood time after time



Their tiny voices still ring in our mind



Someone will love them, someone will care



What they have to say really matters…anyway.






He’s (Jesus) been misunderstood, but not for long



Each tiny baby to Him will belong.



He really loves them, He really cares



What He has to say is what matters…anyway!



What He has to say is what matters....anyway!
Matt. 18:1-7




Additional high vocals Suzanne Lorente, Cecelia Dettle



Copyright 2010 BMI-0777 All rights reserved



See my website for further information



http://www.suzannelorente.com/


My Review:

I enjoyed listening to this cd. It has a relaxing, smooth sound to it. It's not quite like the worship you hear today, but rather has an older sound that I find appealing. As I was listening, I found myself reminded of the Daniel Amos band (retro, great band with Biblical lyrics), The Gaither's (that good 'ole Gospel sound), and Karen Carpenter (just a pure soothing voice). I love to go back and listen to all the worship music I remember from when I was first saved. This cd took me back to those days of simple worship, with Biblical lyrics that Glorify the Lord. Thanks, Suzanne.

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