Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Saving up

Mike was expecting a raise at work. He’d done all they had asked but his boss told him that business was slow and he’d have to wait for a raise.

He was still stewing about how unfair this was when his older brother, Jeremy, called him. “Hey, bro’, just got an e-mail from Jenny.” Their cousin, Jenny, was working with an orphanage in Haiti.

“What’s up?” Mike asked.

“She’s trying to get a birthday club started for the kids there. She wants people to sign up to buy a birthday gift. I’m gonna sign up and I thought you’d want to know, too.”

“I can’t afford that,” Mike said. “The boss didn’t give me a raise. I got expenses, you know.”

“Hey, man, we’re rich compared to those kids. And you could send a little bit every month and never even notice it.”

Mike was silent. He’d already spent his raise in his mind, planning on saving for an Xbox 360 Elite. Now Jeremy wanted him to have less than he’d had before. This was going backwards.

But Mike had been reading in 2 Corinthians. And this verse popped into his head: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor 9:11)

Was Jeremy right? Was he rich? Not according to what he wanted to buy. But he’d seen Jenny’s pictures of those kids. They owned nothing. Even their clothes weren’t their own but went back into the clothes box when they outgrew them.

Well, this would be a great chance to see if God could keep his promises, Mike thought. I am kinda rich, maybe, and I wonder what would happen if I was generous? What would God do?

“Hey, Jer,” Mike said. “E-mail me the info. I’ll give it a try.”

Tomorrow: what God did

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Danette was a single working gal, paying her bills every month but not much more. But when a need came to her, she’d always pray: “God, if you want me to give to this, just send the money my way.”

She said it was surprising how often money came in from some unexpected source. And she always sent it on.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul described his plan to pick up an offering for the poor living in Jerusalem. The Corinthians had pledged to give and Paul wanted them to give cheerfully.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)

Why? What’s the big deal about giving cheerfully? Isn’t it enough to give? Do I have to enjoy it, too?

Paul makes it clear. Each person should give from his heart. Notice that Paul didn’t say, “each should give what he or she decided after looking at how much money he had left” or “each should give according to how much money he or she can earn in the next month.”

In other words, Paul wanted them to give as God had asked them to give. What did their heart tell them?

Danette gave to many worthy causes – joyfully. And we can have the same joy if we don't sweat our budget and instead let God lead our heart.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No big deal

Jim was part of a mission team going to Paraguay, needing to raise about $5000 in six months.

While his team members sent out letters and held car washes to help raise the funds, Jim put it off.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “If I need to, I’ll just take out a loan.”

That’s what he did, too, when the time for turning in money for the trip came. He was the first to have the full amount, because he’d just signed the loan papers and had the money in hand.

But three weeks before the team was to leave, their director got an interesting phone call. A donor wanted to finish out the funds for any members who didn’t yet have their full funds.

Most of the team members were close to having enough money for the trip and this donor gave them the rest of their funds.

Except Jim, who had chosen to get the money his own way. He got nothing from the donor.

Paul wrote, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8)

Think of what we miss when we do it our way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The journey to the birth: angels

After the birth of John (described in Luke 1:57-66), his father Zechariah burst into impassioned praise of God and prophesied about the ministry of his son.

When Jesus was born, his Father sent an angel to announce the birth to the shepherds. The angel gave impassioned praise to God and foretold the ministry of this newborn son.

Zechariah’s excited song pales in comparison to the joy of the angels. After a sole angel gives the shepherds amazing news:
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

And then, unable to hold back their delight, a multitude of angels burst into praise.

  • There is much in common with these two responses to miraculous births.
  • The births were impossible but nothing is too hard for God.
  • Each birth was first announced to others significant to ministry.
  • God got all the credit
  • Someone gave a glimpse into the future with God’s plan for redemption getting center stage.
  • In the ministries of both John and Jesus, God’s plan was for all people.
  • Both births connected Old Testament promises with New Testament plans.

Today we celebrate Christmas. I know Jesus probably wasn’t born today. I know people have largely re-claimed the day for materialistic worship. I know you can believe in Santa Claus without a problem but belief in Jesus offends.

None of that matters. What matters is this:

The plan worked.
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! Luke 2:14

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The journey to the birth: the lowliest

Shepherds in ancient times were the lowlife of society. We might think of them as charming and sweet, but their neighbors didn’t. They were dirty and often dishonest.

By the standards of Jewish law, these shepherds watching over their flocks near Bethlehem were unclean. They were the bottom-dwellers of society in those days.

Only one ancient Jewish King – David – was called a shepherd. The term was not commonly used for leaders until Jesus claimed it for himself. At the time of his birth, shepherds were outcasts and sinners.

When John was born, as reported in Luke 1: 58, a crowd of friends of relatives rejoiced with Elizabeth. When Jesus was born, the family was in a strange town and the first people to hear of the birth were shepherds – lowlifes.

We tend to romanticize those shepherds but they give us a clue as to Jesus’ coming ministry. The Messiah was first introduced to the outcasts of society, those least deserving to meet a new King.

Throughout the first two chapters of Luke, we see that God interacted with simple people while making emperors and governors his servants. He didn’t introduce his son first to those whom we would think deserved to meet the Messiah. He selected those who deserved nothing and had nothing.

Like us.

In the same region, shepherds were living out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The journey to the birth: great and small

Caesar Augustus was emperor over the vast Roman Empire, which had brought peace to much of the civilized world. His troops were well-trained, his laws observed throughout the empire. He was considered a divine agent by many, meaning that his decisions and decrees were those of a god.

Augustus ordered a census, to establish how many people he could tax. And in those ancient days, people were required to return to their ancestral homes to be counted.

So Joseph, of the line of David, had to travel to Bethlehem. We see the account in Luke 2, a familiar story, perhaps.

Ironically, Augustus did serve as a divine agent, bringing about God’s purpose, although Augustus was unaware of how his census degree was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not because Mary and Joseph plotted to make this baby a Messiah wanna-be. They were very poor and powerless within the Roman Empire. He was born in Bethlehem because an emperor wanted to count the people for tax purposes.

Who would think that God would use a Caesar as a piece in a divine chess game, sliding the pieces into place so that the Messiah was born in the town prophets had proclaimed centuries before?

The prophet Micah had declared:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times. "
Micah 5:2

God brought his son to this earth through a curious passage, blessing poor and lowly people like Mary and Elizabeth and Zechariah with angel visits, while using a great emperor as a servant to facilitate the plan.

And so Jesus was born, a baby swaddled like all Jewish babies were swaddled. He had to diapered and fed, for he was a weak newborn.

The Father’s mystery was great. An emperor served unknowingly; the Father's son served humbly and with incredible grace.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Phil 2:8

Tomorrow: lowliest

Monday, December 22, 2008

The journey to the birth: John

It seems like there were people everywhere in the story of John the Baptist’s birth. Crowds, throngs, groups.

When Zechariah went into the temple, a large crowd of people waited outside for him. When Elizabeth gave birth to John, all the neighbors and friends heard the news and rushed right over.

This crowd was even going to help the new parents name their son. When Elizabeth said he would be named “John,” the crowd protested, calling for a family name.

And they were all present when Zechariah endorsed the name as well and then burst into a passionate praise and prophecy when God allowed him to speak again. Lots of people around.
In contrast, Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth were relatively private.


John’s job was to prepare those crowds for the coming Messiah. He would go out among the people, calling for repentance, preparing them for Jesus’ ministry.

And we see it happening even at his birth.

The crowd heard Zechariah burst forth from his muteness with praise of God. There was no bitterness in Zechariah. Instead, Zechariah spoke powerfully to the people of God’s hand throughout the history of Israel.

As Zechariah recounted God’s power, the emphasis was on redemption. God had redeemed the people of Israel in the past – from Egyptian slavery, from exile into Babylon, “salvation from our enemies and from the clutches of those who hate us.” (Luke 1:71)

He, in a smaller way, did what his son would do in a much larger way: reminded people that God had saved them many times from enemies – and was about to accomplish the greatest rescue of all in sending the Messiah.

God’s merciful compassion was about to settle on this earth in a new and mysterious way. John would be the one to prepare the people for this perfect redemption.

And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:76-77)

Tomorrow: he comes

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A special book

It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour! This is the very last Teen FIRST tour as Teen FIRST has merged with FIRST Wild Card Tours. If you wish to learn more about FIRST Wild Card, please go HERE.

I have not participated in this tour before and ordinarily would not interrupt my "Journey to the Birth" series, but this is a gift to the author. Mike is fighting lymphoma cancer (see his blog link below). Please check out the book and Mike's story as well. Also, pray for him and his family.

and his book:

Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)


Mike Hamel is a seasoned storyteller who has honed his skill over theyears by telling tall tales to his four children. He is the author of several non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles.

Mike and his wife, Susan, live in Colorado Springs, CO. Their four children are now grown and their two grand children will soon be old enough for stories of their own.

From His Blog's About Me:

I am a professional writer with sixteen books to my credit, including a trilogy of titles dealing with faith and business: The Entrepreneur’s Creed (Broadman, 2001), Executive Influence (NavPress, 2003), and Giving Back (NavPress, 2003). I also edited Serving Two Masters: Reflections on God and Profit, by Bill Pollard (Collins, 2006).

My most enjoyable project to date has been an eight-volume juvenile fiction series called Matterhorn the Brave. It’s based on variegated yarns I used to spin for my four children. They are now grown and my two grandchildren will soon be old enough for stories of their own.

I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado with my bride of 34 years, Susan.

As you read this blog, remember that I’m a professional. Don’t try this level of writing at home. You might suffer a dangling participle or accidentally split an infinitive and the grammarians will be all over you like shoe salesmen on a centipede.

BTW – I have been diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive but treatable form of cancer.

Mike's Blog, Cells Behaving Badly, is an online diary about Wrestling with Lymphoma Cancer.

To order a signed edition of any of the 6 Matterhorn the Brave books, please visit the Matterhorn the Brave Website!

Product Details

List Price: 9.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 181 pages
Publisher: Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0899578330
ISBN-13: 978-0899578330


Emerald Isle

Aaron the Baron hit the ground like a paratrooper, bending his knees, keeping his balance.

Matterhorn landed like a 210-pound sack of dirt.

His stomach arrived a few seconds later.

He straightened his six-foot-four frame into a sitting position. In the noonday sun he saw they were near the edge of a sloping meadow. The velvet grass was dotted with purple and yellow flowers. Azaleas bloomed in rainbows around the green expanse. The black-faced sheep mowing the far end of the field paid no attention to the new arrivals.

“Are you okay?” the Baron asked. He looked as if he’d just stepped out of a Marines’ recruiting poster. “We’ll have to work on your landing technique.”

“How about warning me when we’re going somewhere,” Matterhorn grumbled.

The Baron helped him up and checked his pack to make sure nothing was damaged. He scanned the landscape in all directions from beneath the brim of his red corduroy baseball cap. “It makes no difference which way we go,” he said at last. “The horses will find us.”

“What horses?”

“The horses that will take us to the one we came to see,” the Baron answered.

“Are you always this vague or do you just not know what you’re doing?”

“I don’t know much, but I suspect this is somebody’s field. We don’t want to be caught trespassing. Let’s go.”

They left the meadow, walking single file through the tall azaleas up a narrow valley. Thorny bushes with loud yellow blossoms crowded the trail next to a clear brook. Pushing one of the prickly plants away, Matterhorn asked, “Do you know what these are?”

“Gorse, of course,” the Baron said without turning.

“Never heard of it.”

“Then I guess you haven’t been to Ireland before.”

“Ireland,” Matterhorn repeated. “My great-grandfather came from Ireland.”

“Your great-grandfather won’t be born for centuries yet.”

Matterhorn stepped over a tangle of exposed roots and said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean we’re in medieval Ireland, not modern Ireland.”

“How can that be!” Matterhorn cried, stopping in his tracks. “How can I be alive before my great-grandfather?”

The Baron shrugged. “That’s one of the paradoxes of time travel. No one’s been able to figure them all out. You’re welcome to try, but while you’re at it, keep a lookout for the horses.”

Matterhorn soon gave up on paradoxes and became absorbed in the paradise around him. The colors were so alive they hurt his eyes. He wished for a pair of sunglasses. Above the garish gorse he saw broom bushes and pine trees growing to the ridge where spectacular golden oaks crowned the slopes. Birdsongs whistled from their massive branches into the warm air. Small animals whispered in the underbrush while larger game watched the strangers from a distance.

The country flattened out and, at times, they glimpsed stone houses over the tops of hedgerows. They steered clear of these and any other signs of civilization. In a few hours, they reached the spring that fed the brook they had been following. They stopped to rest and wash up.

That’s where the horses found them.

There were five strikingly handsome animals. The leader of the pack was from ancient and noble stock. He stood a proud seventeen hands high—five-foot-eight-inches—at the shoulders. He had a classic Roman face with a white star on his wide forehead that matched the white socks on his forelegs. His straight back, sturdy body, and broad hindquarters suggested both power and speed. A rich coppery mane and tail complemented his sleek, chestnut coat.

The Baron held out an apple to the magnificent animal, but the horse showed no interest in the fruit or the man. Neither did the second horse. The third, a dappled stallion, took the apple and let the Baron pet his nose.

“These horses are free,” the Baron said as he stroked the stallion’s neck. “They choose their riders, which is as it should be. Grab an apple and find your mount.”

While Matterhorn searched for some fruit, the leader sauntered over and tried to stick his big nose into Matterhorn’s pack. When Matterhorn produced an apple, the horse pushed it aside and kept sniffing.

Did he want carrots, Matterhorn wondered? How about the peanut butter sandwich? Not until he produced a pocket-size Snickers bar did the horse whinny and nod his approval.

The Baron chuckled as Matterhorn peeled the bar and watched it disappear in a loud slurp. “That one’s got a sweet tooth,” he said.

The three other horses wandered off while the Baron and Matterhorn figured out how to secure their packs to the two that remained. “I take it we’re riding without saddles or bridles,” Matterhorn said. This made him nervous, as he had been on horseback only once before.

“Bridles aren’t necessary,” Aaron the Baron explained. “Just hold on to his mane and stay centered.” He boosted Matterhorn onto his mount. “The horses have been sent for us. They’ll make sure we get where we need to go.”

As they set off, Matterhorn grabbed two handfuls of long mane from the crest of the horse’s neck. He relaxed when he realized the horse was carrying him as carefully as if a carton of eggs was balanced on his back. Sitting upright, he patted the animal’s neck. “Hey, Baron; check out this birthmark.” He rubbed a dark knot of tufted hair on the chestnut’s right shoulder. “It looks like a piece of broccoli. I’m going to call him Broc.”

“Call him what you want,” the Baron said, “but you can’t name him. The Maker gives the animals their names. A name is like a label; it tells you what’s on the inside. Only the Maker knows that.”

Much later, and miles farther into the gentle hills, they made camp in a lea near a tangle of beech trees. “You get some wood,” Aaron the Baron said, “while I make a fire pit.” He loosened a piece of hollow tubing from the side of his pack and gave it a sharp twirl. Two flanges unrolled outward and clicked into place to form the blade of a short spade. Next, he pulled off the top section and stuck it back on at a ninety-degree angle to make a handle.

Matterhorn whistled. “Cool!”

“Cool is what we’ll be if you don’t get going.”

Matterhorn hurried into the forest. He was thankful to be alone for the first time since becoming an adult, something that happened in an instant earlier that day. Seizing a branch, he did a dozen chin-ups; then dropped and did fifty push-ups and a hundred sit-ups.

Afterward he rested against a tree trunk and encircled his right thigh with both hands. His fingertips didn’t touch. Reaching farther down, he squeezed a rock-hard calf muscle.

All this bulk was new to him, yet it didn’t feel strange. This was his body, grown up and fully developed. Flesh of his flesh; bone of his bone. Even hair of his hair, he thought, as he combed his fingers through the thick red ponytail.

He took the Sword hilt from his hip. The diamond blade extended and caught the late afternoon sun in a dazzling flash. This mysterious weapon was the reason he was looking for firewood in an Irish forest instead of sitting in the library at David R. Sanford Middle School.

The journey to the birth: a song

If you were Mary, the mother of Jesus, it might have been easy to do a little spiritual gloating. When others tossed their heads at the shame of her pregnancy, she could have said, “but I am blessed to carry the Messiah! What have you done lately for God?”

One of the themes that runs through our journey to the birth of Jesus is that of humility. Mary was probably young, somewhere between 10 and 15 years old. As a woman, she had few rights and little power.

Wouldn’t it have felt splendid, after chatting with an angel and then knowing you were pregnant as he promised, to gloat just a bit?

Mary was a nothing in her culture, yet look how she responded to God’s grace to her:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Luke 1:46-48

It was all about God’s grace, acknowledging her own humble state. Mary was a servant to God.

When Mary adds that “From now on all generations will call me blessed,”(Luke 1:48) I don’t think she said “all generations will call ME blessed” but rather, “all generations will call me BLESSED.” From what we know of Mary, the spotlight was never on herself but on God.

Then God’s acts of the past are named off, to review his nature. Don’t’ skip over this or you’ll miss a blessing. Notice God’s nature in these verses:

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers Luke 1:50-55 (NIV)
God blessed Mary and she saw this not as something she was worthy of, or something that elevated her, but as something that revealed God’s grace. How God reaches out to the undeserving is the core of the gospel.

Tomorrow: a birth!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The journey to the birth: Elizabeth

One of the most jarring parts of motherhood for me was losing my first name. For years, I was most often addressed as “Jane’s mother.”

Imagine how Elizabeth felt. She was John the Baptist’s mother. There, I just did it to her again.

What do we know about Elizabeth? According to Luke, she was from the daughters of Aaron. Aaron was the brother of Moses, assisting him as Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
It’s always significant when a particular ancestor was selected. Aaron, as a aide, was selected for Elizabeth’s heritage.

Partnership hovered over Elizabeth. She didn’t need center stage. We also are told that she was righteous in God’s sight, “living without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:7)

She was barren and now well along in years. The dream of a child was cold as the ashes of last year’s fire.

We see her heart when she found herself pregnant and gave God the credit: “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:25)

When Mary visited, full of the Holy Spirit and with child, Elizabeth did not compare babies and miracles as mothers often do. Instead, she blessed Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your offspring!” (Luke 1:42)

Mary could have been dreading the response of her neighbors, for illegitimate births could trigger stoning. But here she got blessing and encouragement from Elizabeth.

“How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth exulted, giving the first human understanding of the coming child Mary bore.

When John was born, Elizabeth rejoiced with her neighbors. She stood firm on the name that Zechariah had someone conveyed to her. And then she slipped out of our view.

We don’t share her joy as she raised this miracle son of hers. We don’t know if she had opportunity to know Jesus.

But we know she was content to be the mother of the man who prepared the way. She didn’t clamor for more but rejoiced in God’s favor to her. Her son seemed to have the same attitude to his ministry.

I wish I could sit down over tea with Elizabeth.

Blessed is she who has believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!” (Luke 1:45)

Tomorrow: A song

Friday, December 19, 2008

The journey to the birth: Mary

The angel laid the issue out directly before Mary: "Nothing is impossible with God."

The scene ripples with amazing words. Gabriel had appeared to Mary, who was a virgin, and promised that God will give her a son. Not only that, but "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:32-33)

Mary's response was different from Zechariah's. Zechariah could do nothing to bring about a son. He'd been down that road for years. There were no more plans left.

However, there was something Mary could do to bear a son. She could have ended her virginity. Her words to Gabriel indicate she would not. "How can this be for I am a virgin?" she asked. She wasn't going to do anything to help God but wait on him.

And Gabriel assured her that God would do the work through his Spirit. We talked yesterday about God's use of barren women and, when Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was now six months pregnant, Mary would understand.

Gabriel did something else interesting. In proclaiming "nothing is impossible with God," he quoted from Genesis 18:14, from the encounter between the Lord and Sarah, Abraham's wife. She was barren and too old for child-bearing. When told she'd bear a son in a year, she laughed. So the Lord said to Abraham, "nothing is impossible is God."

Mary would have recognized that quote. Every Jewish child would. Her reaction contrasted with Sarah's. Hearing an impossible announcement, Mary did not respond with doubt, or even plans for action, but simple submission.

“Consider me the Lord’s slave,” said Mary.
“May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Tomorrow: Elizabeth's favor

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The journey to the birth: Zechariah

God often signaled the birth of a significant person by ending the barrenness of a woman with this birth. Think of Sarah, barren until she birthed Isaac. Think of Hannah before Samuel was born. There are many more examples.

So when God appeared to Zechariah to promise the birth of a son, the pattern was repeated. The amazing coincidences abounded. Zechariah was in the priestly line of Levi, which meant he had priestly duties to fulfill.

On the Day of Atonement, a priest was selected by lot to go into the Holy of Holies, which is where God chose to meet with men. On that day, the priest offered up sacrifices for his own sin and also that of the people. There was great fear in going into the presence of God.

Zechariah was chosen by lot to go in – a once in a lifetime opportunity that probably many priests never got. And while he was in the Holy of Holies, an angel came with amazing news: his barren wife, Elizabeth, would have a son.

Zechariah asked for proof. He has seen miracles already: being chosen to go into the Holy of Holies and then having an angel appearing and speaking to him. The angel promises yet more: the birth of a son in Zechariah’s old age, and this son had a ministry: to prepare the way for the Messiah.

And he had seen God’s fingerprint in proclaiming a significant son being born to a barren woman.

But it’s important to notice that Zechariah was not struck dead for his unbelief. Because his words were doubting words, they were taken from him. He was sent out from the Holy of Holies with a mission and promises, including one that would restore his speech when his son was born.

When his wife, Elizabeth, discovered her pregnancy, she proclaimed what he was not yet able to speak:
"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." (Luke 1:25)

Tomorrow: a simple reply

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Going boldly

It wasn't a prayer I'd have expected. After Peter and John were arrested- and released - by the religious leaders in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus, they joined with fellow believers in prayer.

But their prayer wasn't for protection or safety or comfort. Here's part of their prayer: "consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." (Acts 4:29)

These early believers asked differently than we often ask for in our prayer requests. We seek comfort and safety but they asked God for great boldness and confidence.

Although I've given occasional reports about the persecuted believers in Orissa, India, I've been tempted to pray for protection and safety for them. Make the persecution go away and give them comfortable lives. That's what I'd like for them but these believers in the book of Acts challenge me.

So I've prayed for great boldness.

But then the lens swings around, as it always does, to my own life. Ugh. Do I really want to ask for boldness for myself?

Now this is getting close to meddling. How easily I worship comfort and safety and luxury.

"Beware of squatting lazily before God instead of putting up a glorious fight so that you may lay hold of His strength." Oswald Chamber's admonishment makes me squirm. Sometimes I only want to lie on the spiritual couch and eat spiritual bon-bons. I don't want to fight any glorious fight if it means living in the woods like the believers in Orissa. But when I walk along that line, I find the fire in my heart thins and my passion chills.

There's no time in the world for such laziness and I yearn for the fiery passion of those early believers. The glorious fight stokes the fires and it reaches across the distance between the Lord and myself.

I do want to fight and I am praying for boldness. Not just for believers in Orissa and beyond, but here, too, where the temptation to squat lazily before God is so powerful.

"When they saw the courage [boldness] of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.(Acts 4:13)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Redneck awards

I didn't think it was a redneck solution, but that's what my sister said. My husband and I are prone to practical solutions and we'd bought many supplies for our new acreage that needed transported three hours in a Suburban. So we had put some stuff on the roof. And out the back tail gate. And sticking out a side window....

"You are hillbillies!" we were told. So we've always had a special place in our hearts for rednecks. Kindred spirits, so to speak, even though we're in Colorado and they're not.

When Jeff Foxworthy, that comedian of redneck sensitivity, came out with his end-of-the-year redneck solutions, I knew you'd want to know. So here they are:

Redneck Wedding Cake

Redneck Weather Station

Redneck Quote

Redneck Powerball Winner

Redneck Palm

Redneck Pet Carrier

Redneck Lawn Mower


Redneck Yacht

Redneck Grill

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Desire and Deceit

Multnomah Books (September 16, 2008)


Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”

A theologian and an ordained minister, Dr. Mohler serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts a daily live nationwide radio program on the Salem Radio Network. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural, and theological issues. Called “an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large” by the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mohler’s mission is to address contemporary issues from a consistent and explicit Christian worldview.

Dr. Mohler served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches. He came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from service as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.

A leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler has served in several offices including a term as chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions. He currently serves as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents. Dr. Mohler is also a frequent lecturer at universities and seminaries and currently serves on the boards of several organizations including Focus on the Family. He also serves on the Board of Reference for The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

He is married to the former Mary Kahler. They have two children: Katie and Christopher.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (September 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601420803
ISBN-13: 978-1601420800



Sexuality is now a major fact of public life in America and around much of the world. In one sense, this is hardly new. After all, sexuality is a major part of human existence—an unavoidably complex and potentially explosive dynamic of human life. But sexuality is now a public issue—front and center in some of the biggest and most contentious debates of our times.

Sex and sexuality now drive much of our advertising, entertainment, and the cultural scripts that citizens use in common conversation. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was, in retrospect, only a signal of what was to come. By the early years of the twenty-first century, issues of sexuality were seemingly unavoidable. Elementary school students are being introduced to “family diversity” curricula, and major newspapers report on the phenomena of sexual promiscuity in homes for the aged. There seems to be virtually no part of the culture that is not dealing with sexuality in one way or another—and often with significant controversy.

Christians have a special stake and stewardship in the midst of this confusion. In the first place, Christians know that sex is both more and less important than the culture of laissez-faire sexuality can understand. Unlike the naturalistic evolutionists, Christians believe that the realities of gender and sexuality are intentional gifts of the Creator, who gave these gifts to His human creatures as both a blessing and a responsibility. Unlike the postmodern relativists, Christians cannot accept the claim that all sexual standards are mere social constructs. We believe that the Creator alone has the right to reveal His intention and commands concerning our stewardship of these gifts. Unlike the marketing geniuses and advertising gurus, we do not believe that sexuality is intended as a ploy to get attention and to create consumer demand. Unlike the pandering producers of sexualized entertainment, we do not believe that sex is primarily about laugh lines and titillation. Unlike the sexual revolutionaries of recent decades, we do not believe that sexuality is the means of liberating the self from cultural oppression.

In other words, we believe that sex is less important than many would have us believe. Human existence is not, first and foremost, about sexual pleasure and the display of sexuality. There is much more to human life, fulfillment, and joy. Sex simply cannot deliver the promises made by our hypersexualized society.

On the other hand, sex is far more important than a secular society can envision. After all, the Christian worldview reveals that sex, gender, and sexuality are ultimately all about the creature’s purpose to glorify the Creator. This frame of reference transforms the entire question and leaves the creature asking this: how do I celebrate and live out my stewardship of my sexuality and my exercise of this gift so that the Creator is most glorified? Needless to say, this is not the question driving the confusion in our sex-saturated culture.

This book is an attempt to look at many of today’s most controversial and troubling issues concerning sexuality from the perspective of biblical Christianity. Every one of us has a stake in this, and Christians are responsible for a special witness to the meaning of sex and sexuality.

And all this, we know, is not only about how we are to think about these issues, but how we are to live.



J. R. R. Tolkien on Sex

The astounding popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien and his writings, magnified many times over by the success of The Lord of the Rings films, has ensured that Tolkien’s fantasy world of moral meaning stands as one of the great literary achievements of our times.

In some sense, Tolkien was a man born out of time. A philologist at heart, he was most at home in the world of ancient ages, even as he witnessed the barbarism and horrors of the twentieth century. Celebrated as a popular author, he was an eloquent witness to permanent truths. His popularity on university campuses, extending from his own day right up to the present, is a powerful indication of the fact that Tolkien’s writings reach the hearts of the young and those looking for answers.

Even as Tolkien is celebrated as an author and literary figure, some of his most important messages were communicated by means of letters, and some of his most important letters were written to his sons.

Tolkien married his wife Edith in 1916, and the marriage was blessed with four children. Of the four, three were boys. John was born in 1917, Michael in 1920, and Christopher in 1924. Priscilla, the Tolkiens’ only daughter, was born in 1929. Tolkien dearly loved his children, and he left a literary legacy in the form of letters. [J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000)]. Many of these letters were written to his sons, and these letters represent not only a prime example of literary quality but a treasure of Christian teaching on matters of manhood, marriage, and sex. Taken together, these letters constitute a priceless legacy, not only to the Tolkien boys, but to all those with whom the letters have been shared.

In 1941, Tolkien wrote a masterful letter to his son Michael, dealing with marriage and the realities of human sexuality. The letter reflects Tolkien’s Christian worldview and his deep love for his sons and, at the same time, also acknowledges the powerful dangers inherent in unbridled sexuality.

“This is a fallen world,” Tolkien chided. “The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been ‘going to the bad’ all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the ‘hard spirit of concupiscence’ has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell.” This acknowledgment of human sin and the inevitable results of the Fall stands in stark contrast to the humanistic optimism that was shared by so many throughout the twentieth century. Even when the horrors of two world wars, the Holocaust, and various other evils chastened the century’s dawning optimism regarding human progress, the twentieth century gave evidence of an unshakable faith in sex and its liberating power. Tolkien would have none of this.

“The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject,” Tolkien insisted. “He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones.” Thus, Tolkien advised his young son, then twenty-one, that the sexual fantasies of the twentieth century were demonic lies, intended to ensnare human beings. Sex was a trap, Tolkien warned, because human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives. Romantic love is not sufficient as a justification for sex, Tolkien understood.

Taking the point further, Tolkien warned his son that “friendship” between a young man and a young woman, supposedly free from sexual desire, would not long remain untroubled by sexual attraction. At least one of the partners is almost certain to be inflamed with sexual passion, Tolkien advised. This is especially true among the young, though Tolkien believed that such friendships might be possible later in life, “when sex cools down.”

As any reader of Tolkien’s works understands, Tolkien was a romantic at heart. He celebrated the fact that “in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition [is] still strong,” though he recognized that “the times are inimical to it.” Even so, as a concerned father, Tolkien warned Michael to avoid allowing his romantic instinct to lead him astray, fooled by “the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex.”

Beyond this, Tolkien demonstrated a profound understanding of male sexuality and the need for boundaries and restraint. Even as he was often criticized for having an overly negative understanding of male sexuality, Tolkien presented an honest assessment of the sex drive in a fallen world. He argued that men are not naturally monogamous. “Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh.” In his own times, Tolkien had seen the binding power of cultural custom and moral tradition recede into the historical memory. With the sexual revolution already visible on the horizon, Tolkien believed that Christianity’s revealed sex ethic would be the only force adequate to restrain the unbridled sexuality of fallen man. “Each of us could healthfully beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process,” Tolkien admonished his son. Nevertheless, the joys and satisfactions of monogamous marriage provide the only true context for sexuality without shame. Furthermore, Tolkien was confident that Christianity’s understanding of sex and marriage pointed to eternal as well as temporal pleasures.

Even as he celebrated the integrity of Christian marriage, Tolkien advised Michael that true faithfulness in marriage would require a continual exercise of the will. Even in marriage, there remains a demand for denial, he insisted. “Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.”

Tolkien traced unhappiness in marriage, especially on the part of the husband, to the church’s failure to teach these truths and to speak of marriage honestly. Those who see marriage as nothing more than the arena of ecstatic and romantic love will be disappointed, Tolkien understood. “When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along.”

With these words, Tolkien advised his middle son that marriage is an objective reality that is honorable in the eyes of God. Thus, marriage defines its own satisfactions. The integrity of Christian marriage requires a man to exercise his will even in the arena of love and to commit all of his sexual energy and passion to the honorable estate of marriage, refusing himself even the imagination of violating his marital vows.

In a letter to his friend C. S. Lewis, Tolkien advised, “Christian marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance—in fact probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure.” In the face of a world increasingly committed to sexual anarchy, Tolkien understood that sex must be respected as a volatile and complex gift, bearing potential for great pleasure and even greater pain.

With deep moral insight, Tolkien understood that those who give themselves most unreservedly to sexual pleasure will derive the least pleasure and fulfillment in the end. As author Joseph Pearce, one of Tolkien’s most insightful interpreters explains, sexual temperance is necessary “because man does not live on sex alone.” Temperance and restraint represent “the moderate path between prudishness and prurience, the two extremes of sexual obsession,” Pearce expands.

Explicit references to sexuality are virtually missing from Tolkien’s published works, allegories, fables, and stories. Nevertheless, sex is always in the background as part of the moral landscape. Joseph Pearce understands this clearly, arguing that Tolkien’s literary characters “are certainly not sexless in the sense of being asexual but, on the contrary, are archetypically and stereotypically sexual.” Pearce makes this claim notwithstanding the fact that there is no sexual activity or overt sexual enticement found in Tolkien’s tales.

How is this possible? In a profound employment of the moral spirit, Tolkien presented his characters in terms of honor and virtue, with heroic men demonstrating classical masculine virtues and the heroines appearing as women of honor, valor, and purity.

Nevertheless, we would be hard pressed to appreciate Tolkien’s understanding of sex, marriage, and family if we did not have considerable access into the realities of Tolkien’s family and his role as both husband and father. Tolkien’s letters, especially those written to his three sons, show the loving concern of a devoted father, as well as the rare literary gift Tolkien both possessed and employed with such power. The letter Tolkien wrote Michael in the year 1941—with the world exploding in war and civilization coming apart at its seams—is a model of fatherly concern, counsel, and instruction.

From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, Tolkien will appear to many to be both out of step and out of tune with the sexual mores of our times. Tolkien would no doubt take this as a sincere, if unintended, compliment. He knew he was out of step, and he steadfastly refused to update his morality in order to pass the muster of the moderns. Writing to Christopher, his youngest son, Tolkien explained this well: “We were born in a dark age out of due time (for us).

But there is this comfort: otherwise we should not know, or so much love, what we do love. I imagine the fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water.” Thanks to these letters, we have more than an inkling of what Tolkien meant.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


Whitaker House (January 5, 2009)


Born and raised in Colorado, award-winning author Nancy Wentz graduated cum laude from the University of Colorado. Two of her short stories, Henry Cushing and Babi Yar, were winners in the National Writers Association Short Story Contests. She has also written plays for the youth group to perform at her church and has freelanced articles for her current employer. Nancy has a great love for history and English literature, and, in their pursuit, found her creative outlet by incorporating aspects of both into her writing. Her voice is unique in that it refl ects a classic nuance not typically seen in modern writing.

Nancy became a Christian in her childhood and for years has prayed for God s will in her life. Through trials of brokenness and faith, God has shown her that He uses the most insignifi cant, the most defeated, to bring about His will and glory. This theme was the inspiration for her first novel that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Nancy and her husband have a wonderful young son. She and her family are active members of Littleton Baptist Church in Littleton, Colorado.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 9.99
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603740805
ISBN-13: 978-1603740807



Winter, 1565


A turbulent wind assaulted the night, moaning through the graveyard, enjoining dead leaves to swirl about his feet.He steadied his lantern, squinting at the tombstones that stretched before him. They rose like apparitions, enlivened by the shadows of barren trees caught in the light. Twigs clutched at his hooded cloak. He pulled at them impatiently.

Stealing upon a humble grave, laid amidst murderers, paupers, and the unbaptized, he knelt to decipher the etchings.Worn by time, the tombstone almost denied him the name of its dead. He pushed back his cowl and traced the engraving with his finger.

Frate Domenicano Salvatore Ansaldo


Dio ha la compassione sulla sua anima maledetta

Swinging a canvas bag from his shoulder, he extractedfrom it a shovel and a pickax. He tossed his cloak over the tombstone. The night air felt good against his flesh as he labored to exhume the grave. He stopped once at a sound. His dark eyes scanned the eerie monuments leaning askew before him—silent witnesses watching without eyes, listening without ears, curious and apprehensive at his presence. Ignoring the uneasiness that stiffened the hair on his arms, he continued digging.

The shovel struck the coffin with a hollow thud. He fell to his knees, swept the dirt from the box, and grabbed the pickax, stabbing the corroded wood repeatedly until the lid lifted with no more resistance than a groan. The stench of mold permeated the air. He reached for the lantern, which reflected off the shaved crown of his head. Startled shadows leaped from the grave like souls before the judgment.

Death had paid the Dominican friar no homage. It had robbed him of his flesh and feasted on his bones. Fragments of the burial shroud remained adhered to their owner, as did gray hair to his skull. His gaping mouth, lacking several teeth, protested in silence the desecration of his grave.

Upon the corpse lay a wooden crucifix, the rosary entwining the fingers. The robber scanned the body, hesitantly patting the shroud. Finding nothing, the hope of discovery waned until he slipped his hands beneath the corpse. At his touch, the rib cage crumpled, rippling around his wrists as he delved, until his fingers grasped two scrolls. Shaking off the human remains, he placed the scrolls in the bag, climbed from the hole, and reburied the defiled dead.

He made haste to the monastery. In his cell, he barred the door and released his cowl to the floor. After lighting several candles to alleviate the darkness, he pulled the scrolls from the bag, gingerly spreading them across a wooden table. Though they had lain in the grave with corrupting flesh, he was amazed to find them unsullied, written upon with an odd shade of russet ink. He drew a candle closer.

Choosing one, he read:

Et ait ei tibi dabo potestatem hanc universam et

gloriam illorum quia mihi tradita sunt et cui volo

do illa tu ergo si adoraveris coram me erunt tua omnia.

The pounding of his heart quickened. The legend was true—he had found the scrolls. The Gregorian chant of distant choristers broke the early morning silence. He gasped—he had forgotten the Eucharist!

He glanced at the painting on the stone wall, the fair Madonna enfolding the Christ Child in her arms, then looked back at the scroll. The reddish ink was smudged. He peered at it suspiciously.

His eyes widened. Blood. It was written in blood.

Invitarme che cerca il potere e la fortuna nell’abbondanza. Invitarme che cerca i misteri del buio. Inviterà Lucifer.

Chills crept up his back. He crossed himself. Were not these words against the sacred Scripture? It was blasphemy. Heresy. Was he not risking his soul? Yet the words were so clear; did they not offer him the world? He glanced at the Madonna and Child again, then back at the scroll. The garnet rosary about his neck tapped against the table.

Chiunque invita Lucifer offrirà la sua anima, e ciò del secondo maschio nella sua casa per tutte le generazioni.

All the power of the world and the glory thereof was at his fingertips—his, Luccio Frattarelli—the abbot of the church of the Spirito Santo. With the heightening of his voice, the words fell from his lips: La mia fedeltà, la mia anima, il mio corpo che do a Lucifer. Invito Lucifer a essere il mio padrone. Visito il suo demone potentemente, Il Governatore del Rotolo, vivere nel mio corpo.

Death took Luccio by surprise. The scroll slipped from his hands as he grasped at his heart. He tumbled backward over a chair, his sandaled feet kicking the floor in wild succession. A trembling cold seized his frame, congealing the blood in his veins. Then, struck with the conviction of his fate, his eyes opened in terror upon the Madonna and Child, and his breath ceased.

Moments passed as he lay there, his body not feeling the cold morning air. Then, a blistering gust swirled through the cell, scorching the wood, singeing the cowl, burning the painted images beyond recognition.

The eyelids began to flutter, the eyebrows to twitch, the chest to rise and fall with regular breathing. The muscles in the arms and legs stretched as if released from bondage.

When the eyes opened, the life behind them was not that of Luccio Frattarelli.

Chapter One

Winter, 1931

Colorado, United States of America

A scream escaped the boy’s lips. The startling pain across his left ear and cheek jerked his head to the side. His eyes snapped open. Looking around with the shocked confusion of broken sleep, he cringed to see the black pillar leaning over his bed.

“I ain’t done nothin’, Pa!”

“Get up.”

He glanced out the window. A breath of air shook the broken pane, scraping the ice-frosted curtains against each other. Beyond them, the stars were bright against the sky.

“I ain’t heard the rooster—”

Even as he spoke, he threw up his arms to shield his face. The hand came down hard against his head. It knocked his arms out of the way and found his throbbing ear once more.

“Get up, or I’ll throw you down those stairs.”

Shielding his ear, he strove to sit up. It wasn’t fast enough. That hand seized him—“No!”—yanked him from his narrow bed—“Not the stairs again!”—and flung him toward the bedroom door. The blanket strangled his feet. He reeled across the floor, collided with the washstand, and fell on his back. Wresting away the blanket, he just escaped his father’s boots as they stomped an inch from his fingers.

“Start the fire.”

Coiled against the wall, he watched his father’s rigid silhouette leave the room. He listened to the tread on the staircase, the steps through the kitchen below, and the slam of the back door. All was silent. Only then did he move. He stood on trembling legs, the warped floorboards creaking beneath his weight.

Testing the movement of his jaw, he cupped his ear and swallowed against the pain that traveled down his neck. His face felt hot.

“You all right?” a voice whispered from the darkness.

He looked at his two older brothers lying huddled together under a single blanket. The head of the oldest lifted, his youthful profile barely discernable.

“Yeah.” The boy rubbed the bones of his chest through a tear in his long underwear.

“Stay clear of Pa.” The profile sank back into the bed.

“Today’s the day Ma died.”

The recollection shocked him. He felt sick to his stomach and wondered how long that pillar had stood over his bed. Picking up his overalls from the floor, he maneuvered his feet into the threadbare pant legs. While securing the straps to the bib with safety pins, he slipped his naked feet into his boots, scrunching his toes against the cracked soles.

Not having heard the squeak of the back door, he went downstairs without fear, pulling a woolen coat across his shoulders. Finding a lantern burning in the kitchen, he took it and stepped outside.

The November chill seeped through his clothes. He looked at the moon, blew a warm stream of air from his mouth toward it, and watched the steam evaporate. The moon’s glow beautified the farm to a shimmering, snowy landscape, but he saw no beauty there, only the skeleton of the plow, the empty corral, the sinister corner behind the chicken coop—a myriad of hiding places where his father might lurk. It was then his fear returned; somewhere in that darkness was his father.

He crept along the snow-covered path, afraid the sound of his boots would give him away. Placing the lantern by the door of the woodshed, he paused to wipe his bangs out of his eyes, his gaze traveling to the barn set against the open prairie, an expanse of blackness where nothing moved. A lantern burned within, emitting light between the loose-fitting boards. He heard the horse’s neigh, the worried screech of a chicken, and the thud of an ax against wood. He had found his father.

Snatching an armload of wood, he ran back inside the house. As he hurried to build a fire in the kitchen stove, his mind raced to find places where he could hide. The root cellar?

No, too easy to be found. What about the barn down the road, or the lake? Yeah, the lake. He could break through the ice. Maybe if he caught some fish, Pa wouldn’t beat him that night.

No sooner had he decided where to run than the warmth of the fire encouraged him to linger. Daring to place an additional stick on the quivering flames, he dragged a chair from the table before the stove. He would run when he heard his father’s step on the back porch, but for now, the glow of the crackling wood was too good to leave.

He fell asleep.

He did not hear the steps. He did not hear the door open. For a surreal moment, he hovered between dreaming and waking, feeling the brush of his mother’s apron, the smell of bread. Then the door slammed. A rush of air stirred his hair like an icy hand. With a gasp, he spun around. Gazing up into the beardless face, an image flashed in his mind of the scarecrow suspended in the cornfield—that frayed figure no threat of storm could move. He feared its claw-like arms that stretched out for an embrace; he knew well the terror of that embrace. He bolted from the chair, knocking it over.

“Pick it up.”

The words stopped him cold. Returning, he righted the chair, keeping his eyes averted and his hands ready to push it forward if his father made any abrupt movements.

“Sit down.”

He teetered on his feet, debating whether to run out the back door or the front, when he noticed what was in his father’s hands. In one dangled the downy body of a freshly killed chicken; in the other, the bloody cleaver.

He sat down.

“Remember your Ma?” His father tossed the chicken and the cleaver on the table.

“Yeah.” The sight of the headless chicken set off a nervous spasm in his stomach.

“It’s been three years. I reckoned you’d forgot.”

An anxious moment of silence hung between them.

Risking a glance, he found his father’s unblinking gaze fixed on him. Yellow flames from the lantern quivered in his green eyes. When he spoke, his mouth revealed the bottom row of his stained teeth.

“She was a good woman. Kept this place nice. Didn’t have much, but she made it stretch.”

Removing his straw hat, he began to pace the floor. The sound of his boots scraping the wood sent a shudder down the boy’s spine. He looked back at the chicken.

“I miss her cookin’. I miss her gettin’ mad when I tracked in dirt. I miss watchin’ her wash her hair and dryin’ it front of the stove. She never fussed over nothin’—” he stopped his deliberate tread, “—except you. ‘My baby’s sick,’ she’d say.”

The hat slipped from his soiled fingers to the floor. He leaned close to the boy’s ear.

“Then you got the fever.”

His father’s breath on his neck caused him to look around wildly. His shoulders flinched with expectation.

“She made me sell the cow to pay the doctor. I told her she already had two strong boys. Better to keep the cow. Then she got the fever.”

The hand seized the boy’s neck and squeezed.

“She died…and you got better.”

With a jerk, his father spun him around, knocking the chair over. He lifted the boy close to his face.

“Why ain’t it you rottin’ in that graveyard?”

“I’m sorry, Pa.” Tears stung the boy’s eyes. His chin quivered.

“I should’ve drowned you in the river like a runt.”

The fist rose like a pendulum.

“No! I’m sorry!”

It hailed on his head, cutting short his screams, blurring his vision with flashes of red. He felt his body being thrashed back and forth. The hand twisting his clothing nearly choked off his breath.

“Stop it, Pa!”

The beating stopped. Warmth trickled from his nose and mouth as he sagged in his father’s grip. Through the spinning room, he saw his brothers in the doorway in their long underwear, their brown hair mussed.

The oldest stepped forward. “Let him go. It ain’t his fault, and you know it.”

“He killed her as true as I’m standin’ here. He’s got every bit of it comin’.”

“It ain’t his fault, and beatin’ him ain’t gonna bring her back. Nothin’s bringin’ her back. She’s dead.”

Staggering as if struck from behind, he pressed the boy backward against the table, his neck on the chicken’s carcass.

“I know! I know, but she was everything…all I had…since we were kids…all I wanted.” Anguish creased his tanned forehead. Sobs he could no longer control heaved in his chest until he laid his head on the boy’s chest, wailing.

The boy dared not move. He shot his brothers a terrified plea with his eyes, but they, too, stood motionless.

“It ain’t right that she died.” He lifted his head, his face flushed, wet, the veins in his forehead and neck pulsating. “It ain’t right that he lived.”

He seized the cleaver and lifted it high. The boys shrieked in unison, “No!”

Still caught in the trap of that great hand, the boy threw up his arms. Light glinted off the cleaver as it plummeted, its edge slicing across his uplifted palm. He felt no pain, just the keen sensation of his flesh opening, sending a streak of blood across his father’s face.

The cleaver rose again. His brothers rushed forward. In a skirmishing blur of hands, he saw the cleaver pushed aside. His father reared back, shouting. Saliva dripped from his lips. One brother fell to the floor. The cleaver rose again. He closed his eyes. Screaming. A crack. A grunt.

He felt himself pulled to the floor by the hand that would not let go. Blood sprayed in every direction as he kicked and screamed, helpless until his brothers freed him and dragged him to the other side of the kitchen.

“Stop squirmin’!”

The oldest held his brother’s wrist, forcing open his clenched fingers to inspect the gash while the other tried to soothe him. Too terrified to be calmed, he continued to scream, to struggle, even though his father lay motionless on the floor, the fire poker beside him. Turning him away from the sight, they held him close until he settled into a quiet sob. The oldest then brought him to his feet. Grabbing a rag from the table, he wiped the tears that rolled down the boy’s cheeks.

“Listen,” he said, wrapping the rag around the bleeding hand. “You need your wits. Run away. He’ll kill you next time. Go to town. Find Uncle Harald. Here’s your cap.”

Their father groaned. All stared at him for a silent moment, then rushed to the door.

“Run fast. Don’t tell nobody your name. Don’t let the sheriff catch you neither. He’ll bring you back or put you in the orphanage and work you till you drop dead.”

His brothers hugged him, then sent him out into the cold. He ran with one glance back, one final look at his brothers standing in the doorway. Into the darkness he ran, leaving a scattered trail of tears and blood behind.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One Israel?

Yesterday, we discussed Achan's disobedience which led to a shocking defeat for Joshua's army at Ai. Achan and his entire family died because of his greediness. Did you ever think that was unfair? They hadn't done the crime but they got the punishment.

Israel had a different understanding of community than we do here in America. When God told Joshua, "Israel has sinned," we in America would rise up to shout: "NO! Achan sinned." We would stew over the 36 soldiers who died at Ai because God found disobedience in Israel. Wasn't that unfair to them?

But Israel did understand, for the Hebrews knew the idea of unity better than we do. They rose and fell as one. When one sinned, they all sinned. When one was punished, they were all punished. When one was honored, they were all honored.

This corporate identity is foreign to those of us raised on cultural independence. But it's important as we follow Jesus. Paul in his letter to the Roman church explained that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. (See Romans 5)

We understand that to mean that we are all infected with the same sin nature because of Adam's sin. But, if sin came to us through one man, then redemption also came to us through one man.

If we're all free agents and lone rangers, then Jesus' work on the cross wouldn't apply to us. We may treasure independence and rights, but we need to set that aside to understand God's work for us.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Romans 5:18)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The failure at Ai

Joshua' army had just seen an impenetrable city fall to the ground with a shout. The impossible had happened - as God had told them it would. Their confidence was at a new high as they marched on in enemy territory, sending only a small army to conquer the next city: Ai.

The small army was soundly routed by the men of Ai. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. (Josh 7:5)

No kidding. The people were toast in this foreign land if God didn't deliver victories, yet it seemed at Ai that he had failed them. What happened? You can find this story in Joshua 7, where the people of Israel had finally surged into Canaan, the land God had promised to give to them. Joshua wondered what had happened, too, and fell before God in fear and mourning, asking for guidance.

Haven't we been there, too? We feel like we're walking on God's path, following his word, and yet a failure washes over us.

Please know that I'm not a formula person: what happened to the people in Israel may not be what's happening to you. But, on the other hand, it may be, too. And we need to take a look, just in case.

So what caused the failure at Ai?

Disobedience is what happened. God had commanded the people to take no spoils when that impenetrable city, Jericho, fell but one greedy man, Achan, hoarded some treasures. Thirty-six soldiers who thought they were headed for an easy victory in Ai died for Achan's disobedience.

When God seems to be failing us, when his promises seem thin and distant, it's a good idea to begin searching for disobedience. We need to fall before God, asking for guidance. Is there anything in me that separates me from the Father?

We're saved by grace but are we choosing to walk in a point of disobedience? Is there a choice that we're refusing to allow God to make? Are we withholding something from God, citing our right to some cherished indulgence?

God said it plainly to Joshua: I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Josh 7:12)

Tomorrow: one Israel?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A fun contest

A Girls ’n Grace Christmas Contest!
Pam Davis, creator of Girls ’n Grace, and Authentic Books are sponsoring a contest, just in time for Christmas. To launch the release of the latest two books in the Girls ’n Grace series, Sydney Claire: A Girl ’n Grace in the 1960’s and Mesi’s Season of Change: A Friendship Story, they are giving away one of the character dolls.

As a Christian mother, Pam Davis knows the lasting imprint that “playtime” can really leave on an impressionable little girl. With the right character as a role model, God could use those sweet afternoon tea parties, hours of make-believe, and sleepovers to sow seeds of faith in tender hearts. This concept became the foundation for the Girls ’n Grace products, a line of dolls and books designed to fulfill Davis’ dream of demonstrating to today’s young girls what it means to be girls of grace.

To enter the doll giveaway contest, submit your story about your best teachable grace moment with a child in your life to Below is the information that you need to include on your entry.

· All entries must be submitted by December 17 to
· Stories should be 400 words or less
· Include the name of the blog site (or a link to the blog) where you saw the contest
· Include your preference of Sydney Clair or Mesi doll
· The winner will be notified, and the doll will be shipped to arrive on December 23.
· Please note that entries may be reprinted/reposted by Girls ’n Grace and Authentic

If you would like to post this contest on your blog site too, please send the link of your post to, and you will receive a copy of each of the new books. The blog that has the most entries will also win a doll to keep for themselves or that can be given away on their blog.

Visit the Girls ’n Grace interactive website at for more information about the books, dolls, Bible studies, games and more.