Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Everyone Needs a Place to Belong


A Place to Belong:
Out of Our Comfort Zone and Into God’s Adventure
A moving message of hope and belonging from
Circle of Friends President Lisa Troyer

Every woman needs a place to belong—and that’s the underlying theme of the new book from Lisa Troyer, president of Circle of Friends Ministries, singer/songwriter and radio host. In A Place to Belong: Out of Our Comfort Zone and into God’s Adventure (Barbour Publishing), Troyer shares her own journey to acceptance as well as the story of a group of dynamic “women helping women” who call themselves the Circle of Friends. Troyer encourages readers to form their own circle of friends, a safe place of truth and love where women can develop lasting relationships and discover together the purposes of God for their lives.

Though refreshingly warm and simple, A Place to Belong is far from shallow. Troyer’s passion to lead others into the bottomless love of God compels her to plunge deeply into the heart of the issues all women face, but most keep to themselves. With tendencies toward depression, anxiety attacks and an eating disorder, she knows firsthand the bondage of secrecy and shame. “Living with a secret,” Troyer admits, “doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t change your heart. As well hidden as your secret it, that is how deeply lonely you will be. I’ve been there. I know it’s true.”

As Troyer launches her story with a disclosure of an unsettling secret from her past, readers immediately sense that they are being drawn into a transparent and authentic conversation that may affect their own lives dramatically. They perceive, too, a gentle but persistent invitation to a place of true freedom and belonging in the very heart of God.

Coupling her unique personal story with related accounts in Scripture, Troyer offers sound instructional advice and inspired application. In A Place to Belong, she explores five principles that address the heart-needs of women today:

• Acceptance, embarking on adventure in relationship
• Authenticity, exchanging the familiar for the extraordinary
• Affirmation, enriching the lives of those around you
• Accountability, receiving the comfort of companionship
• Action, stepping into the journey and walking into the purpose


By learning to apply these concepts, women will not only experience freedom themselves but will also develop a biblical, transformational ministry to lead others within their own sphere of influence to freedom as well.

Each section includes song lyrics, some penned by Troyer herself, and also discussion questions related to the song. Interspersed throughout the book are testimonies from those who have been a part of their own circle of friends group. Resources provided at the back of the book, including a one-year Bible reading schedule, tips and goals for leading a small group, accountability questions and recommended reading, make A Place to Belong a truly beneficial multi-purpose book.

A Place to Belong has the potential of changing the way women think about themselves, about others and about doing God’s work in this world. Troyer challenges readers to connect to one another, comfort each other and affirm each other in using the gifts God has given them. Ultimately, A Place to Belong offers a healing dose of real hope that life can be rich, life can have purpose and no woman need ever be alone.

Lisa Troyer and the Circle of Friends team are available to speak at events. For more information, visit: http://www.ourcircleoffriends.org/contact-us/.


A Place to Belong: Out of Our Comfort Zone and Into God’s Adventure
by Lisa Troyer
Barbour Publishing – September 2011
ISBN 978-1-61626-505-2/Paperback/$14.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Bloggers may request a copy
by filling out the form below.




Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why is forgiving ourselves so hard?


Kim Cash Tate shows how God cherishes us
and provides our hearts’ desires.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Kim Cash Tate explores Psalm 103:12 as she takes her readers down the path to God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in her newest novel, Cherished. Readers will discover that God can still use them in spite of their worst choices. And He doesn’t just forgive them, but they are truly cherished!

Tate’s story will show her readers how God can bring beauty from ashes. She has a unique way of weaving her characters’ lives together, leading back to one great point—God’s tremendous mercy and grace. In the words of one of her characters, “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I felt like it would take a while to work my way back into God’s good graces, but it was like…”—she flung wide her arms—“…He just embraced me.” We too can be embraced by the same great love when we learn that true forgiveness for ALL of our sins is right before us.

Growing up in Saint Louis, Kelli London dreamed of becoming a songwriter and glorifying God with her songs of praise. But after falling into sin, she walks away from her dreams. Heather Anderson’s life has spun out of control—first an affair with a married man and then a one-night stand with the drummer of a popular Christian band. Broken and alone, she discovers the only one who can save her. Brian Howard grew up as a science geek. But after making the worst mistake of his life after high school, he finds forgiveness in Christ and is being led down a completely different path. Now he must choose whether to continue pursuing his PhD in biochemistry or to become a full time Christian rapper.

A song based on Cherished will be
featured on the newest album
from Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H.!

Watch the book trailer and preview the song below.



In her interviews, Tate discusses topics such as:

• Learning to forgive ourselves

• Choosing to forgive others and allowing God to change them

• Following the dreams God has for us

• Surrounding ourselves with Christian friends who will pray for and encourage us

• Understanding God’s unchanging love

Tate was a speaker for Women of Faith in both 2010 and 2011. She appeared as the cover girl for the May issue of Empowering Everyday Women and will be featured in the September edition of Significant Living. A song based on Cherished will be featured on the newest album from Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H., and also features CeCe Winans. Tate is also the founder of Colored in Christ Ministries. Her appeal as a Bible teacher and a “big sister” in ministry, as well as her messages of hope, is what attracts discerning fiction lovers worldwide.

Tate’s characters bring a reflection of our own poor choices. Readers walk away knowing that despite their worst mistakes, they are cherished by their Creator. “The enemy will try to make you feel guilty about your past, and he’ll use your own thoughts or he’ll use other people. But if you know who you are, he won’t succeed,” says Tate.

Cherished by Kim Cash Tate
Thomas Nelson/September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59554-855-9/336 pages/paperback/$15.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Bloggers may request a review copy
by filling out the form below.


Monday, August 29, 2011

If he's Corsicana's most eligible bachelor, why is he still single?

Am I going senile already?

So help me, some days I wonder if I really am losing my mind. Earlier today, I thought, "I'm going to write about that on my blog."

Now, I have no clue what it was that I was thinking. Absolutely no idea.

I think I'm going to blame this on the fact that I did not take my Sunday nap yesterday, then did not sleep well last night because I worked in my sleep all night long. I'm so tired of doing reports in my sleep. That alone is going to make me lose my mind.

Not taking my nap yesterday left me more than a little out of it last night when Rachel came over to talk about the class at church we are going to start team teaching.

OOOOHHHH... now I remember what I was going to blog about. All it took was talking about Rachel. Rachel was telling me about this woman she knew that wanted to fix her up a guy she found out her sister went to dinner with once. But, before telling that story, she was telling me about someone from church wanting to set her up with this guy. (A guy she knew nothing about since she didn't grow up here in Corsicana.) This well-meaning church member has brought him up more than once within a 2 year period.

The thing about this person is that someone I used to work with mentioned him to me once as a potential person to meet. Evidently, everyone must think he needs help meeting someone which in and of itself is a red flag.

I have to admit, I don't know much about him. I know who is dad is. I know he would make a decent living at a professional job. I know he works with his dad. I know his father's reputation. I know I always see him everywhere with his dad. I know I never see his mother with them. I know Rachel said that the guy from church said he was a member of a fraternal organization that made us both cringe when it was brought up. I know Rachel said he and his dad were both members of this organization.

I know that talking that much about him and his dad together raises a red flag. Now, I'm not sure if a daddy's boy is as bad as a momma's boy. I have major issues with momma's boys.

Yes, I do realize that I do a lot of things with my parents. However, I do not work with them (like I did in high school), and I have been seen around Corsicana with a number of other people. I have to honestly say that I don't know that I've ever seen this guy around without his dad.

My biggest question is this though, if he is Corsicana's most eligible bachelor, why is he still single?

Friday, August 26, 2011

A preview of Rick Lawrence's Sifted

Thanks to everyone who took part in today's tour!


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

A peek inside the Treasure's in Grandma's Attic

Thanks to everyone who participated in today's tour!


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 books:

David C. Cook; Reprint 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:



The late Arleta Richardson grew up an only child in Chicago, living in a hotel on the shores of Lake Michigan. Under the care of her maternal grandmother, she listened for hours to stories from her grandmother’s childhood. With unusual recall, Arleta began to write these stories for an audience that now numbers over two million. “My grandmother would be amazed to know her stories have gone around the world,” Arleta said.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:



Grandma did what? You might be surprised. Back in the 1880’s, when she was a young girl named Mabel, trouble seemed to follow her everywhere. She and her best friend, Sarah Jane, had the best intentions at home and at school, but somehow clumsiness and mischief always seemed to intrude. Whether getting into a sticky mess with face cream, traveling to the big city, sneaking out to a birthday party or studying for the spelling bee, Mabel’s brilliant ideas only seemed to show how much she had to learn. And each of her mishaps turned into lessons in honesty, patience and responsibility.



Arleta Richardson’s beloved series, Grandma’s Attic, returns with Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic and Treasures from Grandma’s Attic, the third and fourth books in the refreshed classic collection for girls ages 8 to 12. These compilations of tales recount humorous and poignant memories from Grandma Mabel’s childhood on a Michigan farm in the late 1800’s. Combining the warmth and spirit of Little House on the Prairie with a Christian focus, these books transport readers back to a simpler time to learn lessons surprisingly relevant in today’s world.



Even though these stories took place over a hundred years ago, there are some things about being a girl that never change. Just like Mabel, girls still want to be prettier or more independent. It’s all part of growing up. But the amazing thing is—Grandma felt the same way! Sometimes your brother teases you or someone you thought was a friend turns out to be insincere. Sometimes you’re certain you know better than your parents, only to discover to your horror that they might have been right. It’s all part of growing up.



Richardson’s wholesome stories have reached more than two million readers worldwide. Parents appreciate the godly values and character they promote while children love the captivating storytelling that recounts childhood memories of mischief and joy. These books are ideal for homes, schools, libraries or gifts and are certain to be treasured. So return to Grandma’s attic, where true tales of yesteryear bring timeless lessons for today, combining the appeal of historical fiction for girls with the truth of God’s Word. Each captivating story promotes godly character and values with humor, understanding and warmth.



Product Details:



Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic
:



List Price: $6.99

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Paperback: 160 pages

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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0781403812

ISBN-13: 978-0781403818





Treasures from Grandma’s Attic:



Reading level: Ages 9-12

Paperback: 160 pages

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

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0781403820

ISBN-13: 978-0781403825



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTERS:



Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic



When Grandma Was a Little Girl



One hundred years! What a long, long time ago that is! Not very many people are still alive who can remember that far back. But through the magic of stories, we can be right there again.



When I was a little girl, I thought no one could tell a story like my grandma.



“Tell me about when you were a little girl,” I would say. Soon I would be back on the farm in northern Michigan with young Mabel—who became my grandmother—her mother and father, and her brothers, Reuben and Roy.



The old kitchen where I sat to hear many of Grandma’s stories didn’t look the same as when she was a little girl. Then there was no electricity nor running water. But my grandma still lived in the house she grew up in. I had no trouble imagining all the funny jams that Grandma and her best friend, Sarah Jane, got into. Or how it felt to wear long flannel stockings and high-buttoned shoes.



From the dusty old attic to the front parlor with its slippery furniture, Grandma’s old house was a storybook just waiting to be opened. I was fortunate to have a grandma who knew just how to open it. She loved to tell a story just as much as I loved to hear one.



Come with me now, back to the old kitchen in that Michigan farmhouse, and enjoy the laughter and tears of many years ago....



1



Face Cream from Godey’s Lady’s Book



Receiving mail always excited me. I never had to be told to get the mail for Grandma on my way home from school. But sometimes the mail became even more important. Like the time I was watching for something I had ordered from Woman’s Home Companion.



When the small package finally arrived, my face revealed how excited I was.



“What did you get a sample of this time?” Grandma asked as I came in proudly carrying the precious box.



“You’ll see. Just wait till I show you,” I said, promising Grandma the box held something special.



Quickly I tore the wrapping paper off the small box. Inside was a jar of skin cream for wrinkles.



Grandma laughed when she saw it. “You certainly don’t need that,” she said. “Now it might do me some good if those things ever really worked.”



“You aren’t wrinkled, Grandma,” I protested. “Your face is nice and smooth.”



“Perhaps so. But not because of what I’ve rubbed on it. More than likely I’ve inherited a smooth skin.”



She took the jar of cream and looked at the ingredients “This doesn’t look quite as dangerous as some stuff Sarah Jane and I mixed up one day. Did I ever tell you about that?”



“No, I’m sure you didn’t,” I replied. “Tell me now.”



Grandma picked up her crocheting, and I settled back to listen to a story about Grandma and her friend, Sarah Jane, when they were my age.



***



Sarah Jane had a cousin who lived in the city. This cousin often came to stay at Sarah Jane’s for a few days. She brought things with her that we were not accustomed to seeing.



One morning as Sarah Jane and I were walking to school together, Sarah Jane told me some very exciting news. “My cousin Laura will be here tomorrow. She’s going to stay all next week. Won’t that be fun?”



“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m glad she’s coming. What do you think she’ll bring this time?”



“Probably some pretty new dresses and hats,” Sarah Jane guessed. “She might even let us try them on.”



“Oh, I’m sure she wouldn’t want us to try on her dresses. But maybe she wouldn’t mind if we peeked at ourselves in the mirror to see how the hats looked.”



Laura arrived the next day with several new hats. She amiably agreed that we might try them on.



They were too big, and had a tendency to slide down over our noses. But to us, they were the latest fashion.



As we laid the hats back on the bed, Sarah Jane spied something else that interested her. It was a magazine for ladies. We had not seen more than half a dozen magazines in our lives, so this was exciting.



“Oh, Laura,” Sarah Jane cried, “may we look at your magazine? We’ll be very careful.”



“Why, yes. I’m not going to be reading it right away. Go ahead.”



Eagerly we snatched the magazine and ran out to the porch. The cover pictured a lady with a very fashionable dress and hat, carrying a frilly parasol. The name of the magazine was Godey’s Lady’s Book.



“Ooh! Look at the ruffles on her dress!” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “Wouldn’t you just love to have one dress with all those ribbons and things?”



“Yes, but there’s little chance I’ll ever have it,” I replied. “Ma wouldn’t iron that many ruffles for anything. Besides, we’re not grown up enough to have dresses like that. It looks like it might be organdy, doesn’t it?”



“Mmm-hum,” Sarah Jane agreed. “It looks like something soft, all right. And look at her hair. It must be long to make that big a roll around her head.”



We spread the magazine across our laps and studied each page carefully. Nothing escaped our notice. “I sure wish we were grown up,” Sarah Jane sighed. “Think how much prettier we’d be.”



“Yes, and how much more fun we could have. These ladies don’t spend all their time going to school and doing chores. They just get all dressed up and sit around looking pretty.”



We looked for a moment in silence; then Sarah Jane noticed something interesting. “Look here, Mabel. Here’s something you can make to get rid of wrinkles on your face.”



I looked where she was reading.



Guaranteed to remove wrinkles. Melt together a quantity of white wax and honey. When it becomes liquid, add the juice of several lemons. Spread the mixture liberally on your face and allow it to dry. In addition to smoothing out your wrinkles, this formula will leave your skin soft, smooth, and freckle free.



“But we don’t have any wrinkles,” I pointed out.



“That doesn’t matter,” Sarah Jane replied. “If it takes wrinkles away, it should keep us from getting them too. Besides,” she added critically, “it says it takes away freckles. And you have plenty of those.”



I rubbed my nose reflectively. “I sure do. Do you suppose that stuff really would take them off?”



“We can try it and see. I’ll put some on if you will. Where shall we mix it up?”



This would be a problem, since Sarah Jane’s mother was baking in her kitchen. It would be better to work where we wouldn’t have to answer questions about what we were doing.



“Let’s go to your house and see what your mother is doing,” Sarah Jane suggested.



We hurriedly returned the magazine to Laura’s bedroom and dashed back outdoors.



“Do you have all the things we need to put in it?” Sarah Jane asked.



“I know we have wax left over from Ma’s jelly glasses. And I’m sure we have lemons. But I don’t know how much honey is left.



“I know where we can get some, though.” I continued. “Remember that hollow tree in the woods? We found honey there last week.”



Soon we were on our way to collect it in a small pail.



“This is sure going to be messy and sticky to put on our faces,” I commented as we filled the pail.



“Probably the wax takes the sticky out,” Sarah Jane replied. “Anyway, if it takes away your freckles and makes our skin smooth, it won’t matter if it is a little gooey. I wonder how long we leave it on.”



“The directions said to let it dry,” I reminded her. “I suppose the longer you leave it there, the more good it does. We’ll have to take it off before we go in to supper, I guess.”



“I guess so,” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “I don’t know what your brothers would say. But I’m not going to give Caleb a chance to make fun of me.”



I knew what Reuben and Roy would say, too, and I was pretty sure I could predict what Ma would say. There seemed to be no reason to let them know about it.



Fortune was with us, for the kitchen was empty when we cautiously opened the back door. Ma heard us come in and called down from upstairs, “Do you need something, Mabel?”



“No, Ma’am,” I answered. “But we might like a cookie.”



“Help yourself,” Ma replied. “I’m too busy tearing rags to come down right now. You can pour yourselves some milk too.”



I assured her that we could. With a sigh of relief, we went to the pantry for a kettle in which to melt the wax and honey.



“This looks big enough,” Sarah Jane said. “You start that getting hot, and I’ll squeeze the lemons. Do you think two will be enough?”



“I guess two is ‘several.’ Maybe we can tell by the way it looks whether we need more or not.”



“I don’t see how,” Sarah Jane argued. “We never saw any of this stuff before. But we’ll start with two, anyway.”



I placed the pan containing the wax and honey on the hottest part of the stove and pulled up a chair to sit on. “Do you suppose I ought to stir it?” I inquired. “It doesn’t look as though it’s mixing very fast.”



“Give it time,” Sarah Jane advised. “Once the wax melts down, it will mix.”



After a short time, the mixture began to bubble.



“There, see?” she said, stirring it with a spoon. “You can’t tell which is wax and which is honey. I think it’s time to put in the lemon juice.” She picked up the juice, but I stopped her.



“You have to take the seeds out, first, silly. You don’t want knobs all over your face, do you?”



“I guess you’re right. That wouldn’t look too good, would it?”



She dug the seeds out, and we carefully stirred the lemon juice into the pan.



“Umm, it smells good,” I observed.



Sarah Jane agreed. “In fact, it smells a little like Ma’s cough syrup. Do you want to taste it?”



“Sure, I’ll take a little taste.” I licked some off the spoon and smacked my lips. “It’s fine,” I reported. “If it tastes that good, it will certainly be safe to use. Let’s take it to my room and try it.”



We carefully lifted the kettle from the stove. Together we carried the kettle upstairs and set it on my dresser.



“It will have to cool a little before we put it on,” I said.



“What if the wax gets hard again? We’ll have to take it downstairs and heat it all over.”



“It won’t,” I assured her. “The honey will keep it from getting too hard.” By the time the mixture was cool enough to use, it was thick and gooey—but still spreadable.



“Well, here goes,” Sarah Jane said. She dipped a big blob out and spread it on her face. I did the same. Soon our faces were covered with the sticky mess.



“Don’t get it in your hair,” I warned. “It looks like it would be awfully hard to get out. I wonder how long it will take to dry?”



“The magazine didn’t say that. It would probably dry faster outside in the sun. But someone is sure to see us out there. We’d better stay here.... I wish we had brought the magazine to look at.”



“We can look at the Sears catalog,” I suggested. “Let’s play like we’re ordering things for our own house.”



We sat down on the floor and spread the catalog out in front of us. After several minutes, Sarah Jane felt her face.



“I think it’s dry, Mabel,” she announced, hardly moving her lips. “It doesn’t bend or anything.”



I touched mine and discovered the same thing. The mask was solid and hard. It was impossible to move my mouth to speak, so my voice had a funny sound when I answered her.



“So’s mine. Maybe we’d better start taking it off now.”



We ran to the mirror and looked at ourselves.



“We sure look funny.” Sarah Jane laughed the best she could without moving her face. “How did the magazine say to get it off?”



Suddenly we looked at each other in dismay. The magazine hadn’t said anything about removing the mixture, only how to fix and spread it on.



“Well, we’ve done it again,” I said. “How come everything we try works until we’re ready to undo it? We’ll just have to figure some way to get rid of it.”



We certainly did try. We pushed the heavy masks that covered our faces. We pulled them, knocked on them, and tried to soak them off. They would not budge.



“I think we used too much wax and not enough honey,” Sarah Jane puffed as she flopped back down on the bed.



“That’s certainly a great thing to think of now,” I answered crossly. “The only way to move wax is to melt it. And we certainly can’t stick our faces in the fire!”



“Mine feels like it’s already on fire. I don’t think this stuff is good for your skin.”



“You’re going to have to think about more than that,” I told her. “Or this stuff will be your skin. There has to be some way to get it off.”



“We’ve tried everything we can think of. We’ll just have to go down and let your rna help us.”



That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. But I could see no other alternative. Slowly we trudged down to the kitchen.



Ma was working at the stove, and she said cheerfully, “Are you girls hungry again? It won’t be long until suppertime, so you’d better not eat ....”



She turned around as she spoke. When she spotted us standing in the doorway, her eyes widened in disbelief.



“What on earth? ... What have you done to yourselves?”



I burst into tears. The sight of drops of tears running down that ridiculous mask must have been more than Ma could stand. Suddenly she began to laugh. She laughed until she had to sit down.



“It’s not funny, Ma. We can’t get it off! We’ll have to wear it the rest of our lives!”



Ma controlled herself long enough to come over and feel my face. “What did you put in it?” she asked. “That will help me know how to take it off.”



We told her.



“If you two ever live to grow up, it will only be the Lord’s good mercy. The only thing we can do is apply something hot enough to melt the wax,” Ma told us quickly.



“But we boiled the wax, Ma,” I cried. “You can’t boil our faces!”



“No, 1won’t try anything as drastic as that. I’ll just use hot towels until it gets soft enough to pull away.”



After several applications, we were finally able to start peeling the mixture off. As it came loose, our skin came with it.



“Ouch! That hurts,” I cried.



But Ma could not stop. By the time the last bits of wax and honey were removed, our faces were fiery red and raw.



“What did we do wrong?” Sarah Jane wailed. “We made it just like the magazine said.”



“You may have used the wrong quantities, or left it on too long,” Ma said. “At any rate, I don’t think you’ll try it again.”



“I know I won’t,” Sarah Jane moaned. “I’m going to tell Laura she should ignore that page in her magazine.” She looked at me. “The stuff did one thing they said it would, Mabel. I don’t see any freckles.”



“There’s no skin left, either,” I retorted. “I’d rather have freckles than a face like this.”



“Never mind.” Ma tried to soothe us. “Your faces will be all right in a couple of days.”



“A couple of days!” I howled. “We can’t go to school looking like this!”



***



“We did, though.” Grandma laughed as she finished the story. “After a while we were able to laugh with the others over our foolishness.”



I looked at the little jar of cream that had come in the mail.



“I don’t think I’ll use this, Grandma. I guess I’ll just let my face get wrinkled if it wants to!”



************************************************



Treasures from Grandma's Attic



Cousin Agatha



My best friend, Sarah Jane, and I were walking home from school on a cold November afternoon.



“Do you realize, Mabel, that 1886 is almost over? Another year of nothing important ever happening is nearly gone.”



“Well, we still have a good bit of life ahead of us,” I replied.



“You don’t know that,” Sarah Jane said darkly, “We’re thirteen and a half. We may already have lived nearly a third of our allotted time.”



“The O’Dells live to be awfully old,” I told her. “So, unless I get run down by a horse and buggy, I’ll probably be around awhile.”



We walked along in silence. Then suddenly Sarah Jane pulled me to the side of the road.



“Here’s the horse and buggy that could keep you from becoming an old lady,” she kidded. We turned to see my pa coming down the road.



“Want to ride the rest of the way, girls?” he called. We clambered into the buggy, and Pa clucked to Nellie.



“What did you get in town?” I asked.



“Some things for the farm and a letter for your ma.” Around the next bend, Pa slowed Nellie to a halt. “Your stop, Sarah Jane.”



“Thanks, Mr. O’Dell.” Sarah Jane jumped down. “I’ll be over to study later, Mabel. ‘Bye.”



“Who’s the letter from?” I asked Pa.



“Can’t tell from the handwriting. We’ll have to wait for Ma to tell us.”



When Ma opened the letter, she looked puzzled. “This is from your cousin Agatha,” she said to Pa. “Why didn’t she address it to you, too?”



“If I know Aggie, she wants something,” Pa declared. “And she figured you’d be more likely to listen to her sad story.”



Ma read the letter and shook her head at Pa. “She just wants to come for Thanksgiving. Now aren’t you ashamed of talking that way?”



“No, I’m not. That’s what Aggie says she wants. You can be sure there’s more there than meets the eye. Are you going to tell her to come ahead?”



“Why, of course!” Ma exclaimed. “If I were a widowed lady up in years, I’d want to be with family on Thanksgiving. Why shouldn’t I tell her to come?”



Pa took his hat from the peg by the door and started for the barn, where my older brothers were already at work. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he remarked as he left.



“What did Pa warn you about?” I asked as soon as the door closed behind him. “What does Cousin Agatha want?”



“I don’t believe Pa was talking to you,” Ma replied. “You heard me say that she wants to come for Thanksgiving.”



“Yes, but Pa said—”



“That’s enough, Mabel. We won’t discuss it further.”



I watched silently as Ma sat down at the kitchen table and answered Cousin Agatha’s letter.



Snow began to fall two days before the holiday, and Pa had to hitch up the sleigh to go into town and meet the train.



“It will be just our misfortune to have a real blizzard and be snowed in with that woman for a week,” he grumbled.



“Having Aggie here a few days won’t hurt you,” Ma said. “The way you carry on, you’d think she was coming to stay forever!”



Pa’s look said he considered that a distinct possibility. As I helped Ma with the pies, I questioned her about Cousin Agatha.



“Has she been here before? I can’t remember seeing her.”



“I guess you were pretty small last time Agatha visited,” Ma replied. “I expect she gets lonely in that big house in the city.”



“What do you suppose she wants besides dinner?” I ventured.



“Friendly company,” Ma snapped. “And we’re going to give it to her.”



When the pies were in the oven, I hung around the window, watching for the sleigh. It was nearly dark when I heard the bells on Nellie’s harness ring out across the snow.



“They’re coming, Ma,” I called, and Ma hurried to the door with the lamp held high over her head. The boys and I crowded behind her. Pa jumped down from the sleigh and turned to help Cousin Agatha.



“I don’t need any assistance from you, James,” a firm voice spoke. “I’m perfectly capable of leaving any conveyance under my own power.”



“She talks like a book!” Roy whispered, and Reuben poked him. I watched in awe as a tall, unbending figure sailed into the kitchen.



“Well, Maryanne,” she said, “it’s good to see you.” She removed her big hat, jabbed a long hat pin into it, and handed the hat to me. “You must be Mabel.”



I nodded wordlessly.



“What’s the matter? Can’t you speak?” she boomed.



“Yes, ma’am,” I gulped nervously.



“Then don’t stand there bobbing your head like a monkey on a stick. People will think you have no sense. You can put that hat in my room.”



I stared openmouthed at this unusual person until a gentle push from Ma sent me in the direction of the guest room.



After dinner and prayers, Pa rose with the intention of going to the barn.



“James!” Cousin Agatha’s voice stopped him. “Surely you aren’t going to do the chores with these two great hulking fellows sitting here, are you?”



The two great hulking fellows leaped for the door with a speed I didn’t know they had.



“I should guess so,” Cousin Agatha exclaimed with satisfaction. “If there’s anything I can’t abide, it’s a lazy child.”



As she spoke, Cousin Agatha pulled Ma’s rocker to the stove and lowered herself into it. “This chair would be more comfortable if there were something to put my feet on,” she said, “but I suppose one can’t expect the amenities in a place like this.”



I looked at Ma for some clue as to what “amenities” might be. This was not a word we had encountered in our speller.



“Run into the parlor and get the footstool, Mabel,” Ma directed.



When Cousin Agatha was settled with her hands in her lap and her feet off the cold floor, I started the dishes.



“Maryanne, don’t you think Mabel’s dress is a mite too short?”



Startled, I looked down at my dress.



“No,” Ma’s calm voice replied. “She’s only thirteen, you know. I don’t want her to be grown up too soon.”



“There is such a thing as modesty, you know.” Cousin Agatha sniffed.



Pa and the boys returned just then, so Ma didn’t answer. I steered an uneasy path around Cousin Agatha all evening. For the first time I could remember, I was glad when bedtime came.



The next day was Thanksgiving, and the house was filled with the aroma of good things to eat. From her rocker, Cousin Agatha offered suggestions as Ma scurried about the kitchen.



“Isn’t it time to baste the turkey, Maryanne? I don’t care for dry fowl.”



“I see the boys running around out there with that mangy dog as though they had nothing to do. Shouldn’t they be chopping wood or something?”



“I should think Mabel could be helping you instead of reading a book. If there’s one thing I can’t abide . . . “



“Mabel will set the table when it’s time,” Ma put in. “Maybe you’d like to peel some potatoes?”



The horrified look on Cousin Agatha’s face said she wouldn’t consider it, so Ma withdrew her offer.



A bump on the door indicated that the “mangy dog” was tired of the cold. I laid down my book and let Pep in. He made straight for the stove and his rug.



“Mercy!” Cousin Agatha cried. “Do you let that—that animal in the kitchen?”



“Yes,” Ma replied. “He’s not a young dog any longer. He isn’t any bother, and he does enjoy the heat.”



“Humph.” Agatha pulled her skirts around her. “I wouldn’t allow any livestock in my kitchen. Can’t think what earthly good a dog can be.” She glared at Pep, who responded with a thump of his tail and a sigh of contentment.



“Dumb creature,” Cousin Agatha muttered.



“Pep isn’t dumb, Cousin Agatha,” I said. “He’s really the smartest dog I know.”



“I was not referring to his intellect or lack of it,” she told me, “‘Dumb’ indicates an inability to speak. You will have to concede that he is unable to carry on a conversation.”



I was ready to dispute that, too, but Ma shook her head. Cousin Agatha continued to give Pep disparaging glances.



“Didn’t you ever have any pets at your house, Cousin Agatha?” I asked.



“Pets? I should say not! Where in the Bible does it say that God made animals for man’s playthings? They’re meant to earn their keep, not sprawl out around the house absorbing heat.”



“Oh, Pep works,” I assured her. “He’s been taking the cows out and bringing them back for years now.”



Cousin Agatha was not impressed. She sat back in the rocker and eyed Pep with disfavor. “The one thing I can’t abide, next to a lazy child, is a useless animal—and in the house!”



I began to look nervously at Ma, thinking she might send Pep to the barn to keep the peace. But she went on about her work, serenely ignoring Cousin Agatha’s hints. I was glad when it was time to set the table.



After we had eaten, Pa took the Bible down from the cupboard and read our Thanksgiving chapter, Psalm 100. Then he prayed, thanking the Lord for Cousin Agatha and asking the Lord’s blessing on her just as he did on the rest of us. When he had finished, Cousin Agatha spoke up.



“I believe that I will stay here until Christmas, James. Then, if I find it to my liking, I could sell the house in the city and continue on with you. Maryanne could use some help in teaching these children how to be useful.”



In the stunned silence that followed, I looked at Pa and Ma to see how this news had affected them. Ma looked pale. Before Pa could open his mouth to answer, Cousin Agatha rose from the table. “I’ll just go to my room for a bit of rest,” she said. “We’ll discuss this later.”



When she had left, we gazed at each other helplessly.



“Is there anything in the Bible that tells you what to do now?” I asked Pa.



“Well, it says if we don’t love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God whom we can’t see? I think that probably applies to cousins as well.”



“I’d love her better if I couldn’t see her.” Reuben declared. “We don’t have to let her stay, do we, Pa?”



“No, we don’t have to,” Pa replied. “We could ask her to leave tomorrow as planned. But I’m not sure that would be right. What do you think, Ma?”



“I wouldn’t want to live alone in the city,” Ma said slowly. “I can see that she would prefer the company of a family. I suppose we should ask her to stay until Christmas.”



“I think she already asked herself,” Roy ventured. “But she did say if she found things to her liking. . . .”



We all looked at Roy. Pa said, “You’re not planning something that wouldn’t be to her liking, are you?”



“Oh, no, sir!” Roy quickly answered. “Not me.”



Pa signed. “I’m not sure I’d blame you. She’s not an easy person to live with. We’ll all have to be especially patient with her.”



There wasn’t much Thanksgiving atmosphere in the kitchen as we did the dishes.



“How can we possibly stand it for another whole month?” I moaned.



“The Lord only sends us one day at a time,” Ma informed me. “Don’t worry about more than that. When the other days arrive, you’ll probably find out you worried about all the wrong things.”



As soon as the work was finished, I put on my coat and walked over to Sarah Jane’s.



“What will you do if she stays on after Christmas?” she asked.



“I’ll just die.”



“I thought you were going to be a long-living O’Dell.”



“I changed my mind,” I retorted. “What would you do if you were in my place?”



“I’d probably make her life miserable so she’d want to leave.”



“You know I couldn’t get away with that. Pa believes that Christian love is the best solution.”



“All right, then,” Sarah Jane said with a shrug. “Love her to death.”



As though to fulfill Pa’s prediction, snow began to fall heavily that night. By morning we were snowed in.



“Snowed in?” Cousin Agatha repeated. “You mean unable to leave the house at all?”



“That’s right,” Pa replied. “This one is coming straight down from Canada.”



Cousin Agatha looked troubled. “I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.”



“We’ll be all right,” Ma reassured her. “We have plenty of wood and all the food we need.”



But Cousin Agatha was not to be reassured. I watched her stare into the fire and twist her handkerchief around her fingers. Why, she’s frightened! I thought. This old lady had been directing things all her life, and here was something she couldn’t control. Suddenly I felt sorry for her.



“Cousin Agatha,” I said, “we have fun when we’re snowed in. We play games and pop corn and tell stories. You’ll enjoy it. I know you will!”



I ran over and put my arms around her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me in surprise.



“That’s the first time anyone has hugged me since I can remember,” she said. “Do you really like me, Mabel?”



Right then I knew that I did like Cousin Agatha a whole lot. Behind her stern front was another person who needed to be loved and wanted.



“Oh, yes, Cousin Agatha,” I replied. “I really do. You’ll see what a good time we’ll have together.”



The smile that lighted her face was bright enough to chase away any gloom that had settled over the kitchen. And deep down inside, I felt real good.




Monday, August 22, 2011

Read the first chapter of Hell is Real


Thanks to everyone who took part in today's tour!

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 that the Bible contained only a few scattered references to hell. I was wrong; hell is taught everywhere.



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.