Monday, August 31, 2009

Battle Ready: Prepare to Be Used by God

In the second book of the Bold Man of God series, best-selling author Steve Farrar provides a powerful resource for any man who longs to impact his world for God

There is a kind of man God uses. He stands tall in the face of giants. He strives to honor God with his life. He trusts when it seems all hope is lost. And when life is uncertain, he is certain of God’s unfailing provision. But in his new book, Battle Ready: Prepare to Be Used by God (David C Cook, September 2009), best-selling author Steve Farrar advances the theme that God must first train and prepare the man He would use.

“If a man asks God to use him, he’s asking for a good thing,” says Farrar. “But how God chooses to answer that prayer and the way He purposes to prepare him for such a life may bear little resemblance to how he imagined it would work!”

Though they may not know it, those who want to serve God will undoubtedly face unexpected hardships, seasons of frustration and seeming futility, and find themselves painted into what seem like impossible corners. And then there are the giants, those brutal, lumbering monstrosities that crash into our lives—unexpected and uninvited—and show every intention of taking up residence. These giants don’t have six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Instead, they take on the ugly face of disease, disappointment, depression, addiction, financial reversal, career setback, family breakdown, and personal failure.

“The diverse giants we fight can threaten our peace, well-being and very existence. And the man who desires to be used by God will face not just one giant in his life, but many,” writes Farrar. “That’s the nature of the Christian life. It’s from faith to faith or, to put it another way, from giant to giant.”

In Battle Ready, Farrar teaches men the importance of training and preparing for combat with these giants by examining the real life biographies of men who made an impact in their world, Bible warriors Caleb and Joshua. While exploring the lives of Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and Caleb, who trusted God, and not himself, for victory in battle, Farrar offers perspective, strong counsel, and hope for every man who longs to serve God.

The follow-up to God Built, the first in the Bold Man of God series, Battle Ready will prepare men of all ages, at every stage of their spiritual walk, to become men God can use—men who are battle ready!
Author Bio: Steve Farrar is the founder and chairman of Men’s Leadership Ministries, an organization dedicated to equipping men for spiritual leadership. He is a frequent speaker at men’s events and conferences across the country and is the best-selling author of God Built and Point Man. Steve and his family reside in the Dallas, Texas area.

Battle Ready: Prepare to Be Used by God by Steve Farrar
David C Cook/September 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6869-8/256 pages/softcover/$14.99

For review copies or interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104 - ajennings(at)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tattoo Removal

Got your attention with that title, didn't I? Well, evidently those rub on tattoos don't come off of your skin all that easily.

Peyton put an eagle tattoo on her left cheek Friday for the football game. They never really ever come off easily for her, and she was supposed to get this one off before church this morning. Brian said something to her about it, but didn't realize she was going to try to scrub it off in the shower.

She didn't have a mirror in the shower to tell where exactly the tattoo was, and she scrubbed like there as no tomorrow. Half of the tattoo was off when I saw her, but a inch or so lower, she had a huge red spot where she rubbed the hide off of her cheek.

She sat over by some of her mom's family during church, and when we saw her afterwards, she had her handout from class in front of her face, and then her hand so that no one would look at her. She was so embarrassed.

As she left church with me, she held my hand with her left, and put her right hand over her left cheek. As we walked across the parking lot, she was telling me what she did, but I had to promise not to look at her. I caught a glimpse, but wouldn't dare tell her I did.

A couple of minutes later, she told me I could look, but that Grandma or no one else could.

When we got to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of things (including a birthday cake for Mom), she wasn't trying to hide it anymore. But, when we got to produce to get some tomatoes for lunch, a couple from church asked her what she did.

Then, when we were checking out, the cashier asked if she had on make-up or had hurt herself. A very well meaning lady. I very non-chalantly said, "oh, she was trying to get her tattoo off, but she rubbed too hard." The lady didn't seem to buy it. She probably thought I was a terrible mother (which I am neither terrible nor her mother). And she brought attention to Peyton which made her self-conscious.

Once we got to Mom & Dad's house, I signaled to Mom not to say ANYTHING. Then, later Brian says something to her about not getting one on the same cheek next week. Peyton asked if she could get a ribbon instead. Brian told her yes, as long as she didn't put it on her face.

I told Peyton I didn't think her daddy was very funny. Paige and Dad made some other comment too. I had her back with them too. If nothing else, Peyton and Paige both should know I have their backs against mean family members.

So, the moral of this story, I guess is, if you get a temporary tattoo, get the rubbing alchol out or whatever you are supposed to use to get it off, but don't scrub your face raw. AND... you may be well-meaning, but you should probably just mind your own business as to not embarrass children in public places. You wouldn't want them to say something to you if it were the other way, would you?

I did kindly ask Peyton if she needed some make-up to wear to school tomorrow while we were on our way to Wal-Mart. A little cover-up may help her survive the second week of kindergarten.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Savannah by the Sea by Denise Hildreth

The last book(s) that I read were pretty intense, so I decided to go tack to some light and funny reading. So, I went to my stash (I have one right now) and picked up the last book in the Denise Hildreth's Savannah series.

I bought book one for 49 cents and when Denise got a Google Alert on my blog, she didn't know if she was too glad that I found her book for 49 cents. I think it was because the cover got beat up and scuffed in shipping really.

I will have her know that I have since bought 4 of her books - at least two of which were at full price! I still have 2 to read though. Soon - but I have some others to read ahead of it from work. Balance, you know.

So here is the back cover copy:

First, I had to lie to my boss. (Sort of.)
Then my parents had a fight. (They never fight.)
The pint-sized lapdog that is treated better than I am has thrown up. (Twice.)
And my mother’s six-foot-tall beauty-queen protégé won’t stop sniveling—and she takes up half the back seat.
This vacation hasn’t even started . . . and I’m ready to go home.

I knew better. I really did. No one in her right mind would actually choose to spend a week at the beach with a steel-Magnolia drama queen, a tragically disappointed diva-in-training, and a yapping, hurling, supremely annoying little canine princess. But I love Seaside, so I came. And was actually having fun until I ran into the gorgeous, exasperating Joshua North . . . and watched my good sense slide rapidly south. Which goes to show that even with a tan and (maybe) a new man in my life—I’m still the same old Savannah . . . from Savannah.

This book was hilarious. I laughed, and I laughed. The author has a great sense of humor. It wouldn't be funny if it were happening to you... but, when you decide you have to go on vacation to preserve your spot in the family, combine it with a number of hours in the car on a road trip with your parents, and then top it off with your mother being a nervous rider... it can all make for a funny story. (I know from experience and have lived to tell the stories. It doesn't make for fun while it is happening.)

But let me tell you, I will forever thank my lucky stars that I've never had to take a trip with a car sick dog nicknamed Pink Toes. (I have taken a trip with a dog that kept getting in my face all the way back from Vegas - and I was allergic to him.)

I'm also very thankful that my mother does not have a protégé. Of course, I've never fallen in love on a road trip with my parents either. That would kind of be nice.

Anyway, if you are looking for a light-hearted, funny, fast read, pick up Savannah by the Sea.

I'm still trying to put together my (and my mother's) scapbooks from our vacation back in May. I may never finish. I might better go work on it for a while. Although I'm ready to go somewhere and do something, I better not go anywhere and take more pictures until I finish putting together the ones from my last one.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Andy Hawthorne's Hope Unleashed

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:

Hope Unleashed

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Andy Hawthorne is a British evangelist, author, and founder of the Message Trust, an award-winning Christian mission organization dedicated to bringing the gospel message to the poorest neighborhoods of Hawthorne’s hometown of Manchester, England. He is the author of Diary of a Dangerous Vision, also a Survivor book.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764486
ISBN-13: 978-1434764485


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Hope Unleashed by Andy Hawthorne. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

There Is No Plan B

Luke 1:26–56

Toward the end of a life full of amazing words and actions, Jesus said something that was remarkable even by his own standards. Talking to his Father, he said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

It strikes me that, like Jesus, we really do all have a task to complete on this earth and that the goal of our lives should be to get as close to completing that work as we possibly can. Flip the thought over: Isn’t it absolutely amazing to think of all the good works we’ll leave behind when we die? What about all those plans and possibilities that were dreamt up for us? Can we really ignore them so easily?

Jesus’ good works here on earth didn’t start when he came out of the desert in a blaze of glorious healing, teaching, and saving. It was thirty years earlier that it all started, when he was willing to leave the glory of heaven and humble himself to float around as a fetus inside a little bag of waters in the womb of a young peasant girl. That’s how far he had to go in order to get right alongside us, to reach our level and literally put flesh on the bones of God’s master plan of salvation.

Throughout the rest of this book we will be looking at Jesus and seeing what we can learn from the way he reached out with words and actions. But first we need to go right back to the beginning and take a look at his mother. What can we learn from her amazing response to the call of God on her life?

There is no doubt that Mary was a remarkable young woman. How many girls in their early teens, as she probably was, would cope in such a faith-filled and chilled-out way in the face of such earth-shattering news? And it wasn’t as if the delivery was low-key. There was no email, no gentle chat with a familiar family member; just some forty-foot-tall shining white angel called Gabriel. (Okay, so the Bible might not say he was forty feet tall or shining white, but you’ve got to give an evangelist a little room to tell a story!)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30–33)

Let’s be fair: Mary was a risk. What if she had said “No thanks”? What if she got freaked out by the whole thing and changed her mind? What if she ran off and drank a bottle of gin or had a cold bath or found some other way of getting rid of the baby? There must have been others looking for a way of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. What if Mary joined them?

The whole thing was a risk, and it’s not much different today. Imagine choosing you and me to share the most glorious news in the world and to deliver the kindness of God to a hurting world! What if we ran in the opposite direction? What if we gave up on prayer, stopped acting in faith, and acted in fear instead? How much of a mess the world would be in!

But that’s our God. He has staked everything on us getting our act together. He has bet the house on everyday idiots like you and me getting involved and taking our faith seriously. How amazing is that? How scary?

There is a folktale of the angels coming before God as Jesus ascended to heaven. They were asking him what the plan was now that Jesus’ time on earth was up. Who was going to carry on the work of building God’s kingdom? God points down to the ragtag bunch of anger-management failures, hotheads, and oubting Thomases. It’s them. They’re the ones to build it.

“But what if they fail?”

“There is no plan B.”

Those first disciples were the plan, just like that overwhelmed teenage mom, just like you and me. We’re the plan. We’re the potential. We’re the way this thing gets built.

Mary may have been young, inexperienced, and poor, but she was no failure. She had what it took to be used by God; she had a heart that pumped for him, a heart that beat in time with his own work. As the eyes of the Lord scanned Israel looking for a girl who would be suitable for the greatest responsibility in the history of the world, they rested on Mary.

I love Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words. I’m convinced that if we were to respond in a similar way when each of us met our own calling, we would see a lot more success and transformation going

on down here.

Four things stand out to me. First, there’s the whole sense of urgency that we get from Mary. Luke 1:39 tells us that her response to the overwhelming responsibility was to get ready and hurry to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house to tell them the good news. Look at the rest of the gospels, and you’ll see a whole lot of hurrying once people have received a word from the Lord. The gospels are littered with words like immediately, suddenly, and swiftly. Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus was a bit swifter to respond to the command of God to go? How much better would things be if we were to go out of our meetings with a little more pace and passion and deliver the good news in words and actions to this generation? For Mary there was no option. God had spoken, and she started to hurry.

That hurrying carried on over sixty miles of difficult terrain, but it was worth it. Once she arrived at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth’s baby started jumping for joy in the Holy Spirit. As if she needed it, there was Mary’s massive confirmation that this wonderful miracle really was taking place inside her. In one quick trip Mary demonstrated a truth that lies at the heart of all Christian living: We have to understand the importance of sacrifice and obedience. If God puts people on your heart, don’t just pray for them; go to them quickly and watch what he does. If God puts an neighborhood or a people group or a country in your mind, go quickly; don’t wait until every piece of the jigsaw puzzle is in place

and every penny is in the bank. Step out. Do it. Risk it.

After thirty years of doing this stuff, I can testify that if it’s the Great Commission you’re working on, God really will bankroll the work. Right now his eyes are searching the earth looking for people with a heart for the lost, hurting, or broken of this planet. And when he finds them and sees that they are ready to obey the call and go sacrificially, he will strongly support them (2 Chronicles 16:9).

The second thing that gets me is Mary’s excitement. We’ve just had a few of our team return from a large youth prayer event in America called The Ramp, and to be honest I’m slightly worried they might spontaneously combust. They’re so pumped that every talk we give is now greeted with whoops and hollers American style, and they’re spending literally hours and hours of every day in prayer, worship, and sharing Jesus with people who don’t know him. They’re not doing it because they’re paid or because they are bored or because they think it might just be a bit of a laugh. They’re doing it because the reality of who Jesus is and what he did has burrowed deep under their skin. And when that happens for real,

any aspect of our lives is a candidate for transformation.

I’m quite jealous of their passion right now. Granted, some of it may seem a bit over the top, but I’d rather have overenthusiasm than the numbness that comes from being lukewarm. George Verwer

put it better when he said, “It’s easier to cool down a furnace than warm up a corpse.” I’d rather be a furnace for Jesus, and passion and excitement have always been the currency that young people

deal in.

Luke carries on with the story:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was

filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord

should come to me?” (Luke 1:41–43)

Elizabeth’s joy was palpable. She was telling Mary that she was the most blessed person on the planet, that she had been given the most privileged job that’s ever been given. Because Mary had not been tripped up or freaked out by the news, nor did she feel lukewarm about it—choosing instead to believe, trust, and act—Elizabeth could see that things were going well. There’s a truth in here somewhere, that when we hold on tight to God’s promises and believe that they will come through in spite of all the troubles and opposition around us, then we end up being blessed. So many Christians get disillusioned and discouraged when God’s promises aren’t fulfilled according to their schedules. It can be tempting to

do the opposite of Mary and give in to disillusionment and defeat. But there is no life to be found down that route.

I think Mary knew that, because instinctively she joined in with Elizabeth’s excitement, bursting into a song full with joy and optimism.

Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has

been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me

blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46–55)

For most of my life I’ve been a member of my local Anglican church. Just occasionally I’ve had the joy of sitting through the 1662 prayer-book service. As the name suggests, this is a very old bit of kit. Over 350 years have passed since it was scripted by a bunch of evangelists called the Reformers. They were trying to reach people with the gospel, dragging services out of the world of outdated Latin traditions. They used the language of the street, and in its day it was a truly dangerous and radical thing to do. Their

motto was “always reforming,” and that’s what they did, constantly bringing the services up to date, refusing to settle and be stuck in a rut. There was just one problem: One by one they were burnt at the stake for their efforts. Three and a half centuries later many churches are still using the same services. I’ve got a sneaking feeling that Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers are in heaven right now slapping their heads, wincing their eyes shut, and shouting,


I know I’m on thin ice with some people, particularly those who love the poetry and reverence of the 1662 prayer-book service. And just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean God doesn’t like

it. But I’m sure that what matters more than whether we like the worship service or whether it’s got robed choirs and bells and smells or screaming rock bands up front is whether the people outside the church can understand and connect with it. If that’s not possible, we should do exactly what the Reformers did: Kick it out.

But I’ll say this for the 1662 service: It nearly always includes Mary’s song, called the Magnificat. This is an amazing collection of words held together by full-throttle joy, passion, and excitement. Sadly, in my experience, it usually gets sung to a miserable tune by people with very long faces, which is weird because this is a song of excitement and over-the-top joy and passion.

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.…” The word rejoices here in the original Greek language is agallio. It’s the same word that’s used in Luke 10:21 when Jesus is freaking out with joy as the disciples return from their first mission and report that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (verse 17). It literally means “to leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping, demonstrating excessive or ecstatic joy and delight.” Mary is, in short, quite a happy girl at this point! In fact, it would appear that,

despite the challenges of her pregnant state, she is beaming with excitement and almost bursting with this song of joy and praise to God.

Let’s be fair, even with the hassle and hard work, Christianity is a phenomenally exciting thing. Living on the cutting edge of God’s purposes, dealing with all the opposition that comes with trying to reach out into our communities, following Jesus’ great commission to tell the world the good news … these are the ingredients that lead to the most real, most inspiring, most satisfying experience of all. Let’s not lose the sheer joy and wonder of what this good news of Jesus can do in the darkest of communities and the most

broken lives. Put another way, the gospel works every time; it’s lost none of its power. As Paul says, we’re plugged into “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

When you think about that, it’s understandable that every once in a while—just like our young men returned from The Ramp—we need to get a little overexcited.

Right now the developed world is suffering from an epidemic of excess that is squeezing all the joy out of so many lives. Look around and you’ll see it: an excess of alcohol, drugs, sex, debt, and isolation that is literally killing people. How about confronting that with the excessive, ecstatic joy and delight that only Jesus can bring?

The third thing that is obvious from Mary’s response to God’s call is her love of Scripture. She is thirteen or fourteen years old, yet she just oozes the Bible. This song she bursts into certainly feels as though it’s off the top of her head, but it includes no less than twelve different Old Testament passages.

It’s clear that Mary didn’t just skim her way through Scripture. She memorized it and held it in her heart, getting to the point where it really was “living and active” and “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The same can be true for us, if only we’d get Scripture off the pages of our Bible and running through our blood. Would life ever really be the same again if we managed this? Why not make a commitment today to learn more of the Bible? How good would it be to be able to know it, live it, and breathe it, so that what pours out of us is God’s Word, pure and simple—whether we are on the streets or facing times of great excitement, challenge, temptation, or failure?

I’ve got a feeling that one of the key reasons Mary was chosen for this amazing task was that she loved God’s Word. And from the moment she became a mother to God’s child, she showed her child how to do likewise.

At her coronation Elizabeth II was presented with a Bible by the Archbishop of Canterbury—just as it has been with all the kings and queens of the British Commonwealth. As he presented it, he uttered these words: “Your Majesty, here are the lively oracles of God, the most precious thing this life affords.”

And that’s the truth. We might not spend much time getting into the Bible, and we might completely forget to treat it with the respect it’s due, but it really is the most precious thing on the planet. It’s the only thing I know of that contains the keys to a worthwhile life here on earth and an eternal one to come. We might want to be used by God for high and holy purposes that last forever, but without immersing ourselves in God’s Word, we’re never going to make it. It is this, and not our own man-sized dreams and visions, that must direct our plans.

The last thing to stand out, as we look at this passage right at the start of Jesus’ life on earth, is Mary’s humility. Her song isn’t full of arrogance or ego but humility and sacrifice instead. It reminds me a lot of David’s song when he was dragged out of obscurity as a shepherd boy to rule a nation:

Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?

(2 Samuel 7:18–19)

Of course the answer is yes—it is exactly God’s usual way of dealing with men and women. Reading the Bible, I get the feeling God just loves to stun the humble with his awesome intervention.

Gideon was the least in the lowest family but went on to defeat the Midianites. Amos the gardener made his status clear with these words:

I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15)

There are others, too, and I love every single story. But it’s more than mere entertainment or good drama. If you and I will get to the place where God really does get all the glory—like Mary, David, Gideon, and Amos—then maybe we’ll find ourselves involved in greater things than we’ve experienced so far.

One thing I’m sure of is that right now the Lord’s eyes continue to range the earth. He’s not on the hunt for talent, giftedness, or sexiness; just a humble heart and a life willing to react quickly and obediently to his Word. When he comes across that, he’ll strongly support it. You won’t find yourself giving birth in the way that Mary did, but you will give birth to some God-sized visions for your community. Bit by bit you will stop living a life plagued by small-minded and insular views. Instead you will live large, bearing

the fruit that he chose for you on the day he went out of his way to select you for eternal life.

Ephesians 2:10 makes this absolutely clear: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Maybe some years in the future, when old age has settled upon you, you might be able to inch a little closer to saying to God, “I’ve brought you glory by

completing most of the work you gave me to do.”

Isn’t that really what life is all about?

Hope reflected

1. If someone looked at your bank statements, Internet-browser history, or phone records, what would he or she say are your priorities? Try doing the exercise yourself or—if you’re brave enough—give someone else permission to do it for you.

2. What place does the Bible have in your head and heart? Do you know it? Do you like it? Do you feel as though you need it to help you through the day? If you’ve answered no to any of those, don’t worry or feel condemned, but do make up your mind to do something about it. Talk to someone at church who is wise and trustworthy and who knows the Bible. Ask him or her to help you get to know it better.

3. Are you feeling as though everyone else has a God-given calling and you do not? Are you still waiting for God to deliver you a dream that matches your hopes and expectations? Stop. Think back over the last seventy-two hours: Have there been times when you have ignored things that God may have been prompting you to do? Are there conversations you avoided, situations you backed out of, or things you simply ignored? If so, you need to repent and rediscover a little more obedience. Or are you struggling to think of anything that God might have been speaking to you about? If that’s the case, you need to know this: God doesn’t stay silent for long. Talk to someone about how you can learn to hear him better.

4. Humility is a hard thing to measure—particularly in ourselves. But it’s worth having a go. Are there people or places or tasks that— deep down—you know you go out of your way to avoid? Are there areas of your life that you’ve fenced off from God? Are there dreams and ambitions that you can’t let go of? If so, take a look back at Mary’s reaction to her unexpected pregnancy. How do you think she would respond in your situation?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Odd obsessions

Ever wonder what the media would be covering if the Gosselins were behaving nicely? Or what they would be covering lately if it hadn't been for the deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and now Ted Kennedy?

Of course, that was the topic of all news as I turned on the TV this morning while I was getting to work, complete with the statement from Arnold Schwarzenegger about "Uncle Teddy". Yeah, it was his uncle-in-law, but the "Uncle Teddy" part seemed a little odd.

It has actually been a touch couple of weeks for the Kennedys as two siblings have died within as many weeks. Strangely though, what I thought about this morning was not only how this hit the family hard, but about a friend I had in high school who as best I can figure would be devastated.
At least I guess you could call her a friend. We were for a while during the time we were in school together - our first three years of high school.

To say Allison was obsessed with the Kennedy family may have been an understatement. We are talking a 16 year old in 1993, not 1963. That in and of itself could be considered odd. There is no doubt in my mind that she had the Kennedy family tree memorized down to exact birthdates. I'm pretty sure she knew the Kennedys' extended family too.

OK, if this weren't all enough, she wrote fictional short stories about members of the Kennedy family. She probably complied them all into a romance novel. And she would write herself into the story, marrying a Kennedy.

Very strange, really. And I'm not making this up.

If a couple of my co-workers are reading this, they are wondering what they often say to me, "how do you find these people?" I think I'm an oddball magnet.

I couldn't make all these things up if I tried. Speaking of oddballs, another one found me today. I was trying to hide from this person and hope he would forget about me. No such luck. He's not a stalker or anything, and I don't know him personally, but it is a work contact that we'd really rather not deal with if we could get away with it. I got an email from him today...

So anyway, if you have any stories of people with odd obsessions, post a comment. I'd love to read them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stan Toler's The Buzzards are Circling... and God Has Never Failed Me

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:

The Buzzards are Circling, but God is Not Finished with Me Yet

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)

God Has Never Failed Me, but He’s Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Stan Toler resides in Oklahoma City, OK and is an international speaker and seminar leader. For several years he served as Vice-President and taught seminars for Dr. John Maxwell's INJOY Group, a leadership development institute. Toler has written over 70 books, including his best sellers, The Five Star Leader, Richest Person in the World, The Secret Blend, his popular Minute Motivator Series; and his latest book, ReThink Your Life. His books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:
The Buzzards are Circling, but God is Not Finished with Me Yet:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765946
ISBN-13: 978-1434765949

Product Details:
God Has Never Failed Me, but He’s Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765954
ISBN-13: 978-1434765956


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Buzzards Are Circling, but God’s Not Finished with Me Yet by Stan Toler. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

When Your World Crumbles, You Don’t Have to Be One of the Crumbs

(You Can Survive Your Situation)

David Hopkins felt as though the eyes of a thousand demons penetrated his soul as he walked across the campus of Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. Thousands of beady-eyed buzzards arrogantly shifted along the bare tree limbs as if they were waiting for him to drop dead and furnish their lunch. My friend Dr. Hopkins, the college president, said his skin crawled as he thought about the six years of torture that had come from the predators who arrived each October and lingered until April, infesting the college property.

With the crunch of his every footstep on the leaf-strewn ground, he relived the staff’s repeated efforts to scare away the birds. Devoted employees tried banging pots and pans—and even firing warning shots into the air. Nothing worked. And killing the ebony beasts was against the law. According to local officials, the tormentors were endangered. Destroying them would result in a hefty fine. The cold autumn wind tearing at the trees seemed to mock Dr. Hopkins, and he was certain one swooping buzzard grinned with glee!

Indeed, the buzzards seemed a metaphor for the spiritual warfare of the last six years. As the winged menaces invaded the school, year in and year out, David’s wife almost died of cancer. He suffered from the sometimes-fatal Crohn’s disease. The college, in the throes of necessary but difficult change, struggled for financial survival. Dr. Hopkins wondered if and when the buzzards would smell the death of the college and swoop. He shook his fist toward the feathered foes and declared, “You won’t win!”

Yet just when it looked like he was finished, twenty-five prayer warriors arrived on the campus to pray for the college—and for the rapid departure of the carnivorous creatures. The next day, Dr. Hopkins received a call from a donor who said, “I’ll give one hundred sixty thousand dollars toward the construction of a new science building.” Another donor called and said, “We’ll give five hundred thousand dollars toward the new science building!” What’s more, his wife was declared cancer free!

President Hopkins told me that he was so happy about the news that he nearly floated home. That’s when he made a startling discovery. As he looked around, he noticed the trees were void of those dark adversaries. No buzzards! Gone! Gone! Gone! For no apparent reason, they had vanished! At that moment, he recalled Abraham’s sojourn from Ur to the Promised Land. Abraham had paused to worship and to offer a sacrifice to God as a sign of His covenant. (It should be noted: The buzzards came down to steal Abraham’s sacrifice before he could seal it. Abraham had to shoo the winged predators away!)

Someday, you’re going to spot buzzards circling in your spiritual No-Fly Zone. There is going to come a time when you’re hit with a crisis, one that you didn’t see coming. And it may cause your whole world to crumble like an old cookie under a big sledgehammer. But take heart; you don’t have to be a crumb in the midst of the crumbling.


The Old Testament character Job reminds us: “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). It’s a fact of life. We didn’t inherit curly hair, brown eyes, and a propensity to arthritis from Adam. We inherited trouble. Adam’s disobedience to God started a chain reaction of suffering and sorrow that won’t be broken until the eastern sky splits and the Savior returns. The Bible says, “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

So our family tree is more like a prickly cactus than a pristine maple. But how does it play out in the landscape of life? What is it that makes our world come tumbling down like a planetary Humpty

Dumpty? There are several factors that can play a part in the world crumbling times.


We are spiritually and emotionally vulnerable when we face changes in the routine of our lives. Vocational, housing, relationship, physical, or financial changes—all may reduce our stability to zero (to put a new slant on the fog report!). In the Old Testament, Abraham faced unsettling uncertainty when God called him to leave his homeland and take his family to a new country.

He responded obediently, but I’m sure there was a king-sized knot in his stomach when he packed his luggage: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). The phrase did not know where he was going is key to what he must have felt. Everything familiar would soon be set aside, and he would leap like a skydiver into the unknown.

The focus on Abraham comes from the patriarchal emphasis in Bible times. But think about how his family must have felt. They would have to leave familiar department stores and playgrounds, forfeit soccer team membership, subscribe to a new cable television service.

Sad farewells.

Financial uncertainty.

Strange roads.

This wasn’t going to be a picnic for Abraham’s family.

Change never is a picnic, but it happens. Sudden layoffs. Diving stocks. Rising gas prices. A doctor with a somber face, holding an alarming medical report in his hands. And when change does happen, our world often crumbles.

Happiness is inward and not outward; and so it does

Not depend on what we have, but on what we are.

—Henry Van Dyke


Look again at Abraham’s life story: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9–10).

Abraham was looking forward to the city.

So, where’s the city? All he saw was desert. No skyscrapers here, just dusty tent dwellings at the end of a long travel days spent looking at the backside of a camel.

This was supposed to be the Promised Land. But for Abraham, it must have looked like it was mostly land and little promise. For the moment, milk and honey looked more like curds and whey.

Delayed promises are world-crumbling situations. We gather together the hopes and pledges of the Bible like a pile of prescriptions from an immediate-care clinic. We haul out our inheritance claims. We thumb through the Rolodex of advice from near and far. “Just a little while.” “Sunday’s coming.” “Somewhere over the rainbow …”

But we’re used to instant coffee and microwave popcorn. Delayed promises? We’ve been promised a celestial city, but we can’t see it for the storm clouds. The realization sets in and causes our hearts to

break. We’re stuck in the now, like Abraham and his family, trying to eke out an existence in an unfurnished Promised-Land apartment.


Abraham also had to look for a promise beyond the horizon of personal setbacks: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Heb. 11:11–12).

Wouldn’t it be awful to face life when you’ve already been declared “as good as dead”? Maybe you have!

The buzzards of age and infirmity had been in a holding pattern over Abraham’s life. God had made the promise: Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. But Abraham couldn’t see the stars because of the smudges on his trifocals. His family would become as numerous as the sands, but the sands of his own hourglass had settled quicker than an elephant in a lawn chair.

We’ve all been there. Personal difficulties crowd out our hopes of a tomorrow. We can’t do that because of this. “If only I could…” “I just wish I didn’t have to …” “If it weren’t for…” We dialogue with life, wishing we could erase the effects of time. Personal difficulties swarm around us:

Grudges that poison us

Jealousy that gnaws at us

Loneliness that isolates us

Inadequacies that paralyze us

Finances that bind us

Sorrows that plague us.


Abraham’s life would have been so much different if it weren’t for that day. He had been sailing along—working out the issues of a new home, bringing his family to a consensus, driving fresh-cut stakes into the promises of the new land. Then, the Scriptures say, “God tested Abraham” (Gen. 22:1).

A sudden trial arrived like a five-hundred-pound gorilla. God was applying a litmus test to Abraham. He wanted His protégé to see that faith works when we face that day. God told Abraham to take his son to a remote place and prepare an altar of sacrifice—and then sacrifice his son, his only son, back to God. Leaving his servants behind, Abraham took the materials for the altar, along with his only son, and began the longest journey of his life. The trip from Ur was a piece of cake compared to these few steps.

Even as they walked together, the questions began to fly: “Father, where’s the sacrifice?” Abraham’s heart was pounding. He was committed to obeying God’s command: to make his own son that sacrifice. Abraham replied, “God will provide.” But deep in his heart the doubts must have swirled like an oak leaf in a whirlpool.

That day—that sudden testing time in the life of the patriarch that would be unlike any other day. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Heb. 11:17). Abraham passed the test. He trusted God beyond what common sense or his own will would have led him to do. Then God instructed Abraham not to lay a hand on his son and provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice.

Perhaps you’ve had a day like that. Life is pretty uneventful, then suddenly everything changes. A sound f metal crushing metal. A telephone call. A knock on the door. An ambulance siren. We who are children of promise suddenly face a horrendous situation. Something is expected of us. Not one of us is exempt.


Our reactions to world-crumbling events vary. Sometimes we feel helpless. For the most part, we’re used to being in control of things. But when life is suddenly out of our control, a sense of vulnerability sets in. Until now, we’ve been able to fix most everything else, but we can’t fix this. It’s just out of reach, like that burned-out light bulb in the twenty-foot ceiling chandelier. We can see it, and we know that changing it would make a difference. But without some assistance, we’re powerless. Sometimes we feel abandoned. Alone in the hospital room, waiting for loved ones. Alone at the table that once was also occupied by a spouse or parent. Alone in a courtroom hallway, waiting for the lawyer. Alone. Abandoned. “Why me, Lord?” we inquire. But often, heaven is silent—not because there isn’t any concern up there, but because we make such loud groaning noises down here that we cannot hear the still, small voice of assurance.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through Experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, Vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. —Helen Keller

Sometimes we feel worthless. World-crumbling events have a way of sucking the self-esteem out of our lives. Our pride and dignity are temporarily gone. Our once-secure finances are tenuous. Our once strong

bodies are frail. Our once-happy homes are in shambles. Our once-respectful children have rebelled. We feel about as significant as an eyelash on a mosquito.

Sometimes we feel ashamed. Sometimes we have made a personal contribution to the world-crumbling situation. We’ve been players, not just bystanders. Sometimes we make wrong choices. We cross the line. The pain in our foot comes from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We stand in our self-made ruins and weep over what should have been, or what might have been, if only we had kept the law of God or if only we had let our conscience give the final answer.

One day, Jesus came across a man who was a poster child for world-crumbling events:

Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1–9)

For thirty-eight years of his life, this man had been carried, pulled, or pushed to the pool beside the sheep gate on the northern side of the Jerusalem temple. There the unnamed man, with so many unnamed others, waited to be healed.

The invalids believed that an angel of the Lord occasionally stirred the waters in the pool and the first person to step into the water would be healed.

This poor man had never made it. Though he had helpers to transport him and put him close to the edge of the pool, he had never been first in. This day was no exception. It was “miracle time,” and he was tardy.

Time after time, he was toenail close to a miracle. But still, he went to the pool!

Think of the cruelty. A heavenly messenger makes a house call every now and then but brings only enough healing power to cure just one person: the first one in.

Jesus saw and approached this man. He learned about the man’s plight, and the Lord healed him. And the fact is, when our world crumbles, Jesus never fails to see it, and He is never far away.

God believes in me,

Therefore my situation is never hopeless.

God walks with me,

Therefore I am never alone.

God is on my side,

Therefore I can never lose.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. God Has Never Failed Me, But He Sure Has Scared Me to Death a Few Times by Stan Toler. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
Pinto Beans and Fried Bologna—
Now That’s a Feast of Faith

We do not know what to do. (2 Chron. 20:12)

Growing up in the hills of West Virginia impacted my life tremendously. My dad was a coal miner, and we lived in a coal-mining community—Baileysville, an unincorporated town. Of course, most towns in West Virginia are still unincorporated. And the population of Baileysville was down to sixty as of 1994, so I guess it will never be incorporated! In fact, it’s so small that Main Street is a cul-de-sac. But it is my hometown!

Californians love to brag about being able to go to the mountains to snow ski and the ocean to sunbathe in the same day. Well, in Baileysville, we had our own definition of the good life. If you lived on the side of the mountain, you could cross the river anytime, any day, on an old-fashioned swinging bridge!

My Saturdays were spent at the Wyoming Company Store. While Mom and Dad made purchases with coal-mining dollars, I took charge of watching my brothers, Terry and Mark. That wasn’t difficult if you knew what to do. We eagerly peered at the black-and-white television sets in the furniture department. Programs such as Fury, Sky King, and My Friend Flicka seemed so real to us!

Our small white frame house was located on the side of Baileysville Mountain. We had a well nearby that provided ample water and a pot-bellied coal stove to keep us warm (as long as you remembered to put the coal in it!).

I have heard that someone can be described as a “redneck” if his bathroom requires a flashlight and shoes. Well, our house had three rooms and a path to the little house out back. But it was our home, and I loved it—no matter how pink it made my neck.

One of the saddest days of my childhood was a Saturday morning when we returned home from a visit to the company store to see our tiny home engulfed in flames. We lost everything. I cried for days.

Years later, Pastor Richard Grindstaff told us that as the house burned to the ground, Dad put his arm around him and said, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed by the name of the Lord!”

Put the Road Kill on the Table, and Call the Kids for Supper!

By the time I was eleven years old, we had moved to Columbus, Ohio, in search of a better life. My dad, only thirty-one years old, had already broken his back three times in the coal mines and was suffering from the dreaded miners’ disease, “black lung.” But we were happy and almost always had pinto beans, cornbread, and fried bologna for supper. (That’s right, only later did we call it dinner!)

Christmas Day 1961 will always be one of the most wonderful, life-changing days in my memory bank. It had been a long, hard winter with lots of snow and cold weather. Times were tough! Dad had been laid off from construction work, our food supply had swindled to nothing, and we had closed off most of the house in order to cut down our high utility bills.

This epiphany really began Christmas Eve when Mom noted that we had no food for Christmas Day and no hope of getting any. That was difficult for me to understand. We were used to mom calling out, “Pinto beans, cornbread, and fried bologna. Come and get it!” But now we didn’t even have that. There was no food in the house!

Mom suggested that it was time for us to accept a handout from the government commodities department, so—reluctantly—Dad loaded Terry, Mark, and me into our old Plymouth, and we headed downtown. When we got there, we stood in line with hundreds of others for what seemed like hours, waiting for government handouts of cheese, dried milk, flour, and dried eggs. Ugh! The wind was cold, and the snow was blowing as we stood there shivering. Finally, Dad could stand it no longer.

“We’re going home, boys. God will provide!” he said. We cried, yet we completely trusted Dad’s faith in God.

That night, we popped popcorn and opened gifts that we had ordered with Top Value trading stamps which Mom had wisely saved for that purpose. Perhaps some of you are too young to remember Top Value stamps. Back then, almost all grocery stores gave out trading stamps for purchases made. You could save the stamps and fill up Top Value Books for redemption. In my day, Top Value provided a catalog that listed the number of books needed for a gift item. So Mom saved stamps all year long, counted the bounty by November 1, and let us Toler boys pick out our Christmas presents.

Terry got a transistor radio. (He hadn’t realized that we had no money to purchase a battery!) I had ordered a miniature Brownie Kodak camera. (That wasn’t smart, since we couldn’t afford film, either!) And baby brother Mark got a small teddy bear. While none of the gifts was a surprise to us, Mom had carefully and lovingly wrapped each one to be opened Christmas Eve. We were grateful to have anything!

Everyone slept well under Grandma Brewster’s handmade quilts that night. While we were fearful of the prospect of the next day without food, we were just happy to be together as a family. (Little did we know that Dad would be in heaven by the following Christmas.)

On Christmas morning, we were all asleep in Mom and Dad’s bedroom when suddenly, we were startled by a loud knock and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” greeting from people who attended the Fifth Avenue Church. There stood Clair Parsons, Dalmus Bullock, and others with gifts, clothes, and a thirty-day supply of food. (Yes, dried pinto beans, cornmeal, and a huge roll of bologna were included!) Since that day, I have always believed that God will provide, and that God is never late when we need a miracle!

We must bring the presence of God into our families. And how do we do that? By praying.

—Mother Teresa

One of my favorite Bible stories is in 2 Chronicles 20:12. King Jehoshaphat of Israel found himself in what appeared to be a hopeless situation. He cried out to God, “Our God … we have no power.… We do not know what to do.” King Jehoshaphat had just discovered three new enemies. Unfortunately, all three were lined up against the tiny nation of Israel, and King Jehoshaphat realized that he was powerless without God’s help. That’s the way we felt in the Toler home. The good news for all of us is the same as it was for King Jehoshaphat. God can and will make up the difference.

Seek the Lord

Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord. (2 Chron. 20:3–4)

Jehoshaphat asked God a significant question: “Are you not the God who is in heaven?” (2 Chron. 20:6). In other words, he was saying, “God, if You can take care of this universe and bring order to it, then You can provide for me.”

He asked God another question: “Did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land?” (2 Chron. 20:7). He was reminding himself of God’s faithfulness in the past. I am beginning to realize that my faith today anchors to the faith that my dad passed on to me with his wisdom: “God will provide.” And provide He did for the Tolers!

After Dad’s death, God sent a wonderful Kentucky stepfather, Jack Hollingsworth, into our lives. He saw to it that each son of William Aaron Toler had plenty of pinto beans, fried bologna (by the way, he is an expert at cooking it!), cornbread, and a college education. All three boys later became Nazarene ministers.

Confess Your Need

We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. (2 Chron. 20:12)

If you want God’s help, you must confess your need! The world in which we live is a world of independence. We are taught to look out for “No. 1,” to do our own thing, to think for ourselves, and to trust in our own abilities. King Jehoshaphat reminded the children of Israel that “Me-ism” doesn’t work here! He confessed that they were inadequate against the three enemies they faced: “Power and might are in your hand” (2 Chron. 20:6).

When I need God’s provision, I look up and confess, “God, I am incapable, but You have all the resources for my miracle!”

Focus on God, Not Your Problem

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. (2 Chron. 20:12)

King Jehoshaphat gave his people a formula for deliverance: “Get your eyes off the problem! Your focus must be on God!”

Living in Oklahoma during tough times as an adult has also strengthened my faith in God. In the mid-1980s, I watched many banks fail; in fact, the FDIC closed so many banks in my hometown of Oklahoma City that I wore a T-shirt that said, “I bank with RDIC!” Agriculture diminished, and oil rigs stopped pumping. But even in the most difficult situations, a simple faith in God and a calm reassurance in the face of insurmountable obstacles resulted in victory.

I will always remember sitting at a table in the Oklahoma City Marriott hotel restaurant on Northwest Expressway and listening to my friend Melvin Hatley, founder of USA Waste Management Company, talk about the collapse of the oil industry and the failure of the old First National Bank downtown. Tears flowed freely, and yet his faith took hold as he discussed God’s history of faithfulness. His calm assurance, founded and grounded in a dynamic faith, made all the difference! Today, Melvin is a testimony of the phrase “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do!”

Trust and action always work hand in hand. For example, you know the story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. On December 17, 1903, they made history. They defied the law of gravity and flew through the air. Many forget that the concept of flying did not originate with the Wright brothers. In fact, several years before the brothers flew their motorized plane at Kitty Hawk, scientists had discovered that flying was possible. While others remained skeptical, the Wright brothers believed the formulas and designed their own plane. When they achieved “first flight,” they demonstrated the importance of trusting the facts and taking action in order to experience results.

The same is true for Christians. We can know a lot about God and the Bible, but until we relax in faith and believe in the promises of God, we will be disappointed.

I love the story that my former professor Dr. Amos Henry used to tell about D. L. Moody. Apparently, Moody was on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean one night when it caught on fire, and all on board formed a bucket brigade to pass ocean water to the scene of the fire. One man in the line turned and said, “Mr. Moody, don’t you think we should retire from the line and go down and pray?”

“You can go pray if you want to,” Moody replied, “but I’m going to pray while I pass the buckets.” What great insight! God wants to see if you mean business, so pray while you work.

Just think, if Jesus had thought prayer was the only thing He needed to do and had remained on His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of getting up and following God’s plan for His life, there never would have been a Calvary.

Relax in Faith

One of the great things about faith is that it helps you persevere. There’s a story about two men who were climbing a particularly difficult mountain when one of them suddenly fell down a crevasse five hundred feet deep.

“Are you all right, Bert?” called the man at the top of the crevasse.

“I’m still alive, thank goodness, Fred,” came the reply.

“Here, grab this rope,” said Fred, throwing a rope down to Bert.

“I can’t grab it,” shouted Bert. “My arms are broken.”

“Well, fit it around your legs.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that either,” said Bert. “My legs are broken.”

“Put the rope in your mouth,” shouted Fred.

So Bert put the rope in his mouth and Fred began to haul him to safety: four hundred ninety feet … four hundred feet … three hundred feet … two hundred feet … one hundred feet … fifty feet … and then Fred called out, “Hey, Bert, how are you doing?”

Bert replied, “I’m fine … Uh oh!”

Don’t let go of the rope, my friend! As Dr. Steve Brown says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. (2 Chron. 20:17)

It’s interesting that this particular verse is the middle verse of the entire Old Testament. It is like a pregnant pause for the believer. This concept, “stand firm,” is like going into the batter’s box during a World Series baseball game with a great pitcher on the mound, digging in, and saying, “I don’t care how fast you throw that ball, I’m anchored here, and you can’t move me!” King Jehoshaphat said, “Stand your ground and remain calm—God is going to help us.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Harmon Schmelzenbach, a missionary to Africa, often holds audiences spellbound with his story about a huge python that uncoiled itself from the rafters and then wrapped itself around his body while he was kneeling to pray.

The python is known for its ability to kill its victim by squeezing it to death. Schmelzenbach states that Isaiah 30:15 instantly flooded his mind: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” With the huge snake wrapped around his body, he testified that he felt the calm assurance that God was in control. Harmon remained perfectly still and prayed like never before!

If he had moved a muscle, no doubt the giant python would have constricted and killed him. But Schmelzenbach reports that the snake slowly uncoiled itself and went back to the rafters. I don’t know if Schmelzenbach now prays with one eye open or not, but one thing’s for certain: No one can convince him that there isn’t power in the promises of God.

We can depend on God. Did you know that we have more than seven thousand promises in Scripture to stand on? Not only that, but you can stand on the character of God! God has never lost a battle. Why not resign as general manager of the universe, eat a bowl of beans and cornbread, and relax in faith?

Give God Thanks Before Your Miracle

King Jehoshaphat began to appoint those who could sing. “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (2 Chron. 20:22). Do you get the picture? Three armies of bloodthirsty warriors with overwhelming strength and weaponry lined up against tiny Israel, and the king called the choir to sing! Talk about faith. That day they claimed victory!

God is faithful now in the twentieth century, just as He was in the days of ancient Israel. During the Second World War, the Allies experienced a very difficult time. The British had just suffered a terrible defeat at Dunkirk, losing almost all of their military supplies during the evacuation of their soldiers. France had been conquered, and the United Sates had not yet entered the war. The island nation of England stood alone against the Axis powers.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew he had to bolster the courage and the determination of his people. He needed to make a speech—an inspiring speech—that would rally the citizens. On Sunday evening, June 2, 1940, Churchill was in his Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. His secretary, Mary Shearburn, was poised at the typewriter. Dictating, Churchill paced from the fireplace to the velvet-draped windows and back again. Slowly his speech emerged onto the typed page. Often he would rip the sheet from the machine only to begin anew. It was late, and the room was cold in the night air. The prime minister’s voice had now grown hoarse and faint. His head bowed, and he sobbed, for he did not know what to say. Silence. A minute passed, maybe two. It seemed like an eternity. Abruptly his head rose and his voice trumpeted; he spoke as a man with authority. The thought descended upon him, as from an angel above: “We shall never surrender!”

Perhaps those words did come from an angel. Who knows? All we know is that God is faithful. Regardless of how scary or how seemingly hopeless our mission may be, He does not forsake us. All we have to do is trust—placing our fears and our failures in His hands. He will not let us down.

Back in 1850, during the California Gold Rush, a young man from Bavaria came to San Francisco, bringing with him some rolls of canvas. He was twenty years old at the time, and he planned to sell the canvas to the gold miners to use for tents. Then the profits from his sales would finance his own digging for gold. However, as he headed toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains, he met one of the gold miners. When he told the miner his plans, the miner said, “It won’t work. It’s a waste of your time. Nobody will buy your canvas for tents. That’s not what we need.”

The young man prayed within. Then he got his answer.

The gold miner went on: “You should have brought pants. That’s what we need—durable pants! Pants don’t wear worth a hoot up there in the diggings. Can’t get a pair strong enough.” Right then, the young man from Bavaria decided to turn the rolls of canvas into pants—blue pants—that would survive the rigors of the gold-mining camps. He had a harness maker reinforce the pockets with copper studs, and the pants sold like hotcakes!

By the way, the name of the young man from Bavaria was Levi Strauss. And he called the new pants “Levi’s”! So far, about 900 million pairs of Levi’s have been sold throughout the world, and they are one of the few items of apparel whose style has remained basically unchanged for more than 130 years.

It is amazing that a style of pants could endure for over a century. How much more incredible is the unwavering faithfulness of God. I’ll never forget the simple hope in His faithfulness that I learned at home. My own father modeled that faith in God before us, trudging home in the snow from the coal mines, face darkened with coal dust, lunch bucket jangling, whistling the old tune “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely

And long for heaven and home?

When Jesus is my portion?

My constant friend is He.

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me!

—Civilla D. Martin

Yes, the God who sits on a throne in heaven is interested in you! If He tends to the lilies of the fields and attends the funeral of a baby sparrow (and He does), He surely will provide for you!

Friday, August 21, 2009

My sports commentary for the night

Some things are dumb beyond words. Most of them I have seen or heard about on TV. I really need to turn of the TV, but I have a thing about the noise. Tonight's topic will be sportscasts.

My dad was watching ESPN earlier, and they were showing Ochocinco. I look from at it from the side of the TV and try to say something else until Dad explains the guy changed is name to that because his number is 85. Legally changes his name to match his number. Now he is eight five. Not even 85 in actual Spanish. The announcers were saying his name over and over again and the stupidity of changing your name was too much for me. I had to leave the room. Then a few hours later, I turn on my computer, and home my page is a story about 85. I refuse to type or say his stupid name again.

I'm not sure why that got to me like it did, I just found it stupid.

Speaking of stupidity and sportscasters, I think one of the reasons I don't watch the Rangers like I used to is the stupidity of Josh Lewin and his effect on Tom Grieve. Tom used to be OK, but his bad partners have rubbed off. So help me, if Pudge had not come back to the team this week, I think they would have been resorting to figuring out Omar Vizquel's age in seconds. They love to obsess on his age - and now Pudge's as well. They couldn't actually report the game for how much they were saying Pudge's name every sentence.

Pudge was 19 when he came to the Rangers... Pudge had 2 hits his last game for the Rangers in September 2002... Pudge is glad to be back to finish out his career... Rusty Greer emailed the booth and he loves Pudge...

I haven't talked to five year-old Peyton since Pudge's addition. Peyton is a die hard Jarred Saltalamacchia fan. Partly because she played catcher last summer in t-ball and she identified. Anyway, she LOVES her SALTY. Last Friday night, she was watching the game with Dad, Paige and Madison, and comes to the kitchen where Mom and I were. She was pouting for more than one reason, but says, "Salty's not playing cuz Teagarden's batting."

And she said Teagarden with some disdain. Ironically, I have said in the past, I think I'd have to change my name if I was a baseball player and my name was Teagarden. However, I do not advocate him changing his name to Dos.

Now, with the excitement of Pudge back, I don't know if the poor girl will be able to handle it.

OK, now stay with me as I go through this discussion right here, because there is a punchline to this joke, as stupid as it may be. Officially, Saltalamacchia may have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, where a ribcage bone and muscle presses on a nerve. Evidently, every Texas Ranger with a sore arm is afflicted with this. It's not always caused by an extra rib in your neck, but sometimes it is and it requires surgery to remove this said extra rib.

This is of interest to me because I had never heard of such until 10 years ago when I was in a car wreck and x-rays showed that I had this extra rib in my neck. All my knowledge since has come from a medical symptoms book my mom had and a couple of online sites. Wikipedia notes that several baseball players have had this problem with TOS, and ironically 5 out of 6 played for the Texas Rangers. (I think that was pointed out as, "I think their team doctor is nuts" without saying it.) Yet, only 1 out of 500 people have an extra rib.

The way I have it figured, I missed my real calling in life - being a player for the Texas Rangers.

Yes, I do realize that I just had a jump the shark moment and my witty, insightful and amusing blog has died. I don't know what is wrong with me. Actually, I kind of do, and it has nothing to do with my funny bone or not-so-funny-sometimes-painful-extra-rib. I need to get out more.

Good news though, I am heading to Waxahachie to meet my friend Leslie tomorrow. I'll probably end up shopping on a weekend I normally hate shopping on - Texas Tax Free Weekend. As money conscious as I may be, I don't get the obsession of saving 8%. It's not worth facing all the crowds for 8%.

I plan on having a caramel frappachino tomorrow - maybe that will get my creative juices flowing. Or at least I hope so!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ann Kroeker's Not So Fast

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:

Not So Fast

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Ann Kroeker is an acclaimed writer and speaker committed to encouraging and inspiring women as they face the demands of daily living. She is the author of The Contemplative Mom and has contributed to the award-winning Experiencing the Passion of Jesus.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434768880
ISBN-13: 978-1434768889


1: What Are We Missing Out On?

Just before eight o’clock on a Friday morning in January 2007, renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell pulled his instrument from its case and launched into Bach’s “Chaconne.” For this special performance, he wasn’t onstage at The Kennedy Center or Carnegie Hall. This particular morning, at the request of the Washington Post, he stood against a bare wall in the indoor arcade of a DC Metro stop, dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap.

Wearing such ordinary attire in such a heavily trafficked, unremarkable public spot, playing for average Joes and Janes on their way to work, he’d be easy to mistake for just another nondescript street musician trying to make a buck.

He’d be easy to ignore, that is, if you didn’t pick up on the dazzling sounds of this classical music superstar. Joshua Bell—one of the finest violinists of our time performing some of the greatest music ever written, who only three days earlier performed in Boston’s Symphony Hall where “pretty good” seats went for $100—was playing a bustling Metro stop for free. Incognito. The Post arranged this as an “experiment in context, perception and priorities… in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”1

Ah, would beauty touch people’s souls? Would they respond to the music? Would they even notice he was there? Would large crowds gather to take in the world-class performance placed directly in their paths?

During the forty-three minutes he played, 1,097 people passed by.

Only seven stopped to hang around and listen.

Most scurried past, minds full of pressing appointments and projects due. Maybe they noticed, maybe they didn’t. Perhaps they noticed but didn’t want to give any money, so they lowered their heads and continued without making eye contact.

Reporters gathered a few stories. They interviewed those seven who stopped as well as many who didn’t.

One who didn’t stop stood out to me because she was a mom. I could easily put myself in her shoes. Bell was a couple of minutes into “Ave Maria” when this mom, Sheron Parker, stepped off the escalator with her preschooler in tow and rushed through the arcade. She walked briskly, pulling along her child by the hand. She faced a time crunch—she needed to get her son, Evan, to his teacher, and then rush back to work for a training class.

As they passed through, Evan was instantly drawn to the music. He kept twisting and turning around to get a look at Joshua Bell, but mom was in a hurry. With no time to stop, she did what any of us might do—she positioned herself between Evan and Bell, blocking Evan’s view. As she rushed him out the door, three-year old Evan was still leaning around to snatch one last peek at the violinist.

A reporter spoke with Parker afterward, asking if she remembered anything unusual. She recalled, “There was a musician, and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.” When told what she walked out on, she laughed. “Evan is very smart!”

But Parker wasn’t the only parent who hustled her child along. The paper studied the video and concluded:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch

Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding.

Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three

groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single

time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent

scooted the kid away.2

Every single child that passed the music tried to stop. Every child yearned to listen. To see the bow dance across the strings. The children instinctively wanted to bask in the beauty and delight of the near-miraculous sounds that poured out of that Stradivarius violin and into their otherwise hustled-and-bustled everyday lives.

And every single parent scooted the child along.

No time to stop and enjoy the beauty, kids; we have appointments to keep and money to make. We’re running late. Let’s go. My boss will be waiting. Move along.

It could have been me. At one point, early in parenting, I might have passed right by on my way to something I thought was more important. As I wise up and embrace a slower life, I like to think

I’d choose to stop, that I would have dropped everything and had my children sitting in a semicircle around the musician. Absorbed. Transfixed.

Those parents have better excuses than I would have had. They’re working hard, rushing to make it to the office on time. Who can linger at a Metro stop listening to a street violinist and risk showing up late to an intense DC government workplace? They have to keep going, keep moving, watch the clock, and stay on schedule. There’s no time for spontaneity, and no time to alter the plan to accommodate beauty and linger with it.

Taking in art, music, or stories takes time. It takes attention. Appreciating beauty requires a degree of stillness.

I thought of a trip we took to Paris on our way to visit family. I wanted our girls to see the Louvre, but we had very little time. So we embarked on a compressed, rushed, American-style “highlights” tour: Hurry, kids!

Run to see Winged Victory, snap a picture.

Rush to Venus de Milo—snap-snap-snap.

Quick, get in the long line to see Mona!

Enter the crowded, hot room.

Philippe lifted up each child above the crowd to peek at the famous lady locked behind bulletproof glass.

“Can you see it?” he asked.


“Take a good look.”

“I see it.”

“Okay.” Next kid, same questions, same responses.

What Are We Missing Out On?

“You saw the painting?” we asked one more time before exiting.

“For sure?”

“Yes, Papa! I saw it!”

And we left.

“That’s it?” they asked after were out of the room.

“What do you mean, ‘That’s it?’” I replied. “That’s It. That’s the Mona Lisa!”

“But it was so small,” one of the girls remarked.

“I didn’t see it,” said another.

“The room was roasting hot.”

“I need a drink of water.”

“Why were people taking all those pictures with a flash when the sign said not to?”

Yep. That was it. Those are their rushed and hurried memories. They didn’t really see anything. Basically, they were in the same room as the Mona Lisa. That’s all they can really say about it, because we had no time to linger with one of the most enigmatic works of art in the entire world. We had to move along and make room for the next herd of tourists.

While we rushed past some statues carved by Michelangelo, I thought back to the long hallway that led to the Mona Lisa. How many other da Vincis did we pass on our way? There were two side by side that we could have stopped and studied, as there was no crowd right there. I did pause in front of them briefly. “Hey!” I announced to my family, “These are da Vincis, too!”

We could have stayed there as long as we wished—no crowds—but we were in a hurry, so we scurried along down the great, long hall.

Americans in the Louvre. Quelle horreur!

Yet, what beauty we brush past every single day—and scoot our children past, as well! They learn, eventually, to ignore the impulse to respond, to revel. They learn to be efficient tourists; diligent students

hustled from one class period to another; and eventually busy and reliable employees answering e-mails and juggling multiple projects and reports. Over time, we schedule spontaneity right out of them. Without meaning to, we teach them that beauty isn’t worth our time or attention.

Each child is born with eyes to see so clearly the beauty all around and hear rhythm in our speech; in their youth, children’s ears aren’t yet deadened to the music all around. They hear the mockingbird serenading them from a telephone pole. They stop to stare at frost patterns on window panes. If we would stop tugging them away, they would admire the Mona Lisa and Joshua Bell. Their hearts are still open; their minds alert. They would stop. They would linger.

They just need us to slow down.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem that included these lines:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

I used to think: Oh, that is so true.

Not anymore.

I’ve concluded that few adults even see the blackberries, let alone the common bush, and certainly not the fire of God. I wonder if the only ones left who have a chance of seeing—the only ones who will even think to take off their shoes—are the children. We grown-ups are too busy running, racing, rushing to even see the small faces lit with love and wonder, looking up at us in the busy Metro, asking to stay and listen to the pretty music.

I’m certain Joshua Bell won’t be at the corner bus stop of our suburban neighborhood serenading us incognito as we drop off our kids and head to work. But what did I pass by this week? How much did I miss?

I’ll never know. I can’t know, because it’s already gone. But, like mercies new every morning, tomorrow holds more beauty. Will I see it?

Jesus talked about those who see, but don’t see: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13).

He meant it spiritually, of course. He quoted from Isaiah, saying:

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

Is this, on some level, a description of the people in the Metro? Of me? Does this capture most of our stressed-out, high-speed culture? Are our hearts calloused by the relentless pace and pressure of our

schedules? Are we missing the beauty of Christ?

Maybe we can’t see … or, maybe we don’t want to see.

We hardly hear with our ears. We’ve closed our eyes.

We miss Joshua Bell when he’s only four feet away from us playing Bach.

Worst of all, we miss Yeshua, as well, even though He is right with us, inviting us to know Him.

Open our minds, Lord, to comprehend Your truth.

Open our hearts, Lord, to believe.

And slow us down, to take it all in.

But blessed are your eyes because they see,

and your ears because they hear

(Matthew 13:16).

I propose that we practice pausing at the end of each chapter—to slow, to pray, to begin to see—starting right now. Take a deep breath (which is an act of slowing), and peruse the Slow Notes that follow. You’re welcome to abruptly slam on the brakes, but it’s probably more realistic to ease into a slower pace as you learn to notice—and enjoy—some of the little things lost in the blur of a frenzied life.

Slow Notes

Ask the Lord to open your family’s eyes and ears to see and hear something from Him today. This is a great time to begin praying specifically about how the Lord wants your family to slow down. Ask Him to keep your eyes open to see Him more clearly in this crazy, sped-up world we’re trying to evaluate. And then be on the lookout for what He reveals.

Consider trying out one or more of the slow-down ideas below that stand out to you.

• Take a trip to an art museum. Stare at something beautiful. Stare for a long, long time.

• Go outside with your kids and look at things with a magnifying glass: a violet, clover, an ant, some bark.

• Sketch something. Paint something. Sit with the kids to create art that takes your full attention: Try to copy a great work of art. Blob color onto thick paper like Van Gogh. Draw and shade some people or birds like Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks.

• Borrow a telescope to look at some stars.

• Take close-up photos with your camera and try unusual angles to see everyday details a little differently.

• Write a poem based on something detailed that you observed closely.

• Borrow a Joshua Bell CD from the library. Listen to what all those people at the Metro stop passed by.

• Tell your children the story of the Metro concert, and then ask them to listen to the CD as well. What do they think? Write it down.

Live from the Slow Zone: Ann Voskamp

We hear them far off in the woods, just as the sun sinks further down, and I stop, like you do when the world slips up behind and surprises you, and my son can’t believe it either, so we stand there and listen long and neither one of us can stop smiling.

The frogs have returned.

Then, after a bit, he and the dog go crashing off through the quiet of dusk coming down, worn carpet of leaves rustling as they bound through, both boy and Lab questing for game and excitement, but his little sister and I, we just stand there, having already found it. For hadn’t I mentioned that the frogs had returned?

On pond’s rim, she, her small fingers entwined through mine, stands wordlessly. A symphony of sound, trilling low and deep, fills the spaces between the trees, lifts us too. The light falls warm on our winter-faces, and this tattered snow still hugs water’s edge. But that sound. From where? It is like it’s the water itself, a looking glass of trunks and limbs, that croons.

At first, when I am still looking with everyday eyes, I don’t notice them. It takes time for eyes to adjust to stillness, to slow and really see. And then, they are, on the far side, these glinting eyes flickering up through waters cold and murky. The peepers are back and we see them.

I want front row seats. Can we pick our way across the swamp and closer? She squeezes my hand tight and across the bog we splash.

In a flash, the pond snaps shut. All is soundless. Just glassy reflection of branches pointing to that curve of muted moon come early.

She and I swish swash further out, as far as we can go. Then wait.

On this isle of tangled grass, the water slowly rises up to boot ankles. A red-tailed hawk swoops and soars, his wings motionless on the currents. Moon rides higher, tailing sun dipping. We say nothing, this Little One and I, but watch swamp’s mirror, waiting stock-still for singers emerging. Bungler Lab charges up, smashing reflection of anticipating faces.

“Go, Boaz!” she whispers in a loud lisp. “We waiting for the frogs to thing!” From within the woods somewhere, boy whistles and dog ricochets off.

Again, we wait.

Then one by one, they pop to the light. We catch our breath and dare not move. Then tentatively it comes, this chorus, then crescendo, throaty yet gilded, and she squeezes my hand and we smile, spellbound.

Long we soak in these songs on golden pond.

And then, when our toes are cold and the shadows stretch to fading dark, it’s time to go.

“We leaving the frogs, now?” she whispers up to me.

True, I too could stay here forever, but yes, time to go home. Things to do.

We splash through the water, feet seeking islands of matted grass. The sudden hush turns our heads. She’s soundless, the swamp, blinked silent by our sloshing.

I scoop her up and tickle her ear with what I’m endlessly learning and relearning:

“Sometimes we only hear life sing when we still.”3