Preview: The Protector

Thursday, June 30, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Protector
Avon Inspire; Original edition (June 28, 2011)
by
Shelley Shepard Gray




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Shelley Shepard Gray is the beloved author of the Sisters of the Heart series, including Hidden, Wanted, and Forgiven. Before writing, she was a teacher in both Texas and Colorado. She now writes full time and lives in southern Ohio with her husband and two children. When not writing, Shelley volunteers at church, reads, and enjoys walking her miniature dachshund on her town's scenic bike trail.



Check out Shelley's Facebook Fan page



ABOUT THE BOOK



Everyone needs a safe place to call home



When her mother passes away, Ella's forced to auction off her family's farm. Her father died years ago, and she could never manage the fifty acres on her own. But after she moves to town, she can't deny the pain she feels watching the new owner, Loyal Weaver, repairing her family's old farmhouse—everything Ella had once dreamed of doing.



What Ella doesn't know is that Loyal secretly hopes she will occupy this house again...as his wife. He begins inviting her over, to ask her opinion on changes he wants to make. As their friendship blooms, Ella starts to wonder about Loyal's intentions, especially when her best friend, Dorothy, hints that Loyal is not who he seems. There's no way the golden boy of their close-knit Amish community could be interested in Ella, long the wallflower, hidden away caring for her ailing parents.



Should she trust the man she's always yearned for, or the friend who's always been by her side? When one of them threatens to disrupt the independence she's finally achieved, Ella is faced with a choice. She can protect her heart and keep things the way they've always been. Or she can come out of her shell, risk everything for the love she's always wanted, and finally have a place to call home.



If you would like to read an excerpt from The Protector, go HERE.

Martha Reviewed

Tuesday, June 28, 2011




Book Description:

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented characters of the New Testament is Martha. Often painted in the colors of reproach, Martha seems to be the poster child for how not to be a follower of Jesus. From the mind of Diana Wallis Taylor comes this touching, well-researched portrayal of Martha of Bethany, sister of Mary and Lazarus. Through Taylor's lush descriptions and inspired combination of imagined and recorded dialogue, Martha's world—her trials, triumphs, and loves—vibrantly comes to life. Follow Martha as she is jilted by her betrothed, falls in love with a Roman soldier, grieves the death of her father, cares for her siblings, and serves her Lord with dignity and grace. Readers will never read the biblical story of Martha the same way again.

My Thoughts: Martha is just a young girl when her mother dies, she then becomes the womanly head of the household, caring for her father, brother Lazarus, and younger sister Mary. She believes she will never marry, once the one young man she wanted to marry chooses not to accept her father's offering. With her father's health declining, Martha feels all she will do is care for him and his house the rest of her days. Diana, does a beautiful job of pulling you right into Bethany, you feel like your walking the streets, you can hear the animals, and smell all the smells. I highly recommend this book! You won't be able to read about Martha, Lazarus, and Mary the same way ever again!

Bridge To A Distant Star

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bridge to a Distant Star
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2011)
by
Carolyn Williford




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Carolyn Williford has authored seven books, including Jordan's Bend, Devotions for Families That Can't Sit Still, and Faith Tango, as well as numerous articles. She and her husband, Craig, live in Deerfield, Illinois, where he serves as president of Trinity International University. They have two children and four grandchildren.



ABOUT THE BOOK



It All Comes Tumbling Down



As a storm rages in the night, unwary drivers venture onto Tampa Bay’s most renowned bridge. No one sees the danger ahead. No one notices the jagged gap hidden by the darkness and rain. Yet when the bridge collapses vehicles careen into the churning waters of the bay below.



In that one catastrophic moment, three powerful stories converge: a family ravaged by their child’s heartbreaking news, a marriage threatened by its own facade, and a college student burdened by self doubt. As each story unfolds, the characters move steadily closer to that fateful moment on the bridge. And while each character searches for grace, the storms in their lives loom as large as the storm that awaits them above the bay.



When these characters intersect in Carolyn Williford’s gripping and moving volume of three novellas, they also collide with the transforming truth of Christ: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.



If you would like to read the first chapter of Bridge to a Distant Star, go HERE.

I am currently reading this book and enjoying it! I will post my review when I finish it.

Our Beautiful Day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011




Hello all my friends & followers . . . I got married three weeks ago and it was the absolutely best day of my life! While I have been married before this time I chose wisely - 1. before I got into a serious relationship after my divorce I allowed God to be the lover of my heart; 2. I created a list of what I did, and did not want in a mate because after being married before I knew what I did and did not want in a mate. 3. While I visited online sites, accepted dates from guys I knew, I waited for God to let me know when it was right, and I started it out as purely FRIENDSHIP! Let me repeat that . . . each relationship I was in, it was purely FRIENDSHIP FIRST!!! I knew from my previous marriage, plus all that I have learned in the three years of being divorced that for any marital relationship to last it has to start out as friends first. Mark and I talked for a full entire month on the phone, or internet before we even began dating. Our entire relationship is solidly founded on friendship and God and it has been an absolutely wonderful adventure that has just started. Here are some of the pictures from our wedding.


Our Table


Our table for the sand ceremony.



We got married at my folk's home, I'm peeking out of the master bedroom.


Us creating the unity sand


Us with my folks


Us with all the folks.

This was read as apart of our wedding and it really brings 1 Corinthians 13 right into focus.

Love looks to be patient with each other. Love looks for ways to show kindness to each other daily. Love looks to be happy when your spouse gets blessed with something you didn't get. Love looks through the binoculars of humility passed the microscope of pride. Love rejects the temptation to be rude to each other. Love seeks to give to the other and not to get. Love chooses not to be offended at each other, but seeks to give grace and forgiveness to each other instead. Love crashes the hard drive of wrongs done to each other. Love places a healthy boundary against evil thoughts, attitudes, actions and behaviors. Love celebrates & dances with the truth being proclaimed. Love always finds way to protect and respect each other. Love always catches us when we fall backwards. Love is anchored in hope for God to be at work in every trial life brings. Love always perseveres the sweetness of each others value and life. When you love each other in this way your marriage will never fail. Inspired from 1 Corinthians 13.

The Reluctant Queen Reviewed





Book Description:

An inspired re-imagining of the tale of Esther, a young Jewish woman thrust from a life of obscurity into a life of power, wealth, intrigue . . . and tender love.

See the story of Esther in an entirely new way-with all the political intrigue and tension you remember, but told as a passionate and tender love story between a young man and woman. Misunderstood by many, King Xerxes was a powerful but lonely man. Esther's beauty caught the eye of the young king, but it was her spirit that captured his heart.

Imagine anew the story of Esther, one of our faith's great heroines, destined to play a key role in the history of Christianity.



Q & A with Author Joan Wolf

A Reluctant Queen, Thomas Nelson, June 2011

http://litfusegroup.com/blogtours/text/13334561

What draws you to historical/biblical fiction?

I have always adored history, a love I inherited from my father. He used to discuss people from history as if they were people in the current newspapers. I think almost 90% of my books must have an historical setting.

You’ve had a successful career writing for the ABA, why start writing for the CBA now?

A few years ago I had an extraordinary experience where God touched my life. This encounter stirred my interest in writing about other people who had experienced the presence of God in their lives and the CBA seemed to be the best place for me to do that.

What is it about the historical account of Esther that led you to write a romance story about her?

When I was a girl Esther fascinated me. It seemed wonderful that God had chosen a woman to be the person who would save His people. And, since I am a romantic soul, I also thought that there must have been a great love between her and the king for him to have done as she asked.

Why did you move away from the traditional interpretation of King Ahasuerus’ conduct?

I always thought that Ahasuerus must have loved Esther deeply because he listened to her and revoked the edict that Haman had sent out. A king who not only allows his wife to break into his religious feast without punishment, but also comes to have dinner with her the following day, must care for her very much indeed. And such a man must be a much nicer person than the king traditionally portrayed by Xerses/ Ahasuerus.

You love animals. Do you ever incorporate them into your books?

Do I not ever incorporate animals into my books? I am famous for my horses, but dogs play their part as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put Esther on a horse, but I did make Ahasuerus a fanatical horseman.

What is your favorite historical era to write about?

I love to go way back in time, to periods where the records are mostly archeological. I actually did three books set in the Upper Paleolithic, the period of the last ice age. My next book is about Rahab, and I’m having such fun reading about pottery and stone remains from the late Bronze Age.

My Thoughts: There have been many different takes on the story of Esther, and I was literally blown away by Joan Wolf's retelling of this Biblical story. It will capture your heart and take you away. I felt like I was in the palace right there with Esther as she was going through each step. I give this book 5 lighthouses and shine a light on it for pointing a path to God! I highly recommend it and say go grab yourself a copy and get to reading you won't be sorry!!!!

UP AND COMING!!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011




Sarai, the last child of her aged father, is beautiful, spoiled, and used to getting her own way. Even as a young girl, she is aware of the way men look at her, including her half brother Abram.

When Abram finally requests Sarai's hand, she asks one thing--that he promise never to take another wife as long as she lives. Even her father thinks the demand is restrictive and agrees to the union only if Sarai makes a promise in return--to give Abram a son and heir. Certain she can easily do that, Sarai agrees. But as the years stretch on and Sarai's womb remains empty, she becomes desperate to fulfill her end of the bargain--lest Abram decide that he will not fulfill his.


To what lengths will Sarai go in her quest to bear a son? And how long will Abram's patience last?

Jill Eileen Smith thrilled readers with The Wives of King David series. Now she brings to life the strong and celebrated wives of the patriarchs, beginning with the beautiful and inscrutable Sarai.


Now is this not the most GORGEOUS cover ever!!!!!!! I cannot wait for this book to come out! I loved Jill's The Wives of King David and I just know this next series The Wives of the Patriarchs will be just as exciting!!!!

Here is my review of Michal

Here is my review of Abigail

Here is my review of Bathsheba

If you have not read any of these books I challenge you to get to the store and get them! You will have some great summer reading!!!!


Double Take Reviewed

Wednesday, June 22, 2011



Book Description: It's spring break of her senior year and Madison Van Buren is fed up. Stressed over Ivy League pressure, her parents' marital problems, and her boyfriend's neglect, Madison gets in her car and drives west. Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Anna Bronner wants to escape the so-called simple life--which for her consists of caring for younger siblings, sewing, cooking, and gardening--and she's well aware that her future will simply be more of the same with a man she doesn't love. Suddenly, worlds collide when Madison and Anna meet in a small town, realize they look uncannily similar, and decide the grass is definitely greener on the other side.

My Take: This isn't your ol' twin sister switch to play a joke. These are two girls that don't know each other and just happen to look enough a like to be able to switch places. Madison is overwhelmed by the pressures from her mother, father, and her boyfriend; and it's just spring break! Anna has all of the pressures of the Amish lifestyle, however, her Aunt is due to have a baby and she doesn't want to go and deal with her little ones. So these girls decide to trade places and the FUN that takes place is quite the story! This is a definite must read and would be a great beach read!

She Makes it Look Easy - Reviewed

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
She Makes It Look Easy
David C. Cook (June 1, 2011)
by
Marybeth Whalen




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries writing team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions. Her first novel,The Mailbox was released in June 2010. Her next novel, She Makes It Look Easy, will be released in June 2011. Additionally, she serves as director of She Reads, Proverbs 31 Ministries' fiction division.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Ariel Baxter has just moved into the neighborhood of her dreams. The chaos of domestic life and the loneliness of motherhood, however, moved with her. Then she meets her neighbor, Justine Miller. Justine ushers Ariel into a world of clutter-free houses, fresh-baked bread, homemade crafts, neighborhood play dates, and organization techniques designed to make marriage better and parenting manageable.



Soon Ariel realizes there is hope for peace, friendship, and clean kitchen counters. But when rumors start to circulate about Justine’s real home life, Ariel must choose whether to believe the best about the friend she admires or consider the possibility that “perfection” isn’t always what it seems to be.



If you would like to read an excerpt of She Makes It Look Easy, go HERE.

My Thoughts: This was a very disappointing book! At the beginning I thought Justine was a little off, it was like she wanted Ariel to be her little protege` with all the organizational, being a better Mom skills, and recipes. It turned out that Ariel and her husband David were actually the better grounded couple and Justine had the nerve to use that against her when her husband lost his job, because they were swimming in debt. What annoyed me the most about this book is that adultery was not put in it's proper place. It was not called a sin, nor was it looked upon at as a bad thing. This is a Christian book, written by a Christian author and in the course of the story she did not have one person stick up for the woman in the neighborhood that Justine had been maliciously gossiping about, whose husband had cheated on her. There was no show of Christ's love or grace towards any of the ladies outside of Justine's circle. The book ended abruptly with no real show of a conclusion. Having been Betsy, Tom's wife the one cheated on, I would've liked to have seen some kind of remorse or at least Justine being honest with herself at the end. None of that happened. It was all swept under the rug, just like it is done in the day to day world. I can't in all good conscious recommend this book because it doesn't line up with anything that I believe or what God says about adultery. I have reviewed and endorsed this beautiful book by my friend Michelle Sutton titled Never Without Hope, and it also deals with adultery. If you want to see how a Christian woman who is caught in the throws of adultery is handled I suggest you read this book. I know it will touch your heart!

Preview: Winning Him Without Words

Monday, June 20, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Winning Him Without Words
Regal (February 15, 2011)
by
Lynn Donovan & Dineen Miller




ABOUT THE AUTHORS:



Lynn Donovan

Verse: John 15:5 Apart from Me you can do nothing.

Tagline: Challenging Women to Live in Truth



A passionate writer and speaker, Lynn is a woman who presents a compelling message to encourage women to thrive in their marriage. She speaks at events nationwide where she challenges the myths women believe about love, pointing them to life-changing freedom through a relationship with Jesus. She reveals the zany yet meaningful stories of marriage challenges, truths, and triumphs in her life and invites women to share her view from her front row seat to an amazing journey; life lived for Christ.



Married since 1992 to her best friend and biggest enthusiast, Mike, she lives in Temecula, California. They have a son and a daughter and a wacky dog named Peanut. She loves to laugh, enjoys a strong cup of coffee and Fantasy Football and not necessarily in that order.



She lives each day in awe of the grace of God in her ordinary life.





Dineen Miller

Verse: Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Tagline: Igniting the Soul



Dineen readily admits that one of the greatest lessons she’s learning about life is that there’s purpose in our trials. And it’s all about trusting God and putting our hope in Him. Her favorite stories will always be of the miracles God has wrought in the lives of her family.



Through this lens she also believes her years as a youth counselor, a Stephen Minister, a women’s ministry leader, and a small group leader have prepared her for God’s calling on her life—to write for and speak to those in mismatched marriages like hers.



In addition to writing for Spiritually Unequal Marriage, Dineen writes for Laced with Grace and various other fiction online magazines and newsletters. She’s also won several prestigious awards for her fiction, and her devotional writing has been featured in Our Journey and Christian Women Online Magazine.



Married for 23 years to a guy who keeps her young, she lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two precious daughters, and their dog Shasta, who no doubt is an angel in disguise.



ABOUT THE BOOK



Week after week, they sit in church . . . alone. They are the spiritually mismatched, those who are committed to a spouse who does not share their faith. Feeling abandoned by their spouse and forgotten by their church, they live out their faith in survival mode, guarding the spiritual flame yet never feeling free to share it. But God wants them to thrive—not just survive.



Winning Him Without Words presents 10 Christ centered keys to thriving in a spiritual mismatch. Readers are encouraged to commit to Christian community, to release their spouse to God’s capable hands, to find peace in their relationships with Christ and with their spouse, to continue their pursuit of a growing faith and to love their spouse with fresh enthusiasm. God wants every marriage to exude peace and love, and Winning Him Without Words empowers readers to create that environment in their homes and thrive as God works.



Watch their book video:







If you would like to read a sample chapter of Winning Him Without Words, go HERE.

False Witness Reviewed

Sunday, June 19, 2011



Book Description: Clark Shealy is a bail bondsman with the ultimate bounty on the line: his wife’s life. He has forty-eight hours to find an Indian professor in possession of the Abacus Algorithm—an equation so powerful it could crack all Internet encryption.
Four years later, law student Jamie Brock is working in legal aid when a routine case takes a vicious twist: she and two colleagues learn that their clients, members of the witness protection program, are accused of defrauding the government and have the encrypted algorithm in their possession. After a life-changing trip to the professor’s church in India, the couple also has the key to decode it.
Now they’re on the run from federal agents and the Chinese mafia, who will do anything to get the algorithm. Caught in the middle, Jamie and her friends must protect their clients if they want to survive long enough to graduate.

My Thoughts: This was an action packed book that started on page one and kept going until the final word. This book would make an excellent movie! This was the first Randy Singer book I have read and it won't be my last. I highly recommend this book!

The Hidden Gifts of Helping Reviewed

Friday, June 17, 2011



Book Description: “In an elegant and thoughtful reflection on his family’s move from their settled life in Ohio to their new home in New York, Stephen Post uncovers “hidden gifts” among life-changing challenges. As one of America’s most knowledgeable philosophers and scholars of the interrelated roles of altruism, love and compassion in spiritual and physical wellness, Dr. Post brings years of scientific inquiry into critical dialogue with his own family crisis of transition, change and adaptation. The result is an educational and inspirational chronicle that grounds the foundational belief that helping others does heal and transform human life. The Hidden Gifts of Helping& offers renewed meaning to the biblical maxim that “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

—(Proverbs 11:25)” —The Rev. Dr. Walter J. Smith, S.J., Ph.D., President & CEO, HealthCare Chaplaincy

My Thoughts: We all go through difficult times, or things that are unpleasant. In this little book Stephen Post shows how to uncover the gifts in the life changing challenges. This is quite the insightful book and very encouraging. I highly recommend it.

My Foolish Heart Reviewed

Thursday, June 16, 2011



My Foolish heart

Unknown to her tiny town of Deep Haven , Isadora Presley spends her nights as Miss Foolish Heart, the star host of a syndicated talk radio show. Millions tune in to hear her advice on dating and falling in love, unaware that she’s never really done either. Issy’s ratings soar when it seems she’s falling in love on-air with a caller. A caller she doesn’t realize lives right next door.

Caleb Knight served a tour of duty in Iraq and paid a steep price. The last thing he wants is pity, so he hides his disability and moves to Deep Haven to land his dream job as the high school football coach. When his beautiful neighbor catches his eye, in a moment of desperation he seeks advice from My Foolish Heart, the show that airs before his favorite sports broadcast.

Before he knows it, Caleb finds himself drawn to the host—and more confused than ever. Is his perfect love the woman on the radio . . . or the one next door?

Read an excerpt here: http://www.susanmaywarren.com/novels/contemporary-romance/





Susan May Warren is an award-winning, best-selling author of over twenty-five novels, many of which have won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, the ACFW Book of the Year award, the Rita Award, and have been Christy finalists. After serving as a missionary for eight years in Russia , Susan returned home to a small town on Minnesota ’s beautiful Lake Superior shore where she, her four children, and her husband are active in their local church.

Susan's larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder ofwww.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota , where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!)

A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com.

My Thoughts: Susan is one of my favorite authors, and I absolutely loved this book! She isn't afraid to write about tough issues, like post traumatic stress disorder, regardless of the tough subject matter you can still toss this book in your beach bag and sit at the beach for a day of great reading! I give this book 5 lighthouses and highly recommend it!

Preview: The Judas Gospel

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

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:


The Judas Gospel

Howard Books; Original edition (June 14, 2011)

***Special thanks to Libby Reed, Publicity Assistant, Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Myers holds a degree in Theater Arts from the University of Washington and an honorary doctorate from the Theological Institute of Nimes, France, where he taught. As an author/screenwriter/director his work has won over 50 national and international awards, including the C.S. Lewis Honor Award. His books have sold more than 8 million copies and three of his novels are being made into movies, including The Wager, starring Randy Travis.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Judas, the disciple responsible for betraying Jesus, has a conversation with God and proposes to him that if God had used his powers to market Jesus that Judas would have, Jesus would have been more successful in saving the world, with more people following him. Judas has heard rumors that God is preparing another prophet and talks God into letting Judas return to earth to prove his point using this new prophet, a woman who possesses supernatural abilities and who is stalked by a serial killer through her horrifying dreams of his victims. Judas takes her pure ministry and turns it into a marketing circus, and he comes to realize that in mixing commerce with God, bigger isn’t better and that God is interested in reaching individuals, not masses.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (June 14, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143915354X
ISBN-13: 978-1439153543

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


PROLOGUE
________

CHANCES ARE you hate me. Believer or nonbeliever, if you've heard the story, you despise me. And believer or nonbeliever, that makes you a hypocrite. All of you. Believers, because you refuse to embrace the very forgiveness He pleaded for others, even those who tortured Him to death. And nonbelievers, because you pretend to hate the traitor of someone you hate.

"But I don't hate Him," you say.

Really? Pretending you don't hate someone who says all your attempts at being good are worthless? Pretending you don't hate someone who claims to be the only way to God? Pretending you don't hate someone who wants to rule your life? Who are you kidding? You're not fooling anyone, least of all Him.

But hate Him or worship Him, one thing you can say, He's no hypocrite. He stuck to the truth all the way through His execution. And He still holds to it today. (Old habits die hard.) Truth is His currency… and His Achilles' heel. That's why I knew He'd allow me into His presence. If my question was asked in truth, He'd respond in truth.

Now I'm sure there are some who will debate how I had access to Him—those of you who love to argue about gnats while swallowing camels. And why not? After all, debating about dancing angels and pinheads is far easier than breaking a sweat by actually obeying. Or, as the Accuser recently confided in me, "Spending time arguing theology is the perfect way to ensure a burning world continues to burn."

In any case, my eternal state is not up for discussion. Though I will say I have displayed more remorse and repentance over my sin than most of you ever have over your own. And as to whether I'm actually in hell, I guess that depends upon your definition of the place.

But I digress.

When I came before Him, I was forced to my knees. Not by any cosmic bullying, but by the sheer weight of His glory. Yet when He spoke, His voice was kind and full of compassion.

"Hello, my friend. It's been a long time."

My eyes immediately dropped to the ground and my chest swelled with emotion. So much time had passed and He still had that power over me. Angry at His hold, I took a ragged breath and then another before blurting out like a petulant child, "You… never gave me a chance!"

I was answered by silence. He waited until I found the courage, or foolishness, to raise my head. When I did, the love in His eyes burned through me and I had to look back down. Still, He continued to wait.

I took another breath. Finally, angrily swiping at my eyes, I tried again. "If we… if we would have handled Your mission my way"—I swallowed and continued—"the world would not be in the mess it's in today."

"Your way?"

I nodded, refusing to look up. "You could have ruled the world."

"I am ruling the world."

I shook my head. "Not souls. But nations, governments. Every earthly power imaginable could have been Yours."

"Kingdoms come and go. Souls are eternal."

"Tell that to the tortured and murdered who scream Your name as an oath every day." I waited for His wrath to flare up, to consume me. But I felt nothing. I heard no rebuke. Only more silence. He knew I wasn't finished. I took another breath and continued, "If You would have used Your powers my way, everyone would have followed You."

I heard Him chuckle softly. "And you would have made Me a star."

"The likes of which the world had never seen."

"I did all right."

"You could have done better."

He waited again, making sure I had nothing more to say. This time I had the good sense to remain silent.

Finally He spoke. "What do you propose, My friend?"

I hesitated.

"Please. Go ahead."

Still staring at the ground, I answered: "Rumor has it You're preparing another prophet—though her background is questionable."

"Moses was a murderer. David an adulterer." I felt His eyes searching me. "I've always had a soft spot for the broken."

I nodded and took another swipe at my tears.

"What would you like?"

Another breath and I answered: "Let me return to Earth. Let me show You what could have been if You had followed my leading." I hesitated, then looked up, trying to smile. "Hasn't that always been Your favorite method of teaching? Letting us have our way until we wind up proving Yours?"

His eyes sparkled at my little joke. I tried to hold His gaze but could not.

After another pause He finally spoke: "When would you like to begin?"

And that's how it started—how He gave me the opportunity to prove to Him, to you, and to all of creation, what could have been accomplished if He'd proclaimed His truth my way.

I'll say no more. Neither here nor at the end. Instead, I'll practice what He, himself, employs. I'll let the story unfold, allowing truth to speak for itself.





CHAPTER ONE
________

THE FIRST thing Rachel smells is smoke. That's how it always begins. Not the smoke of wood, but the acrid, chemical smell of burning drapes, melting carpet, smoldering sofa. The air is suffocating. Hot waves press against her face and mouth, making it difficult to breathe. Her mother stands before her in a white flowing gown. Flames engulf the woman's legs, leaping up and rising toward her waist where she holds little Rebecca. The two of them stare at Rachel, their eyes pleading for help, their faces filled with fear, confusion, and accusation as Rachel stands holding a lit candle in a small glass holder.

Mother and sister waver and dissolve, disappearing into the smoke. Suddenly Rachel is standing in the doorway of an upscale bathroom. The same bathroom she stood inside last night. And the night before. The marble tile is cool to her bare feet. There is no smoke now, only fog. So thick she sees nothing. But she can hear. There is the sound of splashing water. Someone in a tub. The room is filled with the sweet scent of rose bath oil.

A nearby dog yaps, its bark shrill and relentless.

A woman shouts from the tub, "Who's there?" Her voice is strong and authoritative, masking the fear she must feel.

Rachel tries to answer, but no sound comes from her throat.

"Who are you? How did you get in?" She hears the woman rising, water dripping from her body.

The dog continues to bark.

"Get out of here!" the woman yells. Water splashes. She swears. The sound of a struggle begins. Someone falls, knees thudding into the tub. There is the squeak of flesh against porcelain. Coughing, gagging. A scream that is quickly submerged underwater, muffled and bubbling.

Rachel hears herself gasping and grunting. She feels her own hands around the woman's throat.

The dog barks crazily.

The last of the burbling screams fades. The struggle ends. There is only the gentle sound of water sloshing back and forth, back and forth.

And the yelping dog.

Rachel rises and turns, fearful of what she knows she will see through the fog. As in the previous dreams, a bathroom mirror floats before her. But this evening there is something different. This evening there are letters scrawled across it in black cherry lipstick. Her scrawling:

Tell Them

In the mirror she sees a tiny red glow dancing across her hand, the hand that holds the burning candle. It's there every night, like a firefly. But instead of her own frightened face staring back at her, she sees the face of someone else: bald, white, and pale. A swastika tattooed on the side of the neck. Man, woman, she can't tell. But it is leering. And it is climbing out of the mirror toward her.

She screams and throws the candle at the reflection. The mirror shatters, breaking into a dozen pieces, a dozen images of the face sneering up at her. Until they change. Until they morph into different faces. Froglike. Reptilian. Each climbing out of its broken shard—snarling, reaching for her feet, clutching at her ankles until, mustering all of her strength, she wakes with a stifled scream.

Nineteen-year-old Rachel Delacroix lay in bed, heart pounding, T-shirt soaked and clinging. At first she thought it was from the water of the tub… until she realized it was her own cold sweat.

"Rachel?" Her father appeared in the doorway, his bald black head glistening in the streetlight from the hall window. The same window that held the broken air conditioner they could not afford to replace. "Are you all right?"

"Mmm?" she mumbled, pretending to be asleep.

"Was it—did you have another dream?"

She gave no answer.

"You're not taking your medicine, are you."

She remained silent, hoping he'd think she'd gone back to sleep.

"Rachel?"

More silence. She could hear him standing there nearly half a minute before he turned and wearily shuffled back down the hall to his room. Tomorrow was church and he needed to get his rest. Still, she knew full well he'd not be able to go back to sleep.

Hopefully, neither would she.

She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, then turned to the art posters on the surrounding walls—the Monets, the Van Goghs, the Renoirs. How often they gave her comfort. Even joy. But not tonight. Tonight, as in the past two nights she'd had the dream, they would give her nothing at all.

________

IT WAS BARELY past nine in the morning and the attic was like an oven. The Santa Anas had been blowing for several days, and Sean Putnam doubted the house had dropped below eighty degrees all night. That's why he was up here now—to save whatever was left of his paintings. To bring the canvases downstairs where it was cooler and the paint wouldn't dry out and crack. Over the past months he'd already thrown away dozens, mostly self-portraits; clear signs of what he now considered to have been his self-absorbed youth.

"Dad!"

He turned toward the stairs and shouted. As was the case with many Down syndrome children, the multiple ear infections had left his son hard of hearing. "I'll be there in a second."

"Well, hurry! We don't want to be late."

"I'll be right there."

"Well, hurry."

He quietly mused. Tomorrow would be Elliot's first day in middle school. A scary time for both of them. Yet it was all part of the plan he and Beverly had agreed upon. A plan conceived as the cancer began eating away and taking her. They wanted to make sure Elliot was prepared as much as possible to face the real world. Integrating him into the public school system seemed the best choice. They'd talked about it often during her final days. And it was the last conversation they had before she slipped into unconsciousness.

Now, barely a year later, he was making good on those plans.

"Dad."

"I'll be right there."

Elliot was nervous. He had been all week. That's why Sean had agreed to this trial run. That's why, though it was nine-fifteen on a Sunday morning, the two of them would pile into the old Ford Taurus and drive over to Lincoln Middle School. A rehearsal for tomorrow's big day. An attempt to help Elliot relax by eliminating any surprises.

Too bad Sean couldn't do the same for himself. Because he wasn't just anxious about his son. Tomorrow was a big day for him as well. He'd finally graduated from the Los Angeles Police Academy, and tomorrow would be his first day on patrol in a black-and-white. That was the other reason he was up here in the attic. "To put away childish things." He wasn't sure where he'd first heard that phrase, probably from his old man. But it made it no less true. The days of being a long-haired art student had come and gone. Now it was time to be a man. To make the necessary sacrifices and take care of what was left of his family.

He quickly flipped through the remaining canvases until one slowed him to a stop. Not because of any artistic skill, but because of the subjects—six-week-old Elliot lying naked on his mother's tummy, his little fist clenched, nursing at her breast. It still moved him in ways he could not explain. Somehow, some way, he'd been able to capture the truth of that moment… mother and child lost in the act of life, their faces filled with contentment, glowing with an indefinable peace.

"Dad…"

He reached down and scooped up the canvas. "I'm on my way." He tucked the painting under his arm and headed back downstairs, where he would find someplace safe to keep it.


© 2011 Bill Myers

Preview: Pompeii: City of Fire

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Pompeii
B&H Books (June 1, 2011)
by
T.L. Higley




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



A fiction aficionado since grade school, T.L. Higley, author of Pompeii: City on Fire (B&H Publishing House, June 2011) started her first novel at the age of eight.



Now the author of nine historical fiction novels, including the popular Seven Wonders series, Higley isn’t just transporting readers: She’s transporting herself, too.



“My Iifelong interest in history and mythology has taken me to Italy, Greece, Egypt, Rome, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, where I’ve gotten to study those ancient cultures in rich detail,” says Higley. “It’s my desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past, and I figure what better way to do that than to visit the cultures themselves?”



In addition to her accomplished novelist career, Higley is a business entrepreneur and a mother. In fact, for Pompeii, she brought her daughter along with her to Italy for the research trip.



“We gave it to her as a graduation present, not only because Italy is terrific, but because I believe in exposing children to global cultures,” says Higley, who became a student herself again this year. She’s now a graduate student at American Public University, earning her master’s degree in Ancient and Classical Studies.



When Higley isn’t traveling on research trips, writing her novels, or studying for class, she operates four online retail companies, including KoolStuff4Kids.com – a family-run business that began as a way for her oldest daughter to make some extra money for camp. Today, it is a go-to site for parents, children and teachers all over the country, looking for beads and other kid-friendly craft supplies.



Higley lives with her husband and her three other children (aforementioned daughter now in college) just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



ABOUT THE BOOK



Pompeii, a city that's many things to many people. For Cato, it's the perfect escape from a failed political career in Rome. A place to start again, become a winemaker. But when a corrupt politician wrongfully jails Cato's sister, he must oust the man from power to save her.



For Ariella, Pompeii is a means to an end. As a young Jew, she escaped the fall of Jerusalem only to endure slavery to a cruel Roman general. She ends up in Pompeii, disguised as a young man and sold into a gladiator troupe. Her anger fuels her to fight well, hoping to win the arena crowds and reveal her gender at the perfect time. Perhaps then she will win true freedom.



But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii. Political corruption, religious persecution, and family peril threaten to destroy Ariella and Cato, who are thrown together in the battle to survive. As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, the two must bridge their differences to save the lives of those they love, before the fiery ash buries Pompeii, leaving the city lost to the world.



Watch the book trailer:



If you would like to read the Prologue of Pompeii, go HERE.

Preview The Sweetest Thing

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Sweetest Thing
• Bethany House (June 1, 2011)
by
Elizabeth Musser




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Elizabeth Musser, an Atlanta native, studied English and French literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Vanderbilt, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Aix-en-Provence,



France. During her Senior year at Vanderbilt, she attended a five-day missions conference for students and discovered an amazing thing: God had missionaries in France, and she felt God calling her there. After graduation, she spent eight months training for the mission field in Chicago, Illinois and then two years serving in a tiny Protestant church in Eastern France where she met her future husband.



Elizabeth lives in southern France with her husband and their two sons. She find her work as a mother, wife, author and missionary filled with challenges and chances to see God’s hand at work daily in her life. Inspiration for her novels come both from her experiences growing up in Atlanta as well as through the people she meets in her work in France. Many conversations within her novels are inspired from real-life conversations with skeptics and seekers alike.



Her acclaimed novel, The Swan House, was a Book Sense bestseller list in the Southeast and was selected as one of the top Christian books for 2001 by Amazon's editors. Searching for Eternity is her sixth novel.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Compelling Southern Novel Explores Atlanta Society in the 1930s.



The Singleton family’s fortunes seem unaffected by the Great Depression, and Perri—along with the other girls at Atlanta’s elite Washington Seminary—lives a life of tea dances with college boys and matinees at the cinema. When tragedy strikes, Perri is confronted with a world far different from the one she has always known.



At the insistence of her parents, Mary ‘Dobbs’ Dillard, the daughter of an itinerant preacher, is sent from inner-city Chicago to live with her aunt and attend Washington Seminary. Dobbs, passionate, fiercely individualistic and deeply religious, enters Washington Seminary as a bull in a china shop and shocks the girls with her frank talk about poverty and her stories of revival on the road. Her arrival intersects at the point of Perri’s ultimate crisis, and the tragedy forges an unlikely friendship.



The Sweetest Thing tells the story of two remarkable young women—opposites in every way—fighting for the same goal: surviving tumultuous change. Just as the Great Depression collides disastrously with Perri's well-ordered life, friendship blossoms--a friendship that will be tested by jealousy, betrayal, and family secrets...



If you would like to read the first chapter of The Sweetest Thing, go HERE.

Chasing Sunsets Reviewed




Book Description:
Sometimes you get a second chance at your first love

Kimberly Tucker's life hasn't turned out the way she thought it would. While her ex is living it up, she struggles to understand what went wrong. When her two sons end up spending five weeks of summer vacation with their father, Kim plans a respite at the family vacation home on tiny Cedar Key. As she revisits the long-forgotten past, she discovers that treasures in life are often buried, and sometimes you do get a second chance at love.

Let yourself get swept away to an island retreat of warm tropical breezes, sandy beaches, and the most glorious sunsets you can imagine.

My Thoughts: Who says you don't get a second chance???? When Kimberly's husband convinces a judge to give him a longer summer vacation with his sons, Kimberly finds herself realing and decides to go on vacation herself at the family vacation home in Cedar Key, Florida. While she is there she runs into her first love, Steven . . . I'm not going to say any more as it will give it away. I give this book 5 lighthouses and highly recommend it! This is a great summer beach read!!!!

The Mistress Revenge



There's a Fine Line Between Love & Hate

Book Description: For five years, Sally and Clive have been lost in a passionate affair. Now he has dumped her to devote himself to his wife and family, and Sally is left in freefall.
It starts with a casual stroll past his house, and popping into the brasserie where his son works. Then Sally starts following Clive’s wife and daughter on Facebook. But that’s alright, isn’t it? These are perfectly normal things to do. Aren’t they?
Not since Fatal Attraction has the fallout from an illicit affair been exposed in such a sharp, darkly funny, and disturbing way: The Mistress’s Revenge is a truly exciting fiction debut. After all, who doesn’t know an otherwise sane woman who has gone a little crazy when her heart was broken?

My Take: Loved, Loved, Loved it! As a former wife who was cheated on, I loved seeing the other woman's side of it! Sally was totally my kind of gal! It just goes to show that cheating is bad all the way around and a woman scorned is gonna come and get ya! I highly recommend this one! 5 lighthouses!!!!!

Preview: Lazarus Awakening

Friday, June 10, 2011

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:


Lazarus Awakening

WaterBrook Press (February 8, 2011)

***Special thanks to Lynette Kittle, Senior Publicist, WaterBrook Multnomah, a Division of Random House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



JOANNA WEAVER is the best-selling author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, and the award-winning gift book With This Ring. Her articles have appeared in such publications as Focus on the Family, Guideposts, and HomeLife. Joanna and her pastor-husband, John, have three children and live in Montana.


Visit the author's website.


SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Colorado Springs, Colo – In Lazarus Awakening (February 8, 2011) Joanna Weaver author of bestselling Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, helps prepare readers for the Easter celebration of Jesus death and resurrection, through her exploration of Lazarus death and resurrection.

Weaver explores the story of Jesus calling Lazarus forth to new life, and what that can mean to each one of us. How Jesus not only wanted to free Lazarus, but also free each person to live fully in the light of His love, unbound from the grave clothes of fear, regret, and self-condemnation.

She explores how it’s easier for us to believe that God so loved the world…but sometimes wonder if He truly loves us….

Combining unforgettable real-life illustrations with unexpected biblical insights, Weaver invites each of us to experience a spiritual resurrection this Easter that will forever change our understanding of what it means to be the one Jesus loves.

Includes 10-week Bible study (adaptable for 8 weeks) for both individual reflection and group discussion.





Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (February 8, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780307444967
ISBN-13: 978-0307444967
ASIN: 0307444961

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter 1: Tale of the Third Follower

It’s amazing that such a little space could make so much difference.
Just eighteen inches, give or take a few—that’s all it needs to move. And yet, for many of us, getting God’s love from our heads to our hearts may be the most difficult—yet the most important—thing we ever accomplish.
“I need to talk,” Lisa whispered in my ear one day after women’s Bible study. A committed Christian with a deep passion for the Lord, my friend had tears pooling in her dark eyes as we found a quiet corner where we could talk.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said, shaking her head as she looked down at her feet. “I could go to the worst criminal or a drug addict living on the street, and I could look him in the eye and tell him, ‘Jesus loves you!’ and mean it from the bottom of my heart.
“But, Joanna,” she said, gripping my hand, “I can’t seem to look in the mirror and convince myself.”
Her words were familiar to me. I’d felt that same terrible disconnect early in my walk with the Lord. Hoping He loved me but never really knowing for sure. Sadly, I’ve heard the same lonely detachment echoed by hundreds of women I’ve talked to around the country. Beautiful women. Plain women. Talented and not-so-talented women. Strong Christian women, deep in the Word and active in their church, as well as women brand new to their faith. Personal attributes or IQs seem to matter little. Whether they were raised in a loving home or an abusive situation, it doesn’t seem to change what one friend calls an epidemic among Christian women (and many men as well): a barren heart condition I call love-doubt.
“Jesus loves me—this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”(1) Many of us have sung the song since we were children. But do we really believe it? Or has Christ’s love remained more of a fairy tale than a reality we’ve experienced for ourselves in the only place we can really know for sure?
Our hearts.

He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not

You would think after accepting Christ at a young age and being raised in a loving Christian home with a loving, gracious father, I would have been convinced from the beginning that my heavenly Father loved me.
Me. With all my faults and failures. My silly stubbornness and pride.
But those very things kept me from really knowing Christ’s love for the majority of my early adult life. There was just so much to dislike, so much to disapprove of. How could God possibly love me? Even I wasn’t that crazy about me.
For some reason, I’d come to see God as distant and somewhat removed. Rather than transposing upon God the model of my earthly father’s balanced love—both unconditional yet corrective—I saw my heavenly Father as a stern teacher with a yardstick in His hand, pacing up and down the classroom of my life as He looked for any and all infractions. Measuring me against what sometimes felt like impossible standards and occasionally slapping me when I failed to make the grade.
Yes, He loved me, I supposed. At least that’s what I’d been taught. But I didn’t always feel God’s love. Most of the time I lived in fear of the yardstick. Who knew when His judgment would snap down its disapproval, leaving a nasty mark on my heart as well as my soul?
As a result, I lived the first three decades of my life like an insecure adolescent, forever picking daisies and tearing them apart, never stopping to enjoy their beauty. He loves me, He loves me not, I would say subconsciously, plucking a petal as I weighed my behavior and attitudes against what the Bible said I should be.
Powerful church services and sweet altar times. Ah, I felt secure in His love. Real life and less-than-sweet responses? I felt lost and all alone. Unfortunately, all I got from constantly questioning God’s love was a fearful heart and a pile of torn, wilted petals. My overzealous self-analysis never brought the peace I longed for.
Because the peace you and I were created for doesn’t come from picking daisies. It only comes from a living relationship with a loving God.

The Tale of the Third Follower

I never planned on writing a trilogy about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the siblings from Bethany that we meet in Luke’s and John’s gospels. In fact, when I wrote Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, I was fairly certain it was the one and only book to be found in those verses. But God surprised me six years later, and Having a Mary Spirit was born.
The thought that there might be a third book never crossed my mind until I shared an interesting premise with a few friends who are writers. It was a teaching point I’d hoped to fit into Having a Mary Spirit but never quite found room.
“We all know Jesus loved Mary,” I told my friends. “After all, look how she worshiped. And we can even understand how Jesus loved Martha. Look how she served. But what about those of us who don’t know where we fit in the heart of God?”
The question hung in the air before I continued.
“The only thing of significance that Lazarus did was die. And yet when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, they said, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ ”
Somehow my words seemed to have extra weight as they floated between us. Extra importance. Even I felt their impact.
After a few moments my friend Wendy broke the silence. “That part of the story didn’t make it into the book because it is a book.”
I can’t adequately explain what happened when she said those words, except to say it was as though a giant bell began to sound in my soul. Its reverberations sent shock waves through my body as I tried to change the subject.
The thing is, I didn’t want to write about Lazarus. I wanted to write a different book. I was ready to move on, to explore other subjects.
But God wouldn’t let me. And so you hold this book in your hands.

A Place to Call Home

We first meet the family from Bethany in Luke 10:38–42. Or rather we meet part of the family—two followers of Jesus named Martha and Mary.
You’re probably familiar with the story Luke tells. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for one of the great Jewish feasts when Martha came out to meet Him with an invitation to dinner. But while Martha opened her home, it was her sister, Mary, who opened her heart. To put the story in a nutshell: Mary worshiped. Martha complained. Jesus rebuked. And lives were changed.(2)
Strangely, Luke’s account never even mentions Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. Perhaps he wasn’t home when Martha held her dinner party. Perhaps he was away on business. Or perhaps he was there all the time but no one really noticed.
Some people are like that. They have perfected the art of invisibility. Experts at fading into the background, they go out of their way not to attract attention, and when they get noticed, they feel great discomfort.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if this was true of Lazarus. Scripture doesn’t give any information as to who he was or what he was like—only that he lived in Bethany and had two sisters. When we finally meet him, in John 11, it is an odd introduction—for it starts with a 911 call that leads to a funeral:

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”.…
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.…
…“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept. (John 11:1–7, 17, 34–35)

What a tender story. A story filled with emotion and dramatic tension. The story of two sisters torn by grief and a Savior who loved them yet chose to tarry.
Of course, there is more to it—more truths we’ll discover as we walk through the forty-four verses John devotes to this tale. For the story of Lazarus is also the story of Jesus’s greatest miracle: that of awakening His friend from the dead. (To read the whole story all at once, see Appendix A: “The Story.”)
Have you noticed that when Jesus comes on the scene, what seems to be the end is rarely the end? In fact, it’s nearly always a new beginning.
But Mary and Martha didn’t know that at the time. And I’m prone to forget it as well.
Questions and disappointments, sorrow and fear tend to block out the bigger picture in situations like the one we see in Bethany. What do we do when God doesn’t come through the way we hoped He would? What should we feel when what is dearest to our hearts is suddenly snatched away? How do we reconcile the love of God with the disappointments we face in life?
Such questions don’t have easy answers. However, in this story of Jesus’s three friends, I believe we can find clues to help us navigate the unknown and the tragic when we encounter them in our own lives. Tips to help us live in the meantime—that cruel in-between time when we are waiting for God to act—as well as insights to help us trust Him when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all.
But most important, I believe the story of Lazarus reveals the scandalous availability of God’s love if we will only reach out and accept it. Even when we don’t deserve it. Even when life is hard and we don’t understand.
For God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, Isaiah 55:8–9 tells us. He knows what He’s doing.
Even when we can’t figure out His math.

Algebra and Me

Arithmetic was always one of my favorite subjects in grade school, one I excelled at. Of course, that was in the last century, before they started introducing algebra in the fourth grade. In my post–Leave It to Beaver, yet very serene, childhood, the only equations that wrinkled my nine-year-old forehead were fairly straightforward:

2 + 2 = 4
19 − 7 = 12

Of course, fourth-grade math was more difficult than that. But the basic addition and subtraction skills I’d learned in first and second grade helped me tackle the multiplication and division problems of third and fourth grade with confidence. By the time I reached sixth grade, I was fairly proficient with complicated columns of sums and had pretty much conquered the mysterious world of fractions. I was amazing—a math whiz.
But then eighth grade dawned and, with it, a very brief introduction to algebra. It all seemed quite silly to me. Who cared what the y factor was? And why on earth would I ever need to know what x + y + z equaled?
When my teacher gave us a high-school placement math exam that spring, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out the answers—mainly because I had no idea how, and when I tried, it made my head hurt. Instead, when I encountered a difficult problem during the test, I did what had always worked for me: I looked for a pattern in the answers.
Allowing my mind to back up a bit and my eyes to go a little fuzzy, I’d stare at all those little ovals I’d so neatly darkened in with my number-two pencil until I could see a pattern. I haven’t filled in a D for a while. Or, There were two Bs and then two Cs and one A, so obviously this must be another A.
I was amazing at this too.
No, really, I was. Several weeks later when we received the results of our testing, I had been placed not in bonehead math, not even in beginning algebra. No, it was accelerated algebra for me, though I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.
To this day I still don’t. My algebraic cluelessness has followed me through adulthood and on into parenting. My kids can ask an English question, quiz me on history or government, and I can usually give them an answer or at least help them find one. But when it comes to algebra or geometry or calculus or any of those other advanced math classes invented by some sick, twisted Einstein wannabe…well, they’d better go ask their dad.
Advanced mathematics remains a complete mystery to me. The unknown factors seem so haphazard. What if z/y squared doesn’t equal nine? What then?
The unknown factors frustrate us in life’s story problems as well—and there are plenty of those in John 11. How are we to compute the fact that Jesus stayed where He was rather than rushing to Lazarus’s side when He heard His friend was ill? How do we reconcile Jesus’s allowing Mary and Martha to walk through so much pain when He could have prevented it in the first place?
Difficult questions, without a doubt. But there is a foundational truth in this passage we must first acknowledge before we can tackle the tougher issues.
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5, emphasis added).
Jesus loves you and me as well. He loves us just as we are—apart from our Martha works and Mary worship. He even loves those of us who come empty-handed, feeling dead inside and perhaps a little bound.
For while it may not add up in our human calculations, the truth of God’s love lies at the heart of the gospel. “While we were still sinners,” Romans 5:8 tells us, “Christ died for us.” We may not be able to do the math ourselves or reason out such amazing grace, but if we’ll simply ask, our heavenly Father longs to help us find the bottom line.

The Lazarus Factor

I’ve always told my husband, John, that he has to die before I do—mainly because I don’t want him remarrying some wonderful woman and finding out what he’s missed all these years. But then again, if he were to go first, I’m convinced I’d face financial ruin in two months. It’s not because John hasn’t taken very good care of us financially but because I absolutely hate balancing checkbooks.
My idea of reconciling my checking account is to call a very nice lady named Rhonda at our bank. She graciously lets me know the bottom line whenever I’m a little leery of where I stand.
Now, I know this isn’t a wise way to handle fiscal matters. In fact, you CPAs reading this are about to faint if you haven’t already thrown the book across the room. But, hey, it works for me.
Most of the time.
Okay, so there have been a few blips in my system. But I’m coming to believe that while this may not be such a great method in the natural realm, it may be the only way to go in the spiritual.
After spending the greater part of my life trying to make everything add up on my own—that is, trying to make sure my good outweighed my bad so I was never overdrawn but was continually making deposits in my righteousness bank—I finally realized that nothing I did could ever be enough. No matter how hard I tried, I constantly lived under the weight of my own disapproval. Which, of course, instantly mutated into a sense that God was coldly disappointed with me as well.
He loves me not…
Keeping my own spiritual books has never added up to anything but guilt and condemnation and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I’m so glad God’s math isn’t like mine. And oh how I rejoice that He doesn’t demand I come up with the correct answer before He makes me His child. Because when I couldn’t make it up to Him, Jesus came down to me. And through His precious blood sacrifice, He made a way for me to come not only into His presence but directly into the heart of God.
“All of this is a gift from God,” 2 Corinthians 5:18–19 tells us, “who brought us back to himself through Christ.… no longer counting people’s sins against them” (NLT).

Breaking the Yardstick

I don’t think we can begin to imagine how radical Christ’s New Testament message of grace sounded to a people who had been living under the Law for thousands of years. The thought that there might be a different way to approach God—a better way—was appealing to some Jews but threatening to many others.
For those who kept stumbling over the rules and regulations set up by the religious elite—never quite measuring up to the yardstick of the Law—the idea that God might love them apart from what they did must have been incredibly liberating.
But for the Jewish hierarchy who had mastered the Law and felt quite proud of it, Jesus’s words surely posed a threat. His message pierced their religious facades, revealing the darkness of their hearts and, quite frankly, making them mad. Rather than running to the grace and forgiveness He offered, they kept defaulting to the yardstick—using it to justify themselves one minute, wielding it as a weapon against Jesus the next.*
“You come from Nazareth?” they said, pointing the yardstick. “Nothing good comes from Nazareth.” That’s one whack for you. “You eat with tax collectors and sinners? That’s even worse.” Whack, whack. “You heal on the Sabbath?” they screamed, waving their rules and regulations. Off with Your head!
The Sadducees and Pharisees had no room in their religion for freedom. As a result, they had no room for Christ. They were people of the yardstick. Even though Jesus kept insisting He hadn’t come to “abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17), they just wouldn’t listen. Like little children they plugged their ears and kept singing the same old tune, though a New Song had been sent from heaven.
Which is so very sad. Especially when you consider that the very Law they were so zealous for had been intended to prepare them for the Messiah rather than keep them from acknowledging Him.
After all, God established His original covenant with Abraham long before He gave Moses the Law—430 years before, to be exact (Galatians 3:17). The love the Father extended to Abraham and to all those who came after him had no strings attached. It was based on the recipient’s acceptance of grace from beginning to end.
But somehow Israel fell in love with the Law rather than in love with their God. And we are in danger of doing the same thing. Exalting rules as the pathway to heaven. Embracing formulas as our salvation. Worshiping our own willpower rather than allowing the power of God to work in us to transform our lives.(5)
Such self-induced holiness didn’t work for the Jews, and it doesn’t work for us. That’s why Jesus had to come.
The Law had originally been given “to show people their sins,” Galatians 3:19 tells us. But it was “designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (NLT). Though the yardstick of the Law helped keep us in line, it was never intended to save us. Only Christ could do that. And oh may I tell you how that comforts my soul?
I’ll never forget the day I handed Jesus my yardstick. I had been saved since childhood, but I was almost thirty before the message of grace finally made the trip from my head to my heart, setting me “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). As the light of the good news finally penetrated the darkness of my self-condemning mind, the “perfect love” 1 John 4:18 speaks of finally drove out my fear, which had always been rooted in fear of punishment.
When I finally laid down my Pharisee pride and admitted that in myself I would never be—could never be—enough, I experienced a breakthrough that has radically changed my life. For as I surrendered my yardstick—the tool of comparison that had caused so much mental torment and a sense of separation from God—Jesus took it from my hands. Then, with a look of great love, He broke it over His knee and turned it into a cross, reminding me that He died so I wouldn’t have to.
That the punishment I so fully deserve has already been paid for.
That the way has been made for everyone who will believe in Jesus not only to come to Him but to come back home to the heart of God.

A Place to Lay Our Hearts

From the moment God so kindly exploded the concept of this book in my soul, I’ve had just one prayer. It is the prayer Paul prayed for all believers in Ephesians 3:17–19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I believe that everything we were made for and everything we’ve ever wanted is found in these three little verses. But in order to appropriate the all-encompassing love of God, we must give up our obsession with formulas and yardsticks. But how do we do that? Paul’s prayer reveals an important key: “that you…may have power…to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (emphasis added).
The marvelous incongruity of that statement hit me several years ago. “Wait, Lord! How can I know something that surpasses knowledge?” I asked.
His answer came sweet and low to my spirit. You have to stop trying to understand it and start accepting it, Joanna. Just let Me love you.
For the reality is, no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to explain or deserve such amazing grace and incredible love. Nor can we escape it.
It’s just too wide, Ephesians 3:18 tells us. We can’t get around it.
It’s just too high. We can’t get over it.
It’s so long we’ll never be able to outrun it.
And it’s so deep we’ll never be able to exhaust it.
Bottom line: You can’t get away from God’s love no matter how hard you try. Because He’s pursuing you, my friend. Maybe it’s time to stop running away from love and start running toward it.
Even if, at times, it seems too good to be true.

Are You Willing to Be Loved?

I don’t know why Jesus chose me to love. Really, I don’t. Perhaps you don’t understand why He chose you. But He did. Really, He did. Until we get around to accepting His amazing, undeserved favor, I fear we will miss everything a relationship with Christ really means.
When my husband proposed to me so many years ago, I didn’t say, “Wait a minute, John. Do you have any idea what you’re getting into?” I didn’t pull out a list of reasons why he couldn’t possibly love me or a rap sheet detailing my inadequacies to prove why he shouldn’t—although there were and are many.
No way! I just threw my arms open wide and accepted his love. I would have been a fool to turn down an offer like that.
I wonder what would happen in our lives if we stopped resisting God’s love and started receiving it. What if we stopped trying to do the math, stopped striving to earn His favor? What if we just accepted the altogether-too-good-to-be-true news that the yardstick has been broken and the Cross has opened a door to intimacy with our Maker?
For if we are ever to be His beloved, we must be willing to be loved.
Simple, huh? And yet oh so hard. Like my friend Lisa, many of us are plagued by love-doubt. We have hidden tombs yet to be opened. Dark secrets that keep us hanging back. Soul-sicknesses that have left us crippled and embittered by our inability to forgive or forget. Graveclothes that keep tripping us up and fears that hold us back from believing the good news could ever be true for people like us.
I wonder…
Maybe it’s time to look in the mirror and start witnessing to ourselves.
Maybe it’s time we stop living by what we feel and start proclaiming what our spirits already know: “I have been chosen by God. Whether I feel loved or believe I deserve it, from this moment on I choose to be loved.”
Say it out loud: “I choose to be loved.”
You may have to force yourself to say the words. Today your emotions may not correspond with what you’ve just declared. It is likely you may have to repeat the same words tomorrow. And do it again the next day. And the next.
But I promise that as you start appropriating what God has already declared as truth, something’s going to shift in the heavenly regions. More important, something’s going to shift in you.
So say those words as many times as you need to…until the message gets through your thick head to your newly tender heart. Until you finally come to believe what’s been true all along.
Shh…listen. Do you hear it?
It’s Love.
And He’s calling your name.


* Please let me tell you how much I love the nation of Israel. I fully believe they are the chosen people of God and a precious family into which I have been adopted. When I speak of the spiritual pride and blindness of the religious hierarchy of Jesus’s day, it is not to condemn the Jews. Instead, I see my own tendency—and the tendency of the body of Christ today—to fall into spiritual pride and blindness when we love our “form of godliness” but miss “the power thereof ” (2 Timothy 3:5, KJV).

Excerpted from Lazarus Awakening by Joanna Weaver Copyright © 2011 by Joanna Weaver. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


 
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