Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Canary Island Song" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Canary Island Song
Howard Books; Original edition (July 5, 2011)
Robin Jones Gunn

Robin Jones Gunn is well known for her YA books and her SisterChicks books. Here we have a book that reminds me a little of the SisterChicks books except instead of best friends we have Carolyn who is at a crossroads in her life, her mother who lives in the Canary Islands and her daughter who just can't get her boyfriend to commit. These 3 generations all learn a lot about each other and themselves when they take a little time to discover what's important. I loved the setting of this book and the characters were so vibrant and different. The message that you are never too old or young to find yourself and that God has a plan in everything was so clear. What a good book, especially if you enjoyed her SisterChicks books!


Robin Jones Gunn was born in Wisconsin and lived on a dairy farm until her family moved to southern California when she was five years old. She grew up in Orange County and spent her summers at Newport Beach with friends from her church youth group. After attending Biola University and Capernwray Bible School in Austria, Robin and Ross were married and spent the next two decades working together in youth ministry.

It was the young teens at Robin’s church who challenged her to write stories for them. She hadn’t thought much about being a writer, but took their request to heart and set her alarm for 3am, three days a week. With two small children it was the only time she could find to write the first story about Christy Miller. After two years and ten rejections the novel Summer Promise was accepted for publication in 1988. Robin hasn’t stopped writing since. Over 4 million copies of her 75 books have sold and can be found in a dozen translations all over the world.

Robin and her husband now live in Hawai’i where Ross is a counselor and Robin continues to write to the sound of tropical birds chattering in the palm trees outside her window. Their children are grown but manage to come to the islands with their families every chance they get. Robin's awards include: three Christy awards for excellence in fiction, a Gold Medallion finalist, Mt. Hermon Pacesetter and the Mt. Hermon Writer of the Year award. Robin travels extensively and is a frequent key-note speaker at various events around the world. She serves on the Board of Directors for Media Associates International and Jerry Jenkin’s Christian Writer’s Guild.


When Carolyn’s grown daughter tells her she needs to “get a life,” Carolyn decides it’s time to step out of her familiar routine as a single woman in San Francisco and escape to her mother’s home in the Canary Islands. Since Carolyn’s mother is celebrating her seventieth birthday, the timing of Carolyn’s visit makes for a perfect surprise.

The surprise, however, is on Carolyn when she sees Bryan Spencer, her high school summer love. It’s been seven years since Carolyn lost her husband, but ever since that tragic day, her life has grown smaller and closed in. The time has come for Carolyn to get her heart back. It takes the gentle affection of her mother and aunts, as well as the ministering beauty and song of the islands to draw Carolyn into the fullness of life. She is nudged along by a Flamenco dance lesson, a defining camel ride and the steady gaze of Bryan’s intense blue-gray eyes.

Is it too late for Carolyn to trust Bryan? Can Carolyn believe that Bryan has turned into something more than the wild beach boy who stole her kisses so many years ago on a balmy Canary night?

Carolyn is reminded that Christopher Columbus set sail from the Canary Islands in 1492 on his voyage to discover the New World. Is she ready to set sail from these same islands to discover her new life?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Canary Island Song, go HERE.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Shadows on the Sand" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Shadows on the Sand
Multnomah Books (July 19, 2011)
Gayle Roper

This book starts out like a fun beachy book with romance brewing between two very damaged people and a fun supporting cast of secondary characters that all congregate at "Carrie's Cafe" in the mornings. Then an employee of the Cafe turns up missing and is then found dead, then while that is being investigated another young employee turns up missing. Carrie and Greg find themselves in the middle of it all but can the duplicity of the people around them be found out before anyone else dies? It turns out that Carrie and Greg aren't the only people in Seaside with baggage from their pasts and some people have enough baggage to get them (and those they love) killed.

"Shadows on the Sand" have a couple really great veins in it - there is a whole thread about social networking that I got a total kick out of and one on cults that was pretty eye-opening. This was a really good book and I look forward to seeing where Gayle might take this series from here.


Gayle is the award winning author of more than forty books. She has been a Christy finalist three times for her novels Spring Rain, Summer Shadows, and Winter Winds. Her novel Autumn Dreams won the prestigious Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance. Summer Shadows was voted the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest Book of the Year (tied with fellow author Brandilyn Collins).

Gayle has won the Holt Medallion three times for The Decision, Caught in a Bind, and Autumn Dreams. The Decision won the Reviewers Choice Award, and Gayle has also won the Award of Excellence for Spring Rain and the Golden Quill for Summer Shadows and Winter Winds. Romantic Times Book Report gave Gayle the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her Amhearst mystery series, Caught in the Middle, Caught in the Act, and Caught in a Bind, originally published by Zondervan, was reprinted in 2007 by Love Inspired Suspense with a fourth original title added, Caught Redhanded. Another original single title, See No Evil, was also released. Caught in the Middle has been optioned for film.

For her work in training Christian writers Gayle has won special recognition from Mount Hermon CWC, St. Davids CWC, Florida CWC, and Greater Philadelphia CWC. She directed St. Davids for five years and Sandy Cove CWC for six. She has taught with Christian Leaders, Authors and Speakers Services (CLASS), serving for several years as their writer in residence. She enjoys speaking at women's events across the nation and loves sharing the powerful truths of Scripture with humor and practicality.

Gayle lives in southeastern Pennsylvania where she enjoys her family of two great sons, two lovely daughters-in-law, and the world's five most wonderful grandchildren. When she's not writing, or teaching at conferences, Gayle enjoys reading, gardening, and eating out.


Carrie Carter’s small cafĂ© in Seaside, New Jersey, is populated with a motley crew of locals although Carrie only has eyes for Greg Barnes. He’s recovering from a vicious crime that three years ago took the lives of his wife and children—and from the year he tried to drink his reality away. While her heart does a happy Snoopy dance at the sight of him, he never seems to notice her, to Carrie’s chagrin.

When Carrie’s dishwasher is killed and her young waitress disappears, Greg finds himself drawn into helping Carrie solve the mysteries … and into her life. But Carrie has a painful past, too, and when the reason she once ran away shows up in town, the fragile relationship she’s built with Greg threatens to implode from the weight of the baggage they both carry. Two wounded hearts struggle to find a way to make one romance work. Failure seems guaranteed when Carrie locates her waitress but is taken hostage...

If you would like to read the first chapter of Shadows on the Sand, go HERE.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Falls Like Lightning" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Falls Like Lightning
Bethany House (July 1, 2011)
Shawn Grady

Smoke Jumpers in the middle of a forest fire started by lightning... acres and acres on fire and towns in danger. Enter the good guys - the ones that clear the path to stop the fire... but is that all they are there to do? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and how many of them will die before it is all over? A legend of a hidden cache of gold might just be enough to make the best people bad. Elle is the pilot in the middle of everything on a mission of her own - to save her daughter and find her missing father. Her blast from the past is Silas who ran out on her 7 years ago and has now shown back up. After everything they went through can Elle forgive and forget?

This book is a wild ride from page one and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the good guys and the bad guys. No one is immune from demise, which as a reader is always nice because the book is unpredictable. Really enjoyed this one and the heart pounding journey it took me on!


Shawn Grady signed with Bethany House Publishers in 2008. He was named “Most Promising New Writer” at the 39th Annual Mount Hermon Writers Conference. He is the author of the novels Through the Fire, Tomorrow We Die & Falls Like Lightning.

Shawn has served for over a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in northern Nevada. From fire engines and ambulances to tillered ladder trucks and helicopters, Shawn’s work environment has always been dynamic. The line of duty has carried him to a variety of locale, from high-rise fires in the city to the burning heavy timber of the eastern Sierras.

After graduating from James Logan High School in Union City, California, Shawn attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego as a Theology undergrad. There he found clarity of direction and proceeded on to acquire an Associate of Science degree in Fire Science Technology as well as Paramedic licensure through Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.

Shawn currently lives in Reno, just outside of Lake Tahoe. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wife, three children and yellow Labrador.


When hotshot smoke jumper Silas Kent gets his own fire crew, he thinks he's achieved what he's always wanted. But a lightning-sparked fire in the Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevadas has his team in a plane before they can even train together.

Pilot Elle Westmore has been called up to drop the crew into the heart of the forest infernos. A single mother of a mysteriously ill six-year-old, she can't imagine her life getting any more complicated.

It doesn't take long for things to go very wrong, very quickly. A suspicious engine explosion forces Elle to make an emergency landing. Silas is able to parachute to safety but soon discovers his crew can't be trusted. They're hiding something, and now Silas is on a race to save himself and Elle from the flames--and from a more dangerous threat: his own team.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Falls Like Lightning, go HERE

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Pattern of Wounds" Book Review

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Pattern of Wounds

Bethany House (July 1, 2011)


J. Mark Bertrand


The return of Roland March is finally here! And it was worth the wait. This book is an excellent blend of fresh murders, a past case of Roland's and a serial killer. Roland March is smack dab in the middle of politics, mayhem, lies and betrayal and everyone is out for themselves. All Roland wants is to solve his case, keep his past case complete (and that murderer behind bars) and keep his nose clean (or not). But then his family is threatened and he starts to wonder if maybe the cases from past years are really related after all. Lots of twists and turns in this murder mystery and I followed right along - no huge surprises for me but the way it was all worked out I enjoyed the whole thing. I am so pleased that this won't be the last we see of Roland March, he is so not perfect and that is exactly why I love him!


J. Mark Bertrand lived in Houston, where the series is set, for fifteen years, earning an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. But after one hurricane too many he relocated with his wife Laurie to the plains of South Dakota. Mark has been arrested for a crime he didn't commit, was the foreman of one hung jury and served on another that acquitted Vinnie Jones of assault. In 1972, he won an honorable mention in a child modeling contest, but pursued writing instead.


It's Christmas in Houston, and homicide detective Roland March is on the hunt for a killer. A young woman's brutal stabbing in an affluent neighborhood bears all the hallmarks of a serial murder. The only problem is that March sent the murderer to prison ten years ago. Is it a copycat -- or did March convict the wrong man?

Alienated from his colleagues and with a growing rift in his marriage, March receives messages from the killer. The bodies pile up, the pressure builds, and the violence reaches too close to home. Up against an unfathomable evil, March struggles against the clock to understand the hidden message in the pattern of wounds.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Pattern of Wounds, go HERE.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Vigilante" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bethany House (July 1, 2011)
Robin Parrish

Sometimes you read and book and the whole way through you are just thinking - "Has anyone in Hollywood picked this up to make a movie out of it yet???" Vigilante is one of those books! The entire time I was reading it I felt like I was in the middle of an action hero movie - fast paced, unique characters, evil bad guys, good guys getting misled on their journey and finding their way back. So many twists and turns and some unexpected demises. I actually cried at a couple parts and got mad toward the end when the author made the right choice but I didn't like it (the sign of a good author, not taking the easy way out). This book is so worth moving to the top of your must read pile. I really enjoyed it and hope that maybe the Vigilante comes back for more.


Robin Parrish wants to take you on a ride.

A wild ride -- which is exactly what you're in for when you pick up one of his books. And he's adamant that it will never be the same kind of experience twice.

Robin's stories mix, mingle, and meld various genres together to create thoroughly original suspense/thrillers. His Dominion Trilogy, for example, mashed up superhero action, secret societies, ancient myths, and an apocalyptic setting to create an entirely new take on the classic "hero's journey." Offworld mixed science fiction and an end-of-the-world scenario with high-octane action. Nightmare, his 2010 novel, is a spine-tingling examination of the world of the paranormal, paired with can't-put-it-down mystery. His 2011 novel, Vigilante, is an action-packed story about a soldier who sets out to change the world. Later this year, he's releasing his first ever Young Adult novel, titled Corridor.

Always pushing the envelope, ever on the edge of where modern storytelling is going, Robin Parrish will gladly and unapologetically tell you that he's an entertainer, a weaver of stories that ignite the mind and delight the heart. Defying labels and refusing pigeonholes, his imagination is fueled by the possibilities of asking "What if…?", and as anyone who's read his work knows, he has a very big imagination.

His influences as a novelist range from television and film storytellers like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams, to masters of the modern myth like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Akin to Philip K. Dick's search for the meaning of identity, most of what Robin writes about boils down to his own ponderings and examinations of just what this thing we call "existence" is.

Robin is a full time writer. He and his wife Karen and two children live in High Point, NC.

"Robin Parrish is a keen-eyed, passionate pop cultural savant,

whose writing is as incisive and insightful as it is entertaining."

- Allan Heinberg, Executive Producer, Grey's Anatomy


Nolan Gray is an elite soldier, skilled in all forms of combat. After years fighting on foreign battlefields, witnessing unspeakable evils and atrocities firsthand, a world-weary Nolan returns home to find it just as corrupt as the war zones. Everywhere he looks, there's pain and cruelty. Society is being destroyed by wicked men who don't care who they make suffer or destroy.

Nolan decides to do what no one else can, what no one has ever attempted. He will defend the helpless. He will tear down the wicked. He will wage a one-man war on the heart of man, and he won't stop until the world is the way it should be.

The wicked have had their day. Morality's time has come. In a culture starving for a hero, can one extraordinary man make things right?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Vigilante, go HERE.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Veiled Rose"

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Veiled Rose

Bethany House (July 1, 2011)


Anne Elisabeth Stengl


Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she enjoys her profession as an art teacher, giving private lessons from her personal studio, and teaching group classes at the Apex Learning Center. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. Heartless is her debut novel.


Rose Red trusts no one with her secret. She hides in the forest, her face veiled in rags, shunning the company of all save her old father and her nanny goat. Her life is bleak and lonely.

Until she meets a privileged young man sent to spend his summer in the mountains. Leo, a lonely lad, befriends Rose Red, and together they begin hunting for the Mountain Monster which, rumor says, stalks these lands.

But the hunt which began as a game holds greater risk than Leo supposes. Rose Red can scarcely guess at the consequences should he insist on continuing his search. Dare she trust him with her secret? Or tell him what dwells at the top of the mountain in the cave only she can find?

Above all, when Leo asks Rose Red to leave the mountain and follow him to the low country, dare she agree and risk the wrath of a Monster that is all too real?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Veiled Rose, go HERE.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Lion of Babylon" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Lion of Babylon
Bethany House (July 1, 2011)
Davis Bunn

I love Davis Bunn's writing and I have read a lot of it, but sometimes I think, maybe he has written all he has to write and time and time again he proves me wrong! This book is amazing - edge of your seat political thriller set in Iraq with missing Americans and an Iraqi and lots of kidnapped children and one American brought to Iraq and thrown in with an Iraqi lawyer who have very little time to make things happen. Awesome! And it makes me realize yet again that if the book has Davis Bunn on the front cover then it is making its way to my keep shelf!


Born and raised in North Carolina, Davis left for Europe at age twenty. There he first completed graduate studies in economics and finance, then began a business career that took him to over forty countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Davis came to faith at age 28, while living in Germany and running an international business advisory group. He started writing two weeks later. Since that moment, writing has remained both a passion and a calling.

Davis wrote for nine years and completed seven books before his first was accepted for publication. During that time, he continued to work full-time in his business career, travelling to two and sometimes three countries every week. His first published book, The Presence, was released in 1990 and became a national bestseller.

Honored with three Christy Awards for excellence in historical and suspense fiction, his bestsellers include The Great Divide, Winner Take All, The Meeting Place, The Warning, The Book of Hours, and The Quilt.

A sought-after speaker in the art of writing, Davis serves as Writer In Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.


Marc Royce works for the State Department on special assignments, most of them rather routine, until two CIA operatives go missing in Iraq--kidnapped by Taliban forces bent on generating chaos in the region. Two others also drop out of sight--a high-placed Iraqi civilian and an American woman providing humanitarian aid. Are the disappearances linked? Rumors circulate in a whirl of misinformation.

Marc must unravel the truth in a covert operation requiring utmost secrecy--from both the Americans and the insurgents. But even more secret than the undercover operation is the underground dialogue taking place between sworn enemies. Will the ultimate Reconciler between ancient enemies, current foes, and fanatical religious factions be heard?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Lion of Babylon, go HERE.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Dug Down Deep" by Joshua Harris

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:

Dug Down Deep

Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Associate, Image Books/ / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of local churches. He is the author of Why Church Matters and several books on relationships, including the run-away bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

Visit the author's website.


Dug Down Deep shows a new generation of Christians why words like theology and doctrine are the “pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of knowing the living Jesus Christ.” Joshua Harris enthusiastically reminds readers that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars. It is for anyone who longs to know and love God.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601423713
ISBN-13: 978-1601423719



“We’re all theologians. The question is

whether what we know about God is true.”

IT’S STRANGE TO SEE an Amish girl drunk. The pairing of a bonnet and a can of beer is awkward. If she were stumbling along with a jug of moonshine, it would at least match her long, dowdy dress. But right now she can’t worry about that. She is flat-out wasted. Welcome to rumspringa.


The Amish, people who belong to a Christian religious sect with roots in

Europe, practice a radical form of separation from the modern world. They live and dress with simplicity. Amish women wear bonnets and long, old fashioned dresses and never touch makeup. The men wear wide-rimmed straw hats, sport bowl cuts, and grow chin curtains—full beards with the mustaches shaved off.

My wife, Shannon, sometimes says she wants to be Amish, but I know this isn’t true. Shannon entertains her Amish fantasy when life feels too complicated or when she’s tired of doing laundry. She thinks life would be easier if she had only two dresses to choose from and both looked the same. I tell her that if she ever tried to be Amish, she would buy a pair of jeans and ditch her head covering about ten minutes into the experiment. Besides, she would never let me grow a beard like that.

Once Shannon and her girlfriend Shelley drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a weekend of furniture and quilt shopping in Amish country. They stayed at a bed-and-breakfast located next door to an Amish farm. One morning Shannon struck up a conversation with the inn’s owner, who had lived among the Amish his entire life. She asked him questions, hoping for romantic details about the simple, buggy-driven life. But instead he complained about having to pick up beer cans every weekend.

Beer cans?

“Yes,” he said, “the Amish kids leave them everywhere. ”That’s when he told her about rumspringa. The Amish believe that before a young person chooses to commit to the Amish church as an adult, he or she should have the chance to freely explore the forbidden delights of the outside world. So at age sixteen everything changes for Amish teenagers. They go from milking cows and singing hymns to living like debauched rock stars.

In the Pennsylvania Dutch language, rumspringa literally means “running around.” It’s a season of doing anything and everything you want with zero rules. During this time—which can last from a few months to several years—all the restrictions of the Amish church are lifted. Teens are free to shop at malls, have sex, wear makeup, play video games, do drugs, use cell phones, dress however they want, and buy and drive cars. But what they seem to enjoy most during rumspringa is gathering at someone’s barn, blasting music, and then drinking themselves into the ground. Every weekend, the man told Shannon, he had to clean up beer cans littered around his property following the raucous, all-night Amish parties.

When Shannon came home from her Lancaster weekend, her Amish aspirations had diminished considerably. The picture of cute little Amish girls binge drinking took the sheen off her idealistic vision of Amish life. We completed her disillusionment when we rented a documentary about the rite of rumspringa called Devil’s Playground. Filmmaker Lucy Walker spent three years befriending, interviewing, and filming Amish teens as they explored the outside world. That’s where we saw the drunk Amish girl tripping along at a barn party. We learned that most girls continue to dress Amish even as they party—as though their clothes are a lifeline back to safety while they explore life on the wild side.

In the documentary Faron, an outgoing, skinny eighteen-year-old sells and is addicted to the drug crystal meth. After Faron is busted by the cops, he turns in rival drug dealers. When his life is threatened, Faron moves back to his parents’ home and tries to start over. The Amish faith is a good religion, he says. He wants to be Amish, but his old habits keep tugging on him.

A girl named Velda struggles with depression. During rumspringa she finds the partying empty, but after joining the church she can’t imagine living the rest of her life as an Amish woman. “God talks to me in one ear, Satan in the other,” Velda says. “Part of me wants to be like my parents, but the other part wants the jeans, the haircut, to do what I want to do.”1When she fails to convince her Amish fiancĂ© to leave the church with her, she breaks off her engagement a month before the wedding and leaves the Amish faith for good. As a result Velda is shunned by her family and the entire community. Alone but determined, she begins to attend college.

Velda’s story is the exception. Eighty to 90 percent of Amish teens decide to return to the Amish church after rumspringa.2 At one point in the film, Faron insightfully comments that rumspringa is like a vaccination for Amish teens. They binge on all the worst aspects of the modern world long enough to make themselves sick of it. Then, weary and disgusted, they turn back to the comforting, familiar, and safe world of Amish life.

But as I watched, I wondered, What are they really going back to? Are they choosing God or just a safe and simple way of life?

I know what it means to wrestle with questions of faith. I know what it’s like for faith to be so mixed up with family tradition that it’s hard to distinguish between a genuine knowledge of God and comfort in a familiar way of life.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. One that was on the more conservative end of the spectrum. I’m the oldest of seven children. Our parents homeschooled us, raised us without television, and believed that old fashioned courtship was better than modern dating. Friends in our neighborhood probably thought our family was Amish, but that’s only because they didn’t know some of the really conservative Christian homeschool families. The truth was that our family was more culturally liberal than many homeschoolers. We watched movies, could listen to rock music (as long as it was Christian or the Beatles), and were allowed to have Star Wars and Transformers toys.

But even so, during high school I bucked my parents’ restrictions. That’s not to say my spiritual waywardness was very shocking. I doubt Amish kids would be impressed by my teenage dabbling in worldly pleasure. I never did drugs. Never got drunk. The worst things I ever did were to steal porn magazines, sneak out of the house at night with a kid from church, and date various girls behind my parents’ backs. Although my rebellion was tame in comparison, it was never virtue that held me back from sin. It was lack of opportunity. I shudder to think what I would have done with a parent sanctioned season of rumspringa.

The bottom line is that my parents’ faith wasn’t really my faith. I knew how to work the system, I knew the Christian lingo, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was set on enjoying the moment.

Recently a friend of mine met someone who knew me in early high school. “What did she remember about me?” I asked.

“She said you were girl crazy, full of yourself, and immature,” my friend told me.

Yeah, she knew me, I thought. It wasn’t nice to hear, but I couldn’t argue.

I didn’t know or fear God. I didn’t have any driving desire to know him.

For me, the Christian faith was more about a set of moral standards than belief and trust in Jesus Christ.

During my early twenties I went through a phase of blaming the church I had attended in high school for all my spiritual deficiencies. Evangelical mega churches make good punching bags.

My reasoning went something like this: I was spiritually shallow because the pastors’ teaching had been shallow. I wasn’t fully engaged because they hadn’t done enough to grab my attention. I was a hypocrite because everyone else had been a hypocrite. I didn’t know God because they hadn’t provided enough programs. Or they hadn’t provided the right programs. Or maybe they’d had too many programs.

All I knew was that it was someone else’s fault.

Blaming the church for our problems is second only to the popular and easy course of blaming our parents for everything that’s wrong with us. But the older I get, the less I do of both. I hope that’s partly due to the wisdom that comes with age. But I’m sure it’s also because I am now both a parent and a pastor. Suddenly I have a lot more sympathy for my dad and mom and the pastors at my old church. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

At the church where I now pastor (which I love), some young adults remind me of myself when I was in high school. They are church kids who know so much about Christian religion and yet so little about God. Some are passive, completely ambivalent toward spiritual things. Others are actively straying from their faith—ticked off about their parents’ authority, bitter over a rule or guideline, and counting the minutes until they turn eighteen and can disappear. Others aren’t going anywhere, but they stay just to go through the motions. For them, church is a social group.

It’s strange being on the other side now. When I pray for specific young men and women who are wandering from God, when I stand to preach and feel powerless to change a single heart, when I sit and counsel people and it seems nothing I can say will draw them away from sin, I remember the pastors from my teenage years. I realize they must have felt like this too. They must have prayed and cried over me. They must have labored over sermons with students like me in mind.

I see now that they were doing the best they knew how. But a lot of the time, I wasn’t listening.

During high school I spent most Sunday sermons doodling, passing notes, checking out girls, and wishing I were two years older and five inches taller so a redhead named Jenny would stop thinking of me as her “little brother.” That never happened.

I mostly floated through grown-up church. Like a lot of teenagers in evangelical churches, I found my sense of identity and community in the parallel universe of the youth ministry. Our youth group was geared to being loud, fast paced, and fun. It was modeled on the massive and influential, seeker-sensitive Willow Creek Community Church located outside Chicago. The goal was simple: put on a show, get kids in the building, and let them see that Christians are cool, thus Jesus is cool. We had to prove that being a Christian is, contrary to popular opinion and even a few annoying passages of the Bible, loads of fun. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as partying and having sex but pretty fun nonetheless.

Every Wednesday night our group of four-hundred-plus students divided into teams. We competed against each other in games and won points by bringing guests. As a homeschooler, of course I was completely worthless in the “bring friends from school” category. So I tried to make up for that by working on the drama and video team. My buddy Matt and I wrote, performed, and directed skits to complement our youth pastor’s messages. Unfortunately, our idea of complementing was to deliver skits that were not even remotely connected to the message. The fact that Matt was a Brad Pitt look-alike assured that our skits were well received (at least by the girls).

The high point of my youth-group performing career came when the pastor found out I could dance and asked me to do a Michael Jackson impersonation.

The album Bad had just come out. I bought it, learned all the dance moves, and then when I performed—how do I say this humbly?—I blew everyone away. I was bad (and I mean that in the good sense of the word bad ). The crowd went absolutely nuts. The music pulsed, and girls were screaming and grabbing at me in mock adulation as I moon walked and lip-synced my way through one of the most inane pop songs ever written. I loved every minute of it.

Looking back, I’m not real proud of that performance. I would feel better about my bad moment if the sermon that night had been about the depravity of man or something else that was even slightly related. But there was no connection. It had nothing to do with anything.

For me, dancing like Michael Jackson that night has come to embody my experience in a big, evangelical, seeker-oriented youth group. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was culturally savvy (at the time), and it had very little to do with God. Sad to say, I spent more time studying Michael’s dance moves for that drama assignment than I was ever asked to invest in studying about God.

Of course, this was primarily my own fault. I was doing what I wanted to do. There were other kids in the youth group who were more mature and who grew more spiritually during their youth-group stint. And I don’t doubt the good intentions of my youth pastor. He was trying to strike the balance between getting kids to attend and teaching them.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been interested in youth group if it hadn’t been packaged in fun and games and a good band. But I still wish someone had expected more of me—of all of us.

Would I have listened? I can’t know. But I do know that a clear vision of God and the power of his Word and the purpose of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were lost on me in the midst of all the flash and fun.

There’s a story in the Bible of a young king named Josiah, who lived about 640 years before Christ. I think Josiah could have related tome—being religious but ignorant of God. Josiah’s generation had lost God’s Word. And I don’t mean that figuratively. They literally lost God’s Word. It sounds ridiculous, but they essentially misplaced the Bible.

If you think about it, this was a pretty big deal. We’re not talking about a pair of sunglasses or a set of keys. The Creator of the universe had communicated with mankind through the prophet Moses. He gave his law. He revealed what he was like and what he wanted. He told his people what it meant for them to be his people and how they were to live. All this was dutifully recorded on a scroll. Then this scroll, which was precious beyond measure, was stored in the holy temple. But later it was misplaced. No one knows how. Maybe a clumsy priest dropped it and it rolled into a dark corner.

But here’s the really sad thing: nobody noticed it was missing. No search was made. Nobody checked under the couch. It was gone and no one cared. For decades those who wore the label “God’s people” actually had no communication with him.

They wore their priestly robes, they carried on their traditions in their beautiful temple, and they taught their messages that were so wise, so insightful, so inspirational.

But it was all a bunch of hot air—nothing but their own opinions. Empty ritual. Their robes were costumes, and their temple was an empty shell.

This story scares me because it shows that it’s possible for a whole generation to go happily about the business of religion, all the while having lost a true knowledge of God.

When we talk about knowledge of God, we’re talking about theology. Simply put, theology is the study of the nature of God—who he is and how he thinks and acts. But theology isn’t high on many people’s list of daily concerns.

My friend Curtis says that most people today think only of themselves. He calls this “me-ology.” I guess that’s true. I know it was true of me and still can be. It’s a lot easier to be an expert on what I think and feel and want than to give myself to knowing an invisible, universe-creating God.

Others view theology as something only scholars or pastors should worry about. I used to think that way. I viewed theology as an excuse for all the intellectual types in the world to add homework to Christianity.

But I’ve learned that this isn’t the case. Theology isn’t for a certain group of people. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to escape theology. It’s everywhere. All of us are constantly “doing” theology. In other words, all of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like. Oprah does theology. The person who says, “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to hell” is doing theology.

We all have some level of knowledge. This knowledge can be much or little, informed or uninformed, true or false, but we all have some concept of God (even if it’s that he doesn’t exist). And we all base our lives on what we think God is like.

So when I was spinning around like Michael Jackson at youth group, I was a theologian. Even though I wasn’t paying attention in church. Even though I wasn’t very concerned with Jesus or pleasing him. Even though I was more preoccupied with my girlfriend and with being popular. Granted I was a really bad theologian—my thoughts about God were unclear and often ignorant. But I had a concept of God that directed how I lived.

I’ve come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature—what he is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him—affects every part of your life.

Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.

I know the idea of “studying” God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab or a set of ideas that we memorize like math proofs.

But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?

Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood?

We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions.

We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

In the days of King Josiah, theology was completely messed up. This isn’t really surprising. People had lost God’s words and then quickly forgot what the true God was like.

King Josiah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. People call Jeremiah the weeping prophet, and there was a lot to weep about in those days. “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land,” Jeremiah said. “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:30–31, NIV).

As people learned to love their lies about God, they lost their ability to recognize his voice. “To whom can I speak and give warning?” God asked. “Who will listen tome? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it” (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV).

People forgot God. They lost their taste for his words. They forgot what he had done for them, what he commanded of them, and what he threatened if they disobeyed. So they started inventing gods for themselves. They started borrowing ideas about God from the pagan cults. Their made-up gods let them live however they wanted. It was “me-ology” masquerading as theology.

The results were not pretty.

Messed-up theology leads to messed-up living. The nation of Judah resembled one of those skanky reality television shows where a houseful of barely dressed singles sleep around, stab each other in the back, and try to win cash. Immorality and injustice were everywhere. The rich trampled the poor. People replaced the worship of God with the worship of pagan deities that demanded religious orgies and child sacrifice. Every level of society, from marriage and the legal system to religion and politics, was corrupt.

The surprising part of Josiah’s story is that in the midst of all the distortion and corruption, he chose to seek and obey God. And he did this as a young man (probably no older than his late teens or early twenties). Scripture gives this description of Josiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, NIV).

The prophet Jeremiah called people to the same straight path of true theology and humble obedience:

Thus says the LORD:

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

In Jeremiah’s words you see a description of King Josiah’s life. His generation was rushing past him, flooding down the easy paths of man-made religion, injustice, and immorality.

They didn’t stop to look for a different path.

They didn’t pause to consider where the easy path ended.

They didn’t ask if there was a better way.

But Josiah stopped. He stood at a crossroads, and he looked. And then he asked for something that an entire generation had neglected, even completely forgotten. He asked for the ancient paths.

What are the ancient paths? When the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah used the phrase, he was describing obedience to the Law of Moses. But today the ancient paths have been transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ. Now we see that those ancient paths ultimately led to Jesus. We have not only truth to obey but a person to trust in—a person who perfectly obeyed the Law and who died on the cross in our place.

But just as in the days of Jeremiah, the ancient paths still represent life based on a true knowledge of God—a God who is holy, a God who is just, a God who is full of mercy toward sinners. Walking in the ancient paths still means relating to God on his terms. It still means receiving and obeying his self-revelation with humility and awe.

Just as he did with Josiah and Jeremiah and every generation after them, God calls us to the ancient paths. He beckons us to return to theology that is true. He calls us, as Jeremiah called God’s people, to recommit ourselves to orthodoxy.

The word orthodoxy literally means “right opinion.” In the context of Christian faith, orthodoxy is shorthand for getting your opinion or thoughts about God right. It is teaching and beliefs based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don’t budge. They’re clearly taught in Scripture and affirmed in the historic creeds of the Christian faith:
There is one God who created all things.

God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Bible is God’s inerrant word to humanity.

Jesus is the virgin-born, eternal Son of God.

Jesus died as a substitute for sinners so they could be forgiven.

Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus will one day return to judge the world.

Orthodox beliefs are ones that genuine followers of Jesus have acknowledged From the beginning and then handed down through the ages. Take one of them away, and you’re left with something less than historic Christian belief.

When I watched the documentary about the Amish rite of rumspringa, what stood out to me was the way the Amish teenagers processed the decision of whether or not to join the Amish church. With few exceptions the decision seemed to have very little to do with God. They weren’t searching Scripture to see if what their church taught about the world, the human heart, and salvation was true. They weren’t wrestling with theology. I’m not implying that the Amish don’t have a genuine faith and trust in Jesus. But for the teens in the documentary, the decision was mostly a matter of choosing a culture and a lifestyle. It gave them a sense of belonging. In some cases it gave them a steady job or allowed them to marry the person they wanted.

I wonder how many evangelical church kids are like the Amish in this regard. Many of us are not theologically informed. Truth about God doesn’t define us and shape us. We have grown up in our own religious culture. And often this culture, with its own rituals and music and moral values, comes to represent Christianity far more than specific beliefs about God do.

Every new generation of Christians has to ask the question, what are we actually choosing when we choose to be Christians? Watching the stories of the Amish teenagers helped me realize that a return to orthodoxy has to be more than a return to a way of life or to cherished traditions. Of course the Christian faith leads to living in specific ways. And it does join us to a specific community. And it does involve tradition. All this is good. It’s important. But it has to be more than tradition. It has to be about a person—the historical and living person of Jesus Christ.

Orthodoxy matters because the Christian faith is not just a cultural tradition or moral code. Orthodoxy is the irreducible truths about God and his work in the world. Our faith is not just a state of mind, a mystical experience, or concepts on a page. Theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity.

For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.

Theology sounds stuffy.

Doctrine is something unkind people fight over.

And orthodoxy? Many Christians would have trouble saying what it is other than it calls to mind images of musty churches guarded by old men with comb-overs who hush and scold.

I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my “theology allergy,” was unfounded.

This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.

The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

They told the story of the Person I longed to know.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"The Protector"

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


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


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 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.