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Nothing But Trouble (Book #1 PJ Sugar Series) by Susan May Warren

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:

Nothing But Trouble (Book #1 PJ Sugar Series)

Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of seventeen novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep’s Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader’s Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414313128
ISBN-13: 978-1414313122

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

PJ Sugar would never escape trouble. Clearly she couldn’t shake free of it—regardless of how far and fast she ran. It had followed her from Minnesota to South Dakota to Colorado to Montana, down the shore to California, and finally over to Melbourne Beach, Florida, where it rose with teeth to consume what should have been the most perfect night of her life.

She stood on the shore, her toes mortared into the creamy white sand, the waves licking up to her ankles, and with a cry that sounded more like frustration than fury, threw her linen espadrille with her best underhand pitch. It sailed high, cutting through the burning sky, disappeared briefly in the purple haze of night, then splashed into the ocean.

Gone. Along with her future.

A seagull soared low, screaming, pondering the morsel it may have missed.

“PJ, come back inside.” Matthew’s voice sounded behind her as he trekked out onto the beach, kicking sand into his loafers, looking piqued as the wind raked fingers through his brown, thinning hair, snagged his tie, and noosed it around his neck. He dangled her oversize canvas purse from his hand, as if it might be a bomb.

Ten feet away, he held it out to her like a carrot. “They haven’t even brought out the crab legs yet. You love those.”

“Oh, sure I do. Right along with brussels sprouts and pickled herring.” She’d been so soundly ensconced in happily-ever-after land she’d failed to see that the man she wanted to marry didn’t even know she hated crab legs.

Pretty much all shellfish.

Thanks to the fact that she was allergic to it.

Matthew lowered the purse, as if her words stung him. “Really?”

PJ shook her head, her mouth half-open, not even sure where to start. Behind them, calypso music drifted out of Dungarees Restaurant, festive themes for happy couples. Twinkle lights stringing along the thatched roof overhung the porch, and the piquant smell lifting off the grills on the patio snarled her empty stomach. Maybe she should go back inside, pick up the wicker chair she’d knocked over.

He owed her dinner, at least.

She stood her ground, forcing him to march her belongings across the sand.

“Here’s your, uh . . . suitcase.” He held it out to her, letting go before she had her hand on it. It dropped with the weight of an anvil onto the glossy sand.

“Hey, that’s my personal survival kit—show some respect.” She scooped it up, realizing she’d been entirely too civil during his execution of their relationship. “You never know when you’re going to need something.” Laugh all he wanted—if a gal was going to haul around a purse, it should be filled with all things handy. Tape to shut someone’s mouth, for example. Or a flashlight to guide her way home across a black expanse of shore.

“Sorry.” He stuck his hands into the pockets of his khakis, his sports coat like a warning flag as it whipped around him. “C’mon, PJ, come back inside. Please. It’s cold out here.”

“Seriously? Because ten minutes ago you were telling me how I wasn’t the girl for you. How, after nearly a year of dating, on a night when I expected—” Nope, she wasn’t going there. Wasn’t going to give him the slightest satisfying hint that she might have come to dinner tonight hoping—convinced, even—that he’d actually take a knee and put words to what she thought she’d seen in his eyes. Devotion. Commitment.

How could she have cajoled herself into believing that perfect Matthew Buchanan, church singles group leader and seminary student, might see a pastor’s wife in her?

Maybe she wasn’t exactly the picture of a pastor’s wife, with her curves, dark red hair, too many freckles spraying her nose as if she were still fifteen. She’d never considered herself refined, more on the cute side, her height conspiring against her hopes of being willowy and elegant. But her eyes were pretty—green, and honest, if maybe too wide in her face. And she’d cleaned up over the years. Even if Matthew didn’t think her beautiful, couldn’t he see past her rough edges to the woman she longed to be—a friend of Jesus, a woman of principle, a servant of grace? a girl who’d finally outrun her mistakes?

Apparently not.

She should be flinging herself into the surf right behind her espadrille.

“Expecting what, PJ?” Matthew had a faraway, even stricken, look in those previously warm eyes.

PJ couldn’t believe she was actually answering him and in a tone that betrayed her disappointment. “I just thought we were heading somewhere.”

“Like the missions trip to Haiti? You wanted to go on that with me?”

She stared at the place between his eyes, pretty sure she still had her shortstop aim. Her grip tightened on the other espadrille. “No,” she said slowly, crisply. “Not the missions trip.”

“Oh.” Wonder of wonders, he got it then, his face falling as he replayed his rejection. “I’m sorry. It just isn’t working for me.”

What did that mean exactly? Wasn’t working? Like she might be a cog that fouled up his perfect image? Clearly he’d forgotten the depths from which he’d climbed. Especially since, in her recent memory, he’d been a Budweiser-drinking surfer.

“You said that.” PJ hauled her bag up to her shoulder and curled her arms around her waist as her sundress twisted through her legs. She turned away, watching the ocean darken with its mystery. She never really swam in the ocean, just waded. The riptides and the unknown predators that lurked below the surface scared her. She tasted the salt in the cool spray that misted the air, heard hunger in the waves as they chewed the sand around her feet. She sometimes wondered what lay beyond the shore, in the uncharted depths of the sea.

And if she’d ever have the courage to find out.

“It’s just that, I want to be a pastor, and . . . ,” Matthew said, his voice closer to her.

“And?” She wrapped her arms tighter around herself, fighting a shiver.

“You’re just not pastor’s wife material.”

PJ refused to let his epitaph show on her face and found a voice that didn’t betray her. “Do you remember the last time we were out on the beach together?”

“What? Uh . . . no . . . wait—a couple weeks ago, we got ice cream on the pier.”

PJ closed her eyes. “That wasn’t with me.”

Silence. She didn’t temper it.

“Then, no.”

“It was the night of the sea turtles. Remember, we had to use flashlights because they made all the residents along the shore turn off their outside lights? We had our arms woven together to keep from losing each other. I remember wondering if it was possible to read your thoughts, because I couldn’t see your face.”

“We nearly walked on a sea turtle coming to shore,” Matthew said, reminiscence in his tone. She glanced at him, and something like pain or concern emerged on his face, edged in the shadow of whiskers.

PJ turned away, back to the ocean. “I kept thinking—that turtle mama’s going to bury her babies onshore and never see them again. She was going to leave them to fend for themselves, to struggle back to the sea, tasty defenseless morsels diving into an ocean where they’re the main course.”

She stared at her shoe, dangling in her hand. The wind ran its sticky fingers through her hair, tangling what had been a stylish short bob into a nest. Gooseflesh prickled her skin—she was cold and hungry, but she’d wrap herself in seaweed and dig a bunker in the sand before she’d return to the restaurant with Matthew. Probably she could even find something to eat in her so-called suitcase.

“Do you think they made it?” She wasn’t sure why she asked, why she prolonged this moment, their last. Probably trying to unravel time, as usual, figure out where it had snarled, turned into a knot.

Matthew dug his foot into the sand, watching it. “If they were supposed to, I guess.” He sighed. “Let’s go inside, PJ.”

PJ ran her eyes over the profile she’d previously—about an hour previously—told herself she loved. His sharp jaw, that lean rectangle frame. Barefoot, she still came to nearly his chin.

She wanted a taller man. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

He frowned.

“I’m not doing this ‘let’s be friends’ thing with you.”

“But we were friends before.” He reached for her and she dodged him, raising her shoe.

“Back away.”

“Whatya gonna do, PJ? Bean me with a shoe?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

He shook his head. “See, this is why we’d never work out. I need someone who is . . .”

“Perfect? Doesn’t show her emotions?”

He raised his shoulder in an annoying shrug. “Pastor’s wife material.”

Now he was going to get hurt. “Oh, that’s rich. Coming from a former surfer with a scar where his eyebrow bar used to be. What happened to ‘Ride the waves, PJ, and see where they take you’?”

His eyes darkened. “I’ve changed.”

And apparently she hadn’t. “Good-bye, Matthew. And by the way, yes, I hate crab legs. Because I’m allergic to them. Pay attention.”

She kicked up sand as she marched across the beach, thankful she could see her condo/motel/efficiency—depending on who she talked to—in the distance. She’d give just about anything for her Chuck Taylors to run home in. But she’d dressed to kill, or at least for love, this evening in a floral sundress and new espadrilles that gave her a sort of out-of-body feminine feeling. She needed her Superman pajama pants and a tank top—and fast.

“PJ! Don’t run away!” Matthew’s voice lifted over the surf.

“Running away is what I do best!” She didn’t turn.

“Why do you have to be such a drama queen?”

Okay. That. Was. It. She spun around, dropped her bag to the sand, and with everything in her, hurled her other shoe at him, a hard straight shot that any decent first baseman could have nabbed or at least dodged.

His four-letter snarl into the night put the smallest of smiles on her lips as she turned away.

The restless ocean stirred into the sounds of the club music as she hiked up the beach. She clung to the shadows, avoiding the pool of light from houses and condos, restaurants and cafés.

Not pastor’s wife material.

She broke into a little jog, hiking up the confining circle of her hem.

Angling up the sand, she hopped over the boardwalk toward her building. Brine-scented sea grass brushed the walkway, carpeted the trail to the two-story Sandy Acres motel/apartment complex, the half-lit sign now reading only “Sa d Ac es,” a term that seemed particularly apropos as she opened the metal gate alone, again.

Around the patio area, rusty pool furniture glimmered under the tinny, buzzing fluorescent lights. A horde of moths flirted with death around the heat of the bulbs; the earthy palmetto smell tangled with the coconut oil smeared onto the deck chairs, tempering the sharp odor of chlorine. Hip-hop thrummed under her downstairs neighbor’s door, and wet towels taunted by the wind slapped the metal rail above her as she climbed the stairs to her unit.

Home sweet home.

A temporary home. Three years could mean temporary. In fact, until tonight, she’d already been mentally packing, giving away her garage sale wicker and, finally, her Kellogg High School Mavericks sweatshirt. Maybe even Boone’s leather jacket, the one she’d stolen the night she left town. It seemed an uneven prize to all he’d cost her.

Her skin prickled as she fought the dead bolt.

Boone had probably forgotten the girl who wound her arms around his waist and dug her face into the leathery pocket between his shoulder blades as he roared them away from Kellogg on his Kawasaki.

Loneliness met her in the silence, the lights between the slats of the blinds striping the bedsheet that cordoned off her so-called bedroom. Her faucet dripped, and she dropped her key onto the counter, surrendering to the habitual attempt to turn it off. Then she ca-lumped her bag onto the chair, folded her arms, and stared out the window at the dark, hungry ocean.

Almost without realizing it, she clamped her hand over her left shoulder, high, near the apex, where the word Boone marked her in flowery script.

Beep. Behind her, the answering machine beckoned her away from the past and what might have been.

Boone was probably in jail or, worse, reformed and married with children. The great taboo, he wasn’t mentioned in her mother’s phone calls; his name wasn’t scrawled in her letters. She was sure he’d forgotten her, just like everyone else had.

Beep.

Forgotten that she’d left Kellogg, Minnesota, accused of a felony—an accusation too easily pinned on a high school senior whose reputation indicted her without trial. Her only crime had been abysmal judgment in men and allowing her heart to trespass into places her common sense told her not to tread.

A crime, apparently, she kept committing.

Beep.

Forgotten that her mother cut a deal with the director of the country club, one that included a full tank of gas and promises of a new kitchen. Her mother’s instructions to her included the phrase “just until things blow over.”

Beep.

Perhaps things had blown over long ago. Perhaps she was the one not ready.

Beep!

She pushed the Play button as she opened the freezer. Please let there be ice—

“PJ, it’s me.” Connie. The fact that her sister’s attorney-solemn voice tremored made PJ close the freezer door.

“Don’t panic.” Of course not. Because Connie never called her without some earth-shattering joyful news: I passed the bar. I bought a house. I’m having a baby. I’m getting married again!

PJ forced herself to remember that dissecting all that joy was the dark news of husband number one’s death. No one, regardless of how successful, thin, wealthy, and smart, deserved to be woken up at 2 a.m. by the police and asked to identify her husband’s remains. Or those of his mistress, with whom he’d been traveling when his car went off the road.

Still, PJ could hear panic under Connie’s voice. Especially when Connie continued, a little too quickly.

“Okay, listen, I know you don’t want to hear this, but . . . I need you to come home.”

Connie took a breath. And PJ held hers.

“Mom’s been in an accident.”

Everything went silent—the hip-hop beating the floorboards, the far-off hunger of the ocean, Matthew’s criticism in her ear. The years rushed at her like a line drive knocking her off her feet, regrets scattered like dust in her shadow.

Then Connie sighed and hung up. The beep and time signature noted no further messages.

PJ reached for the phone.

***

Connie sounded as if she might be on her fourth cup of coffee in some cement-lined corridor, tapping out the hour in her Jimmy Choos.

“PJ, where have you been? Mom’s already had her cast set and is in recovery.”

“Please, Connie, not now. Just . . . what happened?” PJ pressed the phone tight to her ear and paced to the window, the ten-year near estrangement with her mother hollowing her out. Had her mother forgotten her silent pledge to carry on, to be waiting if and when PJ summoned the courage to point her car north?

“She fell on the tennis court and broke her ankle.”

The window’s cool surface broke the sweat across PJ’s forehead. Tennis? “For pete’s sake, Connie, I thought . . . oh, man . . . Don’t call me again.”

“PJ!”

“What?”

“Don’t you want to know how bad it is?”

PJ sank into a chair. “How bad is it?”

“They casted her ankle; her bones are secured with a pin. She’ll be out of the hospital tomorrow. But I need you to come home. I’m getting married in a week, and I need help.”

Married. Of course. PJ had seen a picture of Sergei, Connie’s fiancé, and seriously wondered why a double-degreed lawyer might be marrying her tae kwon do coach. But who was she to question—after all, she, a near felon, had dreamed she might pass as a pastor’s wife.

“I thought you two were eloping.” PJ had managed to catch her breath and now returned to the freezer, cradled the phone against her shoulder, and dug out the Moose Tracks. As she opened the lid, crystallized edges and the smell of freezer burn elicited only a slight hesitation. She lifted a spoon from the dish drainer cup in the sink.

“We were flying down to Cancún, but Sergei’s parents couldn’t get a visa for Mexico, so I planned a little soiree at the country club. But the thing is, I have vacation time coming, and if I don’t use it, I’ll lose it. So we need to get away now if we want a honeymoon, and Mom certainly can’t watch David while she’s in a cast. I need you, Peej.”

PJ leaned a hip against the counter and cleaned the sides of the carton, the chocolate swirls melting against the roof of her mouth—sweet with only an edge of bitter.

“So let me get this straight—it’s okay that you weren’t going to invite me to the sunny sands of Mexico to watch you tie the knot with Mr. Muscle, but you want me to leave my life and return home at your whim?” She kept her eyes averted from the threadbare wicker and the chipped Formica table and stomped the floor once, real loud, hoping the boyz in the hood might hear her over the rap.

On the other end of the phone, Connie’s voice wadded into a small, tight ball. “I know how you feel about Kellogg and Boone and especially Mom, and frankly I don’t blame you. I’ve even tried to respect your decision. But it’s time to come home. You have family here. I need you. David needs you. . . .”

PJ tossed the empty container into the sink, licked off the spoon. Down the street, a car peeled out in a hurry, and a dog barked in disapproval.

“You know how I feel? Really? Because you got to stay, Connie. After graduation, you went on to college, to a life. I left town right after the ceremony, a Tupperware bowl of fruit on the seat beside me, praying my ancient VW Bug would make it to the South Dakota border. I’ve spent the past ten years wandering from one tank of gas to the next, trying to figure out where I should land. You lived the life Mom dreamed for you—”

“You lived the life you dreamed for yourself.”

PJ flinched, Connie’s voice sharper than she remembered. She stared out the window, wondering if Matthew still stood on the beach, a hand to his bruised head. “Is that what you seriously believe?”

Silence on the other end made PJ rub her fingers into her eyes. Connie had become an unlikely ally over the past ten years, mediating between PJ and their mother, once in a while sending her enough to cover her rent. However, it still wasn’t so easy to share the limelight with the sister who was wanted.

As opposed to being the one left on the proverbial doorstep. Being adopted sounded so endearing to everyone but the adoptee. The fact that Connie had been born just a few months later, close enough to share the same classes in school, constantly earning better grades and more awards, only served as a constant reminder that PJ hadn’t been good enough, even from birth.

“I’m sorry,” PJ said, letting a sigh leak out. “I’ve had a rough night.”

“Then come home, PJ. If only for a couple weeks. Or longer. You can stay with me until you find your own place.”

“Did you ask Mom?” PJ winced, hating the question and that she didn’t yank it back. Hadn’t she learned anything?

“I asked. Even if Mom won’t admit it, she needs you.”

PJ stood at her screen door, staring out at the now star-sprinkled night glistening on the rippled landscape. The Milky Way streamed across the sky, heading north.

“Please?” Admittedly, it was the closest to pleading she’d ever heard from Connie. “I need you.”

“How long before your wedding?”

“Six days. Sunday at two.”

PJ hung up without promises and walked back outside, over the boardwalk to the beach. The wind had chased the clouds, and a diamond chip moon hung in the sky, surrounded by the jewels of the night, brilliant and close enough to wrap her fingers around. She pressed her bare feet into the sand, then lifted them out, listening to the water slurp, then fill the imprints. Finally, she stared out again at the ocean and wondered how many turtles really made it back to the sea.

Excerpted from Nothing But Trouble by Susan May Warren. Copyright © 2009 by Susan May Warren. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Success Kills by Wayde Goodall

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:

Success Kills

New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press (March 31, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Wayde Goodall’s career spans several decades and continents. He is currently the president of World Wide Family and has written and co-authored 14 books in numberous languages, including Why Great Men Fall. A former missionary, he has served as a senior pastor, and created counseling programs focused on marriage, family, and parenting available to more than 32,000 ministers. He holds a Master of Arts degree in counseling from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible and one in psychology from Southern California College. He also earned Doctor of Ministry degrees from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and Northwest Graduate School of the Ministry. His new book, Success Kills: Sidestep the Snares that Will Steal Your Dreams, explores the fascinating and tragic inclination among successful men and women to ultimately destroy themselves. Goodall and his wife, Rosalyn, live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Visit the author’s website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press (March 31, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216921
ISBN-13: 978-0892216925

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Success Kills

Sidestep the Snares that Will Steal Your Dreams
NIV unless otherwise noted
By Wayde Goodall

Chapter 1

What Is Success?

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln.

How can someone who seems to have it all, who has achieved a level of success or fame, risk it all? How can a company or ministry who has the books to prove that it is unusually successful make a decision that will literally “bring the house down?”

A high-profile pastor, writer, advisor to government leaders, and leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, admitted having some level of relationship with a male homosexual masseuse.

His position, power, and popularity might have been the toxic combination that gave him “permission” to drive just an hour from his home to visit this man…hoping to hide his behavior from the public, his church, and his family. This “fog” in his thinking permitted his arrogance, lack of judgment, and sense of entitlement.

Mark Foley, the U.S. congressman from Florida, resigned after it was revealed that he sent sexually suggestive instant messages to teenage congressional pages. Other government leaders have told me that many people change when they reach these high-profile offices.

Professor of psychology, Tomi-Ann Roberts says, “The more power we have, the more we can convince ourselves we are invulnerable and we can get away with the things that all of us have just beneath the surface the desire to do.”

Companies such as Christian publisher, Multnomah Press, can make very ambitious expansion plans that are high risk because of the appearance of a trend of success for the long-term future.

Multnomah’s huge hit, The Prayer of Jabez, sold over eight million copies in 2001 (more than any other book that year). Thinking that this was going to fund the future of their organization, Multnomah made decisions that were “off the chart” of realistic growth. Money was spent, stock was produced, staff was hired, but the book took heavy returns (millions of copies) from bookstores. As a result, the company was forced to reduce staff and eventually sell the organization. They are no longer in business.

The lesson?

Momentary success, victory, or achievement does not guarantee a stable future.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12)

History is full of stories of those who were successful, but lost most if not all of what they had. Talent, ability, and power can “go to your head.”

Subtle changes often take place in us when we achieve fame, or are elevated to places of influence and power. Authority and the power to influence are necessary if we are going to be a leader, but they can also be the deadly arrow that will bring us down. It is often said, “Absolute power, corrupts absolutely.”

Many desire wealth, and wealth is helpful as we build a country, company, or church, but wealth without discipline can bring tremendous arrogance, and pain.

Many work, study, and prepare to be the most talented in their field, but what they are so gifted in, can also push their egos over the edge, resulting in ego-driven leadership . . . versus servant leadership.

Many seek knowledge and wisdom; however, those with tremendous intelligence and natural wisdom can make very wrong decisions, because they “think” they can trust their every choice. Could this be why, “Not many wise men. . . are called” (1 Cor. 1:26, KJV)

All of us desire experiences and gifts that help us improve and achieve our goals. But the truth remains, “Circumstances do not make the man; they reveal him to himself.”

Success has to do with being faithful, with being obedient to God, and with doing the right thing.

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you. . . So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” (Prov. 3:3-4, ESV)

Success might be the greatest challenge that you could experience. While there is nothing wrong with being successful, there needs to be a constant awareness that the gift of success can be the very thing that will cause harm to our lives. The blessing of perception can easily become the curse of deception.

The Most Talented Man in His Day

During his day, Solomon was wealthier and wiser than any other king on earth. As a young leader, he desperately desired discernment to govern the people of Israel. He understood the importance of making right decisions and asked God to give him a unique ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

God answered his prayers and gave him a wise and discerning heart. The Bible tells us that, “there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1 Kings 3:12). God also gave him great wealth, honor, and respect. There was no equal among the kings on the earth.

“God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt . . . Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” (1 Kings 4:29-34).

It took Solomon 20 years to build the temple (his palace), to dedicate the temple, and to bring the “ark” into it. He was obedient and precise, and demonstrated leadership at a level that was amazing to those who observed his life. What talent, and sense of timing and correctness this young leader demonstrated.

But something happened to him during his time of incredible success. His mind began to change. All of us can experience boredom. We can begin to wonder what it would be like to explore other options. He permitted himself to think about things that he knew were not pleasing to God.

Subtly, slowly, he became someone who craved earthly pleasures more than the things that pleased the Lord. Solomon became a very different man from when he began his days as Israel’s leader. His heart changed, his decisions became foggy and complicated, and his life was full of compromise.

God spoke to Solomon again. “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you,” (1 Kings 11:11).

The Creator who gave him more success than any other human, took it away.

What had Solomon done to deserve that?

”King Solomon . . . loved many foreign women . . . As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:1-4).

He became disobedient, stubborn, and arrogant, and his heart changed.

The wisest, most respected, and greatest man of his time began making many wrong choices. He lost much of what he had gained . . . including God’s respect.

Why?

Wrong thinking, complacency and pride about what he knew and in what he owned. His success became his enemy.

We must remember this: God will not permit His Kingdom, either in the heart or in the world, to be led by the world’s (carnal) principles.

Solomon once wrote “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death”…”a prudent man gives thoughts to his steps.”…” Evil men will bow down in the presence of the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous” (Prov. 14:12-19).

If only Solomon had listened to his own words, thought about what he was doing, and simply trusted God, he could have avoided all kinds of heartache and pain in his life. After many years of incredible favor and fame, he did exactly what God told him not to do. He knew the rules—understood why he was blessed, but decided that he would do it his own way, anyway.

He reached his goal and acquired all that he went after, but it cost him dearly. He went through years of discouragement, disillusionment, and confusion. He could have enjoyed even more if he had kept his focus on obedience to God.

Solomon’s downfall during the height of his success should be a warning to those who choose to misrepresent facts, to deceive others, and to take matters into their own hands. Spiritual success and God’s blessings only come by righteous means, not by manipulation or disregard for God’s principles.

The story of Solomon is not unusual. The headlines frequently remind us of leaders who fall…respected people, who we once looked up to, make decisions that shock us.

Why?

Power, influence, money, physical attractiveness, wisdom, and winning can quickly become an ego trip. We begin believing our own press releases and trusting people’s flattery, and we feel like “little gods.”

O.J Simpson’s book, If I Did It, reveals the hypothetical scenario of if and how he could have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. The decision to write such a book is not only an insult to our common sense, but reminds us of the human potential to do wrong and to be motivated by personal greed.

Michael Vick, the star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, shocked the owner of the team, as well as peers and sports fans around the world, when it was revealed that he had been involved in dog fighting and possibly racketeering. Why did he do it? What was he thinking? How long had he been involved in that underground activity? Certainly he didn’t need the money. The adrenaline in his blood when he led his team to victory was the same adrenaline that rushed through his veins when he saw one dog maul and kill another.

The Bible and history give us all the evidence we need to be aware that all of us can make some very wrong decisions. Isaiah said, “each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).

What can we do?

When we are successful, we must not rely on success, but trust in the God who has given us our gifts.

Remain humble, honest, and hungry.

Know that for some reason we have been given a sacred trust. Don’t depend on titles, influence, money, or position.

Trust the Creator daily and know that whether we have much or little, His love for us will never change. He is not impressed with our wealth, education, or power. He is impressed by our sincere trust of Him.

Human reason is one of the most admired idols of the intellectual world. Heresies such as situation ethics, reasoning about when life begins (or is to end), or even the existence of a personal God are begun in the thoughts of people we often admire as the brilliant thinkers of the day. With pride at the very core of our nature, man would like nothing more than to be his own god. Find a teaching that encourages the wonderful abilities of a person in his own eyes, and he will be a glutton at its table.

“Success comes from within, not without.” – Bill Purdin

When God grants success, He intends for it to be used for His advantage. Our success can be the tool that will help people individually or collectively. It can also be used for wrong motives or behavior, and for selfishness.

God created us to be successful, but what is His definition of success? Is it power? Is it all about what you own or how much money you have? Is it about education, politics, or being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?

These are common definitions of value and worth. But, it is deeper than that. While God desires all of us to be successful, we need to understand not only His definition of success, but also where it comes from . . . and we must hold it gently.

Success Equals God’s Favor

Looks can be dangerous.

Others can observe our lives or look at what we own, where we live, where we work, or what we drive and think that we are not successful. The appearance of success (or failure) can be a tricky deception.

The experience of Joseph recorded in Genesis 39 could be interpreted as a nightmare.

He was reduced to the stature of a slave by his jealous brothers. They thought he was trying to manipulate them into thinking he was superior because he told them about a wonderful dream God had given him. They began to resent him, and that resentment grew to a point where they wanted him to die. Since one of the brothers desired to help Joseph and not to kill him, they decided to sell him to a caravan of people going to Egypt. When he arrived, he was put on the auction block and sold into a life of slavery.

The person who bought Joseph had a wife who wanted to have an affair with him and falsely accused him of attempted rape. It was assumed that Joseph was guilty and he was put into prison.

If we could have been there to watch that scenario unfold, we would likely have thought that God’s hand was against Joseph, that he had a right to feel victimized. His life appeared to be in utter chaos.

But, the opposite was true. God knew exactly where Joseph was and what he was going through. Four times in Genesis 39 the Bible tells us that, “the Lord was with Joseph” (2, 3, 21, 23). Because Joseph honored God in all that he went through, God honored him.

Joseph was eventually considered a successful young leader. But, because of circumstances, overnight he appeared to be a failure. Then, after many years of trial and hardship, he became successful again. Because he refused to become bitter in life and refused to blame his brothers for his difficulties, God blessed him. Joseph literally saved tens of thousands of lives and was recognized as a gifted and wise leader. He had received the respect of the most influential people in the land.

Back and forth . . . success, failure, and then success again.

During his roller-coaster life, Joseph maintained one characteristic: he trusted God no matter what. Whether he was a leader, a prisoner, or a person of tremendous power, he remained faithful and relied on the knowledge that God was with him.

Joseph didn’t rely on a position, a title, financial affluence, or people’s opinions to assure him that he was successful. He just knew that no matter what, God was with him. The position didn’t make the man, regardless of the circumstances, the man didn’t change.

Adversity can be a greater blessing than affluence. Pressure, challenges, and difficulties can be the hands that mold us to be better people and better leaders. Hardship can be a greater gift than a life without pain or rejection. The very thing that most people desire and strive for – success – can be the greatest challenge they will ever face.

If you have what you feel is success in your life, understand that your blessings, gifts, and talents come from God. He has given you talents and favor for a purpose. Use them wisely.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” (Prov. 3:5-7)

Many people define success in different ways than God does. What we own, how much money we make, or how much we have invested could mislead us into thinking that we are on top of our game in life. For this reason, the Bible instructs us:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant, nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

There are masses of unhappy people who have incredible wealth. Money, possessions, titles, and financial security does not define success. There is nothing wrong with any of these, but when we have them we need to remind ourselves that they could be temporary and certainly will not be something we can take with us when we leave this life.

God’s favor, His blessings, and the success He brings are all because He is pleased with how we have chosen to live our lives and to make our decisions.

”If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.” (Ps. 37:23)

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Dr. Hippo Review and Giveaway

hippo-logo

About a month ago, I learned about the Dr. Hippo books by The Hippocratic Press. I was sent the whole set to review and I must say, these are a wonderful resource that any parent or care giver should own.  These books were created to raise awareness and teach children ages 2-7 years old about what is going on in their bodies. Mainly focusing on common childhood illnesses, these books are very well written, colorfully illustrated, and filled with much needed information for children and parents alike.

In the back of each book, there’s a pocket in the back that supplies a pamphlet of information called “The Parent Guide”. This guide supplies answers to the common questions about children’s health issues and offers parents advice about how to comfort children at home and when to call the doctor. I don’t know about you, but as a parent at the first sign of any little issue with my child, I am all over internet trying to determine the issue and what I should do. Now, it’s nice to know I can pick up one of these books instead and have all the information and useful advice I need at my finger tips.

I can see my daughter (although a little young for these books right now) being reassured and comforted through these books in the years to come.  I’d like to thank Dr. Cowan and the people over at the Hippocratic Press for this wonderful collection of stories that were written to entertain, educate and comfort all sick children.


Company History:

drhippo
“The Hippocratic Press was founded by Dr. Charlotte Cowan with the primary mission of publishing medical children’s stories that entertain, educate and reassure both parent and child…The idea of writing stories for sick children evolved as a natural combination of her professional experience and her childhood love of reading. As a pediatrician, Dr. Cowan developed a strong intuition that children would do better with their illnesses if they both understood what was happening to them and realized that they would get better. As a fan of children’s books, she recognized that they offered the perfect medium for her message.”

The Books:

The Little Elephant with the Big Earache: “…tells the story of Eddie, who awakens with a terrible earache after a busy afternoon making mud pies with his cousins. His mother takes care of him during the night and Dr. Hippo reassures them both during the day. Will Eddie recover in time for his birthday?” Little Music Man had an earache recently, so he could definitely relate to this story. He had a lot of fun identifying all the animals at Eddie’s birthday party.

Peeper Has a Fever: “The day of the Diving Contest has arrived! Peeper hops out of bed with excitement and joins his mother for breakfast. When he doesn’t touch his pancakes, she wonders whether he might be getting sick and soon discovers his fever of 104°. Worried, she calls their pediatrician, Dr. Hippocrates, who gives her excellent advice and asks her to keep in touch by phone. His parents then take wonderful care of Peeper, but what about the Diving Contest? Is he well enough to go? Will he win this year?” Little Music Man loved saying “Peeper, Peeper” (or sometimes it would come out as “eeper, eeper.”)

Katie Caught a Cold: “Katie is happily skating with her friends when she begins to sneeze. She soon develops a bad cold. Will she be better in time for the Ice Show? Her mother takes excellent care of Katie at home, checking in with their pediatrician, Dr. Hippo, when Katie starts blowing “green stuff” into her tissue. Won’t she need antibiotics? Katie needs to get better—and fast!” This was Little Music Man’s favorite book because he thinks it’s the funniest thing when he hears people sneeze. Every time Katie sneezed, he’d sneeze too!

Sadie’s Sore Throat: “One day while she is beading necklaces for the School Art Fair, Sadie begins to feel sick. Her mother worries about Sadie’s sore throat and takes excellent care of her at home before they go off to their pediatrician, a friendly hippopotamus named Dr. Hippocrates. Is Sadie too sick to go to the Fair? Will her necklaces win a prize?” Little Music Man had fun pretending that Dr. Hippo was listening to his heart and checking his ears and throat.

The Moose with Loose Poops: “Four-year-old Miles develops a tummy ache while on a family picnic in Maine. His planned camping trip with Papa (complete with canoeing and fishing) is postponed when throwing up (oops!) and diarrhea (loose poops) develop. Mama, Papa and Lucy Moose take excellent care of Miles at home. Of course, they are helped by their kindly pediatrician, Dr. Hippo, who advises that fluid is the best medicine for Miles. Will Miles recover in time to go camping with Papa under a special, star-filled sky?” Little Music Man loved saying “poop” and we thought this was the funniest book of all. I really loved the hand-washing song, which Little Music Man and I sing whenever we wash our hands.

Buy it: These books retail for 17.95 each and are available for purchase at: http://drhippo.com/index.shtml through Amazon.com

Win: One lucky winner will get the opportunity to win all 5 books in the Dr. Hippo series, they will be autographed by author Charlotte Cowan, M.D herself!

To Enter: Visit Dr. Hippo, take a good look around, and let me know who these would be for if you win.

For additional entries:

1. Subscribe to my blog – 1 entries
2. Blog about this giveaway- 2 EXTRA
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4. Favorite me on technorati and leave me your url 1 extra
5. Add me on twitter and retweet this:
@erinlowmaster WIN: Five Autographed Dr. Hippo Chidlren’s Books – http://bit.ly/yWZS
(Daily Extras are Available)
6. Add my button to your site and leave me your link 2 EXTRA
7. Post this at a giveaway listing site and leave the link- 5 extra entries
note: This Giveaway is only open to U.S only.

Please leave separate comments for each additional entry, i.e.: if you blog about it leave 2 separate comments.

Giveaway – running till 06/25/09 and is open to the USA only. Winners will be notified shortly afterward by email. Please respond within 48 hours or you forfeit your prize to another participant.

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FIRST: Bittersweet Memories by Cecelia Dowdy

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:

Bittersweet Memories

Heartsong Presents (June 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Cecelia Dowdy is a world traveler who has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. When she first read Christian fiction, she felt called to write for the genre.

She loves to read, write, and bake desserts in her spare time. She also loves spending time with her husband and her young son. Currently she resides with her family in Maryland.

The three books in this series are: John’s Quest(Maryland Wedding Series #1), Milk Money (Maryland Wedding Series #2), and Bittersweet Memories (Maryland Wedding Series #3).

Visit the author’s website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $2.97
Publisher: Heartsong Presents (June 2009)
ISBN: 9781602603547
Binding: Mass Market
Pages: 176 pages

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

PROLOGUE
Karen burst through the church doors, tears streaming down her face. “Pastor Smith, I can’t believe Lionel is still missing!”

The reverend and his wife, Candace, pulled the hysterical woman into a hug, patting her back. After they released her, Candace stroked Karen’s hair. “Honey, thanks for coming as soon as we called. The police detective is in the boardroom, waiting to talk to you. Are you sure you’re up for this?”

Karen wiped her eyes, struggling to gather her thoughts as the events from the past couple of weeks played through her mind like a nonstop movie. Her fiancé, Lionel Adams, had been fired as church treasurer after being accused of stealing thousands of dollars from their megachurch. And it was rumored that the assistant treasurer, Michelle James, who had recently resigned, had aided him with the theft.
Like the rest of the congregation, Karen had been shocked when the allegations against Lionel were announced at church two weeks ago. And since Lionel had left town the day before, she hadn’t been able to contact him to find out what was going on.

Karen turned toward Candace, her trembling lips attempting a smile. “I’ll—I’ll do the best I can to—to answer his questions.”

The threesome began walking slowly down the hallway, toward the boardroom. A moment later, the pastor stopped outside a closed door, placing his hand on Karen’s shoulder. “Karen, Michelle is missing also.”

Karen gasped, stepping away from the pastor. “That. . .that can’t be true.”

He nodded. “Unfortunately, it is.” Speaking softly, he said, “The church leadership team is concerned for both her and Lionel’s welfare. We want to find them, but we can’t ignore what’s happened.”

Candace took her hand. “Honey, we have to do all we can to locate them. What if there was foul play involved? Don’t you want to make sure Lionel is safe?”

Tears rushed from Karen’s eyes, and she wiped the moisture away. Her head pounded as she leaned against the cool wall, the contact bringing relief to her heated skin.

“Are you okay?” asked Pastor Smith.

Pulling herself away from the wall, she silently prayed, God, give me strength. “I–I’m okay now.”

The pastor’s kind dark eyes offered comfort. “The detective is in here. We called you to be questioned first since you know Lionel so well.”

Karen glanced at Candace. “Nobody told the congregation exactly how much money Lionel may have stolen. We just know it was thousands of dollars. How much cash was
missing?”

The woman released Karen’s hand and looked at her husband, frowning. In a calm voice, the pastor paused before speaking. “Fifty thousand dollars.”

Karen’s head started spinning. With a muffled sob, Karen turned away, wiping her eyes. “Lord, please help me deal with this pain.”

“We’ll take this one day at a time,” Candace said. “The Lord will see us through.”
Karen looked back at the closed door, hesitating. “Is it okay if I go to the restroom be–before talking to the detective?”

“Of course,” Candace said with an understanding smile.

Leaving the couple, Karen walked to the bathroom, pushed the door open, and entered the room, desperately seeking a private moment with the Lord. Her heart skipped a beat when Tara Baker, the church secretary, dressed in an immaculate cream-colored suit and sporting stylish hair and polished fingernails, stepped out of the stall. Spotting Karen, her dark eyes widened.

While the secretary wordlessly washed her hands, Karen regarded her own worn jeans and faded T-shirt before touching her hair, which she’d pulled into a ponytail in her
haste to get to the church. She suddenly felt rumpled and dowdy. “I always thought Lionel and Michelle were up to no good,” Tara finally mumbled, drying her hands with a paper towel while glaring at Karen.Karen gritted her teeth, shocked at the rudeness of a woman who’d once flirted with Lionel.“I find it hard to believe that you had no clue what your fiancé was doing behind your back,” Tara said then turned on her heels and strode out of the restroom.

Waves of pain floated through Karen’s head as she struggled to blot out the secretary’s words. Turning her focus to the Lord, she prayed, “God, please help me. Help us to find Lionel and Michelle. And keep them safe. Amen.”

Somewhat soothed, she rejoined the pastor and his wife. Pastor Smith gestured toward the now-open door. “Karen, I’m so sorry about this.”

Karen gave him a halfhearted smile then entered the room, praying for strength. The detective sat in a chair near the front of the room.

The minister spoke, his voice full of kindness, “Detective Ramsey, this is Karen Brown.”

“Good morning, Karen,” greeted the detective.

“Good morning,” Karen mumbled, taking a seat near the detective. She turned to her minister. “Can you stay here with me, Pastor Smith?”

The clergyman touched her arm, gazing at the detective. “Is that okay with you, detective?”

Ramsey shrugged, opening his notebook. “If she wants you to stay, that’s fine.”
Pastor Smith settled into the empty chair beside her.

The investigator asked his first question. “Do you know where Lionel is?”

“I. . .” She paused, chewing on her lower lip. “The day before the church announced he was fired, he told me he was going to go out of town to visit his cousin. I haven’t talked to him since, and th–that was two weeks ago.” She paused, gripping the arms of the chair. “I—I haven’t been able to contact him since he left.” She took a deep breath. “He won’t answer his cell phone. I figured he wanted some time alone and I would see him when he returned for his hearing.”

The detective looked up from the notes he was writing. “Where does his cousin live?”
As Ramsey’s questions went on and on, Karen felt overwhelmed with worry, fatigue, and nausea. Hot tears flowing down her cheeks, she prayed, Lord, will I ever feel normal again?

Her head pounded with pain, and she began rubbing her temples.

Pastor Smith touched her elbow. “Are you all right?”

“My head. . .hurts.”

“Detective, is it okay if we stop the questioning for a few minutes while I get Karen some aspirin?”

“I don’t mind at all,” said Ramsey.

Karen heard Pastor Smith’s retreating footsteps as she closed her eyes and rubbed her aching head. Her pain worsened as she leaned back into the chair. And then the world faded out.


My Thoughts:

Bittersweet Memories by author Cecelia Dowdy was my first christian fiction romance novel. I must say, thoroughly enjoyed this book.

As I started reading, I learned about Karen Brown and how her fiance had embezzled money from their church and ran off with his assistant. This left Karen feeling heartbroken, abandoned, and confused. Overall, leading her to return home to her childhood home with her mother in Annapolis, Maryland. After returning home, she comes to realize lots of things have changed.

If you are looking to read something good and wholesome, this is the book for you.
I personally enjoyed getting to know each character, seeing their weaknesses, and following their walks with God through the thick and the thin.

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FIRST: The Diversity Culture

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 Diversity Culture: Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hipsters, Political Activists & Everyone in Between

Kregel Publications (April 28, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matthew Raley is senior pastor of the Orland Evangelical Free Church in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two young children. He is also the author of the fiction book, Fallen.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (April 28, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 082543579X
ISBN-13: 978-0825435799

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Introduction

A woman rolled over and reached, but remembered that her new friend had already left. She sat up, staring at the impression he had made on her bed. At least he had his own life.

Past cold candles she shuffled to her bathroom, the air inside still fragrant, condensation still clinging to the window after his shower. He would be wearing that Huntsman suit made for him last time he was in London—the suit he wore when she first saw him two weeks ago at Davies Symphony Hall. And maybe the same tie from Arnys. When you’re on a team preparing to argue before the Ninth Circuit you don’t wear your beloved tie-dye and jeans—even on Columbus Day.

The woman was annoyed that her new client had insisted on meeting. Even though the holiday is totally imperialist, she wished that she didn’t have to get into business mode, and she was bored by the prospect of yet another menu-design. Still, the meeting wasn’t until early afternoon, so she lingered over her makeup.

The TV remote called from the kitchen counter to her pre-election obsessions. She switched on MSNBC and caught the headlines. Weekend poll shows Obama up seven.1 Cool. Europeans try to keep their banks from collapsing. Not cool.

She poured coffee out of the French press and held the mug under her nose while she scanned the San Francisco Chronicle. Predictions that the financial collapse will stall climate change initiatives, anxious summary of the economic developments over the weekend, analysis of McCain and Obama avoiding the immigration issue.2

After the computer finished clicking and sighing, she checked how much e-mail had piled up over the weekend. Amid the flurry of personal messages were two articles from the New York Times. One friend had bragging rights, a mention of the bookstore where he worked, City Lights, in a travel article on Buddhist attractions in San Francisco.3 Another friend was gloating over Sarah Palin’s splitting right-wingers, forwarding a column by David Brooks that dissed the Alaskan governor.4 The friend wrote, “McSame’s going down! You betcha!”

Time kept on slipping, slipping, slipping.

The woman opened a cupboard. Froot Loops! It was very cute. Her new friend had gone out this morning and brought back Froot Loops and put Toucan Sam just inside the cupboard smiling down his beak at her. She loved a guy who could keep an inside joke going. All weekend bumming around Half Moon Bay it had been, “Follow my nose! It always knows!”

But if he went any further with it, she’d get annoyed.

Attired in the black trousers and narrow-shouldered jacket she found in Milan, her funky boots that clopped on her wide floorboards, and a low-cut, fitted T-shirt, she strode out of her loft into the fog, down to her Outback.

At this hour, the drive along I-80 and across the Bay Bridge into the City would not be enraging but still long. That was why they had KQED. “Talk of the Nation” was all about lynching—“How Far Have We Come?” Ted Koppel was talking about his new documentary on the subject, and a congressman described his experiences as an 18-year-old Freedom Rider in Mississippi.5 Mississippi, where they still believe the Bible’s commands to hate and kill people. The woman glanced at a billboard against the proposition banning gay marriage. We haven’t come all that far, have we. Still fighting hate.

She parked, slung her large leather portfolio over her shoulder, and walked to Café Siddhartha around the corner from her studio—as if she needed more caffeine. What she wanted was the aura of the place, the energy. It was like stepping into one of the temples where she’d meditated in Tibet. The walls were floor-to-ceiling saffron. Deep chimes spoke, and the Buddha laughed. The café had an authenticity she needed—in spite of the hissing espresso machine.

The woman took her mocha and turned to the seating area thronged with people. There was only one chair at a common table—right next to . . . whoever this was.

Well, she knew exactly who he was: he was her mental picture of a Mississippi bigot. He was fat, his face all soft and oily. He wore this dark blue cardboard suit with the jacket buttoned over his paunch. And where could he have gotten it? And when? It could only have been Penny’s, circa 1995, what with the wide lapels and sloping shoulders. This he had mated with a white shirt and skinny red tie—1984, Nancy Reagan red. And the pre-folded, matching pocket square.

His hair was Grecian Formula black, parted on the right by a razor blade and swirled above his forehead, apparently under thermonuclear heat.

He was reading a book by—no, surely not. It couldn’t have been Nixon’s Chuck Colson. But it was: his picture was on the back.

How was she to bask in the Tibetan aura sitting next to a Baptist? He reminded her of the imported southerner her parents’ church hired in 1979 when she was in high school—Mississippi in the San Joaquin valley. Had he gotten lost passing out tracts at Pier 39? Really lost?

The Barriers

Many evangelicals fear this woman.

They don’t know what to do with her hostility: confront, mock, soothe? There’s no soothing an attitude so visceral. Confronting it is asking for hostility times ten. That leaves mockery—the talk radio mode most evangelicals have learned by now—which fire-bombs whatever bridge there might’ve been.

But the fear goes deeper. Many evangelicals sense the woman’s hostility is the least of their problems.

Evangelicals in America have a distinct subculture. They tend to worship in churches with conservative political and theological views. The strongest bases of evangelicalism are in suburbia, and the movement is disproportionately white and middle class. Evangelicals have their own media, reading different books and magazines than secular people, visiting different Web sites, listening to Christian music and radio, and often watching Christian TV stations and movies.6

The woman, many evangelicals feel, has built a life in which they have no place. She didn’t just stop going to church after escaping her parents; she moved to the big city and changed identities. Her adopted ways were a point-by-point rebuke to her inheritance—not small-town or suburban, but urban; not Western but Eastern; not Christian but New Age; not monogamous but liberated.

I believe the woman now lives in her own distinct culture, one that is full of paradox.

While her culture is often urban, it thrives just as powerfully in Boulder as in San Francisco. The culture is often highly educated and artistic, embracing the preacher’s daughter who came out as a lesbian, went to Reed College in Portland, and became a visual artist. But it also belongs to the straight, blue-collar guy who, despite never finishing college, does well painting houses in Fresno, the guy whose history is unclear—the salt of the earth, but with a ponytail. While this culture is hostile to America’s vast consumer society, rejecting mass-production aesthetics and corporate values, its adherents have well-tended investment portfolios and are influential in the business world, nurturing such successes as Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks. Yet Starbucks both appeals to and repels them (which is why our woman supports the independent café rather than hanging out at the chain). Politically the culture is blue: antiwar, environmentalist, pro–gay marriage, secular. But it consistently seeks to preserve local traditions.

This culture cries for a label. It needs to be distinguished from the consumer society, but a tag remains elusive. David Brooks calls it Bobo, “bourgeois bohemian.” Bill O’Reilly calls it “secular progressive.” Rush Limbaugh calls it “liberal wacko.”

I call it the diversity culture, after its top priority. Café Siddhartha is about a convergence of influences, insights into life that come from exploration, openness, and freedom. The worst evil to the diversity culture is bigotry. Every shelter for narrow thinking must be eroded by fresh winds.

The Diversity Culture: The dominant American ethos of openness toward all beliefs and spiritual traditions.

Most evangelicals have difficulty penetrating this culture’s ways, and seem to feel it was designed to exclude them. They feel the sting every time the woman talks about bigotry, not knowing whether to embrace the label or fight it. Multicultural talk is not merely irritating to them, but is insulting: “Diversity means every culture but ours.” So the rise of the diversity culture, especially when it wins elections as it did in 2008 with the triumph of Barack Obama, fills them with fear—the fear of having to interact with someone who looks down on them.

Evangelicals as a group feel they don’t belong in Café Siddhartha.

The barriers between the diversity culture and evangelicals are real. The hostility is not a misunderstanding, and the roots of it are often deep in the soil of family. The issues that have fed the hostility are consequential: disagreements about spirituality, cultural principles, history, politics, and the nature of free society. Mere dialogue will not make the hostility wither.

But evangelical fear can be dispelled—and must be.

Fear sabotages interactions with the woman of Café Siddhartha through pride, contempt, suspicion, and cynicism. Evangelicals’ inferior status in the diversity culture’s pecking order is often just as significant as the eclipse of their principles in provoking these emotions. They often react to Subaru Outbacks and the New York Times. Fear and its comrades can make evangelicals petty.

In addition, the fear often drives evangelicals to a blanket rejection of every aspect of the diversity culture without asking enough questions. For example, the diversity culture is overwhelmingly on the political left, while evangelicals are mostly on the right. But progressive political views are not necessarily anti-Christian. Is evangelism about winning souls, or votes? Further, the diversity culture often looks down on middle class life, provoking defensiveness in evangelical suburbia. But middle class life is not inherently godly. Should evangelicals be willing to question their social assumptions? More deeply, evangelicals can easily brand an openness to new perspectives as “relativism.” But is it relativistic to hear someone out, or to participate in discussions that may not resolve neatly?

The evangelical sense of calling in America needs to be refocused, which cannot be done wisely by reacting against the diversity culture in fear. The evangelical mission should be defined by God’s call in Scripture.

Fear of the diversity culture is not just a barrier to interacting with those outside evangelicalism, but even with some inside. The fear can be a generational marker: young believers, coming of age under the dominance of diversity, often do not identify with older believers’ suspicions. Truth be told, many young believers view the Baptist at Café Siddhartha from the same cultural point of view as the woman—fairly or unfairly. But they also sense that their heritage is a vital part of their calling to influence their secularized peers, and they desire wisdom from their elders about how to display Jesus Christ to a culture that will not acknowledge the category of Truth. Can older Christians impart that wisdom if they are fearful of interacting with Café Siddhartha?

There is an even more fundamental problem with evangelical fear. Amid similar conflicts, there was no such fear in Jesus.

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FIRST: Evolution: The Grand Experiment by Dr. Carl Werner

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:

Evolution: The Grand Experiment

New Leaf Publishing Group (October 8, 2007)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Carl Werner received his undergraduate degree in biology with distinction at the University of Missouri, graduating summa cum laude. He received his doctorate in medicine at the age of 23. He was the recipient of the Norman D. Jones Science Award and is both the author of Evolution: The Grand Experiment book and executive producer of Evolution: The Grand Experiment video series.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $29.99
Hardcover: 262 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group (October 8, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216816
ISBN-13: 978-0892216819

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The Origin of Life:

Two Opposing Views

What Are We to Believe?

How did life begin? One view is that an all-powerful God created the universe and all forms of life. Another view proposes that the universe began billions of years ago as a result of the big bang. Later, life in the form of a bacterium-like organism arose spontaneously from a mixture of chemicals. Subsequently, this single-cell organism slowly began to evolve into all modern life forms. A third view is that life evolved, but God formed the first living organism and then helped the process along.

The Origin of Life

How life came about has been the subject of debate for almost as long as mankind has existed. Did life originate as a result of the intervention by a supernatural deity? Or did life come about as a result of natural laws acting over time? Scientists continue to search for definitive answers to these questions.

The publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859 was a significant catalyst in propelling man’s search for a natural understanding of past and present life. Unraveling the mystery of how life began and how life may have changed over time has been the focus of many scientists. Since Darwin’s theory first made public, scientists have collected over 200 million fossils, described the structure of DNA, and identified how genes are passed on to the next generation. These major scientific developments provide us with relevant and thought-provoking information. They lead us to pause and examine our ideas in view of today’s ever-increasing and heated debate over the history of life on earth.

The purpose of this book is to address these important scientific discoveries and present the reader with rare and remarkable facts concerning the origin of life — from spontaneous generation, through Darwin’s ideas on evolution, to the present-day understanding of mutations and natural selection

Americans Are Split on Their Beliefs.

According to a Gallup poll taken in 2006, many Americans believe that God created man in the last 10,000 years. This is surprising given the fact that scientists have been teaching evolution for more than a century.

Do most Americans not believe the theory of evolution because it is implausible? Do they not believe evolution because of their religious views? Or, do they not believe in the theory because they are unfamiliar with its concepts?

What do you think?

(chart showing many Americans surveyed don’t believe Darwin’s theory)

Do You Believe in Evolution?

CON:

“No, I don’t believe in evolution at all. I think if you just look at the facts, it’s pretty clear, it just can’t be.”

“Did we come from monkeys? I don’t know. There is evidence for it, but there is also some stuff missing, so making that leap with a missing link there, I have some problems with that.”

“From what I’ve seen and heard, we have not evolved from apes for the simple fact that apes are still around. I mean, if we evolved from them, why are they still here?”

PRO:

“Yes, I do believe in the theory of evolution because I think that we had to come from some place and you know from ape to man to what we are today. I definitely believe in evolution.”

“I think it’s a very sad thing that we’re getting religious views mixed up with governmental involvement with education. I think it’s a sad comment on how people are trying to fix what they see as social problems in today’s world by falling back on religious dogma.”

Evolution: Scientists Can’t Agree

Ever since Darwin’s time there have been scientists who strongly disagree with the theory of evolution. But since the middle of the twentieth century, there have been a growing number of scientists who reject the theory of evolution based on the discovery of processes and structures of which Darwin was unaware. These scientists cite multiple “lines of evidence” that evolution did not occur, including gaps in the fossil record, problems with the big bang theory, the amazing complexity of even the simplest organisms, and the inability of scientist to explain the origin of life using natural laws.

Scientists who support evolution state that the evidence for the theory is clear and overwhelming. They offer observations of natural selection in action, the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, the evolution of man from apes, as some of the most convincing proofs for evolution.

Con: “Life could not have created itself. Theories on the origin of life, that is the evolutionary origin of life, are modern-day fantasies; they are fairy tales.” – Dr. Duane Gish, Biochemist, Institute for Creation Research.

Pro: “You really have to be blind or three days dead not to see the transitions among these. You have to not want to see it.” – Dr. Kevin Padian, Paleontologist, University of California, Berkeley.

Evolution and Education

Recent Gallup polls reveal that the majority of Americans want both evolution and creationism taught in public schools. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that the majority of scientists believe in evolution and dismiss supernatural creation theories as myths.

There are different reasons parents want both theories taught to their children. Some refer to a sense of fairness. They want their children to learn both sides of the issue and then decide for themselves.

The problem of how to teach students such a controversial topic is challenging for educators. Some fear that teaching two opposing theories would confuse the students while some believe this approach would encourage students to think critically and openly about the world around them. Others believe that creation is a religious idea and should not be taught in government schools.

(Poll asking, “Do you think creationism should be taught in public school science classes?” 54%, yes; 22% no; 24% unsure)

What Should Be Taught?

“I believe it is good for students to get a balance of both sides so that they can make up their minds for themselves without being forced into one way or another. I know that if I went to school and they taught all evolution, that I would feel somehow a little gypped.”

“I do feel that everyone is capable of making their own decisions, and I think that students, even at a young age, should be respected enough to be given various kinds of information, various amounts of information, and let to make their own decisions.?

“I really don’t have a problem with evolution being taught in the schools just so long as all the information is given and it is shown that it is not quite fact. And it needs to be very scientific in its presentation as far as listing its faults and its strengths. I think that science that only lists strengths, and not weaknesses, in not science at all.”

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