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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Follow Up on Interview with Dr. Stan Monteith

I had a wonderful time talking to Dr. Stan Monteith on Radio Liberty. Those of you who may have caught the interview heard me mention some books. I thought I would give you the title of these books.

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Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of Near-Death Experience by Pim Van Lommel

This book is a very scientific exploration of the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences and raises the idea that our consciousness attaches to our physical brain like a radio wave is received by a radio. Turn off the radio and the wave continues. Turn off the brain, and our consciousness continues. Interesting, very scientific discussion.

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The Demise of Guys by Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan

This book from a secular point of view is a thought provoking and frightening look at the trend among young men in our society. The death of intimacy and the adoption of virtual relationships, video gaming, and pornography is explored. And, the implication for our society is discussed. Very insightful.

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Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin

A fascinating account of demon possession by Malachi Martin. This book features true accounts of demon possessions and reads like a novel. You will find it riveting and frightening, but ultimately redemptive. In the Jonathan Steel Chronicles, my character, Cephas Lawrence, was inspired by Malachi Martin.

Finally, an excellent beginning book on the design behind the reality of the universe from a Christian perspective:

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Why the Universe is the Way it is by Hugh Ross

I want to thank Dr. Stan for having me on the show. It was a great, wide ranging discussion of many topics of concern for our changing culture.

NOTE: BOOK SIGNING!

I will be signing copies of “The 12th Demon”, “The 13th Demon”, and “Conquering Depression” on Saturday, January 5th at our local LifeWay in Shreveport from noon to 2 PM. Check out the “EVENTS” tab for details. I would love for as many of you to come as possible to help me thank our local LifeWay for allowing me to have a book signing. Free T Shirts!!!!

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Run, Clever Boy, Run! And, Remember!

Jammy dodgers, fish fingers and custard, and bowtie pasta for Christmas?

Either you get it or you don’t.

It’s not a matter of arrogance on my part. It is a matter of appreciation of a well done, well written story.

(Spoilers, if you haven’t seen the Christmas Special. Skip the next sentence!)

The pivotal one word answer, and I saw it coming, was “pond”.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me enlighten you. Way back in the late 1970’s, I caught a poorly constructed science fiction show on syndication called “Doctor Who”. The Doctor was a tall, bushy haired man with a long striped scarf and a beautiful companion named “Sarah Jane”. I have written in the past of my family’s encounter with the actress who portrayed Sarah Jane, Elizabeth Sladen, on a train from Cardiff, Wales back to London. This show had a strange appeal to me, but its effects were coarse and its story sometimes contrived. It was but a passing fancy.

A few years back, my daughter, Casey, asked me to watch a new show she had caught on SciFi channel. It was about this doctor and his companion. I rolled my eyes. Old news. Bad show. But, she assured me it was a new show; a revival of the old show. I finally watched the Christmas special featuring David Tennant as the “tenth” doctor. Within about ten minutes, I was mesmerized as alien Santas and spinning Christmas trees of death put all of those memories of a poorly executed show to an end. This was fascinating. And so, began my journey into the world of Doctor Who.

It took some doing, but this last year, I managed to get my son, Sean, and his wife, Jennifer interested in Doctor Who. Within a couple of months they were born again companions of Doctor Who! In fact, their fascination with the show put Casey and me to shame. Soon, Jennifer’s sister joined the ranks and we decided that this Christmas we would have a Doctor Who Christmas party and watch the much anticipated Doctor Who Christmas special.

It was grand fun! Casey’s best friend and, essentially her sister, Sarah, also a Who convert joined in. We decided to dress up as characters. Casey dressed up as the eleventh doctor, the “raggedy doctor” with the red bow tie. Sarah blew us all away showing up as River Song in her denim outfit and holster and revolver (only she ended up with a banana because we all know that “one should never come to a party without a banana”)! And, although I am considerably older and fatter than the original fourth doctor, Tom Baker, I dressed up as the fourth doctor complete with scarf, hat, awful wig and a bag of jelly bellies. I also had the sonic screwdriver of the fourth doctor, thank you.

Now, you may think this is insane. But, Sean, Jennifer, and I had this conversation the other day about the doctor. First, you must realize that Russell Davies, the man who brought back the show is an atheist. And, the most brilliant showrunner who replaced him, Stephen Moffett decries “the spiritual”. So, there is never a reference or a reverence in the show for God. The doctor is a Time Lord, bouncing around the universe in his TARDIS through space and time. But, what is amazing to us is that in spite of the writers of this show having disdain for God, the show is incredibly spiritual. Why? Because, without ever uttering the word, the Doctor is a savior. He saves mankind over and over and over. He values the triumphant power of love. He hates evil.

I find it fascinating that the writers, many of whom are atheists or agnostics, return time and time again to this theme of a savior. It is as if they cannot ever walk away from it. Every good story involves a savior. Every thought involves a transcendent power that rescues us from death and despair. And here is the truth: we cannot get away from the utter and complete realization that we MUST have a savior. No matter how hard the writers struggle to eliminate the divine, they keep showing us our need for a savior! Ah, there is that verse again: “God has put eternity in the hearts of all men.”

Go watch the new version of Doctor Who. You will experience moments of nihilism as the writers insert their worldview. But, watch as inevitably, the darkness gives way to light and the Doctor saves the world again and again. Even in our stark, nihilistic race away from God, we cannot escape the need for a Savior. In fact we RUN to Him!

Now, here are some pictures of our little party. Try your best to erase the image of the fat fourth doctor from you mind before the dawning of a new year! But, we enjoyed eating fish fingers and custard (the fingers were, in reality cookies); jammy dodgers; little Adipose babies; fried bowtie pasta (because as we learned last night AGAIN: bowties are cool!); and finally cookies decorated with little TARDIS images.And, so, a new annual tradition is born and we look forward to next year’s Doctor Who Christmas Party. As Clara would say, “Run, clever boy, run. And, remember!”

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River Song and the Eleventh Doctor channeling a Pooh Santa Hat.

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So cute you could eat them! Adipose Babies!

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The deadliest weapon of all against a Dalek — Jammie Dodgers!

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The perfect pick me up for a recently regenerated Time Lord — Custard and Fish Fingers

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Always bring a banana to a party!

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Sean and Jennifer try out their sonic screwdrivers. Yes, he was the Lodger!

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One Snowman remained!

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Lisa and Jennifer enjoy an Adipose Baby!

River, Eleven, and Four

River, Eleven, and Four

The Lesson of the Gumdrop Tree

gumdroptreeWhen I was six years old, my mother presented me with the gumdrop tree. It was a shiny, clear plastic tree with sharp points on the tips of its branches. My job, my mother told me, was to put a gum drop on every bare branch. And, I couldn’t eat any gumdrops until I was done!

For a six year old, this was a grave temptation. I placed the gum drops one by one one each tiny plastic tipped branch until they were all covered. My mother was so proud of me, she allowed me to have a few spare gumdrops. Now, she told me, I could eat two gumdrops a day until Christmas.

Every year, we took out that gumdrop tree. Somewhere in the misty memories of my childhood, there is a buried memory of the first Christmas we did not pull out the gumdrop tree. By then, it was probably broken and, no doubt, my mother couldn’t find another one like it.

This is my first Christmas without either of my parents. My father passed away in October and it has fallen to me to become the “leader” of my family. I am the youngest, and yet my two sisters feel I should take the lead. You see, my entire family gets together on Christmas Eve, all 65 or so of us. My parents’ children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren! So, this year, I decided to bring back one of my mother’s traditions. I went online and found the gumdrop tree! I ordered it and it arrived this past Thursday. When I took it out of the box, I was stunned at how little it was. I remembered it being much larger!

I sat at my dining room table while my son and daughter, now both grown, watched me put gumdrops on the tree. I told them the story of the gumdrop tree. And, this afternoon, my family had a Christmas Adam party. What is a Christmas Adam party? Adam came before Eve, so today is Christmas Adam . . . (crickets chirping).

Tonight, I placed the gumdrop tree on the table next to all of the candy and goodies we always bring at this time of year. As the young kids came running it, they were drawn to the gumdrop tree. They were fascinated by the candy hanging from the clear branches. I watched in utter amazement as they devoured many of the gumdrops. I was ecstatic! The gumdrop tree was a hit.

At the appropriate time, I asked everyone to pay attention. I told them that from now on our family would be meeting on the Sunday before Christmas so that each individual family could develop their own Christmas Eve traditions. Then, I told them this:

My mother and father loved everyone they met. No matter how unlovable or unlikeable, they accepted every person unconditionally. It was amazing to watch them. They forgave the unforgivable; they hugged the unembraceable; they welcomed the outcasts. I told them of my mother’s tradition of the gumdrop tree. I held up a gumdrop. It is hard and crusty on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. My mother and father looked at a person, and no matter how hard and crusty they were on the outside, they saw the goodness within. It was because of their love for Jesus. The love of Jesus poured forth from them continually. I asked each person as they left that day to eat a gumdrop and remember the unconditional love my mother and father showed everyone. Let’s just say the gumdrop was a hit. I hope that the idea that Jesus’ love can transform your life was a hit also!

Just a few housekeeping notes before I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you are in the Shreveport area, I will be signing books at our local LifeWay store on Saturday, January 5th at 12 PM to 2 PM. I assured them I would get as many people as possible to come to the store that day. So, save up your gift cards and your money and come to LifeWay on Youree Drive on Saturday, January 5th. You don’t have to buy any one of my three books, but I would be very pleased if you did. Let’s support our local Christian Book Store after Christmas!

Now, to Amy, my newest best fan, here are some pictures from my book signing in Austin on the 8th. Enjoy and my family wishes you and yours the Merriest of Christmases! And, I hope to see you on January 5th!

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Okay, so I'm a Dork! But, Amy isn't a Dork. She is a faithful fan. Thanks, Amy!

Okay, so I’m a Dork! But, Amy isn’t a Dork. She is a faithful fan. Thanks, Amy!

My wife keeps me centered and level headed.

My wife keeps me centered and level headed.

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My son, Sean, and his wonderful wife, Jennifer. She keeps him centered and level headed, too!

More Flowers for Algernon

mouseMy thanks to Micah, my Hutchmoot Secret Santa for an awesome book. “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” really took me back to my teenage years. Many of the stories I recall reading way back then in other anthologies as “classic science fiction”. It was a real treasure to read some of them again. My favorite so far, “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. This story of a mentally challenged man who is given an operation that triples his I.Q. only to lose it again was one of the most moving and touching stories I ever read. I just read it again and it is as moving and timeless today as when it was published in 1959.

Charlie’s struggle with growing awareness of the world around him as his intelligence grew reminded me of my own growing awareness of the brokenness of the world around me as I aged. It is a story of the loss of innocence. Like Charlie, I cherished the laughter from other kids over my lack of co-ordination growing up. I even played to that clumsiness, capitalizing on it to gain recognition. When I was a junior in high school, I transformed this slapstick schtick into a dramatic role in a play. Because of the popularity of that role, I won the election for student council president for my senior year.

After I felt a call to be a doctor, I was alarmed when my own mother began telling others that she didn’t think I could be a doctor because I might “drop somebody’s brain during surgery. He trips over his own feet.” I realized, I had become what others saw in me. I had fulfilled my own worst nightmare. We become what people see in us. How many times have we said “I will never be like that!” when seeing traits in our parents that are undesirable only to find ourselves shaking an angry finger at our own children and wondering “How did I get my father’s finger?”

Charlie, in “Flowers of Algernon” has a moment when he sees a mentally challenged boy break dishes at a cafe. He watches in horror as people laugh and make fun of the boy and the boy smiles right back, unaware he is being ridiculed. For Charlie, the horror of that moment comes when he realizes he laughed, too!

In this time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth we see both good and bad discussions of the Nativity. The “war on Christmas” always arises and the arguments are strident and shrill. The inevitable atheist attacks on Christianity reach their highest point such as the billboard in Times Square that says “Dump the Myth” with a picture of the crucified Jesus. And yet, they say there is “no agenda”.jesusblackandwhite

Every human being is born with an innate knowledge of God. Even science has discovered that the human brain is “hard wired” to believe in God. We have to teach our children to be atheists. Richard Dawkins has written an book in the last year aimed at children to tell them that belief in God is wrong and that believing in science and evolution is the elegant and beautiful thing to do. If there is no God, then why hasn’t He disappeared from our collective consciousness over the past two thousand years? We have tried and tried to remove God from our thinking; from our culture; from our world. And yet, God keeps resurfacing; showing up over and over in spite of our efforts to move to a more civilized, non superstitious, evolved level.

Could it be that like the mentally challenged Charlie, we are unaware of the effect God has on our lives until we see Him clearly? Like the boy breaking the dishes, we keep having these moments of clarity and paradigm shifting when we see through our human veil the divine. In that moment, instead of laughing, some of us are horrified; alarmed; afraid of the existence of God. What does that mean for our lives? What will we become if we accept that there is a God? We will no longer be free to be our own god; to form our own morality; to answer only to our own needs. Science answers the “how” but cannot answer the “why”. Science gave Charlie a huge increase in his intelligence but at the price of his innocence. Science might have made Charlie smart, but it was his experience with others that made Charlie wise. Ah, there is the rub. Science makes us smart. God makes us wise.

Charlie was not bitter when his mind returned once again to the state of shattered innocence. The one thing he recalled was true meaning of friendship and the significance of love. In order to spare his friends the pain of seeing him in his fallen state, his love for them drove him to leave his work and his friends and find a new life.

preachingIn my final installment of the teachings of Jesus it is fitting that his most memorable sermon should be mentioned:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We are not blessed if we are simple minded like Charlie before his operation. We are blessed because we have seen God; we have come to know our fallen state. God’s presence in our lives has shown us the emptiness of selfishness; of arrogance; of pride. I have been God and I did not like it at all. My mother’s words about my incoordination were a cold wash of shame, but they served to remind me I am not perfect. And, only God can be perfect. I must look outside myself for God’s standard and His love to find meaning for my life. As long as I go along within my own strength, being my own god, I will stumble and fall and fail and laugh and be laughed at. But humility, meekness, mercy, peace are the gifts of living against the standard of God and not in its place.

This holiday season, see those around you. Do not laugh; do not ridicule; do not be arrogant and prideful and godlike. Rather, see your own weaknesses and revel in them; rely on God to supplant those weaknesses with new strengths that will give you an eternal perspective on the world around you.

And, then, put away the things of the past and place some flowers on the grave of Algernon. Move on in God’s strength and make the coming years and all the years after that truly Blessed!

Evil Crouches at Your Door!

Sad-Baby-FaceLet’s call him Ben. Ben was small, frail, about 4 years old. He had tousled blonde hair and pale blue eyes and translucent skin with dark blue veins visible just under the surface. In the brief time I took care of Ben, he never said a word. He never uttered a sound. I was a junior medical student charged with caring for Ben on the pediatric wards. His parents were stiff and silent on what had happened to Ben. They just found him in his bed still, quiet, and motionless save for the occasional blinking of his eyes and the rise and fall of his chest.

It was the late 1970’s and a new machine called a CAT scan was available at another hospital in our city. I traveled with Ben in the ambulance to a huge, brightly lit room. Against the far wall was a monstrosity of a machine with U shaped arms that spun and slid like some 1930’s science fiction machination. Ben was so tiny in the center of this huge machine. It would take 30 minutes to image his brain but there would be no problem with Ben holding still. Ben did not move. Today, that same scan would take 2 seconds.

As I watched the images slowly appear on a monitor, the radiologist sat beside me and sighed. He pointed to the white rim of Ben’s skull. He touched the dusty screen over a white blob in the center of Ben’s brain. Blood. Fractures. I was sick to my stomach.

Later after bringing in the police, the parents admitted to placing Ben’s head in the window sill and repeatedly closing the window on his head to get him to stop crying. Ben died in my arms, unloved, rejected, but not alone.

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I have looked evil in the face. Evil is real. It is not a quirk of the synapses. It is not a chemical imbalance. It is not an environmentally produced “disorder”. It is an entity. I saw it lurking behind the feigned tears of Ben’s parents. I saw it in the manic face of a young girl I am convinced was possessed by that evil. I saw it in the relentless stare of a patient who vowed to kill me and eat my liver. I felt its caress on a lonely night in a bed and breakfast in Austin, Texas when I was trying to finish my book about the influence of these evil forces on our world.

I saw it last week. I saw it many times this past year. Last night, my best friend Mark Riser gave me a book for Christmas on theology. I randomly opened it and read a paragraph. It was not a random sampling it turns out. Basically the section was on evil and there was a thought placed there for me to ponder. Maybe our culture is more fascinated with evil than ever in order to pull our attention to the big acts of evil so we do not notice the insidious, quiet, tiny touches of evil as it infiltrates our lives.

The big evil last week was the killing of over two dozen innocent people including children. But that “big evil” came at the expense of dozens of tiny caresses of evil. “He was a quiet, thoughtful person.” “He was so nice.” “I can’t imagine why he did this.” You hear these kind of statements all the time when such a tragedy occurs.

Jay Strack, a motivational speaker back in the mid 1990’s once said when he went scuba diving, it wasn’t the sharks he feared. Rather, it was the multitude of minnows that can nibble you to death. We focus on the “big evil” and miss the accumulating influence of a thousand tiny evils that poke and prod and erode and puncture so much so that one day we find ourselves being bled to death; our resolve, our compassion, our mercy gone and we snap. The big evil takes us and we smash a tiny boy’s head in the window sill or rip a sink out of the wall or take up a gun and kill.

Don’t miss this. Each of us is totally and completely capable of carrying out the kind of “mindless, senseless” violence we saw last week. Don’t think for a moment that you or I are above it. We aren’t. We are imperfect, broken souls on a journey toward forgiveness; love; completion; release. Why are we such broken creatures? Why can we not pull ourselves up out of the muck; above these base emotions and actions?

Jesus of Nazareth had many things to say about evil and here are just three:

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Jesus seems to be saying that evil originates in our hearts and minds. WE are the source of evil! How is this possible? If evil is real then how can it also be in us and yet not come from us? Ah, this is the mystery of all time. Our scientific culture wants to assert that we are but highly evolved animals; that we have no true spiritual side; that we do not have a thing called the soul. Such talk is of the supernatural and the supernatural does not exist. It is but a figment of our imagination.

But, Jesus seems to be saying that there is something within us that quickens at the sight of art and beauty; that resonates to the sound of music; that seeks and connects with that most abstract of things, love. And, because we are broken; ruined by this disconnect with the divine; we allow evil to take the place of good; to let darkness rule instead of light. There are only two choices — dark or light — good or evil. One will prevail in our hearts and mind and will rule the day. It is simple, Jesus taught. How then do we push the evil into the dark, powerless corners of our live so that good prevails? One more word from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth:

 “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.”

Ah, we can fight the urges; suppress the evil impulses; push the destructive thoughts away but if we DO NOT have something positive to fill the void, then the evil will return more powerful and more controlling than ever. Look at history. Those who started down the path of evil; those who allowed the minnows to nibble away at their conscience; slowly, inexorably drowned in the sea of evil and became hardened; solidified by evil. For them, there is little hope of return to good; to return to sanity; to return to a world filled with light. Think of the Nazi holocaust, how insidiously a nation desiring to merely rebuild from the ashes of World War I became an engine of worldwide destruction and the killing machine of the Holocaust. Think of Stalin, ruler of Russia desiring to rebuild his country after the devastation of World War II deciding to quietly eliminate a few political enemies for the good of the state. Estimates are that he probably had between 50 and 100 million of his own people executed! There are dozens of such stories just from the twentieth century alone. And, no sane person would ever disagree that Adolph Hitler was evil.

I have no answer for why the events of last week took place. But, our actions should be to reach out in love, compassion, mercy and prayer to the families of the victims and the perpetrator. And, in our response we have once again turned to God. Where was God in the midst of this tragedy? Right where we left Him, out in the darkness; away in the shadows; escorted out of the picture by our culture for we do not need Him in our world of materialism, naturalism, and the promise of answers to all our quandaries from science.

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What we cannot solve with our equations and our theories is the mystery of the human heart and the human soul. Jesus solved that problem. He taught that the heart must change and can only change through a realization that He is the Light. This season whether you believe in God or not; whether you worship the baby born in a manager or believe it is all a myth; seek to fill your heart with the Light of the Love that Jesus showed to us. And, when you do, you will find peace and goodwill toward all men.

 

 

Starflower — A Book Review

starflowerIt is a sad confession on my part to reveal that I have never read any of Anne Elizabeth Stengl’s “Tales of the Goldstone Wood”. And, now, I am reviewing a book that takes places thousands of years before those four books. I have missed out on a rich, immersive experience by not reading the first four books. I shall soon remedy that situation because “Starflower”, the newest entry into this “canon” of books is excellent. It is a moving fantasy far deeper than most fantasy; deep with character development; deep with thematic lessons; deep with a rich, lush tapestry of a world against which the action unfolds.

I will only be doing a one day book review because I have plans for finishing up my blog entries about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that transcend any religious devotion. I want to finish this by Christmas so I will be giving one day only to this review. And, all I can say is if you love Narnia; if you miss Middle Earth; if you enjoyed such stories as Alice in Wonderland, then you MUST read this book. Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created a setting in which rivers and trees come to life; a world in which animals talk and faeries can take on human or animal form. I haven’t encountered such a rich environment since I went back and rediscovered George MacDonald’s fantasy worlds. Those stories, by the way, were deeply inspiring to C. S. Lewis and he attributes MacDonald’s influence on his desire to create Narnia. The world of “Starflower” reaches those levels of fantastic believability

The Characters

The story begins with Hri Sora. Once a dragon and now stripped of her wings by the Dark Father, she cannot remember all of her former life. She can only remember a burning lust for revenge.

Eanrin is a bard, the prince of poets, an immortal faerie and part cat. I know it sounds strange but just like a cat, he is also haughty and arrogant until he meets the character of Starflower. He finds his inner strength.

Starflower is the maid and is cursed. Her trials and travails are what endeared her to me.  Made strong in her weaknesses by a love and a selflessness that even her cursed tongue cannot hold back.

The Story

The story begins with Hri Sora vowing to carry out a nefarious plan for the Dark Father in order to regain her dragon status. Hri Sora makes a deal with her father to bring back a special treasure. In order to do that, she must kidnap the Queen’s sousing who knows what the treasure looks like.

Eanrin goes after the kidnapped love of his life, Lady Gleamdren and in the process encounters Starflower. He comes across Starflower after she has drunk from the enchanted river. He feels sorry for her and agrees to take her to a witch owing him a favor and soon the girl is wakened from her deep sleep. Starflower is under a curse and cannot speak. He takes her with him as he pursues Hri Sora and, or course, we learn that there is a connection to the dragon witch! You’ll have to read the book and immerse yourself in this wonderful tale. Be prepared to be transported to a land of magic and enchantment! The story is fast paced and filled with moments of exhilaration and excitement. The world inhabited by the story is very complex and real; frankly refreshing and exciting.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoy fairy tales and fantasy and I can’t wait to go and read the other four books!

In conjunction with the CSFF blogtour I received a copy of ” Starflower”.

*Book link – http://www.amazon.com/Starflower-Tales-Goldstone-Elisabeth-Stengl/dp/0764210262/
Author Website – http://anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com/
Author Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anne-Elisabeth-Stengl/120543861335559

Participants’ links: Be sure and check out these other reviews!

Gillian Adams
 Nikole Hahn
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Beckie Burnham

We’ll Follow the Old Man Because We Love Him!

waverlyEvery Christmas I make sure and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, White Christmas. Yes, I love the song. Yes, I love the romantic angle. Yes, I love the story of loyalty to old friends. But the real reason this movie touches me is because of the relationship between General Waverly and his men. When the film opens, a tired, war weary group of men are trying to celebrate Christmas Eve on the German front. General Waverly is being sent back to the states. The men sing a song to “the old man”.

We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go

Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe

We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay

Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray

Because we love him, we love him

Especially when he keeps us on the ball

And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call

With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!

It is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion in today’s jaded, cynical world. A group of men so tightly devoted to each other they would tell their leader they “love” him? Unthinkable!

Why did they love General Waverly so? What characteristics of his leadership inspired this kind of devotion? A key to understanding the answer to this question can be found in the following dialogue. Bob Wallace, played by Bing Crosby and Phil Davis, played by Danny Kaye have arrived at the General’s inn in Vermont and watch as the man once a commander is now cleaning kitchen floors. This is what they said:

Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, then he slept.

Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.

Walt-Disney-Disneyland-CastleOne of my favorite photographs shows Walt Disney walking through Snow White’s castle in a very early Disneyland. Walt was famous for his “management by walking around” philosophy. He would pop up unannounced and ride the rides; watch the shows; listen to the musicians. Yes, he was a stickler for quality but more than anything, he wanted to be a part of his creation. He would wander the hallways of the animation studio after the animators left for the day and dig through their trash to find new ideas. He really believed in his animators. And, his expectations were very tight and rigid, but inside he cared about his employees; he loved them. There were many times he would take an employee who was in trouble and pay his salary while he dried out in what we would call today “rehab”. In fact, when his animators joined the union, Walt was devastated. He considered them a part of his family and the decision to join the union was akin to saying they didn’t appreciate his tender care.

I’ve been writing blogs the past few days about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m trying to focus on his teachings and put aside, for now, his claims to be the Messiah. His teachings are universal and transcend anyone’s religion. And, in the history of mankind no one has changed the world than this one man and his 12 followers. What did Jesus do that inspired these simple men to go out and literally turn the world upside down?

Many books have been written about Jesus’ “leadership” style but I believe it comes down to a simple act that typified Jesus’ approach to assuring these men would indeed change the world.

It is the night of his betrayal and Jesus and his disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread prior to the Passover. It is a somber and moving dinner filled with meaning and remembrance of the passing over the children of Israel by the angel of death while they were slaves in Eqypt. Imagine the men talking among themselves; eager to take their place at the right hand of this new king who would soon overthrow the tyranny of the Romans. They are excited; filled with hubris and arrogance; over confident after Jesus’ reception by the people of Jerusalem. Suddenly, the door to the other room opens. Standing in the doorway is Jesus. He has taken off his robe and wrapped a towel around his bare waist. His chest glistens with sweat and his eyes are filled with a haunting passion. He holds a wooden bowl filled with tepid water. As the disciples watch in utter amazement, this man; this king; this ruler of all of mankind kneels before the first of his disciples and begins to wash the man’s nasty, dirty feet.

Shocked and stunned they whisper among themselves as their leader takes their feet, dipping them into the warm water and washes away the dirt. Their king is kneeling before THEM! The world has turned upside down.

This stunning development was just the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for these men. Later, anticipating a board room meeting in which each man would receive his marching orders and his assignment in the new hierarchy Jesus shocks them again with these words:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Stop here for a moment and really hear those words. Jesus is talking about love? Not conquest or battle strategy or corporate intrigue. He has become a servant to his men and now he speaks of love! How has he loved these men? Listen to his next words:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

There is an awful lot love mentioned in this section. The word here is a Greek word, agape meaning “the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.”

In fact, the original Greek word, agapao, has taken on this meaning through its use by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. There are some interesting words in the above definition such as “the love of one’s fellow man” and “unconditional, self-sacrificing”. I could go on but lets stop right here for now. Let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth is telling us about his concept of being a “king” or a “leader”. Simply, put Jesus of Nazareth is teaching us:

You cannot be an effective leader until you know how to follow.

You cannot ask someone to serve you until you know what it is like to serve someone.

Loyalty is freely given and cannot be demanded.

The truest form of “friendship” is based on “agape” love.

Jesus of Nazareth redefined love as unconditional and self-sacrificial love for his fellow man; his friends.

As this season approaches, no matter what your worldview; no matter if you believe in God or not; these simple teachings of Jesus of Nazareth carry profound implications for us today. If we are to be the kind of leader that changes the world; the kind of leader that results in “love” from our “followers”; the kind of leader that inspires the kind of creativity and self sacrifice we see in the above two modern examples then we must first understand that the highest place to lead from is often at the feet of those we serve!wash-jesus-washing-apostles-feet-christian-art_290281018067

And Now, For a Word From Our Sponsor

I’m taking a short break from discussing the essential teachings of Jesus of Nazareth for this message from your sponsor.

This holiday season if you are looking for an action packed thriller for the man on your gift list who likes books by Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, then check out my two books in the Jonathan Steel Chronicles. The first book is “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” and is followed immediately by the second book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”.

Jonathan Steel is a Christian version of Jason Bourne afflicted with amnesia yet having skills like an assassin or a mercenary. His one memory is of the day he became a Christian and this memory sits at odds with his nature. He wants to recover his lost life and find out why he seems to be at such odds with himself. In the stories, Steel comes up against some very evil human beings in league with demons from a “Council of Darkness”. The council is charged with carrying out the plans of Lucifer to destroy humanity and claim their souls. Steel ends up being the man in the Council’s path

Note that the numbers of the demons are in descending order. They get more powerful the closer we get to the number ONE demon. The 13th demon is the first book; the 12th demon the second, etc. You can check out the review page for discussions of my books.

Also, if you have a teenager who likes Twilight or Hunger Games, they will like these books. One of the major characters is a teenager named Josh who ends up fighting demons alongside Steel, much to Steel’s dismay. Let’s just say they don’t get along very well.

Each book also features strong female characters and a hint of romance. My sisters LOVE Jonathan Steel and want to read more of the book, so if you like thriller type romance novels, this book is for you.

 

Now, if you or someone you love is suffering from depression this holiday season, check out Conquering Depression: A 30 Day Plan for Finding Happiness”. This book has had an amazing history and continues to help people literally around the world. My co-author, Mark Sutton and I still get emails weekly from people who say the book “saved my life”. It is an easy to read introduction to begin the process of conquering depression in your life. Each chapter is a “day” in the 30 day plan. You take it in small, gradual doses and the LifeFilter cards in the back are there to give you a daily tool. We highly recommend the book and it continues to help those who suffer from depression or who have friends or family who suffer from depression.

 

Now, that’s it! No more commercials. Come back in the next two days for more posts leading up to Christmas.

Just Another Plankeye!

I was interviewed on Nightwatch Radio Tuesday evening. Todd and Hugh and Johnny and I had a great time talking about monsters and movies and comic books. Eventually, the subject of religion came up. After all, I am a Christian and my Christian fiction book, “The 12th Demon” was the subject of the interview. I found it interesting to hear the usual attitudes towards average “Christians” from Todd. And, I can’t blame him! That reputation is well earned. Todd was very gracious in his comments and I had to agree with him. As a Southern Baptist, I can talk about Southern Baptists. But, my comments on today’s blog go beyond my denomination to all denominations of the Christian church.

You see, the accusations that are always aimed at us are universally recognized. They are represented by such words as judgmental, arrogant, holy roller, Bible thumper, and so on and so on until the “H” word is finally uttered. HYPOCRITE! As an apologist, one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith, I can’t possibly count all of the times I have heard the number one objection to someone becoming a Christian: “All of you Christians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites!”

HypocriteI’m in the middle of examining the teachings of a simple carpenter; focusing on his words of wisdom and trying not to focus on his “religious” claims. As I stated in earlier posts, no matter what our station in life I think we can all agree that these teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can be applied to every human being. And, the world would be a much better place if we did. So, just what is a hypocrite? Here is a definition of hypocrisy:

“the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’”

 

Anyone who claims to have certain moral standards OR to adhere to certain beliefs and then acts in the opposite manner is a hypocrite. Interesting. Nowhere in that definition does it say: “A person professing Christianity who acts in a manner contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

Although I would certainly say that the above statement would be consistent with a hypocrite, hypocrisy is NOT CONFINED to religion. In fact, I would claim that every single human being on the face of the planet is a hypocrite. We all espouse a high system of behavior or beliefs but we routinely violate those principles with our actions. A simple example would be the claim that I do not lie. Yet, when my wife asks me “Does this dress make me look fat?” I wisely choose to be a hypocrite rather than to become a fool!

What did Jesus have to say about this? Or did he even address it? After all, he was a religious person. And, in the minds of most people if you are religious then by default you are a hypocrite. Was Jesus a hypocrite? Let’s see what Jesus had to say as recorded by his disciple Matthew.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

 

On and on, Jesus used the word, hypocrite. And, here is what is interesting. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day! He was calling them hypocrites because their behavior and their religious claims were totally at odds. In fact, it was because of these kind of statements that angered the religious leaders that contributed to his death.

It would be very easy to apply these teachings to those of us who practice religion in the 21st century. But, I believe the lessons of Jesus of Nazareth cut both ways. In fact, I would say that his accusations of religious hypocrisy also could apply to our behavior towards one another in general. Look at the specific truth in each of the above statements:

First, we crave recognition for actions that should best be kept to ourselves. When we pray, it should not be for recognition but a private affair between us and God. When we give to those in need, it should not be for recognition but because it is the right thing to do.

Second, we want to tell someone what they “should” do but we fail to stop and look at our own behavior first. What set of circumstances gives us the right to tell others what they should be doing? Frankly, we should practice what we preach!

Third, we set up rules and regulations, just as the Pharisees did, and then follow them to the letter disregarding the necessity for us to ALSO show mercy and forgiveness. Rules are important but never more important than the needs of the one person they are going to hurt or destroy.

Fourth, on the outside, we often appear perfect, polished, poised, collected, in control but more often than not inside we are dying. We are often the walking dead; filled with regret, shame, doubt, fear, suppressed anger, and the like. This one category alone describes almost all of us and we are all hypocrites in this respect. What if we lived in a world where we were honest about our faults and our doubts and our shortcomings? What if we lived in a world where we truly had to rely on each other to get through the day? What if we lived in the kind of world that Jesus longed for us to have — a world of mutual respect, kindness, mercy, openness, giving, and compassion?

Fifth, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate these realities. In fact, when we call other people hypocrites, we are ourselves becoming a hypocrite, setting ourselves up as morally superior when in fact, through our judgmental, arrogant attitudes we have just become a hypocrite!

helping-handThis Christmas season, let’s listen to the teachings of Christ. Let’s look at each other through his eyes and see the person within that may be hurting or in need of just a little love and compassion. That could be the greatest gift we could give to someone this holiday season!

Are We All Equal?

There were only two women in my medical school class of 100 students. Back in the late seventies, women doctors were few and far between. It was a time of women’s “liberation”. Frankly, I didn’t get why women were not treated “equally”. My mother and father had set an example for me. My mother was a working woman back in the 1950’s and 1960’s right up to her retirement as a school bus driver in the mid 1970’s. My father shared the job of cooking and cleaning. Every Saturday morning, he swept the entire house of all the dirt and dust of the prior week. I never heard him say anything about “women’s work”. Both of my sisters were career women even after they married and had children. I guess I was fortunate that my parents taught me that we are all equal in the eyes of God no matter what our gender, religion, race, or stature in life.

That particular belief did not come from a political point of view. It came from our devotion to the teachings of Christ. As I mentioned two posts ago, I want to look at the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in this Christmas season and focus on those teachings without focusing on the religious claims about Jesus. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth taught us powerful lessons that transcend culture and religion; lessons that even an atheist or agnostic can live with. In fact, Jesus taught us powerful lessons that everyone should apply to our lives.

Stop for a moment and consider the status of women in first century Palestine. Among the Roman culture, women were considered objects of sexual conquest and were often the center of many pagan religious practices. In the Jewish culture of Jesus of Nazareth, women were very low in status. They were little better than possessions. A man could divorce a women just be stating it was so. Women who had serious illnesses were considered “unclean” and “untouchable”. If a women was caught in the act of adultery, she could be stoned — forget about the man’s transgressions! The testimony of a woman was useless and never to be taken as truthful.

However, we see an entirely different attitude toward women in four encounters Jesus had with a woman of his time. Each encounter is a teaching moment for us all to understand.Woman-at-the-Well-5001

First, Jesus met a woman at a well. This woman had been married many times and was considered an adulterer. She came to the well in the heat of the day hoping no one would be there to make fun of her. She was also a Samaritan, considered lower than low; the most undesirable of the undesirables by any good Jew of the day. She met Jesus of Nazareth that day. He did the unthinkable and SPOKE to her! He told her all about herself. He told her that the water she drank from this well was temporary but that she should seek the water of spiritual fulfillment.

Here, Jesus illustrates one of the first of many very powerful lessons that all people are of equal value and of equal worth.

Second, Jesus was dining with a religious leader of the day. A woman appears suddenly at the door. She ignores the ridicule and chiding of the religious leaders and comes to Jesus. She produces a vial of expensive fragrance, pours it on Jesus’ feet and his head and washes his feet with her tears and her hair. While the rest of the men present ridicule the woman’s actions, Jesus accepts them as a gift and says that wherever and whenever his teachings are told down through the ages, this woman’s devotion will be remembered.

Third, is the most beautiful account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We know from the account that this was a setup to trap Jesus; a trap set by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus literally disarmed the men ready to stone the woman with one of the most powerful statements in history, “Let he who is among you that is without sin cast the first stone.” Then, Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her she is free and to “go and sin no more”; that is don’t allow yourself to get into the situation you were just in that almost led to your death. Learn from this and CHANGE your life for the better.

Fourth, it is very interesting that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection tell us that the first people he appeared to were women! A woman’s testimony was worthless! If the story of the resurrection were false; that is, fabricated by men. they certainly would NOT have used women as the first line of testimony to the resurrection. Whether you believe this fact or not, the idea that Jesus would appear to women first is significant. His acknowledgement of women’s worth for its time was astonishing.

We see in these few examples (and there are many more) that Jesus of Nazareth disregarded a person’s race (Samaritan), gender(female), and ethnic background (again, Samaritan). In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of the day calling them hypocrites (More on this later!). Jesus seems to be teaching that we are all equal in his eyes. Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Look at this statement from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

 

Where did we go wrong? How did mankind continue to claim to be followers of Christ in western culture and still embrace the bigotry of race and slavery and the sexism against women? Because we are man; we are broken; we listen but we do not learn. Even our founding fathers ignored their own words from the Declaration of Independence when it came to slavery:

We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.

It has only been in the last forty years that we have finally given race and sex a fair deal. But, Jesus taught this fairness two thousand years ago!

What have I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that I think all men and women should embrace:

Each person is unique and worthy.

No person is better than another.

No person is greater than another.

One should NEVER be looked down upon because of a difference in race, gender, religious beliefs, or stature in life.

We should look upon EVERYONE with respect as our equal.

Once again, Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do!

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