Sunday, February 28, 2010

Never Blame the Umpire by Gene Fehler - REVIEWED




The title of this book does not begin to disclose the treasure that lies within the pages of this book! Knowing it is written with young adults as the target audience is a particular thrill to me, because the blessing of the story is told within the realm of what all young teens will recognize and relate to. The message contained within this tender story is so incredibly important for both teens and adults, that I can enthusiastically recommend it to everyone!




I think what Made this story so special to me is the fact that my own immediate family was built through almost the exact same circumstances. I have heard my own dad’s testimony of the many ways God does indeed work in and through some of life’s darkest moments. The faith has served as the bedrock of my Dad’s life, and thanks be to God it sustains me today. May I always cling to His sovereign hand!




Never Blame the Umpire is a most excellent story! Oh! I almost forgot! Poetry plays its own role amid this precious book, and it is also very, very meaningful to both the young protagonist and all who read the words of her heart! It is another thing that endeared this book to me, and I just can’t express how much there is to enjoy about this story!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gene Fehler, an award-winning and widely published poet, is the author of ten published books and over eighteen hundred published poems, stories, and articles. He and his wife, Polly, live in Seneca, South Carolina, where he writes, teaches, and participates in sports. Visit Gene at www.genefehler.com.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan - REVIEWED


Wrongly accused of murder, Charlie West is on the run and trying to prove his innocence. However, this task proves to be quite a challenge, because he is missing a year of his memory! Charlie awakes in jail and finds himself surrounded by radical Islamic terrorists who want to recruit him to help destroy America. Charlie realizes his only hope of survival is escape, and thus he begins trying to find ways to ask questions about what really happened when his friend was murdered. Aided by old friends and a long-ago love interest, Charlie begins to unravel the mystery of who is really responsible for the death that he is accused of.


There are lots of exciting action scenes and chases in this book. The fight scenes take place only when Charlie is left with no other option of escape, and as the plot progresses Charlie maintains his integrity as he pursues truth about all that has happened in his life. Pursued by the law and the terrorist group there are many plot twists and exciting moments in the story. This is also a patriotic tale with only a minimal faith element that will appeal to teens who like an action-packed fiction read.


This is the second book in The Homelanders series, (the first book is The Last Thing I Remember) and while The Long Way Home can be read as a stand-alone novel, the impact would be greater for the reader if the books were read in order.


*this review is a joint effort between me and my 16-year-old son. I bounced the book his way so you would know whether or not the target audience was reached....and it was!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Andrew Klavan was hailed by Stephen King as "the most original novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich." He is the recipient of two Edgar Awards and the author of such bestsellers as True Crime and Don't Say a Word.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Abigail by Jill Eileen Smith - REVIEWED


Abigail, wife of King David, has been brought vividly to life through the writing of Jill Eileen Smith! What a fascinating look into the past and the ramifications of what it must be like to be one of many wives! What tender scenes were captured between David and the wife who shared his faith!


I read the first book in this series, Michael, last year, and I was truly swept away! Abigail’s journey is just as breathtaking, and the story is built carefully over time so that the reader becomes fully involved in both the life of David and Abigail. Once again, Jill Eileen Smith has followed what is revealed in Scripture about David and his life, and she has made Abigail so real that your heart aches from the experience! I especially appreciated the depiction of Abigail’s marriage to Nabal while simultaneously developing David’s nomadic lifestyle as he fled from Saul. It was as if both David and Abigail’s trials were strengthening them for the challenges ahead. This development of their lives apart only deepened the love and relationship that eventually grew between them.


I was also intrigued by the fearful nature of David’s wife Ahinoam that was set in such stark contrast to Abigail’s faith. This dynamic made me appreciate and believe the emotional struggle that warred within Abigail as David continued to add wives to his household. Truly, emotions sparked off the page every time David and Abigail were near one another, and your heart ached for Abigail when they were apart.


Again, I felt transported to another time and place as I read Abigail, and I look forward to meeting the next of David’s wives then Jill Eileen Smith brings her to life with her very skillful pen! What a joy to read such great historical fiction!


Available February 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jill Eileen Smith has more than twenty years of writing experience, and her writing has garnered acclaim in several contests. Her research into the lives of David's wives has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill is the author of the bestselling Michal and lives with her family in southeast Michigan.




Thursday, February 25, 2010

Desert Fire by Shannon Van Roekel - REVIEWED

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:


Desert Fire

Kregel Publications (September 22, 2009)

***Special thanks to Cat Hoort of Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Shannon Van Roekel has volunteered on the mission field in both Africa and Mexico and much of this novel is influenced by her experiences. She published works in Guideposts 4 Teens and The Upper Room and now lives with her husband and five children in British Colombia.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825439221
ISBN-13: 978-0825439223


MY THOUGHTS:

“God, He is good always children. Deep sorrow comes to all. But God, in His goodness, does not leave us alone. He is here. He is faithful even here.” (p. 274)


Oh that the truth of these words will be lived as reality in my life! These are the words of a missionary spoken in the face of horror within the genocide/war of Sudan, Africa. Desert Fire is the story not only of this missionary and his wife, but about an agnostic reporter who is sent to Sudan to cover the injustice taking place in that area, specifically as it relates to women. The story is more real than even I realized, and quite frankly, I repented of my ignorance in unconcern for the horrors taking place even today upon that continent. I will never be the same for having read this story.


I’m not going to belabor the telling of this story here. I am, instead going to urge you to read this book! Pray for the people who are the target of terror within the world today. Ask God to send people to share the gospel with these people. Ask God what you can do to minister to the hurting in your own realm of existence.


Readers, Christ is mighty to save. If you belong to Him, you have an eternal purpose in this world. Find out what it is. Seek God’s face until you know His will. Tell the world the truth of Christ!! Desert Fire is a POWERFUL story! While I was reading this I would lose all track of time and become so immersed in story that my return to life was like waking from a dream. These characters will challenge and inspire you to seek God as never before! May we all live within the assurance of His sovereignty and grace!!


Desert Fire is a painfully beautiful picture of Christ, and those who read this story will be changed in profound ways!


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Dear Julia,

I want to die better than I’ve lived. So I ask you, please read this letter to the end.

It’s the only one I’ll send.

Cold, fluorescent light shone down on the metal desk where Fred Keegan sat. His hair was closely shaven along a massive neck between a pair of muscle-bound shoulders. He hunched over white notepaper, his right hand engulfing the pen.

A sigh escaped him, a moment passed, and then the pen scratched its way across the paper again:

If you receive this, it will mean I am gone from this world—so you can relax, I won’t come and disturb your life.

There are some things, however, that I’d like you to know about me.

One is that I’ve always loved you. I guess your mama didn’t spend much time talking about the father you probably had no trouble forgetting. I don’t blame either of you for having nothing to do with me. I was a real jerk. I was guilty, as charged, for the crimes I committed. That life, I am ashamed of, and I paid a high price. Thirty years in the slammer. And counting. I won’t bore you with the sorry-old-me stuff. Mostly, I want to tell you about the last eight years. Something important happened, and you should know not just who I was, but who I got to be and the Treasure I found. This is why I write to you.

I’ve got a picture of a cute kid taped to my wall. You’re missing your front teeth and have two of those pony things. You’re a cute gal and no mistake. Pretty, like your mama. The picture came in the last letter with the divorce papers.

Fred stopped, head bowed, eyes squeezed shut. The memories of that day still filled him with remorse. The rage he’d felt and his inability to control it. Two guards had taken the brunt, both of whom still carried scars marking the event. Two weeks in solitary was his punishment. Regrettably, not long enough to cure him of his anger-management problem.

Picking up his pen again, he gazed at the photo. The tape had yellowed with age. The girl never aged. She smiled back with sweetness and youth.

I guess you were seven in that photo. That means you’d be thirty-three now. I wonder if I’d know you if I saw you today. Can a man walk past his own kin and not feel the bond of blood that connects them? Recognize the spirit in the other who shares his same history, ancestors, and perhaps God? Maybe that’s why we get goose bumps. Maybe I’m a crazy old fool who’s had too much time to think about the inner workings of this thing we call life.

“Keegan, you got a visitor.”

Fred looked up as the guard unlocked the steel door and stepped aside, allowing a tall man access into his cell. His frown at being interrupted from his writing smoothed immediately into a grin when he recognized his guest.

“Mr. Lawyer, good to see ya.”

“Good to be seen, Keegan. How are you feeling today?” Joel Maartens returned Fred’s grin with one of his own.

“Feeling? I guess I’m fine. I’ve got things to do, and that helps keep my mind off the pain.” Fred tried to ignore the pity in Joel’s eyes.

“Let me guess, you’ve got new books?”

Fred followed Joel’s gaze as he glanced at the bookshelf on the opposite wall. His cell was compact: bed, desk, chair, toilet, sink. But the bookshelf reaching from floor to ceiling was the focal point.

“Nah! Not books this time. I’ve got a letter to write, and it’s not an easy thing to do, Mr. Lawyer.” Fred folded his large frame into a sitting position on the edge of his bed so Joel could take the chair. “That’s why I asked to see you. I need some help with its delivery.”

“You need a letter mailed?” Joel asked.

“Not mailed, delivered,” Fred explained.

“Got an address, Keegan?”

“Well, no. No, I don’t. But it’s to my daughter.”

Fred watched Joel, wondering how his lawyer would respond to his proposal. They had known each other for the last five years, and during that time, he had learned to value the man’s opinion. Joel seemed less like his lawyer and more like a nephew.

Joel leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers laced together as he spoke.

“I wouldn’t think it should be too difficult. There’ll be a marriage certificate if your ex remarried—would she be the type to remarry?” As Fred nodded and grimaced, Joel continued. “And of course, school registration forms. Maybe with some help from the Web, I could find an address or addresses where you can send the letter—”

“No,” Fred interjected. “I don’t want to mail it. It’s taken me a long time, Joel, but now that I have something of value to offer her, I want to know that it’ll get put into her hands. I don’t know who else to ask. I thought this thing through till my head feels like I’ve got two tumors, not one, and I keep coming back to you. I need you to do this.

“My daughter, Julia, will be my only heir, and you will be the executor—if you agree to it, that is. This search shouldn’t be complicated, but if it is, you can take any funds you require for it from the inheritance provision that you will write up with my signature and a third-party witness. I’m not a rich man, but I’m not a poor one, either, thanks to some of the investments you’ve helped me with.” He stopped. His outburst had winded him.

Fred prepared himself for disappointment as he watched Joel struggle with the ramifications of his request. Things that should be simple and straightforward were sometimes the opposite. For a lawyer to take on the unknown with no guarantee was a leap, and Fred knew it.

Joel hesitated for a moment, then gave a quick nod.

“I’ll do it, Keegan,” he told him.

As they shook hands over the agreement, Fred sighed with relief. He knew Joel would see it through. It was enough.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Big 5-oh! by Sandra D. Bricker - REVIEWED


“Different can be good,” her wise friend replied. “Sometimes different builds a bridge between what you are and what you can be.” (p. 61)


Olivia Wallace is in desperate need of something different, but she has no idea what that change could or should be. Her life has become buried beneath the routine predictability of one disaster after another (or so it seems) until her heart is as cold as the two feet of snow burying her driveway. When her best friend’s mom railroads her into spending two weeks house-sitting her Florida home, Olivia’s life begins to transform into something she never dreamed possible.


Dear reader, if you enjoy a romantic comedy with a dash of spiritual truth and a lot of tender insight into the human heart, then Sandra Bricker’s latest novel, the big 5-oh! is just what you are looking for! Olivia’s story is filled with lots of fun and unexpected events that keep you thoroughly entertained from first page to last. I love the way Bricker used the precious inserts from Josie’s children’s story to introduce each chapter, and I fell in love with Jared, Rand, Clayton and Boofer over and over again!


Truly, I think there is a bit of Olivia in all of us. When trials come to us, one after the other as they sometimes do, we are all tempted to grow a bit fearful and push God away from our heart. Like Olivia, we fail to recognize His faithful presence amid our circumstances. But God is so faithful! He continues to love us and patiently wait until our prodigal hearts turn toward home!


Please, pick up your own copy of the big 5-oh! And be blessed! I know I was! I eagerly look forward to reading more of Sandra Bricker’s stories!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

For more than a decade, Author Sandra D. Bricker lived in Los Angeles. While writing in every spare moment, she worked as a personal assistant and publicist to some of daytime television's hottest stars. When her mother became ill in Florida, she walked away from that segment of her life and moved across the country to take on a new role: Caregiver.

One of Sandie's passions revolves around the rights of animals. She's been involved in fundraising for Lost Angels Animal Rescue for several years now; in fact, a portion of the proceeds of Love Finds You in Holiday, Florida will go to help the non-profit group with their expenses. And Lost Angels paid her back in a big way: They brought a free-spirited Collie named Sophie into her life after the loss of her 15-year companion Caleb.

It was her 8th novel that opened the door to finding her way as a writer.

In Sandie's words: "I guess most people would see my career as a publicist as a sort of dream job. But giving it up turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me!" she declares. "Not only was I given the gift of getting to know my mother as an adult woman before she passed away, but I was also afforded the blessing of being able to focus completely on my dream of a writing career.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A View from Christa Allan's Window and AUTOGRAPHED GIVE AWAY!

I am honored to welcome Christa Allan to my Window! Her debut novel, Walking on Broken Glass made a huge impact on my heart and mind, and I wanted to share some of Christa's heart with my readers. I hope your heart is as blessed as mine was, and I hope you gain tender understanding of this precious writer's heart for Christ and for her readers!

Christa is also offering an autographed copy of her new novel as a gift for those who stop by today, so please leave a comment and let Christa know you paid a visit! Please, give a warm welcome to Christa Allan!


Where was this story born in your heart? What led you write about addiction in such a personal way?


My tagline is “stories of unscripted grace” and that grew from my realization that our lives don’t always follow the scripts we’ve expected and, as a result, we sometimes find ourselves frustrated, lonely, confused, angry. We think God’s abandoned us, when-ironically-we may be following God’s script for our lives, and His grace will sustain us.


I’m a recovering alcoholic and, by God’s grace, have not had a drink for over twenty years. I invited God back into my life because of AA, not in spite of it. As I grew in my faith and in my recovery, I realized that so many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist. So, what’s someone to do who’s immersed in these challenges? I wanted to reassure women struggling with addiction that they’re not alone, that there’s a loving and compassionate God who cares about them and His grace will be sufficient for them. I wanted to remove the fa├žade that often hinders real recovery. “Good” Christian families aren’t immune to the world, but once we admit we have a problem, we can be healed by God.


Even at the point when Leah is entering rehab – of her own choice and against her husband’s wishes – she still thinks she is “not like these other people”. Can you explain this mindset as it relates to addiction? Addiction is certainly no respecter of persons!


I think, for most, the perception of an alcoholic is of a homeless person, passed out on a street corner or a raging, slurring, tottering wacko at a party. Debutantes, soccer moms as alcoholics? Who would think? For Leah, the perception defined the disease. It became the ruler by which she measured and justified her own drinking.


Why was Leah’s husband unable to recognize Leah needed help when it was so clear to her best friend?


Someone told me, “When you point at a person, remember that there are four fingers pointing back at you.” We’re all very good at denial, especially with those we love. But to really see and admit they have a problem forces us to take a long look inside of ourselves and, perhaps, own some of our own problems and issues. And then, once you admit there’s a problem, well then you have to do something about it. For Carl to admit his wife was an alcoholic he had to let of his own social pretensions. What people would think of him became more important that helping Leah. And, on another level, one that is painful to bear, her being an alcoholic gave him control.



As it turns out, the event in Leah’s life that the reader thinks is the root cause of all this trouble winds up as only another symptom of the addiction itself. Why do you feel some people use emotional pain as an excuse to abuse a substance?


Initially, most people would forgive someone who drank too much to ease the pain of a tragedy. After all, who wants to feel, really feel that ache? Years ago, a doctor wanted to prescribe medicine for my son that would “take the edge off of life.” He was 12. Life’s supposed to have an edge; otherwise, how do you know when you’re falling off?


Just when you think there’s a pill for any symptom a human can experience, along comes a pill to help boost the pill you’re already taking (it’s a pill related to depression ). I’m not saying anyone who takes medication is trying to escape reality. Maybe there is a genetic predisposition to substance abuse or biochemical imbalances. Countless numbers of people have been helped by medications for psychiatric disorders, depression, anxiety, for instance. But when pills or alcohol or other drugs are used to numb us, then that’s something else. Because there’s no way to escape reality; it’s always there waiting for us. I’m going out on a totally unresearched, undocumented limb here…but I think if there’s no real spiritual foundation, one that has roots— not just something sprinkled over the soil— then reality is difficult. Finding God, at least for me, opened the eyes of my heart to a reality far greater than this world.


Can you give readers a sneak peek into the book that is planned to follow this one?


I’d love to write a sequel for this novel; unfortunately; there’s not one contracted or in the works at this point! My original intention all along was to write a sequel, which might explain some of the looser ends in the story. I know how I’d want this second novel to unfold, and it would probably begin five years later. Other than that, my agent’s shopping two proposals that I truly hope get picked up. One deals with the issue of a woman coming to terms with her brother who is gay. So, once again, I’m headed into an issue-driven novel, and one that’s not been tried in CBA publishing.


What do your students think about you becoming a published author? Have they read your story?


My high school students have been a part of this journey from my signing with an agent to being offered the book contract to publication. For some of them, I hear, “Wow, you published a REAL book!” Others respond with, “That’s great. Did I miss anything yesterday?”


The message I want them to get from this is to not let go of their dreams. If my dream can come true, then so can theirs. And I pray they don’t wait as long!


What has been your most meaningful response to the book release thus far? What do you ultimately hope the message of the book achieves?



Truly, since this is my first novel, every response is meaningful! Because it’s a novel about alcoholism and sexual issues between a husband and wife, my greatest concern was that it wouldn’t get read. That people would know the subject matter and think it was “appropriate” for Christian fiction. Abingdon really stepped out in faith in publishing this novel, and I’m so grateful for them believing in Leah’s story.


What’s most meaningful is when people see this as a story of hope and redemption. And for those dealing with addiction themselves or in the lives of family or friends, I pray this novel gives them the courage to heal and find God’s grace on the other side of brokenness.


Closing words of encouragement to your readers?


Don’t ever let someone steal your dreams. Trust that if God placed the desire in your heart, that there’s a way for it eventually unfold.


What exciting thing is God doing in your life right now?


Well, the responses to this novel are tremendously exciting! Actually, I think God is pruning me right now because things aren’t happening the way I wanted or hoped they would…and, of course, the key word there is “I.” So, I’m excited that God cares enough about me to take time to teach me!




Wiersbe Bible Study Series - 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon: It's Always Too Soon to Quit!

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:


Wiersbe Bible Study Series – 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon: It's Always Too Soon to Quit!

David C. Cook; New edition (February 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


A man who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe is an internationally known Bible teacher, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago and the author of more than 150 books. For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. Dubbed by many as the “pastor’s pastor,” Dr. Wiersbe skillfully weaves Scripture with historical explanations and thought-provoking questions, communicating the Word in such a way that the masses grasp its relevance for today.


Product Details:

List Price: $8.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (February 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765105
ISBN-13: 978-1434765109

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Introduction to 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon


Too Soon to Quit!


Timothy was not too happy in his church in Ephesus, and Titus was in a difficult situation on the island of Crete. To both of them, Paul wrote, “Be faithful! It’s always too soon to quit!”


Paul used the Greek word pistos (“faithful”) at least seventeen times in these three letters. The theme runs through each chapter: Be faithful to the Word, be faithful to your task, be faithful to the people to whom you minister. God is faithful! But don’t get the idea that the Pastoral Epistles are only for pastors and other “full-time Christian workers.” These three letters are for every Christian, every church member.


I have added a chapter on Philemon because what Paul wrote to him fits right into the theme of this study. Philemon faced a difficult problem with his runaway slave, Onesimus, and Paul’s counsel encouraged Philemon to be faithful to the Lord in solving that problem.


As you study these letters, I want to help you understand the ministry of the local church and also encourage you to stick with it! If you and I are faithful to the tasks God has given us, then His work will prosper and His name will be glorified. Could we ask for more?


A Note about Paul’s Life


Paul was arrested in Jerusalem around AD 57 and was confined to prison in Caesarea for two years (see Acts 21:19—26:32). Paul’s voyage to Rome to be tried before Caesar started sometime around September AD 59. After a shipwreck and a three-month wait on Malta, he arrived in Rome about

February AD 60 (see Acts 27—28). There he had liberty to minister.


Paul was acquitted of the charges and released. During the two years that followed, he ministered in various places and wrote 1 Timothy and Titus.


About AD 65, he was arrested again but this time put into a dungeon. It was then that he wrote 2 Timothy, his last letter.


The other collected letters, including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, were written during his first Roman captivity. —Warren W. Wiersbe


How to Use This Study


This study is designed for both individual and small-group use. We’ve divided it into eight lessons—each references one or more chapters in Warren W. Wiersbe’s commentary Be Faithful (second edition, David C. Cook, 2009). While reading Be Faithful is not a prerequisite for going through this study, the additional insights and background Wiersbe offers can greatly enhance your study experience.


The Getting Started questions at the beginning of each lesson offer you an opportunity to record your first thoughts and reactions to the study text. This is an important step in the study process as those “first impressions” often include clues about what it is your heart is longing to discover.


The bulk of the study is found in the Going Deeper questions. These dive into the Bible text and, along with helpful excerpts from Wiersbe’s commentary, help you examine not only the original context and meaning of the verses but also modern application.


Looking Inward narrows the focus down to your personal story. These intimate questions can be a bit uncomfortable at times, but don’t shy away from honesty here. This is where you are asked to stand before the mirror of God’s Word and look closely at what you see. It’s the place to take a good look at yourself in light of the lesson and search for ways in which you can grow in faith.


Going Forward is the place where you can commit to paper those things you want or need to do in order to better live out the discoveries you made in the Looking Inward section. Don’t skip or skim through this. Take the time to really consider what practical steps you might take to move closer to Christ. Then share your thoughts with a trusted friend who can act as an encourager and accountability partner.


Finally, there is a brief Seeking Help section to close the lesson. This is a reminder for you to invite God into your spiritual-growth process. If you choose to write out a prayer in this section, come back to it as you work through the lesson and continue to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you discover God’s will for your life.


Tips for Small Groups


A small group is a dynamic thing. One week it might seem like a group of close-knit friends. The next it might seem more like a group of uncomfortable strangers. A small-group leader’s role is to read these subtle changes and adjust the tone of the discussion accordingly.


Small groups need to be safe places for people to talk openly. It is through shared wrestling with difficult life issues that some of the greatest personal growth is discovered. But in order for the group to feel safe, participants need to know it’s okay not to share sometimes. Always invite honest disclosure, but never force someone to speak if he or she isn’t comfortable doing so. (A savvy leader will follow up later with a group member who isn’t comfortable sharing in a group setting to see if a one-on-one discussion is more appropriate.)


Have volunteers take turns reading excerpts from Scripture or from the commentary. The more each person is involved even in the mundane tasks, the more they’ll feel comfortable opening up in more meaningful ways.


The leader should watch the clock and keep the discussion moving. Sometimes there may be more Going Deeper questions than your group can cover in your available time. If you’ve had a fruitful discussion, it’s okay to move on without finishing everything. And if you think the group is getting bogged down on a question or has taken off on a tangent, you can simply say, “Let’s go on to question 5.” Be sure to save at least ten to fifteen minutes for the Going Forward questions.


Finally, soak your group meetings in prayer—before you begin, during as needed, and always at the end of your time together.


Lesson 1

An Important Job

(1 TIMOTHY 1—2)


Before you begin …

• Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.

• Read 1 Timothy 1—2. This lesson references chapters 1 and 2 in Be Faithful. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.


Getting Started


From the Commentary


Timothy was born of mixed parentage: His mother was a Jewess, his father a Greek. He was so devoted to Christ that his local church leaders recommended him to Paul, and Paul added him to his “missionary staff” (Acts 16:1–5). Paul often reminded Timothy that he was chosen for this ministry (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). Timothy was faithful to the Lord (1 Cor. 4:17) and had a deep concern for God’s people (Phil. 2:20–22).


But in spite of his calling, his close association with Paul, and his spiritual gifts, Timothy was easily discouraged.


Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Timothy to encourage Timothy, to explain how a local church should be managed, and to enforce his own authority as a servant of God.


—Be Faithful, pages 20–21


1. What clues does Paul give in the first two chapters of 1 Timothy about Timothy’s tendency to be discouraged? (See especially 1 Tim. 1:18–19.) Why do you think Paul mentions that he has “handed over to Satan” Hymenaeus and Alexander?


2. Choose one verse or phrase from 1 Timothy 1—2 that stands out to you. This could be something you’re intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here.


Going Deeper


From the Commentary


One reason Christian workers must stay on the job is that false teachers are busy trying to capture Christians. There were teachers of false doctrines in Paul’s day just as there are today, and we must take them seriously. These false teachers have no good news for lost sinners. They seek instead to lead Christians astray and capture them for their causes.


Paul used military language to help Timothy and his people see the seriousness of the problem (1 Tim. 1:3). Charge means “to give strict orders from a superior officer.” Paul used this word (sometimes translated “commandment” and “command” in KJV) eight times in his two letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17; 2 Tim. 4:1). He was conveying this idea: “Timothy, you are not only a pastor of the church in a difficult city. You are also a Christian soldier under orders from the King. Now pass these orders along to the soldiers in your church!”


—Be Faithful, pages 21–22


3. How does Paul’s use of military language speak to an urgency in battling the false doctrines in the Ephesian church? What are some similar circumstances in today’s church where a “command” to a church leader might be appropriate? What are the risks of not responding to the false doctrines swiftly and decisively?


More to Consider: Read Galatians 5:1–6. How does this passage speak to the “ false doctrines” of religious legalism that Paul is warning against in 1 Timothy 1:3–11?


From the Commentary


The mention of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11, literal translation) moved Paul to share his own personal testimony. He was “Exhibit A” to prove that the gospel of the grace of God really works. When you read Paul’s testimony (see also Acts 9:1–22; 22:1–21; 26:9–18), you begin to grasp the wonder of God’s grace and His saving power.


—Be Faithful, page 24


4. Review 1 Timothy 1:12–17. What do these verses tell us about Paul’s testimony? What arguments does he put forth to illustrate the gospel of grace in his own story?


From the History Books


The city of Ephesus (in present-day Turkey) was at one time a city of nearly half a million people. Among other things, it was known for the Temple of Artemis (Diana). People came from far away to worship the goddess of fertility. The temple itself, which took more than a hundred years to complete, is often referred to today as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” and is evidence of the strong pagan influence in the city of Ephesus during Paul’s day.


5. What impact would the pagan environment have had on Timothy’s ability to serve the church in Ephesus? What sorts of challenges might he have faced that were unique to a city that was known for its worship of a fertility goddess? How might knowing this about Ephesus have influenced the manner in which Paul addressed Timothy?


From the Commentary


It was not easy to serve God in pagan Ephesus, but Timothy was a man under orders, and he had to obey. The soldier’s task is to “please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4), and not to please himself. Furthermore, Timothy was there by divine appointment: God had chosen him and sent him. It was this fact that could give him assurance in difficult days.


—Be Faithful, page 27


6. How does Paul’s personal story (1 Tim. 1:12–13) speak to the idea of being divinely appointed for the leadership task? How might this have offered encouragement to Timothy? How does this resonate with the way we view church leaders today?


From the Commentary


Timothy must have been greatly helped and encouraged when he read this first section of Paul’s letter. God had called Timothy, equipped him, and put him into his place of ministry. Timothy’s job was not to run all over Ephesus, being involved in a multitude of tasks. His job was to care for the church by winning the lost, teaching the saved, and defending the faith. Any task that did not relate to these ministries would have to be abandoned.


—Be Faithful, page 29


7. Why was it important for Timothy to focus on the local church? What greater value could this focus have had on other efforts to reach the Ephesians? In what ways do the leaders of churches today succeed in staying focused? In what ways does the church fail in this? How can Paul’s words in chapter 1 help redirect a church that has lost focus?


From the Commentary


Often, what we think is the “freedom of the Spirit” are the carnal ideas of some Christian who is not walking in the Spirit. Eventually this “freedom” becomes anarchy, and the Spirit grieves as a church gradually moves away from the standards of God’s Word.


To counteract this tendency, Paul exhorted both the men and the women in the church and reminded them of their spiritual responsibilities.


—Be Faithful, page 33


8. Review 1 Timothy 2:1–8. What were the spiritual responsibilities Paul described specifically for the men of the church? Why do you think he separated the responsibilities of men and women in this and the next section? How much of what Paul described is specific to the culture of the time, and what can we derive from this passage that is universally helpful for all believers, men or women?


More to Consider: Read Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:9–14; James 4:1–10; and 1 John 5:14–15 to see examples of problematic attitudes some people bring to prayer. How does Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 2:1–4 speak to the concerns raised by these passages?


From the Commentary


The word translated “subjection” in 1 Timothy 2:11 is translated “submitting” and “submit” in Ephesians 5:21–22 and Colossians 3:18. It literally means “to rank under.” Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows that “rank” has to do with order and authority, not with value or ability.


Submission is not subjugation. Submission is recognizing God’s order in the home and the church and joyfully obeying it. When a Christian wife joyfully submits to the Lord and to her own husband, it should bring out the best in her.


—Be Faithful, page 40


9. Review 1 Timothy 2:9–15. What are the specific responsibilities Paul outlines for women in these verses? What makes this passage somewhat controversial in today’s church? Again, how much of what Paul writes is specific to the culture of the time, and how much is directly applicable today?


From the Commentary


Paul gave several arguments to back up this admonition that the Christian men in the church should be the spiritual leaders. The first is an argument from creation: Adam was formed first, and then Eve (1 Tim. 2:12–13).


The second argument has to do with man’s fall into sin. Satan deceived the woman into sinning (Gen. 3:1ff.; 2 Cor. 11:3); the man sinned with his eyes wide open. Because Adam rejected the God-given order, he listened to his wife, disobeyed God, and brought sin and death into the world. The submission of wives to their own husbands is a part of the original creation.


—Be Faithful, page 43


10. What is your initial reaction to Paul’s arguments about why men should be the spiritual leaders in the church? Why do you think Paul makes this distinction in his letter to Timothy? What can we discern from this that is applicable to today’s church leaders?


Looking Inward


Take a moment to reflect on all that you’ve explored thus far in this study of 1 Timothy 1—2. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.


Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don’t press people to speak if they’re uncomfortable doing so.


11. When have you been discouraged like Timothy? How did you respond to that discouragement? How can Paul’s words of encouragement to Timothy help you?


12. Timothy was battling the false doctrine of legalism. How have you battled that in your church? In your own life? Why is it so easy to fall into legalism? How do Paul’s words to Timothy help you understand the gospel of grace?


13. What is your response to Paul’s exhortations to men and women at the end of 1 Timothy 2? How are Paul’s words applicable to your life? Do you agree with everything he says? Why or why not?


Going Forward

14. Think of one or two things you have learned that you’d like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It’s better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don’t try).


Do you need encouragement? Do you need to fight the temptation to be legalistic? Be specific. Go back through 1 Timothy 1—2 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse.


Real-Life Application Ideas: Invite a discussion with other church members about how you can support and encourage the church leadership. Brainstorm specific ways you can encourage the leaders, and then take action on these ideas.


Seeking Help


15. Write a prayer below (or simply pray one in silence), inviting God to work on your mind and heart in those areas you’ve previously noted. Be honest about your desires and fears.


Notes for Small Groups:

• Look for ways to put into practice the things you wrote in the Going Forward section. Talk with other

group members about your ideas and commit to being accountable to one another.

• During the coming week, ask the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal truth to you from what you’ve read

and studied.

• Before you start the next lesson, read 1 Timothy 3. For more in-depth lesson preparation, read chapter 3, “Follow the Leaders,” in Be Faithful.


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Wiersbe Bible Study Series - 1&2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon by Warren Wiersbe. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cowgirl At Heart by Christine Lynxwiler - REVIEWED


“Cowgirls are filled with courage and determination.” (p. 82)


Elyse McCord is not a woman who views herself with either courage or determination. The adopted daughter of the McCord family, Elyse is surrounded by a rambunctious group of ranchers most of the time, except when she is surrounded by her loving and devoted pets – three dogs. It is her love for dogs that takes her into a dangerous situation and introduces her to reporter and house painter Andrew Stone. From the moment their lives collide Elyse knows that there is something different about Andrew. There is a safety and peace found in his presence that is unlike any other man she has ever encountered.


Andrew Stone is a man with a past that haunts him, and it has cost him relationship with his father and others that desire to know him better. He encounters the McCord family under very uncertain circumstances, and finds himself drawn to their love and fellowship in a very strong way. He is particularly drawn to Elyse and the desire to protect her from her own past and the danger that seems to follow her every step. When he finally begins to reveal his heart, he is frightened by his own vulnerability. Will he choose to allow Elyse into his heart and life, or will he continue to hold her, and the entire McCord family at a distance?


Cowgirl at Heart is the second in the McCord Sister Romance series, and it takes the reader into the midst of a very special family. Just as God designed the dynamics of the McCord family, so He designed the unique gifting in the lives of Elyse and Andrew. Neither of them seem to have the courage they need to pursue the dreams dearest to their heart. Instead, they embrace fear and uncertainty with more grit and determination than either of them realize. Thankfully, they also seem to hold the key that unlocks each other’s dreams…if they will only take that first step!


This is a tender romance wound around a thread of suspense that draws the reader into the story and then to a satisfying conclusion. I think everyone will identify with the fear and insecurity that can overtake a heart when they cling to tightly to the painful moments of their past. Readers will also rejoice at the unique and specific ways the Lord works to draw people toward Himself and one another.


If you enjoy a good contemporary romance with a dash of suspense and a lot of family love and conflict, check out Christine Lynxwiler’s stories! You can read my review of The Reluctant Cowgirl here.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award-winning author and past president of American Christian Romance Writers, CHRISTINE LYNXWILER, her husband, Kevin, and their two daughters live in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains in their home state of Arkansas. Christine’s greatest earthly joy is her family, and aside from God’s work, spending time with them is her top priority.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Death, Injury, and Risk Taking in the Winter Games: Begging for a Christian Response



By Shirl James Hoffman, author of Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports


The video of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal collision with a support post on the lightening fast luge course at the Vancouver Winter Olympics has spread across cyberspace like wildfire. Thanks to modern technology we can play the incident over and over again, each time watching his body hurtle toward the unyielding post, each time hearing the sickening thud as life is snuffed from his body. Ultimately what Kumaritashvili feared would happen, did. He reportedly told his father before the race: “I will win or die.”

Watching it, many would say, slakes an unhealthy thirst for blood, infecting our spirits with the same morbid fascination that gripped first century Romans, witnesses to the gruesome contests featured at arenas spread across the empire. But is it possible that this video, in which the frightening and predictable result of traveling down a steep icy slope, supinely stretched two-inches above the ice at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour, might have some redeeming qualities after all? Perhaps.


However the Kumaritashvili death video might flirt with the dark spots of our spirits, it also serves—in a most vivid way—to underscore how modern sports, shaped by a voracious commercial market, geared to popular tastes, and propelled by an all-consuming quest for excellence, relies on the elements of danger, risk, and threat of bodily injury as a way of securing a larger and larger fan base. The image of Kumaritashvili’s collision makes clear in ways critical essays cannot, the truth that when athletes push their bodies to unreasonable limits, whether in the luge, snowboarding, or freestyle skiing, disaster, sooner or later, will result.


Realistically, one has to doubt the power of such tragedies or their recapture on video to dull either the public appetite for sensational sport or the industry’s eagerness to satisfy it. Less than two months before Kumaritashvili’s death snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s head collided with the side of the halfpipe during a December training run for the Olympics as he attempted a twisting-double-back flip known as the “double cork.” The “incident” (I refuse to call them “accidents”) left him with the grim prospects of regaining his vision and memory and relearning how to walk. The near certainty that eventually Pearce or some of his cohorts would be injured hadn’t kept the IOC from elevating the height of the halfpipe from 18 feet to 22 feet in order to provide greater “air time,” greater excitement for spectators, and greater opportunities for spectacular injuries.


Olympic historian David Wallechinsky recently told AP writer Rachel Saslow: "The Winter Olympics has always had dangerous sports, but it's getting worse. A lot of it has to do with maybe you want the ratings, and danger is good for ratings. Perhaps not so good for the athletes. You do have to ask yourself what's going on."


The Christian community’s response to this trend of increasing sensationalism in sports, evident not only at the Winter Games but in other sports such as football, hockey, lacrosse, NASCAR, and increasingly in soccer, has been, well, virtually non-existent. Should the Christian community speak out against sports in which victory, fame, and fortune is directly tied to athletes’ willingness to risk life and limb in performing dangerous stunts? I think it should. Is there a Christian position which speaks to sports whose appeal lies in part on the athlete’s bet against odds that he or she will come out of the event whole? Yes there is. Are Christians entitled to trifle with the body as an expendable instrument? Hardly. When Paul urged the Romans to “present their bodies as living sacrifices” and told the Corinthians to “glorify God in your bodies,” I doubt that he was envisioning lugers tempting death, or snowboarders risking their necks performing “super-squirrels” or “back-to-back-double corks,” even if they tack on a “thank you Jesus” at the conclusion of their runs. More likely he was reminding us that our bodies and souls, inseparable and sacred, deserve our utmost respect and honor.


I say this, fully conscious that evangelicals have rushed to capture the popularity of these sports as a way of evangelizing the masses. Winter Olympic Games like the Summer Games have become a target of evangelistic entrepreneurship stretching across churches and para-church groups bent on turning the attention of spectators to the gospel message. Copy from one evangelistic group’s website trumpets the familiar ends-justifies-the-means chorus: “The world will be watching—every perfected performance, every attempted spin, every crash and tumble down the slopes, every shining face on the victory stand.” What such hype doesn’t point out, of course, is that in those “crashes and tumbles down the slopes” scores of joints will be sprained and strained, bones will be broken, tissues defaced, brains traumatized, and bodies sacrificed for the cause. The logic of using sports that so blatantly dishonor the body to advance a gospel message that would seem to warn against it is left for us to figure out.


About the author:

Shirl J. Hoffman, Ed.D is Professor Emeritus of Kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he served as head of the department for 10 years. Hoffman has been a frequent contributor to the national dialogue on issues in kinesiology and higher education. He is a former editor of Quest and former associate editor of the Chronicle for Physical Education in Higher Education. He was named Distinguished Scholar by National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education (NAKPEHE). He gave the Alderson Lecture at The University of Texas and the Dudley Sargent Lecture to NAKPEHE. Currently he is a fellow emeritus of the American Academy for Kinesiology and Physical Education, member of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport and Executive Director of the American Kinesiology Association, an association of over 100 college and university departments of kinesiology across the U.S. and Canada.

Hoffman is editor of the first book Sport and Religion (Human Kinetics, 1992) and has been featured in a number of nationally aired televised documentaries on sport and religion on CBS (“Sport and Ethics”), ESPN (“Time to Pray, Time to Play”), Channel 4 in Britain (“Praying to Win”) and on nationally aired broadcasts on NPR (“A Whole New Ballgame”), BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (“Inside Track”) and various local and regional talk shows.

Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports

by Shirl J. Hoffman

Baylor University Press Feb 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-932792-10-2/paperback original/341 pages/$24.95

www.baylorpress.com

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Pastor's Wife by Jennifer AlLee - REVIEWED



“Maura grabbed the edges of her ragged emotions and pulled them tightly around her as the song faded to a close.” (p. 93)


Maura Sullivan has been tightly guarding her emotions ever since she walked out on her husband Nick six years ago. Called back to the little community of Granger, Ohio for the reading of a will, Maura and Nick find themselves facing a decision and an opportunity that neither of them ever dreamed they would face again in this lifetime. Will they choose to re-examine their situation and honestly deal with the past, or will they continue to keep secrets and hide their hearts from one another?


Jennifer AlLee’s latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife takes an honest look at what I imagine all pastor’s wives must deal with when they have husbands who must tend an entire needy flock of believers. Apparently, neither Maura nor Nick were mature enough to handle the pressures of life as a pastor in a small community. In spite of the love they shared, both of them made choices that deeply wounded the other. As they become reacquainted after a six-year separation, they must each deal with the events of their past as they come to light. As you near the end of the story, a new crisis arises that seems to be just the thing – tragic though it could be – to pull them together. However, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back turns out to be something from their past.


This is a well-written, well-paced novel that deals believably with emotions between an estranged couple. The author doesn’t shy away from the bad choices that are revealed nor the tender heart that is needed to be able to seek out and offer forgiveness. Bottom line, if you are in a marriage, there has to be a measure of forgiveness and understanding present in order to survive. Honestly, without the Holy Spirit, I don’t know how anyone stays together. The Pastor’s Wife serves as a tender and poignant reminder of how precious love between a man and woman can be, especially when they face difficult circumstances.


If you enjoy a tender romance with spiritual truth, then there is much to enjoy in The Pastor’s Wife.



If you would like to read the first Chapter of The Pastor's Wife , go HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California and for the first 10 years of her life lived over a mortuary one block from Hollywood and Vine. An avid reader and writer, she completed her first novel in high school. That manuscript is now safely tucked away, never again to see the light of day. Her first inspirational romance, The Love of His Brother, was released in November 2007 by Five Star Publisher.

Besides being a writer, she is a wife and mom. Living in Las Vegas, Nevada, her husband and teenage son have learned how to enjoy the fabulous buffets there without severely impacting their waistlines. God is good!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Listen by Rene Gutteridge - REVIEWED

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:


Listen

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Rene Gutteridge is the critically acclaimed author of more than fifteen novels, including the Storm series, the Boo series, the Occupational Hazards series, and the novelization of the motion picture The Ultimate Gift. She lives with her husband, Sean, a musician, and their children in Oklahoma City.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324332
ISBN-13: 978-1414324333

MY THOUGHTS:

“Speak kindly. Love powerfully. Listen daily.” (p. 409)


The Underwood family and their hometown of Marlo don’t know how depraved they are, but they are about to learn in the most unusual way imaginable. When the internet suddenly holds a website filled with the towns most private conversations, the town of Marlo abruptly learn the power that lies within the words they speak. It begins as an argument between a man and wife and escalates into an assault that requires an ambulance…it begins as gossip among cheer moms and morphs into extra-marital affairs and friends who can’t be trusted…in other words…watch what you say, because it will soon become public domain.



I admit, the concept of someone listening to and posting private conversations seemed kind of far-fetched at first, and for the first several chapters of the book, I really disliked the entire family of main characters. However, the underlying theme within the story is one we would all do well to learn and practice. When the Bible warns that the tongue is “a flame of fire…set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:5-6) it wasn’t just filling white space. The truth of these words is lived out in everyday life over and over again, and if we are careless with our words, both spoken and written, then we will suffer the consequences…sometimes in dire fashion.


This is an interesting story in concept. I’d be less than honest and tell you I had a hard time connecting with some of the characters. I felt like I’d sort of started in the middle of the story. However, a lot gets resolved in the final pages, and the truth of the message in this book is one we’d all do well to heed – promptly. As the old adage goes, we have one mouth and two ears, and should thus listen twice as much as we talk. Listen folks. Listen carefully and, as Damien Underwood wisely told his family, “you will have understanding beyond the words.” (p 365)



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Present Day

Damien Underwood tapped his pencil against his desk and spun twice in his chair. But once he was facing his computer again, the digital clock still hadn’t changed.

In front of him on a clean white piece of paper was a box, and inside that box was a bunch of other tiny boxes. Some of those boxes he’d neatly scribbled in. And above the large box he wrote, Time to go.

This particular day was stretching beyond his normal capacity of tolerance, and when that happened, he found himself constructing word puzzles. He’d sold three to the New York Times, two published on Monday and one on Wednesday. They were all framed and hanging in his cubicle. He’d sent in over thirty to be considered.

He’d easily convinced his boss years ago to let him start publishing crosswords in the paper, and since then he’d been the crossword editor, occasionally publishing some of his own, a few from local residents, and some in syndication.

The puzzle clues were coming harder today. He wanted to use a lot of plays on words, and he also enjoyed putting in a few specific clues that were just for Marlo residents. Those were almost always published on Fridays.

A nine-letter word for “predictable and smooth.”

Yes, good clue. He smiled and wrote the answer going down. Clockwork.

He glanced over to the bulletin board, which happened to be on the only piece of north wall he could see from his desk at the Marlo Sentinel. Tacked in the center, still hanging there after three years, was an article from Lifestyles Magazine. Marlo, of all the places in the United States, was voted Best Place to Raise a Child. It was still the town’s shining moment of glory. Every restaurant and business had this article framed and hanging somewhere on their walls.

The community boasted its own police force, five separate and unique playgrounds for the kids, including a spray ground put in last summer, where kids could dash through all kinds of water sprays without the fear of anyone drowning.

Potholes were nonexistent. The trash was picked up by shiny, blue, state-of-the-art trash trucks, by men wearing pressed light blue shirts and matching pants, dressed slightly better than the mail carriers.

Two dozen neighborhood watch programs were responsible for nineteen arrests in the last decade, mostly petty thieves and a couple of vandals. There hadn’t been a violent crime in Marlo since 1971, and even then the only one that got shot was a dog. A bank robbery twenty years ago ended with the robber asking to talk to a priest, where he confessed a gambling addiction and a fondness for teller number three.

Damien’s mind lit up, which it often did when words were involved. He penciled it in. An eight-letter word for “a linear stretch of dates.” Timeline. Perfect for 45 across.

So this was Marlo, where society and family joined in marriage. It was safe enough for kids to play in the front yards. It was clean enough that asthmatics were paying top dollar for the real estate. It was good enough, period.

Damien was a second-generation Marlo resident. His mother and father moved here long before it was the Best Place to Raise a Child. Then it had just been cheap land and a good drive from the city. His father had been the manager of a plant now gone because it caused too much pollution. His mother, a stay-at-home mom, had taken great pride in raising a son who shared her maiden name, Damien, and her fondness for reading the dictionary.

Both his parents died the same year from different causes, the same year Damien had met Kay, his wife-to-be. They’d wed nine months after they met and waited the customary five years to have children. Kay managed a real estate company. She loved her job as much as she had the first day she started. And it was a good way to keep up with the Joneses.

Until recently, when the housing market started slumping like his ever-irritated teenage daughter.

The beast’s red eyes declared it was finally time to leave. Damien grabbed his briefcase and walked the long hallway to the door, just to make sure his boss and sometimes friend, Edgar, remembered he was leaving a little early. He gave Edgar a wave, and today, because he was in a good mood, Edgar waved back.

Damien drove through the Elephant’s Foot and picked up two lemonades, one for himself and one for Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter who had all at once turned from beautiful princess or ballerina or whatever it was she wanted to be to some weird Jekyll and Hyde science experiment. With blue eye shadow. She never hugged him. She never giggled. Oh, how he missed the giggling. She slouched and grunted like a gorilla, her knuckles nearly dragging the ground if anyone said anything to her. A mild suggestion of any kind, from “grab a jacket” to “don’t do drugs” evoked eyes rolling into the back of her head as if she were having a grand mal seizure.

So the lemonade was the best gesture of kindness he could make. Besides offering to pick her up because her car was in the shop.

He pulled to the curb outside the school, fully aware he was the only car among the full-bodied SUVs idling alongside one another. It was a complete embarrassment to Jenna, who begged to have Kay pick her up in the Navigator. Some lessons were learned the hard way. But his car was perfectly fine, perfectly reliable, and it wasn’t going to cause the ozone to collapse.

She got in, noticed the lemonade, asked if it was sugar-free, then sipped it and stared out the window for the rest of the ride home. It wasn’t sugar-free, but the girl needed a little meat on her bones.

“Your car’s ready.”

Finally, a small smile.

***

“Have a seat.”

Frank Merret shoved his holster and belt downward to make room for the roll of belly fat that had permanently attached itself to his midsection. He slowly sat down in the old vinyl chair across from Captain Lou Grayson’s cluttered desk.

“You got a rookie coming in this morning.”

“I thought we had an agreement about rookies.”

“You ticketed Principal MaLue. We had an agreement about that too.”

Frank sighed. “He was speeding in a school zone.”

“He’s the principal. If he wants to hit Mach speed in the school zone, so be it. The rookie’s file is in your box.” Grayson’s irritated expression said the rest.

Frank left the captain’s office and killed time in the break room until lineup, where the rookie stood next to him, fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He was short, kind of stocky, with white blond hair and baby pink cheeks like a von Trapp kid. There was not a hard-bitten bone in this kid’s body.

Frank cut his gaze sideways. “This is Marlo. The most you can hope for is someone driving under the influence of pot.”

Lineup was dismissed, and the kid followed him out. “That’s not true. I heard about that bank robbery.”

“That was twenty years ago.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the rookie said. “I’m on patrol. That’s cool. I’m Gavin Jenkins, by the way.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Did you read my stats from the academy?”

“Not even one word.”

Gavin stopped midstride, falling behind Frank as he made his way outside to the patrol car. Gavin hurried to catch up. “Where are we going? Aren’t we a little early?”

Frank continued to his car. Gavin hopped into the passenger side. Frank turned west onto Bledsoe.

“Listen, Officer Merret, I just want you to know that I’m glad they paired me with you. I’ve heard great things about you, and I think it’s—”

“I don’t normally talk in the morning.”

“Okay.”

So they drove in silence mostly, checking on a few of the elderly citizens and their resident homeless man, Douglas, until lunchtime, when they stopped at Pizza Hut. The kid couldn’t help but talk, so Frank let him and learned the entire history of how he came to be a Marlo police officer.

Gavin was two bites into his second piece and hadn’t touched his salad when Frank rose. “Stay here.”

Gavin stared at him, his cheek full of cheese and pepperoni. “What? Why?”

“I’ve got something I need to do.”

Gavin stood, trying to gather his things. “Wait. I’ll come.”

Frank held out a firm hand. “Just stay here, okay? I’ll come back to get you in about forty minutes.”

Gavin slowly sat down.

Frank walked out. He knew it already. This rookie was going to be a thorn in his side.

Excerpted from Listen by Rene Gutteridge. Copyright ©2010 by Rene Gutteridge. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.