Monday, August 31, 2009

When God Writes Your Love Story

I read the original version of this book and enjoyed the revised version even more. With a lot of humor and funny stories, the Ludys discuss what's wrong with the way most people in our culture date and how Christians might let God be in charge of their dating lives. This book would be a good springboard for a discussion in any group setting about how we date and pick our mates, as well as to what degree we are willing to let God be in control of our lives.

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 authors are:

and the book:

When God Writes Your Love Story

Multnomah Books (June 2, 2009)


Eric and Leslie Ludy are the best-selling authors of more than a dozen books – known for tackling some of the toughest issues of our day. The Ludy’s unique “insider perspective” on the sexual and spiritual climate of contemporary culture has given them a powerful platform with audiences around the world. Eric and Leslie Ludy live with their children in Windsor, Colorado and can be found blogging and podcasting at

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601421656
ISBN-13: 978-1601421654


Part One

The Author

of Romance

Giving God the Pen


The Babes and

the Big Egos

The day I made my choice


All the Kens and Barbies sat around the table.1 Amid glistening smiles and Coppertone tans, the fragrance of Polo with a hint of Skin So Soft (yes, this was the good old nineties!) wafted through the café booth. I nibbled at my burrito as the conversation around me finally arrived at its ultimate destination.

“So, Kevin,” Barbie no. 1 flirted across the table, “Tell us who you’re seeing now.”

Kevin, the son of a state senator, was used to having eyes upon him. Being a Tom Cruise look-alike has a way of boosting the ego. As he crunched a chip between perfect teeth, an “I thought you’d never ask” smirk found its way across his face.

As all of us camp counselors leaned in, eyes bulging with expectancy, Kevin finally revealed the secret in a low monotone: “Her name is…Sandra!”

This only added to the excitement and wonder, because no one had any idea who Sandra was.

“Is she a babe?” crooned the resident Brad Pitt, alias Mike from Wyoming.

Say no more! Swift as the bionic man, Kevin whipped out his wallet. Moments later we all observed a photograph of the “hottest girl on the planet,” as Kevin so proudly referred to her.

“Niiice!” Came the rumble of approval from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon (Wayne from Denver).

“I think she has a huge nose!” grumbled one of the girls under her breath.

I continued to pick at my burrito.

Barbie no. 2, sitting beside Top Gun, was next in the heartthrob inquisition. She displayed a photo of her boyfriend to cheers of “You go, girl!” from the Barbies and disapproving rumbles about his skinny neck from the Kens, Brads, Matts, and Toms.

After a week of having to exhibit saint like behavior to all the little campers and being super spiritual while around the camp leaders, it was time to let our hair down—time to let the real passions of life come out. I mean, in your late teens and early twenties, you can sing only so many spiritual camp songs before you need an infusion of good old-fashioned romance.

One year earlier, talks like this had really lit my fire. I used to love to brag about my love life at camp and exaggerate about my “sexy new girlfriend” in a way that would make all the guys jealous and all the girls insecure. You could say just about anything and get away with it; no one was going home with you to check out your story.

I used to crave these love life chats, but something about Eric Ludy had changed—something big. Something that made me want to slide under the table when all those inquisitive eyes turned my way.

I’ll never forget the moment. There I was, my fork poking at the jalapeño stranded on the corner of my plate and my mind screaming over and over, Please don’t ask me…please don’t ask me.

They asked.

“So, Eric, tell us about your exciting love life!”

All the periwinkle, emerald, and dark brown eyes were twinkling at me with expectation. I gulped.

“Uh,” I mumbled. My palms were sweaty. My tongue was dry and thick, like I had a felt eraser in my mouth. Finally, I found my voice. “Uh, I uh, actually, uh, I am waiting on God.”

But to be honest, it didn’t really come out as clearly as I just wrote it. The last part of my sentence was mumbled under my breath, sounding something like, “Ima waying on Gaw.”

I hoped a brief answer would encourage them to move on to Elle Macpherson (a.k.a. Kayla from Utah) seated next to me, poised and ready with a photo of her hunk. The plan backfired. They became even more interested.

“Uh, I think we missed that, Ludy, ”Tom Cruise sarcastically challenged. “Was that a girl’s name or some kind of Chinese food?”

After the laughs subsided, I began again, this time a little more clearly.

“I know this may sound strange, you guys, but I’ve decided that I won’t give my heart to another girl until God shows me it’s my wife.”

I have often wished I could have been more eloquent, that I could have made my resolve sound a little more appealing to my audience, now staring at me with mouths ajar. But I guess God wanted me to know that I was following a different path, that I was not to seek the approval of the Kens and Barbies of this world but simply to honor and love Him.

It was a lonely moment. Silence filled our corner of the restaurant, and all eyes focused on the jalapeño I was ruthlessly stabbing to death.

“That’s…interesting!” Barbie no. 1 awkwardly noted, her eyes large with disbelief.

Wayne from Denver was not quite as subtle in his disapproval. “Oh, give me a break!” he exploded in disgust. “How in the world do you expect to find someone, Ludy, if you’re not out there looking? ”His words incited a chorus of yeahs and exactlys from around the booth.

After a moment of reflective silence, I took a deep breath and stated, “I believe that if God wants me to be married”—another deep breath—“He will pick her out for me.”

A dark cloud settled over the entire group and rained down bewilderment in the form of pursed lips and rolled eyes. I glanced up from my tortured jalapeño to discover a long bony index finger pointing at me, about twelve inches from my nose. Kevin used that finger like Clint Eastwood used a gun. He didn’t shoot to maim—he shot to kill. His bronzed face had turned red with annoyance, and his lips were quivering with indignation, like a lava pool ready to explode. After three long seconds, he finally erupted.

“I totally disagree with you!” he fumed, his index finger still targeting my right nostril. “God doesn’t want us hanging around nagging Him about something like that!”

A few “amens” from the crowd textured his passionate sermon. He continued. “I believe God wants us to pick,” he preached, “and then He blesses our choice!” He paused and then came to a climactic finish: “It’s sappy Christianity like yours that gives us Christians the image of helpless orphans! It is absolutely ridiculous to think that God would care that much about your love life!”

The finger held fast for another few long seconds, then slowly dropped as if to say, You show any sign of life, and I’ll shoot again!

I was the ultimate bummer to their titillating conversation. If ever you want to drain the juice right out of romance, just bring God into the picture. I had committed the unpardonable camp counselor sin, and all the eyes around the table were letting me know it.

Growing up, I had always gotten along with everybody. I knew how to be liked by the crowd and not offend anyone. I was careful to say the right thing in order to avoid disagreements. Eric Ludy had never been known for his backbone…well, except maybe in championing the Denver Broncos. But when it came to things that really mattered, I was just plain spineless. This was one of the first times in my life I can remember actually standing up for something I believed in (that wasn’t orange and blue).

Ironically, I didn’t even know exactly what I was talking about. Just twelve months before, I, too, would have “totally disagreed” with what I had just said. But over the past year, God had been challenging me to apply my Christianity to every area of my life. Was it ridiculous to think God would be interested enough in my love life to direct me to the girl He wanted me to spend my life with?

I shifted in my seat, stabbed my jalapeño one last time, and spoke. “All I know,” I said, “is that every time I’ve tried to find someone myself, I realize in the long run that I have horrible taste.”

All eyes were wide with amazement as I concluded, “Kevin, if God had ten women line up in front of me and said, ‘Eric, you pick,’ I would fall flat on my face before Him and say, ‘God, You know me better than I know myself…You pick! ’ ”

I’ll bet no one present other than myself remembers that scene. To them it was probably just the ramblings of a lunatic named Ludy. But for me it was a defining moment. It was almost as if God was saying, “How seriously are you going to trust Me, Eric?”

So there it was, in front of the babes and the big egos, that God challenged me to officially trust Him with the pen of my life. I had held onto that pen for twenty years, and now, over a chicken burrito and a mangled jalapeño, I handed it over to the great Author to allow Him to work His wonders.

I’ve never regretted it for a moment.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Buzzards Are Circling

I'm really enjoying this book. It's a dose of spiritual wisdom wrapped up in humor. Laughter really is good medicine so this is a great book for anyone going through a tough time. Stan Toler does a great job of helping us see biblical truths without being preachy, condescending, or trite.

This would also be a good book for anyone who hesitates to get into a "typical" spiritual book because they are too heavy or deep. Scroll down to peek at the first chapter.

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 books:

The Buzzards are Circling, but God is Not Finished with Me Yet

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


God Has Never Failed Me, but He’s Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Stan Toler resides in Oklahoma City, OK and is an international speaker and seminar leader. For several years he served as Vice-President and taught seminars for Dr. John Maxwell's INJOY Group, a leadership development institute. Toler has written over 70 books, including his best sellers, The Five Star Leader, Richest Person in the World, The Secret Blend, his popular Minute Motivator Series; and his latest book, ReThink Your Life. His books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

The Buzzards are Circling, but God is Not Finished with Me Yet:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 208 pages

Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1434765946

ISBN-13: 978-1434765949

Product Details:

God Has Never Failed Me, but He’s Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1434765954

ISBN-13: 978-1434765956


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Buzzards Are Circling, but God’s Not Finished with Me Yet by Stan Toler. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

When Your World Crumbles, You Don’t Have to Be One of the Crumbs

(You Can Survive Your Situation)

David Hopkins felt as though the eyes of a thousand demons penetrated his soul as he walked across the campus of Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. Thousands of beady-eyed buzzards arrogantly shifted along the bare tree limbs as if they were waiting for him to drop dead and furnish their lunch. My friend Dr. Hopkins, the college president, said his skin crawled as he thought about the six years of torture that had come from the predators who arrived each October and lingered until April, infesting the college property.

With the crunch of his every footstep on the leaf-strewn ground, he relived the staff’s repeated efforts to scare away the birds. Devoted employees tried banging pots and pans—and even firing warning shots into the air. Nothing worked. And killing the ebony beasts was against the law. According to local officials, the tormentors were endangered. Destroying them would result in a hefty fine. The cold autumn wind tearing at the trees seemed to mock Dr. Hopkins, and he was certain one swooping buzzard grinned with glee!

Indeed, the buzzards seemed a metaphor for the spiritual warfare of the last six years. As the winged menaces invaded the school, year in and year out, David’s wife almost died of cancer. He suffered from the sometimes-fatal Crohn’s disease. The college, in the throes of necessary but difficult change, struggled for financial survival. Dr. Hopkins wondered if and when the buzzards would smell the death of the college and swoop. He shook his fist toward the feathered foes and declared, “You won’t win!”

Yet just when it looked like he was finished, twenty-five prayer warriors arrived on the campus to pray for the college—and for the rapid departure of the carnivorous creatures. The next day, Dr. Hopkins received a call from a donor who said, “I’ll give one hundred sixty thousand dollars toward the construction of a new science building.” Another donor called and said, “We’ll give five hundred thousand dollars toward the new science building!” What’s more, his wife was declared cancer free!

President Hopkins told me that he was so happy about the news that he nearly floated home. That’s when he made a startling discovery. As he looked around, he noticed the trees were void of those dark adversaries. No buzzards! Gone! Gone! Gone! For no apparent reason, they had vanished! At that moment, he recalled Abraham’s sojourn from Ur to the Promised Land. Abraham had paused to worship and to offer a sacrifice to God as a sign of His covenant. (It should be noted: The buzzards came down to steal Abraham’s sacrifice before he could seal it. Abraham had to shoo the winged predators away!)

Someday, you’re going to spot buzzards circling in your spiritual No-Fly Zone. There is going to come a time when you’re hit with a crisis, one that you didn’t see coming. And it may cause your whole world to crumble like an old cookie under a big sledgehammer. But take heart; you don’t have to be a crumb in the midst of the crumbling.


The Old Testament character Job reminds us: “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). It’s a fact of life. We didn’t inherit curly hair, brown eyes, and a propensity to arthritis from Adam. We inherited trouble. Adam’s disobedience to God started a chain reaction of suffering and sorrow that won’t be broken until the eastern sky splits and the Savior returns. The Bible says, “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

So our family tree is more like a prickly cactus than a pristine maple. But how does it play out in the landscape of life? What is it that makes our world come tumbling down like a planetary Humpty

Dumpty? There are several factors that can play a part in the world crumbling times.


We are spiritually and emotionally vulnerable when we face changes in the routine of our lives. Vocational, housing, relationship, physical, or financial changes—all may reduce our stability to zero (to put a new slant on the fog report!). In the Old Testament, Abraham faced unsettling uncertainty when God called him to leave his homeland and take his family to a new country.

He responded obediently, but I’m sure there was a king-sized knot in his stomach when he packed his luggage: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). The phrase did not know where he was going is key to what he must have felt. Everything familiar would soon be set aside, and he would leap like a skydiver into the unknown.

The focus on Abraham comes from the patriarchal emphasis in Bible times. But think about how his family must have felt. They would have to leave familiar department stores and playgrounds, forfeit soccer team membership, subscribe to a new cable television service.

Sad farewells.

Financial uncertainty.

Strange roads.

This wasn’t going to be a picnic for Abraham’s family.

Change never is a picnic, but it happens. Sudden layoffs. Diving stocks. Rising gas prices. A doctor with a somber face, holding an alarming medical report in his hands. And when change does happen, our world often crumbles.

Happiness is inward and not outward; and so it does

Not depend on what we have, but on what we are.

—Henry Van Dyke


Look again at Abraham’s life story: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9–10).

Abraham was looking forward to the city.

So, where’s the city? All he saw was desert. No skyscrapers here, just dusty tent dwellings at the end of a long travel days spent looking at the backside of a camel.

This was supposed to be the Promised Land. But for Abraham, it must have looked like it was mostly land and little promise. For the moment, milk and honey looked more like curds and whey.

Delayed promises are world-crumbling situations. We gather together the hopes and pledges of the Bible like a pile of prescriptions from an immediate-care clinic. We haul out our inheritance claims. We thumb through the Rolodex of advice from near and far. “Just a little while.” “Sunday’s coming.” “Somewhere over the rainbow …”

But we’re used to instant coffee and microwave popcorn. Delayed promises? We’ve been promised a celestial city, but we can’t see it for the storm clouds. The realization sets in and causes our hearts to

break. We’re stuck in the now, like Abraham and his family, trying to eke out an existence in an unfurnished Promised-Land apartment.


Abraham also had to look for a promise beyond the horizon of personal setbacks: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Heb. 11:11–12).

Wouldn’t it be awful to face life when you’ve already been declared “as good as dead”? Maybe you have!

The buzzards of age and infirmity had been in a holding pattern over Abraham’s life. God had made the promise: Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. But Abraham couldn’t see the stars because of the smudges on his trifocals. His family would become as numerous as the sands, but the sands of his own hourglass had settled quicker than an elephant in a lawn chair.

We’ve all been there. Personal difficulties crowd out our hopes of a tomorrow. We can’t do that because of this. “If only I could…” “I just wish I didn’t have to …” “If it weren’t for…” We dialogue with life, wishing we could erase the effects of time. Personal difficulties swarm around us:

Grudges that poison us

Jealousy that gnaws at us

Loneliness that isolates us

Inadequacies that paralyze us

Finances that bind us

Sorrows that plague us.


Abraham’s life would have been so much different if it weren’t for that day. He had been sailing along—working out the issues of a new home, bringing his family to a consensus, driving fresh-cut stakes into the promises of the new land. Then, the Scriptures say, “God tested Abraham” (Gen. 22:1).

A sudden trial arrived like a five-hundred-pound gorilla. God was applying a litmus test to Abraham. He wanted His protégé to see that faith works when we face that day. God told Abraham to take his son to a remote place and prepare an altar of sacrifice—and then sacrifice his son, his only son, back to God. Leaving his servants behind, Abraham took the materials for the altar, along with his only son, and began the longest journey of his life. The trip from Ur was a piece of cake compared to these few steps.

Even as they walked together, the questions began to fly: “Father, where’s the sacrifice?” Abraham’s heart was pounding. He was committed to obeying God’s command: to make his own son that sacrifice. Abraham replied, “God will provide.” But deep in his heart the doubts must have swirled like an oak leaf in a whirlpool.

That day—that sudden testing time in the life of the patriarch that would be unlike any other day. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Heb. 11:17). Abraham passed the test. He trusted God beyond what common sense or his own will would have led him to do. Then God instructed Abraham not to lay a hand on his son and provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice.

Perhaps you’ve had a day like that. Life is pretty uneventful, then suddenly everything changes. A sound f metal crushing metal. A telephone call. A knock on the door. An ambulance siren. We who are children of promise suddenly face a horrendous situation. Something is expected of us. Not one of us is exempt.


Our reactions to world-crumbling events vary. Sometimes we feel helpless. For the most part, we’re used to being in control of things. But when life is suddenly out of our control, a sense of vulnerability sets in. Until now, we’ve been able to fix most everything else, but we can’t fix this. It’s just out of reach, like that burned-out light bulb in the twenty-foot ceiling chandelier. We can see it, and we know that changing it would make a difference. But without some assistance, we’re powerless. Sometimes we feel abandoned. Alone in the hospital room, waiting for loved ones. Alone at the table that once was also occupied by a spouse or parent. Alone in a courtroom hallway, waiting for the lawyer. Alone. Abandoned. “Why me, Lord?” we inquire. But often, heaven is silent—not because there isn’t any concern up there, but because we make such loud groaning noises down here that we cannot hear the still, small voice of assurance.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through Experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, Vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. —Helen Keller

Sometimes we feel worthless. World-crumbling events have a way of sucking the self-esteem out of our lives. Our pride and dignity are temporarily gone. Our once-secure finances are tenuous. Our once strong

bodies are frail. Our once-happy homes are in shambles. Our once-respectful children have rebelled. We feel about as significant as an eyelash on a mosquito.

Sometimes we feel ashamed. Sometimes we have made a personal contribution to the world-crumbling situation. We’ve been players, not just bystanders. Sometimes we make wrong choices. We cross the line. The pain in our foot comes from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We stand in our self-made ruins and weep over what should have been, or what might have been, if only we had kept the law of God or if only we had let our conscience give the final answer.

One day, Jesus came across a man who was a poster child for world-crumbling events:

Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1–9)

For thirty-eight years of his life, this man had been carried, pulled, or pushed to the pool beside the sheep gate on the northern side of the Jerusalem temple. There the unnamed man, with so many unnamed others, waited to be healed.

The invalids believed that an angel of the Lord occasionally stirred the waters in the pool and the first person to step into the water would be healed.

This poor man had never made it. Though he had helpers to transport him and put him close to the edge of the pool, he had never been first in. This day was no exception. It was “miracle time,” and he was tardy.

Time after time, he was toenail close to a miracle. But still, he went to the pool!

Think of the cruelty. A heavenly messenger makes a house call every now and then but brings only enough healing power to cure just one person: the first one in.

Jesus saw and approached this man. He learned about the man’s plight, and the Lord healed him. And the fact is, when our world crumbles, Jesus never fails to see it, and He is never far away.

God believes in me,

Therefore my situation is never hopeless.

God walks with me,

Therefore I am never alone.

God is on my side,

Therefore I can never lose.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. God Has Never Failed Me, But He Sure Has Scared Me to Death a Few Times by Stan Toler. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Pinto Beans and Fried Bologna—

Now That’s a Feast of Faith

We do not know what to do. (2 Chron. 20:12)

Growing up in the hills of West Virginia impacted my life tremendously. My dad was a coal miner, and we lived in a coal-mining community—Baileysville, an unincorporated town. Of course, most towns in West Virginia are still unincorporated. And the population of Baileysville was down to sixty as of 1994, so I guess it will never be incorporated! In fact, it’s so small that Main Street is a cul-de-sac. But it is my hometown!

Californians love to brag about being able to go to the mountains to snow ski and the ocean to sunbathe in the same day. Well, in Baileysville, we had our own definition of the good life. If you lived on the side of the mountain, you could cross the river anytime, any day, on an old-fashioned swinging bridge!

My Saturdays were spent at the Wyoming Company Store. While Mom and Dad made purchases with coal-mining dollars, I took charge of watching my brothers, Terry and Mark. That wasn’t difficult if you knew what to do. We eagerly peered at the black-and-white television sets in the furniture department. Programs such as Fury, Sky King, and My Friend Flicka seemed so real to us!

Our small white frame house was located on the side of Baileysville Mountain. We had a well nearby that provided ample water and a pot-bellied coal stove to keep us warm (as long as you remembered to put the coal in it!).

I have heard that someone can be described as a “redneck” if his bathroom requires a flashlight and shoes. Well, our house had three rooms and a path to the little house out back. But it was our home, and I loved it—no matter how pink it made my neck.

One of the saddest days of my childhood was a Saturday morning when we returned home from a visit to the company store to see our tiny home engulfed in flames. We lost everything. I cried for days.

Years later, Pastor Richard Grindstaff told us that as the house burned to the ground, Dad put his arm around him and said, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed by the name of the Lord!”

Put the Road Kill on the Table, and Call the Kids for Supper!

By the time I was eleven years old, we had moved to Columbus, Ohio, in search of a better life. My dad, only thirty-one years old, had already broken his back three times in the coal mines and was suffering from the dreaded miners’ disease, “black lung.” But we were happy and almost always had pinto beans, cornbread, and fried bologna for supper. (That’s right, only later did we call it dinner!)

Christmas Day 1961 will always be one of the most wonderful, life-changing days in my memory bank. It had been a long, hard winter with lots of snow and cold weather. Times were tough! Dad had been laid off from construction work, our food supply had swindled to nothing, and we had closed off most of the house in order to cut down our high utility bills.

This epiphany really began Christmas Eve when Mom noted that we had no food for Christmas Day and no hope of getting any. That was difficult for me to understand. We were used to mom calling out, “Pinto beans, cornbread, and fried bologna. Come and get it!” But now we didn’t even have that. There was no food in the house!

Mom suggested that it was time for us to accept a handout from the government commodities department, so—reluctantly—Dad loaded Terry, Mark, and me into our old Plymouth, and we headed downtown. When we got there, we stood in line with hundreds of others for what seemed like hours, waiting for government handouts of cheese, dried milk, flour, and dried eggs. Ugh! The wind was cold, and the snow was blowing as we stood there shivering. Finally, Dad could stand it no longer.

“We’re going home, boys. God will provide!” he said. We cried, yet we completely trusted Dad’s faith in God.

That night, we popped popcorn and opened gifts that we had ordered with Top Value trading stamps which Mom had wisely saved for that purpose. Perhaps some of you are too young to remember Top Value stamps. Back then, almost all grocery stores gave out trading stamps for purchases made. You could save the stamps and fill up Top Value Books for redemption. In my day, Top Value provided a catalog that listed the number of books needed for a gift item. So Mom saved stamps all year long, counted the bounty by November 1, and let us Toler boys pick out our Christmas presents.

Terry got a transistor radio. (He hadn’t realized that we had no money to purchase a battery!) I had ordered a miniature Brownie Kodak camera. (That wasn’t smart, since we couldn’t afford film, either!) And baby brother Mark got a small teddy bear. While none of the gifts was a surprise to us, Mom had carefully and lovingly wrapped each one to be opened Christmas Eve. We were grateful to have anything!

Everyone slept well under Grandma Brewster’s handmade quilts that night. While we were fearful of the prospect of the next day without food, we were just happy to be together as a family. (Little did we know that Dad would be in heaven by the following Christmas.)

On Christmas morning, we were all asleep in Mom and Dad’s bedroom when suddenly, we were startled by a loud knock and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” greeting from people who attended the Fifth Avenue Church. There stood Clair Parsons, Dalmus Bullock, and others with gifts, clothes, and a thirty-day supply of food. (Yes, dried pinto beans, cornmeal, and a huge roll of bologna were included!) Since that day, I have always believed that God will provide, and that God is never late when we need a miracle!

We must bring the presence of God into our families. And how do we do that? By praying.

—Mother Teresa

One of my favorite Bible stories is in 2 Chronicles 20:12. King Jehoshaphat of Israel found himself in what appeared to be a hopeless situation. He cried out to God, “Our God … we have no power.… We do not know what to do.” King Jehoshaphat had just discovered three new enemies. Unfortunately, all three were lined up against the tiny nation of Israel, and King Jehoshaphat realized that he was powerless without God’s help. That’s the way we felt in the Toler home. The good news for all of us is the same as it was for King Jehoshaphat. God can and will make up the difference.

Seek the Lord

Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord. (2 Chron. 20:3–4)

Jehoshaphat asked God a significant question: “Are you not the God who is in heaven?” (2 Chron. 20:6). In other words, he was saying, “God, if You can take care of this universe and bring order to it, then You can provide for me.”

He asked God another question: “Did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land?” (2 Chron. 20:7). He was reminding himself of God’s faithfulness in the past. I am beginning to realize that my faith today anchors to the faith that my dad passed on to me with his wisdom: “God will provide.” And provide He did for the Tolers!

After Dad’s death, God sent a wonderful Kentucky stepfather, Jack Hollingsworth, into our lives. He saw to it that each son of William Aaron Toler had plenty of pinto beans, fried bologna (by the way, he is an expert at cooking it!), cornbread, and a college education. All three boys later became Nazarene ministers.

Confess Your Need

We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. (2 Chron. 20:12)

If you want God’s help, you must confess your need! The world in which we live is a world of independence. We are taught to look out for “No. 1,” to do our own thing, to think for ourselves, and to trust in our own abilities. King Jehoshaphat reminded the children of Israel that “Me-ism” doesn’t work here! He confessed that they were inadequate against the three enemies they faced: “Power and might are in your hand” (2 Chron. 20:6).

When I need God’s provision, I look up and confess, “God, I am incapable, but You have all the resources for my miracle!”

Focus on God, Not Your Problem

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. (2 Chron. 20:12)

King Jehoshaphat gave his people a formula for deliverance: “Get your eyes off the problem! Your focus must be on God!”

Living in Oklahoma during tough times as an adult has also strengthened my faith in God. In the mid-1980s, I watched many banks fail; in fact, the FDIC closed so many banks in my hometown of Oklahoma City that I wore a T-shirt that said, “I bank with RDIC!” Agriculture diminished, and oil rigs stopped pumping. But even in the most difficult situations, a simple faith in God and a calm reassurance in the face of insurmountable obstacles resulted in victory.

I will always remember sitting at a table in the Oklahoma City Marriott hotel restaurant on Northwest Expressway and listening to my friend Melvin Hatley, founder of USA Waste Management Company, talk about the collapse of the oil industry and the failure of the old First National Bank downtown. Tears flowed freely, and yet his faith took hold as he discussed God’s history of faithfulness. His calm assurance, founded and grounded in a dynamic faith, made all the difference! Today, Melvin is a testimony of the phrase “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do!”

Trust and action always work hand in hand. For example, you know the story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. On December 17, 1903, they made history. They defied the law of gravity and flew through the air. Many forget that the concept of flying did not originate with the Wright brothers. In fact, several years before the brothers flew their motorized plane at Kitty Hawk, scientists had discovered that flying was possible. While others remained skeptical, the Wright brothers believed the formulas and designed their own plane. When they achieved “first flight,” they demonstrated the importance of trusting the facts and taking action in order to experience results.

The same is true for Christians. We can know a lot about God and the Bible, but until we relax in faith and believe in the promises of God, we will be disappointed.

I love the story that my former professor Dr. Amos Henry used to tell about D. L. Moody. Apparently, Moody was on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean one night when it caught on fire, and all on board formed a bucket brigade to pass ocean water to the scene of the fire. One man in the line turned and said, “Mr. Moody, don’t you think we should retire from the line and go down and pray?”

“You can go pray if you want to,” Moody replied, “but I’m going to pray while I pass the buckets.” What great insight! God wants to see if you mean business, so pray while you work.

Just think, if Jesus had thought prayer was the only thing He needed to do and had remained on His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of getting up and following God’s plan for His life, there never would have been a Calvary.

Relax in Faith

One of the great things about faith is that it helps you persevere. There’s a story about two men who were climbing a particularly difficult mountain when one of them suddenly fell down a crevasse five hundred feet deep.

“Are you all right, Bert?” called the man at the top of the crevasse.

“I’m still alive, thank goodness, Fred,” came the reply.

“Here, grab this rope,” said Fred, throwing a rope down to Bert.

“I can’t grab it,” shouted Bert. “My arms are broken.”

“Well, fit it around your legs.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that either,” said Bert. “My legs are broken.”

“Put the rope in your mouth,” shouted Fred.

So Bert put the rope in his mouth and Fred began to haul him to safety: four hundred ninety feet … four hundred feet … three hundred feet … two hundred feet … one hundred feet … fifty feet … and then Fred called out, “Hey, Bert, how are you doing?”

Bert replied, “I’m fine … Uh oh!”

Don’t let go of the rope, my friend! As Dr. Steve Brown says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. (2 Chron. 20:17)

It’s interesting that this particular verse is the middle verse of the entire Old Testament. It is like a pregnant pause for the believer. This concept, “stand firm,” is like going into the batter’s box during a World Series baseball game with a great pitcher on the mound, digging in, and saying, “I don’t care how fast you throw that ball, I’m anchored here, and you can’t move me!” King Jehoshaphat said, “Stand your ground and remain calm—God is going to help us.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Harmon Schmelzenbach, a missionary to Africa, often holds audiences spellbound with his story about a huge python that uncoiled itself from the rafters and then wrapped itself around his body while he was kneeling to pray.

The python is known for its ability to kill its victim by squeezing it to death. Schmelzenbach states that Isaiah 30:15 instantly flooded his mind: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” With the huge snake wrapped around his body, he testified that he felt the calm assurance that God was in control. Harmon remained perfectly still and prayed like never before!

If he had moved a muscle, no doubt the giant python would have constricted and killed him. But Schmelzenbach reports that the snake slowly uncoiled itself and went back to the rafters. I don’t know if Schmelzenbach now prays with one eye open or not, but one thing’s for certain: No one can convince him that there isn’t power in the promises of God.

We can depend on God. Did you know that we have more than seven thousand promises in Scripture to stand on? Not only that, but you can stand on the character of God! God has never lost a battle. Why not resign as general manager of the universe, eat a bowl of beans and cornbread, and relax in faith?

Give God Thanks Before Your Miracle

King Jehoshaphat began to appoint those who could sing. “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (2 Chron. 20:22). Do you get the picture? Three armies of bloodthirsty warriors with overwhelming strength and weaponry lined up against tiny Israel, and the king called the choir to sing! Talk about faith. That day they claimed victory!

God is faithful now in the twentieth century, just as He was in the days of ancient Israel. During the Second World War, the Allies experienced a very difficult time. The British had just suffered a terrible defeat at Dunkirk, losing almost all of their military supplies during the evacuation of their soldiers. France had been conquered, and the United Sates had not yet entered the war. The island nation of England stood alone against the Axis powers.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew he had to bolster the courage and the determination of his people. He needed to make a speech—an inspiring speech—that would rally the citizens. On Sunday evening, June 2, 1940, Churchill was in his Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. His secretary, Mary Shearburn, was poised at the typewriter. Dictating, Churchill paced from the fireplace to the velvet-draped windows and back again. Slowly his speech emerged onto the typed page. Often he would rip the sheet from the machine only to begin anew. It was late, and the room was cold in the night air. The prime minister’s voice had now grown hoarse and faint. His head bowed, and he sobbed, for he did not know what to say. Silence. A minute passed, maybe two. It seemed like an eternity. Abruptly his head rose and his voice trumpeted; he spoke as a man with authority. The thought descended upon him, as from an angel above: “We shall never surrender!”

Perhaps those words did come from an angel. Who knows? All we know is that God is faithful. Regardless of how scary or how seemingly hopeless our mission may be, He does not forsake us. All we have to do is trust—placing our fears and our failures in His hands. He will not let us down.

Back in 1850, during the California Gold Rush, a young man from Bavaria came to San Francisco, bringing with him some rolls of canvas. He was twenty years old at the time, and he planned to sell the canvas to the gold miners to use for tents. Then the profits from his sales would finance his own digging for gold. However, as he headed toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains, he met one of the gold miners. When he told the miner his plans, the miner said, “It won’t work. It’s a waste of your time. Nobody will buy your canvas for tents. That’s not what we need.”

The young man prayed within. Then he got his answer.

The gold miner went on: “You should have brought pants. That’s what we need—durable pants! Pants don’t wear worth a hoot up there in the diggings. Can’t get a pair strong enough.” Right then, the young man from Bavaria decided to turn the rolls of canvas into pants—blue pants—that would survive the rigors of the gold-mining camps. He had a harness maker reinforce the pockets with copper studs, and the pants sold like hotcakes!

By the way, the name of the young man from Bavaria was Levi Strauss. And he called the new pants “Levi’s”! So far, about 900 million pairs of Levi’s have been sold throughout the world, and they are one of the few items of apparel whose style has remained basically unchanged for more than 130 years.

It is amazing that a style of pants could endure for over a century. How much more incredible is the unwavering faithfulness of God. I’ll never forget the simple hope in His faithfulness that I learned at home. My own father modeled that faith in God before us, trudging home in the snow from the coal mines, face darkened with coal dust, lunch bucket jangling, whistling the old tune “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely

And long for heaven and home?

When Jesus is my portion?

My constant friend is He.

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me!

—Civilla D. Martin

Yes, the God who sits on a throne in heaven is interested in you! If He tends to the lilies of the fields and attends the funeral of a baby sparrow (and He does), He surely will provide for you!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Get this book! It's been a long time since I've read a book so well written that challenged me, made me uncomfortable, and made me want to be more Christ-like. And above all, Mark Steele does this with humor.

Depending on what circles you hang in, you may or may not have had discussions about "American Christianity" and how it has become more interested in preserving itself comfort than following Christ. Steele shows exactly how this is happening, why each one of us is to blame, and what we can do about it. And with his humor and self-deprecating stories, it comes off less like preaching and more like an exhortation to rise to the battle.

I underlined a lot of gems in this book but here are a few of my favorites: "We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus." Ouch, but so true.

Okay, I had more written here but my Internet has gone out twice, so I'm just going to say go get this book and get challenged out of your complacency.

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:


David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already. Mark and his wife, Kaysie, reside in Oklahoma with their three greatest productions Morgan, Jackson, and Charlie.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766926
ISBN-13: 978-1434766922



Nineteen months are all that separate my two older sons, Jackson and Charlie. In practically every way, one is the antithesis of the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but smash them together and they fill out the other’s weak spots, becoming one practically perfect human being. Of course, the scattered remains that are left would be a bit messy. In other words, they complete one another, either as a right example or as a wrong one—their choice.

Charlie is currently seven and Jackson just turned nine, which means their choices— at least for the time being—might skew a bit ornery. A few months ago, I walked upstairs to turn off our daughter Morgan’s light for bedtime. It was later than usual and a good hour after the boys had been put to sleep (which means something different for children than it does for pets). They had been told to go right to bed. Unconsciousness isn’t really something that can be demanded of a child, but I—like millions of parents before me— made the attempt anyway. As I opened Morgan’s door to check on her, I caught the two boys in her room. They ceased mid-play, frozen, and stared at me—deer in the headlights. They were standing in the middle of her bedroom, a clump of Lego’s squeezed in each fist. They gaped with wide-eyed guilt on their faces for about three solid seconds. And then they ran like mad wildfire through the adjoining bathroom. I heard the scurry of feet on linoleum, followed by the bounce of springs and the flip-flop of covers as they scrambled into bed.

Reasoning doesn’t enter into the equation all that much at the ages of seven and nine. For some reason, not only was the rationale to sprint away and dive into bed considered a good idea, but the identical urge to flee the scene hit both brothers at the same time.

I sauntered through the hall to their bedroom (the longer path than the bathroom route by about eleven inches) and creaked open the door. They were each in their bunk, feigning sleep. And so, the cover-up began.


They attempted to rouse themselves from their faux slumber, “What? Huh?”

Were you out of bed and playing in Morgan’s room?

A beat. A moment of pause. And then—both—simultaneously…


Certainly I sympathize with the gut instinct of the cover-up. It is the defensive urge of the male, not to mention the mischievous pre-puberty male. In later stages of life, it will be replaced in-turn by hormones, rage at injustice, and unnecessary snacking. Throughout my own young journey, I was on the punishment end of the cover-up multiple times.

It felt ironic to finally be on the other side.

No? I responded, You were NOT in Morgan’s bedroom?

Sweat trickled down their tiny foreheads.

Nope. No. Nope.

Just now? Like, fifteen seconds ago, you were NOT holding Lego’s in Morgan’s room?

(Slightly more hesitant than before) Noooo.

I paused for dramatic effect: Well—I saw you.

Not since the Noahic Flood have the floodgates burst open so abruptly. The words “I’m sorry” rat-a-tat-tatted out of their mouths repeatedly in a fusillade of desperate penance.

I know you are sorry, but you lied. You know what the punishment is for lying.

I’m fairly certain there were a couple of “yes, sirs” uttered amid all the slobber and snot.

Go downstairs. You’re each going to get one spank.

Yes. My wife and I believe in spanking. Not “grab-your-knees-while-the-back-ofyour-eyeballs-rap-against-your-brain” spanking. But certainly a recognizable sting that serves as a tangible reminder of why the punishable incident was a bad idea. We want our kids to have a sensory reinforcement that sin is not such a preferable option. It always astounds me when parents don’t believe in appropriate spankings, because the world spanks people every day—especially the people who didn’t receive any as a child. Personally, I would rather feel a short-term sting than the sort the Internal Revenue Service doles out.

Of course, an appropriate spanking is exactly that. Just enough to sting—and definitely on the derriere. And, of course, the act is attached to teaching and forgiveness and a walking through of the issue so that it leads to reconciliation and change and love.

That’s the pretty version.

The boys weren’t seeing the benefits just yet.

Jackson and Charlie have a very different approach to the news of an impending spanking. Charlie just stares. Wide-eyed. His brain immediately begins clicking and whirring. Within fifty seconds, he orchestrates a mental plan of how best to charm his way through the incident with minimal pain. By a sheer act of will and a reasoning through percentages, he determines swiftly that playing the situation down will cause it to end with only a slight portion of hurt to his person.

Jackson destroys everything within his wake.

Not literally. He doesn’t throw things or flail. But within a small eight-inch radius, the planet implodes. Jackson takes the news that he will receive one spank the way most react in a house fire. He hugs his favorite belongings close to his body while screaming and rolling on the floor.

I greeted Jackson into the spanking chamber (our bedroom) first as I knew that the twenty-two solid minutes it would take to actually deliver the one spank would be an epic purgatorial wait (and hence, bonus lesson) for Charlie.

The reason a Jackson spanking can take so long is because we don’t believe in wrestling our kids into the spanking. There has to be the moment of surrender. Charlie can fake surrender like the best of them—but Jackson? Not so much.

Lean over, son.


You can have a glass of water after your spank. It will take ten seconds.


You cannot have a glass of water until after your spank.

No one tells a father he is going to be put in a position to say these sorts of irrational things.

You’re stalling. Let’s just get the punishment over with.




You can go to the bathroom after I spank you. We would be finished already…


I promise I won’t whack the pee out of you.

See. Irrational things. Of course, this is when Jackson moves from delay tactics and transitions into physical blockers. As I lean him over and pull back the spank stick, all sorts of appendages start

flailing about spastically like Muppet tails, blocking the punishment trajectory. I’ve never seen the kid move so fast as he does when he strategizes a spank block.




BOTH FEET (wow)!


The kid is Mister Miyagi-ing me, suddenly Jean-Claude Van Damme, blocking every attempt to close the deal. He won’t play football, but this he can do. I finally settle Jackson down.

Jackson, I’m not going to fight you. You have to decide that you’re going to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. You’ve fought me so long, that now you’re going to get—

(Wait for it.)

—two spanks.

Son. Of. A.Gun.

I had no idea what the kid had in him. He began to writhe and weep and gnash his teeth. I’d never seen gnashing—but it’s actually very impressive. I believe he may have even utilized sackcloth. The boy just flat-out wailed like he was being branded with a hot iron. To the neighbors, it must have sounded like I was stunning him with a police taser.

And then, Jackson moved away from delaying and blocking—to step three: blame.


Who are you and what have you done with my child?


All right, son. For that, you’re now going to receive—

Somewhere, between the bedrock layers of our planet, a mushroom cloud was forming its power, readying itself for a self-imploding FOOM! Tension built, and a roar and a rumble began to build just beneath the crust of the earth.

—three spanks.

And that is when Jackson vomited.


He barfed.

He wasn’t sick to his stomach or coming down with a virus.

The boy got so worked up over three spankings that he literally upchucked everywhere. He blew chunks all over the proceedings. As a father, you can’t help but debate your own discipline tactics at this point. I helped him wash up and then cooled him down with a cloth. He began to settle.

After a few moments, I addressed him.

You okay?

I told you I needed to go to the bathroom.

Against all of Jackson’s hopes and dreams, the regurgitation session did not replace any of the punishment, and I forged ahead with the three spanks anyway. The beauty of Jackson is, though he fights you all the way, you know where he stands. When the punishment is over, Jackson is quick to reconcile, huddled and sobbing in my arms. At that moment, after the pain, he is truly repentant. And he always comes out the other side changed.

Amid all of this excitement, Charlie sat waiting in the hall.

For twenty solid minutes. Hearing the sounds of torrential screams and human wretching. He sat, stone. Eyes like nickels on a plate of fine china.

Needless to say, Charlie walked in, bent over, and received his one spank in about six seconds flat.

Immensely accommodating.

But alas, not nearly as life-changing as Jackson.

It’s harder to tell whether or not Charlie truly changes because Charlie knows how to charm. During that same spanking, he sat near Kaysie and spoke to her as Jackson’s sobs and moans were muffled behind the bedroom door.

I’m not gonna do anyfing Jackson is doing when I go get MY spanking.

You’re not, huh.

Nope. I’m gonna walk wight in and jus’ get spanked.

That’s a good idea, Charlie.

I do not wike it when Daddy spanks me.

I’ll bet you don’t.

I wike it when you spank me. This piqued Kaysie’s interest and she hesitated before asking nonchalantly–

Oh really? Why?

Because when Daddy spanks me, it hurts—but when you spank me, it does not— Charlie’s gaze finally met Kaysie’s. The realization of the privileged information spilling out of his mouth occurred to him. He stared.

I pwobably should not have told you dat. Kaysie smiled pleasantly.

Tell you what, son. From now on, we’ll let Daddy do all your spankings.

Charlie sighed.

Yep. I definitewy should not have told you dat.

So, there is an inherent difference in the way Jackson deals with disappointment and in the way Charlie deals with it. Yes, Jackson goes off the deep end, revealing his scars and putting his emotions in front of a microphone—but at least we know where Jackson stands when the consequence is said and done. Jackson wrestles his flesh to the ground— and he does so in public. That’s how we know the transformation is real. I know that his repentance is true because I witness his internal journey from resistance to acceptance firsthand.

Charlie? Well, you don’t always know with Charlie. Charlie is good at seeming fine. He keeps his deepest feelings close to his chest. And the rough stuff? You could go a very long time without Charlie allowing anyone to see the rough stuff. The result is an engaging and personable child—everyone’s best friend—though you don’t always know what’s really going on inside there.

And yet, we as a Christian culture seem to think that it is this same positioning and decorating of ourselves that ministers most. In an effort to put our best foot forward, we disguise the ugly, bury the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We have an emotional need to seem holier than all the “thou’s we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.

We delay. We block. We blame.

We cover-up.

And we somehow believe that it delivers a better impression of what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford Wife makes us some sort of demented recruitment tool. But the truth is, we have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.


Many cite Matthew 5: 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but that verse doesn’t have anything to do with fakery. It is a call, instead, to spiritual maturity. And maturity owns up to the truth. Others refer to Jesus and how it was His holiness that truly ministered. This, of course, is true. But we too quickly forget that His holiness ministered most powerful as it stood side-by-side with His humanness. And, never was His humanness more on display than in His birth.

Jesus revealed the rough stuff with the very way He first came into the world.

It seems to me that the first sentence in the first telling of the Son of God entering into this world would be glorious and filled with holy hyperbole. Not so. Instead, we get a few pragmatic words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is merely a preamble to the names that follow—names that expose Christ’s lineage. The first chapter of Matthew fires the names off bam, bam, bam: so-and-so was the father of whatcha-macall-him—never taking the smallest breath, diving headlong into historic minutia until ZING! Verse seven delivers the whopper—the first specific detail mankind received about the family Jesus comes from:

“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

Uriah? Wasn’t he the guy David had killed? Murdered so that David could sleep with his wife? That guy? Why on earth, out of all the admirable people in Jesus lineage—and for that matter, all the honorable traits of David—why is this bucket of family dirt given the first and greatest mark of attention? A golden opportunity missed. Here the ultimate history book had the option of paving a red carpet and paparazzi before Jesus, publicizing the elitist line He came from and urging the public down to its knees in awe. This was the proof: that Jesus came from the lineage of the favorite King, the man after God’s own heart—David. But instead of applauding this fact, chapter one in Matthew pauses to remind the reading audience that this great King David whose line led to the Savior—this beloved ancestor of Jesus Christ—was a man of great failure and greater scandal.

Matthew started his history book with tabloid fodder. Why?

Because just like you and me, Jesus came from a scandalous history. But unlike you and me, Jesus was not afraid for the world to know and remember that scandal. As a matter of fact, He welcomed it.

We all come from something scandalous. Perhaps those who came before us, perhaps the life we lived before we lived for Christ, perhaps some aspect of our current life. But in modern Christianity, we have somehow deluded ourselves into believing that priority one is to eradicate this reality.

We bury. We pretend. We deny to others and ourselves.

And, even worse—when the opportunity arises to actually come clean with the soiled spots of our life history—we instead make believe everything is, and always has been, a series of either perfect, fine, or no big deal. And in so doing, we make ourselves into the very fakers we detest. We somehow convince ourselves that this is what Jesus would want: a wiped-clean façade. A steam-pressed, white cotton, buttoned-down church shirt.

We live the rough stuff, but we keep it silent. We believe it to be a lapse in faith to actually comment on the rough stuff or give it reference. We assume that exhaling the rough stuff somehow gives it more power, so we smile and wave and praise the Lord that everything good is permanent and everything not-so-good had zero effect on us. We have a terrible habit of skipping the rough stuff.

I don’t understand why I do this. I look at the way Jesus entered this world and I see very quickly why it was important for Him to make mention of his scandalous history. It softened the blow for the shame and disgrace that would accompany Him into the world. It was as if Jesus said, I know the manner in which I am born is going to start the rumor-mill flowing, so I might as well give it a head-start. And, what rough stuff it was:

a mother pregnant before even engaged

a father who almost broke off the engagement

parents who make their decisions based on angel dreams

a cousin born of the elderly

a birth in an animal barn

adoration from astrologers

a birth that prompts the murder of hundreds of other infants

Let’s just say that if you brought all these needs up during a prayer meeting, the family would be ostracized forever before the first syllable of amen.

The truth is this: Jesus experienced the rough stuff before the age of five in ways you and I could never imagine. We consider Christ’s sufferings and we picture Him at the age of thirty-three, but the beatings go all the way back to the birth canal.


How did we take this life picture and somehow misconstrue it to mean that if we just believed in Jesus, our lives would be wealthy, prosperous, and happy? Jesus doesn’t promise that. Jesus says that many great things will come to those who follow Him, but He also promises a whole lot of lousy.

And, here’s the key: the lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy.

Because lousy is life.

And lousy is important.

It is in the rough stuff where we truly become more and more like Christ, because it is amid the lousy where we experience life on a deeper level. With intense pain comes the opportunity to love more richly. With disappointment comes the push towards selflessness. Neither of those come with pleasant because pleasant breeds boredom. And boredom is a moist towel where the mung beans of sin sprout. Life following Christ is not supposed to be a ride. It’s supposed to be a fight because there is a very specific villain—and if we don’t fight, he wins. If our Christianity aims only for pretty and pleasant and happy and rich, the enemy becomes the victor.

But there is another just-as-important reason that we should embrace the rough stuff. Not only because Jesus did. And not merely because it is important.

We must embrace the rough stuff because, for far too long, Christians have skipped the rough stuff. We have pretended it does not exist in order to speak into existence a more promising present. But there is a massive dilemma when the Christianish skip the rough stuff.

Real life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

And those who do not yet follow Jesus know this. Their lives don’t skip the rough stuff and they know good and well that your life doesn’t skip it either.

So while we as a microcosm of faith have been busy naming-and-claiming, yearning for a better bank account and more pleasant pastures, ignoring the fact that lousy exists— the world watches.

And when they watch, they see the truth:

Life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

We say that our lives do skip the rough stuff.

Therefore, we are liars.

Or—at absolute best—we don’t understand real life at all.

The world is looking for Jesus, but they don’t know they are looking for Jesus because they believe they are looking for truth. You and I know that truth is Jesus. But they? They do not know that truth is Jesus because you and I are supposed to be Jesus— and you and I couldn’t look less like the truth.

For decades, our focus has been completely skewed. In the eighties, our passion was prosperity, never noticing that the only wealth that is important to Jesus is a wealth of love and compassion for those around us. In the nineties, we were branded by righteous indignation, and Christianity became a political term that meant we were anti more things than we were pro. In the new millennium, the postmodern set poured out bitterness and disappointment on the church of their parents, disregarding everything the previous generation built only to construct the same thing with hipper color palettes and larger video screens. We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus. We still major on the minors, debating whether the book of Job is literal or parable when we should be out there pulling people out of the rough stuff. We still spend more money on self-help books than we give money to help others. We have become a club—a clique. A group that is supposed to be a perfect picture of the Father—but instead just acts like a bunch of bastards.

And we wonder why no one wants to be a Christian.

We’ve got to do some serious redefining of what that word means.

I am in the same boat. I am guilty as charged for all these crimes. I look back on my life and I see more times than not that I wish someone did not know I was a Christian. Why? Because my unkind words and bad behavior probably did more damage than good to the reputation of Jesus. Yes, this is spilled milk—but the longer we resist cleaning it up, the more sour it will smell.

The root, of course, comes down to the why.

Why do we as Christians strive for extremely temporal things and call them Jesus? As a people group, we are currently defined by the modern world as unloving and unwilling to gain a better understanding of any individual who is not already a Christian. These characteristics have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. They are petty and selfish. They are Christianish. And yet, they are our very own bad habits. Why? Don’t we mean well? Don’t we want to live for Christ—to share His love with those around us? Don’t our mistakes stem from our frustration with the state of society? With what we perceive as the rebellion of modern mankind against the ideology of God?

Actually—that is the core of the problem. The world is broken. Completely broken. What we neglect to accept is that we are broken also.

We each come from damaged goods and scandalous histories and then pretend those negatives have no effect on us. The result equals a sea of followers of Jesus who can’t properly see or hear Him beyond the chaos of our own lives. So, instead of following Him, we say we are following Him while actually following a combination of Him and our own chaos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but most of the time it is a mixture of the two. Just enough of God to make a difference. Just enough of ourselves to leave a questionable aftertaste.

So, the world sees that God is real—but at the same time, something doesn’t quite set well with them about Him. What is the negative common denominator?

The navel-gazing.

We are supposed to act as if everything is perfect, but deep down, we know nothing quite is. So, our silent desperate prayer is also a stare. A constant internal eyeball on the broken shards of ourselves. Deep down, most of us feel unglued—in pieces—longing for our Christian zealousness to turn to superglue. We feel that if we just do enough, act out the right formula, all the pieces will melt and coagulate like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That we will not only become whole, but indestructible. So, we wall up our compassion and act shatter-proof to a world at large while inside we are falling to pieces.

And we believe this reveals Jesus.

The great news is that Jesus looks down on us with the same tender compassion that He has for the rest of the world. He sees our pain. He sees our scandal. He knows what we are desperately trying to do, and He wants us to succeed.

But there is a realization that we must first accept.

We will never become indestructible by staring at our pieces.

We are not supposed to become indestructible. Untouchable. Safe.

And we aren’t supposed to be staring at our own pieces at all.

Because when we stare at our own pieces, we cannot see the solution.

We only find the solution when we stare instead into the eyes of Christ—and in those eyes, see the reflection of the hurting world.

We know this, but every gut instinct tells us to shout out, “I CAN’T! How can I help a hurting world, when I can’t even figure out how to glue back the broken pieces that make up my life?!” This is when Jesus changes our perspective. This is when He says softly…

You are not pieces.

You are my piece.

The Christianish approach is to see our lives as irreparable shards—always striving for the glue. But that pursuit is fruitless. Because God did not put your glue in you. He did, however, make you the glue for someone else.

Our lives are not shattered pieces. This whole world is a broken puzzle—and each of us fits next to those around us.


My favorite television show is ABC’s Lost. The masterminds of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have constructed a vast mythology where none of the bamboo strands make any sense until the day they eventually become a basket. Yes, I adore the convoluted structure and the peel-back-the-layers mystery of it all, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the strands in that basket --are people.

The beauty of Lost is that these characters were marooned on an island with no foreknowledge of any of the others. They each carry their own bruises, scandal, and broken pieces onto this island. What they do not know is that each is the glue for someone else’s piece. Sawyer has the information Jack needs from his dead father. Locke knows where Sayid’s long-lost love lives. Eko knows that Claire’s psychic was a phony. Each one is the ghostbuster to what haunts the other—but some never discover this. Some in this story are never healed. Why? Because the answers do not exist? No.

Because the characters neglect to connect.

When Jesus came to this earth, He was bold about His own scandalous history and He was born under tabloid circumstances. Why? Simple.

Because He knew that His rough stuff was the answer to someone else’s—and He did not want to keep it quiet. He knew that the only path to healing was to connect His glue to someone else’s pieces.

In God’s great plan, He created us each the same way. We each have our own brokenness and we each have a God-given strength. However, we continue to sit in confusion because we feel like a life following Jesus should feel less disjointed and make more—well, sense.

And that is exactly the problem.

Our lives don’t make sense because our lives were not intended to stand alone.

Our lives were each made by God as pieces. Pieces of the eternal puzzle.

We are made to fit our lives into one another’s. Our entire lives.

The good. The bad. The strength. And the rough stuff.

As hopeful as we are that our strength will heal someone else, it is far more likely that our rough stuff will. Because, not only does our rough stuff hit another life where it most matters—the acknowledgement of our own rough stuff communicates that we understand this life we live and this world we live it in. Embracing the reality of our rough stuff communicates truth. Truth that the world is able to identify. Truth that will become the glue to their pieces.

This is the profound orchestration of how God intended to use imperfect people to represent a perfect God. It is not in each of us faking our way to an appearance of flawlessness. It is in each of us being true and vulnerable in our pursuit of Christ and taking the glue of His power (even amidst the frailty of our humanness) and connecting with the broken around us. It is this weave—this interlocked puzzle—this merging of shrapnel and adhesive into a beautiful picture—it is this that reveals the real truth of Jesus Christ. If we are ever to escape the Christianish and truly become little Christs, it will only be in this merging—acknowledging that our strengths are from God and not our own, while allowing that strength to mend the broken. But it does not stop there. We also have to be willing to reveal our pieces so that others’ strengths can heal our own pain.

This is the perfect earthly picture of Christ. It requires a new sort of church culture: a culture that no longer positions itself at the prettiest angle, but rather gets down to the scandalous histories for the sake of revealing to a world at large that Christ not only understands, but can transform our pieces through the power of other broken people.

Just like the rest of the world, my sons Jackson and Charlie fit together. They are simultaneously each other’s antithesis and each other’s antidote. Each other’s miracle or each other’s foil. It all depends upon whether or not they are each willing to fit together and allow the collision of their rough stuff and strength—their scandals and successes— to make the sum of both entirely complete.


Can you relate to the flawed thinking that positioning and decorating ourselves— pretending the rough stuff doesn’t exist—ministers most?

Do you come from something scandalous? Do you experience the rough stuff? Have you hidden from this? Is that hiding drawing you closer to Christ or driving a wedge between you? Is it drawing you closer to others?

Consider the statement: “We have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.” Do you agree or disagree? What are the detriments to hiding our struggle? What are the benefits of allowing it to be seen?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “The lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy. Because lousy is life. And lousy is important.” Why or why not?

Have you considered your life “in pieces?” Have you attempted to put yourself together on your own?

What do you think of the philosophy that you are actually a “piece”—that the solution to your life lies in the way you fit together with the other people who make up the community of this world?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Make Love, Make War

I always like getting a peek inside creative minds, so I was curious about Brian Doerkson's book Make Love, Make War. Also, it's got a provocative title. Gotta pick it up to see what he means by that.

I wasn't disappointed. Yes, you get a peek into how he's created some of his most famous songs. And each chapter ends with song writing tips. Interesting and useful across many creative pursuits, not just music. But what I was pleasantly surprised with was the theological depth Doerkson brings to his writing.

Doerkson doesn't keep us in suspense as to the meaning of the book's title. Right away he says, "God is calling us to love, and He is calling us to battle. And the war to which God calls us is always waged for the sake of love! . . . I resonate with the true story recorded in 2 Chronicles 20. The worshippers went ahead of the soldiers, and as they worshipped, the enemy's hearts melted with fear."

He has excellent words on the role of worship in our lives and in our churches. He's not afraid to pull punches. Definitely worth picking up.

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:

Make Love, Make War: NOW Is the Time to Worship

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


Brian Doerksen has always had a passion for expressing worship through music. He is an award-winning songwriter of some of today’s most acclaimed songs of worship. He is currently developing a musical of hope based on Luke 15 called “Return.” Brian, his wife, Joyce, and their six children reside in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766829
ISBN-13: 978-1434766823


Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to give your heart

Come, just as you are to worship

Come, just as you are before your God


One day every tongue will confess

You are God

One day every knee will bow

Still the greatest treasure remains for those

Who gladly choose You now

Willingly we choose to surrender our lives

Willingly our knees will bow

With all our heart, soul, mind and strength

We gladly choose you now

Brian Doerksen

©1998 Vineyard Songs (UK & Eire)

From the moment I “heard” the beginning of this song floating through the air early on that September morning in London, England, I knew something special was happening. 2

In the mid 1990’s I had become somewhat disillusioned with worship music and the ministry connected with it. I grew tired of the striving, weary of artists jumping on the worship “bandwagon” just because worship music projects were selling more units. There was also my own shallowness and my comparing myself with some of those artists. Looking back I can see that I was passing through a patch of wilderness; God desired to break me in different ways, so He could use me in new ways.

For the previous 5 years, I had experienced some successes with songs and recording projects (all of which were a surprise), and some failures too (not a huge surprise but still discouraging!) I had also spent a good portion of those years pursuing a dream to communicate the “Father-heart” of God through music and story in a musical called “ Father’s House.” The project collapsed for several reasons at the end of 1996. In the process I reached a low point; a point where I was not even sure I believed in God anymore . . . or maybe that I believed in God, but it was more like He wound up the universe, and for the most part abandoned us to sort ourselves out. Rather than finding a figurative corner to “suck my thumb” and feel sorry for myself after the musical collapsed, I decided to try and find a place in the church where I could serve someone else’s vision for a few seasons, rather than try and keep my own visions alive. And so God, in His great compassion for my family and my wife Joyce, moved us to England. (It was there that God restored our soul and gave us some wonderful life-long friends!)

I was given two jobs upon arrival. The first was to be the worship pastor at the Southwest London Vineyard under the leadership of John & Eleanor Mumford. The second one was to train the songwriters and worship leaders in the Vineyard movement throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. There were about 75 Vineyard churches in the UK and Ireland at that time.

It was challenging to do a good job leading worship when so much of my heart was still ravaged by confusion and disappointment. But I had served long enough in the church to know how to effectively gather people up in the presence of God through intimate worship, and so I just got on with it, believing that eventually my feelings and the restoration of my heart would follow. I do remember a few times, gulping rather deeply before I would get up to lead worship, wondering if God might strike me down for leading in public, when privately I was having doubts about His very existence; or at the least, doubts about his goodness and whether He was actively intervening on behalf of His children. Yet where else could I turn? I knew enough about the other major philosophies and religions to know that nothing else really made sense of life and death, nor satisfied my heart and awakened my spirit.

Most mornings I would get up before the kids to go for a brisk walk. It was some light daily exercise and a chance to clear my mind before the day began. And it was also time to pray, to sing and to speak out scriptures. It was on one of these walks that I heard it. The idea floated through the air, and in that moment my life changed again. I tuned into what felt like the “frequency of worship”; that realm where God is completely real, and I immediately sensed the presence of God in a way that I had not for some time. I intuitively knew I was tuning into God’s invitation that is going out “day after day” as it says in Psalm 19:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19 1- 4 NIV

The call to worship is unending. Its sound reverberates in every language and culture . . . and I was just hearing a little part of it in English in England’s capital city on that September morning. It is so amazing how big a little fragment of “God inspiration” can be!

Once the idea came, I just kept singing it over and over again so I wouldn’t lose it. (I have heard stories of songwriters who get a brilliant idea but they lose it because they don’t sing it enough to imprint it, or write it down or record it some way.) When I got home, I raced upstairs to the top loft of the house where the piano was and I started playing the idea over and over. I took a mental picture of playing the melody on the piano. I jotted down some notes on a piece of paper including other phrases that popped into my head. I only had a few minutes, because my favorite daily job of walking my kids to school was upon me, and so I managed to document the basic idea of the first section of the song before I left. I don’t remember the details of that morning walk with the kids. I am known to drive them crazy by singing silly songs . . . whatever I see sparks something and I love driving them crazy and embarrassing them by being silly. It’s part of the Dad job description. However, I expect that morning there were no silly songs, just the repetition of this God-breathed melody.

Over the rest of the week, I continued to sing the song . . . morning, afternoon and evening. When you are in the middle of writing a song, it feels more like birthing, and it invades every waking thought.

If you would have told me that this song would travel the globe, get translated into numerous languages and be recorded by dozens of artists I would have chuckled in disbelief . . . but just maybe I also would have said, “Yes, that’s going to happen.” I sensed something special was being designed and built and God, by His grace, was letting me in on the ground floor.

About a week later I felt like the song was basically finished; that’s pretty quick for me as sometimes I take months with songs as they go through multiple drafts. The next Sunday I tried the song out at our home church: the SW London Vineyard.3

The song connected right away. In fact, it seemed to me only a few weeks later that I started hearing that the song was already being used in South Africa. Part of what happened is that people passing through London would visit our church if they were interested in or connected to the Vineyard movement, and they would sometimes take songs with them as they headed home to other places. I remember being amazed to hear that the song had already traveled to the other side of the world. I had heard stories of other songs that had done that; but to have it happen to a song that I had written seemed crazy!

But even crazier is this: I wrote this song at one of the lowest points of my life; the point where I had failed in a big way with a project publicly, the point when privately doubts raged about this whole “Christian ministry” and serving God thing. But that explains some of the lyric choices I made.

I think if someone else had received the same melodic idea and opening line, the song would have likely been something like this:

Come, now is the time to worship

Come now is the time to give Him praise

Come, bring Him your best and worship

Come, give Him your all in glorious praise


The focus may have been more on the good that we could do for God. But I was feeling broken. I needed to know that I could come and worship God just the way I was; that He would receive me even though my life was not all together. I needed to know that worship was more a matter of the heart than of our accomplishments. And so I wrote lines like “give your heart” and “just as you are before your God” because those were the things that I needed to re-affirm. I needed to know that those lines were true. That’s what you are constantly doing as a songwriter; stepping back from what you have written and asking yourself, “Are these lines true?” “Do I need to say that in this season to God?”

Would you like to know a songwriter secret?

We basically write the songs that we need to sing. God by His mercy sometimes enables them to become songs for other people too, but we are writing the things that we really need to say to stay sane and alive! And I think that’s a good thing. That’s why I challenge worship songwriters to stop trying to write songs that the church around the world will sing, and try and write a song that they have the courage to sing in their private time with God.

So I wrote the first section of the song as an urgent invitation from God. The key words were

“Come”; “Now”; “Time”; “Heart”; & “Just as you are.” The 2nd section of the song declares the

contrast between the “one day” that is coming and this amazing treasure we receive when we choose to worship God: the treasure of relationship with God.

Think about it this way. Worship is reality.

Being aware of God, focused on Him and in relationship with Him is ultimate reality. Worship brings that reality into focus. One day, reality will be forced on everyone. Everyone will have to accept the certainty and truth that God exists and that He is their Creator and Judge. The tragedy is that He also longed to be their Savior, their Father, and Bridegroom.

I have received a few letters over the years from people who have accused me of being a

Universalist. This included one man who really hoped I was and thought He found evidence in this song! A couple of other worship leaders said they wouldn’t use the song unless they could change the words. The line they were wrestling with was “still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now.” Some believed that because I said “greatest treasure” that there was a lesser treasure awaiting everyone else, hence “Brian Doerksen; the closet universalist”.4

The greatest treasure I am referring to is the “treasure and pleasure of worship; a living, loving relationship with God.” I had no intention of inferring that others who reject God will get a treasure of eternal life as well. After a few years of answering this question I am beginning to see how someone could stretch my words to head in that direction; it just never entered my mind, nor the minds of the theologians that I tested the song lyrics with before it was published.

This is one of the challenges of writing for worship; we want to be theologically accurate, but we only have a few phrases to express an idea. Preachers and authors can take one concept and talk or write about it for quite awhile! Songwriters take a large amount of material and reduce it to a few phrases that one can remember, forming it into poetic and artistic phrases that sing. If we wanted to fully explain each concept with 15 verses, the song wouldn’t make it very far.5

What I was trying to say was that one day everyone will be forced to “worship” God with their bodies by bowing their knee, but some are missing this greatest treasure, the experience of worshipping God willingly in the here and now, knowing and loving God and being loved by Him. Instead of living for God, some spend their days seeking earthly treasure, treasure that will be revealed on that “one day” as worthless. God remains the only treasure that will always be worthy of our pursuit and devotion!

It seems that the “theological concerns” I received were really about who is going to get into heaven? And how exactly is that all going to work? I’m not sure any of us can presume to know those answers.

I can tell you this. Having special needs sons who cannot communicate verbally has tested me on

this point because they can’t pray the traditional sinner’s prayer. What if the deeper, heart-question that God longs for us to ask is: How can I get more heaven into me? and how can we get more heaven into us as the community of God? God alone will be the judge of who enters his presence. And He will be more HOLY than we could ever imagine . . . and more merciful!! So I’m leaving those matters in His hands. He knows our hearts. He will not force us to choose Him. He invites us to choose Him and our response to his invitation to “Come” makes all the difference in this life and the next!

Several months after I wrote the song, we started planning the first of 2 recordings I would produce while living in England in the late 90’s. The first one became known as “Winds of Worship – Live from London” with an alternate title of “Come now is the time” and the 2nd one turned out to be “Hungry” which went on to sell over 400,000 copies. The first recording took place on the 22nd of February 1998. It was a Sunday evening and we were in the Eliot high school auditorium, jampacked with people. It was as if people sensed something special was about to happen. Eleanor Mumford spoke before we started the first song about the treasure of worship and encouraged us to worship by singing to the Lord a new song with our whole heart! 6

As we started the song, I sensed God whispering to me, “This is one of the main reasons I brought you across the Atlantic – to encourage and awaken the call to worship in England and Europe in this season.” And it was as if the entire evening was bathed in the presence of God and charged with an energy and urgency that came from God stirring our hearts. I continued to sense that energy and urgency through the long days of postproduction, and we needed plenty of energy as we only had one week to mix the project, so some days at the studio started at 9 AM and didn’t end until 4 AM.

That sense of urgency was there because of the urgency to worship. Now is the time means just that. Now is the time to choose God, to choose to love and follow him. We don’t know how much time we have left, but we do have today. We have this moment to respond to God’s invitation.

This urgency speaks of re-ordering our priorities. It’s time to return to this truth.

Worship is first. . . .

always has been

always will be.

It’s the way we were made; it’s what we were created for!

Worship is the highest privilege and pleasure in the Kingdom of God. It is the response of our lives to the greatest commandment in Scripture: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

I wrote this song in London, one of the great cities of the earth. But it’s filled with people who are passionately serving other gods. These days, the most common god is the narcissistic trinity of “me, myself and I.” A world of people faithful only to themselves, yet made in the image of God, created to worship YHWH. Some activists have declared this to be the generation when we can end extreme poverty with our technology and wealth. What a fantastic goal! There is only one challenge. When you have a world of people who are self-absorbed, serving and worshipping themselves and protecting their own rights at any costs, how can we see poverty ended? The only way to see poverty destroyed is to destroy the idolatry that is its root cause.

That’s one of the main reasons why there is such urgency to the call to worship that God is sounding. So much hangs in the balance. Those of us who have been called by God to sound this call often come under intense warfare and attack. That’s one of the reasons why having a “prayer shield” is so vital. Pam Dyck, who leads my team of intercessors shared this with me recently. “Satan hates what we do when we worship God. For when we embrace the calling to be “lead worshippers’, we are doing what Satan abandoned.” Many theologians believe that there is evidence in scripture that satan was a beautiful angel specifically created to direct the worship around the throne to God, until He desired the worship for himself. Of course, we won’t know in this life exactly what happened eons ago when Lucifer fell, but we do know that satan longs to be worshipped; behind every false religion and bondage is the “father of lies” craving what only belongs to God.

And so our calling is to clearly and urgently sound the call to worship God. And what is the core of that calling? Nothing less than our hearts! It’s loving God with all of who we are!

And if worship is first and foremost of the heart, it’s not about where we worship or what we look like when we worship. It’s not a performance for God. It’s a surrender of love to God, just the way we are.

It’s time to worship.

The word “time” reminds us that we are in the season of worship that God is releasing on the earth. Some people believe that the modern worship music movement “discovered” worship in the last few decades. I think that’s proud and ridiculous! I believe that Jesus inaugurated these days when He arrived a short 2,000 years ago, and even Jesus the “son of man” was building upon the worship of the millennium before him including the Davidic house of worship.

Listen to Jesus’ words recorded in John 4.

“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 23,24 NIV

The implications of what Jesus is saying here are HUGE!!! We are changing seasons, and I am bringing clear revelation of the truth, so that each of us can become the kind of worshipper the Father is seeking.

A time is coming and has now come . . . . we are in that time now. A time when we are called to worship. What does it really mean to worship? Does it only mean getting together on Sundays and singing a few songs and clapping our hands? And why did Jesus speak some of his most direct and instructive words on worship to an outcast woman? Wasn’t that incredibly un-strategic of Jesus? Shouldn’t this conversation have happened in the temple with the high priest, with someone who could teach and influence the nation?

I believe one of the many reasons Jesus did this is that He wanted us to see the contrast between the truth and faithfulness of who He was, and the faithlessness and brokenness of our lives filled with fatherless worship. The shame of the woman at the well was the result of men’s utter faithlessness. We don’t know, but for a woman to become like this woman, it’s very likely that her father abandoned her, likely through neglect or more optimistically through death. Otherwise, if she had known the love of a good father, why would have she sought out the love of so many unfaithful men? Do women with good fathers throw themselves into the arms of scoundrels? Well yes, we can all probably think of a couple of examples, but they are the exception.

Here is Jesus, speaking to a woman who is miraculously still seeking truth, though there is evidence that she is starting to abandon hope, for “the one you have now is not even your husband.”

And so Jesus offers this woman two things. One is living water. She had been drinking from the polluted wells of unfaithfulness which always made her thirsty again. Jesus offers her a well of pure water; water that would satisfy her spiritual thirst. All romantic relationships are inherently spiritual. We know that we are not complete in ourselves, and so we reach out for another to complete us. Because we as humans are all fallen, the only true romance that can fully satisfy our hearts is the divine romance.

The second thing Jesus offers is the opportunity to worship the Father. I wonder if she cringed when she heard the word “Father.” It seems crazy to me that in our season of history we seem to shy away from this clear Biblical revelation. Just because so many men are scoundrels and bad fathers doesn’t mean we should not hold out the truth.

Jesus is saying to the woman, “People just like you who have experienced the pain and rejection of unfaithfulness can be healed. You can become a daughter again and this time you will encounter true faithfulness. Trust me. Everyone who worships experiences my faithfulness.”

There is no better place and way to be healed from the effects of unfaithfulness than to give yourself to God in worship. As we worship, our hearts are healed by the faithfulness of God; because that’s who God is. God is a faithful God!

At the very core of worship is a call to faithfulness, because faithfulness is what’s most important to God. How many times in the OT did God send prophets calling . . . “Return to me faithless people!” 7 We tend to wander away from God and his heart.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.8

Worship is returning.

There was and is nothing that breaks God’s heart more than faithlessness. Can you imagine what

Jesus was feeling for this woman? The Father had revealed to him that this woman’s life was filled with failed marriages and unfaithful living. So Jesus came to show her the path to faithfulness, a chance to break free from fatherless worship to worshipping the Father in spirit and truth.

And if nothing breaks God’s heart more than faithlessness, we know that nothing brings God greater joy than faithfulness.

God doesn’t want to just hear us sing. God wants to see us live a life of faithfulness. The songs that spring from that kind of life will bring God much joy. If people sing of faithful love with their lips, but have hearts that are far from him, and their lips are kissing unfaithful lovers, the song they sing is no longer pleasing to God.

Biblical worship is full of truth. Truth about who God is coupled with truth about who we are.

These truths are essential for real worship. Sometimes God’s people were clear on declaring the truth of God, his actions and character. But they would never reveal the truth of their lives and struggles in His presence. This leads us in the direction of an artificial or acting faith, where we are always doing “great” and we only sing songs that are happy and full of thanksgiving . . .and we think we are really worshipping. Well sometimes we are really lying! I recently read an interview with one of Hollywood’s rising talents, and He confessed that as actors they basically get paid to lie; to pretend to be someone that they are not. Real worship is saturated with truth!

I love the Psalms and I love King David; he’s one of my biggest heroes! I often say “I want to be like Dave!” For centuries the Psalter, the collection of the 150 Psalms, was the hymnbook of God’s people. I am not advocating that we only sing Psalms from this side of the cross. But the Psalms are still full of truth and comfort for God’s people today. And they contain truth about God and truth about us as humans. God is not afraid of our humanity. As we come to worship, let’s be truthful to who we really are and how we are really doing. Anything else is not real worship.

Listen to Eugene Peterson’s version of Jesus’ words to the woman:

‘But the time is coming - it has in fact come - when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. . . . Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: Those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship.’9

Jesus is saying, “I am thrilled that you are asking about worship; but you are asking the wrong questions. You have asked about ‘where’ and I am telling you that the most important aspect of worship is ‘who’ - who God is and who you are!”

This woman lived in a world (as do we!) where what you are called - your genealogy and roots, your class, your background, your profession, your age, your sex, your name, matter. They matter a whole lot! Jesus is saying that a time is being ushered in when labels will not matter anymore! The full and final fulfillment of his words will not happen in this life among the kingdoms of men. But it will happen in the kingdom of heaven! And it happens here on patches of earth where God’s rule and reign is invited in.

So Jesus says that “what we are called will not matter.” Therefore, the names that our parents give us and the labels others slap on us are not as important as who we are in the Father’s eyes. I can hardly wait for the day in heaven when we get our new name . . Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

I think of this as the name that is you or me . . . there could never be 2 people with the same name. It will be almost like God breathing out a word and that word will be us, it will be our name. Maybe that’s how God awakens worship in us to start with. He speaks our name, and we respond with worship!

But it’s not just the labels we wear that are throwing us off the real track of worship. It’s our focus on the “where” or place of worship. That means that the denomination or type of church we belong to is not the most important thing (I’m so grateful we are seeing breakthroughs in this as more and more of God’s people are learning to walk together). Nor is the type of building we worship in of ultimate importance. This is a really big one, and to be fair to the people living early in the 1st century, this was a big shift that Jesus was introducing!

Our labels and locations are so important to us. And we will do almost anything to defend and protect them and attack those not like us. The sin of prejudice is probably the most violent sin on the earth.

And so Jesus speaks truth to this woman and to us across the centuries. What counts to God is not our labels, it’s not our outside appearance. It’s our integrity, our honesty that counts to God. God wants us to come before Him just as we are; “simply & honestly themselves” means God is inviting us to come with a genuine naturalness.

You don’t have to change before you come to worship. You change because you have worshipped.

This is in contrast to Ps 78:

‘Psa 78:36 - 37 But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.

When we flatter someone we are just saying what we think they want to hear so that we get something back . . . sounds eerily like some modern worship services doesn’t it? We fill the air with our “happy-clappy” songs about how wonderful God is so that we get blessed with good feelings and prosperity.

This is the essence of religion, doing everything we can to reach God and make ourselves presentable to Him. This is approaching worship with the attitude - what I give is the most important thing. It’s saying what I say is the most important thing. It all hinges on our performance. It’s trying to constantly put our best foot forward. It’s one of the reasons the phrase “let’s put on our Sunday best” has always left a bad taste in my mouth. When it comes to issues like clothing in worship, I believe God is most delighted when we come dressed the way we live; if you wear a suit during the week and that’s the way you live, then please come to worship wearing a suit! But if you live in casual clothes come to worship the way you live, in casual clothes, as long as the clothes you wear in any style are modest enough not to cause men’s eyes to be drawn and distracted.

The time for religion is over! The time for hype is over! It’s time for worship to be saturated with a spirit of humility and honesty. Hype comes from taking our cues from the advertising and image culture all around us. We are supposed to be different than our culture, yet still attractive and accessible.

What I am trying to say . . . because I believe this is what Jesus was trying to say to this woman, is that the Father is not looking for performance. It’s when we believe that everything hinges on our performance that we often resort to hype and flattery. That’s so religious. We should have no time or heart to play that game!

The Father is looking for worshippers, which means He is looking for people. The Father is looking for sons and daughters who will come just as they are, whether weeping with tears or dancing with joy.

It’s time to leave behind our fatherless worship, time to break free from the orphan living and thinking that fills our lives with striving, competition and unfaithfulness. It’s time to worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Come, now is the time to worship.

Songwriting Tips

Document your inspiration when it comes, for it will not come again! I believe that a song starts as a seed; a clear single idea that contains the songvision of the song. It’s the “one thing” of your song. Make sure when the inspiration comes, or when the seed falls into the soil of your life, you plant it! Write it down, record it, and take a mental picture of playing the melody on the piano. Invest in something that makes documenting the idea really simple.

Repetition is good; actually it’s more than good, it’s GREAT! Think of the way I repeat “come” in this song. I keep on sounding that simple clear invitation. If you are working on a song, look for the key word that you can repeat.

Make sure you have a strong melodic hook to build upon. This song starts with a very clear strong melodic hook on the 3rd note of the major scale. It’s a hook that is memorable and easy to sing. (Of course coming up with a fresh hook is always very difficult and is a gift every time it happens!)

Don’t waste time. Come right out of the gate with the key thing you want to say lyrically and a strong melody. It’s amazing to me how many times writers think they have all day to noodle around and have “indistinct” melodies to “build momentum’. You only have momentum if you have something clear right from the start!

It’s OK to be unique, to put your personality stamp on your song. One of my key melodic

distinctives is found in the way the melody is pushed on the last word of line one: “worship.” Both of those notes are pushed (of course I have heard many churches straighten those out which removes personality and energy from the melody to my ears). I love melodies that are pushed. What kind of melodies do you love?

2 At the time of writing this, I have only “heard’ two songs floating through the air; the first one was “Refiner’s fire” in 1989 and “Come now is the time’ in 1997. Most of songwriting for me is a labor of love, not simply downloading songs from heaven, though I do believe that all inspiration is a gift from God and we would have nothing without it!

3 We met at Elliot High School in Putney right beside River Thames within greater London.

4 One worship leader wrote me about the song with this theological quandary, and then after reading my explanation and wrestling with it a bit more, wrote me back and said,

“I introduced your "greatest treasure" song to our church last Sunday, and many people told me afterwards that they liked "that new song." NO ONE mentioned anything about the lyric I was concerned about. I don't get it. My band loves it!”

Of course just to prove how diverse we all are, others wrote and said that line was their favorite line in the song.

Over the years, I have come to see that music is very subjective; and when you mix subjective musical tastes with theology, which is also subjective and diverse, it makes for some lively and interesting discussions!

5 Unless you are Gordon Lightfoot writing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”!

6 It’s Eleanor Mumford’s voice you can hear in the swirl at the beginning of the recording

7 Jeremiah 3:14

8 Come thou fount of every blessing

9 The Message – Eugene Peterson John 4:23, 24 Can you hear how some of this paraphrase of scripture informed aspects of my song, “Come now is the time to worship”?