My Challenges (timed)

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Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

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Completed 71 of 81

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Completed 9 of 10

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Completed 34 of 50

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

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New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the road again

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again when the thoughts of Americans turn to spending long hours on the highway in quest of fun and adventure. As a Florida resident, my trips differ from those of many -- I head north, away from sand, umbrella drinks, and Mickey Mouse. This year will find me and mine in the great states of Pennsylvania and New York, doing outdoorsy-type things and hoping not to get Lyme disease. Despite razzing from the teenage son, I will be taking numerous books with me and hope to be able to report several completions upon my return. I will probably be without Internet access for most of the trip (I can already feel early withdrawal symptoms), but I look forward to catching up on everyone's posts when I get back.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - July 27

Vacation time is here! We leave tomorrow and I'm so excited. I'm taking a whole pile of books with me (see Reading This Week), oh how I wish I could read in a moving vehicle. We'll be on the road at least 15 hours. Maybe I'll get some motion sickness tablets and give it a try. It makes me cringe to think of all that reading time wasted.

We won't be back until after next week's posting, so there might not be one of these posts next week, depending on my Internet situation.

Recent completions:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling -- review

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen -- review

A Study In Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- review

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle -- review

Reading this week:

Up next:

Whatever I don't finish while gone.

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 7/10
18th and 19th Century Women Writers: 4/5
A to Z Challenge: 22/26
Baker Street Challenge: 1/4
Book Awards 3: 0/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Classics Challenge: 3/6
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 2/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 4/10
Nonfiction 5: 4/5
Orbis Terrarum: 7/10
Summer Vacation Reading: 3/6
Support Your Local Library: 26/50
TBR Lite: 5/6
Well-Rounded Challenge: 0/5 ***NEW
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 51/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 6/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 2/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 6/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 2/9

  • Biographies: 6/9

  • Travel: 8/9

  • Catholicism: 5/9

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***COMPLETE

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths

Little, Brown and Company (July 28, 2009)


Charlotte Gordon graduated from Harvard College and received a Master’s in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in History and Literature from Boston University. She has published two books of poetry and, most recently, the biography Mistress Bradstreet, which was a Massachusetts Book Award Honor Book. From 1999-2001, she taught at Boston University’s School of Theology. Currently, she is an assistant professor of English at Endicott College.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $27.99
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 28, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031611474X
ISBN-13: 978-0316114745


Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: A Study in Scarlet

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

First Published: 1887

No. of Pages: 94

Synopsis (from B&N): "In the first of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. Watson, discharged from military service after suffering wounds, is at loose ends until a chance encounter leads him to take rooms with Sherlock Holmes. When Watson is drawn into the investigation of a bizarre murder in which Holmes is involved, he is unaware that it is the beginning of the most famous partnership in the history of criminal detection."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: Like all the Sherlock Holmes stories, this one is an intriguing mystery that is quite easy to read. I'm doing better with each story in picking up on the clues and reaching the correct deductions, which makes me feel pretty good. At only 94 pages, this one is a quick read -- I read it in one day. It would have been more of a short story were it not for the inclusion of the story behind the crime. It was especially interesting to learn how Holmes and Watson became a team.

For those interested, I've also recently discovered the joy of listening to the old Sherlock Holmes radio show starring Basil Rathbone. It's available as a free podcast through iTunes and I highly recommend it.

Challenges: Baker Street; Guardian 1000 Novels ("Crime")

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

Title: Toujours Provence

Author: Peter Mayle

First Published: 1991

No. of Pages: 241

Synopsis (from B&N): "Taking up where his beloved A Year in Provence leaves off, Peter Mayle offers us another funny, beautifully (and deliciously) evocative book about life in Provence. With tales only one who lives there could know — of finding gold coins while digging in the garden, of indulging in sumptuous feasts at truck stops — and with characters introduced with great affection and wit — the gendarme fallen from grace, the summer visitors ever trying the patience of even the most genial Provençaux, the straightforward dog 'Boy'—Toujours Provence is a heart-warming portrait of a place where, if you can't quite 'get away from it all,' you can surely have a very good time trying."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This is a light and delightful read. With the exception of the occasional French phrase, it doesn't require anything from the reader except to relax and enjoy. Each chapter focuses on a specific activity engaged in or person known by the author. For instance, he tells of attending an open-air concert by Pavarotti; learning about pastis from a local restaurant owner; and attending the local dog show. There's a lot about eating in here, including more than one chapter dealing with truffles, and the descriptions of the food will make your mouth water. I'm glad I waited until the summer to read it -- it fits in perfectly with the slower days and desire for less demanding books.

Challenges: 999 ("Travel"); Nonfiction 5

Friday, July 24, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J.K. Rowling

First Published: 2007

No. of Pages: 759

Synopsis (from B&N): "It all comes down to this - a final faceoff between good and evil. You plan to pull out all the stops, but every time you solve one mystery, three more evolve. Do you stay the course you started, despite your lack of progress? Do you detour and follow a new lead that may not help? Do you listen to your instincts, or your friends?

Lord Voldemort is preparing for battle and so must Harry. With Ron and Hermione at his side, he's trying to hunt down Voldemort's Horcruxes, escape danger at every turn, and find a way to defeat evil once and for all. How does it all end?"

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: Wow! What an ending! I just finished the book in the last hour and I can hardly put my thoughts into words, which is made even harder since I don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it (there's got to be someone out there besides me, right?).

Overall, the book was quite good. There were sections early on that dragged a bit and a few that were beyond depressing, but the last parts really picked up. I know I read the end much too fast, I just couldn't wait to find out what happened. The author stayed true to the characters throughout the series and made them come alive. My biggest complaint with this last installment is that it has much less of the humor found throughout the others. Since the characters age throughout the series, maybe this was done intentionally as representative of how adults often lose the humor in their lives.

Now that it's over, I almost want to start the whole series over again just to spend more time in that world. A definite classic that I can't wait to share with my nephew and niece in a few year's time. We're going to see the newest movie this weekend and I can't wait to see the last two (from what I understand, the last book is being made into two movies). If they're half as exciting as the final book, it should be awesome.

Challenges: A to Z (author "R"); Chunkster; What's in a Name? 2 ("Medical condition")

New books!

Barnes & Noble is having a sale and I couldn't resist. Between their sale prices and my B&N membership, I got 7 books for $20! And all but 1 are hardback. Here's the newest additions:

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

Dear Pussycat: Mash Notes and Missives from the Desk of Cosmopolitan's Legendary Editor by Helen Gurley Brown

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz (I've read several of his other books, highly recommended)

Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives by Katie Hickman

Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer

About Alice by Calvin Trillin

The only problem now is where to put them -- my bookshelves are already bursting at the seams. There's got to be someplace in my house for a new bookcase...

The Attitude of Faith by Frank Damazio

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Attitude of Faith – Saying Yes to God’s Power in Your Life

Whitaker House (July 7, 2009)


Frank Damazio is known worldwide as a “minister to ministers” and for his volumes of written work including 30 books. Together with his wife Sharon he serves as pastor of City Bible Church, a thriving multi-site, multi-cultural church in Portland, OR. Pastor Damazio holds a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry from Oral Roberts University. He serves as president of Portland Bible College and vice president of Ministers Fellowship International, a network of pastors and missionaries from 45 countries.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (July 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741143
ISBN-13: 978-1603741149


Chapter 1

Yes to Expectation

Two men walked through an empty field. One saw exactly what he expected to see--nothing. He waded through tall weeds toward a desolate orange grove, thinking, What a useless wasteland! The other man bounced over the weeds with excited expectancy. ÒThis is it! This is the place! This is where my dreams come true! Can you see it? Over here is going to be a merry-go-round and over there I will put a roller coaster. This is what I have always wanted!Ó

The second man knew beyond the shadow of a doubt exactly what was going to happen with that empty field and its surrounding orange groves. He could not see it with his physical eyes, but he knew inside what it was going to look like, and he knew what it would take to make it happen. He could not see the dream; he could not touch it, but he lived with expectation for the day when it would become reality. It was a wild expectation that his friends laughed at, but today, that wild expectation is a multimillion-dollar theme park called Disneyland.

Nobody succeeds beyond his or her wildest expectations unless he or she has wild expectations. If Walt Disney had been willing to settle for a small dream, not only would Disneyland never have happened, but neither would have Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Resort Paris in France, or Tokyo Disneyland in Japan.

Have Great Expectations

What are your expectations for your life? Do you have high expectations or low expectations? Or do you not have any and not care? Are you excited about your future, or are you facing it with deep apprehension and perhaps with fear?

Say yes to expectation. Expectation determines what you will have in your life and future, but it also represents what you are willing to settle for. Are you going to settle for an empty field, or are you going to expect the fulfillment of the lifelong dream? Expectation is a very powerful force in your life, and you must learn how to cultivate it fully. If you believe that whatever you expect with faith and certainty will enter your life, then you will examine your expectation level and cultivate it to its highest potential.

Expectation is the power to have an idea that becomes so real that you see it and feel it before you can hold it. It is like a giant magnet that attracts what you expect into your life. Expectation empowers you to think the unthinkable and do the undoable, and it turns uncertain hoping into certainty.

Everyone has expectations, and these expectations come in a variety of sizes. Some are huge, such as the dream job, the business you hope to create, the person you dream of sharing your life with, or the family you hope to raise. You may have expectations about how you will live life, about your health, about your happiness, or about your level of success.

Expectation can be defined simply as fixing your eyes on the promised blessing with an eager anticipation of its arrival. An expectation is a strong desire that is filled with anticipation and confidence about obtaining what is expected. To live with expectation is to live with hope, dreams, imagination, and desires.

Desire Is a Strong Feeling with an Intentional Aim

Desire is more than just wishful thinking. It is the passionate and resolute determination of the will to achieve that which is sought. When you desire something, you long for it and crave it. You have a passion for it, yearn after it, and strive to obtain it. A desire is a concentration of deep feelings, and it often implies strong intention and aim. It is not simply a bland wish but a desperate yearning that will give anything to obtain that which is desired. Desire is a longing for something that saturates the entire soul.

Psalm 20:4 encourages us, ÒMay He grant you according to your heart's desire, and fulfill all your purpose.Ó God can grant you your heart's desire. The thing you long for--that which you earnestly and passionately reach for--God can give to you.

The famous evangelist D. L. Moody reportedly spoke these powerful words of expectation to his sons from his death bed: ÒIf God be your partner, make your plans large.Ó God is our partner, and our plans can and should be large. Will you allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see what God has in store for you?

Desire Is Focused in Christ

Psalm 37:4 says, ÒDelight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.Ó Desire is a God-given purposefulness for your life that is first fulfilled when you surrender your life to Christ and allow Him to take control. When you surrender to Jesus, you belong to Him, and He has the keys to your life's fulfillment. As you allow Him to be the Lord of your life, and as you walk in obedience to Him, He will direct your path, focusing your desires into alignment with His will for your life. He will give you the strength and ability to see those desires become reality.

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ÒAnyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.Ó
(Mark 8:34-35 msg)

The disciples made the decision to walk away from their own desires and to follow Christ's desires. We scarcely lack desire; we just focus it on the wrong things. Pure desire to follow Christ cannot be achieved until your desire for self is extinguished. Make a decision to focus your desire on loving and serving Christ; then, God will take your life and fill it with the desires that bring true success and true satisfaction.

Desire is anticipation that is founded in God, an attitude of the soul that believes in the greatness of God's will and in His work yet to be done. It is the cry of the soul as heard in Jeremiah 33:3: ÒCall to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.Ó You cannot know God's desires until you know Him and He reveals them to you.

You have a choice. You can slumber and sleep your way through life, or you can wake up and live life to the maximum. Life is meant to be filled up with all the great things God seeks to do for you, in you, and through you. Expectation is best received and lived out as you align your total life to God and His Word, living with abandonment to His desires for you and setting yourself to be in agreement with God. Jeremiah 29:11 declares,

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Expect Good Things from God

This is the part of your life I hope to help you change. I want to see you begin to grasp--or recover--real, heart-felt expectation. I want you to recover your will to desire. Without the power to desire something good, you will have great trouble nurturing expectation for your life.

Proverbs 10:24 says, ÒThe fear of the wicked will come upon him, and the desire of the righteous will be granted,Ó and Proverbs 13:12 states, ÒHope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.Ó

Hope by itself does not bring expectation. Desire by itself cannot bring expectation. It is the desire to see the promises fulfilled, fueled by faith in God, that brings a sense of expectation. The power to hope comes from a faith in God and a belief that He is good and that He will be good to you.

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
(Romans 15:13 msg)

The Best Is Yet to Come

A story is commonly told about a terminally ill woman who had three months left to live. She was the last person you would expect to have hope, but hope is exactly what she had. She sat down with her pastor and discussed her own funeral arrangements--her favorite songs to be sung, the Scriptures to be read, the dress to be buried in, and finally, the most important part of the funeral arrangements: ÒWhen you place me in the casket, put a fork in my hand.Ó

The pastor sat there, his mind racing as he tried to figure out how to respond. Was she beginning to lose her mind?

The woman smiled at him and explained, ÒWhen I was a little girl and we had guests for dinner, I always waited with bated breath at the end of the meal. Sometimes, my mother would simply clear the dishes, and the adults would sit around and talk. But sometimes, my mother would say, 'Keep your fork,' as she picked up the plates. Then, I would get excited, because I knew that the best part of the meal was coming. It could be my grandmother's deep-dish apple pie or my mother's velvet chocolate cake, but it was always the best part of the evening.Ó

Her eyes glistened with joyful tears as she continued, ÒAs my family and friends come to my funeral and see me lying in the casket with the fork in my hand, I want you to give them a message from me. Tell them that I said I'm keeping my fork because the best is yet to come.Ó

As you read Romans 15:13 again, I want you to reach out and take hold of it in faith, knowing that the best is yet to come.

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! (msg)

What Are God's Thoughts toward You?

Before you read any further, think about that question. What are God's thoughts toward you? What does He think about you? What does He have planned for your life? What desires does He want to plant into your heart? What does He want you to expect?

You have been called to greatness. You must grasp how good God is and how great His thoughts are toward you. Right expectation is rooted in God's thoughts, intentions, and purposes for your life. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God tells you what His thoughts are toward you.

ÒFor My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,Ó says the Lord. ÒFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.Ó

You have been called to walk through doors of opportunity that you have not yet seen. God said He has plans for your future, and they are good plans. Expect good things from God. Expect Him to open new doors for your life. As you travel on your personal Christian road, God will set doors of opportunity in front of you for your personal life, your family, your business, your relationships, and your church. In Revelation 3:8, Christ declared,

I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.

Let me paraphrase this verse. ÒI have set before you an open door, and it will remain open until you are able to enter it. You will enter in sooner than you think, and when your moment of opportunity comes, your strength will not be wasted in efforts to make the conditions favorable. You will enter in at once because I have opened the door!Ó

Expect to open new doors of faith adventures that will necessitate getting out of your comfort zone, the area where you feel the most comfortable trusting God. Getting out of your comfort zone requires a leap of faith. When the door is open, move through it. Take a risk. Move into the unknown. To find bigger oceans, you must not be afraid to lose sight of the shore.

What doors might the Lord open for you if you expect some new doors? What doors have you ignored or fastened with a ÒNo EntranceÓ sign, even though you could hear God saying, ÒGo through the doorÓ? Expect new doors. Knock on doors of opportunity and keep knocking.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7 nlt)

Personal Testimony

Mark and Jennifer,
Married Couple in Their Thirties

Since our courtship time, we knew that God would lead us to adopt. We decided that we would have three children and then adopt a fourth. After twelve years of marriage without children and the disappointments and heartbreaking effects of infertility, it seemed that our dream of a family would never happen. That is when the Lord told us in a very clear way that we should start the adoption process, so we did. In our quest for the rest of our family, we faced even more heartbreak.

While we waited, we even built a four-bedroom house to have room for our children, knowing for sure that they were coming. We didn't expect this new season of adoption to be even harder than infertility! We were to adopt twin baby boys, and we waited excitedly for their birth. The day they were born, the fifteen-year-old birth mother changed her mind, and our hopes were crushed. We knew all along that God wanted us to have children. We just didn't know when, who, or how, so we pressed on in what seemed to be an uphill battle, trusting and believing that the Lord was the one who would form our family.

After we had spent two years of looking for our children, God gave us a set of four--yes, four--siblings. They had been in foster care for two years, and we were chosen as their placement family. What a joyful day it was when we brought them home! A couple weeks after they arrived, we found out that one of the birth parents was trying to get our four-year-old back! After several months, he decided to relinquish all parental rights. We are now a family of six, with a house reverberating with noise and overflowing with love.

Expectation Requires Faith

Cultivate an optimistic faith outlook based on God's desires for you and His commitment to you. Psalm 37:23 promises, ÒThe steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.Ó Tell yourself, ÒMy steps are ordered by God Almighty. My life and future are in His hands. I expect good things to happen, and I declare the greatness of God to be released upon my life. The same God who has supported me in the past, who met the needs of those in Scripture, who faithfully takes care of other people today, can do the same thing for me.Ó

Faith is an exceedingly hopeful perspective of confidence and trust.

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Expectation moves us to pray for great things from God. This is the attitude that is constantly diligent in fully expecting God to do the impossible. Remember: if God be your partner, make your plans large.

How is your expectation right now, today, at this precise moment? How filled with faith and expectation are you about your future? Do you have a heart that throbs with deep feelings of hope and a great outlook on the future? Do you believe Psalm 16:6? ÒThe lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.Ó Do you believe Ephesians 3:20? ÒNow to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in usÉ.Ó

The Enemies of Expectation

Natalie's dream was to become part of the Olympic swim team. She spent hours training and preparing, expecting to make the team. At age sixteen, she barely missed qualifying for the 2000 Sydney games but knew that she could make the 2004 games. But in 2001, she was hit by a car, crushing her left leg.

If you had known Natalie, which of the following two responses would you have given her? The first option is, ÒDon't give up. You can still expect to qualify for the Olympics. You still have a chance.Ó The second is, ÒThat's one dream that has died. Such a shame. She gave her whole life to one dream and then had that dream crushed in a few short seconds. What a waste! She will never know what she could have done if she had not had that accident. She will never reach her full potential or come close to realizing her dreams.Ó

Expectation doesn't just drop into your lap without a fight. When you begin to look to the future with faith, when you begin to step through new doors of opportunity, there will be challenges and adversaries. In 1 Corinthians 16:9, Paul stated, ÒA great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.Ó

Natalie had many adversaries. Her first adversary was her physical limitations. She was a swimmer with only one leg. Her other adversaries were her own doubts, fears, and the negative words that others spoke to her, telling her that her dream was over. Her expectation should have been crushed with her leg, but it was not. She refused to give up. She continued working out, doing physical therapy, and eventually began to train again. In 2008, she qualified for and went to the Beijing Olympics.

Expectation is willing to take on the adversaries that lie in wait at the doors of new opportunity. In The Message Bible, 1 Corinthians 16:9 reads, ÒA huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here. There is also mushrooming opposition.Ó The Amplified Bible says it this way: ÒA wide door of opportunity for effectual [service] has opened to me [there, a great and promising one], and [there are] many adversaries.Ó

The Hebrew word for adversary contains the idea of someone who fights against you and endeavors to shackle you and push you into a tight and cramped place where you have no way out. Your adversary hates you and is determined to defeat and overcome you. He is your enemy. What adversaries stand between you and your open door? What adversaries endeavor to bind and limit your opportunities? What is it that tries to defeat you and prevent you from seeing your expectations become realities?

1. The Enemy of Expectation Is Fear and Worry

Walter Chrysler, founder of Chrysler Motor Company, had a box sitting on his desk. Every time he worried about something, he would not deal with it then but would write it down and put it in the box to deal with the following week. When he opened the box later, he would find that most of the worries from the previous week had already resolved themselves without any ongoing concern or attention on his part.

The word worry can mean Òto choke or strangle.Ó The idea is to harass by tearing at or disturbing repeatedly. It is a nagging persistence that drains you of energy. The things you worry about and the fear you bring upon yourself must not be allowed to have power over your life or rob you of expecting great things from God.

What are the things that persistently whisper in the back of your mind? What are the nagging worries and fears that eat at you? Peter tells us, ÒGive all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about youÓ (1 Peter 5:7 nlt).

A farmer was sitting on his porch and looking at his fields when a friend stopped by to visit. Any conversation between two farmers inevitably comes around to their crops, so the friend asked, ÒHow's your wheat?Ó

The farmer replied, ÒAin't got none. Figured the weevils would get into the wheat and ruin me, so I didn't plant any.Ó

The friend nodded his understanding and asked, ÒSo, how about your corn?Ó

ÒAin't got none,Ó was the reply. ÒDidn't plant any because I was afraid the crows would eat it and ruin me.Ó

ÒWell, what about your potatoes?Ó

ÒAin't got none of them, neither. Was afraid to plant 'em because the 'tater bugs will get to 'em, and I'd be ruined.Ó

By now, the friend was perplexed. ÒWell, what did you plant this year?Ó

ÒNothing. I just played it safe.Ó

Don't allow your worries to determine your future! If you play it safe, you will have nothing. So throw all your hopes and all your fears into God's hands and know that He cares about you.

2. The Enemy of Expectation Is Negativity

Expectation can be drowned easily in our lives by tragedy or disappointment. A sense of hopelessness or failure can kill the desire or ability to expect things to change. Deep inside, a voice whispers, ÒYou want to be somebody, but it's not going to happen.Ó In the inner place of your soul, deep in your heart, a war rages against expectation with thoughts such as, You don't have a chance. It's just not going to happen. Life is against you, so give up. You can't recover from this. People like you should never have dreams like this. Why expect anything when you know you will be disappointed?

Proverbs 4:12 promises, ÒWhen you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble.Ó Do not let pessimism hinder your steps from fulfilling your God-given expectations. Dread and fear feed a pessimistic attitude that seeks to make God smaller than your problems. Pessimism makes it easy for you to visualize a negative outcome for your life and then live in a way that fulfills that negative outcome.

Say no! This is not what God desires for your life. Make a concrete decision to remove the negative spirit, attitudes, and thoughts from your life. The mind-set that says, ÒGod is not for me,Ó is destructive and is an expectation killer. Do not allow yourself to become a doom and gloom forecaster of your own life. A negative outlook builds a wrong mind-set that dominates your thinking and results in a negative belief that your expectations cannot and will not come to pass. Compare the size of your problems to the greatness of God. The size of your God must grow!

3. The Enemy of Expectation Is Apathy

Another adversary of expectation is an apathetic mind-set that resists change and is content with the status quo. The attitude that thinks expectation costs too much thinks things like this: It requires breaking habit patterns that are impossible to stop. It requires change--and maybe the cost won't be worth the reward. It is safer not to dream, not to hope, and not to expect good, because you will be disappointed. Instead, be satisfied with where you are today, and do not expect anything better for tomorrow.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the primary crop in Alabama was cotton. As you traveled across the state, cotton fields stretched out as far as you could see. Then, in 1915, the boll weevil immigrated into Alabama from Mexico and began a rampage of destruction. By 1918, farmers were losing entire crops and going bankrupt.

A man named H. M. Sessions refused to give up and determined that the success of his small town depended on finding a new crop to plant. After research, he determined that peanut farming would restore the town's agricultural success. The problem was that the local farmers had planted cotton their entire lives, their fathers had planted nothing but cotton before them, and their grandfathers had planted cotton before their fathers. They did not want to take the risk and try something new. It took Sessions a year to find someone who was willing to buck the status quo and plant this brand-new crop. One year later, those who had followed Sessions had paid off their debts and were in the black. All of the other farmers quickly followed suit, and not only the town but the entire county was saved from bankruptcy.

All people have boll weevil times in their lives. Things are at a dead end, and the problems facing them are huge. It is easier simply to give up than to expect that something better is ahead. It is easier to keep doing what you are doing than to risk something new to discover God's best.

If you are in a boll weevil time, you must remember that you were created for more than this! God has a plan for your life, and it is a plan for a good future--a future of hope and fulfilled expectations. (See Jeremiah 29:11.) God promises that hope placed in Him is hope that will not bring disappointment. It is hope fulfilled.

Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
(Romans 5:5)

Abraham Overcame Discouragement

Be like Abraham. In Genesis 13, Lot had just turned his back on Abraham and walked away. Abraham had treated him like a son and had given him everything, and Lot had washed his hands of their relationship and walked out. Abraham could have given up. He could have cried out to God, ÒOh God, I'm so discouraged. My family has left me all alone in a strange country. I have nothing to show for it. Maybe I should just go back to Ur, where life was easier before You called me out here to this strange land.Ó What did God tell Abraham during this time?

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ÒLift your eyes now and look from the place where you are; northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.Ó
(Genesis 13:14-15)

Lift up your eyes and look out from the place where you are. Do not wait for things to look perfect before you begin to develop hope and expectation. Start now. Look from where you are right now. Look north, south, east, and west from right where you are, because that is the land that God is going to give you.

By faith Abraham, while he was being called, obeyed to go out into a place which he was about to be receiving as an inheritance, and he went out, not troubling his mind as to where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner without rights of citizenship in the land of the promise as in a land not his own, having settled down to live in tents with Isaac and Jacob, joint-heirs with him of the promise, the same one, for he was constantly waiting for and expecting the city having the foundations, the architect and builder of which is God.
(Hebrews 11:8-10 wuest)

Abraham had an expectation that God was going to fulfill His promise and that the land was going to belong to him and his descendants. Hebrews says he was Òconstantly waiting for and expectingÓ the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham did not allow fear of the future, worry about the present, or regret about the failures of the past deter him from that attitude of faith and expectation in God.

Abraham knew that his chances of becoming a father were diminishing as he got older, but he persistently held to the promise God had given him of being the father of many nations. Even though he had walked away from a land of comfort and ease, Abraham knew in faith that he would see the promise fulfilled. And Scripture never shows him looking back to the land of his forefathers. Instead, he always looked ahead for the city whose Òarchitect and builderÉis God.Ó

Life is filled with expectation robbers--people and circumstances that seek to steal your expectations. Fear and anxiety grip people's minds with uncertainty and fear of what may happen, overshadowing hope. One of the great challenges of life is to lift yourself out of your current circumstances and rise up to the level that your expectation can take you.

Jabez Overcame Negativity

Jabez had an excellent reason to have low expectations. When his mother named him, she did not give him a name that indicated she had great hopes for his future. She named him for pain, sorrow, and affliction. (See 1 Chronicles 4:9.) He was not reminded of who he could be; instead, he was constantly reminded of the pain he had caused. Yet Jabez was not content to live within those low expectations.

Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ÒOh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!Ó So God granted him what he requested.
(1 Chronicles 4:10)

Jabez had large expectations that God could surpass the stigma placed on him by others. He believed that God would bless him and use him to be a blessing to others.

God's blessings for us are limited only by ourselves--not by His resources, power, or willingness to give. Refuse any obstacle, person, or opinion that restricts your expectations for your future. There are great, God-given opportunities before you, great open doors, and great rewards lying within your reach. Stretch. Expect. Believe. Persist. Possess.

The culture around you says, ÒDon't get your hopes up. You may be disappointed. Aim low and be safe.Ó You have to break away from the autopilot of the masses that settles for the ordinary life, the no-hope life, the aim-low-and-be-happy life. This is not the expectation that God has for your life. Think of yourself as the pregnant mother who expects only the best from her pregnancy. With her imagination, she is able to live the result in magnificent detail until, eventually, the baby is born and she physically holds her ÒexpectationÓ in her arms.

You do not need a high IQ, special skills, or an amazing education to raise your expectation. You simply must make a decision to partner with God and His Word and to believe what He says about you and your future. Lift your vision to match God's vision for your life. Decide. Expect. Change. Lift your vision and take the limitations off your life.

Ruth Overcame Apathy

When Naomi's husband and sons died, her two daughters-in-law were faced with a difficult choice. If they stayed in their homeland, they returned to the security of their families, but it was security with a limited future. They were widows, but they were widows with family who would care for them. If they chose to go with Naomi, they risked losing everything.

When Ruth chose to follow Naomi back to Israel, she walked away from a life of security into a life of the unknown. As a widow in a foreign land, she had no husband, no family, and no protector. There was no security for her future and no reason for her to expect anything other than an arduous and lonely life.

Ruth refused to give in to apathy and reluctance to change. She declared to Naomi, ÒYour God will be my GodÓ (Ruth 1:16 nlt), and she walked into the unknown with the confident expectation that she had all she needed for a full life. In so doing, she walked into a future that extended past her present-day fulfillment of a life with a rich and good man, Boaz, and into the fulfillment of being the great-grandmother of the king of Israel and part of the lineage of Jesus.

Simeon Overcame Prolonged Waiting

Luke 2 tells the story of Simeon, who expected to see the Messiah before he died. He waited for years with an attitude of expectancy for the fulfillment of that promise. He did not give up, but he persevered in waiting, expecting, and knowing that God would fulfill His promise.

When he finally held the child Jesus in his arms, he said, ÒLord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvationÓ (Luke 2:29-30). He had waited for years, faithfully coming to the temple, knowing that if God had told him this was going to happen, it was as good as done. There was no doubt, no questioning, no fear--only a simple faith that God would do all He had promised.

Don't Give Up

Abraham could have spent his life looking back at Ur of the Chaldeans in regret for what he had left. Ruth could have looked back to the life that she could have had in her home country. Simeon could have looked back at a long and happy life and been satisfied with settling for the blessings he had already received. But none of these people was content to settle. None was willing to give up his or her expectations. They set their faith in the God who does not change, who promises and fulfills every word. They set their hope on His words and lived lives of expectation, alert and waiting for the fulfillment of all that He had spoken.

Whatever your situation is today, whatever you fear in the future, whatever you regret from the past, lay them aside and fix your eyes on God. Set your hopes on Him. Place your faith in His Word. Focus your life and your desires on Him. The best is yet to come.

Prayer of Expectation

Lord, I believe that You are good and that You desire to release into my life wonderful, unimaginable, miraculous, great, and mighty things. Today, I pray with large expectations by the power of the Holy Spirit. Enlarge my vision. Increase my faith. Secure my future. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Preferences

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers – we’ll do more detail at some later date)

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Serious
Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? Doesn't matter
Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Nonfiction
Poetry? Or Prose? Prose
Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Biographies (not enough objectivity in an autobiography)
History? Or Historical Fiction? History
Series? Or Stand-alones? Stand-alones
Classics? Or best-sellers? Classics, all the way
Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Straight-forward (the phrase "lurid fruity prose" makes me snicker)
Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Plots
Long books? Or Short? Doesn't matter, as long as the book is good
Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Non-illustrated
Borrowed? Or Owned? Owned
New? Or Used? Used

(Yes, I know, some of these we’ve touched on before, and some of these we might address in-depth in the future, but for today–just quick answers!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Title: Sense and Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen

First Published:

No. of Pages:

Synopsis (from B&N): "Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility is a wonderfully entertaining tale of flirtation and folly that revolves around two starkly different sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. While Elinor is thoughtful, considerate, and calm, her younger sister is emotional and wildly romantic. Both are looking for a husband, but neither Elinor’s reason nor Marianne’s passion can lead them to perfect happiness — as Marianne falls for an unscrupulous rascal and Elinor becomes attached to a man who’s already engaged.

Startling secrets, unexpected twists, and heartless betrayals interrupt the marriage games that follow. Filled with satiric wit and subtle characterizations, Sense and Sensibility teaches that true love requires a balance of reason and emotion."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: This is the only Austen novel that I've never before read, although I was familiar with the story from watching the movie version. As with all Austen, I greatly enjoyed it and will no doubt reread it in the future. The characters are more difficult to like than in the author's other novels, but her ability to show human weaknesses, follies, and general lack of sense is superb as always. I still feel that Pride & Prejudice is the author's best work, having a more light-hearted tone than found here and with characters that are overall more endearing and fully developed, but this novel is still highly entertaining and a must read for lovers of 18th-19th century English literature.

As an aside, I can also state that the movie version, starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant, is also very enjoyable and worth watching, although I feel that Ms. Thompson and Mr. Grant were miscast in their parts. But Kate Winslet is charming and the adaptation first-rate.

Challenges: 18th and 19th Century Women Writers; 999 ("1001 Books"); (Another) 1% Well-Read; Classics Challenge; Guardian 1000 Novels ("Love"); TBR Lite

Well-Rounded Challenge 2009

Teddy from So Many Precious Books, So Little Time has graciously agreed to host this challenge this year. The goal is to help us finish some of the book challenges that we are participating in. Here's how it works:

There are 5 months left for the year, so we will read a total of 5 books, each one for a different challenge. If you are not in 5 different challenges then read at least one book for each challenge that you are in.

*Any combination of challenges works and you can change them at any time.
*You must be signed up with the other challenges.
*You may listen to eAudio, cassette tapes or compact discs.
*You may not read all five books from the same challenge.
*You don't have to blog or write a review (but you can if you want to). Please use Mr. Linky at Teddy's blog to link to your reviews.
*Even if a challenge begins after August 1st you may use it for this challenge.
*Even if a challenge ends after 12/31/09 you may use it for this challenge.
*Sign-ups begin now and run through 9/1/2009. Please use Mr. Linky at Teddy's challenge post to sign up for this challenge.
*Have Fun!

I am so in for this one! I've got several challenges that I'm determined to finish and this will help give me that extra "oomph" I need. My five books and challenges for this will be:

1. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the Another 1% Well-Read Challenge -- completed 11/8/09; review
2. March by Geraldine Brooks for Book Awards III
3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton for the Classics Challenge -- completed 8/2/09; review
4. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik for the Summer Vacation Reading Challenge -- completed 8/15/09; review
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston for the What's in a Name? 2 Challenge

Monday, July 20, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - July 20

I had another good week and am enjoying my current books very much. And I finished a challenge this week, yeah me!! My biggest problem is that I can't read fast enough to get through all the books that I want to read. We'll be going on vacation soon and I hope to get lots of quality reading time in while I'm gone.

Recent completions:

Reading this week:

Up next:

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 6/10
18th and 19th Century Women Writers: 3/5
A to Z Challenge: 21/26
Baker Street Challenge: 0/4
Book Awards 3: 0/5
Chunkster: 1/3
Classics Challenge: 2/6
Decades '09: 7/9
Dewey Decimal: 10/10 ***COMPLETE
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 2/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 2/10
Nonfiction 5: 3/5
Orbis Terrarum: 7/10
Summer Vacation Reading: 3/6
Support Your Local Library: 26/50
TBR Lite: 4/6
What's in a Name 2: 3/6

999 Challenge (overall): 49/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 5/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 2/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 6/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 2/9

  • Biographies: 6/9

  • Travel: 7/9

  • Catholicism: 5/9

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***COMPLETE

Sunday, July 19, 2009

GodStories by Andrew Wilson

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 edition (July 1, 2009)


Andrew Wilson holds degrees in theology from Cambridge University and London School of Theology. His passion is to communicate the extraordinary truths of God. Andrew teaches internationally and is an elder at Kings Church Eastbourne in the UK, where he leads training and development. Andrew is also the author of Incomparable: Explorations in the Character of God, and lives with his wife Rachel and their newborn baby Ezekiel in the UK.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765393
ISBN-13: 978-1434765390



Several years ago in Northern Nigeria, Emily was strung up on a tree and left for dead because she had epilepsy.1 Her tribal village had no idea what epilepsy was, let alone how to cope with it, so they tied her up and left her there, waiting for her to die from starvation or exposure. Just before she did, Daniel arrived with a small team to preach the gospel and plant a church. Horrified, he immediately cut down the young girl from the tree and put her under a doctor’s care. Then he and his team began explaining the gospel to the villagers.

Daniel has paid a price for his zeal. He, his wife, and his children have experienced pretty much every suffering you can have for preaching the good news: robbery, rape, physical beatings, death threats, the lot. But that hasn’t stopped him. In fact, from the little I have seen, his sufferings have increased his determination to establish churches and train leaders.

But as people in the village started responding to the gospel, Daniel and his team were able to plant a small church, and then build a school to educate the children. Daniel understood GodStories, you see. He had gone to the village in the first place because he knew the GodStory of world mission. He knew that he would face serious persecution for preaching the gospel, but he knew the GodStory of Christ’s suffering and was prepared to share it. When he got there, he preached GodStories about the gospel of God concerning his Son, victory over demons, and the death of death. He started bringing healthcare and education to the community because he knew GodStories about God’s kingdom, man in his image, and the renewal of creation. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the results firsthand: There is a thriving church in the village, nearly two hundred children at school every day (their English grammar is better than mine!), and Emily is still alive. Because of Daniel’s conviction that the gospel story is amazing, hope has conquered despair in that community.

And he certainly won’t stop preaching GodStories. Maybe it’s because he knows how they all end.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The point of this book is to convince you that the gospel is amazing. It’s aimed at anyone who wants to understand the good news of what God has done: teenagers, caretakers, businesspeople, full-time mothers, artists. Knowing the gospel is the foundation for worship and mission, so the only thing we’re going to do in this book is explore the beautiful, triumphant, often-heartbreaking, and always-glorious stories that make up the gospel of God. I call them GodStories.

It’s a funny word, and you won’t find it in the dictionary. But my guess is that the idea of looking at a gospel through stories will excite lots of people. Perhaps you see theology as a rabbit warren of concepts without narratives, a series of points and principles and theories that take all the best bits (like characters and plot twists and heroism) out of the Bible, and leave behind a slightly inedible result, like eating cereal without milk or playing Scrabble without vowels. To you, the fact that this book is made up of stories—and, far more importantly, the fact that God’s gospel is made up largely of stories—should be encouraging. It will certainly increase your enjoyment of theology.

You see, just as we have one God in three persons and one church made up of many people, so in Scripture we have one gospel made up of many stories. We have one gospel, for sure: a single, unifying, big story about God and creation, man and sin, Jesus and rescue. But we also have many different ways of telling that big story because it is too large for us to grasp all at once. Even the quick summaries in the Bible itself—“your God reigns,” “the kingdom of God is near,” “God raised Jesus from the dead,” and “Christ died for our sins”—give different angles on the one big story. So seeing the many GodStories in the one gospel does not reduce that gospel in glory or splendor. Quite the opposite—it dramatically increases it.

This is true of all sorts of big stories, not just the gospel. Imagine that, instead of writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien decided to simplify things into a sentence: “Frodo and Sam left the Shire with the ring, faced a number of setbacks, and finally destroyed it in Mount Doom to save Middle Earth.” His summary would, in one sense, tell the same story, but it would be dramatically reduced in power and impact, and would probably not have sold millions of copies and been turned into three blockbuster films. The Lord of the Rings is about two hobbits and a ring, but it is also about the flight of the elves, the destruction of the forests, the corruption of mankind, the battles for Rohan and Gondor, the return of the king, and the influence the ring has on all of them. So when we read all those other stories, it adds to our understanding of the plot with Frodo and the ring, because it shows us the significance of the main story through its impact on all the others. The same is true of the gospel. But the process is far more important, for three reasons.

GodStories and the Glory of God

The first and biggest reason we must read these stories is because the glory of God is at stake. This is vital. If the Bible is stuffed full of GodStories but we tell only one of them, we lose much of the depth and wonder of the gospel, and that diminishes our view of God, just as it would diminish my view of Gordon Ramsay’s cooking if I ate only his steamed vegetables.

If, for example, we saw the gospel simply as a story of personal salvation, we would limit its scope enormously and rob God of the praise that is due to him. Such a view would miss out on the salvation of a corporate people and would find very little place for the history of Israel, which so much of the Bible is about. It would marginalize God’s faithfulness to his covenant and his multicolored wisdom in the church. And it would ignore the fact that Scripture speaks of the whole of creation, not just human souls, being made new. So reducing the gospel to only a story of personal salvation is like playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the recorder. The melody might be the same, but much of the music’s power is lost, and the brilliance of the composer is missed.

Yet, as with music, God’s excellence is shown not just in creating new storylines, but in fusing them together so that they enhance one another. Queen brings two melodies together to form a harmony, but Yahweh weaves dozens of GodStories—Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and many others—into one another so intricately that when Jesus finally arrives on the scene, you want to stand amazed and applaud with excitement. Composers frequently write notes that clash with one another to present an unusual sound, but God allows entire plotlines to clash for generations and then get explained with a twist you would never have predicted (a servant king, for instance). Queen leaves their final chord sequence unresolved for several seconds, but God leaves Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 unresolved for several centuries before uniting them at the cross with unimaginable power and beauty. So to grasp more of the glory of God, we need to appreciate the range and depth of the gospel, by studying as many of its component stories as possible. More than anything else, the reason for writing a book full of GodStories is to remind us how astonishing and faithful and glorious and worthy of worship is the God who wrote them.

This could not be more important. If God’s glory is infinite, and my concept of him is not, then I never stop needing an increased understanding of his greatness. Furthermore, that greatness is many-sided, like a massive mountain; there is nowhere in creation I could stand and see the whole of Mount Kilimanjaro at once, far less the glory of Yahweh. So I need there to be a whole host of pictures to reveal different angles of what he has done and how it fits together. Fortunately, by his grace, this is exactly the sort of Bible he has inspired.

Scripture contains something to inspire worship in everyone. To the philosopher, there are GodStories of riddles and revelation, inquiry and truth. To the historian, there is an array of events covering thousands of years and numerous civilizations. To the architect, there are descriptions of temples being established and cities being rebuilt. To the artist, there are GodStories of beauty triumphing over ugliness, order over chaos, new creation over stagnation. For the romantic, there is a tale of a complicated relationship with a wonderful man that ends happily ever after; for the action-film fanatic, a story of a hero rescuing the love of his life and saving the world against impossible odds.2 There are genealogies for the tribesman, visions for the mystics, and arguments for the intellectuals. And displaying his glory in every one of these GodStories is Yahweh, the I AM, the maker of heaven, and earth and the rescuer of all things. Reading all of these stories will give us a bigger and better view of him.

GodStories and the Rescue of People

The second reason that we need to know these GodStories is because people’s eternal destinies are at stake. After all, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), and preaching the gospel remains one of the highest callings of every Christian. Without the gospel, people cannot be saved. So it is vital that we know what the gospel actually is and how to communicate it in ways people understand.

Everyone agrees with that sentence, I’m sure. But read it again, because it is more difficult than it sounds: It is vital to know what the gospel is and how to communicate it in ways people understand. Many churches are great at half of this but neglect the other half. Some churches know the gospel inside out but put a lot of religious or cultural baggage on it, and are therefore not very effective at communicating it to a pluralist and largely pagan culture. On the other hand, there are churches who have gotten very good at using culture to communicate the gospel but have in the process lost sight of what they were supposed to be communicating. To be effective missionaries to our culture, we need to have fixed theology and flexible culture—strong on what the gospel is, but communicating it without adding religious clutter to it—or, more eloquently, “reaching out without selling out.”3

Paul is a great model. No one could accuse Paul of not knowing the gospel or of being scared to preach it. The scars on his back and welts on his face from being stoned and flogged would see to that. Yet he used a wide range of GodStories to communicate the gospel, depending on his setting.

To the Jews in Damascus, he proved that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 9:22). To the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, he preached forgiveness of sins and freedom from the law through Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 13:16–41). To the pagans in Lystra, he spoke of the creator God who showed his presence by giving them crops and good weather (Acts 14:14–17). To the pagans in Athens, he proclaimed an independent God who did not need serving and who would one day judge the world (Acts 17:22–31). To King Agrippa and Festus, he shared his personal testimony (Acts 26:1–23). So, although we know from Romans that Paul was utterly convinced of justification by faith, redemption, and being in Christ, we know from Acts that these weren’t always the GodStories he started with or stuck to when preaching to unbelievers. Others, equally true, were often more appropriate to his audience.

In none of this are we saying the gospel needs to change. That would be a terrible mistake because it puts the desires of man above the desires of God, which is idolatry. What we are saying is that there are numerous GodStories in Scripture, and it might be that the best way of saving some of God’s image-bearers is to start our preaching with a slightly different GodStory to the ones we are used to. The main planks of the gospel—a loving God, fallen humanity, rescue through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and so on—will never alter. But how we nail the planks together might.

GodStories and the Health of the Church

The third and final reason for writing GodStories is partly a product of the first two: The health of the church is on the line. At one level, this is obvious: If the church isn’t worshipping God properly or reaching the world with the gospel, then it is a waste of space and time. There is more to it than that, however. Again and again, in the pages of the New Testament, we find writers contending for the gospel because they care about the church.

To the Galatians, Paul reinforces GodStories about being justified by faith apart from the law, and about Jews and Gentiles being one in Christ.4 The Corinthians, on the other hand, seem to understand that, but need a strong reminder about Christ being crucified, their sanctification, and the bodily resurrection. First John focuses on the incarnation GodStory more than others. Hebrews tells us about the priesthood of Jesus and the superiority of Christ to the major Jewish symbols. In none of these cases is evangelism the point. Instead, a failure to understand these various GodStories leads to division and sexual immorality and false teaching and backsliding, respectively. So the health of the church depends on understanding the fullness of the gospel.

The gospel is not just for guest meetings or open airs, as you would think to hear us sometimes, but for the people of God. The outstanding explanation of the gospel in Romans, remember, was written to Christians; Paul tells Timothy to preach the word to his church until he’s blue in the face (2 Tim. 4:2); and Paul’s aim to visit the capital of the world was generated by a desire to preach the gospel amongst the church there (Rom. 1:15). If preaching the gospel to the church means simply reiterating the call to repent and be saved every week, then it is no wonder that so many preachers (and listeners) struggle. But if it means explaining to the church the full extent and scope of the GodStories in Scripture, then you could preach for a lifetime and never repeat yourself.

Thank God that there are so many to go round. If you’re in an introverted community of mature Christians, you can study the mission of God. If you love seeing people saved but you aren’t quite sure what to do with them when they are, you can look at freedom from sin. Frustrated artists can look at God’s beauty; frustrated activists, his justice. If you don’t get the Old Testament, then you can look under every verse and every rock until you find Christ. If you get only the Old Testament, then see how all of God’s promises are now yes and amen. Whoever you are, wherever you’re reading this, you can find a GodStory that will expand your view of God and revel in it. Then you can experience the joy of sharing it, in a culturally appropriate way, with someone who doesn’t know it yet. The world has nothing in comparison.

So we need to know and preach and live the gospel. The good news that shines through every GodStory will bring us closer into worship, push us further into mission, and draw us closer into community—face down, flat out, all in. This book is just an introduction to a few of them. But they might change your life all the same.

GodStories usually do.


1. The names of the people in this story have been changed.

2. Adapted from David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2005), 15.

3. This phrase is the subtitle of Mark Driscoll’s excellent book on the subject, Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004).

4. If, that is, we recognize that Galatians might tell more than one GodStory at once, rather than (as sometimes happens) playing them off against each other. For an excellent explanation of how we can and should embrace both these GodStories together, see Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Daughter of China by Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann

Title: Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal

Author: Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann

First Published: 1999

No. of Pages: 349

Synopsis (from B&N): "Here is the stunning true tale of a remarkable woman trained as an elite soldier in the Chinese army, her forbidden love for an American, and her seemingly impossible escape - with his help - from the nation to which she had pledged her life. An astonishing testament to the enduring resilience of love and the human spirit in the face of even the most oppressive, hopeless conditions, Daughter of China offers a compelling look at life inside the rigid walls of Communist China, revealing in fascinating detail Meihong Xu's inculcation into the system - a process so effective that she would willingly betray a friend or family member to prove her loyalty. Written with clear-eyed candor and stark eloquence, Daughter of China is at once a timeless, deeply moving story of a prohibited love affair and a dramatic depiction of life under Chinese Communism."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I had a very difficult time getting into this book. It provides an interesting look at life in Communist China but somehow the writing style just didn't grab me. It's not bad, it just doesn't quite flow. I know that's not terribly descriptive and I apologize, I just can't quite put my finger on what isn't right. The book is a joint effort and I wonder if that is part of the problem. Also, Ms. Xu was not brought up to be a writer and, despite being trained in English as part of her military training, has only been in the U.S. for 10+ years, so maybe what I feel is lacking in the book is only a cultural difference combined with a first-time writer's normal issues.

However, like I stated above, the book is interesting despite the problems. I've read books about life in Communist Russia before, but have never read one about growing up in modern China. The inclusion of the author's family history along with her own was a useful inclusion, as it provided additional insight into her life. I came to care about the author and hoped for a happy ending to her story.

Challenges: 999 ("Biography"); A to Z (author "X"); Orbis Terrarum 2 (China); Support Your Local Library

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dewey Decimal Challenge complete

Here's the books I ended up reading for this challenge, along with links to my reviews:

000 - Generalities: The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen -- completed 2/13/09; review here

100 - Philosophy and Psychology: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein -- completed 5/1/09; review here

200 - Religion: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer -- completed 1/27/09; review here

300 - Social Sciences: Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope by Shirin Ebadi -- completed 5/29/09; review here

400 - Language: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester -- completed 3/9/09; review here

500 - Natural Sciences + Math: The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier -- completed 6/19/09; review here

600 - Technology: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell -- completed 2/24/09; review here

700 - The Arts: Outline of English Architecture by A. H. Gardner -- completed 7/14/09; review here

800 - Literature and Rhetoric: Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson by Adam Sisman -- completed 7/11/09; review here

900 - Geography and History: Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country by Joe Queenan -- completed 1/21/09; review here