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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Transformation Study Bible

Legendary Clarity

Acclaimed Pastor Brings Experience, Wisdom to Transformation Study Bible

Dallas/Fort Worth, TX—As pastors seek to make the Word of God more understandable in an age that is unfamiliar with the Bible, and as growing disciples seek to discover the truth of Scripture in a skeptical culture, there is a great need for guidance in both the preaching and study of God’s Word. Whether you’re a pastor, a seminary student, or a truth-seeking disciple, an understanding of the Bible can be made clear to you with the help of one of the most influential, in-depth, and practical Bible scholars in modern history.

For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. According to Dr. Wiersbe, “It isn’t enough for us simply to read assigned portions of the Bible each day, as helpful as that is. A truly transforming experience involves meditating on what we read (Ps. 1:2), studying it carefully in the light of other verses, and then obeying what God tells us to do (Josh. 1:8).” Now available for the first time, The Transformation Study Bible offers the full text of the highly readable New Living Translation with accompanying notes and commentary from the 50 books in Dr. Wiersbe’s “Be” series.

The Transformation Study Bible will better enable readers to appreciate, appropriate, and apply the Word of God, which will result in ‘purity, joy, right values, hope, comfort, freedom, new life, peace, guidance, wisdom, integrity, encouragement, and effective prayer,’” states Wiersbe. In other words, if you want to be a new person, knowing and obeying the will of God and becoming more like Jesus Christ, there is perhaps no finer tool to encourage that process than The Transformation Study Bible.

One of the most anticipated and comprehensive study Bibles of the year, The Transformation Study Bible has been a lifetime in the making by a man who is widely known as a prolific and trusted writer and theologian. The former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, an internationally known Bible teacher, and someone who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Wiersbe lends his vast experience and scholarly insight to the most beloved and revered book of all time. This effort is to encourage believers of all levels to know and love the Bible and to experience the same transformation that has radically changed his life. The result is a Bible that is clear, understandable, and applicable to the lives of its readers.

Dr. Wiersbe writes, “The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God. When you feed your heart and mind with its truth, you regain your perspective and find renewed strength.” By providing a new set of tools for Bible students of all levels, David C Cook and Warren Wiersbe have partnered to provide an essential tool to help bring the “perspective” and “renewed strength” that comes from a life transforming study of God’s Word. This fantastic and long awaited resource will bring more clarity than ever before to the study of God’s Word.

The Transformation Study Bible with General Editor Warren Wiersbe

David C Cook September 1, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1434765307/2100 pages/$24.99

My Review

I have been using this Bible for several weeks and speak from experience when I say that it's wonderful for general reading and devotional study. I've always loved Warren Wiersbe's "Be" books and have benefited from his spiritual insights for many years. To have notes from all 50 "Be" books incorporated into this Bible makes for rich reading and provides biblical truths in a refreshing way from a trusted voice of experience.

I must confess that the NLT is not my favorite Bible version, but several pastor friends have spoken highly of the version in gaining a better grasp of passages in everyday English. The more I read, the more I like the version and am seeing things in Scripture I never saw before due to difficult, obscure language. While I still prefer word-for-word literal translations, the NLT is a great aid to comprehension. Sometimes just seeing a passage worded in a slightly different way (but with the same meaning) gives Scripture a freshness it might typically lack. Complemented by Wiersbe's powerful reflections, you really can't lose as far as comprehension, which then leads of course to spiritual benefit. I've been carrying the Bible to church with me over the last few weeks and have enjoyed seeing how this Bible has been helpful during preaching services. A long fan of Wiersbe's books, I'm particularly looking forward to the benefits of using this Bible for many years to come.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Review of Lost Mission

Lost Mission: A Novel Lost Mission: A Novel by Athol Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I had read The Cure and River Rising by Athol Dickson—and loved them, so I was looking forward to Lost Mission. Once again the writing was superb, the characters fascinating, and the storyline engaging with one exception. Spanish history and Mexican culture have never appealed to me, so the historical storyline was a bit challenging to get through, though Dickson deserves special notice for how deftly he wove in a past storyline involving Catholic monks establishing a mission in old-time California. I must admit that I sometimes found myself wanting to skip these parts and just get back to the modern storyline. It just wasn't an interesting storyline for me. Mexican culture is pretty foreign, so I couldn't really appreciate much of the local color.

This well-written and often poetic novel raises complex ethical and spiritual issues that make readers think. He tackles illegal immigration and appears to be sympathetic toward it by the fact that Lupe, the main character, is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Tucker, who is running his own mission, takes water to the desert to help illegals who may be crossing the desert to California. Another theme has to do with mega churches who seek to separate themselves from the world, especially from illegal immigrants, and live in their own utopia. It's clear that these churches, overflowing with wealth, aren't doing enough to reach out to those who truly need help, even the basics like food and clothing. The complex issues are thought provoking and make the reader grapple with the moral dilemma of reaching out to people who according to our laws shouldn't even be in our country.

One aspect of the novel that disappointed me was Dickson's sympathetic treatment of Catholicism. Catholic doctrine does not embrace the true gospel due to its works-based salvation. Yet the novel's main character is Catholic at the beginning and Catholic at the end; she even "preaches" to those who need to hear the truth, yet I'm baffled as to what that truth could be. If she's a devout Catholic, she doesn't personally possess the truth of grace alone by faith alone. If I personally met a Lupe who loved God and wanted to serve Him, I would first challenge her faith to be sure she wasn't depending on works for salvation. If she did depend on grace alone, then I would have strongly encouraged her to leave the Catholic Church. The novel is highly sympathetic toward Catholics, a disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong: I love Catholics, but I want them all to experience saving grace alone by faith alone. I kept hoping that Tucker or someone would probe Lupe's faith and tell her the truth about Catholic false teachings, but no one does.

In the end, the novel is superbly written and often poetic, and the complex modern storyline kept me reading. But due to complex and controversial issues that deserved a clear biblical answer, I felt divided over the novel's final message. Athol's message is clear that mega churches that seek to separate from the world and ignore those who need help are bad and that Christians who run a small mission and help illegal aliens are good. In the end, neither those who run the mega church are completely wrong, and neither are those who help illegal aliens completely right. Still, Lost Mission was a fascinating, if not tragic, read. Athol presents some of the best writing I've ever seen in Christian fiction, and I'll certainly read him again.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Battle Ready by Steve Farrar

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:

Battle Ready: Prepare to Be Used by God

David C. Cook (2009)


Steve Farrar is the founder and chairman of Men’s Leadership Ministries, an organization dedicated to equipping men for spiritual leadership. He is a frequent speaker at men’s events and conferences across the country and is the best-selling author of God Built and Point Man. Steve and his family reside in the Dallas, Texas area.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 256
Publisher: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1434768694
ISBN-13: 9781434768698


Battle Ready

Chapter One

Hard Times

“I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.” --Andrew Jackson

These are the times that try men's souls.”

Thomas Paine penned those words in 1776 in a pamphlet he titled “Crisis.”

It was an appropriate title for his day. The young American colonies certainly faced a great crisis, feeling the oppressive weight of the English king and his invading army. Men who spoke out for freedom found themselves in serious danger.

Take Joseph Warren, for example. Gathering his courage, he dared to speak out about the situation his country was in. And for so doing, he was beheaded by British officers at Bunker Hill, who then presented his head to their commanding general.1

I am writing these words on December 1, 2008. Never in my fifty-nine years on this earth have I seen so many men so deeply troubled. It is accurate to say once again, “These are the times that try men's souls.”

Joshua and Caleb, two heroes from the pages of the Bible, will figure prominently in this book. But I'm not going to start with Joshua and Caleb. I'm going to begin with Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Contrary to popular opinion, Samuel Adams did not run a brewery. And John Hancock did not sell life insurance.

These men were both friends of Joseph Warren, and like Warren, they were not afraid to speak out against tyranny. They knew very well that they could be beheaded just as Warren had been. But that fact did not curb their tongues or their pens. In fact, when the British general Thomas Gage attempted to quell the revolution and offered amnesty to every man in the colonies who would lay down his weapon, two men, and two men only, were excluded from the offer of amnesty and forgiveness. Those two men were Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These two bold leaders would not be forgiven under any circumstances--so great was their opposition to the king and their influence in the colonies.

Samuel Adams was the most popular columnist in all of New England, and John Hancock may have been the wealthiest man in all of Massachusetts. Though differing widely in personality and style, these men had something profound in common that formed the bedrock of their friendship: They were deeply committed to Jesus Christ and His inspired Word. That's what made them the Joshua and Caleb of their generation. They were absolutely fearless in the face of a giant invading army and the world's largest navy. But the foundation of their courage was their hope and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was their Father, their Foundation, and their Hope.

Even as other men wilted under pressure and feared for their very lives, Adams and Hancock stood firm. Don't imagine it was an easy thing to do; it's never easy to hold the line when you live in soul-trying times.

Our Times

In the course of my ministry, I have had the privilege of speaking to men all across the country. And it's very clear to me as I interact with men that once again “these are the times that try men's souls.”

If there is a verse that speaks to the condition of men in our day and time, I believe it is Psalm 42:5 (NASB):

Why are you in despair [sunk down], O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence [saving acts].

Everywhere across our land men are discouraged and depressed-- and some verging on outright despair. So let's answer the question of the psalmist. Notice that he is talking to himself instead of listening to himself. When we are panicked and fearful, we are listening to ourselves--listening to the killing worries and anxieties that fuel our negative imaginations like a windblown forest fire. The psalmist, however, attempting to fight off the fear that has become epidemic in his heart and mind, speaks to himself instead of listening to himself.

In the process, he asks himself a significant question:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?”

If most men today were to answer that question, I believe their answer would center in a fearful giant named “Uncertainty.” This giant, of course, has been around since the beginning of time, sometimes more visible and sometimes less. In recent days, however, it has been stalking our land with a vengeance. Why? Because …

there is giant uncertainty over the meltdown of the economy; and
there is giant uncertainty over the breakdown of the nation.

The Meltdown of the Economy

It's difficult to pick up a newspaper or news magazine without getting hints about the possibility of another Great Depression. For nearly a decade, we had a remarkable run of prosperity and economic growth. Jobs have been plentiful, salaries rising, and people have had the time and leisure to travel and indulge in a delicious assortment of personal luxuries.

But then in a matter of months, everything began to fall apart.

Gigantic financial institutions and banks began to collapse, and people began to panic. The real-estate market across the nation began to nosedive, and once-staid-and-stable firms began to issue pinks slips like candy. One headline from the September 18, 2008, edition of the Wall Street Journal sums it all up: Worst Crisis Since 30's, With No End In Sight.2

The prosperity and financial growth had all seemed so certain. But we have come to realize that it was an illusion. Of course, we should have known that all along. Note the words of 1 Timothy 6:17 (NASB): “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

Did you catch that? Those who are rich in this present world (and that would be the vast majority of Americans compared to the rest of the world) are not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches.

Quite frankly, most of us have been living as though the riches were certain--living as though the prosperity wouldn't end, as though real estate would keep going up forever, as though our jobs would always be secure. The average American felt like he was bulletproof when it came to his prosperity. And this is why so many are now depressed and in despair. Now, many who were close to retirement will never see retirement. They have simply lost too much in the market, and there's just not enough time to make it all back.

The Breakdown of the Nation

There is a sense in this country that things are spiraling out of control, not just economically but also politically and socially. You can feel the tremors, as the foundations of American law and government are being shaken to the core. This includes a raging current of anti-Christian bias flowing through our courts, universities, and media.

In the recent economic bailout, fundamental principles of democracy and commerce were thrown away in a matter of days. It was all done out of panic and fear. And once the government gets more power, it is not prone to give it back at a later date. What it takes--it keeps.

And that changes everything.

Back in the 1970s, I remember hearing the great Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer talk about the direction that America was headed. Schaeffer said he believed America would eventually wind up as a dictatorship, and he wasn't sure if it would come from the right or the left. It was Schaeffer's opinion that some great calamity and crisis would threaten the well-being of the average American. It would be of such a magnitude that people would willingly give up their rights if they could be promised just two things: personal peace and affluence. And if personal peace and affluence would be guaranteed, they would immediately accept an elite dictator who would sweep away their blood-bought freedoms without a second thought. Perhaps we are not too far from that scenario--or perhaps that scenario won't occur at all. No one on this side of heaven knows for sure.

But there is no question that we are in deep decline. You have heard of the rise and fall of great nations. We know in our hearts that we are not only falling--we are free-falling. And nobody seems to have a parachute.

In my previous book, God Built, I referred to the work of Sir John Glubb. In 1976, he wrote an essay titled “The Fate of Empires.” Glubb put forth his theory that great empires rarely survive more than 250 years.3

The Nation/Dates/Time in Years

Assyria/859-612 BC/247

Persia/538-330 BC/208

Greece/331-100 BC/231

Roman Republic/260-27 BC/233

Roman Empire/27 BC-AD 180 207

Arab Empire/AD 634-880/246

Mameluke Empire/1250-1517/267

Ottoman Empire/1320-1517/250


Romanov Russia/1682-1916/234


We are not so concerned for ourselves as we are for our children and grandchildren. They are living in an America that is a far cry from the one that previous generations knew.

So this is why so many men in America who look at life through the lens of Scripture and history are fighting off depression and despair. When one looks at the economic meltdown along with the national breakdown, one sees we are facing a future that is nothing short of a gigantic uncertainty.

Battle Ready_INT-P2.indd 16

Is there any hope?

Yes, there is.

And it's right in the text of Psalm 42:5 (NASB):

Why are you in despair [sunk down], O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence [saving acts].

Triple Shot of Hope

As the psalmist continues to talk himself out of depression, he reminds himself about God. Because God exists and because of His great attributes, the psalmist tells himself that he will again praise God for the help of His presence. And when God is present, He saves His people. All is not lost-- God is in absolute control.

The source of our depression these days is gigantic uncertainty about the economy and the future of the nation. But there are three certainties that form the (true) foundation of our hope:

The certainty of providence

The certainty of the promises

The certainty of the plan

In our times of giant uncertainty about the economy and our nation, those three certainties are nothing less than a triple shot--not of espresso, but of hope.

The Certainty of Providence

The providence of God simply means that God will provide; He will give you what you need when you need it. He will sustain you and keep you going. Ron Mehl used to say that God worked the night shift. What he meant by that was that grocery stores restock every twenty-four hours, and that restock takes place during the night shift. If you walk into a grocery store at two in the morning, it looks like mass chaos. Boxes litter the aisles, and employees run here and there, working feverishly to put product on the shelves. All of this goes on when 98 percent of the neighborhood is asleep. So even while you're sleeping, someone is working to restock the store so that whatever you need in the morning will be there. Maybe at 9:30 p.m. aisle 12 was out of raisins. But at 7:00 the next morning the shelves on aisle 12 will be loaded with raisin boxes, all in neat order and fully synchronized display. The raisins are ready and waiting before you ever need them.5

God works the night shift and the day shift. He never sleeps. His eye is constantly upon you. He knows everything about you. He knows your worries, your pressures, and how much money (to the penny) that you will need to survive until the moment you die. And He will provide that money at exactly the right time.

Let me give you a verse that will Advil your anxiety.

Psalm 103:19 (NASB) states that …

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.

Now who sits on a throne? A king sits on a throne. God is King over everything--no exceptions. This great God is King who sits in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. What is sovereignty? Sovereignty is control. Control of what?


He's in control of everything--even evil. He's never the author of evil because His character is holy--absolutely pure and flawless. But He controls evil and uses evil for His purposes--for the good of His people and the glory of His name. I know that's a stretch to think about, but the Bible strongly declares that He is in control of all things--including evil. Solomon put it like this:

The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. (Prov. 16:4 NASB)

How can God do that and still be good? I don't know, and I can't explain it. I can't begin to understand how that works, and neither can you. But that is what the Bible teaches. Psalm 119:68 says that the Lord is good and does good. So this good and great God is the King of the entire world and all of the universes. He spoke them all into existence. He created them, and He owns them. And catch this--He keeps them going. He sustains everything within His creation and keeps it all together. Hebrews 1:3 (NASB) states that the Lord Jesus continuously “upholds all things by the word of His power.” That means He keeps it all going--including you and your family, regardless of the strength of the economy.

He is your King and He is your Banker. His providence will keep you provisioned and sustained.

The Heidelberg Catechism was compiled in 1563. A catechism is simply a summary of the teaching of Scripture on a particular question. A catechism asks a question and then provides the biblical answer. And the section on providence is crystal clear:

Question 27. What dost thou mean by the providence of God?

Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

Question 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?

Answer: That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.6

In a nutshell, that's what the Bible teaches about the providence of God.

He's in control of everything from the watermelon crop in south Texas to the price of gas in Omaha. Good economies and bad economies are under His control--along with everything else inside and outside the universe.

So let's go back to the giant uncertainties we face--the frightening meltdown of the economy and the ongoing breakdown of our beloved nation. Is our great God in control of all of these things? Yes. Will He take care of us and our families regardless of what occurs? Yes. And how do we know that? Because of His promises--and He is the God who cannot lie. Therefore, His promises are certain. And we have hope as we face the future.

The Certainty of the Promises

In Matthew 6:25, the Lord Jesus gave a staggering command: Don't worry about your life.

The problem is, most of us live as though He never said any such thing. We do worry about our lives; we worry all the time.

So what are we going to do with these words of the Lord Jesus? “Don't worry.” What does He mean by that? Does He mean we're never even to take note of and consider what's transpiring around us? Does He mean that thinking ahead and planning wisely don't really matter?

No. That's not what He means. What He does mean is that we shouldn't worry ourselves sick over what might happen. Why not? Because He has made some promises to us, and He wants us to take them seriously. He wants us to believe those promises so that we don't become overwhelmed.

The promises and the providence of God are the keys to mental health. Without them, you have no hope. But when we live off them, we are more than conquerors. My Father is watching over my life--that's why I don't have to worry about it. Now that's either true or it isn't--and if it isn't, you're in more trouble than you can comprehend. But it is true. He's your Father, and He's your Provider.

In the Koran, there are ninety-nine different names for Allah. But not one of them can be translated as Father.7 Matthew 6 contains thirty-four verses, and in those thirty-four verses the Lord Jesus refers to the Father twelve times.

You have a Father who is the sovereign God, in control of all things. And He has made some promises to you that His providence guarantees. Note the promise of Matthew 6:25-34 (NASB):

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!

Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Your Father knows that you need all of these things. And He has the power to provide all things to you at the moment you need them. This is the promise to those who seek Him first. And it is the reason that the Lord Jesus told us, “Don't worry about your life.” Grasp this truth and you will have massive hope instead of depression. But the moment you forget your Father is the moment you begin the downward spiral all over again.

The Certainty of the Plan

God has a plan for the ages. History is going somewhere. The world is under control even though it looks like things are out of control.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, gives a fairly detailed overview of the events that will take place at the end of the age, ushering in the return of Jesus Christ. There will be a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. There will be a final battle at Armageddon. And there will be a charismatic leader who will unite the world and stand against the kingdom of God. Scripture calls this individual the “Antichrist.”

God has revealed His plan for the ages to His prophets. One of those men was Daniel. When God revealed to Daniel what He was going to do in the last days, it made Daniel deeply alarmed in his spirit (Dan. 7:13). And the more God revealed, the more alarmed Daniel became (v. 28). As God pulled back the curtain of time and showed His servant more and more of His plan for the ages, Daniel was so overwhelmed by what he saw that he became physically ill and exhausted (8:27). At a later time, after he was given still more insight into the plan of God, he went into mourning for three weeks (10:2).

This is why so many of us are troubled. We know that God has a plan for the ages, and we have studied the prophecies. And those of us who have looked carefully into that plan can't help noting that the United States cannot be found in the last days of biblical prophecy. Yes, we're the big boys on the block right now, but apparently something happens to us that removes us as a major player. What will happen? Nobody knows for sure, because Scripture doesn't give us the details. But it's safe to say that in the rise and fall of great nations, the United States will suffer some kind of major calamity or collapse that will drastically minimize our role on the world scene. Or maybe we just die a slow death as a result of suffocating socialism. No one on earth knows for sure what is going to happen to our nation. But we do know that something is going to happen to drastically minimize our influence.

And when we think about these future events--and the hard times that are ahead for our nation--it makes us sick, just as Daniel was sickened by what he saw. It makes us deeply troubled.

In John 14:1-3 (NASB), the Lord Jesus spoke directly to His troubled disciples. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

The Lord Jesus will one day come back to the earth and set up His kingdom forever. This is the culmination of God's certain plan. As believers, we have read the last chapter of the book and know how everything will come out.

Guess what? God wins. And those of us who are trusting in Him win too. It's a magnificent ending followed by an incomprehensible new beginning.

But what about all of the terrible things that will take place between now and the earthly return of the Lord? What shall we do about these things as we move closer and closer to difficult times?

This is where we take our cues from the prophet Jeremiah. God gave Jeremiah the job of declaring His judgment upon the nation of Judah. Right from the get-go, both God and Jeremiah knew the people weren't going to like the message--or the messenger. Hard times were on their way. It had to sicken Jeremiah as it would sicken Daniel. So what was he supposed to do?


Take early retirement?

Move to New Zealand?

God told him exactly what He wanted him to do in Jeremiah 1:17: “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.”

In a day of rapidly approaching hard times, God told Jeremiah to get up, get dressed, and go to work. And we are to do the same. We are not to sit around, paralyzed with fear. We are not to waste our time by letting our imaginations run riot over what might happen to us or our children as America moves further and further away from biblical Christianity. And we are not to spend our time doing detailed studies trying to figure out the identity of the Antichrist. What a waste of precious time and energy!

So what are we to do? Simply stay faithful at our assigned posts. We're to keep showing up, working hard, and trusting in the promises and timing of a God who loves us. We need to stay the course, control our thoughts and imaginations, think biblically, and realize that a good and wise God is working out His good and wise plan. And in the midst of that plan, He will provide exactly what we need at the moment we need it. In other words, we must discipline our minds to focus on what is certain and in concrete.

His providence is certain.

His promises are certain.

And His plan is certain.

Once again, this is why Jesus told us not to worry about our lives. Our Father has us covered.

“But wait a minute!” you may be saying to yourself. “I've been laid off, and I don't have a clue how I'll find another job. I've lost over 40 percent of my retirement savings. My business is barely making it--and I'm the only guy in America who isn't getting a bailout. What do you mean, don't worry about my life? I've already taken a huge financial hit. I have to worry about my life! How in the world am I going to make it? I can't keep taking these financial losses!”

If that's where your thoughts have been in recent days, I'd like to ask you to take a break from the anxiety and go for a little walk with an old friend of mine.

A Lesson from George Müller

One of my favorite books is The Autobiography of George Müller. The subtitle of the book is “A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer.” Müller established an orphanage in England that took care of 120,000 orphans over a period of sixty-three years. The amazing thing about Müller was that he genuinely believed in the providence of God, the promises of God, and the plan of God.

He wanted people to know that God is the living God and that He can be trusted to fulfill His promises. So at the onset of starting his orphanage, Müller determined that he would never ask for money to support his work. Instead, he would simply go to his Father in prayer and tell Him about the needs.

Müller kept a meticulous diary that recorded the needs of the orphanage and the daily balances in the account. He trusted in God alone to meet the financial needs of the orphans, and then he kept careful track of the exact details of God's provisions and answers. As a result, he taught many believers all over the world that they, too, could trust the living God to meet their needs.

On one occasion Müller received a letter from a couple who had sustained a significant financial loss. The vast majority of their assets and cash was gone. They asked Müller for his wisdom on how they should respond to this great burden, which had really set them back on their heels financially.

Müller provided a very unusual diagnosis of their situation. But his “cure” was even more astonishing than his diagnosis. Müller commented that …

a heavy [financial] loss should lead us to pause and ponder, and consider what the Lord's voice to us is in it.

Perhaps the reason is, that we lived too much as owners and possessors, instead of stewards for the Lord, and that, therefore, He was obliged to take part of that, which we possess, from us. If so, let us be benefited by the loss. But suppose this is not the reason; suppose the Lord allowed the loss only to take place for the trial of our faith and patience, yet we should (while meekly bowing, under the hand of God) say to ourselves that the Lord might have taken all, instead of part, and that, therefore, we ought to make good use of our stewardship respecting the means which are still left to us.8

What, then, should this couple do as a result of their loss? How should they respond? George Müller answered that if it were he, he would give a thanks offering to the Lord because the Lord had not taken everything. God was very gracious in that He had only taken a part of their finances when He could have taken everything.

They considered his counsel and then decided to give a thanks offering to the Lord of one hundred pounds--not a small gift at all! Müller then commented on his advice to the couple and the outcome of their decision to give a generous thanks offering:

Well, dear reader, what do you think of this? You think, perhaps, this was very strange. Yes, it was strange, according to the principles of this world; but what will you think when I tell you, that these Christian friends have had that one hundred pounds repaid not merely tenfold, twentyfold, not a hundredfold, but far more than a thousandfold!9

In these days of an economic meltdown--days that try men's souls-- that is a testimony of God's provision that actually lifts your soul. That couple experienced the favor of God nearly 150 years ago, yet that story of God's providence and His promises still brings encouragement to families today. And consider this: What happened through that loss, the sacrificial gift, and the bounty that returned to them as a result were all part of God's plan in the life of this couple.

Did they sustain a major financial loss? Yes.

Do you think they worried about their economic future when they incurred the loss? Of course they did.

Did they follow the advice of a wise Christian man who knew the Lord's faithfulness firsthand? Yes, they did.

In giving a significant thanks offering in the midst of a major loss, did they trust the providence and promises of God? Absolutely.

Did they know what the outcome was going to be? Of course they didn't.

Did they have a clue that you would be reading their story today and finding encouragement for you to trust God in your own financial uncertainty? No, they had no clue you would be reading this 150 years later.

But God did--and it was part of His certain plan.

Are these the times that try men's souls? Absolutely. Is it possible to see the living God still work in a way that will thrill your soul? You know that it is.

I would not be surprised if this husband and wife had, throughout the years of their marriage, prayed and asked God to use them. They were people who obviously loved the Lord and were quick to obey godly counsel. And people like that tend to be people who have a deep-seated desire to be used by God.

That's just what happened. That couple was used by God; their story has given you hope that God will be faithful to you even as He was faithful to them. In the last several minutes, your anxiety level has dramatically decreased, hasn't it?

So the Lord definitely used that man and his wife even today in your own life. Their prayer to be used was answered. But it was part of God's plan that this would all begin with a major financial loss in their lives.

It was a brutally difficult time that tried their souls.

But God was simply setting something up in order to thrill their souls.

If He did it for them as they faced their giant uncertainty, why wouldn't He do it for you?

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Battle Ready by Steve Farrar. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

My Review

Wow, is this a terrific book! I read Farrar's best-seller Point Man a while back and, highly impressed, was eager to read his new book when I saw it was coming out. I wasn't disappointed! So far I'm about half way through—and what a gem of a book this is, and not just for men, even though this is part of his Bold Men of God Series. The first chapter on financial insecurity alone was such an encouragement to my heart (because I was worrying about my personal finances at the time). Amazing timing!

What makes this book a cut above the rest is the way Farrar deftly meshes solid biblical truths, primarily based on the lives of Bible characters Joshua and Caleb, with illustrations from various men, including Charles Darwin, John Jacob Astor, George Washington, Phillip Keller, John Newton, and others. Farrar is a self-confessed lover of biographies, and it shows. He manifests a masterful skill of revealing vital biblical truths and then illustrating those truths from the lives of past famous men. He also isn't afraid to reveal failings and lessons of his own.

This book has been a wonderful inspirational/devotional journey for me, and I'm eager to see what else Farrar has in store as I keep reading. If you must pick one inspirational nonfiction book this year, pick Battle Ready. You won't be disappointed! It's that good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Organizing: Lining Up Your Scenes

Note: Regularly, I get this great E-zine in my e-mail inbox by Randy Ingermanson. The newsletter is always chock-full of great advice for authors. This article I found to be particularly helpful and informative for organizing the scenes in a novel and decided to pass it on. I already use Randy's approach, though I do so in the context of a free computer program called yWriter5. Check this out if you've ever wondered how suspense novelists like me can keep all those pesky scenes organized.

by Randy Ingermanson

One of the hardest parts of organizing a novel is keeping all the scenes straight. Novels typically have 50 to 100 scenes or more. That's a lot to keep track of! Here are some typical problems you'll face in managing all those scenes:

* Deciding what happens in each scene
* Deciding what order to present your scenes
* Deciding how long each scene should be
* Deciding on the point-of-view (POV) character
* Deciding whether to cut a scene
* Deciding how to edit a scene

It's hard to keep all the scenes in your head at one time. In fact, it's probably impossible, since humans are made to keep only a few things in the mind at the same time.

I solve this problem by creating a "scene list" -- a list of all my scenes with key information about each one. You can do this however you like.

The low-tech easy way to do it is by using 3x5 cards. Just write the important information about each scene on one card and then spread them out on the kitchen table or the living room floor.

I prefer to throw more technology at the problem by using spreadsheet software. For our purposes, a simple way to think of a spreadsheet is a list of items, where each item can have several parts.

When I make a scene list, each line in my spreadsheet keeps track of the important information about one scene. Here are some typical things I track:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Don't Wear Those Shoes!

Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones

This week the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing Just Between You And Me (Thomas Nelson, September 1, 2009) by Jenny B. Jones.


I write Christian fiction with a few giggles, quite a bit of sass, and lots of crazy. My novels include the Katie Parker Production series and So Not Happening. I would also like to take credit for Twilight , but somewhere I think I read you’re not supposed to lie.

When I’m not typing my heart out (or checking email), I teach at a super-sized high school in Arkansas.

My students are constantly telling me how my teaching changes their lives and turned them away from drugs, gangs, and C-SPAN.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

Since my current job leaves me with very little free time, I believe in spending my spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as:

-watching E!
-updating my status on Facebook
-catching Will Ferrell on YouTube and
-writing my name in the dust on my furniture

I’d love to hear about you, so drop me a note. Or check me out on Facebook.


The only thing scarier than living on the edge is stepping off it.
Maggie Montgomery lives a life of adventure. Her job as a cinematographer takes her from one exotic locale to the next. When Maggie's not working, she loves to rappel off cliffs or go skydiving. Nothing frightens her.

Nothing, that is, except Ivy, Texas, where a family emergency pulls her back home to a town full of bad memories, painful secrets, and people Maggie left far behind . . . for a reason.

Forced to stay longer than she intended, Maggie finds her family a complete mess, including the niece her sister has abandoned. Ten-year-old Riley is struggling in school and out of control at home. The only person who can really handle the pint-sized troublemaker is Conner, the local vet and Ivy's most eligible bachelor. But Conner and Maggie keep butting heads--he's suspicious of her and, well, she doesn't rely on anyone but herself.

As Maggie humorously fumbles her way from one mishap to another, she realizes she's going to need to ask for help from the one person who scares her the most.

To save one little girl--and herself--can Maggie let go of her fears and just trust God?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Just Between You And Me, go HERE.

My Review

I received this book by accident due to confusion on my part after a blog tour schedule change. It's not the type of novel I typically read or review; I'm more of a suspense reader. However, I will endeavor to give the novel a fair chance down the road and give my impressions here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Facebook Fiction Bloggers Group reviews Fatal Illusions

Today, Sept. 7, through Friday, Sept. 11, several members of the Facebook Fiction Bloggers group are posting reviews about Fatal Illusions. If you're in Facebook, be sure to check it out! Thanks, everybody, for your support.

Here's the first review:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Glenn Beck on Van Jones

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

My Review

I love how Athol Dickson writes! When I read The Cure and Riving Rising, I knew I had found a novelist to adore. Athol's love for the written word is so evident after only a few pages, and his mastery of the language is simply breathtaking. Add to that his skill with characterizations and his ability to weave a suspenseful, intricate plot, and you've got a winning combination.

I must admit that I am about halfway through the novel, so I have yet to see the complete picture. But I can say this: a powerful magnetism has pulled me into this story, and I'm fascinated by it. I must admit that I found the novel initially challenging to get into for several reasons. I have little knowledge of or interest in Mexican/Spanish history or language, and this novel is probably best appreciated by those who live in California and are more understanding of the cultural differences there. For that reason, the story didn't initially grab me, especially with an omniscient author telling the reader a historical story in a rather dry, history-book style. I persevered, and I'm glad I did because now that I'm completely snagged by the story, I won't be putting the novel down. In fact, I'm reading the novel rather breathelessly, wondering what's going to happen next and how this historical tale will connect to the contemporary plot.

Soome content will challenge readers' thinking about the ethics of illegal immigration. Readers will also see a clear message about the corruption found in some mega churches by believers who would rather cloister themselves in their Christian world and overlook the most basic element of helping those who need the gospel most. A very interesting read with several thought-provoking themes. I'm eager to keep reading and see where Dickson wants to take me. I'll write a final review when I'm finished with the novel.

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:

Lost Mission

Howard Books (September 15, 2009)


Athol Dickson is an award-winning author of several novels. His Christy Award-winning novel River Rising was name one of the “Top Ten Christian Novel of 2006” by Booklist magazine. He lives in California with his wife.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416583475
ISBN-13: 978-1416583479


Lost Mission

By Athol Dickson

[Howard Fiction Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Lost Mission © 2009 Athol Dickson

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

WordServe Literary Agency

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN-13: 9781416583479

ISBN-10: 1416583475

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in TK

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or

Edited by Nicci Jordan Hubert

Cover design by DesignWorks

Interior design by TK

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.

The two angels arrived

at Sodom in the evening,

and Lot was sitting

in the gateway of the city.

When he saw them,

he got up to meet them

and bowed down

with his face

to the ground.

—The Book of Genesis

In the event of a suspicious find

those exposed should be re-vaccinated

and placed under medical supervision for 21 days . . .

The potential risk to public health is so great

that a contingency plan must be in place.

—Margaret Cox,

“Crypt Archaeology: an approach”

Institute of Field Archaeologists, Paper Number 3

Capítulo 1

La Día de los Reyes, 6 de Enero, 1767

Let us begin the story of La Misión de Santa Delores on the holy day of the three kings, in Italy, in Assisi. To commemorate his twentieth year among the Franciscan brothers, Fray Alejandro Tapia Valdez made a pilgrimage to his beloved San Francisco’s humble chapel, the Porziuncola. For more than a week the friar prayed before the chapel’s frescos, rarely ceasing for food or sleep, But despite his lengthy praises and petitions, despite his passionate devotion to Almighty God, Fray Alejandro was a pragmatic man. He did not believe the rumor, common in his day, that the frescos’ perfection was beyond the reach of human hands. As we shall see, in time the friar would reconsider.

The Franciscan stood five feet four inches tall, an average Spaniard’s height in the eighteenth century. He was broad and unattractive. Heavy whiskers lurked beneath the surface of his jaw, darkly threatening to burst forth. Fray Alejandro’s brow was large and loomed above the recess of his eyes as if it was a cliff eroded by the pounding of the sea and ready to crash down at any moment. The black fullness of his hair had been shaved at the crown, leaving only a circular fringe around the edges of his head. His nose, once aquiline and proud, had become a perpetual reminder of the violence that had flattened it at some time in the past.

For all its ugliness, Fray Alejandro’s visage could not mask the gentleness within. His crooked smile shed warmth upon his fellow man. His hands were ever ready with a touch to reassure or steady, or to simply grant the gift of human presence. When someone spoke, be they wise or not, he inclined his head and listened with his entire being, as if the speaker’s words had all the weight of holy writ. In his eyes was love.

Love does not defend against the sorrows of this world, of course. On the contrary, each day as Fray Alejandro knelt in prayer at the Porziuncola he became more deeply troubled. His imagination had recently been captured by strange stories of the heathen natives of the new world, isolated wretches with no knowledge of their Savior. This tragedy grew in Alejandro’s mind until he groaned aloud in sympathy for their unhappy souls. Other brothers kneeling on his left and right cast covert glances at him. Many thought his noisy prayers an uncouth intrusion, but caught up as he was in sacred agony, Alejandro did not notice.

Then came that holy day of the three kings, when in the midst of his entreaties for the pagans of New Spain, Fray Alejandro suddenly felt a painful heat as if his body was ablaze. In this, the first of his three burnings, Alejandro became faint. He heard a whisper saying, “Go and save my children.” The bells of Saint Mary of the Angels begin to peal, although it was later said the ropes had not been touched. As startled pigeons burst forth from the bell tower, Alejandro rose.

How like the Holy Father to command such a journey on that day of days! Without a backwards glance Fray Alejandro strode away from San Francisco’s little chapel as if following a star, determined to return at once to Hornachuelos, in Cordoba, there to seek permission from the abbot of the monastery of Santa Maria de los Angeles for a voyage to New Spain.

The abbot’s assent was quickly given, but Fray Alejandro spent many months waiting on the vast bureaucracy of King Carlos III to approve his passage. Still, while the wheels of government turn slowly, slowly they do turn.

Finally, in late May of the year 1767 the good friar stood at the bulwarks of a galleon in the West Indian Fleet, tossed by the Atlantic, quite ill, and protected from the frigid spray by nothing but his robe of coarse handmade cloth. In spite of the pitching deck, always Alejandro faced New Spain, far beyond the horizon. His short broad body seemed to strain against the wind and ocean waves with eagerness to be about his Father’s business.

But let us be more patient than the friar, for this is just the first of many journeys we shall follow as our story leads us back and forth through space and time. Indeed, the events Fray Alejandro has set in motion have their culmination far into the future. Therefore, leaving the Franciscan and his solitary ship, we cross many miles to reach a village known as Rincon de Dolores, high among the Sierra Madres of Jalisco, Mexico. And we fly further still, centuries ahead of Alejandro, to find ourselves in these, our modern times.

Accompanied by norteño music blaring from loudspeakers and by much celebratory honking of automobile horns, we observe the burning of a makeshift structure of twigs and sticks and painted cardboard, which seemed a more substantial thing once it was engulfed, as if the trembling flames were masons hard at work with red adobe. The people of the village of Rincon de Dolores were encouraged by the firmness of the fire. All the village cheered as the imitation barracks burned before them. They cheered, and with their jolly voices dared a pair of boys to stay in the inferno just a little longer.

There was much to enjoy on that Feast Day of Fray Alejandro—the floral garlands, the children in their antique costumes, the pinwheels spun by crackling fireworks, the somber procession of the saints along the avenida—but one citizen did not join the festivities.

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza trembled as she watched the flaming reenactment of the tragedy of La Misión de Santa Dolores. Who knew, but possibly this year the boys would stay too long within the flames? Who knew, but possibly this time the sticks would burn, the cardboard become ash and rise into the sky, and “Alejandro” and “the Indian” would not emerge? Spurred to foolishness by those who called for courage, might this be the year when merrymaking turned to mourning? The young woman with the long name—let us call her merely Lupe—feared it might be so, while the imitation barracks burned and the boys remained inside.

As was their ancient custom, after the fire was set by eager boys in Indian costumes, the village people chanted, “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte! Death to Spaniards! Death to traitors!” Their refrain arose in tandem with the flames. Only when the fire ascended to the middle of the mock barrack’s spindly walls did some within the crowd begin to yell, “Salido! Salido! Salido!” Come out! they called, a few of them at first, mostly girls and women, then as the minutes slowly passed this call became predominant, until the entire village shouted it as one, Come out! and the boys inside could flee the fire with honor.

Yet they did not come.

“Agua!” someone shouted, probably the boys’ parents, and nearby men with buckets hurried toward the crackling barracks walls. “Agua rapido!” they shouted, and the first man swung his bucket back, prepared to douse a small part of the flames.

Such wild and forceful flames, and so little water, thought young Lupe. Holy Father, please protect them.

Even as she prayed, the first man thrust his bucket forward. Water sizzled in the burning sticks and rose as steam, and from the conflagration burst two little figures. One boy came out robed from head to foot in gray cloth, the cincture at his waist knotted in three places to bring poverty, obedience and chastity to mind. He carried a bundle, the sacred retablo of Fray Alejandro concealed in crimson velvet, a small altarpiece which no one but Padre Hinojosa, the village priest, would ever see. The other boy came nearly naked with only a covering of sackcloth, his bare arms and legs agleam with aloe sap as protection from the heat. The fire around them roared.

Chased by swirling coals and sparks the two brave boys went charging through the crowd, yet no one turned to watch. It was as if young Alejandro and the Indian were unseen, as if they were already spirits on their way to heaven. All the village chanted “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte!” again. All the village faced the burning barracks. All of Rincon de Dolores called for death to Spaniards, death to traitors as the two small figures fled invisibly across the plaza to the chapel, where they entered and returned the treasure, the retablo handed down through centuries.

Alone among the village people, only Lupe seemed to see the boys escape. Watching from the shop door, she alone thanked God for yet another year without a tragedy; she alone refused to play the game, the foolish reenactment they all loved so well, pretending blindness as two boys cheated death. Lupe’s imagination would not let her join the celebration of their unofficial saint’s escape from murderous pagans. She had never felt the kiss of flames upon her flesh, but she had suffered from flames nonetheless.

Often Lupe recalled the winter’s night when her father had laid a bed of sticks within the corner fireplace. The flames took hold and a younger Lupe drew her blanket up above her head as other children did when told of ghosts. Even now the memory of resin snapping in the burning wood intruded on her dreams, conjuring a thousand nightmares drawn from Padre Hinojosa’s homilies about Spanish saints who perished in the flames, Agathoclia and Eulalia of Mérida, and the auto de fe, that fearsome ritual of early Mexico, the stake, and acts of faith imposing pain on saint and heretic alike. Her most grievous loss, many sermons, dreams and sacrifices of the flesh had left her terrified of fire.

Watching from the doorway, Lupe heard a voice. “Do you think this is how it was?”

Although she had not heard him come, a stranger stood beside her, a man in fine dark clothing with full black hair that shimmered slightly in the midday light like the feathers of a crow. From his appearance this man might have been her brother. Like Lupe, he was not tall. Like Lupe his features called to mind stone carvings of the ancient Mayans. Like Lupe, he had a smooth sloped forehead, pendulous ear lobes, and cheekbones high and proud. His golden skin was flawless, as was hers. Like hers, his lips were thick and sensuous, his teeth the flashing white of lightning, his eyes a pair of black pools without bottoms.

“Pardon me, señor?” said Lupe, unaware she might be looking at her twin.

“Do you think this is how it was?” asked the stranger once again. “With Fray Alejandro, and the Indian?”

Lupe only shrugged. “Who knows, señor? It is a very old story.”

The stranger nodded, his unfathomable eyes focused on the plaza.

Perhaps, being a stranger, he did not know the story of Fray Alejandro, how the Franciscan had walked two thousand, four hundred kilometers to Alta California with two other Fernandino brothers. Because he was a stranger it was possible the man knew nothing of the apostate priests who corrupted Alejandro’s efforts to advance the gospel, how his hope to be the hands and feet of Christ to pagan peoples in the north was undone by Spanish cruelty and indulgence, how Alejandro, forced to flee his beloved mission in the north, had escaped the burning buildings with the Indian, his trusted neophyte companion, the two of them miraculously unseen even as they passed among bloodthirsty savages, much as Saint Peter once had passed his guards in Herod’s prison.

If the man knew nothing of this history he would surely learn that day, for every year at Alejandro’s feast all was reenacted by the village children to commemorate the holy man’s exploits. Rome had thus far not enshrined Fray Alejandro among the saints, but Rincon de Dolores had nonetheless adopted him as their patron, for the man of miracles had settled in their little mountain village when the pagans in the north rejected him, and through many acts of kindness he had become their eternally beloved padre, entrusting them with memories of the mission he had lost up north, somewhere in the hills of Alta California.

Lupe considered speaking to the stranger of these things, but he had departed unobserved. She searched the crowd beyond her door to find him. With the Burning of the Barracks finished now, people strolled throughout the village, passing in the shade of well-trimmed ficus trees around the plaza or along the tiles beneath arched porticos where they haggled with the venders who had traveled from afar to set up booths for the fiesta. Some of the venders offered plastic toys for children: balloons, whistles and balls in a hundred riotous colors. Others hawked recordings of mariachi and norteño music. Sweets, hand tools, shawls and pottery . . . everything was there. Near the chapel on the far side of the plaza one could purchase votive candles and milagros, those tiny metal charms that symbolized the miracles requested of the saints. In spite of so much competition, a few still patronized Lupe’s tiendita, her little shop where soda pop and newspapers and other such necessities were offered to the good people of Rincon de Dolores, Jalisco, high in the Sierra Madres.

Forgetting about the stranger, Lupe left her place in the doorway and tended to the customers who visited her shop all afternoon, both villagers and strangers. She took their pesos as the sun outside moved closer to the western mountains and the shadows lengthened. Finally it was almost time for the best part of Fray Alejandro’s fiesta: the gathering at the plaza. The young woman stepped across the stone threshold of her little shop, where the sandals of a dozen generations had shaped a smooth depression. She closed the wooden door. She felt no need for locks. Dressed in a blue cotton skirt and white blouse with a traditional apron, wearing no jewelry and no makeup, with her pure black hair restrained only by a plastic clip, Lupe approached the plaza.

She followed the familia Delgado along the avenida, Rosa and Carlos in their finest clothing normally reserved for Sunday Mass. Rosa’s blouse was perhaps a bit too tight and too low cut in Lupe’s opinion. Carlos was very handsome with silver tips and silver heel guards on his pointed boots. The three Delgado boys were likewise attired in formal fashion, and the youngest child, darling Linda, toddled on the cobblestones in patent leather shoes, with petticoats and a pretty pink dress trimmed with sky blue ribbons.

Lupe sometimes wished for children. The thought arose in moments such as this, but it was always fleeting. At other times she praised the Holy Father for her call to chastity. It was good to be unmarried unless one burned with passion, as San Pablo said, and her passion was for Christ.

When Lupe reach the plaza, oh, such a festivity! She saw men at their carts selling little whimsies—empanadas and tamales and nopales from the prickly pear—and strolling toy vendors with helium balloons and plastic snakes on sticks, and groups of girls approaching marriage age who moved about the plaza casting covert glances at the boys whom they pretended to ignore. Soon everyone would laugh as mariachis in the central gazebo serenaded blushing grandmothers, then the people would ignore the mayor as he promised vast improvements through a needless megaphone, and they would admire Rincon de Dolores’s own ballet folklorico, the handsome boys in black charro suits with felt sombreros and shoulders proudly squared, and the beautiful girls in swirling multicolored skirts like rose bouquets.

Lupe traversed the plaza, greeting all as friends, for she was a friend to everyone. Like Fray Alejandro, she longed to be the hands and feet of Christ to them. She went slowly, smiling on her way, touching this one, kissing that one, freely offering her kindness. Normally this bonhomie was as natural as breath to her, but that day it was a kind of sacrifice she offered. It came from force of will. She did not feel it in her heart, and she was uncertain why. Perhaps her dread had lingered since the moment when the barracks flames had nearly claimed two boys. Yes, probably it was only that. Yet she sensed something else at work within her heart, a conviction, and a fear.

On the far side of the plaza Lupe approached the embers of the imitation barracks, a mound of charcoal now, a black mark on the beauty of the day. It frightened her, yet drew her closer. Remarkably, it still emitted smoke. Only Lupe gave attention to that fact. All the others laughed and strolled and savored conversations unawares, but Lupe there beside the blackened ruins felt her pulse increase and heard the beating of her heart within her inner ear. She found it necessary to remind herself to breathe. She saw the smoke still rising like a slender column standing far above the village, straight and true, until it met the burning fringes of the sunset. Surrounded by festivities, she turned her face up to the sky and saw the strangest thing among the orange and purple clouds. She saw it, yet it could not be.

“Concha,” she called to a passing friend. “That smoke. Would you look at it?”

The woman, whose seven children swirled around her knees, replied, “I told those foolish men to pour more water on those ashes.”

“But the wind . . . .”

Concha and her perpetually squirming offspring had already passed into the crowd.

Lupe wiped sweating palms upon her apron and tried again to find someone to observe this thing and tell her it was real, but the mariachis had begun their brassy serenades and the people moved away from her, toward the gazebo in the center of the plaza. She stared up at the sky again, and asked, “How can that be?”

Someone behind her said, “Perhaps it is a sign.”

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza looked around and saw the stranger with dark hair that shimmered slightly like the feathers of a crow. She felt comforted immediately, for he too had seen the cause of her confusion; he too stood with face turned toward the sky, toward the smoke arising from Fray Alejandro’s ruined mission, the smoke which drifted north against a wind that traveled south.