RADICAL Thinking

I go to church on Sunday mornings. I pray; I read my Bible; I listen to Christian music. I am the director of women’s ministry at my small church. My husband serves on the church board. My children attend children’s church, except for my 9-year-old who has decided that it is time for him to sit with Mom and Dad in the adult service. We are a good family, doing the best we can to serve Christ.

Or are we?

As I read through the first chapter of David Platt’s new book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, I began to wonder if we—if I—am really doing the best possible job of following and serving Christ. Christ never said that following Him would be easy. In fact, He points out time and time again in the Gospel just how difficult life as a Christian will be. For some reason, though, I’ve always thought those warnings were meant for others. Believers in Asia and in Africa are going to have a hard time following Christ. But I live in AMERICA, where freedom of religion means that serving Christ won’t be difficult or involve sacrifice.

Platt’s book sure has made me think about that differently. I wonder if I am missing out on something by not giving Christ my all. Life is good, but could it be better if I followed every word of my Jesus?

You can check out the book for yourself by downloading the first chapter for free here. The publishers of this book are also giving away free copies of The Radical Question, a companion booklet that explores some of the issues inside the full-length book. You can request a copy from Multnomah here. For even more information on the book, please visit the website www.RadicalTheBook.com.

I can’t promise you will enjoy every word you read, but I can promise that this book will make you think.

David Platt, , Radical Leave a comment

SHATTERED, Chapter One

            “Janessa Marie Warner.”

            With a smile she thought would never fade, Janessa walked confidently up the steps.  She glided across the stage, pausing long enough to shake hands with Dr. Todd Marks, President of Indiana Wesleyan University.  She accepted his congratulations and held tight to the maroon folder he handed her.  This was it.  Her degree.  The little piece of paper she had worked hard for, had lived the past four years for.  No, she had lived for God these last four years.  That folder and the piece of paper it proudly displayed just represented His will for her life. 

            No amount of hard work and sacrifice on her part would have meant anything if God was not in it all.

            She reached the edge of the stage, having shaken hands with a few other members of university faculty.  She looked up and said, “Thank You, Father,” before descending the steps and rejoining her classmates.


            Garrett Shepherd was on his feet, cheering louder than anyone else as he watched Janie walk across the stage.  The maroon and gray tassel on his mortarboard cap slapped him in the face as he whooped and clapped.  Not that he cared.  He was so proud of her.  In a lot of ways, her graduation meant more to him than his own.  He knew how hard this had been for her, how much pressure she had felt to get to this day.  And today she was being rewarded for her hard work.

            His parents had made a lot of sacrifices for Garrett and his twin sister Graceyn to get through Indiana Wesleyan.  There were times when he wondered if they were sorry about that, if they thought they had wasted their money—especially when they saw his grades some semesters.  There had been moments in the first two years when even Garrett thought Mom and Dad could have found better uses for their money, investments that would have given a better return.  Staring at Janessa Warner as she slid across the stage, smiling from ear to ear, Garrett was grateful he had stayed in school, grateful for the sacrifices his parents had made.

            When Janie had cleared the stage, he reached beneath his own maroon gown.  He had to check his pocket again, to be sure that little box was still there.  A smile spread across his face and he touched the soft velvet.  Janessa had said her happiest day would be when she finished college.

            Garrett hoped that he would be able to make it just a little more memorable for her.


            Tears spilled out of Kerri Warner’s eyes as she clapped for her daughter.  A shout of, “Way to go, Janie!” followed by a long, shrill whistle filled her ears.  Kerri giggled at the unbridled enthusiasm her 12-year-old showed.  From the corner of her eye, she could see her husband Tim place a hand on young Natalie’s shoulder.  Kerri turned him.

            “Let her cheer,” Kerri said gently.  She wrapped one arm around Natalie’s shoulders, pulling her daughter close to her side.  She smiled up at her husband.  “It’s a day for celebration.  She’s proud of her big sister.  And so am I.”

            “Do you think I’m not?” Tim asked.  Kerri studied his normally reserved face.  His eyes were full of pride and full of tears, tears she knew better than to think he would be shedding in public.  “But that doesn’t mean that we have to draw attention to ourselves.”

            Kerri smiled up at him.  She would have expected nothing less from Tim.  He had surpassed her expectations in so many ways over the years.  At times his serious, reserved nature had annoyed her.  Yet he was exactly what she had needed in her life.  He’d kept her from making too many impulsive decisions in her life.  Kerri’s gaze turned back to the stage at the front of the auditorium.  Janessa was walking down the steps and returning to her seat as cheers for the next graduate rose up. 

            That girl was one reason to be thankful for Tim’s level-headed ways.  Kerri couldn’t imagine Janessa getting so far in life—becoming a college graduate, with a real future in front of her!—had she been raised alone by a headstrong, often flighty mother.  God sure knew what He was doing by bringing Kerri and Tim together.

            Sometimes, she couldn’t help wishing He had brought them together sooner.

            She shook her head, pushing those thoughts aside, forcing her focus to remain on the bright smile of her eldest daughter.  No reason to question God’s ways and God’s timing.  He’d blessed her in more ways than she could count.

            Kerri prayed for those blessings to continue.



            Janessa turned toward the sound and smile.  Garrett Shepherd—the brother of her roommate and Janessa’s boyfriend of nearly two years—was waving for her attention and walking toward her.  The graduation ceremony had just ended, and graduates crowded the area, looking for their families.  Janessa worked her way through the crowd of maroon caps and gowns until she was at Garrett’s side.  He wrapped his arms around her waist and spun her in the air, causing Janessa to giggle.

            “We did it,” Garrett said.  He kissed the tip of her nose and sat Janessa carefully back on the ground.  “Can you believe that we just finished college?”

            Janessa held her cap in place, stumbling slightly to get her footing.  She was not used to the high heels her mother had insisted she wear that day.  “For now,” she said.  “But you still have a way to go until you get that law degree.”

            “Aw, can’t you just let me celebrate this for a while before I have to think about going back?”

            She laughed.  “Fine, I’ll let you have a little break.  But I am so proud of you.  I am so sick of school.  I can’t imagine having four years left.”

            “But I know I am doing what God wants,” Garrett said.  “As much as I would like to stop now, I know that He has something better in store for me later.”

            Janessa smiled, not wanting to admit to what she was feeling.  She hoped that the something better God had in store included her.  The worst part of graduating was the knowledge she wouldn’t see Garrett every day anymore.  He would be heading back to Michigan and she would return to Texas with her family.  Sure, they had email and cell phones and Facebook, but things wouldn’t be the same.

She pushed those thoughts out of her mind, keeping the smile on her face.  This was supposed to be a happy day; she didn’t want to dwell on the coming separation right now.  “Have you found your parents?”

            “Yeah,” he said.  “I left Gracie with them while I came to find you.  Found yours yet?”

            She shook her head, craning her neck to see around him.  “Not yet.  I am sure they are around here somewhere.  It’s amazing anyone can be found in this crowd.”

            “Hey, Mom and Dad want to take us out to celebrate graduation tonight.”

            “Oh.” Janessa tried to hide her disappointment.  They had planned to spend their last evening in Marion together.  She had hoped to extend the night for as long as possible, postponing their good-bye.  She didn’t know why she had not considered that their parents might have other ideas. “You and Graceyn will have a good time, I’m sure.”

            “You, too,” Garrett said, giving her hand a slight squeeze.  “Mom and Dad thought it would be fun if you and your parents came along.”

            “Really?”  Janessa couldn’t decide if she was more excited to have dinner with Garrett or more nervous about meeting his parents.  “Nattie is here, too.  You sure they won’t mind having my sister tag along?”

            “As long as you are there,” Garrett said, “I don’t think they will mind.  Gracie suggested Italian.  Sound OK to you?”

            “Olive Garden?  Sounds about perfect.”

            “Great.”  Garrett’s smile caused Janessa’s heart to leap.  It didn’t matter that they were surrounded by their entire graduating class.  When Garrett trained his blue eyes on her and smiled that way, Janessa felt like they were the only two people in the world.  “I didn’t want to miss our last evening together, but I didn’t know how to say no to Mom, either.  Besides, I’d love to meet Kerri and Tim.”

            “And Natalie?”

Garrett laughed.  “Yeah, I’d like to meet your sister, too.”

Janessa heard someone call her name.  She turned around to see her mother waving wildly at her, practically leaping in the air in her excitement.  “There are my parents,” Janessa said.

            “I should get back to my family anyway.  Meet you in about an hour?”

            She nodded.  Garrett kissed her cheek gently and then turned, quickly disappearing into the crowd.  Janessa wasn’t alone for long, though.  Soon her mother, father, and little sister were at her side, hugging her and giving their congratulations. 

            “You are so lucky,” Natalie, Janessa’s 12-year-old sister, told her.  “You don’t have to go back to school ever again.”

            Janessa laughed at her.  “Not until I find a job, anyway.  It’s kind of hard to be a teacher and not go to school.”

            “As long as you are a nice teacher,” Natalie said.   “Mine are all idiots.”

            “Natalie Jean,” her mother scolded.  “That’s not a nice thing to say.”

            “But it is true,” Natalie mumbled.   Janessa saw her father place a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder.  She knew that would be the last complaint she would hear from her sister for the evening.  Natalie could be a pretty outspoken girl, but even she wouldn’t try to push things with Tim Warner. 

            “So,” her father asked.  “How should we celebrate?”

            “How about dinner at Olive Garden?” Janessa said. 

            “Olive Garden?” Natalie made a disgusted face.  “Italian food stuffed full of tomatoes.  Eww.  Can’t we get something more interesting than that?”

            Tim tightened the grip he had on Natalie’s shoulder, causing her to wince a little.  He said, “This is your night, Janie.  If you want to go to Olive Garden, that’s where we will go.”

            “As long as you are sure that is what you want,” Kerri said.  “But I thought you’d choose something different, something that is uniquely Marion that you can’t get back in Lewisville.”

            “Well, there is a reason for choosing Olive Garden,” Janessa said.  She linked arms with her mother and sister and began walking toward the parking lot, with her father following close behind.  “My roommate and her parents invited us to meet them there tonight.  I thought it might be fun.”

            “Roommate, huh?” Kerri said with a little laugh.  “This wouldn’t be the same roommate with the Nick Lachey look-a-like for a brother, would it?”

            Janessa felt herself smiling.  “Maybe.”

            “As long as this brother is going to be there, too,” Tim said, doing his best to sound gruff. 

“It would be nice to finally meet him,” Kerri said.  “We’ve heard so much about him.  But I’d like to find out if he is really good enough for you.”

“No one is good enough for my little girl,” Tim said.  “For either of my little girls.”

            They had reached the car by then.  Janessa turned and gave Tim a big hug.  “Don’t worry, Daddy,” she whispered in his ear.  “You will always be my favorite guy.”

            Tim returned her hug.  “Have I mentioned how proud I am of you?”

            Natalie groaned.  “Can we just go, please?” she whined.  “Let’s just get this over with.”

            “Is spending an evening with your family really that much torture?” Janessa asked.  She took off her graduation gown and slid into the backseat of her parents’ rented car beside her sister.

“No,” Natalie admitted.  She reached up to help remove the bobby pins that held Janessa’s cap in place.  “But if I have to watch you make out with some guy all night, I’m might hurl.”

            Janessa threw her head back and laughed.  She had never felt so happy in her life.

A God-Thing

I have a story in mind, one that has been with me for a very long time. Even when I was running from God and looking for reasons to not do what He was asking, this idea was with me. I can’t really say when it started. Sometime in my teenage years, I know that. The idea has been influenced by two things—a Bible verse and a song by Carman.

The verse is Joshua 6:16. “The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.” I vaguely recall Pastor Wermuth preaching quite a bit on that verse. He said that the command was not just for the people of Israel back then, but it was meant for us, too. He also spoke about a promise God made earlier in that book, in Joshua 1:3, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” I remember Pastor saying that we could claim that promise now—every place where we step in Jackson belongs to GOD; we could take this city for the Lord if only we believed we could. It has to have been 20 years since I was in that church and heard those words. But they came back to me earlier this month when Pastor Heyd, the pastor of the church I attend now, commented that on a given Sunday, 75% of Jackson County is not in church. That is a huge number of people, hungry for the word of God! And many of them, I am sure, don’t even realize what it is they are hungry for!

The song that has influenced me is “Our Turn Now.” Do you remember that one? Carman and Petra worked together on this song about the need to get God back into schools, and how a lot of the problems with violence and teen pregnancies really took off after prayer in schools was outlawed. I’ve often wondered how things would be different for my children if God walked with them through the halls of their public school. OK, so I know He IS with them. I mean, how would it be different if they could openly show their faith and start their school day by praying with their teachers and friends?

Last week, there was a fight at a local middle school between two eighth grade girls. The result was the arrest of a 15-year-old who had cut a 13-year-old classmate on her stomach and stabbed her leg. The good news is that the wounds were not life threatening and the 13-year-old was not even hospitalized. She was taken to the hospital, treated, and released. The school district’s community relations department issued a statement that this was “an isolated incident” and that other students and schools in the district are safe. I talked about this with some close friends the day after. One of my friends scoffed and said, “It was not an isolated incident. This is happening all over the country.” The incidents are not directly linked, but I understand where my friend was coming from. Kids all over this country are learning that violence is the best way to handle any situation. It’s not something that just happens in one area. It’s not something that ANY school in this nation is completely safe from.

Between the incident at the middle school and my pastor’s comments about the percentage of people in this county who do not attend church regularly, my story idea has really been in my mind the past week. Is it a coincidence that I came across a book about the Columbine massacre in 1999 the same week of the stabbing? I don’t think so. I’ve been looking for this particular book for nearly 10 years. For it to just show up at a time when other things were causing me to really think about that story idea can’t be a coincidence. It can only be a God thing!!!

Still, I appreciate your prayers. This could be a big project, and it is bound to be an emotional one. I think I’ll need the prayers to keep me focused and keep me from giving up when it gets too tough.

Carman, Columbine, Our Turn Now, Petra Leave a comment

The Choice, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

    I don’t like to read Amish stories.

Let me just say that up front, so that there are no questions about it. It’s not that I have never read one. OK, so maybe I have never read one all the way through. But hey, at least I have attempted to read them. I just haven’t found one that could keep my attention. Maybe it is because I don’t understand the Amish lifestyle. Maybe it is because I picked up a book by the wrong author. I don’t know. I only know that I do not like reading Amish novels.

That is why it was so hard for me to muster up much excitement last February when my sister-in-law and he son gave me a novel set in Lancaster County, PA for my birthday.

I tried not to be ungrateful. She knew how much I enjoy Christian novels and really had tried to get me a gift I would appreciate. And when she told me the story of how she picked it…. She was shopping with her 5-month-old son. While she was looking at another book, he grabbed this one of the shelf. She read the back and thought it sounded like a good story. When I saw the young woman in plain clothing and a white bonnet on the cover of the book, I had to force myself to smile. It was a sweet gesture. I didn’t want to tell her that it was not the kind of book I enjoyed reading.

The next day, I started reading it. Not because I particularly wanted to read it. Like I said, I don’t like to read Amish stories. But I had nothing else to read, so I started on The Choice by Suzanne Woods Fisher.

And boy, was I surprised!!

I was immediately drawn into the world of Carrie Weaver. I cried along with her as she faced a string of seemingly never-ending losses. Through it all, Carrie’s struggles to keep her faith in God touched my heart. Watching her faith grow, watching her slowly begin to learn there is more to God and His love than just the rules of Amish life was amazing. It opened a deeper understanding of God’s love in my own life.

Can’t say that I am going to go out and read every Amish-themed book that is on the market, but next time I see something by Suzanne Woods Fisher, I will give it a closer look. The Choice is definitely a good find!

A Lady of Secret Devotion

A Lady of Secret Devotion, by Tracie Peterson

                Life in Philadelphia in 1857 was not always easy for a woman.  Especially not for a woman alone, with no to support her.  Cassandra Stover knew that all too well.  At age 24, she had been helping her mother survive for nearly 10 years.  Together, they make enough money to support themselves and Cassie’s young sister by running a laundry service.  There is not enough money to make needed repairs to their home.  As soon as her sister is old enough to help more, Cassie goes in search of job.  She is at the end of her rope, ready to give up all hope, when Mrs. Jameston, an elderly Philadelphia socialite, offers Cassie a position as constant companion.  Acceptance of the job thrusts Cassie into a life she had only dreamed of before.

                Mrs. Jameston’s son provides the only negative in this situation.  His hatred of his mother and his rather questionable business practices soon lead Cassie to a fear of her own life.  Her involvement with Mark Langford, the man investigating possible fraud on behalf of Mr. Jameston, brings some comfort.  But when she begins to feel more a desire to move their relationship beyond a business agreement, Cassie’s world is really turned upside down.

                Once again, Tracie Peterson shows intimate knowledge of America’s past.  Reading her work is like being transported to a different time.  What I like the most about it is the characters; they are real and flawed, just like the people I meet in everyday life.

                It is amazing to me, actually, how much I am enjoying reading Peterson’s work.  Historical fiction is not something I have had much interest in before.  Yet I can hardly wait to get my hands on another of her over 70 novels and head back to America’s past.