Monday, June 27, 2011

Did I Marry the Wrong Guy? And Other Silent Ponderings of a Fairly Normal Christian Wife by Michelle Stimpson

Tour Date: July 5, 2011

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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:

Did I Marry the Wrong Guy? And Other Silent Ponderings of a Fairly Normal Christian Wife

CreateSpace (May 23, 2011)

***Special thanks to Michelle Stimpson for sending me a review copy.***


Michelle Stimpson is an author, a speaker, and an educator who received her Bachelor of Science degree from Jarvis Christian College in 1994. She earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2002. She has had the pleasure of teaching elementary, middle, and high school as well as training adults.

In addition to her work in the field of education, Michelle ministers through writing and public speaking. Her works include the highly acclaimed Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), and Last Temptation. She has published several short stories for high school students through her educational publishing company, Right Track Academic Support Services, at

Michelle serves in the Discerning Hearts women's ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. She also ministers to women through her online newsletter:

Michelle tours annually with the Anointed Authors on Tour. She regularly speaks at special events and writing workshops sponsored churches, schools, book clubs and other great organizations.

Michelle lives near Dallas with her husband, their two teenage children, and one crazy dog.

Visit the author's website.


What wife hasn’t second-guessed herself after a heated discussion or yet another curious incident of the missing remote control? In addition to the title’s question, this book discusses those unspoken thoughts lurking in the back of even Christian women’s minds, such as:

* We’ve Grown Apart

* I’m Just Not That Into Sex

* I Miss the Thrill of Being Single

* I Love My Husband, but I’m Not In Love

* Watching My Parents Probably Messed Me Up

While these silent ponderings might seem harmless, they have the potential to create a negative undercurrent of resentment if not specifically addressed in prayer. Through this spinoff of her popular Christian fiction novel, The Good Stuff, Stimpson tackles tough questions about wifehood through this short, humorous book of wisdom for the not-so-in-love-with-my-husband days.

Product Details:

List Price: $6.99
Paperback: 84 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (May 23, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1461186528
ISBN-13: 978-1461186526


We Started Off Wrong

I’m sure our wedding picture could appear on posters warning romantic kids about what not to do. For starters, I was four months pregnant when we married. Stevie and I were in love, but I’d be lying if I said our unborn baby wasn’t a major factor in our decision to marry after our thirteen-month long-distance courtship.

Stevie was twenty-three, I was twenty-one. He had a child from a previous relationship, and I was still secretly reeling from a past heartbreak. We both came from so-called “broken homes.” His parents divorced when he was in middle school, mine when I was only a child, though my mother re-married when I was four. She and my step-father later divorced. Neither Stevie nor I had any kind of model for a successful marriage.

Stevie had said that he was raised in the church, but (as is turns out) we had two different working definitions of what it meant to be church-reared. He was a CME member (Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter), while I was the child of the church musician (attending services every Sunday, many weeknights, too). Nonetheless, we were equally yoked because we were both spiritual infants. Probably more like spiritual embryos.

But we were in love. And Stevie had super-hot legs.

The one good thing was our financial situation. I had just finished college and begun making decent money as a teacher, while Stevie worked at a plastic manufacturing company. We had very little debt. Stevie was good with money, and we both really liked seventy-nine cent burritos.

As the “bad years” came upon our marriage, a slew of regrets constantly nagged me:

I wished I’d known him better before I’d gone and gotten myself pregnant.
I wished I hadn’t gotten myself pregnant in the first place.
We shouldn’t have married just because of the baby.
We were too young—I barely even knew myself.
We didn’t have time to settle into our marriage before the baby got here.
We should have had more than thirty minutes of pre-marital counseling.
I should have checked his church attendance record.

I imagined myself writing any or all of these statements on papers requesting a divorce. Who could expect us to overcome those feats? Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard marriage could be?

To make my personal pity-party even worse, I was the first of my college friends to get married. Watching them move ahead and do all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t, thanks to my brand-spankin’-new family, didn’t help at all.

I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to stay married. I just wished the whole thing had never happened.

* * * * *

Granted, I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry under these circumstances. But if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change anything for Stevie and me because the truth is: every marriage is a foreign land. Over these years that my husband and I have been together, I’ve seen young and old, rich and poor, pregnant and non-pregnant, Christian and non-believer, childhood friends and internet-matched couples rise and fall. Sometimes the people who think they’ve got it all together don’t. Sometimes the ones who don’t have a clue figure it out together and overcome all their previous folly, by the grace of God.

Whatever shoulda, woulda, couldas you have about marrying your husband when you did, let them go. Maybe you could have done better. You definitely could have done worse. You made a decision with the information you had at the time, and that’s all anyone can do.

The beauty of a life surrendered to God is His willingness to intervene where His people fall short. If you recognize that your marriage began in a less-than-desirable state, talk to God about it. Admit your shortcomings and ask Him to make sense of your tangled mess. He has a way of un-raveling knots without breaking the string!

* * * * *

Father, I repent of my willful disobedience, and I thank You for Your watchful eye where I was simply ignorant. You have preserved me and this marriage for Your purposes, and I want the testimony of Your ability to deliver us beyond our faults. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Perished: The World That Was by R. Frederick Riddle

Tour Date: July 1, 2011

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Perished: The World That Was

PublishAmerica (December 17, 2010)

***Special thanks to R. Frederick Riddle for sending me a review copy.***


Born in 1943, R. Frederick Riddle served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War as a Radioman. He received Christ as his Saviour in 1973.

He worked for Michigan Bell and later Ameritech (now AT&T) until 1993 when he retired. Riddle went to work for a Baptist Church as Financial Secretary until 2008 when he retired a second time and moved to Florida to care of his mother-in-law.

He published his first novel in 2003 and his second in 2007. The novel, Perished, draws on both of those novels and much more research. He is currently working on a sequel to Perished.

Visit the author's website.


When God creates the heavens, and earth, the archangel Lucifer refuses to believe and, with the creation of man, he rebels. Adam and Woman (Eve) enjoy sweet fellowship with God, but Satan makes war against God. Using Serpent, he tricks Woman into eating the forbidden fruit, which Adam knowingly eats; thus bringing sin unto all mankind. In holy anger He drives them out of Eden, while at the same time extending His grace and promising a Redeemer.

Adam and Eve start a family, but tragedy strikes as Cain slays Abel and God drives him from their home. He goes to land of Nod and starts a new civilization, thus beginning a struggle between good and evil. While conflicts grow, faith in God also grows and is demonstrated in the lives of Adam, Methuselah, Noah, and others. As society makes marvelous advances immorality rises, bringing upon them the judgment of God.

Product Details:

List Price: $29.95
Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: PublishAmerica (December 17, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1456036823
ISBN-13: 978-1456036829




Lucifer looked around in confusion. I was about to say something to Michael. Why did I stop? Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted.

"Behold, I am God, the Beginning and the Ending, The Everlasting One. Out of nothing have I created you. I have designed each of you for a specific purpose, a certain service to perform.

"Michael, thou wert created to lead My armies into battle and to guard the battle mounts of heaven. I have made thee an archangel and a Chief Prince. Under thee there shall be one third of all the angels able to wage war.

“I have set thee as one of the three and thou shalt be mighty in all that thou shalt do.

"Gabriel, thou art created to speak on My behalf. Thou shalt rule over all manner of communication. Your task is to ensure that My messages and commands are delivered to whomsoever I desire. To thee have I given another third of all the angels equipped to carry out your tasks. You also are an archangel and one of the three."

I already knew that, Lucifer thought.

"And Lucifer, to thee I have given great beauty. No creature shall have greater beauty than you possess. As an archangel, and one of the three, thou also shalt lead one third of the angels of heaven in singing My praises. You are over all manner of instruments of music and praise, which shall be to My glory!

"But I have also made thee the covering cherub and thou shalt guard the Thrones.”

Lucifer looked at Michael and Gabriel, who didn't appear to be puzzled at all. But he found himself wondering: Why is the Holy Father telling us our duties. We have been doing them forever. And what is this about creation?

"What does He mean He created us? We have been around for a long time."

Pondering Lucifer's question, which he found intriguing, Michael thought back and couldn't remember a single time when he hadn't been an archangel. Looking around, he noted that everything looked as it always had looked. The walls, he thought, look the same. Each is built with glorious gemstones, one sitting upon the other in perfect symmetry. It is still as immense as ever! Is it possible that they were just created?

And what about these mansions that have been tended regularly by countless angels for ages past? It is true they are empty, with no apparent purpose. But that has always been the case. And there are just as many mansions as ever. Everything is just as I remember. Even the gold pavement, with each tile perfect and beautiful, looks the same!

"It appears that way," he replied. "Everything is as it always has been. I do not remember a thing different. But if the Holy Father says that He just created us it must be true. The Elohim is truth."

"It does seem strange," agreed Gabriel. "But as Michael stated, the Elohim is truth and would not lie. Yet we all remember everything as being perfectly normal.

"I do admit, however, that I cannot remember any specific event throughout eternity. I remember every structure of the City, but I cannot recall a single moment when any were erected. I should at least remember where the gems came from for the walls. But I do not.

“I believe we have been created with complete memories enabling each of us to do our assigned tasks better. My job is to head up God’s communications and to see that His words are communicated to everyone. Yet I do not recall a single message that He has sent. The only way I can understand it is that I have been just created, as He said.

“In addition, He has given each of us unique talents to accomplish our tasks. And He gave you great beauty, Lucifer. They are the Elohim and can do whatever They want!"

"That sounds reasonable to me," Michael said. "That would explain how all this," he paused spreading his hands indicating the City, "is so familiar to me. God placed the memory of it in my mind."

"You must be right, of course," Lucifer acknowledged. But inwardly he doubted.

The three archangels broke up, each going his separate way. Lucifer could not remember what it was that he had been about to say to Michael. He shrugged and departed.


Lucifer sensed the excitement as the angels were buzzing with excited whispers and tensely alert. Something big is about to happen. His attention was suddenly riveted upon a huge empty window that appeared over the City’s highest spires. At that moment the Holy Father spoke:

"Behold as I, the God and Creator of all things great and small, create the earth out of nothing. I declare that there shall be seasons and times."

All the angels watched as the Holy Father spoke and the window suddenly filled with a solitary, fiery mass. Lucifer and all the angels were rooted in astonishment.

It took on a definite oval shape filled with water. The entire host of heaven watched as the Holy Spirit of God moved upon the water causing it to vibrate. Lucifer wasn't sure if he was hearing the vibration or simply sensing it, but its effect upon the water was obvious as wave after wave cooled the fledgling planet. This time the Holy Son spoke:

"Let there be light."

Immediately the dark planet was ablaze with light. Lucifer was mystified. Where is the light coming from? Suddenly he knew. The Holy Son is Himself the Source of light!

Next, the Holy Son did an amazing thing dividing the light into night and day. Earth started rotating on its axis. Watching with all the angels, Lucifer immediately understood the planet would complete one rotation in 24 hours, which would be divided into minutes and seconds. This is the beginning of time. I must admit that the Holy Son has really created something interesting. Hmmm. It looks like these hours not only lead to days, but also the days lead to weeks and the weeks to months, each having 30 days.

Curious, Lucifer studied the planet intently. Although impressed, Lucifer wasn't overwhelmed as he imagined such power to create was his as well.

On Day Two the Holy Son spoke again: "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."

Thus God divided the waters so that they were above and below what He called heaven. Lucifer nodded with sudden understanding. This heaven was the atmosphere. But why the water above the atmosphere? The answer would have to wait as the second day ended.

On Day Three, the Holy Son said: "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place and let the dry land appear."

The angels watched in awe as God took the waters on the planet's surface and gathered them together into seas. For the first time, land rose from under the water. Amazingly the land was dry, except for rivers appearing here and there. Then something happened causing all of heaven to cry in sheer delight, impressing even Lucifer. The Holy Son created a living thing! Grass, herbs, trees, fruit, and vegetables came into being with the ability to reproduce after themselves.

On Day Four the Holy Son created all the stars of heaven. But Lucifer noted, with surprise, the sudden existence of galaxies and solar systems populated with their own stars and planets. Amazingly each was created fully formed with the appearance of age and moving through space as though from an explosion!

The sun was also created shedding its light upon the Earth and replacing the Son's light. He placed a moon in orbit around the Earth reflecting the sun's light during the night.

Now Lucifer understood the purpose of the waters above the earth's atmosphere and surrounding the planet. It acts like a filter! And it shields the earth from the sun's rays. But why? Again his silent question went unanswered.

On Day Five, God moved again. He created living creatures. Even as He spoke "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth" there appeared all manner of aquatic life. Some of these were tiny fish while others were large whales, dolphins, sharks and gigantic sea creatures! The air was filled with birds, small and great, flying about with great abandon.

"Be fruitful," God commanded, "and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth."

Lucifer shook his head in wonder. Not only was he impressed with God's demonstration of power, but he was also deeply disturbed. Why are the Elohim using their power to create a planet with such primitive life forms? Of what purpose can they serve?

On Day Six, the Son culminated His work with two great acts of creation. First, He created all animals.

"Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind."

Soon the dry land was populated with a variety of animals, some very small and others gigantic to the point of towering over some of the trees. As with aquatic life, each had the ability to reproduce itself after its own kind.

But it was the creation of human life that stunned and troubled Lucifer the most. The Son said to God the Father and God the Spirit, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

A hush permeated the heavens as God prepared the earth's soil and carefully, almost tenderly, formed the first man. All of heaven looked upon the still creature in awe.

Lucifer had to admit that the Holy Son had done a masterful job. And he was impressed with the ingenious idea of the water surrounding the earth. He now realized that the filtering affect would also protect the humans.

But it took all Three to accomplish these creative acts. I could have done the same without any help. Maybe I can do things God cannot do. And why create man when the angels of heaven are available to accomplish His will? In what possible way is mankind better equipped than the angels to rule over the Earth? Why does He regard man so tenderly?


Taking the still creature, God breathed the breath of life into it and immediately its chest started rising and falling rhythmically. The angels erupted into choruses of praise.

As the creature became conscious the coolness of the morning caused him to shiver. Opening his eyes, he looked up at God, Who smiled down at him.

"I am Eloahh, your Creator. Thy name is Adam: for out of the earth were you taken. Arise and see what I have done."

Deity! Recognition brightened Adam’s face.

God extended His hand and pulled Adam upright. It was in that moment that Adam looked at his own body in wonder. Holding his hands outward, he noticed the slender fingers and how he could easily move them. His arms were thick and muscular while covered with very fine hair.

Looking down, he took note of his chest tapering down to the belly, which was hard and flat. Like his arms, his legs were covered by fine hair, but there the likeness stopped. He had short, powerful legs that rested upon feet having five toes that were similar, yet different, to the five fingers of each hand.

Again God spoke: "In six days I created the earth and the heavens and all that is in them. You have I created after My own image. I have loved you from before the beginning and shall love you always."

A puzzled look crossed Lucifer’s face as he watched and listened to the scene below.

As for Adam, he would later remember this event in great detail.

"God lifted me up to where He was and I found myself looking upon the circle of Earth with the darkness of space behind it. I can still see the vast variety of blues that were the seas surrounding the land. And there were the browns, greens and a wonderful display of colors covering the ground. In the midst of it all was a large, dominating, barren place where nothing grew at all. But even in its starkness there was a strange, alluring beauty about it. It is a shame that no one will ever see what I saw that day. It was beautiful!"

After showing Adam the earth as seen from outer space, God took Adam back to Earth and hovered above the barren plateau that he had seen. Looking down, Adam saw a vast land that was carpeted with full-grown trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. Scanning the forests he saw mountain ranges to the north and to the south. Momentarily his eyes rested on a mountain range to the southwest that pointed skyward like the fingers on his hands. It was the most majestic sight amongst so many grand sights. Even from the distance, he could see the varied shapes of the pinnacles. And the colors! Purples, browns, reds, oranges, and every color imaginable dotted these mountains. But the strangest sight was the barren ground below him, which stretched for miles in all directions. It struck Adam as being out of place in all the vast beauty.

"Now behold! I create a special Garden for you."

Before Adam's startled eyes, God covered the plateau with a thick blanket of rich soil hundreds of feet thick. He planted trees, bushes and every kind of vegetation imaginable before placing animals, a pair of every kind, within this beautiful Garden and transforming it into a magnificent paradise. It was the most beautiful place that he would ever know.

Looking down, Adam watched in amazement and awe as the mountain he had earlier stood upon, collapsed forming a series of hills. Adam would later write of this moment: "Seen from above, the Garden was astounding, a sheer delight. I still remember the towering trees rising from the Garden’s fertile ground pointing towards heaven.

“I think some of the trees were over two hundred feet high. From heaven looking down, it was like a roof. Not made of bricks, wood and mud as today's homes are made, but of leaves overlapping leaves. . It was so close and looked so firm that I felt like I could walk upon it. Far below, I later discovered that under that tree canopy there were areas of complete darkness, so dark that it was almost like night!

"The garden is not a small grove or even a sheep range, but much larger. In the 40 days that Eve and I lived there, we never saw all that existed within its borders.

"Hanging suspended in the sky and looking down, I could see its whole expanse. Circling the garden is a huge hedge, which I have touched. It is strong and impenetrable. I have since learned that on the opposite side are briars that can tear a man's skin. Whether they existed from the beginning, I do not know. I suspect that they are part of the curse.

"Inside the garden is every tree imaginable, plus gorgeous flowers, plants and so much more. The sheer beauty of the place took my breath away! In most areas of the Garden were large flowering plants blending together to make a beautiful and colorful blanket covering the land. It is a tragedy that no one else will ever see it as I did.

"But that is not what I remember most about my first sight of Eden. It was Eden River flowing from Lake Eden in the west to the Falls in the east. And Lake Eden was, and most likely still is, startling in its beauty. I knew right then that I wanted to see it up close, to experience it!

"However, if you were to ask my wife, she would tell you her favorite remembrance is the Grove. This is where some of the most delicious fruits are found. The Grove is located just south of the river and stretches to the southern hedge. She and Serpent would explore this area every day it seemed. And she would return with new and exciting fruits, all of which she named. She would share these with me and later, in the cool of the evening, with God. It brought her great joy when God would taste of her discovery and praise her.

"However, the Garden of Eden is more than a beautiful place with fine foods; it is where we walked with God. With tears I remember those precious times we spent with Him every morning and evening. Sometimes He would guide us to something He wanted us to see, but most of the time He would simply sit and talk with us. It is with great joy and bitter tears I remember the day when He created me and placed me within its borders!"

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Tour Date: June 30, 2011

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Dug Down Deep

Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Associate, Image Books/ / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of local churches. He is the author of Why Church Matters and several books on relationships, including the run-away bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

Visit the author's website.


Dug Down Deep shows a new generation of Christians why words like theology and doctrine are the “pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of knowing the living Jesus Christ.” Joshua Harris enthusiastically reminds readers that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars. It is for anyone who longs to know and love God.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (May 17, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601423713
ISBN-13: 978-1601423719



“We’re all theologians. The question is

whether what we know about God is true.”

IT’S STRANGE TO SEE an Amish girl drunk. The pairing of a bonnet and a can of beer is awkward. If she were stumbling along with a jug of moonshine, it would at least match her long, dowdy dress. But right now she can’t worry about that. She is flat-out wasted. Welcome to rumspringa.


The Amish, people who belong to a Christian religious sect with roots in

Europe, practice a radical form of separation from the modern world. They live and dress with simplicity. Amish women wear bonnets and long, old fashioned dresses and never touch makeup. The men wear wide-rimmed straw hats, sport bowl cuts, and grow chin curtains—full beards with the mustaches shaved off.

My wife, Shannon, sometimes says she wants to be Amish, but I know this isn’t true. Shannon entertains her Amish fantasy when life feels too complicated or when she’s tired of doing laundry. She thinks life would be easier if she had only two dresses to choose from and both looked the same. I tell her that if she ever tried to be Amish, she would buy a pair of jeans and ditch her head covering about ten minutes into the experiment. Besides, she would never let me grow a beard like that.

Once Shannon and her girlfriend Shelley drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a weekend of furniture and quilt shopping in Amish country. They stayed at a bed-and-breakfast located next door to an Amish farm. One morning Shannon struck up a conversation with the inn’s owner, who had lived among the Amish his entire life. She asked him questions, hoping for romantic details about the simple, buggy-driven life. But instead he complained about having to pick up beer cans every weekend.

Beer cans?

“Yes,” he said, “the Amish kids leave them everywhere. ”That’s when he told her about rumspringa. The Amish believe that before a young person chooses to commit to the Amish church as an adult, he or she should have the chance to freely explore the forbidden delights of the outside world. So at age sixteen everything changes for Amish teenagers. They go from milking cows and singing hymns to living like debauched rock stars.

In the Pennsylvania Dutch language, rumspringa literally means “running around.” It’s a season of doing anything and everything you want with zero rules. During this time—which can last from a few months to several years—all the restrictions of the Amish church are lifted. Teens are free to shop at malls, have sex, wear makeup, play video games, do drugs, use cell phones, dress however they want, and buy and drive cars. But what they seem to enjoy most during rumspringa is gathering at someone’s barn, blasting music, and then drinking themselves into the ground. Every weekend, the man told Shannon, he had to clean up beer cans littered around his property following the raucous, all-night Amish parties.

When Shannon came home from her Lancaster weekend, her Amish aspirations had diminished considerably. The picture of cute little Amish girls binge drinking took the sheen off her idealistic vision of Amish life. We completed her disillusionment when we rented a documentary about the rite of rumspringa called Devil’s Playground. Filmmaker Lucy Walker spent three years befriending, interviewing, and filming Amish teens as they explored the outside world. That’s where we saw the drunk Amish girl tripping along at a barn party. We learned that most girls continue to dress Amish even as they party—as though their clothes are a lifeline back to safety while they explore life on the wild side.

In the documentary Faron, an outgoing, skinny eighteen-year-old sells and is addicted to the drug crystal meth. After Faron is busted by the cops, he turns in rival drug dealers. When his life is threatened, Faron moves back to his parents’ home and tries to start over. The Amish faith is a good religion, he says. He wants to be Amish, but his old habits keep tugging on him.

A girl named Velda struggles with depression. During rumspringa she finds the partying empty, but after joining the church she can’t imagine living the rest of her life as an Amish woman. “God talks to me in one ear, Satan in the other,” Velda says. “Part of me wants to be like my parents, but the other part wants the jeans, the haircut, to do what I want to do.”1When she fails to convince her Amish fiancé to leave the church with her, she breaks off her engagement a month before the wedding and leaves the Amish faith for good. As a result Velda is shunned by her family and the entire community. Alone but determined, she begins to attend college.

Velda’s story is the exception. Eighty to 90 percent of Amish teens decide to return to the Amish church after rumspringa.2 At one point in the film, Faron insightfully comments that rumspringa is like a vaccination for Amish teens. They binge on all the worst aspects of the modern world long enough to make themselves sick of it. Then, weary and disgusted, they turn back to the comforting, familiar, and safe world of Amish life.

But as I watched, I wondered, What are they really going back to? Are they choosing God or just a safe and simple way of life?

I know what it means to wrestle with questions of faith. I know what it’s like for faith to be so mixed up with family tradition that it’s hard to distinguish between a genuine knowledge of God and comfort in a familiar way of life.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. One that was on the more conservative end of the spectrum. I’m the oldest of seven children. Our parents homeschooled us, raised us without television, and believed that old fashioned courtship was better than modern dating. Friends in our neighborhood probably thought our family was Amish, but that’s only because they didn’t know some of the really conservative Christian homeschool families. The truth was that our family was more culturally liberal than many homeschoolers. We watched movies, could listen to rock music (as long as it was Christian or the Beatles), and were allowed to have Star Wars and Transformers toys.

But even so, during high school I bucked my parents’ restrictions. That’s not to say my spiritual waywardness was very shocking. I doubt Amish kids would be impressed by my teenage dabbling in worldly pleasure. I never did drugs. Never got drunk. The worst things I ever did were to steal porn magazines, sneak out of the house at night with a kid from church, and date various girls behind my parents’ backs. Although my rebellion was tame in comparison, it was never virtue that held me back from sin. It was lack of opportunity. I shudder to think what I would have done with a parent sanctioned season of rumspringa.

The bottom line is that my parents’ faith wasn’t really my faith. I knew how to work the system, I knew the Christian lingo, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was set on enjoying the moment.

Recently a friend of mine met someone who knew me in early high school. “What did she remember about me?” I asked.

“She said you were girl crazy, full of yourself, and immature,” my friend told me.

Yeah, she knew me, I thought. It wasn’t nice to hear, but I couldn’t argue.

I didn’t know or fear God. I didn’t have any driving desire to know him.

For me, the Christian faith was more about a set of moral standards than belief and trust in Jesus Christ.

During my early twenties I went through a phase of blaming the church I had attended in high school for all my spiritual deficiencies. Evangelical mega churches make good punching bags.

My reasoning went something like this: I was spiritually shallow because the pastors’ teaching had been shallow. I wasn’t fully engaged because they hadn’t done enough to grab my attention. I was a hypocrite because everyone else had been a hypocrite. I didn’t know God because they hadn’t provided enough programs. Or they hadn’t provided the right programs. Or maybe they’d had too many programs.

All I knew was that it was someone else’s fault.

Blaming the church for our problems is second only to the popular and easy course of blaming our parents for everything that’s wrong with us. But the older I get, the less I do of both. I hope that’s partly due to the wisdom that comes with age. But I’m sure it’s also because I am now both a parent and a pastor. Suddenly I have a lot more sympathy for my dad and mom and the pastors at my old church. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

At the church where I now pastor (which I love), some young adults remind me of myself when I was in high school. They are church kids who know so much about Christian religion and yet so little about God. Some are passive, completely ambivalent toward spiritual things. Others are actively straying from their faith—ticked off about their parents’ authority, bitter over a rule or guideline, and counting the minutes until they turn eighteen and can disappear. Others aren’t going anywhere, but they stay just to go through the motions. For them, church is a social group.

It’s strange being on the other side now. When I pray for specific young men and women who are wandering from God, when I stand to preach and feel powerless to change a single heart, when I sit and counsel people and it seems nothing I can say will draw them away from sin, I remember the pastors from my teenage years. I realize they must have felt like this too. They must have prayed and cried over me. They must have labored over sermons with students like me in mind.

I see now that they were doing the best they knew how. But a lot of the time, I wasn’t listening.

During high school I spent most Sunday sermons doodling, passing notes, checking out girls, and wishing I were two years older and five inches taller so a redhead named Jenny would stop thinking of me as her “little brother.” That never happened.

I mostly floated through grown-up church. Like a lot of teenagers in evangelical churches, I found my sense of identity and community in the parallel universe of the youth ministry. Our youth group was geared to being loud, fast paced, and fun. It was modeled on the massive and influential, seeker-sensitive Willow Creek Community Church located outside Chicago. The goal was simple: put on a show, get kids in the building, and let them see that Christians are cool, thus Jesus is cool. We had to prove that being a Christian is, contrary to popular opinion and even a few annoying passages of the Bible, loads of fun. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as partying and having sex but pretty fun nonetheless.

Every Wednesday night our group of four-hundred-plus students divided into teams. We competed against each other in games and won points by bringing guests. As a homeschooler, of course I was completely worthless in the “bring friends from school” category. So I tried to make up for that by working on the drama and video team. My buddy Matt and I wrote, performed, and directed skits to complement our youth pastor’s messages. Unfortunately, our idea of complementing was to deliver skits that were not even remotely connected to the message. The fact that Matt was a Brad Pitt look-alike assured that our skits were well received (at least by the girls).

The high point of my youth-group performing career came when the pastor found out I could dance and asked me to do a Michael Jackson impersonation.

The album Bad had just come out. I bought it, learned all the dance moves, and then when I performed—how do I say this humbly?—I blew everyone away. I was bad (and I mean that in the good sense of the word bad ). The crowd went absolutely nuts. The music pulsed, and girls were screaming and grabbing at me in mock adulation as I moon walked and lip-synced my way through one of the most inane pop songs ever written. I loved every minute of it.

Looking back, I’m not real proud of that performance. I would feel better about my bad moment if the sermon that night had been about the depravity of man or something else that was even slightly related. But there was no connection. It had nothing to do with anything.

For me, dancing like Michael Jackson that night has come to embody my experience in a big, evangelical, seeker-oriented youth group. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was culturally savvy (at the time), and it had very little to do with God. Sad to say, I spent more time studying Michael’s dance moves for that drama assignment than I was ever asked to invest in studying about God.

Of course, this was primarily my own fault. I was doing what I wanted to do. There were other kids in the youth group who were more mature and who grew more spiritually during their youth-group stint. And I don’t doubt the good intentions of my youth pastor. He was trying to strike the balance between getting kids to attend and teaching them.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been interested in youth group if it hadn’t been packaged in fun and games and a good band. But I still wish someone had expected more of me—of all of us.

Would I have listened? I can’t know. But I do know that a clear vision of God and the power of his Word and the purpose of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were lost on me in the midst of all the flash and fun.

There’s a story in the Bible of a young king named Josiah, who lived about 640 years before Christ. I think Josiah could have related tome—being religious but ignorant of God. Josiah’s generation had lost God’s Word. And I don’t mean that figuratively. They literally lost God’s Word. It sounds ridiculous, but they essentially misplaced the Bible.

If you think about it, this was a pretty big deal. We’re not talking about a pair of sunglasses or a set of keys. The Creator of the universe had communicated with mankind through the prophet Moses. He gave his law. He revealed what he was like and what he wanted. He told his people what it meant for them to be his people and how they were to live. All this was dutifully recorded on a scroll. Then this scroll, which was precious beyond measure, was stored in the holy temple. But later it was misplaced. No one knows how. Maybe a clumsy priest dropped it and it rolled into a dark corner.

But here’s the really sad thing: nobody noticed it was missing. No search was made. Nobody checked under the couch. It was gone and no one cared. For decades those who wore the label “God’s people” actually had no communication with him.

They wore their priestly robes, they carried on their traditions in their beautiful temple, and they taught their messages that were so wise, so insightful, so inspirational.

But it was all a bunch of hot air—nothing but their own opinions. Empty ritual. Their robes were costumes, and their temple was an empty shell.

This story scares me because it shows that it’s possible for a whole generation to go happily about the business of religion, all the while having lost a true knowledge of God.

When we talk about knowledge of God, we’re talking about theology. Simply put, theology is the study of the nature of God—who he is and how he thinks and acts. But theology isn’t high on many people’s list of daily concerns.

My friend Curtis says that most people today think only of themselves. He calls this “me-ology.” I guess that’s true. I know it was true of me and still can be. It’s a lot easier to be an expert on what I think and feel and want than to give myself to knowing an invisible, universe-creating God.

Others view theology as something only scholars or pastors should worry about. I used to think that way. I viewed theology as an excuse for all the intellectual types in the world to add homework to Christianity.

But I’ve learned that this isn’t the case. Theology isn’t for a certain group of people. In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to escape theology. It’s everywhere. All of us are constantly “doing” theology. In other words, all of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like. Oprah does theology. The person who says, “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to hell” is doing theology.

We all have some level of knowledge. This knowledge can be much or little, informed or uninformed, true or false, but we all have some concept of God (even if it’s that he doesn’t exist). And we all base our lives on what we think God is like.

So when I was spinning around like Michael Jackson at youth group, I was a theologian. Even though I wasn’t paying attention in church. Even though I wasn’t very concerned with Jesus or pleasing him. Even though I was more preoccupied with my girlfriend and with being popular. Granted I was a really bad theologian—my thoughts about God were unclear and often ignorant. But I had a concept of God that directed how I lived.

I’ve come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature—what he is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him—affects every part of your life.

Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.

I know the idea of “studying” God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab or a set of ideas that we memorize like math proofs.

But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?

Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood?

We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions.

We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

In the days of King Josiah, theology was completely messed up. This isn’t really surprising. People had lost God’s words and then quickly forgot what the true God was like.

King Josiah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. People call Jeremiah the weeping prophet, and there was a lot to weep about in those days. “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land,” Jeremiah said. “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:30–31, NIV).

As people learned to love their lies about God, they lost their ability to recognize his voice. “To whom can I speak and give warning?” God asked. “Who will listen tome? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it” (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV).

People forgot God. They lost their taste for his words. They forgot what he had done for them, what he commanded of them, and what he threatened if they disobeyed. So they started inventing gods for themselves. They started borrowing ideas about God from the pagan cults. Their made-up gods let them live however they wanted. It was “me-ology” masquerading as theology.

The results were not pretty.

Messed-up theology leads to messed-up living. The nation of Judah resembled one of those skanky reality television shows where a houseful of barely dressed singles sleep around, stab each other in the back, and try to win cash. Immorality and injustice were everywhere. The rich trampled the poor. People replaced the worship of God with the worship of pagan deities that demanded religious orgies and child sacrifice. Every level of society, from marriage and the legal system to religion and politics, was corrupt.

The surprising part of Josiah’s story is that in the midst of all the distortion and corruption, he chose to seek and obey God. And he did this as a young man (probably no older than his late teens or early twenties). Scripture gives this description of Josiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, NIV).

The prophet Jeremiah called people to the same straight path of true theology and humble obedience:

Thus says the LORD:

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

In Jeremiah’s words you see a description of King Josiah’s life. His generation was rushing past him, flooding down the easy paths of man-made religion, injustice, and immorality.

They didn’t stop to look for a different path.

They didn’t pause to consider where the easy path ended.

They didn’t ask if there was a better way.

But Josiah stopped. He stood at a crossroads, and he looked. And then he asked for something that an entire generation had neglected, even completely forgotten. He asked for the ancient paths.

What are the ancient paths? When the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah used the phrase, he was describing obedience to the Law of Moses. But today the ancient paths have been transformed by the coming of Jesus Christ. Now we see that those ancient paths ultimately led to Jesus. We have not only truth to obey but a person to trust in—a person who perfectly obeyed the Law and who died on the cross in our place.

But just as in the days of Jeremiah, the ancient paths still represent life based on a true knowledge of God—a God who is holy, a God who is just, a God who is full of mercy toward sinners. Walking in the ancient paths still means relating to God on his terms. It still means receiving and obeying his self-revelation with humility and awe.

Just as he did with Josiah and Jeremiah and every generation after them, God calls us to the ancient paths. He beckons us to return to theology that is true. He calls us, as Jeremiah called God’s people, to recommit ourselves to orthodoxy.

The word orthodoxy literally means “right opinion.” In the context of Christian faith, orthodoxy is shorthand for getting your opinion or thoughts about God right. It is teaching and beliefs based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don’t budge. They’re clearly taught in Scripture and affirmed in the historic creeds of the Christian faith:
There is one God who created all things.

God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Bible is God’s inerrant word to humanity.

Jesus is the virgin-born, eternal Son of God.

Jesus died as a substitute for sinners so they could be forgiven.

Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus will one day return to judge the world.

Orthodox beliefs are ones that genuine followers of Jesus have acknowledged From the beginning and then handed down through the ages. Take one of them away, and you’re left with something less than historic Christian belief.

When I watched the documentary about the Amish rite of rumspringa, what stood out to me was the way the Amish teenagers processed the decision of whether or not to join the Amish church. With few exceptions the decision seemed to have very little to do with God. They weren’t searching Scripture to see if what their church taught about the world, the human heart, and salvation was true. They weren’t wrestling with theology. I’m not implying that the Amish don’t have a genuine faith and trust in Jesus. But for the teens in the documentary, the decision was mostly a matter of choosing a culture and a lifestyle. It gave them a sense of belonging. In some cases it gave them a steady job or allowed them to marry the person they wanted.

I wonder how many evangelical church kids are like the Amish in this regard. Many of us are not theologically informed. Truth about God doesn’t define us and shape us. We have grown up in our own religious culture. And often this culture, with its own rituals and music and moral values, comes to represent Christianity far more than specific beliefs about God do.

Every new generation of Christians has to ask the question, what are we actually choosing when we choose to be Christians? Watching the stories of the Amish teenagers helped me realize that a return to orthodoxy has to be more than a return to a way of life or to cherished traditions. Of course the Christian faith leads to living in specific ways. And it does join us to a specific community. And it does involve tradition. All this is good. It’s important. But it has to be more than tradition. It has to be about a person—the historical and living person of Jesus Christ.

Orthodoxy matters because the Christian faith is not just a cultural tradition or moral code. Orthodoxy is the irreducible truths about God and his work in the world. Our faith is not just a state of mind, a mystical experience, or concepts on a page. Theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity.

For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.

Theology sounds stuffy.

Doctrine is something unkind people fight over.

And orthodoxy? Many Christians would have trouble saying what it is other than it calls to mind images of musty churches guarded by old men with comb-overs who hush and scold.

I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my “theology allergy,” was unfounded.

This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.

The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

They told the story of the Person I longed to know.