Thursday, July 31, 2008

FIRST! Romancing Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson

It is August FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

Today's feature author is:

and her book:

Romancing Hollywood Nobody

NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)


Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Finding Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 195 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600062210
ISBN-13: 978-1600062216


Monday, April 30, 6:00 a.m.

My eyes open. Yes, yes, yes. The greatest man in the entire world

is brewing coffee right here in the TrailMama.


“Morning, Scotty. The big day.”


“And this time, you won't have to drive.”

I throw back the covers on my loft bed and slip down to the dinette of our RV. My dad sleeps on the dinette bed. He's usually got it turned back into our kitchen table by 5:00 a.m. What can I say? The guy may be just as much in love with cheese as I am, but honestly? Our body clocks are about as different as Liam Neeson and Seth Green.

You know what I mean?

And we have lots of differences.

For one, he's totally a nonfiction person and I'm fiction all the way. For two, he has no fashion sense whatsoever. And for three, he has way more hope for people at the outset than I do. Man, do I have a lot to learn on that front.

He hands me a mug and I sip the dark liquid. I was roasting coffee beans for a while there, but Dad took the mantle upon himself and he does a better job.

Starbucks Schmarbucks.

He hands me another mug and I head to the back of the TrailMama to wake up Charley. My grandmother looks so sweet in the morning, her frosted, silver-blonde hair fanned out on the pillow. You know, she could pass for an aging mermaid. A really short one, true.

I wave the mug as close as I can to her nose without fear of her rearing up, knocking the mug and burning her face. “Charley . . .” I singsong. “Time to get a move on. Time to get back on the road.”

And boy is this a switch!

All I can say is, your life can be going one way for years and years and then, snap-snap-snap-in-a-Z, it looks like it had major plastic surgery.

Only in reverse. Imagine life just getting more and more real. I like it.

Charley opens her eyes. “Hey, baby. You brought me coffee. You get groovier every day.”

She's a hippie. What can I say?

And she started drinking coffee again when I ran away last fall in Texas. I mean, I didn't really run away. I went somewhere with a perfectly good reason for not telling anyone, and I was planning to return as soon as my mission was done.

She scootches up to a sitting position, hair still in a cloud, takes the mug and, with that dazzling smile still on her face (think Kate Hudson) sips the coffee. She sighs.

“I know,” I say. “How did we make it so long without him?”

“Now that he's with us, I don't know. But somehow we did, didn't we, baby? It may not have always been graceful and smooth, but we made it together.”

I rub her shoulder. “Yeah. I guess you could say we pretty much did.”

The engine hums its movin'-on song. “Dad's ready to pull out. Let's hit it.”

“Scotland, here we come.”

Scotland? Well, sort of.

An hour later

This has been a great school year. In addition to the online courses I'm taking through Indiana University High School, Dad's been teaching me and man, is he smart. I'm sure most sixteen-(almost seventeen)-year-olds think their fathers are the smartest guys in the world, but in my case it happens to be true.

Okay, even I have to admit he probably won't win the Nobel Prize for physics or anything, but he's street smart and there's no replacing that sort of thing. Big plus: he knows high school math. We're both living under the radar. And he's taken our faux last name. Dawn. He's now Ezra Fitzgerald Dawn. After Ezra Pound, one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Lost Generation friends.

I'm just lovin' that.

“Your mom would have loved the name change, Scotty.”

He told me about his life as an FBI agent, some of the cases he worked on, and well, I'd like to tell you he had a life like Sydney Bristow's in Alias, but he probably spent most of his time on com-puter work and sitting around on his butt waiting for someone to make a move. The FBI, apparently, prefers to trick people more than corner them in showdowns and shootouts. The Robertsman case was his first time undercover in the field and we know how terribly that worked out for him. And me. And Charley. And Babette, my mother.

I pull out my math book and sit in the passenger seat of the TrailMama. “Ready for some 'rithmetic, Dad?”

“You bet.” He turns to me and smiles. His smile still makes my heart warm up like a griddle ready to make smiley-face pan-cakes. I flip on my book light.

It's still dark and we're headed to Asheville, North Carolina for Charley's latest shoot. A film about Bonnie Prince Charlie called Charlie's Lament. How ironic is that? The director, Bartholomew (don't dare call him Bart) Evans, is a real jerk. I'm not going to be hanging around the set much even though Liam Neeson is Lord George Murray, the voice of reason Prince Charlie refused to listen to. But hey, that's my history lesson. We're still on math.

I finish up the last lesson in geometry . . . finally! Honestly, I still don't understand it without a mammoth amount of help, but the workbook's filled and that's a good thing.


I set down my pen. “Finished!”

Dad gives a nod as he continues to look out the windshield. You might guess, despite the tattoos, piercings, and his gleaming bald head, he's a very careful driver. And he won't let me drive like Charley did.

“So . . . driver's license then, right?”

He's been holding that over my head so I'd finish the math course.

“You know it. After the film, we'll request your new birth certificate and go from there.”

“What state are we supposedly from?” The FBI has given us a new identity, official papers and all that.


“Are you kidding me? Wyoming? Why?”

“Think about it, honey. Who's from Wyoming?”

“Lots of people?”

“Know any of them?”

“Uh. No.”


“Okay, Wyoming it is, then.”

“You realize you'll only have my beat-up old black truck to drive around.” The same truck we're towing behind the TrailMama.

“I'll take it.”

So here's the thing. The rest of the entire world thinks my father was shot in the chest and killed when he was outed by a branch of the mob he was after. This mob was financing James Robertsman's campaign for governor of Maryland.

The guy's running for president of the United States now.

I kid you not.

Wish I was kidding.

We thought he was after us for several years because Charley knew too much. But then last fall, we found out the guy chasing me was my father, and Robertsman is most likely cocky enough to think he took care of everything he needed. I say that's quite all right. Although, I have to admit, the fact that a dirtbag like that guy may end up in the Oval Office sickens me to no end.

Thanks to that guy, we had been running in fear from my own father.

The thing is, I could be really mad about all those wasted years, and a portion of me feels that way. But we've been given another chance, and I'll be darned if I throw away these days being angry. There's too much to be thankful for.

Don't get me wrong. I still have my surly days. I don't want Dad and Charley to think they have it as easy as all that!

Okay, time to blog.

Hollywood Nobody: April 30

Let's cut to the chase, Nobodies!

Today's Seth News: It's official. Seth Haas and Karissa Bonano are officially each other's exclusive main squeeze. The two were seen coming out of a popular LA tattoo parlor with each other's names on the inside of their forearms. How cliché. And pass the barf bag.

Today's Violette Dillinger Report: Violette has broken up with Joe Mason of Sweet Margaret. She wanted you all to know that long-distance romances are hard for any couple, but espe-cially for people as young as she is. “Joe needed to live his life. I'm on the road a lot. It wasn't fair to either of us.” Sounds like she's definitely not on the road to Britney. I'm just sayin'.

Today's Rave: Mandy Moore. The girl can really sing! And her latest album is filled with good songs. The bubble gum days of insipid teen heartbreak are over. She's finally come into her own. (Wish some others would follow her example, but I won't hold my breath. And man, are we on the theme of bratty stars today or what? Well, there are just so many of them from which to choose!)

Today's Rant: Crazy expensive celebrity weddings. What? If they spend more, will they be more likely to stay together? I have no idea. Mariah Carey's $25,000 dress pales in comparison to Catherine Zeta-Jones's $100,000 gown. What are those things made of?

Today's Quote: “Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today.” James Dean

Contests that are currently running.....

okay first of all we have the book drawing for Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure. it's a new christian romance series by Revell. click to go to book drawing

and then we have the drawing for a beaded dragon bookmark graciously provided by Mrs. Donita K. Paul.
have fun guys!
*and PLEASE enter*

Monday, July 28, 2008

WILD CARD! Sushi for One? by Camy Tang

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

Sushi for One?

Zondervan (September 1, 2007)


Camy Tang is a member of FIRST and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) is now available. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) will be coming out in September 2008!

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310273986
ISBN-13: 978-0310273981


Chapter One

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.

If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.

Lex Sakai raced through the open doorway to the Chinese restaurant and was immediately immersed in conversation, babies’ wails, clashing perfumes, and stale sesame oil. She tripped over the threshold and almost turned her ankle. Stupid pumps. Man, she hated wearing heels.

Her cousin Chester sat behind a small table next to the open doorway.

“Hey Chester.”

“Oooh, you’re late. Grandma isn’t going to be happy. Sign over here.” He gestured to the guestbook that was almost drowned in the pink lace glued to the edges.

“What do I do with this?” Lex dropped the Babies R Us box on the table.

Chester grabbed the box and flipped it behind him with the air of a man who’d been doing this for too long and wanted out from behind the frilly welcome table.

Lex understood how he felt. So many of their cousins were having babies, and there were several mixed Chinese-Japanese marriages in the family. Therefore, most cousins opted for these huge—not to mention tiring—traditional Chinese Red Egg and Ginger parties to “present” their newborns, even though the majority of the family was Japanese American.

Lex bent to scrawl her name in the guestbook. Her new sheath dress sliced into her abs, while the fabric strained across her back muscles. Trish had convinced her to buy the dress, and it actually gave her sporty silhouette some curves, but its fitted design prevented movement. She should’ve worn her old loosefitting dress instead. She finished signing the book and looked back to Chester. “How’s the food?” The only thing worthwhile about these noisy events. Lex would rather be at the beach.

“They haven’t even started serving.”

“Great. That’ll put Grandma in a good mood.”

Chester grimaced, then gestured toward the far corner where there was a scarlet-draped wall and a huge gold dragon wall-hanging. “Grandma’s over there.”

“Thanks.” Yeah, Chester knew the drill, same as Lex. She had to go over to say hello as soon as she got to the party— before Grandma saw her, anyway—or Grandma would be peeved and stick Lex on her “Ignore List” until after Christmas.

Lex turned, then stopped. Poor Chester. He looked completely forlorn—not to mention too bulky—behind that silly table. Of all her cousins, he always had a smile and a joke for her. “Do you want to go sit down? I can man the table for you for a while. As long as you don’t forget to bring me some food.” She winked at him.

Chester flashed his toothy grin, and the weary lines around his face expanded into his normal laugh lines. “I appreciate that, but don’t worry about me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. My sister’s going to bring me something—she’s got all the kids at her table, so she’ll have plenty for me. But thanks, Lex.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

Lex wiggled in between the round tables and inadvertently jammed her toe into the protruding metal leg of a chair. To accommodate the hefty size of Lex’s extended family, the restaurant had loaded the room with tables and chairs so it resembled a game of Tetris. Once bodies sat in the chairs, a chopstick could barely squeeze through. And while Lex prided herself on her athletic 18-percent body fat, she wasn’t a chopstick.

The Chinese waiters picked that exact moment to start serving the food.

Clad in black pants and white button-down shirts, they filed from behind the ornate screen covering the doorway to the kitchen, huge round platters held high above their heads. They slid through the crowded room like salmon—how the heck did they do that?—while it took all the effort Lex had to push her way through the five inches between an aunty and uncle’s
chairs. Like birds of prey, the waiters descended on her as if they knew she couldn’t escape.

Lex dodged one skinny waiter with plates of fatty pork and thumb-sized braised octopus. Another waiter almost gouged her eye out with his platter. She ducked and shoved at chairs, earning scathing glances from various uncles and aunties.

Finally, Lex exploded from the sea of tables into the open area by the dragon wall-hanging. She felt like she’d escaped from quicksand. Grandma stood and swayed in front of the horrifying golden dragon, holding her newest great-granddaughter, the star of the party. The baby’s face glowed as red as the fabric covering the wall. Probably scared of the dragon’s green buggy eyes only twelve inches away. Strange, Grandma seemed to be favoring her right hip.

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Lex! Hi sweetie. You’re a little late.”

Translation: You’d better have a good excuse.

Lex thought about lying, but aside from the fact that she couldn’t lie to save her life, Grandma’s eyes were keener than a sniper’s. “I’m sorry. I was playing grass volleyball and lost track of time.”

The carefully lined red lips curved down. “You play sports too much. How are you going to attract a man when you’re always sweating?”

Like she was now? Thank goodness for the fruity body spritz she had marinated herself in before she got out of her car.

“That’s a pretty dress, Lex. New, isn’t it?”

How did she do that? With as many grandchildren as she had, Grandma never failed to notice clothes, whereas Lex barely registered that she wasn’t naked. “Thanks. Trish picked it out.”

“It’s so much nicer than that ugly floppy thing you wore to your cousin’s wedding.”

Lex gritted her teeth. Respect your grandmother. Do not open your mouth about something like showing up in a polkadotted bikini.

“Actually, Lex, I’m glad you look so ladylike this time. I have a friend’s son I want you to meet—”

Oh, no. Not again. “Does he speak English?”

Grandma drew herself to her full height, which looked a little silly because Lex still towered over her. “Of course he does.”


“Yes. Lex, your attitude—”


“Now why should that make a difference?”

Lex widened innocent eyes. “Religious differences account for a lot of divorces.”

“I’m not asking you to marry him, just to meet him.”

Liar. “I appreciate how much you care about me, but I’ll find my own dates, thanks.” Lex smiled like she held a knife blade in her teeth. When Grandma got pushy like this, Lex had more backbone than the other cousins.

“I wouldn’t be so concerned, but you don’t date at all—”

Not going there. “Is this Chester’s niece?” Lex’s voice rose an octave as she tickled the baby’s Pillsbury-Doughboy stomach. The baby screamed on. “Hey there, cutie, you’re so big, betcha having fun, is Grandma showing you off, well, you just look pretty as a picture, are you enjoying your Red Egg and Ginger party? Okay, Grandma, I have to sit down. Bye.”

Before Grandma could say another word, Lex whisked away into the throng of milling relatives. Phase one, accomplished. Grandmother engaged. Retreat commencing before more nagging words like “dating” and “marriage” sullied the air.

Next to find her cousins—and best friends—Trish, Venus, and Jenn, who were saving a seat for her. She headed toward the back where all the other unmarried cousins sat as far away from Grandma as physically possible.

Their table was scrunched into the corner against towering stacks of unused chairs—like the restaurant could even hold more chairs. “Lex!” Trish flapped her raised hand so hard, Lex expected it to fly off at any moment. Next to her, Venus lounged, as gorgeous as always and looking bored, while Jennifer sat quietly on her other side, twirling a lock of her long straight hair. On either side of them …

“Hey, where’s my seat?”

Venus’s wide almond eyes sent a sincere apology. “We failed you, babe. We had a seat saved next to Jenn, but then . . .” She pointed to where the back of a portly aunty’s chair had rammed up against their table. “We had to remove the chair, and by then, the rest were filled.”

“Traitors. You should have shoved somebody under the table.”

Venus grinned evilly. “You’d fit under there, Lex.”

Trish whapped Venus in the arm. “Be nice.”

A few of the other cousins looked at them strangely, but they got that a lot. The four of them became close when they shared an apartment during college, but even more so when they all became Christian. No one else understood their flaws, foibles, and faith.

Lex had to find someplace to sit. At the very least, she wanted to snarf some overpriced, high calorie, high cholesterol food at this torturous party.

She scanned the sea of black heads, gray heads, dyed heads, small children’s heads with upside-down ricebowl haircuts, and teenager heads with highlighting and funky colors.

There. A table with an empty chair. Her cousin Bobby, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brood. Six—count ’em, six— little people under the age of five.

Lex didn’t object to kids. She liked them. She enjoyed coaching her girls’ volleyball club team. But these were Bobby’s kids. The 911 operators knew them by name. The local cops drew straws on who would have to go to their house when they got a call.

However, it might not be so bad to sit with Bobby and family. Kids ate less than adults, meaning more food for Lex.

“Hi, Bobby. This seat taken?”

“No, go ahead and sit.” Bobby’s moon-face nodded toward the empty chair.

Lex smiled at his nervous wife, who wrestled with an infant making intermittent screeching noises. “Is that …” Oh great. Boxed yourself in now. Name a name, any name. “Uh … Kyle?”

The beleaguered mom’s smile darted in and out of her grimace as she tried to keep the flailing baby from squirming into a face-plant on the floor. “Yes, this is Kylie. Can you believe she’s so big?” One of her sons lifted a fork. “No, sweetheart, put the food down—!”

The deep-fried missile sailed across the table, trailing a tail of vegetables and sticky sauce. Lex had protected her face from volleyballs slammed at eighty miles an hour, but she’d never dodged multi-shots of food. She swatted away a flying net of lemony shredded lettuce, but a bullet of sauce-soaked fried chicken nailed her right in the chest.

Yuck. Well, good thing she could wash—oops, no, she hadn’t worn her normal cotton dress. This was the new silk one. The one with the price tag that made her gasp, but also made her look like she actually had a waist instead of a plank for a torso. The dress with the “dry-clean only” tag.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Lex. Bad boy. Look what you did.” Bobby’s wife leaned across the table with a napkin held out, still clutching her baby whose foot was dragging through the chow mein platter.

The little boy sitting next to Lex shouted in laughter. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t had a mouth full of chewed bok choy in garlic sauce.

Regurgitated cabbage rained on Lex’s chest, dampening the sunny lemon chicken. The child pointed at the pattern on her dress and squealed as if he had created a Vermeer. The other children laughed with him.

“Hey boys! That’s not nice.” Bobby glared at his sons, but otherwise didn’t stop shoveling salt-and-pepper shrimp into his mouth.

Lex scrubbed at the mess, but the slimy sauces refused to transfer from her dress onto the polyester napkin, instead clinging to the blue silk like mucus. Oh man, disgustamundo. Lex’s stomach gurgled. Why was every other part of her athlete’s body strong except for her stomach?

She needed to clean herself up. Lex wrestled herself out of the chair and bumped an older man sitting behind her. “Sorry.” The violent motion made the nausea swell, then recede. Don’t be silly. Stop being a wimp. But her already sensitive stomach had dropped the call with her head.

Breathe. In. Out. No, not through your nose. Don’t look at that boy’s drippy nose. Turn away from the drooling baby.

She needed fresh air in her face. She didn’t care how rude it was, she was leaving now.

“There you are, Lex.”

What in the world was Grandma doing at the far end of the restaurant? This was supposed to be a safe haven. Why would Grandma take a rare venture from the other side where the “more important” family members sat?

“My goodness, Lex! What happened to you?”

“I sat next to Bobby’s kids.”

Grandma’s powdered face scrunched into a grimace. “Here, let me go to the restroom with you.” The bright eyes strayed again to the mess on the front of her dress. She gasped.

Oh, no, what else? “What is it?” Lex asked.

“You never wear nice clothes. You always wear that hideous black thing.”

“We’ve already been over this—”

“I never noticed that you have no bosom. No wonder you can’t get a guy.”

Lex’s jaw felt like a loose hinge. The breath stuck in her chest until she forced a painful cough. “Grandma!

Out of the corner of her eye, Lex could see heads swivel. Grandma’s voice carried better than a soccer commentator at the World Cup.

Grandma bent closer to peer at Lex’s chest. Lex jumped backward, but the chair behind her wouldn’t let her move very far.

Grandma straightened with a frighteningly excited look on her face. “I know what I’ll do.”

God, now would be a good time for a waiter to brain her with a serving platter.

Grandmother gave a gleeful smile and clapped her hands. “Yes, it’s perfect. I’ll pay for breast implants for you!”

© Camy Tang
Used by permission of Zondervan

Sunday, July 27, 2008

WILD CARD! The Deuteronomy Project by Richard B. Couser

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

The Deuteronomy Project

Winepress Publishing (April 16, 2008)


Richard B. Couser received the Book of the Year award from Your Church magazine for his earlier book, Ministry and the American Legal System, praised as “the best church and law text in print.” He has also written a number of book chapters, monographs, religious news columns, and educational materials for both the Christian and legal community, and spoken to numerous church and legal groups. He has served as president of the Christian Legal Society, a national organization of Christian attorneys, and as a leader of other Christian organizations and his church. Couser’s passionate love for the text of Deuteronomy informs his writing. His personal research forThe Deuteronomy Project includes most resources on Deuteronomy available in the English language as well as courses on the seminary level. Couser is a graduate of Yale University and Stanford Law School.

Richard B. Couser is a grandfather. His wife Linda, two children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren are all faithful believers (except the newest baby who needs to grow a little before she understands her faith).

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 19.95
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Winepress Publishing (April 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1579219381
ISBN-13: 978-1579219383


Chapter One

A Greek friend once taught me a traditional Orthodox prayer
known as “the Jesus Prayer.” It is simple; a single sentence: “Lord
Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Th e extended, continuous repetition
of this sentence is said to bring believers into a deeper, even mystical,
communion with God. I don’t know what effect such repetition has
on mind or body to add to the spiritual force that must spring from
absorbing the message of the prayer into one’s soul. Its seven words
contain all that is needed for spiritual life: confessing the Lordship of
Christ, the sin of the believer (without which there would be no need
for mercy), the plea for mercy, and the certainty that the Lord Jesus can
and will provide it to those who ask.

I knew a little, but very little, of such things when I first met Hal. I
had heard it at an early stage of my adult life as a believer of the practice
of “praying the Scriptures”—taking a word, a phrase, or a verse and
focusing meditation and prayer on it until it was absorbed into the soul
like the Jesus prayer. Despite my intellectual knowledge of spiritual
matters, my own life of prayer and meditation had been engaged lightly
and infrequently. I had never experienced the mystical union with God
from such prayer or meditation claimed by saints like Teresa of Avila,
Madame Jeanne Guyon, or John of the Cross.

Even at the “book-learning” level, there were times when my poor
and inconstant study of the Bible became stuck, wheels spinning in the
proverbial rut, at a point that seemed insurmountable. Deuteronomy is
a little-visited book, and it was just there that the mountain of Scripture
was planted in my path, with no way around. A visiting preacher in our
church asked once, only half in jest, if any of us could fi nd Deuteronomy
in our Bibles. Like too many people in the pew, even those who were
biblically literate, I could find Deuteronomy, but I almost never found
myself in it. Th e book is long—and long before Christ. For much of
its length, it seems to bog down in detailed laws that no longer apply,
at least to Christians. It consisted of Moses’ speeches and teachings,
but we had Jesus. It expressed the “old covenant,” but we had the “new
covenant.” It was, in short, too old, too long, too Jewish, and too irrelevant.
What was the point of studying it?

Yet many things about Deuteronomy intrigued me. It was Moses’
end-of-life speeches and teachings, summarizing everything he had
learned from the Lord and taught Israel for forty years. Surely the last
words of such a monumental fi gure in religious and world history were
worthy of attention.

It was also, I could see, a transitional book, marking the end of
Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, when the forty years of desert wandering
were over and the conquest of the Promised Land was about to begin.
Israel was camped on the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, and
Joshua was about to assume leadership. Th e historical books of Joshua
through Second Kings would continue the story of the movement over
the Jordan and the life of God’s people in the land, a story of promise,
failure, and ultimately destruction and exile in Babylon.

And, I read in my study Bible, it was a covenant—a contract or
treaty document expressing the relationship between God and a special
people he had chosen to serve him and to exemplify to the nations
what a righteous nation under God is like.

I knew Deuteronomy to be a book embodying much of the law of ancient
Israel. A literal translation of the Greek title was the “second law”
or repetition of the law, and the title was appropriate. In Deuteronomy,
the laws Moses had given Israel in the three preceding books—Exodus,
Leviticus and Numbers—were sometimes repeated, sometimes summarized,
sometimes abbreviated or expanded. Modern Christians have
little interest in studying Old Testament law. But could the accounts
of people and events in both testaments of the Bible—including the
teachings of Jesus and his controversies with Jewish groups and leaders
of his time—gain meaning from understanding the law contained in

It was also, commentators said, a book of deep theology. One writer
called it “Th e theological colossus that guards the entrance to Old
Testament theology.”1 From beginning to end, it was a document of
teaching and preaching, filled with instruction and understanding
on right living and relationships between people and God, between
people and their community, and between people and other people. It
contained the Ten Commandments. It is the most often quoted Old
Testament book by Jesus and the New Testament writers; it grounded
their understanding of what the universe was all about. If it was that
important to Jesus, perhaps it should be more important to me.
My mind turned over and over its opening phrase: “These are the
words. . . .” Like the beginning of the book of Genesis, or of the Gospels
of Mark, Luke, and John, it held a promise of depth in what followed
that kept one at the beginning, as if peering into a well of pure water
whose shiny surface reflected back the face of the viewer and needed to
be penetrated to taste what lay beneath.

I decided to visit Hal again to explore these thoughts.

“These are the words . . .” (Deut. 1:1).

Anna and I had stopped on a couple of Saturdays but hadn’t found
Hal at home. I took her for a tour of his rose garden, knowing he
would want me to share it with her. Some of the names of the varieties
had stuck with me, but Anna saw color and composition rather than
words, beauty rather than thought. Th e garden, she told me, was a
reflection of the gardener. She told me to call Hal and fi nd a time
to get together with him. She encouraged me to spend as much time
with him as I wanted. She sensed this was important to me and to my
personal spiritual journey. Her own lifelong journey in the Spirit told
her this was the right thing to do, the right time to do it, and the right
person with whom to do it. Hal was happy to oblige my request.

I found Hal in his study on a late summer evening, when the early
chill of fall was in the air. He was sitting in a deep red chair, facing the
hearty fl ames of a fi replace. A soft, dim light fl owed from the floor
lamp over his shoulder. Two others lamps, on a table and a desk against
opposite walls, helped illuminate the room. Th e study walls were floor
to ceiling bookcases on every side, broken only by the entrance door,
two west-facing windows with small panes, and the space where his
desk was set into the bookcases between the windows. Like a condensed
library in an English manor house or an expanded offi ce of a university
professor, bathed in the suff used orange of gentler light, it spoke as the
dwelling of one who lived by words.

Hal invited me to sit in the shallower and harder green chair across
from him. Would he help me study and understand Deuteronomy? I
had purchased some commentaries by various academics and others
about the book, and I was willing to read them—in fact I had already
begun to do so. But I wasn’t getting to the spiritual heart of the book,
so I pressed my case with Hal.

He needed little persuasion. He didn’t have a lot of people to pastor
anymore, he told me. It would be a joy to his heart to share what he
could with me. He asked me to commit to meet with him regularly and
to prepare for the meetings, not just by reading Deuteronomy but by
reading some background on it, studying it so we could talk at more
than a superficial level. When I assured him I would, he reached for his
Bible resting on a nearby table.

“Open your Bible to Deuteronomy and follow me while I read,” he

“Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all the Lord had commanded
him concerning them. . . . Th e Lord our God said to us at Horeb. . . .
Th en, as the Lord our God commanded us. . . . When the Lord heard
what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore. . . . Because of you
the Lord became angry with me also and said. . . . But the Lord said to
me . . .” (1:3, 6, 19, 34, 37, 42).

“You see, Chris, that’s only the first chapter of Deuteronomy, and
already the words you are reading have been given six times as the very
words of God. You are not reading the great American novel. And this
is not a ‘page turner’ to hold you breathless until the next fictional
adventure. Rather, you have come onto holy ground, where the author
of all that is—the only fi nal and ultimate reality—has shared with you
a glimpse of that reality. You are peering into God’s mind more surely
than the scientist who studies the far reaches of the universe through
images from great satellite-mounted telescopes, or one who teases from
DNA molecules the secrets of the chemistry of being. And your author
is about to take you on a journey that will carry you farther and reveal
more to you than journeying to outer space on a rocket ship.

“Contemplate the very term word. Th e acts of creation themselves
occur as spoken word—‘God said’—let there be light, an expanse between
the waters, dry ground, living creatures, man in our image. God
reveals himself to humanity through both word and deed, but the deeds
in turn are remembered and told and retold through the word. Word
is communication, and communication is the essence of the triune
God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘Word’ expresses thought, logic,
rationality, relationship, feeling, and fi nally becomes the expression of
God himself: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.’ It is in this—the living Word—that all
things hold together. Martin Luther wrote, ‘But to hear God is bliss,
even if He were to sound out the same syllable all the time.’2
“In your soul, you have sensed what ‘the words’ really are and are
really about. You’re afraid to see God. You’re afraid to know him.
Th at’s why you’re stuck in your journey. You aren’t the fi rst, but you
have this—few who read these words have any understanding of the
Awesome Presence in which they stand. You have felt the fi re and seen
the cloud. Don’t turn back. Press on!”

It was enough for the evening. I was seized with awe and a dread. I
thanked him for his words and fl ed into the night journey home. Hal
had pried the scales a little bit loose from my eyes. I tried to see into the
dark, beyond the short range of the headlights, all the while keeping
my mind on worldly things enough to stay on the right side of the road
and not be blinded by the oncoming masses of glass and steel.

“Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan—that is,
in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban,
Hazeroth and Dizahab” (Deut. 1:1). Th e words echoed in my mind.
Many Rabbis believe Moses’ words in Deuteronomy were not all spoken
on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan. Rather they were accumulated
speeches given in the villages along the route of travel—Suph,
Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dihazeb, perhaps supplemented,
summarized, or finalized in Moab. Others believe that the villages
referred to are among the many nameless tells, those ancient mounds
that were cities or villages in millennia past that dot the Middle East,
no longer identifiable by name. Still others try to fi nd modern villages
in the area and transfigure the current name into a variation of the
ancient biblical name and speculate that these mark the boundaries of
the location of Israel in the time of Deuteronomy.

I saw none of these that night. As I drove through the little crossroads
and village squares of the several rural New Hampshire towns that lay
between Hal’s home and mine, I counted off their names as the biblical
towns of Deuteronomy: Barrington Suph, Northwood Paran, Epsom
Tophel, Chichester Laban, Loudon Hazeroth, Concord Dihazeb. I had
seen these villages before, from hills overlooking Cardiff in Wales, and
Monaco in southern France, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles,
and Albuquerque in this country, and from the windows of a hundred
airplanes fl ying over every part of America and much of Europe. Th ey
were every town, and all of their inhabitants stood on the edge of the
Jordan, on the plains of Moab. Instead of deserts, forests, farms, lakes,
and ponds fi lled in between the villages. It didn’t matter. What lay
around me was as dry as those dusty plains where Moses spoke.

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert
east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph,
between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.
(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by
the Mount Seir road.)

In the fortieth year, on the fi rst day of the eleventh month,
Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had
commanded him concerning them. Th is was after he
had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in
Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan,
who reigned in Ashtaroth.

East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to
expound this law.
—Deut. 1:1–5

Monday morning came and the workweek swallowed me. Telephone
callers demanding return courtesies, letters to read, letters to write,
reports to digest and act on, projects to move, meetings, people with
questions, people with needs, bills to send, the sweat of my brow by
which to earn my bread. Th e bright fluorescence and busyness of the
office environment could not be more distant from Hal’s warm library. I
was on the phone when the “notification” box flashed on my computer
screen. It was an e-mail from Hal. My heart quickened, remembering
our recent evening together. I clicked on “read” while still talking to
my client.

Chris: God speaks in rhythms as well as in words. Just as
the molecules and atoms and subatomic particles that make
up your being and everything else in the universe are bound
together in a vibrating dance held together by forces that
we give names to and try to measure but don’t really understand,
so does the Scripture cohere in ways we rarely see.

Th e Bible is a whole book, not a series of disconnected texts.
Like all good stories, it has a beginning, a middle, and an
end; protagonists and antagonists; a series of scenes in which
the main character, Adam, strives toward a goal that he is
frustrated in reaching, until he finds the path. It is, of course,
the good story, not a good story. But the music of Scripture
is writ small as well as large. Bars and measures have patterns
within themselves that go together to make up the whole
symphony. Look for God’s patterns in it. Read only the fi rst
fi ve verses of Deuteronomy until you see the pattern. Th en
tell me what it is. When you can see the small rhythms, you
will begin to be able to see the large. Blessings—Hal.

I rushed home that night and plunged into the text after dinner. It
took an hour, but eventually I saw it. Th e text began with Moses speaking
the words, progressed through a description of space (“east of the
Jordan”)—where the words were spoken—then time (“in the fortieth
year”)—when the words were spoken, to the core message, “Moses
proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him
concerning them.” Th en in perfect rhythm, it reversed order, speaking
to time (“after he had defeated”), then space (“east of the Jordan”), to
where it started (“Moses began to expound this law”). I picked up the
phone and called Hal with my discovery. His voice on the other end of
the phone betrayed his pleasure at my discovery.

“Th e technical term for what you’ve found, Chris, is a chiasm. It’s
a concentric structure of music or text that can operate on any level,
from the few verses you are studying, to the book of Deuteronomy, or
the Bible as a whole. You can see the logic of it in an English translation.
Th e poetry and music only come through fully in the Hebrew.

Th e liturgical churches understand, intuitively at least, something of
this, more than my own evangelical tradition. Truth and goodness are
communicated through beauty. Th e music and poetry of it awaken our
sensitivity to meaning. Th e Holy Spirit is not a hack writer. I think
you’re ready to go on.”

I had a practical question for Hal fi rst. “Why does God insert verse
two in here, Hal? Th e reference to the eleven days it takes to go from
Horeb to Kadesh Barnea seems out of place.”

“Th e point,” Hal said, “is to contrast the ease of God’s way with the
difficulty of man’s. Horeb is Sinai—where the law was given. Kadesh
Barnea was the place they were supposed to jump off for the Promised
Land. You are about to read that part of the story, but the bottom line
is that because of their lack of faith, it took the Israelites thirty-eight
years to make a trip they could have made in eleven days if they had
followed the Lord’s command. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Keep reading.”

Th e Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed
long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance
into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring
peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western
foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of
the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the
Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take
possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to
your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to their
descendants after them.”
—Deut. 1:6–8

Hal was in a Socratic mood when we met next. He sat across from
me at a small table in the little coffee shop down the street from my office. Th e business day had not quite begun. To enhance the beginning
of their workday, people drifted in and out, picking up take-out cups
of flavored and specialty coffees. We sipped our own brew with bagels
and strawberry cream cheese, though we didn’t really want to eat but
felt obligated to purchase something to justify occupying the seats.
“Tell me about your education,” Hal began.

I recited my history: public school through the tenth grade, very
ordinary, followed by a couple years at a private preparatory school,
four years of undergraduate education, and three years of law school.
“Why did you spend nineteen years doing all that?” he asked next.
Th e early years were easy; I had, as did all children, to learn basics
that enable one to function in the world. After that, I was more goal oriented,
with the learning gradually becoming more focused on what
would be my life’s work in the law, work I could not have done without
everything that went before.

“How did you feel about education when you graduated from law

I recalled it well. I had been in school long enough. It was time
to leave school and practice the things I had learned. I was eager to
start my first job—to be a real lawyer, with cases and clients, helping
people, participating in the aff airs of life through my chosen field of

“And what does that have to do with the next three verses you are
studying in Deuteronomy?” Hal brought his brief quiz back to the
Scripture. I understood at once.

My schooling was the mountain where I had dwelt “long enough.”
When I finished my schooling, it was time to “break camp and advance.”
Th e Lord had put a world before me and prepared me to take
possession of it. Th e time for sitting at the learning desk was over—it
was the time of life to act. Deuteronomy 1:6–8 was every graduation
speech I had ever heard. I’d heard it at my own graduation; no doubt
my children and their children would hear it at theirs.

“But what does it teach spiritually?” Hal pressed.

His question led me on. We should move beyond being taught the
basics of the faith to act in the world as the Lord taught us to act. Th ere
comes a time when sitting at the Lord’s feet, at “the mountain,” is no
longer where we belong. Th ere are lands before us to conquer in his

“It’s the life goal of every pastor,” Hal said, “to bring his flock away
from the mountain and lead them into acting on the promise. I hear
it in Moses throughout Deuteronomy, and in Paul when he says of
himself, ‘When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me,’ and
in the writer of Hebrews when he scolds his readers for still living on
milk like infants, and not being ready for the solid food of maturity.
Most people in the pew spend their life at the foot of the mountain,
being hearers of the word but not doers. I used to plead with God to
give me one congregation or one board of elders that could leave the
mountain before my ministry was over, but he never did. Th ere were
some very deep and committed believers I knew over the years, some
who moved on spiritually to deeper levels, and some who took possession
of the promises God had laid out before them. But if success in
ministry means leading people beyond the elementary level, I’ve been
one of God’s colossal failures as a servant.”

His eyes were beginning to tear, and I was about to begin reassuring
him that he must be wrong, that he surely had led many to a deeper
understanding, that pastors always had to deal with the lowest common
denominator in the congregation—the new people constantly
coming in who needed the milk of elementary teachings of the faith.
But before I could speak, he pushed his chair back, signaling the end
of our talk. “You’ll be late for work,” he said abruptly. “We’ll talk more
about Deuteronomy later.”

I e-mailed Hal that afternoon to ask if he was all right and to tell him
I was eager to discuss the next section of the text. Verses nine through
eighteen were about government, designation of leaders, judges and
judging, things I thought I knew a little about. Hal quickly set me

“You’re not ready to talk about what you think you know,” he replied
by return. “Th e subject of government will come up in the text again,
and we’ll talk about it then. Just read the rest of chapter one, verses
nineteen through forty-six, and the fi rst verse of chapter two.” So I did.
Later, Hal e-mailed me and told me to meet him in the fast-food area
of the airport for coffee the next evening.

Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from
Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites
through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen,
and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Th en I said to you, “You
have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the
Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has
given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the
Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.”

Th en all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead
to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the
route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”
Th e idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you,
one man from each tribe. Th ey left and went up into the hill
country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and explored it.
Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought
it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord
our God is giving us.”

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the
command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your
tents and said, “Th e Lord hates us; so he brought us out of
Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy
us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart.
They say, ‘Th e people are stronger and taller than we are; the
cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the
Anakites there.’”

Th en I said to you, “Do not be terrifi ed; do not be afraid of
them. Th e Lord your God, who is going before you, will
fi ght for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very
eyes, and in the desert. Th ere you saw how the Lord your
God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you
went until you reached this place.”

In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God,
who went ahead of you on your journey, in fi re by night and
in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and
to show you the way you should go.

When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and
solemnly swore: “Not a man of this evil generation shall see
the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb
son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his
descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed
the Lord wholeheartedly.”

Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and
said, “You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant,
Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because
he will lead Israel to inherit it. And the little ones that you
said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet
know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it
to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you,
turn around and set out toward the desert along the route
to the Red Sea.”

Th en you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We
will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.”
So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to
go up into the hill country.

But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and
fi ght, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by
your enemies.’”

So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against
the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched
up into the hill country. Th e Amorites who lived in those
hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of
bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah.
You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no
attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. And
so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent

Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along
the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a
long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.
—Deut. 1:19–2:1

Manchester Airport is a busy regional airport. Tens of thousands of
flights and several million passengers pass through it every year. Th e next
evening, as I took my place across from Hal with a cup of McDonald’s
coffee, the security lines for the evening flights were formed, and travelers
by the hundreds were moving in and out of the terminal, a steady
wave of humanity on the way to or from some business or family or
recreational destination. Someone has observed that all stories ever told
could be titled either “I Took a Trip” or “A Stranger Came to Town.”
Th e story contained in the Hebrew Scriptures—the Old Testament, the
Bible that Jesus read—is of the “I Took a Trip” nature, a journey story
of God’s revelation to humanity, focused into the journeys of men and
women of faith and then of a people chosen to be a people of faith. Th e
story told in the Christian Scriptures—the New Testament, the part of
the Bible written about Jesus by those who walked with him or learned
from others who had—is of “Th e Stranger Who Came to Town.”
Hal sipped on his coffee and I on mine as we watched the fl ow of
people for a time.

“I thought we should discuss this section somewhere that we could
get a sense of journeys,” Hal began. “Watch the people going by. Th ink
about what the journey is, for each one—where they’ve been, where
they’re going—now, tomorrow, next week.”

I recognized the journey motif easily in the passage that made up the
rest of chapter one. Th e travel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea on the
edge of the Promised Land, the mission of the spies, the rebellion against
entry into the land, the change of heart after it was too late and the
unsuccessful attempt at entry, and the thirty-eight years of wilderness
wandering. It was an abbreviated recapitulation of the journey story
told at great length in the earlier books, and a reminder to the people
of where they had been. In academic terms—I had learned from the
commentaries—it was part of the “historical prologue” that preceded
the requirements of the law that was to be given in Deuteronomy and
made part of a covenant between God and the people. But Hal was not
interested in academic analysis. After my summary, he plunged in.

“Journeys,” he said, “are not just travel in space. Th e journey of Israel
in this passage is a journey in space and in time, like these people
around us. But, more importantly, it is the journey of the spiritual
experience of the people. It covers most of the wanderings before the
entry into the land—a period of thirty-eight years—and the experience
of a failure of faith. Th ey have been brought out of the bondage
of Egypt, led through hardship to the edge of plenty, and promised
success by the Creator of the universe. Yet they refuse to go in, blaming
their unbelief on God’s evil motives toward them. Although God saved
them by bringing them out of Egypt, they claim he intends to destroy
them at the hands of Amorites. Although God loved them and carried
them ‘as a father carries his son,’ they claim that he hates them. It’s the
psychological phenomenon of ‘projection,’ where a person attributes to
another the same feeling that he or she has toward that person.”

“You mean they really hate God?” I asked.

“What else can you conclude?” Hal answered my question with a
question of his own. “At every turn, they do the opposite of what he
asks. Every time he shows them why they should have faith in him, they
are unfaithful. Th en the consequences of their unbelief are brought to
them. He sends them back toward the desert and tells them they will
not see the good land; only their children will. Th is is, in eff ect, a death
sentence—to wander in ‘that vast and dreadful desert’ for the rest of
their lives. Faced with the consequence of their sin, they repent and try
to make it up by doing what they’re no longer commanded to do—a
further rebellion—and the result is utter failure. At every point, they
act contrary to God, and the result is that the blessings are withheld
and given to a generation that will accept them.”

I wondered aloud with Hal about how I should fi nd the story relevant
to my own life—or to the lives of people fi ling by. Was it just about a
nation, or does it apply to individuals? Is it of interest only as history?
Or as moral teaching? Or does it represent something more?

“Th e Hebrew scripture of Deuteronomy,” Hal responded, “is written
with ‘you’—the people to whom it is addressed—in both the singular
and plural. Th e shift from addressing the individual to the group ‘you’
occurs throughout the book, often within discrete passages. Since
both are translated simply ‘you’ in English, you don’t see the difference
in English Bibles. In biblical studies, the technical term for this
is the ‘Numeruswechsel.’ Both singular and plural ‘you’ appear in this
passage. You don’t need to remember the technical term, but what’s
important is that the message is addressed to both the nation and to

“To me and my country, then, right?” I asked.

“For you, Chris, that means it is addressed to you personally and to
every other individual human being. But the heir to the Israel of Moses
is not the modern state of Israel, nor the United States, nor any other
contemporary nation. It is the church—in the words of the Apostles’
Creed, ‘the holy catholic church,’ the church universal, the community
of believers, or at least those who associate together and profess to be

“So it’s really for me and the church,” I said. “But how is it relevant?”

“As for its relevance,” Hal said, “this would be a good time to talk a
little bit about how we should interpret Scripture. We’ll need to deal
with this all the way along in our study together. Th e story we are
reading now is, first of all, history, and we can learn from its example.

It is, of course, history with a moral. Th e story is not told just to tell
it, and not just because it happened or is interesting. It is a story with
a point, a teaching, something we need to absorb and by which we
need to be guided. Acting in faith and in accordance with God’s will
brings success, while unbelief and hesitancy in the face of God’s clear
command brings defeat, disaster, and wandering without hope in a
wilderness. As the saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn from history
are condemned to repeat it.’”

Th e security lines were growing short. Most of the evening fl ights
had loaded and left; the sojourners within them were on their way to
the next stage of their journey, or to their destination.

“What else?” I asked. “Th is sounds like a literal understanding.

Simple enough. Th e Bible tells a story, the facts are true, and there are
lessons to be gained. Are there other ways of understanding it?”

“Th ere are,” Hal said. “Beyond the literal historical sense—and the
moral or example we can take from that—are the allegorical, typological,
and anagogical senses of Scripture. Th ese are not the same, but people
use the terms somewhat interchangeably, and everyone doesn’t always
mean the same thing when they use them. Th ey must be used with

“I think I know about allegory and types,” I said. “But what’s the

“In allegory,” Hal replied, “whole stories or sections of Scripture are
sometimes seen as symbolic or fi gurative of something else, ways of
expressing truths about God and humanity. Stories that don’t fi t well
with our current human understanding, such as the early chapters of
Genesis, or the books of Job or Jonah, are often seen as allegorical. A
great danger in allegory is that it can lead to fl ights of fancy where the
true meaning of the Scripture is lost in human imagining and we hear
man and not God. Another danger is that allegorical interpretations

become focused on words, or, worse, numbers, and fi nd hidden meanings
in the text that are supposedly known only to some inner circle.

Th is is the stuff that leads to cults.”

“And the allegory here?”

“Th e story of Israel is the story of humanity,” Hal replied. “God does
great things for them, and they turn away from him, afraid to follow
his commands, blaming him for their fears. In the end, they deserve
only wilderness wanderings and death.”

“And what about typology?”

“In typology,” Hal said, “particular historical events are seen as
prefiguring or symbolizing something that comes to full significance
in Christ. Th e crossing of the Red Sea prefigures baptism; Jonah prefigures the resurrection of Christ. Typology is usually grounded in the
Scriptures themselves, which often make these connections explicit.
Jesus taught that the Law of Moses, as well as the prophets and the
psalmists, all wrote of him, so we are not off base in seeing these connections.
Moses is a type of Christ in many respects.”

“You had something else, too,” I said. “A word I’ve never heard

“Anagogical,” Hal replied. “In anagogical interpretation, one finds—
beyond the literal, moral, allegorical, or typological—a spiritual and
even mystical sense in which the scripture has eternal significance
in leading believers to the true homeland. Th e anagogical sense of
Scripture is better felt than taught; it’s what comes from the depth of
contemplating God in prayer and meditation in light of the Scriptures.
When you understand Scripture in an anagogical sense, you will have
gotten beyond the milk of elementary teachings and will be eating real
spiritual meat.”

Th e last evening flights had landed and their passengers disembarked.
As Hal and I parted, we passed through the crowds on their journeys
through the world, briefcases in hand, suitcases trundling behind them,
and children in tow. I had much to contemplate. History with a moral.
Israel as an allegory of humanity, its journey that of Everyman. Moses
prefi guring Christ. And that other word—anagogical—the deeper
spiritual meaning. I could think of far too many events in my own
life—and in that of churches of which I had been a part—that were
troublingly similar to the story of the spies, the rebellion against taking
God’s promise, and the resulting exile in the spiritual wilderness. I
watched the travelers in the airport making their way past, to cabs or
cars or shuttle vans, carrying the baggage of life to wherever they were
going. Every one was a human soul on a journey—in time, in space,
and in their spiritual life. How many, I wondered, were wandering
in the wilderness? How many standing in disobedience to God’s clear
commands? How many on their way to the Promised Land? How
many—indeed, were there any—who knew God’s words in their truest
spiritual sense? Did I? Could I?

I was glad I would be meeting with Hal again soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WILD CARD! Be Last by Jeremy Kingsley

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his book:

Be Last

Tyndale House Publishers (Jun 15 2008)


Touching the hearts of more than 65,000 people a year, Jeremy Kingsley is passionate about seeing the lost come to Christ and the saved walk more intimately with Him. Jeremy, the founder and president of Onelife Ministries, is a highly respected teacher and one of the most sought-after speakers today. He has interacted with hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and has also been involved in ministry in Africa, Mongolia, India, and Central America. His servant spirit, transparent heart, and deep love for Jesus challenge listeners to live authentic lives dedicated to Christ. Jeremy and his wife, Dawn, live in Columbia, South Carolina, with their sons, Jaden and Dylan.

Visit him at his website.



How Do I Become Great?

“Being Last” by Living a Life of Service

What tops your list of things that you’re good at? Is it writing or cooking or dancing or accounting or music? Are you an accomplished engineer or the chairman of a board or a decorated athlete? Maybe you’re the guy who can fix any computer problem or the woman who can parallel park on any street in the city. The options for showing off what you do well are nearly endless.

But being good at something and being great at it are not the same. There is a difference between having strong skills and being great with those skills. The same is true for our Christian experience. Maybe you’re known as “pretty good,” a Christian who can teach well or sing well or lead well or memorize well or serve well. Have you ever wanted your Christian experience to become great? Maybe you’re not even very good at following Jesus right now but you still want to become great. That kind of hunger usually resides in those who have met Jesus and have seen how amazing he is.

When you think about your Christian experience, would you call it “great”? Would you say that you have achieved “greatness” or at least are headed in that direction? The question may be a bit too hard to ponder, but the quest for greatness is a topic worth pursuing. Of course, there is no way to determine the “greatness” of one’s life with Christ until we define the word itself. And that can be a difficult task because our presumed definitions are often skewed by the surrounding culture’s values.

When it comes to business, music, or sports, greatness is easier to define. For example, the statement that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player is hardly contestable. His six championships, Olympic gold medal, MVP awards, appearances on All-Star teams, scoring records, and game-winning shots prove it. His actions and awards place him above all his competitors. Boxer Muhammad Ali, football receiver Jerry Rice, and golfer Tiger Woods have accomplished similar feats in their own sports, feats that demonstrate greatness. But how do we define greatness in the Christian life? Can checking stat sheets and lists of awards provide a clear standard for evaluating the greatness of a Christian? How do I become great?

Is it worth expending the energy required to experience God’s great life for us? Well, if I’m defining greatness, I don’t know whether it’s worth pursuing. And if you’re defining greatness, I’m not sure you’ll want to chase an arbitrary idea that you made up for yourself. But if the greatest One of all defines greatness for us, we would be wise to learn what he says—and the greatest One who has ever lived has spoken about greatness. The King of kings and Lord of lords has told us how we should approach the journey toward greatness. So just like golfers who pay thousands of dollars for instruction from Tiger or computer software engineers who listen intently to Michael Dell, we should drop everything and tune into Jesus’ approach to greatness.

God’s Cheering Section

The John 12:41 the writer explains that the prophet Isaiah saw and described the glory of Jesus in Isaiah 6. So if we want to get a taste of how great Jesus was before he came to earth as a human being, we should check out what Isaiah saw in his vision of the Messiah’s glory hundreds of years before Christ came. It may take a little time for us twenty-first-century Americans to understand how profoundly Isaiah’s vision depicts Jesus’ greatness, but stick with me, and I’ll try to explain. First, let’s see what Isaiah 6:1-4 says:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Words certainly do not do justice to what this experience would have been like for Isaiah. One moment he is praying, and the next moment he is swept into a vision of the Lord himself. He sees the inside of God’s heavenly home—a temple different from the one Solomon built on Mount Zion because of the giant throne in it—and he encounters a sanctuary full of creatures bringing down the house with their alternating chants focused on Jesus.

In this vision Isaiah sees a room filled with seraphim. Now these are not the type of angels who look human or your classic “two wingers.” These are special beings that have three pairs of wings. Each pair of wings has a specific purpose. When these beings are in the presence of Jesus, they use one pair of wings to cover their faces out of humility. With the second pair they cover their feet out of respect. They use the third pair to maintain flight. Apparently it takes specially designed body parts to give Jesus the honor he deserves when you’re in a room filled with his magnificence.

The job of the seraphim is simpler to describe than their unique physique. The seraphim have only one reason to exist: to tell God all the time how awesome he is. All they do is shout back and forth, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” and let their chants about his global glory blow up the decibel meter. They were created to be his constant cheering section, like a “divine dawg pound”! What a life! Imagine constantly getting to cheer for your favorite sports team in its home stadium and knowing that your team is the eternally undisputed world champion.

Do you understand what all this hoopla means? These heavenly beings have been created for the single purpose of chanting and cheering about Jesus’ glory. That’s all they do. Think about it. You’ve got to be indescribably great if angels have been created just to shout about you forever. Suppose you went up to one of these angels and asked, “Excuse me, Angel 3058, what is it that you do?”

Angel 3058 would reply, “I yell about how amazing Jesus is.”

If you asked him, “What do you do after work?” he’d say, “There is no ‘after.’ I just keep calling out how great Jesus is.”

If you begged him to come help you with something, he’d have to respond, “I can’t stop telling Jesus how amazing he is. We’re about to start the MVP chant, and there’s just no way we can have one less voice publicizing God’s fame. I’ve got to go!”

That gives Jesus the right to define greatness for us if he desires.

When Does Jesus Teach Us How to Become Great?

If Jesus is so great, then he knows that we need him to show us how to become great. A few times in his life would have seemed prime opportunities for him to do that. Maybe his birth would have been a great time? If he was going to teach us how to be great, he should probably have started off his time on earth with a grand entrance. Christmas morning should have been more like the Fourth of July, with fireworks coming out of heaven to light up the whole earth. Jesus should have flown in like a comet whose blazing light dwarfed the radiance of the sun so that every human being would have been awakened by his arrival and overwhelmed by the warmth of his presence. Then he could have ordered his seraphim posse to start up a universal chant and shake the atmosphere with their shouts of his holiness. The ensuing light, heat, and earthquake would certainly have moved all the people on the planet to cover their eyes, tremble in awe, and acknowledge that someone greater than all others had descended on their world.

He could have been born in a palace to a great king and queen. Lived in the most luxurious “crib” ever built. Had silk diapers, cashmere blankets, the purest baby food, gold teething rings—the whole nine yards. But nothing of the sort happened. Jesus took an entirely different approach.

Instead, he came out of Mary’s womb to an audience of animals in a small Judean town called Bethlehem. His parents were from Nazareth, a town in the Galilean backwoods with a reputation for producing nothing good (see John 1:46). His adoptive dad was a blue-collar worker struggling to make an honest shekel, and his mom got pregnant with him before she was married. That had to have had people talking—a pregnant girl “showing” before the wedding. That was not a great situation. To all appearances, Jesus came on the scene like just one more illegitimate child, born into a poor backwoods family, with little hope of doing anything great in his life. Remember, there was no room for him in the inn. But suppose there had been room in the inn. What if you had been born in a Motel 6? Would that be embarrassing to you, or humiliating? Well, Jesus didn’t even get that. When he was born, his mother laid him in a manger, a feeding trough for farm animals. Why would Jesus—the One with angels created to tell him how great he is—come to earth that way, birthed around smelly farm animals and dung droppings? Now God did supply angels to make a special announcement to a group of local shepherds, but otherwise the world went on essentially undisturbed. Only some rich guys from the Far East saw any other sign that the glorious One had come to earth. Few people even knew he had come. That just doesn’t seem to communicate greatness.

If Jesus’ greatness was not revealed in a big way at his birth, then maybe that revelation came during his adult life? The closest we do come to an event where Jesus reveals his glory on earth is the Transfiguration. As Mark 9 records, Jesus took three of his disciples and went up on a mountain, where he was transformed into a figure shining with glorious light. The disciples who were with him fell down in awe and could only stumble for words. They were getting a view of Jesus’ true glory and didn’t know how to react. At one point Peter even asked if they could build shelters for Jesus and his two glorious companions, Moses and Elijah, to inhabit.

For the three disciples, this experience would have been a lot like Isaiah’s experience. Is that what Isaiah saw? They got to see God’s glory glowing around Jesus and hear the thunderous voice of the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).

And we should. But seeing a bit of Jesus’ glory for a few moments was different from having him teach the disciples how to be great. All of his miracles—healing the blind, bringing people back to life, walking on water, and casting out demons—showed his greatness, but then Jesus was fully God and fully human. What about giving us humans a chance to be great? Where was the recipe for greatness?

The friends Jesus made and the people he touched showed no signs of having achieved greatness through meeting the right people in places of power and influence. Jesus himself was actually known as a friend of low-life Jews who collected taxes for the oppressive Roman government. He spent time with drunks and prostitutes in his effort to call Israel back to holiness. He did not wine and dine at fancy Roman parties or get chummy with the priests who controlled the Temple and ran the Jewish law courts. His compatriots were anything but great, and he did more to make the famous and powerful leaders of Roman Palestine angry at him than he did to win their respect and honor. So he certainly did not teach us how to be great by working his way up the ancient corporate food chain into a place of authority and prominence.

So if not at his birth and not throughout his life, maybe he would teach us greatness during his final entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover, just a few days before he died? That would have been a great time to show us. He could have slowly gathered a mass of followers who would all rise up and crown him king when he entered the city. He could have taken a patient and covert approach that waited until enough people recognized his greatness before he called on them to declare it publicly in word and deed. In this approach, the disciples could have organized music and choirs. There could have been a Jewish army of 500,000 soldiers and an angelic army of one million, with other followers dressed in fancy robes and carrying banners. All of these could have descended on the city in full battle array with a thousand chariots and great stallions leading the charge. Now that would have been great!

But no such rise to greatness occurred during the Triumphal Entry. Instead of a parade of chariots and stallions leading an army marked by banners proclaiming Jesus’ kingship, Jesus came waddling down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem on a young donkey. Instead of a band with music echoing through the valley, a crowd of ordinary people came out, shouting his praise and throwing branches and clothes on the ground in front of him. Those with power and influence in Jerusalem gave him no respect, and a few Pharisees even told Jesus to make his little followers stop shouting. Although his small band of followers showed their support, Jesus did not show us how to unleash greatness and ascend to status and prestige at just the right time in one’s career. He came to a city where influential people plotted his death.

In our search to find out where Jesus teaches us how to become great, we seem to be running out of time. He didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he came on the earthly scene or while growing up here, and he didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he arrived at Jerusalem for his final days. Or did he? He certainly had a ministry full of great acts, but he spent most of his time with the poor and rejected elements of the Jewish population instead of working his way up to the top. But now, with only days left before his death, there’s another chance. Do you remember? He broke up a conversation among his disciples about who was the greatest, and he dropped a huge bombshell: The last will be first. The humble person is the greatest. Jesus had actually been showing us the whole time, from his birth all the way to this point. But he had been saving a special final lesson for the night before his death. And now for everyone who had missed it being displayed his whole life, he would show us very plainly how to become great.

Getting Down and Dirty

In John 13 we find Jesus around a table with his disciples for the Last Supper. They have all just come in from a day of ministry in the dusty streets of Jerusalem. Their feet are dirty, and there is no servant to wash the filth from them. So Jesus picks up a towel, gets some water, and decides to be the humble servant among his disciples.

Now the other men in that room knew how inappropriate it would be for any of them to touch one another’s feet, much less the One who had angels created to praise him! The job of foot washing was saved for the lowest of the low, the servants of the servants. Only the least important, most underprivileged people—in other words, those who had been born poor, among a bunch of farm animals—got stuck with that duty. In fact, rabbinic documents show that rabbis and Pharisees in the time after Christ would force their disciples to serve them in every way that slaves would serve their masters except for one thing: They were never, ever to touch anyone’s feet. That was simply too demeaning for any “respectable” human being to endure.

So the statement Jesus made by washing his disciples’ feet would have been profound. He had said before that greatness came from humbling oneself. He had said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (see Matthew 19:30), but now he was showing it. He was getting down and dirty. Most kings get served. His greatness would not be achieved by working his way up through the political or religious ranks. He did not try to schmooze powerful people or gather an armed crowd that could rise up against the establishment and make him king. His greatness was being worked out as he went out of his way to serve those around him. In a move that ran counter to his culture, he descended to greatness.

Do I Know How to Serve?

When I was twenty-two, I spent a couple of years as an intern under Adrian Despres, an itinerant evangelist with Kingdom Building Ministries and the current chaplain for Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. I was under the impression that the internship was designed to help me improve as a speaker. I traveled with Adrian to different speaking events all over the world to see what he could teach me about effective communication.

To my chagrin, I found myself attending a bunch of events for my “speaking internship” but never speaking. Adrian would invite me along, tell me where to sit, and then have me listen to him. Eventually he let me start introducing him before I took my seat, but still I didn’t get a chance to speak. I constantly wondered whether I had misunderstood the point of the internship. Did Adrian not know that he was supposed to help me become a better communicator, a professional speaker, and not a better audience member? He did finally carve out a one-minute opening spot where I could share a story before sitting down, but that hardly gave me a chance to warm up before taking my seat.

As I kept tagging along to different events, I became more and more bewildered about how I could learn to improve my communication skills. Instead of speaking and getting his feedback, I got to participate in his strange “rituals” before and after his presentations on stage—offstage actions that I thought had nothing to do with speaking. Sometimes we would arrive early at a camp or a church, and he’d have me set up tables and chairs, maybe even vacuum or volunteer in the kitchen. Adrian was the kind of guy who picked up trash and put away shopping carts that other patrons had left scattered around the parking lot. I tried to remind him that “people get paid to do those jobs,” but he didn’t much care. He would say, “I know. I just want to help ’em out!” Those “rituals” were part of his approach to life and ministry. Maybe somehow these things were linked to Adrian’s speaking ministry.

One day, about a year into my internship, Adrian asked if I thought my internship was going okay. On the inside I was thinking, Not really! How in the world can I get better at speaking if I don’t speak? Doesn’t practice make perfect or something like that? Of course, I didn’t come out and say those things. I just answered his inquiry with an affirmative and waited for an explanation. That’s when he said something that I’ll never forget: “Before we started this whole thing, I knew you could speak. I didn’t know if you could serve.”

Adrian’s comments changed my life. I wanted to be a great speaker. Adrian wanted me to be great spiritually.

Let those words ring in your head for a while, and fill in the blank with whatever you are good at. I know you can organize; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can set up a network in a day; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can lead a Bible study and pray in public; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you are good at any number of things; I just don’t know if you can serve.

You see, Adrian knew that humility + service = greatness. Prideful people usually don’t serve unless they do it out of wrong motives. Do you know how to be last? Let that question sink into your conscience. Let it measure your true greatness. And ask yourself, If someone tested you for the next year on whether or not you were a humble servant, what would that person find? Would you show yourself to be great? Would you imitate Jesus and descend to greatness? Or do you have trouble taking a backseat and being last?

I Came to Serve

Jesus’ ultimate act of humility is described in a poetic formula that Paul likely borrowed from a first-century hymn. The song tells the story of Jesus in his glory making the tough choice to get down and dirty on earth as a human servant. Paul writes, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). What “divine privileges” did he give up? Jesus did not give up his deity. But he did give up his rights to full glory, complete majesty, a sinless environment, and continuous praise. The Greatest gave all that up to be last.

When you think about it, Jesus gave up majesty for a mud hole. He came from a trophy room to a cold, smelly manger and a sickly world. Hollywood’s Cribs has nothing on the mansion and glory Jesus left behind. He gave up a throne room of perfect peace for a place of conflict, where abuse, criticism, suffering, ridicule, and indescribable pain would follow him for thirty-three years and ultimately take his life.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-8 make it clear that Jesus’ painful and humble service was no accident. He didn’t come expecting to receive glory and the accolades of the world. He knew all along that true greatness lives in the form of lowly service. He knew that the path to success in God’s economy required a descent to greatness—an unusual twist in our expectations.

Our culture presumes that being first, richest, hippest, happiest, and most liked is the key to finding joy and contentment, the key to being great. The good life is marked by convenience and freebies. Even the church, in some instances, mistakes a blessed life with an easy and unchallenged life. But Jesus calls us to give up our pretensions of greatness defined by fame, carefree living, or accomplishment. Contrary to popular opinion, greatness is defined by the humble and often hidden actions of a person who has given up on coming out on top. It’s consistently putting Jesus and others first. Living a life of greatness is actually walking a difficult path of self-sacrifice and inconvenience, driven by a greater concern for others. A truly great person does not need to be served but is bent on serving others. Jesus said it himself: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 28:20).

So now, let us begin the journey of being last and descending to greatness.