Thursday, December 7, 2023


In 1068, is Queen Margaret capable of civilizing Scottish King Malcolm and helping protect the people from invading William the Conquerer? In 1993, is Mary's fiance right that she's wasting her time learning about Scottish church history?

The Refiner of the Realm: Of Queens and Clerics is the third book of Donna Fletcher Crow's ten part Celtic Cross series (the first four books looking at Scotland, the remainder crossing over to Ireland). Like the rest of the series, the more contemporary part of the story (1993) has a brief section at the beginning and the end of each book, with the primary focus being on the historical story. 
I am learning a lot about Scottish history in this series, and will probably be doing the same with Ireland when I get to the fifth book. I enjoy this story and the characters in it.
One note. Donna Fletcher Crow released a compilation book a couple of years ago titled A Lighted Lamp: Scenes of Christmas Through Time. The first of seven "scenes" is an excerpt from the above novel. The final (and longest) excerpt is from An All Consuming Fire, book five of the Monastery Murders. This series follows American Felicity Howard and British Church History instructor Father Antony (my favorite fictional character as they solve mysteries through the course of a year, learning about British Church history along the way (and of course, each mystery coincides with a Christian holiday, book five dealing with Christmas). Here is my review of that book:
    "Is this the final installment of the Monastery Murder series by Donna Fletcher Crow? I hope not, but if it is, she pulled out all the stops. This is the strongest plot of the series - and that says something. My favorite is still the third entry, An Unholy Communion, but An All-Consuming Fire is in my opinion the best.
    "Of course, there are weaknesses to even the best stories. While Felicity and Antony are very complex characters (the latter being my favorite fictitious character), Crow may have weakened the story by having Antony with a group of characters filming a TV series while Felicity works with another group of characters planning an epiphany play. Most of the characters in either group were underdeveloped. It helps that Crow included a cast of characters at the beginning.
    "What if you haven't read any of the previous stories? While I'd recommend reading them in order for maximum enjoyment, I think one can read them out of order. You won't feel lost if An All-Consuming Fire is the first one you read, nor will it ruin the surprises in the earlier stories.
    "This series deals with an Anglican (almost Catholic) perspective. Thus, if you don't like favorable presentations of the Christian faith in fiction, you won't like this. Its views may not be typical for many fundamentalists or evangelicals (it stretched my thinking). On the other side, there are elements in this story in particular that might be uncomfortable for some Christian readers - there are isolated references to drugs and pornography in this story: of course, both are considered negative, but some Christians feel more comfortable if those things weren't included.
    "I highly recommend this book, as well as the other four books in the series."

Hope you enjoyed this double review feature, with the goal of helping you get in the Christmas Spirit (this is posted on the 7th of December, so you may already be in it). I highly recommend this book, this series, and A Lighted Lamp. (If you look at the December entries for both 2020 and 2021, you'll notice that I have my review of A Lighted Lamp both years, my first repeat blog!


Tuesday, December 5, 2023


Back side of Common Bond's '83 custom debut album; band members Doug Doyle and Ken Riley pictured in upper left and upper right corner.

 It all started last year. Someone posted in the Daniel Band group I'm in that it was the 40th anniversary of their debut project "On Rock." That got me thinking about other albums and musical experiences I enjoyed that were released that year. And at that point, I planned to do the same thing annually. Almost forgot.

The next thought was realizing if any albums reached the 50 mark. Not so with musical experiences - we're talking about when I was 14 in a small town. There are some mainstream albums that I liked from that were released '73 or earlier: Soundtracks of "Wizard of Oz", "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear," "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book"; "Everything's Archie" and "Jingle Jangle" by ... no, I'll let you guess who did those two albums; "The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits;" "The Partridge Family Notebook" by ... no, you can guess this one as well; and "The Beatles 1962-1966" and "1967-1970," 

However, most of my favorite albums are Christian. There weren't many Jesus Music/CCM projects out then - my only favorite prior to '73 was '71's "The Everlasting Jesus Music Concert." '73 saw three more of my favorites come out (though it was 6 years before I heard them): "What A Day" by Phil Keaggy, "Fool's Wisdom" by Malcolm & Alwyn, and "Laughter In Your Soul" by Jamie Owens. (Possibly an unnecessary note for me: the list above and those below are in alphabetic order.)

This brings me to '83. Two important things. First, I didn't have as many musical experiences or favorite albums as last year, and my favorite concerts happened to be, with only one notable exception, related to 1983 artists. So I'll mention the albums first and then mention the unrelated music event. 

Second, I got married in '83, and that diminished especially the number of albums I bought, which means there will be fewer in the coming years. 

So you ready for this year's list?

Pete Carlson, "Dreamer's Dream." Technically, this is a '82 album, but I didn't pay attention to Pete till '83. This album is a good adult contemporary project, with several good songs like "What A Friend," "The Love Of God," "Thanksong," and "Let Him Hold Your Heart." However, few songs have made the impact on me as the title track, with lines like "The questions I've been told before don't apply to questions asked." 

Common Bond, "Common Bond." Several years ago in the group "Discussion Board for Jesus Music 1969-1989" one asked for list of our 100 favorite albums. After submitting mine, a lot of people were trying to convince me Common Bond's first album was "Heaven Is Calling." First national album, yes, but before that came this custom project. The first concert I heard in '83 was Common Bond doing a four song set of songs from this project (I'm guessing, maybe 1:00am, Jan. 1st?). Lead singer/bassist Kenny Riley, sang "Song For My Wife" from this project at Becky's and my wedding. Guitarist Doug Doyle moved to the production chair on the nationally released projects. Favorite songs? Title track, "Heartbeat Away," "It Don't Come Easy," "Remind Me Of Your Plans," "Your Life" (I helped with the lyrics on that one), "The Party's Over," "New Beginnings," "Christ The Cornerstone," "Late For Life," "Song For My Wife," and "For You" (which was re-recorded on "Heaven Is Calling."

Daniel Band, "Straight Ahead." I got hooked on Daniel Band hearing a concert played live on the radio, and that set combined songs from their debut "On Rock" and this project. Favorites on the project? "You're All I Need," "Here I Am," "Reality," "Come Into My Life," and "Coming Home."

DeGarmo & Key, "Mission of Mercy." I've heard of D&K for years, but I didn't start getting interested in them until this project came out. Includes "Let The Whole World Sing," "Ready Or Not," "When It's Over," "All The Loser's Win," and "You Can't Run From Thunder."

Teri DeSario, "A Call To Us All." Some might recognize her name from a duet she did with K.C. and the Sunshine The Band (uh-huh, uh-huh). Her Christian debut is music the way I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh). I had the honor of hearing her at Jubilation '83 at Knott's Berry Farm. On the project she had "Jesus Feed Your Lambs," which later was a single with Sheila Walsh and Cliff Richard. Other songs that blessed me were "Thank You," "Battleline," "I Dedicate My All To You," "Dig A Little Deeper," "All I Need," "Clouds Without Water," and "I'll Carry On."

Lifesavors, "Dream Life."
I had "Us Kids," in which the lead vocalist and main songwriter was Mark Krishak. After recording that, Krishak left and co-founded "Labor of Love" (an album I always wanted to hear) and their other guitarist Mike Knott took over lead vocals. (I heard the Knott fronted version at a beach concert with Undercover, the Chosen Ones, and the Lifters.) About a year later, I heard them again, with Brian Goins doing lead and Kirk Heiner on guitars, and absolutely loved it. This line-up recorded "Dream Life," which consisted mostly of Mike Knott written songs and three from "Us Kids." Favorite songs? "Christian Army," "Physical," "False Identity," "I Won't Give In," "The One," "Dream Life," and "Watch Nowhere."

Petra, "Not Of This World." Petra's sixth project, and third since Greg Volx became lead vocalist. I was aware of them for years, but this is the point that I really started liking them. Songs that helped make me a fan featured "Graverobber," "Blinded Eyes," "Not By Sight," "Lift Him Up," "Occupy," and "Godpleaser." The last project featuring John Slick as keyboardist.

Leslie Phillips, "Beyond Saturday Night." I got introduced to Leslie via her track "Bring Me Through" from the first "Back To The Rock" compilation and unplugged concerts at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (with her on either guitar or piano). In '83, she released this project. Two intersting facts about it: 1) unlike other "Back To The Rock" artists whose debut album version of their contributions were identical to the compilation, Leslie's was definitely a fresh version, and 2) she wrote all the songs on this project except the title track (written by John Fischer) and the first single (Mark Heard's "Heart of Hearts)." Favorites from this disk were "Hourglass," "Put Your Heart In Me," "I'm Finding," "Bring Me Through," "He's Going To Hear You Crying," and "Let Me Give." 
Servant, "Caught in the Act Of Loving Him." Which is my favorite album of this list? Could it be Servant's fourth album, with awesome songs like "Burning Bridges," "Thank God," "Fall Out," "Now Is The Time," "Holding On To You," "Heart To Heart," "Gauges," "Something Right For You," "Tied Down," and "Can't Go Back?" Hey, I listed the whole album! Oh, that's right: I was asking if this could be my favorite '83 album? I don't know. What do you think? 

Michael W. Smith, "Michael W. Smith Project." When I heard Michael W. Smith, he was the third billed artist after Amy Grant (anybody heard of her?) and Gary Chapman. Good reason - that March 11th concert at Melodyland Christian Center occurred before "Project" was released or "Great Is The Lord" hit the radio. That concert was one of the most interesting. Melodyland was a theater in the round. Gary played standing in place with his acoustic guitar, apologizing to the audience who faced his back. Amy performed as if she knew how to maximize the unique stage. Michael? He acted like a kid receiving a new toy, having the time of his life! No wonder I instantly became a fan of songs like "You Need A Savior" (his performance of that song was unforgettable!),  "Could He Be The Messiah," "Too Many Times," "The Race Is On," "Love In The Light," and "Great Is The Lord" (he taught us the chorus when performing it).

Steve Taylor, "I Want To Be A Clone!" I was going to list that last year till I checked and realized it was an early '83 release (kind of the opposite of "Dreamer's Dream," mentioned above). As unforgettable musically as the cover is. Songs like the title track, "Steeplechase," "Whatever Happened To Sin?" (a song that needs to be revived), and "Bad Rap (Who You Tryin' To Kid, Kid?)" (the song that caught my attention). 

Undercover, "God Rules." I got to hear them twice live in '83: first at Exit Festival '83, following the previously mentioned Steve Taylor and Leslie Phillips and preceding the Seventy Sevens; also at Jubilation '83 at Knott's Berry Farm. Included were great songs like "New Creation," "Closer To You," "He Takes Care Of Me," "I Never Knew," "His Love," "God Rules," and "I Love God." One thing I always loved about early undercover was the unbridled joy of lead vocalist Bill Walden.

Sheila Walsh, "War of Love." Speaking of Jubilation '83, I also heard Sheila perform there, backed by the Norm Barrett band (he played guitar for the Alwyn Wall band. Second year I heard her there, the previous year backed by uh, anybody hear of the Phil Keaggy Band?). It starts of with her cover of the classic "Turn, Turn, Turn," and concludes with the ultra-powerful "God Put A Fighter In Me." Also includes "Mystery," "Sunset Skies," "Fooled by a Feeling" (written and originally recorded by Jamie Owens-Collins), "Star Song," and "Sleepwalker."

The Imperials, live at Melodyland Christian Center. No corresponding album. Michele Pillar and Lenny LeBlanc opened for her. You might remember that Melodyland is a theater in the round. Like Amy Grant, The Imperials handled it like pros. The instruments were all off the stage, and each member sang to a fourth of the audience, trading places after each song. They did great songs like "What Can I Do For You?" and "Praise The Lord." When they received a standing ovation, their encore was an aca pella rendition of the chorus of the hymn "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." (Maybe they did the verses. But remember that was 40 years ago! Uh huh, uh huh.)

Sunday, December 3, 2023


An African Nativity Scene, with a frame borrowed from Facebook.

I spent the first 30 years of my life with an absent Advent. In the hymnal I'm most familiar with, I noticed a handful of Advent hymns and designated separately from the Christmas songs, but I still didn't really get it. I was more familiar with Lent (by reputation, not by practice) than I was with Advent. 

Recently, some of the churches I've attended have the advent candles. Also, at Arlington Avenue Baptist Church, I've seen two different breakdowns of the four weeks of Advent: Prophets/Angels/Shepherds/Wise Men and Hope/Peace/Joy/Love. The last couple of years, I've been going through the latter (last year, combining the Advent theme with my Sunday Psalms series). 

This year, I've decided to take a more creative approach, and pick out four themes on my own for this Advent series. I'm picking four topics - okay, each theme has two related topics - that both we have through the First Coming of Christ and desperately need to live out.

Today, I'll start with an Advent of Gratitude (Thanksgiving) and Encouragement. I consider them related: Gratitude is being appreciative of what others do, and encouragement is motivating others to keep it up.

Do we have thankful hearts? Do we have minds trained to encourage? 

And do I need to elaborate more than just asking the two questions? I don't think so, but let me know if you disagree.

Thursday, November 30, 2023



Who kidnapped Rebecca Salmon's autistic son Austin at a theme park, and why? Can she, with the help of family friend (and F.B.I. agent) Jake Foster, decipher the clues her brother wrote aimed at Austin? 

Theme Park Abduction by Patsy Conway is an exciting story with all sorts of twists and turns (I'm trying to avoid the obvious roller coaster cliche). It's got a story that will keep you guessing, as well as interesting and unpredictable characters that have you wondering who are the good guys/gals and who are the not so good.

This is the 69th Love Inspired Suspense novel I've read. I'm sure I'm not the only one who will see similar themes, plots, and character types (including K-9s). For example, I read three this year alone that had the heroine starting the story with amnesia. This novel stands out with having a unique setting (theme park), a treasure hunt with clues to figure out, and having an autistic character. 

I highly recommend this book. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


"Bitterness: One will choose Forgiveness, One will choose Revenge." (From front cover)

Can journalist Jake Hartmann get his wife Carlotta to forgive him for committing adultery? Or will she give in to the advances of the handsome divorce attorney? And who brutally killed the dogs at the animal shelter? 

Heidi Glick has long been one of my favorite authors. I loved her debut Dog Tags several years ago. Her latest is Hold For Release, an edgy romantic suspense. I'll agree with what several other reviewers have pointed out - there are so many twists you have no idea what will happen next.

As the statement on the cover hints, a common thread between several of the characters is dealing with bitterness. I dealt with sadness reading the story, which is an indication of how well the story was written and how Glick had me caring for Jake, Carlotta, and her sister Rosario in spite of their flaws.

I highly recommend this powerful, thought provoking novel.

Sunday, November 26, 2023



Yavapai County Courthouse, Prescott, Arizona

1   Praise the LORD! 

    Sing to the LORD a new song, 

    And His praise in the assembly of saints. 

2   Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; 

    Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. 

3   Let them praise His name with the dance; 

    Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. 

4   For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; 

    He will beautify the humble with salvation. 

5  Let the saints be joyful in glory; 

    Let them sing aloud on their beds. 

6  Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, 

    And a two-edged sword in their hand, 

7   To execute vengeance on the nations, 

    And punishments on the peoples; 

8   To bind their kings with chains, 

    And their nobles with fetters of iron; 

9   To execute on them the written judgment-- 

    This honor have all His saints. 

    Praise the LORD! 

                        Psalm 149:1-9, New King James Version

Yes, I've talked about some of my favorite Psalms. But if I would pick one Psalm, gather together a half to a full dozen of my theologically minded friends, and discuss that Psalm and what it means and how to apply it, this would be that Psalm. Allow me to highlight three points of the Psalm that put it in this category.
  1. Verse one tells us to sing to the Lord a new song, and to sing it to the assembly of the upright. What is meant by a new song? I'd love to hear the above mentioned 6-12 friends give me their interpretations, and I'm sure at least one would  give the meaning of the original languages and the cultural setting, but I'll suggest it might include those that God has given the talent to write songs may compose new songs. I also love the concept of the assembly of the upright.
  2. Verse four is an encouragement - that the Lord takes pleasure in His people and will beautify the humble with salvation. Isn't that a wonderful hope?
  3. The passage that I want to discuss with those 6-12 friends (could they be considered an assembly of the upright) is the last half of the Psalm. It starts out with them receiving glory and singing praise to God. But then in verse 6, it mentions letting the high praise of God be in their mouth (which is typical in the Psalms) and a sharp two edged sword in their hand (not typical for the Psalm). It goes on to say that they'll punish the nations, bind the kings and execute on them the judgment. It then adds, "This honor have all the saints. Praise the LORD."
Wouldn't that be an interesting discussion?

Note. This is part 47 of 48 of my Sunday Psalms series. However, I'm taking a four week break from this series, and will conclude it on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, November 23, 2023



Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Lebanon, TN

A couple of days ago, Becky expressed her sadness about not taking the time to go to a Veteran's Day service.  That got my attention. I had the day off from work, because this year it fell on a Saturday. Maybe part of it is that Becky's father was a veteran. Neither my father nor my paternal grandfather were (I have no idea about my maternal grandfather). 

This blog is being posted on Thanksgiving Day, 2023. You can say the same thing. It seems the day has morphed from Thanksgiving to Turkey Day. It used to be a day when all the stores were closed; now, several are open for pre-Black-Friday deals. :'( I think the day should be a little more, uh, sanctified (set apart), but is my heart focusing on giving thanks any more than any other day? Or am I too excited to turn on the TV for the big sports event of the day: America's Dog Show on NBC?

Allow me to use that introduction to suggest that our special days can fall into three categories: holy days, holidays, and hollow days. And I also want to make it plain that each have their place. Let me take them in reverse order:

  1. Hollow Days. Someone I know used that term for what they considered pagan holidays (e.g. Christmas, Easter), to reflect the emptiness. Let me look on the concept more positively - there are days we need to be off from work, have a cook-out with friends, and watch a fireworks show after dark. (What I've just described can be how we celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Labor Day.) Anything wrong with that? Nope. We need time to rest. 
  2. Holidays. These days are ones we celebrate via traditions. We wear green on St. Patrick's Day. We eat turkey and watch football (or in my case, the dog show) on Thanksgiving. We dress up for Halloween. We decorate a tree and deck the halls for Christmas. And we wait with apprehension to see if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow. Each are fun events that occur once a year that make the day stand out from a day off. In the past (not true now) I would have that mentality for the Oscar's, the baseball All-Star game, and the then-annual showing on CBS of "The Wizard of Oz." None of them change the world, but it gives the year a little variety. 
  3. Holy Days. Holy means set apart, and a holy day is set apart. There is a solemnity to that day, like the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in the Bible. We could have that sanctified approach to major holidays we have off (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day for families where a member made the ultimate sacrifice) or days that are special to us. In my case, this would include Reformation Day, All Saints Day, World CEF Prayer Day, International Day of Prayer For The Persecuted Church, and World Refugee Day. 

Confession time. These days I mentioned usually are just a normal day. I want that to change. Reformation Day and All Saints Day are ones that currently are something I quietly acknowledge, but I really want to celebrate it with others! True, it might be overdoing it to have a Reformation Day party one day and follow it up with an All Saints Day party 24 hours later. But you get the idea.

Can I summarize? We need days to rest. We need days to have fun and break up the routine. And we need days to reflect.