Monday, August 27, 2012

Hide and Seek

The action/adventure genre is not a book type I would usually choose. Add in a military story, and it would go down even further on my choice list. However, Hide and Seek by major (Ret) Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky was a book I was glad I took time to read.

My experience with military adventures is that it’s full military jargon and abbreviations that are unfamiliar. Additionally, military culture can be difficult to relate to and follow. In this book the authors took the time to develop the characters to the extent that the military setting becomes unimportant.

The book is about an army special operations (spec ops) unit and follows them through two days of an operation. That said, the two days are packed with danger and trouble with no sleep and no time to relax. Part of what makes the book suspenseful is the story moves quickly between settings. The reader becomes involved with one aspect of the story with the excitement building and then the authors skip to another setting. This pattern continues throughout the book meaning there are no restful parts. The story charges ahead before the reader can catch a breath. This made the book a true page-turner.

The character development was well done. Through the characters, the process of human emotions, grief, joy, fear and humor are drawn descriptively. The female protagonist was described as “not catwalk beautiful, but not overly plain.” That description made her seem very real. 

The head of the spec ops unit was a Christian as were several secondary characters. I liked how the authors took time to intertwine their faith with the story in a way that did not seem forced or artificial. Faith was an integral part of the story not just something that needed to be added to make it a Christian book. I found that I truly cared about each person and not just the protagonists. Even secondary characters became important. I also enjoyed the humor. Even in intense situations humor flourished.

I would recommend Hide and Seek without reservation. It is fast-paced story that will keep a reader involved. 

I received this book from the publisher in return for a review.  All opinions are my own.

Q & A with Alton Gansky and MAJ (Ret) Jeff Struecker,
Authors of Hide and Seek

BH Publishing Group 
July 1, 2012
ISBN: 9781433671425
400 pages/paperback/$14.99

Alton, what was it like as a writer to work with a soldierand capture the stories for the new book Hide and Seek?

AG: It was enlightening. At first, I thought my biggest challenge would be learning the terms and tools of the contemporary soldier. As it turns out, the great challenge came in understanding the soldier's mind and heart. A novelist must be able to see through the eyes of others, to feel their joy and their pains, andthen put it on paper. In writing this book and the others that came before it, I had to imagine what it was like to leap out of an airplane in the middle of the night, to be hunkered down under live fire, to see a comrade wounded and killed and to stand on a foreign field when my mind was home with my family. Doing so gave me the new insight into the work and the sacrifices made by the dedicated soldier.

Jeff exemplifies the qualities of the 21st-century soldier: intelligent, brave, sacrificial, but very human. In my discussions with him I came to understand the split loyalties that every soldier faces: duty, country, family.

I tried to take some of the admirable qualities I saw in Jeff andput them into the fictional soldiers who risk their lives and transfer all that to the printed page. I could come up with the plot and the twists and turns, but Jeff had to provide the realism. The series of books has been a real education. I am blessed for having been a part of them.
Jeff, now that you are retired from active service, do you reflect on some of the stories that developed differently than what you thought they would?

JS: I don't think that being retired from active duty in the US Army has changed the way that I reflect on these stories, but it has given me a greater appreciation for the quality of men and women in the military. Now that I am a private citizen (so to speak), I have the chance to compare the work ethic, the sense of duty and the patriotism of the men and women in the military with the rest of the US population. I never realized how different many warriors are from the citizens that they protect andserve. I am also seeing the selflessness and sacrifice of the military family compared to that of the average family in our country and am surprised by these differences.
Alton, did the process or the relationship change the way you view those in the militaryand what their families go through? 

AG: Absolutely. I always knew there was great sacrifice involved in being a soldier. Coming from a Navy family I even knew the families of military made their share of sacrifices. Writing about them, however, made it real for me. One thing every novelist does is to insert himself or herself into their characters–good or bad. It can be an emotional roller coaster. Writing these books has tattooed the image of their sacrifice on my mind and heart. From the beginning, Jeff insisted that we show the heroism of those who remain home while their husbands and fathers face death in some foreign territory. In the case of our heroes, they did not even have the satisfaction of knowing where their loved ones served. In many ways, they waited in the dark.

I've always admired those who serve in the military, but now I admire their families just as much.

Jeff, what are your thoughts on this?
JS: Writing with Al has been eye opening for me personally. He really gets it. I have never known someone to be able to pick up the dedication and motivation of a warrior and their family as quickly as Al. On a couple of occasions, I commented to Al that he writes like someone who has been in the Army all his life. He has a great grasp on what a warrior's family goes through when the phone rings in the middle of the night and they have to say goodbye to a loved-one, knowing that they may never see them again. It takes a special kind of person to be a military family and Al depicts that as well as anyone I know.

Alton, do you have some funny stories about connecting with Jeff while he was still in active duty? Code language? 

AG: Mostly I teased Jeff about the superiority of the Navy or the Army. I don't think I've been able to convince him yet. There were a few interesting times when we would exchange e-mail or talk on the phone and I had no idea where Jeff was. I would simply receive a quick note that he was going to be out of town on business. There were times when we spoke that I was pretty sure he was in some far-off part of the world. I still don't know.

In one of the previous books, I had written a scene that I was especially proud of. I struggled to get the details right, to create a believable scenario. When Jeff was reviewing the scene he called to say, “You can't use that.” I argued that it was a good scene, that it helped the plot, that it tied up some loose ends. He agreed then told me to take it out. When I asked why, he replied, “You aren't supposed to know that.” I protested that I didn't know it. I'd made the whole thing up. He sympathized with me and told me to take it out. I've often wondered what I got right.

Jeff, what are your writing goals now that you are not in active service? Do you have more leeway/freedom to pursue some things that you were not able to previously?

JS: My writing goals have become a bit more ambitious now that I am retired. For the rest of my life I will have to balance describing cutting-edge military technology and procedures without giving away national secrets. (Some of those secrets I have sworn to take to my grave.) At the same time, I think the reader deserves an accurate picture of what life is like for a warrior on a dangerous mission somewhere around the world tonight. I hope to be able to continue to paint that picture for readers.

I also had to balance a very difficult workload of trying to communicate with Al and writing some of these books while I was away in Afghanistan or in Iraq. (Needless to say, my mind and attention were a bit preoccupied at those times.) Now that I am retired from the Army, I hope to be able to dedicate more time to writing books that will exalt the great name of Jesus and inspire readers.
Alton Gansky is a Christy Award-nominated and Angel Award-winning author who writes to stimulate thinking about spiritual matters. He served as a pulpit minister for twenty years and has published nearly thirty books.

Chaplain (Major, Ret) Jeff Struecker is a decorated member of US Army Rangers, the Army’s most elite fighting corps. His personal experiences in Mogadishu, Somalia were documented in the New York Times bestseller and major motion picture Black Hawk Down. During his thirteen years of active duty, he also fought in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Iris Gold in Kuwait. As a chaplain Jeff has done multiple tours in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now retired from military service, Struecker currently serves as the associate pastor of ministry development at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia.

For more information visit

Friday, August 24, 2012


Have you ever heard someone say, "don't make the Bible your idol?"  Where exactly does this idea of bibliolatry come from?
I wouldn't say that the accusation of bibliolatry comes from having a high view of scripture or even "sola scriptura"; I'd say bibliolatry occurs when people hold reading the Bible and doing what it says over coming to Jesus Christ. 
That's what Jesus accuses the Pharisees of doing in John 5:39 (You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.
John 17:3 says, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
There are going to be a lot of people who know their Bible really well and even followed it really well, except for the coming to Jesus part, who don't make it in the end; I mean even Satan knows the scriptures. And vice versa, there will be many who make it who never picked up the book like the thief on the cross or those who come to Jesus on their death bed, not to mention all the patriarchs that predate Moses who had no scriptures whatsoever. The key is knowing God not necessarily the Bible.
I do believe the Bible is 100% authoritative for instruction and correction but only because of who the Author is, but in order to know the Author's intent, we need to know the Author, otherwise we end up with all kinds of wild interpretations. "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." 1 Peter 1:20-21
And it's the Holy Spirit that teaches us what the scriptures mean: "when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-14)
Private interpretations without the Holy Spirit's input lead to bibliolatry because they lead people to serve a god of their own invention rather than the one true God, which we can label as whatever -olatry we want, but ultimately it is what all idolatry is. 
Whether it's done with the Bible, a translation, a theology, some other religion's scriptures, or a block of wood, I don't see any difference. No one comes to the Father except through Christ Jesus. And if studying the Bible doesn't bring us to Him, and through Him the Father, daily in repentance and worship because of the Spirit's instruction, then we've elevated the Bible beyond it's intention.

This article was written in discussion with Aaron Armstrong's article My Bible . . . My Idol?  He has some great insight and questions that he raises on this issue, and I encourage you to read it as well.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Live To Give

Recently I’ve been meeting with a young man, and we’ve been talking about how God uses us, our gifts, and even our finances to help others for His glory.  I gave him a copy of the book the God Pocket by Bruce Wilkinson that has an extremely practical way that we can purposively live this out, which I wrote about here: The God Pocket.

And then I received a copy of Austin Gutwein’s Live to Give.  Wow! 

Gutwein is the exact same age as the young man I’ve been meeting with, 18, and the author has wisdom far beyond his years. It’s amazing that God chose this young man when he was only nine to change the lives of thousands in Africa through a ministry he formed called Hoops for Hope.  And he’s been building clinics, schools, and feeding the hungry there ever since. 

Live to Give is all about how God uses what we have to help others.  One of the biggest things I took away from the book was Gutwein’s illustration of the young boy who brought the loaves and fishes that Jesus used to feed the five thousand.  The disciples went all through the crowd to see what food was available, and this was the only person who remembered to bring his lunch, and he gave it up to Jesus.

Likewise we might be the only person in the crowd who has what God wants to use to help the multitude.  Are we willing to give it up to Him? 

I’d highly recommend this book.  Be sure to check out the information below for your chance to win the book and some other neat prizes. I received a copy of this book free from the publisher for review.


About the Book: 

Want to do something for God but don’t know what? Want to help others but don’t know who? Want to know what it is you’re really good at doing? Your gifts may feel small and insignificant. But God can use them to work a miracle!

Inspired by the biblical story of the feeding of the 5,000, "Live to Give" delivers a message of hope that we all have something to give. Written in the down-to-earth, candid voice of the gifted young man who as a kid founded a relief ministry that has saved and improved countless lives in Africa, "Live to Give" is the message that every teen needs to hear: You are more special than you know, and you can do big things.

Jesus proved that no gift is too small when He used five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of thousands. And if no gift is too small, too ordinary, or too random, there is no limit to what the youth of today can accomplish!

A teenage philanthropist who has built a high school, two medical clinics, and a dormitory in Africa—all before the age of 16—Austin Gutwein shares how to take what may seem like the simplest of talents, gifts, and interests and use them for something Jesus can use to move mountains.

Meet Austin: 

As founder of Hoops of Hope, Austin started what is now known as the worlds largest Free-Throw marathon. Austin's Hoops of Hope has raised more than $2.5M to help orphan children in Africa. Austin also serves as Co-Chair of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's Youth Council. As a highly sought after speaker, Austin has spoken and shared his heart in venues around the world. In 2009, Austin was selected into the Caring Hall of Fame as one of the top 10 most caring Americans.

Austin's first book, "Take Your Best Shot" shared stories that captured readers hearts and won a Moonbeam Award. For information on booking Austin or general inquiries, please visit

Read Other Reviews

Friday, August 17, 2012

Faith and Other Flat Tires

Andrea Palpant’s Faith and Other Flat Tires is a personal memoir about the doubts about God she developed as a missionary child in Africa.  There were a lot of things I liked about this book.  For example the writing was incredible.  Being a writing instructor myself, I always get a little giddy when I come across a Christian book that actually shows some knowledge of the craft.  Palpant’s background in Communications definitely shines in this book and makes it an enjoyable read.

Her story is also fairly typical of God’s grandchildren, a.k.a. kids who grew up with true believing parents that wanted nothing more than to serve God with all their heart.  These kids usually don’t really get their parents or the God they serve but have a hard time finding any contentment in the world.  Until they really give their lives to God and have their own relationship with them, they also can’t find contentment in the church, so they end up thrown all over the place in their beliefs. 

Been there, done that.

The major drawback of the book is that she structures it around John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and the journey that Christian takes, but she definitely focuses more on Christian’s pratfalls, then on some of the elements of Bunyan’s metaphor that exemplify God’s part in our walk like Help, Goodwill, Faithful, Hopeful, The Shining Ones, the Lord of the Hill, etc.

The lack of these characters’ traits shows through in Palpant’s memoir as well.  Even in the grand climax where she returns to church, she doesn’t necessarily do it because she finds much hope there, but just because it’s better than the other options.  There’s no relationship with Jesus, no revelation of God in her life, just a meandering fall back into church community.  It’s a lot like Ignorance stumbling up to the City on the Hill in Pilgrim’s Progress.  It doesn’t go well for him.

So I’m torn.  I really liked the book, but in the end I’m not sure where Palpant stands when it comes to faith.  Did she decide to follow Jesus or not?  I hope that I’m just missing something and the answer to that question is “yes”.  But I certainly wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone struggling with their faith.  It’s just as likely to turn them away from God, as turn them back to Him.  On the other hand, she paints a really good picture of the struggle of faith that every child who grows up in it will undoubtedly walk. 

And it’s well-written. Let’s not forget that.

Ultimately, I’m on the fence with this one.  I liked it, and I didn’t like it.  I’d recommend it, but I’d also not recommend it.  I guess you could say that Palpant’s confusion about how she feels about faith has left me feeling confused about how I feel about her book, which I’m sure leaves the reader confused about this review.  And if you’re wondering if this is the book for you, all I can say is ‘maybe’.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


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