Tuesday, November 30, 2010

‘Finding the Light of Jesus’ by Cindy Tuttle – Book Review and Giveaway

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Life in these United States has been more stressful than normal over the last few years, primarily due to hard economic conditions. In her latest book, ‘Finding the Light of Jesus,' Cindy Tuttle tries to provide a remedy to withstand difficult times.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Experience inner peace…in the midst of trouble. Face it; life is full of stress. Whether we deal with daily mild irritations like spilled milk, traffic jams, or extreme problems like the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss, each of these events – as well as those that fall in between these opposite ends of the scale – cause anxiety, worry, and even ill physical health.
Finding the Light of Jesus provides reflections and revelations which allow us to step back from our problems, reflect on what is most important in the present moment, and rely on spiritual healing – the Light – to experience inner peace and calm in the midst of trouble.

Here is the biography of this author:

For more than twenty-five years, Cindy Tuttle has worked with adults having severe mental illness. She has served on the mental Health Advisory Board and have twice been named as Advocate of the Year in Mental Health for Sacramento County. She has published many poems and articles and appears each month on Big Blend radio.

In the Introduction, Ms. Tuttle explains the layout of her book:

At the beginning of each chapter, I provide a prayer, which helps you center with a prayerful mindset and open heart, before delving into the chapter itself. Then, I will present some thoughts on our culture and help you realize that Jesus – not the world – is our source of love and life. Next, the chapter will include an activity which complements the proceeding thoughts. These will include suggestions on how you can put into practice the focus of the chapter. I will end each chapter with a prayer or poem. This will again remind us that Jesus is the center of our being. At the end of the book, I offer reflective questions and prayers which you will find helpful in searching your heart. The prayers will focus on various emotions we feel and how Jesus is with us. You will find blank pages in the back of this book for personal reflections and notes.

She goes on to share why she wrote this book, and her credentials:

I am writing this book as your fellow traveler on this journey called life. I am not a theologian; however, through much training and counseling, I have learned much about myself and others. I have received spiritual direction for a number of years, and have completed four years of lay ministry courses. I am fortunate to have been involved in many service ministries, including the facilitation of spiritual retreats, where I have had the pleasure of learning from the wonderful people who have attended. I currently work with adults who have severe mental illnesses, and I have been doing this for over twenty-five years.
I offer this book to you in the spirit of much love. I know life is stressful, and this is my way of offering support and shining on you the wonderful Light of Jesus. As the Bible says in John 14:6, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Each one who reads this book will be in my prayers. My prayer is that you will experience the holy wonderful light within yourself; the Eternal Light of Jesus!

Cindy’s chapters are inspiring and encouraging. Here is a section from her chapter entitled ‘How Does Jesus See Me?:’

Jesus sees our heart. He knows our weaknesses and when we mess up, but He also knows how our soul yearns to be united to Him. That’s why we can always come to Him for forgiveness. He is waiting for us to come to Him and share in His marvelous light. He weeps for us when we are in pain. He experiences joy when we feel His presence and when we care for others. He knows when we want to follow Him and are not sure how. He is the loving shepherd waiting for His sheep.
With this love, which He freely gives, we quickly realize it is too strong and wonderful to “hide under a bushel.” This light is so powerful, that it has to be shared. It isn’t shared because we feel it’s something we should do or are told we must do. It’s shared because we have this strong desire to share it. Does this mean that every day we are eager to care for others? To be realistic, there may be many times when we feel tired or any number of reasons that might make it difficult. But once we’ve experienced this deep and passionate love of Jesus, we have the strength and perseverance to keep going and carry our cross. There is no turning back once we know how much we are loved and how we need to give that light to others. (pp. 50-51)

The back of the book includes a section of Prayers and Reflections, including Thirty Days with Jesus. This section of the book definitely points the readers to Jesus. I love the Reflection on Day 1:

As you go through your day, look at the beauty that surrounds you, and how Jesus is present. Reflect on your relationship with Jesus and how Jesus sees you as His beloved child. What does that mean to you? Is what way is Jesus calling you into a deeper relationship? Sometimes, it is difficult to notice the blessings we have, especially if we are going through hard times. Think of something for which you are grateful. (p. 114)

Although I don’t consider myself to be a child of Jesus, but a child of His Father, God, I will extend Cindy some grace for that!    

I love the prayer on Day 8:

Today is a day like no other day,
and we will never have it again
        It is an opportunity to see others as
living painting of God
To see nature as small images of God
        To realize we have another day of life
        Another day of learning how to become
        a more caring and insightful person
        Today we will focus on this day alone
        Not what happened yesterday
        Or what may happen tomorrow
        Let us celebrate this day,
        because it is a day like no other day (p. 120)

Cindy writes in a loving and conversational style; it is clear from her writing that she is a kind and lovely woman. I gleaned a lot of good and insightful information from her book, and I thank her for sharing what she has learned with us.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Crosslink Publishing and provided for review and giveaway purposes by Hamby Media.

I have one copy of this book to pass along to one of you; thanks to LeAnn at Hamby Media for generously providing this copy! 

There are several ways to gain entry:           

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me how God has helped you through a stressful situation. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com. 

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back! If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too! Please leave a new comment to that effect.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too! Please leave a new comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend. Please leave a new comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend. Please leave a new comment to that effect.

So there are five chances to enter! Please limit one entry per option, and please include your email address, or, sad to say, the Random Number Generator will have to choose a different winner.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator (www.random.org) on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 and will be contacted via email. I will try to get the book in the mail in time for Christmas. The best to all of you!

‘Nightingale’ by Susan May Warren – Book Review

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I am fascinated by reading novels that are set in another time period. It is a bonus when the book is wonderfully well written! I found those qualities in the latest book from Susan May Warren, ‘Nightingale.’

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

Esther Lange doesn’t love her fiancé – she feels trapped in the engagement after a mistaken night of passion. Still, she grieves Linus when he’s lost in battle, and the letters sent by medic Peter Hess, who stayed by Linus’s side as he lay dying, give her a strange comfort. So much so that she strikes up a correspondence with Peter, a wholesome Iowa farm boy. But is he? Peter is hiding a secret, something that could cost them both dearly, especially when the past comes back to life. In this bittersweet home-front battle between duty and the heart, only one will prevail.

Here is the biography for this fabulous author:

Susan May Warren is an award-winning, best-selling author of over twenty-five novels, many of which have won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, the ACFW Book of the Year award, the Rita Award, and have been Christy finalists. After serving as a missionary for eight years in Russia, Susan returned home to a small town on Minnesota’s beautiful Lake Superior shore where she, her four children, and her husband are active in their local church.

Susan has wonderful attention to detail. Here is an example; it gives us an idea what life was like during World War II, and the book is chock-full of this type of passages:

Esther treaded down the hallway in the kitchen. Yes, there on the stove, in the aluminum pot, a batch of milky porridge and covered in a towel, fresh bread.
She lit a match, turned on the heat to the stove, poured herself a glass of milk from the icebox, and then cut herself a piece of bread, standing at the counter to tear it into pieces, watching a squirrel contemplate its way up the cottonwood outside. (p. 33)

One of my favorite things about this book is the letter exchange between Esther and Peter. Here is an excerpt from a letter from Peter to Esther, with Peter creating a wonderful word picture:

Yes, I do remember, by the way, the Ferris wheel at the Iowa State Fair. Perhaps you were the girl in blond braids with pretty red bows at the end, waving to her parents as she took flight over the midway? I remember standing in the middle of the grounds, the cotton candy dissolving in her mouth, watching her raise her hands above her as the wheel reached its zenith, as if she might fly. (p. 90)

There are some powerful spiritual elements in this book. Here is Peter’s forgiving observation to Esther:

“Listen to me. Don’t despise the grace given to you by staring at your sin. You must turn around and keep your eyes on the face of love. The face of grace. This is where you’ll find forgiveness.”
….” Esther, you’re not lost. God knows exactly where you are. You just have to stop and let Him find you.” (p. 182)

I was fascinated by the fact that German prisoners of war were transported here to the United States during World War II; I was not aware of that aspect of the war. Susan, in her ‘Author’s Note,’ provides more detail:

Did you know that, in 1945, Wisconsin and Minnesota hosted German POWs in over 140 POW camps throughout the state? In fact, America held over 200,000 German POWs from 1942-1946. What’s most interesting is that these POWs worked on farms and in canneries throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states, right next to first-generation German immigrants who, ten years earlier, might have been their neighbors. Indeed, some of the German immigrants had family fighting for Germany, and relatives in the very POW camps nearby. I read a newspaper account about a woman who was moved because she heard hymn, sung in German (her native language) coming from inside the camp, which was housed just across the street from her home. It made me realize that beneath the stamp of enemy just might be a fellow Christian, pressed into serving their country. (p. 317)

Susan goes on to point out another main theme in her book:

An even bigger theme in Nightingale was, just because someone made a mistake once, did he or she deserve to be imprisoned inside that mistake forever? I applied this theme broadly to both Peter and Esther. Esther might be a healer, but she’s trapped inside her sins, unable to see God’s grace setting her free. And I wanted Peter to see that his service in the war might be to fight the demos that held her captive. His story is a Daniel story, of sorts – a prisoner sent into a forgiven land to do good and hold onto faith. Esther’s story is that of the woman caught in sin – and set free to sin no more. Both of them have to surrender themselves into God’s hands, to let Him set them free and mold them into who He wants them to be.
If you have made a mistake, don’t let it mold your life. Let God set you free with His grace, His forgiveness, and discover who you are when you let God take over. Be found in Him. (pp. 317-318)

This is the fourth Susan May Warren book that I have read. Two that I have read are ‘Double Trouble’ (you can read my review here) and ‘Licensed for Trouble’ (you can read my review here). Susan is a versatile author. These two books have as their main character P.J. Sugar, a private investigator. They are set in the current day and have a humorous bent. This book is set in 1945, during the last days of World War II and its aftermath. The styles could not be more different. That, to me, is the definition of a talented and terrific novelist – and Mrs. Warren is the personification of that! The third book of hers I have read is ‘Sons of Thunder,’ the first book in this ‘Brothers in Arms’ series (you can read my review here). This book is second in that series; ‘Part the Waters’ will be releasing in 2011. I look forward to joining the adventure that Susan takes us on next!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Summerside Press. I am happy to be participating in the LitFuse Publicity Group’s blog tour with these other bloggers.

Two Winners of 'The Love That Dog Training Program' Are...

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The Random Number Generator has chosen the two winners of 'The Love That Dog Training Program' book by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Larry Kay. Those two people are:



Congratulations, ladies! I am sure your pups will be better behaved when you train them using Dawn's terrific methods!

For those of you who want to order this book, you can do so here.

Just an update - our Sammy is 12 weeks old today, and he is doing wonderfully well! I took him in for his 12 week vaccinations and he now weighs 9.02 lbs! He gained 3 lbs in 3 weeks! I am using Dawn's methods - particularly in the housetraining area - and we are very pleased with his progress! And he and his sister, Shelby, are getting along better. Lots of tug o' war and wrestling, but no blood has been drawn, so we are blessed and grateful for that!

Thanks again to Stefanie at Workman Publishing Company for providing the review and giveaway copies! I loved working with her, and look forward to partnering up again in the future!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

‘Beyond Me: Finding Your Way to Life’s Next Level’ by Melinda Doolittle with Ken Abraham – Book Review

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One of my guilty media pleasures is watching ‘American Idol’ – I have watched it (off and on) since its first season. I have always rooted for the singers who were Jesus followers. One of the strongest Christians in the history of ‘American Idol’ is Melinda Doolittle. When I discovered she written an autobiography, ‘Beyond Me: Finding Your Way to Life’s Next Level,’ I knew I wanted to read it! And after I read it, I knew it would be a perfect book to review on Thanksgiving!

Here is the synopsis of this inspiring book:

She was so tone-deaf as a child that her choir director pled with her to just move her mouth and not let any sound come out. Undaunted, Melinda Doolittle’s faith and love of singing drove her to enter a talent show in the seventh grade. Miraculously, she sang with perfect pitch and brought the house down! That’s when Melinda began to realize that success in life was something bigger than her – something beyond her. And yet something that she could attain by taking certain, timeless principles to heart.
She began praying about, setting and systematically reaching her goals, such as singing background vocals for many of her favorite music artists. Then, by an amazing turn of events, she burst onto the music scene with her flawless vocal performances on American Idol, becoming the clear favorite of the show’s most difficult judge, Simon Cowell.
American Idol’s Melinda Doolittle inspires you to dream big and find yourself at life’s next level. There are enormous obstacles standing between where you are and where you want to be. Few know that better than American Idol star and recording artist Melinda Doolittle.
Her rise from musical anonymity as a back-up singer to success on television’s most-watched stage caught her by surprise. A celebrated recording career has followed. But in all the ups and downs, twists and turns of life in the spotlight, certain lifelong principles have sustained and guided Melinda. Principles she will share with you. Her experiences prove that no matter how big the obstacle, you can dream big and find both success and joy, especially as you look beyond yourself and invest in others.
Through poignant, often humorous stories, Beyond Me not only provides a backstage glimpse of one of America’s biggest pop-culture phenomenons – American Idol – it shows how Melinda turned that stress-filled environment into a springboard from which she could soar. Her story will inspire you to do the same with your biggest challenges.

Here are the biographies of these authors:

Melinda Doolittle is an acclaimed recording artist who had a meteoric rise to fame on American Idol. She performs regularly on television and in concerts internationally and is a spokesperson for Malaria No More and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She released her first CD, 'Coming Back to You,' in February, 2009.

Ken Abraham, who has 12 New York Times bestsellers to his credit, also collaborated on Lisa Beamer’s Let’s Roll and Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now.

For those of you unfamiliar with Melinda, here is her audition on ‘American Idol.’ This shows her personality and her immense talent!:

The Foreword was written by Jordin Sparks, the ‘American Idol’ winner from the season Melinda was on:

Melinda has called her book Beyond Me, and I know that is where her amazing strengths come from. I loved reading about the adventures we shared on AI and seeing the same events from her unique perspective. But even more, I loved reading about the stories that were new to me – insights and memories from her childhood and growing-up years. It really made me see where she got all that wisdom!
I’ve read that happiness is elusive, but if you ever have the good fortune to meet Melinda, you’ll know you’ve found it. I’ve never known anyone with so much joy in her life – and she’s teaching me how to live that way, too. I remember during the show – and even now when I need the reminder! – she would always say, “Don’t worry about anyone else and what they’re saying; just worry about you and yourself.” Now I know we’ve all heard that before, but for me, coming from Melinda – someone I so admire and respect – it had all the more power. These days, when I have young people come to me and ask for advice, I tell them the same thing. When you’re yourself, people love you for you, and that is a great thing to know. I know it’s her faith and love of music and people that gives her that “joy of life.” It’s a remarkable quality that we all want. What an honor that Melinda is so willing to share her secrets to getting there – with me and everyone else on the journey. (pp. x-xi)

Wow – that is a ringing endorsement!

In Chapter One, entitled ‘Dream Big, ‘ Melinda explains how both her mother and father – who were divorced before she was not quite one year old – instilled in her a lot of love and a strong work ethic:

That was the way I was raised: Figure out the best thing about a situation and run with it. So, not surprisingly, that life principle has stuck with me – and come in very handy over the years.
I was also raised to believe I could be or do anything I put my mind to. And how do children figure out what they want to do or be? They try everything! Thankfully, my mom was up for the challenge, and she let me try almost any sport, instrument, or childhood activity at least once. (p. 3)

I love this lesson Melinda’s mother, Marguerite, taught her only child:

Sometimes we say words – good, bad, uplifting, or nasty – and think they will simply disappear into thin air. But I was raised to believe that our words matter, that the words we say have the power to build someone up or tear that person down. Mom held to the principle: Say three nice things. “Baby, if you’re going to say something bad about someone, you need to say three good things about that person first.”

What great advice; no wonder Melinda dedicated her book to her wise mother! 
Not only are spoken words damaging, but so are written words; words are words! This is a great reminder to be gracious and kind!

Melinda has translated this advice in her assessment of Simon Cowell, the now former judge of ‘American Idol:’

Even today, interviewers will sometimes get frustrated with me because I choose to say three nice things first rather than begin with the negatives. It’s not my fault that most interviews are so short that I only have time to get to the nice stuff! The question I am asked most often is, “What is Simon Cowell really like?” Knowing Simon as the sometimes painfully honest, difficult-to-please judge on American Idol, interviewers expect that they will finally get me to say something negative. Instead, they are shocked to find out that Simon is my teddy bear. Simon’s underlying purpose is to jolt you into doing your best. He simply doesn’t have a filter, and he never learned to start with three nice things. (p. 12)

That is a gracious way of looking at Mr. Cowell!

And this is a mature way of understanding why people are negative toward others:

Why do some people feel it necessary to point out the mistakes, sins, or failures of others, often ridiculing or gossiping about them, rather than trying to say positive things? Maybe the most caustic critics were raised that way themselves, so now they feel compelled to cut other people down to size so they can feel better about their own shortcomings. Regardless of the reason, it is wrong.
Our society today seems obsessed with building someone up only to see how quickly we can tear that person down. But it’s really not hard to be kind and encouraging. One you get into the habit of attempting to say three nice things, you find your mind taking you there rather than toward negative, destructive comments. (p. 17)

Melinda believes that preparation is key to her success; so is prayer:

Dreaming big is important, because if you don’t see yourself doing what you want to do, you can be fairly sure that nobody else will imagine you doing it either. So set your sights high and post your goals in front of you on your “faith wall.”
Praying is important too. And by praying hard, I don’t mean yelling at God. On the other hand, I also don’t mean mumbling vague, ambiguous prayers, simply hinting to God that you would like to do something great. I believe in specific, consistent, and intense prayer. When you pray and follow God’s direction, He can open the right doors for you at the right time. (p. 33)

Melinda has gotten involved in some philanthropic organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of American and Malaria No More. She encourages her readers to do something to make the world a better place, and to become the hands and feet of God here on earth:

When you look for some way to make a difference, don’t worry that you cannot touch the entire world. Simply look for a way that you can touch one person. God can touch the world, and He will start through you. And there’s an extra blessing! As you get involved in helping meet the needs of helpless, hurting people, God will meet your needs in ways you cannot even imagine! (p. 52)   

Psalm 139:13-16 is an important Scripture to Melinda – that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. That mindset will help us be more content and happy:

To me, that passage says that we matter to God: He made us, and even before we were born, He established a plan for our lives. We cannot base our estimation of ourselves on the fickle opinions of other people.
That’s why I believe I am only in competition with myself. Certainly, I want to be the best “me” possible, so I work at my craft. I try to take good care of my body, mind, and spirit. But I don’t base my self-esteem on someone else’s idea of who I should be. Funny, many of the images of celebrities or models in magazines nowadays are “computer enhanced,” altered to look better by someone who is handy with a mouse. The images themselves are not even real, much less valid comparisons.
So rather than comparing yourself to anyone else, simply relax and enjoy being the person God made you to be. You are your own competition. In fact, you are your only competition. (p. 83)

Melinda has used her platform to glorify God. She shares how she was able to choose a song that was uplifting:

A most amazing opportunity came during Week 7, when the entire program was designated as “Idol Gives Back.” Because of the tenor of the show, contestants were asked to perform “inspirational” songs, which I was only too happy to do. I selected “There Will Come a Day,” a song originally recorded by Faith Hill and one that gave me a natural opportunity to state my faith to millions of people. (p. 138)

This is such a beautiful and powerful song, and Melinda did such an amazing job with it!:

Melinda believes she is in the center of God’s will for her life. She closes out her book this way:

Every singer or musician who has ever stood in front of an audience knows the feeling – when it seems that everything about the show is working. The sound is perfect, the lights are creating just the right ambiance, and the crowd “gets” what you are trying to put out there – every true artist knows deep within that overwhelming sense that something more is happening than mere music. Something greater, something bigger, is at work. That’s how I feel when I step up to use the gift God has given me.
I am still in awe at what God has done in my life. In fact, I am amazed by God, period. What He does for, in, and through me is far…far…beyond me. (p. 160)

This book is warm and engaging – just as I expect Melinda is in real life! And I loved reading about ‘American Idol’ from a participant. Melinda lives her life in glory to God, and her light shines so brightly! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves ‘American Idol’ – and anyone who wants to be enlightened and uplifted by a mighty woman of God!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Zondervan Publishers and provided by them for review purposes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

‘The Life Book’ – Bible Smuggling 101 - Legally Saturating High Schools with God’s Word

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In my opinion, the morals of our society have declined significantly since the Supreme Court case known as Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which was decided on June 17, 1963. In the case, the Court decided 8–1 in favor of the respondent, Edward Schempp, and declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional.
In today’s divisive culture-war society, when news stories about separation of church and state thrive with controversy, one cutting-edge Christian ministry is having remarkable success spreading the Word of God. What makes it remarkable? They are doing it by distributing Bibles in public schools—legally.

Carl Blunt is the president and CEO of The Life Book Movement, a Christian mission centered on Blunt’s own contemporary, youth-oriented edition of a portion of the Bible called The Life Book, a unique presentation of Scripture designed to engage high school students with the truth of God’s Word. The Life Book presents a brief overview of the Old Testament and the Book of John using an interactive format with honest student comments and real-life questions in the margins. Readers are drawn into the only story that can change their lives forever. 

Founded by The Gideons International as an innovative strategy to reach high school students with God’s Word, The Life Book Movement works in collaboration with churches throughout the country to provide the books for free to high school students. Blunt’s organization brilliantly threads a separation-of-church-and-state loophole by getting his publication into the hands of Christian high school students and having them pass the books out to classmates at school—a practice that is entirely legal, as long as the books are not distributed by school staff or other adults. Blunt says, “It’s like we’re helping students smuggle God’s Word into a closed country (public high schools) to reach an unreached people group because studies show that only 4% of today’s teenagers are Bible-believing Christians.” The goal is to ensure that every student in every high school in the United States has an opportunity to receive the gift of The Life Book. This approach presents a phenomenal opportunity to impact a generation with the good news of Jesus Christ. 

The Life Book Movement is best described to students as a week-long mission trip to their local high school. Local churches work together in targeted areas to ensure The Life Book is offered to every student in each chosen high school. All churches involved receive the books at no cost from The LifeBook Movement and provide the books, along with some evangelism training, to the students in their youth groups. The students then spend a week passing them out to their friends and classmates at school. One student who received the book said, “I got one today. I read it in almost every class today. I like it. It’s pretty neat and other people asked to look at it and then asked where to get one.” 

Flying under the radar since its inception last fall, The Life Book Movement is rapidly closing in on distribution of more than 300,000 copies in public high schools across 21 states and even the British Virgin Islands. A quiet success, indeed, but extremely ambitious, The Life Book Movement has an ultimate goal of distributing The Life Book to nearly 18 million high school students when all is said and done. And, so far, the outlook is extremely promising.

You can download The Life Book here.

This book was provided by the B & B Media Group for publicity purposes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

‘Broken’ by Travis Thrasher – Book Review and Giveaway

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‘Christian’ novels come in all different flavors. ‘Broken,’ by Travis Thrasher, shows that we live in a broken world, and the only way for us to get through this life in a satisfying manner is to follow the Lord, and to follow His precepts.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

The Tormented Tale of a Woman on the Run from Her Past, and A Stranger Who Knows Her Darkest Secret. Laila had it all – love, family, wealth, and faith. But when her world fell apart, Laila escaped New York to pursue a career as a model. Her new world of glamour turned out to be an illusion, however, full of danger that eventually led to murder.
Now, reinventing herself once again, Laila has managed to create an unassuming life in Greenville, South Carolina. Though she avoids personal connections, she can’t resist a male colleague’s persistent attempts at friendship that could lead to something more.
But even as Laila struggles to move forward, she can’t seem to forget the crimes of her past. When a stranger approaches her and says he knows what she did, Laila runs, pursued by mysterious men in dark shadows and haunted by visions of the man she killed. Little does she know she’s being hounded by something not of this world, something that knows her deepest, darkest secret that will follow wherever she goes.

Here is the biography of this author:

The author of eleven works of fiction, Travis Thrasher creates flawed characters and takes them on harrowing journeys of redemption. He and his wife, Sharon, live with their daughter in Chicago, IL.

Each chapter opens with a journal entry from Laila; they really help us to get a glimpse into the mind of this beautiful, yet troubled, woman. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8:

What good is living in the moment when the past always inevitably overshadows it?
Sometimes I tell myself I need to find a good shrink, someone different than the ones in New York and Chicago that needed more help than they could prescribe. Sometimes I tell myself I need to find someone, anyone, that will accept and love me for who I am. But I can’t imagine – I can’t begin to imagine the layers I’d have to go through to get to the core.
And then – yes, when I hear those words “accept” and “love” and “who I am,” I think that what I need is the faith of my father. But every time I think about praying, think about going to church, think about any of that, I go back to the mess I left behind.
My problem is not wondering why God could allow bad things to happen. My problem is believing that God can do wondrous things. Yes, the Garden of Eden might have been real, and Moses parting the Red Sea and all the prophets of the Old Testament doing their miracles, and yes, even Jesus coming and dying on the cross next to a couple of criminals and surrounded by masses who mocked him. That might all be real, but to me right now, it seems like a fairy tale. Just like in all the stories of old, the stories from youth, when things worked out happily ever after. Those stories sell because people are looking for happily ever afters, and that includes people going oto see a shrink or people living their whole lives in their own bubbles of a family, or people sitting down in church and getting saved.
What are they saved from? That’s what I want to know. (pp. 44-45)

Obviously, Laila has left the faith of her family. Her younger brother, Lex, still clings to that faith. Here is an exchange between Lex and his wife, Dena, who is not happy that he is trying to track down Laila:

         “She’s missing because she wants to be,” Dena says.
         “I’m going to find her.”
         “Probably shacking up with the devil himself.”
         “Stop it.”
“That girl doesn’t deserve to be found. What’re you gonna do? Bring her home? Save her soul?”
“I can try.”
“She needs to stay away. She’s no good.”
“So was I.”
“God shined his face down on you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lex says. “And I’m hoping He’s got some more mercy to spare. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m going to find her.”
“Heartache is all you’re gonna find. Heartache and death.” (p. 111)  

Another character in the book that has strong faith is Laila’s coworker, Kyle. Here is a conversation between the cynical Laila and the steadfast Kyle on the subject of confession of sins. Kyle begins:

         “Telling me won’t. But you can tell them to God.”
         “If He’s there He already knows about them.”
         “But you can put them before Him and ask for forgiveness.”
 “What’s that going to get me? A golden ticket to the heavenly spa up there? A get-out-of-jail card where I won’t have to worry about it anymore?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Kyle says.
“So how does it work?”
“I don’t know, but I know what I believe. I know that I believe in God and I believe in His son, and I know this is going to sound like preaching 101 but I believe there is a way Jesus takes my mistakes. I have to believe this because if I don’t I’m hopeless.”
“What mistakes have you made? You’re a good guy.”
“We all make mistakes. All of us.” (p. 201)

I have read one other book by Mr. Thrasher – ‘Solitary’ (you can read my review here). That book is in the Juvenile Fiction category; this book decidedly is not. This book brings to the forefront the truth that this world is ruled by the enemy of our souls. Mr. Thrasher does not sugar coat life on this planet. You don’t want to read a book like this too far away from a loved one; it is chilling and not for the faint of heart. That said, Mr. Thrasher is gifted in his writing style, and puts you into the hearts and minds of his characters (cold and calculated as they may be). Fortunately, and thankfully, Laila finally sees what is truly important in this world; for that, I am grateful – and there will be no spoilers coming from me!  

You can order this book here.

This book was published by FaithWorks and provided by them for review and giveaway purposes.

I have three copies of this book to pass along to three of you; thanks to Val at FaithWorks for generously providing these copies! 

There are several ways to gain entry:           

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me how God has redeemed your life! Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com. 

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back! If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too! Please leave a new comment to that effect.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too! Please leave a new comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend. Please leave a new comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend. Please leave a new comment to that effect.

So there are five chances to enter! Please limit one entry per option, and please include your email address, or, sad to say, the Random Number Generator will have to choose a different winner.

This giveaway is for U.S. and Canadian residents only. The deadline for entry is Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator (www.random.org) on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 and will be contacted via email. The best to all of you!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

‘The One Year Book of Encouragement: 365 Days of Inspiration and Wisdom for Your Spiritual Journey’ by Harold Myra – Book Review

Buzz this

For most of us in these United States (and, indeed, for much of the world), we have felt the effects of the economic downturn for the past several years. To endure, what we need more than money is encouragement. Tyndale House has a book entitled ‘The One Year Book of Encouragement: 365 Days of Inspiration and Wisdom for Your Spiritual Journey,’ which provides encouragement in droves.

Here is the synopsis of this energizing and uplifting book:

Invigorate your prayer life. Renew your strength. What do John Wesley, Jill Briscoe, Brother Lawrence, Luci Shaw, Oswald Chambers, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, and Philip Yancey have in common? Amazing spiritual insights.
In The One Year Book of Encouragement, Harold Myra identifies seeds of wisdom from these – and other – favorite spiritual guides, from which he develops daily messages of hope and inspiration – messages to give us strength and encouragement in tough times.
In joy or heartbreak, in times of gratitude or when we fear what’s ahead, we can rely on God. Discover today the encouragement you need for life’s journey.

Here is the biography of this author:

Harold Myra served as the CEO of Christianity Today International for 32 years. Under his leadership, the organization grew from one magazine to a communications company with a dozen magazines, copublished books, and a major Internet ministry.

Myra started his journalistic career with Youth for Christ magazine, which under his leadership became Campus Life magazine.

Author of five novels, numerous children's and nonfiction books, and hundreds of magazine articles, Myra has taught writing and publishing at the Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois. He holds honorary doctorates from several colleges, including Biola University in California and Gordon College in Massachusetts.
Myra has received various awards, among them the prestigious Magazine Publisher's Award and the James Deforest Murch Award from the National Association of Evangelicals. The Evangelical Press Association presented him with its highest honor, the Joseph T. Bayly Award, for his triple career as an editor, author, and publishing executive.

Harold and his wife, Jeanette, are the parents of six children and grandparents of five. They reside in Wheaton, Illinois.

Dr. Myra opens the book with a section entitled ‘Welcome to Encouragement!’ He shares what he hopes to accomplish with this book by sharing the writings of Christians through the ages:

Despite their differences from us, their longings and repentance and prayers resonate with immediacy. It’s fascinating to me, for instance, how many of my friends say they often find François Fénelon’s words from several hundred years ago exactly what they need for a given day.
For me, the men and women in this volume are soul mates. As I’ve read their words, they’ve often stung, but always with astringent healing, or they’ve opened a fresh way of viewing how God works. Other times, they’ve calmed me and lifted me to surrender and praise.

Life has been described as a crucible. The word describes what most people in the Bible endured, and we have much to endure today. Life not only is difficult but is a crucible that refines us. As we move through life, face adversity, bury our loved ones, and recognize the world’s brutality and unfairness, we begin to appreciate more and more the depths of Scripture. We also realize we need guidance, fresh encouragement, and no-nonsense spiritual insight from those who have gone before us and have followed hard after Christ.

Fortunately, we have a rich heritage from which to draw.

….These challenges and prayers are for life as we meet it, in all its challenges, in all its opportunities, in all its wonder and grace from the loving Father. (p. vi)

Each day includes wisdom from a Christian theologian or author, a prayer, and a Scripture verse.

I always like to check my birthday (February 21) in a devotional. The featured giant of the faith for that day is Charles Spurgeon; here is an excerpt from the devotional, entitled ‘Love and War:’

Charles Haddon Spurgeon found it “not a little astonishing” that John’s epistle, so thoroughly “soak in love,” should in 1 John 5:4 include references to war. The apostle John writes, “For whatever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (KJV)
“Here are intimations of strife and battle,” Spurgeon writes, “because there is something in the world antagonistic to love. Darkness broods. Who can take Satan down but by force?” (p. 52)

This is the prayer for that day:

Lord, please equip me with more than a wooden sword that snaps as I face what’s before me. Grant me your wisdom, love, and power so that I can overcome the world and share your grace with others.

And here is the Scripture verse:

I will wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. Psalm 62:1 NLT

I also sought out a day featuring François Fénelon, whom Dr. Myra referenced in the Introduction. I had never heard of him before getting this devotional. He is featured on December 8, in a devotional entitled ‘Take A Deep Breath;’ here is an excerpt:

François Fénelon encourages us to “live in peace without worrying about the future. Unnecessary worrying and imagining the worse possible scenario will strangle your faith. God alone knows what will happen to you. You really don’t even own the present moment, for even this belongs to God.”
Aren’t we prone to worrying and imagining worst-case scenarios? As we hear about all the things going wrong in the world, we know painful things may be just ahead. As we meet the demands of each new day, we realize reversals and confrontations may come. (p. 342)

I really love this book! Personally, I can use daily encouragement. I plan on introducing the book to Fred, and hope that we will use it in our evening devotionals. This is a terrific book for all ages, and is a great way to introduce people to different heroes of our faith. I thank Dr. Myra and Tyndale House for compiling and providing such a great resource.

You can download the first chapter here.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Tyndale House and provided by them for review purposes.

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