Wednesday, December 12, 2012

20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith

We all want meaning. We all want our lives to count for something, to make a difference that outlives our time here. When I first saw 20,000 days and Counting, a new book by Robert D. Smith, I was curious and skeptical. Curious as to what the 20,000 days represented and skeptical primarily because of the subtitle which says the book is "the crash course for mastering your life right now."  I have read many books (far too many,actually) about life meaning and making the most of your life, living a life that counts, when I here THE crash course, I was questioning if the author was making some sort of claim to his course being the definitive course in life planning or maybe it is just the only "crash course" he knows of. After brief research, I agreed to read and review the book. And I liked it.
So what is 20,000 days? Smith recounts how in his 54th year of life, it hit him that he had been alive almost 20,000 days. On his 20,000th day, he celebrated the occasion by putting himself through a crash course in planning his next 20,000 days. The result is contained in this book.

Smith explains in the beginning that he wrote the book so it could be read quickly ( I finished it in about 30 minutes or so). His short chapters and straight-to-the point writing style help to make it a fast read.  He did this "because this could be your last day...and you have important things to do." I was impressed that he doesn't want us passing time reading his book. His desire is for us to grasp the concepts and principles quickly and get busy living them out.

I found this book to be beneficial in bringing clarity to some problem areas in life planning. His steps, questions and "things you can do now" are helpful to get me moving. Reader will find something in this book that connects, whether it be his words about motivation being a myth, the importance of eating dessert first, or the story of William Borden and his "No reserves, No retreats, No regrets" life.
Whether or not this book helps you master your life will depend on how serious you are at changing and how quickly you implement Smith's point that you have only two choices which encompass every decision you make for your life. You can decide yes or no. He quotes Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back: "Do  or do not: there is no try."

Great gift for people struggling with finding meaning or needing a nudge to get over a hump or lull in life. People like me. I will keep this one handy for when I need a nudge.

I received this book free of charge from Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze Blogger Program in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Holy and the Common

One thing I love about the church I attend is that we still practice the reading of longer passages of scripture in the service each week. In recent months we have been hearing the book of Ezekiel read aloud. It is easy to get lost in some of the details and visitors may sometimes wonder why we are reading a particular section of the Bible. We read books of the Bible in their entirety so some weeks may seem random for a first-time visitor.
As is often the case when I am reading (or in this case hearing) Old Testament prophets, I will be struck by a simple phrase or statement that is a jewel to be pondered. Yesterday, it was Ezekiel 42:20. The Lord is giving Ezekiel the details and measurements of the new temple chambers when at the end of the chapter he writes, "It had a wall around make a separation between the holy and the common."It hit me that this is something that is lost in our time and culture, even in the church.

There is to be a wall between what is holy and what is common.

That which is common is for everyday use and available to all. There is nothing special about the common. It is precisely that...common. When we take things that are common and try to blend them with the holy, we contaminate the purity of what God has declared as his own and we defile it, making it a stench that dishonors his name,which is Holy. In our services, if we are not attune to the holiness of God we can easily become so focused on being culturally relevant and unoffensive that we lose the holiness and reverence of our gathering to worship the living God, maker and sustainer of all things.

That which is holy is set apart for God and his purposes. God takes people and purifies them, making them holy for himself. Peter writes that we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). We are called saints.

Our lives should be characterized by a pursuit of holiness.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19 ESV).

We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23 ESV) and do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God and since he has set us apart for his purposes, we are holy.

To preserve the holiness of God's name, we must guared against the temptation for our lives and the church to become common. We must make a separation between the holy and the common.We and the church are anything but common.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sinner's Creed by Scott Stapp

I was stocking groceries at Winn-Dixie on the graveyard shift the first time I heard Creed. Because the store closed at midnight, the crew would alternate choosing the music to listen to. We would play it through the often crackling PA system.  I was a Bible college student at the time in Knoxville, TN at the time and the crew knew what I believed and we had some good conversations about faith and music. One of the guys put on a new CD one night and said to me, “You’ll probably like this one.” He told me it was a new band, Creed, and the name of the album was My Own Prison. He was right, I did like it. I was blown away by the intensity of the lyrics and of course the amazing guitar riffs. Not long after that, everyone knew who Creed was.
I love a good rock and roll story. I also love to hear of people’s journeys of faith. Sinner’s Creed, by Creed lead singer and lyricist Scott Stapp, is both. It is an intimate look into the Stapp childhood home and a backstage pass to the story of Creed.  It is a memoir paved with love and pain, disappointment and success, faith and doubt.  
Stapp recounts with brutal honesty his father’s abandonment of the family and the joy he felt when his mother remarries and his step-father fills in the gap and makes him feel special and loved. But when his step father turns abusive, both physically and spiritually, he was disillusioned. Scott was introduced to rock and roll during this time which was forbidden in his home. At the same time, he was comforted and inspired by the lyrics of King David in the Psalms. Rock and roll would be the best thing that ever happened to him….and the worst.
Creed was born at Florida State University in 1994 and by 1998 My Own Prison had launched them into the big time. Their follow up album, Human Clay, made them megastars. The members of Creed were living their dreams as rock stars, but for Scott Stapp it was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the title of the debut album. He was in his own prison.
Conflict with his bandmates was intensifying because so much focus was on the Christian spiritual themes of his lyrics. The media and many fans were referring to Creed as a “Christian” band, which angered the other members of the band. They never considered themselves to be a Christian band, so what was going on? Scott just wrote what he was feeling and how he wrestled with matters of faith, foundations coming from what he gained from his mother, step- father and grandfather. Scott was also becoming addicted to pain medicines his “rock and roll doctor” was giving him for his throat and he was also drinking heavily.  Needless to say, the combination of all this almost killed him and it did kill Creed for a season. He couldn’t go on.
But God holds on to his people. Scott shares of the deep hurt and his return to God and life-giving faith. His wife and children are motivations for him to press on and he continues to understand the dangers of life as a rock and roller but he knows who is in control of all things. I love how he summarizes the first 3 steps of his recovery from drugs and alcohol. It will also serve as a fitting summary of his memoir, Sinner’s Creed.
1.       Scott can’t
2.       God can.
3.       Scott lets God.
We come Full Circle, like the title of the Creed reunion project. This is a rock and roll story. It is also a story of the journey of faith. It is a painful story. It is an inspirational story. It is Scott Stapp’s story. But ultimately, it is God’s story.  Don’t miss hits the shelves on October 2.
(This book was provided free of charge from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for an honest review.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

You Were Made for The RIver

“The River is magical…The River is wild, free, and untamable…The River is alive. The River is timeless, and it’s moving all over the world.”

Gabriel Clarke was at home with the River, as was his father and his father before him. It was safe to say he loved the River. But when Gabriel was only five years old, he was witness to an event that forever changed his life, an event that built an impenetrable wall between his heart and the River.

But the River never stops moving. It never stops calling. “You were made for the River.”

The story of The River begins in Colorado, winds to Kansas, and cascades back to Colorado and finally into every crevice and gorge of the human heart, leaving everything changed in its steady current.

Michael Neale, Grammy award winning songwriter, forges ahead with his debut novel, The River.  It is passionately filled with characters you will come to know and love in just a few pages and ones you will cry with before you are done. Neale will raft into your heart as the River opens up new points of entry.  The River will lead the reader to reflect on life and inspire to live a life of purpose.  It is a book saturated with real-life hurt and pain, but never without hope for overcoming. When looking your greatest fear directly in the face, The River is the book saying, “Go for It!”

One of the characters in The River says:

I’ve run The River hundreds of times, and right before I hit those rapids, I still get that butterfly feeling in my gut—and then the rush of adrenaline takes over. I think that feeling will always be there whenever you connect with something bigger than you are. It’s part of what makes life beautiful. If you stay connected only to that which is small enough for you to understand and control, then you have nothing—no adventure, no destiny, and no purpose.

 I recommend this book to anyone wanting to leave the safety of the bank and ride the rapids of life to the other side of the places that have dammed up the heart. This is for those who need to know and believe and hear that:  You were made for The River!

(This book was provided at no cost from the Thomas Nelson Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.)



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Greater Love by Levi Benkert with Candy Chand

Have you ever been moved by a story or a ministry to the point where it crossed your mind to sell everything you own and move to a far-away land to help the poor, all in the name of Jesus? That is exactly what happened to Levi Benkert. When everything seemed to be falling apart in his life due to the real estate market collapse, God called him to something completely new. But this time he would not be building houses in American subdivisions, but building lives and families in the heart of Ethiopia.
A single phone call from a friend to help with a crisis involving a tribal custom of killing babies led to Levi, his wife Jessie and their children to sell all their possessions and move to Ethiopia to serve. In “No Greater Love: One Man’s Radical Journey Through the Heart of Ethiopia,” he recounts the countless ups and downs of adjusting to African life and the struggles with government and tribal customs and policies. Mixed into the heartache are the joys of God’s mercy and grace toward his people and His heart for orphans, widows and anyone who calls on His name for deliverance.
At certain points, this book was not an easy read because of its complete honesty in portraying mission work. This was the element I appreciated most because it didn't paint a rosy picture of life in Africa, a life that is hard in most every way. The book did, however, show that as lives are changed, the discomfort and inconvenience fade in importance. God is still good in the daily wrestling matches with Him.
No Greater Love will inspire you to consider more radical involvement in what God is doing to rescue orphans and to make His Name great among the nations.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in orphan care or simply wanting to be inspired by all God is doing in Africa.

This book was provided to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review by the Tyndale Blog Network.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick

I don't think anyone who has been breathing for the past 10 years would argue that the rampant presence of sexual imagery and sexual activity has grown to epidemic proportions.  Statistics show that internet pornography use is growing rapidly among men and women. Odds are that you are struggling with this ( or some other type of sexual temptation or sin) or somebody close to you has struggled, is struggling, or will struggle. Many of those currently struggling will never admit it to even the closest person to them because of the shame and stigma attached to it.

Individuals can recover from sexual addiction, regardless of how far the addiction has progressed.

Michael John Cusick, in his new book Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, believes recovery is possible as well. Drawing from 25 years of working with men struggling in this area, Cusick begins with the foundational truth that men struggling with sex addiction are not pursuing sex, but intimacy...intimacy that can only be found in God. He maps out the "Soul Snare Cycle" to help men identify their own cycle, he unveils shame ( the deadly fuel of sex addiction), explains how the brain is formed in addiction and how to change it back to a healthy place, and moves men to action in living in freedom as they travel down "The Soul Care Highway."

I have read several books on this topic as I have wrestled with my own struggles in this area. Surfing for God is by far been the most helpful for me in its practical approach and wisdom in communicating sometimes hard to understand ideas. I was pleased with the absence of a "Just Stop"philosophy that is often found in Christian circles. Cusick's words were full of grace and mercy in dealing with this, an approach that models the way I believe Jesus dealt with these issues. One aspect of this book that I think makes it exceptional in comparison to other books on sexual addiction is that the way in which he presents the truth can be applied to any habitual negative habit or sin (or sin in general). He focuses on heart transformation and all lasting change will start there.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants an understanding of sexual addiction, their own or someone else's. I also recommend anyone who has battled any sin for a long time and wants a new tool for the toolbox to read this (you will just have to substitute your sin wherever it is talking about sexual acting out or porn use). Whatever your sin, don't delay in dealing with it. I will end with a quote form the book:

"If we want to grow up and learn to live without the cancer that slowly devours our souls, we must go under the knife. The surgery in our souls can only be performed by the Great Physician. And like any reputable surgeon, Jesus will not operate without our consent."

Will you consent?

A copy of this book was provided to me free of charge  by the reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Beckon by Tom Pawlik

Jack Kendrick is in search of his father who went missing 12 years earlier while researching an ancient indian tribe in Wyoming. Elina Gutierrez is searching for her missing cousin. George Wilcox is searching for a cure for his wife's Alzheimer's.
Three individuals with pure motives converge on the town of Beckon. What they find there is also pure...pure evil. Lurking within, around, and especially beneath, is a darkness that not only eats flesh, but eats one's soul.
Tom Pawlik, Christy award winner, brings us his latest story, Beckon. Pawlik blends suspense, horror, and action/thriller with Beckon. I had never read one of his stories so wasn't sure what to expect. Though there were plot situations that made me think of other stories, this one kept my attention and had enough unique elements to not turn me off. I was intrigued by the tribe and found myself asking morality questions of myself when some of the characters were faced with difficult how far would I go to save my own life or the life of someone I dearly love?
If you like adventure and thriller stories, you will like this one. It reads like a good movie (Tom, if you read this, I recommend you write a screenplay based on your story) because it is a good blend of genres to satisfy most readers or viewers.
This book was provided free to me from Tyndale in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Devil in Pew Number Seven

Ramona and Robert Nichols moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina in 1969 where Robert would be the pastor of the Free Welcome Holiness Church. All seemed well for the Nichols, yet in the church, in pew seven, an adversary was beginning his plot to end the Nichols' time of blissful service of Jesus and his church. Mr. Watts had spent years controlling the church and community. When his control of the church slipped through his fingers while support for the new pastor grew, Mr. Watts unleashed a plan of terror on the young family. He sent threatening letters and disrupted worship services. Bombs being detonated on the parsonage property within feet of the parsonage on multiple occasions, causing windows to break from the blasts.
Even though the whole community knew Mr. Watts was behind it all, law enforcement couldn't collect evidence enough for an arrest, one reason being he always hired others to do his dirty work.
Just before Easter 1978, the terror came to a head when an angry man with a gun entered the Nichols home. Shots were fired and young Rebecca, age 7, witnessed this tragic end of years of torment. Sadly, Rebecca still carried the scars from this dark day in her life and many dark days followed. The Devil in Pew Number Seven is her story. Now in her 40's and with a family of her own, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo shares her journey through the valley of death and into the light on the other side.
The Devil in Pew Number Seven is a beautiful example of how "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Rebecca Nichols Alonzo shares her life and offers help and hope for those who have endured deep pain in their lives. This book shows how faith is an anchor when stormy seas abound and what it means to cling to the old rugged cross when there is a devil in pew number seven.
(A free copy of this book was provided by Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

I am Second

Everyone loves a good story, whether it be told on the big screen in visual form, in a book, or in conversation with a friend. We all seem to be moved especially by a story that actually happened. These stories inspire us to be better people and to appreciate life and others at a deeper level. God is the great storyteller and He is writing each and everyone of our stories, even if we don't accept it or even like it. His desire is for us to surrender our stories to Him. In the surrender, He becomes the focal point and we are given peace, forgiveness, and purpose. We must say the God is first and I am second. In their recent book I Am Second, Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett share 20 stories from people who have made God first and made the proclamation that "I am Second."
The stories include rock stars, successful businessmen and athletes, and others who are not as widely known or not known at all. When faced with God, they all found that they have the same need. They needed to be rescued from the wreckage and chaos that their lives had become. In the rubble, God became real and their lives were changed forever.
I Am Second has such varied stories that the readers will find personal connection at some point in the reading and will most likely see pieces of their own stories scattered throughout the book. If you prefer to watch a video and hear the story told by the actual person, a QR code is provided so you can do just that. Additional codes are added at the end of each story if you want to watch other videos for stories not included as part of the book.
I recommend this book to anyone searching for God and meaning, but also to those (like myself) who have those moments of wondering what God is doing or possibly struggling with purpose and sensing God's presence. This book is a powerful reminder of what can happen when you put God first in your life and boldly claim: I am Second!!
To learn more about "I am Second" go to
I received a copy of this book free of charge from in exchange for an honest review.