Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Daniel Fast by Susan Gregory

When it comes to fasting, there are two important elements...the why and the how.  This book does a great job at explaining both!  It contains 104 pages of reading, over 100 pages of recipes and menu ideas, and a 21-day devotional.

She writes "The definition of a biblical fast is to restrict food for a spiritual purpose...it's a spiritual tool that God created to help you strengthen your spirit, learn self-control of the flesh, draw closer to your Father, and focus on prayer".  Without a purpose, a fast would simply be a "diet".  Therefore, the book focuses on what we can learn from the account of Daniel fasting in the Bible and why we should incorporate this spiritual discipline into our lives.  I got a little confused during her explanation of the differences between soul and spirit, but otherwise was very motivated to give this a try sometime in the near future.

The Daniel Fast specifically is a "plant-based eating plan with additional restrictions that include no sweeteners, no leavening products, and no man-made chemicals or processed foods."  It is a very healthy diet with many health benefits.  The author walks through the steps needed to plan and prepare to go on this fast, both physically and spiritually.  While the typical length is 21-days, the fast can be adapted to any length of time.  For anyone wanting to learn more about fasting, this is a great resource.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Ed Thomas Story

The Sacred Acre is the true story of Ed Thomas.  It is a story of faith, overcoming adversity, grace, forgiveness, and hope.  Ed Thomas was a high school teacher and football coach who inspired his students and his community to greatness.  In May 2008 after an EF5 tornado destroyed his town, Coach Thomas was on the front lines helping to rebuild what was lost and restore hope.  One year later he was murdered by a former player with a mental illness.  Today his legacy lives on through the people who loved him and through the inspiring message in this book. 

This story is an excellent example of an ordinary life well-lived for the glory of God.  It is about a coach who "often said that if all he taught his boys was how to play football, then he would have failed as a coach".  My eyes were opened to the devastation left in the wake of a tornado, followed by the inspiring ways people can rise up and work together to rebuild.  When adversity hits, true character is revealed.  This was certainly evident in the reactions of Coach Thomas' family after his tragic death.  They knew the man who pulled the trigger.  Yet they set an example to the community by showing grace and love to the man's family.  Ed's son, Todd, says "There is no doubt that we are in a spiritual battle on this earth.  Evil came after my dad that day, but evil did not win.  The day of the funeral...people saw a man who had finished strong, and peoples' lives were changed."  The family urges others to follow in Ed's footsteps by choosing to do what is right, working hard, and living a life of faith in relationship with God.

I love an inspiring true story.  This book has something to teach everyone, but would be especially helpful for coaches who are in a position to instill in our youth the same values that Coach Thomas lived out.  Thank you Thomas family for telling your story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.

To learn more about this story, watch here...

Monday, December 19, 2011

What do you tell your kids about Santa?

Santa Claus is always a hot topic this time of year.  It brings back memories of my childhood.  I lived with my father during the week and from a very young age I knew that Santa was not real.  I don't remember caring very much...I mean, I still got the presents...who cares where they come from?  Then I would go to my mom's house on the weekend and she INSISTED that Santa was real.  Even to this day she has not admitted to me otherwise!  But I was wise enough to recognize her handwriting on the "From Santa" tags on my gifts.  I just played along for her sake :)

I struggle with how/when to bring up the truth about Santa to my boys.  Up to this point when they have asked something about Santa, we reply "what do you think?" and have conveniently ignored giving a straight answer.  I know I will draw the line at lying because I want my boys to trust that what I tell them is true.  This year I saw a blog post on this topic that I really like.  You can view it here.  The writer shares my conviction about telling the truth, and suggests doing it by teaching about the real Saint Nicholas and how Santa Claus came to be.  It suggested a Veggie Tales movie on the topic, which I'm going to check out.  What about you...how/when did you share the truth about Santa Claus with your kids?  And how do you keep them from spilling the news to other children whose parents want to keep up the fantasy?  I'd love to hear your input!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Awakening by Stovall Weems

Stovall Weems is the pastor of Celebration Church and leads his church through a 21-day fast each January called Awakening.  He says "when it comes to my devotional time or certain areas of my life, if I start to not feel like obeying God, I know it is time for a fast...burdensome obedience should be the rare exception, not the norm." His desire is to see people move from a stale "have to" attitude toward God to an alive "want to" relationship.

This book is divided into three sections.  The first section contains 124 pages which talk about topics such as surrender, passion, God's goodness, prayer, and fasting.  The conclusion of each chapter has a testimony from a member of Pastor Stovall's church who has gone through the Awakening fast.  I have to admit that I struggled through this reading.  There were many points that I agreed with, but there were also things that alerted me to read with caution.  I'm not sure that the author truly takes all personality types into consideration when presenting what a relationship with God "should be like".  The chapter I most enjoyed was entitled Fasting For Your Health.  I had no idea all the health benefits that come from fasting!  But since there are many types of fasts, I was a little disappointed that the author didn't mean what type of fast these benefits were resulting from.

The next 18 pages detail The Awakening 21-Day Plan.  Information about different types of fasts are given, along with a sample menu.  Since I have never fasted, I would have liked to see more content in this area.  Most of the book talks about the "why" of fasting but not the "how", both of which are important.

And finally there is a Daily Plan to use each day during the fast.  Each day contains a devotion, bible reading plan, prayer focus, optional book reading plan, and a space for journaling.  There are also three small group discussion guides for those going through the fast as a small group.  I did not personally go through this fast so I cannot give an opinion on how beneficial the plan is.  I feel the need to consult more sources before embarking on this journey.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Meet Cristian

Our family decided to give Hope to a little boy this Christmas through Compassion International.  This organization provides food, health care, education, and support for children living in poverty and their families.  There are over 2,000 children currently on the site who need sponsors.  The sponsors are encouraged to be in frequent contact with the children to show them that someone cares.

We want our boys to realize how much we are blessed with in this country, and  be able to develop a relationship with a child who lives in a different part of the world.  We want them to be involved in making a difference in the life of a child.  So we set about selecting a child to sponsor, which was no easy task!  We narrowed our search by looking for a boy around Jacob's age who had been waiting 6 months or longer for a sponsor.  Jacob selected Cristian (pictured above) from El Salvador.  All we know at this point is that he was born in Feb 2003 (same month as Jacob) and is one of 3 children in his family.  We look forward to getting our sponsor packet in the mail soon and beginning the communication process.  Please pray along with us that Cristian and his family would feel the love of Jesus through our act of obedience.

To sponsor a child of your own, or get more information about Compassion International, click here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Being the pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in America, Steven Furtick knows what he's talking about when it comes to walking in faith.  I have been listening to his podcasts for months and he is a great preacher!  This book highlights the biblical account in Joshua 10 when Joshua asks God to stop the sun from going down for an entire day so he can have complete victory...and God does it!  Pastor Steven says that we too can have the confidence (or "audacity" as he likes to call it) to ask God for seemingly impossible things when they are in line with God's desires.  He reminds us that God is great, God is good, and God is very much at work in our world today. 

For those who have done much reading about faith and prayer, I can't say that the information presented in the book is entirely new.  But I can say that it is presented with a fresh perspective, different vocabulary, and current examples of lives changed through audacious faith.  Pastor Steven answers common questions such as what happens when we make mistakes, and how do we deal with the sun going down (or in other words...with our prayers not being answered the way we had hoped).  One of my favorite chapters was Push While You Pray which talks about our need to act.  He writes "Prayer is rarely all we can do.  We can pray and we can prepare.  We can ask God to intervene and we can initiate changes in our lives to make it happen.  We can ask the Lord to fight for us and we can pull out our swords and start fighting in his strength.  Sun Stand Still prayers are integrated prayers: They join our faith-filled prayer with our faith-filled action." 

While it is mentioned in the book that this message applies to everyone, not just church leaders, I would have liked to hear more real-life examples.  I'm still trying to figure out what having audacious faith would look like for a stay-at-home mom like myself.  Maybe his wife Holly could write a follow-up book to add a female perspective :)  Overall, there is something for everyone in this book. It would be hard to read it and not be inspired by Pastor Steven's passion and ministry.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Well

Before reading this book, I only knew the talent of Mark Hall as the lead singer of Casting Crowns.  Now I've had a glimpse of his heart as a pastor.  This book is based around the biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  He writes that "most of us have wells we count on to sustain us and bring us joy, security, hope, peace, and contentment" - but they are really dry holes since these things only bring temporary relief from our thirst.  The chapters highlight common "holes" such as control, approval, religion, talent, and entitlement. Through the use of personal stories and scripture, Mark uses his humor and insight to show how these things do not satisfy...and how Jesus is the only true Well who will.  

There are discussion questions listed at the back of the book for each chapter.  While this information can apply to any age, I think it is written in a style that would especially appeal to teens, which makes sense considering the author is a youth pastor.

Personally, while I enjoyed reading this book, I can't say there were many "wow" moments...except for Chapter 7 about the Hole of Talent.  I am married to a worship leader and therefore exposed to all the joy and strife that goes along with that ministry.  I wish I could photocopy Chapter 7 and hand it out to the team!  (But of course I won't since it's illegal)  You may however see a future blog post about it ;)  There was a turning point in Mark Hall's ministry where God showed him "it's not going to be your voice that reaches people.  It's going to be your heart."  That's what will lead people into worship.

The perfect way to end this book is to listen to the song "The Well" from Casting Crowns new album.  As the author concludes, "May we all learn to listen to him, lean on him, and refuse to dip into our familiar holes.  May Jesus always be our Well."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 2, 2011

God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren

This is a board book meant to answer a little one who is asking "Where did I come from?"  The text and illustrations show a mother bear leading her cub through the stages of her pregnancy starting from papa and mama wanting a cub, to finding out about the pregnancy and watching it progress, and ending with bringing the cub home from the hospital.  The message throughout is that the cub is a gift from God and is loved and treasured by her parents.  The book contains words that are easy to understand and cute illustrations...the perfect length for a small child's attention span.

While this would be a great gift for any traditional family, I would hesitate to give it to a single parent.  Both the mama and papa bear are present throughout the pregnancy and involved in the story (hence the "Us" in the book title).  For a small child growing up without a daddy, for example, this may raise more questions than it answers. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.