Outlive Your Life – Book Review

September 10, 2010

Max Lucado’s new book, “Outlive Your Life“, published by Thomas Nelson, is a series of vignettes illustrating the usefulness of every Christian in achieving God’s purpose and making a difference to the people around us. Not only by living as faithful Christians, but by living as faithful Christians with intent and purpose. Following through with random acts of kindness. Making an effort rather than acting as a afterthought.

Designed for small group study – with accompanying resources, each chapter or vignette includes personal stories (his or someone else’s). From his own attempt to buy bread with an admitted grocery shopping deficiency to the pharmacist in Brazil who is helped by a taxi driver in London through microfinance organizations. Lucado also frequently includes Biblical insights and calls to action or changes in the way we view, and act toward, others. Each chapter ends with a relevant verse and prayer.

In addition is a Discussion and Action Guide in the back of the book, prepared by David Drury. The guide is intended to “spark further reflection and inspire action.” Following the questions for each chapter are ideas for action to go further and transform thoughts into purposeful action. Max Lucado is a “down to earth” writer/preacher with a written voice that says “I hear you” rather than “listen to me.” “Outlive Your Life” would be an appropriate choice for your small group’s next study.

Peace be with you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of their www.Booksneeze.com blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Butterfly Effect – Book Review

September 7, 2010

The Butterfly Effect, written by Andy Andrews and published by Thomas Nelson is a short, miniature coffee table type book. It is a colorful little volume that would make an appropriate gift for a high school or college student on Christmas or upon graduation. After having reviewed Andrews’ earlier book, The Noticer, I was not filled with anticipation, but I did expect some originality. Other than the connection between the events and the projected conclusion, little originality was forthcoming.

A high school or college student, perhaps young adults, may not have made the connections depending on how much history they have studied. The assumptions about what history would be like if events had not happened as they have are presumptuous and inconclusive. While it is true that events in history are indeed connected and one person can have a lasting effect on history, it cannot be known with any certainty what would have happened had the circumstances been different. With all that said, however, the Butterfly Effect is a cute and colorful little inspirational story.

Readers looking for substance and thought-provoking material would be better advised to look elsewhere than The Butterfly Effect. However, for someone looking for an inspirational gift for children, grandchildren, a close friend, or someone who possesses doubts about their life, The Butterfly Effect would be an appropriate choice. The book closely resembles the “pass it on” concept told in reverse. Despite the fact that the book is overly simplistic and lacks pure originality, the premise is no less true. In one way or another, everything we do matters.

Peace be with you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of their www.Booksneeze.com blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Vacation, Teenagers, and Used Cows

August 28, 2010

We recently returned from a family vacation with our three teenage boys. Sounds rather benign when stated that way, but it was far from benign. With football and other pre-school activities beginning the day after we returned, I am still trying to catch up on what was left behind on the trip. At the same time, like the end of every summer, I eagerly anticipate the first week of school when I can get back to my regular work schedule. But as I try to get some work done between trips back and forth to school, flashes of the vacation still interrupt my train of thought.

Spending a week and a half in close proximity (a Suburban and one room hotel suites) to three high school boys is not a walk in the park by any means. It did not go as bad as we feared, but it also did not go as well as we hoped. It did, however, go about as I had expected. Each son had a portable DVD player. We had three computers so everyone could check their email and the boys could check Facebook (I do not post my status often as of yet, Cyndy has no use for it, and I banned posting about the trip except for private messaging and emails).

The summer has not been a good time to post anyway with the boys home constantly. Keeping up with my other writing projects was troublesome enough. And posting when I banned the boys from it would not have been right. Even if I had tried to post on the trip, it would only have added another sense of urgency to an already potentially volatile situation. Posting what was on my mind, or what was happening, at any particular time was not something anyone unrelated to us would care to read. But every vacation has humorous and interesting stories worth passing along.

A farm we passed in the hills of Kentucky had a huge sign across the side of the barn – easily readable from the fairly distant interstate. The sign read “Used Cows.” It went by too quickly to get the camera (The picture is not of that farm, but is of the mountains). The boys were immersed in a movie, music, a phone, or asleep. Neither Cyndy nor I realized what we had seen until we had driven past it.

About a quarter of a mile later, Cyndy turned to me and asked, “Used cows?”

“Aren’t all cows used?” I replied. Since cows are technically “used” soon after birth, to what did the sign refer?

We considered the fact that it could simply be a sales gimmick. If that were true, it was a shame that the exits were few and far between. We would have liked to stop by and ask what, exactly, they meant by used cows. I would not have minded bringing one home – if it were within reason – just so I could put a Used Cow sign in my front yard. On a farm in Kentucky, we just wondered what the sign meant – we did not question its legitimacy. Seeing the sign in a yard in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, would give one pause.

But, alas, an exit did not come soon enough. So we do not know for sure. I figured we were not the first people to wonder so I entered “used cows” in Google and found that I was correct. Kathy Hudson, on the Daily Tribune of southeastern Oakland County (Michigan) website, wrote that she and her husband noticed the sign on their way from Michigan to Florida. Her husband said at the time that back “in the 1800s, it meant the cow could no longer bear calves. But I have no idea if that’s what the sign means in today’s terms.”

Someone commented on her post, correcting her on the interstate number and said that the sign was a joke – it did not mean anything. But it would only be a good joke if the farm actually sells cows. Which the occupants appeared to do. But we may never know for sure. Amazingly enough, not everything is on the internet.

Regardless though, Cyndy and I have a humorous memory of the trip between the two of us. The boys never saw it. Which, on a family vacation, is a rarity and a moment to be savored. Be that as it may, I would really like to know what they meant by used cows.

Peace be with you.

The Problem with Control

June 22, 2010

Our family has been absorbed in a battle for the internet for the past few weeks. That does not mean that we have been battling to get on a computer – each member of the family has their own. The battle has been for anyone to get online at all. Supposedly, after the technician left today for the third trip in the past month, we will not have any more problems. We shall see.

My Christ Care group has been reading Plan B by Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville. Chapter three is titled the Illusion of Control. Half of our lives are spent fighting for control. The other half we spend trying to give it up. Essentially though, we have little control over much of our lives. And, as in the case of the oil spill and other ecological disasters, when we think we can control nature, we screw things up. Badly.

But on a more personal level are things such as means of communications and technology products. On one hand, there is my being forced to spend a good part of a month of my life trying to get online. While I did not try to get online constantly, it was a constant distraction. I would begin writing or reading. At some point I would look up and see all green lights shining solid – which is as it should be – and quickly open the browser and try to sign in before the lights began going out again.

Most of the time I would get on just long enough to check one email account and begin to take care of business that usually did not get finished before the lights would begin to go dark, causing the page to disappear. I would think it would not be long before connection would occur again. I would be wrong. After a frustrating waste of time either I would be on for a brief period again or nothing would happen at all. I would go back to my writing – until the solid green lights caught my eye. Then the cycle would repeat itself. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On the other hand, there is the case of my teenagers – and other young people near their ages. While I was severely inconvenienced by my lack of internet contact and it disrupted my business, they were devastated. Their lives were turned upside down. “No Facebook – are you serious, dad?” Picking up the telephone would be too much work – not to mention having to hold it to their ear. And why would they bother to go anywhere to talk to anyone. Just frequent cries of “I’m bored” on the way to the refrigerator.

Technology seems to – and does in some ways – make life easier. Mostly, however, it just gives us the illusion of control. Simply because we have our calendar, contacts, favorite websites, GPS, etc. on our cell phone does not give us control over anything, much less our time. My Blackberry (if I had one) may tell me I have an appointment at 10 a.m. It cannot tell me that two of our sons will need rides at the last minute. It also cannot clear traffic out of the way.

I am not knocking cell phones. They are useful articles. But they do not give us control. Adversely, in some ways they control us. But the point is that – other than our thoughts, feelings, and actions – we control very little. Unfortunately, we keep trying to control our lives, which never turns out well. We thought we knew how to control the release and collection of oil and look where that got us.

God is the only one in any position of control. And while the idea that God knows exactly what is going to happen is disputed, one thing is not. God is always there, helping to pick up the pieces. We need to think more about living a Christian life than being in control. If we quit trying to be in control, it will not be such a disappointment to find out we never were.

Peace be with you.

Five Cities That Ruled the World – Book Review

June 21, 2010

I anticipated receiving Five Cities that Ruled the World, written by Douglas Wilson and published by Thomas Nelson, because the subject was intriguing. I was curious to see how the author would approach the subject. The five cities, quite logically, are Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York. Presenting the cities in chronological order was appropriate.

Within each city’s history, however, the chronology is elusive. Without keeping a historical timeline handy, I had difficulty following the actual sequence of events. While he did provide clues and references to previous sections of the chapter, the reader gets confused as to how all the pieces fit on the overall timeline of history. And the Christian worldview, while appropriate to the premise of the book, makes historical objectivity unreachable.

With that said, Five Cities… is an interesting and informative book. The footnotes, rather than just listing the source of quotes, include additional information that could have been included in the text of the book or left out completely. They were not however, numerous enough to be a complete distraction.

Five Cities that Ruled the World is a pleasant read which – unless you are a history buff – will bring together parts of history you had not connected in a particular way previously. Wilson’s writing style reads smoothly despite cases of over simplification and cultural cuteness. Overall, the book’s positive attributes outweighs its negative aspects. Reading Wilson’s book will give the reader a unique view of history through the Christian worldview.

Peace be with you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Booksneeze.com blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Plan B – Book Review

May 3, 2010

No matter what situation readers find themselves in, Plan B will resonate with most readers. Written by Pete Wilson and published by Thomas Nelson, Plan B can be used as a weekly devotional, Bible study, or small group study. A study guide at the back of the book contains thought and discussion questions for each chapter. Wilson is the pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee, a burgeoning church with three satellite campuses.

In Plan B, subtitled What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought You Would?, Wilson goes through the different stages, or levels, of reactions when confronted by plan B. From realizing that plan A is no longer an option, to dealing with the various emotions that occur when confronted by plan B, to understanding that plan B is not a secondhand choice, but the right path after all. Then the realization that, had plan A not failed, plan B would have possibly never happened at all, and God was present the entire time.

Using examples from Biblical characters, past and present members of his congregations, other Christians, and his own pastoral and familial journeys, Wilson takes the reader into those dark times of realization that the path they thought seemed certain is not turning out the way they had planned. But the pastor also illustrates, using some of those same examples, with others, how God is present during those trying times. God is not merely present, but supportive, and there to catch us when we fall – or fail.

When I chose to review Plan B, I had an idea of what the book was about, but I was not sure exactly where the author would go with the concept of Plan B. The week before I received it, the Christ Care group I am a member of finished our Lenten study. We were not sure what book we were going to study next. Then I received my copy of the book. Suffice it to say that we are going to study Plan B as soon as the books arrive for the rest of the group. More information and study resources may be found at www.planbbook.com.

Peace be with you.

Wobble Go!

March 30, 2010

I was playing disc golf with my friend, Randy, a few days ago. The city had recently finished work on the creek that runs through the park in which the local disc golf course is located. In the course of the work on the creek, the park was redesigned with a walking trail, bridges, and so forth. They also reinstalled the disc golf course. It was the first time we had a chance to play the new course and were interested to see what changes the city and disc golfers working with them (friends of ours) had brought to the course.

Disc golfers talk to their disc much like ball golfers talk to their ball while it is in flight. There are times when a golfer begins to say something to his/her disc. When the disc changes flight in mid-sentence, the comment changes. Which ends up with an odd expression that is repeated throughout the remainder of the round.

I was about to putt on about the 8th hole – it was my first time on the redesigned course and my bearings were still based on the old course. I had about a twenty to twenty-five foot putt. Not long after the disc left my hand it began to wobble. What I think I was going to say was something along the lines of “wobble then, damn it.”

But just as “wobble” left my mouth the disc kept going, wobbling though it was, and looked as if it would turn back toward the basket. “Go!” came out of mouth. Randy looked at me and asked, “Wobble, go?!” The disc ended up not going in and I bogeyed the hole. But the phrase caught on for the rest of the round – every time we wanted the disc to keep going or change its direction.

Thinking back on it later, I thought about the fact that we all go through life a little wobbly at times. Our faith lags a little, we do not take time out to pray, or we fall behind in our Bible study, mission work, or church participation. We are bombarded with activities, events, and communications. Traffic delays us even more. Bills mount up, troubling us further.

During those times of lagging faith, even while we forget to pray and ask for his guidance – wobbling along – we wonder where God is and why he has not been watching over us personally. We wobble along, but the Lord helps us keep going. Despite our lagging faith and insecurity. But the next time I find my faith lagging and realize it is me that is lagging, not God, I know what I’ll say.

“Wobble go!”

Peace be with you.

The Sweet By and By – Book Review

January 5, 2010

We all have our past that we keep put away, and the characters in The Sweet By and By, written by Sara Evans, with Rachel Hauck, and published by Thomas Nelson, are no different. Our past makes us who we are. Jade Fitzgerald finds this out as the story unfolds. As Jade’s like unfolds, she finds herself without a relationship to the Lord. Yet through her relationships with others, and their witness in her life, she comes to know the Lord.

From a less than idyllic childhood to a strong, self-sufficient adulthood, Jade finds herself in love with Max, a lawyer who believes God rules his life. Max finds out some things about Jade’s past, but that only makes him stay with her all the more. To give more details would give away the story. Suffice it to say that The Sweet By and By is a sweet, heartwarming story of love, life, and faith – not bad for a first novel from a top selling recording artist.

The review was written by my wife, Cyndy, the fiction reader/reviewer of the family. The Sweet By and By kept her coming back to it until she finished it. The story moves quickly along – Cyndy finished it in record time – and she is a quick reader.

Peace be with you.

A New Year

January 5, 2010

I would like to say that during my resent absence from the blogosphere I was kicking back in Ireland in a pub learning Irish folk songs, exploring the wilds in Africa, or some other such venture that is on my list of things I would like to do some day. But, alas, that is not the case. I was undramatically chained to my desk trying to finish writing and editing my book while battling winter weather, teenagers, and attending church events and activities. While writing and editing is still a task, it is an enjoyable one for the most part. And the church activities celebrating the birth of Christ were not only enjoyable, but heartwarming, soul reviving, and faith-filled, particularly with the activities in which I had a part.

Now the teenagers are back in school. I can get back to my daily routine and work on my book. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or enjoyed the holiday of their respective religion, and is looking forward to the new year. News reports and stories are already telling us what the year will be like. As with any other human being, however, it is simply their educated estimate. Educated in some instances anyway.

But I have my own ideas about what the year might hold for myself and my family. At least as much of it as I have any control over. The rest is up to God. There will be times when it will not be easy (did I say I just spent two weeks in a house with restless, bored teenagers?). Yet there will also be times when life will be joyous and celebratory. As the expression used to say, I just “keep on stroking” (or “trucking” as the case may be). Having faith that whatever the coming year brings, whatever I am called to confront, the Lord will be beside me.

Peace be with you.

“Between Wyomings, My God and an iPod on the Open Road” – Book Review

October 25, 2009

tn_Between WyomingsBetween Wyomings, My God and an iPod on the Open Road, written by Ken Mansfield and published by Thomas Nelson, is a very interesting read – to say the least. Particularly if the reader grew up in the sixties and seventies, or is merely interested in the culture (music in particular) of that time in history. Mansfield was a record producer and record-label executive from the 60’s through the 90’s. He is also an ordained minister and public speaker.

The book is both a journey Mansfield is taking with his wife – each with their iPods – and a journey backward he is taking in his mind. At least in the trip with his wife, we get travel directions and points of interest. For the journey in his mind (his years in the music industry), the reader has no map or directional compass. Somewhat chronological from his beginning in the music industry, Mansfield is prone to jump to any moment of the entire journey.

Thrown in the mix are “God moments.” Theological vignettes, as it were, that seemingly come out of the blue. While I would be the first to agree that God moments tend to come out of nowhere, in the context of a book there needs to be some type of cause and effect. These vignettes appear as if he inserted them during the editing stage – thinking it had been a while since he had added a God moment.

It took me longer to read Between Wyomings than usual when reviewing a book, partly because of the happenings of life with three teenagers, but mostly because the book lacks continuity. A connection from one short chapter to another. It just seems to be a collection of stories and essays. He writes, as he says in the introduction, like a “Christian on acid.” But the stories are interesting and fairly readable within themselves.

One thing struck me when reading the book, having lived through a lot of those times myself. Which was that if he as an ordained minister can look back on that kind of life with a certain fondness, I can certainly consider myself forgiven for my sins. He does not dwell on the wild side of the music business, yet also does not act as if it did not happen. Anyone who is interested in the music business and culture in those decades and personal journeys with God should read this book. It just might be a while before they finish it.

Peace be with you.