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  • Fiction writer – True Believer

    Posted on April 13, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Take a heaping dose of the ability to twist a tale of intrigue and suspense, infuse it with the Gospel and cram it into one sweet, petite frame. That’s Terri Blackstock: part Novel-Writing-Powerhouse, all Dedicated Believer. Terri’s no stranger to the realities of living out authentic faith in a fallen world, but she’s learned the art of drawing on her own experiences to connect real people with a real Jesus. We chatted with her recently about all-things-Terri.

     

    Family Christian: From your bio we know that you grew up in a Christian home and eventually started writing romance novels. How did you get into that genre, and what eventually led to your transition into suspense?

     

    Terri Blackstock: I became a Christian at age 14 and walked with Christ through my teen years. But when I was in my early 20s I started writing and was really trying to break into the publishing market. At the time, the market was really opening up for romance novels. I told myself going in that I would not write anything that would hurt my Christian conscience – I would write clean love stories. But what happened was that those stories didn’t sell. So eventually in order to sell, I compromised and began writing wrote more and more stuff I had said I would never write. Finally over 13 years and (I think) 32 titles, I came to a place where I was spiritually bankrupt. I was very miserable and almost hoping that the publisher wouldn’t buy my next book (laughs) because I just felt this void. I knew that I wasn’t walking with Christ because what I was doing was pulling me away from Him and pulling other people away because I was creating stumbling blocks for them. I came to a place when I started praying about that and over a number of weeks and months I just felt very convicted to give this up. There was one day when I got down on my knees, repented of what I was writing and asked God to help me to never write anything else that didn’t glorify Him. So from that moment on I have been writing books with a Christian message and, I believe, using my gifts the way God intended me to use them in the first place.

     

    FC: So did you walk away from romance at that point?

     

    Terri: I did. I had some outstanding contracts I had to buy back – but that was a problem because I didn’t have the money at the time to pay the publishers back, but it turned out that they owed me more than I owed them, so it all worked out beautifully! It was almost like the moment that I made the decision and told God that I was going to surrender this last aspect of my life to Him, it’s as if He took me by the hand and led me the rest of the way, because doors started opening up into the Christian market. At that time I didn’t know anything about the Christian market, but what I did know was that I was tired of writing romance. I just wanted a clean break from that, so I didn’t want to write Christian romance. I was reading mostly suspense novels at the time so I thought, why don’t I try to write suspense and just see if the Christian readers like it? And they did. So Zondervan gave me a four book contract before I knew it and I’ve been writing for them ever since.

     

    FC: So you wrote over 30 romance novels, wow. How many Christian novels have you written?

     

    Terri: I think I’ve written about 40. I’m [somewhere] over 70 – sometimes I lose count because I have taken some of those earlier books and rewritten them, so I never know whether to count them a second time or not. I did extensive rewriting on those. Any of the books that you see from me that are romance novels; those are usually rewritten from my earlier days, but the suspense novels are all since I came to the Christian market.

     

    FC: What a wonderful story. We’re wondering if you could talk a little about your book, Intervention, as it was particularly close to you. And were there any other books that were especially personal to you?

     

    Terri: Well, the thing about Intervention is that it’s really about a mother who is trying to save her daughter from drugs. And that came out of my life because I have a daughter who has been struggling for years with drug addiction. When we got to a place where she felt that it was fine for me to write about it, I did. That was SO personal because I poured a lot of my experiences into that book and into the rest of that series… Vicious Cycle is the second book and Downfall, the 3rd book will be out March 6th I believe. I really think that there’s a little of me in every one of my books, because what I find happening when I’m writing is that I will come up with a plot and a story line and then God will do something in my life during the writing of that book, or He’ll deal with me in some way that I learn something and then I think that maybe I’m supposed to pass that on to my readers. Almost every book has that sort of event happen. I can’t say it’s always pleasant but sometimes I just really believe that God is working in a certain way in my life, so I wind up incorporating all that it into the plot. Then I know that the Holy Spirit uses [it] because I hear from readers that those books touch them in a personal way. So it’s not just me being smart enough to do that, it’s the Holy Spirit using what I give Him, multiplying it and making it into something He can use.

     

    FC: Have you ever felt the need or had an opportunity to move outside of the book realm and share your testimony in a speaking venue?

     

    Terri: I have done some speaking about it but she is still struggling – she has her ups and downs like any person with addiction. Until I know that we have had this in our rear view for many years I just don’t think I would want to go on a speaking circuit. Ya know, my dream is to do that with her someday – to have her give her testimony would really give hope to families. But at this point we’re just not far enough out of it to be able to do that and I don’t want that kind of thing to wind up being her destruction – so I have been very protective about that. I do speak about it sometimes. It was a very hard thing to write about, it drags up all those memories. It was fiction, but very much of what is in the book really happened in our lives. So it’s a painful thing to write and talk about.

     

    FC: Of course and it’s good that you’re sensitive to what she needs first and foremost. Switching gears a little, your suspense books certainly have the ability to pull people in. Have you ever been so caught up in one of your own stories that you felt frightened? Did you ever scare yourself?

     

    Terri: (laughs) Yes that does happen. Ya know, I think one of the reasons I love writing suspense is because I am so easily frightened, and my mind always goes to the worst possible thing (laughs). Like, if I’m letting the cat out I’m thinking someone could grab the door – I’m always on alert for that kinda thing. When I was writing my book Predator, I was just learning social networking and I was alarmed at the number of people who were dumping so much personal information onto their Facebook and Twitter pages. So I wrote a book that would deliberately scare them to death and understand how dangerous this is. But I do have to say it scared me too (laughs), so I did make changes to the way I was posting things and pictures – the kinds of things that would give more information than I wanted to.

     

    When I really decided to write [the book], I had been working in prison ministry for many years. And one of the girls from jail got out and posted on my Facebook wall how to reach her, what her number was, where she was living. And I just almost had a heart attack. Of all of the people who are so vulnerable – someone who just got out of jail. I quickly deleted it and sent her a message to please be careful and then I thought, ya know I’m just going to have to write a book about this (laughs), because that is really my way of communicating with people. When I’m passionate about something I’m able to convey it in a story and people really seem to get it. I did get lots of mail from people telling me that they’ve changed their habits. So hopefully it will save some lives.

     

    FC: So are your family members fans of your books?

     

    Terri: Well, my husband is one of those people that loves to read non-fiction, but when he reads fiction he falls asleep (laughs), so he only ‘reads’ my books through audio. That’s a good medium for him and he enjoys them that way. Two of my three kids don’t read anything I write (laughs), but one of them does so, ya know, what can you do? I think they grew up watching me do it and it’s kinda like knowing how the sausage is made. You just don’t have an appetite for it when you saw it all your life! (laughs)

     

    FC: That’s a great – and painfully true – analogy. Haha. So what do you do when you want a break from writing?

    Terri: Well, I am very active at church – I teach a precept class, Kay Arthur courses. I love that – I’ve been involved in that for years. I also lead a support group for parents of prodigals, so I’m busy at church a couple nights a week. I [also] love home decorating. When I have time and want to do something different it’s usually something related to my house or watching something on TV related to decorating, so I guess that would be my hobby.

     

    FC: So you’re a Martha Stewart junkie?

    Terri: Well, I like to watch what she does, but I’m not really that organized. I can’t pull it off myself, but I like to watch other people do it.

     

    FC: So do you read?

    Terri: I do read. It depends on what I’m writing at the time. When I’m writing a book I usually try not to read fiction because it interferes with my voice. I find myself writing the way that the other author is writing, so I mostly just read when I travel. But I love Christian fiction and I have favorites that I like to read. While I’m writing a book I’m usually reading non-fiction and doing research for that book.

     

    FC: Do you want to recommend any authors you like?

     

    Terri: Yeah! In the suspense genre for the Christian market, I love Brandilyn Collins, James Scott Bell, Bill Myers, Colleen Coble, authors like that. In women’s fiction I love writers like Robin Lee Hatcher, Tamera Alexander, Angela Hunt, Mindy Clark – just a ton of them. You can find anything in the Christian market today that you can find in the general market. If you like science fiction you can find that in the Christian stores. We’ve come a long way in the last 15 or 16 years that I’ve been in this market.

     

    FC: For sure. Alright, really hard question next… Is it pumpkin spice latte or peppermint mocha that you most go for this time of year?

     

    Terri: Ya know what, neither one! I am a tea drinker. So I would probably go with an English breakfast tea or a hot chocolate, but I am not a coffee drinker. Anything that even tastes of coffee I am not interested in.

     

    FC: Would you consider yourself to be a Southern belle?

    Terri: Yeah definitely. Anyone who knows me I think would say that.

     

    FC: There’s a lot of people in this building who are huge fans of Terri Blackstock. You could probably come out with your own version of the Yellow Pages and I’m sure people would be ecstatic over it. You do a fantastic job and we’re excited about what you’re doing. Is there anything else you wanted to say before we let you go today?

     

    Terri: I just want to thank Family. They were really instrumental in getting me started. We had a big promotion with my first novel and we sent postcards from the character to the Family employees, and then we surprised them later with the manuscript. They created a lot of word of mouth buzz which really helped me because I was coming from a different market and had been using a pseudonym. Family really helped me get the word out.

     

    FC: Thanks Terri! We’re so happy to know that and grateful to have been a part.

     

    *Congratulations to Terri for earning a spot on the Library Journal’s Top Ten Best Books List of 2011 for Shadow in Serenity. What a great honor for a great author!

  • All Systems Go

    Posted on February 24, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Sure he stirs up some controversy, but Mark Driscoll’s sermons are consistently #1 on iTunes in Religion & Spirituality, with millions of downloads each year. The guy has one speed and it’s full tilt – pioneering ministries, new churches, the list goes on. In his newest book, NY Times’ bestseller Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together, Mark shifts his approach to providing actionable answers for modern-day relationship questions. We recently caught up with Pastor Mark for his take on team-writing this book with his wife, how he fixed his neurotransmitters and more…

    Family Christian: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.

    Mark Driscoll: Sure! You know, I worked in one of your stores long ago…

    FC: So we’ve heard! In fact we’ve done a little research and apparently there are some outstanding issues that need to be addressed…

    Mark: I’m not surprised.

    FC: (laughs) No, we’re kidding. So you worked in a Seattle location we used to have, right?

    Mark: Yes, it was a long time ago now. Gosh, maybe 14, 15 years ago. We were just in core-group phase of starting the church – there was an independent bookstore that got bought out and picked up [by Family Christian]. So yeah, I was planting the church and working there part time. It’s kinda how I built my theology library, to be honest with you. There was a really good used book section that I kind of managed and oversaw, so I used the discount to start my library.

    FC: Oh, that’s fantastic. Okay, let’s jump right in. So up until your most recent book, they tended to cover topics from the deeper end of the theological pool (so to speak), but your new book is about marriage. What influenced that transition?

    Mark: Yeah, I started the church when I was 25, so I’ve been pastoring Mars Hill for 15 years now. I was still a new Christian, still figuring out where I was at on a whole lot of issues. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 19 and I didn’t actually go to seminary and get a formal theological education until our church was quite large. So for those early years it was a lot of work, preaching, teaching, trying to study on my own and figure out just what I thought about things; to come to my own conclusions. So yeah, my writing reflected that. Also early-on, I was part of a young leaders movement that then morphed into the emerging church and such and I didn’t agree theologically with some things that were happening there, so I felt I needed to clarify: I love these people, but I disagree on these issues. Where I’m at right now is I’m still a pastor and I love being a pastor. I intend to spend my whole ministry career preaching and teaching in the local church. Most of my time is not spent untying theological knots [though], it’s spent helping hurting people. And so with [Real Marriage] I kinda said what I believe and then I wanted to talk about how those beliefs apply to life, making that theology really practical. So the marriage book was the first venture in that direction. I’m actually working on my next book which is going to be on identity in Christ. [It will address] who we are in Christ, how that impacts our relationships with God and people, and how we view ourselves and our sin. So my writing for the foreseeable future is still going to be rooted in deep theological convictions, but super, super practical, more like counseling sessions that I’d have with people.

    FC: The books that you’ve written in the past have been welcomed with open arms by many, but have also brought some criticism to you as a pastor and author. How have you dealt with that?

    Mark: I think for me the point of the book is to help people, so that’s why Grace and I wrote it. We’re really encouraged by the feedback that we’re getting: that it is practical and helpful. Like I said, there’s still a lot of Jesus, Bible and theology in there. I’m willing to endure some criticism from those who wish it was a theology of marriage. But I think there already are some really good books on a theology of marriage, so I didn’t feel that there was a need for another one of those. Quite frankly, there are also some good books on practical issues regarding marriage, and so we felt there was a need to contribute on some more modern issues, things that younger people are asking, also helping singles to think through their future. Ya know, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to win arguments with my critics, I’m an evangelist at heart. I want to see people meet Jesus. I want to see lives get changed. I want to see families be helped, marriages be saved. That’s why I’m still a local church pastor. I kind of expected [the criticism] to be honest with you. I think anytime you’re talking about gender and sex you’re really putting the hose on the bees’ nest to some degree. No matter what you say, there’s going to be some real controversy around that. But I think overall it’s been healthy and good. It’s forced discussion around certain things. [I’m] just trying to focus on reaching people, serving people, helping people – that’s really where the bulk of the energy’s gone. So I’m not reading a bunch of my critics or trying to respond to them. Trying not to get obsessed with that.

    FC: Because this topic is different than what you’ve explored in the past, did you feel different while writing it? Obviously this was the first book you’ve written with Grace…

    Mark: Yeah, it felt a little more… vulnerable. I think it’s easier for me to make a point and tell you what I believe, then not have to talk about who I am, sins I’ve committed, things I’m working through, ways I need to be sanctified by God’s grace. It’s a little more honest, humbling, risk-taking. I definitely felt that writing with Grace. She’s really brave in the book – sharing parts of her story that were difficult. Particularly when it’s your wife and you’re working with her – exposing her to criticism and the nit-picking of some – there’s some stress with that for sure.

    FC: Were either of you surprised by the other one during this process – how you tackled certain topics? Or was it more like ‘we’ve encountered this in our marriage and practically written this book as we went along’ and now this was just the actual physical product?

    Mark: [The two of us] had talked and worked through issues for a number of years, and then through counseling other people and helping (especially) ministry leaders, families, marriages… It felt like we’ve said this enough privately, it’s probably time to write it down publicly. But as we were working on the book the one thing that kinda snuck up on us – that we weren’t expecting – was the whole big idea of friendship. Once we hit that it was a really big concept for us – it’s been super helpful and really transforming in our marriage. That was the one thing we didn’t necessarily have nailed down as we sat down to write, it just kinda happened as we were hanging out, talking, praying and working on the project together. That big idea just kind of exploded: the idea of friendship in marriage.

    FC: What is the main thing that you’re hoping people will walk away with from this book?

    Mark: Well, for those who are single, we want them to take their singleness seriously and not settle for somebody who is not appropriate to be married to; not to settle for sin. Also, to look at their parents’ marriage – family of origin stuff – see if there’s anything that they need to learn from or reconsider, that has negatively affected them before they get into marriage. For those who are married, Grace and I really wanted couples to have deep, ongoing, grace-centered, loving conversations, and not to just settle for a functional marriage – ya know – good enough but not great. Our real goal was just to get couples to talk. Bloggers and critics and book reviewers can talk to one another, [but] really the goal is that husbands and wives would be the ones having the conversations.

    FC: That’s awesome. Alright, we’re going to ask you some really personal questions now… What movie have you seen recently purely for entertainment, or because it had a really great message?

    Mark: Oh boy, I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t seen a lot of films!

    FC: …But you are the pastor that always talks about movies! Have you been watching less?

    Mark: Oh no, I have two DVRs, so I watch a ton of TV. (Probably more TV than I should.) Ya know, Grace and I went to see (this is going to sound a little cheesy maybe, but) Courageous because she wanted to go see it. I liked the big idea of the movie, man, guys loving their families and standing up for justice. Even though it was a little predictable [of a] plotline I liked it, I thought it was cool. So there ya go, there’s the big shout out for Courageous. We went and saw the recent Mission Impossible movie too… It’s really time to put that series to rest (laughs) – they’ve cut everything they can out of it. I saw Moneyball on a flight recently and I really liked that because I’m a huge baseball fan. I thought it was one of the best baseball movies I’ve ever seen. [SPOILER] I liked the fact that he turned down the money to go to Boston so that he could stay near his daughter. I thought that was awesome.

    FC: Music, what are you listening to?

    Mark: Um, what am I listening to lately…? Hmmm… The Decemberists, old Social Distortion, let me pull up my iTunes player right here and I’ll tell you what’s recent. Interpol, Jimmy Eat World, some old Smiths (I guess I’m getting old), The Killers – but that’s my kids more. It’s always hard, ya know, my kids play all of this music too so I end up listening to theirs… I like The Forecast – this little band out of Chicago, I’ve been listening to them a lot.

    FC: How old are your kids?

    Mark: Five kids: 3 boys, 2 girls: ages kindergarten to freshman in high school… (pauses, still thinking about music). Ya know I’m also listening to a lot of the bands in Mars Hill. A lot of the stuff’s indy rock around here man, it’s all Death Cab for Cutie, Decemberists, Dustin Kensrue goes to the church so I end up listening to a lot of Thrice – I love Dustin a lot.

    FC: We have reason to remember quite a few mentions in past sermons that you were “jacked up on Red Bull.” Is that still part of your repertoire?

    Mark: I am aging in dog years – I mean, it’s brutal. At certain times in the church’s history I would preach 7 times a Sunday, across three locations. You know, I’d go for an hour and ten minutes a pop, really high velocity, and then we cut it down to 4 or 5 [services]. So I would leave the house Sunday morning at 7 AM and not get home until about 10 or 11 PM and then stay up until about 2 AM – and I did that for 15 years. To be honest with you, physically, that is not a good idea (laughs). So you start using caffeine and energy drinks to push you through. But then you start breaking your adrenal glands and your neurotransmitters, at least that’s what I found so, man, I have made some pretty serious dietary changes and [started] watching those energy levels. I’m 41; I don’t want to be one of those guys that burns himself out too early. So yeah, I’ve pulled back quite a bit. I preach twice usually on the Sundays I preach, and I’ve not touched an energy drink in a couple of years now.

    FC: Good for you. Alright, one more question, what do you and Grace do to relax?

    Mark: Ya know, this is going to sound simple, but I like to hold my wife’s hand, go for a walk and just visit with her. We do date night, we go out to dinner and we get our time together. Last week we were doing an event down in Orange County, so we went over to LA and spent a full day there – I took her shopping and we stayed overnight. So we do that kinda stuff, but I like just hanging out with Grace. Man, if I can just hold her hand and go for a walk for an hour, see how she’s doing… I’m enjoying that for sure.

    FC: Mark, thanks so much for your time – it’s honestly so great talking with you.

    Mark: No problem, thanks.

    Click here to learn more or purchase Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together.

  • Book Review: The Touch

    Posted on February 22, 2012 by Family Christian

    The TouchRandall Wallace, the screen writer for the movies Braveheart, Pearl Harbor, Secretariat, and We Were Soldiers, is a master story-teller.  And he puts his skill to work beautifully in The TouchThe Touch is a novella about a young surgeon, Andrew Jones, who has the rare, one-in-a-million surgical ability known in the medical world as “the touch” – hands that can work magic on the operating table.  But Andrew gives it all up when his fiancée dies in his arms following a tragic automobile accident.  As Andrew attempts to perform an emergency tracheotomy on his fiancée at the accident scene he later relates that he could “feel her life leave her body.”   Devastated and lacking confidence, he now works as a professor in a small medical school in the south.

    The other main character in this book is Lara Blair, the high-powered, wealth and driven owner of a biomedical engineering company that is developing a surgical tool that will duplicate exactly the movement of a surgeon’s hands in complicated brain surgery procedures, eliminating or reducing the risk of failed surgical procedures.  Lara is on a quest to perfect her machine, and she needs Andrew to help her in the project.  Otherwise the project will be a failure.  But this would mean that Andrew must leave the comfortable confines of his self-imposed exile and step back into a world he is trying so hard to escape. 

    The plot elements are intense enough to make the story move along quickly, and there are hidden surprises all along the way, but Randall Wallace’s primary artistic tool is great character development.  He masterfully involves the reader in the lives of the two main characters, and is careful not to clutter the landscape with too many sub-characters.  While they are there and play an important part in moving the story along in their supporting roles, they do not get in the way. 

    The Touch is very much a love story, and, as such, will appeal primarily to women.  However, there are enough manly elements in the book that would make it appeal to the male reader as well.  And while Randall Wallace’s faith comes through strongly in his writing, it is not applied heavy-handedly.   As such, The Touch will be acceptable to the faith community, but also welcomed in the secular.  I highly recommend The Touch.

    For more information about this book, click here.

  • How do you kill 11 million people?

    Posted on January 6, 2012 by Family Christian

    In his newest book, How Do You Kill 11 Million People, Andy Andrews approaches the subject of integrity from a unique viewpoint – the killing of millions of Jews and others during the Nazi reign over Europe in World War II.  The answer to the question, how do you kill 11 million people, is simple: You lie to them.  The German people, and subsequently the Jewish people, were fed an elaborate series of lies.  The bigger the lie and the more consistently it was told, the more believable it became.  The end result was that 11 million Jews, vagrants, homosexuals, gypsies and other “undesirables” that the Third Reich determined should die, were complacently carted off to their deaths with barely a whisper.

    The bottom line to this book is that we basically get the government we allow, and thus deserve.  We have become so use to our government officials lying as a matter of course that we have become to believe this is normal, acceptable behavior.  Andy points out that when we, the citizens, lie to Congress, it is called a felony.  When members of Congress lie to us, the citizens, it is called politics.  But it should not be that way.  We, the citizens, have a right to expect integrity from our elected servants.  And if we tolerate and elect those who will not, or cannot, tell the truth, then we are getting the government we deserve. 

     While a very short book, How Do You Kill 11 Million People is nevertheless an important work in a time when the truth is being distorted on both sides of the political aisle as a matter of course.

    For more information on this book, click here.

  • Book Review: With, by Skye Jethani

    Posted on November 30, 2011 by Family Christian

    Most people around the world, including the majority of Christians, do not properly relate to God.  They relate to God out of a world-view of fear and are driven by the need to control their world.  This is the claim that Skye Jethani makes in his book, With: Reimaging the Way You Relate to God.

     

    In this book, Jethani claims that most people relate to God in one of four ways.  The first way is Life Under God.  I this relationship, God needs to be appeased and His anger controlled through sacrifice or certain behavior patterns.  This was the prevalent religion of the ancient world, but still manifests itself today, even in many Christian circles.  God is depicted as being angry, and if not appeased will crush us in his wrath.  Thus, the seeker attempts to control God’s anger through service, sacrifice or other religious rituals. 

    The second view of God is in a mindset called Life Over God.  In this mindset, God, if he exists at all, is a celestial watchmaker who wound up the universe and assigned certain laws, and then stepped back and to let it run on its own.  As long as we live within the laws, then everything works out fine.  The atheist and agnostic operate totally within the Love Over God mindset, believing that everything that happens is due to natural laws that have evolved over time.  But even Christians, including many Christian leaders, operate under this same assumption. They believe that God has put in place certain laws of leadership, or biblical principles, or universal rules of the game that, if followed, will guarantee success in ministry or business.

    The third view of God is called Life From God. This viewpoint views God as a vending machine which, if manipulated correctly, gives us what we want or need.  This person serves God as long as their needs or wants are being met and assumes that, as long as God is happy and they live by the rules, all will go well with them.  In the end, they become bitter and disappointed when life deals them a bad hand, assuming that God did not live up to His end of the deal.

    The forth and final view is called Life For God. These are the people who serve God largely through guilt and intimidation.  They feel that unless they are successful in doing good things for God, their lives are worthless.  Many sincere Christians live a life of constant activity and running, doing work for God because they believe that this is what is expected of them. And, sadly, many churches use, abuse and wear down these sincere but exhausted followers.

    All four of these mindsets, Jethani claims, rather than removing the follower’s fear, actually accentuates it.  All four mindsets fail in their attempt to relate to God, and end up actually pushing the seeker further away from God and deeper into despair.   

    After presenting these four prevalent views of relating to God, Jethani then presents what he believes to be the best and biblical mindset:  Life With God.  In this mindset, the fear of failure, the fear of death, the fear of not having enough, the fear of not pleasing God are removed. God is sought solely for the purpose of knowing and loving Him. When this happens, the Christian is free to do God’s will because God’s will is done out of a heart of gratitude and love, not a heart of fear.  Living Life With God allows the Christian to, as Tim Keller said in his book, King’s Cross, enter into the divine dance with the Trinity, moving in step with God rather than trying to go it alone.  This Life With God is a perfect harmony of faith, hope and love – a life of total dependence on the One who died for us to set us free, not to add to the weight of the demands of false religion.

    Find the book here: http://www.familychristian.com/with-reimagining-the-way-you-relate-to-god.html

  • Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

    Posted on November 20, 2011 by Family Christian

    Ann Voskamp is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished young voices writing today.  Her book, One Thousand Gifts, is a masterpiece that deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully.  While somewhat of a loose memoir, this book is actually a clarion call to slow down and intentionally savor life.  The book came from a time when Ann was journaling daily occurrences of gratitude in the little and big things – the ordinary things – of life. She thought she would accumulate a couple of hundred things to list, but over a time the list grew, and grew, and grew.  This wonderful book’s real lesson beyond the importance of gratitude in every circumstance is to learn to slow down, observe and savor the moments of life.  We spend so much of our day rushing to accomplish “important” things that we miss life itself.

    Ann’s message does not come from a comfortable, untroubled life. She transparently exposes the raw periods of her life which have shaped and molded her outlook.  With such credentials, Ann is qualified to advise us on how to find ways to give thanks in both the bad and the good times.  Nor is Ann cloistered in her writing room, cut off from the bustle of life.  She is a farm wife and a mother of six.  Her writing is squeezed in-between the everyday pressures of running a business and a home.  Yet she has managed to find beauty and quiet in the midst of a busy life, and time to give thanks in every circumstance.

    I believe that Ann has landed on the key to not only living well, but the key to a God-blessed life.  Complaining and ingratitude are sins.  They are attitudes that we brush off as being “little white sins,” but they are attitudes will keep us from God’s blessing and will for our lives.  In fact, the sin of complaining and ingratitude kept God’s Nation wandering in a hot and dry wilderness for forty years.  Pretty serious stuff.   It is in giving thanks for all things that we find ourselves in the center of God’s will.

    The one downfall of One Thousand Gifts is the cover.  It looks like a book specifically for women.  That is a shame as it is a message that men need to hear as much as women, if not more so.  I highly recommend One Thousand Gifts.

  • Book Review: Every Day a Friday

    Posted on October 31, 2011 by Family Christian

    Joel Osteen has been accused of presenting a “Gospel Lite” message.  He actually takes that as a compliment.  Pastor Osteen says that his full intent is to present the Gospel in as attractive a package as possible and to appeal to as wide an audience as possible in order to present Jesus to as many people as possible.  Joel’s newest book, Every Day a Friday, is right down the center of Joel’s audience base.  In this book Pastor Osteen points out that surveys show that the happiest day of the week is Friday because people are anticipating the weekend.  With the right frame of mind, he says, every day can be a Friday happiness-wise for the follower of God. 

    Every Day a Friday

    Every Day a Friday is a quick and approachable read.  It is filled with advice on how to live a more fulfilled and happier life by simply applying the principles found in God’s Word and using the common sense that your mama taught you about how to get along with others.  None of what Joel talks about in this book is profound, yet he presents principles that seem to get lost in the very day crunch of life.  This book is a good reminder for us to live closer to what God intends for us, rather than living under the oppression of our modern lifestyle.  From Scripture and his life experience, Pastor Osteen shares seven principles for happiness in this book. "Jesus talked about everyday life, not just doctrine but how do we live, how do we forgive. How do we keep a good attitude when the economy is down.  Joel says that, “The basic premise of the book is that, in the end, happiness is a choice.”

    In one chapter, Joel talks about happiness being a choice that we make every day.  Here he tells the story of John, a 92-year-old man, who is blind and a widower.  John decided that it was time for him to move into the seniors’ home.  On the morning of the move, a cab came to pick him up.  He was waiting, dressed impeccably, his hair neatly combed and cleanly shaved.  Upon arrival at the home, he waited for more than an hour before Miranda, an aide, came to show him to his new room.  As he maneuvered his walker down the hallway, Miranda told him about the room, describing how the sunshine came through the window, and about the nice desk area.  He kept saying, “I love it. I love it.  I love it.”  Miranda laughed and said, “Sir, you aren’t there yet.  You haven’t seen it.  Hold on a few moments and I will show it to you.”  John replied, “No, you don’t have to show it to me.  Whether I like my room or not does not depend on how the furniture is arranged. It depends on how my mind is arranged.  Happiness is something you decide ahead of time.”         

    This and many other stories help illustrate Pastor Osteen’s points in Every Day a Friday.  He says that when Monday morning comes, decide ahead of time that there are no Monday morning blues.  Instead, chose the Monday morning dos by saying, “I do have a smile.  I do have joy.  I do have God’s favor.  I do have victory.”  Good advice for us all to follow regardless of our particular doctrinal stance.

  • Book Review: Erasing Hell

    Posted on October 31, 2011 by Family Christian

    In Erasing Hell, Francis Chan’s and Preston Sprinkle’s dive into the pool of controversy surrounding the discussion on the Theology of Hell is an approachable yet thorough exploration of the subject.  The two primary questions, among others, are, “How could a loving God send people to hell?”  And, “Will people have a chance after they die to believe in Jesus and go to Heaven?” 

    I have to admire the authors’ approach to the subject.  It is forthright, yet humble.  They freely admit that they do not have all the answers.  They also freely admit that they do not always like the image of God presented in the Bible – particularly in the Old Testament.  For example: Why would a loving God tell the Levites to strap on their swords and go through the Israelite camp, killing friends and brothers because of the “Golden Calf” incident?  Where is the grace?  Where is the love?  Yet we cannot avoid this and other troubling passages in the Old Testament.  And, to bring the examples more up to date, what about in the New Testament where God strikes a couple dead simply for telling a “little white lie” about how much they received for the sale of a piece of property.  Not exactly the best way to attract people to your church.

    Erasing Hell

    These are some of the questions that Chan and Sprinkle tackle in Erasing Hell.  Where the authors have a strong opinion and scripture to back that opinion, they are not timid to share their conclusions.  The reader is not left wondering where they stand.  Where, however, there is room for ongoing discussion and falling on both sides of an issue, they present the argument for both sides and leave plenty of room for the reader to explore and think for themselves.  For example, they do not give a clear answer on the issue of Hell as a place of eternal punishment, or as a place of punishment followed by annihilation, stating that you could make an argument either way and then back both arguments with Scripture. 

    With extensive use of Scripture throughout, and comprehensive notes at the end of each chapter, Erasing Hell is scholarly enough for the student wanting a thorough examination of the subject of Hell, yet still highly approachable by even the most basic reader.  Overall, it is a quick read.  And while Erasing Hell does mention and references the Love Wins book by Rob Bell, it is not intended as a “response book” to Rob’s work.  Any mention of the Love Wins book is done in a respectful manner that the most ardent supporters of Rob’s book will appreciate, even while perhaps disagreeing.

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