Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I was excited for the opportunity to read and review Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them by George Barna and David Kinnaman. I belong to a large church that is active in soulwinning efforts, so books like this are great for insight on how to reach people. The book description reads:

"Churchless people are all around us: among our closest loved ones, at our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. And more and more, they are becoming the norm: The number of churchless adults in the US has grown by nearly one-third in the past decade. Yet the startling truth is that many of these people claim they are looking for a genuine, powerful encounter with God—but they just don’t find it in church. What are they (or we) missing? How can we better reach out to them? What can we say or do that would inspire them to want to join a community of faith? Containing groundbreaking new research from the Barna Group, and edited by bestselling authors George Barna (Revolution) and David Kinnaman (You Lost Me), Churchless reveals the results of a five-year study based on interviews with thousands of churchless men and women. Looking past the surface of church attendance to deeper spiritual realities, Churchless will help us understand those who choose not to be part of a church, build trust-based relationships with them, and be empowered to successfully invite them to engage."

I absolutely love how much research, time, and effort went into this book. This book is the result of extensive nationwide research that was conducted by the Barna Group. I truly feel like the research done was extremely credible and reliable, and that the whole book is based on the best information available. I was surprised at the hopeful tone of the book - a book on this subject matter could certainly be grim and gloomy, but this is full of hope and active solutions and suggestions to bring people to church. It's divided into 14 chapters with each tackling a facet of this immense topic. Chapters include Is Churchlessness a Crisis?; Our Cultural Moment; Profiling the Unchurched; Born Again and Unchurched, Disengaged and Dropping Out; The Intersection of Family and Faith; Why Churches Matter; and much, much more. This is an extremely important book for our current moment in time, and I feel it's important that every pastor, church staff member, and layperson alike read this book.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Never Ever Give Up: Author Q & A

Recently on my blog I reviewed the touching and heartwarming story of Jessie Joy Rees, who tragically passed away from cancer. However, before she passed away, she began the JoyJars and NEGU (Never Ever Give Up) movement, and her short life is still touching and blessing others around the world. Today I'd like to post a bit about her father, Erik Rees, who is carrying on Jessie's mission, and an excerpt of a brief interview.

Erik Rees is the Chairman of the Jessie Rees Foundation, better known as

“Jessie’s daddy” to the 310,000 Facebook fans he talks to weekly. Through Erik’s

leadership, Jessie’s mission to encourage every kid fighting cancer to “Never

Ever Give Up” is becoming a reality. He is the author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and

Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life and of Only You Can Be You. He and his

wife, Stacey, live in Orange County, California, with their children, Shaya and JT,

and their four dogs.

Here is an excerpt of a Q&A session with him:

Never Ever Give Up is immensely personal. Why is it important to share your daughter’s story? I had three goals for sharing Jessie’s story; increase awareness of childhood cancer, give people facing

personal hurdles in life hope and to create a wave of compassion through personal acts of kindness.

Where did Jessie come up with the idea of creating JoyJars? Why did she do this, instead of focusing

on herself?

Jessie came up with the idea after she started treatment and learned there were lots of children that couldn’t leave the hospital. She just had a burden for them and wanted to help them. The name actually came from taking her middle name “joy” and adding it to “jars”. She choose to spread joy because she knew life was about giving not getting.

Jessie had a strong faith in God. How did she draw strength from her relationship with God during

her treatment?

Jessie did have an amazing faith in God which inspires me daily. She would pray for herself, listen to worship music during treatments and do her nightly devotions with her mommy. She drew her strength from Phil. 4:13 and asked God daily for support.

Unfortunately, cancer strikes 1 in 300 children before the age of 20. What advice do you have for

others who want to help a family with a child fighting cancer?

In the book I list all sorts of simple ways to help families with children fighting cancer. Families need help but don’t want to have to add “managing” the help to their already chaotic lives. The best thing to do if you really know the person is show up and do something. Don’t ask, “how can I help you?” Just help.

Tell us more about the Jessie Rees Foundation. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness

month. How can we help?

The Jessie Rees Foundation is a global childhood cancer charity dedicated to ensuring every child fighting cancer has the support and resources to Never Ever Give Up. We fulfill our mission by 1) encouraging courageous kids to NEGU, 2) assisting courageous families to NEGU, 3) rallying communities to NEGU for courageous kids, 4) mobilize athletes to NEGU for courageous kids and 5) inspire the world to NEGU for courageous kids.Each year in the US, the month of September is dedicated to “childhood cancer awareness”. If you have a social media platform, please join our Going Gold campaign and help raise awareness of this devastating disease.

Please consider checking out Rees' book, Never Ever Give Up, and supporting the Jessica Rees foundation so they can continue sharing JoyJars.

Refined By Fire

Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace is author Mary Potter Kenyon's memoir of sorts about the tremendous loss she endured during a very short period of time: of her mother, husband, and young grandson. The book description reads:

"Where is the handbook for widows?" Mary Kenyon lamented as she planned a funeral for the beloved husband whose triumph over cancer she chronicled in Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage. During the ensuing weeks, as she attempted to make sense of his untimely death, she filled two journals, blogged, and read the inspirational writings of others who had gone down the road of grief before her--authors like C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle. She eventually found herself studying grief and bereavement in her quest to unearth answers to alleviating the pain associated with profound loss. In the process, she discovered a strength and emotional reserve she didn't know she had, along with an evolving faith that helped her face the impending loss of an eight-year-old grandson.
"In the midst of the darkness of loss, I found light. Admittedly, in those first weeks, it might have been but a single small spark I sensed deep inside of me, but that spark guided me in the twisted, dark journey of grief. As I stumbled over the roots of hopelessness and despair, that light grew to illuminate my path, a path I sometimes felt very alone on. At some point in the journey I'd turned around, and there was God.
That is grace."

This book was markedly sadder to read than her previous book, [book:Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage|18113888]. Chemo-Therapist focused on how her husband's cancer healed and improved their marriage relationship, whereas Refined By Fire focused on the grief process Mary went through throughout her tremendous losses. However, although parts made me weep (especially her young grandson's cancer and death), it was a wonderful book. I read it in less than 24 hours because I just couldn't put it down. Mary intersperses journal entries that she wrote at different points and stages of grief throughout the book, and I found those lovely and was happy she decided to include these private writings, because I feel they could be so helpful to someone who's recently suffered a loss - to see that their feelings are normal, and to get an idea of what to expect throughout the process of grief. She also includes excellent resources for those dealing with a loss. This is a must-read book for anyone going through a difficult loss, or anyone who enjoys reading memoirs.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Invisible Front

The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War by Yochi Dreazen is an exhaustive look at the huge crisis threatening our troops: PTSD and suicide. Dreazen's book focuses on the Graham family: Major General Mark and his wife Carol, and their children; Jeff, Kevin, and Melanie. The Grahams face the loss of both of their sons while in the Army: Jeff to a roadside bomb in Iraq, and Kevin to suicide. Jeff was lauded as a hero, while Kevin's death was met with silence. Mark and Carol are now on a mission to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide within the military. The book descriptions reads:

"The unforgettable story of a military family that lost two sons—one to suicide and one in combat—and channeled their grief into fighting the armed forces’ suicide epidemic.

Major General Mark Graham was a decorated two-star officer whose integrity and patriotism inspired his sons, Jeff and Kevin, to pursue military careers of their own. His wife Carol was a teacher who held the family together while Mark's career took them to bases around the world. When Kevin and Jeff die within nine months of each other—Kevin commits suicide and Jeff is killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq—Mark and Carol are astonished by the drastically different responses their sons’ deaths receive from the Army. While Jeff is lauded as a hero, Kevin’s death is met with silence, evidence of the terrible stigma that surrounds suicide and mental illness in the military. Convinced that their sons died fighting different battles, Mark and Carol commit themselves to transforming the institution that is the cornerstone of their lives.

The Invisible Front is the story of how one family tries to set aside their grief and find purpose in almost unimaginable loss. The Grahams work to change how the Army treats those with PTSD and to erase the stigma that prevents suicidal troops from getting the help they need before making the darkest of choices. Their fight offers a window into the military’s institutional shortcomings and its resistance to change – failures that have allowed more than 2,000 troops to take their own lives since 2001. Yochi Dreazen, an award-winning journalist who has covered the military since 2003, has been granted remarkable access to the Graham family and tells their story in the full context of two of America’s longest wars. Dreazen places Mark and Carol’s personal journey, which begins when they fall in love in college and continues through the end of Mark's thirty-four year career in the Army, against the backdrop of the military’s ongoing suicide spike, which shows no signs of slowing. With great sympathy and profound insight, The Invisible Front details America's problematic treatment of the troops who return from war far different than when they'd left and uses the Graham family’s work as a new way of understanding the human cost of war and its lingering effects off the battlefield."

This might sound like a dry book to read, but it's absolutely not. I was hooked by the first page and just couldn't put it down. The Graham's story is compelling, and Dreazen makes it so readable and relateable. He has a gift for weaving the story in such a way that you won't want to stop reading. By the end, you'll feel like you know the Grahams. He skillfully portrays every part of the story - he doesn't shy away from hard truths, such as the alcoholism and mental illness in the family. Yet he also shows all the good parts of every member of the family as well. It's such a realistic portrayal of an all-American family hit by a tragic loss. This book will make you want to get involved in the struggle of the members of the military with PTSD and mental illness. While tragic, the story is ultimately hopeful as well - Mark and Carol are touching many lives with their efforts to combat suicide and mental illness in the military. This is an absolute must-read for every American. As a side note, the cover is absolutely beautiful in its stunning simplicity. In fact, it's what drew me to first picking up this book. Perfect cover and wonderful book. Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Noah is a wordless picture book by Mark Ludy. I've never reviewed a wordless picture book before, so it's a bit different of a genre, but I selected this book because I have a 4 year old, 6 year old, and 8 year old and thought especially my 4 year old son would like this book because he loves the story of Noah and the ark. The book description reads:

"Mark Ludy’s latest book will appeal to adults and children alike. Digging deeper than the Sunday school tale of cuddly animals on Noah’s ark, the story follows the biblical text and illumines Noah’s relationship with God, his wife, family, nature, and humanity. Ludy’s world-class artwork lets people see, as though for the first time, the beauty within this story - revealing a clearer picture of the nature and character of God and his relationship to humankind. It’s immersive and epic in scale and scope. The wordless format invites conversation and storytelling, key building blocks of literacy. And as with his previous books, Ludy’s signature mouse Squeakers appears hidden on every page."

My 4 year old did enjoy looking at the pictures in this book. It was a bit difficult to narrate, though. Some scenes were confusing and I wasn't sure exactly what they portrayed. I expected more of a children's level, Sunday school approach to the story that would be easily narrated by me - or self narrated by the child looking through the pictures - something easy for a young child to pick up and imagine with. However, it felt more geared toward older children or adults. As other reviewers noted, some of the pictures were too dark and scary for very young children. However, the artwork was beautiful and Ludy is a very talented illustrator. I'd recommend this book for older children, and brush up on Noah's entire life, because the book starts when he's a baby. This is a large, rather long (for a picture book), sturdy hardcover that's a beautiful piece of art. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Handlebar Marketing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Not Just A Hearer But A Doer

I recently read a devotional book by Yolanda Shanks entitled Not Just A Hearer, But A Doer: Deliberately Living Life Devotional Study. The title caught my eye because I feel like as Christians we can hear a lot of messages, but never actually do them or put them into action - and deliberate living is definitely the answer. The description reads:

"We sit in the pews. We sing the songs. We recite
Scripture–Scripture we know by heart. And yet buried in the midst of this routine are commands and requests straight from the Most High that go ignored. We've become so reliant on God fulfilling His end of the bargain that we fail to follow through with ours.

We've Become Hearers.

In 31 days, Yolanda Shanks' devotional study, Not Just a Hearer but a Doer, will help you find calls to action within Scripture... and then act upon them. Starting with small things, like seeing that the Lord is good and working your way up to bigger actions, such as being a bold witness for Christ, you'll soon have the tools, desire and confidence to put Scripture into practice. Just as God

God wants doers."

This is a 31 day devotional study book, with spaces in the book to write and respond to questions. The book opens with an introduction explaining why Yolanda wrote this book, an opening prayer, and a selection of Christian quotations. It's then followed by the 31 devotions broken up into chapters and a closing prayer. Each daily devotion includes a picture, an illustration, a Bible verse (KJV, which I appreciated - it's difficult to find devotions using the KJV), background of the Scripture, Yolanda's interpretation, a practical application, additional Scriptures for you to memorize, and a space to write in and personalize the Scripture to your life. Yolanda's writing is clear, concise, relatable, and to the point. I enjoyed reading her commentary on the Scriptures. This is a great month-long devotional for any Christian reader.

I received a copy of this book from BookCrash in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Playing Saint

Playing Saint is new author Zachary Bartels' debut novel. Sometimes I'm nervous about reading a new author, but the premise of this book sounded so intriguing that I just had to give it a shot - and I wasn't disappointed. The description of the book reads:

"Yesterday, Parker Saint’s only concern was his swiftly rising star power.

Today, he’s just trying to stay alive.

Parker Saint is living the dream. A cushy job at a thriving megachurch has him on the verge of becoming a bestselling author and broadcast celebrity—until life takes an abrupt turn that lands him on the wrong side of the law. To avoid a public scandal, he agrees to consult with the police on a series of brutal murders linked by strange religious symbols scrawled on each victim.

Parker tries to play the expert, but he is clearly in over his head. Drawn ever deeper into a web of intrigue involving a demanding detective, a trio of secretive Vatican operatives, and a centuries-old conspiracy to conceal a mysterious relic, he realizes for the first time that the battle between good and evil is all too real—and that the killer is coming back . . . this time for him."

I was pulled in just from the Prologue - I instantly wanted to know more. I knew right away this had the potential to be an excellent book, and it was. Bartels has taken the Christian thriller genre (which is my favorite, by the way) and turned it on its head. While he proves that you can write a gritty, scary page turner without bad language and sex and still write a great book, he also proves that just because it's a Christian book, it doesn't have to be cheesy, lame, or cliche. This is one book that you just won't be able to put down - don't start it right before bedtime! There is also liberal humor sprinkled throughout the book, which makes a subject that could be grim and depressing a much more enjoyable subject. It's the perfect balance. I highly recommend this book at anyone who enjoys a good suspense book.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.