Monday, January 30, 2017

Addicts at the Cross by Larry Skrant (book review)

Addicts at the Cross is a Christian 9 step program written by Larry Skrant. Mr. Skrant is very familiar with the problem of addiction. He was convicted and served three prison sentences as a result of his addictive lifestyle. During his third stay in prison, his life was dramatically changed when he received a letter from one of his young daughters. The child had written to ask if her Daddy still remembered her. Mr. Skrant was heartbroken and felt no child should have to ask if her father remembered her. In the book's introduction, Larry Skrant said, "The Lord used that letter to convict me of my sins. In my prison cell, I fell to my knees and called on His name. At that moment, I was saved and spiritually set free. Several years later, I would be set free again. Fourteen years before my anticipated release date, I was physically set free as I walked out of prison with a new heart and a new message."

After turning his life over to Christ, Mr. Skrant founded Changed Lives Ministries and found himself being presented with opportunities to preach all over the world. He had a deep desire to help those suffering from addiction and wanted to provide a Christ centered program for them to follow. Using the Alcoholics Anonymous program as a model, along with the program set forth by Alcoholics for Christ, Larry Skrant developed the Addicts at the Cross program. His program, a 9 step Christian program dealt with the root problems of addiction from a biblical point of view. It allowed addicts an opportunity of learning how to live free from addictions by centering their lives around Christ.

One of the main goals of the program is to help the addict understand their complete identity in Christ. After understanding who they are and how Christ loves them, these men and women find old habits and desires changing. As they work through the 9 steps, the addicts are equipped with the vital tools necessary for living an abundant life.

The Addicts at the Cross 9 Step Program contains a very unique guide and workbook. Each of the 9 steps is covered in detail by using clear and concise explanations. Notes are provided that expound on covered topics and practical examples are included. Scripture references and verses are provided in the King James translation of the Holy Bible.

The 9 steps covered in the program and a brief synopsis of each are:

  1. Admit - I admit my life is not my own and is beyond my ability to manage or control. 
  2. Believe - I believe that the God I need to restore my life and make me whole is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ. 
  3. Decide - I have decided to turn from things of the past and ask Jesus to be manager of my life.
  4. Search - I have made an honest search and inventory of myself.
  5. Acknowledge - I acknowledge my inventory to be true and seek to eliminate that which is not God's will for my life. 
  6. Change - I am willing to change and allow God to change me. 
  7. Ask - I ask God to forgive me and to change me through His Holy Spirit. 
  8. Restore - I have made a list of people my actions have affected and have asked how I can make things right. 
  9. Pursue - Daily, I seek to know and live out God's will, plan and purpose for my life. 
The book is designed to be an interactive workbook. There are spacious areas in the side margins of the book for making notations. Also included is a detailed list of terms and definitions. There are word studies based on information from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to help the reader understand the Fruit of the Spirit. A basic Bible exercise is also included in the back of the book. This handy exercise can be used in meetings to help those without a biblical background. 

I found Addicts at the Cross to well designed. Each step is explained in great detail and builds upon the next. The workbook is designed with step by step instructions that give the facilitator an easy to follow guide. 

Mr. Skrant did an excellent job of providing a sound Christ centered program. I'm sure many will be blessed by the contents of this book. 

I would like to thank Aneko Press for providing me with a copy of Addicts at the Cross in exchange for my review. I was in no way encouraged to provide a positive review.  This book will be released March 1, 2017 and is available for pre-order here

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Agape's Children Freed from the Streets by Darla Calhoun - a review

African has had a little piece of my heart since my youngest daughter traveled there several years ago with a short term mission team. She came back filled with exuberance and a new found love for serving Christ after working with Ugandan children. As I began Darla Calhoun's story, I could almost hear her excitement and trepidation as I remembered back to my daughter's trip and how we were all so caught up in helping her prepare to go out into the world to share the love of Christ with others. When she came back from her trip, one of the African words she shared with us was Muzungu. It is the word Africans use when referring to a white person. It is not a derogatory term but a generalization. My daughter was honored to have been called Muzungu because she feels it connected her in a small way to the children of Africa. Darla Calhoun, in her book, Agape's Children Freed from the Streets, found herself also being called Muzungu when she arrived in Africa.

In the early 90's, as Darla Calhoun was working as a camp nurse, she was asked what she planned to do with the rest of her life. A fellow volunteer invited her to attend a fundraising event for Mission: Moving Mountains. Darla agreed to attend assuming she would learn a little about the organization but was surprised when they offered to let her become part of their mission team. Mission: Moving Mountains was headed to Kisumu, Kenya to provide community development and could use someone with Darla's background in nursing. She had also worked with African children in the past on a trip to Uganda. Darla felt the draw to go but needed to spend time in prayer and to talk with her family about the offer.

After winning approval from her family, Ms. Calhoun accepted the offer and traveled to Kenya. She was expected to learn the local language of the Luo people within a time frame of six months. It was a daunting task but she immersed herself in the culture and began to pick up words here and there. As she began to practice the language, she would often try to talk with the local street children. They thought she was quite funny but readily accepted her as a non threatening Muzungu friend.

The longer Darla interacted with the children the more concerned she became with their health and safety. She learned, by talking with an older African boy, that most of the street children had either been abandoned or had to learn to live on the streets in order to escape an unsavory home life. Darla befriended the children and soon came to know them by name. She made a point to learn their stories and do what she could to help them. Darla's heart was so touched by their stories she knew she had to do more. She felt a strong desire to find a way to help get them off the street. Darla began to pray and ask God to help her get some of the children off the street. As she prayed, God began to answer and honored her obedience with great blessing.

Agape's Children Freed from the Streets is a beautiful story of inspiration. It tells how one determined person with a love of Christ can make a difference in the world. The book is filled with vastly different stories. Some stories are joyful and others extremely sad, but all are honest accounts of what Darla experienced while interacting with the precious boys of Africa. It tells of challenges she faced as she worked to help them break away from bad habits like stealing, sniffing glue, and begging. It tells of difficult medical challenges and even death but at the center of it all, hope remained the core of Darla's ministry.

The book is over 300 pages long but is a very quick read. The author writes with compassion and heart. I think this book would be of interest to anyone seeking to learn more about overseas missions in general but in particular to those interested in learning more about necessary work in Africa.

Agape's Children Ministries is still going strong today. Their work has helped over two thousand children move from a life of poverty on the streets into a better, more productive lifestyle.

I was provided a review copy of this book by Aneko Press in exchange for my honest opinion. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it highly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kingdom Family Devotional 52 Weeks of Growing Together by Tony Evans (a review)

Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most respected evangelical leaders in our country today. His godly wisdom permeates everything he says and does. His ability to share theological truth in easy to understand illustrations helps readers grasp concepts and learn to apply them to their daily lives.

Dr. Tony Evans, along with Jonathan Evans, chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys, have worked to compile a unique bible study tool for families. This devotional book is filled with relevant themes to cover the span of one year. This valuable tool is written with families in mind and allows for flexibility. Each devotional can be changed to meet the needs of younger children or be enhanced to reach older youth.

In the introduction to the book, the authors suggest parents use the devotional at meal time. They feel it important to have a "concentrated time for the family to focus on God and one another..." and say it is "critical if we're going to overcome the secular, godless influence that are engulfing our children and drawing them away from the faith." It is suggested parents begin the devotional time with prayer and end by allowing the children to join in the prayer. Each devotional gives clear instruction on content and offers suggestions to help the children understand the covered theme. Scripture readings, games, activities, service projects, and other unique learning methods make this a fun family event.

I was impressed by the attention to detail the authors included in this book. Not only did they make sure each topic was well researched and covered, but they took time to make the book interactive for children of all ages. Instead of children becoming bored or inattentive during a family devotional time, I think this book will help children be eager to learn and absorb biblical truths.

Some of the themes covered in the Kingdom Family Devotional 52 Weeks of Growing Together are:

  • Spiritual Warfare
  • Giving
  • Forgiveness
  • Righteousness
  • Trails
  • Servanthood
  • Perseverance
  • Purity 
  • Humility
  • Courteous Speech
  • Identity
Each weekly theme is divided into five daily sections that reemphasize the concept presented for that week. This method of learning will help drive home with great accuracy a complete understanding so the children will master the concepts instead of just lightly touching on each subject. 

I enjoyed how the authors used games as a learning tool. For instance, in one of the weekly readings on Spiritual Warfare, the authors compare it to laser tag. Here is an excerpt from that reading: "In laser tag, invisible bullets fly all over the room. your job isn't' to run from the lasers but to recognize how is hooting them. If a shooter has on a vest that's the same color as yours, you know those invisible bullets aren't directed at you. But if someone wearing a different color vest is shooting at you, you can expect to feel the hit as a physical vibration. Spiritual warfare is a lot like laser tag. There are two teams at war: God's team and Satan's team. God is shooting grace, mercy, love and life our direction. But Satan is shooting anger, depression, guilt, shame, and death. We can't see these bullets coming because both teams are invisible. Yet event though we can't see them, we can definitely feel when we've been hit." 

The Kingdom Family Devotional, 52 Weeks of Growing Together, is a well made, well thought out family devotional. It can be used over and over again and will bless those who use it in their family gatherings. 

I would highly recommend this book to parents seeking to impart godly wisdom and advice to their children. This is one of the best family devotionals I have ever read. 

I would like to thank Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to review this book for them in exchange for my honest review. I was not encouraged to give a positive review although it is my pleasure to do so. 

You may purchase the book here

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Raise Children for Christ by Andrew Murray - a book review

Oh how I wish I'd had How to Raise Children for Christ when I began raising my family! The practical information contained in this book would have helped me and kept me from making many mistakes as I raised my four children. Although I was not privy to the information contained in this book in the early 70's, I am thankful it is available to parents today.

Andrew Murray has always been one of my favorite authors. I love the way he writes with such passion and wisdom. In his book, How to Raise Children for Christ, Mr. Murray's passion for encouraging parents to rear their children in the admonition of the Lord is powerful. The book is not only instructional with practical advice, but contains Biblical insight, too. Each chapter contains fundamental spiritual truth.

How to Raise Children for Christ is a beautiful devotional book containing 52 topical studies, one for each week of the year. There are a wide range of topics covered in the book such as grace, faith, redemption, and covenant. Mr. Murray points parents toward Christ and encourages them to take the responsibility of parenting very seriously.

At the beginning of each chapter, a scripture reference is given. Mr. Murray expounds on the reference by providing detailed examples from history by using familiar stories from the Bible. Some examples of chapter titles are:

  • The Family As Grace Restores It
  • The Father As Priest and Prophet
  • The Consecrated Home
  • Parental Weakness
  • A Mother's Surrender
  • The Sabbath and the Children
  • Jesus, the Children's Surety
  • A Mother's Persevering Prayer
  • A Father's Tears
  • The Holy Spirit in the Family

The chapter entitled The Sabbath and the Children was extremely inspiring. I'd always been raised to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy but as I read Mr. Murray's explanation I was convicted. I should have and could have done more to teach my children how to enter into Sabbath rest. Mr. Murray says "God means the Sabbath to be to your child what it is to you, not in value of your training and habits, but what it is to your own experience, as a day you really love and rejoice in. Look upon it as the day of rest, of entering into God's own wonderful rest. The rest of God is in a finished work; by faith in that work we enter into that rest and the great calm, the peace that passes understanding and keeps the heart and mind. Look upon it as a holy day, the day God has given as a token and pledge that He who is holy makes us holy too. It is in fellowship with God that we are made holy; let His presence, His love, and His joy be the mark as well as the fruit of keeping it holy. Look upon it as a day of blessing. Sin robbed us of the blessing God laid on the day. In the resurrection of Christ, the finished work of creation was restored, finished, and perfected in a higher sense...And now all the blessings of the living Christ, His finished work and resurrection power and eternal rest, are to be ours." His powerful teaching blessed me.

Throughout his book, Andrew Murray provides encouragement, advice, practical help, and godly instruction on how to be the best parent one can be. By holding ourselves to a higher standard, we can set the example for our children to follow.

I will be providing this book to each of my grown children for use in teaching their little ones to follow Christ. What a wonderful resource for parents facing the challenge of parenting in today's world!

Thank you, Aneko Press, for providing me with this review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. It is my pleasure to give this book 5 stars!

If you'd like to purchase How to Raise Children for Christ, you may purchase it here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Secret Loss, Finding Peace After Abortion - a book review

My Secret Loss, Finding Peace After Abortion, is a true story written by Sheila M. Luck. In the book, Ms. Luck tells of a very painful time in her life and how she managed to not only forgive herself but forgive others involved with the death of her unborn child.

At the age of seventeen, Sheila finds her self in a difficult situation as she discovers she is pregnant. Unmarried and still in school, Sheila is desperate for a solution. She is afraid to tell anyone her secret and doesn't quite know what to do. After mustering up enough courage to borrow a car, Ms. Luck travels to a doctor's office for an examination. The doctor confirms Sheila's suspicions and verifies she is indeed pregnant. Sheila listens carefully as the doctor presents her options. She can have the baby and try to raise the child with the help of her parents, she can give the child up for adoption at birth, or she can abort the baby. She is instructed to go home and think about her options but is also reminded time is of the essence. Sheila is about eight weeks pregnant and abortions then were only performed through the twelfth week.

Out of fear, shame, and guilt, Sheila is forced to make the biggest decision of her life alone. As she ponders all options, she decides to call a friend who lived in another state. She says in the book, "Not knowing what I wanted to do for certain, I loaded my pockets with quarters and walked to a phone booth. I called someone I knew who lived in another state. After he answered, I tried to nonchalantly ask, "Can I come visit you?" I didn't tell him why I wanted to visit. I couldn't seem to say it out loud. I couldn't face it. But somehow I thought that this friend could help. I was relived to know someone I thought I could trust with my problems." Shelia felt very scared and alone. Before visiting the out of state friend, she wrote a letter telling him about her situation and asking for his help.

Sheila was relieved to find abortion clinics did not require parental consent in her friend's state. Her friend helped Sheila get an appointment and took her to have the procedure performed. Sheila is very frank about her experience and says, while at the clinic waiting to have her abortion, "My heart appreciated having a solution. I felt relief. I didn't seem to understand or believe that being pregnant meant a baby was already well formed, taking shape and growing inside of me. I understood and thought only about my need to resolve my problem. It seemed to me that I was just taking care of a health problem. I needed to solve this problem, and abortion was the best way to do it. It was my only feasible option."

After the abortion, Sheila says, "she felt physically fine. The pregnancy was terminated, but it wasn't really over." She was overcome with emotion and had not only to deal with unexpected grief over the loss of the child, but also with a heavy burden of guilt.

The book contains the ugliness of a bad decision made in a hurried panic, but also contains the grace and mercy God provided Ms. Luck as she finally learned to forgive herself and heal.

I appreciated the candor with which Ms. Luck shared her story. I could hear her pain as I read her heartfelt words. It was not difficult to empathize with her as she processed through each stage of grief.

This book was a difficult one to read. Ms. Luck and I are about the same age. I could only imagine how I would have felt had I been in her shoes. For women who have made the decision to have an abortion, Ms. Luck's book could provide a ray of hope. The workbook section of her book offered helpful questions, Bible study, reflections, and encouragement. This would be a perfect help for a small group situation or a one on one encounter.

In closing, I'd like to share more words from Ms. Luck: "I am beginning to take down the wall. I am on a path for life. My secret loss will always be my loss, but thanks to God and his loving grace, the loss is one with which I can learn to live. The consequences of that choice remain forever, but I am forgiven. I am finally finding the life that I lost. Through him, I am able to have peace after abortion."

This book is published by Aneko Press. You may purchase the book here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Disarming the Powers of Darkness by Eric Barger with David Benoit

Spiritual warfare. For most, just the name sounds daunting. Things of a spiritual nature aren't easily understood. Why then does God call Christians to not only understand but constantly participate in spiritual battles? Eric Barger and David Benoit tackle this question along with many others in their book, Disarming the Powers of Darkness.

As I reviewed the copy of Disarming the Powers of Darkness, I found the book not only to be a practical guide in understanding spiritual warfare but also a handbook to equip believers with the necessary tools to participate in battle. The introduction to the book begins with Scripture found in Ephesians 6:12, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness sin high places." This verse gives a clear picture of our mortal enemy, Satan, and his dark spiritual realm. In order to fight a battle and prepare for the win, one must understand the enemy. Barger and Benoit state their goal is to "teach and live biblical truths, expose Satan's ploys, and lift up Jesus Christ as the only hope." They also say, "Spiritual warfare, understanding it and waging it, is paramount to our spiritual defectiveness an survival until we're at home in heaven." While Satan is out to destroy anyone he can, the authors of this book explain, "We must be conscious that our victory is not based on our efforts and intentions but is only available as we abide in Him. Second, it is found in obedience to studying, understanding, and implementing what the Lord imparted to us in His Word. "Many Christians have become desensitized to Satan's work and because of this, Mr. Barger says, "...the subtle influences that seep through the cracks in humanity soon root themselves as fixtures in our lives." That's why it's so important to not only know who your enemy is but to know how to fight against him with weapons God has given us.

The authors have laid out their book as a battle plan. Each chapter builds upon the one preceding it. The book is written simply and clearly. It is not only easy to understand but employs the use of visual aids to help the reader "see" what the author is talking about. Some of the chapters included in the book are:
  • Ground rules for warfare
  • Does Satan know your thoughts?
  • Examining the Armor of God
  • Two Big Guns: Prayer and the Word
  • What Then Must We Do?
Mr. Barger makes a point to analyze each piece of the Christians armor from the helmet down to the shoes. As he takes the reader through an understanding of each piece of equipment, he also points the reader to scripture and explains why each piece is necessary for use in battle. 

I was impressed by this book and found it interesting to read. I especially enjoyed small snippets of Biblical history that were included in the book. For example, in the chapter entitled, "Shoes and a Hat to Match," the author says shoes were very important in Biblical times. He says, "One reason these shoes were so important was that the Israelites fought their battles in the hot sand." I'd never thought about where their battles were fought but after reading the chapter, I could relate to the author's statement in a personal way. On a recent vacation to the beach, my family and I had traveled to a preserve called Blowing Rocks. It was a long stretch of beautiful sandy beach hedged by large limestone rock formations. The ocean water would push up through some of the rock formations as the tide came in and gave us a gorgeous display of the forces of nature. On this trip, however, I found myself experiencing something I had not planned on experiencing. In the middle of the sandy beach, on a very hot summer's day, the strap on my Teva sandals broke. While I was standing still, it didn't affect me but as I tried to walk back to the boardwalk, extremely hot sand came pouring into my shoe and burned the bottom of my foot. I felt immediate pain as the searing sand blistered the sole of my foot. I understood the importance of good shoes and wished I'd had on sneakers instead of sandals. As I thought about my painful experience, I related to the author's statement and clearly knew having my feet shod with the gospel of peace was an important part of my armor.  

This book was filled with Biblical truth and wonderful insights. The authors made a special point of reminding the reader that not only are we in a spiritual battle that we must fight daily, but we are also well equipped and Jesus is on our side. When trials do come our way, we know we can choose to pick up the pieces of our armor and stand firm. Mr. Barger wants us to remember, "The battle is not really ours but God's. We are but a willing conduit for His power to be manifested through. God knows every thought, every fear, and every strength. Nothing will take Him by surprise. We serve under His protection. The weapons for victory are not our own. They are made available and are empowered by God. None are more powerful than the knowledge of His Word coupled with the blood of the cross." 

Disarming the Powers of Darkness is an excellent book. I would highly recommend it. Every Christian should read it and keep a reference copy in his/her personal library. I am thankful I was given an opportunity to review this book by Aneko Press in exchange for my honest review. I was in no way encouraged to give a positive review however it is my pleasure to do so. 

When we know our enemy, know how to fight and in whose strength we fight, we are assured a win every single time. 

You may purchase the book here

Watch a video from the author here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

You Carried Me by Melissa Ohden, a book review

A botched abortion, a baby lives, lies are told, lives are changed...all in an instant. That's the story of Melissa Ohden's life in a nutshell but the story is much more complicated than that. Melissa's struggle to understand her identity takes many twists and turns and over the course of her life, she finally figures out her life is worth living.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Plough Publishing in exchange for my honest review. When I received my copy, I was cautious about reading it. I have a tender heart and stories like this tend to impact me deeply. Before I began reading, I prayed and asked God to allow me to read objectively. I asked Him to let me really hear her heart through her written words and to even be able to read between the lines just a little. I wanted to understand what her life might have been like as a young child growing up in a foster home. I wanted to feel the heartache and pain she suffered as she grew older and learned the truth about how her life began. And as I read, I felt all of these things and more.

Melissa Ohden wrote her book with such rawness and openness that I could empathize with her throughout each stage of her life. I cried with her as she learned the truth, at age 14, that she was brought into the world through the tragic event of a planned abortion gone horribly wrong. I cringed as she learned her birth mother had been told of Melissa's death, a lie shared by Melissa's birth grandmother. Over and over again, Melissa dealt with feelings of rejection and pain. As Melissa learned more about her family, she began to internalize her feelings as a method of coping. Anorexia turned to Bulimia as Melissa tried to stuff her feelings. Throughout her emotional challenges however, Ms. Ohden persevered through her strong faith in God.

In the book, Melissa says, after learning about the circumstances surrounding her birth, "I began to spend large amounts of time alone, brooding in my bedroom. My obsessive and distorted thoughts about my birth overwhelmed me. Looking back now, with the benefit of the professional experience I would gain much later, I can see that I was experiencing a post traumatic stress reaction, plus a kind of survivor's guilt about living when so many others had died through abortion. Back then, all I knew as what I felt: I am not OK; something is wrong with me; I am not loved." Later in her story, Melissa says, "I began to cling to Jesus in prayer and as I did, I felt the guilt an shame and self-loathing that had defined me for so long begin to slip away. I still felt deeply damaged, though, like the psalmist who wrote, "I know my transgressions, my sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51). Slowly, with God's grace, I was able to turn my gaze from my inward pain and look anew on the world around me."

This book tells the story of both redemption and grace. It is filled with love and hope but also heartache and pain. Melissa writes with such candor the reader can't help but be drawn immediately into her story.

It is my pleasure to recommend this book. For those searching to understand deep hurts in life, you'll be blessed by Melissa's courage and faith. For those wanting to understand the pain and aftermath of abortion, her story will take you through a gamut of emotions. Ms. Ohden's memoir will affect the reader in unexpected ways.

Watch a short video clip about Melissa's story here.

Buy the book here