Monday, May 31, 2010

Q&A with Chris Plekenpol

Q&A with Chris Plekenpol Author of Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough?

Q: Stumbling Souls tells of the lessons you learned about faith after having met James, a homeless man off the street who attended the newcomers’ meeting at your church one day. Why did you reach out to him? When you saw him walking away from church that day, why did you call after him?

A: For any disciple, there comes a time when learning Christ must become living Christ. As much as I was enjoying learning and being at seminary, the greatness of my seminary experience was complete only when the miraculous intangibles of God’s character became real in me. That day something awakened deep inside of me—maybe in the place where a small filling of the Holy Spirit resides. I couldn’t take my eyes off the figure walking away, and something inside me stirred. I tried to quell the desire to stop him and find out about his life. And before I knew it, my legs started walking after this stranger who had no idea of the welling up of something in my soul.

Q: How did you know God was leading you to reach out to James and serve him in the radical manner that you did?

A: One of the ways God really revealed his leading to me was through the encouragement of others, both friends and strangers. I began blogging about James and one reader contacted me and said he would like to help financially. He literally tracked me down to tell me in order to give something to help James. Not only did he give something for James. He personally encouraged me. There were moments like those when God intervened and let me know he was watching. No, they don’t come every day, but they serve as reminders that he wants me to live by faith.

Q: As readers make their way through Stumbling Souls, they will find themselves rooting for James, wanting him to change and turn his life around, and impatient when it doesn’t happen quickly and he seems to take some wrong turns. Why did you not give up on him?
A: I knew, as I said, that God was calling me to live by faith, but of course that was, at times, so difficult because I wanted to see results. I wanted to see life change, and when that didn’t happen, I got frustrated. But in one of those moments of discouragement this thought hit me. I don’t serve James because of James; I serve James because of God. So James’ actions don’t matter. If James never gets on his feet and I do an exercise in futility, it doesn’t matter, because my God told me to always remember the poor. So here I am doing it. Here I am living this thing called faith.

Q: “Is Love Enough?” is the subtitle of Stumbling Souls. But isn’t that exactly what we’re called by God to do, to love others?

A: Yes, we are. We are called to love and to serve. But I’ve found that our human love isn’t perfect. Selfishness and pride leave much to be desired, and, therefore, our love is never enough. I don’t have the ability to love unconditionally outside of Christ. That is why the only love that will ever be enough is the love of God. He gave his only Son to die on a cross for the sins of the world, and then he gets involved in the mess of ministry, of our working out our salvation with fear and trembling, by using flawed people to piece together another person’s redemption so that only he gets the glory.

Q: How do you believe God changed you through this experience?

A: I went from a Christian ideologue to a person who has an understanding of life on the streets and an understanding of how Christ makes believers righteous on the basis of grace, by means of faith. Through this process I really saw my own growth and I hope that those who read this story will see that too, the way that God used James to change me. I can’t help but notice the difference. I have more compassion. I have a deeper love for the lost. I have a better grasp at how rotten I can be in my own sufficiency. There wasn’t just one stumbling soul in this book; my sins were pretty apparent, and God is still working on my selfishness and pride. I know that with God all things are possible.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough? by Chris Plekenpol

Wow ... what a unique book! Stumbling Souls is a non-fiction book that takes an autobiographical turn. Chris (the author) is a seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary. The Lord begins convicting him - through his studies and through an accountability group called SPF7 - that his intellectual knowledge of and love for God needs to be played out in his life on a day-to-day basis.

Once Chris meets James, a homosexual, HIV-positive, homeless man, he realizes that this is what he is supposed to invest his life in. People. And James, specifically. He begins by inviting him to lunch, bringing him to SPF7, and eventually asks him to move in with him.

Chris tells a fascinating story ... of James' life, of the impact that James has on him and on everyone he comes in contact with, and how God works through it all to show how Christ served the people around Him.

Chris shares a lot of lessons that God taught him through his time ministering to James. But it doesn't come off as "preachy." Instead, it seems to be reflective ... and if the reader learns something, then that's even better. Plus, he's completely honest about himself ... admits to mistakes he made/makes, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Very refreshing!

I would HIGHLY recommend this book. This has made it to the top of my biography list!

5 stars (out of 5)

I received a FREE copy of this book from The B&B Media Group in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Q&A With Tom Davis

Excerpt from a Q&A with author Tom Davis at the conclusion of the book Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World.

What was your inspiration for this story?

Adanna's story is based on a real story. The first time I went to Africa, I was constantly confronted with tragic real-life stories of beautiful children. It was unbearable. There was one little girl I met outside of the capital city of Swaziland; she had the most precious, innocent face I'd ever seen. She was happy and filled with joy. Then the director of the orphanage told me her story. He said she was rescued from an abusive situation, although at first they didn't know how badly.

They took her in and loved her as their own. She had the typical signs of neglect: filthy from head to toe; ratty, shredded clothes hanging from her body; and bruises and cuts from being hit with sticks and hands. The first day she was there, all the kids met together in a group to play a game. When the game started, this little girl was unable to hold her bladder and had an "episode" in front of everyone. At first the teachers believed that she had never been potty trained. Day after day, the same thing occurred. They took her to a doctor and realized that the abuse was much more severe than they assumed.

Both of her parents died from AIDS, then a distant uncle took her in. Her life was reduced to the life of a slae. She was forced to work fifteen hours a day, and her uncle sold her body to men in the community so he could have money for alcohol. Then he began violently raping her on a daily basis. Thus the reason for her incontinence.

Her story became the story of many little girls I met throughout Africa. It was more than I could handle. It still is.

I was compelled to act and had to tell their story. I have to believe that as people read Scared, they will be moved with compassion and also compelled to act.

What do you hope readers will walk away with after spending time in Adanna's world?

I hope through Adanna's voice and life, readers are moved on such a deep level about the plight of orphans like her that they are compelled to act. There's one startling truth I've discovered in helping the poor in our world, and it's this: The difference between life and death for widows and orphans in our world is me and you. Seriously! As I've said, five dollars can be the difference between life-saving malaria medicine and death; it's the cost to provide clean water to someone for a year; and it also can provide one hundred meals to orphans in Africa. Every single person reading this can do that.

I think it's also healthy to walk in other people's shoes. Scared provides the opportunity to do that. To see the world through the life of an orphan growing up in Africa, in the midst of complete destruction is alarming. I can't help but to ask the question, what if it was me or my kids? What if we were the ones born in a different place? This is more than just being thankful to live in America. It's about identifying with someone else's pain and being moved with compassion.

It's my firm belief that God has already sent the answers to solve the world's most difficult issues, and the answer is people like us getting involved. So take a step to help, just one, and it will change your life forever!

Are there plans for more novels? Nonfiction works? What's on the drawing board for the future?

Scared is actually the first book of a series I'm writing. The next book finds Stuart Daniels in Russia exposing one of the most villainous and evil industries on the face of the earth, the child sex-slave trade. This book is a thriller, keeping you on the edge of your seat from the very first chapter. It is a headfirst dive into the culture and history of Russia and includes a dangerous confrontation with the mafia in an attempt to free girls who are sex slaves. Stuart will be stretched more than ever. He goes underground in hiding at an orphanage and meets a little boy who is an artist and changes his life.

I'm also working on a non-fiction book that focuses on merging ancient Christian practices into our lives in a way that reveals the kingdom of God through everything we do. I'm very excited about both of these projects. Stay tuned to my blog to find out more about when these will release along with special contests I'll be running and information about videos of Africa and Russia that helped inspire these books.

Check out these video interviews of Tom talking more about the book Scared.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World by Tom Davis

Several years ago, I read Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis. I had just returned from months on the mission field and the book reinforced much of what I had seen and experienced firsthand. Needless to say, I was stoked to hear that Davis published a novel. A friend loaned it to me and I read it from cover to cover in about 3 days.

Scared is what I would call realistic fiction. The entire book (characters, places, events) is based on the reality of life in Swaziland, a small country in Africa where almost 50% of the people suffer from HIV/AIDS. It's hard to read ... or maybe I should say, it's hard to stomach what you're reading. It's hard to read about children who fill the role of head of household, men who rape girls in their family, drought, flood, famine, an AIDS crisis that could cause an entire country to become extinct if things don't change. If it was pure fiction, it would just roll off. But it's not. It's true. These things really happen. And it's tough to take in.

The best part of the book, though, is not even the story. It's how it makes you feel. The characters and the things that happen to them evoke emotion. You feel like you are THERE, like you KNOW these people. I pray this book will open peoples' eyes to what is really going on in the world. And not just open their eyes but make them get up and do something about it.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. If you've been to Africa, if you haven't, if you care about the world, if you don't (especially if you don't!) ... This is a unique work of fiction in that it really moves you to action.

5 stars (out of 5)

NOTE: There are some "mature" scenes in this book. Parents might want to read this book before or with their teenage kids. It would make for great discussion!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

About the Book: Scared by Tom Davis

About the Book:

Stuart Daniels has hit bottom. Once a celebrated and award-winning photojournalist, he is now reeling from debt, a broken marriage, and crippling depression. The source of Stuart's grief is his most famous photo: a snapshot of brutality in the dangerous Congo. A haunting image that indicts him as a passive witness to gross injustice.

Stuart is given one last chance to redeem his career: a make-or-break assignment covering the AIDS crisis in a small African country. It is here that Stuart meets Adanna, a young orphan fighting for survival in a community ravaged by tragedy and disease. But in the face of overwhelming odds, Adanna finds hope in a special dream, where she is visited by an illuminated man and given a precious gift.

Now, in a dark place that's a world away from home, Stuart will once again confront the harsh reality of a suffering people in a forgotten land. And as a chance encounter becomes divine providence, two very different people will find their lives forever changed.

About the Author:

Tom Davis is the accomplished author of Red Letters and Fields of the Fatherless. He holds a business and pastoral ministry degree from Dallas Baptist University and a master's degree in theology from The Criswell College. He is the president and CEO of Children's HopeChest, a Christian-based child-advocacy organization helping orphans in Eastern Europe and Africa. Tom and his wife, Emily, have seven children, including two adopted from Russia.

(Information taken from the back of the book.)

Video Trailer for the Book:

And if this is STILL not enough for you ... check out the website. Or read the first chapter FREE.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Army of Ordinary People by Felicity Dale

An Army of Ordinary People is an inspiring collection of stories of God moving throughout the United States and the rest of the world through regular people. People just like me and you. Felicity Dale writes in such a way that she makes it seem like it really is possible for anyone to share the gospel, lead a Bible study, start a church, and begin a movement of God in the people around them.

Each chapter uses a story to illustrate one of the principles of planting a "simple church" (otherwise referred to as house churches, organic churches, cell groups). The stories highlight churches that "ordinary" people start in nursing homes, prisons, businesses, schools, trailer parks, neighborhoods, coffee shops, and just about anywhere else you can think of. Each chapter concludes with a more in-depth look at the principle illustrated by the story ... covering topics such as training, location, sphere of influence, finances, kids, prayer, etc.

These simple churches start with the purpose of helping jaded Christians "heal" from their experiences with legacy churches (a more traditional model of church) OR to meet the needs of people who would not otherwise darken the doors of a church. The ultimate goal is to see people come to Christ and the church grow to the point where it reproduces and births new daughter churches. Eventually an entire network of churches will be established through the start of one "simple church." (This is a model that I can agree with wholeheartedly! Rapid multiplication!)

The book was certainly inspiring. The principles seem easy and very practical ... things that any Christ-follower could (or should!) do. I was challenged in my thinking ... to evaluate why I believe some of the things I do. Is it tradition or comfort or simply what works for me? This book also challenged me to look for ways to share the gospel in my everyday life with the people I already come in contact with and to be extremely intentional in every conversation.

I do have one caution though ... the definition of "church." It was not clear from the start what Dale defines as a "church." Sometimes it seemed that "church" could simply be a social gathering, which I would not see as biblical. I'm not sure whether we have a true theological disagreement or merely a misunderstanding regarding terminology.

I enjoyed this book. It was a quick, easy read for me, yet it still challenged me.

Overall, I would give this book 4 stars (out of 5).

I received a FREE copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my fair and honest review of this book.

Monday, May 17, 2010

God and Football: Pre-Order Contest

My friend Chad Gibbs has been writing a book called God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC over the past year. Zondervan (!!!) is publishing the book and the plan is for it to be released this August. Crazy, right?!

Chad is hosting a contest on his website and the winner will get 2 FREE tickets to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta this year. All you have to do is pre-order a copy of Chad's book here and post on Chad's website that you ordered it . That's it! Easy enough, right?

I haven't read the book yet, but I KNOW it's going to be hilarious ... because Chad is hilarious!

Here's a synopsis of the book in case you need more than my recommendation or the chance to win tickets to the SEC Championship game before ordering ...
In 2008 over six million people attended an SEC football game. They spent thousands on season tickets, donated millions to athletic departments, and for three months a year ordered their entire lives around the schedule of their favorite team. As a Christian, Gibbs knows he cannot serve two masters, but at times his faith is overwhelmed by his fanaticism. He is not alone. Gibbs and his six million friends do not live in a spiritually void land where such borderline idol worship would normally be accepted. They live in the American South, where according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 84 percent identify themselves as Christians. This apparent contradiction that Gibbs sees in his own life, and in millions of others', has led him to journey to each of the twelve schools to spend time with rabid Christian fans of various ages and denominations. Through his journey, he learns how others are able to balance their passion for their team with their devotion to God.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson

In Sixteen Brides, sixteen Civil War widows respond to an ad promising land in the west to anyone who is interested in joining the Ladies Emigration Society. After arriving in Plum Grove, Nebraska, the women realize that the main reason for their journey west is to serve as brides for the many men in the area. Since most of the women have been hurt by the men in their lives and lost their faith in God along the way, the prospect of being a "train-ordered bride" doesn't sit well. And being tricked makes it even worse. Six of the women decide that they will stay in Plum Grove and join together in order to make a life for themselves. Along the way, they discover the value of friendships and community and rediscover faith and love.

Historical fiction is not my "usual" genre. However, I found the premise of this novel to be interesting ... and different than the majority of the other historical fiction novels I've read. Whitson is extremely knowledgeable about the time period and the setting she writes about. She also does a wonderful job of working together the stories of six women ... in a way that it really does become one story. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and look forward to reading Whitson in the future.

4 stars (out of 5)

I received a FREE copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Interview with Author Lisa T. Bergren

Here's an excerpt of a recent interview with Lisa T. Bergren, author of Sing: A Novel of Colorado.

Q. Is that why you were so tough on these characters in this book?

A. I think it’s easy to be a Christian when things are good. You show what your faith is made of—and possibly discover new depths—when you encounter the bad. Or you walk away. I was glad to see these three getting closer to God, but Nic obviously has a ways to go.

Q. You talk about the characters as if they have minds of their own.

A. [Laughing.] They do! That’s the fun of fiction. I have one idea, but then a certain spin occurs and casts them in a different direction, and I discover new things with them as if I’m riding along, observing. I always start with a rough outline, knowing some key things that will happen, and the ending I’d like to see, but I leave it to the characters to take it from there. When I’m invested in the scene, feeling it as if I’m in their skin, sensing their emotions and mind-set, the plot often turns.

Q. Why the title?

A. We often sing contemporary songs at church that make me think—phrases like “I will sing in the troubled times” and “praise You in the storm”—a pretty big challenge for most people. But learning how to do that makes the good, easy times even sweeter, and the rough times somehow bearable. It’s so important that we all find that deep assurance that God is with us, regardless of what is happening in our lives, good or bad. And when we do, the only proper response is to sing praises in His name. There’s a reason that heaven will be full of singing. They already understand what we’re still trying to get, down here.

Q. We’re in 1880s Colorado. It surprised me when we got to the conquistador gold—what inspired that?

A. The third novel I ever wrote was a romance called Treasure, in which the heroine was seeking Spanish gold as a nautical archaeologist. I think if I’d had half the chance, I would’ve loved the opportunity to be a treasure hunter myself. Indiana Jones and all that, you know. Childhood fantasies. So I always note treasure-ish things I come across, and I read about an actual legend of lost conquistador explorers, who left behind a bounty of gold when they got separated from the rest of their troops in the Sangre de Cristos. Reportedly, two lost hikers came across the cave in a snowstorm twenty years ago, marked it when the storm ended, intending to come back, but could never find it again. They spent years of weekends searching for that cave. Isn’t that fantastic novel fodder? Love stuff like that.

Q. What can we expect in Claim, the third book in this series?

A. Resolution is always nice, though I don’t like things tied up in perfect little bows. Life isn’t like that. But I’m striving to leave my readers satisfied and hopeful, right along with the St. Clairs. I think love is the key for all three. That’s all I’m telling ya. You’ll have to read the big conclusion for yourself.

Sing: A Novel of Colorado by Lisa T. Bergren

Sing, the second novel in Lisa T. Bergren's The Homeward Trilogy, reads like an adventure story. Set in the late 1800s, the novel features the St. Clair siblings, Odessa, Nic, and Moira. The siblings are scattered around the world, each on their own personal adventure. The three experience their share of trouble - shipwreck, a fire, kidnapping, bandits searching for gold - all the while learning more about the sovereignty of God and the power of forgiveness.

I had not read the first novel in the trilogy, Breathe, but was easily able to pick up where the story left off four years prior. The novel really does read like an excellent adventure story, with bits of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure. The author pulls you into the characters' lives and leaves you hoping that things will turn out okay for the siblings, scattered about the world. I was also intrigued by the various locations this story takes place - a ranch in Colorado, ships at sea around South America, Paris, London, and small western frontier towns. The author has obviously done her homework to make each location realistic and believable to that time period.

I will definitely search out the first book in the trilogy and look forward to the final book, Claim, to be released in June of this year.

4 stars (out of 5)

This book was given to me by B&B Media Group in exchange for my fair and honest evaluation of this book.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson

In Plan B, Pete Wilson addresses the question, "What do you do when God doesn't show up the way you thought He would?" What happens when your life doesn't turn out quite like you thought it would? Or every dream you ever had for your life is completely shattered?

Wilson takes readers on a journey to figure out how we should respond when we're dealing with Plan B instead of Plan A. He takes an in-depth look at Scripture to identify men and women who have struggled with their own Plan B ... David, Joshua, Joseph, Job, Mary. Wilson also adds examples from his own life that add a deeply personal element.

I found the book to be thought-provoking and insightful. I feel like I have spent a lot of my life dealing with Plan B. It seems that for one reason or another, most of the things I had "planned" haven't turned out exactly the way that I hoped they would. However, I've never really thought of Plan B like this book describes it ... as an opportunity to see God work in a new (and possibly bigger) way. The personal elements just add honesty and vulnerability to the book ... and lets readers know that the author has struggled and still struggles with trusting God to take control ... especially in our Plan B moments. The author also has several "simple" suggestions for moving past the fear, anxiety, etc. that Plan B evokes for most of us and pushes us to think of Plan B in a whole new light.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who ever has experienced a Plan B moment, is in a Plan B situation right now, or thinks they might end up in a Plan B season in the future.

5 stars (out of 5)

I received a FREE copy of this book from Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze blogger review program in exchange for my fair and honest review.
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