Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unconditional {Book Review}

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Charisma House (January 4, 2011)
***Special thanks to Anna Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Brian Zahnd is the founder and senior pastor of Word of Life Church, a congregation in St. Joseph, Missouri. He and his wife, Peri, have three sons.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Charisma House (January 4, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 161638025X
ISBN-13: 978-1616380250


It should be obvious that forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith, for at its most crucial moments the gracious melody of forgiveness is heard as the recurring theme of Christianity. Consider the prevalence of forgiveness in Christianity’s moments of birth and sacred texts: As Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, they are instructed to say, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” As Jesus hangs upon the cross, we hear him pray—almost unbelievably—“Father, forgive them.” In his first resurrection appearance to his disciples, Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” In the Apostles’ Creed we are taught to confess, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

Whether we look to the Lord’s Prayer or Jesus’s death upon the cross or his resurrection or the great creeds of the church, we are never far from the theme of forgiveness—for if Christianity isn’t about forgiveness, it’s about nothing at all. Whatever else may be said about Christian people, it must be said of us that we are a people who believe in the forgiveness of sins—we believe in the forgiveness of sins as surely as we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most of us enter the Christian faith at least somewhat motivated, if not primarily motivated, to find forgiveness for our own sins. As we grow in the Christian faith, it is vital we become aware that we are called to be those who extend forgiveness to others, thus making the world a more forgiving place. If we enter the Christian faith to find forgiveness, we must continue in the faith to become forgiving people, because to be an authentic follower of Christ we must embrace the centrality of forgiveness.

That’s the theory anyway.

But in the real world of murder, rape, child abuse, genocide, and horrible atrocities, how viable is forgiveness? Is forgiveness just a pious idea that can flourish inside stained-glass sanctuaries, only to wither in the harsh realities of a secular world where stained glass cannot hide the ugliness of human atrocity? A rape victim may have learned the Lord’s Prayer as a child in Sunday school, but does the part about forgiving those who trespass against us have any bearing upon her situation? Is she supposed to forgive her rapist? Sure, forgiveness is good in the realm of relatively minor transgressions, but is there a limit to forgiveness? Are there some crimes that go beyond the capacity of forgiveness? Are there some sins so heinous that to forgive them would itself be an immoral act? Is forgiveness always possible? Or even always right? These are not theoretical questions; these are real questions that are forced upon us in a world where evil is so often beyond the pale.

For modern people, the iconic image of evil and the leading candidate for the unforgivable is the Holocaust and the evil architect of that atrocity, Adolf Hitler. Indeed, the Holocaust casts a long shadow over many aspects of the Christian faith and challenges Christian validity on several levels. While considering the topic of forgiveness, we must ask: Does the Christian concept of forgiveness have anything to do with the Holocaust, or is genocide indeed the realm of the unforgivable? When Christianity speaks of forgiveness, should there be an asterisk attached to the word to indicate that forgiveness is not applicable in extreme situations like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and the tribal massacres of Rwanda?

I’ve had people tell me not to worry about these extreme cases, because to teach people to forgive one another in the ordinary course of life is enough. But I disagree. If it can be shown that there are situations in which the call of Christ to love our enemies and forgive our transgressors does not apply, we have found the loophole to escape any meaningful Christian obligation to forgive others. Forgiveness then indeed becomes merely an ideal of piety restricted to a stained-glass showcase. The questions about how far forgiveness can and should extend are real questions asked by real people—perhaps most notably by Simon Wiesenthal.

Simon Wiesenthal has a haunting story to tell, and an even more haunting question to ask. He tells his story and asks his question in his famous book The Sunflower. Simon Wiesenthal was an Austrian Jew imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal tells his story and then asks the reader a hard question.

As the book opens, Wiesenthal is part of a work detail being taken from the concentration camp to do cleanup work in a makeshift field hospital near the Eastern Front. As they are marched from the prison camp to the hospital, they come across a cemetery for German soldiers. On each grave is a sunflower.

Wiesenthal writes:

I envied the dead soldiers. Each had a sunflower to connect him with the living world, and butterflies to visit his grave. For me there would be no sunflower. I would be buried in a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of me. No sunflower would ever bring light into my darkness, and no butterflies would dance above my dreadful tomb.

While working at the field hospital, a German nurse orders Wiesenthal to follow her. He is taken into a room where a lone SS soldier lay dying. The SS soldier is a twenty-one-year-old German from Stuttgart named Karl Seidl. Karl has asked the nurse to “bring him a Jew.” Karl has been mortally wounded in battle and now wants to make his dying confession—and he wants to make it to a Jew. The SS man is wrapped in bandages covering his entire face, with only holes for his mouth, nose, and ears. For the next several hours, Simon sits alone in silence with Karl as the dying SS soldier tells his story. Karl was an only child from a Christian home. His parents had raised him in the church and had not been supporters of the Nazi party and Hitler’s rise to power. But at fifteen, against his parents’ wishes, Karl joined the Hitler Youth. At eighteen Karl joined the infamous SS troops.

Now as Karl is dying, he wants to confess the atrocities he has witnessed and in which he, as a Nazi SS soldier, has participated. Most horrifying is his account of being part of a group of SS soldiers sent to round up Jews in the city of Dnepropetrovsk. Three hundred Jews—men, women, children, and infants—were gathered and driven with whips into a small three-story house. The house was set on fire, and Karl recounted what happened to his confessor in these words:

“We heard screams and saw the flames eat their way from floor to floor. . . . We had our rifles ready to shoot down anyone who tried to escape from that blazing hell. . . . The screams from that house were horrible. . . . Behind the windows of the second floor, I saw a man with a small child in his arms. His clothes were alight. By his side stood a woman, doubtless the mother of the child. With his free hand the man covered the child’s eyes . . . then he jumped into the street. Seconds later the mother followed. Then from the other windows fell burning bodies . . . We shot . . . Oh God!”

Karl is most haunted by the boy he shot, a boy with “dark eyes” who Karl guessed was about six years old. Karl’s description of this boy reminds Simon Wiesenthal of a boy he knew in the Lemberg Ghetto.

During the several hours that Simon the Jew sat with Karl the Nazi, Simon never spoke. At Karl’s request, Simon held the dying man’s hand. Simon brushed away the flies and gave Karl a drink of water, but he never spoke. During the long ordeal, Simon never doubted Karl’s sincerity or that he was truly sorry for his crimes. Simon said that the way Karl spoke was proof enough of his repentance. At last Karl said:

“I am left here with my guilt. In the last hours of my life you are here with me. I do not know who you are, I only know that you are a Jew and that is enough. . . . I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn’t know if there were any Jews left. . . . I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace.”

With that, Simon Wiesenthal made up his mind and left the room in silence. During all the hours that Simon Wiesenthal had sat with Karl, Simon never uttered a word. That night Karl Seidl died. Karl left his possessions to Simon, but Simon refused them. Against all odds, Simon Wiesenthal survived the Holocaust. Eighty-nine members of his family did not. But Simon Wiesenthal could not forget Karl Seidl. After the war Simon visited Karl’s mother to check out Karl’s story. It was just as Karl had said. Karl’s mother assured Simon that her son was “a good boy” and could never have done anything bad. Again, this time out of kindness, Simon remained silent. Simon believed that in his boyhood, Karl might indeed have been “a good boy.” But Simon also concluded that a graceless period of his life had turned him into a murderer.

Simon Wiesenthal concludes his riveting and haunting story with an equally riveting and haunting question addressed to the reader.

Ought I to have forgiven him? . . . Was my silence at the bedside of the dying Nazi right or wrong? This is a profound moral question that challenges the conscience of the reader of this episode, just as much as it once challenged my heart and mind. . . . The crux of the matter is, of course, the question of forgiveness. Forgetting is something that time alone takes care of, but forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make the decision. You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, “What would I have done?”

And thus we are faced with a dramatic challenge to the possibilities of forgiveness. Is forgiveness always possible? Are there some situations in which forgiveness is impossible? Is this one of them? Can a dying, apparently repentant Nazi find forgiveness for his sins? Can a dying SS soldier who participated in Holocaust atrocities find forgiveness from God? And perhaps more challengingly, can he find forgiveness from his fellow humans? Would it even be permissible to offer forgiveness in this case, or would it be a betrayal of justice? These are the kind of questions that are raised by Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower.

The second part of The Sunflower is a symposium of fifty-three prominent thinkers—Jews, Christians, atheists, philosophers, professors, rabbis, ministers, and others—who respond to Wiesenthal’s question. The respondents understood the real question as this: Is there a way that a person in Simon Wiesenthal’s position could offer forgiveness of some kind to the dying Nazi? By my count, twenty-eight of the respondents said no, offering forgiveness in this situation is not possible. Sixteen of the respondents said yes, there was some way in which forgiveness could have been offered. Nine of the respondents were unclear on their positions. Interestingly, the sixteen who were in favor of some form of forgiveness were all Christians or Buddhists (thirteen Christians and three Buddhists). Among Jews, Muslims, and atheists who responded there appeared to be unanimity in agreeing that an offer of forgiveness in this situation was impossible.

Conversely, most of the Christian respondents said there was a way in which forgiveness could be offered. Significantly, no Christian stated that forgiveness in this situation would be categorically impossible. It can’t help but be noted that a Christian worldview apparently radically influences how a person approaches the possibilities of forgiveness. And it should be stressed that forgiveness here does not mean pardon in a legal sense. Had Karl Seidl lived, he still would have been subject to the demands of legal justice despite any offer of personal forgiveness. Forgiveness here should be understood not as legal pardon but an invitation back into the human community. We will explore the relationship of forgiveness and justice later.

After surviving the Holocaust and publishing The Sunflower in 1969, Simon Wiesenthal went on to live a noble and humanitarian life. He died in 2005 at the age of ninety-six. In The Sunflower, Mr. Wiesenthal does a masterful job telling his story, and his question about the possibilities of forgiveness is important for all human beings, but supremely so for Christians, because forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith.

On the cover of my copy of The Sunflower is this question: “You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks you for forgiveness. What should you do?” I felt it was important that I try to compose an answer. So even though Simon Wiesenthal never personally asked me his question, here is my unsolicited reply:

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal,

First of all let me say I will not presume to sit in judgment of your actions. You showed kindness to a dying Nazi soldier as you held his hand, brushed away the flies, and gave him water to drink. You showed great kindness to his mother in not destroying the memory of her son. And I agree with Lutheran theologian Martin Marty who says, “Non-Jews and perhaps especially Christians should not give advice about the Holocaust experience to its heirs for the next two thousand years. And then we shall have nothing to say. Cheap instant advice from a Christian would trivialize the lives and deaths of millions.” Nevertheless, since you ask the question, let me try to reply. I cannot say what I would have done, only what I could hope I would have done. As a Christian I would hope that I would reply in something of this manner to my dying enemy:

“I cannot offer you forgiveness on behalf of those who have suffered monstrous crimes at your hands and the hands of those with whom you willingly aligned yourself; I have no right to speak on their behalf. But what I can tell you is that forgiveness is possible. There is a way for you to be reconciled with God, whose image you have defiled, and there is a way for you to be restored to the human race, from which you have fallen. There is a way because the One who never committed a crime cried from the cross saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Because I believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe that your sin does not have to be a dead end, that there is a way forward into reconciliation.

“The forgiveness of which I speak is not a cheap forgiveness. It is not cheap because it was not cheap for Jesus Christ to suffer the violence of the cross and offer no retaliation but love and forgiveness. It is not a cheap forgiveness because it requires of you deep repentance, including a commitment to restorative justice for those you have wronged. There is no cheap forgiveness for your sins, but there is a costly forgiveness. If you in truth turn from your sins in sorrow and look to Christ in faith, there is forgiveness—a costly forgiveness that can reconcile you to God and restore you to the human race. I cannot forgive you on behalf of others, but on my own behalf and in the name of Jesus Christ, I tell you, your sins are forgiven you. Welcome to the forgiving community of forgiven sinners. May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you.”

This is what I hope I would have said. But for all I know, I might have treated a dying enemy with far less kindness than you did.

In deep admiration of your dignity,

Brian Zahnd

As I read the responses from the twenty-eight or so who argued against the possibility of offering forgiveness to the dying Nazi, I found many of their arguments very compelling. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that if forgiveness is impossible for a repentant war criminal simply because his sins are too terrible, then the Christian gospel is a fairy tale, and we might as well abandon the charade. But as the Apostles’ Creed says, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Christianity is a faith of forgiveness.

The Christian life is a prayer of forgiveness: “Forgive us as we forgive them.”

The Christian life is a suffering cry of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them.”

The Christian life is a commission to forgive: “If you forgive anyone, they are forgiven.”

So even in the face of Simon Wiesenthal’s challenging question and the sympathy I may feel for those who argue that forgiveness could not be offered by a Jew to a dying Nazi, I am fully convinced that to deny the possibility of forgiveness is to deny the very heart of the Christian gospel. The oft-quoted words of Jesus, “with God all things are possible,” not only include forgiveness but also especially pertain to forgiveness. And the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow him is very specifically a call to love our enemies and end the cycle of revenge by responding with forgiveness.

Of course there is a cheap forgiveness that is worthless and an affront to justice. Essentially, the Buddhist position is that evil is a nonexistent illusion, so there is really nothing to forgive. This is nothing like the Christian position. Christian forgiveness is not a cheap denial of the reality of evil or the trite sloganeering of “forgive and forget.” That may suffice for minor personal affronts, but it is hollow and even insulting when applied to crimes like murder, rape, and genocide. No, Christian forgiveness is not cheap. Rather it is costly because it flows from the cross—the place where injustice and forgiveness meet in a violent collision. Christian forgiveness does not call us to forget. Christian forgiveness allows us to remember but calls us to end the cycle of revenge.

I have found it very interesting to ask non-Christians what Jesus taught. Nearly without exception they will mention that Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Among nonbelievers, Jesus seems to be famous for teaching that his disciples should love their enemies. Yet when I ask Christians what Jesus taught, they very rarely bring up this commandment. But I think the intuition of the non-Christian is correct—Jesus’s emphasis on loving enemies is central to Jesus’s teaching and is especially prominent in the Sermon on the Mount. The command to love your enemy is memorable because it is radical. But the command to love your enemy is a command that we who are followers of Christ tend to forget because it is so very hard to do.

Yet Sermon on the Mount Christianity is the very kind of Christianity that can change the world. The Christlike love that absorbs the blow and responds with forgiveness is the only real hope this world has for real change. To respond to hate with hate enshrines the status quo and only guarantees that hate will win—it’s what keeps the world as it is. We tend to think that our hatred of our enemies is justified because we can point to their obvious crimes, and, as the logic goes, if we were in charge instead of our enemies, things would be different. But history tells a different story. Hatred, no matter how justifiable, simply fuels the endless cycle of revenge. Nothing really changes except that lines on a map get redrawn. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. Christianity has more to offer the world than recycled revenge.

September 11, 2001, is testament to the power of hate. On that day, nineteen men filled with hate and armed with box cutters changed the world. Think about that.

Nineteen men
Box cutters
Changed the world

It seems almost incredible, but it seems to be true.

Yet as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to believe in the radical proposition that love is more powerful than hate. We are called to believe that although hatred may be very powerful, it’s love that never fails, and that love is the greatest thing of all. If we hate our enemies because they first hated us, and return hate for hate because that’s what hate does, we will continue to live in the ugly world of hate and its endless cycle of revenge. But when love enters the world of hate and is willing to love even its enemies, a new and real kind of change comes to the world—a change where hate does not have the last word. Yes, nineteen men full of hate and armed with box cutters changed the world. Or did they? Did the world change, or was that day simply the addition of the latest chapter in the long legacy of hate? Maybe the world didn’t change at all; maybe it’s just the same old thing that’s been happening since Cain killed Abel.

Jesus Christ taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who abuse us. And he modeled it to the extreme. He carried his cross to Calvary and there forgave his enemies. As Christians, we believe that Calvary is the time and place that the world began to change. Did nineteen men full of hate and armed with box cutters change the world? What about twelve men full of love and armed with forgiveness? Yes, in the Upper Room on the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus breathed upon his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” Loving and forgiving our enemies, this is how we are to change the world!

During the Armenian Genocide of 1915–1917, one and a half million Armenians were murdered by Ottoman Turks, and millions more were raped, brutalized, and forcibly deported. From the Armenian Genocide comes a famous story of a Turkish army officer who led a raid upon the home of an Armenian family. The parents were killed, and their daughters raped. The girls were then given to the soldiers. The officer kept the oldest daughter for himself. Eventually this girl was able to escape and later trained to become a nurse. In an ironic twist of fate, she found herself working in a ward for wounded Turkish army officers. One night by the dim glow of a lantern, she saw among her patients the face of the man who had murdered her parents and so horribly abused her sisters and herself. Without exceptional nursing he would die. And that is what the Armenian nurse gave—exceptional care. As the officer began to recover, a doctor pointed to the nurse and told the officer, “If it weren’t for this woman, you would be dead.”

The officer looked at the nurse and asked, “Have we met?”

“Yes,” she replied.

After a long silence the officer asked, “Why didn’t you kill me?”

The Armenian Christian replied, “I am a follower of him who said, ‘Love your enemies.’”

She simply said, “I am a follower of him who said, ‘Love your enemies.’” For this Christian, no further explanation was necessary. For her, forgiveness was not an option; it was a requirement. Do we carry the same conviction? Do we see the practice of forgiveness as synonymous with being a Christian? When grappling with the question of forgiveness, we eventually have to grapple with the question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It’s all too easy to reduce being a Christian to a conferred status—the result of having “accepted Jesus as your personal Savior.” But that kind of minimalist approach is a gross distortion of what the earliest followers of Jesus understood being a Christian to mean. The original Christians didn’t merely (or even primarily) see themselves as those who had received a “get out of hell free” card from Jesus but as followers, students, learners, and disciples of the one whom they called Master and Teacher. Jesus was the master, and they were the disciples.

What does it mean to be a disciple? If someone were a disciple of the sitar master Ravi Shankar, it would be assumed that they hoped to learn to play the sitar with great skill. If someone were a disciple of a kung fu master, it would be assumed that they hope to eventually master the art of kung fu. So, if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, what is it we are trying to learn? What is it that Jesus offers to teach us when we heed the call to follow him? What is Jesus the master of, which we seek to learn? The answer is “Life.” Jesus is the master of living well, living rightly, living truly. Jesus is the master of living a human life as God intended. And at the center of Jesus’s teaching on how we should live is the recurring theme of love and forgiveness.

For those who are serious about being a disciple of Jesus, serious about learning to live the way he taught, the Sermon on the Mount is of supreme importance. This is where Jesus sets forth his radical vision of how we should live. And make no mistake about it; it is radical—so radical that for much of Christian history, the church has occupied theologians in finding ways to get around it. Some theologians have suggested that Jesus never actually expected us to live the Sermon on the Mount; rather it was a disingenuous teaching to “drive us to grace.” As the argument goes, in attempting to live the Sermon on the Mount we would find it simply can’t be done, and then we would look to grace as an alternative to obeying Christ. Not grace to live the Sermon on the Mount, but grace not to live it.

This interpretation is pretty far-fetched, to say the least, but surprisingly common. Other theologians have argued that the Sermon on the Mount should be viewed as attitudes of the heart, but not as commandments to be actually obeyed. So that as long as you have the attitude of love in your heart, you don’t have to actually go the second mile or actually turn the other cheek. I suppose this means that when you are treated unkindly you can retaliate like everyone else, but you are to do so with a “kindly attitude” in your heart. Of course this turns Christianity into nothing more than a nice religion of private piety—something that has been regularly done throughout the centuries. But we should keep in mind that Jesus was not crucified for teaching people to have a cheerful attitude. Jesus was crucified for teaching there was another way to live than adhering to the pharisaical religion of Israel or the brutal empire of Rome. It should be obvious from an honest reading of the Gospels that Jesus expected his disciples to master the lessons he taught and actually live a life centered on love and forgiveness. And Jesus expects his modern-day followers to do the same—to become disciples of love who master the art of forgiveness. Jesus was under no illusion that this is an easy life. In his sermon he called it a narrow and difficult road, but he also called it the road that leads to life.

The most common and vigorous protest against any serious attempt to live the Sermon on the Mount is that it’s not “practical.”

Not practical?

Practical is a very utilitarian (and at times ugly) word. In this case, it is code for complicity with the status quo and accepting the world as is as the only legitimate vision for humanity. Beforewe can even try to live the Sermon on the Mount, we must first experience the liberation of our imagination. If we only listen to the “practical” men who run the world as it is, we will end up settling for the anemic interpretation that the Sermon on the Mount is about private attitudes of the heart and not about Jesus’s radical vision of love and forgiveness.

We must keep in mind that we are told the Sermon on the Mount is not practical by those who have a deep commitment to (and perhaps a vested interest in) perpetuating the status quo. These

practical men seek to control not only the way the world is run but even our imaginations. They tell us, “This is just the way the real world works,” and thus they seek to confine Jesus to a “heavenly” kingdom while they get on with the practical business of running the “real” world. But the Holy Spirit is a liberator of imagination, and we must reject the arrogant pretense of the principalities and powers along with their bloody pragmatism. The church with a Christ-inspired vision and a Holy Spirit–liberated imagination is to be that realm where the followers of Jesus prove the practical men wrong by actually living the Sermon on the Mount. To live the Sermon on the Mount, we first have to rebel against the powers that be. We have to believe that there is another way of being human. We have to believe that Jesus taught and modeled that way.

The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest and most hate filled centuries in human history. It was a century defined by war, especially the two great World Wars—The War to End All Wars . . . and the one that came after that. As the children who were born at the close of World War II came of age, they began to imagine an alternative to the hate and war that had defined their parents’ generation, and so they sang and spoke of “love and peace.” The problem was that no one could actually live it. As Larry Norman wryly observed, “Beatles said all you need is love,
and then they broke up.”6 The “love and peace” generation of the sixties wasn’t wrong in trying to imagine something better than a world filled with hate and war—it was wrong in not finding a better messiah than the Beatles. Jesus didn’t just talk about love and peace; he lived it to the extreme. When Jesus prayed for his enemies to be forgiven as they drove the nails into his hands, he was living his own sermon and validating his right to preach it. After that, no one could dare claim that Jesus’s teaching was not “practical.” Jesus had lived it, died for it, and been vindicated by God in resurrection. His call is as vibrant and exciting today as it was two thousand years ago when he first issued it to Galilean fishermen: “Follow me.” It’s an invitation to follow Jesus in his radical way of enemy-love and costly forgiveness.

If the only way of responding to the evil of injustice is retaliation and revenge, we conspire with the powers of darkness to keep the world an ugly place. This is why Jesus (upon his own authority!) dared to countermand the Torah and alter the law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” with his radical command not to resist the one who is evil and to turn the other cheek. A world in which tit-for-tat retaliation is the rule remains an ugly place where too many people are missing an eye and a tooth. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi observed, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Jesus’s vision is to end the ugliness of revenge and make the world beautiful through grace.

Grace is the distinctly Christian alternative to the tired system of retaliation that perpetuates pain and leaves the whole world blind. Grace is God’s idea of how the world can be made new. Grace is why Jesus could call the poor and persecuted . . . the mournful and meek . . . blessed. Jesus’s entire life and message were the embodiment of the grace that triumphs over the cold pragmatism of a world where the strong dominate the weak. Jesus’s message of love and forgiveness is not rooted in a naïve optimism but in the grace that takes the blame, covers the shame, and removes the stain and the endless cycle of revenge.

Grace is the antidote for the Eastern concept of karma. Karma is the ancient idea that what goes around comes around, and there is no escape from it, that retribution always has the final word. But grace travels outside the rules of karma and gives a different final word. Of course, the very basis of the Christian gospel is that, because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, there is a way for sinners to be saved from the destructive consequences (karma) of their sins. But Christians are not just recipients of forgiving grace; we are also called to be those who extend the grace of forgiveness to others. Christians are to be carriers of grace in a world cursed with karma and endless cycles of revenge.

Grace is the great treasure of the kingdom of God, or as Jesus described it in his parable, a pearl of great price. That pearl is the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. It’s the pearl of the gospel of grace that makes beauty out of ugly things. That’s what grace does. Karma doesn’t have the final word, and the ugliness of vengeance is not the final mark left upon humanity. What could be more ugly than the murder and rape of a helpless Armenian family at the hands of Turkish soldiers? Yet from that ugly episode emerges a beautiful story of grace and forgiveness.

So, ultimately, for the committed Christ follower, the question of forgiveness is not a question of whether forgiveness is possible, but a question of how we can find the grace to offer forgiveness. We may discover that we offer forgiveness to transgressors and offenders the same way that Jesus did—amidst great suffering. In our feelings-oriented culture, it’s easy to equate forgiveness with having certain feelings. Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice to end the cycle of revenge and leave justice in the hands of God. Very often we forgive our enemies by entering into the sufferings of Christ who forgave from the cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of Discipleship, “The call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.”7 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was no starryeyed idealist who didn’t know about the reality of evil. He wrote these words during the rise of Nazism in Germany and would eventually die at the hands of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer’s theology of forgiveness was forged in the crucible of real and costly suffering, but for Bonhoeffer, the cost of discipleship settled the question of forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

60 Minute Money Workout by Ellie Kay

When I received my free copy of this book, I was incredibly excited. I set the book down until I could finish a different book I was working on. Then life got incredibly busy..in fact it started moving at warp speed. I found the book the other day and realized I hadn't even started it. I put it back down as I was on a mission and well..it's still there. So I can't give a personal review right now, but I'll read it and then I'll let you know what I think of it. Until then...enjoy.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

WaterBrook Press (December 14, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cindy Brovsky and Staci Carmichael of Doubleday Religion/ Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc., for sending me a review copy.***


ELLIE KAY is a financial expert on Good Money (ABC NEWS) and best-selling author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of magazine articles. She’s a regular media guest on CNBC, CNN, and Fox News, and has been featured on ABC Nightline, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and Fox and Friends. Her radio commentary for Focus on the Family airs on more than two thousand radio outlets around the world. She and her husband are the parents of seven children and live in Southern California.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 14, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307446034
ISBN-13: 978-0307446039


60 Minutes to

Financial Freedom

Thirty years.

     That’s how long it took to achieve the dream.

     When I was at the ripe old age of ten, my parents won a trip to Germany because my dad bought a certain number of air conditioners for his part-time building business. They promised to bring me back “something special.” I imagined a Bavarian costume, a crown that belonged to a real princess, or maybe even a china teacup. Instead, they brought me a book and a rock. The rock came from the lake where King Ludwig allegedly killed himself, and the book was a compilation of his castles and treasures. They were a little odd, but those gifts ended up serving me well.

     At school, I used the book to write a report on King Ludwig that earned an A+. And the rock inspired a dream to one day see Neuschwanstein, also known as “the Disneyland Castle.”

     Three decades later I was able to fulfill those travel dreams, thanks to my international work with military families. As I walked through the castle’s gilded hall, my imagination wandered to what life must have been like for people such as King Ludwig, who had only known a life of wealth and privilege, then to have that life cut short through suicide or murder. I decided that my life as a mother of seven wasn’t that bad after all. I may not have been at the pinnacle of wealth and privilege, but I was fulfilling my dream, which also happened to be squarely in the path of another of my dreams: helping military families achieve their financial dreams.

     Along the road to a dream fulfilled, there was hope deferred, justice denied, and paradise lost. But one thing remained true: there was a plan and purpose for the ten-year-old version of me, and my dreams—some material, some personal, and some spiritual—were worth keeping.

     What were some of your childhood dreams?

     Do you still dream, or did you stop dreaming a long time ago?

     Would I trade my dream trip to see Neuschwanstein for anything else? Of course I would! There are boatloads of things in life that carry far greater value than a trip: my husband, kids, friends, health, and an entire host of far more meaningful things than the material ones. But the point is that if we are purposeful, principled, and proactive about money matters, then we can still hang on to those longtime dreams and watch them come to pass.

     Maybe your dream is to stop fighting about money with your mate.

     Maybe you want to buy a home or go to Paris.

     You might dream of putting your babies through college without a mountain of student-loan debt.

     Or you might want to be able to sponsor a third-world child and give her a life she couldn’t have without your help.

     While many people know they need to be proactive about money matters, few know the secret to putting feet to fiscal concepts. Knowledge alone is not enough to make a difference in a person’s financial picture. This knowledge has to be put into action regularly in order to reach your goals.

     So move over money “makeovers,” it’s time for the money workout.

     Makeovers fall short of truly revitalizing your financial picture. While they address the problem and suggest solutions, implementing those concepts on a day-to-day basis can feel like driving a Honda when you were dreaming of a roadster. Another challenge of a makeover is that you don’t know how to do it on your own after the experts leave.

     But my money workout method will teach you how to have self sufficiency once this book is closed.

     Maybe you’ve tried to work on money issues but instead ended up fighting with your spouse. It might be that the thought of sitting down with all your bills is so overwhelming that it falls into the realm of impossible. Maybe you’re convinced that you will never get out of debt, live in financial harmony, or own a home. It’s not about how much time you spend working on money issues; it’s about the quality of that time. So let’s get started with your own money workout.

     It’s time to do our first pre workout quiz. It will only take ten minutes. The quizzes throughout this book serve to prepare you for the main workout, and you’ll get a lot more out of your sixty-minute money workout if you take the time to prepare. While our dream quiz seems to be a lifestyle quiz rather than a money quiz, it’s important to understand that almost every area of our lives is impacted by some financially related area. For example, an educational goal or dream coming true is often related to a work ethic, which is a financial skill. Personal goals that deal with family, marriage, and kids are definitely related to finances because of the impact that money matters have on families. Spiritual goals highly influence us in the way we use or view money. So try to fill out these dreams with that financial element in mind, and you’ll get more out of the quiz. Once you’ve finished this exercise, it will help you focus on past dreams or expectations, current realities, and future possibilities.

Pre-workout Quiz

1. What are some dreams you had as a much younger version of yourself? List a dream     for each category:






2. If you were to rank these “dreams come true” from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that it did not get fulfilled in any way and 10 meaning it came to pass as you dreamed it or better, then how would you rank the dreams in question 1?

     For example, maybe you always wanted a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California; instead you earned a master’s from the University of Texas. If you are satisfied with the fact that you received a better degree from a different college, you could indicate a 10 for that dream. Or maybe you always wanted to be a pilot in the air force but didn’t have the requisite eyesight. So you got rated in a Cessna and went on to have a fulfilling career in real estate. You might give that dream a 5. This is your test. Although it’s subjective, it represents your life and your level of contentment with your dreams.

3. Go back and add up your dream scores from questions 1 and 2.

4. Repeat the exercise, but instead of listing childhood dreams, list your current financial dreams for your future and/or your family’s. For example, buying a house, helping third-world children, putting your kids through college with minimal debt, building an adequate retirement fund, going to Paris, having a zero balance on all your credit cards, being in a position to help others in need. You get the idea.

5. If you can, put a “dreams come true” ranking next to your current dreams using the same scale as in question 2, but base it on how likely you think it is that your current dreams will come true.

Quiz Results

In step 3, you added your scores for the dreams of your youth. See below to determine where you are with those.

     25 points or less: You’ve had a severely average life as opposed to the life you dreamed of having as a child. Or maybe you just had a very creative imagination and dreamed of becoming a dinosaur—talk about an impossible dream(unless you’re an archaeologist and you dig up dinosaurs, thus finding fulfillment by working in the same category of that childhood dream).

     Another interpretation of this score can indicate an absence of exposure to key elements in your life. For example, maybe your family didn’t value education, so you didn’t have educational dreams. Consequently, you’ve either had to made adjustments and become a better person in the process of some dream-shattering realities, or you may have given up on the whole idea of dreaming and emptied your pockets of hope.

     26–35 points: Either you weren’t very imaginative as a child and didn’t day dream about life in the future, or you had an above average culmination of your dreams coming true. This score could also indicate that you were purposeful and realistic in ways to make your dreams come true, even though you fell short of the youthful version of yourself. It might be that you’ve had some challenging life-changing events, but you’ve recovered from them enough to be able to take the second chance this world has given you.

     36–45 points: You might be a lot like my husband, Bob, whose dad took him to a Blue Angels air show when he was a child. After the show Bob told his dad, “When I grow up I want to fly those jets with the funny noses.” He grew up to fly the F-4 Phantom, the same jet he saw at the air show. You have had most of your dreams come true and/or you’ve been very satisfied with a different interpretation of your childhood dream. Even if your real dream came true almost exactly the way you imagined it, you still may not be content, because contentment is often a choice. But it appears you have had every opportunity to be satisfied with the results of your childhood dreams.

     45–50 points: You might be one of those people we know as someone who is “living the dream.” You were prescient or intuitive as a child, and it seems you followed your passions to see these dreams to fulfillment. Very few people can say that they’ve had most of their dreams come true, but you are one of that minority. With great privilege comes great responsibility, so you are now in a position to help others set goals and make their dreams come true. You can’t do everything for others, but you can help and give them hope. Congratulations on living the dream.

     In step 5, you were to rank how likely you believe your new dreams will come true. This exercise measures the realistic nature of your goals and expectations as well as your optimism about your future. So add up those results and then go back and read the result descriptions above to see what areas may need to be adjusted in order to set yourself up for success in your financial life.

Boundaries for the 60-Minute Money Workout

As we prepare for the workout, it’s important to establish boundaries and do a little mental preparation as well. Some of the workouts in this book will be done alone, but other chapters will involve your mate, an accountability partner, or your family. The guidelines, however, are the same whether there’s one or ten people involved. Here are some boundaries to keep in mind:

     No condescension or negativity. Don’t talk down to anyone who’s involved in the process, and if you’re alone, do not allow your mind to entertain any negative self-talk. It doesn’t matter if you’ve failed in the past, lack knowledge about certain aspects of finances, or have a bad self-image. For one hour, you are going to be focused on learning, keeping a positive mind-set, and making progress in the workout. In fact, that’s why it’s called a “workout,” because you are working out some of these things in your life to have a positive result.

     No interrupting others when they are talking. If you have trouble with interrupting others, then sit on your hands. It will serve as a reminder that you are to listen in an active manner and not spend the time thinking about what you’re going to say next. If sitting on your hands fails to keep you from interrupting, then get a tennis ball and pass it back and forth. If the ball isn’t in your hands, then your lips should be still. And if you are talking and the other person starts to interrupt, just wave the ball and smile.

     No name-calling. For one hour you are going to be part of the southern genteel class, an aristocrat born and bred with good manners. For a measly hour, you’re going to say nice things and not throw around labels.

     No throwing food. Okay, this may seem like a funny and random boundary—it is. During my husband’s military service, a formal dinner could turn into a food fight if one wayward roll got out of control. So if you are prone to this kind of behavior, then maybe you shouldn’t do your money workouts over a meal.

     If you truly have a problem with throwing golf clubs or Scrabble boards when you are frustrated, then you will need to do your money workouts with another mature person (or couple) or even a professional counselor.

     Begin each workout by saying one positive thing. Most of us have negative self-talk tapes that run through our heads, and sometimes we just need to destroy those. I haven’t ever been able to stick to a budget. You’re such an idiot, how can you possibly get it together at your age? These are trash talk negative statements that should be thrown out. Instead, tell yourself something positive about yourself. Or tell your partner one positive thing that you like about him or her. It will be more beneficial if these positive things are financially related, such as, “You have a good work ethic” or “You really saved a lot when you bought that new notebook after shopping around.”

     End each workout by saying one positive thing. You started on a positive note, and now you’re going to end on a positive note. If your positive statement can relate to the workout, that would be ideal. For example, “I didn’t quit. I stayed and finished the entire thing.” Or if you’re talking to another family member, “You really did a great job of listening, and I appreciate that you didn’t interrupt.”

     Create an environment that encourages comfort and success. If you hate Mondays, then maybe you shouldn’t make Monday your money workout day. You want your workout to be set up for success, which means you should do it at a time when you feel rested, the kids are not underfoot, and you are in a place that is conducive to conversation. Part of this boundary point is to put this money workout on your calendar at a time and in a place that promotes a relaxed yet purposeful atmosphere.

     Gather workout folders. One major positive about these money workouts is that you don’t have to purchase any journals, financial kits, or other expensive materials to make this work for you. The basic supplies you need are minimal and inexpensive. You will need to invest in a dozen pocket folders from a local office supply store (less than $10) and label them for the different workouts. For example, if you are working on a spending plan, then when you are finished for the hour, you can place the notes you made into the folder and later easily pick up where you left off.

     Keeping your working materials separate also allows you to put other related materials into the folders and keep them organized, which makes your workouts easier. For example, if there’s a new Web site you want to check out for “The 60-Minute Travel and Fun Guide Workout,” then throw it into the appropriate pocket folder, and you’ll have it at the ready when you need it. If you have a college scholarship application you want to help your student complete, then place it in “The 60-Minute College Plan Workout” folder. This is all very low tech and simple.

     Have a timer on hand. You need to stick to the times listed, even if you’re “on a roll” and want to keep going beyond the hour. Do not go overtime. It’s the same as a too-long workout at the beginning of a physical fitness routine. An extended workout will do you in and make you sore the next day, and a workout marathon defeats the purpose of the exercise. If your “money talks” have an established start time and a set finish time, they are going to be a lot less painful. Realize that you won’t get all the problems solved in just one hour. That’s okay. You still will make progress in that hour. Then you can come back to it and either make a little more progress or finish it. Part of the benefit of The 60-Minute Money Workout is that you’ll make the best, most productive use of those sixty minutes. A set hour is a wonderful motivation to stay on topic and move through each section quickly, without getting bogged down by any of the negatives listed above in the boundaries section. The regular part of the workout will keep you busy enough, because there’s no time for squabbling, condescension, or negativity.

The 60-Minute Money Workout

This is how the sixty-minute money workout works: every chapter has a different goal for the workout, such as retirement planning, vacation trips, or paying down consumer debt. You will have a timer and specific materials for each workout (such as calculators, Internet access, bills, etc.).The prep work for each exercise will list the materials you need. At the end of each chapter, you will find a tip sheet that will serve as an outline when you have the weekly topical workouts.

     As with a physical workout, the keys to your success are consistency and intensity. For this workout to facilitate the miraculous in your life and revolutionize your finances, you have to practice it regularly (at least once a week) and you have to abide by the boundaries. So let’s get started.

     Pick the goal you want to work on. Then grab a timer. You can set it for one hour and watch the time for each section. Or you can set the timer for the minutes available in each section, and when it goes off, it’s time to move on to the next section.

     Here is how the times are broken down and what you do within each section.

1. Make-Up-Your-Mind Warm up (5 minutes)

This part of the exercise is listed in the boundary section as “Begin each workout by saying one positive thing.” There’s a proverb that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” This is where you are going to begin to get focused on good things. If you are alone, then you will begin by closing your eyes and breathing deeply to relax your body and to get rid of any distracting thoughts from a busy day. If you are in the habit of praying, this would be a good time to meditate in order to think about what you want to accomplish during the next hour.

     If you are with a family member or your mate, begin by saying something positive to him. For example, you could take your spouse’s hands, look into his eyes, and say something affirming. Then you will make a commitment to work on the issue in the session in order to get back into good financial shape. For example, “During this hour I want to work on a plan to have a debt-free vacation for our family.”

2. Strength Training (10 minutes)

It usually takes more than one mistake or circumstance to get into financial trouble. Whether you are working out alone or with someone else, you need to realize that this is the part of the workout where you move from being a victim of your choices or circumstances to taking the necessary steps toward having victory over them.

     While step 1 was to start with affirming words and a commitment to work on your money topic, this section is a time to write down your goals so that you will have a tangible and objective standard to work toward. This gives both of you a temporary focus for today and a long-term focus for the next few months, as well as a big-picture view for the future.

     Your goals will depend on your topic of the day. For example, if you are discussing a budget, your goals might include (a) setting up a budget that is real and workable, (b) staying on that budget for the next six months in order to learn how to spend less than what you make, and (c) establishing a budget habit that is a financial vehicle that will get your family out of consumer debt, help you pay for your kids’ college, and fund your retirement. Each chapter will guide you specifically through each section of the workout.

     This is also the time for you to jot down any obstacles that have come up in the past and to plan how you can overcome them. For example, you may want to budget, but you keep going off budget, which is an obstacle. You could add, “Have accountability about budget” as a means of overcoming that obstacle. Or you could write, “Review budget monthly to stay on task.”

3. Cardio Burn (20 minutes)

In this step, you give feet to your goals. Basically, underneath where you wrote out your goals in step 2, you will write down the steps involved in how you plan to get there from where you are now as well as delegate who is going to be responsible for what, specifically. For example, if you’re setting up a budget, write down the specifics of what your budget needs to include, how you plan to implement your budget, and how often you’ll check in on your progress toward this goal. This may not seem like a lot of time to do all this during this section, but realize that you may not accomplish your goal during your first workout.

     You can also carry the work from this section over to the next section— if you don’t have extra work to do in the next session. The key is to keep your discussion moving and to work on what you can. Whatever you don’t finish, you can get to the next time around. There are tools for every chapter in the “Tool Center” link on my Web site, www.elliekay.com.

     Discuss and work on a plan for your topic of the day. Yes, this section and the next are the two hardest sections, but they are also the “fat burning” phases where you get the most benefit. When you write down the step-by-step plan for your topic, make sure your approach is realistic, and be sure to give and take when it comes to discussing this topic with your mate.

     If you find the discussion stalls or otherwise gets bogged down, then you may want to table a particular point and get back to it later, or you may even need to agree to disagree.

4. Take Your Heart Rate (20 minutes)

This is the point where you do any of the specific work after you’ve written out the step-by-step plan from the previous section. It’s also a time to crunch the numbers and fill in the details (facts and figures) on any tools or work sheets you are using. For example, if you need to get the facts on your credit and debt information, this would be the time to do it. That means you may need to have a computer and Internet access. Don’t worry about the specifics now; this chapter is just an overview of how the program works. Each chapter will list the specifics of what you will need to do for this section. The examples I use here are just to familiarize you with the concept.

     If your topic concerns credit and debt, then this would be the time to order a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Or if the workout is about saving money, you could use this time to set up an automatic allotment from your paycheck or from your checking to savings accounts. If your plan for the day is debt reduction, you may decide to cut up all but two or three credit cards and cancel some of your open credit accounts (be sure to cancel the most recent cards first and keep the cards you’ve had for five years or longer in order to maintain the longevity part of your FICO—Fair Isaac credit score).

     Don’t procrastinate. Do this during this “work” part of the workout. This will help minimize the temptation to procrastinate on the practical aspects of your workout and also keep you on track with your goal for the day. If you don’t have any outside work to do during this time, then feel free to expand your discussion from step 3 in order to reach closure on your topic of the day.

5. Congratulations Cool Down (5 minutes)

Sit back and grab a glass of something cool to drink and reflect on all you’ve accomplished in just one hour! You started on a positive note, and you’re going to end on a positive one as well. If this is an individual workout, tell yourself something that is truthful and encouraging. For example, “I finished the first hour, and if I continue to do this workout, I will master this topic.”

     If you are working out with someone else, then take this time to tell your partner one thing that you appreciate about today’s workout to end the discussion on a positive note. For example, you can say, “I noticed you gave my ideas a lot of respect. I appreciate that.” Or, “When I got upset and started to cry, I appreciate the way you weren’t condescending. Thank you.”

     Keep in mind that just as you don’t get physically buff after one workout, your finances aren’t going to be in perfect shape after this first effort either. So during this step you will set the topic and the time for your next workout. Maybe you’ll have a continuation of today’s workout, or maybe you’ll look at a new area. Whatever the case, decide what you’re going to cover next time and put it in writing. After you and your mate have exercised with this money workout a half dozen times, you’ll find yourself stronger, smarter, and sweeter.

  Tip Sheet

At the end of every chapter is a “Workout Tip Sheet” that you have on hand to help facilitate the workout and keep it flowing, without wasting time to look back and forth in the chapter. Here’s a sample Workout Tip Sheet.

1. Make-Up-Your-Mind Warm up (5 minutes)

• Say something positive.

• Commit to work on the topic.

2. Strength Training (10 minutes)

• Write down realistic short-term and long-term goals.

• List means of overcoming obstacles.

3. Cardio Burn (20 minutes)

• List specific steps to accomplish each goal and delegate


• Research topical tools at www.elliekay.com.

4. Take Your Heart Rate (20 minutes)

• Implement work on each specific step.

• Fill in facts and figures.

5. Congratulations Cool Down (5 minutes)

• Say something positive.

• Set topic for next workout.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Walk by Shaun Alexander {Review}

"Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles walk in the futility of their mind. ...walk in love just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us...Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise." (Ephesians 4:1, 17 &5:2, 15 nasb)

I have not yet finished this book, my personal review will come when I've finished it. I will say this, the part I have read (3/4 of it) has been excellent! Not to sound snobbish, but who knew a football player who didn't graduate from Nebraska could be so intelligent?

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

Shaun Alexander

and the book:

The Walk

WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cindy Brovsky, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, Doubleday Religion / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

Shaun Alexander was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks after a standout football career at the University of Alabama. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, in 2005 he set an NFL record by scoring twenty-eight touchdowns. In the same season, he set a team record by gaining 1,880 rushing yards and leading his team to the Super Bowl. Today, Shaun travels the country speaking to business and military audiences, at sports camps, and at churches and Christian conferences—appearing in front of thousands of people. He is a gifted communicator and Bible teacher who points listeners toward exceptional achievement by aligning their lives with God’s perfect will.

Product Details:

List Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307459519
ISBN-13: 978-0307459510


All through history, people have asked,

“Is there anything not possible?”


Sweat drips from my nose as I lean over, hands on my knees, and gasp for breath. I look across the huddle at the left tackle. He’s a high school all-state pick; he’s a college all-American; he’s an all-pro offensive lineman in the National Football League (NFL). Our eyes meet, and I grin at him. He nods back as if to say, “Follow me.”

To my right is the fullback. Blood trickles down his forearm, and mud covers his jersey, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s my running mate and my protector. He leads the way, opening holes in the line and throwing his body against linebackers, safeties, and defensive ends who try to stop me. He catches my eye and winks as if to say, “Let’s do it.”

Moments later the quarterback leans into the huddle. “All right. We need two yards for a first down. Green, power right, check, shift right, F left, ninety-seven OT on two.” This is a play where I follow the fullback to the right through a hole between the right guard and the right tackle.

As we break the huddle, I see the crowd stand to its feet. At the far end of the field, the American flag flaps in the breeze. The crowd is cheering, watching, hoping. Seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, knees bent, cleats digging into the turf, I ease into position.

And then everything slows down—the American flag on its pole, the crowd, the players on the field. As if in slow motion, linemen settle into their stance, planting their hands in the grass. Tension fills the air. Something big is about to happen. The quarterback barks the signals, firm and decisive. “Set. Hut!”

Suddenly there’s a loud pop as our linemen collide with players on the defensive line. Up and down the line of scrimmage, groaning and growling, players wrestle like gladiators. As the quarterback drops back, I step to the right. In the next instant I feel the ball slap against my stomach. I clutch it with both arms. My legs are moving, my mind racing. Read it. Read it. Hit the hole or cut back. “Cut!” I plant my foot and explode through the line.

Ahead of me, the fullback crashes into a linebacker. The slot receiver sprints toward the safety. As they collide, the safety flips into the air.

The crowd gasps.

With the safety out of the way, I move to the left toward the sideline. From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the crowd on its feet. Fans are waving their arms and screaming, but all I hear is the whoow, whoow, whoow of my breath as I sprint down the field.

By then the cornerback has taken an angle on me and is closing fast. He cuts into my lead with every step. I run harder and harder, calling on every ounce of strength in my body, past the forty-yard line, then the thirty, and the twenty. The cornerback is closing the gap as my foot crosses the ten-yard line. I can hear him behind me and just to the right. I can feel his eyes boring in on me and know that every muscle in his body is pushing to knock me down.

At the five-yard line he dives, reaching with both hands to make the tackle. His arms brush my cleats. I stumble, put my hand on the ground, then stumble again. All the while I tell myself, Pick up your head. As I stagger to the right, I lift my chin. My feet come under me, and I sweep into the end zone for a touchdown. A sixty-yard run on third-and-two. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

The roar of the crowd echoes in my helmet as I turn to celebrate with my teammates. Then up the field I see the trainer and members of my team running toward the thirty-yard line. A player is lying on the ground, writhing in pain. I jog up the field and join the players who are gathered around him. I can see that his leg is broken, twisted at a sickening angle.

“Get the cart,” someone orders. Others sigh with resignation, knowing an injury like that could take a player out of the game for the remainder of the season, perhaps even for good. Then, without hesitation, some of us kneel beside our injured teammate.

We lay our hands on his leg and begin to pray, invoking God’s healing presence and power. We agree together, just as Scripture says, “Lord, let Your will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. There are no broken bones in heaven” (see Matthew 6:9–10). As we pray, the player’s shattered bone moves back into place, perfectly aligned and as strong as before. Our teammate looks up at us, his eyes wide with wonder.

How would you express the feeling of having your broken leg repaired by God while you’re lying on a football field?

By then the crowd is silent, many standing with their hands to their faces in a look of amazement. They start to murmur, and the look on their faces says they have never seen anything like this. Even those of us who prayed for our teammate to be healed watch in awe as he trots toward the sideline. I turn to the others, look at them, and point to—

Just then my eyes popped open, and I stared at the ceiling. My heart was pounding. “It was just a dream,” I whispered. I glanced at the alarm clock and rubbed my eyes. “But couldn’t it really happen, just like that?”

I have dreamed that dream many times, wearing the different uniforms of the teams I’ve been a part of in high school, college, and the NFL, and I have realized that I’m not really me in that dream. I represent a Christian who believes in God’s power and lives in such a way that God is free to work through his life. The dream illustrates what God can do through a life that is fully yielded and obedient to Him.

Still, I ask myself, is it possible? Can God do today what He did long ago through men like Moses, Elijah, and the first-century apostles? Is it possible for us to experience His miraculous presence to the same extent they did? I think it is. Scripture certainly suggests that it’s possible. But how?


Football has been more than a dream for me. I began playing as a young boy, back in Florence, Kentucky. With the help of coaches, my parents, and many others, I developed skills as a player and earned a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. There, I played for Coach Gene Stallings and Mike Dubose with the Crimson Tide. After college I was drafted in the first round (nineteenth overall) to play for the Seattle Seahawks.

My sixth season with the Seahawks was my breakout year. I set a number of team and NFL records and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. At the conclusion of that season, we won the National Football Conference championship and went to the Super Bowl. Although we lost to Pittsburgh, that season was one of my best ever.

As I began my seventh season in 2006, I looked forward to building on what we’d accomplished the prior year. I trained hard and came to the season’s first game with great expectations. We opened that year against the Detroit Lions.

Sometimes life-changing events come to you with a sign written in huge letters that spell out “Your Life Is About to Change.” Other times the moment slips by with little or no recognition. That game against Detroit was one of the latter. I didn’t realize its significance until months afterward.

During that game a defensive lineman fell on my foot, pinning it in place between his body and the ground. He had shot through the line toward me, and as I cut left to escape his grasp, one of his teammates met me face to face. All three of us fell to the ground. This seemed like a normal play: you get the ball, you run, you get tackled. Pads crash, bodies hit the turf, the whistle blows, everybody gets up and tries it again. That’s football. That’s normal.

But on this play my left foot got sandwiched between the ground and the lineman’s three-hundred-pound body. As I trotted back to the huddle, I could feel the pain.

For a football player, physical pain is a way of life. Since I began playing organized football as a young boy, I have taken the field while nursing sprains, strains, and aches in almost every part of my body. That day against Detroit I didn’t think about the pain. But the pain in my foot never went away. I continued to play that day and carried the ball nineteen times for fifty-one yards. The pain was a distraction, and I failed to gain the yardage that I expected of myself, but I wasn’t too concerned.

After the game team doctors told me I had a bone bruise. That’s a medically nonspecific term for “You got hit hard, and the pain goes to the bone.” I spent time with the trainer but continued to play. Two weeks later, in a game against the New York Giants, the bruise became a fracture, and I was out most of the season.

Doctors told me to stay off my foot, so I spent a lot of time reading. One of the books I read goes deep into the reality of spiritual warfare. While reading The Call by Rick Joyner, I realized that God works in an orderly fashion; He is a God of order. And as I listened to God, I saw that some things in my life were out of order.


I’ve been a Christian since I was ten years old. Loving Jesus has been the center of my life. As important as football has been, it has always been second to following the Lord and allowing Him to work His will through me. As I read Joyner’s book, God spoke to me about how He uses order to bring about His will.

Through the remainder of the NFL season, I continued to do exercises to rehab my injured foot, preparing to return to the game. All the while God was speaking to me about the importance of His order. He doesn’t do things haphazardly. As the Scriptures tell us, God is not a God of confusion or disorder (see 1 Corinthians 14:33). And much more than simply an interesting idea, God’s order became something I felt compelled to apply to my life.

With the Holy Spirit as my Guide, I allowed God to review my friends and relationships, and I started to put people—and especially business relationships—into their proper places. I stopped associating with some of the people I had considered friends and began associating with others I had been neglecting. I discontinued some of the business deals I’d been involved in. At the same time I began to pay closer attention to the things I said, particularly the half truths I would sometimes say in casual conversation or in encouraging others.

I finished that NFL season well. My second game back I had a forty-carry, 200-yard game on Monday Night Football. The Seahawks won the division and were headed to the play-offs. We lost in the divisional playoff game against the Chicago Bears in overtime. I gained 120 yards combined and scored two touchdowns in our losing effort. After missing several games and coming back to finish the season, I was excited about the next year.

The following year my foot was healed, and I looked forward to playing a full season. I performed well through training camp and the preseason games. Then, in the first game of the regular season, I bobbled a pass. As I dove to catch it, I fell on my arm and broke my left wrist. Team doctors put my wrist and hand in a cast, and I continued to play, but the cast did little to protect my broken wrist. The weight of it actually caused additional pain, and I struggled to get past that injury. Additional injuries nagged at me for the remainder of the season.

For the fifth year in a row the Seahawks went to the play-offs. We won the division title for the fourth consecutive year. I was happy for the team, but personally I had a year that fell well short of what I expected. The bruises, strains, and broken bones were adding up, and I wondered if they were a signal. Was God using the pain in my body to prepare me mentally and emotionally for a shift to a new stage in my life?

As the following spring approached, I sensed something was going on with the team. Changes were in the wind, but I didn’t know what the changes might bring. Then, as the time for spring conditioning camp approached, the Seahawks’ managers called me. “We’re making changes. We want to take a different direction. We’re releasing you from the team.” And just like that, I was out of the NFL.

Aside from my desire to love and serve God, football had been the primary focus of my life. It was the means God had used to lift me from the small town of Florence, Kentucky, to a life that few athletes ever experience. But I never lost sight of the fact that God—and not the Seattle Seahawks or the University of Alabama or Boone County High School back home—was the One who was blessing me. God is the Source of all goodness and beauty, all truth and love, and it was His favor that took me to the places I’d gone, even to the discouraging day when the Seahawks let me go. I had things I still wanted to do as a football player, but I said, “God’s will be done,” and went home to find out what that would mean.


Over the next few months, I wrestled with a new direction for my career and my life. During that time God challenged me. “Meet Me at five in the morning. Let’s talk for an hour, every day.” That was a wonderful invitation. The Creator of the universe wanted to spend an hour with me every day. I was excited about it, but there was a problem. He wanted to meet me in the morning. At five o’clock.

Reading the Bible has always been important to me. When I was younger, I read because that was what I was told to do. Later I realized Scripture was a powerful tool God could use in my life. Once I understood that, I began to read and study every day. I prayed every day, too, some days almost constantly, but I heard the voice of God speaking to me more when I read the Scriptures. So I was eager to meet with Him every day, even though I am not a morning person. “See Me at nine; see Me at ten”—that would be easy. But at five in the morning, I’m usually sound asleep. Yet this was God issuing an invitation, and I had to respond.

The first ten days were tough. They were like two-a-days at training camp in July or August. I set the alarm, pushed myself out of bed when it rang, and found my way to a quiet spot in the house. Although I was excited about the new venture, it was rough.

Days eleven through fifteen were better, but I still was grinding it out. And then, about day sixteen, things began to click. I found myself praying, “God, I want You to be in me and on me.” I didn’t know where that prayer came from; it just rose up within me. Later that week I found a verse in the gospel of John that said,

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (14:16–17)

Jesus was asking His Father to send us a Gift, and none of us could have imagined a bigger, more life-changing gift. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, who will live “with you and will be in you.” I began to get excited, not just about the idea of the Holy Spirit living in me and on me, but by the fact that a prayer, consistent with what Jesus had already said, had come from deep within my spirit. The reference in the gospel of John, “with you and…in you,” isn’t an exact match to the words I had been praying, but it was very close. “With you and in you; in me and on me.” After I saw that verse, getting up early in the morning to spend time with God wasn’t such a chore.

As God and I continued our morning visits, He began to break that concept down for me. “In you”—the knowing, inner sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit that says, “Go this way; say these words.” The Holy Spirit living inside us guides our life and affects what we do and say on the outside.

“On you”—the miraculous, powerful presence of God made obvious and tangible to others through signs and wonders. As we follow Christ and learn to obey Him, God works in us and uses us in the lives of other people.

During the next few days alone with God, I came to a fresh realization that Jesus really lived and walked on earth. He actually died on the cross, rose again, and sent the Holy Spirit to us. In the process my prayer life took on new energy and importance. When I prayed, the same Spirit whom Jesus sent to His followers was in me and on me. To say I felt a tingling sensation all over sounds a little over the top, but that’s the best way I can describe how I felt. Every cell in my body seemed alive and awake, an experience I’d never had before. My spirit was quickened to the freshness of Scripture.

That new sense of being alive in Christ wasn’t confined only to my prayer time early in the mornings. When I prayed for others in meetings or in private, I began to “know” things and “see” things about them. I would picture the person I was praying for, and I’d see some great things and sometimes awful things. At times I would see some very intimate things about the person, but always it would be an insight into what that person needed at the moment. God was giving me these insights, and I was compelled to act. One moment it would be a word or scripture that seemed appropriate and fitting. The next it would be something that had just happened to the person I was praying for, something I had no way of knowing about. And at times it would be something so obvious that it sounded trite. But regardless of how it sounded to me, I did my best to obey God and deliver His message to the person.

At a meeting one night a woman asked me to pray for her. As I touched her hands, I knew in my heart I was supposed to tell her, “Jesus loves you.” That sounds like such a cliché, you could easily say, “Very profound, Shaun. The Holy Spirit had to tell you that? Everybody knows Jesus loves us.”

Yet I knew in my heart the issue wasn’t about theology or slogans or how perceptive it made me appear. The issue was whether I would say those words at that moment to that woman. Would I obey the leading of the Holy Spirit—that still, small voice speaking to me inside—and trust that God knew what He was doing?

It seemed a little awkward, but I smiled at her and said, “You know, I think I’m supposed to tell you, ‘Jesus loves you.’” As I said those words, tears came rolling down her cheeks, and she received a tremendous release of the Lord’s presence in her life. I don’t know anything else about her, and I said nothing else to her that night. But God knew exactly what she needed. For her, hearing those words opened a door inside that allowed God to minister to her. That’s the presence of the Holy Spirit in you and on you.

Another time, my cousin Ben had some friends over. I told them about the prayer time I’d been having and about how real God’s presence was, not only during morning prayer time, but throughout the day. Later in the evening Ben and his friends and I gathered and began to pray. As we did that, I felt led to go around the group and pray for each person individually.

The first one I prayed for was a guy named Cory. Then I moved to Ben. After him I came to a guy I had never met before that night. As I started to pray, I felt certain I should touch his eyes. When I touched him, I knew the Holy Spirit wanted me to tell him, “You will sleep again.”

I knew nothing about him, and I had no idea what those words meant, but I said them just the same. I admit that was strange, but I went on praying for his life and future.

When I finished praying for each person, I asked Cory to stand up. I laid my hand on the top of his head and prayed for God to touch him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Cory smiled and sat back down. We laughed a little about it, and then I asked Cory what he felt. He said, “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel. But when you touched my head and started praying for me, my feet felt like they were on fire.”

Afterward, as everyone was leaving, the young man in his early twenties whom I’d never met before that night—the one I had told, “You will sleep again”—took me aside and said, “You were right-on with that prayer about sleep. I haven’t been able to sleep much in weeks.”


When I was a young boy, I saw a movie called The Last Dragon. You probably can still find it in a rental store or on the discount shelf at a big box retailer. The star of the movie was Leroy Green, a man who never fully believed in himself as a kung fu master. But one day he had to defend the love of his life against a man named Sho’nuf. One of the catch lines from the movie is “Who’s the master?” As they fought, Sho’nuf kept asking Leroy, “Who’s the master?” With Leroy backed into a corner, Sho’nuf moved in to deliver the knockout punch. As he did, he asked again, “Who’s the master?” At that moment Leroy reached up and caught Sho’nuf’s fist. Holding it there a moment, he replied, “I am.” And with that a glow came over him. He began to kick and punch with more power. He won the fight and the love of the girl. He became the master that was always inside him. It took his being involved in that fight for him to find it.

The Last Dragon is fiction, but there’s truth in its message. God offers each of us an anointing in Christ. That anointing is available to every Believer once we find out who we really are in Christ.

My early morning prayer regimen continued for about sixty days. Each day I awakened at five and spent at least an hour with God. During that time the Holy Spirit brought to mind the ideas about God’s order that had occurred to me when I read The Call. I realized that my new experiences with the power and majesty of God’s presence in me and on me had to do with the order God follows when He works in our lives. I marveled at how God had begun a conversation with me two years earlier, then had come back to finish it as if the conversation had never been interrupted.

I heard the Holy Spirit say, “This is what happens when you walk the Walk. Not perfection. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for order.”

In the following chapters we will explore that order—the order of life, the stages through which we grow on the way to spiritual maturity in Christ. God can and does use anyone for anything at any time. But in the broader sense of where He begins with us and where He is taking each of us, there is a divinely appointed order, and there is a progression to the way He works in our lives. God meets us when we are Unbelievers. He speaks to us and reveals Himself, and we become Believers. As we grow in Christ, we become Examples, and then Teachers. And in the lives of many of Christ’s followers, God calls them to do the work of Imparters. They do the miraculous work of Christ on earth, just as the first disciples did.

The five stages and their sequence are important: Unbeliever, Believer, Example, Teacher, Imparter. Skip a stage in the maturity process, and error will creep in. Get ahead of God, and things will start to go wrong. But follow His order in your life, and you will see amazing things happen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Baby Bible Christmas Story Book {Review}

(You can find my personal review of The Baby Bible Story Book here.)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:

Baby Bible Christmas Storybook

David C. Cook; Brdbk edition (October 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
Rev. Dr. Robin Currie is the Early Childhood Librarian/Preschool Liaison for the Glen Ellyn Public Library and serves on the staff of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. She is also the retired pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn. Before and during seminary she was a children’s librarian for public libraries in Illinois and Iowa. She holds master’s degrees in Library Science from the University of Iowa and in Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, as well as a Doctor of Ministry in preaching from LSTC. Her published books include seven resource collections for librarians and over a dozen children’s Bible story collections.

Visit the author's blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Board book: 36 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Brdbk edition (October 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403685
ISBN-13: 978-0781403689

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER (Click on pictures to see them larger):