Monday, February 5, 2018

Counter Point

Last week I wrote a little about Nehemiah. 

I've really enjoyed reading that book the last few weeks. 

At the end of last week Nehemiah had asked the king for permission to leave for a time and even more boldly asked for safe passage and for the wood to rebuild with. The king granted these things and more to his servant. At some point he even appointed Nehemiah the governor for the area in and around Jerusalem. 
Right now lets focus on the time after Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem but before the wall is finished. 

Nehemiah has made the trip to his home city in the company of guards from the king. This no doubt carries weight with it. As he passes through these various governorships he makes known that something is indeed happening. Whether it is by something he says to those in charge as he and his guard pass through or if it is written in the document he shows to ensure safe passage people know the walls are going to be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  He arrives in Jerusalem and gathers the leaders to tell them what God has laid out for them to do.

They all take to the message and begin the work. It is daunting work for sure, the walls of Jerusalem were almost 2.5 miles around, and 39 feet tall. They had been knocked down so there was both a cleanup effort and a rebuilding effort that was going to have to be undertaken. 

Still the people caught hold of the vision and they volunteered. 
The enemies of Israel were none to pleased to hear of this. The book of Nehemiah mentions Sandballat, Tobiah and Gesham the Arab by name as leaders of neighboring countries within the kingdom of Persia that were against the Israelites rebuilding their wall. 

These were all tribes that were originally evicted or defeated by the Israelites in their conquest of Cannan. So the idea that their enemy was building itself back up was an issue. 

These 3 governors tried several times to meet with Nehemiah and each time Nehemiah knew through God that it was a trap of some sort so each time he sent the messenger back declined to meet. 

These leaders tried to rally the other nations against Israel as well. 
Chapter 4 tells us that the aforementioned leaders as well as some surrounding rulers were furious when the wall actually started coming together. To the point that there were threats and the people of Jerusalem felt the the enemy surrounding them. 
Imagine if your house was in the center of a neighborhood that hated you. Then that neighborhood was in the center of a town that hated you. Now what if your house had no doors to keep those that hate you out. Thats how they felt, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 

The air in Jerusalem should be thick with fear. 

Verse 7-8 says "When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well - that the breaks in the wall were being fixed - they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could" 

Then, and this is my favorite verse in the whole of Nehemiah right now, vs 9 says "We countered with prayer to our God and set round the clock guard against them" 

Lets unpack that. First things first they should have been terrified. Everyone that hated them are concentrated all around them. These people actively wanted them destroyed and their response was "We countered them with prayer to our God." 

What an amazing testament to their faith. In a time that they should have been scared to death. When besieged on all sides by their enemies who were actively casein as much trouble as they could the response of the people of God was to counter them with prayer. 

Not insults not preemptive strikes, they didn't go back to King Arataxerxes who had given them their blessing and supported them this far and ask for soldiers. 

They did 2 things. They prayed and they took watch. 
We don't know what they prayed. We do know that that was their first defense and their second was to be ready to defend what God had given them. 

There have been times in my life where the wall needed rebuilding.
When things go sideways on you and you feel enemies on all sides, maybe someone in your life is actively making things difficult for you. It's easy to go on social media and fire back, or go and try to rally people to your side. 
When all we need to do is counter the attack with prayer. Will attacks still come? Yes they will and like the the Israelites we need to stay on guard but prayer is what will bring us the peace to get our wall built. 
As God delivers us time and time again from our enemies, be it attacks from within via our emotions or from without, like a wound from an individual each victory is a brick in the wall. 

Think back on all the bricks God has provided you with over the years. The victory over a hurt habit or hangup as Celebrate Recovery puts it. How many bricks have you accumulated? 

If you are like me you have more than enough to build your wall. 
Once a wall of faith and prayer has been completed few are the enemies that can breach it. 

Thank you for reading 


Monday, January 29, 2018

The Hard Ask (and a couple other things)

I’ve been reading Nehemiah for about a month now.  

In case you aren’t familiar with that particular book or the person I’ll give you a little background.

Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel had been destroyed.  People still lived there but there were no wall, no fortification.  Ideally you would have a capital city surrounded by large walls and if another kingdom attacked the people could retreat to the city and be protected. There were these foreboding walls and Inevitably an army or at minimum guards to warn of an impending attack so you felt safe.

Nebuchadnezzer getting tired of the king of Israel rebelling either by force or by alliance took the city several times and eventually destroyed the walls.  Now, the people had to be under his protection because they had no where else to go no one to protect them.

After the Babylonian exile the people that were banished were allowed to return but the walls were still down and no one was working to rebuild them. They were a defeated people.  It was no better than a village.

How many times have you watched a movie and seen a medieval style village ransacked unable to defend themselves.  Farmers with little to no weapons set upon by soldiers. People fleeing or defending their own home usually to no avail while their neighbors too are struck down. An everyman for themselves scenario. That is how I picture Jerusalem at this time.

Nehemiah was a Jew and he lived in the palace complex in the Persian capital of Susa. His position was cup bearer to the king. He made sure the the king had good wine and had it at his disposal at a moments notice.  As such he was around the king a lot and had a decent enough relationship with him that the king noticed his sad demeanor one day.

Nehemiah was depressed because one of his brothers, Hanani had come to see him and told him just what poor condition Jerusalem was. The fact that the walls were down and there was no indication that the people intended to rebuild it troubled Nehemiah. This bothered him to the point that he proceeded to pray and fast about it.  

He knew he needed to talk to the king but that was a pretty big thing to ask.  “Hey, you know that city that always gets too big for it’s britches and rebels or forms alliances with your enemies?” Well I’d like to see it fortified again.” Still it was a conversation he knew had to take place and so when the king asked about his apparent sadness he opened up.

He asked that the king allow him to go and over see the rebuilding of the wall.  Then in what can only be considered a “God moment “ not only did king Artaxerxes let him go but he also provided papers for passage and documents to allow him to use wood from the kings forest for the beams and gates.

Nehemiah went to Jerusalem with both the documents and guards from the king at his side.  When he got to the city he was able to pass the vision God had given him on to the people so effectively that they volunteered to help right away.
It took only 52 days with all the volunteers to rebuild the walls

There is a lot more to this story and I’ll get more into it next week but right now I just want to talk about 3 points

First is the fact that sometimes we have to have the hard conversations.  We dread them, we avoid them but if we would just be courageous and do it it’s good for both parties.

Nehemiah was dreading his conversation.  As I’m sure any of us would be with something that important but he seized the opportunity and it worked out better than he thought it would.  

I know that is how it goes with me 9 times out of 10. I put off the conversation because it will be uncomfortable and in the meantime I run through every scenario I can think of and I fixate on the bad ones.

To the point that even when the outcome isn’t ideal it is NEVER as bad as the ones I imagined.

Like Nehemiah I stew on it to the point it effects my life either in my appearance or my performance.  My worry or nervousness is then noticed and the conversation is forced anyway.

So have the conversation.

The second talking point is ASK.

You may never get that for which you never ask. 

This stands in 2 places.  First and foremost in prayer. More about that next week.

Here in Nehemiah his conversation went well beyond what I’m sure he thought was plausible.

It went from “Can I, someone you trust and see everyday some one you rely on take an extended vacation to rebuild the walls of a city that has historically been a problem to you.”
All the way to “Will you also send with me protection and documents to ensure I arrive safely to rebuild the walls of this historically rebellious city.”
To finally “I would also like you to provide the wood for the walls, beams and gates for this city that has so many times stood against the kings in your position.”

By the way the answer to all these questions was yes.

If he had stopped with can I go away for a while, he might have been killed en route, by bandits or while traveling through the areas dominated by the kings governors that were not fans of Israel in the first place including Sanballat, Tobiah and Gesham. All governors of areas under the kings dominion but enemies of the jewish people. 

If he did make it there without the paperwork he still would have had little to no wood to build with.  All of the trees that could be used for beams and for the gate were owned by the king.  

He was bold in his asking and it paid off in spades.

So ask, make the hard ask.

Not just in your personal and professional life but also in prayer.

God knows your heart but He wants to hear from you. My son Bat asks all the time for things and he doesn’t always get it but he asks. He isn’t scared to ask he knows I love him and so he asks me and when I can, when it is possible, I provide.  Over and above what he “needs”.  
He approaches me without fear or trepidation.  I delight in giving my kids what they want.
How much more does God delight in giving to us.

Finally the third point has to do with the building of the wall itself.  The wall was rebuilt in 52 days.  The reason it was done so quickly was because it was done in community. Each family was responsible for the wall in front of their own house. Each family did their part.

This is almost cliche now which is a shame. We have heard it so many times that we glance over it and don’t let it sink in.
They all did their part. They all volunteered when told what the vision was.

How much smoother would things go? How many more souls could be won for the Kingdom if we all took the vision we receive from our pastor and we volunteered.
No pew fillers left in the sanctuary, every LifePointer every Sunday doing something.  No one sitting waiting for the service to start because we are all outside waving people in as they pass, greeting those that come in or milling around in the auditorium talking to new faces.

How would that effect the city of Lebanon, or the lost. How do you ignore 30-50 people on a sidewalk just happy to see you.
Would it be infectious? Would you have so much fun serving (as much fun as I do every week) that you tell others about it and what it means to you.  

Imagine if you and the person you sit next to every week were out in the halls greeting or at the doors talking to people that enter. Looking for new faces building relationships with the first timer.  Think about how that could effect them how it can lead to relationships with Jesus, how it could drive baptisms.

Vision drives volunteering.  What is your vision for LifePoint. Is it to bring Glory to God and Love as many people to Jesus as YOU can before YOU die. Period.

As the week goes on ask yourself how you can make this Sunday better for someone else.

Thanks for reading


Friday, December 29, 2017

The Best of 2017 the Movies

This Week is all about the movies.  

I go to the movies almost every week. I purchased a “Movie Pass”  this year which allows me to see a movie a day everyday for a month for the flat rate of $9.99.  It’s a great deal if you go to the movies a couple times a month. It’s a necessity if you are me. You can check it out for yourself here.

out of my 111 times at the theatre here are the movies I enjoyed the most in 2017.  No particular order excluding the last one which was my favorite film of the year.

John Wick 2 - Starring Keanu Reeves (the Matrix) and Ian McShane (Deadwood). John gets sucked back into the world of elite hitmen when one of his markers comes due.  The marker belongs to a powerful crime boss that once did Wick a favor. In return he received a marker that would guarantee Wick’s help if he ever needed it no matter the circumstances.  
John refuses the marker and his house is blown up as an object lesson.  He survives and reluctantly agrees to fulfill the contract after which he makes it clear that he is coming after the person that called it in.
I loved the first John wick and while this is not near as good it was still a really fun ride.  

Life - Starring Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible Rogue Nation) A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars and now threatens all life on Earth. 
This was a very claustrophobic movie.  I like isolation horror.  That is what makes movies Like Alien and the Thing so suspenseful.  I watched this movie 22 times in the theatre, the second time just by myself. It’s a great movie for a cold winter night. 
As I type this I am home alone and I have Life on in the background.

Baby Driver - Directed by Edgar Wright (Sean of the Dead) and starring Ansel Elgort (the Fault in our Stars) John Hamm (Mad Men) and Jamie Foxx (Ray) Baby Driver tells the story of Baby played by Elgort a getaway driver that is coerced into being part of a heist that is doomed to fail.  
This movie was absolutely brilliantly directed. By far the best shot and choreographed movie of the year.  After 3 viewings in the theatre I'm still in awe of how everything lined up so well.  The action is set against and in sync with the sound track in a way that is a blast to experience.  This was just a fun ride.

Wind River - Staring Jeremy Renner (Avengers) and Elizabeth Olsen (Avenger Age of Ultron) a murder on an Native American Reservation draws the attention of an FBI agent (Olsen).  During the course of the investigations she enlists the help of a hunter/tracker (Renner) to navigate not only the terrain but the dicey relationship with the people of the reservation
I went into this movie with zero expectations and ended up seeing it twice in the theatre then bought it immediately on digital when it became available.  Well acted and beautifully shot. The mystery will get you interested the drama will keep you watching. 

Lucky Logan - Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) Adam Driver (Star Wars the Last Jedi) Daniel Craig (Spectre) and Riley Keough (It Comes at Night) star in director Steven Soderberg’s (Oceans 11) latest heist film. 
This was not just a really great heist movie but it was a very enjoyable comedy.  Daniel Craig is pitch perfect as the good old boy convict and demolitions expert recruited by 2 bothers (Tatum and Driver) to pull off a heist at a major NASCAR event.
Funny, exciting and a little bit sweet if you were a fan of the Oceans movie you wont want to miss Logan Lucky a film some have called “Oceans 7/11  

American Made - Starring Tom Cruise (the Mummy) and Domhal Gleeson (Frank) Based on a true story Barry Seal (Cruise) is a pilot for a major airline that gets caught smuggling in cuban cigars.  He is then recruited via threats of incarceration by a CIA agent played by Gleeson and forced to help take recognizance pictures for the government. All the while making a few deals on the side to smuggle drugs in for the cartels. Seals quickly gets in over his head with both sides and the ensuing crazyiness was both nerve wracking and fun to watch 
While there was artistic license involved this was a great biopic and definitely worth the rent

Happy Death Day - Jessica Rothe (La La Land) stars as a young lady doomed to repeat the same day over until she solves her own murder.  Think of it as a horror version of the Bill Murray film Groundhogs Day.
I had very low expectations for this movie and it ended up being my favorite horror movie of the year.  Going into 2017 I assumed the adaptation of Steven King's IT would be my favorite of the genre.  Howe ver that movie with it's bloated budget didn't do near for me what Happy Death Day did.
Blumhouse productions has made a career of making small budget movies that tell horror stories in original ways and this was no exception. 

Disaster Artist - James Franco (Pineapple Express) The Disaster Artist details the incredible true story behind the making of The Room, a 2003 film that quickly became a cult hit due to its reputation as "the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. The disaster artist chronicles its production, and how it emerged from the friendship between weirdo auteur Tommy Wiseau.  
Franco is a weird genius. This film is very well made which is a testament to itself because Franco directed the movie in character as Tommy Wiseau.  

Brawl in Cellblock 99 - Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) Jenifer Carpenter (Dexter) Don Johnson (Django Unchained)
I don’t normally include movies I didn’t see in the theatre. However this is without a doubt worth breaking the rules for. It was released this year but I missed it in the theatre and caught it on Amazon for rent
If you like prison movies then welcome to Cellblock 99. Just beware that this movie is ultra violent, shockingly so in one case.
Vince Vaughn gives his best performance to date and reminds us he can do drama just as effortlessly as he does comedy.
Bradley (Vaughn) makes some poor choices in order to provide for his family and ends up in jail and on the hook to a mobster.   
I just can't get away from the next movie on my list or Brawl would have been number 1 this year.

Spider-Man Homecoming - Tom Holland (Lost City of Z) and Michael Keaton (Batman) star in the first full length outing of Spiderman in the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. 
I watched this movie 5 times in the theatre and loved it every-time. The perfect casting of Peter Parker makes this the most believable version of the character on film.  
Michael Keaton makes the Vulture a formidable and genuinely scary villain something years of reading the comics left me to believe wasn’t possible.
Honestly a film for everyone and in my opinion the best movie of 2017

Star Wars the Last Jedi gets an honorable mention.  I don't like to put movies on the list that are less than a month old. I often like a movie more during that time then I do in retrospect.  For example Justice League would have made it on Batman alone a month ago but cooler heads prevailed as I saw it a few more times.

Now that 2017 is out of the way I have a list of movies I am looking forward to.  First and foremost is Avengers Infinity War.   Sicario 2, and Ready Player One may end up on this list next year.  I loved the book Ready Player One and if its half as good as the book it's gonna blow me away.

Thanks for reading


Friday, December 22, 2017

Best of 2017 (the Books)

It’s December which means an endless run of “best of”  articles, segments, slideshows and lists. To which every year I add my own.  This week and next week rather than the usual article on my life and my struggles I'm going to be posting my favorite movies and books of 2017.  

Today am going to talk about my top 10 favorite books of 2017.  There is no particular order to this list just the 10 books that most enjoyed reading this year.

I set a goal for 2017 of 100 books.  Which is way too many books. I ended up, as of writing this having read 127 books total.  That is between physical books and audiobooks. I spend a lot of time working on the computer and audiobooks are almost always on while I work. I liked an awful lot of these books but I always try to condense this down to 10 or so to share with you.

Out of that stack of 123 here are my favorites

I’m including the synopsis from Amazon in black and my thoughts in blue

Billy - William Paul McKay
We all know how the story ends but how did it begin? Before he became a household name, and America's Pastor, he was simply known as Billy.  When he wasn't playing baseball, he was discovering his love for Christian ministry.  His best friend, Charles Templeton, was already on track to be a highly successful evangelist and the two young men began strategizing on how to win the world for Christ. That plan takes a drastic turn, however, when Templeton deserts the faith and becomes an atheist. The impact of this decision on a young Billy Graham is immeasurable and agonizing. Charles would later become the great intellectual architect for agnosticism and atheism.  Billy would become the single greatest messenger for the Christian Gospel.  It is one of the great untold dramas between friends - Atheism vs Christianity, betrayal and hope. 
Set in contrast with the life of his friend and contemporary Charles Templeton who famously lost his faith in the height of their popularity.  Billy was an excellent biography and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone. There is also a movie of the same name which stars Armie Hammer (the Lone Ranger) as Billy graham and its an excellent movie as well.

All the Clever Words on Pages - Paul Matthew Harrison
Aaron Weiss--the eccentric frontman of the eclectic indie rock band mewithoutYou--is revealed here through a decade of friendship with the author, Paul Harrison. Set to the backdrop of mewithoutYou emerging from the post-hardcore scene in 2000 and signing with Tooth & Nail records, this book follows Aaron's spiritual life through its many incarnations. In a state of breakdown and disillusionment with this life and his faith, Paul found Aaron at Cornerstone Festival in 2005. Aaron invited Paul to live with him in Philadelphia that Christmas, starting what would become a lifelong friendship. Recounted here is a year-by-year account of their spiritual conversations, philosophical and religious ponderings on belief and doubt, books they traded and discussed, and the affection, affirmation, support, and love they shared over a decade through continual struggle, loss, and change. Part spiritual memoir, part portrait of Aaron Weiss, and part band biography of mewithoutYou, this is a classic example of the power of music to change lives and of lyricists to become gurus, even if reluctant ones. This book is not a biography about Aaron--it's bigger than that. It serves as a memoir of the inherent difficulties in navigating the complicated landscape of faith, music, relationships, and morality. Whether you came to this book as a fan of mewithoutYou, or out of love and curiosity about Aaron Weiss, or are a person who has lived through similar struggles with belief and doubt like me and Paul, you'll love this book. -- Matthew Putman (Eso-Charis, Living Sacrifice, Snailhuntr, Unwed Sailor, Lovedrug, Bear Colony, Chase Pagan) I'm looking forward to denying the validity of everything you wrote. Edward Said said the difference between representation and misrepresentation is a matter of degree . . . not do we get it wrong, but how wrong? -- Aaron Weiss (The Operation, mewithoutYou)
If you are a fan of the band this is a must read.  Even if you have never heard of them though its a very interesting story told in a truly original way.

Steve McQueen the Salvation of and American Icon - Greg Laurie
Join Greg Laurie as he takes a cross-country drive in his 1968 Highland Green Ford Mustang 390 GT through the canyons of Malibu, the alleys of Hollywood, the wide and open roads of the Midwest, the streets of New York, as he traces the wooly geography of actor Steve McQueen's life, relationships, career, and spiritual journey. This iconic muscle car was the vehicle McQueen drove in his most raucous and enduring film, Bullitt. In the 1960s, McQueen was, according to box office receipts, the biggest movie star of his generation and one of the coolest men to ever walk the planet. Greg Laurie was a teen at the time and an ardent fan of ''The King of Cool", first mesmerized by McQueen in 1963's The Great Escape. Like millions of cinema fans, Greg developed a lifelong fascination with the actor. Now he has a chance to tell McQueen's story.
McQueen was a complex, contradictory man who lived the same way he drove his motorcycles and cars: fearlessly, ruthlessly, and at top speed. After a lifetime of fast cars, women, and drugs, McQueen took a surprising detour. In this book, Laurie thoughtfully interviews members of Steve McQueen's family, friends, co-stars, associates, widow, and pastor to tell of the dramatic life change for the actor in the spring of 1979 - six months before McQueen was diagnosed with terminal cancer. What were the critical steps that led McQueen to make such a life-altering decision? Perhaps more importantly, why is that part of his story so rarely told? This book answers these questions.
Greg Laurie will follow the seeds of Christianity that were sown throughout McQueen's improbable life where a Light finally shone into the darkness of his troubled life. These seeds miraculously germinated, allowing McQueen to see that redemption through Jesus Christ is a lasting truth more glittering and real than any magic of the entertainment industry.
I was walking through a Lifeway store and the cover photo of Steve McQueen caught my eye. What are the odds of a picture of Steve McQueen being in a christian book store. My mom was a big Steve McQueen fan and growing up I watched a lot of his movies.  My favorite of which is the Great Escape.  I decided to pick the book up and once I started I couldn’t put it down. This is a book that I am guaranteed to go back to. It was recently optioned for a movie as well produced by both Greg Laurie and Mel Gibson.

The Devil in Pew Number 7 - Becky Alonzo
Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him - with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church. Determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way, he unleashed a plan of terror that was more devastating and violent than the Nichols family could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away by acts of intimidation, Rebecca's father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the familys kitchen...and Rebecca's life was shattered.
If anyone had a reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing true saga of relentless persecution, one family's faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness.
I saw this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I took a picture of it so I could research later. After just reading the Amazon description I knew I had to read this book.
I grew up in small country churches where occasionally it seemed at least that one person or family ran roughshod over the pastor. Blocking anything he wanted to do and making sure everyone knew that the real authority was with them.  
This book, a true story of the author’s family’s struggle with such a person and the violence that eventually followed.  One man’s decade long terror campaign on a pastor and his family including multiple bombings all taking place not in some mission field overseas but in a rural South Carolina town.
This is a story of faith, violence and unimaginable forgiveness that I think everyone should read.

Kill the Spider - Carlos Whittaker
Are you tired of trying to live for Christ - only to fail time and time again with the same old behaviors? Do you pray for guidance, ask for deliverance, and vow to do better yet fail to progress?
As an author, speaker, pastor, and blogger at Ragamuffin Soul, Carlos has lived much of his spiritual life in the spotlight. But like any Christian, his faith story has its ups and downs. He spent decades trying to figure out how to be a "better person." Time and time again, he strived for holiness only to get caught in the web of destructive habits, behaviors, and thought patterns.
But the buck stops here. Or, rather, the spider is killed here.
In Kill the Spider, Carlos shares personal material ranging from hilarious, self-deprecating stories to passion-filled wisdom - to show others it's not enough to try to "stop sinning". He teaches that knocking out deep-rooted habits and issues comes by treating the issue, not just the symptoms.
With transparency, humor, and vulnerable stories, Carlos offers a breath of fresh air to any believer looking to finally step into the freedom in Christ. So sit down. Start listening to the book. And grab a shoe. We're going on a spider hunt
I heard Carlos Whittaker on an episode of the Carey Nieuwhof podcast and the way they told part of his story but kept the meat of it mysterious made me look the book up afterwords.  Kill the Spider is all about failure, how to deal with it and how to move on.  The author made some pretty big mistakes by any standards let alone a pastor and through the grace of God and his wife he was able to be restored.  This made me look for things in my own life that might be hiding in the corner of my life. Overlooked, brushed aside but possibly housing a spider that if left unchecked could grow to be a true danger to me, my family and ministry.

The Black Dahlia Red Rose - Piu Eatwell
With startling new evidence, this gripping reexamination of the Black Dahlia murder offers a definitive theory of a quintessential American crime.
Los Angeles, 1947. A housewife out for a walk with her baby notices a cloud of black flies buzzing ominously in Leimert Park. An "unsightly object" is identified as the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, an aspiring starlet from Massachusetts who had been lured west by the siren call of Hollywood. Her killer would never be found, but Short’s death would bring her the fame she had always sought. Her murder investigation transformed into a real-life film noir, featuring corrupt cops, femmes fatales, gun-slinging gangsters, and hungry reporters, replete with an irresistible, legendary moniker adapted from a recent film―The Black Dahlia.
For over half a century this crime has maintained an almost mythic place in American lore as one of our most inscrutable cold cases. With the recently unredacted FBI file, newly released sections of the LAPD file, and exclusive interviews with the suspect’s family, relentless legal sleuth Piu Eatwell has gained unprecedented access to evidence and persuasively identified the culprit. Black Dahlia, Red Rose layers these findings into a gritty, cinematic retelling of the haunting tale.
As Eatwell chronicles, among the first to arrive at the grisly crime scene was Aggie Underwood, the "tough-as-nails" city editor for the Los Angeles Evening Herald & Express; meanwhile, the chain-smoking city editor for the Los Angeles Examiner, Jimmy Richardson, sent out his own reporters. Eatwell reveals how, through a cutthroat race to break news and sell papers, the public image of Elizabeth Short was distorted from a violated beauty to a "man crazy delinquent." As rumors of various boyfriends circulated, the true story of the complex young woman ricocheting between jobs, lovers, and homes was lost. Instead, kitschy headlines tapped into a wider social anxiety about the city’s "girl problem," and Short’s black chiffon and smoldering gaze become a warning for "loose" women coming of age in postwar America.
Applying her own background as a lawyer to the surprising new evidence, Eatwell ultimately exposes many startling clues to the case that have never surfaced in public. From the discovery of Elizabeth’s notebook, inscribed with the name of the city’s most notorious and corrupt businessman, to a valid suspect plucked from the hundreds of "confessing Sams" by a brilliant, well-meaning doctor, Eatwell compellingly captures every "big break" in the police investigation to reveal a truly viable resolution to the case. In rich, atmospheric prose, Eatwell separates fact from fantasy to expose the truth behind the sinewy networks of a noir-tinged Hollywood. Black Dahlia, Red Rose at long last accords the Elizabeth Short case its due resolution, providing a reliable and enduring account of one of the most notorious unsolved murders in American history.
Black Dahlia Red Rose seeks to put to bed the mystery of this whodunit and finally lay bare the conspiracy and politics that let a killer go free. If you are at all interested in this murder or in true crime as a whole this is a book you need to read.  I’m personally convinced that this is no longer an unsolved murder.

Midnight Line - Lee Child
Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?
So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.
The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.
This is surprisingly the only fiction book on my list this year.
I can’t imagine a year that a Jack Reacher book comes out and doesn’t make my top 10.  Midnight Line is the 22nd book in the series and it’s a pretty strong entry.
This is Jack Reacher doing what Jack does best. 
If you are a fan of the series you’ve probably already picked this up. If not this isn’t a bad place to start.

The Unlikely Disciple - Kevin Roose
No drinking.
No smoking.
No cursing.
No dancing.
No R-rated movies.
Kevin Roose wasn't used to rules like these. As a sophomore at Brown University, he spent his days drinking fair-trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and fitting right in with Brown's free-spirited, ultra-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional.
Liberty is the late Reverend Jerry Falwell's "Bible Boot Camp" for young evangelicals, his training ground for the next generation of America's Religious Right. Liberty's ten thousand undergraduates take courses like Evangelism 101, hear from guest speakers like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and follow a forty-six-page code of conduct that regulates every aspect of their social lives. Hoping to connect with his evangelical peers, Roose decides to enroll at Liberty as a new transfer student, leaping across the God Divide and chronicling his adventures in this daring report from the front lines of America's culture war.
His journey takes him from an evangelical hip-hop concert to choir practice at Falwell's legendary Thomas Road Baptist Church. He experiments with prayer, participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach (where he learns to preach the gospel to partying coeds), and pays a visit to Every Man's Battle, an on-campus support group for chronic masturbators. He meets pastors' kids, closet doubters, Christian rebels, and conducts what would be the last print interview of Rev. Falwell's life. 
Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, THE UNLIKELY DISCIPLE will inspire and entertain believers and nonbelievers alike.
I originally bought this book in July of 2012 but for some reason didn't read it.
I had just finished the book PTL and this book was recommended by Amazon as something similar that I might like.
I recognized the cover and sure enough I already owned it.
I wish I had read it 5 years ago. 
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr Roose did an excellent job of not judging those he was attending school with.  He made friends, he joined bible studies and began to even enjoy prayer.  He even scored an interview for the school paper with Falwell himself.  It turned out to be the last interview Falwell gave before he passed away in May 2007.
I thought the book was a very interesting insight in to what the secular world initially thinks of Christians and how through relationship that can change.  Definitely worth a read.

More Than the Tattooed Mormon - Al Carraway
Al Fox Carraway has spent the last four years inspiring the world with her story of conversion, redemption, and finding faith. As a blogger, social media personality, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. This moving biography and up-close account of her life and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the "LDS" or "Mormon" church) will show you what it means to truly trust in the Lord.
"Don't go, Al. You won't fit in."
Being baptized and following the Lord has made Al's life harder than it ever was before. She endured criticism from friends and family for becoming a Mormon. She faced harsh judgments from Church members for her appearance. She gave up everything and felt more alone than she ever had in her life. All because she chose God.
Now she shares an up-close look at how trusting God has led her to places she never expected. As a blogger, YouTuber, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. Sharing her love of the Savior, Al goes beyond her own conversion and encourages listeners to choose God above anything else. This uplifting audiobook inspires listeners to build a true relationship with the Lord that will bring them real, lasting happiness.
Conversion stories, are one of my favorite things.  Whether it is someone converting from one religion to another or from a life of no faith to that of the faithful (or vice versa) these are always interesting to me.
It was after finishing the Unlikely Disciple that this book appeared in the Amazon recommends section of my browser.
Having done an abnormal amount of reading about mormonism and knowing that tattoos are taboo I was intrigued to see how this played out.
Putting theology aside, the sheer optimism of this book blew me away.  I don not think I have ever come across anyone as cheerful as Al Carraway.  Just reading about how much she loves God and how she loves the scriptures (granted she’s not talking about the Bible) was infectious. She carries a physical copy everywhere. It made me want to dig into the word (the actual Bible) more.  It ignited a desire to read, to sit and just talk to God more.
This is the only book I read twice this year but I couldn’t help it.  I found myself in a bit of a funk and I needed something to pick me up to get me jazzed so I grabbed the audiobook too.  Listening to Al read and talk about her faith in God and His promises was a welcome change from my inner dialogue during that time.
I very much enjoy religious journeys seeing someones passion for what they believe sparks a passion in me even when what we believe is different.  
I almost left this book off my list because of our vast difference in theology but her attitude is something that was so refreshing I had to mention it.  It’s certainly an attitude that I want to foster in myself.

PTL - John Wigger
In 1974 Jim and Tammy Bakker launched their television show, the PTL Club, from a former furniture store in Charlotte, N.C. with half a dozen friends. By 1987 they stood at the center of a ministry empire that included their own satellite network, a 2300-acre theme park visited by six million people a year, and millions of adoring fans. The Bakkers led a life of conspicuous consumption perfectly aligned with the prosperity gospel they preached. They bought vacation homes, traveled first-class with an entourage and proclaimed that God wanted everyone to be healthy and wealthy. 
When it all fell apart, after revelations of a sex scandal and massive financial mismanagement, all of America watched more than two years of federal investigation and trial as Jim was eventually convicted on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. He would go on to serve five years in federal prison. 
PTL is more than just the spectacular story of the rise and fall of the Bakkers, John Wigger traces their lives from humble beginnings to wealth, fame, and eventual disgrace. At its core, PTL is the story of a group of people committed to religious innovation, who pushed the boundaries of evangelical religion's engagement with American culture. 
Drawing on trial transcripts, videotapes, newspaper articles, and interviews with key insiders, dissidents, and lawyers, Wigger reveals the power of religion to redirect American culture. This is the story of a grand vision gone wrong, of the power of big religion in American life and its limits.
I loved this book!  I grew up in the 80’s and I remember when all of this was happening.  I vaguely remember seeing the PTL club on TV prior to the scandal but after it broke in 1987 it was all over the news and the late night talk shows.  I was only 9 at the time but when I was a kid we watched whatever my mom and grandpa watched.  At dinner overnight we watched the 5 o’clock news, of an evening it was Johnny Carson and David Letterman on Friday nights when we all stayed up. Saturday Night Live was on the only tv in the house on Saturday night after the news and while I drew or played with action figures I heard report after report, monologue after monologue about the scandal.
     This was another Barnes and Noble find. As soon as I saw it I knew it was something I was gonna read. I tried to put it off because I was used to buying books cheap on Amazon but it never came down in price and there were never used copies available. I finally broke down and bought it full price and it was worth it.
The book does an amazing job of telling the story without feeling like it is an indictment of religion. Mr Wigger’s personal religious views are never expressed or hinted at.  
You follow along in stunned amazement as decision after decision is made to line pockets or to proclaim the name of Bakker more than the name of God.
You shake your head as Jim spends millions he doesn’t have on his theme park (Heritage USA) and hotels.
You cringe as he begs for money and makes extravagant promises to his believing followers.
At one point he offered a lifetime membership in the PTL Club that came with 5 days 4 nights every year at Heritage USA to 25,000 people at $1000 a pop. The deal even came with a pewter statue of David and Goliath to symbolize them overcoming this giant of an obstacle of finishing their park.  I bought one of those statues myself last moth for $15 on eBay and it currently sets on my shelf directly below this book.
It was fascinating to read the story of the scandal as an adult. I only caught bits and pieces as a child through half listened to news stories and monologue jokes.
Just as interesting as the scandal was the aftermath as 2 prominent televangelists jockey for control of the Bakker media empire only to find out it is a house of cards.
I cannot recommend this book enough.  It’s informative, its entertaining and it is a true life example of why we always have to remember what we do is not about us.

Thanks for Reading