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  • In the book world, it’s hard to explain “the buzz.” What causes word of mouth to start spreading? What turns an unknown author and novel into a surprise bestseller? Even more inexplicable for the book snobs is when a story fails to meet their literary standards and yet touches the masses in an undeniable way.

    “The Shack” is the buzz book of the past few months. I hadn’t even heard of it in November, but by the end of December I’d had relatives, friends, and online pals from across the country telling me I “had” to read this one. I’ve been burned by such recommendations in the past, particularly in relation to spiritually oriented titles. (Can anyone say “The Prayer of Jabez” and “Left Behind”?), but I was willing to give it a shot.

    William P. Young’s book has an intriguing premise. Years ago, a father name MacKenzie Phillips took his children camping and lost one of them to a man who has kidnapped and killed others. Mack has grieved since then. His marriage has struggled. Understandably, his relationship with God has suffered. Then, one wintry day, he receives a note in his mailbox inviting him back to the woods, to the shack in which his daughter’s dress and bloodstains were found. The note, it would seem, is from God.

    From this simple yet effective premise, Young leads Mack Phillips back to his point of despair and anger. The encounters he then has with God there in “The Shack” serve as thought-provoking moments for both Mack and the reader. This is not the God of stodgy Sunday school classes. This is not a flannel-graph Jesus. This is not limited to a fluttering dove of the Holy Spirit. The descriptions here are startling, while remaining true to the nature of God’s love and grace as portrayed through Scripture. Not only are they startling, they’re wise and moving and beautiful.

    Some might argue that “The Shack” has little theology or accuracy to it, but the very argument is what Young is trying to melt away. I earned a Bachelor’s from a Bible college, and the majority of Mack’s godly encounters could be wrapped up in biblical theology: redemption, grace, forgiveness, propitiation, etc. Do I agree with every line of the book? Not necessarily. Yet, while never sounding like trite religion (because they’re not and never should be!), the words spoken by God in this book are full of vibrancy and life.

    Is it the best crafted novel ever? No. In many ways, it could be encapsulated in a non-fiction treatise. However, in sharing this remarkable tale in a fictional form, Young has breathed wonder and wisdom into a story that will continue to buzz around for years to come.

  • Wow am I really going to feel like a wet blanket. I hate to say it after all of these awesome reviews of this book, but I really didn’t like it. Not just on a theological level either. I just didn’t get to the destination that others have. I really don’t want to be negative, especially when others have been so impacted by it. But here is what I think about The Shack.

    First of all, being a former literature teacher, I actually am shocked by the comparison with Pilgrim’s Progress. You are talking about the most popular book in human history second only to the Bible. Pilgrim’s Progress is known for its emotional impact more than its literary accomplishment, so they are similar in that. But I think that is where the similarities end. The Shack is not well written at all and focuses on only one primary issue. PP covers the entire Christian walk and does so in a most unique way. It is not only the pinnacle of Christian literature, it is the best of an entire genre (allegory). PP relies upon the everyday Christian’s ability to relate to the character Christian and his entire adventure. The Shack relies almost completely on the effect of trauma done to the characters.

    Secondly, the theological problems are difficult to overlook. I don’t understand the mentality that says, God is pictured as a lot of things in the Bible, so why can’t I picture Him/Her as whatever I feel comfortable with? Well, because one of the most devastating forms of heresy is to give God identifiable form, hence the graven images commandment. That’s why Jesus was described as one that we would not find outstanding by Isaiah. I have discussed this topic earlier in the year on my podcast, Christian with a Brain. We are not supposed to put God in a box, whether that box be an old, bearded, caucasian male, or an overweight African-American female, it doesn’t matter. The truth is that when even an angel enters the scene, people fall on their faces in awe. Making God a poker buddy isn’t going to improve my relationship with Him.

    This is also part of what I believe to be the humanization of God. We are trying to fashion God in our image, and this book simply reinforces that idea. We have gone from one extreme (God is an impersonal force that wants to punish me) to the other (God blows smoke rings, listens to punk rock and is my buddy). This is exactly like the enemy. He beats us up with one wrong image of God, then he shoves us all the way off the other end of the shelf by presenting a completely different, wrong image of God.

    God is my Father, my Abba, my Friend, my King, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my Fortress, my Strong Tower, my Mother Hen, my Alpha and Omega, my Bread and my Savior and the Word tells me that this is indeed so.

    Finally, the philosophy in this book is very weak. In fact, I still don’t know the conclusion. If you were to try to communicate the lesson of this book in a syllogism, what would it be? I have an 8 year-old daughter and I hate to sound harsh, but this book terrified me and then never really gave me any satisfying resolution. I believe the problem of evil to be the best arguement in the atheist’s arsenal, but this book did nothing to dull its sting. I believe there are powerful and effective answers to address the problem of evil, but in my opinion, this book didn’t give them to me.

    Wow. I really sound like I hated this book. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. But I also have a commitment to communicate what I believe to be true. If you were one of those who really didn’t understand the powerful love of God simply by reading the Gospels, then this book was probably a blessing. But other than that, I think it fell way short and may even be destructive for many.

  • This is probably the most profound and best book I have ever read in my entire life. It has brought me totally back to God. I have never felt better. I totally identified with Mack and the Great Sadness which has been in my life also.

    I am a Viet Nam combat vet. In Viet Nam I had forsaken God. I could not believe that God would permit such things to happen on Earth. But as I learned more about WWII and Korea and other World events my lack of disbelieve just strengthened. Until about six and one half years ago I felt a need to come back and test the waters. My oldest son was in 9-11 as a paramedic (he went in on his day off) and I was so proud of him, but I felt a need to find my faith, because he had found it. He was a block away from the second tower when it collapsed. He went on to fulfill his lifelong ambition to become a New York Fire Fighter and actually entered into the prestigious Squad One. But oh, what a price for him and his family to pay. So much death to witness, and all of those funerals to attend. I wished I could have protected him from that, but I could not. I failed. I hold myself accountable for this lack of ability to successfully fulfill my mission in life as a father, just like I do the men I sent to their deaths in Viet Nam and the hundreds of people I have killed. I have lived with Viet Nam inside me for over 35 years until recently. These are only some of the crosses I bear. This book has brought me full circle. It has helped me to restore my faith. I have helped several people to purchase this book and I will continue. But I now know what is important and what is not so important.

    My Step-daughter Lisa recommended I read this book after she read a Christmas message I sent to all of my children, step-children and special friends over and over again. I had sent a picture of Arlington at Christmas that had touched me very close to my heart. So I wanted each of them to see this and understand this was the price of liberty and that there were men and women who were willing to give their lives on foreign soil to guarantee their rights under the constitution of the United States. I penned a personal message to each of the couples or person along with the general message.

    To John and Lisa, who are House Pastors for a local church, I was sorry I was not stronger for them when Kelsey their newborn went to heaven. Kelsey was born with a small aorta and Dr. Starr in Portland, OR was going to fix that. He was the best. I felt we were fine, but I had no faith, just my gut instincts that had gotten me out of every other jam before except a couple that resulted in loss of life. I went to the hospital every noon to see Lisa and Kelsey and got to hold Kelsey and she was so innocent.. So the day came, Dr. Starr entered the waiting room with the bad news. Kelsey had not survived. John went to pieces and Lisa was helping him because she seemed stronger at the time. My wife was asking me if I was going to go to John and help him. She said this several times. I was standing up, but I was not there. I was near a river west of Danang trying to get two of my men out of a jam that I had ordered to stay back and lay down fire so we could extract some wounded. The smells, the visual, the noises were all real. My men were dead and so was Kelsey. I never told anyone about that until I wrote that letter. So Lisa read that over and over and recommended I read “The Shack”. I am so glad she did too!!

    I never loan books, so I gave it to a close friend. I purchased the hardbound edition for keeping and rereading.

    Since reading “The Shack” I have never felt so whole in my entire life. I have redevoted my life to Jesus and I have laughed with him in his presence. Thank you for the Great Book. Thank you Paul for introducing me to Mack. He made me realize I was not alone. Be careful when they make this into a movie. I am not sure how they can do it justice.

    One more thing. Take your time reading this book. Take time to smell the roses. If you cannot, then read it again.

    Remember who is writing this review!! As Paul Young told me, live one day at a time and live in the moment. It is the only thing that is real. Enjoy your life!!

  • You’ll find over a hundred superlatively glowing reviews of this book on Amazon.com, and I think it’s because in two of its primary aims — to challenge your notions of God’s “personality” and to assert that He, in all three Persons, loves you deeply and wants an actual relationship with you — it succeeds vividly. Its colorful language and poignant approach, not to mention its straightforward, “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?” theodicy, are apparently helping to change multitudes of people’s minds about what God is like, thankfully liberating them from soul-constricting religion along the way.

    Its vividness and popularity are unsettling to me, however, for the book is but one man’s fictional and very incomplete depiction of God: God is love, yes, without doubt — hallelujah! — but what of the God who kills Ananias and Sapphira for lying (Acts 5:1ff)? Or He who has His angel strike down King Herod because he doesn’t properly ascribe praise (Acts 12:19ff)? Let alone the God who “deals out retribution to those who do not know [Him]” in the form of “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) and the Jesus who, robe dipped in blood, mouth filled with a sharp sword, eyes like a flame, “judges and wages war,” “strike[s] down the nations,” “rules…with a rod of iron,” and “treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God” (Revelation 19:11ff).

    Without even a passing reference to God as ineffable King or worthy Judge, The Shack, despite its merits, is a simplistic, untrustworthy portrait of God. I think part of the reason for the growing hoopla surrounding the book is that in its pictorial writing style, The Shack is all too easily consumed and adopted by people who want their ears — or eyes, to fit the mode of the prose more accurately — tickled with images of a doting (if powerful), permanently good-humored god who makes them pancakes on the weekends. Certainly, it’s easier to follow a God like this, but it’s also delusional, if you take the Bible as truth.

    Don’t get me wrong: William Young’s appreciation for and ability to communicate God’s lovingkindness is wonderful, and necessary to a Christian world choked with Law. Nevertheless, if my criticism of The Shack is overly forceful — and it is; I do like this book — it’s because I see the book being embraced with nothing but naive, uncritical, and untempered enthusiasm.

  • I really wanted to love this book. Halfway through, I really wanted to LIKE it. In college, we used to call Astronomy 101 “Physics for Poets”. This is “Poetry for Physicists”. Way too bland and painfully adolescent in it’s prose. Then Young tries to explain the Godhead as if speaking to six year-olds. I’m 100% okay with using a comforting, readable storyline with a unique, metaphorical look at the trinity. In other words, I am not offended, just bored. Thing is, this book (A) uses a very heart-wrenching subject matter (the abduction of a child), (B) mostly ignores that important storyline in favor of a almost comical twist, and (C) wants to tie it all up in a neat little bow. The writing is too simplistic for me. I don’t need to be dazzled in a “literary” way, but geeze, this should have fallen into the category of pre-teen fiction, not adult fare. In the end, it made me sad that books like this make the bestseller list and create so much buzz.



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