Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The PeaceMaking Church

     BOOK REVIEW:   When human beings are involved in any endeavor, conflict is inevitable. But the best fight is the one a church never has to have because its members have been intentionally cultivating practices that lead to peace and preserve unity. Whether dealing with conflict right now or hoping to prevent it later, you will find that the proactive approach to peacemaking outlined in this book will equip you with the knowledge and practices you need to instill in your church leadership and membership.

     MY REVIEW:   So, this book is geared towards pastors and church leaders, but I got a lot out of it simply as a church member and as a Christian. I found it to be written honestly and to the point, with no mincing of words or avoiding hard subjects. A quote from the end of the book sums it up quite nicely:  "And let us continually do nothing less that our very best to preserve the extraordinary gift of unity for God's Glory, our joy, and the Church's mission."
     The book is divided into three main sections: Embracing the Priorities that Preserve Unity in Jesus' Church, Avoiding the Pitfalls that Threaten Unity in Jesus' Church, and Mastering the Practices that Foster Unity in Jesus' Church. Each section has 2-3 chapters about different subjects directly applicable to that section. He goes over different things that threaten unity, such as anger, taking fellow Christians to court, judging and condemning, not realizing how your words/actions appear to others, and more. Paul is the main example used to show us the way to unity, and we can hardly find a better one.
     One chapter I really appreciated in this book was the one on welcoming and accepting. Curtis says: "The gist of welcoming is an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters." He goes on to specify that when the difference is in a matter of conscience, conviction, etc, it is handled differently. But when the difference is simply an opinion, etc, we dare not let it steal our unity.
     Curtis Heffelfinger is the lead pastor at Orlando Grace Church in Florida. More can be found about him at curtheffelfinger.com.

   I received a copy of this book from BAKER PUBLISHING, and was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Becoming Gertrude

     BOOK REVIEW:   ''Come in---I'll get us some lemonade.''  With those words, a teenage Jan Peterson was welcomed onto her Southern neighbor's back porch and into a lifelong bond of friendship. And like her friend, Jan now opens her own life to us, offering five elements---caring, acceptance, service, hospitality, and encouragement---that lead to rich, faithful friendships. In these pages, Jan speaks into the everyday rhythms of life, encouraging, guiding, and identifying the ways we can flourish as we, too, are Becoming Gertrude to our friends.

     MY REVIEW:   I expected this book to be about friendship as friendship usually is. And it is. But there is a concept included that gave me pause: being a Spiritual Friend. I would call it being a friend to someone's Soul. Caring about them in a deeper way than we usually do. I had to think about that for a bit, and wonder why it surprised me.
     As I read through this book, I realized that being a friend is never as easy as I expect. There is incredible work in being a good friend. Not to mention sacrifice, unselfish, and putting others before yourself. Throughout this book, Jan writes of instances and occasions in her life that relate to and illustrate the chapters. Her book is enjoyable to read. I was especially impressed with her sacrifice in response to world hunger. She decided to remind herself of the problem by changing the way she cooked---less meat, making more with less, etc. While this didn't solve anything, it kept her aware and thinking about it.
     This book is not long, 140 pages cover to cover, not as tall as a full-size book, and written in slightly larger print.  It is a beautiful hardcover book---deep blue under the jacket with marbled yellow inside the cover. I felt cheerful just looking at it. :) It would make a lovely gift, or coffee table book. I was, however, disappointed that she used the MESSAGE for her scripture references. I like a bible with more substance than that one.

  I received a copy of this book from TYNDALE PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Making of Mrs. Hale

     BOOK REVIEW:   Julia Hale ran off to be married in Gretna Green, following romance instead of common sense. But her tale isn't turning into a happily ever after. Her new husband is gone and she doesn't know where---or if he's ever coming back. Julia has no option but to head home to the family she betrayed by eloping and to hope they'll forgive her. Especially now that she might be carrying a baby from her brief marriage.
     Carolyn Miller's clean and wholesome Regency romances continue with The Making of Mrs Hale, following familiar characters as they learn how restoration can occur by finding hope and healing though a deep relationship with God. Full of rich and historical details and witty banter, this series continues to draw in fans of Jane Austen, Sarah Ludd, and Julie Klassen.
     MY REVIEW:   I have never before read a regency book about an elopement. It was different. Sadly, I can't say I enjoyed it as I usually do.
     Julia's marriage was fraught with difficulties---her husband always seeming to leave for unknown and lengthy periods of time. Meanwhile, her mother and brother protest most violently her remaining married to such a man. At every corner they compel her to break the match. But Julia is torn between their desires and the love she has for her absent husband.
     The story is rather slow, and feeble. Julia's story feels very pitiable, and I couldn't help wishing everyone would just let me tell them what to do. There is a strain of mystery, with someone intent on doing away with Julia's husband even at cost of harming Julia herself. However, as we are told who is behind the ill will, we only get to guess at the next steps, rather than figuring out for ourselves who the culprit is. I wouldn't condemn this book ( I realize that some books simply aren't my style ).  I really couldn't say what I would change to improve the story, it just had an underlying vibe to it that put me off.

I received a copy of this book from KREGEL PUBLISHERS, and was not required to write a positive review. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

White Picket Fences

     BOOK REVIEW: Privilege. The word alone can make us flinch. The notion that, for no good reason, some might have it better than others offends our sensibilities. Yet until we talk about privilege, we'll never fully understand it or find our way forward.
     Amy Julia Becker  welcomes us into her life, from the charm of her privileged Southern childhood to her adult experience in the Northeast and the denials she has faced as the mother of a child with special needs. She shows how a life behind a white picket fence can restrict even as it protects, and how it can prevent us from loving our neighbors well.
     White Picket Fences invites us to respond to privilege with generosity, humility, and hope. It opens us to questions we are afraid to ask, so that we can walk further from fear and closer to love, in all its fragile and mysterious possibilities.

     MY REVIEW:     This book is one that I really enjoyed. The author was real and honest, and did not try to hide the sometimes ugly truth of the matter. I appreciated the intent in writing it, and the many different subjects she covered. I found it to be far broader than just dealing with privilege. I found:
-teaching our children about the hard history between white and black people
-seeing people through the lens of love changes the way we value them
-and many more tenors of truth that all intertwine with her subject of privilege.
     So often, nonfiction requires much concentration (and even discipline) to get the point and bring it home. But I found this book to grab and hold my attention far better than others I've read. It was not dry or stuffy, yet the content was far from light and shallow.
     One thing mentioned here was the hard fact that even if you try to help the suffering around you, it's drops in a bucket. So much suffering, so little you can do. But I was challenged to do my part anyway. Even if I only make the smallest ripple of difference in the broad scheme of things, to that person/persons it was a wave. To quote Dr. Seuss (or Taylor Hanson, Google can't decide), "To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world". Even our smallest differences are huge to someone.
     Amy Julia has written three other books: Small Talk: Learning From my Children About What Matters Most; A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny; and Penelope Ayers. I will have to look them up sometime.

  I received a copy of this book from TYNDALE PUBLISHERS, and was not required to write a positive review. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tyndale Filament Bible

The Latest and Greatest from Tyndale is their new Filament Bible NLT. This Bible comes with an app that allows you to scan the page number you're on, which then directs you to study guides, maps, visual aids, and more. The Filament Bible is a simple, clear Bible that allows you read without sorting through all of the features that are so handily included in the app. 

Here is a link to a youtube video visualizing the above paragraph. 

And Here is a link for a lot more information from Tyndale. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

God Over Good

     BOOK REVIEW:   Trusting God when God doesn't live up to your expectations.   God is good. Except...God doesn't always seem to be what we would call good. A good father wouldn't make it so difficult to get to know him, would he? And if God is all-powerful, wouldn't God ensure that we never suffer? Either our understanding of God is incorrect, or our definition of good is inadequate.
     In a world that is messy and a church that is imperfect, it's easy to let our faith be lost. But that doesn't mean we have to lose God. It means we must consider that perhaps our idealized expectations are wrong.
     With transparency about his own struggles with cynicism and doubt, pastor Luke Norsworthy will help you trade your confinement of God to an anemic definition of good for confidence in the God who is present in everything.

     MY REVIEW:   This book is thought-provoking and brings up many points that I have not considered. Everyone struggles with the question, If God is Good, why isn't everything Good? As explained in this book, Faith is a Leap. Sometimes you just have to believe that God is Good throughout all that happens. One example given is a woman who was struck in the neck by a wayward arrow. Not only did she survive, but when the doctors performed some tests, they discovered a tumor that would soon create a fatal stroke and were able to prevent it. This seems pretty extreme, but often, if we are looking for it, our suffering can be used to bring greater joy. This book by no means answers all questions and puts to rest all doubt, but it can offer a fresh view of who God is, and how to trust Him more.
     In the chapter about the Bible, this stood out to me as he defended the sometimes contradictory passages found in it:

"When I stopped trying to make the Bible fit my format, these contradictions transitioned from being disqualifiers to being authenticators. The human hand in the text shows that it wasn't a fabrication created by a single person in the dark recesses of some ivory tower but the honest testimony of a collection of people who'd experienced a life-altering event. 

.....If all the accounts in the Bible were smoothed out and every detail identical, that would raise red flags about the validity of the events, because it would seem as though the authors had conspired to tell the same fabricated story. The differences don't need to be evaded but celebrated, revealing the authentic testimony of a community's life-changing experience. The Bible's authority is in its complexity."

And this also caught my attention, both with the authenticity of the varying accounts, and the "sharper than any two-edged sword"ness of the Bible:

"The Bible will not fail us because it points to Jesus, and Jesus deserves our trust. The person of Jesus is without flaws, errors, or contradictions. 

As Scripture tells us, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is what is infallible. When the weight of validity is on Jesus, not on an account of Jesus, we don't force the Bible to carry more weight than it should.

For our Muslim neighbors, the sacred miracle of their religion is the creation of the Koran. The Prophet Muhammad had a role, a significant one, but what is paramount in Islam is the creation of the Koran. Muslims base their religion on their book.

Christianity's  sacred miracle is not the Bible; it is Jesus. It is the Word becoming flesh. The words of the Bible testify about the sacred miracle, but the miracle of Christianity isn't Word becoming flesh and then regressing back into words. 

The sacred miracle is the Word becoming flesh. 

The Bible never claimed to be smooth---only sharp. 

It's sharp, because it points to Jesus."

     I would just like to mention this portion about the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you":

"Maybe we should stop reading this as a command to weaponize intellectual arguments with clenched fists and instead see it as a call to be able to articulate the blessing we've experienced through a life-style of practices that have shaped us into Jesus' cruciform posture, because that's an answer that deserves to be heard."

     I really enjoyed this book. I thought he could have used a few more pronouns at times to make the sentences flow a bit better, and occasionally I found a difficultly structured sentence/phrase. But overall Luke writes with an easy, humorous hand, and the book doesn't drag. There are a few practices/ideas expressed that I disagree with, but on a scale of 1-10 I'd give a high rating.

I received a copy of this book from BAKER PUBLISHING and was not required to write a positive review.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Choosing the Extraordinary Life

     BOOK REVIEW:   Too many of us settle for a listless life of mundane routine. We long to discover a greater purpose for our lives, but we don't know how. Dr Robert Jeffress has an encouraging message for those looking for something more: God not only wants us to enjoy an extraordinary life but has provided a road map for doing so.
     In this inspiring and motivating book, Dr Jeffress reveals seven secrets from Elijah that result in a life marked by significance, satisfaction, and success, including:

  • discovering your unique purpose in life
  • waiting on God's timing
  • learning how to handle bad days
  • and more
     For the overworked parent feeling trapped at home, the businessperson feeling unfulfilled in a stagnant career, the Christian worker ministering in obscurity---for anyone who wonders if there's something more to life---God's Word reveals seven secrets for experiencing a truly extraordinary life. 

     MY REVIEW:   When looking for a biblical example of someone who lived an extraordinary life, Elijah fits right in. He did many great things for God, and was unafraid of the powers that be who desired his life. This book is based on Elijah's life---or rather, Elijah's life is used as the example for this book and the truths it displays. Yet even Elijah was imperfect, and a chapter is included on handling bad days that come, even expecting them. 
     I found this book to be honest and straightforward and not shy of hard ideas. This book will not appease you if you are just looking for justification that you are fine as you are. It will call you to more. It is the kind of book you will read with a pen to highlight what sticks out to you. I really enjoyed it, and recommend it to everyone. 
     A few things that stuck out to me: 
  • (this one is more humorous...) Hopping between God and Baal, the people had their feet planted solidly in mid-air.
  • Elijah's efforts to influence his culture were neither convenient nor comfortable. They never are---not when you are trying to stand for God in a sinful and corrupt generation. But even if you have to stand alone, I urge you to stand without bending, because you do not know whom you are influencing. 
  • Experiencing a bad season of life is like traveling through a dark tunnel. The bad news is that while you are in the tunnel, you cannot see anything in front of you. The good news is once you have entered the tunnel, you are already on your way out of it. 
  • Those who desire to experience an extraordinary life learn the value of waiting on God's timing. Waiting time does not have to be wasted time. God often calls on us to take a time-out, because waiting has always been a part of God's plan for those He uses in a powerful way. God's most extraordinary servants have had to learn that significance is developed not on the playground of activity but during the quiet recesses. 
     I really liked the style of this book. It is not stodgy or boring, nor does it require long hours of slow reading. It is easily read and understood, and it does not feel like a chore to get through it. It is laced with humor and simple English. Yet it is not a light read and carries weighty truths. Dr Robert Jeffress is the senior pastor of a megachurch in Dallas, Texas. That bothered me a bit at first, but as I read this book my misgivings were erased. 

  I received a copy of this book from BAKER PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hidden Among the Stars

     BOOK REVIEW:   The year is 1938, and as Hitler's troops sweep into Vienna, Austrian Max Dornbach promises to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions from the Nazis, smuggling them to his family's summer estate near the picturesque village of Hallstatt. He enlists the help of Annika Knopf, his childhood friend and the caretaker's daughter, who is eager to help the man she's loved her entire life. But when Max also brings Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman, to hide at the castle, it complicates Annika's feelings and puts their entire plan---even their very lives---in jeopardy. Especially when the Nazis come to scour the estate and find both Luzia and the treasure gone.
      Eighty years later, Callie Randall is mostly content with her quiet life, running a bookstore with her sister and reaching out into the world through her blog. Then she finds a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that connects her to Annika's story---and possibly to the long-buried story of a dear friend. As she digs into the past, Callie must risk venturing outside the safe world she's built for a chance at answers, and maybe even new love.

     MY REVIEW:   Anymore, one must sort through the hundreds of books available to find one worth holding onto and passing around. This book is one of those rare few. A fiction novel, it explores life in Austria during Hitler's reign. Life changes in an instant, and Jews find themselves in a dangerous situation. Even the Gentile sympathizers are in danger, and no one can trust anyone. Greed runs rampant as homes are ransacked and possessions confiscated.
     This book is written in what I term "flashback form". The story of Annika is told through Callie's discovery of a book 80yrs later. Therefore, we read of both their lives, though predominately Annika's. It flips between the two in a manner quite easy to distinguish. Annika's tale is written in third person, and Callie's in first person. Callie's first person narrative felt a bit cliche at times, but not enough to spoil the book.
     While there is romance in this book, it is not the main stream as so many books are. It is understated, and while Callie's is unnecessary, Annika's is very relevant to the story. Without it many facets would be lost. I will say, however, that I was rather surprised at how it turned out. I can't explain more without giving anything away, but it was interesting to see how it all played out, or didn't.
     I really enjoyed this book. Another of Melanie Dobson's books I've read is Catching the Wind, which was just as good as this book, and written in the same manner---searching for a survivor of WWII.

 I received a copy of this book from TYNDALE PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Forever With Jesus

     BOOK REVIEW:   In Forever with Jesus, the sea kids learn that Jesus died for their sins, and that by believing in Him they will live in heaven forever. The cousins visit their grandparents for Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday. During their visit, their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, passes away. Grandma reads the Bible and tells her grandchildren how wonderful Heaven is and how there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering. The children understand that they do not have to fear death because their belief in Jesus guarantees they will live forever with Him in Heaven.

     MY REVIEW:   I love Lee Ann Mancini's Adventures of the Sea Kids series. This is the fourth book I have gotten. The layout and the pictures are just beautiful and terribly cute. The lessons are simple, straightforward, and "Gospel-truth". Her objective in writing these books is: "to help children build a strong foundational relationship with Jesus". 
     This book is about death and Heaven. When Isabella asks why we go to Heaven when we die, Grandma says "Because we believe in Jesus, and He died for our sins. When you sin there has to be a punishment. Jesus took the punishment for our sins. Jesus did this for us because He loves us." The lesson can be easily understood by a child; it is simple and without unnecessary theology.
     This series is a wonderful one that any child would be blessed to have.

  I received a copy of this book from BOOKCRASH and was not required to write a positive review. 

Crack Yourself Up Jokes for Kids

     BOOK REVIEW:   Any kid can be a comedian with a little help from CRACK YOURSELF UP JOKES FOR KIDS. This zany collection of one-liners, knock-knock jokes, riddles, puns, funny lists, and hilarious illustrations promises hours of fun. Just be careful. These are the kinds of laughs that make milk come out your nose---so don't drink and read!  Perfect for kids 6-12.

     MY REVIEW:   Who doesn't love a good book of jokes? This book is great for kids, and can even be enjoyed by adults. Many of the knock-knock jokes have the same punch line with just a different method of getting there, but there are several others as well. I never knew there were backwards jokes, where the answer is given before the joke. Truth be told, it rather takes the fun out of it. I don't know if I would call the illustrations "hilarious" but then I am a bit older than 12. There could be more of them, though. All the jokes are kid friendly, and even a (very) few reference God, for example: Two brothers, Jamie and Sam, were deciding who got to eat the last waffle. Mom cam in and suggested, "Boys, don't you think Jesus would want you to share? I think He would give his waffle to His brother."    "That's a good idea," Sam said. "Jamie, you be Jesus." 
     A few examples of what you will find in this book:

  • Health Inspector: "I'm afraid you have too many roaches in here."  Restaurant Owner: "How many am I allowed?
  • What's red and smells like blue paint? Red paint. 
  • Where do pencils go on vacation? Pencilvania. 
  • Little Girl: "Mommy, you've got some gray hairs.  Mom: "Yes, every time you don't behave, I get another gray hair." Little Girl: ''Is that why Grandma has so many?"
  • Susie was so excited that she put together a puzzle in just 10 days even though the box said 2-4 years.
     ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Sandy Silverthorne is an award-winning author/illustrator with more than half a million copies in print. His award-winning Great Bible Adventure children's series has been distributed in eight languages worldwide. Sandy has worked as a cartoonist, author, illustrator, actor, pastor, speaker, and comedian. Apparently it's hard for him to focus.

  I received a copy of this book from REVELL PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Joyful People Think

     BOOK REVIEW:   Two people can face the same type of adversity and have two vastly different reactions, even when they have the same background and worldview. What makes the difference? Perspective---the way they think about things. Right thinking matters, and thankfully it's something we all can learn to do.
     In this insightful unpacking of Philippians 4:8, pastor Jamie Rasmussen shows you how to focus your thoughts and attention on the things in life God has declared will make a meaningful impact on both your outlook and experience. It's the kind of thinking that has the power to change us, pointing us away from self-pity, anger, and resentment toward contentment and personal peace.

     MY REVIEW:   I quite enjoyed this book. It is practical and down-to-earth. It's easy to see that Jamie put a lot of time and research into it. I really liked how he studied and explained the Greek meanings of the words in Philippians 4:8. It is really neat to see what the root word is, how to pronounce it, how many times and in what importance it is used in the Bible, and how much more it means than what we think "whatsoever things are pure, lovely, true, just, etc" mean.
     This book is easy to believe---it feels accomplishable, like what it has to say can be made practical in our own lives, not a book of someone's saintly achievements that we can never hope to reach. How we think is really important, and the better we understand these different aspects of thinking, the easier it will be to emulate them.
     A few quotes I especially liked:

  • " 'And the God, who is Peace, will be with you'. Notice that the core of the promise is not Peace but God, who brings Peace. The promise is the very presence of God, a God who 'will be with you' as a result of your learning to embrace His prescribed way of thinking."

  • "God is much more concerned with a particularly different kind of thinking, which leads to a particularly different set of goals and results. This different kind of thinking involves altered perspectives and a more rigorous application than merely focusing on positives, possibilities, or problem solving. It requires learning to think in ways that God has clearly prescribed. It involves learning to think as God wants us to think. It's also the kind of thinking that will make us more mature in our personhood, more faithful to Him, more loving toward others, and more satisfied within. It's the kind of thinking befitting a follower of Jesus Christ."
  I received a copy of this book from BAKER PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Rumored Fortune

     BOOK REVIEW:   Tressa Harlowe's father kept his vast fortune hidden somewhere on his estate in the south of England and died suddenly, without telling anyone where he had concealed it. Now Tressa and her ailing mother are left with a mansion and an immense vineyard and no money to run it.
     It doesn't take long for a bevy of opportunists to flock to the estate under the guise of offering condolences. Tressa knows what they're really up to. She'll have to work with the rough and rusticated vineyard manager to keep the laborers content without pay and discover the key to finding her father's fortune---before someone else finds it first.

     MY REVIEW:   As the first book I have had read from Joanna Davidson Politano, I have to say my interest was decidedly piqued. I have a deep and abiding love of Historical Fiction, most especially that of the Victorian era. And one can hardly go wrong with a treasure hunt. Add a few suspicious "mourning" guests and a valiant hero and what more could you ask for?
     A few points against the book: 1) I was a little disappointed that Tressa didn't seem to be genuinely searching for this rumored fortune, especially as they so desperately needed it to quell the relentless demands for payment made both by town shops and laborers. Her time was spent mourning the loss of her father, painting exquisite designs upon her ceiling, and trying to decide whom to trust. Her search was one more of the analytical than physical, which I didn't mind, I just wish there had been a bit more physical searching. 2) I had the true villain picked out by the middle pages, though I did not predict the depths of his villainry. However, these are only mild downfalls, not enough to spoil the book.
     I would not say that this book is one of deep reflection and profound insight. However, the relationship Tressa had with God was very realistic. She struggled to feel Him near as she lost one precious anchor after another. But finally, when she has lost her final security, she is able to see how God will withstand though all else fall. Being a book set in a vineyard, there are several practical applications made in comparison to the pruning of a grapevine. While it seemingly kills or stunts the plant, it instead brings forth greater yield than ever imagined.
     And whatever you think you know about the fortune....... think long and hard. It is quite the opposite of what I expected. :)

   I received a copy of this book from REVELL PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Thief of Corinth

     BOOK REVIEW:   First-century Corinth is a city teeming with commerce and charm.  It's also filled with danger and corruption---the perfect setting for Ariadne's greatest adventure.
     After years spent living with her mother and oppressive grandfather in Athens, Ariadne runs away to her father's home in Corinth, only to discover the perilous secret that destroyed his marriage: though a Greek of high birth, Galenos is the infamous thief who has been robbing the city's corrupt of their ill-gotten gains.
     Desperate to keep him safe, Ariadne risks her good name, her freedom, and the love of the man she adores to become her father's apprentice. As her unusual athletic ability leads her into dangerous exploits, Ariadne discovers that she secretly revels in playing with fire. But when the wrong person discovers their secret, Ariadne and her father find their future---and very lives--- hanging in the balance.
     When they befriend a Jewish rabbi named Paul, they realize that his radical message challenges everything they've fought to build, yet offers something neither dared hope for.

     MY REVIEW:   Tessa Afshar is a favorite author of mine, and it was with great excitement I anticipated this book. It did not disappoint. Whereas the others of her books have been about a certain Biblical character, this one is about a fictional character in a Biblical setting, with a few Biblical characters having secondary roles. In "A Note from the Author" Tessa reveals that this book was written more for those who are not familiar with the Bible, those who would see no significance in the book focusing on a key character.
     Ariadne lacked a mother's love, and was taken from her father at a young age. By the time she returns to him at 16, she does not even realize how this has shaped her. She loves her father with all her heart, but cannot see that it is her own selfishness dictating her actions. When a daring adventure reaps serious consequences, she is able to discover the reality behind her choices and lay it aside.
     Ariadne was never drawn to the popular gods, but chose rather to rely on "The Unknown God". When later she is introduced to Paul, she at first rebels against a god who would demand the whole of herself. But through the tragedy mentioned above, when she is brought to the very end of herself, Ariadne is able to accept God. An added bonus: the rest of her family has accepted Him as well.
     For background (albeit very limited) on this story, read the end of Acts 17. Dionysius is a member of Areopagus, where Paul is invited to preach. In this story, Dionysius is Ariadne's brother, the particular member who invited Paul to Areopagus. The reason for involving him is Tessa fascination with his being such an intelligent man, yet choosing to follow God.

   I received a copy of this book from TYNDALE PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Culture of Peace

     BOOK REVIEW:   Have you ever found yourself in a conflict with a friend or family member, unsure of how to restore the relationship? Do you sometimes find yourself unintentionally looking for the worst in people, judging them more critically than they deserve? Have you ever wondered how to help and minister to someone stuck in destructive or sinful behaviour?
     This book offers a road map for Christians to pursue a culture of peace and restore healthy relationships at home, at church, and at work. Through these personal stories and short, practical chapters written by professional counsellors, you'll find scriptural advice on how to:

  • Respond to conflict---great and small---with forgiveness and reconciliation. 
  • Restore and counsel other Christians who are caught in sin. 
  • React to criticism with grace and humility. 
  • Guard your heart against unfair judgments of others. 
Whether you're a pastor looking for advice on how to counsel members of your church, or whether you're a church member looking for advice on how to reconcile with a friend, a culture of peace is possible. 

     MY REVIEW:   This book is rather like a "Handbook to Peace". It is only 100 pages long, and smaller than your average book---I'd guess 6'' x 4''. Each of the four chapters are written by a different person. They discuss: Building Real Relationships; Church Discipline; How to Take Criticism; and Charitable Judgment. The chapters are short and to the point, and filled with wisdom to take to heart. 
     The two chapters that stuck out to me the most are the last two on Criticism and Judging. Criticism is really hard to take, but here we can see how to let it be for good; how to accept and even rejoice in it and not let it take us down. And Judging is something everyone has done. This book shows some of the ways we do it constantly and detrimentally to us and the other person. But especially, how it is wrong and to avoid it. 
    I received a copy of this book from HENDRICKSON PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 


Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Bible and Archaeology

     BOOK REVIEW:   Ancient artifacts and the Bible illuminate each other in various ways, but it can be difficult to understand how this process works and how archaeological discoveries should be interpreted. In this book, Matthieu Richelle provides an enlightening perspective on these issues, showing how texts and material culture are in a fascinating "dialogue" with one another that sheds light on the meaning and importance of both. What emerges is a rich and balanced picture that enlivens our understanding of the Bible's message, increases our appreciation for the historical and cultural contexts in which it was written, and helps us be realistic about the limits of our knowledge.

     MY REVIEW:   I found this book to be very interesting. I don't follow archaeological discoveries, therefore this was all new to me. I quite liked that it was written in layman's terms, so it was very easy to follow and understand, and did not drag along. Matthieu discusses different aspects of archaeology and how it relates to the Bible. For example: the different kinds of writings discovered and the difficulties in dating and interpreting them; the debated theories of when discovered cities/monuments were built and by whom; how the progression of pottery indicates the period that civilization lived (though there were no details on the pottery itself); and more. There are also 31 pictures in the back of the book of different finds. The pictures are clear and interesting.
     The objective of this book is to better prepare the reader to consider the new discoveries being made in an unbiased and intelligent manner. I would say that purpose is achieved, though one needs to realize it is not a full-blown account. The book is only 208 pages long. It is this fact, however, that makes it practical for the general public.

    I received a copy of this book from HENDRICKSON PUBLISHERS, and was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

When Through Deep Waters

     BOOK REVIEW:   Alicen McCaffrey finally has the life her mother always dreamed for her: beautiful home in Santa Monica, successful husband, adorable daughter. Then tragedy blows her carefully assembled facade to pieces. Worse yet---Alicen feels solely responsible. At rock bottom, she decides to accompany a childhood friend back to Red Lodge, Montana, where they spent summers together as kids. 
     The peaceful mountain landscape, accented with lush forests and small-town charm, brings back happy memories of time spent with her beloved, eccentric Grandma Josephine. Alicen starts to hope that perhaps things could be different here. Perhaps the oppressive guilt will lift---if only for a moment. 
     But when Alicen starts hearing voices and seeing mysterious figures near the river in the woods, she begins to fear she's completely lost her sanity, as it's rumored her grandmother did. Might there be more to Red Lodge than meets the eye? Could the voices and visions be real---and her only means of finding the healing she so desperately needs? Or will they prove to be her final undoing? 

     MY REVIEW:   I have never disliked a book as I disliked this one. It was eerie and weird. A psychological fantasy mystery---I should have expected this. I really don't know how it can be called a Christian book. References to God were extremely rare and always vague. For a fantasy book it could be good, but really, why is fantasy even considered good Christian reading material? 
     Alicen keeps seeing four children appearing and speaking to her about things her grandmother told her years ago. She hates their presence and can't make them leave. She attends a psychotic facility where the director is controlled by a frightful demon of her past---a horrid uncle who, while dead, still plagues her. She has an twisted need to placate her past sins by hurting those she is supposed to be helping, thinking their suffering alleviates her sin. 
     If the reason for writing a book is to demonstrate God and His Care in the life of another (albeit fictional), then Rachelle missed. I will admit, Alicen finds release from the terrible guilt and despair she carries, but as I mentioned above, it is vague and feels slightly Satanic, rather than being God who showed her true redemption. This is a book I would warn against. Even if slivers of truth can be found, it really isn't worth the influence of the rest of the book. 

    I received a copy of this book from TYNDALE PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Practicing the King's Economy

     When I got this book I expected it to be about spending and managing your money in a way that pleases and glorifies God. It was that and more. It wasn't inapplicable and boring like I expected. Different avenues discussed are job creation, equality, potluck vs soup kitchen, giving and tithing, and more. They are things I've never given much thought to. For instance, in potluck vs soup kitchen, the authors bring out the difference in operation, feeling, and effectiveness. Soup kitchens hand out labels, even without meaning to. There are those manning the kitchen, the well-to-do. Then there's the recipients, the destitute and needy. Potlucks, on the other hand, allow everyone to contribute and take pride in the meal. Everyone is equal; there are no labels. The relationship is everyone give and take, rather than one or the other giving or taking. But of course not every circumstance is going to be able to produce a potluck, and lets not discredit that soup kitchens are doing amazing work.
     The different avenues of this book are each given two chapters, the first to outline it, and the second to make it practical and practicable in real life. The authors are real and honest about what they are doing or not doing with the practices in this book. It is written in an interesting and profitable way. Much can be learned from it that doesn't even have to do with money. One thing that stuck out to me in the first chapter, about worship and giving, is this quote from C. S. Lewis:
          "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them." 
And one from the author :
          "We are often told we ought to be willing and ready to suffer for Jesus' sake. What we've forgotten in the West is that this doesn't just mean being ready to declare Jesus with our lips if anti-Christian terrorists come charging in with AK-47's in hand. It means declaring Jesus with our lives, not least by willingly entering into the suffering of the world's poor, taking some of their economic burdens onto our own backs. If we want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, then costly generosity will be one way we share in the fellowship of His and His Church's sufferings. Indeed, in a day when most of us in the United States will never face actual suffering for our faith, embracing voluntary suffering through sharing may be one of the most Christlike acts we ever commit." 
     I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone.

   I received a copy of this book from BAKER BOOKS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Breaking the Fear Cycle

     BOOK REVIEW:   The Bible calls us to "fear not" on many occasions. But just how do we accomplish that when every news item seems designed to get us wringing our hands? Using her own story as a catalyst, Maria Furlough discusses how to overcome fear for good. With practicality and passion, she shows us the steps we can take to bring those fears to God rather than act on them and to trust God with the future.
     When we give God full control over our lives, choosing His sovereignty over our own ability, we can break the cycle of fear, grow though suffering, and trust God to fulfill His promises of protection and peace. If you are filled with anxiety about your personal circumstances, the state of the world today, or even your fear-clogged social media feeds, you'll welcome this hands-on journey from fear to freedom.

     MY REVIEW:   I enjoyed this book, even though I don't feel like I struggle with the kinds of fears portrayed in this book. And yet, there are many things that I could take from it. The book felt honest and down-to-earth. Maria was not afraid to uncover her personal fears and trials. And I liked that the last section has several stories of different people who overcame their fears, which is always nice to see as it attests to the realness of a book and its author.
     A few quotes that stuck out to me are:
*Do not spend one precious moment of joy focusing on fear of pain. 
*...in my experience, peace is not something that is poured out over us until we first determine to jump into it. Obtaining peace is not a blissful walk in the park; it is a hard-won battle, and peace is the prize. 
*Our fears are not trustworthy. They are not based on truth, they do not know facts, and they are guilty of vast exaggeration. 

     Maria covers many things in her book, from realizing the lying character of fear, to realizing Who holds your future, to giving God control of your life (and your fears), to facing your fears head-on, to resting in God's Peace and being willing to go through whatever He has in store for you. It is quite the book.

  I received a copy of this book from REVELL and was not required to write a positive review. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Breath of Hope

     BOOK REVIEW:   With her younger brother Ivar in tow, Nilda Carlson is on her way to America to join her oldest brother Rune and his family in the northern forests of Minnesota. While she sees this as a golden opportunity, she has enough experience in life to know it won't be easy. The transatlantic voyage itself proves to be an adventure, and she hopes she will feel safe in her new home.
     Rune and Signe Carlson are thrilled that Nilda and Ivar are coming to Minnesota, but life on the Strand farm remains a struggle. Rune is trying to build a house for his wife and children, but Uncle Einar Strand, obsessed with his own ambitions, refuses to help. What's more, he forbids anyone from the community to step foot on his land, leaving Rune to toil on his own. When a tragedy lays bare the truth behind Einar's anger and isolation, the Carlsons and Strands will have to come together like never before to become a true family.

     MY REVIEW:   This book is the second in Lauraine Snelling's UNDER THE NORTHERN LIGHTS series. The first book is The Promise of Dawn. I did not read the first book, and I don't think it took much away from this one. There was some background that I would have liked to know, but overall I could follow the story very well.
     The only of Lauraine's books I have read are the RED RIVER OF THE NORTH series and Daughter of Twin Oaks. I don't think I would rate this book as good as those. I found it a little boring and something about the dialogue I didn't care for. But opinions aside, the book is written well. The characters are strong and faithful, responding properly to the trials in their way (except of course for the one causing said trials). They grew and were strengthened, met good people and forged new friendships, supported each other and reached out to others. Any Lauraine fan would like this book. 
  I received a copy of this book from BETHANY HOUSE PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Yes Effect

     BOOK REVIEW:   We all long to do great things. But sometimes the needs of the world seem so insurmountable that we just shrink back. When this happens we need stories of God at work---stories like those in The Yes Effect---to renew our passion. 
     Luis Bush, originator of the 10/40 Window concept, recounts a lifetime of watching God move through the "yes" of His people. From communist China to the slums of Cairo, these accounts show that when God works in us, we join His work around us. True transformation is sparked when we reorient our hearts, get in sync, with God's tenderness toward the oppressed, and regain compassion for the lost. 

     MY REVIEW:   I liked this book. It is focused on spreading the Gospel, even when you don't think you can effect anything. Luis uses multiple true-life stories of people who answered "yes" to God's call, and the impact they were able to make through that.
     A huge factor in being able to spread the Gospel to those in need, is being willing to go wherever you are called. And many times, it is not a place or circumstance that makes sense to us. We think our impact is best made doing huge things in far-off lands. But that is not always the case. Often we are called to witness to the people in places we think very unlikely. Father Sama'an, in Cairo, Egypt, witnessed to his garbage man, Quidees. After committing his life to the Lord, Quidees adopted a concern for the destitute living in "garbage city", and convinced Father Sama'an to visit with them. As a result, a huge brotherhood of Christians was formed, and the formerly destitute people began to thrive, and were able to keep 80% of Cairo's garbage off the streets and recycle it to support themselves.
     Luis instigated several movements focused on the people who are most often over-looked. The 10/40 Window is the tribes between the latitudes of 10 and 40 who were most unreceptive to the Gospel, and therefore, the most over-looked. This movement focused on reaching out to them. Another movement was the 4/14 Movement, which focused on children between those ages. They work with these kids while in their most formative years. There are many other movements, but for sake of time and not revealing the entire book here, I shall leave as is.

  I received a copy of this book from MOODY PUBLISHERS and was not required to write a positive review.