Reviews

bad girls of the bible (waterbrook)

I must be the atypical woman. The back cover tells me that ten million readers already love Liz Curtis Higgs’s writing, yet I don’t. The very things that others seems to like about her style is what I don’t–her “blend of contemporary fiction with biblical commentary” and her “unique brand of ‘girlfriend theology’.”

I did like her biblical commentary and the section at the end of each chapter called “What Lessons Can We Learn from So and So.” What I didn’t like was the long fiction narrative that I had to wade through to get to the shores of biblical understanding. The story of Eve as told in Genesis is plenty good enough for me. I don’t need it spun any more. I don’t need Eve to be Evelyn from Savannah and the Devil to be Devin. I don’t need God reduced to a human stage and theatrics to understand Him better.

This fictionalization takes up about 1/3 of every chapter before Higgs gets to the biblical commentary which I enjoyed for the most part.  Again, I could have done without the over-humanizing of God. For instance of page 23 she says of creation, “First, though, God tried pets,” implying that God’s initial plan was for animals to be Adam’s intimate companion and that Eve was Plan B. To me this says that God was not God enough, not omniscient enough, to understand Adam, his own created being. Something about suppositions like this throughout the book doesn’t sit well with me.

Like I haven’t said enough already, here’s another–I didn’t care too much for the cutesies tucked into Higgs’ commentary either. For example, in her introduction of Genesis 2:21 ( So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the placed with flesh), she says ” Say, two favorite movie titles in one verse: While You Were Sleeping and Adam’s Rib!” I can see how this may be a humorous ice breaker in a live presentation, but I don’t think it’s worthy of the cost of print.

Along the lines of trying to be cute, there’s also the last section of each chapter called, “Good Girl Thoughts Worth Considering.” I’m not sure if that’s good girl thoughts or good girl thoughts. Or both maybe?

But like I said at the very beginning, perhaps it’s just me. If Higgs is making a difference to a million+ women, she’s got to be doing something right. And maybe I’m just not girly enough for it.

(I received this book free from Waterbrook. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/bloggingforbooks/reviews/ranking/6735/short:1

Reviews

live like you mean it by t j addington (navpress)

The cover very clearly tells you the book contains “the 10 crucial questions that will help you clarify your purpose, live intentionally and make the most of the rest of your life.” The foreword also underscores the merits of learning and understanding through questions–“It is in wrestling with questions, and not giving the answers, that we grow and change.” And with these expectations from the book, I set out on a Socratic journey of self discovery with the aid of Addington.

Every chapter focuses on one question and its answer, and ends with a few more reflective questions that can be used in group discussions. I liked that the questions are relevant and applicable to Christian growth and lifestyle. I also liked that Addington directs the reader to the Bible for answers. For example, the reader is pointed to Ephesians 2:10 to find the answer to the question “Why am I here?”

I would have liked Addington to take the questioning approach farther and use a more purer form of Socratic strategy. Questions are not as effective when they are followed by the answer and illustrative examples. Lessons are better understood and remembered when the questions arouse interest and curiosity while leading the learner to discover the answer and relish the gain of new, fresh insights. I felt the book did not meet the expectation set forth in the foreword.

Yet, despise that one small prejudice I have about the book’s teaching strategy, I feel the substance of the book and the logic of Addington’s treatment of the topic are worth the attention of any Christian committed to a lifestyle focused on God’s calling.

Click here for details about Live Like You Mean It.

(I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Reviews

soul print by mark batterson (multnomah)

One of three things happens to every book I read: It gets sold on half.com, shelved with other good books on the left side of my fireplace for later referencing or gifting, or shelved with my favorite books on the right side for infinite re-reading with marker and pen in hand. Mark Batterson, you have now joined the likes of Lucado, Swindoll, Yancey and Chambers on the esteemed right side of my fireplace.

The thesis of Soul Print is in its first paragraph: “There has never been and never will be anyone else like you. But that isn’t a testament to you. It’s a testament to the God who created you. You are unlike anyone who has ever lived. But that uniqueness isn’t a virtue. It’s a responsibility. Uniqueness is God’s gift to you, and the uniqueness is your gift to God. You owe it to yourself to be yourself. But more important, you owe it to the One who designed you and destined you.”

Beginning a book with a succinct thesis sentence is no big thing, of course. But it is only the really good books that consistently stick to the  thesis, the purpose, of the book. Batterson is focused and on target from start to finish. Every word, every illustration, every progression of thought ist spot on. Plus, the book is a font of quotable lines. Mark Batterson, writing is most definitely embedded your soul print.

True to his word, the book is not a self-help. It’s more a biblically based self discovery. It’s about discovering and following God’s unique plan for you. Using David as an example, Batterson gives you good reason to identify your divinely destined soul print. I like that there are no patronizing exercises or reflective questions interspersed throughout the book. It is just straightforward lessons from God’s Word and David’s personal spiritual journey.

Only a true artist can appropriately inject humor into the treatment of a serious topic. And Batterson is such an artist. From questioning whether Saul was doing a number one or a number two when David snipped off the edge of his robe to phrases like “Kings don’t disrobe and get jiggy with it,” he is engaging while teaching. Mark Batterson, The next time I’m back home, I shall visit National Community Church and I hope to meet your soul printed self.

Here’s an excerpt of Soul Print.

(I received this book free from Multnomah Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/bloggingforbooks/reviews/ranking/4182/short:1

Reviews

sabbath by dan b. allender (thomas nelson)

Endorsing this book, to me, is a no brainer. But then, I’m a third-generation Sabbath keeper, and can’t imagining surviving life without the joy and rest of the Sabbath Day.

I love the way Allender unfolds the true meaning of the Sabbath while expelling the myths and traditional restrictions that have burdened the Day sullied its name. With every chapter and every concept, the Sabbath is redressed with God’s original plan for communing with man.

The Sabbath is less about refraining from toil and work and more about being renewed and revived. It is less about what you don’t do on the Sabbath Day and more about what you do in the joy of the Lord. It is less about a ritual and more about a state of fellowship and worship. “The Sabbath is a day of sensuality when we say to one another, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good'” (p. 66).

I remember growing up with Sabbath rules and sunset times that  made by Sabbaths long and tedious. I also remember the freedom that came when I allowed relationship with God and my special time with Him dictate what I would and would not do on His Holy Day. The book highlights the essence of the Sabbath, encouraging the reader to focus of strengthening your relationship with God and rejoicing in Him rather than being burdened by the guilt of proper observance. True Sabbath observance is a natural consequence when you are in true communion with God and your community.

As much as I love this book and as biased as I am towards it as a Sabbath keeper, I have only one gripe about the book. While all of the reasons Allender gives in support of a Sabbath-keeping lifestyle are biblical, he is quite ready to compromise on the actual day of the Sabbath.”It doesn’t matter what day you enter the Sabbath, “he says on page 3. Giving the example of ministers who are usually the busiest over the weekends, he condones the keeping of Monday or Friday as the Sabbath.

The same Bible that so well outlines the beauty and joy and grace found in fellowshipping with God on the Sabbath Day is very clear on the actual day of the Sabbath–“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9). The call to Sabbath-observance is about the entire commandant, including the day– and not just the spirit of the commandment.

As a Sabbath keeper, the book was an absolute delight; as a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath keeper, the idea of rescheduling God’s designated holy day made me cringe.

Reviews

Chasing Elephants, by Brent Crowe (NavPress)

It took me a very long time to get through this book. Not because of any complexity in language or subject, but because some portions of it made me uncomfortable. And that’s a compliment to the book.

I felt like I was back in Situational Ethics, my freshman year in college. I was forced to confront my reasons for the choices and decisions I make as a Christian. I found myself questioning the boundaries of my Christian lifestyle that have been erected by my church, my community, my family and myself. A conservative, third-generation Seventh-day Adventist, I have a lot of these boundaries–restrictions on lifestyle, diet, entertainment. I even have some that are self-inflicted.

So when Crowe compared boundaries in the Christian life with the plastic covers on electrical outlets, I squirmed a little, and began to question my Christian lifestyle. Do the restrictions of my conservative Adventist culture define who I am as Christian? Or are these boundaries merely curbs that enclose me in a community of faith, of like-minded people who support me in my spiritual growth?  Do I live the Adventist lifestyle because my church expects me to or because it is my personal decision made with the freedom I have to choose? And if boundaries are indeed comparable to the plastic protectors on electrical outlets, are they not as pertinent after a certain point in my spiritual growth?

So, yes, the book was a difficult read for someone like me who has lived by the book and its rules. To question the why behind the things I do, to dilly dally in the greys of  Christian lifestyle is not my favorite pastime. Yet, the book was good for me. After all the probing and questioning, I was glad that it solidified my belief system.

While Crowe’s thoughts about and interpretation of some biblical passages differ from mine, I appreciate the basic principles he lays out that help the reader choose for himself a biblical approach to sticky situations and grey areas. Without forcing his theology on you, he helps you find the solution.

Did the book make a difference in my life? No, it didn’t. It was more like a visit to the doctor’s office for an annual exam–you think you’re doing okay, but you’re not sure until the results are in. Reading the book was an exercise in re-examining who I am,  and I was satisfied with the result. That however would not have been the case had I read this book 20 years ago.

Where were you, Brent Crowe, when I was younger chasing elephants by the herds?

(I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Reviews

Mornings and Evenings with Spurgeon (New Leaf)

This is an edited version of Spurgeon’s devotions from the 1800’s. A classic loved by scholars and laymen, it’s one of those devotions that can be used over and over again. And how you use it depends on how much personal devotion time you have carved out of the day for yourself.

To get the full Spurgeon effect, your dose for the day would be reading a page-long devotion in the morning, another one in the evening, memorizing one Bible text, and reading a significant portion of the Bible (towards the goal of reading the entire Bible in a year). All this is clearly laid out on two facing pages and makes it easy to navigate and pace yourself from January 1 to December 31. That’s a lot of reading and devotion time for the average person.

If you are already in the habit of spending half hour alone with God at the beginning and end of each day, this is just the book for you. but if you just want a quick pick-me-up with your morning cup of coffee or a pinch of devotion at the long traffic light on your way to work, this is not for you. By that I mean, it’s not for you to use every morning and evening with regularity; but you can always use a reading whenever you want to be recharged with God’s Word. Just because these devotions are long and heavy is no reason to disregard them altogether.

If you’re the kind that writes notes during your personal devotion, there’s ample white space around every reading. But, the pages are so Bible-thin that you can only use a pencil or one of those special pens that don’t bleed through. My first reaction to the paper was that the booked screamed “cheap,” but then I realized that two full-page devotions for a full year equals 730 pages which would result in a thick, hard-covered book that’s not very portable. So I can see why New Leaf went with thin pages and a paperback cover. It’s a practical choice.

All in all, a great devotional. But I won’t be starting it until next year–I got it well into the new year and I’m not about to try to catch up a with 12 days of Spurgeon!

(I received this book free from New Leaf Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Reviews

gotta have it by Gregory Jantz (David C. Cook)

The title (the subtitle and the cover art too, for that matter) led me to believe the book was an expose´on the evils of materialism. Well aware of these evils and having never been tempted to keep up with the Jones, I set out to read the book for no other reason but an obligation to review it (I won it on a David C Cook Facebook competitions–which I highly recommend for its fun factor and simplicity).

But by page 5 I realized that my first impressions were wrong (Step up your packaging game, David C Cook!). The book is about bringing balance and perspective into your life by taking control of excesses in your life that give you a false sense of security and comfort. The book is more about moderation than frugality, more about being a steward than living a life of bare minimums.

Jantz begins with the first step towards getting rid of your Gotta Have It’s: Distinguish your wants from your needs. While it was a very elementary and obvious start, I was pleased that he did not get overly repetitious or insult my intelligence. When he says the obvious, it’s merely a to set me on familiar ground–sort of a launch pad–before sending me on a journey of exploring and understanding my deeply-rooted thoughts and feelings that control my choices.

By page 40, I was hoping the book would help me conquer my primary want for chocolate and my secondary want for all things sweet. But the next page came along and set straight my tongue-in-cheek thought: Referring to the role of electronics in our life, Jantz says, “Electronics can fall into two camps–gadgets that help you stay connected and gadgets that help you disconnect.” Of course, what he says about electronics is applicable to all the different components of our life. Throughout the book, he brought me back, again and again, to question stuff in my life and see if it connects me to or disconnects me from God and my responsibility as His steward on this earth.

Spread throughout the book are sections called Planting Seeds that tactfully helped me identify the excesses in my life . I was impressed with both Jantz and David C. Cook at the lengths to which they have gone to ensure these sections are non-threatening. First the title, Planting Seeds. How could you possibly be offended  by or get defensive  over it! Then, the font. An unobtrusive san serif, it stands apart from the rest of the book as if to say, “You don’t have to do this exercise if you feel uncomfortable.” And, finally, the language and directives of these sections are very low-key and more contemplative than finger-pointing in nature.

The entire book is a very comfortable environment, conducive to reflection and self-questioning. You never feel like Jantz is holding your feet to the fire till you ‘fes up and give it up. He is not about giving you a guilt trip. What he says is that there nothing wrong with my frivolous collection of antiques or my love for chocolate, but when “our wants, our preferences, our choices, our excessities supersede and obscure our true needs” (p 65).

(I received this book free from David C. Cook. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Reviews

Chazown, by Craig Groeschel

If I had the patience, I’d look up the page number for you. But somewhere in Chazown, Groeschel says something like “You’ve got just one shot at life, so live it for the second embrace.” (Referring, of course, to Jesus’ hug at the pearly gates.)

This book is a manual on how to live that kind of  life–a life outlined, motivated and charged by a vision. But not just any vision; not what you aspire for yourself, not what your family dreams for you. The vision is God’s–what God foresees for you, what God wants to reveal to you. Everything about the book is practical and applicable. It’s a straight forward how-to, akin to the Dummies Series. You know what I mean–not in the sense that it insults your intelligence but in the fact that it is simple enough for anybody. You don’t have to be a seasoned theologian or an experienced Christian to grasp the fundamentals of this book. All you need is to be desirous of living your life to the fullest.

The language is simple and conversational, interspersed with sporadic levity. (I could have done without the jokes, but I can see how it could aid in keeping a reader’s attention. So I’ll lay off his not-so-funnies). The chapters are short and focused, with relevant pull quotes. I’m not sure if Groeschel or his editor gets credit for the quotes, but it is rare to see pull quotes used as effectively as they are in Chazone. They are so good that you can skim through the book, read just the quotes and get your money’s worth.

Somewhere else in the book Groeschel explains how living God’s will for you is simple but not easy. It’s like running a marathon, he says. The mechanics are simple–put one foot in front of the other, repeat until you get to the finish line. The process, on the other hand, is not easy. You need the stamina, the motivation, the drive, the perseverance, the support, etc, to keep you going till the finish line.

Everything from page layout to font to diagrams to cover art to white space to language to content–and pull quotes, of course–is cohesively practical and simple. And in some strange way, all these elements come together to make you, the reader, feel that this thing about living to fulfill God’s vision, God’s chazown, is doable and not as far-fetched as it seemed before you picked up this book.

Good work, Team Multnomah and Groeschel. This one is a keeper for me.

(I received this book free from Tyndale. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/bloggingforbooks/reviews/ranking/1390

Reviews

Immanuel’s Veins

I feel like such a jerk giving a negative review of a book that begins with 16 raving endorsements. The only thing I liked about the book was the skillful development of the character Toma. His persona was unveiled in parallel to the unveiling of the theme of sacrificial love.

Beyond that, there were a few things that bothered me:

1) The inconsistency of the language. The story is set in the 1700s, but the conversations are mixed with colloquial phrases from centuries later. Phrases such as “hunk of a man” and “party pooper” seem out of place in the conversations.

2) Many chapters are identical except for the setting and the characters. I grew tedious of back to back scenes of the same thing–good guy drawn by seductive being, confused by mystical culture and compelled to fight violence with violence. I felt like the book was trying hard to compete with dark, gothic vampire novels while holding on to some sort of spiritual reins.

3) The spiritual lesson in the book feels lik an after thought. I was two-thirds into the book before I felt this was a Christian publication. And even after that, there were a few uncomfortable moments. For example, Toma’s love for Lucine–while sacrificial in the sense that he was willing to die for her–was a physical attraction for the most part. I wanted to see Toma grow in a deeper understanding of what love really is. It was like he took a giant leap of commitment to love without  knowing why.

Maybe the story is a very involved allegory with complicated symbolism that I just didn’t get. Or maybe the problem was that I was hoping for an Aslan and not a Toma. And this was just was not Narnia.

****

WIN A IMMANUEL’S VEINS T SHIRT DIRECTLY FROM THOMAS NELSON PUBLICATIONS: One thing the book does do is get you thinking about just how much you’d do for love. Will love incapacitate you from rational thinking and moral decisions? Or will love move you to towards God and goodness no matter what? And what is sacrificial love? COMMENT BELOW WITH YOUR T SHIRT SIZE AND YOU’LL BE ENTERED INTO A DRAWING FOR A FREE T SHIRT. ONLY NORTH AMERICAN RESIDENTS, PLEASE. I WILL CONTACT THE WINNER FOR THE MAILING ADDRESS.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Reviews

Faithful, by Kim Cash Tate

This book allows the reader to meander through the lives of a handful of women–sisters and friends, some single, others married–and observe how real life and real problems can unravel faith.

Set in modern day Western culture, teeming with responsibilities to family and opportunities to be discreet, the parallel lives of these women illustrate the role of fidelity in marriage and chasitity in singlehood. Cyd is the central character who holds the plot and the all the stories together with her unwavering connection to God. At every crisis or confusion, you find her in prayer.

The story is about each person’s faithfulness to the other and faith in God. Faithfulness is a story about the test of Christianity in today’s world.

I loved that the themes were relevant. I loved that the author had the guts to examine sensitive issues. I loved that Christianity wasn’t just sprinkled here and there to make the book “Christian.” Loved all that; but as a piece of fiction, aside from the content, it was just okay for you.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”