Saturday, February 18, 2017

Love Him Anyway

Love Him Anyway by Abby Banks
The story of Abby and Jason Banks is a remarkable one at that.  From finding out their 3rd child Wyatt is paralyzed to both Abby and Jason having different surgeries, including Austin having two hernias removed, the road of life has been a bumpy one at that.  Yet, there are these glimpses of grace in this book that are evident throughout the pages.  It would be easy to go through the life of this family and become jaded, cynical, and downright pessimistic about life and God, but they have been able to work through much pain in faith, not letting those around them be pushed away by their experiences.
One moment of God’s grace shining through when Abby writes, “A short time later, the doctor called Jason and me into the counseling room. The surgery was over, and Austin had done great. The doctor said she did indeed have two hernias that needed to be repaired. He told us they would call us back shortly to be with Austin in recovery, but first there was a nurse who wanted to speak with me. A nurse in scrubs entered the room and introduced herself.

“I was helping in your daughter’s surgery and heard that you have thyroid cancer. I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know that everything is going to be okay,” she said. “I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and just went through my radioactive iodine treatment. I’d like to give you my phone number in case you have any questions later.” I couldn’t help but marvel at how God had orchestrated everything to provide comfort for me during Austin’s surgery.” (36)  We often gloss over small events that happen in our lives when others come into our lives with a similar experience, but these times often leave a deep imprint in our minds and hearts.

Abby spells out the disappointment and heartache very well when finding out about Wyatt’s condition.  The beauty of her writing on this was the sting of trying to figure what the disease was and how to deal with it.  She writes, “This was bad, really bad.  Transverse myelitis is a one-in-a million autoimmune attack, and there is no cure. Only one-third of people with transverse myelitis make a full recovery. One-third make a partial recovery, and one-third make no recovery at all. There was only a 33% chance my beloved little boy would ever get better, and I was devastated.” (71) I felt a similar way when my doctor told me our daughter had a cleft palate, I had never heard of that before.  Further, Abby makes the comment that Jason’s family handled things away from the office at home.  To have a support system like this one is no small thing.

Overall, I know you will enjoy this book, though you may cry and come face to face with real suffering, you will see God’s grace in these pages.

Thanks to Ambassador International for the ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

My Holy Bible for Girls


I am accustomed by now to the onslaught of specific oriented Bibles, from the men's devotional to the archaeology Bible and the word study Bible, all have something to offer for the student of the Bible.  The My Holy Bible for Girls is no different.  This new Bible put out by Zondervan is beautiful in its appearance and looks much like a personal journal would.  The turquoise color and the elastic band going around the Bible makes it a welcome addition to the growing number of individualized Bibles.

The margins on the sides of the Scripture are full of room for notes, drawings, or anything that comes to mind when reading a particular passage.  My daughter really likes this Bible and its journaling feature because she's always wanting to put her own thoughts on paper.  The entire NIV text is big enough to read and comes with an easy to read font.  The Bible is designed for younger girls but I think the appeal of this type of journaling Bible is much wider, from young to old.  One of the best features of the Bible is the section on How to Use the Bible, which helps girls understand the Bible, what they are reading, and how to apply it to everyday living.

This Bible would be a great gift for Christmas for a young girl or any woman who loves to journal and takes notes while reading God's Word.

Thanks to Handlebar Marketing and Zondervan for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You Carried Me: A Daughter's Memoir

You Carried Me is a poignant story about a young girl who finds out at 14 that she is a living survivor of a botched abortion.  In our world which comprises of individual choice and freedom, we often don't heart the stories of those who most need to tell their story.  Melissa Ohden tells her personal story that is both moving and alarming in these pages.

Melissa tells the beginning of her story in the first chapter of the book by outlining the details she came to no later on in life.  She writes, "Like other babies born prematurely, I had a host of serious medical problems including low birth weight (2 pounds 14.5 ounces), jaundice, and respiratory stress. But my troubles were complicated by the after effects of the poisonous saline solution I had endured in my mother's womb." (3) Into the arms of a loving family, both Ron and Linda Cross welcomed little Melissa with all the tenderness they could muster.  Life was not all easy as she grew up in the Cross household, Ron had to take a job in Storm Lake as farming became nearly impossible to manage a family doing.  Yet, they stuck together and fifteen years into their marriage, Linda gave birth to a son named Dustin, a younger brother for Melissa.

It was an event in the life of Melissa's sister's life Tammy that changed the course of history for Melissa.  Tammy blurted out in anger at one point to Melissa, "At least my parents wanted me!" (22)  This comment stung and sent Melissa on a path to find out her birth mother and father.  The barest fact were given to Melissa from Linda and she knew finally about the botched abortion but not her birth mother.  The burden of not knowing and the willingness to get involved in destructive behaviors led Melissa down the road of drinking and bulimia, she really needed help.

The rest of the story unwinds as Melissa gets further along the quest to finding her birth mother and father and learning to live with the past.  She learns to write letters to them and find out what really happened.  She also faces opposition and criticism as she told her story to her college friends.  She even got invested in the local Methodist church after she shared her story as a survivor during her high school years.

This is a very moving story and one that I know you will want to read.

Thanks to Handlebar and Plough Publishing House for providing the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Preaching Old Testament Narratives by Benjamin Walton

How does a minister faithfully preach God’s Word from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament?  How must he be faithful to the original intent of the text but bring it to today’s audience?  These questions are answered in Dr.Benjamin Walton’s new book, Preaching Old Testament Narratives.  Walton, president of PreachingWorks, a company designed to help pastors faithfully and consistently preach God’s Word, delivers the goods in this book by carefully bringing us along in his journey. 

One of the aspects of this book that is very valuable is Benjamin’s insistence that we preach CUT’s or Complete Units of Thought, identify historical and theological contexts, and finally at the end craft the take home truth (steps 3-4 include studying the plot and the original theological message).  Why is it important first to preach complete unit of thoughts?  For one, “a poorly chose preaching text can doom the sermon before it begins.  In general, we need to preach an entire CUT, because OT narratives teach few theological principles and because it takes an entire CUT to convey an OTM (original theological message).  Thus, preaching partial CUTs typically results in misapplication.” (47)  Preachers misapply God’s Word because they combine too many units of thought and thematic concerns that often are very different from each other or carry with them disparate themes.  Further, preaching complete units of thought give the preacher a focused narrative section that brings to surface the primary message of the text, rather than secondary or tertiary concerns.

The section in chapter 7 was most helpful for my preaching because I often wonder if I bore my listeners if I re-read the whole text too many times.  Walton gives us wisdom here by writing, “When we summarize-without-reading, it’s often best to keep it under fifty words…All we need to do is capture the gist of the verses.” (140)  The succinctness of the reading is helpful because it helps give our listeners a good idea of what’s going on in the text without being bogged down by the details.  Further, one advantage of the summarize-without- reading  is that we are able to put the biblical text in an modern idiom that conveys the meaning in a listener friendly way, often getting into the character’s minds. 

Overall, this was a very helpful book and aid to the preaching of Old Testament narratives.

Thanks to Kregel Ministry for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

What makes a good spy book come to life?  How does  a writer of suspense and intrigue bring out the subtleties of his characters?  These questions are answered with honesty and creativity in Chris Pavone's new novel, The Travelers.  Many  know of Chris' other works such as The Accident and The Expats, but his work is new to me.  While I was a little unsure about what to expect in this novel, I was caught up in the story line and the characters.

The novel is broken up into various parts aligned with the different characters.  The main story follows Will Rhodes, a travel writer for the magazine The Traveler.  Will takes his writing to new levels as he visits Ireland, Great Britain, France and other international destinations.  Little does he know that at one venture, after a steam night with a lady named Elle, not his wife, that his life would never be the same.  He is thus ushered into a  new life as CIA operative that takes on the role as agent listening in on the conversations of the rich, famous, and powerfully ruthless, to ascertain their hidden agendas.  His boss, Malcolm, at the publishing magazine, is also in on this game without letting Will know.

While I really enjoyed the book, the part played by Chloe, Will's wife seemed a bit predictable yet understandable.  She really opened the lid of inquiry after Will replaced the windows in their home for a substantial amount paid in cash.  She had the hunch to follow Will in her quest to find out if Will was really cheating on her or if he was up to something.  I can imagine my own wife doing the same thing, looking into the truth of the matter.  But I wonder if Chris goes a little too far in having Chloe leave after finding out about Elle, which she knows nothing about.

The cat and mouse game of suspense, of not knowing who is going to find out about Will and his undercover role is part of the allure of this book.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Finding God in the Waves

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found it Again Through Science by Mike McHargue

I really thought this book was going to be a dud.  I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those 'find god through the particles' book that didn't really move anyone to believe or not believe.  Yet, as I read through Finding God in the Waves, it was different, very different.  Mike isn't really trying to sell you something in the book but tell you a story.  Really, the book is good at gathering Mike's story and telling it through the lens of a boy's curiosity.

Growing up in "husky" jeans and being that kid who didn't fit into most conventional groups, Mike felt the pangs of loneliness in his early years.  Even at that, his brain was hardwired for curiosity, he had to know how things worked.  Growing up as Christian at 7 in a conservative Southern Baptist Church, he was baptized early on and began to be involved in the events of a evangelical church.  As a high school senior, Mike met Jenny Frye and suddenly became enamored with her.  Mike at that time wasn't a regular church goer but his future wife was, and so the prodding continued for some time.

Mike begin to seriously investigate the bible to see what it had to say with regards to what science purports.  Why hadn't God said that Genesis 1 and 2 were written to address two things, one, the whole word being made, and second, the creation of the Garden of Eden?  Further, why is God killing the Egyptian firstborn and drowning people during Noah's time?  These questions Mike pondered as he went about his study.  And yet, throughout the book, Mike evidences times when even in his doubt he saw how Christian practices work.  He writes, "Most of all, I had seen prayer work...We all prayed for her (his mom), and in a few months her tumors were gone." (49)

There is nothing more freeing in this world than knowing someone will hear your secrets or confessional thoughts and care for you through them.  As Mike shared his non-belief in God anymore, she tried to evangelized him but kept his secret.  The thing that was really fascinating about this is that Mike sought to interact with his church friends the same way at times but invited them to star parties and other events.  And yet he came back to God, albeit a different route.  Mike writes, "How do you know God is real?"  I know God is real because I see the work of God via telescopes, space probes, and particle accelerators.  Instead of fighting science or trying to filter science through my understanding of God, I discovered that you can begin by accepting scientific evidence - (149)"

I really enjoyed Mike's story and I hope you will too.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Convergent for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr

Simonetta Carr has written some wonderful christian biographies for younger readers.  The books capture the stories of faithful believers in their challenges and in their victories.  Troy Howell, illustrator for the Redwall series by Brian Jacques has teamed up with Simonetta to provide some amazing artwork for this new book on Reformer Martin Luther.

One of the startling things about the book was Simonetta's writing on the sale of indulgences.  I knew the story of Johann Tetzel from my prior study but she brings to life some of the details of this work.  She writes, "Tetzel from town to town preaching about the benefits of indulgences.  "Have mercy upon your dead parents, he said." "Whoever has an indulgence has salvation.  Everything else is of no avai." (18).  This practice of selling of indulgences really brought in a flurry of people from Germany and gave people a sense of hope that was not really that.  Luther was concerned that these indulgences gave people a false hope and decreased punishments from God that were already decided.

My favorite part of the book was Simonetta's focus on Luther and raising his family.  She writes, "Luther said he learned more about love and self-discipline in his family than he had ever learned in the monastery.  He also appreciated the children's cheerful confidence in their parents as a good reminder of the trust all Christians should have in God." (47)  We often get the picture of Luther as a rebellious reformer, sent to bring down the Catholic church for its aberrant practices, and yet we fail to see that Luther was a musician, a husband, and a father.  The love and discipline he learned as a father never went away from him, and he learned the real needs of people in his midst by seeing these needs in his own home.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and RHB for the book in exchange for an honest review.