Monday, May 1, 2017

Review of Invitation: Harbingers Cycle One

I was initially drawn to the uniqueness of the way that this book was written.  There are 4 different authors - friends who decided to try something new and write a book in the style of a TV series.  This first cycle contains four "episodes", each written by a different author and from a different character's point of view.  While there is an overarching storyline, each story revolves around its own mystery to solve.

Something intrigues me about characters with powers and how they might use them to help others.  The main characters in this story use their gifts to solve mysteries.  A harbinger is a person or thing that signals the approach of another.  Each episode in this book presents a mystery that foreshadows a supernatural darkness descending on the Earth.

So how did this new writing style work out?  In my opinion, it left a lot to be desired.  While the characters are likeable and the storyline holds some intrigue, there simply weren't enough pages to sufficiently develop each episode and bring it to completion.  With each of the stories I felt like it began well, caught my interest, and then came to a rushed conclusion.  The mysteries were never completely solved.

Another problem with writing in this style is the length of time between books in the series being written and published.  Would you watch a  TV series with only 4 episodes per season?  The storyline has come to a pause when its barely just begun.

If you like short stories and the supernatural, you may enjoy Invitation and the Harbingers series.  However, I think I will stick to full-length novels.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Grace Behind Bars by Bo & Gari Mitchell

Meet the Mitchells... A well-respected Christian couple who run in circles helping others and serving the community.  So how do they react when someone takes advantage of that kindness and it lands Bo Mitchell in prison?  That's what you will discover in this true story.

When we're too busy or distracted for God to get our attention, He has a way of slowing us down.  This could come in many forms - but for the Mitchells it came through an illness and imprisonment.  It was encouraging to hear about their perspective through these trials.  They took a bad situation and chose to trust God and learn everything they could from it.  This attitude ended up leading to a stronger marriage, character improvement, and deeper relationships with the Lord.  While we may not ever be in the same situations, learning to approach trials with their outlook would benefit anyone.

After being released from prison, Bo had a difficult transition back to "normal" life.  He felt weighed down by the pain of his experience.  One phrase he wrote really jumped out at me.  He said if he didn't take the lessons he learned and then move forward, "my mess would remain a mess rather than become my message."  Bo sets a wonderful example of how to use the "mess" you've created and turn it into a message to encourage others.

This story gives a glimpse into life behind bars - a place that many of us will never see.  It was interesting to read and easy to relate to.  Bo & Gari - thank you for sharing your story!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.




Friday, April 14, 2017

A Mother's Guilt


A few weeks ago we had a prayer time at our church and I sat down in front of a wooden cross.  I found myself thinking of Mary and what she must have been feeling, standing there watching her son be crucified.  Obviously she would have been heartbroken.  But did she also feel helpless?  Did she feel like a failure for not protecting her son as a mother should?  Did she wonder if she could have done something to prevent this series of events?

A Mother's Guilt.  It can start as early as pregnancy when deciding which foods and vitamins to eat to help our baby develop properly.  Then the baby comes home and the real worry begins.  Suddenly you are in charge of keeping an infant safe from harm, making sure he gets enough sleep and the right nutrition.  As the child grows, now you have to consider his cognitive and emotional development too!  There is an endless list of things we as mothers are responsible for.  Diet, exercise, safety, health, toilet training, education, character development, and of course documenting all of the important milestones.  We compare our mothering skills and children to others and then feel guilty when we don't seem to measure up.  I would bet that mothers of even the most successful children still struggle with feelings of regret and failure.

I know I'm not immune.  I lose my patience and yell at my kids.  I wonder if I'm spending enough "quality" time with them.  I worry about whether I'm making healthy enough meals and teaching them good eating habits.  I feel guilty that they aren't driven to grow spiritually and that I'm not doing enough at home to encourage that.  I see their character flaws and wonder if my actions contributed to them.  I see them get hurt and wonder if I could have prevented it.  I know I have many reasons to be proud of the way my boys are developing, but I still have a nagging fear that I'm failing them in some way.

So what do I take away from this picture of Mary at the foot of the cross?  I remind myself that just as God chose Mary to be Jesus's mother, he chose me to be the mother of my sons.  He knows my strengths and weaknesses, just as he knows yours.  I also remember to trust in God's plan and that He can use any situation for good.  It may grieve us to watch our children hurt and struggle, but God won't waste that pain.  Just as there was a reason for Jesus to die, so God can use our children's struggles to shape and mold them into the people he wants them to be or serve a greater purpose.  The things we perceive as "failures" may fall exactly into God's plan.

So Mommas - Do your best and then give yourself some grace.  You were chosen to be a mother. God loves your children.  Let's trust Him enough with their futures to let go of the unnecessary guilt.   Hopefully we can look back one day and see the ways in which God has uniquely shaped their lives and be proud of our part in it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick

When a person knows he is about to die, he chooses his last words carefully.  This book contemplates the last 7 phrases that Jesus spoke before his death on the cross.  These 7 words can serve as "mile markers" on our spiritual journey: forgiveness, salvation, relationship, abandonment, distress, triumph, and reunion.

Each chapter, or "mile", in the book has two sections.  The first explains what Jesus said and what was happening at the cross, and ends with questions for the reader to ponder.  The next section uses teaching and stories to help readers think about and apply the topic to their lives today.

In the weeks leading up to Easter, this is a nice tool to use to focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross and reflect on our relationship with him.  (There is even a 40 day bible reading guide to use during the Lenten season for those who want to delve deeper.)  Beyond that, I can't say that I came away with any new "eye-opening" information.  It was more of a reminder of things I had already heard.

My favorite part came in the last chapter.  I had heard Steven Furtick preach a sermon on the topic and it had stuck with me, so I was glad to see it in print!  Steven offers some insight into the interaction between the travelers to Emmaus and Jesus after his resurrection.  It involves the pattern that we see when Jesus shares a meal with his followers: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given and how we can see that same pattern played out in the way God works in our lives.  Really good stuff to ponder.

Steven writes in a style that is easy to read and relate to.  I would recommend this book more to a seeker or a Christian young in his/her faith.  However, it is appropriate for anyone who wants to remember and focus on Jesus's final words before He gave His life on the cross.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Cherish by Gary Thomas

The definition of cherish is to "protect and care for (someone) lovingly, to hold something dear".  When applied to marriage, this goes beyond merely committing to your spouse - it means making him/her feel special.

I've been married for almost 17 years and recognize the importance of renewing my mind when it comes to how I view my husband and our marriage.  I can't say there was any huge revelation that I took away from this book, but it did help me to focus on the truth and align my perspective with God's word.  I pray this will help me to cherish my husband more.

For couples who like to read together, each chapter ends with a summary of the main points and a series of discussion questions.  Gary Thomas points out that while he shares advice that works for most couples, each person is an individual.  Therefore, to get the most out of this book, you should discuss it with your spouse to see how he/she would feel most cherished.

While there are several things I underlined, I always like to share my biggest take-away in my reviews.  This one appeared in a chapter about being patient with your spouses's sins.  Gary writes, "A holy person isn't known by what he or she does or doesn't watch, by avoiding a few forbidden words, or by attending a frequent number of religious meetings, but by how he or she treats fellow sinners.  Our experiential holiness is defined in large part by our ability to gracefully bear the lack of holiness in others.  You know you are a spiritually strong person when you can live joyfully and gracefully around spiritually weak people."  I had to stop and digest that...We ALL sin and therefore all have spouses that sin.  It's how we respond that shows our true maturity.  He goes on to write, "There's another way to look at this: if God's attitude toward you in your sin mirrored exactly your attitude toward your spouse in his or her sin, where would you be with God?...Stop comparing your spiritual maturity with your spouse's; instead, start comparing your spiritual maturity with Ephesians 4:1-3.  If you do that, you will change the climate of your marriage."

This is only one of the many ways we can learn to cherish our spouses.  I challenge you to read this book and learn about the others.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.


                                                                               Ephesians 4:1-3  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kingdom Family Devotional Review

"If we're ever to see the salvation of our nation, we must first pursue the salvation of the family.  The strength or weakness of the family will ultimately determine whether our society stands or falls.  That's why we've written the Kingdom Family Devotional" - Tony and Jonathan Evans

Family devotional time has always been an area where my family has struggled to be consistent.  Trying to figure out a time when everyone can eat dinner together is challenging.  Then to find material that is engaging for all age groups?  Really tough.  I'm always keeping my eye out for good resources.  I picked up this book to see if it would be appropriate for my family with boys ages 9-14.  While some tweaking will be necessary, I believe this is worth a try!

The Kingdom Family Devotional is designed to last a full year, focusing on one topic per week, Monday through Friday.   Examples of topics: Love, Respect, Purity, Money, Forgiveness, Courteous Speech, Wisdom, Repentance, and Humility.   Each day is only one short page, beginning with a Scripture.  You will find short stories and illustrations, verses to memorize as a family, discussion questions, and suggestions for activities.  Wednesdays tend to focus more on Scripture (Wednesday in the Word), while "Fun Fridays" have an activity.

I found that I really like the content of this devotional.  The Scriptures and readings that have been selected are interesting and relevant.  I can see meaningful discussions taking place as a result.  The one area that will require the most adaptation is the activities.  Crafts? Not happening.  Family dance and song writing? Nope, that's probably out too.  Read ahead...If you see there's an activity coming that you know would not work for your family, simply omit it or tweak it to fit your style.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meals From Mars by Ben Sciacca

Meals From Mars is a fictional story that is meant to fuel conversations about racial tension.  I found it to be an interesting, quick read that helped me to expand my perspective on the challenges facing segregated communities.

The story revolves around a white man from an affluent neighborhood who goes into "the other side of town" to deliver some groceries to a needy family.  He ends up getting carjacked and stranded with a young black man.  As the two strangers begin to open up to one another and share their stories, readers can be challenged to explore their own views and prejudices regarding race.

I was drawn to one observation that the author made about violent crime.  He writes "Some simply label things too quickly and try to connect violence to race rather than to circumstances or context.  The reality is that any community - regardless of race - that is facing...poverty, joblessness, and brokenness tends to use violence in equal measure.  In most cases, when violence emerges in a community, it has become the currency of negotiation for people who feel like they have no other option."  This story aims to provide understanding and get us thinking about how to fix the root problem and bring reconciliation, rather than just the quick fix.

This book is an engaging tool that can be used to get the conversation about racial tension started....there are even 20 discussion questions provided to get things rolling!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.