Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs

Every year I hear the Christmas story.  Over time, it's easy to assume that we know all there is to know and we can start to tune out the message.  That's why I like to read material that allows me to view the events in a fresh way.  The Women of Christmas highlights the stories of Elizabeth and Mary (which are often told), and the story of Anna (less frequently taught about).  The scriptures written about these women are printed verse by verse, intermixed with Liz's thoughts and commentary.

As in many of her books, Liz Curtis Higgs writes in a conversational style.  It almost seems as if she is sitting next to you telling the story herself!  I also like the way that she incorporates wording from different versions of the Bible and identifies them in the text.  The reader can see how the verses are worded, and learn background information to help them understand and relate these stories to their lives.  Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna show us that if we have a willing spirit He can use us, no matter how young or old we are.

There is also a study guide included at the back of the book.  Each chapter has a scriptural focus and three major points of discussion to get a small group started.

I enjoyed reading about these women in a different way.  I suggest reading this book in December to help you focus on the events surrounding Jesus's birth and the meaning of the Christmas season.

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Talk to a Skeptic by Donald Johnson

I have read a few books on apologetics and normally find them over my head.  This is the easiest to read book on the subject that I have found to date.  The author is also unique in his approach.  First, let me tell you what this book is not.  It is not a book full of specific questions that skeptics ask followed by responses.  It is also not so bogged down with outside sources and details that a PhD is required to make sense of the text!  The author explains that there are dozens of good apologetics resources available that offer good arguments in support of Christianity.  This book is aimed at helping someone use the data in those resources effectively and naturally in conversation.

One major theme that I noticed was to continually be looking at the big picture and not get stuck in an argument over little details.  The author helps paint a picture of the Christian worldview and explains some of the major themes foundational to the faith.  Readers are encouraged to really listen and seek out the skeptics idea of the world and then introduce the Christian worldview to compare and see which makes more sense.  Some of the author's insights were very new to me and I liked the way many of his points were worded.

The only thing I didn't feel this book delivered on was the "easy-to-follow guide".  I was expecting some kind of flow chart that would guide you through a conversation.  However, I can understand that conversations can be so varied and take so many turns that this would be nearly impossible.  What this book does do is equip the reader with understanding so he/she will be able to better explain the Christian worldview and have an answer to some of the common doubts and questions skeptics have about Christianity.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Still Lolo by Lauren Scruggs

Despite all the media exposure, I had not heard of Lauren Scruggs until reading her book, Still Lolo. A few years ago Lauren lost her left eye and hand through contact with an airplane propeller.  This book is a family's testimony to the faithfulness of God through this accident and various other challenges.

The story is written from several different viewpoints including Lauren, her mother, her father, and her twin sister.  After reading the back cover, I assumed the book was primarily written by Lauren, and mostly about her recovery and the issues she had to overcome.  I had assumed wrong.  Over half of the book is about events before the accident.  Her parents write about their marriage issues and Lauren shares a lot about life leading up to the accident.  While some back story is important, I had expected less "before" and more "after".

The Scruggs family has a powerful testimony to share.  Lauren writes, "I saw that if I chose to let the accident ruin me, it would....I came to see how there was so much more to my life than being worried about how I looked....Most of all, I want to be a living testimony to the truth that suffering may strip a lot from you and me, but it doesn't need to steal our hope."  Lauren is a beautiful girl with a sweet spirit and a strong faith.  She is a fighter. Teen girls would benefit greatly from her message and example.

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

Sun Stand Still Devotional

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I had read Steven Furtick's book Sun Stand Still when it was published a few years ago.  So when I saw this devotional I wondered if and how it related to the book.  This review is for people like me who might wonder "Hmm..I already have the book...should I buy the devotional too?"

The devotional contains 40 short readings that will allow you to examine your faith and hopefully give it a boost!  Each reading contains a key verse, a suggested Bible reading, a page or two of text, and a prayer focus.

Several (roughly half) of the devotional titles are also titles from the Sun Stand Still book chapters.  These devotions are basically excerpts from the chapter.  I tend to like the book chapters for the additional examples and stories. But for someone who just wants the main point, or who wants a short reminder of what the book chapter was about, these devotions are perfect.  By using the same titles, someone can easily find where the content overlaps.  The other devotions follow the same train of thought but are not taken directly from the book....they are newly published material.

If you are looking for a series of short devotional readings focused on faith - this book is a good choice.  The brief stories and insight into Scripture are easy to read and relate to.  For those who don't like to read (like my husband) and want to hear Steven's message without all the commentary of the book - this is a good choice.  But for those who already own the book and enjoy reading, like myself, I would not spend more money on a book that repeats some of the same information.

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

Friday, November 1, 2013

One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville

I remember hearing about the Amish schoolhouse shooting that happened in 2006.  I heard about how the Amish were quick to offer forgiveness and it warmed my heart.  But I never thought much about Marie, the wife of the shooter, and how this event would have changed her life forever. 

I absolutely loved this book!  Marie is quick to share in the beginning that this book is not about sharing all the details of what happened in the schoolhouse that day.  She was not there.  The story that she has to share is the story of hope and redemption that arose from the ashes of this terrible tragedy.  She shares of the heartache and worries that she and her children had to face.  But she also beautifully identifies that ways that God was at work through circumstances and the kindness of others that reminded her of His presence and plan for redemption.  Be sure to have some tissues handy...you'll need them!

Marie shares her story to help others going through hard times.  She says "On this side of heaven, for all of us, God doesn't always spare us the loneliness, remove the pain, or still the storm.  So I ask you: How often do we miss the light because we fail to look for it?  How many times do we turn away from the tiny flicker that reveals his presence because we shut our eyes tight, insisting that he remove the darkness? ... No matter how tragic your circumstances, your life is not a tragedy.  It is a love story.  And in your love story, when you think all the lights have gone out, one light still shines.  Step into my story and I'll show you how to see that light."

The other thing I like about this book is that it presents tangible ways that we can love others through their pain.  I can't help but be inspired by the many ways Marie and her family were blessed through the kindness of the Amish, friends, and even strangers.  God can and will use us to shine his light into the lives of others.  I highly recommend this book. 

Thank you, Marie, for sharing your story.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Knowing God By Name by Jaynes, Smith, & Southerland

Knowing God By Name is designed to be an 8-week devotional.  Each week contains 5 devotions that each highlight a name of God.  That is followed by a "Now It's Your Turn" section on Day 6 which can be used for personal study/reflection or in a small group setting.  The purpose is not to list every name of God, but to provide insight and opportunities to reflect on who God is and grow closer to Him.

The three authors take turns in presenting the names of God.  In each reading we learn the Hebrew or Greek name and what it means, where we see it used in the Bible, and what that name has meant to the author.  It is followed by a prayer.  I thought the presentation was very good and helped me to focus on that one attribute of God each day.  I would have liked the pronunciation to be provided for each name within the chapter.  While that wasn't done, there is a pronunciation guide in the back of the book.  There is just something cool about praying each name in the original language.

Day 6 for each week is more in-depth.  There is a section entitled "Time for Reflection" that would be perfect for a small group.  There are verses to look up and questions to answer related to that weeks readings.  There are also links to worship songs and a page or two for journaling your thoughts.  Another group resource can be found on the Girlfriends in God website...free brief videos by the authors to introduce you to each week of readings.

While anyone can benefit from this devotional, I think it will have the most impact if done in a group setting. So get your girlfriends together and get started!

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Little Book of Great Dates

My husband and I have been married for 13 years.  While we have several date nights in a month, we typically do the same things.  I decided to take a peek at this little book to see what kind of ideas I could get for varying our dating routine. 

Greg and Erin Smalley have put together 52 ideas for great dates.  Each entry consists of a few paragraphs explaining a theme (such as listening, traditions, simple gifts, and trust), followed by a suggested activity and conversation starter questions.  There are also ideas for Valentines Day, Anniversary, and other special occasions.

Many of the activities are fairly typical date suggestions.  Living in a small town somewhat limits what is available for us to do.  I did find a few new ideas such as picking out a new recipe and cooking something together, or playing hide and seek in a mall and texting your spouse clues to find you.  The thing I like most is focusing on a theme for the date and having questions to discuss over dinner.  It will be a nice way to keep conversation focused on our relationship.

So if you need some date ideas, or even just some topics for conversation, give this little book a try!

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Forgiveness by Matthew West

Matthew West, a popular Christian musician, invited people from all walks of life to share with him their stories of forgiveness.  The result is this small book and several songs that the stories inspired.

The stories are divided into sections: Forgiving Others, Asking for Forgiveness, Forgiving Yourself, and Embracing God's Forgiveness.  After each story is shared, the author writes a few pages expanding on the theme and sharing his own experiences and Scriptures.  I was very impressed with the way the book was organized and how well it flowed!  Forgiveness is a tough topic, but I think it was presented here in a way that was easy to understand and interesting to follow.  I'm sure every person can relate to at least one, if not many, of the stories laid open on these pages.

The story that spoke the loudest to me was written by a pastor's wife.  She says "I never expected the sources of my greatest hurt in life to come not from people in the world, but from people inside the walls of a church."  After being a pastor's wife for only 3 months now, I could relate so well and was able to benefit from the lessons she and her husband learned.  Her husband (also Matthew West's father) shared with him these words, "Son, people will let you down.  Even God's people will let you down.  Your mom and I will let you down.  But you must keep your eyes on God at all times.  You cannot let your view of God be tainted by the imperfections of His people." Amen.

For fans of Matthew West's music, this book will explain what inspired several of his newest songs.  Songs like "Forgiveness", "Restored", "Hello, My Name Is", and "Love Stands Waiting" were all written in honor of a person's story.  Hearing those stories forever changed the meaning of the music for me. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with or wants to understand more about forgiveness.  It really can set you free.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Raising Boys By Design by Jantz & Gurian

Since I have 3 boys, ages 6-10, this book got my attention.  Of course I want my sons to thrive and "grow into the strong loving men God created them to be."  The question is...did this book help me as a mother?

While I can't say that I learned much new, I can say that this book took information that I've heard from various sources and combined them all into one resource.  In one book, these authors provide info on how boys develop and think differently than girls, what they need emotionally from mom and dad, important character qualities to encourage, sexuality issues, school performance, technology, rites of passage, and faith.  Whew!  Each chapter concludes with action steps to take.

The drawback to touching on all these issues, and the authors being a psychologist and a counselor, is that I found the book to be dry.  These was an occasional story here and there, but most of the text was slow moving and I had a hard time staying focused and interested.

The one new idea that I really liked is providing the adolescent boy a "rite of passage" which allows him to go on a journey toward manhood and connect with older men as mentors.  Tim Wright has developed a curriculum that churches can use to offer this program called Following Jesus: A Heroic Quest for Boys (www.heroicquestforboys.com).  I would love for my boys to participate in something like this when they are at the right age.

Would I recommend this book?  It depends.  For someone who doesn't read much and wants an overview of all these topics and how they relate to boys -go for it.  There is good info in these chapters.  However, if you like to read and would rather read multiple books that are more enjoyable (rather than one that is a bit slower), I would keep searching.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sweet & Simple Moments With God Devotional

Kim Newlen has written a devotional for the new year full of sweet insight and simple thoughts to dwell on throughout the day.  There is a one-page devotion for each day of the year.  Each one begins with a Scripture verse, is followed by a few paragraphs, and concludes with a key thought or action to take. 

One thing that I like about this book is that the devotions are tied to the day they are intended to be read on.  For example, today is September 11th.  The verse referenced is Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart.  Kim writes about where she was when those terrible events unfolded in 2001.  She remembers being comforted by His Word that had been hidden in her heart..."When I am afraid, I will trust in you (based on Psalm 56:3)".  In that time of need she drew strength from those words and was able to comfort others.  The devotion concludes by encouraging us to pray for comfort for those families who are still mourning.  It was a very fitting way to start my morning.

Another thing that I found helpful was the Scripture Index at the back of the book.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures mentioned in this devotional are in order and linked to the "day" in which they appear.  This would be a great tool if you use a daily Bible reading plan and want to find some devotions to go along with the Scriptures you are reading. 

Sweet & Simple is a good description of what you will find in this book...thoughts to help us set our mind on things above and opportunity to connect with God.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Encouragement for Today

100 days of encouragement...from one woman to another.  This book is a collection of devotions written by various women.  Each devotion is two pages long and includes a point to remember, a question to reflect on, a suggested way to respond, and related Scriptures to look up.  If you have just 5 minutes, you have time to receive a small dose of encouragement from one of the readings.

I personally like having the variety of different authors.  If you can't relate to one woman and what she has experienced, just turn the page and maybe the next one will speak into your situation.  What I've found is that these devotions touch on topics all women face: maintaining a thankful attitude, being content, not over-committing, navigating friendships, overcoming insecurity, etc...  Starting off your day with one of these readings can give you a thought and a Scripture to set your mind on during the day ahead.

There is a Table of Contents listing each devotional title, but no topical index (which I think would have been a nice addition). 

While this book would be great to give as a gift or read anywhere, there is also a way to get daily devotions from this same team of women electronically!  Simply go to the Proverbs 31 Ministries website (click HERE) and read or sign up to have the devotions sent to you each day.  Either way, you will be blessed by the words of wisdom and encouragement. 

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

Worship Together Bible

Being the wife of a worship pastor, I was excited to get the opportunity to review this Bible.  My husband and I are frequently looking to identify which Scriptures inspired various worship songs so that he can reference them during the service.  Many of the songs highlighted in this Bible are ones that we sing or have sung at our church.

Within this Bible there are 2-page devotions for 50 songs.  Each devotion displays the song lyrics, the Scripture that inspired the song, a few paragraphs giving the song background (usually including quotes or thoughts from the songwriter), and a short devotional thought.  These devotions are what makes this Bible unique.  The Song Index near the back lists each song, the Scripture reference, and what page it is located on.  I think these devotions will be a great tool for my husband in preparing his heart for leading these songs.  They are also great for anyone wanting greater insight into why the songs were written.

The thing that I didn't like was the way the devotions were organized in the Bible itself.  It seems they were randomly placed throughout the text.  I expected that if I were to be reading in the book of Job that I would find the devotion for the song Blessed Be Your Name (taken from Job 1:21) to be found there.  Instead, it is found in the book of Genesis!  Why put these devotions within the Bible if there is not going to be a rhyme or reason behind where they are placed?  I would much prefer a book with these song devotions (and others) only, and then use it in conjunction with a study Bible.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blood and Bone by Don Hoesel

I chose to read and review this fictional story without realizing that it was the third book in a series.  Elisha's Bones and Serpent of Moses are the books that precede this one.  So for those of you like myself who feel like you are missing out on something if you don't read books "in order", you may want to start with the others.

Blood and Bone is a suspense novel with a plot that reminds me of an Indiana Jones movie or the Da Vinci Code.  You have a very smart couple trying to figure out clues and avoid bad guys, all in an attempt to recover an ancient artifact to ensure the safety of their children.  The story is entertaining, although I figured out I don't enjoy reading these types of stories as much as I do watching them on the big screen.  Too much action and not enough content that engages my emotions. 

There are a few brief lines of dialogue that serve to classify this as "Christian fiction", but not much.  Other than the violence, the content is clean...no foul language or inappropriate sexual content.  The characters display some trust in God and put their family first.

The only part of the book that I struggled with was the first chapter.  In fact, I probably would have quit reading at that point had I not committed to finish.  Having not read the other books in the series, the first chapter (which was a "flashback") was very confusing.  It doesn't tie back in until the end of the story.  Some of the word choices were a bit over my head too.  So in my opinion, the book should have started with Chapter 2 for easier comprehension.  Other than that I liked the way the story progressed. 

If you're into suspense and action novels, this is a great book to check out!

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fight by Craig Groeschel

Since this is a book for men, I have a guest blogger today...my husband!

Craig Groeschel is a man’s man!  He knows how men think, and his writing style reflects it.  I have only read a handful of books in my life, most of them fiction, but this is probably the quickest read of any of them.  I read “Fight” in less than a week!

Groeschel’s latest book, Fight, does not actually get released until this fall, but I received an early copy for review.  In it, he outlines what God created and called men to be…  warriors!  Following the story of Samson in the Bible (Judges – chapters 13-16), Groeschel points out the things that Samson did, things that we as men typically do, that were the cause of his struggles.  He illustrates how the warrior in Samson ultimately wasn’t enough until he realized where the source of his strength came from – God.

The focus of “Fight” is on lust, entitlement, and pride.  These three words encapsulate most of the thoughts of men:  I want it;  I deserve it;  I can handle it.  Groeschel teaches men how to change these three thoughts around, focus them instead towards God, and how to fight for your marriage, your family, and for your life!

Craig Groeschel, a pastor and author, writes this book in a way that makes it very easy for a non-reader like myself to not only get through it, not only enjoy it, but to anxiously desire to continue reading it.  The book is broken into 5 main sections, each section containing 7 mini-chapters of 1 to 6 pages.  You can sit down and read for 5 minutes or 45 minutes.  He mixes in stories from his own life that at times had me laughing out loud.

I would recommend this book to any man who wants help in releasing the warrior God created them to be.  If you’re fighting addictions, relationship issues, character issues…  any struggle that life is throwing at you.  God wants to equip us for battle, and this book can help!

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Just finished reading one of my favorite fiction novels...for the 3rd time!  I know a book is good when I can read it more than once (with a few years in between each time) and have it still captivate me.

Redeeming Love is a story that can be understood on many different levels.  First there is the fictional story, set in the California gold-mining era of 1850, in which Michael Hosea senses a call from God to marry a prostitute.  It is grand love story in which patience, grace, and forgiveness are key.  Very well-written and never a dull moment!

But this is more than simply fiction.  The main plot is taken from the story of Hosea and Gomer in the Bible.  Adding the fictional elements to the true account allow the reader to think through what that call of God truly meant.  What kind of faith would it require for a man to follow through on God's command to marry a prostitute?  What other issues may have arisen?  What could God's purpose have been for including that story in His Word?

The life-changing aspect of this story occurs when the reader understands that the love Michael has for Angel (or that Hosea has for Gomer) is a reflection of God's heart toward us.  It can open our eyes to the consuming, grace-filled, redeeming love God has for us.  A love that sees what we've done and still pursues us, wanting to give us a full and greater life, and also desiring to be loved in return.

If you are looking for a book that will captivate your heart and mind, while speaking God's truth at the same time...give this one a try!

There is also a reading group guide included in this anniversary edition.  While it's nice to have some discussion questions to draw from, I wasn't impressed with the way it was organized.  There are 6 sessions to the guide, but no clear directions as to which chapters each section refers to.  It seems like the book should be read completely first, and then the group would meet for discussion.  But, if that's the case, 6 sessions seems a bit long to stretch it out.

*I received this complimentary book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Angels in the Fire by Dann Stadler

Angels in the Fire is the true story of Dann and Tracey Stadler, who survived a car accident and the resulting life-threatening injuries.  Tracey shares her experience of being rescued by an angel and Dann describes other supernatural experiences that their family has witnessed.  It is a book about walking through difficult circumstances while at the same time keeping our eyes open to the way God is working around us.

It is very difficult to review a book about a person's experience.  For anyone who knows this couple, especially family, I'm sure this book is a priceless treasure.  It is a testimony to what they have experienced...now written in ink for future generations. 

My opinion that I present here is for the average reader with no connection to this family.  I thought the book was easy to read and interesting...but too detailed.  I would estimate that 25% of the book contained information that was relevant to the rescue and other spiritual experiences they had (which is what I expected the book to be about).  The rest of the book contained details about their medical conditions and other family members that wasn't necessary for my understanding. 

The Stadlers story is worth being told.  I just would have preferred a shorter version :)

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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Anomaly by Krista McGee

It's summertime...which means it's the perfect time to get lost in a few Christian fiction novels!  This one is a real page-turner (I read it in 2 days!)  I can easily see this book being turned into a movie someday.

Anomaly is a sci-fi story set in the future.  The world has been destroyed by a nuclear war and the only survivors are a group of scientists who had been developing and creating an underground facility to sustain life.  The scientists have created a new society in which humans are genetically designed to be devoid of emotion and each have certain skills to be used to benefit the community.  They decided that taking out emotions would be the best way to prevent people from hurting each other and destroying the small remnant that remained.  So the question is raised...what would a society like that look like? A society without anger, without jealousy, without lust, yet without love and without faith.

The main character, Thalli, is an anomaly...she can feel...and she has questions.  The problem is that humans who get sick or have emotions are considered dangerous to the society and are annihilated.  This story is about her adventure in discovering who she is and who her real Designer is, while keeping her quest hidden from those who would consider her curiosity a threat. 

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a stretch from reality, yet it raises some interesting questions.  The suspense and a few twists and turns keeps the story moving.  There is also an element of romance, which is presented in a pure and tasteful manner. 

This book is the first in a triology.  The only bad part about reading it now is that I have to wait until July 2014 for the next book, Luminary, to come out!

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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Popular by Tindell Baldwin

I may be in my mid-30's now, but I remember my heartaches and teenage mistakes like they were yesterday.  Maybe if I had read such an honest testimony as is given in this book, those mistakes could have been avoided.

Movies show us the glamorous side of being popular, going to parties, drinking, and having casual sex.  In her book, Tindell shares her story in the hopes that teenage girls can understand the other side not commonly talked about.  She wishes she had known "not more cold facts and statistics, but more of the emotional reality...The challenge is that while the feelings are real, they are fleeting, and the pain that follows is not."  She says making the right choices "might mean you're lonely today, but it also might mean you aren't scarred tomorrow...It's true that God can bring beauty from a pile of ashes, but rising from the ashes is not easy or fun - it's so much better to avoid that type of death."  Tindell then shares about her Christian faith and how Jesus has made all the difference in her life.  She says that her desires weren't the problem, but the way she was filling them was.  I'm sure it is not easy to bare your soul for the world to see, but in doing so I believe that Tindell will be able to connect to girls where they are, and then show them a better way.

I would recommend this book to all teenage girls and the adults who love them.  It may keep some girls from making the same mistakes.  It may help parents find the right words to explain "why" not to make certain choices.  It may also allow others to develop an understanding and compassion for girls trying to navigate through all the emotions and decisions that come during the teenage years. 

On a side note - I think it would be beneficial if Tindell's parents wrote a book.  According to her, they provided a loving, stable home and were able to show her unconditional love even through her rebellion and bad decisions.  They must have a ton of wisdom to share!

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Plastic Donuts by Jeff Anderson

If you are looking for a SHORT, easy-to-read book on biblical giving, this book may be for you!  Being only 109 pages and measuring just over 4" x 6", it doesn't take long to read.  My first impression was that it could have been condensed into a great blog post...but instead was drawn out enough to make it book-worthy to increase circulation.  That being said, the main point is a good one.

The title was taken from an experience the author had when his daughter gave him the gift of a plastic donut.  His delight in this simple gift led him to wonder if God views the gifts we bring Him in the same way.  Is there a certain amount or type of gift that pleases God the most?  While there are a few points discussed, I think the answer is best summed up in this quote. "When the gift amount matters to us, it can matter to God too.  When the amount doesn't matter to us, it doesn't matter to God."  Gifts that are sacrificial and given with a pure heart are more meaningful than a pre-determined amount or percentage.

There are many Scriptures referenced in these pages related to giving.  This book will help you to evaluate your own level of giving and possibly view your gifts with a new perspective.

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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The World of Jesus by Dr.William H. Marty

I must preface this review by admitting that world history, or any history for that matter, is not my area of expertise.  While I normally avoid books that I think will be over my head, the subject of this one caught my attention.  So I opened it up hoping that it was written in a way I could understand.  For the most part, I was not disappointed.

Understanding the culture and history in biblical times is beneficial for understanding the Scriptures.  This book does a great job at taking the books of the Bible and blending them with what was happening historically.  A major focus is the 400 year span between the testaments.  The author consistently relates the historical events of the day to the impact it had on the Jewish community.

The first few chapters were amazing.  In the Introduction, Dr. Marty gave an overview of the Old Testament (Abraham to the Exile) in just 4 pages!  Then Chapter 1 begins with the return from the exile.  What was so neat is that in telling about the events, he pulled in the minor prophets and characters so that is was easy to see how everything fit together.  Normally these books in the Bible seem so disjointed to me because I can't see how they chronologically fit.  Now I have a better understanding of the place Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and others have in history.  I also got some questions answered such as, "Why did the Israelites begin to be called Jews?" and "What is Hanukkah?".

The middle chapters became a bit more confusing for me, mainly because they focused on those years not referenced in the Bible.  I could recognize some key terms and players that I had learned about in high school history classes, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Herod the Great.  However, I think someone who had a better grasp on their Greek and Roman history would benefit much more from these chapters!  This book would be a great companion for someone studying this time period because it makes connections between the political events and the impact the events had on the Jews.

This brings me to the end of the book, which again was more to my level.  I enjoyed learning more about the religious parties that are referenced, yet not explained, in the Bible: the scribes, Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, and the Essenes.  I also liked the Conclusion which summarized those detailed chapters that I had trouble with earlier, from the exile to the birth of Christ.  (The glossary at the back is a nice touch too!)

While this is a history book, it is much easier to read than a textbook.  The only thing that would have been helpful to include for visual learners, but was left out, are maps (yep...I struggle with geography too!)  Overall, this is a good book for anyone who wants to understand the world Jesus was born into. 

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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Blessed Woman by Debbie Morris

I enjoy when I can hear familiar stories from the Bible, yet view them from a new angle.  That's what Debbie Morris does in this book.  She shares the insight and lessons that she has learned from reading about 12 women in the Bible.  Some women are commonly spoken about, such as Eve, Mary, Esther, and Naomi.  Others such as Jael, Zipporah, and Miriam are less often referenced.  These women all have something to teach us today, and Debbie beautifully explains their stories and helps us make relevant applications.

One lesson that stuck out to me was from the life of Zipporah.  Her name doesn't ring a bell?  It didn't for me either.  She was Moses's wife.  They were married before the whole "burning bush" incident.  Anyhow, once he got the call on his life to go to Egypt and free the slaves, her attitude went south.  It wasn't in her plan.  She set out to accompany Moses to Egypt, but somewhere along the line Moses sent Zipporah and his sons back to live with her father (Exodus 18:2).  She missed witnessing God's miracles.  Debbie writes "Despite her faults, I love Zipporah.  She gets me thinking about how much my bad attitudes can cost me.  She reminds me of what I will miss out on if I choose to be grouchy instead of gracious when things aren't going right". Point taken...my attitude matters!

Being a small group leader, I also like the in-depth study guide for each chapter included at the back of the book.  There are journal questions women can complete prior to the group meeting, icebreaker and discussion questions, and suggestions for prayer. 

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Scared of the Ball

Kid-Pitch Baseball.  That awkward age when boys are learning to pitch, and are encouraged to throw the ball fast - but their accuracy stinks.  Jacob's first introduction was last year.  While he played on a coach-pitch team, he was asked to fill in a few games on another team.  He ended up getting hit in the back by a fast pitch.  Because of the symptoms he was experiencing, he was taken by ambulance to the ER to check  for kidney damage.  Scary stuff for him and for me!

Fast forward to this season...before the season officially started he has been hit twice.  Once in the thigh while running bases, and once on the hip during a pitch.  Besides some nice bruises, these hits have created a fear in my sports-loving son that he is having difficulty conquering.  He wears under armour to protect his kidneys now, but the mental resistance remains.  We have tried talking to him rationally, praying with him, encouraging him, and yes...we have even resorted to bribery!  It's not that we have dreams of his becoming a professional baseball player and are forcing him to play against his will.  We just don't want him to quit because of fear.  He has so much fun at practice and he is very talented!  When he decides to get up to the plate, I don't care if he steps out of the box or strikes out.  I am proud of him for being courageous.  I am proud of him for putting the interest of the team above his own and for trusting in God for his care.  But when he flat-out refuses (which he has done) and instead opts for an automatic out for his team, that saddens me.  I don't want him to get hurt any more than he does.  In fact, my stomach is in knots when it's his turn to bat just because I sympathize with what he is going through.  So what is a mother to do?

While mulling all this over this morning, I think I understand a little better how God might feel toward us when we don't try....when we don't trust him.  Fear is present in so many areas in life, not just baseball.  No matter how protected we try to make ourselves, there are still times we're going to get brusied by life.  People don't always throw straight and sometimes that ball hits us.  Yes, it hurts...but we also heal.  Sometimes if we would only stick with things and fight through the fear, we would find the joy on the other side that comes with playing the game.  I don't think God cares if we succeed.  I think it makes him proud simply by us being obedient and using our talents for His glory.

Please pray with me for my son, both for his protection and that he would find the courage and strength to persevere and come out victorious.  Thank you friends!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Passionate Mom by Susan Merrill

The Passionate Mom is the best book on motherhood that I've ever read...and I read a lot of books!  What makes this book unique and memorable is that Susan used the biblical story of Nehemiah to draw parallels between his task of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem with our task of parenting.  She writes "Nehemiah loved his people, and he knew they needed a wall to protect them and provide them a future hope...Our children need walls.  That's why God gives them moms."  There is much wisdom to be gleaned from Nehemiah's experience.

Each chapter talks about a "brick" in the wall and the character qualities we need to develop to hold them in place.  The bricks are Perception, Pondering, Passion, Prayer, Patience, Preparation, Purpose, Planning, Problem Solving, and Perseverance.  Not only do our kids need protection, but they also need to be prepared to leave that wall of protection one day.  Therefore, the idea of "gates" is introduced along with many helpful ways we can let our children experience freedom at a safe pace.  Susan's website, www.imom.com, provides many helpful tools such as conversation starters and contracts for cell phone use and driving privileges.

This book is well-written and encouraging.  Susan is authentic and freely admits that she does not have motherhood mastered.  There are "confessions" throughout the book to show readers that she is on a journey too.  She is simply a mom who God spoke to through the book of Nehemiah and she is sharing her insights and experience.  I plan to re-visit this book from time to time as my children grow.  I think any mom with children still living at home would benefit greatly from this book and the resources on the website.

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life Beyond the Books

Since my blog these days has been mainly book reviews, I wanted to give you a little update on what's been happening in my family.  Reading is only a small part of my daily life...

I have been substitute teaching more often than not...and I enjoy it!  After being at all grade levels and in various positions, I must say that my favorite is teaching the younger grades.  The day is full and I actually get to TEACH (versus monitoring "study halls"), which makes the time go by quickly and is a better use of my brain.  I may not be the most skilled at behavior management, but I do a good enough job that they ask me to return! lol  One lesson I had to learn is to how to say "no".  If someone asks for my help it is very hard for me to turn them down.  But I realized that working 5 days a week was too stressful for me.  I need at least one day off to grocery shop and do some things around the house.  So my #1 rule is now to say NO once I have 4 days of the week scheduled.

My boys all have birthdays around this time of the year.  They are (or will soon be) 6, 8, & 10.  Some of my family members got this birthday surprise for them:

Meet Rocky!  He is a good puppy, but also takes a lot of time to train and care for!  Baseball season has also started.  My two younger boys will be on one team (with their dad as one of the coaches), and Jacob will be moving up to a kid-pitch team.  Lots of ball games in our near future!

The other big news in our house is that my husband will be making the transition from high school teacher to full-time worship pastor at our church this summer!  It is something he has been wanting for a long time.  It will mean lots of changes with our schedule and finances...many of them good changes :)  However, any change creates anxiety in me.  And the thought of becoming a "pastor's wife" is very intimidating!  God and I have been having lots of conversations about this recently...

I am also involved in two women's groups that meet on opposite weeks.  I've been challenged recently to start journaling again as part of my time with God, which of course means setting aside more time.  I can already see some future blog posts in the making coming from this process...(but most realistically not until the summer).

So that's my life in a nutshell.  Just trying to balance family, friends, chores, work, exercise, and rest, all while remaining flexible enough to be obedient to God's voice.  I don't expect to ever have it all together.  I simply hope to enjoy the journey.  Thank you for being a part of it!

This pic was just too cute not to share :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Captive in Iran

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh are two brave women who refused to compromise their faith in Jesus, even when threatened with torture and execution.  This book is the account of their 259 days in Evin Prison in Iran.  It opened my eyes to the injustice happening in Iran, strengthened my faith by demonstrating how God can work all things for good, and challenged me to examine the depth of my beliefs.

Living in the U.S. it is hard to imagine a place without justice or religious freedom.  A place where women are considered "property" and justice is in the hands of the party who has been wronged. We take so much for granted.  In Iran, there are many women imprisoned unfairly and held in terrible living conditions. Many of their stories are shared in these pages.  Maryam and Marziyeh went to prison for sharing their faith with others.  But what they discovered was that they were put "in the best place they had ever been for witnessing to people hungry for the gospel of Jesus."  The authorities thought prison would teach these girls a lesson.  Instead, God got the last laugh.  The prison became their church.  Between being able to minister to the people there and the world-wide publicity their case received, the gospel was spread even further!

I was struck by something Anne Graham Lotz wrote in the forward.  Maryam and Marziyeh told her that "it had been easier for them to experience God's peace and presence and power inside Evin Prison than on the outside in America."  Wow.  They could have been released much sooner from prison had they compromised their faith, but they didn't.  Would many Christians in America be able to do the same thing?  Would I?

This book is well-written and worth the time to read.  May we stop taking our freedom for granted and lift up in prayer those who aren't as fortunate.  Thank you, Maryam and Marziyeh, for sharing your story with the world.

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Learning to Love by Heidi & Rolland Baker

This is essentially a book about Iris Ministries, which is centered out of Mozambique, Africa.  The Bakers share their passion for the poor and show what it looks like to stop and care for the one in front of you.  While there is some teaching and application to be taken from the book, it is mostly an account of God's power and miracles being displayed in Africa through this ministry.

On a positive note, the stories shared are eye-opening.  Miracles such as healings that we Americans find so hard to believe in are very common in a land of desperate need and strong faith.  To think that the deaf hearing and the blind seeing are "normal" occurrences simply amazes me.  While I don't feel the call to be an overseas missionary, it is so encouraging to hear how entire villages are hungry for the Word and have been transformed due to the Body of Christ.  I also really enjoyed the pictures throughout the book.  It helped me to visualize the land and the people who are being reached.

My only critique is that the text didn't flow well.  It seemed like a series of ministry newsletters stacked together and bound into a book!  I'm not even sure if there was a chronological order to the chapters. 

Heidi writes "I realize that reading this account of what God is doing in Mozambique can seem terrifying, overwhelming, and somewhat detached from the day-to-day reality of life for many.  Or is it?  If there is one thing I have learned it is this: Poverty and desperation do not always look the way we expect.  There are countless thousands in our world who need someone to stop for them, someone to show them God's kindness and mercy...There are people in need where you are, just as there are people in need where I am".

The main message here is to pay attention to those who are right in front of you and be obedient to do what you can do - so that God can love others through you.

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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

God's Not Dead by Rick Broocks

I decided to read this book because the back cover promised "clear, easy-to-follow explanations of the key concepts and controversies" regarding the Christian faith.  But be warned...unless you are a very intellectual and scholarly-type thinker, this book may be over your head.  In my opinion, this is not written in a way the "average" skeptic or Christian would easily grasp.  Here's why...

While there are good bits of information in the text, they are hidden between gobs of references and quoted sources.  (To prove my point, the "Notes" citations in the back of the book is 20 pages long!)  Having all these references may be thorough, but it makes the reading choppy.  The language is also very complex and at times hard to understand.  It is nice that there is an index at the end of the book to assist in finding information about a specific topic...otherwise it would be very difficult to do.  (And as a side note - doesn't this book cover look like it was printed 50 years ago?)

I think the author's intent was great...to help the believer "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15) Also - to provide evidence for the skeptic that God is not dead.  However, I think it was done in a manner that only very intellectual thinkers will be able to appreciate and comprehend.

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

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Outrageous Courage by Kris & Jason Vallotton

This book shares the testimony and adventures of Tracy Evans, a physician assistant who is serving as a missionary in Mozambique, Africa.  Her story is a powerful account of how God can and does work in the world today.  She has ministered to the homeless in LA and to the poor in various other countries.  She has seen miracles, such as God raising a women from the dead.  She has nurtured babies, tended to the sick, and led prisoners to the Lord.  Yet while she shares her acts of courage and compassion, I liked that she also is authentic in sharing her mistakes along the way.

What made Tracy so bold and courageous?  This quote may be a clue..."I am forever grateful that God led me in my early years with Him to places where, instead of being confused and trapped by powerless religion, I saw people set free and transformed by the real power of the Gospel.  Those years established an unshakable confidence in me that what Jesus did on the cross was real and powerful - powerful enough to take the most broken, bound sinners and turn them into whole, righteous saints.  Not only that, but I also came to understand that seeing such transformation was why I was on the planet."

I liked this book because it is another witness to God's power and love.  However, it was hard to relate to because Tracy's personality and experiences are radically different than mine.  I could not even imagine walking in her footsteps...but then again, I haven't been called to.  What I did find was a challenge to a deeper faith, obedience, and love...right where I am.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

This short and engaging book is written by an influential pastor to help the next generation build a strong foundation for leadership.  But the lessons here don't just apply to church leadership.  Whatever field you work in or sphere of influence you have, there is wisdom to gain.

Andy Stanley has identified 5 essentials for leaders of the next generation.  In a nutshell, as a leader "you must discover and play to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses.  You've got to be courageous, and you've got to be clear in the midst of uncertainty.  You need to find a leadership coach.  And along the way it is absolutely essential that you maintain your character".   Through sharing his own experiences and various biblical stories, Andy teaches upcoming leaders how to identify and develop these traits.

One of the points that resonated with me the most is finding the courage to say NO.  He writes "Don't allow the many good opportunities to divert your attention from the one opportunity that has the greatest potential".  It's hard to say no because we are afraid of disappointing people or missing out on something.  A leader must have the wisdom and courage to say no to good things when they are not in line with his or her vision.  Easier said than done, right?

If you are a leader, or think you might have the potential to become one, this is a great book!  I will close with a prayer that Andy and his family say frequently...May God give you and I the wisdom to know what's right and the courage to do what's right, even when it's hard.

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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Undaunted by Christine Caine

Wow...this book is a keeper!  For those who have ever felt unwanted, paralyzed by fear, pain, or disappointment, or unqualified for the task God has called you to - this book is for you!  After overcoming the challenges of coping with her adoption, abuse, and miscarriage, Christine Caine is qualified to teach on overcoming these daunting circumstances and more.

I enjoyed this book from beginning to end.  It is the perfect blend of the author's own experiences/lessons learned, and teaching from God's Word.  I was challenged to be open to divine interruptions in my life, not letting fear of the unknown hold me back.

Christine says "God has set before each of us an exciting and world-changing mission...He wants to work in us, to equip and empower and qualify us, so that he can work through us." God awakened a passion in Christine's life for the oppressed.  In the book, she shares about the adventure of starting a non-profit organization called A21, which serves to prevent and protect victims of human trafficking.  (For more info, click here.)  Her story opened my eyes to the horrors that are happening in our world today.  Maybe God is calling you to support this ministry, or maybe your passion lies elsewhere.  What is standing in your way - keeping you from doing what God is calling you to do?  This book will give you a great perspective to move forward...undaunted.

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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

New Worship Song

Elevation Worship releases their new CD, Nothing is Wasted, on February 19th! 

Here is my favorite song (that I've heard so far).  I hope it's recorded in this version.  A full band is nice too, but I love this sound! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Couple After God's Own Heart

There is no shortage of books on marriage.  What makes A Couple After God's Own Heart book and workbook by Jim & Elizabeth George unique is that it focuses primarily on biblical couples and what lessons we can learn from them.  Each chapter highlights one couple, explaining what the Bible says about them and drawing applications from their strengths and weaknesses.  While many of these couples are well-known (such as Adam & Eve and Abraham & Sarah), there are also some couples less talked about such as Manoah & his wife and Aquila & Priscilla.  Even for those who have read these stories many times, it is beneficial to see them afresh while focusing on the specific applications we can make to our marriages from their lives.

Jim & Elizabeth George write in a way that is easy to follow and understand.  Sometimes their imaginations run a little wild while re-telling the biblical accounts (telling how they imagine the story playing out), but there are always biblical references included for readers to refer to the biblical text and be able to separate fact from fiction.  Each chapter draws specific lessons for wives and lessons for husbands.  There is also a 30-Day Couples Devotional included at the end of the book.

In addition to the book, for couples who want some structure and extra reinforcement, there is an Interactive Workbook.  Each chapter in the workbook corresponds to a chapter in the book and takes 5 days to complete.  Each day includes brief reading, discussion questions, and a prayer. There are also specific action steps to complete each week.

While I personally can't say that I learned anything new from the book, I did enjoy looking at these biblical couples from a new angle and being encouraged by the Georges' wisdom which comes from 40+ years together! 

*Thank you to Harvest House for providing me with a complimentary copy of the book and workbook in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado

Anyone familiar with Max Lucado know what to expect from his books...scriptural truth woven with relevant stories and analogies to help the reader connect the messages of Scripture with everyday life.  This one is no different.  When the storms of life come, will we be blown away or held steady by anchors?  This book helps readers develop 3 anchor points they can cling to: My Life is Not Futile, My Failures Are Not Fatal, and My Death is Not Final.

This book is relevant enough for seekrs and also a good reminder for those of us who have been Christians for years.  We all need to be reminded that our lives have a purpose, forgiveness is available, and this life is not the end.  Max Lucado does an excellent job illustrating these points. 

My favorite analogy was when he told the story of sending his daughter off to kindergarten.  I remember that anxiety of giving up some of the control and protection over my boys lives and leaving them at school.  Max writes "Is that how you felt, God?  Is what I felt that morning anything like what you felt when you gave up your Son?"  The difference is that we release our children into a relatively safe environment where they will make friends, learn, and be cared for.  God released His son into a hostile environment where he would be betrayed, tortured, and killed.  But He did it for us...living proof that He cares.

This book also has a very detailed Study Guide included.  There are questions related to each chapter's content, related Scripture verses to look up and discuss, and action steps.  Perfect for a small group!

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

At the Feet of Jesus by Joanna Weaver

A new year calls for a new devotional!  Joanna Weaver is the author of three books referred to as the Bethany trilogy: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, and Lazarus Awakening.  This devotional is comprised mostly of excerpts from these books.  Each daily reading is one page long and contains an excerpt from one of the trilogy books, a bible verse to look up, and a question for reflection. 

I have been reading this book daily for the past 3 weeks and am enjoying it so far.  The readings are relevant to women today and focus on slowing down and building intimacy with God.  Since I have only read one of the books from the Bethany trilogy, these daily readings are a great way to get the best content from all 3 books!  However, for someone who has read or owns the trilogy, this book will offer you very little new information.  It would mainly provide you a structured way to review the material you have already read (which isn't a bad thing from time to time!)  There is also a one-year bible reading plan in the back of the book for those who are interested. 

If you can spare 5 minutes at the start of your day, this devotional offers a way to focus and reflect on what's truly important.

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

Click HERE for a Sneak Peek, or HERE to go to the author's website.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson

The first thing you should know is that this is a mini-book, about 7" x 4", and 103 pages.  For those who want to get a few ideas from a quick read - this is it!  However, for those who like more application and examples, you may want to read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson instead.

The main point of this little book is to stress that praying for your children is important.  Praying "circles" simply means to be persistent and never give up.  The author gives some ideas of how to pray for our children, including the use of Scripture, prayer lists, prayer journals, mantras, and the laying on of hands.  It encourages parents to model for and involve their children in prayer.

While some examples are given, it would have been helpful to have more.  Some people are not going to understand what "pray through the Bible" means or how to find the "promises of God" for our children.  An appendix containing some Scriptures to get started would have been helpful.  This is definitely a book designed to inspire a mature Christian, not to instruct someone new to prayer or Christianity.  Overall, a great message for the right audience.

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

For more information, go here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Beyond Ordinary by Justin & Trisha Davis

This book wasn't quite what I expected.  It's not really about a transition from ordinary to extraordinary or good to great...it's a transition from dysfunction to restoration.  Each chapter is roughly half the personal story of the Davis's marriage journey, and half marital advice that they have learned and wish to share.  The personal story is told with alternating points of view, while the advice sections are written with one voice. 

What I Liked: The Authenticity.  Justin & Trisha are willing to bare their struggles, weaknesses, and mistakes in order to help others.  It took a lot of courage to share the details of their story...but they did it for God's glory.  For couples who have lost hope and think their relationship is beyond repair, this book can restore their hope and demonstrate that healing is possible.  The marital advice given is a great starting point.

What I Struggled With: The Shock Factor.  The first half of the book talked about the ways their marriage began to break down.  I think many people can relate to the ways they began to settle for "ordinary" instead of making the effort to thrive.  Then out of the blue came Justin's confession. *spoiler warning*  He was working as a pastor and had just spoken about the importance of godly relationships.  He then goes home and tells his wife that he is having an affair with her best friend (and church staff member) and wants a divorce.  What?!  There is no information about how the affair started or advice on how to avoid the same temptation - just the confession, the marital struggle, and the eventual healing that followed.  For couples who have reached that same level of brokenness, this story may bring them hope.  But for those in a good marriage, like myself, who are more focused on how to strengthen and protect the relationship - there are much better books available.  I am glad Justin and Trisha found restoration with each other and with God.  But I personally have a hard time taking advice from someone who broke the public trust in that way. 

There is a value to this story being told.  There is hope to be found in the journey from dysfunction to restoration.  It would have helped me to know up front who the target audience would be.  Then maybe I wouldn't have been tempted to curse and "throw the book across the room" as the author mentioned in the introduction :)

To learn more about this book or the Davis' ministry, click on the following links:
RefineUs, the Davis' ministry website
The Beyond Ordinary book trailer
The Beyond Ordinary information page

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

This book is for anyone who wants to gain a strong vision of how to create a church that unchurched people love to attend.  The church I attend was created for this purpose.  Since I am lay leadership I wanted some fresh inspiration, and I wasn't disappointed!  I had some hesitation that the text may get dry and boring while talking about church models and such, but Andy Stanley did an amazing job writing in a way that was engaging for all audiences.  I highly recommend this book for anyone (especially those in church leadership) who has a passion to reach those who are far from God.

The book starts out giving some background about the author and how he began North Point Ministries in Atlanta.  He next presents the biblical justification for their approach to church.  The third section gives the "why" behind what they do.  Their spiritual formation model is designed around growing people's faith, and the author presents 5 faith catalysts the ministry focuses on to build spiritual maturity.  The next section illustrates the "how".  How can you make your church environment and message welcoming to the unchurched without watering down the truth?  The final section gives some pointers on how to transition the local church to be open to change, which begins with a "God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision."

Speaking as a former skeptic and a more recent member of a church plant - this material is right on target!  Andy Stanley is a vision caster.  One word of warning...this book could cause you to feel some discontent with your local church if it is not prepared for this mission.  You may no longer be satisfied by the way you have experienced "church".  North Point's model is certainly not the only way to do things, but it will at the very least get you evaluating why your church functions the way it does and if your model is being effective in reaching its goals.

While I have things underlined all throughout the book, there was one quote in the intro that really stuck out to me.  "As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else's cup.  Our responsibility is to empty ours."  Thanks for emptying your cup, Pastor Andy!

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