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 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'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.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Years Resolutions

What is my New Years resolution this year?  To take the time to hear from God and be obedient to what He asks of me.  Period.

I read this in a devotional yesterday. "Most New Year's resolutions have little effect on day-to-day life except to add a burden of guilt and a feeling of failure.  Continually striving, yet never arriving".  Sure, it's good to have goals and identify priorities.  But I don't want to put expectations on myself that will continually leave me feeling as though I don't measure up. 

Substitute teaching is helping me to be more flexible.  I can't have my day, or my week, planned out.  I've learned to have a rough idea of what I'd like to do, but be willing to change at a moments notice.  It has been an adjustment not being home as often.  My house has seen cleaner meals have been planned out more in advance...and my boys have had more clean underwear :)  And of course I've had more time to read and blog.  But on the flip side: I've been able to fill a need in our community, I have a better understanding of my boys school routines and the friends they interact with, and my boys love having mommy be a part of their day.  What was once terrifying is becoming more comfortable.  I am enjoying all the different roles I get to fill and people I get to interact with.  I am able to set aside my fear and trust God while walking into the unknown...and I am thriving!  This reminder of God's faithfulness could not have come at a better time. Many changes are on the horizon...

Andy Stanley writes "Few things stretch and thus grow our faith like stepping into a ministry environment for which we feel unprepared".  Where might God be calling you to step out in faith?