Sunday, August 28, 2011

"A Confident Heart" by Renee Swope

Written by a worker for Proverbs 31 Ministries, you'd be right if you thought this book was geared towards women. However, aside from the fact that most stories are about women, this book could appeal to men, too, and people of all ages--not just middle-aged mothers. Why do I say that? Well, going through the book, Swope tackles tough issues like doubt, insecurities, loneliness, inadequacy, guilt, shame, and more. Now, I'm no therapist, but I am pretty sure that most people of all walks of life experience these once in a while. What Swope does, though, is incorporate Scripture into each page to infuse the book with hope. No matter what you are going through, this book will remind you that you are loved (Isaiah 43:4). The Scripture list at the back is particularly helpful, in addition to the various discussion questions.

Available August 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Lion of Babylon" by Davis Bunn

This is a fast-paced action / adventure novel. It is so speedy, in fact, that sometimes the reader will be confused as to what is going on and who all the characters are. This propels the pages as readers piece together the puzzles of the plot, which I won't entirely ruin. The protagonist is--surprise, surprise--a secret agent of sorts. He is in the Middle East and discovers that many Christian Iraqis have gone missing. With violence, mystery, and everything in between, readers and characters alike have to put solve the puzzle of this religious / cultural / controversial who-done-it. Adding to the anxiety is the fact that the protagonist is a widower with possible women he could start his life over with. There are some mentions of church and prayer, but that is about as far as it goes in some respects. While this was very well written, it wasn't my cup of tea since I usually do not read this genre. However, those into this type of story will probably relish the read.

"Muscular Faith" by Ben Patterson

There is a plethora of advice for readers in this slim book. From trusting God to praying to reading Scripture to generally drawing close to God, this book has it all. Bible verses are quoted, and the commentary given by the author is indeed insightful. Personal stories are not the highlight of the book, but some ones are included for your leisure. While one could argue the point that faith is a spiritual gift and thus can't be "worked on," I'm sure everyone can agree that we must acknowledge God and that it is our job to love Him, which goes back to Him anyway with 1 john 4:19. Either way, this book is a great resource for those that want "faith" verses and examples from the Bible. It would also make a nice gift. For those that want a more muscular faith, maybe some benchpressing is in order. After all, some hardcover Bibles are quite hefty. God bless!

"A Faith of Leap" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch

This book can be summed up in Hebrews 10:35. Essentially, the authors are trying to motivate readers to be more "on fire," so to speak, for the Lord. There is the sophistication and methodology for preachers to follow with big theological words and charts fully equip with arrows...juxtaposed with the clever nomenclature and spitfire of contemporary colloquialism. Did I mention that there are many Bible quotations in addition to those from Bible commentators? Sometimes the book reads very casually, and other times the authors whip out their numbers and bullet points to direct readers in how to act. This piece of literature is very well written and I did not find any parts that were overly blasphemous and I sometimes do with other books. It seems to me like the authors simply want readers to man up like in 1 Cor 2:2 and really live.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Amish Values for Your Family" by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Let's face it. There's just something about the way of the Amish that captivates us. Maybe it's their radically simple lifestyle, or maybe it's their bonnets. Either way, something draws us in. In Fisher's book, she dives deep into how Amish families operate and how you can emulate them. Fisher has written other books on the Amish, and she knows her stuff. While this book is aimed at family life, the tips given can assist relationships of all kinds. With each chapter being just a few pages, this makes for a quick read or easy reference book. While intriguing, one has to admit that the "lessons" learned are nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). Still, there's just something about how the book is written that makes it a staple to the bookshelf, if you will. What is different is the fact that Fisher doesn't just keep on yakking about what we should be doing to cultivate the ways of the Amish. Instead, she inserts real stories from Amish, real quotes, and real proverbs that make the book come alive.

Available August 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Stumbling into Grace" by Lisa Harper

Truth be told, I wanted to review this book first because I thought the cover was cute. I'm in my early twenties, refuse to let go of my girly tendencies, and occasionally dress like the youngster on the cover...but I digress. You know you see a good movie when--before you know it--it is over. You realize it held your attention to the end. The same is true with this book. As a women's speaker, it is no surprise that Harper's prose comes off comical and gregarious. There are even some facetious anecdotes included in the book. Readers will laugh at them guilt free because they will feel entitled to. Why? Because they'll feel like Harper's friend. What I like about this book is that it isn't a theological treatise on grace. That would most likely intimidate too many people. It's a simple book about Harper's life with grace wound in. Also great is the fact that Harper incorporates relevant (I know the whole Book is relevant, but you know what I mean) Scripture. At the end of each chapter, there is a small section with questions for the reader, prayers / short letters, journal prompts, and Bible verses to look up. Cute book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Kissing Fish" by Roger Wolsey

Advertised as a book on Christianity for those that do not like Christianity, my interest was piqued. The Jesus fish icon kissing the Darwin fish also made my eyebrows shoot up. Diving into the book, I read at the beginning that the book is for everybody but is more geared towards young adults. The way the book is laid out with the text going near to the edges of the pages, this colossal read may intimidate youngsters. Luckily, the beginning of the book tells readers that they may skim the chapters--something that permission need not be given for. Anyway, written by somewhat of a theologian, this book tackles plenty of huge topics from death, heaven, hell, communion, the Gospel, love, the Bible, and more. I'd be tempted to call this book a bit heretical if not for the fact that Wolsey presents different sides of each position. What do I mean by that? For topics, he gives progressive, fundamentalists, and everything in between in terms of standpoints / paradigms. I don't agree with everything in this book, but I think Wolsey's intentions were genuine in wanting people to come to the Faith. However, the way I see it, if people don't want Jesus, no amount of progressive "hip" sugarcoating and complacent denials of essential dogma will make nonbelievers truly love Jesus. Philemon 1:14.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris

With a title as controversial as this, I knew I was in for a doozy of a read. Jumping into the book, I soon realized that Harris' focus wasn't on never getting into relationships. Rather, he was trying to tell readers not to date for the sake of dating. To him, relationships must be pure and done out of love and service to the other person. To have no interest in marriage or commitment is just wasting the other person's time and emotions. Fascinatingly, at the end of the book, he alluded to his sequel where he accounts for how he met and courted--yes, I just used that word--his wife. Bible is quoted, and the pages fly by in this captivating book. What striked me the most was how Harris said we can grow in God's love in our singleness (something I've even seen in other relationships people have). The point of being selfless and not selfish will really hit home with readers. To truly stare at Christ is not to be worked up over members of the opposite sex, sizing them up and fantasizing about potential mates. No. Harris tells us to love our neighbors, pursue holy righteousness, be selfless, and trust God to work out his plan. Splendid.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"A Sea in Flames" by Carl Safina

Before I even dived into this book, the words that stood out to me were that Safina was a great conversationalist. Now, as a book reviewer, when I read this, I figured this author is either incredibly talented or just full of himself. On his writing style, I must say he delivered. Sentences flowed quite well, and the book progressed in an orderly fashion. There are a few "bad words" in the book, so I wouldn't recommend this to young readers. For the BP oil spill itself, Safina provides scientific facts in a language that most people can understand. Sure, you may have to look up some words now and then, but, for the most part, this is a book that doesn't just have to be read by academics. What I liked was a part in the book that paralleled similar oil spills in the past. There is even a small section with full color photos in the middle of the book. While most of the books I review tend to be faith-based, this one most certainly is not. God is mentioned a couple of times. However, on these few instances, the attitude towards Him is perplexing. It's part complaining, part anger, part mesmerising. I can't speak for everyone, but I will say this is not a faith-based book as a whole. It is more of a research-based book. Interviews with various experts and eye-witnesses are given, which provide facetiously frank perspectives. The tone jumps around from scholarly to sarcastic to just plain adamant. Many facts are given in this book. It's a thick read but does include an index for those that just want to use this book as a reference tool.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"King's Cross" by Timothy Keller

This shall be a unique review because this book was not from a publicist or author seeking a review. It was merely a gift from a nice Christian friend who wanted my opinion on a book that he happened to have an extra copy of.

With a cover white enough to blind yet not bright enough to merit Isaiah 62:2, the title's 3D etching leaps off the front and onto one's psyche. The fantastic notion that a king--no, THE King--would take on the humility and pain of a Cross is the fundamental piece of Christianity that tends to drift into believers' subconsciousness. Sure, everyone likes a good Christian self-help book or pretty devotional with room for journaling on delicate pages, but few pick up good theology books that are too intense for meager Bible studies and too humble to be called dogma.

So, what do we have? We have a look at what grace really is without saying it out loud. Almost like supernovae that announce light without ever uttering a word. The book of Mark is gone through in this book. The entire Gospel is not quoted, and other parts of Scripture wade in. However, the focus is on Peter's documenter who wrote the "concise" history of Jesus. The book is divided into two sections. The first details Jesus' Kingship, and the second highlights Calvalry. Some chapters read like sermons and are not exactly page-turners, but the insights that Keller throws in are marvelous.

I can not do the lessons in this book justice. Sure, I could go on about how Keller emphasizes dependence on Christ, death to a works mentality, embracing weaknesses, awaiting the New Creation, delighting in Christ's glory, and so much more. However, those seem like staples to regular Christian diets that believers ought to already know. The way they are presented is beautiful, though. Imagine a hamburger. That is ordinary in America; but picture it presented on polished China and expensive cutlery. The burger is still a burger, but something catches our attention and makes us appreciate our meal again.

All I can hope is that readers of "King's Cross" smile every time Jesus' name appears with pride similar to a parent at a ballgame who points to the field and says, "That One's mine."

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Money Secrets of the Amish" by Lorilee Craker

While the stories and characters mentioned in this book are unique, the tips most certainly are not. Frugal advice such as recycling, saving, avoiding debt, and thrifting are not new concepts. Still, Craker writes with a unmistakable voice. Her work as an editor makes the words flow across the pages; and her work as a journalist makes you feel as if you are getting some sort of inside scoop. All that being said, this book is best as a reference book but reads lightning fast as if it were a letter from a parsimonious friend. The Amish values are told with much respect, and readers get a taste of the culture.

"Set Free to Live Free" by Saundra Dalton-Smith MD

With a cover like this, I strapped myself in for what I knew to be another Christian self-help book. Granted, I was a bit taken aback by the talk of "energies," as I thought the author was going all new-age on me. However, as the book progressed, I saw Biblical attitudes and perspectives with quotations and saw that the author truly did have good intentions and kept the stress / focus on God's way. While I can get addled by books that promise blessings and happiness from God, I remember that God promises us life everlasting for free. Each "lie" has a story from women, followed by Bible verses and the author's advice. The topics are typical and discuss perfection, envy, limitations, emotions, and the like. While step-by-step instructions on how to be a happy woman of God are good for the spiritually young, I think women and men alike need to just stare at the Savior until all problems fade into the background. Read Psalm 63. :)

"The Upside" by Bradley Wright

Wright is known for his surveys and analytical statistics. His last book on Christians and their--get this--altruistic tendencies was a big hit (I also reviewed his "Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You've Been Told"). Anyway, like his other book, this is more of a helpful reference for when you want to look something up. Relationships, the environment, finances, you name it. While the writing is well, and the comments are fun (there is a section in each chapter where Wright documents good things that Christians are doing to make the world a better place), this does not read like a novel unless you are a history buff that is infatuated with numbers and charts.