April 13, 2014

Review: Guiltless Living

If you've read more than a couple of my book reviews, you might have noticed that I tend to give four- or five-star ratings to most of the books I read to review. Because I'm not a professional book reviewer (or anything else, for that matter), I am able to select which books I'd like to receive to read and review. In order to steward my time, I tend to choose only books that I'm pretty sure I'll find interesting and want to invest time in reading.

With that in mind, I requested a review copy of  Guiltless Living: Confessions of a Serial Sinner by Ginger (Plowman) Hubbard. Years ago, I picked up a copy of her resource, Wise Words for Moms , and found it to be a helpful resource in guiding our children to identify the underlying heart issue when dealing with their sin.

Guiltless Living's introduction is worth reading, as Hubbard takes time to address her conviction of the seriousness of the sin she will be confessing in this book. She makes clear her motive:

Sometimes, when we step back and look at our behavior, we find it so ridiculous that it becomes humorous. But let me clarify one thing here. Sin is not a laughing matter. The things that God sent his Son to die for are not funny. However, I see nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves and how ridiculously we behave at times. My motive is not to make light of sin, but to acknowledge how utterly foolish I can be when I am living out of my sinful nature rather than with Christ. (p12)

Hubbard weaves personal stories throughout the book as she deals with the sins such as being critical, prideful, controlling, impatient, miserly, selfish, and religious. Each sinful attitude is contrasted the appropriate godly characteristic. The stories, while sometimes extreme, are geared to help the reader identify her own sinful attitudes. Hubbard then shifts to scripture to provide biblical teaching on developing a godly heart attitude in that area. A Bible study guide for each chapter is provided at the end of the book.

I think this book may be helpful to many Christian women. Personally, I had a hard time shifting from the personal stories -- many of which could have been part of a stand-up comedy act -- to serious study and evaluation. In fact, I grew a bit weary of the extreme anecdotes and found myself skimming to the end of the book. I'm neither happy nor proud of that, and I would like to go back and glean more truth as I know need to grow in all of these areas.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

March 16, 2014

Review: John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

Since our family was introduced to the ministry of 20schemes more than a year ago, I've been intrigued by all things Scottish. Like much of Europe, the history of Scotland is so rich -- especially their religious history. This history is often neglected today, both here and in Scotland.

Simonetta Carr's John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers) is a great introduction to one of our most important Scottish church fathers. This book is geared for children, and the lush illustrations will help to draw the reader into the story. Some are photographs of historical artwork, but many are the artwork of the talented Matt Abraxas. The book is beautifully bound and could easily be a coffee table book (but one you'll actually read).

I have a confession to make. I read children's books. And I like them. There, I've said it. I enjoy reading Beverly Clearly, Rick Riordan, and Lois Lowry. But I read this book completely guilt-free because I learned so much about not only John Knox, but also about the 1500s in Western Europe, especially church history.

(Another confession. I had to take this book so away from my pastor/husband so that I could read and review it.)

This is not a dry history book. Carr makes John Knox come alive as the reader walks with him through from young adulthood through his death. While the history presented is important, I felt that the biggest takeaway from the book was the priority Knox placed on bringing the gospel to the common people which, at that time, involved much more than just preaching and evangelism. It required attempting to change the law of the land, and even risking imprisonment and death when taking a stand. I couldn't help but wonder if today's Christian leaders would be willing to take such a stand.

This book is for:
  • Parents and grandparents who would like to help their children develop a better understanding of church history and Christian faithfulness
  • Homeschoolers who would like to supplement both their history and Christian studies
  • Church leaders who would like to share an important part of church history with their
    congregations, as well as a good example of faithfulness under persecution
  • Moms who just like reading good children's literature (wink!)

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

March 7, 2014

Review: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection

When I was given the opportunity to receive a copy of Thabiti Anyabwile's new book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection, I eagerly jumped on it. Anyabwile has been a vocal supporter of 20schemes, of which we're a part. I'd heard

For me, this quote from Chapter 1 sums up the premise of the book:
The truth of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection is a daily reality for those who believe in Him. Yet from time to time, that daily reality requires extended contemplation and reflection, and we should ponder its meaning so that it does not become daily neglected. (emphasis mine)
This is a short book, only ninety-five pages over five chapters, but it's packed. Each chapter is followed by a list of helpful questions "for further gazing and reflection." Here's how it breaks down:

Chapter 1: Is There No Other Way? Anyabwile places the reader right in the Garden of Gethsemane, giving a real sense of the sorrow and suffering that Jesus experienced, including the failure of friends and difficult answer to his prayer in Matthew 26:42. He then asks -- and answers -- "Why is this the only way?" ("This" being the cross.) This is important not only for the gospel, but for our understanding of the very character of the Father as we, too, experience sorrow and suffering.

Chapter 2: Why Have You Forsaken Me? While much could be said about this chapter, I think this quote sums up the answer to the question:
The Father's abandonment of Jesus leads to the sinner's adoption. God abandons one perfect Son in order to adopt millions of sinful sons. It is the only abandonment with any honor and redemption.
This abandonment is explored further as Anyabwile shares more deeply about the nature of the Father's abandonment of the Son through the rest of the chapter.

Chapter 3: Where, O Death, Is Your Victory? Anyabwile explains from Scripture exactly what death is and how Jesus' death "means victory over death for those who believe." The gospel is shared in the last few pages of this chapter, making this a good book to share with both believers and unbelievers.

Chapter 4: Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead? This was the question that the angels asked the women who had come to the tomb to prepare the corpse of their beloved Jesus for burial. Anyabwile shares how this simple question is a sanctifying redirection, both for the women and for us.

Chapter 5: Do You Not Know These Things? It's important how you know what you know, as many means are insufficient ways of knowing the truth about Jesus and the resurrection. Physical senses, facts, and Bible study are all insufficient means without our eyes being opened by God himself. My favorite takeaway quote from this section:
Sitting in a church for twenty years does not make you a Christian any more than putting rocks in an oven makes them biscuits.
If you've been a Christian for a long time, this book will encourage you to think about the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection in a fresh way. If you're a new believer, it's my hope that this book will help you learn more about what this death and resurrection means for you today. And if you're one who wonders what all the fuss is about this man called Jesus, please read this book and pray for God to open your eyes. And let me know; I'll pray for that, as well.

Additional resources:

You can watch a trailer for this book here.

You can listen to an interview with the author here

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.

January 26, 2014

Review: Stepping Out in Faith

One of my favorite memories of our two years at Grace Community Church was the new experience of hearing the testimonies of new converts who were being baptized. It was such a sweet time, so encouraging and refreshing. It was remarkable to me that so many of those being baptized were former Catholics. And I loved hearing how other members of the Grace Community had been so faithful to build relationships with these folks, diligently sharing the only truth that leads to salvation.

Stepping Out in Faith: Former Catholics Tell Their Stories (edited by Mark Gilbert) reminded me of those baptismal services. As each of the 11 stories unfolded, I couldn't wait to see how the Lord had intervened in each person's life. Each story is unique. Some were Catholic in name only; others remained Catholic for a time after being saved, leaving once they grew to see the extent of doctrinal error. Some were slowly drawn by the Lord in the course of everyday life; others became open due to traumatic events in their life or the life of a family member. These testimonies are diverse because people are diverse.

But most of these stories had something in common: the importance of the local Christian church. So many of these former Catholics found their way out of their comfort zone and into a healthy, gospel church. There they discovered two things: people who lived out Christ's love, and pastors who taught from God's Word.

I read this book to evaluate whether or not it would be a good book to pass along to Catholic friends at the right time (and it is that), but I found it challenging me, as well. How willing am I to invest time, energy, and genuine friendship in unbelievers who I encounter in my daily life? How prepared am I to listen, to get to know them, to serve them, to share the hope that they so desperate need? This is my challenge; this is our Lord's command.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.    

November 16, 2013

Review: Seasons of the Heart

On our recent flight home from Arizona, I found myself with nothing to read. For some reason, this was a low-tech flight: no media screens or headphone jacks. After reading the in-flight magazine, browsed the catalog of unique and overpriced items, I remembered that I had downloaded a book by a popular Christian author to my laptop. This author promised to remind me that I'm deeply loved, accepted, and celebrated by God. As I read for the next half hour, it was clear to me that the author could weave a beautiful story, really trying to connect with the reader. And yet, I found myself longing for more -- more substance, more unpacking of Scripture, more focus on God and His glory.

When we returned home, I found another book waiting for me. Seasons of the Heart: A Year of Devotions from One Generation of Women to Another is a unique compilation of writings from women of the past. These women are from varied backgrounds and seasons of life; many endured hardships and sufferings beyond what most of us might experience. But the common element, the common thread, is their enduring faith in God. And their focus, even in the midst of their own struggles? Encouraging others to draw near to Christ, look to Him, abide in Him, and glorify Him.

I'm not a huge fan of devotional books, as a rule, but I'm drawn to this book. Because many of the writings are taken from personal letters and journals, composed with no thought of being published, an informal and personal tone is maintained. I found myself connecting with these women, especially after reading through the brief biographies at the back of the book (I'd encourage you to read these first). 

During our trip to Arizona, we took advantage of the great Mexican food and, of course, In-N-Out Burger every chance we had. As much as I enjoyed it, by the time we were heading home my body was telling me it needed something different, some nutrients I'd been lacking. When I read my first page of Seasons of the Heart: A Year of Devotions from One Generation of Women to Another, I felt like it was providing me with the substance that the earlier book had lacked. I think I devoured about ten devotions that night, wondering if I'll ever attempt to finish that other book.

Seasons of the Heart is a book you'll want to keep on your nightstand, and it would make a great gift for a woman in any season of life, wherever she might be in her walk of faith.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.  

October 9, 2013

Where are the older women?

Every now and then, I come across something on another blog that's just too good not to share. When I saw Brian Croft's post on Practical Shepherding this morning, I knew that those who might benefit most from what he had written might not even see it since Brian's target audience is pastors.

Here's the post -- read it first then come back here for just a little more on subject.

Our family has visited the church Brian pastors, and it's full of young moms -- moms eager to serve, grow, and teach their children the importance of faith and the local church. It's easy to see why this subject would be on Brian's mind.

And his post brought to my mind a question that I've been asked so often in the churches where my husband has served: Where are the older women? This was asked by younger women who desired to be mentored, but often found the older women to be either disengaged or disinterested.

Ladies, here are some women with so much to teach, so much to share... but chances are, no one is asking them. These are women with so much left to give, and such a need to receive. These are often the forgotten saints in our churches, offered fellowship only with those in their own age group.

Recently, our family had the opportunity for a lengthy time of fellowship with an older congregation in the Highlands of Scotland. One of the members, a 93-year-old woman, fascinated us with impromptu stories of God's working in her life through faith-building tragedies. And yet, as she stood before us, the joy of the Lord clearly lit her face. We were challenged in our own faith even as we joined in her joy.

I hope you'll take this pastor's exhortation to heart. And when you do, I believe you'll not only bless someone, but you and your children will be blessed, as well.

Update: Brian followed up with a post on how to practically reach out to these older women. I hope you'll check it out and give it a try!

September 6, 2013

Review: Three Decades of Fertility

When I received my Kindle copy of Three Decades of Fertility: Ten Ordinary Women Surrender to the Creator and Embrace Life for review, I really had no expectations. As a woman at the tail-end of three decades of fertility, I simply thought it might be an interesting read.

The main body of the book consists of the first-person stories of ten different Christian women, ranging in age from forty-three to fifty-five. As each story unfolds, we learn how marriage, family, and love for the Lord transformed these woman. After telling her story, each woman's answers to a survey on childbearing are shared.

The book closes with two bonus chapters on keeping our bodies healthy during the childbearing years. One is written by a doctor and deals with maintaining the physical structure of the body, the other is written by a an amateur herbalist and deals with nutrition.

The positives:
  • As a mother, I found myself drawn into many of these women's lives as they dealt with various aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, including miscarriage and adoption. 
  • It was obvious that each woman desired to honor God through her testimony, even as she shared her struggles and failures along the way.
  • The bonus chapters include numerous links for further information, including tips that even a woman in my stage of life might find helpful.
The negatives:
  • This book is written from a "full quiver" perspective. While I realize the book was not intended to explain this perspective, I did find myself desiring a more complete biblical explanation of this presupposition since it was an integral part of each woman's story.
  • In one woman's story, her life seemed to be transformed when she began attending church and a ladies' group, but I did not read any mention of salvation. I felt a gospel opportunity may have been missed here.
  • I was a bit troubled by the perspective on miscarriage shared in one chapter, "What if miscarriage was God's means of showing mercy and love on a human soul, and if He chose you to be the honored vehicle to usher that child into eternity?" (Quote by Doug Phillips, shared by Carmon.)
  • I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed to find that the chapter on nutrition was written by a 32-year-old amateur herbalist. She provides lots of information, but most of the references she provides point you to her own blog or book.
I think this is a book that will be enjoyed immensely by those sharing a full quiver viewpoint. For many of the rest of us, while we may enjoy sharing in the sisterhood of maternity with these women through these stories, questions will be raised and remain unanswered.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.