June 7, 2014

Review: Active Spirituality



"Is the Christian life about trying or trusting? Would I describe my relationship to God as running or resting? Is my life more characterized by grace or effort?"

When I read this short summary of Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life, I was hopeful that it would help me strike a balance between God's work and my work in living in living out holiness in my everyday life. I hoped it would help me think through legalism versus obedience, going through the motions versus living in a spirit-empowered way. This book did -- and will continue to do -- just that.

I tried to do a very quick read (in order to meet my review deadline) but found myself wanting to linger often. Despite the book's casual style, pastor/author Brian Hedges provides a careful handling of deep biblical truths about living a healthy Christian life.



Presented as a series of pastoral letters written "to a struggling young adult trying to find a church, live a chaste life, and walk with Christ." The tone is conversational and application-oriented. Don't be fooled by the friendly letter format; this book packs a substantial doctrinal punch.

Hedges addresses issues faced by his correspondent such as discouragement, depression, and assurance. Teaching from Scripture, Hedges also draws from the writings of authors such as John Bunyan, John Owen, C.S. Lewis, and -- for a more contemporary source -- Tom Schreiner, Michael Horton, and Timothy Keller, among others. (I always enjoy it when reading one book leads me to another book, and another...)

My somewhat quick read will be just a first read. This is a book I'll need to read again, digest more thoroughly, and apply carefully. I'll be glad to recommend this book to the thoughtful new convert and the struggling Christian alike (and don't we all fall into those categories at one time or another?).


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. 

June 4, 2014

Me time, or...



I can’t believe we’ve been homeschooling for 16 years. That’s more than half our marriage. That’s more years than our youngest has been alive.  That’s 2,800 days -- if I count only “official” school days (whatever that means).

Small potatoes compared to the number of days I’ve been a mom: 10,037 or thereabouts.

That’s a lot of days spent feeding children, shopping for children, washing clothes for children, cleaning up after children, teaching children, disciplining children, ferrying children, playing with children.

Of course, our oldest has been on his own for quite a while now. But our second child, our only girl, has been racking up the milestones over the last few months. She turned 18, graduated from our homeschool, earned a scholarship, was admitted to her school of choice, and will be leaving our home within the next couple of months.

This leaves me with one at home, for a few more years at least.

I realized a few days ago that we only have about three years of homeschooling left. Three more years, of having a child in our home. Three more years, potentially, before we are empty nesters. Less than 2,000 days. And it hit me.

Me time is seriously overrated.

Somehow, the realization that my daily, intentional opportunities to train up my children are fleeting at best has made me desire to be with them all the more. Not to stifle them, not to lecture them, not to guilt them or control them.

I want to use this time to enjoy them, to learn more about what they enjoy. I want to listen to them, to hear what they think of the world and other people and our Creator. I want to watch them, to see what God is doing in their hearts and lives. I want to read with them, to pray with them, to worship with them, to play with them.

This season will be gone before I blink again. The next season will be good, as my husband and I live together as two again instead of two plus three or two or one. But until then, I want to enjoy this sweetly bittersweet season which the Lord has prepared for me now, while I can.

Not me time, but we time.


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.