Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Elevating and Enriching

Prototype Group Experience DVD: What Happens When You Discover You're More like Jesus than You Think?
By Jonathan Martin

As a pastor, I have been witness to many DVD studies. Unfortunately, many don’t live up to their hype (or price for that matter!).

But this new DVD study is genuine and heartfelt.  And something about Pastor Jonathan Martin’s voice and presentation style just makes you sit back and allow the concepts to seemingly melt over you. The videos (each one only totaling about 15 minutes in length) are also not just a talking head—although Jonathan does have some face time.  The videos are well shot and produced, and you don’t feel like he is preaching to you, but rather having a conversation with you. The videos also tell a story and are more like a mini-movies expounding on the topic of the week.

And the topics Jonathan covers are very fitting for a Small Group setting, where people can come together and share concerns, like: roles and expectations that compete for our attention, how we sometimes feel alone, and how we can help others in our church feel God’s presence.

The leader guide that comes with the DVD is well laid out and offers an option for a shorter 30-45 minute class or normal 70-75 minute class.  Although, after watching the videos, the time frames given in the guide often did not match up with the video.  For example, the guide says: “PLAY SESSION 1 VIDEO, PART 1 (10 minutes),” but in actuality that video portion was only 6 minutes.  I guess being a few minutes off isn't too bad, but just a note for leaders—do your homework before and watch the videos ahead of time to help with your planning.

I also really liked that Jonathan included in each session a “Bible Focus” in the leader’s guide that gets students in the class away from the video and into Scripture and lively discussion. Often with video series, this can be left out. 

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this DVD study for my unbiased review.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Do not resuscitate

REVIEW: A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity have a funeral or a future? By Mark Driscoll

I was really excited to get this book, because I believe that Christians indeed need to have a resurgence in this world. Jesus Christ is the only hope this world has! 

However, while I liked the concept, I found the book less than adequate. I was expecting a motivating, get-off-your-butt inspirational charge for Christians. But, I didn't find that. 

Author Mark Driscoll is an unapologetic Reformed, complimentarian, continuationist, and missional pastor (if you are not for sure what those terms mean, he offers a whole chapter explaining them). While I can appreciate that he knows who he is, as a female pastor, I felt much of the book overly chauvinistic and aimed only at men since he believes solely in men being leaders. (By the way, we also differ on other theology as well.)

While there are a few nuggets of truth and wisdom found in this book, overall I personally would not recommend it.

If you want more information on Driscoll and the book, feel free  to visit http://theresurgence.com/

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for my unbiased review.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Bible helps new Christians navigate easier

As a pastor, I often get asked about Bible recommendations. So, I was very intrigued by this newest Bible offered by Tyndale called The Wayfinding Bible. This is a New Living Translation version, and it would be wonderful for young adults, new Christians, and those who might like to take a journey through God’s Word in a new way. 

What makes this Bible different is that the reader is able to choose their itinerary. There are three main routes offered using an innovative Bible mapping system. Each route takes the reader through a series of chronological readings that capture the main storyline and God’s word. One route includes 54 readings to gain a chronological overview of the Bible. Another route takes the reader to 215 readings to gain a full perspective of the Bible. In the third route, through 366 readings, the reader will discover the depth and richness of God’s word as he/she wanders through various passages. [There is also a fourth route offered called the “thru-hike” which will take the reader chronologically through every word of the Bible.]

This mapping system gives new readers a choice of how they want to jump in and navigate the Bible, and encourages and directs them through Scripture with confidence as readers explore God’s alive Word in a unique way. 

Many people, when they start to read the Bible from beginning to end, can get hung up in chapters like Leviticus. But The Wayfinding Bible directs readers in a fun (yes fun!) new way giving them the big story of God and engaging them with key people, places, and teachings so they can begin to connect more fully to the Bible as a whole. 

There are beautiful color maps throughout, simple book introductions, scenic overlooks, and historical markers, as well as “side trips” on various topics.

If you know someone who is a new Christian or starting to explore the Bible but doesn’t know how, they will likely have fun and enjoy the journey they will embark on it The Wayfinding Bible!

For more information on The Wayfinding Bible, visit http://goo.gl/9qpoal 

*Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this Bible for my unbiased review.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Highly recommended read

REVIEW: Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

This is a wonderful little book! Through a fictional fable, Christian theology comes to life through story.
This is a quick read, but packed full of powerful truths and takeaways.

The story centers on a college-age student who is questioning his Christian faith. But after a visit to his wise, pastor grandfather, things start to make more sense. This will likely hit home with most all Christians, as they have struggled with deep questions at one time or another in their lives.

This is a perfect book in which to grab a cup of coffee and curl up to read. It would also make a good book to pass on to others who are struggling with their faith, and even college students since the main character is a college student himself.

*I received this book for free from Blogging for  Books for this unbiased review.

For more information, check out:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

“Epic Grace” not an epic success

REVIEW: Epic Grace: Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot by Kurt W. Bubna

This book is true and based on a person's life, so it’s is hard to say it is not good. But, I found myself waning toward the middle and started to get a tad uninterested.
The book is filled with chapters based on small testimony stories of author Kurt Bubna’s life. Some are downright funny and some are sad. He tries to illustrate through each story how he has seen God’s grace in his life.
This book does show how we need to be on the lookout for testimony stories in our own lives of how God is always at work. For me, possibly adding practical, thought-provoking questions that could help the reader see and make sense of their own stories of God’s grace would have been helpful.
One thing I did like that is unique, is at the back of the book there are QR codes, that when read by a smart phone, offer seven videos of the author explaining the book on an even deeper level.

You can see one of those videos at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ_mE5vdx5E - Week 1 – What do you think about grace?
So, it wasn’t an epic failure, but it also wasn’t an epic success.
*Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for my unbiased review.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Unique and unlike any other devotional book

REVIEW: The One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein & Tremper Longman III

This is not just a little devotional book.  It’s hearty and unlike any other devotional book I have ever seen. 

It is close to 400 pages and delves deep into explaining the history and culture of Israel. In doing so, the hope is that Christians will learn and discover more fully their Jewish roots of faith. 

The first part of each devotion is written by a Jewish Rabbi explaining the historic customs and history of Israel, and the second part of each devotion is written by a Christian theologian who brings out the relevance of the Rabbi’s comments.  This unique partnership not only melds each day’s topic together, but offers insightful perspectives from each viewpoint.  

Each week is focused on a topic, for example: biblical prophecy, forgiveness, and keeping the Sabbath.  In fact, at the end of each week is a page for journaling “Sabbath reflections.”  Here, the reader can reflect on what truths he/she learned during the week, as well as consider how those truths have affected his/her faith and how he/she can apply them to daily life. 

This devotion seeks to not just be another check off on your to-do list each day, but truly encourages Christians to dig deeper into their Christian faith beginnings and heritage. Because, as I have told my own church, knowing where you come from helps you know where you are going.

*Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for my unbiased review.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Mess not all that beautiful

REVIEW: This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley
I wanted to like this book.
The concept was engaging, and the cover is stunning, but it just did not give me what I expected.

Granted, the topic is heavy—explaining how the Kingdom of God is here among us yet far away—a hard topic for anyone to grapple and explain.  But, I came away from the book a bit more confused than when I started, wondering what exactly author Rick McKinley was trying to say.

He give some examples of things his worship community, Imago Dei, have done, but it did not seem to provide helpful inspiration or practical ideas for those reading the book of how to show the Kingdom of God breaking through their own context. 

There are a few questions at the end of the book guided toward conversation, and it is definitely for “conversation,” not a small group study, as there are only three or four small questions related to each chapter.

Again, I wanted to like the book, but it was too much of a mess for me.  Maybe you will see it differently.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this unbiased review.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Best part of the book was the appendix

REVIEW: Chivalry: The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World by Zach Hunter

The best part of this book is the appendix entitled “Onward: Living the Code.”

This 20-page+ section provides practical questions in which the reader can ask himself or herself in order to transform one’s life into a chivalrous one.

This section would work well with a small group seeking to grow deeper in their walk with Christ and willing to make commitments in order to do that.  By the tenth commitment, the reader will have written his or her own personal pledge to pursue the quest of being more chivalrous.

Unfortunately, while this appendix section was meaty and useful, the rest of the book was a bit of a disappointment.  It did not hold interest, and I could not find too many useful nuggets to underline or mark (which I love to do with my books!)

Maybe I did not connect with the book because I am “old” (definitely older than the college student author).  Maybe youth would be better suited to read it as maybe it would connect more with them than it did me.

You can hear straight from Zach himself about the book at:

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for this unbiased review.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Unfortunately, no spark here

REVIEW: Spark: Transform Your World, One Small Risk at a Time by Jason Jaggard
Unfortunately, this book did not cause a huge “spark” in me.
Its premise is good, as the main thrust of the book asks: “What is one risk you can take this week to make you a better person or the world a better place?”  It is a great question, but sadly the book was underwhelming in helping readers answer it for themselves.

The book had a few nuggets on the topic of risk that acted like kindling, but alas the spark and flame did not materialize for me.  I was excited about the concept of the book, but it regrettably was a disappointment.

Instead of reading this book, I suggest you take time with the question: What is one risk you can take this week to make you a better person or the world a better place?”, pray and ask Jesus to lead you in taking risks that truly make a difference.

If you want, you can check out the website on the book at http://www.sparkgood.com/

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this unbiased review.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reading this book made me Happy, Happy, Happy!!!

REVIEW: Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson

My husband and I love the A&E hit Duck Dynasty, and as fans of the show, I was excited to read more about Phil Robertson, the famous patriarch of the Robertson clan.

The book was real and authentic.  Phil humbly spoke about the bad days, like when he kicked his wife and kids out of the house because he prized his partying lifestyle more and they were getting in the way.  But then he spoke about redemption—how he repented of his ways and Jesus Christ saved his soul and transformed him into a new creation—the person we know him as on the show.

This book brought joy to my heart as it evangelistically, with no bones about it, talked about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Phil would have it no other way.

Reading this book gives you a glimpse inside their lives as Christians that you don’t see on TV—how they baptize countless people in the river by their house, how they witness to everyone they can, and how they seek to save lost souls.  They are on a mission and the only reason Phil believes Duck Dynasty is so successful is because God wanted it to be.  Using that show as a springboard has allowed them to tour the country and speak about Jesus and to end each of their shows praying as a family to Christ.  Praise God that the family does not plan to let up telling others the Good News!

If you are a Duck Dynasty fan, or even if you are not, as a Christian this is must-read … it shows the power of grace, mercy, and redemption of Jesus Christ and how God can turn our lives around when we surrender to His power and glory!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wonderful book about truly being on mission!

REVIEW: Sent: How One Ordinary Family Traded the American Dream for God’s Greater Purpose by Hilary Alan

couldn't put this book down.  I was swept away by Hilary’s story and her relational writing style.

Here is a family who has gone against the American norm—sold their nice house and belongings, left their big important jobs, and pretty much gave up everything.  They did this because they were “Sent” by God on a mission bigger than themselves.  It was radical, and people thought they were crazy, but they were simply doing what God told them to do.  They were sent to Southeast Asia as representatives and followers of Jesus Christ.

Hilary’s story was encouraging, uplifting, and hard, but all worth it to minister to where she and her family were called. Reading, I found my own testimony and call intertwined with theirs, and I believe others will as well.

For those who desire for God to speak to them, who want to be called by God to do something big in this life, read this book!  While God might not send you to Southeast Asia, if you are willing, He will send you somewhere do to something great for His glory.  You just need to be like Hilary—open to the calling, open to the sending, and open to obedience.

You can view a short video about Hilary’s story at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=DVAg5TvqL2Q

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this unbiased review.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Help for recovering perfectionists

REVIEW: Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist By Amanda Jenkins

This title drew me in right away and I could not wait to read this book, because also I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.  Reading this book was like talking to a friend who understood me, since she suffers from this perfectionist tendency as well.

Each chapter was a peek into author Amanda Jenkins’ life and soul.  She is addicted to Diet Coke, has too many expectations for her husband, is a struggling mother at times, and is working to be obedient to God.  Jenkins is a real woman with real struggles, just like every one of us.  But, she wrote all her struggles down in a book for all to read!  Blessings to her for having the courage to be open in hopes that it might help others who try to live up to the perfect standard!  All recovering perfectionists can learn something from this book.

Besides the look into Amanda’s life, at the end of the book is a nice set of discussion questions for the reader, or to use for a women’s small group dialogue to help all those struggling with being a perfectionist.

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an unbiased review.
In your book, you talk about your addiction to perfection. What were the signs that this was
an issue for you?
Little things. For a long time, I didn’t let my husband see me without makeup. I got really upset/frazzled when people dropped by unexpectedly. I got easily embarrassed when I messed up, and I wouldn’t admit to struggling. And I thought I had life pretty together—that I actually  didn’t struggle/mess up/sin as much as other people did.

What advice might you give someone in your same situation so that God can release her from
her obsession and accept the true freedom that comes through the love of Christ?
Get specific with God first. Ask Him to show you not just what the strangleholds in your life are, but all the ways they’re manifesting. Perfectionism was a stranglehold that was showing itself in all kinds of destructive ways in my life. And God dealt with them one by one, and being honest with and accountable to others was a part of that process for me.

What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received?
Start talking and keep talking. Satan wants us to be quiet—to hide our sin from ourselves and everyone else. But sin gets bigger and more powerful in the dark, which is why God wants us to live in the light. So we need to talk. We need the encouragement and accountability that comes in numbers. And we need to share the stories of how God is rescuing us. Again.

For more information, visit Amanda’s blog at http://www.ragingperfectionist.com/.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mealtime just got yummier

REVIEW: Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions By John Avery Whittaker

For families looking to not only dig into tasty food morsels at dinner time, but to also feed the spiritual stomach, Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions provides the needed nutritional supplement.

This fun, helpful book is practical and makes family meal time devotions easy and manageable as it is broken down into a five course meal consisting of: mealtime prayer, appetizer, main course, table talk, and vitamins and minerals.

I appreciate the relatable starter appetizer questions that flow into the main course and table talk time which ask deeper theological questions (which are still on a family-friendly level for people with small children) and then onto the vitamins and minerals of Scripture.  Thus, this devotion is not just cake and ice cream with simple questions, but provides some good, hearty meat so family members can really dig into Scripture and ponder theological questions.

As a pastor, I would recommend this devotional book to all families looking to reinstitute the much needed family meal time back into our culture.  This devotional book makes mealtime that much yummier!

For more about Whit’s End, visit http://www.whitsend.org/.

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an unbiased review.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A pastor’s journey through the thorny places

REVIEW: The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places By Shayne Wheeler

This is Shayne’s first book and most likely not his last.  The book is about his journey as a pastor and how he reached out in his community and got into the briarpatch with those around him—homeless, homosexuals, those hurting and needing help—to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Shayne’s trek into the briarpatch did not happen without scratches along the way, but he believes it was worth it.  Through his tale of how he reached out across the borders to others, he encourages other Christians to do the same.  He writes: “We want to ‘lead people to Jesus,’ yet we never leave the confines of our privatized Christian subculture and go into the places where the vast majority of our neighbors live and play.”  This statement summarizes the book for me; and I say “Amen!”

This was a straightforward book that showed life through eyes of a dedicated pastor and ways he has touched others for Jesus.  Reading this book will hopefully give fellow Christians ideas on how they can do the same.

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A 12-week journey with “the girls”

REVIEW: Trusting God By Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith, Mary Southerland

Do you want to grow more in your relationship with God?  In your trust in God?
Then dig into Scripture and a devotional with “the girls!”

This book is targeted to women who are looking to draw closer in their relationship with God.  This would be a perfect book for a group of girlfriends, a women’s small group at church, or anyone looking to grow deeper in their trust with God.  While you can do the book on your own, it would be much more fun to do it with girlfriends as well as help you be accountable to daily devotional reading.

This daily devotional is creatively divided up into 12 weeks, with each week containing five devotions and a sixth day for reflecting on the week’s readings and space for journaling.

The devotions are simple (most 3 to 4 pages), yet they are very real and intentional with soul searching thoughts.  One of my favorite devotions in the book is by author Sharon Jaynes who tells the story of when her golden retriever puppy had puppies, relating the story to the intimate love and care God has for all of his creation.

Written by women, for women, these devotions are relatable; and reading these devotions, you feel like the authors are your girlfriends next door.

For more information, visit http://www.girlfriendsingod.com.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this unbiased review.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Les Miserables masterpiece!

REVIEW: Les Miserables presented by Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre

This is my second book on CD by Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre, and it was just as wonderful as the first one I experienced!

Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre does a superb job of dramatizing the story and making it animated.  This is just not a normal book on CD – it is alive!

The Victor Hugo classic Les Miserables is hot right now with the movie now in theaters starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway.  But there is just something special about hearing the story in this way and being able to use your imagination to picture the characters.

The famous story is about the redemption of former prisoner Jean Valjean and how he saves the life of a girl named Cosette.  Be warned, though, if you listen to this in your car, as I did, you may need to carry extra tissues as I found myself crying as the story pierced to the soul of Jean Valjean as well as myself.  It is a touching story and one that is very spiritual.

I highly recommend this 3-hour CD set to anyone who wants to experience Les Miserables for the first time or experience it again in a new way, as well as for anyone who wants to make their drive time fly by with a story that may just change your view on life.

*Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this CD set for an unbiased review.

To learn more, visit Focus on the Family Radio Theatre at http://www.focusonthefamily.com/radio-theatre.aspx