Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Making Sense of the Bible by David Whitehead

This is a good book for new Christians or older Christians unfamiliar with the Bible. Whitehead wants to help us become more familiar with the Bible.

He explains why there are so many translations and how to choose the right one for our own use. He reminds us of the heart attitude we should have, focused on God, and how to know if it is ours. He helps us understand the various writing styles found in the Bible.

He explains that the Bible is an epic story of God and how He interacts with His creation. To help us see that he looks at Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. He explains the gospels and their various viewpoints, as well as the epistles (letters), giving a short synopsis of each.

He helps us understand the narrative of the Old Testament and the various perspectives offered, giving a synopsis of each of the historical books. He explains the role of poetry and its literary features, and that of Revelation. The majority of the books in the Bible are prophetic books so he shows their significance, again giving a short synopsis of each.

This is a very readable introduction to the Bible. Whitehead has included a checklist for reading through the Bible chronologically as well as suggestions for reading more on each topic.

The author says in his introduction that this is a book about learning how to read the Bible. (15) “The goal in reading the Bible,” he writes, “ is to get to know and interact with the God of the Bible.” (11) This book will help you understand more of what you are reading in the Bible. Knowing God better and interacting with Him more is beyond the scope of this book.

David Whitehead began writing www.thedailybibleverse.ord in 2009. He is the lead pastor of Grace in Manhattan and a church-planting coach for Redeemer Presbyterian Church's City to City. He and his wife and two daughters live in Manhattan.

Bethany House, 175 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Christian Survival Guide by Ed Cyzewski

It happens all too often. A relatively new Christian comes upon a troublesome issue. Perhaps it is creation verses evolution. Maybe it is the issue of a good God and so much evil in the world. Faced with a tough situation and not prepared for survival, their faith suffers.

Survival requires planning. That goes for a hike in the wilderness and it goes for our spiritual walk. “Christian survival just doesn't happen.” Cyzewski writes. “It requires discipline, planning, and action.” (13).

He has written this book to help us survive the tough challenges of being a follower of Jesus. He draws from his own experience of being a life long Christian yet having hit rough patches that threatened his faith. He covers a number of topics identified as essential to survival. These are within the broad subjects of right beliefs, understanding God's story from the Bible, living in step with the Spirit, and being in community with other Christians.

He has some great insights into the challenges that often trip us up. He helps us see possibilities and various viewpoints. He brings a good balance, reviewing a variety of opinions on subjects like prayer, the Bible, God in the Old Testament, the problem of evil and pain, hell, the Bible and culture, rescuing Revelation, bad church experiences, and much more.

He has presented thoughtful investigations into these troublesome topics. I may not agree with all of the options he presents, but he looks for common ground among the various perspectives. I certainly appreciate that. He even adds some humor along the way, such as his Church Visitor's Checklist and A Coffee Lover's Survival Guide to Churches.

His discussion on hell made me a little nervous at first. By the end of the chapter, I could understand his conclusion. “I believe,” he writes, “there is room in the Christian family for a broad range of perspectives on hell because the evidence isn't cut-and-dried.” (78)

My favorite section was on Revelation. He does a great job critiquing the secret rapture. He gives valid alternatives to the date setting concept of interpreting Revelation. “Revelation tells us a whole lot more about how to live each day than about what the future holds.” (134)

He has kept the chapters short so he could cover many topics. He provides additional reading suggestions for those who would like to study the subjects in greater detail.

I really like this book. Cyzewski has done a very good job of presenting various biblical perspectives on topics that trip up Christians. If you are being challenged in an area of Christian belief, take a look at this book. There just may be a biblical perspective you have not considered that will help you survive with your faith intact. Above all, rely on the Holy Spirit to sustain you and keep you focused on Jesus.

You can find out more about the book, read endorsements, etc., at the author's website: http://edcyzewski.com/sg/

Ed Cyzewski is a freelance writer and the author of several books. He regularly writes about Christian living for The High Calling, Red Letter Christians, and A Deeper Family. He also provides professional blogging and book editing for small business and individuals. You can follow his blog at http://inamirrordimly.com/ and find out more about his work at http://edcyzewski.com/. He lives with his family in Columbus, Ohio.

Kregel Publications, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Never-Ending Night by Tanya Stowe

What at unusual but rewarding plot. During a reenactment of a Civil War battle, one of the actual soldiers in that battle steps out of the smoke. T. R. Sheridan has been transported from the Civil War era to our present time. He is first observed by Stacy Sutton, a freelance photographer filming the reenactment.

The story follows T. R. and Stacy as he tries to adjust to being in a different time. An evil psychiatrist wants him committed, not because T. R. is dangerous, but because the doctor sees a great opportunity for studying an unusual man and advancing his career in the process. Stacy takes T. R. into her care. She thinks it might atone for the death of her journalist friend while the two of them were reporting on a war overseas.

This book is an interesting study in adapting to a totally different era and culture, mixing in romance. Paralleling T. R.'s traumatic experience is Stacy's, coming to grips with the death she has seen. Healing the past is difficult and can only be done with supernatural help.

I was not at all prepared for the suspenseful and surprising ending. While the novel is not perfect (there is at least one aspect of T. R.'s appearance at the reenactment that is not reconciled at the end), it is pretty good.

You can watch a trailer for the book here.
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Tanya Stowe has had an eclectic career. She has written for television, publicity firms, and national publications. She and her husband of thirty-seven years live overseas. She has written several novels and has more coming.

White Rose Publishing, 157 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through the Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

This is a compelling novel. No, there is no suspenseful action that makes you turn pages. Nor is there intense emotion that propels you to the next page. It is just one of those novels that, when you finish, you sigh and say, “That was a good novel.”

The novel centers on Perla, who has come to the town of Wise unwed and with a five year old daughter. The other main character is Casewell, a young man who befriends her. Shortly after Perla arrives, a terrible drought plagues the town. The blame is set squarely on Perla by the local preacher and the town's gossiping citizens.

There is so much to think about in this novel, where do I start?

Perla has a gift from God but others don't understand and call it witchcraft. Perla feels the burden of a misunderstood gift from God. She struggles with being faithful to her gifting, rejecting the harsh words of others. And I am reminded of the times I may have misunderstood God's gifts, especially when they are so different from my own.

Perla is not accepted into the close knit community. She is different and obviously a sinner. I am reminded of the times I may not have accepted someone else because they were “different.”

In the novel the town drunk gives forgiveness easily while the righteous hold on tight. The righteous are quick to judge Perla, too. Her sin is so obvious in the person of her sweet five year old daughter. Judging someone else's obvious sin is so much easier than admitting the well hidden ones we have within.

Yes, there is much to think about in this novel. A good discussion guide is included so this would make a fine choice for reading groups.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. In reading this novel you will be reminded of some of them. And the “miracle in a dry season"? Well, there were so many, I'm not sure which one the author meant.

Sarah Loudin Thomas is a fund-raiser for Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families. She has had free lance articles and poetry published in several magazines. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Coastal Carolina University. She and her husband live in Asheville, North Carolina. Learn more at www.SarahLoudinThomas.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Believing Out Loud by Kimberly Wright

Wright battled serious fears but now God is continuing to take her fears and exchange them for courage. She now experiences victory and abundance. She now knows her value and self-worth from God. God has taken her messy life and it using it to encourage others.

She has written this book so we can know that God wants to do the same for us. She shares her own story, how she came to experience fear and panic attacks. She relates how she learned she had value in God's eyes, the need to avoid compromising situations (not being strong enough to make right choices), the importance of a mind focused on God (realizing it is a cognitive choice and takes practice), prayer, using God given courage, and serving in your gift area.

The strength of this book, I think, is in the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. On its own, this book is not a blueprint for change. Wright shares her transformation but there is no real plan presented in the book for readers to follow. This book would best be discussed among a small and close group. The support of the group would be essential in seeing the possible changes described in this book actually take place in a person.

For example: “We cannot dwell on the past,” she writes, “but instead change our focus to the new things Christ wants to do in our lives.” (123) I agree, but how is that done? Discussing the concept with a friend, one who is willing to walk you through the process and hold you accountable, might be the key to the transformation.

Food for thought: Our ultimate goal, Wright says, should be “to live our life in a way that inspires others to have an adventure with God.” (148)

Kimberly Wright was named the 2009 National Young Mother of the Year by American Mothers, Inc. She is the author of Bedtime Thoughts for the Christian Mom. She earned a BA in psychology from the University of Oklahoma and blogs weekly at www.believingoutloud.com. She travels across the U.S. speaking at women's church retreats and conferences. She and her husband have four children and life in Overland Park, Kansas.

Leafwood Publishers, 160 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, August 15, 2014

In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin In Perfect Time
This good historical novel is part of a World War II series, Wings of the Nightingale, but can easily be read alone.

This novel centers on Army Air Force flight nurse Lt. Kay Jacobson. She's a flirt, leaving men pining in airfields all across Europe. But her life changes when she meets the handsome C-47 pilot Lt. Roger Cooper. He is immune to her charms. In fact, he does everything he can to avoid her. As they cross paths while evacuating the wounded and delivering paratroopers and supplies between Italy and southern France, they find their hearts drawn to each other. Can they overcome deep fears and misunderstandings from the past to look to the future?

I am always amazed at the amount of research Sundin must do to create her novels. I feel like I am right there, part of the action. This novel covers the work of the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, a real unit and the first to fly a true air evacuation mission. Sundin has given us a good account of the challenges the soldiers faced. The crash landing and ultimate rescue told in the novel is based on an actual event that happened in Nazi-occupied Albania in 1943. The 64th Troop Carrier Group was real, as was the downing of Japanese Zero fighters by unarmed C-47 troop carriers. You can read about the historical background of this novel at the author's website, www.sarahsundin.com. Sundin also has a board on Pinterest with photos of events and locations as well as articles on the novel's characters. You can find it here.

Besides the interesting historical aspect of this novel, readers will be reminded of how deep childhood experiences and parental comments are buried in our hearts. Kay is the child of a shyster traveling preacher. Her concept of her self-worth was deeply affected by her parents' hurtful 
comments. Her flagrant flirting behavior is a result. Roger had similar childhood experiences, being told he'd never accomplish anything, he was lazy, etc. We find that it is only the work of the Lord in their lives that can heal these deep hurts in both of them. Even so, it is a very rocky road of romance for Kay and Roger.

This is a very good historical novel. It is great to be reminded of the heroic men and women who fought during World War II. In reading this novel you'll get a vivid lesson in history as well as a rewarding story of romance.

I'm taking part in a blog tour and you can read other reviews here.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to purchase this book.

Sarah Sundin is the author of “With Every Letter” and the Wings of Glory series. In 2011, A “Memory Between Us” was a finalist in the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Awards, and Sarah received the Writer of the Year Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A graduate of UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy, she works on call as a hospital pharmacist. During WWII, her grandfather served as a pharmacist’s mate (medic) in the Navy and her great-uncle flew with the US Eighth Air Force in England. Sarah lives in California with her husband and three children. Visit www.sarahsundin.com for more information.

Revell (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 411 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Button Legacy: Emily's Inheritance by Ginger Marcinkowski

This is a delightful collection of heart warming short stories, each one generated by a button in a button box. Buttons tossed into an antique tin for generations, the worn cloth made into quilts. Each button tells a story, some happier than others.

It had become a family tradition, getting out the button box when the weather was bad and telling stories. There was the story of the death of a fellow Canadian lumber man. Another was the humorous time the preacher saw the bloomers on the behind of a frightened young woman. There was a dangerous canoe adventure, a painting bill paid in full, growing dust, a field mouse, blue hands, and many more.

The buttons tell stories of the family, some from the current time and some from years before. But they are more than just entertaining stories. Each one is a lesson about life, love and faith. An enjoyable book.

Ginger Marcinkowski was born in northern Maine along the Canadian border. She has been a public speaker and a visiting professor. She is a judge for the ACFW's Carol Awards, is actively involved in the Hampton Roads Writers Association, is a member of the ACFW and AWP Writer's Associations and is a columnist for Book Fun Magazine. Find out more at http://www.gingermarcinkowski.com/.

Booktrope, 154 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through the Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy by Ron Rhodes

Rhodes says he has written this book so readers can better understand various viewpoints on the end days. He has chosen to cover eight major areas of debate. He does honestly tell us that he will give his own personal position and defend that position.

It is important for readers to know that Rhodes writes this book from his own confirmed belief of pre-tribulational dispensationalism. When he presents interpretations not in line with his own, he is very critical. When he presents his own interpretation, he does not include its shortcomings. As one who does not believe Rhodes is correct in his interpretations, I found this book very biased and not an objective presentation by any means.

He begins with the topic of allegorical verses literal interpretation of prophetic Scripture. He advocate a literal interpretation. “Remember,” he writes, “that the prophecies that have already been fulfilled in Scripture...have been fulfilled literally.” In writing this, he ignores Jesus' words that John the Baptist was the promised Elijah (Matt. 11:14). Yet in John 1:21, John says he is not Elijah. Does this mean there is, in some sense, a non-literal fulfillment of a prophecy? Rhodes does not address this issue. He does say that we must still recognize figures of speech and admits that it is sometimes hard to determine when a passage should be taken literally or in its literary meaning. Nonetheless, he argues that we should expect prophecies of the end times to be fulfilled literally. His conclusion on that first debate is the foundation for the rest of this book and sets the stage for his defense of his own viewpoint.

His next debate topic covers covenant theology and dispensationalism. He ignores or explains away passages in Galatians such as 3:29 saying that believers are now the heirs to the promises of Abraham, and the latter half of 3:28 where Paul argues that we are all one, and 3:16 where Paul argues the promise to Abraham was actually to Abraham and his seed, Jesus. He ignores the “literal” interpretation of these Galatians passages and instead quotes another author. “Those joined to Christ by faith become spiritual descendants of Abraham and beneficiaries of some of God's promises to him.” That is certainly not taking the passage literally, but rather spiritualizing it and adding the word “some” to make it agreeable to the dispensational viewpoint.

He goes on to explore other topics, such as whether America is in prophecy, the invasion predicted by Ezekiel, view of the rapture (he ignores the view that there is no secret rapture), interpretations of Revelation and Daniel, Babylon, the 144,000, the two witnesses, the Antichrist and the “restrainer,” the mark of the beast, views on the millennium, and setting dates.

Readers of books on prophecy may not find much new here. If you have read no books on prophecy or are unfamiliar with terms like preterist, amillennial, or futurist, you will find out what they mean. I did find his section on the possibility of the Antichrist being the Muslim Mahdi informative and interesting. Otherwise this book is a clear defense of a pre-trib rapture and dispensationalism and is by no means an objective look at other viewpoints.

If you believe in a secret rapture before the tribulation, you'll love this book. If you hold any other view of the end times, you may find the book very biased and frustrating, as I did. Rhodes does remind his readers that we should not divide over views of the last days nor make them tests for orthodoxy or fellowship.

Ron Rhodes is president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and teaches there and at several other seminaries. Find out more at http://www.ronrhodes.org/.

Harvest House, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.