Tuesday, June 30, 2015

(Review) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I'm amused to read book reviews where people try and explain why they did not like a book that's won book awards and has been cherished by so many other readers. They stumble over words in apology. It really is okay to not like a book that other readers have loved. It really is okay to not like a book that's won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping in 1980. I've not read this book nor any of her other books. She has since written Home, published in 2008, and Lila, published in 2014. Robinson has written four nonfiction books: When I Was A Child I Read BooksThe Death of AdamAbsence of Mind, and Mother Country.
Publication Date: 2004.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Genre: Fiction, epistolary.
Pages: 247.
Source: library.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Epistolary novel-written as a sequence of documents, similar to a letter. For a full definition see Wikipedia. 

Summary:
An aging pastor named John Ames has written a lengthy letter to his young son. Pastor Ames has been told by his doctor he has a weak heart. Ames is concerned about leaving the boy without having taught him about life, and about his father and family. He examines his past and present; and through the course of the novel Ames reflects on his father's life, a grandfather who'd also been a pastor, and an atheist brother. Ames writes of the history of America from the mid 1800s through to the mid 1950s. This letter is a parting gift of hope and prayer for his son.

My Thoughts:
I believe this is a book that will not work for everyone. A few items to consider before or while reading Gilead.

  • Gilead is deeply transparent, sensitive, and introspective. 
  • It is reminiscent of life itself, because the book has patterns of intense events and feelings, followed by a dry spell of everyday life that may or may not be interesting. Most of life is just an everyday ritual of the day's rhythm. If the entire book was an intense introspective dialogue the reader would be exhausted. 
  • The sentences are often long and with spare use of commas. but there is a rhythm to the pacing and sound of words. 
  • John Ames's thoughts of heaven, reflections on the past, views of life as an older person, were right on target. He reminded me a bit of my dad when he talked about life and pondered his future in heaven. 
  • Gilead is not necessarily a book you read cover to cover like in a dash. There were several times when I stopped reading and pondered the words-turning the words and feelings over in my mind.
  • Gilead is a teaching story. Living life is one long lesson. Ames shares many of those lessons. 
  • Lastly, Gilead is a thinking book. If you don't want to think and enjoy books where the focus is on entertainment, then don't read Gilead
I gave Gilead 5 stars for excellent because the book resonated with me, in particular to my sensitive and introspective side. It is a memorable book, one I will continue to think about throughout my life. Yes, there were pages where I was uninterested in Ames's daily dialogue, but I'm also uninterested in some of my daily dialogue, so I read through this section and onto other pages. 
Favorite quotes: 
The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the lights of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love.
That morning something began that felt to me as if my soul were being teased out of my body, and that's a fact. I have never told you how all that came about, how we came to be married. And I learned a great deal from the experience, believe me. It enlarged my understanding of hope, just to know that such a transformation can occur. And it has greatly sweetened my imagination of death, odd as that may sound.
The final lines in the book.
"I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful. I'll pray, and then I'll sleep."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

(Review) The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

This is a re-read. I first read and reviewed The Pursuit of Holiness in 2010. Link for review:
The Pursuit of Holiness. 

Publication Date: 2006.
Publisher: Navpress
Genre: Nonfiction, holiness.
Pages: 160.
Source: self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Amazon
Lifeway

Summary:
"As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" 1 Peter 1:14-16, NIV. 
God is holy. God expects His children to be holy. But how can this be accomplished. What does holiness look like? How is it lived out? Are we not human and thus sin?
Jerry Bridges states the theme of God's people are to be holy. He explains what the Scripture states about holiness, our attitude and motives towards holiness, God's holiness, the Holy Spirit's work in holiness, changing our minds through God's Word, and reshaping our will to God's will through obedience.

My Thoughts:
The hardest part to overcome in being a holy child of God is removing "self" from the equation.
So much of what I think, say, and do revolve around me.
  • How will holy make me look?
  • How can I accomplish this work?
  • What's in it for me?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • What if people, mainly my family and friends, make fun of me? 
  • Can I take a vacation break from all this holiness? Just for a few hours or days?  
In chapter one, Bridges examines three dilemmas in thinking holy. 
  1. "...our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned abut our own 'victory' over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God."
  2. "...we have misunderstood 'living by faith (Galatians 2:20) to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part. In fact, sometimes we have even suggested that any effort on our part is 'of the flesh.'"
  3. "...we do not take sin seriously. We have mentally categorized sins into that which is unacceptable and that which may be tolerated a bit." 
My favorite three chapters are:
  1. Chapter Four: "The holiness of Christ." A strong point in this chapter is on our motive. Is our motive God's will?
  2. Chapter Nine: "Putting Sin to Death." "Only through God's Word are our minds remolded and our values renewed." (I will never understand why Christians do not read the Bible. They probably think about reading the Bible. They may feel guilty for not reading the Bible. But they are not persuaded to begin a daily life of reading God's Word.) "Obedience is the pathway to holiness, but it is only as we have His commands that we can obey them. God's Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions." 
  3. Chapter Twelve: "Holiness in Spirit." "The Bible indicates that our thought lives ultimately determine our character. Solomon said, 'For as he thinks within himself, so he is' (Proverbs 23:7). 
My mother loved this quote and she wrote it on several pieces of paper that I've find in her scrapbooks. The quote is also in The Pursuit of Holiness. 
"Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character."  

The Pursuit of Holiness has been a perfect book to accompany the previous book I read, Truly Free by Robert Morris. 
In Truly Free, Robert Morris explains how strongholds and oppression can happen because of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, fear, past emotional and spiritual wounds that never healed, and addictions.
The Pursuit of Holiness takes a deeper look at reading God's Word, memorizing God's Word, and obedience to God's Word. Holiness is not an "act" we do ourselves. It is a work of the Holy Spirit, and it is in obedience to God. Our bent (perse) is to do God's Will and allow Him full reign in our life.
Another kind of stronghold for people is when they never "see" their need to change, they never see they have a problem, they believe it's everyone else and they are just fine. My daddy called this problem a learning disability.
Scripture links courtesy of Bible Gateway. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

(Review) Truly Free: Breaking The Snares That So Easily Entangle by Robert Morris

Publication Date: May 12, 2015.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson.
Genre: Nonfiction, Strongholds.
Pages: 240.
Source: Free hardback copy from BookLook Bloggers, Thomas Nelson Publishing, in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

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I review for BookLook Bloggers

Author:
Robert Morris is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multi-campus church in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Since it began in 2000, the church has grown to more than 36,000 active members. He is featured on the weekly television program, The Blessed Life, and serves as Chairman of the Board of The King’s University. He is the bestselling author of eleven books including The Blessed LifeFrom Dream to DestinyThe God I Never Knew and The Blessed Church. Robert and his wife, Debbie, have been married 35 years and are blessed with one married daughter, two married sons and six grandchildren. You can follow Robert @ 

Last year there were people who were turned off by remarks made by Robert Morris in response to the downfall of Mark Driscoll.
See the following links for information on this:
This post will reflect my review of Truly Free: Breaking The Snares That So Easily Entangle. This post will not be in response to Robert Morris's feelings on Mark Driscoll.

Summary:
In the Introduction, Morris explains:
The reality of being truly free is one you may not have explored fully before. A big problem for us is that evil still exists in the world today. Christ has conquered sin and death, yes, but in His infinite wisdom-for reasons that are often difficult for us to understand-the effects of evil are still permitted to exist. We can still be influenced by evil. We can still be oppressed by evil. We can even be controlled by evil. Even if we're saved.  
Robert Morris explains Satan's influence and temptations can "slither into our houses, particularly when doors and windows are left wide-open." In the book, he expounds on how Christians leave "doors and windows" open. The emphasis is on being aware of Satan's tactics, knowing Scripture, deliverance, and most importantly we have forgiveness and victory in Christ Jesus.

My Thoughts:
This book has ministered to me, touching on some areas in my life that needed to be prayed over. It has been eye-opening in regards to a genre in Christian books that is written infrequently. Recently I heard a pastor remark, "Christians either seem to talk about Satan, demons, and oppression too much, or they don't talk about the subject at all."
On page 14 Robert Morris explains what the "phrase 'demon possessed' is."
The original Greek word is daimonizomai-daimoni for "demon" and zomai, translated "possessed." In English, to possess something means to own it. But zomai, used very infrequently, doesn't really mean ownership. It means to have mastery over or to gain control over. For instance, in Luke 21:19, the root word for zomai is used in this verse: "By your patience possess your souls." Jesus wasn't saying that we need to own our souls because our souls belong to Him. Rather He was saying that we need to gain control over our souls. I realize that the phrase "demon possessed" is really loaded these days and that all sorts of red flags immediately come up when it's mentioned. So maybe it's more helpful to think of demon possession as demons "gaining power of influence over" people. Sometimes the influences come from the outside-tempting them to evil or badgering and shaming them about confessed sin. At other times, demonic influence can come from the inside, actually causing people to act or think in certain ways.
I wanted to post the above quote, because I'd read a review where the writer did not agree with Morris's view on a a Christian's ability to be demon possessed. Firstly, Morris uses the word oppression in the book, secondly, our minds are set on the Hollywood movie version of oppression and possession. It's difficult in our vision prominent culture to get those images from horror movies out of the definition. This too has been a conflict for me. While reading Morris's book, I had to reboot my brain in regards to what the Bible has to say about the subject.
I was pleased Morris did not describe gory sensationalist imagery on the subject matter.
Truly Free is one of the most applicable books I've read. Morris defines, explains, teaches, and gives applications for freedom from the bondage of fear and oppression (through Bible verses and prayers.)
At the end of each chapter, prayers are given in response to the chapters subject. For example: a prayer on releasing "bitterness" in "our hearts." The prayers all begin by addressing the "Holy Spirit of God," "The Lord God," or the "Lord Jesus, Son of God, Almighty God." The prayers end with in "Jesus" name. In the prayers, attention is made to Christ's work (His shed blood on the cross, His resurrection, and the truth of God's Word, ), being filled with God's Spirit, "dedicating" or rededicating "ourselves," Scripture is quoted in the prayers, there is an emphasis on forgiveness; and lastly, turn away from fear and oppression and focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Morris pointed out anger and bitterness is an open door for a stronghold and oppression.
Another open door for oppression is allowing evil to come into your home, maybe a magazine, or book. Instead, fill the home with God's Word. Read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, and memorize God's Word. 
Morris has a chapter on tithing. Do not steal from God. 
One of the final chapters in the book is on "Breaking The Snares of Past Wounds." Sometimes a Christian may have forgotten a past wound (pushed it to the back of the mind), maybe from childhood, which must be forgiven. 
I loved the point Morris made: 
Emotional healing can sometimes be a onetime process, and it can sometimes be a journey. Jesus walks with us on that journey, and He is our destination as well. I have found emotional healing to be extremely powerful in my own life. I pray that it will be in yours as well.
 At the end of the book is a resource section. 
  • "Making Sure You're Born Again.
  • "Frequently Asked Questions About Deliverance."
  • A Bible verse chart on specific bondage and Scripture reference.
  • Additional books on the subject.
In the "Frequently Asked Questions About Deliverance." A question is answered about the possibility of oppression in a building or geographical place. This is definitely not a topic talked about in Christian books. 
My question is: 
  • What if sins have been committed in a church building? For example adultery, sexual abuse of a child, theft, or hateful words and verbal abuse? And what if these sins were never exposed, they were ignored, and swept away into a "closet" so to speak? I believe this is a topic that should be written about in a book. I've known of several pastors who committed adultery and in the church building. I've known of children victimized and abused in a church building. The Holy Spirit is grieved over these sins. Doesn't the unconfessed sins, and the accompanying anger and bitterness open up a door to oppression? 

Monday, June 22, 2015

(Review) Comforts From Romans by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Publication Date: January 31, 2013.
Publisher: Crossway.
Genre: Nonfiction, Romans.
Pages: 160.
Source: Purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Christian Book
Amazon

Elyse Fitzpatrick's website 
Elyse wrote on her Facebook page she was not going to be active on her page, but no reason was given and no other explanation. Her website is not an active website (the dates of speaking events are current) and comments are turned off.

Summary:
A devotional on the first eight chapters of Romans. Included in the book is Fitzpatrick's testimony, located in the Appendix Two section. The Appendix One section is the eighth chapter of Romans from the ESV translation.

My Thoughts:
I had this devotional book in my Kindle for a while, I made the time this week to read the book.
Romans and John are my favorite NT books. I love all of the NT, but a few of them stand-out as favorites. Chapter eight of Romans is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I believe an entire devotional book could be devoted to this chapter.
Several points about Comforts From Romans I loved:

  • Other stories from the Bible are brought forth, for example: Esther and Abraham.
  • Key themes, for example: "We do not work to earn God's favor," "God looks at the heart," "We cannot be separated from God's love," and "Jesus is our wrath bearer."
  • A new idea I learned: "I am apart of the plan for the ages." 
Comforts From Romans is a book that should be read again and again. Points not picked up during the first reading are brought to light with a second reading. 
Fitzpatrick's writing style is one of grace. She is forthright in regards to her life. She is straightforward in writing about hard teachings. Hard only in that people are convicted. The most important and last thought I have is Fitzpatrick lets Scripture speak for itself and explain itself.


Elyse M. Fitzpatrick (MA, Trinity Theological Seminary) is a counselor, a retreat and conference speaker, and the head of Counsel from the Cross Ministries. Fitzpatrick has authored over 21 books, including Because He Loves MeGive Them GraceComforts from Romans, and Found in Him.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

(Review) Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ by Tony Reinke

Publication Date: May 31, 2015.
Publisher: Crossway.
Genre: Nonfiction, John Newton's letters, brief biography.
Pages: 288.
Source: Free ebook from Crossway in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Amazon

Christian Book










Summary:
I'd sang "Amazing Grace" many times before knowing the story of the author who'd written the hymn. John Newton had worked on several slave ships, also holding the office of captain. In 1747, and during a storm at sea, he cried out to the Lord. As a child he'd been introduced to the teachings of Jesus by his mother; but John Newton was a hardened, prideful, arrogant, and immoral man. After the storm experience at sea, Newton continued to work on slave ships but tried to harness the abuse of slaves. He left the sea in 1755, later becoming an ordained pastor in the town of Olney, England.
Newton on the Christian Life is a study of his "personal letters." A total of "500 letters written and published during his lifetime" and another 500 published after his death. Tony Reinke and Crossway publishers have compiled and studied these letters, in order to teach modern readers the Christian life. Newton on the Christian Life is apart of a series of books subtitled "Theologians on the Christian Life." Other noted books are "Luther on the Christian Life," "Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life," and "Packer on the Christian Life."

Chapter 1---"Amazing Grace"
Chapter 2---"Christ All-Sufficient"
Chapter 3---"The Daily Discipline of Joy in Jesus"
Chapter 4---"Gospel Simplicity"
Chapter 5---"Indwelling Sin"
Chapter 6---"Christ-Centered Holiness"
Chapter 7---"The Growth Chart of the Christian Life"
Chapter 8---"Seven Christian Blemishes"
Chapter 9---"The Discipline of Trials"
Chapter 10---"The Goal of Bible Reading"
Chapter 11---Battling Insecurity"
Chapter 12---"Victory over Spiritual Weariness"
Chapter 13---"Victory over Mr. Self"
Chapter 14---"To Die Is Gain"

My Thoughts:
Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, you must be "born again." To be "born again" is to be radically changed (an about-face) from the person you were. A person is not "born again" in the flesh, but "born again" by the cleansing and renewal work of the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes "born again," their entire being is affected; further, it is displayed and manifested outwardly. John Newton had been an unrestrained, immoral, vile person. His transformation and sanctification was only possible because of the work of God's Spirit.
To behold the glory of Christ is ammunition against unbelief and power for sanctification. A life focused on Christ is a life of faith, and it's a life opposite to a life focused on self, self-sufficiency, and self-wisdom. Christ and self are opposite aims. The opposite of selfishness is beholding Christ, and in the discipline of beholding Christ, by the 'eye of the mind', Newton wields a lethal weapon in the battle against sin. This weapon is available to any Christian who reads the Bible not merely as a book of motivation and inspiration, but as the manifestation of Jesus Christ and His glory. Chapter 3. 
I feel there are people who come to a belief in Christ Jesus, but never understand the importance of continual focus on Christ Jesus. They live a quasi-solo independence, picking and choosing what they want to out of the Christian life and ignoring the rest because it does not "fit" their idea of life. This is not the way to live the Christian life. It is living a life of "self."
I was glad Reinke chose this topic for one of the beginning chapters in the book.
"Keep Christ in view at all times is, by far, the hardest-and the most essential-part of our calling as Christians."
I read four other chapters that stood out to me as favorites.
Chapter 4 examines "living for the glory of God alone." Reinke continues by stating that this can only be accomplished "by the moment by moment provision and support of God."
Chapter 6 explains further about John Newton's conversion experience at sea.
Chapter 7 includes a quote by Timothy Keller. "Most Christians stay babies all their lives and only a few even get out of that."
Many years ago I was convicted of being an immature believer, and I became determined to not let anything dampen an abiding and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Which leads me to another strong lesson in this chapter: Reinke points out our culture of impatience. As a growing Christian we do not grow at what we want our pace to be but by what God's pace would have us to grow. "Sync your spiritual expectations to the leisurely agricultural pace of God."
Chapter 8 explores the various temperaments of "blemished" personalities. Each reader finds themselves in this list (I did.)
Newton on the Christian Life is a book I wish I could memorize whole parts of. There are many sentences and paragraphs that are beautiful and rich in wisdom.

Scripture link courtesy of Bible Gateway. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

(Review) Utmost Classic Readings and Prayers from Oswald Chambers

Publication Date: August 1, 2012.
Publisher: Discovery House Publishers.
Genre: Nonfiction, devotional.
Pages: 112.
Source: Free copy from Discovery House Publishers. I chose to read and review the book.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

$3.99 @ Amazon

Bio @ Wikipedia. 

Oswald Chambers Publication Association.

My Utmost For His Highest, Our Daily Bread website devoted to this classic.

Oswald Chambers biography, from Our Daily Bread.

Summary:
Oswald Chambers was a Scottish Baptist pastor. He was born in 1874, and died from complications after an appendectomy in 1917. He was a chaplain to British soldiers in Egypt during World War I.


Utmost Classic Readings and Prayers is a 90 day devotional. The devotionals cover topics such as yielding to God, the "call to serve," worry, loneliness, suffering, what it means to be a disciple, testing of our faith, and the salvation experience.

My Thoughts:
I have enjoyed reading this devotional. Often the day's reading is just what I needed to hear. Chambers words resonate in my heart and meet me at what I needed to learn. Reading a devotional book is not meant to be read in order to only glean knowledge. Devotionals are meant to cause the reader to ponder. They are meant to soothe, minister, and teach. They are meant to explain in brief a particular Bible verse. And they are meant to mature us in Christ Jesus.
Oswald Chambers was a thinking man, and I'm a thinking kind of gal. His devotions appeal to me, because I want my heart to melt, to be convicted, to be taught, and to be lifted-up.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015