Friday, July 31, 2015

(Review) A Love Like Ours (Porter Family Novels) by Becky Wade

Publication Date: May 5, 2015.
Publisher: Bethany House.
Genre: Christian fiction.
Pages: 368.
Source: Free paperback copy from Bethany House.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Christian Book

Jake and Lyndie knew each other when they were kids growing up in rural Texas. Lyndie moved away to California when she was ten and Jake twelve. Twenty years later Lyndie begins working with Jake at the Whispering Creek Ranch Thoroughbred farm. Jake is quiet, withdrawn, stoic. He is a Marine Veteran of the war in Iraq. He has PTSD. He has both physical scars and those scars that lay hidden. The chemistry between them is evident, but Jake's haunting memories are a deterrent.

My Thoughts:
I was not sure I wanted to read this story. My son is a Veteran. He is 100% disabled due to PTSD. My hold-back in reading the novel, was I was not sure how the author would portray a Veteran with PTSD. A Love Like Ours is obvious from the title that it's a love story. Having a relationship with a person who has PTSD is tough. It is an ongoing everyday process. I did not want to read a sappy-happily-every-after novel, because the reality is that there is no such thing. It does not exist. This does not exist in any type of relationship, but add PTSD and the serious problems rise. I'm relieved to state, A Love Like Ours, is realistic in regards to the symptoms and how Jake deals or does not deal with PTSD. Flash-backs and nightmares are common symptoms of PTSD and Jake exhibits these. If there is a future book with the characters of Jake and Lyndie, I'm hoping the story will continue in presenting life with PTSD, and the ongoing healing process.
I don't care for the front cover of the book. I'm not sure why Christian fiction books have the same kind of covers: beautiful thin models of perfection. All the covers are beginning to run together as being the same thing over and over. Can't there be something else on the front cover? A Love Like Ours has the setting at a horse ranch, couldn't the front cover be of a horse ranch, or horses, or scenery?
I'm not a big fan of romance novels, probably because they seem unrealistic, silly. I really liked A Love Like Ours. There was real life problems to contend with, serious issues from Jake's PTSD, and other family health problems. I felt the author gave both realism and hope. The characters showed they knew they needed to deal with painful unresolved memories and yet they had hope for the future. They also knew life was a work in process. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

(Review) 31 Days of Praise: Enjoying God Anew by Ruth Myers

Publication Date: My copy 1994.
Publisher: Multnomah Books.
Genre: Nonfiction, prayer/praise.
Pages: 160.
Source: Gift.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Christian Book

Ruth Myers passed away in 2010. She had worked as a writer for the Navigators. To read a write-up on her legacy: Ruth Myers. 

For a listing of her books visit Christian Book.

Praising God means a focus and intent on praising and glorifying God. It is NOT a time to request something. It is NOT a time to reflect on anything other than God himself.
It's so easy to turn a time of praise back to self and our wants and needs. 31 Days of Praise helps the mind stay on the intended focus.
Each of the 31 days are 1 to 2 pages in length. There is a reading of praising God for a particular point, and then Bible verses are listed for further reflection on the day's subject. In addition, there is a Bible verse and section to write thoughts.

My Thoughts:
31 Days of Praise is one of my favorite books. I've read through this book several times. It's important to look up the verses given as references, these are as important or more important than the authors praise section. The two areas blend in perfection, because reading God's Word creates a changed heart and mind.
Praising God is not something humans find comfortable or easy. We are a selfish ego driven creation. All the more reason to discipline our self to shift the focus off of self and to God. Praising God is not an art perse, but it is a discipline, it is a shifting of our will and towards our Lord and Creator.
An example of one of my favorite days, "Day Fifteen."
I'm so grateful, Lord, that the Christian life is not a rigorous self-improvement course or a do-it-yourself kit...that it is not a call to prove myself or improve myself by overcoming my own shortcomings and failures, in my own way, by my own resources. Thank You that, instead, You are at work in me and in my situation to break old patterns of thought and action, to create within me both the desire and the power to do Your gracious will...and to make me a joy to You in new ways." Page 79.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

(Review) Direct Hit: The Blitz Detective by Mike Hollow

Publication Date: June 27, 2015.
Publisher: Lion Hudson/Kregel Publications. 
Genre: Fiction, British crime and mystery.
Pages: 320
Source: Free paperback copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for a review.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

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Christian Book

Direct Hit is the first book in a new series on detective investigation in London, England, during World War II. The story begins with the discovery of a murdered man found in a cab. The body is found on the first day of what will be known as the London Blitz. Detective Inspector John Jago and Detective Constable Peter Cradock are the investigating detectives. An American Journalist named Dorothy Appleton is working as a foreign correspondent. She interviews Jago on police work and "the war from the British angle."

My Thoughts:
One of my favorite genres is British crime and mystery stories.
I loved the personality of John Jago. He is reserved, intelligent, lonely, and haunted by past memories. Direct Hit shows both sides of his demeanor, character, and humanity. He is investigating a crime during a harsh history in London. The German enemy is attacking England on their own soil. The haunting memories of the previous war is on Jago's mind, as well as other characters. He balances detective work alongside a war and the added jumble of the game of politics.
I'm pleased the character of Dorothy is in the story. She and Jago brought a needed respite. Dorothy's entrance also brings a secondary story.
The setting, culture, society, and language of London during the 1940s brought realism. References to films and actors are made, certain streets and neighborhoods are given, and common sayings are used. I'm hoping this element will continue to be developed in future books.
Direct Hit has been an enjoyable read, it's been to long since I've read an absorbing fiction book.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

(Review) The Mended Heart: God's Healing For Your Broken Places by Suzanne Eller

Publication Date: February 20, 2014.
Publisher: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
Genre: Nonfiction.
Pages: 240.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

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Suzanne Eller is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker.

The Mended Heart is currently the online study for Proverbs 31 Ministries. 
Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies

Suzanne Eller's links:
Proverbs 31 Ministries

The Mended Heart addresses the key topics of brokenness and healing in women.
Part one is brief and speaks to readers who've been trying to work towards healing and it's not happened. The chapter ends with the encouragement to "peel away those layers;" the layers of the broken shell, allowing God to heal tender wounds.
Part two has several chapters under the heading of "Hearts In The Midst Of Mending." Issues of sexual abuse, minimizing grief, identifying with others in pain, religious abuse, when the offending person is not remorseful, and having a soft heart for God's teaching.
Part three is on "Moving Forward." An emphasis is "partnership with God.". There is not a time limit and patience is important.

My Thoughts:
I don't like it when a book is labeled a Christian self-help book. Sometimes people will refer to a book like The Mended Heart as a Christian self-help book. This definition leaves God out and I don't like it. The Mended Heart is a tool, a tool with the emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ and His healing of our broken heart.
My favorite section was part three. "Moving Forward" is the goal, to move beyond the painful memory and towards healing. A chapter in this section is on joy. When we are broken and hurting it's hard to believe we can have joy.
"We intentionally move toward joy as we see each day-including this day-as sacred." Page 195.
All of the chapters end with a section titled "Just You And God." There are several questions to dig deeper in the study on healing. A principle, "Prayer", and "Mended Heart Challenge" ends the chapters.
In the last chapter "Living In Him", Eller explains how our "identity changes." "As you grow closer to God (living in Him), you become more like Him."

The older I've gotten the more I realize (and it's crushing) how fallible, weak, and broken the human race is. We're broken because of sin. And the only way of healing is through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ forgives, but He also restores and heals.
Recently I've been processing some "things" that happened in my past. Events from my teenage years that I'd worked hard to bury. I remember distinctly a thought I had at age 17, "I'm going to shut the door (on the memory) and lock it." Well, unresolved memories have a way of seeping out. This year I've prayed a series of prayers asking the Lord to work in my life in regards to holiness, having godly wisdom, seeing through His lens, and that I'd no longer stuff feelings. In the last month, that carefully locked door popped open. Whew, locked rooms smell bad.
You see I found my old high school diary. In addition, I found several photographs of what every room in my house looked like the month I graduated from high school. Each of these rooms are neat and clean (I can see the vacuum cleaner lines); but the moment, and the memory of that time is caught as a time capsule.
Over the last month, and during my healing process, all of the Bible verses, devotional material, books, Bible studies, and sermons I've read, address what I'm going through in healing the wounds from my past.
I'm thankful that Jesus has and is working in my life.
I'm thankful for His grace and mercy.
I'm thankful that He makes the ugly-beautiful.
I'm thankful for forgiveness through His shed blood.
Because I am a Christian I am forgiven from sin, I am no longer condemned. But it was time to be restored and at peace from the memories of my past.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

(Review) The Unburdened Heart: Finding The Freedom of Forgiveness by Suzanne Eller

Publication Date: March 1. 2013.
Publisher: Regal/Baker Publishing. 
Genre: Nonfiction, forgiveness.
Pages: 208.
Source: self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

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Forgiveness in the dictionary is defined as a noun. But, forgiveness is not just a noun it is an action of the heart, mind, and will. Further, Christ Jesus commands us to forgive.
Part one begins with explaining what forgiveness means and what it does not mean.  Later in the book an explanation is given on forgiving self.
Page 58 has questions to ask to see if we need to work on forgiveness. These questions are pulled from another book by David Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions.
"1. Can you thank God for the lessons learned in pain?
2. Can you talk about the event without anger or feelings of revenge?
3. Have you accepted your part of the blame for what happened?
4. Can you revisit the scene without a negative reaction?"
Other quotes are used in the book from previous authors, for example: Dr. Irvin D Yalom-The Gift of Therapy, Kay Arthur's-When the Hurt Runs Deep, Patrick Fleming and Sue Lauber-Fleming-Shattered Soul, Charles Stanley's-The Gift of Forgiveness, and Lewis Smedes-Forgive and Forget.
There are three parts to the book, part one and three holds one chapter each, part two has several chapters.
"Part 1-What Is Forgiveness?
Part 2-What We Gain When We Forgive
Part 3-What's Next?"

My Thoughts:
Forgiving is laborious. It's sweaty-work. And it is often not achieved by one exclamation of-I forgive you."
Over 20 years ago, I read Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes. I read this book while going through a dark and troubling time. I was a baby Christian at this point, but working through forgiveness pushed me out of the nest and towards rapid growth in Christ Jesus. Hard times in life either cause growth or stagnation. I chose growth.
The Unburdened Heart is a perfect tool for a woman working through forgiveness. The book is not written for men, but for women. The illustrations and applications are female oriented.
One of the illustrations is a women betrayed by her husband's affair. Maybe the reader has not experienced this type of pain, but betrayal in some form is known to all.
A hard topic in forgiveness is: what if the other person is not asking for forgiveness? Eller approaches this topic with grace and help in chiseling away at this problem.
After reading The Unburdened Heart, my first thought is this is a book that does not just teach forgiveness, but also teaches peace. Peace is the absence of strife. Peace does not just happen, because this too requires work.
One of my favorite quotes from the book addresses the past:
When I consider the past, it's a small part of my identity. It shaped me, but it doesn't define me. It is a chapter in the book of my life; but if you read the back cover copy you will find so much more than my past in that description...When we begin to see ourselves through a larger lens, we revisit the past and point out with precision the parts we wish hadn't happened, as well as what has taken place since then. We also become scholars of the past, learning what we want to carry forward and what we wish to do differently. When we speak of the past, we give it its proper place. It's not ignored, but it doesn't receive a greater share than it deserves.
I know family and friends who have magnified a certain event in their past. Something someone did to them or maybe they've done to themselves. They carry this memory tightly bundled on their back, every where they go they carry this bundle, they don't realize this event has gotten top billing. I loved Eller's point to not give this event "a greater share than it deserves."

The Unburdened Heart is a book for individual or group use. I believe this is a great book for a women's reading group.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

(Review) What Keeps You Up At Night: How To Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams by Pete Wilson

Publication Date: May 5, 2015.
Publisher: W Publishing Group, An Imprint of Thomas Nelson.
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living, courage.
Pages: 224.
Source: Free paperback from Book Look Bloggers and Thomas Nelson in exchange for a review.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

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I review for BookLook Bloggers

What Keeps You Up At Night has a Bible study 

What Keeps You Up At Night is a study on anxiety and fear, and how to overcome them.
Pete Wilson begins by addressing how fear has disoriented us, held us back, and changed our mindset. Further, he explains Satan's battle-plan in using fear to cause us to feel isolated and alone. Wilson explores several points that will pilot away from anxiety and fear, and towards freedom.

"One Steps in the Darkness"
Two Expect Conflict
Three Hang On to What Lasts
Four Embrace Uncertainty
Five Learn to Wait
Six Give Up Your Container
Seven Endure the Dip
Eight Recalibrate
Nine Lean into Transition
Ten Live for the Adventure
Eleven Anticipate Confirmation
Twelve Pass It On"

At the end of each chapter there are three sections listed:
1. "Key Ideas.
2. Reflection Questions.
3. Your Next Step."

My Thoughts:
I'm a heavy reader who has widely read books on the topics of fear, anxiety, insecurity, trust, faith, and courage. What Keeps You Up At Night does not hold new teachings, but expounds on previous teachings I've read. It is for this reason alone I gave What Keeps You Up At Night 4 stars for very good. A new Christian, or a Christian who is not well-read on these topics, this book is excellent.
One point that stood out to me is the teaching of eternal perspective. This is something I wished I'd learned as a young person. The trials and waiting periods of life have an eternal purpose. I can only see the finite, but there is an eternal perspective that God sees. It requires trust on my part. Trusting in God for the significant and eternal purpose of what I'm going through. God has a plan. A unique plan for my life. My task is to trust in Him.   

Friday, July 10, 2015

(Review) Passing Through: Pilgrim Life In The Wilderness by Jeremy Walker

Publication Date: May 20, 2015.
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books.
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian life.
Pages: 300.
Source: Free paperback from Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books in exchange for a review.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars for (almost) excellent.

Blog Tour July 6th through 19th.

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An interview with Jeremy Walker by Shaun Tabatt. 

Jeremy Walker is a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, England, author of Life in Christ and The Brokenhearted Evangelist, coauthor of A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ.

Passing Through's opening chapter asks the Christian reader to remember and examine, "who they are?" What is my identity? Walker further asks, " are we relating to the world?" 
Jeremy Walker is building his case for Christians who must live in the world but not act like the world. We cannot live as hermits. Christ has not asked us to live in seclusion, but to spread the Gospel message, both in word and by our lives. 
"I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me." Psalm 119:19.  
We are strangers and pilgrims on planet earth, but for now this is our home and it is our mission to live and glorify God. 
While we are on earth, we must live alongside unbelievers and yet remain steadfast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Listed chapters:
"1. A Way in the World
2. Strangers and Pilgrims
3. Understand the Environment
4. Know the Enemy
5. Fight the Battles
6. Pursue the Mission
7. Respect the Authorities
8. Relieve the Suffering
9. Appreciate the Beauty
10. Anticipate the Destiny
11. Cultivate the Identity
12. Serve the King" 

My Thoughts: 
Over-all I loved Passing Through
There were moments when I wanted to "high-five" or raise my hand up and say Amen! 
However, there were also moments when I felt the teaching lingered too long at one phase and I'd gotten the point and was ready to move-on. 
At first, I thought Passing Through is a perfect book for a new Christian. However, at this issue a new Christian may become bogged down by the lengthy examinations. 
I love to read, study, and analyze material. I love to read and reflect on what I've read. lingering on questions and pondering the answer. But not all readers enjoy this type of book. They want just the facts, short points, and strong brief illustrations.

What I loved about Passing Through:

  • Chapter 4 and 5 are applicable chapters at any stage of our life and or spiritual growth. "Know the Enemy" and "Fight the Battle." In these chapters, Walker reminds us we do not give up in this life in fighting the battle against the world and its master. We are to follow our "captain" the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to live by faith. We are to cling to the Word of Truth. Walker is straight-forward in stating, the Christian life is not a "bed of roses, but a path of thorns." 
  • Chapter 10 examines having an "unhealthy attachment to this world." This life is not all there is and we are just "passing through." Page 197. 
  • Chapter 11 has a convicting question: "If someone had to make a judgment about the Lord Jesus Christ from observing you and your life what conclusions would he draw?" Page 222. 
  • I loved the definition of a Welsh word and Walker's use of comparing it to our life on earth. "The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, which is used, for example, to describe the Welshman or woman who is away from the homeland and therefore experiences a deep sense of incompleteness tinged with longing. It is even used when in Wales to speak of a wistful desire for a sort of idealized country. Christians should suffer a holy hiraeth, a sort of heavenly homesickness that ought to become more painful the longer they are absent from the place where an increasingly holy person truly belongs."  Page 229.
  • Lastly, chapter 12 is on serving the Lord. As a Christian there is only One way and no other way. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not stop to diddle-daddle. We persevere. We continue on. It was in this last chapter that it finally dawned on me that Passing Through is a book to cheer on a Christian in this life on earth. I'm reminded of Hebrews chapter 12:1-2 " Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  

A Scripture links courtesy of Bible Gateway. Bible translation is NIV.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

(Review) Baptists In America by Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins

Publication Date: June 1, 2015.
Publisher: Oxford University Press.
Genre: Nonfiction, Baptist history.
Pages: 352.
Source: Free ARC ebook from NetGalley in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Christian Book

@ Oxford University Press

Baptists in America is the biography of the Baptist denomination. The primary focus is Baptist history in America, but the authors back up to define baptism and the beginnings of the denomination in Europe. The beginnings of baptism (its history and change from submersion to infant baptism is explored.) The Reformation in Europe, which led to branches of Protestant denominations is studied. The early years of Baptists in America did not have a good reputation and this is examined.
The following chapters show the organization of the book.
"Chapter 1: Colonial Outlaws
Chapter 2: The Great Awakening
Chapter 3: Baptists and the American Revolution
Chapter 4: Baptists and Disestablishment
Chapter 5: Baptists and the Great Revival
Chapter 6: Baptists and Slavery
Chapter 7: Slavery, Schism, and War
Chapter 8: Black Baptists in Babylon
Chapter 9: White Baptists and the American Mainstream
Chapter 10: Baptist Schism in the Early Twentieth Century
Chapter 11: Insiders and Outsiders at Mid-20th Century
Chapter 12: Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 13: Schism in Zion: The Southern Baptist Controversy
Chapter 14: Conclusion"

My Thoughts:
This is the first book I've read on the history of Baptists. I've read articles in magazines sharing brief sections of Baptist history. Baptists in America is the first book I've seen that starts at the beginning of the Baptist denomination and follows its course in history through to the present.
My first reason in giving Baptists in America 5 stars for excellent, is the authors have shared both the negative and positive aspects of Baptist history. From the fractions and divisions in the denomination over doctrinal beliefs (that also continues to the present era), to Baptist views during the Civil War, slavery, Emancipation Proclamation, and Jim Crow Laws.
The chapter on Civil Rights during the 1960s was especially transparent, enlightening, educational, and convicting.
Its been uplifting to be reminded of key Baptist strengths: mission work (the Great Commission), solid serious Bible doctrine, and independence of the local church.
The chapter that meant the most to me was chapter 12, "Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement." I was born in 1964, my memories of the 1960s is sparse. The history of this era has become increasingly of interest, because I feel America gave birth not only to a new way of thinking but a new way of demonstrating and fighting for injustice. We can argue back and forth that this era had both good and bad things that happened; but a people group, an American people group, were no longer a silent passive group, but rose-up and defended themselves against oppression.
A second favorite chapter is chapter 8. This chapter explored Black Baptist history and how they created their own unique music, culture, and history.
Throughout the book men and women who shaped the Baptist denomination are written about, both liberal, moderate, and fundamentalist.
The next to last chapter is on the troubles that began in the mid 1980s. The "conservative resurgence." At this point I believe things have settled down, and a new generation of Baptists are not willing to place themselves in a kettle of the previous generations brewing.
I wish the authors had mentioned the Baptist General Convention of Texas. This organization formed during the controversy. I don't remember reading about this group in the book (perhaps I missed this?)
Lastly, while I was reading Baptists in America, I could not help but think that all through the generations Baptists have had an active part in history. Sometimes the history has been positive and sometimes the history has been negative.
My question is: What will this generation of Baptists in America be known for? What mark in history will we leave?

I wanted to share my family's Baptist heritage.
My maiden name is Hart. My Hart ancestor came from England to Pennsylvania in 1690. He was a Quaker. In a few short years he became a Baptist. He wrote an essay, "A testimony and caution to such as do make a profession of truth who are in scorn called Quakers and more especially such who profess to be ministers of the gospel of peace, that they should not be concerned in worldly government." Dated 1692.
Link @ Amazon,
Online reading link.
In 1697, he became a Baptist. As a Quaker he was a pastor. As a Baptist he was a pastor.
John Hart was an educated man. He was both literate and an orator. He had a strong reputation as a "great preacher."