Friday, December 19, 2014

Homemade Decadence~ Joy-The-Baker

Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats

When it comes to cooking, I'm capable of wiping counters and fetching ingredients. 
I'm kitchen help, not the head chef, and I'm cool with that.
So I enjoy looking at a cookbook and dreaming of eating the completed dishes, but I can't tell you whether the recipes have any intrinsic merit.  

However... here's the happy ending.... I have a good cook in my family. In particular, a Baker. 
So I requested this cookbook for them, and they're at my side right now helping me craft this review. 

By happy coincidence, my Baker already visits Joy-the-Baker's blog, so we pretty much knew that Homemade Decadence would be a delight.

And it is. One is rarely motivated by a recipe composed only of text on the page. There should always be stunning photographs to get you inspired. 
This whole book is a foodie's definition of visually beautiful. Everything from ice-creams to skillet cookies looks ready to for us to dig in. 

The recipe instructions are straightforward, and most recipes have between four and eight steps. 
Each recipe is introduced by a very fun paragraph which usually made me laugh. 
(The introduction for lavendar palmiers was a fantasy about eating a plateful of them as an old lady sitting in a rocking chair. )

And we take delicious to the next level here. 
There's cheddar-bacon crust on an apple pie, that makes me think of October evenings. 
And there's blackberry "picnic pie" cookies that make me long for the blazing August days when blackberries grow wild.

So what recipes am I going to be encouraging/begging my Baker to make?
The "everyday chocolate cake," for one. It's made in a loaf pan and glazed with even more chocolate on top. Tender and crumbly. 
The sour cream scones, which would go with either breakfast or a bowl of venison stew. 
That amazing, sticky cinnamon pull apart cake with lemon glaze.... *gets far away look in my eyes.* 
The banana bread biscotti- double baked and dipped in chocolate. (Sorry Grammy, I'm updating your beloved banana bread.)
The raspberry cream cheese brownies, because bites of raspberry in a brownie would be so tangy and amazing. 

Thank you Blogging for Books, Potter Publishing, and Joy the Baker for my review copy. I think you'll be inspiring some serious desserts and snacks around my house. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Your New Identity... A Transforming Union with God.

Your New Identity: A Transforming Union with God

Your New Identity- A Transforming Union with God.

This slim Bible study explores vastly important truth- you have been made new, in Him, eternally.

You're hidden in Christ, clothed in Christ. You've been crucified with Christ, and raised with Christ to new life.

You have a new heart, and a new spirit.

You are a child of God, a saint, a member of the Body.

As a new creation, you shall never lack for new beginnings. Shame has been overcome with mercy.

This study is Scripture-intensive, with lots of context explanations to help us understand the verses.
Each chapter ends with a quote from one of the church fathers, and those a good reading.
The living Christ has been changing lives and restoring hearts since the first man or woman recognized who He was.
And He hasn't changed. Emmanuel, God-with-Us, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

"It is Christ who has brought about this change. There was a time when we knew Him in His earthly life, but know we know Him in the perfection of His resurrection." ~ Chrysostom AD 347-407

"Faith is greater than the law, because the law is our work, whereas faith belongs to God." ~ Ambrosiaster, AD 370's

"They are a royal priesthood because they are joined to the body of Him who is both the king and the true high priest." ~ Bede AD 673-735

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evening Prayers for the Year....

Evening Prayers

What can I possibly say about this book of 365 prayers, except that they are stunning in their simplicity?

They're prayers from a human heart, bearing the weight of weariness and hope. And they're directed to our Father-God's ear, meek before His holiness and bold in light of His love.

Here are some excerpts from days through the year- 

April 15th: "As we walk with you, fill us with hope that the whole world will see the light, for in your light alone can we find the fulness of life." 

June 3d: "Let the material world come under your hand. Lead us in such a way that others may be helped. When we suffer, grant us strength and understanding of your will." 

July 30th: "Be with us, and give our hearts what will remain with us, the strength and mercy of Jesus Christ."

August 6th: "We do not want our lives to remain base and petty but want to look toward something higher, rejoicing that the promise can be fulfilled." 

Sept 20th: "Even when we are dying, you protect and help us so that we need not pass into death but may enter into life. So may our hearts be lifted up to you. Grant that the light in us remains undimmed, and that we may come before you in sincerity." 

Sept 28th: "Keep us in your care. In all our special concerns may each of us experience your comfort and help." 

Oct 12th: "We have so much on our hearts that we cannot rightly express it all. Wherever a soul is sighing, wherever someone is calling to you, hear him." 

Nov 2d: "You can change everything. That is our faith." 

Nov 23d: "Show your sovereignty by guarding the flock close beside you and by pouring out your grace..."

Nov 30th: ".... again and again let something happen to bring us new life and strength." 

Dec 14th: "You open the door for all who have the childlike hope that in the midst of ruin, life remains, the life of Jesus Christ our Lord, life for all the world." 

I've heard people say we need to live in the "posture of prayer." 
I think that means we live humbly- ready to receive, gently- conscious of our need, and quietly- trusting in God's care. Thinking about that, what our world needs is more praying men and women. 
Faithful, stable, patient, peaceable.
Weaving these words into your evenings, tucking them into your heart as you whisper them, that is a fine way to end your day with prayer. 

Thank you to Plough Publishing, who provided a copy of this book in exchange for my thoughts as a reviewer. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rhythms of Grace...

Rhythms of Grace: Discovering God's Tempo for Your Life

Frazzled. Burnt-out. 
Stretched thin. Weary. 

None of those are pretty images, but they're sure vivid. 
And who hasn't experienced a period of time when those words are your reality? 

Sometimes stress comes with a season- new job, no job, holidays, college, illness- and it will pass in time. 
But sometimes, your life will need restructuring to reclaim "shalom" as much as possible. 

Kerri Weems begins this book by discussing that- "shalom." 
This old Hebrew word fascinates me, because it hints at wholeness and healing through all of our lives. 
It suggests everything being as it should be, moving to a rhythm of grace. 

St. Paul compared life to a long distance run, where ground is gained by one-foot-in-front-of-the-other persistence. Each person needs a pace they can sustain without sacrificing their sanity or soul.
This book is a straight-talking, compassionate guide to setting your pace in all areas: relationships, family and home, work, your schedule, your health, and your spiritual vitality.

Kerri suggests we establish a cycle of rebooting, taking time to reflect on what's working for us and what's not. Then she encourages us to dream a little, imagining a future of priorities and purpose. 
She reminds us that "We cannot conquer time, we can only sanctify and redeem it."  

Especially now, with the holiday season coming, I think there will be many people wondering how they're going to "run the race" in 2015. They're tired, worn out, and burdened. They know they can't stop moving, so many people depend on them! 
Perhaps this book would become a gentle guide for them. It would say "I know you can't stop running, but let's take a look at your pace. Let's reboot yours days, weeks, and months so that next year is less draining." If you need a last minute gift, you could certainly look at Rhythms of Grace.

Thank you Booklook for my review copy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Secret of Pembrooke Park...

The Secret of Pembrooke Park

The Foster family is reeling from financial ruin, trying to preserve a sophisticated appearance and stay off the streets at the same time. 

Deliverance will come- as usual- from an unexpected place. 
A solicitor arrives and invites the Fosters to move into a manor. They are not inheriting the estate, he explains, but he has a client who has named them as distant relatives. The client wishes them to take up residence as soon as it's convenient.  

Of course, there are conditions. The client has chosen to remain anonymous, and the manor has been unoccupied for almost twenty years. 

Thus Abigail Foster comes to Pembrooke Park in all it's hidden-away loveliness. The villagers and house servants are half-afraid of the place, and unsettling stories circulate about the last tenants. 

I read this book aloud as a "bed time" story for ten days or so.  It was wonderfully engaging. Novels about the Regency period rarely keep my attention. 
Thankfully, the information about Abigail's clothing and hairstyles was mixed in with a mystery, and she had character of her own. 
She is just persistent enough to keep searching for answers to her questions, and just timid enough that you sympathize with her. 

And it was great fun to watch her interact with various new friends. Leah Chapman- the steward's daughter, who is more reserved than Abigail herself. 
William Chapman- the local curate who possesses a heart for helping in every circumstance. 
Eliza and Mrs. Hayes- two women whose pasts and futures are tied up in Pembrooke Park.
The Morgan family- proud of their prestige. 

I have only one complaint about a certain part of the ending. One character's fate troubled me. I think there must have been a way to redeem that in some way, big or small. That added a sour note to the story's otherwise sweet resolution for me. 

The rest of it- the manor and it's elegance,  the tender affection blooming between certain folks- it all came together very well. 

I'll be keeping an eye out for more Julie Klassen novels, beginning tonight at my library. :-)

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy! 

Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books, The Silent GovernessThe Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also won the Midwest Book Award, Christian Retailing’s BEST Award, and has been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards, Minnesota Book Awards, and ACFW’s Carol Awards. She blogs at
Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Bachelor... Sequel to The Bargain!

The Bachelor (Plain City Peace #2)

In August of 2013 I read Stephanie Reed's The Bargain. 
This novel epitomized the best of Amish fiction, with a bonnet-wearing heroine who is both demure and witty. Yet it was set in Plain City, Ohio, in 1971, and so it wasn't all buggy rides in the country. This book brought to life the aftermath of the Kent State Massacre, the anti-war riots, the fear of being drafted, and the grim reality that was Vietnam. 

The Bachelor is the sequel I have been anticipating ever since I turned the last page of The Bargain. 
This is going to be a three book series, and you should definitely read them together. If you haven't read The Bargain, then this review is going to be one big... ***Spoiler!*** 

Betsie is back! Her apprenticeship in the English world is over, and she's home in Amish country, where life is truly no simpler. 

Betsie and her sister Sadie are trying to run their farm all alone, with only Charley Yoder for help.  
They long for their Mem and Dat to return from their new English lives as Christians, and everyday they seem to lose another friend or neighbor as Plain City farms are sold for development. 

There are times when the confusions of Amish life make Betsie wish she was back with the emotional, unstable English!

If Sheila Sullivan was your second favorite character after Betsie, then you'll be delighted. She's staying with Betsie in Plain City, living like an Amish girl. 
And you can imagine the scandal that will cause!
Mr. Sullivan is going in search of his wife, committed to working out their struggles so she can come home. 

And where is Michael, the incorrigible, inimitable, poet-protestor? You'll enjoy finding out. 
That letter Betsie is holding on the front cover is a missive from Michael. Those letters bring his taste for the ironic and his eye for the odd right to Betsie's mailbox. 
And of course, Michael's metaphysical ramblings and soul searchings are not welcome by Charlie Yoder... 

I'm *really* enjoying this series. Historical details, Amish customs, and quirky characters, plus lots of references to literature and poetry... Oh yes. The Bachelor and The Bargain are books I would loa out to friends. (And I'd be worried that they'd want to keep them.)

Thank you to Kregel and Litfuse for my review copy.

Stephanie Reed lives on the outskirts of Plain City, Ohio, site of a once-thriving Amish community. She gleans ideas for her novels from signs glimpsed along the byways of Ohio, as she did for her previous books, Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Heretic~

The Heretic

"Will we cling to Rome, hoping all her corruption will be made white as snow? By my oath, you say these Anabaptists are fanatics, and perhaps they are, but at least their hands are clean!" ~ Brother Pacificus 

This is going to be s short review of a long book with an epic scope. I'm not going to try to explain the plot, except to say that it's a bunch of individual humans trying to live/grow/survive/flourish against the dark, dangerous, bloody days of the 1500s. 
And you'll come to love them as you read. With 603 pages to work with, the characters have time to develop, and sink into your mind. 

Some characters that you admire will betray you, and some you initially overlook will grow into heart-breaking goodness and bravery. 
It's hard to say that you enjoyed a book like this: the story is so well-wrought and you are gripped by the scenes, but the accounts of carnage and brutality are terrible. 
(If you're easily troubled by mental images, then feel free to skip a few pages here and there when you see a violent scene building.) 

When the endorsement calls this "a novel of ideas," they aren't lying. There are dog-ears throughout my copy, marking insights about the Crusades, the Catholic Church, and the Reformation. Because this is a story and not a textbook, the characters also wrestle with obedience and mercy, friendship and fidelity, vocation and love. And it's not as if they have ample time and safe surrounding to work out their convictions. 
They're enduring prison and persecution, and the idea of giving their lives isn't a theological abstract. It's reality. 

And remember- You never step into the same river twice.

Thank you Lion Hudson and Kregel publishing for my review copy. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Life with a Capital L.

Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given Humanity

Imagine a person, the kind you bump into every day.
Imagine them either male of female, young or old. It doesn't matter. 
Imagine that they love music, and they get caught up in stories, and they notice the goodness of the world around them. (They feel the pain too, and the tedium and wear and tear.) 
Imagine them as your basic human who wants to live a good life, and knows that this requires more than just being alive. They've got a longing for purpose and peace and permanence. 

What do you and I have to give them?
Can we give them the Person of Christ, who is the Source of the goodness they've tasted, the end of the Road they're on, and the Savior who holds their brokenness tenderly?  
If I said to this imaginary person "The Gospel is your answer," they might immediately say "Oh. You think I should try religion?" What do I say at that point? No? Yes? Maybe?

When we rattle off John 10:10, "IhavecomethattheymayhaveLifeandhaveitinfull," what are we even saying? (Heaven knows we've stamped that on enough coffee mugs and inspirational calendars!)
What is this "Life with a Capital L" that Jesus offers us? 

That's the subject of Matt Heard's book, and that's the phrase he used for a title. 
"Life with a Capital L." 
It's what most of us want. And it's not Achieved as much as it is Received. 

Over the course of this book he ushers us toward Life. 
A Life that begins with grace, and is sustained by grace because grace is what leads us home. 
A Life of freedom- not freedom to self-destruct, but "freedom to enjoy Christ's Life in all of life."
A Life that engages our hearts, finding the significance of our days beyond the "mournful numbers."  
A Life that utilizes all the senses to experience the call of beauty.
A Life that comes to God's Word for illumination, and doesn't use that flashlight as a weapon. 
A Life lived conscious of our place in the Story, redeemed and sanctified for His glory.
A Life of worship, defined succinctly as a living Coram Deo- before the face of God.
A Life of love, and not in any sloppy sense. St. John said it- "Anyone who does not love remains in death." 
A Life that doesn't fear the passage of time- "Numbering my days isn't just realizing there's a finite amount of them. It's grabbing the Life out of them." 
A Life where fragility and fulfillment exist together, and it's hard and good at the same time.
A Life lived in anticipation of seeing His face. 

Something I especially appreciated was the way Matt Heard brings quotes from so many other authors into his own work- from Isak Dinesen to T. S. Eliot to Walt Whitman. He even includes a black and white copy of a painting in the front of this book, a painting that captured in one scene exactly what he's trying to show us through these chapters. "There is life everywhere." 

And I also really enjoyed the way he handled Scripture. He treated it like it made perfect sense, and he crafted a context for the verses he chose so that we could understand their meanings for us today. In other words, if you gave this book to somebody who thought the Bible was weird or irrelevant, the way it's presented here will shock them. Just like Emilie Cailliet, you may find that "This is the Book that understands me." 

So today, with the ideas and stories of "Life with a Capital L" singing in my brain, I'm going to keep reminding myself- "Be Still. Be God's. Be Here." Remember, Reorient, engage with Reality.

Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy. In exchange, this review is my opinion. 

Matt Heard and his wife, Arlene, live in Colorado Springs and are the privileged parents of three adult sons. A speaker and writer, he was the senior pastor at Woodmen Valley Chapel for twelve years.  Whether standing in front of people with a microphone or in a trout stream with a fly rod, whether sitting around a dinner table with friends or serving a need in his city, he loves exploring and experiencing Life with a capital L

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Susie's Hope, the Movie.

Susie's Hope~ How could I resist a good dog movie?
(Especially when I saw the adorable puppy on the front.)

This movie is based on the true story of Donna Lawrence, her husband Roy, and her puppy Susie.
Donna is a survivor of a pitbull attack that nearly claimed her life.
Susie was a pitbull mix puppy who had been beaten and burned.

As you watch the story unfold, it will make you misty-eyed.
(Multiple times I caught myself blinking back tears.)
It will warm your heart. And it will remind you that "The way we care for animals says a lot about our humanity."

I would tell a friend that when you start this movie you need to stick with it.... it all comes together.
You meet "Donna" and "Roy"- an enthusiastic young couple. We see them working around the house, laughing, and playing with their tiny poodle Baby Girl.

Neither of them expected to go anywhere near a pitbull. An attack was the furthest thing from their minds.
And they had no idea how much a terror and damage one abused dog could wreak.

The actors and actresses bring the scenes to life.
We see the few moments of violence- just cover the kids eyes at this part.
We see Donna struggle to find a new identity after that traumatic experience.
We see the steps that lead to her encountering Susie, and we see the new light in her eyes as she connects with a fellow survivor. Here is the heart of the film- a woman and a puppy, both with scars and a lot of love to give.

As we watched, we cheered for Donna and Susie. There are so many fine moments showcased here, so many people who committed themselves to saving this puppy.
As one character says- paraphrased- "God gave us dominion over the animals for a reason. It must be because we're made in His image. And His image is compassion."

There's something for everyone here. It's definitely a dog story. It's a family story. It's a best-friend story. It's a redemption story. It's got gentle comedy and cheer-worthy triumphant.
And it's even got some courtroom drama.
Susie's Hope is a film I'm eager to share with my animal-loving family. :-)

Thank you Flyby Promotions for my review copy of this DVD. In return, y'all get my opinion.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pound Foolish~ Windy City Neighbors

Pound Foolish

Reading a Windy City Neighbors book is like visiting friends who share their happiness and their problems with you.

The people of Chicago's Beecham Street understand faith, love, and second chances- and they also know about unemployment, domestic disharmony, and difficult days. 

For the Singer family, they're enduring the latter situations. Greg is a man out of work, trying to replace his steady job with an energy-drink business. 
He has more repairs waiting to be done than should be legal in one home, and he's got two small kids who need his attention and help.
Mrs. Singer has marketable skills to tide them over, but Greg hates seeing her go off to work. Especially because her boss has everything Greg doesn't at the moment. 

Pound Foolish is the story of a family in crisis. Will they be divided, or will they trust God together and work towards a good future? 

I so enjoy these books. Each one highlights a different home on the street, and we meet them in their daily life. As I read, I remember that it's the little things that spell out H-O-M-E, no matter where we live. It's the meals shared together, the commitment to stick with each other, the presence of your people around you at the end of the day. 

These books celebrate the ways that God works and moves through our individual lives, and they point to the way we can help out neighbors know His care for them. 

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a review copy.

Dave and Neta


"Yep. We work together all day every day—and still like each other! Actually, we each have different strengths, and help each other become better writers. When one of us needs to brainstorm, we go on a long walk, and when we come back, we usually have figured out a solution to the writing problem."


"One thing about being a writer, your mind never seems to take a vacation! Even when we go camping, we’re often working on a writing idea. Even though we don’t take many vacations, we try to work some fun into our everyday life."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Watch for the Light

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Watch for the Light~ Readings for Advent and Christmas. 

I've never formally observed Advent, unless you count opening the 24 doors on the Precious Moments Advent Calendar. 
In my circles, Advent was merely the countdown to the fun of Christmas day. 

Over the past year, my family has collected a small library of Plough Publishing titles. Each one has been challenging and enjoyable, the kind of book I look forward to sharing with people. 
A Plough Advent devotional was an ideal choice. 

Watch for the Light combines material from the ancient and modern voices, from every corner of Christendom. 
We have St. Chrysostom, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle and Philip Yancey. 
The selections also vary greatly in length and style. 
(This seems to be turning some readers on there heads. Most devotional entries are one paragraph long, paired with a single Bible verse. The editors here did not confine themselves to that mold.)

One reading was fourteen pages long- and worth every word, because it was written by Alfred Delp before he was hanged by the Nazis in 1945. 
Another was a few scant stanzas from Sylvia Plath, reminding us that: 
"Miracles occur,
If you dare call those spasmodic 
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's 
Begun again, 
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent."

Frankly, I don't see how these selections could be uniformly reduced to one paragraph. It would compromise them. And the diversity is excellent.

There's Brennan Manning, calling us to be "Shipwrecked at the Stable," captured by the pure Love that was suddenly seen enfleshed.

There's Karl Rahner- "We roll up all our needs and yearnings into one word: Come! And yet... could you approach any nearer to us that you did when you became the Son of Man, when you adopted our ordinary little ways so thoroughly? It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word 'again' is misleading... because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us." 

There's Evelyn Underhill- "We have got to begin by a humble recognition that human things can be holy, very full of God... that all life is engulfed in him and he can reach out to us anywhere at any level."

There's Emmy Arnold- "The true Christmas experience is to feel that this Christmas peace is the greatest power; that even now on earth it overcomes all unpeace. That this peace shall come to all, that is the expectation and the faith of Christmas!" 

There's St. Bernard of Clairvaux- "Let the Word, I pray, be to me, not as a word spoken only to pass away, but conceived and clothed in flash that he may remain with us. Let him be, not only to be heard with the ears , but to be seen with the eyes, touched with the hands and borne on the shoulders. Let the Word be to me, not as a word written and silent, but incarnate and living..." 

There's Henri Nouwen, writing about the way Mary and Elizabeth and Anna must have waited- "Active waiting is to be present fully in the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it." 

Let me put it this way: Reading Watch for the Light will enlarge your concept of Advent. 
We live in Advent, waiting and working in anticipation; the Eternal Birth takes place in us; and the tidings of Goodwill go out ahead of us into 2015. 

Thank you Plough Publishing for this fine book. My last comment will be how well-made the book itself is,  a solid hardcover that's 327 pages long and feels good in my hand. It would last for years if you re-read it over and over.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Song~ Awaken Love Devotional

"The Song: Awaken Love" is a new devotional that draws inspiration and application that finest of Hebrew love poems, The Song of Solomon.

I have heard much good about Kyle Idleman's teaching, and this was the first work of his that I've read.
It's not a full-length book, coming in at about 70 pages, yet you can tell that Kyle wants to help people to make Scripture's truth the framework of their daily lives.
In this case, he's teaching about love, marriage, and romance.

And there's a lot of material to work with. Despite the Song itself being only a few pages long- it gets lost between Proverbs and Isaiah- the verses within paint a grand and glorious picture of connubial bliss.
It's enough to remind our disillusioned generation that romance is a God-idea, and that marriage can be an increasing companionship instead of a life sentence.

I like Kyle's Biblically-grounded optimism. He thinks that marriage is "a gift from God that keeps on giving." And his view is encouraging as you read.

Listen to some of his thoughts:

"Romance is nurtured by the feeling that God has given you a treasure and that you have the rest of your life to exult in that treasure. Together you'll take on every challenge life offers. Together: a beautiful word, one that brings contentment."

"We see in our mate what our heart knows we need the most. And if it happens that both of us are seeking Christ, the effect is magnified. Our attraction to Christ enhances our attraction to each other."

"Praise wholeheartedly! Don't be afraid to fly the flag of your love for your favorite human being. Since God loves for us to encourage one another, he'll suggest little things to you as you speak, things you might not have thought of before."

"Grace is cyclical. When we give it, we get it. But in marriage it's easy to live in a cycle of 'ungrace.' This when we make it our job to fix the other person."

In other words, this is good stuff here.

I'll be filing this book in my "Marriage/Family" section. Thank you Flyby Promotions for my review copy!

Kyle Idleman

Kyle Idleman is the Teaching Minister at Southeast Christian Church located in Louisville, Ky with over 22,000 in attendance every weekend. He's a guest speaker for regional and national conventions around the country and regularly speaks for some of America's most influential churches. 

He's the author and presenter of the award winning video curriculum H2O: A Journey of Faith as well as The Easter Experience. Kyle's favorite thing to do is hang out with the love of his life, DesiRae. They have been married for 15 years and have four children: MacKenzie, Morgan, Macy and Kael.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fierce Convictions


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

I knew nothing about Hannah More before beginning "Fierce Convictions." I've followed the author- Karen Swallow Prior- on Twitter for a few years, and I've read and enjoyed some of her articles on Christianity Today. 
I knew I wanted to try her latest book, so I was excited when Booklook Bloggers offered it for review.  I was even more convinced when I saw that Eric Metaxas wrote the foreword. After reading his biography of Bonhoeffer, I'm willing to trust his endorsements. 
He goes so far as to say that although it would be wonderful to have another William Wilberforce, what we really need is a crop of Hannah More's. 
Now if that doesn't intrigue you, what will. 
Hannah More was a woman of character, who sought to capture hearts and stir them to action through her words. And she succeeded, over eighty-eight years of life. 

Let me presume that I'm writing this review to fellow laypeople, who haven't read a ton of biographies and who have never heard of Hannah More. 
Is this book readable? Oh yes. It starts with an scene of Hannah and her sisters, the five More girls, all playing in their father's schoolroom after class was dismissed. Hannah insists that they pretend they're riding up to London, to see "Bishops and booksellers." From the time she was a schoolgirl, she knew that Truth was worth seeking, literature was a vehicle for truth, and ideas made the world go round.

As she grew, these perceptions of hers would be refined, words would be her craft, and the pen would be her instrument. 
Her goal can be summed up in a phrase that is used often in Fierce Convictions, to "captivate the moral imagination."  Whether she was writing poetry, plays, novels, or "Cheap Repository Tracts," she wanted to help you see the real world, God's world, and to live in it with dignity and decency. 
As an avid reader, I was underlining all through the sections on Hannah's views of stories and songs and how they can stir up a soul. 
The kind of literature we need today won't be exactly like "The Rougish Miller," but we most definitely need something that feeds that "moral imagination" and guides us toward righteousness. 

Obviously, you're not going to absorb everything in a biography right away. There are dozens of names, dates, and places that all connect to our main character, and it becomes easier to follow as Hannah comes into her own. So many times people will say "Look at how God used so-and-so. What a life, lived for His glory!" I always find it amazing, when I read a biography about one of those great lives, how many other lives touched theirs, and how many experiences they lived through before we hailed them as heroic. I guess it reminds us that a life given over to God's glory will be composed of daily faithfulness. That's how Hannah tried to live, whether she was mingling with high society or riding horseback for miles. 

It's also clear that the seeds for her legacy were planted in her youth.
When the five More girls were between twenty and eight, with Hannah at thirteen, they began a school. At sixteen, Hannah was teaching classes of young girls. The sisters all possessed sterling character, sharp intellects, and sound fiscal sense. And they were just barely "young adults." 
As a woman, she became a dear friend to Samuel Johnson, John Newton, and William Wilberforce. 
All three would invest their talents and strength in the fight to abolish slavery. Hannah's character would be further refined by her work, as she acted with conviction and reservation, passion and temperance, kindness and plain-speaking. 

She clearly desired a holistic Christianity, and she saw the Gospel reaching into every area of conduct, and informing her response to every social issue. 
(Is this exactly what we need today?) 
Her campaign for humane treatment for animals, her work in schools for poor children,  the village insurance collectives she helped establish, and her boycott of slave-labored West Indian sugar all flowed from the same convictions. 

In the middle of all these accomplishments, Karen Swallow Prior shows the tensions that Hannah lived with as well. Some of the good work she wanted to do was prevented by the customs and class structure of the age. Do you teach a poor child to read when he's destined to stay a servant? 
Hannah did not have an answer to every question, but the amount of work she did and effort she expended in so many arenas is remarkable. 
"A woman of letters" seems like a small thing, but it wasn't. 

I especially like this description of her character, quoted in Fierce Convictions from an earlier biography: "... the most implicit faith and the most devoted zeal in Christianity could consist with the highest mental attainments; and the most devoted piety was no obstacle to cheerfulness and humor."

This one's going on my history shelf next to Amazing Grace by Metaxas. Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy. My review doesn't do it justice, but I hope you're encouraged to try Fierce Convictions. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

On the Shoulders of Hobbits

On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. 
There are so many books written about these men and their work, and I own a selection myself: "The A to Z of C. S. Lewis" by Colin Duriez, "If I had Lunch with C. S. Lewis" by Alister McGrath, "The Spiritual World of  the Hobbit" by James Stuart Bell, "Finding God in The Hobbit" and "Finding God in the Hobbit" by Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner.... 

If you've been to Narnia or Middle Earth, you understand that one does not simply read those stories. It's more than processing words on the page. You live them, and they mark your mind with images and phrases that return to you over and over. When you call LOTR and Narnia "unforgettable," you're stating a fact, not mouthing a cliche. 

I can see why so many modern authors want to explore the legacy and the lives of Tolkien and Lewis, and I've enjoyed each supplementary wok that I've read. They've reminded me that small moments build to grand plots and heroes come when ordinary men are brave and giving. 

The newest addition to my collection is "On the Shoulders of Hobbits~ The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis."  And that's what Louis Markos is talking about: virtue.

The excellence that we recognized in the original tales- the glories that made our hearts beat faster- they're drawn out and expounded upon in this book. 
The fidelity and justice, friendship and courage. 
The longing for your own home and hearth when you're out in the dark and the danger. 
The hope of purity and restoration, even when all circumstances shout against it.
The rightness of a King with hands of strength and healing.
The truth that terror cannot cancel out all beauty. 

Louis Markos expands on each theme, cross referencing Narnia and LOTRs and quoting theologians and philosophers. His goal isn't to read anything into the text, or transplant "religion" into the world of Middle Earth. (Save your breath if you're going to make that claim.) 
Instead, he points us to Goodness, Truth, and Beauty in those worlds and reminds us to seek those virtues in ours. 
The authors of Narnia and LOTR knew what made a good story. They knew about death and life and sacrifice and hope. They were sub-creating after the pattern of our own Author, who writes the best Stories of all. 

Thank you to MP Newsroom for my review copy. I recommend this book.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Joy to the World...

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does)

Joy to the World. That's an apt title, because Dr. Hahn makes the case that joy is at the core of Christmas.

This is my second book by Scott Hahn. I appreciate his writing because he connects the historical facts of what it meant to "them" back then with the timeless truth of what it means for us right now.
He takes his scholarly knowledge and pores over Scripture, then puts it all together amid conversational narration.

Dr. Hahn comes to the conclusion of Christmas joy after closely examining the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, adding relevant details and broad context.
And after reading through these fourteen chapters I think you'll be eager to receive that joy.

He begins by reminding us that the Nativity was an intimate scene, protected within a tender trinity of family. At the same time, it was a conquest more decisive than any army could bring about.

Dr. Hahn takes us through all the highlights of the story, encouraging us to slow down and look deeply.

We ponder the Town of Bethlehem, the City of David and the "House of Bread." The Son of David and the Bread of Life was born here. He tells us about several theories that make sense of the census, including one suggesting that is wasn't a tax census but a public oath of allegiance to Ceasar.

We talk about the chorus of angels, heavenly messengers with proclamations of goodness. Dr. Hahn suggests that we can learn from the Holy Family that God's angels are watching over us too.
He says it like this: "We live with the angels as friends." I really like that image.

He tells us about the Magi, those foreign stargazers, mysterious men who worshipped the infant Jesus. He quotes Origen: "Gold as to a king; myrhh as to one who was mortal; and incense as to a God."

We look at the midnight flight to Egypt, land of idolatry and place of shelter. We compare the life of Moses and Jesus, and we see that Jesus is the one who delivers his people from all bondage.

Joy to the World ends with an invitation.
Dr. Hahn writes: "We evangelize when we have ourselves a merry little Christmas and invite others to share it. That's the best way to evangelize friends, family, coworkers, and everybody else. Why? Because the world offers countless pleasures but no lasting joys. What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow- even amid persecution, flight, and exile."

So prepare your home and heart for Christmas. Cram every corner with celebration. Whether the trappings are humble or extravagant, the joy is lavish and real.

Thank you Image Books through Blogging for Books for providing me with a review copy.
The above is my opinion. :-)

Scott Hahn

Dr. Scott Hahn was born in 1957, and has been married to Kimberly since 1979. He and Kimberly have six children and are expecting their fifth grandchild. An exceptionally popular speaker and teacher, Dr. Hahn has delivered numerous talks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. Hundreds of these talks have been produced on audio and videotapes by St. Joseph Communications. His talks have been effective in helping thousands of Protestants and fallen away Catholics to (re)embrace the Catholic faith.

He is currently a Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. In 2005, he was appointed as the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Time of Jesus: A Lift-The-Flap Book

Look Inside: The Time of Jesus: A Lift-the-Flap Discovery Book

Oh, how we love lift-the-flap books!
Who can resist peeking behind those little cardstock doors to see surprise scenes?

The Time of Jesus is a large board-book, with eight two-page spreads, and each spread has between two and seven flaps to lift. The illustrations are busy with people and animals and daily life going on.

The first is "A Stable at Bethlehem," and this spread includes travelers and a tiny donkey and puppies- count them 1,2,3,4,5!
(When you lift a small flap here, you see a mother hen and her chicks. The text says "Perhaps there were baby animals in the stable!")

The next one is "At Home in Nazareth," with women coming from the well and children playing games. Lifting the flaps reveals the inside of a synagogue and a carpenter's shop.

There is one, "By the Shore of Lake Galilee," and we see hard-working fishermen in their boats, Roman soldiers on shore, and children splashing in the water. Can you spy the goat stealing herbs from a woman's basket and a cat making off with a fish?

Then there's "Farm Country." A vineyard with a watchtower, a sheepfold, and a man sowing seeds. Again, kids can count the animals- birds, oxen, chicken, and yet another puppy.

Then there's "A Rich Man's Feast." This one shows honored guests and servants, around a bountiful table. Life the flaps to see the kitchen!

"The Temple in Jerusalem." This one shows priests with a shofar, penitents- some humble, some boastful, and a widow offering her only coin.

Then there is "A Roman Trial," a scene that somedays seems to make no sense to anybody, children or otherwise. How could we kill the very One who brought nothing but Light and Love and Life? Yet behind the flaps we see Pilate washing his hands, a soldier readying a whip, and a crowd deciding to free Barabbas.

And the last one.... "A Garden Tomb." The flap reveals that the tomb is forever empty, except for two angels.

I think my favorite part of this book is the way the captions reference parables and Bible stories without quoting them in full or explaining them.
It gives YOU, as the read-aloud person, the chance to tell the Scriptural story naturally, in your own way.

This makes our faith much more personal and precious, when it is woven into our daily words, and it becomes part of our very rhythm. Children will appreciate hearing you tell the story about the treasure hidden in the field, or the hired men waiting for work in an orchard, because when you tell it without the Bible in front of you it says you own it, it says it's inside you.

So I like that. The kids gets to peel the flaps up and then hunt for the next one, and we get to narrate a different part each time.

Thank you Kregel/Lion publishing for my review copy of The Times of Jesus. It will be greatly appreciated.