Friday, February 5, 2016

Little Felted Dogs by Saori Yamazaki


Needle felting has taken the crafting world by storm, and if you Google it, you'll see why. With some raw wool, a special felting needle (and some significant skill) you can create animals that look ready to get up and run around.

When I first started looking at them, I saw some listings on Etsy for needle felted animals that cost $100+ dollars. Now I understand why- because needle felting involves risk to life and limb.

Just kidding. Sort of. It sounds like you do have to be careful with the "very sharp" felting needle if you want to avoid bloodshed, but with a bit of caution your crafting shouldn't be dangerous. It's the detail that commands those prices, because the end result of needle felting can be fantastically whimsical or startlingly realistic. It captivates the imagination.

In this book, the end result is exactly what the title tells us: Little Felted Dogs. Super cute ones, everything from Bulldogs to Shelties.

Saori teaches us the basic techniques down for felting the bodies- with or without a pipe cleaner frame- the long outer fur, the eyes, ears and paws. Her drawings show us the proportions of each dog, and once you have these basics down pat you could easily make any other kind of critter. If you're still a beginner, there's twenty-four puppies to pick from. You could make a whole litter!

So, if I ever decide to try needle felting, this book will be a fine guide.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Redeeming Pleasure~

Redeeming Pleasure: How the Pursuit of Pleasure Mirrors Our Hunger for God 

This is an interesting book, with contents accurately described by its title, "Redeeming Pleasure." 

If this world was made by God, and if it's as full of pleasurable things as we all know it is, then what does that mean for us humans trying to "live God's way?" 

At some point, we will wonder "How do I navigate my life without either A: taking advantage of others and harming myself in pursuit of various gratifications, or B: shunning enjoyment and fearing desires?" 

Well, no single volume can fully answer such a question, but this book can certainly spark a conversation. 

What is pleasure? Does God take pleasure in this world, and if so, in what? Can we take pleasure in what delights him?How do you categorize the kinds of pleasure? Is a pleasure of the mind, such as the satisfaction of learning a new thing, really that different from a pleasure rooted in the body, such as the taste of our favorite food and drink?

Obviously, God made humans to find pleasure in a variety of things, in a variety of ways. There's the satisfaction of getting work done well even if it was difficult, and the simple enjoyment of your favorite music or reading material. There's the delight of spending time with your favorite people, with different nuances to that depending on the nature of your relationships. 

Some pleasures are clearly good, intrinsically right and made to be enjoyed fully- the breath of fresh air and the beautiful view from the top of a hiking trail, for example. And there are other pleasures that often seem more suspect- the pleasure found in various controlled substances, for example.

Jeremy talks about all these concepts and more, and how could a book about pleasure and God not be engaging?  But if you need to hear one quote to convince you to try this book here it is: "When we experience God without pleasure, it's like holding a snakeskin and convincing yourself you are holding the snake itself." 

In this book, Jeremy tries to wrestle with the real live snake-the point where holiness and desire meet- and he encourages us to join him.
I thank Worthy Publishing for my review copy. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole

40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast.

What if Lent wasn't meant to be just a period of duty-bound deprivation? What if it could be a season of preparation, where a time of renunciation helps set our soul right and readies it for Resurrection fullness?

It is Alicia's conviction that we need to recover this second view of Lent, and that if we did, it would become a meaningful part of the cycle of faith.

Lent: waiting, watching, wondering, making space inside to holding the hard things and the sacred sadness. And then, we awaken to Easter-day fullness, where death gives way to life everlasting and everything is rewritten in light of an empty tomb.

Alicia's heart is captivated by this mystery, and her writing spills over with awe. This is definitely an accessible and enriching read.

Many of her forty chosen "fasts" resonated strongly with me.
For example, one day she suggests we fast from trying to find quick-fixes. Some things do not reach resolution in a hurry, some aspects of life never tie up in a bow,  some things have no fix at all- they simply have to be lived with.

Another day we fast from noise, intentionally choosing silence for a while. The list goes on, of course- we fast intimidation by standing against fear. We fast apathy- the world's pain is overwhelming, and we grow numb to survive it all, but we need to somehow keep our swift compassion for others.

Basically, all these "fasts" are chances to correct an unhealthy way of dealing with yourself, to refocus your relationships with others, or to catch a new glimpse of your God.

As Alicia says, Lent "frees me from the sticky stuff of self-consciousness, increases within me the sacred stuff of God-consciousness" and therefore "fills me with unspeakable joy."

Yep. I think a Resurrection should involve unspeakable joy.

I thank Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my opinion.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stephanie Rische's new book.....

I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See: My Misadventures in Dating, Waiting, and Stumbling into Love

A true-life story, told with an eye for irony and a finely honed sense of humor will always appeal to me. And Stephanie has a lot of those stories in this book, which could be called "Close Encounters of the Dating Kind." It's not another how-to-be-single manual, and it isn't even mostly stories about her blindingly bad dates. Instead, it's largely thoughtful reflections on what it means to have a real, satisfying relationship with God- when you're happy and want to share it, when you're in need of protection, when you have dreams and you're unsure if it's time to take the ax to them.

The frame of the book is eight blind dates, dates with guys whose identity must be protected by invented monikers such as "The Professor," "The Linebacker," and "Mr. Very." These evenings-gone-wrong put Stephanie through all the single person questions- Am I invisible? Or just plain all wrong? And what do I do about it? Is there a firecracker I could drop into God's ear, to let him know I'm serious about this singleness thing? He was the one who decided it "wasn't good for man to be alone" anyway!

The whole time she's being serious, she's not taking herself too serious. If you're looking for a book on life, and Jesus, and community, written by a struggling single since happily married, then stop right here, you've found it.

If you're looking for a book on life, community, and Jesus, but written by someone who's (as far as I know) still single and still writing from those particular trenches, then try Kate Hurley's "Cupid is a Procrastinator."

Heck, try both books.

I thank Tyndale Momentum for providing me a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Amish Christmas at North Star~

Amish Christmas at North Star: Four Stories of Love and Family

I was eager to dive into this Amish Christmas novella set, anticipating some relaxing and lighthearted reading. I got what I'd been looking for, that's for sure.

I appreciated the first selection, by Katie Ganshert, because she found a very unique way of associating her heroine with Amish country. Elle McAllister never imagined that she could have lived an Amish life, but when an investigative reporter calls her and tells her he might be able to find her birth mother, will she go along with his plans? This story is sweet and quick-paced. It was neat to see what Katie would do with a novella, after having read several of her full novels.

The next story up is by Amanda Flower. She injects a wee dose of mystery, set around a death at an Amish stable. The best part, in my opinion, was the friendship between Amish Eden and English Gina. Everything wraps up tidily at the end.

The third selection is by Cindy Woodsmall, a beloved author of Amish fiction. She tells her story mostly from the male point of view. Kore Detweiler is convinced that his girlfriend deceived him and betrayed him when she called off the wedding. Savilla had helped him find his faith to begin with- why would she abandon his love for her? Of course, there's more to the story than meets Kore's eye....

The last story, by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark, was my favorite. It's a story of love lost and found again between two young people who needed to figure out who they were and what mattered most. And it's a sibling story, spending equal time on Sam and Andy, two brothers who will be best friends for life.

I thank Waterbrook publishers for providing me with a review copy for my honest opinion.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Every Little Thing~ Deidra Riggs

Every Little Thing

It seems like maybe we're realizing that it is the "little" things that matter. The ordinary. The common. The familiar. The obvious-to-the-point-of-being-invisible. The unheralded happenings that may make us smile or drive us crazy, but either way they put the color in the lines and curves of our larger life.

After all, what is a "good life" except X number of accumulated days lived well? Day after day, the little things: forgiving and being forgiven, picking our way through the forest of choices and trying to choose right, prizing healthy relationships over all else, being open to hearing God instead of just our stubborn selves.

In "Every Little Thing" Deidra Riggs explores that truth- God made you to live well, and you don't need any other raw materials than the life you already have. "God is in the wilderness," she writes. "Go there. He will meet you right in the middle of your wild and worn and weary places. Take off your shoes. Tear off your pretense. Skip over the polite conversation. It's you he wants. Simply you."

This is a book for anyone who feels a little closed in. A little desperate. A little worried that maybe it all means nothing, maybe it's not enough, maybe you aren't going anywhere worthwhile after all. This is a book for someone who needs to hear some truth- that we are coming into something good, and something of God is coming to us.

I wish I could describe "Every Little Thing" more thoroughly, but it's not the kind of book that lends itself to a bulleted list of topics. So if I've piqued your interest, do try it.

I thank Baker books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Catbird Singing~

Catbird Singing (Book II)

 If you read "Under the Heavens," book one of the Amish Horses series, then you already met Lenny Gingerich. This young man spent a summer with his Amish relatives, learning more than he ever imagined about living and what makes a good life. Lenny connected with the Plain way and the folk who follow it, and when the summer ended he promised to come back again.

Well, Lenny didn't keep his promise until circumstances all but threw him back into Amish country. He's a little bit older now, and that means he has new lessons to learn. This time, the lessons include girls. Specifically a girl named Leah, who reminds Lenny of a catbird- sometimes they sing sweetly and sometimes they yowl!

 Most Amish fiction is told from a female point of view, so it's refreshing to have Lenny as our main character. This is a coming of age story, as Lenny and the other young Amish people have to decide what path they want to take. Amid his adventures on the farm and in town, Lenny demonstrates responsibility and integrity. 

If you're looking for an engaging series to follow starring young people pulled between the mainstream way and the Amish life, look no further than "Amish Horses." 

I thank BookCrash for providing me with a review copy. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Unleashed~ by Eric Mason

Unleashed: Being Conformed to the Image of Christ

Conformed to the image of Christ. Renewed by the word. Transformed by the Holy Spirit.
These phrases have such weight to them, such significance. They promise that there is a purpose for our existence and a good destination for the journey of our life: to become like God.

The question is, how does this happen? People have wrestled for years with this idea of sanctification. How does God mold our hearts to be like his own?

This book by Eric Mason continues the discussion, and Eric takes a very practical approach. He returns to the idea of the spiritual disciplines and talks to us about how Scripture reading, prayer, and the act of walking through hard times in the company of others all serve to soften our hearts and strengthen our wills.

We want to be men and women of character, fidelity, purity, and peace. This book is a short primer on some of the ways God works those virtues into us.

God can change for the better by replacing the lies that damage us with healing truth, and he can show us his goodness and so that we can know it and find it and share it in our human relationships.

I thank B&H publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Coming Clean~ by Seth Haines

Coming Clean:  A Story of Faith

The publisher's description of this book says that it was written for everyone, whether or not they've had a drop to drink in their life. I'm on the "have not" side of that scale, and I agree. This was a worth-while read, because it's the story of one human being who decided that he was coming clean. He was going to face his fears, tell the truth, and see what was really driving his choices. 

The truth about yourself and where you are with God and others is hard to untangle on the best of days, and when Seth decided to come clean he was in a period of family crisis. He and his wife Amber were watching as one of their babies, Titus, barely clung to life. Seeing a cadre of medical professionals struggle to find the reason for your child's sickness would push anyone to the breaking point and when Seth felt himself getting close to breaking, he chose to become numb. Alcohol was effective for drowning and deadening, so alcohol was what he used. 

You might expect this to be a story of alcoholism and addiction, but it's not, not really. The gin was only the method of the madness, and it's the madness that needed to be healed. And Seth had to find the root of the madness, the beginning of the running and hiding and numbing. 

It's been said that every problem and question is actually a theological one. In plain speech: every human thing involves God and depends on what he's doing, what you think of him, and how you're relating to him. 

So, Coming Clean is Seth's story, with him going back into his memories as far as he can and asking: when did things change? How did a lie, a fear, a doubt, and a system of religion replace the whispers of the God he once felt all around him? It's his meditations on sobriety, on the valley of the shadow, on childhood faith, on the will of God, and on how we can lose and find everything that matters. 

Reading this material is ultimately a pleasure, because Seth uses words so very well. So does his wife Amber, if you've never heard of her. She has written a book full of grace and wisdom, titled "Wild in the Hollow" and published by Revell. 

If I've piqued your interest, I hope you'll consider reading both books by the Haines. 

I thank Zondervan for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Powerful Moments in the Presence of God~

Powerful Moments in the Presence of God

Every other page in this devotional is graced stunning photography! 
The images alone are a feast for the eyes and a moment of refreshment to a weary mind. Gorgeous mountain ranges, peaceful harbors lit by sunset light, a rainbow splitting a storm-washed sky, a tiny girl dancing on the beach with joy shining around her- Lorraine has captured so many moments of glory. 

And once you have been moved by the visuals, you have a brief devotional reading to absorb. Lorraine writes in an increasingly popular style, as if God is speaking directly to the reader.

She speaks of God's strength when we are fearful, or simplicity of heart in a complicated world, and always of love. God's love, and our love for each other. 

This would make a very sweet gift for somebody's birthday, or as a recuperation present for someone who'd been ill, or even just a "thinking of you" surprise.

I thank Chosen Publishers for my review copy. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

Review by Kirk Farrell

A highschool friend's father used to expound on the theory that there were two kinds of people: the Haves, and the Have-nots. This is certainly true of the Israeli people and of the Palestinian as well. Each has been both, past and present. 

David Shipler's book "Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land" does much to explain the generational trauma, the strong hatreds, and the thread of hope that exists in the hearts of each people. Each group tends to radicalize, producing propaganda and wielding violence in a cycle that some fear will never be broken until one side is eliminated. There are people in the Middle East who have exactly this genocide in mind when they speak to their followers. 

But radicals are not the whole picture. We have to look close enough to find the moments of reconciliation. 

Every good book, and this is a good book, must leave the reader with some kind of hope in their heart. As terrible as the history of Jewish/Arabic interactions is, is cannot be read as a tragedy alone. There are accounts in these books of individuals from both "sides" working hand in hand to bring their land to peace and safety for everyone. The stories from the different hospitals stood out to me, where the ethnically diverse staff is blind to nationality and treats and heals anyone who comes in the doors. 

Maybe someday the Arabic phrase "Allah Akbar" will no longer strike fear or hint at terrorism. Maybe it will once again be a message of greeting, of hospitality, of praise and wonder. 

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Abundant Life Devotional

Abundant Life in Jesus: Devotions for Every Day of the Year

Have you ever observed one of those families where the parents are able to command outward compliance from their kids, but they've clearly lost the children's hearts? Everyone says "Oh, what nice children you have. So well behaved!" and yet the child secretly doesn't trust the parent, and doesn't feel the parents love. So the kid performs, but they don't know if it really matters; they don't know if their parent really sees or cares. There are few things more painful to see. You know that the relationship should be so much more than it is, you know that this facade is cheating both parties. And you don't know how to slap them awake and convince them to change. 

A lot of times, we live that way towards God. Either we were raised religious, or we sincerely converted, but we learned how to behave. And so we do, enough to get by, enough that we've got "I'm Religious" tattooed on our forehead. We just don't really trust the heart of our God. We're not sure that he knows our heart. 

How do we get back where we need to be, alive in Christ, sure that we have God's heart?

That's what Nancy Guthrie was ultimately concerned about as she penned these devotions. There are 365 of them, and they run the gamut from comforting to provoking. Nancy has written them as if God were speaking directly to the reader. Sometimes I find this style awkward, but once I got past this, I was able to appreciate the "meat" of these reflections. 

Nancy speaks of our God as the God who finds joy in doing good for his children. She says he has made himself knowable. She says he will share his happiness with us. She says he will redeem everything the enemy intends for evil. She brings her thoughts back to Christ, over and over, showing us that everything we want from God is in Christ, and everything we need for life on earth is in Christ. 

So that's a look at the contents of this book. Now for a word on the packaging. Tyndale has designed this book to look like a present without any need for wrapping paper. It's got one of those flexible leather-like covers stamped with flowers and birds and hearts. I can imagine this as a gift for a teen girl or for an elderly aunt.... any lady that you think would appreciate some feast-on-the-Word devotions. 

Thank you to the publisher for giving me a copy to review in exchange for my opinion.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Garden City by John Mark Comer

Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.

I always enjoy trying a new book by an author I haven't read before. In this case, the book was "Garden City" by John Mark Comer. The subtitle caught my attention from the start: "Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human." Now that's an ambitious topic to tackle in 323 pages, but he did it. 

This book is a grand tour of the big question: Does what I do really matter? 
(There's a thousand sub-questions, but that's the main one.)

To get us to an answer, John Mark starts way back in Eden when man was first given work in a wild and vibrant garden. Adam and Eve's calling was to make culture and civilization out of a glorious wilderness. The earth was full of raw material, John argues, ready to be shaped and tended and stitched and hammered into everything that humanity needed. When you think of it that way, the essence of man's work has never really changed. We're still cultivating our way towards increased human flourishing, whether that cultivation comes by planting fields or repairing electrical lines or treating cancer or policing a city. 

And let's shoot straight here. Even the work that nobody wants to be stuck in, the part-time entry-level minimum-wage work matters. If you're waitstaff or a dishwasher or a janitor, you are cultivating the world to a good end, and we damn sure appreciate it when you do your part well. 

So, there is work to be done. We're invited/commanded/designed to do this work, and we're not slaves or robots or even mere laborers while do it. John Mark makes the case that when we do good work, we're partnering with God. That's ultimately how we decide what work is good: is it the sort of thing God does? Does this give order to the world? Does it take care of people? Does it help to provide others with a healthy, whole, happy life? 
This criteria is beautifully broad, and it reassures everyone from the salesclerk to the guidance counselor that they have a contribution to make. 

Now, because this is a book about the art of being human, work is only one side of the coin. Rest is the other. To show us a picture of rest, John Mark takes us to the mountain where the Ten Commandments came down. The Sabbath was given to Israel as a day of rest and worship. Now, before you get visions of mandatory pew-sitting and your best Sunday shoes, hold on a second. John wants to re-introduce you to the Sabbath, because it's likely you didn't get off on the right foot when you met before. This Sabbath is the satisfying end of the weekly cycle, and it can fall on whatever day you happen to have off. It's a time to tune into the rhythm God wrote for the world, to lay aside your striving and see that God is enough, you are enough, and you have enough. 

John Mark makes rest sound like the best act of rebellion we could possibly engage in. And it is rebellion, because it flies in the face of every "Egypt" that we face. Like the Israelites, we have to be rescued from our taskmasters. Our Pharaoh is the drive to gain more and spend more and "do better," and the Sabbath tells him he's a liar. The Sabbath says we have what we need, here together before God, and we can make this space to refresh ourselves and remember what is real. 

So obviously, this is quite a book. And it's one of those rare ones that aimed for thinkers, both girls and guys, young and older, so there's basically nobody you can't give it to. Heck, give it to somebody you know who isn't a Christian who's trying to find their life purpose. It may help them.

I thank BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a review copy, thanks to Zondervan Publishers.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Irresistible Community~

Irresistible Community

"The Irresistible Community- An Invitation to Life Together" uses several vivid images to convey its message, beginning with the image of people coming together at a table. We gather at a table for many reasons. We may be debating something, in deep disagreement with each other but ultimately committed to finding a unifying solution. We may be celebrating and laughing, delighted with each other's company and partaking of some good victuals. We may be mourning, dealing with life's hard times, leaning heavily on the trusted friends who are present with us. 

If we view a community as a group of people who come together at a table, then obviously it must be one multi-purpose table! As Bill examines the "Kitchen Table," the "Conference Table," the "Operating Table," and a few other tables, we learn ways we can serve those who have come to that particular table at this particular time. 

Which leads us to the second image, the towel image. Jesus used that lowly-yet-essential household item to clean his disciples feet, and in that act of humble love and care, he marked them as his friends and changed their hearts forever. We've been given "towels" too, Bill says. They've got our name on 'em, and we'd better bend down and use 'em. We've got to love our own towel (our life and ministry, whatever shape that takes) and not covet someone else's, and we certainly shouldn't shove our towel (proof of how hard we're working) in anyone's face. 

Which leads us to the last section, which puts it all together.  That last thing is truth, a rich and full-bodied understanding of God's ways, so that our ways will become more like His. This transforms tables into healing places and towel-skills into evidence of love. 

The whole book is extremely practical, exploring support and accountability and what it means to tell our stories and receive the stories of others. There's definitely something for each of us to learn here, either a whole new subject or a refresher course. 

I thank Baker Books for providing me with a review copy.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Making it Home by Emily Wierenga

Making It Home

 Emily Wierenga captured our hearts with "Atlas Girl," her story of going out into unknown places searching for what really mattered. It was on that journey that she found her Abba God, who held her in His hands, whole and holy in His eyes. 

Now, she's back with another written offering. "Making it Home" is a series of powerful reflections on what means to truly be at home, to receive and give love, and to share your life with others. 

Emily shares small pieces of her days: conversations with her husband Trent, moments with her growing boys, experiences from her work as a writer. The stories are honest- she describes hard times when nothing goes smoothly and the rough edges of life rub everyone wrong. And they're beautiful stories- she tells us about the times when forgiveness is offered and hope is found and being together as a family is enough.  

She never takes the "I have arrived, and now I will instruct you" tone. Instead, she writes as a woman surprised, as if she's both startled and saved by the goodness of God. She writes  like tenderness and truth must be handled reverently, treasured up to fill you and then poured out on everyone you love.

I thank Baker books for providing me a copy "Making it Home" in exchange for a review.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Midnight Jesus, by Jamie Blaine.

Midnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide

Reading "Midnight Jesus" is like a looking through a photo album. You encounter page after page of snapshots, each one filled with places and faces, and you're sitting there staring at them trying to figure them out, and behind each of them is a story. 

This is a book about life's hardest moments. It's a book about people, and how sometimes they fight to go on and sometimes they give up hope. 
It's a book about life's pain and perplexities, all seen through the eyes of Jamie Blaine. 

It all reads like a novel peopled with vivid characters. Even if you only meet them for only a moment or two, Jamie gives you a bit of their essence. 
He is great narrator. Somehow he managed to write down his experiences without making it an autobiography: "And then I did this, and this, and this..."
No, Jamie disappears into the background in the world he crafted for us- he's showing us around, but it's not all about him. Because he's not focusing on himself, his wry sense of humor really shines. I was laughing out loud at points, which felt wrong because I was reading accounts of late-night psychiatric crisis. But then, Jamie loves the Karl Barth quote "Laughter in the closest thing to the grace of God," so maybe my laughter was ok. 

I wasn't sure what this book was going to be when I requested it, and you may not be sure what it is now. 
It's not a self-help book, but Jamie does want you to know that you're never too far gone to be saved. It's not a counseling manual, but he believes that the most important part of helping anyone is being present and opening up to whatever they have to give. It's a not a coming-of-age book, but Jamie has a unique perspective on finding your place in the world. It's not a novel, but there's threads of redemption woven into each chapter. 

I'd just say it's a really good read. "Midnight Jesus" takes you places you don't want to go- self-harm, addiction, delusions, despair, depression, the rock bottom of the pit- but our guide is convinced that there is not one corner of the earth where kindness and reconciliation and another chance to live can't break in.  

I thank Thomas Nelson for my review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Get Your Story Straight~

Get Your Story Straight: A Guide to Learning and Living the Gospel

"Get Your Story Straight" is a surprisingly intense teen Bible study. It's arranged as a devotional, with 52 sections comprised of seven segments and grouped under three headings. The headings are "Getting the Story Straight," "My Life Mixed into the Story," and "The Story in Me Lived out with Others." 

These devotions are written for teens who are engaging in the world of high school and sports and friends and relationships and teachers and employers and increasing responsibilities. Kristen Hatton definitely wrote to reach kids where they are, but she certainly did not "write down" to them. 

Kristen leads teens to think about all the big themes- renewal and purpose and character and salvation and freedom and purity and truth and what it means to be a human who walks with God. And she continually draws the whole "Christian life" message back to its source- Christ. 

Kristen openly addresses the pit-trap of moralism, that place where your behavior is excellent and you don't act like a rebel, but inside you're not resting in the love of God and you're not confident of His transforming grace. Way too many parent/teen resources are totally satisfied with moralism. "If we can only get them in line, and their outsides are clean, then we'll be happy." Kristen wants kids to be alive in Christ, alive to the work of God, and actively engaged in it. 

That's what we need. And this book can be a mind-stretching, heart-strengthening, Jesus-proclaiming experience for those kids who will read it.

I thank Litfuse for providing me with this book in exchange for an opinion

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brian Hardin's "Reframe."


Ok, I'll admit it: I put off reading this book for a month. It just sounded so prosaic- "Reframe your view of God." But then I started the first chapter, and I wondered why I'd waited so long. Brian Hardin isn't trying to correct our view of God, he's trying to captivate us with the loveliness of God and call us to the life that's found in God. 

He started with a revolutionary concept- you are the only one living your story. (Yeah, this may be obvious, but I bet you haven't considered this deeply in quite a while.) Your life is a gift. God gave it to you, and the way you spend it and share it and let circumstances shape you is your gift back to him. 

This book is strong encouragement to move through your days in the easy rhythm of "God made me, Christ keeps me, The Spirit is in me to do good." 

Along the way, Brian explores concepts such as change and the way we fear it, hunger and the way we crave love and truth and purpose, shalom and the whole and holy and happy world we are made for, and the way we can recognize the grace that God has poured out for us. 

I thank Nav Press and Tyndale Publisher's for providing me with a review copy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sarah Bessey, "Out of Sorts"

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith

When we find ourselves out of sorts, it's time to sort it out.

I feel extra appreciation for authors who use words well, who seem to weigh them and taste them and then arrange them with care. Sarah Bessey is one of those authors. Whatever aspect of life she's talking about, she reveals its hidden glory, she shows us where God has touched it. 

The first chapters hooked me right in, because she dives into the metaphor of "sorting things out." We feel compelled to sort material possessions when a major change happens. We sort when somebody dies. We sort when we have to move. We sort when we want to pass along one of our treasures to somebody else. 

Sarah feels that it is much the same with faith. Sometimes a piece of our faith seems to die, and we're left sifting through the memories. Sometimes we have to move on, and we feel suddenly rootless. And all the time, we want to pass on the good of our faith, but the graces may be buried in the negatives. 

This book was born from Sarah's sorting, and as she "unpacks the boxes," you may see things that you recognize right there in her hands. As is must be with any storyteller, she speaks from her heart but the words echo in yours. 

Sarah tells us that she has always felt an ease in her communion with the Spirit. It didn't keep her from struggles, or fears, or terrible loss. But through it all, she has been known, and she knows it. This comes out in her writing. The Jesus that she is madly in love with is a living Jesus, a God-Incarnate whom she meets in the Gospel accounts and on the street and around her kitchen table. 

He's the One Eugene Peterson described, who could "say the big nouns: joy, glory, peace; and live the best verbs: love, forgive, save." 

And because of him, Sarah will not walk away from the people that he calls his body. She will not forget that he called us into a kingdom: a way of being fully human; of spending our moments well; of being present with people the in presence of Christ; a way of working towards what is good, especially when it's hard. 

If you read Out Of Sorts, you will come away with something valuable. I came away with an expanded vision of what Sarah calls "Eternal Living." When a Christian says "eternal life," the world hears "that disembodied forever existence that you think you're getting- if you're not on God's sin list." 
That cannot be what Jesus was referring to when he said that we had his life in us.

When Sarah hears those words, she hears something more like "Eternal Living"- doing life as if God was right there in it, as if it were all caught up in Christ- finding its grounding and glory in him. 

Treat yourself to this book. It's positive without being fake. It's serious without being despairing. It's full of truth without arrogance. It sounds kinda like a conversation between her, and you, and Jesus. 

I thank Howard Books for providing me with this review copy. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

St. Francis- my God, my all.

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi 

Elizabeth Goudge brings her eloquence and reverence to a beloved topic- the life of St. Francis. There's something about this specific man, some spark that he had, that causes his life to keep burning in our memory several centuries after he died. St. Francis is claimed by broad groups of people from devout Catholics to modern environmentalists, his piety and peace in the natural world appeal to many. 

You may know him from his recorded prayers, or you may only know him from the garden statutes where he holds up the bird-bath, but it is likely that you know of him. 

This account of his life may be hard to read at times, because the pain Francis inflicted upon himself in pursuit of holiness rings harshly on today's ears. His desire to strip himself of everything but God led him to treat his own mind and body sternly, demanding service from himself and accepting so little in return.

If you would like a book where the language sings, and ushers you into contemplation, this may be it. If you would like a biography of a saint that takes us deeper into the glory and the grit, that shows you the Light in his soul and the soil on his feet, then this may be it. 

I thank Plough Publishing and Handlebar Publicity for providing me with this review copy.