Friday, June 26, 2015

Weak, yet Strong in Christ.

Stronger: How Hard Times Reveal God's Greatest Power

All right, I'll admit it. I judged this book by it's cover. I figured it was another "Rah, rah, rah" book about staying strong in life, probably filled with sports analogies to hammer the points home. Needless to say, I wasn't too eager to read any of that. 

I'm so glad that I requested this book to review anyway. It's a thoughtful, personal, Christ-focused revelation of Clayton King's own life and loss and love. Only after he bares his heart does he ask us to tip our own chins up and look for God's ways in our individual hard times. 

Each chapter speaks of a different way that God may come to us during those hard times. He speaks of Presence, Testimony, Brokenness, Humility, Regret, Worship, Vulnerability, Understanding, and Glory. As you can see, he doesn't shy away from the difficult things, and he doesn't promise ease or even answers. Instead, he sets the hard things in the context of your life as a whole, a life lived in Christ for Christ and by the strength of Christ.

And that is why, despite the fact that hard times make us feel so weak and frightened, we can rest assured that God is stronger, and His strength is working mightily in us. 

I'm adding this book to my Short List for Young Christians. It would join "Flesh" by Hugh Halter, "Look and Live" by Matt Papa, "Simply Open" by Greg Paul, "Life with a Capital L" by Matt Heard, and "Home Behind the Sun" by Tim Willard and Jason Locy. I thank Baker Publishing for providing me with a review copy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Friend in Me~

A Friend in Me: Building Trust with the Next Generation of Women

First off, I'm reading and reviewing (and enjoying) this book as one of The Next Generation.
(No, not the Star Trek fandom, the young Christians growing up today.) 

And I have to say, I love the ideas behind this book and I want to be a part of putting these concepts into practice. 

The longing for somebody to listen to us without getting upset or thinking they need to be our savior, to share their life lessons without being heavy handed or negative and to give the precious gift of their time and affection- I think those are universal desires. 

Some say it's mentoring, some say it's making disciples, some just call it friendship, whatever word you use it all comes down to intentional investment in another's life. I can do that, you can do that, and somebody can do that for us. 

Frankly, if an older woman came alongside me and began listening to me and talking with me following the approach outlined in this book, I'd probably soak it right up. Pamela encourages women to gain one main quality- that of being a safe haven. 

If you expect to speak frankly about "vocation" and "sexuality" and other charged topics, then you'd better be an open-hearted listener. We'd better know that our secrets are safe and our struggles aren't turn-offs. You'd better be able to bear with issues that may have no resolution, and to encourage our frail little dreams. 

There is a place- a big place- for guidance and even correction. 
It just has to be planted in the good soil of Trust, Comfort, Understanding, and Compassion. 
"A Friend in Me" makes this abundantly clear. And it also makes clear the wonderful weight of a well-spoken word. Kind words, inspiring words, dream-giving words, they can feed a heart and change a whole life. 

So let's all be a safe haven for somebody. Let's all speak worthy words. Let's be friends. 

Thank you David C Cook publishers through Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop~

The Little Paris Bookshop

Groucho Marx said that outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Franz Kafka said that a book is the ice-ax for the frozen sea within us. 
Jean Perdu says that books are both medic and medicine. 
And Monsieur Perdu would know, because he runs a Literary Apothecary. 

If you go down to his bookshop, housed in a floating barge moored in the Seine, you won't merely purchase a book. When you enter that doorway, you will be evaluated and assessed by the sensitive ear and eye of Mr. Perdu. He's not even sure how he does it, but somehow he can guess you fears and longings, and he knows which words you need to read. Some books are to help you cry, some to help you hope, some to impart new strength, some to wash away unworthy dreams. He will choose a book for you, much like a physician may prescribe a tonic or salve.

And Jean has taken plenty of his own medicine. For the past twenty years, he's dosed himself daily with the literature that surrounds him. And it seems to be working- he's not having any emotional breakdowns, at any rate. So why does he feel only partly alive? Why did the important part of his world stop twenty years ago, when Manon left him? 

The core of this book is a journey, a casting off into the unknown, led by a letter. A letter twenty years out of date, that Jean finally reads. And it's a letter that he longs to answer, and can't bear to, all at once. 

Like most good stories, it's a misfit bunch that ends up coming together at just the right moments. 

There's Max Jordan, who shadows Jean and drives him nearly crazy. Max is a best-selling author at ridiculously young age, and the oppressive fame has driven all his creativity into hiding. 

Catherine is recently divorced, in need of a literary prescription and a kitchen table for a bare apartment. Jean supplies both. 

Cuneo- well, he's inexplicable. But he knows food. "I'm a firm believer," he says, "that you have to taste a country's soul to understand it and to grasp its people. And by soul I mean what grows there, what it's people see and smell and touch every day, what travels through them and shapes them from the inside out." 

Most importantly, the characters each had a fate that mattered to me as a reader. There's a lot to think about when you finish this story. Have they found what they were looking for? Does it work that way- you find it once, or do you have to find it every day? 
Why did they do the things they did- and what did the learn about love? 
Jean had leaned so heavily on literature all those years, guarding his heart from relationships. 

All those years when Jean guarded his heart, he lived off of literature instead.
Was it books that kept him human? When he thought he'd barred the door against loss, was it literature that steadily, relentlessly taught him love, until the day he'd begin to love humans again? 
Is that what the best literature does for us, the words become flesh? 

I thank Blogging for Books for my review copy. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Innocent~

The Innocent

The villagers have begun calling her Widow Kearney. 
Not that she hears it often to her face- Carlyn has avoided the village for many moons. She's been busy eking out a hand-to-mouth existence, watching the road for her Ambrose's return. Carlyn is one of many wives left behind when the Civil War called away her husband, but his status as 'missing' places her in limbo. She can't carry on her life, and she can't fully grieve his death. 

When the ax finally falls and Carlyn loses their little house, she beseeches Heaven for an answer, and she seems to hear it in the ringing of the Shaker's bell. This celibate community offers her refuge in exchange for two things: put your hands to work and turn your heart to God. Carlyn has practiced both of those disciples all of her life. Becoming Sister Carlyn- just until Ambrose comes home- seems to be her answer. 

Ann Gabhart's books have always been literary comfort food for me. They're quietly nourishing, and leave a sweet "taste" in your mind when you finish. This is no exception. 

The spiritual heart of the story was, for me, a question of the answers God provides. Asking for them, and then opening up to them. Few "answers" are obvious, like a bolt of lightning writing words across the sky would be. Maybe they're more like a rain storm, pouring all around you- both calling you out to drink in the freshness and sending you to shelter. 

And the romance- well, as Ann admits in the dedication, a Shaker and a Sheriff is a new combination for her. And it's a very good one. Mitchell Brodie is first intrigued by Carlyn, then comes to care for her. But how does a man reach out to an only-perhaps-widow who's chosen a life in a religious community? 

I'm guessing that Carlyn's dog Asher was one of Ann's favorite characters to write. He is indeed a special creature- but you'll have to read the story if you want to know how. 

I'm going to have to read the rest of Ann's Harmony Hill series now. She did a great job spinning an engaging yarn, weaving in a thread of Shaker history, and dying her characters vivid colors. 

I thank Revell for providing me with a review copy. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Everyone Belongs to God~

Everyone Belongs to God: Discovering the Hidden Christ

Over the last two years, I've come to this conclusion: If Plough Publishing House is going to publish a book, I want to read it. 
I was delighted when I received my copy of "Everyone Belongs to God," with an invitation to share my honest opinion. 

So, here it is: This book is common sense wisdom, from a father to his son-in-law, and each page is richly infused with the steady love of God. 

There's a more modern book by Leonard Sweet, called "Nudge- Awakening People to the God Who's Already There." Mr. Sweet wanted to remind everyone that it's not our job to 'bring people to God,' because every one of us already lives and moves and has our being in the presence of God, under his hand and receiving his touch. Mr. Sweet suggested the best evangelism is the kind that wakes us up to the good news that God has provided, the truth that surrounds you even in your unbelief. His book was viewed as a revolutionary new concept breaking into Evangelical evangelism. 

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt's book proves that these idea have been around for quite a while. 
Mr. Blumhardt wrote his words over one hundred years ago, in personal letters to his son-in-law, a missionary to China.

Mr. Blumhardt challenges his son to live among the common people as neighbors and friends, to gain their trust by being a decent human being. 

He challenges him to keep an eye out for everything true and good and beautiful in the culture around him, and to accept it and build upon it as a foundation for displaying Christ's ultimate glory. 

He encourages him to trust God's heart for these people, even if no standard conversions are forthcoming. 

He begs him to work for the Kingdom, pushing towards justice and peace and grace, even if the "gains" seem small to a human eye. 

In other words, this man gave suggestions that apply in every time and every place. He asked his son-in-law to cling tightly to the Gospel of reconciliation and redemption, and to hold "Christian" forms and traditions loosely. 

I can see where, in my small New England town in the internet-age, there's a lot for me to learn from this little book. If I'm serious about wrapping my life in the glorious Gospel, and trying to give people what God in Christ has given me, then I'd better return to this volume a few times in the coming years.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Broken Blade~

The Broken Blade: No Man Can Serve Two Masters Forever (The Knight of Eldaran #3)

Eamon Goodman is the traitor's heir, who fears that his own blood will betray his faltering faith. 
He is the King's Hand, who bears two conflicting titles and is claimed by opposite loyalties. 

Now, in the third and final volume of Anna Thayer's Knight of Eldaran Trilogy, the stakes are higher than they've ever been before. 
How can a man whose spirit was captured by the clear light from the Star of Brenuin serve under the draining red fire of the Throned? How can he be the oppressors Right Hand? For that is what Eamon is- Right Hand over the River Realm. 

And the Realm writhes and frets, every corner full of destruction and suspicion. Eamon's beloved city is held in the poisoned grip of the Master, and the scent of war is born on every breath of wind. The feared invasion of the Serpent and his forces terrifies the weakened citizens, yet for Eamon, that day will be the coming of his King. "Hold fast," he whispers courage to his own heart- but the lies still torment him, flooding his mind, and the Master feeds him tastes of power.

Can a broken blade be made true? 

I don't dare try to thoroughly explain what makes this set of books so fine. All a review can do is hint at the goodness of them.
If you're considering diving into Eamon's series, expect to find words well used, drawing images that linger in your mind's eye. 
Expect to follow the action with rapid page turning, *and* spend time quietly absorbing the kindness and majesty and honor and truth that you'll find. 

I thank Lion Hudson for gifting me with copies of all three books as they were published, in exchange for honest opinions. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Goodness of Grace~

From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel

This is a book for anybody who is trying to find some goodness in the world, or who is striving to "be good." 
It's for the fearful, the shamed, the despairing, the disturbed, the outcast, the worried, the dry and thirsty souls who really need grace. 

First, I've gotta say- Christine Hoover writes like a Puritan. I mean this is the best of ways. She delivers truth with words fitly spoken- dispensing rich theology in memorable phrases. She exalts the Glory of Christ and remains honest about the human condition, showing us God's tenderness. 
I'm guessing that Christine is a fan of Charles Spurgeon. 
Just sayin'. 

I'm afraid of oversimplifying a satisfyingly thorough book, but I feel like the heart of her message is this- Everything comes down to God's initiation, and we move in response to Him. Grace and Gratitude/ Gift and Reception/ Invitation and Welcome. 

Grace surrounds us, and permeates us. It reconciles us to God and restores us to Him in open relationship. Our reactions become colored by grace, and grace gives us the strength to reach out to the world. 

Here's a few thoughts from Christine- 

"We cannot contain love, and we cannot reach its end, but we can respond to the Love-Giver." 

"Worship develops into a craving for God. He is our safe place, the one whose wings we hide beneath. He is our companion, our security, our assurance. He is the truest peace we'll ever find. As we receive his care and loving provision for our soul's needs, we crave to be with him, and we treasure the Word where he beckons us to meet with him. Our desire is for him, and we devour Scripture looking for the ways he moves and speaks and loves." 

"The Gospel- Christ- is synonymous with grace. When we talk about our dwelling place, our home, we're talking about grace. We entered by the grace of Christ, we remain because of the grace of Christ, and our future salvation and hope are because of the grace of Christ." 

Grace cleanses us, gives us hope, teaches us how to love, provides our security, and focuses our eyes on Jesus. As we lean into grace, and rest on it, we begin to know the heart of God and become more like Christ. 

I thank Baker Publishing for providing me with a review copy of "From Good to Grace."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist~

Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist

"This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat." 
When Jesus spoke those words, and handed out that bread, he gave us true nourishment that we can't explain. 

Now, in "Our One Great Act of Fidelity," Fr. Ronald Rolheiser meditates on that Body and what it means to break it, share it, and receive it. 

Despite the differences between the Catholic and Protestant forms of communion, Fr. Rolheiser's writing could probably touch anybody's heart. {Not being a member of a church, I've never even received communion. Still, I loved this book.} 

He has a way of getting down to the heart of the matter, bringing his years of theological study and his personal spirituality together, and showing us how the things of God flourish in the world that He made. 
When I read Rolheiser, I think "He understands."

Well, just listen to him. Here's a sampling of quotes. 

The Eucharist... "is that place in our world where God takes on concrete flesh. The incarnation is still going on. The Word is still becoming flesh and living among us." 

"Our Eucharists, like our homes and places of work, bring us together even as we are still filled with distrust, jealousy, paranoia, and misunderstandings. We stand around the Eucharistic table with the same wounds we bring to our other tables." 

"The Eucharist tries, first of all, to change us so that we become what we receive, one body, one community, one heart, and one spirit. And that is no easy thing to achieve." 

"The Eucharistic person is ... the child of the kingdom, the grace-merry person who, while sharing fully in the tears of this world, is ultimately distinguished by his or her laughter." 

In this slim volume, no page is wasted. There are compelling ideas everywhere. He ponders the Eucharist as a vigil of waiting, a sacrifice, an invitation to mature discipleship, reconciliation, the touch of God upon our very skin, and a window to the priestly prayer of Christ. 

My favorite section was "A Spirituality of the Eucharist," where he discusses Life as Gift, and our lives as receptive Gratitude. 

I thank Image Books for providing me with a review copy. In a scant number of pages, Fr. Rolheiser provides days worth of reflection. Read ready for your perspective to be refreshed, your outlook renewed.