Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nice People Rob God - A Review






A Review

I found myself attracted to this book by the title.  It was over 20 years ago that I declared to a class of 35 college students, “I don’t have to be nice.”  I had just given an assignment - one that I had used before, but this class thought it was burdensome.  They asked me to “be nice.”  In response, I reminded them that the college catalog, the student handbook, and the faculty handbook, all neglected to mention the presence of nice faculty on campus.  They were ready for that when they reminded me, “But Mr. Johnson, you’re a Christian.”  I wasn’t quite ready for that, but with just the right delay, I let them understand that the Bible says nothing about being nice.  The assignment stood with no changes.

It was two weeks later, while reading a textbook for a counseling class I was enrolled in that I found the following words, “Nice people tend to be mentally ill.”  I determined then and there, “I don’t have to be nice.”  It would require too much change on my part, why should I change.

We moved a few years later and I became brave enough to say it out loud in church, “You don’t have to be nice.”  The pastor’s wife was ready, “But the Bible does say you have to be kind.”  Again, I was unprepared, but with just the right delay, I replied, “Yep - that’s right.  Being ‘kind’ is what God wants; being ‘nice’ is what you want.  Sometimes they are the same thing; sometimes they are not.”  

Nope, I don’t have to be nice!

And because of that, I was attracted to this book.  

Sadly, however, I was disappointed.  I found the writing style disjointed and I found the points that the writer made difficult to follow.  The author’s use of scripture was appreciated, but the quoted passages did not always seem to support her points.  The titles of many of the chapters would make a nice poster -

  1. Christians Must Learn to Live Among Weeds
  2. Nice People Rob God When They Don’t Transform
  3. I Am An Effective Christian Because of God

However, the discussion that follows each title seems to ramble and does not always contribute to the theme suggested by the chapter title.  Though I agree with the title of the book and the various chapter titles, I have difficult time recommending this book as a tool to understand the meaning of those titles.
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.


Sister Eve, Private Eye - A Review








A Review


An interesting set of characters make this book worth the late nights spent reading it to the very end.  A Catholic sister, an ex-police detective, a cantankerous (real-life) sister, as well a full complement of people from the entertainment industry contribute to a very satisfying book.


The action moves from New Mexico to California and back again.  Similarly, we follow the characters from small rural communities, to the wilderness of the desert wild, to the major cities of both states.  And the mix of environments works well with the various personalities found in the book.


A script writer/movie producer (Chaz Cheston) is found dead by tourist in the deserts of New Mexico. Sister Evangeline Divine (pronounced “Diveen,” as we are reminded many times throughout the book) befriends her father’s (an ex-detective, now private eye) client, the main and only suspect in the case.  With her father somewhat incapacitated because of surgery, Sister Evangeline takes on the mantle of private eye while also assisting her father during his recovery.


The story is satisfying as a cozy mystery.  It is also satisfying as we family relationships heal - relationships that had deteriorated over time.  During the 20 weeks or so covered by the novel, she begins to better understand the distance that kept her at a distance from her father and her sister.  At the same time, she is given the opportunity to rethink the vows she made when joined the order at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey.  As Sister Evangeline discovers, our relationship to God needs to be as intentional as our relationship to member of our family.  
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Making of an Ordinary Saint - A Review







A Review


Richard J. Foster first wrote his highly acclaimed Celebration of Discipline in 1978.  In 2014 Nathan Foster (Richard’s son) wrote a similar book for a new generation.  The disciplines have not changed:


Submission Simplicity
Fasting Service
Study Prayer
Solitude Guidance
Meditation Worship
Confession Celebration


But those who are hearing the message in 2014 are different from those who heard it first in 1978.  As Richard Foster writes in his Forward, Nathan’s book is far more “narrative” than “didactic.”  They show how they have been lived out in one man’s life, rather than telling us how to live them out.  For example, in the first chapter Nathan Foster tackles “Submission” - rather than giving us ten principles on being submissive, he tells the reader how, first, he learned to be submissive to the wind while riding his bike.  He then gives an example of spending a day being submissive to the wants of his own son - including a stop at Chuck E. Cheese.


Two small essays accompany each chapter.  Each chapter begins with a two page essay written by Nathan’s father describing and explaining the current discipline.  This allows the current book to have a concrete anchor into his father’s earlier work.  In addition, each chapter concludes with a short biographical sketch of a significant believer from history who learned to live out the current discipline - continuing the narrative theme used throughout the book.


The book ends with a suggestions for “Further Reading” focused, first, on the “Spiritual Disciplines and Spiritual Formation In General”; and, then, on each of the twelve disciplines discussed throughout the book.  These readings, covering both ancient writers (e.g. Athanasius) and more modern authors (e.g. Dallas Willard), give added value to the current book.


I found the current book to be a gentle read - almost fun - as I studied again the behaviors, when practiced intentionally and regularly, that can shape a believers life.  Whether a new believer trying to establish patterns that will allow them to grow throughout their lives, or an established believer trying to add additional vitality to their walk with Christ, Nathan Foster’s book will assist in those goals.  As I read, I occasionally found tears welling up in my eyes as I reflected on times God had taught me or times when I may have missed his teaching because I was too busy doing my thing.  Though primarily a set of true stories that focus on each of the twelve disciplines, the book is practical and designed to encourage the believer, wherever they may be in their walk with Christ, closer to the goal of being “An Ordinary Saint.”
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

365 Great Moments in Bible History - A Review




365 Great Moments in Bible History -
Key Events That Affected Humanity’s Future




by
Barbour Publishing


A Review


It has been 40 years since I first entered the seminary classroom.  Part of my experience during that first year of classes was the “Bible Content Exam”.  It was required of all students; but many of us were new believers, using seminary as a way to explore our faith as well as to prepare for future careers.  In order to prepare for the exam, it was suggested that we use a Children’s Bible to familiarize ourselves with the many stories that compose the Biblical record. This book, aimed at a slightly older audience, would have served that purpose well.


The key stories of the Bible are divided into 365 readings.  Each reading consists of a reference to the passage in question, a retelling of the story (including Biblical quotations as appropriate), and a brief devotional thought.  There are about 200 stories from the Old Testament and 165 from the New Testament.  Some stories draw from both the original passage and the NT retelling of the story.  The devotionals are a mixture of thoughtful discourse and practical instruction - a blend I much enjoyed.  


Along with seminary student (this is not the intended audience) the book would serve well as an introduction to the Bible for the new Christian and as a guide for the long time believer to explore a book he or she may know “too” well.  It will open up new or forgotten passages as well as add new understanding to well-known passages.  No believer is beyond the need to grow - this book can aid in that process.
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

The Job - A Review








Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

A Review


Though I have heard of Janet Evanovich, I have never read a book written by her.  I have read several of the Monk books written by Lee Goldberg - and it was his name on the front cover that drew me to this book.  I was not disappointed.


I felt like I was at home watching TV as I read this fun book that took me from California to Europe.


  1. There were the relationships of Bones or Castle.
  2. There was the cunning of Leverage.
  3. There was the mystery of Simon & Simon
  4. There was the fun of Psych


Somebody took them all, put them into a blender, and came out with smoothie called “The Job”.  It was not one of those awful looking, green drinks as seen on late night TV; rather it was as sweet as an Orange Julius found at the state fair on a hot afternoon.  The characters worked well together, the con was just elaborate enough that it pulls the audience and the participants in so he or she is convinced it will blow up, and the climax comes together so the reader says, “Wow!!”  


Though this is the third book in the series, this reader is determined to step back in time and find copies of the first two books (“The Heist” and “The Chase”) to watch the crew pull off another set of well-played cons on a deserving crook.  
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, December 1, 2014

NIV Discover God's Heart Devotional Bible - A Review







A Review


It has been nearly 30 years since I had the opportunity to sit in on a Walk Thru the Bible seminar and had the opportunity to purchase their Study Bible (now out of print).  This new devotional Bible does not replace the older work, but of value to the believer looking at a way into the scriptures on a regular basis.


The NIV (2011) provides the backbone upon which the 300+ devotions are built.  The devotions are designed to be read one per day during the week and one each weekend.  Each of the devotions includes three sections:


God’s Story summarize the section of scripture being read.
The King’s Heart reflects on what we learn about God from the passage.
Insight provides additional trivia or information about the passage.


 In addition to the devotions, each Bible book provides a one-page introduction exploring how the book fits into Biblical history.  This introduction includes a brief outline providing details about each book’s author, audience, date, and themes.  For this reader, the most valuable addition is a set of six reading plans almost hidden in the rear of the book:


  1. A Tour of the Bible (90 Days - 60 OT Readings and 30 NT Readings)
  2. 30 Days For New Christians
  3. 30 Days With Jesus
  4. 30 Themes in Psalms
  5. 30 Stories You’ve Probably Never Heard
  6. 30 Stories of Love and Friendship


This edition of the Bible would make an excellent gift for a new believer - but it would also do well to be read by any believer looking to refresh his or her walk with God.  Though the devotional are not particularly practical, they are insightful and opened this reader’s eyes to truth he had not seen before.  Though I would prefer a more practical approach, I was not disappointed in what I found.
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.


Bonhoeffer (Abridged) - A Review








A Review


Metaxas’ almost classic biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was written in 2010.  At 600+ pages, it is a scholarly work worth reading - but it is long.  Now, in 2014, Metaxas has written an abridged version of the biography.  The book still reads like a scholarly work - but with about one-third the pages, it is a somewhat gentler book.  The book is well-referenced with quotes and footnotes providing adequate source material for those seeking follow-up information.  Of course, the first step in finding additional information would be the addition of a copy of the original book.


Having not read the original, I am not in a position to make a comparison between the two.  In addition, other than saying the book is an abridgement of the original, there are no comments (either in an introduction or a postlude) detailing what principles used as the book was shortened for the current edition. I can only remember my writing professor’s comment, “Leave out whatever you can.”  Perhaps, Metaxas has finally done just that.  This does not parallel Metaxas’ reputation as a writer, so it will be for those more familiar with both works to comment on the changes made in this rewritten biography.


The one thing missing from the book is a map of pre-World War II Europe and the world.  Given Bonhoeffer’s propensity for travel throughout the Germanic world, Europe and the rest of the world, a map showing regions and cities of importance to his life would have helped in understanding the contacts that he made.  The reader will want to have a map (paper or digital) available for reference as he or she reads.


Thus ends my review of the book. Of far more importance is the life of the man whose story is told in its pages.  Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran by training, was a Christian who saw the church as the family of believers, wherever they lived or found themselves.  He saw believers gathered in Rome to celebrate Mass in the presence of the Pope.  He saw believers in a Black church in the inner city of New York. He worked along with brothers and sisters in the resistance to battle the evils brought by Hitler and his henchman.  

Throughout his life he practiced the spiritual disciplines that would allow him to live in peace even as he spent months in three different prison cells - even praying on the his way to the gallows that would eventually take his life.  Bonhoeffer may have been a pastor, a martyr, a prophet, and a spy.  But more than anything else he was man who loved God.
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.