Monday, December 17, 2012

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant - A Review

A Review

Non-fiction books are intended to tell of events or facts that are based in reality.  Fiction books are intended to tell a story, though not based in reality, that, hopefully, will be of interest to the reader.  This book was both.

The story is interesting - as Grandfather tells Julio the story of his life in business.  This story includes the necessary set of characters: monks, pirates, friends, fires, and family.  Together they contribute to a story that I could not put down - often feeling the need to finish just one more chapter before turning in for the night.

But as the story develops, Grandfather’s mentor and friend, Allesio, shares twelve principles that were to serve Grandfather and others well throughout the years.  Some of these principles were ones I was able to apply within my life (e.g. “LIVE DEBT FREE AND BELOW YOUR MEANS”.  Others, I knew, but found difficult to apply (e.g. “SET ASIDE THE FIRST 10 PERCENT TO HONOR GOD.”).  And, finally, there were some that appear to be just common sense (e.g. “FINANCIAL PROSPERITY IS OFTEN  CONNECTED TO SOUL PROSPERITY”).  

The book is more than story and principles - it also includes a very brief list of Bible references to support the principles discussed in the book.  In addition to the brief list of Biblical Scripture references, there is a twelve session study guide for a group to use as they discuss the book.  The author suggests that each participant read the entire book before beginning a group study of the concepts and themes contained within the book.

My only concern with this book is its tangential focus on what some have called “The Prosperity Gospel” - if taken to extremes, the principles in this book could lead one into the trap that financial blessing will come to all who follow these principles.  It must be remembered, that, while following these principles does not guarantee financial blessing, it, they will guarantee God’s blessing.
This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Shadow: The Fire of Creation - A Reveiw

A Review

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? ...
    The Shadow Knows!  …
The weed of crime bears bitter fruit...
    Crime does not pay...
          the Shadow Knows.      (Internet Archives)

I first met The Shadow in 1966 as a Junior in high school and, even then, I was listening to reruns on San Francisco’s KGO radio late on Saturday nights.  To find the latest reincarnation in a 2012 graphic novel was a real pleasure.

The story begins in the middle of World War II, after a brief historical review, the action starts on the New York City’s waterfront - but before it is over it moves to the Far East where The Shadow, Margo Lane, and their compatriots, forced to sort through a group of Japanese, traitors, and military soldiers, to find the mysterious substance that the Japanese are trying to smuggle back to Japan.

The story is an interesting one, rooted in history.  The graphics are colorful and well done.  The characters are a bit more violent than I remember from those early days, but certainly no more so than the typical crime story found on our TV sets weekly.  Perhaps more importantly, the story is believable to the extent that the Shadow himself is believable.  The artwork appears to emulate that found in comics from the 40’s and 50’s.

I expect any follower of The Shadow from its earlier history in radio, print (be it pulp fiction, comics, or other media), or movies, will  enjoy this new serial.  It may also be true of those who are looking to explore the history of comics.  I expect that the reader will, as did this reviewer, look forward to future episodes in this series.  I hope they are released in the near future.
This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christian World of the Hobbit - A Review

A Review

Devin Brown argues that The Hobbit is not a Christian book, per se; but, rather, it weaves a Christian worldview into the plot, themes, and characters of the book.  As the book progresses, the characters increasing learn the very lessons that are part of the  believer’s life.

Unlike other authors, Brown does not draw direct parallels between the characters in the Hobbit and God and his foes revealed in Scripture.  Neither does Brown see references to Tolkien’s current world, being written at the end of the Second World War. For Brown, Sauron is not Satan, neither is he Hitler.  Gandalf is not God, nor is he Churchill or Eisenhower. Brown does see God (an “unseen hand”, though never explicitly named) active through the life of Bilbo and all the other characters.  Brown spends most of the first third of the book arguing that the “luck” that the main characters experience is truly the hand of God working in their lives.  

Once that point is made, the author begins to establish parallels, as noted above, between the world of the Hobbit and the world the Christian lives in.  Whether it be Christian growth, the value of wealth, or the struggle choices or temptation, Brown argues that we are presented with a set of Christian values that will speak to both the believer and to the unbeliever.

Brown, as one would expect of a scholar, weaves in the thoughts of other writers as well.  The most well-known of these is C S Lewis, a contemporary and friend of Tolkien.  It would be interesting to have observed a conversations between these to great writers - the one a catholic, the other a protestant.  But both deeply committed to their faith.

This overview of The Hobbit provides a very readable view of one scholars look at the book and its sequels.  It is recommended for anyone who wants to take a second and deeper look at Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi - A Review


A Review

I have been enamored with the Star Wars saga since the release of the original movie in 1977.  It was the last movie I remember seeing in a drive-in theater with my wife in a suburb North of Chicago.  Since then, I have each movie exactly once, I have read a number of the books, and, now, I have read two graphic novels based on the epic film series.  

The previous comic, Star Wars: Agent of the Empire - Iron Eclipse, also by John Ostrander, was well done and held my interest.  Sadly, the current book did not do so.  It left me wishing it was over - not because I was enthralled, but because it lacked the holding power of a well-written story.  Even the end of the story left me disappointed - though it did provide a lead in to the next novel in the series.  

The only tie-in to the original movies was a gathering of individuals to a common place in the universe to be trained as a Jedi.  As each individual trained - training that allowed them to find a balance within the force - they moved from “Youngling to Apprentice, from Journeyer to Ranger, and finally to Ranger”.  And as they did, the “Je’daii” grew. That part of the story took about 15% of the books total page count.  The remainder of the book followed a number of trainees as they sought to understand a disturbance in the force.

There seemed to be a disconnect, for this reader, between these distinct parts of the book.  However, this is the first book of a series being planned by Dark Horse Comics.  The ongoing series may have potential as it is developed over time.  

The end of the book does include a one page summary of the Star Wars timeline - showing how other stories and events merge with the six movies that define the Star War universe.  This book takes place thousand of decades before the start of the timeline; with the exception of the Je’daii, there is little connection to the six movies.  Perhaps later stories in the series will make a stronger connection.  
This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Review

This graphics novel involves two familiar characters from the Star War universe - Hans Solo and Chewbacca - and their transportation, the Millenium Falcon.  Realizing I am not an expert when it comes to the Star Wars canon, these were the few connections I saw to the original story line as presented by George Lucas.

However, without worrying about the canon, the comic is well done, the story is exciting, and held the interest of this reader.  The story with Jahan Cross being given an assignment by from the Empire - and an cyborg assistant.  Jahan Cross eventually discovers a devious plot intended to infect all cyborgs with a vicious digital virus that will have all cyborgs working for … well, that is the story, isn’t it.  

Though the cyborg assistant is less than useful, with the help of Hans Solo, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon, and his new human assistant, Jahan Cross visits The Eclipse (an exterrestrial spa) on the planet Reltooine.  There, Jahan Cross and his new assistant find the answers they were seeking - but not the ones they wanted to find.  

Though not an expert, I found the story believable and fun.  It would make a great Birthday or Christmas present for a Star Wars fan, young or old.

This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Reason - A Review

There are some people who touch the lives of others wherever they go. Kenneth was just a construction worker, a carpenter, really. But people changed when he came into their lives. Alex, too, would have an impression on everyone who met this five year old.

Charlie, the gentle giant, Pastor Jim and Shirley Lindys, Zach, Kaitlyn, Massie, Carla, Brook, and Ian, each were touched by Kenneth and Alex. Each would have their faith challenged – if they would “only believe” - when Alex is diagnosed with leukemia. The days he spends in the hospital will tear at their hearts bring emotions that only God can address.

But the book is not about emotions, it focuses on God's presence on both good days and bad days, it focuses on the need to trust Him whatever may come our way. But the book is also a reminder that our best is not always good enough – we cannot do it all.

What we can do is what God has called us to do – that is all that is expected of us. It was a lesson I needed to learn, others will as well.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jesus: A Theography - Review


Leonard Sweet
Frank Viola
A Review

Jesus: A Theography is one of four books I am reading this fall on the life of Jesus.  Each of them serves as more conservative response to the question of the “historical jesus” raised over the last few years and most often answered by the more liberal church.  

Sweet has taken a very thorough approach that starts with the underlying truth that Jesus is eternal - he was present at creation (see Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:2).  Sweet begins discussing the relationship of Jesus and the Godhead prior to the creation of the world and Jesus’ role in that creation.  

From there, the book explores the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He begins the discussion of the resurrection by noting that

The great dividing line in history, ‘The moment when Before turned into After’ … is the BR/AR line of demarcation: Before Resurrection, After Resurrection. Resurrection is the theological singularity of all singularities, ushering in new realities that change everything.

Sweet and Viola take the long view on the life of Christ - it neither started nor ended with Jesus’ life on earth.  They life and death are milestones, but they are not the beginning or ending of His ministry.  Though occasionally hard to read, the book presents a well integrated view of Jesus - borrowing from both the “First” Testament (i.e. the Old Testament) and the “Second” Testament (i.e. the New Testament).  The authors use these alternate terms because they realize that  all the scriptures point to Jesus.  Because Jesus is eternal, “Old” or “New” does not apply to Him.  

The book is soundly rooted in Scripture as the authors examine Jesus’ life.  At times it was difficult to read, but it was valuable spending the time reading the book.  Jesus is not some weak man whose life ended on a cross.  But there is a strength in Him that reaches across time - beginning before Creation and continuing after the End of the World.  

The final chapter begins with a quote from Philippians 1:5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”.  It is this attitude that Sweet and Viola have spent the book introducing to us.  As the reader moves through the book, he or she will become increasingly appreciative of who Jesus was and how He challenged his world and ours.  The book closes with a reminder of the many roles that Jesus played:

To the architect. He is the chief cornerstone.
(i Peter 2:6)

To the bride, He is the bridegroom.
(Matt. 25:1)

To the carpenter. He is the door.
(John 10:9)

To the engineer. He is the new and living way.
(Heb. 10:20)

To the farmer. He is the Lord of the harvest.
(Matt. 9:38)

To the horticulturist. He is the true vine.
(John 15:1)

To the jurist, He is the righteous judge.
(2 Tim. 4:8)

To the lawyer, He is the advocate.
(1 John 2:1)

To the philanthropist, He is the unspeakable gift.
(2 Cor. 9:15)

To the philosopher. He is the wisdom of God.
(2 Cor. 1:24)

To the preacher. He is the Word of God.
(Rev. 19:13)

To the soldier. He is the captain of his salvation.
(Neb. 2:10)

To the statesman. He is the desire of the nations.
(Hag. 2:7)

To the sinner. He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.
(John 1:29)
—HENRIETTA MEARS (1890-1963)

And that is the picture that is painted of Jesus by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola in Jesus: A Theography.
This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

God's University

Welcome to God’s University

Most of us have attended school - some for more years than others. But, would you believe me, that you are still in school? You see, each of us is still in God’s University. Like most schools, God’s University has a campus - called life. The campus offers opportunities for various kinds of experiences and problem solving. The campus serves as a laboratory for the faculty and students to work out the various difficulties that are a part of each student's life. And like most members of the campus community, we occasionally fail and occasionally succeed. But our campus provides a place in which students can grow and change as they study the textbooks under the careful hand of a watchful faculty. Also, like most schools, God’s University has textbooks. The master textbook, the text that truly guides all instruction in God’s University, is Scripture. It provides a master plan for each lesson that we cover during our time of enrollment. The author has pulled teaching from over 3000 years of history. The sources used include men and women who have both been blue-collar workers, kings, spiritual leaders. Though most of us, as we designed a text, might not choose this collection of authors - after all they included murderers, liars, and adulterers. However, though these people may not have been chosen by you or me, they have, over the years, been used by the institution to effectively communicate all that we need to know. The sources also include some of the greatest writers of all time - such men as Moses, David, and Paul (nee Saul). As a book, it has served the test of time, more than any other. There are other text that are sometimes used - written by such men as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, and Moody. There are others - but all their writing must stand against the master text. The value of these additional texts only exists to the extent that it echoes the teaching found in the master text. A university with only a campus and a textbook would quickly become an unwelcome institution. Those who are teaching have the most impressive credentials. God the Father, as expected, serves as the President of God’s University. Jesus the Son serves as the Dean of Students - responsible for all activity on the campus. The Academic Dean is the Holy Spirit - it the Holy Spirit that directs all instruction on campus. This faculty has one characteristic that distinguishes it from all other academic institutions. That characteristic is that there are no politics among its leadership. They are in perfect agreement about the needs of the students - both corporately, but also individually. There is a wonderful consensus about what the students need to learn and about what each student needs to learn. Just as there are other lesser textbooks, so are there lesser teachers. They are given such titles as Pastors, Bible Study Leaders, and Brothers and Sisters in Christ. The school’s leadership uses these other leaders to guide and walk along the students. They serve as mentors and examples to the entire student body. Oh, they sometimes fail, but the leadership even uses those mishaps to reshape the student body to better represent the foundational principles that underlie the purpose of God’s University. The student body is diverse - coming from every continent and country. They represent every race and nationality. They are young and old - some having just begun their journey as a student, others having studied for many years in God’s University. As someone has said, “There is always room for one more.” The campus is able to expand even further. There is an open admission policy - anyone is welcome to enter the gates of this University. The only requirement for entry is an admission of our imperfections and a recognition that the Dean of Students has paid the entire tuition cost - for your entire life. That does not mean that your instruction is free - there is a cost beyond that paid by the Dean of Students. Enrollment will mean to love the unlovable, it will require the student to offer all he or she is and all he or she has to the use of the college administration. They will use it wisely - but we need to let them use it. The amazing thing about these students, regardless of how long they have studied, they know that there is still more to learn. Only on graduation day will the instruction stop. There is a celebration like none seen on earth when each student walks through those gates leading to the heavenly home - prepared just for them. That home will have streets of gold, angels singing and praising God - that same God who served as the President of God’s University. That is the story - now I want to invite you to attend this prestigious institution. We are all broken, we are all in need of the instruction offered here. But we have to enter - it is an act of the will. A personal recognition that Jesus, as the song says, “Paid It All”. Without that recognition, there is no entry into God’s University. Are you, right here, right now, willing to let God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach you, to guide you, and to change you into the person he wants you to become. Will you come study with us, so that we can all grow together.
© Floyd H. Johnson (2012)

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wisdom Compass for Christians - A Review

Theodore Henderson

A Review

The Wisdom Compass is a 31 day journey through the book of Proverbs.  Each day focuses on one proverb - with a devotional (not exegetical) walk through the chosen proverb.  

The readings are not intense but they allow the reader to reflect on how the passage influences his or her life.  Along with the devotional, each reading concludes with the opportunity for the reader to outline “Action Steps on the Life Path”.  

The combination of devotions and “Actions Steps” makes this a practical book for the believer who wants to explore the book of Proverbs and apply it to his or her life.

This review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Robert St. Amant

The liberal arts computing course follows one of two models.  The easier of the two focuses on the impact of the computer on business and the applications used within a typical business.  The second attempts to introduce the non-major to the skills and tasks used by a computer scientist.  This book meets the requirements for the latter of these two models.

Beginning with a survey of computer history (alas, it minimizes the ABC Computer), it moves through computer hardware, abstract data structures and databases, and programming.  It then moves onto the more specialized technical subjects of operating systems, computer networks, and theoretical computer science.

The author uses common, real-life,  experiences to help the reader understand the technical issues within each of these topics.  This makes the book readable, as the title indicates, to us ordinary mortals.  In addition to the details included in the book, the author also includes “Further Reading” suggestions for the reader who wants to know more.  Most of these suggestions are from the classical textbooks which cover the individual topics.

The book is recommended for a technologically based Introduction to Computer Science or for the general reader who wants to more about the internals of the computer science discipline.  In addition to the book, a blog is written by the author to support the concepts presented in the book: "".

This review is based on a free electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Michael S. Malone

A Review

Michael Malone has written a wonderful journey through Western Civilization using the skills and tools needed to past that history from generation to generation as the framework to build his story.

I began reading, expecting to be bored to death.  However, I found myself sneaking reading times - staying a bit longer at a restaurant, postponing the start of other tasks, staying up a bit later - all in order to get through the book.  Malone begins with the development of speech and moves forward through history.

I found the chapter discussing the “Art of Memory” to be the most fascinating - having never encountered it before.  In one chapter the author discusses the influence of well-known inventors, such as Thomas Edison, Thomas Watson, and the work of John Shaw Billings and Herman Hollerith and the development of the Hollerith Punched Card Tabulating Machine in preparation for the 1890 census.  In a similar vein, it was also interesting to read the history of George Eastman (the founder of Kodak).  Having spent years in the computer industry, it helped to see how the influence of many of these tools also drove the future development of the computer industry.  The connections drawn in the book are not always linear - as people living in the same century often influenced each others work - occasionally forcing the author to move in circles as he discusses multiple tools and lives developing tools for recording history.  

Readable and enjoyable, the book might interest anyone that wants to look at world history from a larger perspective.  Though the book discusses technology, it does not get “geeky” and is accessible to the average reader.  The book reads like a good novel - with a bit of humor, human interest, and even a bit of mystery.  It was well worth the time I spent reading this past week.    
This review is based on a free electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chronological Life Application Study Bible - A Review

A Review

The Bible is a collection of books written by multiple authors writing over 3000 years. The Chronological Life Application Bible takes the various tools that have been available since 1988 and rework them into a set of tools that are presented in chronological order. To assist those of us familiar with the traditional order of presenting Bible books, there are indexes to locate any desired material. The book has been reset with color throughout - maps, charts, sidebars, have all been redone in color. A running timeline, located across the top of the book, keeps the reader in touch with the historical setting in which the current book is set.

Though application is still a key component of the notes, additional notes have been developed to assist the reader in understanding the historical and cultural setting of the Biblical text are also included. In addition to the master timeline mentioned earlier, a number of other timelines related to specific books or characters have been included in the book.

The Chronological Life Application Bible is among my top three study Bibles. The other two are the ESV Study Bible and the HCSB Study Bible. I have others, but these three are being kept within easy reach - to be used along with more detailed reference works.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Review

The Our Daily Bread devotional has been around since 1956.  Now, in 2012, Tyndale House Publishers (who are responsible for the New Living Translation [NLT]) and Radio Bible Class (responsible for the monthly Our Daily Bread devotional) have combined forces to produce a year long set of devotionals included with a complete copy of the New Living Translation.  

I have enjoyed using the New Living Translation  since first being introduced to it seven or eight years ago by my pastor.  Created as a translation using some of the same guidelines that prompted Kenneth N. Taylor to create The Living Bible as a paraphrase in 1971, the NLT is a readable book designed to help the layperson read and understand the word of God.   

Beginning with Genesis, the devotionals are dated - taking the reader through the Bible from January through December.  Though there are not devotionals for every chapter, there appears to be at least one entry for each book of the Bible.  

I have spent most of the last two months preaching through the book of James - and thought it might be interesting to see what insights this new edition of NLT might offer.  Within the five chapters of James are included six devotionals, each previously published in Our Daily Bread.  I found the entries to be timely - and may even use one in next week’s sermon.  

Indexes are included in the back of the publication which give access to the devotions based on the topics covered and a list of the devotional entries by scripture references.  Besides the indexes and the devotionals, themselves, no additional helps are included (i.e. no concordance, maps, or dictionaries) that might help a new believer understand what he or she is reading.   Though the devotional entries are each roughly a page in length, it might have been helpful to include some shorter devotionals in the margins or as footnotes.  These would encourage the reader to read the whole Bible, not just the passages for which devotionals are included.  

I thank Tyndale House Publishers for supporting this project.  It is being added to my set of own devotional and study materials for regular use.  
This review is based on a free copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

52 Ways To Grow Your Faith - A Review


Gregg Peter Farah

A Review

It was not too long ago that I preached a sermon series on “Spiritual Disciplines”.  Ways To Grow Your Faith provides a close-up view of the Spiritual Disciplines.   Each chapter includes a brief description or definition of the concept, a “Key Verse” that will help see the context for the idea, and an extended devotional focusing on the key.  Next, the chapter ends with a quotation and a challenge to use the ideal just presented.  The chapter concludes with a brief testimony of someone who had applied the chapter’s concept and a brief prayer echoing the key concept found in the chapter.  

The first chapter demonstrates this pattern.  


The chapter is entitled “All you Need Is … TO LOOK AROUND.”  The principles is to “develop the habit of praying about anything that catches your attention throughout the day.”  A couple of ideas are given:
1.    See someone having a birthday party?  Pray for them
2.    See an emergency vehicle?  Pray for those involved
3.    Get a hug?  Thank God for the privilege of serving
The KEY VERSE is I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray continually.”  (NCV)  Verses come from a variety of translations including the NIV and the KJV.  The devotional that follows describes the response the author (e.g. Avoiding glass on the road) and his daughter (praying) had as they passed an accident one afternoon.  This is followed a challenge to ask a friend to “join” the reader in applying the chapter’s concept.  Finally, Althea tells of her experience in using this concept for a week.  She concludes, “It made me realize I should be caring for other people, not only myself.  This experience opened my eyes!”  The chapter concludes with a brief prayer to be included in a larger prayer time.


The book is aimed toward the person who is willing to have their walk with God challenged - not just on Sunday, but throughout the week.  The book includes suggestions for individual and group use.  When put into practice, these 52 tasks are going to make the individual more aware of their relationship to God and to their world. When do you begin?

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Edited By
Bill and Gloria Gaither

A Review

I am not sure what I was expecting; but given the size of this Bible, I did expect something more substantial than what I found. The book is clearly a devotional Bible, not a study Bible. Devotions are prepared by many members of the Gaither Homecoming "family". The history and sources of about one hundred sacred songs (hymns and more contemporary tunes) are included. I would have loved to have a DVD or an on-line resource to access mp3 versions of the many songs. It would have added some value to the book. As one reviewer said, if you are a fan of the Gaithers, you will enjoy this Bible edition. Others may find the book to be of less value - though reading the scriptures, in whatever format, is of great value.