Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pray About Everything

Pray About Everything is a short book on prayer that grew out of Paul Tautges' experience holding prayer meetings on Wednesday nights at his church and on other special occasions throughout the year. He writes to encourage believers, particularly church leaders, to pray, especially as a church body. He says, "The old-fashioned Wednesday night prayer meeting has virtually disappeared. And though there is nothing sacred about Wednesday night as a prayer meeting time, there certainly is something sacred about the corporate prayer of believers." Prayer is a demonstration of our dependence on God, and a commitment to prayer—praying about everything— will help us develop what he calls "God-dependency."

Each chapter of the book contains a short meditation on a passage of Scripture related to prayer, such as what it means to pray "in Jesus' name" or praying for unbelievers and government leaders. Tautness keeps it personal for the reader, especially in his chapters on praying for a forgiving heart and how our marital relationship affects our prayer life. As a husband and father of three, looking closely at 1 Peter 3:7 in chapter 8 was a timely reminder of how the way I treat my wife affects my relationship with God and prayers to him.

Because most of the chapters can be read in about ten minutes' time, this book is great for personal devotions or Bible study groups because it leave you enough time to put into practice what you're talking about. He includes a number of short appendices as well, including information on holding special prayer meetings and praying through Scripture. It packs a punch in only 128 pages—perfect for those of us who struggle to make time to pray.

I requested and received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to provide this review.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Bible Seek-and-Find Book

My 4-year-old son just loves seek-and-find books, which can be challenging because ones like Where's Waldo are too hard for me, much less him (everyone is wearing red and white). Bible Sleuth: New Testament was just right for him. The pages are a foot tall, there are tons of unique characters in all sorts of poses of doing all kinds of things, and my son can usualy find each person in less than a minute. With 8 people or objects for each of the 14 pictures spread out across 2 pages, it means quite a bit of entertainment for my son.

Each of the pictures illustrates an event from the New Testament along with a paragraph describing what is going on. I doubt most children will pay attention to the description because seek-and-find books are like gamesthe pictures are primary, the story is only secondary. A Bible-themed seek-and-find book is just as much fun as a pirate- or U.S. history-themed one. Because these books are more like games than anything else, it's a good thing such a somber and significant event like the crucifixion is not pictured.

My only real criticism of the book is that a number of the hidden objects are placed in the center margin between the two pages. I can't blame the artist for that since the publisher probably decided on the final format of the book. I still recommend it.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Monday, May 29, 2017

David Murray's book on living a "grace-paced" life

I have come to appreciate David Murray and his ministry through the written word. When I saw he had written Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, I thought, Yeah, I should probably read that. I am glad I did. Murray writes for men, with a planned follow up for women called Refresh being co-written with his wife, Shona.

Some years ago Murray’s life was upturned by health crisis he never saw coming—potentially fatal blood clots in his lungs. He had been going at a pace that was unsustainable and unhealthy. He was forced to stop everything he was doing and reconsider his priorities. Reset was born out of that experience, as well as his time spent guiding others through the reset process. Murray’s fondness for alliteration comes out in the "repair bays" he walks readers through to reset their lives:

Reality Check
Review
Rest
Re-Create
Relax
Rethink
Reduce
Refuel
Relate
Resurrection

For each of these "repair bays" Murray shares Scripture, examples from his own life and his experiences counseling other men, as well as research (like how much sleep we need and how the food we eat affects our health). Everyone should take a break to evaluate what pace they are living their life at. I found I needed more of these "repair bays" than I wanted to admit. I recommend it to men, especially those in ministry or who are married with kids. Our lives and ministries are too important to not give ourselves an inspection every once in awhile to make sure we’re going at a sustainable pace.

I should add one note about the audiobook version. David Murray narrates the book himself. He does speak with a Scottish accent, but I find that foreign quality all the more enjoyable.


I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories

It seems like all the companies are banking on our nostalgia these days. Why not do it with something wholesome like the Berenstain Bears? I grew up reading those books with my parents, and though Stan and Jan Berenstain passed away a few years ago, their son Mike is still producing these books. He's pretty faithful to the artistic style of his parents, but Mike uses more overt references to the Bible and Christian teaching in the stories.

I really appreciate Zondervan releasing these books in big collections—The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories comes with 12 different stories. Sometimes the stories include Bible verses or someone explaining what the Bible teaches. It usually feels forced to me (and I'm an ordained minister), but the message is positive and it gives parents a chance to talk about their faith, so I can live with the occasional moment of awkward dialogue. Some of the stories are repeats from their 5-in-1 collections, but there are enough original stories here to justify adding it to the kids' bookshelf even if you own one or two.

I loved reading the Berenstain Bears as a kid, and I'm happy to share them with my own children.


I received this book from the publisher in order to complete my review.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When God Made You (Children's book)

Our family loves to read. I love seeing my kids pick up a book, walk over to their grandparents, and ask them to read. We care about what our children read, so we appreciate book reviews that give us an idea of what to expect, especially when we're considering a new book we've never heard of before.

When God Made You is a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated little book that strongly evokes the limerick and upbeat style of Dr. Seuss's Oh the Places You'll Go. It tells children they are loved by God and encourages them to be true to themselves. There's nothing explicitly Christian about the book, but it comes from a Christian publisher, so it's kind of assumed. As far as children's books go, it's got great pacing, a lyrical quality, and a positive message. Four or five stars...

But...

The book itself did cause me raise an eyebrow a few times, but not enough for me to completely discount it altogether. There are a couple of references to God "dreaming."

"You, you, when God dreams about you,
God dreams about all that in you will be true."

God doesn't dream, either in the sense of sleeping (Ps. 121:4), or in the sense that he's optimistically ignorant about how future events will unfold (Is. 46:9-10).

My real concern lies with the author. His name sounded familiar to me, so I looked him up and found out why. Matthew Paul Turner is not, to put it lightly, orthodox. He was raised in a very fundamentalist church environment, and now he seems to be on a crusade to call all Christians to repentance for not being accepting of others, while constantly affirming to non-Christians that God loves them just the way they are. To the extent that Christians are insensitive or outright hostile to others, they should be called to repent. But telling non-believers that God loves them without a call to repentance and faith is not evangelism, and it's not orthodox, and I'm using that term in the broadest possible way. None of this comes out in the book, but knowing it now kind of makes me glad I didn't pony up the cash to add it to the bookshelf. And it doesn't make me feel guilty if the book quietly disappears from that bookshelf, either.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Berenstain Bears Collection

It seems like all the companies are banking on our nostalgia these days. Why not something wholesome like the Berenstain Bears? Stan and Jan Berenstain first started producing the books in 1962, and now their son Mike is continuing what they started. These new books are pretty faithful to the art style of the originals, but Mike uses more overt references to the Bible and Christian teaching.

I love that Zondervan is releasing the books in 5-in-1 collections. My kids never want me to read just one story, so having a multi-volume book like this means we can snuggle longer. The Friendship Blessings Collection includes stories about following mom's instructions, working hard and persevering, being faithful to our friends, being nice to people who are younger than us, and valuing people with disabilities. The first story strays from the usual format by using a rhyming scheme throughout like Dr. Seuss. It's somewhat silly, but my kids loved it. Sometimes the stories include Bible verses or someone explaining what the Bible teaches. It usually feels forced to me, but the message is positive and it gives parents a chance to talk about their faith, so I can live with the occasional moment of awkward dialogue.

I loved reading the Berenstain Bears as a kid, and I'm happy to share them with my own children.

I received this book from the publisher in order to complete my review.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A book on the Reformation that left me satisfied, with six measures left over!

Since 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, we can expect to see a good number of books about this period coming out over the next few months. I expect that Reformation Theology will vie for first place amongst them. This book is massive—over 750 pages, but as girth does not always equate to worth, it's the contributors that make this volume a must have for any serious student of the Reformation.

Matthew Barrett, a capable scholar in his own right, as editor leads an all-star cast of theologians and scholars who take you doctrine by doctrine through the eyes of the various figureheads of the Reformation like Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, Beza, Cranmer, and more. Many of their works and writings are cited, including ones most of us have probably never read, making the Reformers that much more accessible to us today.

"Introductory" materials (about 50 pages) take a step back to consider what we are celebrating this year and bring us back to the principle of reformation itself. From there the book launches into a "brief" (about 80 pages) look at the development of theology in the few centuries before the Reformation, as well as the Reformers themselves. Had the book ended there, I would have been happy and full with what I had gleaned, but then I was invited to the banquet itself and left with six measures more than I could have expected: 17 chapters on doctrines from Sola Scriptura to End Times.

This is not a book most (including myself) will sit down and read cover to cover, at least, not in one go. There's only so much one can digest at a time! But it is a book that I do plan to read cover to cover, a chapter here, a chapter there. I've already read through a good portion of it, and skimmed over a few more sections. It's well worth the read, and well worth having.

I received this book from the publisher in order to provide this review.