Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Churchless

Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect With Them
By The Barna Group (George Barna and David Kinnaman, Editors)
Tyndale Momentum, 2014
English, 224 pgs

Churchless people are all around us: among our closest loved ones, at our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. And more and more, they are becoming the norm: The number of churchless adults in the US has grown by nearly one-third in the past decade. Yet the startling truth is that many of these people claim they are looking for a genuine, powerful encounter with God—but they just don’t find it in church. What are they (or we) missing? How can we better reach out to them? What can we say or do that would inspire them to want to join a community of faith? Containing groundbreaking new research from the Barna Group, and edited by bestselling authors George Barna (Revolution) and David Kinnaman (You Lost Me), Churchless reveals the results of a five-year study based on interviews with thousands of churchless men and women. Looking past the surface of church attendance to deeper spiritual realities, Churchless will help us understand those who choose not to be part of a church, build trust-based relationships with them, and be empowered to successfully invite them to engage.

I received a free copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.  No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Attempting to divine understanding of viewpoints and motivations from data is daunting task, particularly with a research topic regarding belief and corresponding church attendance. However, the Barna Group has done an outstanding job gleaning understanding from more than five years of research into American trends and beliefs regarding church attendance. General Editors George Barna and David Kinnaman have compiled and distilled a tremendous amount of data into useful information regarding the current state of church attendance, what is motivating thecurrent Millennial generation’s choices, and the efficacy of outreach tools.

This book is going to be found useful by churches who are sincerely seeking and understanding of the viewpoints and desires of a generation that increasingly views church attendance (and membership) as less important than preceding generations. Techniques using mass media (direct mailings, advertising attempts, etc.) are indicated as being bypassed completely. However, cross-generational connections through testimony leadership, acts of service, and meaningful community interactions through the church are demonstrated as more likely to generate positive interest. To this reviewer, the data supports that the core concepts of intentional discipleship, personal testimony and authentic Christian service as described in the Great Commission and throughout the New Testament are the most effective means of reaching the Millennial generation.

Some of the data presented in this collection may be disturbing for those readers comfortable in a “business as usual” mentality. According to the data, less than 50 percent of American adults are considered “actively churched.” However, closer examination of that statistic demonstrates that “actively churched” means attending a church at least one time per month. Many in church circles might dispute that definition as “active”. Likewise, the rising number of “dechurched” – now at 35 percent – should be alarming.

This reviewer gleans that churches should seriously consider their outreach efforts. Impersonal mass media is clearly declining as an effective means of outreach, but this may be a positive development. Churches need to return to their historic (and scripturally prescribed) mandate to personally make disciples through intentional teaching. As they do so, lovingly caring for their community through sincere and consistent service will speak more to Millennials than slick advertising and programs.

This book is ideal for church leadership – pastors, deacons, elders, teachers – or even small groups desiring to understand the perspectives of those whom they are attempting to reach with the Gospel.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Review: The Forgotten Knight

The Forgotten Knight
By Emilie DeRitter
Outskirts Press, 2014
English, 228 pgs

Sir Christopher of Calidore has had better days. He has no kingdom to defend, he is locked in a curse, and then he found himself swimming a moat and battling a wizard - all to rescue the most spoiled princess in Christendom. Now, he and his companion, a mysterious sorceress who was once advisor to his former liege, are escorting the opinionated princess home. Along the way, they are forced to battle evil and help those they find in need. With a little assistance from some strange friends during their journey, they struggle to find a way to change their destinies, break the curse that binds them together and reclaim their lives.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from the author for the purpose of this review.

For a first novel, this is outstanding. It is an adventure with humor and a touch of romance. The characters are so well developed. Ms. DeRitter has done a fantastic job of conceiving a "fairy tale" land and characters. I kinda wish it didn't end as it did so there would be more from the story in the future, but it is a satisfactory ending. The only thing it was missing for me was a map so I could visualize the journey. I particularly enjoyed the ogre and dragon cave parts.

The book is available through Amazon.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: Beloved Dust

Beloved Dust
By Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
Nelson Books, 2014
English, 205 pgs

Pastor Jamin Goggin and theology professor Kyle Strobel provide a path to abiding with God.
We were formed from the dust, but we were made for life with God. We often accept less. We make promises and set goals to try and grow, but holiness seems impossible. But the Christian life is not about looking or feeling like a Christian. It’s about abiding in God.

If communion with God is your goal, self-help strategies and personal resolutions will fail you. But Jesus Christ will not.

Drawing deeply from Scripture and narrating their own experiences, Pastor Jamin Goggin and theology professor Kyle Strobel wrote this book to be a companion for your journey with Jesus in the truth of yourself – as his beloved dust. This is not weighing tasks and rewards, but is a process of patience, prayer, and openheartedness.

Prayerfully read this book. Prepare your heart for the gifts God has for you. Beloved Dust invites readers to discover the fundamental simplicity and radical transformation of being with God.

About the Author
Jamin Goggin serves as Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Saddleback Church. He holds an MA in Spiritual Formation and and an MA in New Testament from Talbot School of Theology and is currently earning a PhD in Theology. He lives in Orange County, California.

Kyle Strobel serves as an assistant professor of Spiritual Theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and speaks broadly on spiritual formation, theology and the life of the church. Kyle holds a BA in Biblical Studies, master’s degrees in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics as well as New Testament Studies, and a PhD in Systematic Theology. He lives in Fullerton, California.

I cannot find anything wrong with the book theologically or Biblically. It is sound teaching. However, I found it to be very dry teaching. I can read a book in a day or two and this one was just not something that I was able to get through very quickly. It felt like the pages were multiplying as I read it.

The basis of the book is great. We are created beings and we cannot thrive when we seek to become like the Creator under our own power. We cannot seek to become greater than the Creator. We have to see ourselves for what we are and we have to accept that we have to have His help in any endeavor. Especially an endeavor to become closer to Him. We don't have it within ourselves to do this. We are totally dependent on Jesus and His mercy and grace in our lives. 

 I can see this book as extremely useful for both a new Christian who wants to explore and grow in their relationship with Jesus. I can also see this book as extremely useful for a "seasoned" Christian who needs to allow revival in their life.

I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review on both this blog and a commercial bookselling site. No additional compensation has been or will be received as a result of this review.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One

Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One
Nathan D. Holsteen and Michael J. Svigel, General Editors
Bethany House, 2014
English, 272 pgs

From the Back Cover

The Foundations of Theology in Everyday Language
Dallas Seminary professors Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel are passionate about the key doctrines of Christianity. They want readers to know why they're important and why they matter. This volume includes two parts:
  • How Firm a Foundation: Revelation, Scripture, and Truth
  • God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
The authors explore these important topics in a concise and highly readable style that makes sense--whether you're a student of the Bible, a pastor, or someone who simply wants to know God better.

For each topic you'll find
  • An introduction, overview, and review of the key points
  • Several applicable Bible texts, including verses to memorize
  • A quick-paced history of the doctrine
  • Distortions to be aware of and avoid
  • Reading lists for further study
  • A glossary of theological terms

As a former Religious Education student and a current pastor's wife, I found this book to be exceedingly well done. I appreciate that the authors do not rush through the topics. They carefully explain each one. While the language can be at times studious, it is a fairly easy book to read. The glossary at the back of the book really can help those who may not have much study in the past. The beginning part of the book, called The Christian Story in Four Acts is a brief, yet thorough, overview of really the history of all mankind.

I appreciate the copious charts, graphs and illustrations. They do not distract from the topic and in some cases, can help clarify a difficult concept. The lists of books for further study are immense.

My husband is impressed enough with this book that we have already ordered the previous volume which was released in January 2014 (so how is this V1?) and will be ordering the next when it comes out. He believes these are essential to his ministry library.

I received a copy of the book from Bethany House in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial bookselling website. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book review: Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition
General Editor: Ronald F. Youngblood
Thomas Nelson, 2014
English, 1280 pgs

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary is the most comprehensive and up-to-date Bible dictionary available. With a fresh new look and updated photographs, this new and enhanced edition is a wealth of basic study information with more than 7,000 entries plus more than 500 full-color photographs, maps, and pronunciation guides.
Features include:
  • Cross-references to major translations
  • More than 7,000 up-to-date entries
  • More than 500 full-color photographs and maps
  • Enlarged type size for easier reading
  • Visual Survey of the Bible from The Open Bible
About the Editor and Contributors
Ronald F. Youngblood is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Emeritus, Bethel Seminary San Diego.
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, University of Manchester in England.
R.K. Harrison (1920-1993) was Professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

This is a well done new edition of the Bible Dictionary. It has been revised using the most current and up to date findings in the field of Biblical research, archaeology and language study. The photos are larger and more abundant than in the previous edition (which I borrowed from the church library for comparison). The type is a little larger and easier to read. But what I like the best from this new edition is the outline and study guides for the books of the Bible. There are charts and diagrams and maps to help in understanding. There is Bible referencing within the articles for those who wish to study a subject further (or like me, get on a tangent...). For instance, in the article on Jesus, there are scriptures noted through it to guide you back to the Bible for the prophesies and life stories which are mentioned in the article.

The writing is clear and understandable, yet at the same time informative and authoritative. It is obvious much care has gone into the updating of the information by the team of editors. It tells you in the introduction that there are cross-references within the articles to point you to another article that will help in the understanding. I've been searching for examples and haven't found as many as I thought there would be. However, you can find articles on virtually every name, place, tribe and doctrine so if you see something as you're reading that you would like more information on, it is probably in there.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial book-selling site. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: A Matter of Heart

A Matter of Heart (Lone Star Brides 3)
By Tracie Peterson
Bethany House, 2014
English, 320 pgs

Texas born and raised Jessica Atherton is a wealthy young woman whose heart was broken when the man she intended to marry wedded another. But her world is upended when two new men come into her life, and both manage to stir her heart.

Harrison Gable is a successful young lawyer with ambitions that match Jessica's dreams. His warm, attentive manner and thoughtful gifts make her feel special.

Austin Todd, a former Secret Service agent, enjoys working now as a Texas Ranger cattle inspector. But after learning of forged gold certificates and missing printing plates, he's drawn back into the world of intrigue and agrees to help solve the case. Jessica is drawn to his kind nature and the unspoken pain she sees in his eyes.

If Jessica follows her heart, where will it lead?

This is the third book in the Lone Star Brides series by Tracie Peterson. The book wraps up many lingering story lines from books 1 and 2 (when Marty went to Colorado and when Alice and Robert marry) while giving a spotlight to Jessica, who was a minor character in book 2.

I was really satisfied with the story wrap ups as well as the new story line. I didn't care too much for Jessica at the beginning of the book but she ends up working on being a better person and there is a lot of discussion on how God helps us become better people and how we can't really change on our own.

There was a lot more "church" in this book than the other two and I was actually pleased about it. It didn't get preachy but it was truthful and stuck to the lessons found in the Bible.

Now that the series is over, I feel satisfied with all three. There are no lingering "what happened" questions and I found that I really liked all the characters.

I sure do wish there had been a recipe for those cinnamon rolls....

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial book-selling website. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Messy, Beautiful Love

Messy, Beautiful Love
By Darlene Schacht
Thomas Nelson, 2014
English, 240 pgs

Love gets messy.

Financial problems, sickness, aging parents, a chronically unhappy spouse . . . trials will inevitably come along to threaten your marriage. No matter how long you've been married or how strong your relationship is, sooner or later you are going to have a mess to clean up.

Messy Beautiful Love is about cleaning up messes God's way, exchanging our ideas for his, and being prepared for both the best and the worst that marriage has to offer.

Perhaps you've picked up this book because your marriage is messy already-now is the time to make a change. If your marriage is tidy, thank God-there is no better time to prepare for the future.

Married life is never straightforward or simple for long. But the reality is this: when you surrender your relationship to God; when you lay your marriage at his feet; when you finally cede control; then and only then will you experience the blessing of marriage as he intended-this is the blessing of obedience.

Messy Beautiful Love is an invitation to that obedience. An invitation to surrender. The cynical world says marriages don't last. God knows better. Tune out the world and tune in to him. When you do that, a beautiful marriage is not only possible-it's inevitable. That's something to be excited about.

About the Author
Darlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet CafĂ© Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

This is one of the better "relationship" books I've read in a long time. I appreciate that the author is very frank and honest about her relationship issues in the past and how real she is in sharing about how her life and marriage were impacted and restored.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling in a marriage, anyone who is about to be married, anyone who is in a happy marriage....anyone who wants to discover what God wants in a marriage and wants to build a lasting relationship based on God's word.

My only criticism is that the author uses New King James Version of the Bible for most of her quotes and that made it a little hard to read, in my opinion. And that is only because I'm just not used to the language in that particular translation. 

The book has 15 chapters which, at one a day, makes it really easy to read in a short time. However, I think you should take your time with it. Study the Scriptures she discusses and really give time to the end of chapter challenges.

So much of this book is now seen as "counter-culture" in that it emphasizes that the man is the head of the family, being patient and compassionate, communicate lovingly and being content and virtuous in your marriage and life. However, this is exactly how things were meant to be. God made rules and boundaries for a reason. The aren't out of malice. They're out of love and wanting the best for His people.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial book-selling website. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: Undressed

Undressed: Taking Everything Off and Putting on What Matters Most
By: Mark Cornelison
Lucid Books, 2014
English, 164 pgs

"Sometimes, just when you think life is going just the way you expect, things can change. What once was normal and acceptable is replaced by a sense that there is a better life to be lived, often in surprising ways. This describes Mark Cornelison, contestant on NBC’s The Biggest Loser, before his life-changing experience on this popular show.

Mark realized that the life he was living had to look different and he gave God the freedom to, not only change him physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. This new chance to live life brought with it a message that he knew could change other people in the way it had changed him.

The world he had complicated with stuff, that we all think is important, was taken away one layer at a time. He was then clothed with a new, simple life. Now he shares the story and challenges you with what he has learned from the journey.

Come see what needs to be taken off of you so that a better you can truly live.

About the Author:
Mark Cornelison wanted to go on The Biggest Loser because he was ready to make the life changes necessary to get healthy and hoped to give his "smokin' hot wife a smokin' hot husband!" He says a poor diet and lack of exercise led him to start gaining weight in high school. As a youth pastor for more than 17 years, his weight had reached an all- time high and something had to be done.

At 43 years old and 295 pounds, Mark suffered from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and acid reflux. Mark enjoys doing volunteer work and going on mission trips, both of which were being significantly effected due to his weight. He knew it was time to make a life change when he began taking an anti-anxiety medication in efforts to deal with the side effects of his other prescriptions. A married father of three teenagers - two sons and one daughter - Mark started season 13 with his son, Chism, who gained much of his weight after an accident when he was younger.

After Mark left for the show, Cathy decided to make changes for herself so that the two of them could share this journey together. She began researching all she could about nutrition and healthy eating as well as developing a consistent exercise routine. By the time Mark returned, Cathy had lost 40 lbs. on her own and had created a home where healthy living was the norm.

Mark returned over 100lbs lighter with a new life. He currently has no medical conditions to be monitored and has been removed from all of the medications he was taking before this experience. Besides being role models to their family; their greatest joy is now having the physical and mental ability to do and be anything Christ calls them to be. After taking a stand on the show which ultimately led to Mark walking away from any and all prize possibilities with only two weeks left to go, they have both seen the doors open to sharing the truth of how God is alive and well behind the scenes in Hollywood.

Since the show ended, they have traveled across the US to encourage others. In 2012, they founded SweatCor (www.sweatcor.com) and now work to communicate hope and encouragement with students and adults alike in regards to ministry and health.

In churches, Mark brings a message of what God did in and through him from this experience. his message, "People Matter" has been well received in many churches and groups across the country. It will certainly inspire your body to look past the things that life says are important and to focus on the only two things that really matter...

This experience has deeply changed them and their family...and this is still only the beginning.

I am a long-time fan of The Biggest Loser. For many years, I would watch the show and eat my ice cream and wish that I could "do what they do". Knowing full well that I would never put myself in a television situation or into a highly stressful situation away from my family for months on end. I have a lot of respect for the people who put themselves into this situation, where the good, bad and sweaty ugly are all laid bare for all of the world to see. But I took ideas, exercises, nutrition information and motivation from the show. I knew that I could make a change.

I remember the season that Mark and his son, Chism, were on the show. I remember watching them, knowing he was a youth minister and wondering how they were going to "stay real" on a show that seems to focus on the fantastic. I enjoyed the parts in the book where he gave behind the scenes information about the show. I like that he and another pastor on the show, Buddy, started a church on Sunday nights for the cast. And then the crew started coming. And then they stayed close. And then their lives spoke into a skeptic's heart. God used these men and this situation to bring a child into His arms and His home. That's what matters in the journey.

I am deeply appreciative of the words and the openness in the book. Mark speaks from the heart and tells you flat out that he didn't have it "figured out" for a long time. I know so many people who think a switch gets flipped or something when we come to know Christ. Like we're supposed to suddenly have it all together and understand everything. Well, that doesn't happen. We're still ourselves. We still have to learn and grow and seek and find. It's a process and it's the only thing in life that is 100% totally worth doing.

I'm not totally sure if this season is the one where I made a change or the next one was, but I got up and changed. I stopped making excuses and stopped doubting. I looked at life and health differently. I've lost 100 pounds in the last 5 calendar years. I've put a few back on lately and I've used every excuse for them. A foot injury. Blogging and doing product reviews. No time to exercise (even though my treadmill stares me in the face almost all day).

This book is re-motivating me. I have my tennis shoes on right now and am looking forward to the walk I'm about to go on. I'm going to get back into 5K shape. I'm going to do it again, and better and not stop this time.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: Raising Kingdom Kids

Raising Kingdom Kids
By Tony Evans
Focus on the Family, 2014
English, 272 pgs

From the bestselling author of Kingdom Man and Kingdom Woman, Raising Kingdom Kids equips parents to raise their children with a Kingdom perspective and also offers practical how-to advice on providing spiritual training as instructed in Scripture.

Dr. Tony Evans begins with an overarching look at the need for Kingdom parenting, our roles and responsibilities in raising God-following children, and how to prepare children to take on the assignments God has for their lives. He then takes a practical turn, with examples and illustrations to help parents understand and provide specific training for kids in the power of prayer, wisdom, loving God’s Word, getting through trials, controlling their tongues, developing patience, the surrender of service, and much more.

This book is for every dad or mom who wants to fulfill the parenting role God has given them—not just in raising healthy kids intellectually, physically, and socially, but in contributing to their child’s relationship with God and alignment under His plan.

From the Inside Flap:

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” MARK 10:14 (ESV)

Kingdom parenting is purposeful parenting—helping children learn to live under God’s divine authority, both today and in the future.

No parent does it perfectly, and most of us have regrets about the past and poor decisions we’ve made along the way. But wherever you are in your journey, it’s never too late to start anew, applying biblical principles to parenting and trusting God to bring about the growth.

In this inspiring and practical book, Dr. Tony Evans comes alongside moms and dads with understanding and affection, offering his own hard lessons learned, and easy-to-apply strategies for raising your children in the knowledge that they truly are royalty, children of the King.

No matter what challenges your kids will one day face, raise them so that their hearts will remain open toward home—and the values and principles they learned there.

This is the third in a Kingdom series from Dr. Evans, and the second I have read (after Kingdom Woman). This is focused on being a good parent and raising your children to love the Lord and serve only Him. This is not a book that should be read quickly. Dig into it. Take your time. There is truth dripping from every page and you don't want to miss any of it.

The book is divided into three sections: Establishing a Kingdom Mindset, Cultivating a Kingdom Atmosphere and Instilling Kingdom Virtues. Each section is further divided into chapters with it. The chapters are a little longer at the beginning at shorter in the last section. 

Dr. Evans is a master at story telling and pulling you into what he's saying. I've seen that in his preaching and speaking but can even feel it reading his written words.

He emphasizes that you need to look forward to not only your kids but your grandkids and future generations. What we teach is passed on and it's up to us to make sure it's the "good stuff" that makes it through to our kids.

He tells one story about how dinner time is family devotional time. We always have dinner together, but we usually talk about our days and just generally chit chat (in between telling the kids to eat their veggies or meat) about trains, school or games or nothing of consequence. My husband and I have been more intentional lately about speaking love and truth into their lives at that half hour we have their (mostly) undivided attention.

There are stories scattered throughout the book by Dr. Evans' children and I found those really interesting. It's one thing to be a person who can write a book. I appreciate that Dr. Evans has lived the life before he put the ink on the page. He writes from experience.

I actually loved the book so much, and honestly, read it pretty fast to get this review out on time, that I'm starting over and reading it with my husband so that I do not miss a single drop of truth.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial bookselling site. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: The Case for a Creator, Student Edition

The Case for a Creator, Student Edition
By Lee Strobel
Zondervan, 2014
English, 112 pgs

Based on the bestseller The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel, along with Jane Vogel, gives students the evidence they need to point to a Creator.

When Lee Strobel was a high school freshman, science convinced him that God didn't exist. Since then, however, incredible scientific discoveries have not only helped restore Lee's faith, but have strengthened it.

In this student edition of the bestselling The Case for a Creator, Strobel encourages teens to challenge the "facts" that say there is no God and to weigh the evidence for themselves. Readers will be astonished by what some of today's most respected experts have to say about the birth of the universe, Darwinism, DNA research, and the astounding fine-tuning of the cosmos. Ultimately, they must consider the question: Could it be that the universe looks designed … because it is?

This is the third book I've read from the Case For series.  This is a little harder to read, since it's a lot about science and creation, but it's very well researched and very convincing.

The chapters cover The Bang, Evolution, Biochemistry and DNA, among other topics. This is the most difficult of the books to read because there is a lot about theories and scientific research. I think this would be good for a student who is being taught in a school where they are pushing non-Biblical "truths". They would be able to use this book to learn to refute the teachings, in a polite way, with solid factual data.

I received a copy of the book from BookLook Bloggers for the purpose of a review on this blog and a commercial bookseller site. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.