Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

Rubart's novels are always a bit of fantasy combined with reality interwoven with some kind of healing. Like his other novel's I've read, it took until about half way through that I began to sense what lesson this novel contained.

We try to get our self worth from various places. Even Christians find their value in their good deeds, their parenting skills, or something else. Jake, our main character, had his self worth shattered when he was disfigured in a fire. The journey to finding his true self worth is what the novel is about.

There are many issues addressed in this novel. Risking honest relationships is a big one. We have been hurt and broken from past experiences, perhaps even back from childhood. When we are honest with others, those hurts lose their power and the broken areas are healed. But another issue is the kind of healing we want. God does the kind of healing we really need, not what we think we want.

Rubart always stretches our imagination. We enter another reality from time to time in this novel. There are references to Lewis' Narnia that are appropriate. We might just find out who we really are and where our true God given worth comes from. But it might be a very painful process, even requiring dying to our false self.

I recommend this novel to those who like a plot that stretches the mind and beliefs. If you are willing to accept the challenge to risk honest relationships, all the better. “Nothing worth having, in this life or the one to come, is free of risk.”

My rating: 4/5 stars.

James L. Rubart is a professional marketer and speaker. He is the author of several novels. He lives with his wife and sons in the Pacific Northwest. You can find out more at www.jameslrubart.com.

Thomas Nelson, 400 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jesus Rode a Donkey by Linda Seger ThD

Seger says about one in five Christian evangelicals vote Democrat. If you find that surprising, this is a good book to help you understand why. The major issue, she says, is the role of government in helping its citizens. “This book is written as a kind of Christian Political Apologetic. It is meant to clarify what we, as Christian Democrats, believe and why we believe it.” (xix)

Seger shares her own experience and that of her sister of how the government helped them in their times of need. She found Democrats to be compassionate and tolerant.

She explores how we develop a social and global consciousness and how our Christian values inform our political decisions. She identifies the sort of Christian belief system and priorities that would lean one toward being a Democrat (e.g. an emphasis on social justice). She covers concepts like whether we see others as enemies or neighbors, whether we think the U.S. is a “Christian” nation, whether the government is to favor the wealthy or the poor, what we see as the Christian's responsibility to global issues, and more.

This is not an objective book. Seger is openly biased toward the Democrat political view and freely defends some of its more controversial issues. I don't agree with her views on homosexuality and abortion, nor do I agree with her defense of the Democratic positions on those issues. Conservative evangelical Christians may find this part of her book very irritating. I don't agree with her idea of a “Cosmic” Christ nor other areas of her Quaker spirituality that I feel stray from biblical truth.

Nonetheless, I recommend evangelical Christians read this book, especially if you want to understand why people vote differently than you do. Why would I recommend a book when I don't agree with many of the views presented? Paraphrasing Rosaria Butterfield, when everyone thinks the same, nobody thinks very deeply. It is good for us to read books with views different from our own. It makes us think about our own views and why we hold them. Seger's comments on our Christian responsibilities to the poor and strangers, her thoughts on war and fiscal responsibility, and the nature of politics were very thought provoking. There is an extensive Study Guide included.

You can find out more about the book at http://jesusrodeadonkey.com/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Linda Seger, ThD, is a theologian, author, and speaker with degrees in English, Drama and Theology. She comes from a long line of Lutherans and is now a Quaker. She is married and lives in Cascade, Colorado.

Haven Books, 298 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Full Tank Life by Ben Tankard

Tankard wants his readers to live life at full throttle while also keeping the fuel level steady. He offers lessons he has learned on his way to living the life he enjoys, the life God meant him to live.

He covers seven key areas: DESTINY. Dreams, Environment, Subconscious, Time, Inspiration, Network, You.

Tankard wants us to dream, unleashing our imagination. He advises write them down and creating a vision map. He covers the environment of our belief system and the importance of our thoughts. He asks us to face our subconscious fears and push ourselves out of our comfort zone. He suggests good use of time by prioritizing and noting the progressive nature of God's plan. He reminds us we need to keep our inspirational tank full and helps us build our confidence. He suggests having a network of wise people around us and gives ideas for finding mentors. He lastly covers the power of our own human mind, our expectations and decisions.

This is an encouraging book for someone who is ready to start over again, is ready to dream and begin the journey to a full life. It is like a beginning workbook as space is provided to writes down answers to the questions Tankard asks. There are lots of encouraging personal and biblical stories as well as inspiring quotes.

I recommend this book for those ready to dream, get motivated, and make general plans. Tankard's life has had many setbacks so this book is encouraging for someone ready to bounce back from discouragement. You'll not find specific information or detailed worksheets but instead more general encouragement for life change.

Food for thought: “I'm convinced any success I've achieved is the result of God blessing my efforts to be all that He made me to be and sharing my gifts with the world.” (136) “At the end of the day, your Full Tank Life is found in Christ alone...” (185)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Ben Tankard is the founder of gospel jazz music and has sold over four million copies of his award winning instrumentals. He has written, arranged and produced for well known artists. He authored Faith It 'Til You Make It in 2002. He and his family star in a reality show. He is a motivational speaker for the NBA and pastors, along with his wife, a fast growing church outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

FaithWords, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Transformed Ministry by Tracy Wainwright

You may not be on paid staff so you don't think you have a “ministry.” But every Christian has a ministry. “We each have a purpose within the body of Christ,” Wainwright writes. She reminds us, “we are called to serve others in love so that God may be glorified.” (4)

She helps us define our ministry, seeking His direction, reminding us that our hearts must be open to God's daily working in us. She writes about the investment required (time, talents, money, rest) and what we are working for.

I really appreciate her emphasis on loving people. This may be the most difficult aspect of ministry but seeing lives changed by the gospel is a great result. She has an entire chapter devoted to loving people well.

Having a fruitful, God glorifying ministry means we must remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leadership. We must trust His leading as we take steps on our ministry journey.

I appreciated Wainwright's encouragement for us to be willing to get it wrong. We must move beyond our fear of failure. We take each step, remaining in intimate relationship with the Lord, in His Word, and in fellowship with others. There is lots of encouraging and instructive Scripture included too.

There is a section on making a ministry plan and tips on planning. She has suggestions for finding people to work with us, making evaluations, and much more.

This is a great little book for every Christian to help identify their ministry, make some plans, and begin moving forward.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Tracy Wainwright is a wife and mother of four. She is a speaker with Stonecroft Ministries and directs The Abundant Life Conference for Women.  You can find out more at http://www.tracywainwright.com/.

TLC Wainwright Publishing, 67 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Closer Than Close by Dave Hickman

Christians are in union with Christ, but what does that mean? While it is a mystery and we cannot comprehend it, Hickman says we can be conscious of it and live in its reality. He has written this book for everyday Christians who long for a deeper experience with Jesus but feel stuck.

He shares his own story of accepting Christ in his youth and doing all of the things he was taught to do to have a “close and personal” relationship with Jesus. As an adult, he became frustrated. He was doing everything he knew to do to be close to Jesus yet felt distant.

To help us understand the reality of union with Christ, Hickman explores the union in the Trinity. He reminds us union with Christ is essential for salvation. He suggests we need a paradigm shift. Rather than doing spiritual disciplines to get close to God, “we are free to rest and savor the perfect union we already have with God.” (102-103) Our Christian walk is to be a deepening awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of that union.

Hickman surprised me with his first suggested spiritual discipline: do nothing. We abide, awakening to the mystery and wonder of the union we have with Christ. Just be in union and savor it. He then follows with a few more disciplines, such as prayer.

This is a good book for Christians who have not read much on union with Christ but want to know what it is and what it means. Hickman uses illustrations from his own life and from movies, television, and popular songs. Because of that, this book might appeal to new or young Christians. I have read a few other books on union with Christ in the last month and this one is probably the least helpful in actually living in that reality.

You can read my recent reviews of other books on this topic, One With Christ and Union With Christ.

Food for thought: “Being the beloved of God is not something you do. It's an internal posture of being.” (107)

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Dave Hickman is the mid-Atlantic regional president of Apartment Life. He is the founder of Charlotte/ONE and has an Mdiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. You can find out more about his ministry at www.davehickman.org.

NavPress, 208 pages.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hearing God in Conversation by Samuel C. Williamson

Should Christians be hearing from God today? Williamson's answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Hearing God is meant to be an ordinary experience for Christians. “God saved us to have a conversational relationship with him.” (16)

Williamson writes about what he has learned and practiced. He doesn't write about visions and dreams but rather hearing God in ordinary life. He emphasizes that we must first be able to recognize God's voice and that means being in Scripture. We are then prepared to hear that same voice as God speaks through friends and others. He also helps us recognize the possibility of God's leading through events and circumstances.

Some parts of this book are nothing new. Williamson makes sure we understand the important role of Scripture in our lives, reminding us it is the best way to hear God. Being in the Word is also essential to becoming familiar with God's voice, still and quiet yet with a glorious nature. His section on meditation is excellent.

Some parts of his book were surprising to me. I had never thought of brainstorming with God. I never understood the role of curiosity in hearing God. I really like his section on what hearing God means to those in church leadership. He helped clarify living with ambiguity, not knowing for sure if we have heard God. I really liked his distinguishing between formative and summative tests. God uses the former.

Perhaps you're like me, desiring to hear God's voice yet still hesitant. We've experienced the misuse of “God told me...” Maybe you've been taught that God speaks only through His written Word now. Williamson has included two Appendixes dealing with these issues.

We are told that we can have a personal relationship with Christ but are never taught how to have that relationship. This book is a great one for pursuing a conversational relationship with Christ. It is a journey. Williamson shares many of his experiences, even ones where he missed it. He reminds us that growth in hearing God will come from practice and obedience.

I highly recommend this book to those who desire to hear from God. You'll get great teaching on how that might happen in the ordinary living of life.

Food for thought: “Learning to distinguish God's voice requires a lifetime of practice.” (91)

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Sam Williamson is the founding director of Beliefs of the Heart and the author of Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can find his posts at http://beliefsoftheheart.com/.

Kregel Publications, 216 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer

The setting is the building of the Panama Canal. The main character is James Holt, a cowboy who had been with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Now he is a widower with a young daughter and owns a struggling cattle ranch. He'd met and spent time with Teddy Roosevelt years ago. When a summons arrives from the now president, Holt packs his bags. He is to go to Panama and do investigative work for Roosevelt, having his past due mortgage paid in return.

The plot becomes very complex after Holt arrives in Panama. He is not sure what he is to investigate and neither was I. There are a number of possibilities and they are confusingly mixed together. Holt meets Saffire, a girl about his daughter's age, while waiting to speak to his new boss. She is convinced her mother did not run off and abandon her as authorities claim. Holt is sympathetic to her plight, even thought she is a very street savvy girl and has her own protection. His inquiries about her mother get mixed in with his various investigations.

I found the action a bit hard to follow. Holt seems to bumble along, getting into trouble and then being rescued. There is much action in the novel, the culprits and their reasons hidden under layers of deception. There is a lengthy explanation at the end of the novel that clarifies all the participants and their roles. I prefer a plot where the deceptive layers are uncovered bit by bit rather than all at the end.

There are two strengths to this novel. One is the vast amount of information contained about the building of the canal. We get a great history lesson about the first attempt by the French, how the U.S. then came to build the canal, the deaths of workers, the ramifications of Panama winning independence from Columbia, and much, much more.

The other strength revolves around the characters and their interaction. There is clever dialog and funny puns. Holt is quick witted when it comes to verbal skills. Some of the characters are very well crafted. My favorite was Miskimon. He has a case of obsessive compulsive disorder long before such things were diagnosed. I was a bit disappointed we did not see more of Saffire, the namesake of the novel. We do find out in the end that she was around but she has such an interesting personality I would have liked a greater involvement in the plot.

I was also disappointed that there was not more of a spiritual aspect to the novel. While it is published by a traditionally “Christian” publisher, I would not identify the book as a “Christian” novel. It contains nothing that would separate it from being identified as being in the general historical fiction genre.

Much of the novel revolves around actual historical events and Brouwer has provided a great deal of information at http://sigmundbrouwer.com/saffire/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Sigmund Brouwer is the best-selling author of nearly thirty novels, with close to four million books in print. He has won the Christy Book of the Year and the Arthur Ellis Award, as well as being nominated for two TD Children's Literature Awards and the Red Maple Award. He splits his time between Nashville, Tennessee and Red Deer, Alberta. He and his wife have two daughters.

Waterbrook, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin GIVEAWAY

Enter the Giveaway at the end of this post.
Synopsis:
In the chaotic aftermath of a massive earthquake that leveled much of the Los Angeles region, a LAPD deputy chief sends an elite team of detectives on a rescue mission. They are ordered to set aside all law enforcement duties, to ignore the destruction and to focus on one task: Find LAPD Detective Gavin Shaw, who disappeared just before the earthquake.

Kevin “Schmitty” Schmidt of the Orange County Sheriff's Department joins five others on the rescue team. With rioting, looting, attacks and homicides rampant in the streets, the six cops have to defend themselves while chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Shaw. The mission takes them through a dizzying war zone and the more they encounter, the more they wonder why they are searching for one man in these extreme circumstances. Why is this man so important to the deputy chief, and why now?

Schmitty discovers that others with high connections are also after Shaw. The questions pile even higher when they learn of a shadowy history between Shaw and the deputy chief. A history with deadly consequences for the team as they uncover a threat that elevates the mission to a race against time.

My Review:
This novel got off to a bit of a slow start but the second half of the novel makes up for it. Schmitty and the team encounter many obstacles in their search for Shaw. It seemed a bit repetitive to me. The action and plot intensity really ramps up about half way through the book. We find out what it is that Shaw knows and why it is so imperative he be found and brought back to head quarters.

We know there is going to be a big earthquake in Southern California some day and this novel gives a good picture of what the area would experience as a result. I had no idea of the large number of gang members and what that would mean to law enforcement after a disaster. Larkin does a good job of describing the lack of mobility and difficulties with infrastructure too.

I really enjoyed the last half of the book when we find out Shaw holds information that might prevent further harm. The rescue team unravels a conspiracy that was decades in the making. And there was a twist at the end that gave me a new appreciation for the remnants that exist after the Cold War. I also like to learn about a topic when I read fiction and this time it was about earthquakes and how they are triggered.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a plot with lots of action. And it is a believable one. We wonder if terrorists have infiltrated our society and what they might accomplish. This novel gives a chilling idea of what is possible.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin' Tour Participants.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Bill Larkin writes crime fiction and is the author of one previous novel and several short stories. He previously served as a reserve with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, then the Los Angeles Police Department where he worked in four different divisions and a detective assignment. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. You can find out more at http://bill-larkin.com/ and follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WriteThrillers.

Book Details:
Genre: Crime Fiction
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: August 4th 2016
Number of Pages: 366
ISBN: 9780989400213
You can purchase the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads.

GIVEAWAY
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Bill Larkin. There will be ONE (1) prize and ONE (1) winner for this tour. The winner will receive one copy of Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin. Winners within the United States may choose either an eBook or a physical book however, winners outside the U.S. can only receive an eBook. This is subject to change without notification. The giveaway begins on August 1st and runs through September 30th.

Follow the link below to enter the Giveaway.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Tours for the purpose of an independent and honest review.