Sunday, October 31, 2010

Advent of a Mystery by Marilyn Leach

Berdie was an investigative reporter but now finds herself in a small village in England with her husband who is the new vicar in the parish.  An elderly woman is murdered and Berdie can't help but get involved to solve the mystery.
There are problems with this book, starting at the back cover.  The copy wrongly says a man dies at a Christmas celebration.  It's a woman who dies and she is murdered in her home.  And then there is this strange use of a pronoun after a preposition, "I mean, with he and his boys littered about."  (Page 228, first line.)
Perhaps the most disconcerting problem is the lack if British style.  I read Anne Perry, Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, etc. and this novel lacks the descriptions so necessary to the style.  The author lives in Colorado and it shows.
The good things about the novel are that the story is pretty good, there is some cute humor, and the print is nice and large for older readers (who would probably appreciate the novel the most).
The novel is over priced at $10.99.

Product information:,6985.aspx?Tab=Books

The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg

This is the best book on Christian apologetics I've read. Challenges to the Christian faith are coming fast and furious. The Bible tells us we are to have a defense for our faith. Mittelberg has given us a great tool to do exactly that.

Christians were asked in a survey which questions about faith would make them most uncomfortable when asked. The top ten responses form the outline for this book.
Some of the questions include those about God's existence, evolution, supposed biblical contradictions, the problem of evil, abortion, homosexuality, and the existence of heaven and hell. 
Mittelberg first identifies the question or criticism so the reader is well prepared for the issue. Then he gives detailed answers to issue or question. He frequently suggests other resources to fill out the readers' knowledge of apologetics. A bibliography at the back gives further resources.
At the end of each chapter is a summary of the answer, tips for talking about the issue and great questions for group discussion.
Lastly, Mittelberg reminds his readers that the world would like for Christians to always be on the defensive. He suggests, “the defense can and should naturally flow into an appropriate and effective offense (without being offensive).” (292) He shows how to take each of the critical questions and turn them around to challenge the skeptic.
This is the most well done apologetic book I've read, and I've read many. If you want to know how to dialogue with your atheist neighbor, this is the book for you.

Product information:

This book was provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers.

Third World America by Arianna Huffington

Reading this book made me mad all over again.
Huffington is concerned our middle class is disappearing. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. “In 2007, the top 10 percent pocketed almost half of all the money earned in America...” (18)

She notes that in 1950, manufacturing accounted for more than 30 percent of nonfarm employment. “As of last year, it's down to 10 percent.” (20) She says, “ the absence of manufacturing, the only way to compete with Third World nations is to become a Third World nation, which is exactly what will happen if we allow our middle class to disappear.” (27)
Huffington says, “ out of every six blue-collar workers has lost his or her job in the latest recession, a number commensurate with what happened during the Great Depression.” (26) The outlook is not bright. “ A June 2008 Harvard Business School study found that up to 42 percent of U. S. jobs – more than fifty million of them – are vulnerable to being sent offshore.” (28)
Just before the financial crisis, the financial industry's share of domestic corporate profit was 41 percent (when the highest it ever was between 1973 and 1985 was 16 percent). (21) Huffington calls this the “financialization of our economy.” Deregulation has been a problem. “Given how close we were in 2008 to the complete collapse of our economic and financial system, anyone who continues to make the case that markets do best when left alone should be laughed off his bully pulpit.” (51)
She doesn't pull any punches. She says, “When it came to the foreclosure crisis, Obama's audacity to win morphed into a timidity to govern.” (74) She soundly takes to task Bush and his tax cuts for the wealthy.
The nation's overall infrastructure (rated an appalling D by The American Society of Civil Engineers) is in need of expensive repair and update.
Lobbyists outnumber our elected officials almost 26 to 1. “In 2009, more than 13,700 registered lobbyists spent a record $3.5 billion swaying government policy the special interests' way...” (129)  It is highly unlikely that the financially rewarded members of congress will ever have our best interest on their minds.
Huffington ends her book with ideas of what we can do. She suggests moving money from big banks to sound local banks. She encourages us to help one another, using social media to find people and organizations needing your help. She supplies several websites to pursue. “Taken together, these efforts, and thousands of others like them, are helping turn the country around.” (233) We cannot rely on the government. “Change is going to have to come from outside Washington.” (234) “The good news:,” she says, “Real change, fundamental change, is possible, but only if we recognize that democracy is not a spectator sport – and get busy.” (234)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin

Social issues are confronted by four generations of women. Hannah hides escaping slaves. Her daughter Beatrice (Bebe), married to an alcoholic, fights Demon Rum (prohibition). Her daughter Lucy fights for woman’s suffrage. And the next generation, Harriet, well, she is a bit lost for a cause. She does know she doesn't ever want to marry until she comes across a childhood schoolmate.

Austin does a great job portraying the mother-daughter relationships of four generations. She weaves their stories around the social issues confronting women of their day. The book is well written and very informative. It helped me understand the concerns women faced a century ago. Discussion questions at the end make it a great choice for reading groups.

Bethany House, 428 pages.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's No Secret by Rachel Olsen

Friends share secrets and there are secrets of the Kingdom God wants us to understand.

Olsen, a staffer with Proverbs 31 Ministries, believes, “...each new generation of women needs to encounter God and discover His truths for themselves.” (22) She covers a dozen hidden treasures from God's Word:
  • Jesus has invited us to come to God through Him,
  • We are to value the Kingdom of God, not the things of the marketplace,
  • We are to let God exalt us rather than plotting our own promotion,
  • We are to let our heavenly lawyer plead our case,
  • We are to store up treasures in heaven rather than hoarding possessions here,
  • We are to allow God to be our storm shelter,
  • We are to concentrate on God's plan for better living, not the world's fickle standards,
  • We are to live our part of being in God's family by helping others and letting them help us,
  • We are to pause to rest and be restored,
  • We are to concentrate more on a clear conscience than clear skin,
  • We are to value wisdom more than our retirement fund.
Olsen uses honest examples from her own life as well as stories of biblical characters to illustrate each secret and highlight its importance. At the end of each chapter is a Bible study that can be used individually or in a group. This book, I think, would be best suited for younger women as seasoned believers may not find new revelation contained in it.
Olsen is quick to point out that the secrets in her book are by no means all of God's deep secrets. If we are faithful with these, however, God will reveal more secrets to us along the way.

David C. Cook, 233 pages.

This book was provided for review by The B&B Media Group, Inc.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Reading groups are fun and tonight we discuss our book for this month.  The time is WW II and the place is Seattle, with its large Asian population.  The main character is a teen Chinese boy who comes to know a Japanese girl.  As political events swirl around them they develop a deep friendship.  Their relationship is tested with the internment orders for those of Japanese descent and the possibility of a long separation.
The novel is a touching story about war and what it does to local communities.  Ford captures the heightened emotions of the era and the individual lives greatly changed by international events.  He has combined a touching love story with the conflict such love causes when it crosses ethnic boundaries.  It is a thoughtful and very well written book. 
Anyone who wants to understand more of the turbulent times on the west coast during WW II will benefit from reading Ford's book.
The reader's guide at the back of the book makes this book a great choice for reading groups.
Ballantine paperback, 285 pages.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan

What an extraordinary book! I’ve read over sixty novels this year and this is certainly the most moving. It is hard to describe. It has a hint of the “other world” in it. I had the same reaction I did when I read the first Frank Peretti novel. It is a glimpse in to the world we do not see yet influences our every choice.
Mercy Land says of herself, “I was born in a bolt of lightning on the banks of Bittersweet Creek. Mama said it was a prophecy…” So begins the story. Mercy works for a newspaper owner in a nearby town. Doc comes into the possession of a strange book that yields visions of the lives of people he knows. He, Mercy, and a childhood friend get wrapped up in the possibilities of the book. Can the choices made in the past be changed? How do those choices affect others?
This novel is nearly perfect. Granted, there are paragraphs here and there, and perhaps a scene or two that could be changed. The novel is engaging and thought provoking. It contains the classic struggle of good and evil, personified in Mercy and a strange woman. The author has developed a plot, however, that makes the struggle fresh and very realistic.
There is a reader’s guide at the back that would make this novel a great choice for reading groups. You’ll be thinking about this novel for a long time after you finish it.

WaterBrook Press, 336 pages.

This book was provided for review by the author’s publicist, KBK Public Relations.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Costly Grace by Jon Walker

Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship over 70 years ago. Walker has interpreted Bonhoeffer's work for the present generation.

Walker's book is penetrating. Almost every paragraph required careful thinking. His writing is not difficult, just very convicting. If you read only a couple of Christian books this year, this needs to be one of them.
Walker notes that many Christians today end up living a life of quiet desperation, trying harder rather than trusting more. “The essence of discipleship,” Walker says, “ to know Jesus at a level of intimacy that can only be sustained by his constant presence in our lives.” (21)
Bonhoeffer was concerned about cheap grace, “the arrogant presumption that we can receive forgiveness for our sins, yet never abandon out lives to Jesus.” (25) Most Christians go to church a couple of hours a week, go to a Bible study, but rarely do we see radically changed lives. We have allowed cheap grace to be the norm of Christian living today.
Walker says Jesus' call is a command to abandon our life so he can fill us with his life. It is an intimate journey down a difficult path. We must listen to Jesus and do what he says. Paul says we have the mind of Christ and we access Christ's mind by meditating on God's Word and listening to the Spirit. Jesus calls us to a life of total dependency on him as we are called to do things that are impossible for mere humans.
Walker is specific with the cost. “The cost of discipleship, then, is this: The way we become like Jesus is through suffering and rejection.” (61) “Everything that touches you is designed to de-center you from your self-for-self mentality in order to be recentered in God's self-for-others nature.” (196)
Walker summarizes each penetrating chapter with bullets of kingdom thinking and questions upon which to meditate.
I'd read Bonhoeffer's book several months ago. It certainly did not have the impact that Walker's book has had. Every Christian should read this book.

Leafwood Publishers, 237 pages.

This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group, Inc.

Rooms by Jason Rubart

What might you be asked to give up to be a follower of Jesus?
Micah Taylor is a successful Seattle software company owner worth millions.  He receives a letter informing him that he has come into possession of a house on the Oregon coast built by his uncle Archie.  Micah goes to the coast to look at the house and begins the adventure of his lifetime.  Through experiencing various rooms in the house and having interactions with people in Cannon Beach, Micah faces his troubled past and his spiritual future.
This is one of those few novels having personal spiritual impact as well as telling a good story.  As I read about Micah facing truth and temptation, I thought about similar experiences in my own life.  This book is not a mindless beach read.  You'll want to review your own spiritual experiences as you read about Micah's.
Rooms is not a "perfect" book.  I think is was too long at nearly 400 pages.  I got a bit weary of Micah facing the same huge question over and over again.  Also, it seemed that some of the supernatural aspects (appearing and disappearing rooms, voices, objects) seemed forced.  At times I thought of this book as The Shack to the extreme. 
All that said, I do suggest you read the book.  Its defects are minor compared to the spiritual impact contained within.  It will make you think about what you are willing to give up to be a true follower of Jesus.

B & H Publishing Group, 375 pages.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Life Book by Carl Blunt

With the emphasis on the separation of church and state, how can God's Word be legally brought to the public schools?  The Life Book Movement is having great success in distributing youth oriented portions of the Bible to high school students.  The Life Book has brief overviews of the Old Testament and the book of John.  The format is interactive as there are comments from students and penetrating questions in the margins.  At the back of the small book are verses and comments about problems teen experience as well as a "What will you do?" section.  
The Gideons International founded The Life Book Movement.  Working with churches, copies of The Life Book are placed in the hands of Christian high school students who then pass them on to their classmates at school.  With studies showing that only 4% of today's teenagers are Bible-believing Christians this is a great way for Christian teens to reach their unchurched classmates.
The Life Book Movement has the ultimate goal of distributing The Life Book to nearly 18 million high school students.  I'm going to encourage my church's youth pastor to get involved.
Teens, go to to request a copy or download it.  You can even add your comments in The Life Book at the web site.
Church members, if you are interested in bringing The Life Book Campaign to your area, go to to find out more information. 
This booklet was provided for review by The B&B Media Group, Inc. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

Grace. It's what we want and the very thing we are so hesitant to extend to others. Is grace important? Stanley points out, "When you read the New Testament, the only thing Jesus stood against consistently was graceless religion." (xiv)

Many are confused about grace because we severely underestimate the impact of sin on our lives and the world. God chose to extend grace to a sin infested world. We wrongly think our attempt at good behavior should fix things. But our only hope is God's offer of grace. It is the only way man can be reconciled to God.
Stanley gives numerous examples of God's grace from the Bible. Even the Law, he reminds us, is an expression of God's grace. From the life of David we find that God's grace has no end, no boundary. From Jonah we learn that God's grace is unpredictable.
Stanley notes that "grace has two sides: It is something to be received. It is something to be extended." (118) Receiving grace is often much easier than dispensing it.
Stanley says, "The grace of God is the life of the Savior coursing through the souls of believers to sustain us through those things that will not or cannot change." (176)
Today, "...the church is God's primary vehicle for dispensing the message of grace..." (197) Stanley took Acts 15:19 to heart when he began his church (North Point Community Church) in 1995. He created the church in Atlanta so that unchurched people would want to attend.
Stanley reminds us, "The church is the steward of his grace." (208) We are the ones God has called to expose our neighbors to God's grace.
This book is a good reminder of our need for and God's willingness to give us His grace.

Nelson, 217 pages.

This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers

Monday, October 18, 2010

Vanishing Act by Liz Johnson

A young woman saw her father gunned down in an alley.  She escaped to another city and changed her identity.  Now the bad guys want her and have sent an assassin to find her.  The FBI wants to find her first to protect her and have her testify in a court case.  When the FBI agent finds her, he starts to fall in love.  Will the two survive the assassin and find ways to overcome the obstacles to their relationship?
This is a fine romance.  There was enough suspense, action and romance to keep me reading to the end.  I am not a romance reader but this one was pretty good.  Both the main characters are Christians and they are well portrayed.  It is a nice, light read.
Steeple Hill, 215 pages.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tranforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell

O’Dell believes “that rural America is one of the most over-churched, unreached people groups in the world.” (17) There are enough churches. There is one on most corners in small towns. The problem is that most of them are small (over sixty percent of Protestant churches average fewer than sixty people a Sunday) and have unique challenges they must deal with in order to survive.
O’Dell had been a youth pastor in a large Oklahoma City church when he sensed God’s call to lead a church. He went to Southside Baptist in 2003. The church, after fifty years of ministry, had 31 attending and a budget under $45,000. Today they have 2,000 people attending, an iCampus and a global outreach. He shares his journey, hoping that other rural churches will take the same country road.
He realized he needed to grow individuals, not the size of the congregation. He began to love people. He implemented a new leadership structure (after lively but civil discussion). He had the pews removed and strife ensued (the tip of an iceberg). Families left and his ministry hit a low point.
But O’Dell had a vision. He believed that God would provide what was needed. He followed the biblical model and raised up leaders from his congregation, most as volunteers at the beginning.
O’Dell was not without his serious trouble. He had to let staff go with the economic downturn. He had a staff member and friend spread rumors about him, trying to ruin his ministry. O’Dell freely advises that it takes vision and endurance to get through the pattern of change, conflict and growth.
Helpful resources are provided in websites and video links. The question is whether what worked for O’Dell will work for other rural pastors. This book will certainly be an encouragement to small town pastors if they have the vision and endurance required.

New Leaf Press, #9780892216949, 200 pages.

This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels

God has come to people in fire and thunder (Mt. Sinai) and in a gentle and quiet whisper (Elijah).  Hybels had thought of God as way off, as CEO of the universe.  For years Hybels was "oblivious to the fact that he was right by my side all along."  (43)  He learned to hear the whisper of God.
Hybels gives many examples of God's whispers to him and to others.  He reminds the readers that to hear God one needs to be quiet, turning off the cell phone and TV.  He also gives guidelines to make sure what you hear is from God.  He suggests what to do when you make the time and place to listen to God and hear nothing.
God may whisper through Scripture but you have to know it before God can bring it to your mind.  "The most predictable way to hear from heaven is to read and apply God's Word."  (117)
God's whisper may rock your world.  "Whispers can be dangerous things.  They can come with huge price tags."  (36)  Hybels shares his own troublesome times when listening to God and obeying brought tension in his ministry.
Hybels is very honest in his struggles to obey God's whispers.  His stories will be an encouragement to anyone wanting to hear from God.  The verses he lists at the end of the book are a good source for beginning to hear the whisper of God.
"Obeying the Spirit instead of your own self-centered whims will lead you to places you've never been, challenge you in ways you have never been challenged and invite levels of sacrifice you never dreamed you could make."  (253)  "Amazing what can happen when one believer listens to God."  (72)

Zondervan, 269 pages.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Ivengar

This is a fascinating book.  We think we choose independently.  The truth, however, is that we are greatly influenced in our choices.  Ivengar has done many studies on her own and she reports on many others.  Her famous "jam" experiment showed that more options from which to choose does not always make a better situation for the one choosing.
She covers all kinds of topics, from how groups order food or beverages when eating together to how placement of candidates on a ballot influences voting.  We think we choose our clothing.  However, the colors (and styles) are chosen for us years in advance.
I listened to the audio and was pleased to hear a conversation with the author at the end.  Ivengar is blind and one question she was asked was how she chose the photographer for her book jacket as well as the clothing she wore.
This is a great book to clear some some of the misconceptions about choice and how we decide.  It is very enlightening.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski

The prevailing view today is that science stands opposed to science. Berlinski (a secular Jew) notes that great scientific theories do not mention a word about God. “Confident assertions by scientists … that God does not exist have nothing to do with science, and even less to do with God’s existence.” (xii) Until recent rise of “militant atheism,” science and religion were seen as two fine things. Scientists now attack religious belief.
Berlinksi takes them on. To those who note the suffering caused by religious fanaticism, he draws attention to this last century. Certainly not an era of faith, it was full of horror. To those who criticize faith because it is belief in something unseen, he draws attention to the neutrino. No one has seen a neutrino, only it’s trail. So why is belief in the neutrino reasonable but belief in God is not? To those who criticize belief in a triune God as irrational he draws attention to light, which is both particle and wave (depending on how one looks at it).
Berlinski addresses the theoretical constructs created by scientists to explain the universe and notes how remarkable easy it is for physicists to pass from “speculation about” the construct to the conviction it exists. (100) His case in point is quantum cosmology. It is elegant in its mathematics but does it actually represent reality? “Quantum cosmology is a branch of mathematical metaphysics,” he claims. (107) It proves no cause, answers no questions about nor offers a reason for the existence of the universe.
Nothing is off limits for Berlinski. Richard Dawkins, he writes, “has nothing but contempt for theology, often glorying in his impressive ignorance…” (150) He criticizes the thesis that “the sciences are true … and that only the sciences are true.” (56-7) Scientists see their institution as uniquely self-critical. No outside critics are needed.
Berlinski takes an honest look at Darwinism. “Within the English speaking world, Darwin’s theory of evolution remains the only scientific theory to be widely championed by the scientific community and widely disbelieved by everyone else.” (186) The reasons are two. “The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence.” (187)
He notes that most of the fossil evidence does not support a gradual account of evolution. There is no laboratory demonstration of speciation. Efforts to measure natural selection have failed. (189) “Computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail when they are honest…” (190)
But, Berlinski affirms, Darwin’s theory of evolution does have a place in modern science. “It serves as the creation myth of our time…” (190-1) He suggests that in faculty lounges biologists sigh with relief. “…[I]t is a very good thing the public has no idea what the research literature really suggests.” (192) There is a “serious pattern on intellectual discontent with Darwinian doctrine.” (194)
Berlinski ends his book by reminder the reader of the crisis in scientific thought four hundred years ago. Then, the Church held on to the convoluted celestial spheres of the Ptolemaic system refusing to accept the scientific evidence of a sun-centered solar system. Galileo, in 1613, pled for tolerance and freedom of inquiry. The same kind of drama is being played out now. Perhaps it is time release the tight hold on the convoluted theory of evolution. Perhaps it is time to quit silencing the scientists who questions the “evidence” for evolution. Perhaps it is time for scientists to admit that they may have misunderstood their “religion” (evolution) just as the Church ultimately did four hundred years ago.
Berlinski writes with wit, humor and knowledge. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia in mathematics and molecular biology. He knows whereof he writes.
My one criticism of the book is that there are no footnotes and no bibliography. As a reader who likes to “check the facts,” I am unable to make sure Berlinski has quoted scientists accurately. Other than that, this book is a great objective look at science today and its limits as to what can be known scientifically.
Crown Publishing Group, 225 pages.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay

Could it be that in the church today many do not understand the most basic concept of righteousness? A recent Barna study found that many associated righteousness with religious acts.This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Reformation was founded on the need for the church to recapture a biblical understanding of righteousness. “It is both ironic and sad that five hundred years later only 38 percent of Christians who identify with the reformed traditions say they are very familiar with the concept of righteousness.” (126)
Seay defines righteousness as “God’s restorative justice.” He believes Christians have ignored, distorted and misunderstood the gospel according to Jesus. (13) Seay wants his readers to tune their lives to Jesus and his work of making all things right.
We are to become agents of restoration. We are not to see others as “good” or “bad” but broken. God invites us to join in his redemptive work in their lives.
Seay ends his book with the patterns in life that will lead us out of brokenness and into Christ-centered completeness. I was surprised as the list includes feasting, spending time in nature, being real, pursuing real friendships, knowing others genuinely as well as other, more traditional disciplines.
Seay concludes, “I believe that God can redeem all things, that what is broken God seeks to fix, and that he uses his people, his church, to bring restorative justice to all things that are broken.” (197)
This is a look at righteousness and the work of God that is new to me. I wish there had been discussion questions included for group use. Nonetheless, this is a book that will get you to thinking, and hopefully to action, as we participate in God’s work in the world.

The Last Operative by Jerry Jenkins

Jenkins wrote the original form of this novel over twenty years ago.  It was his first stand alone novel.  He has done a great job of rewriting it for the current reader.
Jordan is the last of an elite group within the NSA.  Knowledge of betrayal inside the NSA, at the highest levels, comes to him.  He then sees his wife gunned down and realizes his own life in is danger.  Who can he trust at the NSA?  How can he stop the plan for terrorists to place nuclear warheads on the planes already stashed within the U.S.?
I read Vince Flynn so I know the NSA and their operatives (in print).  Jenkins does a great job in portraying a Christian involved in the defense of the U.S.  The story is well written and the dialogue is snappy.
If you like espionage but want it from a Christian viewpoint, I highly recommend this book.
Tyndale House publishers, 371 pages.