Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Constantly Craving by Marilyn Meberg

Humanity (Eve) once had perfection and wholeness. It was lost and now we long for it. We think we can find it in romance, accomplishments, possessions, etc. Maybe it is just a restlessness, an itch for something more. We are just not satisfied.
Marilyn identifies that longing in this book. She names it so we can understand it and investigate its possible fulfillment. She looks at how the cravings express themselves and how we can better understand them.
First is romance and its stages. She looks at how our cravings (for touch and others) affect the marriage relationship.
Next is our longing for contentment and how Paul learned to be content. After that, Marilyn writes about happiness and enlarging our capacity for happiness (developing an attitude of gratitude). She explains our need for intimacy, how friendships include our willingness to help in time of need, and how we can mentor others.
And who doesn't want more time? She encourages us to take the time to do the right thing, including time with the Creator.
We crave meaning for our life. We will only find ultimate meaning by placing our hope in God. “He is our inner significance that provides meaning for all we do.” (87) Knowing God and loving others gives meaning to life. Marilyn gives suggestions for clarifying your sense of purpose. She reminds you that ultimately only God can satisfy your craving for meaning and purpose.
And what about craving revenge? An unforgiving spirit is a heavy load. Confession is a necessary practice.
Sometimes we long for the familiar, the comforting, the security of what was.
Ultimately, Marilyn says:
Why do we have cravings? We're homesick.
Homesick for what? Heaven.
Homesick for whom? God.” (132)
Only God will totally eliminate all our cravings and only when we're home with Him in heaven.
Should we just give in to our cravings? It's easier. Marilyn reminds us that as long as we are still on this earth, we will be faced with cravings and the temptation to take the path of least resistance. Don't forget how much the Father loves you and encourages you to do.

I was a little surprised by this book. I guess I was expecting something humorous (as some of the Women of Faith books are). But this is a serious topic and I can tell Marilyn feels deeply about it. This is not a book with “how to” suggestions. Only God can fulfill our longings and we are encouraged to trust in Him.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 240 pages.

I received an egalley from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Twilight's Last Gleaming by Robert Jeffress

According to a recent Reuters Poll, 73 percent of Americans feel our country is heading in the wrong direction. (4) Perhaps you feel that way too and wonder what you can do to make a difference in America.
Jeffress says the collapse of America is coming. “We have both the ability and responsibility to delay the decay of our nation, even if we can't ultimately reverse it.” (7) this book is about what Christians can do to be the salt and light Christ commanded us to be. When people refuse to stand up against unrighteousness, evil always triumphs. “It's time for Christians to intervene.” (29)
Jeffress reviews the decline of godly influence in society, from Supreme Court decisions to school board actions. He speaks to intolerance, what it really means, and where the intolerance of Christian ideas might lead us.
He discusses how Christians should be involved in politics and gives four criteria for selecting a candidate.
Jeffress includes a chapter “for pastors only” on God's plan for the church, the pastor's calling and responsibility, and guidelines for preaching on issues.
Jeffress does not tip toe around issues. For example, he says voting for Mitt Romney is not voting for a Christian. “Mormonism is not Christianity. It is a false religion,” he writes. (110)
He quotes Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appointed by President James Madison in 1811 to show that the First amendment was not aimed at tolerating other religions but was to prevent any denomination within Christianity from being elevated above others to become a national religion. (89)

Christians are not to panic, Jeffress writes. “As representatives of the King of kings, Christians need to stop hyperventilating during every election and making hysterical comments... Remember, God is not seated on His throne biting his nails over any election. God already knows the outcome, because He has determined the outcome.” (123)
Jeffress is quick to point out, however, that we are not to use God's sovereignty as an excuse for passivity.

I have read a number of books on Christians and politics in the last several years. This one might just be the most sensible and God honoring one I have read. Jeffress has included questions for further reflection at the end of the book so this would be a good choice for groups studying the Christian's responsibility in culture and politics.

Robert Jeffress is senior pastor of the 10,000 member First Baptist church of Dallas, Texas. He regularly appears on mainstream media outlets. He is the host of Pathway to Victory, heard over 720 radio stations nationwide. He has a bold and practical approach to ministry and is a respected evangelical leader in the U. S. See more at www.ptv.org.

Worthy Publishing, 227 pages (hardcover).

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Beautiful Wife by Sandy Ralya

This book is not about physical beauty. “It's a book for the woman who longs to develop deep relationships with real women who don't gloss over the dirty realities of life.” (17) Because women have helped and do help her in the ups and downs of her marriage, Sandy helps others through her Beautiful Womanhood ministry and this book.
She shares biblical principles and their practical applications, illustrating them with life experiences – stories of imperfect women with imperfect marriages.
The twelve chapters in the book cover:
Equipping (turn to God, understand your role, share within a community of women, Titus 2:1,3-5). This forms the basis for the work in the rest of the book.
Self-Care (spiritual, emotional, physical)
Genuineness (removing the masks)
Mystique (passions, priorities, appearance, attitude)
Romance (Trust, Respect, Appreciate, Confer, Expose)
Sex (thoughts, improvements)
Communication (direct, kind, time and place, listen, initiate dialogue)
Speaking Truth (identify, love, speak)
Money (God's plan, spending, crisis)
Beauty (expression, attitude, focus)
Professional (strategy for success)
Choices (humility, obedience, begin)
At the end of each chapter, Ralya includes Reflections for meditation and discussion, as well as First Steps, to get the reader going on the path.

Ideally, this book (and the companion books below) would be used as the curriculum for a Beautiful Womanhood small group. You could start such a group in your church or community. There is a free small-group starter kit available at www.beautifulwomanhood.com.
These books can also be used individually. You might want to find one other wife to encourage as each of you read through the book and respond to the Reflection questions. You can always join in on the conversation with other wives reading The Beautiful Wife on Facebook. For ongoing marriage enrichment, subscribe to the blog at www.beautifulwomanhood.com/blog.

The companion materials include a Prayer Journal and a Mentor's Guide.
The Prayer Journal corresponds to each chapter in The Beautiful Wife. It includes a prayer on the chapter topic to pray each day of the week, questions on the chapter with Scripture verses to look up, and lots of space to record the thoughts generated. The Journal is an excellent tool to help incorporate The Beautiful Wife principles into daily life.
The Mentor's Guide has great suggestions for the leader and ideas for the host of the group. Tips for leaders include the general technique of mentoring, leading the group sessions (including how to deal with group dynamics), etc. There are also suggestions for the individual chapter sessions, preparing for discussion, points to emphasize, prayer, and an optional creative activity. This Guide contains all you need to mentor other wives.

I am impressed with this material. If you feel God's call on your life to mentor wives, this will be an excellent resource for you.

Sandy Ralya: When her own marriage was in trouble, she did not know where to go for help. She turned to God through Bible reading and prayer. She sought help from trusted friends, godly counselors and wise Christian friends. The support she received from other women inspired her to become the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a Christian marriage ministry for wives. She has appeared on several talk shows and is a sought after speaker. Snady and her husband Tom have been married since 1980 and live near Grand Rapids, MI. they have three adult children and four granddaughters. Find out more about her and her ministry at www.beautifulwomanhood.com.

Watch a video of Sandy's testimony here.

Watch a video about the Beautiful Womanhood ministry here.

I am one of many taking part in the blog tour of this book.  You can see the reviews of others here.

I received complimentary copies of these books from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Embraced by God by Babbie Mason

Have you ever wondered, “Does God really love me?” If so, you are not alone. Babbie has had those thoughts and she has been Christian most of her life.
She writes, “I believe we long to be with Him and desire to be loved completely by Him so that we will stay in His presence – where He desires us to be.” (13-14) Studying Scripture, Babbie came to understand that God loved her as He did His Son.
Babbie realized that this profound understanding of God's love would be meaningful to others so she wrote Embraced by God. In it, she explores the depths of God's love. She provides twenty one days of readings, sharing her experiences, insights, the secrets of her heart, and sometimes a song.
Babbie's book is a manual for developing a deeper love life with God. “There is absolutely nothing more important in the world than developing an intimate, life-changing relationship with Him.” (40) She reflects on seven aspects of our love relationship with the Lord:
God's passion for you is unconditional.
God's picture of you is beautiful.
God's presence in you is perpetual.
God's provision for you is immeasurable.
God's plan for you is exceptional.
God's power in you is accessible.
God's promise in you is incomparable.
She includes areas to consider and act upon and recommends using a notebook. She has practical ideas for people with low self-esteem, feel unloved, or try to fill up their loneliness with things.
Babbie quickly points out that God's unconditional, passionate love for us is not because we qualify for it. It is because of Jesus. He is our provision, our rest, and much more.

I liked her take on success: “Success is not in who you know, but in who knows you.” (276) And her “rubber band theology,” when you faith is stretched to the limit is when you will be launched the farthest in ministry. (326)

Babbie's prayer is that her readers will be changed as they realize God's passionate and complete love for them, that this book will increase their capacity to love Him and receive His love, allowing Him to impact every area of life.
What a good book!
Babbie's message: “You are God's favorite.”

Babbie Mason is a Dove Award-winning and Grammy nominated gospel singer, songwriter, author, and creator of the Embrace: A Worship Event for Women ministry, professor of songwriting at Atlanta Christian College and Lee University, and a television talk-show host. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more about her at www.babbie.com.

I am taking part in a blog tour.  Go here to see other reviews.

Abingdon Press, 422 pages.  Buy the book.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Honor Redeemed by Loree Lough

The second in this series is very much like the first (From Ashes to Honor). Honor is involved in Search and Rescue, working with her two dogs. Matt is a past rescue worker, but when his wife died and left him with twin boys to raise, he became a newspaper reporter.
When these two meet, there is attraction on both sides. The novel consists of the struggles the two have over past hurts, trying to come to a point where each can make a commitment to the other.
This is a very character driven novel. Much of the text consists of the characters thinking, trying to convince themselves making a commitment is the right thing to do, pulling back, then being sorry, then thinking of making a commitment, worrying about it...
There is a little more action in this novel than the first in the series as Honor actually does go out on a dangerous rescue. However, the action of the rescue is missing as we go from her arriving on the scene to to her being in need of rescue. It is rather odd, though, to have novels about the important people who first respond in times of crisis yet the response work actually not being part of the novel (while it is talked about by some of the characters). Lough is a writer of ruminating thoughts, not of dramatic scenes.
The ending in unsatisfactory. The characters at the end of the novel have not worked through their issues and are no more ready to make a commitment than they were at the beginning. So what is the point of the novel? There's no growth in the characters, no resolving of issues. So why even read it? Why go through a couple of hundred pages of emotional drama and end up right where you started?

Lough writes for emotional drama and sometimes, it seems to me, with unsatisfactory results. One example is at the end of chapter 19. Honor has fallen asleep in the arms of Matt, at Honor's home. He is thinking some serious thoughts about their relationship, about when she wakes up. Thoughts that will have an immediate effect on their relationship. Yet the next chapter begins in a totally different situation. There is no Matt leaving her house, no further action on those serious thoughts Matt was thinking. Granted, reference was make a bit later about his leaving in the morning, but only in reference to his nanny for the boys, not in regard to the relationship between Matt and Honor. I felt Lough had brought the novel to a serious point, and then just moved on to another scene, as if the night before had never happened.
In my mind, an editor needs to go through her writing an point out these areas of heightened emotion which do not move the novel forward but are only for drama.

Abingdon Press Fiction, 272 pages.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

three free sins by Steve Brown

Preachers are supposed to keep people from sinning, Brown says. He's been trying for forty years and hasn't been very successful so far. We have a proclivity to sin. We are drawn to it.
The church is in serious trouble, Brown claims. It's not because we don't have the latest program. The problem is that we've taken the good news and made it bad news.
If you are tired of trying not to sin, of trying to live the victorious Christian life, Brown has good news for you.
Like Luther, Brown writes, “Sin boldly!” (42) “We are serious sinners,” Brown says. (81) We are not nearly as righteous as we think we are.
He gives you permission to be human and forgiven. If you have free sins, you don't have to wear a mask any more. You don't have to please anybody but Jesus (and He is already pleased). You have “unlimited free sins.” (150)
“The gospel of free sins makes getting better sort of irrelevant.” (115) “You don't have to get better. This first truth is the essence of the gospel and this book.” (118) You don't have to get better to make God love you, to maintain his love, to witness, to make a difference, to be sanctified or holy. But you will get better, Brown says. God will do it. You probably won't even know it.

This is a disturbing book. Oh, it's not disturbing because Brown announces that all my sins are forgiven, past, present and future. I've understood that since my youth and don't try to make God love me more by behavior. I got that a long time ago.
What makes this book disturbing is how Brown describes himself. “I tried to work at [getting better],” he writes, “and I got worse.” (225) So he quit trying. “I already have enough trouble getting through the day without screwing it up so badly I can't fix it.” (106) He calls himself “a cynical old preacher.” (139) He says, “...I'm about as messed up as anybody I know.” (131)
His attitude seems to be, we are sinners, we are going to sin no matter how hard we try not to, we are forgiven by God, so just consider all your sins free. Just stop worrying about sin and live your life with gusto.

This book is disturbing because Brown seems to ignore the commands in the New Testament to “be better,” as he calls it. Commands to renew your mind, to put on compassion, abstaining from every form of evil, putting away anger, etc.
He ignores concepts like knowing people by their fruit, or Paul beating his body so he would not be disqualified, or church discipline, or caring for the needs of others more than your own, of being transformed from glory to glory. I think you get my point.

This book is disturbing because sometimes Brown writes things just to shock us, I think. “And the more you are sanctified, the less you will feel close to God...” (130) On whether he is getting better or not: “Either way, it doesn't matter, because that isn't the issue. Jesus loves me big either way!” (131) “Repentance isn't changing; it's God's way of changing us if that is what he wants.” (38) “...[Y]our sin – is the greatest gift God has given you if you know it. … Your obedience...your getting better is the most dangerous place you can be when you know it.” (39)

The book is disturbing because Brown says he honestly thinks that, “...Satan has a plan of deception that might have something to do with your unease about the concept of free sins.” (161) Ah, the ultimate trump card in theological debate. If I don't agree with Brown, it is because I am being deceived by Satan.

And perhaps, for me, the most disturbing of all is how he describes our relationship to God. God is part of our DNA. “...[T]his God thing in us is not altogether different from hunger, sexual desire, or the drive for peace and security; only it's far bigger.” (215) I think likening God in me to hunger or sexual desire is doing God a great injustice, to put it mildly.

If you have been taught that God will love you only when you are behaving the way He wants, then this book will be very freeing for you. But if you have any maturity at all in your Christian walk, if you at all understand that your sins are forgiven and you have been called to live a life worthy of the gospel, I think you will find this book disturbing too. And not in a good way.

Paul admonished the Philippians to “be better” (as Brown calls it) so that they would be blameless and innocent, “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world...” (Phil. 2:14-15). And if that seems impossible, the really good news is that as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) For me, the really good news of the gospel is not to quit trying. The really good news is that if I try to please God (please Him, not make Him love me more), He is right there in me, making it happen!

Steve Brown is a broadcaster, seminary professor, author, and the founder and president of Key Life network. He previously served as a pastor for over twenty-five years. You can find out more about him and his ministry at www.keylife.org.

Howard Books ( a division of Simon & Schuster), 239 pages.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

Freya and Daniel are on a school field trip to an old church when, in their boredom, they discover a passageway to a tunnel. They come upon two nights who had been sleeping for a thousand years. When the way back to their school group has vanished, the knights lead Freya and Daniel to a world below. The kingdom of the knights is being attacked by hideous beings with evil intent.
The evil will stop only when life leaves the leader Gad. But he has hidden his mortality. “Only if that mortality can be found and destroyed will Gad be vulnerable to attack.” (173) Only a mortal can destroy Gad's mortality – a mortal like Freya or Daniel.
The time is getting desperate. Evil is already beginning to rise on the surface of the earth. In the north of Great Britain, animals have been found slaughtered, people murdered and committing suicide.
Only Daniel or Freya can stop the rise of evil from below.

As the book progresses, we follow three stories. In the now, it is three years after the underground adventure. Freya is in college and Daniel is a wandering fellow. Their current stories converge then they are again separated as Daniel has “fallen” into another world and Freya battles evil on the surface. Interspersed with the (nearly) present story is the account of “before,” when Freya and Daniel were underground. Although it sounds a bit disjointed, in general, the storyline works. On occasion I would let the book lie for a couple of days and when I resumed reading, it would take me a while to figure out which time period I was reading. I would suggest you read this book through, not reading other novels along with it, as I am wont to do.

The spiritual lessons in the book are clear. There is evil and then there is very deceptive evil. There are also theological ideas to think about. For example, as Daniel wanders through a forest, he asks and the forest provides what he needs. “What he couldn't understand was whether the forest was creating these things for him on request or if they existed already and was just moving them into his path. Or if it was all just coincidence.” (208-209) Haven't we had the same kinds of thoughts about God's providence?

This is a great debut for a new fantasy author, following in his father's footsteps. I would have tightened up the telling of the various stories (“now,” “two weeks before,” “then,” etc.) but that did not bother me so much as I still enjoyed the overall story. I look forward to the sequel, as the evil has not yet been destroyed, only mortally wounded.

A reader's guide is included at the end of the book so this would be a fine choice of fantasy reading groups.

Ross Lawhead has collaborated with his father on a trilogy of speculative fiction, written and illustrated a graphic novel, and published two volumes of poetry. This is his first full-length novel. He lives in Oxford, England. You can find more of his thoughts at www.rosslawhead.com/blog/.

Thomas Nelson, 377 pages. Buy the book from ChristianBook.com.

I am participating in the CSFF blog tour of this book and received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for that purpose.
You may want to check out the review of others participating in this blog tour:

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Qur'an Dilemma by former Muslims

How can an English-speaking reader make sense of the Qur'an?
The authors of this work fulfill the need for an objective tool to investigate the sacred text of Islam in English. This book presents the text of the Qur'an (in English) with parallel commentary.
The commentary addresses important issues Muslim scholars have wrestled with for centuries, giving rounded views of the various schools of thought. It examines the Qur'an from three perspectives. First, it investigates and analyzes the historical, factual, and linguistic difficulties in the text. Second, it investigates the annulment of certain verses, that is, those verses which abrogate or nullify other verses. The third issue addressed is that of the variant readings.
The book also contains additional articles on the issues of the Qur'an. Topics such as the treatment of women, the compilation of the Qur'an, the treatment of people of other faiths, and the chronological sequence of its suras (chapters) are a few.
Helpful resources have been added to the back of the book, including definitions, additional reading, proper names, timeline, subject index, and maps.

The articles in part one of this book are a great introduction to the Qur'an, covering its name, structure, influence, origin and compilation. It was revealing to find that, at one point, Muhammad suspected that he had become mad. At other times he believed he had become a diviner.
A lengthy article covers the several compilations of the Qur'an and their differences. The Qur'an circulating among Muslims today is of two versions that have been revised repeatedly over the centuries.
In the article on abrogation, the authors note that, while abrogation was done by Muhammad himself, no one dares do it now. Many problematic verses of the Qur'an remain and it cannot adapt to the changing world of its followers. (86)
The article on the variant reading notes that, not only were there some during the time of Muhammad, but he approved them. (91) The authors state that there are several codices that differ in meaning. As a result, there are different religious rulings based on those different meanings. (98)
The article on women reveals that husbands can beat their wives and can take up to four wives.

The second part of the book consists of a short instruction on reading the Qur'an and then the text, with commentary, through Q 9:129. The Palmer translation is used.
The authors provide a short introduction to each sura. This alerts the reader to historical, linguistic, exegetical and other important issues. The authors have added though provoking questions at the end of many sections of commentary.

The third part of the book contains references and resources.

The work is the product of many former Muslim writers, Islamic specialists, scholars, editors, researchers, and translators. All are Christians. Some have revealed their association with this work while others will do so when the second volume is published.

This book is a great resource for Christians working with those of the Muslim faith.

www.theQuran.com to see more about the book, ordering it, and many resources.  ISBN 9781935577034, $39.95.
Go to www.theQurandilemma.com to read the blog of Al Fadi, the editor.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Glass Road Public Relations for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

If God, Why Evil? by Normal Geisler

The question most asked of Geisler has been, “If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?” Since there was no short and concise book on the topic, he wrote this one.
He clearly states the issue and uses the Bible as his source for answers.
Some deny that evil even exists. If so, Geisler asks, then why do we experience so much hurt? Some deny that God exists. If so, where do we even get the idea of good and evil?
Theism (Christianity) believes in evil and God. Are an absolutely good God and evil incompatible?
Geisler explores the origin and nature of evil, addressing the proposition that God created evil. He also deals with the sovereignty of God and evil, as well as how evil arose in a good universe.
He writes on the persistence of evil, the purpose of evil, the pain associated with evil, and why God doesn't supernaturally prevent the consequences of evil. He also writes about hell, evidence for its existence, its reasonableness, and answers those who object to it.
He investigates the question of those who have never heard the gospel and their punishment in hell.
There are several appendices, covering animal death before Adam, evidence for the existence of God, and a critique of The Shack.

Since the original triad questioning the existence of God and evil is a logical argument, much of Geisler's book is based on logic. One might want to brush up on the principles of logic to receive the full impact of this book.
It would seem that Geisler is writing for Christians. For example, he speaks of total depravity (21) without defining it. Some readers may be confused here as he seems to assume his readers already want this term means.

This book is somewhat concise (only 122 pages before Appendix 1). Those who have read other book on apologetics and the issue of evil will probably not find anything new in this slim book. This book would be a good introduction for those who are new to the subject.

Bethany House Publishers, 167 pages.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

From Ashes to Honor by Lorlee Lough

From the cover and the fact that this is the first in the “First Responder” series, I was expecting an action book. There is not much action in this book, however. It is pretty much all character study.
Austin Finley was a police officer in New York City in September of 2011. His brother had been bothering him with phone calls for days and on September 11, Austin ignored yet one more call. But this call was the last from his brother who died on 9/11.
Dealing with regret and guilt, anger and alcohol, Austin is told he must see the police psychiatrist. After stormy sessions, Dr. Mercy Samara recommends desk duty. Austin leaves the force and becomes an EMT in Baltimore.
Dr. Samara has her own issues. Unable to cope with all the stories and memories of 9/11, she becomes a high school counselor...in Baltimore.
When a football practice incident requires an ambulance, Austin and Mercy come face to face and are shocked to see each other. It seems Austin had been attracted to Mercy and the two get reacquainted.

For me, this novel just did not work. In the opening scenes, the animosity between Austin and Dr. Samara is clear. That he would be attracted to her when he sees her again, years later, is rather abrupt and out of the flow of the earlier scene.
Austin's gotten his life together and is now a committed Christian. Mercy is a different story. She has given up on the God of her father and is bitter toward Him. She is angry at God for the murder of her father and all the other hurts she has experienced. She has even tried to commit suicide. (I find it hard to believe that a high school would hire her as a counselor with an attempted suicide in her history.)
Nonetheless, Austin pursues Mercy and they have a rocky relationship, trying to move beyond all the hurts each have experienced. Throw in a quirky couple that live next to Austin and Mercy getting attacked and beaten by three teen muggers and you have the story.

The flow of the book is odd. One chapter ends with Austin being sure he cannot pursue the relationship and the next page just continues on as if he never had the thoughts. A few chapters later and Mercy goes through the same thoughts yet the next chapter's opening as if the thoughts never occurred. I felt jerked around a bit.

And the end of the book is unsatisfactory. It just stops in the midst of the two developing their relationship. It could have stopped a hundred or two hundred pages earlier with the same effect. I have started reading the second in this series and was very surprised to read that Austin and Mercy are engaged. I was surprised because at the end of this book, there are so many issues that needed to be resolved before that could happen. Namely, has Mercy become a Christian?
This abrupt transition is typical of the book. The first book ends with what appears to be insurmountable problems and the second book opens with no mention of the problems (at least in the beginning) and the two are engaged and apparently set to live happily ever after.  (It must be the boilerplate Christian romance genre thing.)

Lorlee Lough has written over eighty books.  Many have been for the Christian romance genre. You can find out more about her and her books at www.lorleelough.com.

Abingdon Press, 336 pages.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How We Did It by Nancy B. Kennedy

If you are like me, you struggle with your weight. A 2010 survey by the CDC found 68 percent of Americans are overweight. And of that, 34 percent are considered obese, meaning they carry 20 percent or more in excess of their ideal body weight.
Kennedy knows that our hunger is often much deeper than food. Our souls cry out and we eat food to assuage the pain. Eating what's good for you is a learned behavior.
Kennedy wrote this book to celebrate determined people who have triumphed against incredible odds. Researchers have found that it is not the plan but the sticking to it that is important. (18) Choosing the plan one can stick to dramatically increases the success.
She asked several people to not only tell their story, but also identify the people, books and thoughts that influenced them. Some used a personal trainer. Some took time off from their job to go to a diet and fitness center. Some just persevered on their own.
She organizes these stories into categories, such as those requiring group support (such as Weight Watchers, 12 step programs), those balancing carbs and fats (such as the Zone), those emphasizing exercise, brand name plans (such as Atkins, South Beach), faith based plans, and surgery.
Kennedy also includes information about the particular plan used. She gives websites and names of books involved. She also notes the personality traits that would make each plan a person's choice. One program might be right for you if you spend lots of time in front of a computer and are self-motivated. Another might be best if you love creating meals from prescribed recipes. Yet a different plan might be your if you love to track calories.
She includes sections on children and weight loss, as well as losing weight because of other medical conditions.
Her conclusion, “But if I've learned anything through writing this book, it's that what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. The more sources of information you have, and the more ideas you hear, the more likely it is that you'll stumble on the strategies that will work for you.” (202-3)

There is a wealth of information in this book. It includes what people learned from other books and programs. What is most important about gaining health is finding the routine that works for you. Kennedy's book gives you the information you need to do exactly that. An added plus is reading all of the encouraging stories. If they can do it, so can you.

Nancy B. Kennedy has a degree in journalism from Penn State University. She has served as an editor and has had articles published in various magazines. Her most recent book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, was published in 2011. She lives in Hopewell, N.J., with her husband and son. You can read more of her writing at www.nancybkenndy.com.

Leafwood Publishers, 224 pages.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joy of Calvinism by Greg Forster

Foster reminds us of the command to rejoice without ceasing. He writes, ...if you want to understand the command to rejoice at all times, and still more if you want to obey it, of all places you might start looking for help with that problem, the best place to start is with Calvinism.” (14) More specifically, soteriology – the understanding of how sinners are saved – as developed from Calvin.
“Real Calvinism is all about joy.” (16) We Calvinists need to do a better job of communicating that. We need to be affirmative, expressing the joy of living in the truth of Calvinistic theology. Foster gives us a blueprint for that very task in this book.
His goal is, “to tell you what Calvinism says, especially what it says about your everyday walk with God and the purpose of the Christian life, and how you can have the joy of God even in spite of whatever trials and suffering the Lord has called you to endure.” (22)
Most people are badly mistaken about Calvinism (even Calvinists) so Foster takes a detour and clears up some mistaken thoughts about Calvinism. (As a Calvinist myself, I really appreciated this section.)
Foster tackles God's love for individuals (as opposed to God loving “humanity” in general), and what that means regarding salvation. (It is an excellent passage.) He also notes that Calvinism is not “all about predestination and God's sovereignty” though he does note Calvinists have a “high” view of those areas to preserve other important doctrines. He notes that a distinctive of Calvin's theology was a “high” view of the work of the Holy Spirit (supernatural regeneration). “For the Calvinist, the whole Christian life, individually and collectively – salvation, worship, discipleship, and mission – is not only from God and to God but also through God in the overwhelming, all-encompassing, miraculous power of the Spirit.” (43)
Forster reminds his readers that God loves us individually, intimately, completely. He explains how this affects salvation. He shows how traditions other than Calvinism depersonalize God's love and reduces the work of Christ. He also realizes that there is “no solution” to the problem of God's personal love and the fact that not everyone is saved. (66) The reason God chooses some for salvation is hidden within God. He covers the work of the Holy Spirit, transcending our nature. He also covers the work we must do in sanctification, most notably, endure suffering. Our salvation is secure so we have no fear.
Forster reminds us of a sermon he heard. “Joy is not an emotion. Joy is a settled certainty that God is in control.” (146) Therefore, there is joy in Calvinism because a Calvinist knows God is in control.

Calvinists are not off the hook, however. Forster is quick to point out where we have gone overboard or misrepresented the intent of Calvinism.

The Appendix has frequently asked questions covering the more technical aspects of Calvinism not covered in the main text. (For example: What is TULIP? Another: what about “four pointers”? And: Did God cause the Fall?) Forster also recommends several books for further reading.

Forster explains some aspects of Calvinism better than I have ever read before. Other areas he leaves in the realm of mystery. That's appropriate because, after all, we are talking about God whose thoughts are so much higher than ours. If we could understand it all, that would make us God.
I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand Calvinism on a conversational level. Technical this book is not. Readable it is. Forster wrote this book because he felt every Christian should be able to understand what Calvinism is. (196) He has done an excellent job.

Greg Forster (PhD, Yale University) is the author of five books and regular contributor to magazines and blogs. He is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation.

Crossway Books, 208 pages.

To read an excerpt from the book, go here.

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

Mercy Come Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Krista's mother was dying...but only physically. That's what she told herself when she received the call from the Alzheimer care facility. They wanted her to visit. There was still time, they said. Time for what? For conversation? In Krista's mind, her mother had died a long time ago.
And if she went to visit her mother, she'd have to face her high school flame, Dane. He had conceived of and ran the facility that did everything possible to make the last years of Alzheimer patients as pleasant as possible. She'd have to go back home to Taos after deliberately staying away all these years.
But Dane talked her into it. She took leave from her teaching and made the drive.

As the novel progresses, we learn that Krista was born late in her mother's life and Krista was only college age when her mother needed extra care because of the memory loss. We also find out that Krista's youth was difficult with her mother often gone to bars and her father totally absent.
There is much Krista must face before her mother dies. A book was found in which Krista's mother had kept a journal of sorts. As Krista reads the entries and realizes her mother's struggles, she begins to heal the distance between them. Even as her mother has forgotten so much, Krista begins to remember.
Dane still loves Krista, after all these years. But can she overcome the hurt she suffered from one of her mother's boyfriends?

This is a character driven novel. We get to know Krista and she how she has made a life for herself, but at an emotional cost. There is a protective wall from past hurts that must be breached if Krista is to be reconciled to her mother. And there must also be forgiveness.
We learn about the Alzheimer facility and how rooms and walkways have been created especially for their patients' well-being. We also learn a bit about the Indians of the area and their Christmas customs.

This is a slow moving book but is worth the read in the end. It is the reprint of Christmas Every Morning which was released in 2002.

WaterBrook Multnomah, 240 pages.  Publisher product information.

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

Monday, February 13, 2012

Straight to the Heart of Matthew by Phil Moore

Moore has written this book “to take you on a tour of Matthew's gospel and bring you face to face with Jesus as Matthew knew him.” (16) Matthew groups his material by theme rather than chronological order. More suggests there are five “acts” to this gospel drama and divides his work accordingly.
Moore's work is not a commentary. Each of the sixty readings is about four pages long and covers one or two major lessons in the Bible passage. This would make a nice devotional reading, covering two months.
I learned some things from Moore's book, such as the parallel of the life of Jesus to the experiences of Israel. Jesus baptism (Israel through the Red Sea), Jesus' forty days of temptation (Israel's forty years in the wilderness), Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Israel receiving the law at Mt. Sinai). 
Another great lesson is the method of the devil in Jesus' temptation. He also has a great section on Gehenna (Matt. 10:28).
On the Pharisees, he notes they did everything humanly possible to bring Israel back to God. “That was the problem. Everything humanly possible. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a description of what is divinely possible.” (60)
On Matt. 7:13-27 and the narrow road - “Christians are saved by grace through faith, but there is no such thing as an 'invisible conversion.' When a person puts their faith in Jesus Christ, they start living differently. It's as simple as that.” (78)

I am a picky theological reader and a couple things Moore wrote bothered me. He presumes to know what Moses, Elijah and Jesus were talking about at the transfiguration. (165) He says, “Jesus had been reading the Psalms in the run-up to his crucifixion.” (249) (How does he know that? Perhaps Jesus had memorized them as a child.) He has a discussion about Jesus being a ransom (Matt. 20:28) that seemed to make the topic less understandable than more so. (194-7)

Those were minor issues, however. In general, this is a very good book for devotional reading. It is one volume in a series, Straight to the Heart. You can find out more about the books, about Phil Moore, and read his blog, at www.philmoorebooks.com.

Kregel Publications, 272 pages.  Publisher product information.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Girls Uncovered by Joe McIlhaney MD & Freda Bush MD

Do you sometimes wonder what impact today's sexualized culture has on young girls? As parents, have you wondered how to guide your daughter to a godly adulthood?
McIlhaney & Bush have written this book to help parents do just that. The authors are obstetricians who have taken care of hundreds of girls and the sexual issues they have to confront. They both have daughters, so they speak from professional and personal experience.
They have seen that engaging in sex at a relatively young age is not in young women's best interest. Young women themselves say current sexual norms don't lead to the health and well-being they want. The authors have seen too many young women give up their dreams because of pregnancy at a young age. The authors help parents fully understand the sexual culture their daughters are facing.
The authors write of the physiological vulnerability of girls. They discuss the effect of technology, the sexual content in media, the facts about teen sexual activity, hooking up, the role of alcohol, the danger of STIs (infections that frequently do not have noticeable symptoms – this section was enlightening and heartbreaking), pregnancy and its impact on teens, failure rate of contraceptives, emotional attachment produced by the intense brain experience of sex, increased likelihood of suicide among sexually active teens (than their virgin counterparts), the negative correlation between premarital sex and satisfying marriages. They also look at the lies this sexualized culture throws at girls. The authors have included information from the latest studies on sex, teens, physiology, etc.

The authors want to see parents help their daughters be grounded, discover who they are, not what pop culture tells them they should be. Parental guidance and involvement is essential. They give practical suggestions that can be done now to minimize the chances of poor choices in the future. This include ideas like being home when the daughter in there, communicating about everything, ways to show love, the vital role of dad, etc.
They also identify what changes need to happen in society. (I think this chapter on society could very well be taken as a mandate to the local church. Slightly altering the authors, It takes a church to help parents raise their daughters.)
The authors have included a chapter written specifically for girls – for them to read. Teen girls are encouraged to take control of their own life, making decisions best for themselves (not their boyfriends).

American society has torn down the hedge of protection, leaving adolescents and young women uncovered and unprotected. The authors boldly challenge parents to take seriously the pitfalls daughters will face, to provide guidelines and limits for them, to take the time to bond with them, and to provide a cover for them. “The covering we can provide now consists of our wisdom, born out of our maturity, knowledge, and experience.” (121)
Regarding several studies quoted, the authors write, “It is clear from all these studies that the responsibility for guiding young people about sexual behavior falls on the shoulders of parents. It is time for parents to get over the idea that they are powerless in this. Parents can no longer underestimate their importance in their child's eyes.” (105)

This is an intense book. The authors do not hold back describing sexual diseases and other pertinent concepts.
It is also a scary book. If you have an adolescent or teen daughter, you need to read this book! You have work to do.

Authors Dr. Joe McIlhaney and Dr. Freda Bush are both board-certified ob/gyns with daughters of their own.

Northfield Publishing (a division of Moody Publishing), 154 pages.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Letters to Heaven by Calvin Miller

Miller's book is “about seeing heaven as a place for wrapping up the unfinished business of earth.” (xiv) There, all the loose threads are tied up.
This is not a book about pearly gates. It is a book about people, starting with Jesus. This is a book about mentors, loved ones, friends.
Some of his letters are full of thanks. With beautifully crafted words, Miller sends a letter to his mother, telling her how much her support meant to him.
Some of his letters are rather blunt. He writes to a fellow he is not so sure is in heaven, telling of the last time he stopped by, giving one more opportunity to accept Christ. But his friend had been defiant to the end.
He writes to heroes, the individuals to whom so many of us are indebted. He writes to individuals who impacted him greatly, such as the woman professor teaching Bible at college.
Not all of his letters are to people he knows are in heaven. Some of his letters are just loose ends that need to be tied up, such as his letter to the famous movie star, Farrah Fawcett, with whom he shared Thanksgiving dinner in 1969.
Some of his letters bare his heart. He writes to a child, gone from this earth too soon, for those left behind. Miller officiated the funeral. “The service was over. We gathered at your tiny grave, that obscene hole in the earth that seemed too small to suck in all the question marks.” (54)
He writes to his older brother who drowned when Miller was three. His brother was ten. “If only you hadn't gone swimming.” (131)
Sometimes Miller is sentimental, not wanting the classmate who died in a fire to be in hell. He is sure God could not do that to such a sweet girl because Miller could not have done it himself.
He writes to a winsome man whose wife was a sourpuss (sure they are reunited in heaven). He writes to Jim Elliott, a martyr whom he had never met. He writes to Paul Little, whose books helped him so much.
Sometimes the recipient is really a surprise, such as Oscar Wilde (third in line of earthly influence on Miller).
Miller has such a way with words, when he writes of the recipient's experiences, I almost feel like I'm watching a life, seeing the person, getting to know him.

Miller recently suffered a heart attack and he knows he will be heading to heaven one of these days. (62) He asks a biographer of C. S. Lewis , Did heaven surprise you? Is it like Narnia? Miller, within the letters, lets us know a little more each time what heaven is like. We get a sense of what a comfort it will be to those who have had a hard life on earth. We can feel his ache to be there, to be with Jesus.
Not only is Miller expressing his thoughts to the letter's recipient, he's teaching us too. He's teaching us that death can come in a moment, as it did for the fellow next to him in that small airplane. He's teaching us to express our love and gratitude now. As he wrote to Harold Shaw, “...I wish I had told you this back then. But since I didn't, I am counting on this letter to heaven to get it through to you now.” (181)

Miller's book is an encouragement to those who long for heaven. It is also an encouragement for those of us still here on earth to tie up our loose ends now. Express your gratitude and your love now.

Worthy Publishing, 210 pages.  
Go to Worthy Publishing to read the first chapter.

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