Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pulling Back the Shades by Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Gresh was sure Christian women would not be reading it. She was wrong. Spiritual women do read erotica. Slattery reluctantly decided to read the books, knowing she would coauthor a book about them.

This book was birthed as a result of the impact of the Fifty Shades books. It is a book about longings, questions, and wholeness as spiritual and sexual women. Many Christian women will not talk about their psychological and physical longings. Some have turned to erotica, thinking that will fulfill their needs. The authors reveal the dangers of doing so. It is chasing after a fantasy, a distortion of reality.

Slattery argues that there is a spiritual agenda to the Fifty Shades books. The intended spiritual destination is destruction. The authors explore the spiritual nature and sacredness of sex, the lies in erotica and the long-term effects of reading it, the nature of submission, the source of true sexual pleasure, being spiritually satisfied in Jesus, repentance, and action to take.

The authors have included many stories from women to support their arguments. They also identify reality: “Life is hard; not every longing you have on earth will be fulfilled.” (119)

As the authors note, this book is not ultimately about the Fifty Shades series of books or even erotica. “This book is about the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of women.” (146) It is not only an encouragement to throw out the junk but also to join in the call for revival among God's women. There is a good section with questions for group discussion so this would make a great choice for a women's group. There is also an appendix with very practical ideas for victory over sexual sin.

Note: potential readers need to know that these authors are very frank in their discussion. They cover sexual practices I've not seen discussed with such openness and clarity before.

This book is serious. It is a serious topic and one that needs to be addressed and talked about by Christian women. If you or a friend are trying to find satisfaction in erotica, I urge you to read this book.

Dannah Gresh is the founder of Pure Freedom and bestselling author of And the Bride Wore White and What Are You Waiting For?. She and her husband live in State College, Pennsylvania and have three children.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist and coauthor of Passion Pursuit, written with Linda Dillow, her cofounder of Authentic Intimacy. She and her husband have been married for 18 years and have three children. Find out more at and

Moody Publishers, 176 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Icon Media Group for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Esther was raised in a home grown fundamentalist Christian group, started by her paternal grandfather. “Self ordained,” he began a Bible study in his home which came to be known as The Assembly. It included a hyper-literal interpretation of the Bible and very strict rules. It was later described at a cult, not because of the beliefs but because of the group's behavior and method of control. There was also a preoccupation with end of the world theology.

Esther describes her experiences growing up in the group, attending their own elementary school and camps, corporeal punishment, attending public high school (with the assignment to save them) and seeing many rather normal Christians, panic attacks, awareness of unaddressed spousal abuse within the group, “biblical” marriage, motherhood, apocalyptic hysteria after 9/11, she and her husband researching abuse in the group, leaving, and the search for real Christianity.

Becoming healthy is an ongoing process. Reexamining her beliefs to find a more balanced way of living has been a far greater task than she imagined. The Assembly was her faith, her family, and her friends. It is taking time to learn how to give and receive grace and how to live with freedom.

I am so glad that Esther did not abandon her Christian faith altogether when she came out of a warped version of it. In A Conversation with the Author she emphasizes that she is not critiquing the orthodox beliefs of Christianity but the way in which those beliefs were practiced, a harsh and graceless mindset.

As an evangelical Christian, I don't like it when Christianity goes wrong. This is an excellent book showing the effects when it does. I recommend this book. There is a great discussion guide so this book would be good for reading groups and church leadership groups to read.

You can read a sample chapter here.

Elizabeth Esther is a popular blogger and advocate. She and her husband live with their five children in Santa Ana, CA. You can find her blog at

Convergent (an imprint of Crown Books, a division of Random House LLC), 224 pages.

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Blush by Rebeca Seitz

Elizabeth Bakersfield may live in the gorgeous town of Naples, Florida, but she is not the thirty-year-old she envisioned. Her husband left with a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. Her job prospects are nil. The rent is due. Her best friend is living a thousand miles away, building a career in NYC. And her closest companion is the cockatiel Johnny Carson.

The job front starts looking up when she's offered the position of caretaker of Ganderley's - a library, kind of. Elizabeth's job is to loan out the priceless antiques and cars amassed by the widowed Ganderley sisters. Easy, right? Sign things out, get them back in two weeks. And, if she runs into trouble, there's the gorgeous Ganderley nephew with the British accent, Nicholas Harrington, waiting in the wings with help.

But Elizabeth is about to learn first-hand that possessions - and gorgeous Brits - bring their own kind of drama. If she doesn't figure out how to sidestep it, her job (not to mention the start of a new life) might be over before it ever really began.

This is a fun to read novella. The setting of Naples, Florida was a ray of sunshine. It is a high class place and it was interesting reading about the upper crust. I liked Elizabeth. She just does not fit in that society. I kept cheering her on, encouraging her to be her sassy herself.

I wish there had been more. I felt I was entering into the midst of an ongoing story. I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and how she got to this spot. I wanted to know more about Elizabeth's friend and her weariness. I wanted to know more about Nick too. Just who is this handsome Brit and what is his occupation? I do hope this is just the beginning and that a full length novel is in the works.

Rebeca Seitz is an award-winning novelist and President of the first public relations firm dedicated to representing entertainment created from a Christian worldview, Rebeca has worked with various national media outlets, including The Today Show, USA Today, National Public Radio, Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, and Good Morning America. She is recognized for her groundbreaking research into the behaviors of Christian consumers as well as development of public relations standards specific to creators of values-driven, entertainment-oriented products. She also co-chairs the non-profit SON: Spirit Of Naples, which equips and encourages Christians creating mainstream, commercially-viable media content. Find out more about her and her work at and

Glass Road M&M, 93 pages. You can buy a copy here.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novella from Glass Road for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Defy the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

It is 1941 in France and fifteen year old Magali is frustrated. The nation is supposed to be “free” but the Vichy government is cooperating with the Nazis. Internment camps run by the Vichy government were being used to detain people they considered undesirable: Gypsies, illegal immigrants, and especially foreign Jews. While these were not death camps, people did die there from disease and malnutrition. Sometimes children were released from these camps when they became orphans or were sick. Magali desperately wants to be one of the young women who ferries the children to their new homes. When she is finally allowed to go along on the rescue trips, she feels like her life is making a difference. But then she makes a mistake that puts them all in danger.

This is a great fictional account of young women rescuing children that is based on history. There were many who devoted their lives to saving as many children as they could. Many of the children went to children's homes like the one in this novel. Some of the young women actually worked in the camps, as did some in this novel. This was during the earlier part of the war, 1941 and 1942. France was still trying to appear humane. The later years would become much more harsh.

The Munns have created Magali as a teen who desires to do more than just attend school or help her mother cook and shop. Seeing a young woman bringing rescued children to her village, she wants to do such important work too. But Magali is young and a bit brash. We watch her grow as she sees the conditions in the camps for the first time. We also see her make some serious mistakes. Through it all she learns about herself, others, and God.

This is a good coming of age story that deals with serious issues. It also shows how young people can rise to the occasion when the need is so prominent. Magali was willing to risk danger when many adults would not do so. The is a good story for teen readers as well as adults. You will get a realistic idea of what life was like in the early years of WW II in rural France.

This is a sequel to How Huge the Night (see my review here). This novel does stand well on its own, however.

Heather Munn grew up in the south of France. She decided to be a writer at the age of five. She went to French schools until her teens. She grew up hearing the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the real town the fictional one in this novel is based upon. She and her husband now live in Illinois where they offer free spiritual retreats to people coming out of homelessness and addiction.
Lydia Munn grew up the daughter of missionaries in northern Brazil. She majored in English at Wheaton College. Her plan to teach English gradually transitioned into a lifelong love of teaching the Bible as a missionary in France, notably in St. Etienne. She and her husband have two children, one of whom is Heather. The Munns now live in Grenoble, France.

Kregel Publications, 312 pages.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung's goal in writing this book is to convince us, “that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day.” He wants to get us believing what we should about the Bible, feeling what we should about the Bible, and doing what we ought to do with the Bible.

By his own description, this is not an exhaustive nor academic theological study. He writes about what the Bible says about itself. It is not a defense of the canon (although good books on that topic are included in the Appendix). His aim is to let the Bible speak for itself.

He begins with Psalm 119 as a framework. He ends with 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and the encouragement, continue. In that last chapter he reveals his intended audience: Christians who are familiar with the Bible, read the Bible, have been taught the Bible, and already have a devotion to it. Don't wander, he says. Stick with Scripture.

I found this book to be different than I expected. Much of it is about what the Bible says about itself. There are some pretty detailed sections dealing with Scripture in a more rigorous manner. DeYoung also quotes from authors and tells stories, however, like one in the last chapter from Newton's life. He also, at one point, appeals to the opinions of early church fathers and the history of the church. So it is mixed in style, from looking at some original language on one end to stories and silly poems on the other end.

People who do not believe in the truth of the Bible will not be convinced to do so by this book. The best use of this book would be for people who have grown up in the church and are now questioning what they believe about the Bible. New Christians will also find in this book a basis for establishing their belief about the Bible.

Food for thought: “The word of God is more than enough for the people of God to live their lives to the glory of God.” (42)

There is one section of DeYoung's book with which I take issue. “And we must not separate redemption from revelation. Both were finished and fulfilled in the Son. … Even the later teachings of the apostles were simply the remembrances of what Christ said (John 14:26) and the further Spirit-wrought explanation of all that he was and all that he accomplished (John 16:13-15).” (38)

What I don't understand here is what is to be done with the “revelation” Paul received of the “mystery” of the church – that the Gentiles were to be included (see Gal. 1:12). That was something all the other apostles evidently missed. And what about Paul going up to Jerusalem after fourteen years “in response to a revelation” (Gal. 2:2)? What about Agabus receiving a revelation that there was going to be a severe famine (Acts 11:28)? And what about the revelation Paul received of the “mystery” that we will be changed in an instant (1 Cor. 15:51-53)? And what about John's revelation, including the words of Jesus to the seven churches? Do all of those fit into DeYoung's statement about “finished” revelation?

You can download a study guide and read an excerpt of the book here.

Kevin DeYoung (Mdiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored several books.

Crossway Books, 144 pages.

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

Buried Treasures by Mary Manners

This is a delightful romantic novella. Having inherited a Tennessee home from her aunt, Caroline can finally leave Chicago and the memories of the brutal murder of her husband. All she wants to do is concentrate on raising her six year old daughter and protect their hearts from being shattered again.

Her plans are disrupted when she meets Matt, her aunt's next door neighbor and contractor who is fixing up the house. He has issues he needs to work through too. He has guilt over the death of his wife and he is caring for the teen son of his alcoholic sister.

Manners has created wonderful and believable characters. Both Caroline and Matt are cautious of a new relationship, their hurt being so deep. Both sense an attraction and struggle with it. My favorite character is little six year old Callie. She is a kick, so open and honest and loving. Who wouldn't fall in love with her?

The plot moves along quickly. There are no fluffy scenes or dialog. It's all essential to the developing story. There is suspense too when little Callie goes missing on a stormy night.

Are you looking for a sweet Christian romance that is well written, with believable characters and a satisfying plot? This is it.

Mary Manners is an award-winning romance writer who lives in the foothills of East Tennessee with her husband and their cats. Her debut novel, Mended Heart, was nominated Best Inspirational Romance 2010 and was finalist for the Bookseller's Best Award. Her second novel, Tender Mercies, was a finalist for the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Buried Treasures was named Book of the Year by The Wordsmith Journal. Light the Fire took top honors for the 2012 Inspirational Readers Choice Award. She writes romances of all lengths, from short stories to full length novels. You can find out more about her and her books at

White Rose Publishing, 230 pages.

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

10% Happier by Dan Harris

This is Harris' memoir intertwined with his investigation into Buddhist meditation.

He related how he got into broadcasting, his drug use, the televised panic attack, going off drugs cold turkey, psychotherapy, his beat as religion reporter, learning from Ted Haggard, Eckhart Tolle, and Mark Epstein and Buddhism. Epstein recommended meditation. Harris tried it, found it difficult, but kept at it. He practiced mindfulness, went on a Goldstein retreat and was finally able to meditate. He writes about brain studies done on those meditating, interviewing the Dalai Lama, experiencing compassion in his meditation, accepting the validity of karma, and finding a balance between Buddhist principles and ambition. Through all of this he has remained agnostic.

He has added an Appendix, including bad reasons not to meditate, a description of basic mindfulness meditation, tips, recommended readings, FAQs, and more.

Harris begins his book by saying that if you can get past all the guru stuff, you'll find that meditation is just an exercise for the brain. “It's a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose.” In his experience, meditation is not a cure all but will make you 10% happier. In Harris' telling of his exploration of meditation, it does remain very much within the Buddhist tradition and includes guru training.

As a Christian, I know there is controversy over meditation. As Harris presents it in this book, it is certainly couched in Buddhism. He does have a note in the Appendix that Christians have felt more comfortable with the MBSR technique, a stress reduction program using a combination of mindfulness meditation and yoga. As a Christian, I have also read a great deal on meditation and mindfulness in literature not associated with Buddhism. I think there is something we can learn from those practices.

Much of this book is about Harris' life. If you want to be privy to the ins and outs of broadcast, including news people at ABC, you'll like this book. If you want to understand how a career driven individual comes to the point of practicing meditation and mindfulness, you'll like this book. If you want to know how to be 100% happier, you'll need to go elsewhere. As a Christian, I know where that elsewhere is.

Note: there is crude language in this book that some might find offensive.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Dan Harris is the co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America on ABC News. He was previously the anchor of the Sunday edition of World News. He regularly contributes stories for other shows and has reported from all over the world. He spent many years covering America's faith scene. He has been with ABC News for fourteen years. Before that he was in local news in Boston and Maine. This is his first book. He and his wife live in New York City.

IT Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 256 pages.

I received a complimentary digital galley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Promise in Pieces by Emily Wierenga

Wierenga has written a delightful story combining a historical setting with its contemporary culmination.

The framework for this novel is a road trip elderly Clara and her family are taking. The year is 2000 and they are driving to New Orleans with the goal of having a quilt accepted in war museum. As they travel, Clara tells the story of the quilt to one of her grandchildren. She recounts her own experience of leaving home against her pacifist parents' wishes and joining the Women's Army Corpse. After the war Clara delivers a note a dying soldier wrote to his wife, Mattie. Mattie gives Clara a quilt that was going to be used to warm their children. Perhaps Clara could use it for her own children some day. Then Clara returns to her parents, fearful of rejection. She finds her mother a mere shell of her former self and her pastor father a caregiver.

We follow Clara as she finds her new way in life, working as a midwife and using the quilt as a means of remembering the children born. The quilt will ultimately have an additional role in stimulating a project helping spouses and parents honoring those lost in the war.

In an interview, Wierenga says Clara is loosely based on her own experience. Feeling stifled by organized religion growing up, she left home for school returning later to care for her sick mother. She found her relationship with her father, and subsequently with God, restored.

Readers can take away from the novel the reassurance that God is never finished with us, no matter our age. Just as with Clara, in the twilight of life, there are still meaningful tasks ahead.

This is a well crafted story combining two eras of a woman's life. Clara's compulsive youth is contrasted with her fruitful adulthood. We experience the horrors of World War II as well as the restoration of relationships when Clara returns home. We also see how God works out His plan for our lives, even if it is through rough patches in the path. I really enjoyed the novel.

You can find out more about The Quilts of Love series here.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Emily Wierenga is a former editor, ghostwriter, freelance writer and staff journalist, a monthly columnist for The Christian Courier, and the author of three former nonfiction books. She lives in Alberta, Canada. You can find out more about her and her books at

Abingdon Press, 208 pages.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Critical Condition by Dr. Richard Mabry

Dr. Shannon Frasier was having a dinner party for a colleague when gun shots rang out. They discover a man has been shot on her lawn. She and her colleague try to help him but he soon dies. For Shannon, it is a repeat nightmare of when her fiancé was shot ten years ago. She couldn't save his life either. She has carried that burden all these years and is yet unable to commit to Mark, a man she dearly loves.

Shannon's life becomes more complicated when her sister calls in the middle of the night needing a place to stay. Is Megan on drugs again? When she turns to her pastor-father for help, she finds he has been diagnosed with leukemia.

He world becomes even more fragile as she begins to receive phone calls, a rough voice demanding to know what the man said before he died.

I really liked this medical suspense novel. The characters are well developed and believable. Shannon, already on the road to being a doctor when her fiancé was killed, commited her life to saving the lives of others. She is a good doctor but she has had a troubled relationship with God. And she wants to accept the marriage proposal Mark has offered but she is so afraid of the possible hurt she might experience again. Mark is a patient, a committed Christian, loving, and very supporting man. I just hoped as I read the novel that somehow they could work out their relationship.

There is plenty of action in this novel too. Shannon's life is in danger. Megan is in danger too. Her old boyfriend was found murdered and there is one policeman who determined to pin the murder on her. When we get near the end of the novel, the suspense really builds.

If you like medical novels with lots of suspense, you'll like this novel. I did.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. You can read other reviews here.

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician and the author of four novels of medical suspense. His previous works have been finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times Reader's Choice Award, and have won the Selah Award. He and his wife live in North Texas. You can find out more about him and his books at

Thomas Nelson, 336 pages.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

Your soul is not just something that lives on after your body dies. It's the most important thing about you. It is your life.” (19) Ortberg received that wisdom from Dallas Willard.

That led Ortberg on a journey to know his soul – and to write this book. What is your soul? How do you care for it? How do you keep it healthy? That's what this book is about.

A soul is healthy when there is harmony between the will, mind, body, and God's intent for all creation. Sin always causes dis-integration. The world we live in keeps us from attending to our souls. Our souls are fallen and needy. That need is meant to point us to God but we turn elsewhere.

Ortberg reviews what the soul needs. One need that particularly struck me was a center. When the soul is without a center we have difficulty making a decision, we feel constantly vulnerable to people or circumstances, we lack patience, we are easily thrown, and we find our identity in externals. That's just one of the nine needs about which Ortberg writes. He also covers how to identify enemies of the soul and soul-fatigue.

I and no one else am responsible for the condition of my soul,” Ortberg writes. (84)

This book is an important one for each of us as we make our way in life. Reading this book has given me much to think about. I'll be paying better attention to the health of my soul. I encourage you to do the same. Reading this book will help you.

Food for thought – if the quotes below resonate with you, you need to read this book!

You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.” (85)

Doing nothing does wonders for the soul.” (136)

Whenever you're disappointed, whenever you don't get your way, take that disappointment as a chance to practice soul-satisfaction in God.” (161)

John Ortberg is a pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California. He is the best selling author of several books. He and his wife have three children.

Zondervan, 208 pages.

I received an uncorrected advance reading copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Numb by John W. Otte

This is the best science fiction novel in the Christian genre I have read, by far.

It is hundred of years in the future. Colonies have spread far from earth. A tunneling type of propulsion allows space travel between territories in weeks.

The territories are divided and ruled by two governments. The Ministrix rules through a corruption of Christianity. The God of this religion demands obedience. When a person fails, he can only earn God's approval by doing whatever his leaders require of him, even murder.

The Praesidium rules other parts of the inhabited universe. They have a Tolerance Law that essentially outlaws Christianity. The two governments have come to a tension filled agreement of peace.

The main character of the novel, Crusader, is probably the most efficient assassin the Ministrix has. He so good because he is numb. He doesn't feel pain nor does he have emotions. A God given gift, the Ministrix leaders tell him.

Crusader has been given the assignment of killing a woman, Isolda. But when he is ready to complete the task he himself is attacked by another Ministrix assassin. Crusader and Isolda manage to escape but it is only the beginning of a life and death adventure.

Isolda is a true Christian. Even though Crusader has continuing opportunities to kill her, he cannot. He senses something. He sometimes has feelings – just for an instant. He finds he cannot kill her. When Isolda is kidnapped, Crusader knows he has to go after her.

This is great science fiction. There are space ships and space stations. There are laser guns and space travel.

Yet, the best part of the book is the Christian aspect. Over the hundreds of years the Christian faith has been warped to give power to a few. The people of Ministrix are so brainwashed they are held within the leaders' powers. But there is a remnant of true Christians and they are Crusader's only hope.

This novel is continual suspense. I can't tell you how many times Crusader was captured or injured. And there are many twists in the plot – yet each one works perfectly. This is a great novel.

I am participating in the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour of this book. Here is a list of others reviewing this book as well.

Julie Bihn Jennifer Bogart Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Pauline Creeden Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer Victor Gentile Rebekah Gyger Nikole Hahn Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Rebekah Loper Jennette Mbewe Amber McCallister Shannon McDermott Shannon McNear Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Nissa Faye Oygard Writer Rani Nathan Reimer Jojo Sutis Rachel Starr Thomson Steve Trower Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White

John W. Otte attended Columbia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, majoring in theatre. He received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary in 2000. He now serves as a pastor in South St. Paul, Minnesota where he lives with his wife and two sons. You can find out more about him at his website.

Marcher Lord Press, 404 pages. You can buy the book here.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Words of Conviction by Linda J. White

I really liked this novel of FBI suspense.

The daughter of a well known senator is kidnapped and Kenzie, an FBI forensic psycholinguist, is brought in on the case. Her expertize at analyzing words and sentences will help them create a profile. This is her first field case and one agent in particular is not so sure she should be there.

This novel combines action and suspense with an exploration of the stress this situation creates. The senator and his wife have a strained relationship and as we follow the case we wonder if their marriage will survive. Kenzie has some issues she needs to work through too. As a child she had been once locked in a closet that had spiders. Her sensitivity to spiders is important at the suspenseful end of the novel.

Another issue Kenzie must address is spiritual. Her immediate supervisor, the agent who requested she be included in the case, is a strong Christian. He encourages her to renew the faith she has abandoned.

White's novel is well written and has characters who are believable and well developed. It was interesting to see them work through their issues. It was also interesting to see how the FBI, in the form of Kenzie, can tell a great deal from how one communicates. For lovers of FBI suspense in the Christian genre, this is a top choice.

Linda White writes FBI thrillers with a twist of faith. She is an award winning journalist and lives in rural Virginia, near the FBI Academy where her husband worked for 27 years. They have three grown kids and two grandkids.

Abingdon Press, 304 pages.

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Redefined by Kenneth Ortiz

If you are a Christian, you have been transformed. You are a new creation. You have been redefined.

The divine redefinition, Ortiz says, changes everything. It changes our access to God and how he relates to us. But many believers do not understand and embrace their new definition. They have bad thinking.

Ortiz has written this book to help us be aware of our beliefs about ourselves, about God, and about how God relates to us. He helps us understand imputed righteousness, our status as a child of God, that it is by belief and not behavior (although belief determines behavior), the scandal of grace and freedom in Christ, being a member of God's family, justification by faith alone, and our rights to certain promises and provisions guaranteed in the Word.

I feel there needs to be a word of caution. Ortiz heavily emphasizes our identity in Christ, our redefinition, to the near exclusion of how we live into that definition and our responsibility to do so.

Ortiz heavily emphasizes the freedom we have in Christ, noting Gal. 5:1. I am not so sure that means, “We can choose to use this freedom however we like. We can do whatever we please.” (109) First of all, Paul was talking about the law. Yes, we are free from the requirements of the law. But does that mean we can live as we please? Ortiz wants to think that if we love God, doing “whatever we please” will always be pleasing to God. I don't think it is that simple, nor apparently did Paul. What about Gal. 5:13? “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh...” What about the struggle against the “law of sin” within himself that Paul reports in Romans 7? What about Paul's admonition to “put off” the old self and “put on” the new self (Eph. 4:22-23), or to put to death what is “earthly” (Col. 3:5)? If we can do whatever we please why does God discipline those he loves (Heb. 12:6-7)? Why would we need the Word for correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)?

Ortiz swings from one side to the other. On the one hand, “Christ wants us to be free – free to choose how we'd live our own lives.” (109) But then, “God desires we wage war against the sin that harms us.” (212) And, “Jesus was very serious about us going into strict training so that we can live holy lives and get rid of sin.” (214) So, what does Jesus Christ want for us, to be free to choose how we would live our lives or that we would go into strict training?

I think sometimes Ortiz promises too much. “If you understand that you are declared righteous no matter what you do, you'll know that your prayers are always effective, no matter what.” (90) That is just not true. Psalm 66:18 tells me if I am loving some sin, God will not hear me. 1 Peter 3:7 warns the husband to treat his wife right so that nothing will hinder his prayers. James 1:6-7 tells us we must believe and not doubt or we won't receive from the Lord. James 4:3 tells us we can ask “amiss” and therefore do not receive what we pray for. It would seem to me that there are certain behaviors of ours that will, in fact, make our prayers ineffective.

This is a book mostly emphasizing what we have in Christ with only a short section of admonition at the end of the book to live out our identity - “Why not live a life worthy of the calling we have received?” (206) And, finally, “Seek to be holy.” (206) “Seek to get rid of all sin.” (215)

I do agree with Ortiz in that, “It's time to believe that you are a new creation. It's time to choose to view yourself as God sees you.” (42) But that is only the beginning of the adventure. Understanding what it means to be a new creation and how that is lived out to God's glory is a life long process, and perhaps another book.

Kenneth Ortiz has more than a decade of experience in church leadership and pastoral ministry. He currently lives in Winter Garden, Florida, where he serves as a member of the ministry staff team of Mosaic Church. He has been ordained since 2006. Find out more about him at his website.

Leafwood Publishers, 224 pages.

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

No More Ordinary by Carol Burton McLeod

God has a plan for your life, McLeod writes, that is beyond what you could dream or imagine. It is an abundant life but it may not be what you think. McLeod looks at God's Word to find the definition and the purpose of the life God has for you.

She encourages us to tap into the glory and grandeur of friendship with God. She explains how we co-labor with God, how God longs for a relationship with us, what He has given us, what it takes to live a life only divinely possible, the reality of the unseen, the peace that God gifts, having joy in the midst of suffering, the choices we must make, partnering with Jesus in the miraculous, and leaving a rich legacy.

McLeod has included several stories of people who have defied their circumstances and lived abundant lives. They are really encouraging. They evidence that, though we may not be able to choose the events of our lives, we can determine the atmosphere with which we live those events. We can live with joy.

She ends each chapter with a prayer, a declaration of truth about us, a Scripture, and an encouraging quote. She ends the book with a challenge. Each of us has a choice. Do we settle for a merely ordinary existence or do we partner with God for a life that is “no more ordinary”?

Food for thought: “Anything and everything you could ever need to live life this side of heaven has already been given to you because His power has been given to you.” (55)

Carol Burton McLeod is a conference and women's retreat speaker. She is the author of three books and has produced several teaching DVDs. She has a daily radio program, “Defiant Joy! Radio.” She is a 1977 graduate of Oral Roberts University and currently serves on the ORU Alumni Board as chaplain. Her husband, Craig, is the senior pastor of Life Church near Buffalo, NY. They are the parents of five children and the grandparents of five. You can find out more about her ministry at

Bridge Logos, 208 pages.

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maybelle in Stitches by Joyce Magnin

The time is World War II and the place is Chester, PA. Maybelle and several other women are working at Sun Ship, welding plates on new ships. They are young women helping support the war their husbands are fighting overseas.

Maybelle's life takes a serious turn when her mother suddenly dies. As she later goes through her mother's room she finds an unfinished quilt. Her friends identify it as a Crazy Quilt, one made from scraps of memorable material such as dresses, shirts, and baby blankets. They encourage her to continue her mother's work. But there is only one problem: Maybelle can't sew. She did, in fact, sew the zipper into the neck opening of her dress when in high school. But they offer to help her. It will help pass the evening time, especially after she receives the notice that her husband is missing in action.

This is a novel that concentrates on the working women of the period. There is lots of dialog of the time, like, “None of your beeswax,” and “Okeydokey.” There are lots of other indicators of the time. Remember oleomargarine and Burns and Allen on the radio?

The novel is not quite as emotionally wrenching as I thought it might be. Maybelle really misses her husband, as do some of the others. When one of the women gets word that her husband was killed, she seems to take it in stride. God is her stability but I was a bit surprised that she was ready to consider romance again in a couple of months.

There is not a great deal of action in this novel, nor is there much character development. In that respect it is what I might describe as light or low key historical fiction. It concentrates more on revealing the era than dealing with the character interaction. This might be fiction older (as in elderly) readers would enjoy, something quite nostalgic.

This novel is part of The Quilts of Love series and you can find out more about them here.

In the Author's Note, Magnin says she wanted to paint a picture of what it was like for women to work at Sun Ship. That aspect of the novel is based on the actual shipyard that made and repaired ships during the war.

Discussion questions have been included for reading groups.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Joyce Magnin is the author of the Bright's Pond novels, including the award-winning The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow. She lives near Philadelphia. You can find out more about her and her books at

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse Publicity for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Blood Moons Rising by Mark Hitchcock

Much is being written about the four “blood moons” (lunar eclipses) taking place in 2014 and 2015. Their significance was discovered by Mark Blitz in 2007 and made popular by John Hagee in a book he published last fall (see my critical review of Hagee's book here).

Hitcock agrees with much of Hagee's views of the end times (such as pre-tribulation rapture) but thinks Hagee misinterpreted some Scripture and drew wrong conclusions from history. “My view,” Hitchcock writes, “is that much of what people are saying today about blood moons is based on speculation and a misinterpretation of Scripture.”

He reviews what he believes Scripture says about the end times, examines the historical evidence for the blood moons prophecy, and then draws conclusions.

Here are the dates of the blood moons of 2014-2015:
  • Passover (April 15, 2014)
  • Tabernacles (October 8, 2014)
  • Total solar eclipse (March 20, 2015)
  • Passover (April 4, 2015)
  • Tabernacles (September 28, 2015)

Hitchcock notes that the blood moon theory is built upon four main ideas. 1) God uses the heavens to give signs to humanity. 2) The scientific fact of four blood moons in 2014-2015 falling on the Jewish feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. 3) Scripture mentions the moon turning to blood in conjunction with the end times. 4) When the four blood moons fell on Jewish feasts in the last 500 years (three times), something significant happened regarding the Jews.

He looks at what prophetic signs are and their significance. He takes us through the feasts in Leviticus 23, reviews where the eclipses are visible and the significance of that, looks at each of the Bible passages mentioning signs in the heavens and the end times, and finds problems with Hagee's conclusions.

He then looks at the past events associated with previous tetrads, noting that in two cases the historical events preceded the tetrads and in the third case preceded all eclipses but the first one.

Hitchcock reminds us of the detrimental effects resulting from previous declarations of dates for Christ's return (such as William Miller – 1844, Jehovah's Witness founder Charles Russel – 1914 and eight more dates, Edgar Whisenant – 1988, Harold Camping – 1994 and 2011). He notes the danger of assigning “significant” events to particular years (one can find an event of significant for practically every year), and his concern that proponents of the blood moon theory will find something in 2015 to validate their claim.

He also reminds us that Christians are always to be ready for the Lord's return. One reason – because we cannot know when that will be. “Date setting is futile and foolish,” he writes. We are not to get caught up in speculation about end time events.

Hitchcock has written a well researched response to Hagee's speculation. I highly recommend it. My only caution is that Hitchcock is a proponent of the currently popular pre-tribulation rapture end times theology. Readers need to be reminded that in the history of the Christian church, other views of the end times were held. Hitchcock bases much of his critique of Hagee upon his own belief that the (secret) rapture could happen any moment. While a (secret) rapture is not part of my end times theology, I do heartily agree with most of Hitchcock's critique of Hagee and do recommend this book.

Mark Hitchcock graduated from law school in 1984, thinking his career was set. He received a call to ministry, however, and went to Dallas Theological Seminary, completing a master's degree in 1991 and a doctoral degree in 2006. He has been the senior pastor of Faith bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma for over twenty years. He has authored more than fifteen books related to end times prophecy. He and his family live in Edmond, Oklahoma. Find out more about him and his books at

Tyndale House Publishers, 224 pages. Publisher's product page.

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