Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Torchlighters Heroes of the Faith SALE

It's been ten years since the Torchlighters videos started releasing. They are inspiring stories of heroes of the faith. The first one was The Jim Elliot Story. Now there are thirteen. These animated stories are great for children aged 8-12. They can be used in the home, church, school and any other form of children's ministry.

You can watch a trailer of The John Wesley Story here. It will give you an idea of the quality and inspiration of the award winning Torchlighters series.

I recently watched The Jim Elliot Story. He was one of five young American men who went to the steamy jungles of Ecuador. He was killed by a member of the Auca (Woadani) tribe – the very tribe he had gone to serve. Elliot's is an inspiring story. From his youth he had wanted to share the gospel with those who had never heard it. After his death, his wife and family members of the other men went back to the Auca and brought them to Christ.

I also watched The Corrie ten Boom Story. She and her family repaired broken clocks and watches in Holland. They took in a Jewish baby, protecting it from the Nazi invaders. But they were imprisoned for their good deed. Corrie's faith was tested and she showed courage, sacrifice, and forgiveness. Hers is an inspiring story.

Other episodes include the stories of Richard Wurmbrand, Eric Liddell, Samuel Morris, Gladys Aylward, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Augustine, William Tyndale, Perpetua, and William Booth.

The Torchlighters series began when creator Bill Curtis was reading biographies of great Christian heroes to his ten year old daughter. Realizing how powerful these stories were, he planned the Heroes of Faith animated series. We know kids are drawn to heroes from the sports and the entertainment industry. What a wonderful opportunity to show young people real heroes, heroes of the Christian faith.

The first twelve episodes have been bundled together. Each of the twelve discs contains a 30 minute animated story, a four-lesson curriculum in PDF, a feature length documentary on the hero, and English and Spanish languages and subtitles.

For a limited time, you can get $10 off the 12-pack price. Just go to Vision Video and enter the promo code: tl12bwj when you order. You can also call 800-523-0226 but be sure to mention the promo code. This offer ends June 1, 2015.

You can find out more about the Torchlighters ministry here.

I received access to the two videos I watched through BelieversTrust for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley

The church in Iran has been growing vigorously, Bradley writes. There is overwhelming evidence there has been dynamic growth in the house church movement. He estimates that there are around 370,000 Christians among Iranians of Muslim background.

He gives a history of the last several decades to show how many in that country have become disillusioned with Islam. Many have turned to Jesus. Bradley says that “Iranians have an instinctive love for Jesus.” (104) They read about him in the Koran and see him as a peaceful man and a miracle worker.

Bradley shares why the house church movement allows for this growth. Christians can meet at different places and at different times. After persecution, they can regroup again. Women are frequently in leadership. They emphasize sharing testimonies. There is an expectation for God to be active so most of the house churches are charismatic.

While Anglicans and Presbyterians had missionaries in the country for over a hundred years, Ayatollah Khomeini effectively brought that to an end by 1979. At that time there was thought to be around 500 Christians in the country. Recently, the government has forced the closure of the services in Persian in most of the Protestant church buildings. “This means that the number of functioning public services in Persian can now be counted on one hand.” (154-5) He explains how the decadence of the west is associated with Christianity. Muslims feel that allowing Christianity freedom will lead to licentiousness, so it must be suppressed. Bradley includes a heartbreaking account of the persecution too.

Areas of difficulty for Christians in Iran include print materials (it is illegal to produce any Christian content in the Persian language in Iran) and training. Even so, Bradley says there is little heresy in Iran. He notes that satellite TV and Internet are used by thousands of isolated Christians.

This book is an encouraging account of Christianity in Iran. Bradley has included a number of inspiring testimonies. His review of the last several decades of the country's history is great for understanding the situation there today. He has included an extensive appendix with the history of Christianity in Iran prior to 1979 as well.

The author suggests http://www.iran30.org/ to pray for the believers in Iran.

Mark Bradley is a researcher with a charity working in the Middle East.

Lion Hudson (distributed in the U.S. by Kregel), 303 pages.I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McCord

In this very revealing book, McCord (not her real name) has woven her experiences and those of others into a novel about a young woman working for an NGO in Afghanistan. Marie is the main character, a single young woman working in a woman's literacy project.

Our first view of her work is in getting all of the stamps and signatures needed for the government's approval of the latest project. That gives us some insight into the whole governmental system of the country.

Marie travels to a village to meet with the literate woman and set of a classroom. Materials are provided and Marie oversees the work. In the course of Marie's visits, we readers find out more about the village and the power structure of the people there. We learn of deep seated animosity between some people groups or some families.

Two aspects of the work in Afghanistan come across very clearly. One is the danger from external forces, such as tribal rivalry. One family might cause an explosion at the wedding celebration of a hated family. A western woman might be gunned down in the street. Western workers might be kidnapped for ransom. You might be awakened in the night, windows shattering from the shelling of a nearby building.

The other danger comes from within. Marie had been working in Afghanistan for years and had already seen one person leave who was supposed to be working with her for some time. Now a relatively newcomer was planning to leave. Through Marie's journal entries and thoughts, we find out the toll it takes on Marie's faith and mental stability.

This is an enlightening book. As we follow Marie in her work, we get glances of the local people, their thoughts, traditions, and how they treat westerners. Marie is a Christian and it was interesting to see how she let Muslims know of her belief. We also see how careful those over Marie wanted her to be, especially when she visited villages.

I had a little trouble with the writing style of this novel. The sentences were often stilted or seemed disconnected. I had trouble liking the character of Marie. We read many of her thoughts. They seemed to jump around a great deal. Also, Marie was a little arrogant, frequently questioning the directions of those over her. I just did not see her as a likable character. Part of that might be her disillusionment. Marie had come into Afghanistan with high ideals, with a certain attitude. She left with a much more realistic attitude. I also felt like I was reading a sequel. Marie had been at her work for years and I felt like I was only reading the tail end of a longer story.

If you are looking for a fast moving novel, one with lots of action, this is not it. If you are looking for a novel that is character driven, it is not that either. If you want to learn what it was like for a young woman to work in Afghanistan, this one will do that for you.

Kate McCord is not the author's real name. To protect those she worked with, all names have been changed. In the midst of a high powered career, Kate sold everything and left for Afghanistan to start a non-governmental organization with the goal of aiding Afghan women. She worked in Afghanistan for five years.

River North (Moody Press), 368 pages.

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

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Day of Wrath by William R. Forstchen

This short novel packs a huge punch. I thought Forstchen's novel, One Second After, was scary. This one is much more so.

The action takes place in about an eight hour period. Bob Peterson heads off to the middle school where he teaches. He kisses his wife good-bye, not knowing it would be the last time they would see each other alive.

A short time later, a very organized series of terrorist attacks begin across the country. Many of the teams invade schools, including Peterson's middle school. Other teams roam the interstates, shooting various drivers as they pass.

What a powerful novel. There are so many issues in this novel, it is hard to know where to start. A big one is carrying guns. Bob takes a concealed weapon to school, in his pocket. It is totally against school rules, but he saves scores of children with it. Another issue is the obsession with being politically correct in the U.S. That has allowed the terrorists untold freedom to pursue their ends. Other issues include religious freedom, media coverage, gun control, marshal law, and much more.

The issue that fascinated me was the religion of the terrorists. They are a part of ISIS. Their leader has figured out exactly how Americans will respond to this series of attacks. And we Americans play right into their plans.

Forstchen has created a chilling novel. Yes, there are controversial aspects to the plot. Nonetheless, the story seems all too possible to me. I highly recommend this novel, if for no other reason than just to get you thinking.

Even if you do not read the book, go to the book's website and just check out the information.

William R. Forstchen has a PhD from Purdue University with specialization in military history and the history of technology. He is a fellow and professor of history at Montreat College. He is the author of over forty books. He lives near Asheville, North Carolina.

Spectrum Literary Agency, 188 pages.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton

What an entertaining novel! It has quirky characters, great action, and the promise of new life for a compassionate crook.

We meet Rowdy as he is escaping from a bank heist. He's back from WW II and like hundreds, thousands of men, can't find a job. He needed money and his old buddy talked him into the deed. He and his partner run for it and are separated. Rowdy jumps in the river, nearly drowns, but makes it out alive. He has the money sack and after great thought, decides to return the money.

And that is where the story takes an interesting turn. The sheriff of Cut Eye, Texas is in a pickle. The town needs a preacher and Rowdy needs to be in the good graces of the lawman. He agrees to be a preacher for a year and in return, he won't be arrested.

And therein lies the story. Rowdy, a tough guy with a heart of gold, becomes a preacher. But life is not all Bibles and pew benches. His old partner in crime comes back and demands money. Rowdy is in a heap trouble.

There's much more to the story, including a young woman who had been filling in at the church. Daughter of the sheriff, she quotes poetry and at times tries to write some. She tells Rowdy what his duties will be. Some people think preachers work only one day a week but her list of duties sets him straight. There's humor there and other places too.

Brotherton has woven spiritual insights into the story. Rowdy at one point finds a note pinned to his door. Some church goer is angry with him because he had them sing all the verses of a hymn. They had always left out the third verse. If he didn't want to get people angry, he'd better do it like they've always done.

And then there was the evangelistic method Rowdy used in the bar. He convinced the hard boiled factory workers of he could beat them up, they'd agree to come to church.

As good as the story and the humor are, there is a river of heartwarming love that flows through the novel. The people in the Cut Eye church are not perfect, but then, neither is Rowdy. He comes to really care for them, even the quirky ones, the crazy ones.

The message is clear. Can a man really change?

This is a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is very well written. I loved the characters. They were so well crafted, fitting exactly into the plot. While the story takes place just after the end of WW II, it has truth for today. This is an enjoyable novel. I highly recommend it.

Marcus Brotherton is a journalist and professional writer, the author or coauthor of more than twenty five books. Many of his books center on WW II veterans and what they experienced upon their return from war. He has a bachelor's degree from Multnomah and a master's degree from Talbot Seminary. He served as a pastor in rural areas for nearly a decade before returning to writing full time. He and his family live in Bellingham, Washington. Find out more at www.marcusbrotherton.com.

Moody Publishers, 288 pages.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Real Origin of the Species by Oscar J. Daniels

Daniels sets out to disprove the theory of evolution and verify the accuracy of the Bible. The result is a rather folksy essay.

He covers the improbabilities of evolution, beginning with interdependency. He notes the unlikeliness of male and female of a species evolving at the same time, let alone that happening 1.8 million times. He writes about the issues of animals and their necessary habitat and food sources evolving all at the exact same time. He defends the geological column as a result of the flood. He critiques carbon 14 dating. He compares creation and evolution, notes the evidence for a Designer, and likens evolution to idolatry. He then defends the Bible and presents a gospel message.

Daniels has provided no documentation in his work, that is, no footnotes. He makes lots of unsubstantiated claims. For example, “...the human genome has remain fixed, unchanged... All other plant and animal genomes have remained unchanged...” (55) He offers no documented proof for such a claim.

He makes sweeping statements: “We cannot trust any of the claims made by scientists regarding the age of the earth or the origins of life. All of their claims are based solely on speculation and theory. There is no scientific proof for any of it.” (23) Quite a statement to make when he himself offers no scientific proof for his claims.

The subtitle of the book is not accurate. What Daniels presents is not new. If you have done any reading at all in the creation evolution debate, you will have read about the information Daniels presents. The information here would be new only to someone who has not read anything by Morris or Ham or any other of the scores of authors writing on the subject. And I did not find the arguments compelling. That was mostly because they were unsubstantiated claims. While I may agree with some of them, they were not presented in a “compelling” way.

Potential readers should be aware that Daniels recommends the Bible commentaries of Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

I find it odd that the cover image of the book, a painting by Michelangelo, has been altered. Was it really necessary to spare readers the anatomical accuracy of the original painting?

I would not recommend this book. There are many books, long and short, that are much better on the issue of creation and evolution.

Oscar J. Daniels completed three semesters of theological studies and has a BA in English from the University of New York. He worked for the Government Printing Office where he was a writer of contract specifications. In his retirement, he writes articles and essays defending the claims of the Bible.

TEACH Services, 96 pages.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Facing the Blitz by Jeff Kemp

In life, like in football, a blitz is an unexpected attack hoping to disrupt the opposing team. Kemp experienced them on and off the field and shares what he has learned about surviving and thriving past them. The way we face a blitz makes all the difference, Kemp says. He wants to help us experience growth, not setback.

He gives three major strategies. First is taking a long-term view. He encourages having the mindset of finding opportunity in the experience. We may have to be flexible, letting the old dreams die. But God may have allowed the blitz to get us moving in a new direction. Second is being willing to change. He suggests taking a deep look at ourselves and accepting responsibility. He writes about relationships, being an investor, not a consumer.

Kemp excels in his third strategy, reaching out to others. He writes about our team and looking for the good in others. He advocates inspiring and elevating others (LIFT). He writes quite a bit about family and leaving a legacy.

Kemp uses lots of examples from football so this would be a great book for lovers of football. He also has stories of people he knows who have experienced a severe blitz in life and have formed a way forward.

He shares insights from his experience on the football field. He has great insights into performance based acceptance and rejection and ultimately finding our value in Christ. Other insights include the value of teamwork and how blitzes help us understand ourselves. His writing about consumers and investors was excellent. His section on humility was superb.

But Kemp doesn't leave readers with just good ideas. He also gives some very practical suggestions for action. He ends each chapter with questions for self-reflection and ideas for action. He asks some very thought provoking questions. Many of them would be helpful for someone anticipating a career change.

This is a very good book for anyone facing a situation that may seem overwhelming. A reader will enjoy this book the most if he or she is a lover of football, since that's the topic of many of the illustrations and stories.

Jeff Kemp has a BA in economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Pepperdine University. He had a career in the NFL for eleven years (including the Seattle Seahawks - shown here), most years as a backup quarterback. In 1993 Jeff founded Stronger Families. In 2012 he joined FamilyLife. He is a popular speaker and is active in family and marriage strengthening. He and his wife live in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can find out more at www.JeffKempTeam.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 240 pages.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly

This book is captivating, haunting, thought provoking.

A teenage boy, son of a pastor, has feelings that overwhelm him. He has terrifying dreams he can't explain. He's made preparations to commit suicide. His parents are frantic. They've done what they think it best for their son. Everything, that is, except tell him the truth, the one tool he needs to survive.

I really liked this book. The combination of the subject matter and the plot construction made for a great novel. We find out information as the plot progresses, just as some of the characters do. The exploration of the relationships and characters is developed slowly but deeply. It is an intense novel yet very satisfying. I can hardly believe this is a debut novel. It is great.

This novel generated lots of questions for me. Some of them deal with character development. Just how important is one's history? Does it have an effect on us even if we don't know it? Others deal with parenting. Is it better to tell a child painful information when young or later? How honest should parents be with their children? Is it ever best to not be honest? Some of the questions deal with suffering teens. Do they cut themselves to physically feel the pain they have in their heart? Some of them deal with how we give help to troubled teens. Do we keep the source of help within the Christian community or do we look to “secular” help too? (In the novel, the father, a pastor, wanted to use only people within his own congregation.) And then there are some general questions. Are keeping secrets ever the “best” thing to do? How does healing from past trauma happen?

There was no discussion guide included in this novel. I would highly recommend it for reading groups anyway. There is so much to discuss in this book, concepts about secrets, parenting, adoption, and much more. This is a great novel.

Gerard Kelly is a speaker and author. He and his wife live and work in France and co-foounded the Bless Network. You can find out more about the ministry at http://blessnet.eu/.

Lion Fiction (distributed in the U.S. by Kregel), 322 pages.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Ancient Path by John Michael Talbot

This book is not what I expected. Cardinal Wuerl, in his introduction to the book, says, “It is directed primarily at adults today who would enjoy a popular narrative of the life and teachings of the early Fathers of the Church.” I expected, as he also wrote, that a church father would be highlighted and then Talbot would help us understand why his message is for today.

So I expected vignettes of early Church Fathers and their message. What the book is actually about is how Talbot came to be Catholic and how his reading of the early church Fathers verified what the Catholic Church teaches and practices. One could say the book is about how the writers of the first millennium shaped Talbot's life and work.

Even though I am Protestant, I am still glad I read the book. I have read some about the Catholic faith and this book added to my understanding.

Talbot writes about how he founded their community at Little Portion and how it is patterned after the experiences of early Christians. He gives a little of his personal history and then explains the importance of the term “Father.” He highlights the use of tradition in the Catholic Church. He also writes about the monastic and cenobitic lifestyles, the Jesus Prayer, charity, and Mary. He also takes readers through the liturgy and shows the basis of practices from the Fathers. He has a good section on transubstantiation.

He promotes the Catholic view that the authority of the Bible is rooted in “the earthly authority [that] preceded, produced, confirmed, conserved and canonized the books of the Bible.” He also advocates that, “The ordinary means of salvation are the Church itself and the sacraments that Jesus has entrusted to the Church.”

Even though I am not Catholic, I appreciated the book. It really helped me understand why the Catholics do what they do. I also learned a bit more about Talbot, who is now traveling and speaking. Their community had a major fire in 2008 and he is working to fund rebuilding that the insurance did not cover. He has created a DVD teaching series called “Nothing Is Impossible With God” and you can watch a promo here.

John Michael Talbot was a popular Christian music artist, having won Dove Awards and Grammy nominations. He founded “The Brothers and Sisters of Charity” in 1980. It is at the Little Portion Hermitage in Barryville, Arkansas. You can learn more about the community at www.LittlePortion.org. You can find out more about Talbot at http://johnmichaeltalbot.com/.

Image, 208 pages.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You Can Hear the Voice of God by Steve Sampson

Sampson believes that Christians do, in fact, hear the voice of God but they just have not been taught to recognize it. Christians who are in intimate conversation with the Holy Spirit are a threat to the devil so he will cause obstruction any way he can.

God speaks to His people and wants to speak through them, Sampson writes. He has identified ten ways the Holy Spirit speaks to us. After reading this book and the principles contained in it, he says Christians will learn to hear the voice of God. He writes, “...hearing from God should be normal and commonplace for Christians.”

He starts out by explaining what keeps us from hearing God's voice. He includes attitudes like being opinionated or critical. He explains how we can distinguish our thoughts from God's. For example, “...when the Lord wants to speak to our spirit, He overrides our reasoning process.

The ways the Spirit speaks to us Sampson gives will be familiar to charismatic Christians. They include words of knowledge, dreams, visions, pictures (similtudes), thoughts in the mind, peace (or lack of it). He includes lots of stories, mostly his own, how one operates in these various ways of hearing God.

He also includes some instruction regarding what to do once we have heard God's voice, seen a picture, etc. He includes a good section on interpreting dreams. He is also quite clear that hearing the voice of God is not always so easy. In recognizing the witness of the Spirit, we need to discern between our emotions and the mind of the Spirit. Learning to recognize the difference between our soul and spirit is a process. As we become more confident in recognizing the Spirit, we will become more sensitive to receiving direction from the Lord. He gives several keys and practical instruction for doing so.

He reminds us, “Thank God for the written Word, because it is a safeguard against heresy and against those who claim they have heard God and are running with some 'new' doctrine.”

This book is a general introduction for new believers about hearing God's voice. It is also a reminder to older Christians that God does want a relationship with us that includes communication on both sides. There is nothing on God's side keeping that communication from happening.

The only part of the book that I am hesitant about is his section in the creative word. Sampson writes, “When God speaks to us, whatever He says is already a reality, regardless of what our natural eyes see and our circumstances declare.” I can't tell you how many times people have thought God told them something, they acted on it despite evidence to the contrary, and the situation went horribly wrong. Sampson has already said that accurately learning to recognize the voice of God is a process. I think there should have been some caution added to this section.

Food for thought: “The highest priority for all Christians, especially for those in ministry, is to pay the price to take time to listen to God.”

Steve Sampson is a writer and minister who has ministered in the gifts of the Spirit in many countries for decades. He lives near Kansas City, Missouri. Find out more at www.stevesampson.com.

Chosen Books, 176 pages.

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

By Your Side by Candace Calvert

I enjoyed this suspenseful medical novel. The novel's emphasis is more on character development than suspense, but it was still a compelling read.

ER nurse Macy Wynn and Detective Fletcher Holt meet under less than idea circumstances – under fire from a freeway shooter. As their lives continue to intersect, a romance begins. They are both strong characters who are at odds more than once as the novel progresses.

The strength of this novel is character development. Macy is a survivor of the foster care system. Her mother had died when Macy was young. Her father wanted nothing to do with her, later buying her off with a sizable trust fund. Macy's love is aimed toward Leah, a girl who was in foster care with her, someone she thinks of as a younger sister. But when Leah wants to make her own life, Macy must face her own spiritual and emotional lack.

Fletcher is a strong character. He's come from Houston to be with his mother. She is undergoing cancer treatment and Fletcher's father must be away for his work. He is a committed Christian but he does have the idea that he can save everyone on his own. He has to face that near the end of the novel.

And then there is Elliott. I could tell he was a scumbag from the beginning. Calvert did such a good job of making him a unlikeable character, I wondered why Macy trusted him at all.

I always like to learn something when I read a novel and I happily did so in this one. I appreciated reading about a hospital chaplain. I had no idea the pressure they endure as they help loved ones while they cope with tragedy. I also learned about viatical investments, buying out life insurance policies of terminally ill patients. The patient receives a lump sum, a percentage of the policy payout, and the investor takes over the policy payments and becomes the beneficiary. The implication is that the investor hopes the patient dies soon so he gets a better return.

If you are looking for breath taking suspense, this is not your novel. If you are looking for a good deal of suspense with terrific character development, this is the book for you. And the romance is good too. I did enjoy the book and recommend it.

Candace Calvert is a former ER nurse and author of the Mercy Hospital series and the Grace Medical series. Wife. Mother, and grandmother, she makes her home in northern California. Find out more at www.candacecalvert.com.

Tyndale House Publishers, 384 pages.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Halo Found Hope by Helo Matzelle

This is a very encouraging story of one woman's faith when life took a terrifying turn.

In 2011, Helo (pronounced Halo) experienced a 50% hearing loss in one ear. An MRI revealed a rare condition. A tumor had wrapped around the carotid artery in her brain. She takes us through the diagnosis and the preparation for surgery. She would be a week in the hospital. In the 29 years this neurosurgeon had been in practice, only one person had had to be in the hospital longer.

Although the surgery was a total success, Helo had complications and her brain swelled. Near death, emergency techniques were used. Ice sheets cooled her to reduce the swelling. Finally, eight weeks after the surgery, Helo was allowed to go home.

She had hours of therapy daily and had to relearn a great deal. It took her a year to finally get her driver's license. Even now, half of her face is still numb and she experiences short term memory loss and exhaustion.

How can such a story be encouraging? Helo shares how her faith made all the difference in her experience. She tells us the spiritual lessons she learned from her trial. She relates how priorities change when you have a potentially life threatening condition. She also shares how she has been able to minister to others because of her ordeal. Even today, she chooses not to complain – no complaining allowed in her family.

Helo's is a great story. Although it was painful for her to go through her medical data to be able to tell her story, I am so glad she did. Her story is an encouragement for anyone going through a life threatening trial. No matter the situation, God is with you.

You can watch a book trailer here.

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

Helo Matzelle is happily married and the devoted mother of three children. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Washington in 1986. She is a dedicated advocate of the National Brain Tumor Society. Helo remains passionate about inspiring others to seek the One in whom true hope is always found. She and her family live in Redmond, Washington. You can find out more at http://halofoundhope.com/.

Dog Ear Publishing, 228 pages. Purchase a copy here.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We Need to Talk by Dr. Linda Mintle

Conflict is going to happen. Every personal relationship will have it. Perhaps you avoid conflict at all costs. Perhaps you wade through but cause more problems. Mintle wants readers to successfully talk through personal conflict and has written this book to help build the skills and attitudes necessary to do so.

Mintle argues that under the right conditions, relationships will grow in intimacy when conflict is handled properly. She helps us understand the causes of conflict, their styles, the skills needed, the benefits of facing conflict, instruction from the Bible, and good practices.

I was impressed with her helping us understand the current influence from the conflict model we have from childhood. That explained much of my own attitude toward conflict. She relates what happens when two people have different conflict styles and the price we pay when we avoid conflict altogether. She reminds us that we may need to readjust our expectations and be more flexible.

Mintle covers many interpersonal relationships. She has great teaching on marriage relationships, including in-laws, blended families, divorce, and much more. She has a wealth of information on expectations, values, and beliefs and how those affect conflict. She includes stories from her own counseling, giving great examples of how problems were worked out.

I learned a great deal from this book. She reminded me that working through conflict is pleasing to God and is helping the situation. And then there is this proven fact: “...[P]eople who deal with conflict live longer.” (42)

I think nearly everyone could benefit from this book. I highly recommend it.

Food for thought: “To truly keep the peace, one has to stay open to confronting problems.” (213)

Dr. Linda Mintle is a national speaker and a bestselling author. She is the Chair of the Division of Behavioral Health at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Liberty University. She hosts her own BeliefNet blog, Doing Life Together. She lives in Virginia. Find out more at www.drlindamintle.com.

Baker Books, 256 pages.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Prosperous Soul by Cindy Trimm

The life of our soul is very important, Trimm writes. She wants each of us to have a prosperous soul. This is the third book in her series on the vitality of the soul.

She lays a foundation of investigating what true abundance and prosperity mean. She concentrates on the inner attitude rather than the accumulation of stuff. She encourages us to make the decision to hope, be joyful, be grateful, be expectant.

What follows are forty chapters looking at the various aspects of the soul and how to make each of them flourish. She has grouped the chapters around the eight realms of life: spiritual/physical, emotional/intellectual, vocational/calling, relational/reputational. She also covers the eight human drives that coincide with the realms: the drive to be safe, to know, to be known, to bond, to grow, to be recognized, to achieve, to acquire. She adds the corresponding hallmarks of an empowered person: feeling loved, energized, supported, respected, contributive, sense of meaning, connectedness, ownership.

I really like the way Trimm has written this book. I like it that she does not emphasize the accumulation of money or stuff. She concentrates on how we build a prosperous soul the way God wants, not what man considers prosperous. Trimm lays a foundation with an emphasis on grace, the importance of Bible reading, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc.

I was surprised with some of her suggestions – like creativity. “The world needs people who are obsessed with pursuing God and His witty inventions in order to solve real-world problems.” (107) I really like that. And how about a chapter on study? “Don't be afraid to explore new topics.” (110) As a life long learner, I love that!

Other chapters include joy and peace. Others are on fortitude and tenacity. I really appreciate Trimm writing about having grit. She writes, “...the pursuit of God is not for the faint of heart or the fickle.” (142) How about chapters on self-control, kindness, and service?

I really liked Trimm's book. Hers is a fresh voice on what it means to be prosperous. This book will help readers concentrate on developing the kind of character God desires rather than accumulating wealth man desires. It can be used as an eight week study or a forty day devotional reading.

You can read a preview of the book here.

Dr. Cindy Trimm is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and former senator from Bermuda. She has a background in government, education, theology and human development. Find out more at www.cindytrimm.com.

Destiny Image, 285 pages.

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Skin in the Game by Rick Lawrence

I had difficulty understanding the content of this book and its connection with an emphasis on risk.

Lawrence begins his book by explaining the title. To have “skin in the game” means you have something invested in the effort. You are willing to accept some of the risk. He then reminds us that God has chosen us to be part of His work, to have “skin in the game.”

He then tells stories and gives illustrations to encourage us to invest in God's effort. This is where I lost much the connective reasoning. The first step, Lawrence writes, in entering the life Jesus offers is to face our shame. Rebirth is our only hope. Next we must receive grace, then embrace our true identity, next owning what we want, and then face our fears.

I think part of my disconnect with this book is because of the illustrations he uses. He gives the dialog from a sketch of Saturday Night Live to explain why we expect Jesus to be a dolphin instead of a shark. Lawrence uses the teachings of Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, to illustrate his own behavior after his fiancĂ©e broke off their engagement. Other illustrations include “The Little Albert Experiment” and the indie punk rocker Amanda Palmer. He uses his trip to Comic-Con to explain our craving for an identity to call our own. I appreciated his use of biblical stories and events from his own life to explore issues, but the illustrations from TV, Buddhism, and modern culture just left me cold.

You won't find much encouragement to “give your all” in this book. The message is a much more subtle one. Most of the book I would describe as about the psychology of having “skin in the game” rather than actually calling for it. The next to the last chapter, “Will You Make Jesus Your First and Last Resort?” is the best one. I do wish the rest of the book would have had the same punch.

Lawrence has included questions “For Discussion or Personal Reflection” at the end of each chapter. I think this is where the strength of this book lies. The material in this book would best be used in a discussion setting, using the illustrations Lawrence gives as a springboard for intense discussion.

You can read an excerpt here.

Rick Lawrence is the long time executive editor of Group Magazine, a speaker and church leader. He is also the author, co-author, or editor of over thirty-four books. Find out more at http://ricklawrence.com/.

Kregel Publications, 144 pages.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Lady Fugitive by Ada Brownell

This is a delightful historical Christian romance. It reminded me of novels from a generation ago. By the end, people were getting saved left and right.

Our heroine is Jennifer Parks, a young seventeen year old orphan in the care of a crotchety uncle and aunt. When his physical abuse threatens to become sexual, she runs away. He's livid because his continued care of her is necessary for him to get title to the Parks ranch.

Jenny travels hard and fast to escape her uncle. She has exciting and dangerous adventures along the way. She is rescued more than once by William O'Casey, a peddler who travels the area looking for his prodigal brother and showing a movie about the passion of Christ.

The story line for this novel is a fun one. It's 1908 in Colorado. Jenny is an elocutionist who performed songs and poems. She is also a feisty young woman, capable of making her way over the mountain range to freedom – until her uncle manages to locate her. I liked William too. He is struck by Jenny the first time he sees her performing. When their lives intersect later, he falls hard for her. But their romance suffers through many problems and near disasters.

The novel is not perfect. There were a couple of turns in the plot that I thought were just a bit too convenient. Nonetheless, the novel was a delight to read. I loved the way Christian faith was portrayed and the way people supported each other. In an Author's Note, we find out that Brownell's grandmother was an elocutionist and her grandfather traveled around in his youth showing the film mentioned in the novel. Although the novel is fiction, it was fun to know it was generated by real people.

I recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good, old-fashioned Christian western romance.

Ada Brownell had her stories published in Sunday school papers and Christian magazines before she discovered if she wanted to send her children to Christian colleges she needed a regular paycheck. She worked as a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain in Colorado. She continued to freelance and sell to 45 publications. This is her fifth book. You can find out more at www.inkfromanearthenvessel.blogspot.com.

Elk Lake Publishing, 360 pages.

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

Aloof by Tony Kriz

God hides,” Kriz writes. “It is just a reality.”

The event that precipitated Kriz writing this book was the illness of his nephew. He wanted God to be very much present for his nephew in the time of intense need. Kriz began to journey through his own encounters with God and seasons of silence. This book is the result.

Kriz finds value in stories. “They are the foundation of our beliefs.” This book follows the pattern of narrative spiritual formation, exploring God memories and telling stories as it relates to belief. Kriz specifically looks at his own experiences around the question of God's presence.

Through his own experiences, Kriz explores the character of God, as a being with a will, emotions, as a communicator, as aloof. Included are stories of his seeking that illusive “something” he felt missing in his Christian experience. He was so frustrated he decided to believe no longer. Then he went to college and became an avid Jesus follower, finding that God spoke to him through others. He continues with missionary experiences, his God encounters and his spiritual meltdowns with refreshing honesty. He explores what on our end keeps us from communicating with God.

Kriz has concentrated his writings on the times we so badly want God to be present in a way we can sense, desiring His comfort, His strength, His comforting hand, yet feeling that God remains silent. He ends his book, “For now, I am still left with my questions, doubts, and confusions.”

The concept of narrative spiritual formation is new to me. I come from an older generation of believers who considered our experiences, our stories, to be rather irrelevant when compared to what God has said in His Word. I have always felt that the mystery of God's promise to be near and my lack of sensing that nearness is a problem on my end, not God's.

Younger believers who find major significance in their spiritual experiences may appreciate this book more than I did. They might find Kriz's honesty in relating his spiritual experiences a springboard to investigating their own.

Tony Kriz is the Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College, where he also teaches on topics like authentic faith and spiritual formation. You can follow his blog at www.tonykriz.com.

Thomas Nelson, 256 pages.

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