Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Kindness Challenge by Shaunti Feldhahn

The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days To Improve Any Relationship by Shaunti Feldhahn is more than just a 30-day plan to motivate you to be kind to others. Through extensive research combined with her understanding of human behavior, Shaunti explains why kindness is the answer to so many of life's problems. While most people would readily admit that they aren't as kind as they could be 100% of the time, this book reveals that there's more to being kind than  simply biting your tongue. It takes sincere effort to be kind when faced with everyday challenges in our current society.

The base plan of the 30-day challenge is merely the same three steps repeated every day:
   1) Don't say anything negative about the other person
   2) Find one thing to praise or affirm, and tell both the other person and someone else
   3) Do one small act of kindness or generosity for the person

In case you're thinking that that (in and of itself) is not enough to warrant reading an entire book, you're absolutely right! This book contains so much more than just those steps. Shaunti outlines the "Seven Types Of Negativity You Didn't Know You Had", "Overcoming Ten Tricky Traps" while giving praise, and eight different types of kindness so that you can select options that best suit your personality and specific situation.

The end of the book contains three separate 30-day plans with acts of kindness laid out and ready to go so that you don't have to struggle to come up with ideas. Why three separate plans? One is for wives using this book to be closer to their husbands, the second is for husbands longing to be closer to their wives, and that third plan is for everyone else (colleagues, parents, grown children, dealing with your kid's softball coach, etc.).

I think this book is a great asset for someone looking to soften a cold marital relationship or reignite the flames if it's simply gone lukewarm. As for using it in other situations, as with children or co-workers, I think it would work if the negativity from the other party is not overtly hostile. But even if you follow the plan and it doesn't improve the intended relationship, it will improve your outlook on life and other relationships around you. 5/5 stars.

*I received a free print copy of this book from Blogging For Books for the purpose of an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About the book's author (copied from the back cover):
Shaunti Feldhahn is the author of many groundbreaking books, including For Women Only, The Male Factor, and The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, which have sold more than two million copies. A popular public speaker, Feldhahn earned her master's degree at Harvard University and worked on Wall Street and Capitol Hill before developing an innovative research method to deliver fresh insights into personal and work relationships. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Atlanta with their two children.

Purchase links:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Prayer God Loves To Answer by Daniel Henderson

The Prayer God Loves To Answer: Accessing Christ's Wisdom For Your Greatest Needs by Daniel Henderson is an in-depth tool designed to help you learn the importance of seeking Christ's wisdom for every facet of your life. Henderson starts by helping us assess what true wisdom is, along with why wisdom is such an important (yet all too often overlooked) building block for the foundation of our lives.

In the second part of the book, Henderson explains in detail the greatest expressions of gospel wisdom: purity, peace, gentleness, openness to reason, mercy, good fruits, impartiality, and sincerity. He also discusses wisdom within relationships with ourselves, God, and others. Full of Biblical insights and personal anecdotes, this book also has lots of subsections making it an easy-to-follow, yet in-depth, study.

Each chapter concludes with ideas to help you receive the imparted wisdom, a scriptural excerpt, and a fill-in-the-blank prayer outline to help you pray through the referenced scripture. I found these prayers to be very personal and helpful, especially if you have a hard time knowing what to say while praying. It also served to give me insight into the concept of praying through the scriptures, which is something I've been challenged by for a long time.

It's worth noting that the end of the book does contain application and discussion questions, making this book a good selection for personal or group study which could easily be divided up as a chapter a week over the course of 12 weeks. The conclusion is also a must-read as it contains "A Prayer For Gospel Wisdom" - the climax of the entire book.

I'm giving this book 5/5 stars and would recommend it to anyone who would like a closer relationship with Christ, and the ability to call upon Christ's wisdom to help them through whatever they are experiencing in life.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from Bethany House publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Prayer Saturated Family by Cheryl Sacks

The Prayer Saturated Family: How to Change the Atmosphere in Your Home through Prayer by Cheryl Sacks is a practical tool to help you understand the need for family prayer time, with lots of stories of encouragement and helpful suggestions on how to incorporate a family prayer time into your busy schedule.

Part One: What Happens When Families Pray explains the need for family prayer time. In this section, Cheryl explains the concept of a family altar, and offers lots of real-life examples of why praying as a family has such a big effect - both in communication with God and in teaching our children to follow suit. This section was kind of a hard read for me. Having grown up in a family which did not emphasize God, much less praying together as a family, I felt very discouraged by how much emphasis she put on the concept that adults who grew up in praying families are the ones to teach their children to be part of a praying family. My husband and I are both in our 30's with a total of four kids (9-12), and we've only been on the trek of seeking out Jesus for about a year and a half now. I got this book not because we grew up in praying families, but because we're both trying to learn how to become one. There was a huge road block between where we are and the families that Cheryl seemed to be addressing in this first section. Fortunately, I kept reading the book, albeit very slowly through this first section. Side effect of reading to post reviews is that I won't review a book I haven't finished reading.

Part Two: Time To Take Action is the foundational section that walks you through launching a family prayer time, even if you've never prayed together before. In this section, Cheryl also shows you ways to overcome most common obstacles to family prayer time, such as busy schedules, kids that won't participate (a problem area for us), negative outside influences, and the feeling of overwhelm at not knowing how to do it "properly" (our largest issue).

Part Three: Jump-Start A Lifetime Of Family Prayer is a 31-day family prayer guide, with a suggestion for each day in order to help your family get closer to God. I read this section, and we're planning on implementing it on January 1st, in light of Chapter 12: Dedicating Your Year To The Lord.

Overall, I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. For those readers who did not grow up in households tightly knit in the Lord's word and family prayer time, I would highly suggest reading Part Two of this book first. Because you most likely already believe in the strength of family prayer, or you wouldn't have picked up the book. After you read Part Two, go back and read Part One for more insights and encouragement on ways that God will support your family when your family supports Him. Then, use Part Three as a plan of action to jumpstart your own family prayer time.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Other Side Of Infamy by Jim Downing

The Other Side Of Infamy: My Journey Through Pearl Harbor And The World Of War by Jim Downing with James Lund is a humbling biography about the journey of life once you let God lead you. The subtitle implies that this is mostly a story about Pearl Harbor and World War II, which is why I ordered it. That's not a very accurate perception of the depths of this book.

It starts out a while before the Great Depression, during Jim's childhood. He talks about growing up in small-town Missouri, and how different the world was then. As the book progresses, we journey into his adulthood and his navy career. While there are a few chapters on Pearl Harbor and World War II, the main emphasis of this part of his life isn't about the conditions of the outer world.

Instead he shares his insight from finding Jesus through the help of Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators. After fleeing Trotman's invitations to follow Christ, he finally gives in and later joins the cause for discipleship, becoming a missionary of sorts and spreading God's word throughout the ships he served on.

I found Jim's story to be very encouraging and a wonderful reminder that God has a master plan for all of us. I was slightly disappointed in how little the book actually focuses on World War II, but by the end of the book I was very happy with my decision to keep reading it. Jim is living proof that God blesses those who follow Him. I look forward to reading his previous books to learn more about his time spent serving the Lord. 4/5 stars

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Bad Habits Of Jesus by Leonard Sweet

The Bad Habits Of Jesus: Showing Us The Way To Live Right In A World Gone Wrong by Leonard Sweet reads like a series of essays describing the many not-so-popular habits that Jesus had in his day, and relating them to how we can reflect those habits in today's culture. In the conclusion, Sweet declares, "It is not good habits that recharge the church. It is bad habits and unconventional approaches that recharge tradition." That sentiment accurately sums up the purpose of this book.

Sweet focuses on 15 of Jesus' "bad habits", such as procrastination, offending people, and spending too much time with children. He reminds us that Jesus served a greater purpose in not following the rules, and that being a "good Christian" shouldn't be about following the rules of the church, but rather about being in personal fellowship with the Lord, and letting Him lead our paths.

As stated above, this book reads more like a series of essays than a personal conversation. I'm not a huge fan of this approach, so it took some getting used to. Also, Sweet tends to wander around a lot, leading to some points that are very detached from the overall focus of a given chapter.

Sweet does make some very good points, and I think this would be a good read for a Christian that feels out of place or "not good enough" in most church settings. It could help them feel better about focusing on a personal journey with Jesus, rather than worrying about what society thinks of them. That being said, there wasn't really many new concepts compared to other similar books I've read. So it's a good starter one, but not for someone who's already determined that their path need not line up with the church as a whole.

I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. It's not bad, but between the seeming randomness of some sections and the redundancy compared to other similar books, it's not great either.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions stated are my own.*

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Centurion by Ken Gire

The Centurion is a Christian historical fiction novel by Ken Gire, taking place in Jerusalem and the expanding Roman Empire during AD 33 - AD 65. The book starts with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, as seen through the eyes of Lucius, a centurion in the Roman army. Intrigued by the unfolding of the day's events, Lucius inquires about this "King of the Jews" and one of his followers in particular, Mary of Magdala.

As they spend time together, Mary and Lucius fall in love. However, their budding romance is short-lived, as Lucius is called away to help Rome expand her empire. His years at battle are long and harsh, changing this young fierce warrior into a mostly cold leader. When he finally returns to Rome, he questions both his past and his convictions which have led to his present.

When I first started reading this book, I thought the romance between Lucius and Mary would play a major role, but it's mostly contained to the first and last sections of the novel. About the middle two-thirds of the book is focused on the Roman conquest, depicting Roman battles, military strategy, and cultural beliefs in immense detail. At times this detail seems overdone, leading one to want to gloss over a paragraph here and there, although it isn't frequent enough to really detract from the overall telling of the story.

I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. Overall, the book tells an interesting story and is well written. However, the last part of the book seemed rushed, as though trying to wrap up a tale that wasn't quite ready to end so abruptly. While we see a lot of character development during the major portion of the storyline, it isn't clearly depicted as to how or why Lucius comes to the conclusions that he does at the end. While most of his decisions at this point could simply be pawned off on an old and weary warrior, it would have been nice to see his line of thinking as we did for most of the rest of the story.

I would recommend this book to those that enjoy historical fiction and Roman history/military strategy. While I originally thought this would be a romance novel, the portions of this book dedicated to the love story between Lucius and Mary are clearly geared for any audience, regardless as to whether or not you enjoy the romance genre.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Monday, November 28, 2016

Intended For Evil by Les Sillars

Intended For Evil: A Survivor's Story Of Love, Faith, And Courage In The Cambodian Killing Fields is an intense story of survival recounted by Les Sillars, a journalist and journalism professor in Virginia. In this profound book, Les Sillars shares with us the life of Radha Manickam, a young Christian living in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took control in the 1970s. Sillars weaves Radha's personal vivid (and frequently horrifying) memories with well-researched historical information from the area during the same time period.

This book is a very thorough illustration of what millions of Cambodians lived - and died - through during the reign of the Khmer Rouge throughout Cambodia. Sillars does his best to paint an accurate picture, without trying to make it pretty or undermining the atrocities that occurred. Though it is at times rather dry and slow-paced, reading like a reference encyclopedia entry rather than a personal story, this book is by no means for the faint of heart or those lacking the ability to handle the harsh realities of human violence and the struggle for mere survival.

While this book does recount the worst of what human beings are capable of, it also serves as a very potent reminder to God's enduring love for us and His power to redeem us from even the most vile of circumstances. Though we may struggle to survive what seems like a lost battle, there are countless signs of God's presence and His plan for our lives, if we only choose to listen to His voice when He makes it known.

Having been born in the 1980s, I cannot attest to the complete accuracy of the history unfolded within the pages of this powerful testimony, but Radha's story is a lesson of faith that I will never forget. Highly recommended to those mature audiences interested in Cambodian history or stories of martyrs and others who have fought for their beliefs. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from Baker Books for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

The Best Christmas Gift Ever! by Melinda Rumbaugh

The Best Christmas Gift Ever is a bright new VeggieTales board book by Melinda Rumbaugh. In this festive and sturdy book, young readers are invited to join the Veggies as they celebrate Christmas in many traditional ways - sleighing, decorating a tree, singing carols, wrapping presents, and sharing gifts. But they quickly remind us that the greatest gift of all is the gift God gave us on that first Christmas night, and that is the real reason behind all of the celebrations.

Using bright colorful pictures, large easy-to-read print, simple rhymes, and your favorite VeggieTales characters, this delightful book is sure to capture your child's attention and help you share the true story of Christmas for years to come. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from Worthy Publishing for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Also, visit the VeggieTales website (http://www.VeggieTales.com/) for free games, printable activities, and more!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Prayer Of Protection by Joseph Prince

The Prayer Of Protection: Living Fearlessly In Dangerous Times by Joseph Prince is an in-depth study of Psalm 91 and its power to show us God's unfailing love and protection during life's many storms. Verse by verse, Joseph Prince shines a new light on this Psalm of protection, combining word studies of the original Hebrew texts with testimonies of its enduring strength in modern times. He demonstrates that Psalm 91 is not some sort of magical prayer, but rather a reminder and an invitation to come closer to God during hard times. No matter what you're going through now or in the future, the key is to put your faith in God. Lean on Him and trust His strength and love to get you through.

While some teach that the way to "win" God's love is by not sinning, performing countless good deeds, or spending hours locked in prayer, Joseph relates that there is no way to win God's love; He has already declared it as ours through His Son, Jesus Christ. As such, we are to be confident in God's love for us, and His desire to see us prosper. Your intimate relationship with Jesus is what enables you to see His love for you.

Joseph also reminds us that words have greater power if spoken out loud, and that reading the Bible and praying quietly are no match for the strength behind speaking God's Word, especially in times of turmoil or great adversity. This book is a very powerful reminder that, while we all fall short of perfection, we are all loved and cherished in God's sight. The prayer of Psalm 91 is a bridge to strengthen that bond when we're feeling weak.

Overall, I'm rating this book as 4/5 stars. While I do like the enthusiasm that Joseph Prince has for teaching and sharing his insights, the first portion of the book is lightly salted with references to other books he's authored. Having never read any of his other books, this gave me too much of an info-mercial feel, and distracted me from really connecting with those parts of the book. I'm glad I read the rest of the book, and definitely found it to get better as it went on. But some may catch themselves wondering if this book is just a lead-in for other materials.

For further study, Joseph Prince offers a free 30-day prayer plan for Divine Protection available here: http://www.faithwords.com/divineprotection.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety by Zachary Auburn

How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety And Abstinence, Drugs, Satanism, And Other Dangers That Threaten Their Nine Lives by Zachary Auburn, presented by "The American Association of Patriots" is paws-down the most informative book written on these crucial subjects. This book is a compilation of eight brochures on how to keep our cats safe during these perilous and dangerous times. The brochures are done mostly as a Q&A format, with lots of pictures to illustrate the dangers of not talking to your cat about these things, as well as reinforcing the pawsitive effects of having these serious conversations before it's too late.

As a mom to several felines, I found this book very eye-opening and I learned a lot of things that made me realize how great the need is for more books like this. We don't talk to our cats often enough or early enough about the very things threatening their existence and our way of life. What would we, as a society, do without our cats by our sides?

Pawsitively impurrtant takeaways from this book:

Gun Safety
- the importance of teaching you cat proper gun safety
- the best age to start teaching them about gun safety
- how your cats can safely use a gun while hunting
- the most common reasons to get them their own gun (dogs, burglars, ghosts, and foreign threats)

- the best way to make sure your cat is well indoctrinated in sound Biblical theology is to leave multiple copies of the Bible laying around open to Genesis for their napping and reading pleasure (my cats found this advice to be purrfectly sound and very effective)
- explains why cat fossils aren't found in lower layers of rock
- the dangers of your cats socializing with other cats outside, at the vet, or even the new cats that you bring into your household

- explains why abstinence-only sex education is right for your cat (even when all their friends are already doing it)
- the difficulties faced by kittens of pre-marital sex (did you know that they're more likely to abuse catnip and other drugs?)
- the birth control controversy and plots by providers such as Planned Purrenthood to steal our cats' souls
- the best way to ensure that your cat doesn't engage in premarital sex (it's simpler than you think)

Online Safety
- threats your cat faces on the internet, and why their access to the internet is even an issue
- what to do when your cat asks for a smartphone (they're all getting one these days)

- the dangers of newly refined strains of catnip entering the U.S.
- how to tell if your cat's been using drugs

- the development of girl kittens vs. boy kittens - and how to deal with both
- bullying, masturbation, sexting, video games, and homewsexuality are all addressed directly

Postapocalyptic Survival
- preparing your cat for the collapse of civilization
- skills and equipment needed, as well as specific scenarios to make sure your cat is prepared for the inevitable

- how we know Satan is real, and how he lures young cats into his fold
- the dangers of books, dungeons & dragons, video games, television, magic, and music
- how to tell if your cat has become involved in the occult or possessed by a demon

I strongly urge any fellow cat owners/lovers who are concerned about the future safety of their cats and our society to get and read this book. Do you really want to be caught off guard when your cat cuddles with your favorite gun, starts running around with the neighbor cats, or doesn't know how to protect itself from the ghost in your living room? These are very dangerous times for us, our nation, and our cats. Please protect yourselves, before it's too late.

5/5 Stars. *Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Purchase links:
    Gun Safety For Cats

Monday, October 31, 2016

Receiving The 12 Blessings Of Israel by Paul Thangiah

Receiving The 12 Blessings Of Israel: How God's Promises To His People Apply To Your Life Today started out as a sermon series by Paul Thangiah, in his church in Bangalore, India. Thanks to the popularity of that sermon series, this gem of a book was written. This book winds its way through the twelves sons of Jacob, in the order of their blessings being bestowed upon them by their father, Israel.

For each son, we read every Biblical instance of his mention during his lifetime, Jacob's blessing upon him, and Moses' blessing applied to the congruent tribe of Israel later in the Old Testament. From these insights, we will learn about a specific character trait that we should sow in order to reap God's blessing pertaining to each tribe. We will then go on to read further about the applicable trait from Jesus' teachings in the New Testament, and learn how to apply each set of lessons in our current life. Each chapter ends with a simple prayer to ask God to help us along this path to receiving His blessings.

The chapters are as follows: Reuben (stability), Simeon (controlling anger), Levi (standing up for the Lord), Judah (repentance), Zebulun (accepting God's plan), Issachar (diligence), Dan (full of God), Gad (trust and obey God), Asher (know God), Naphtali (speak good words), Joseph (recognize the hand of God), and Benjamin (rest secure in God).

This book does not contain a lot of filler and is not a light read. The author is very direct and to the point, yet uses simple terminology and an easy to understand approach. I would highly recommend reading this book as a weekly study, rather than attempting to read the whole thing in one weekend. It takes time for some of it to really sink in, and may take re-reading certain portions to really appreciate it. For someone who has the time and patience to sit down and learn, this is a blessing and will aid you path toward God and His purpose for your life. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review. All opinions stated are my own.*

Purchase Links:

Friday, October 28, 2016

Shadow Of The Storm by Connilyn Cossette

Shadow of the Storm is the second book in Connilyn Cossette's Out From Egypt series. There are no difficulties reading this book even if you have not read the first one in the series.

Shira and Dvorah are two very different women on different paths, both trying to bury their pasts while living at the foot of Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt during the Exodus. Their paths cross when they are both given opportunities to train as midwives, and they each face an inner struggle between following others' expectations for their lives and seeking out their own purpose. Shira chooses to lean on Yahweh for help, strength, and guidance; while Dvorah clings to her Egyptian gods and idols.

What starts as a temporary alliance for the sake of all quickly melts and fades into the distance as the Hebrews find themselves battling with each other and the outsiders who are also camped around the base of the mountain. Will these two women be able to set aside their differences in order to work together in times of peril? Will they find and follow their true callings before the fighting starts to unravel the camps?

Connilyn has wound together this beautiful novel of heartache, betrayal, forgiveness, and redemption during tribulation. Her vivid imagery paints a rich landscape of God's enduring love and faithfulness to His people, reminding all of us that we have His strength, courage, and forgiveness - if only we ask for it. It serves as a potent message about the power of sharing your story and facing the past rather than burying it, and realizing that forgiving yourself of any wrongs is as important as forgiving others.

Personally, the most important take-away from this book is that God is always there to pick up our broken pieces and paste them back together knowing that, even in our brokenness, we will always be "enough".

Excerpt: "I had been led from slavery and brought through the waters - born into a brand-new life. And yet I refused to let go of my shackles. I had measured my worth only by the broken pieces of my past, instead of Yahweh's beautiful design... I was wrong, Yahweh. I do have something to offer you. Myself. This broken vessel... I will go wherever you lead me, and it will be enough." (page 287)

We are all broken. And yet, we are all perfect. We are all lacking. And yet, we all have enough. This book serves as a testimony to these truths. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from Bethany House for the purpose of a review. All opinions - positive and negative - are my own.*

Purchase Links:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Servant Like Jesus by Lee Ann Mancini

What exactly does it mean to be a servant like Jesus? In A Servant Like Jesus, by Lee Ann Mancini, Charlie finds out. Charlie the crab is very shy at the beginning of his first day of school. But when his classmates have problems sharing, Charlie does what's right and tells the teacher everything he'd witnessed. Later, during a class field trip, one of Charlie's new friends is hurt and he doesn't hesitate to help his friend. Charlie takes the time to pray, helping to teach the readers that they can talk to Jesus any time they feel the need.Charlie quickly realizes that while new people and places can be scary, it's also the perfect time to come forward, be brave, and help out, being a servant like Jesus.

This book is short (around 30 pages), and only has a few sentences on each page. Its full color illustrations, by Dan Sharp, on every page are absolutely gorgeous and wonderful for capturing the young target audience. There are also little Bible pictures hidden on the pages, to give an interactive challenge to those that are big enough. I found this adorable book to be a welcome addition in my home, and think it would be perfect to add to the library at a Christian preschool, daycare, or as a gift for the young ones in your life. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from the publisher via BookCrash, in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, October 24, 2016

Move On by Vicki Courtney

Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess by Vicki Courtney is about the messy times in life. She uses candid personal stories to relate that no one is perfect. Despite our fake smiles and casual "I'm okay" responses to the "how are you?" questions we face every day. Life is messy. The sooner we admit to our mess and ask God for help dealing with it, the sooner we can invite Mercy in and move on. Specific topics covered (as written on the back of the book) are the need for approval, struggles and broken dreams, shame, legalism, Christian snobbery, and idols.

Out of the above topics, the main problem area I identify with is shame, so I was reluctant to purchase this book and doubted whether or not I'd really get much benefit from it. Each chapter contains several stories (both person and Biblical) that reflect on similar messes we can all relate to, and ways the Mercy can bail us out of our mess. Each chapter ends with a "coming clean" section, which has several questions encouraging you to be honest with yourself and to identify with any or the stories you've just read. The last chapter of the book readily illustrates that none of us are mess-free, and that rather on focusing on how our messes compare to anyone else's, we need to focus on getting through our journey - with Mercy by our side. It's not about how many times you fall down, it's about learning how to fall forward - and keep going.

This book reads like a conversation over a good cup of coffee, and would be easy for almost everyone to understand and apply to their lives. It's great for the Christian facing burnout or simply needing a breather and refreshing reminder of how wonderful God is. It's also ideal for the young Christian or those returning to the faith that struggle with whether or not God can really help them clean up their particular messes. My only bit of advice is to read the entire book. Don't skip a chapter just because the title or first paragraph doesn't sound like it applies to you. You might be surprised by what you discover. 5/5 stars.

Purchase links:

Remember And Return by John MacArthur

Remember & Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior by John MacArthur is identified as a 31-day devotional, although it doesn't really read like a typical devotional. Each day's reading is 4-5 pages, and ends with a "daily challenge". The main sections are used to explain a specific aspect or truth of Christianity, by relating Scripture verses, taking certain words back to their root meanings, and helping the reader re-identify with their own understanding of the topic at hand. The "daily challenge" is more of an important noteworthy idea, rather than an action step or suggestion for you to follow.

I personally would not categorize this as a devotional. It's more like notes from a theological lecture series. I would recommend it to someone who has been on the Christian walk for a long while, and has hit a personal "burn out" period where they are still going through the motions but don't feel the closeness and passion that they once did. I would not recommend it to a new believer or someone who has drifted from a pursuit of God for a season, and is trying to find their way back home. I think it would probably too deep and hard to follow for most of those cases. 3/5 stars. It's not a bad read, but it does seem to have a very specific target audience in order for it to be fully understood and appreciated.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from Baker Books to review, and all opinions stated - both positive and negative - are my own.*

Purchase Links:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trial Run by Thomas Locke

Trial Run is the first book of the Fault Lines series by Thomas Locke (aka Davis Bunn). This book is about two different programs competing to achieve the ability to have safe and controlled "transits" or "ascents" - out of body experiences. As both programs experience unforeseen complications, it becomes a tighter competition and a race to save the lives of their team members.

This book is very complex right off the bat, introducing you to several key players within the first few chapters, jumping around a lot, and expecting you to somehow keep track of who everyone is and where each game plan is headed. This book is definitely not for those that have a hard time keeping everything straight when stories get complicated.

I had a hard time keeping an interest for the first third of the book, but kept reading because I really like Locke's writing style. The second third of the book was a smoother ride, but still not really getting to the point fast enough for my taste. The last third of the book, I couldn't set it down, and was caught off guard by the abrupt ending. I want to know the rest of the story. Looks like I'm headed off to order book number 2 soon. 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

School Update ~ ZoKo ~ mid-October 2016

ZoKo's Academic Record

2016-2017 school year hours: (as of 10-15-16)
Science... 44.00 hours
Math... 57.75 hours
Social Studies... 89.50 hours
Language Arts... 26.00 hours
Reading... 27.25 hours
Art/PE/Health... 62.75 hours
Practical Arts/Foreign Language... 54.75 hours
     Total hours... 352.00
Remaining hours... 648.00 total... 17.75/week... 2.75/day

Current High School Transcript: (as of 10-17-16)
SCIENCE: (.75 credits total)
     Biology - .75 credits - 4.0 GPA
MATHEMATICS: (1 credit total)
     Algebra I - 1 credit - 2.7 GPA
SOCIAL STUDIES: (1.50 credit total)
     Bible & Christian Character - 1 credit - 4.0 GPA
     World History - .50 credits - 4.0 GPA
LANGUAGE ARTS: (1.25 credits total)
     Classic Literature - .25 credits - 4.0 GPA
     English I - .5 credits - 3.0 GPA
     Miscellaneous Literature - .25 credits - 4.0 GPA
     Thematic Literature - .25 credits - 3.7 GPA
PHYSICAL EDUCATION: (.50 credits total)
     Recreation - .50 credits - 4.0 GPA
PRACTICAL ARTS: (.75 credits total)
     Child Care & Development - .25 credits - 4.0 GPA
     Household Management - .50 credits - 4.0 GPA
FINE ARTS: (.50 credits total)
     Visual Arts - .50 credits - 4.0 GPA

Overall Cumulative GPA: 3.7

Main areas of current studies:
-Algebra I
-Art Appreciation (Art History)
-Bible & Christian Character
-Classic Literature
-English I
-Human Anatomy
-Instrumental Music (Guitar)
-Russian I
-World History

- She has finished the World History textbook, and is just shy of a third quarter credit in coursework. The remainder of the course will consist of reading, video, and online supplements until a full credit hour has been reached. She will be starting primary US History studies shortly.
- She needs a few more hours of Thematic Literature in order to achieve another quarter credit, but finished the textbook. She will do the remainder in reading lessons in order to acquire a half credit hour of Thematic Literature. She should be starting World Literature studies by the end of the month.
- While Algebra 1 has reached a full credit hour, she has yet to complete the textbook. She will be finishing the course and counting the allotted time toward full math hours for annual records, but no additional high school credits will be received. A final course GPA will be calculated out of the total coursework at the end of the textbook.

School Update ~ KiKi - mid-October 2016

KiKi's Academic Record

Current credit (grade level) breakdown (as of 10-17-16)
Science... level 2.25
Math... level 3.50
Social Studies... level 1.25
Language Arts... level 2.75
Health Education... level 1.00
Physical Education... level 2.00
Fine Arts... level 1.75
Practical Arts... level 2.50

Current hours for the 2016-2017 school year: (as of 10-15-16)
Science... 45.00 hours
Math... 89.75 hours
Social Studies... 13.25 hours
Language Arts... 37.00 hours
Reading... 11.75 hours
Art/PE/Health... 66.25 hours
Home Economics/Practical Arts... 88.00 hours
     Total hours... 351.00
Remaining hours... 649.00 total... 17.75/week... 2.75/day

Current areas of study:
Science - biology, ecology, physics, scientific technology
Math - consumer mathematics, logic and reasoning, patterns, sorting and matching
Social Studies - Bible and character, government, sociology
Language Arts - English (communication), reading
Health Education - personal hygiene
Physical Education - exercise, motor skills, walks
Fine Arts - art appreciation, music appreciation, visual arts
Practical Arts - building skills, clothing construction and care, computer operating skills, food and nutrition, household management, life skills, practical crafts

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review ~ Etched Upon My Heart: What We Learn And Why We Never Forget by Jill Kelly

Etched... Upon My Heart: What We Learn and Why We Never Forget by Jill Kelly is a collection of personal moments illustrating some of God's lessons in love, significance, forgiveness, suffering, giving, prayer, faithfulness, and death. Each topic is given its own chapter, which contains several moments from Jill's past, connections as to how each moment ties into God's plans for us all, points to remember and forget, a prayer, and scriptural truths to etch upon your heart.

I love Jill's candid honesty in telling her story through these pages, entrusting the reader to glimpses of her heart in very profound and personal moments. The stories within each chapter contain portions of her journey as a child and a young woman before accepting Jesus into her heart, as well as moments after accepting Jesus that reveal how her understanding of these truths has shifted through God's unfailing love and grace.

I had never heard of Jill Kelly before reading this book, so I knew nothing of her family's past trials. A good portion of the moments she shares are related to her son, Hunter, and his brief journey through this world. I found myself holding back tears during large portions of this book because of how strongly I could relate to it on so many levels.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to see God in the small moments and learn to recognize God's work in their life - even before they believed in Him. This book is about the past and the moments we choose to remember from it, but it's also about the miracles hiding in the darkness, waiting for us to shine the light on them and embrace them for the beauty they truly possess. 5/5 stars.

Purchase Links:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It's Too Late by James MacDonald

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It's Too Late by James MacDonald uses the experience of the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness to help us recognize and learn from God's attitude toward our attitudes. This book starts with an invitation and an introduction. The introduction is mandatory, as James states repeatedly. This is where he takes the time to explain his approach and lay out a blueprint for the work you're going to accomplish. The book itself is divided into 10 chapters, to be read in pairs. The first chapter of each pair covers the attitude you'll replace and the second chapter shows you what attitude to replace it with. At the back of the book, there's also a study guide with Bible readings and questions laid out to help you on your journey.

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It's Too Late focuses on five negative or "murmuring" attitudes to replace with praising and glorifying attitudes. Why not just cast off the bad attitudes and call it good? Because if you leave a vacancy, something will move in to fill it. And we want that something to be an ally to help us get closer to God. The attitudes addressed in this book (and the ones that you put on in its place) are as follows: complaining (thankful), covetous (contentment), critical (love), doubting (faith), rebellious (submission). Even if you don't feel like one of the relates to you (for me it was covetousness), read the chapter. Really let the storyline, definitions, and examples sink into you. Most of these feelings cover much more area and flow much deeper than we think they do.

This book is very intense and deep. James walks you through Bible excerpts, definitions, modern analogies and comparisons, personal stories of both failure and triumph, focal questions, action plans, and prayers to help you get closer to God. I'd recommend it to anyone who realizes their attitudes aren't consistent with the path they want to be on, and are serious about making a big change for the better. As stated on the back cover, "If you're looking for easy answers or a quick fix, this book isn't for you." 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for this honest review.*

Purchase Links:
     Moody Publishers (Print)
     Amazon (Kindle, Print, Audio)
     ChristianBook (eBook, Print, Audio)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

At Work Within by Rick Osborne

Purchase Links:
     Amazon (Kindle Only)
     Print Edition

At Work Within: Be Transformed Into All God Created You To Be by Rick Osborne is not at all the book I thought it'd be. I was expecting yet another book that would walk me through all kinds of steps to help me be what God wants me to be. Nope. This book is a series of seven Truths of transformation (one per chapter) - each explaining what you already are, and what truths you need to recognize in order to collaborate with God's efforts to transform you from within into what He's already said that you are. The overall lesson is that the moment that we are declared a new creation in God, we start being transformed into what God already knows us to be. This is a lifelong process.

Rick encourages you to rethink pretty much every core concept you've been taught about this transformation and your discipleship to Christ. He uses personal dreams to illustrate common misconceptions and new ways to look at salvation, transformation, righteousness, grace, faith, redemption, prayer, and more. The lessons that hit me the hardest were Righteousness and Grace (Number 3) and From Faith to Faith (Number 4).

At Work Within reads more like a college dissertation than most of the Christian living/improvement books available these days. I'm not considering this a negative thing, just that it's not a casual book that reads like a conversation with an old friend over a cup of coffee. Instead, it's more akin to sermon or adult Sunday school class transcripts, with all the notes and Bible references in place. I think it'd be hard to follow and keep up interest for those that have a hard time staying awake during church service; but - if you're up to the challenge - there is a lot to be learned from the pages within. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book from the publisher through BookCrash in exchange for this honest review.*

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Starting Over by Dave Ferguson & Jon Ferguson

Purchase links:

Starting Over: Your Life Beyond Regrets by Dave Ferguson & Jon Ferguson is about learning from your past regrets in order to move on from the Sorry Cycle, find redemption, and live beyond your regrets. This book is divided into four sections. The first explains the Sorry Cycle, the three types of regret (action, inaction, and reaction), the God longing, and the need to learn to love your regrets. The second explains how to break out of the Sorry Cycle by recognizing your regrets, releasing your regrets, and redeeming your regrets. The third section focuses on the most common categories of regret (spirituality, relationship, health, finance, and purpose), walking you through examples of each and suggestions on how to break free from the Sorry Cycle that each may trap you in. The last section is about starting over every day, learning to turn the Sorry Cycle into the Starting Over Loop. There is also a "living beyond regrets work sheet" at the back to help you break down your biggest regret(s) and follow the authors' step-by-step process in order to find healing and peace.

The letting go process for each regret is the same; ask forgiveness of others, forgive others, ask forgiveness of God, forgive God and the world, and forgive yourself. The concept behind this is that if you're stuck ruminating over a regret, then you need full spectrum forgiveness to truly be free to learn and move on. This is great for those regrets that hold your focus and keep you from letting go enough to reach your potential. However, I personally found that my biggest regret (trusting someone I shouldn't have) is not quite the match for their prescription. It's categorized as a reaction regret (regret over something someone did to me) in the relationship category (chapter 7). So far so good. But when the shockwave effects of some things go beyond those replays and reenactments in your head, their problem solving method is somewhat lacking. This is not to say that I don't agree with their method; on the contrary, I think it's wonderful - for the right degree of regrets. If your regrets are the type that leave you holding yourself back because of what you did or didn't do or how you did or did not act, then this book is awesome. However, if your regrets run deeper than that, and have left you with nightmares and feeling as though you have gaping wounds in your soul, then this book may not run deep enough to leave you truly feeling capable of resolving those issues and starting over. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a proof copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for this honest review.*

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Made Well by Jenny Simmons

Made Well: Finding Wholeness In The Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons (Baker Books)

Made Well: Finding Wholeness In The Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons shows us that healing is an ongoing journey but also an open invitation and a choice. Do we want to be well?

This book consists of lots of short entries reminding us to focus on the small miracles that happen every day, instead of dwelling on the times that we pray for big miracles that don't happen. Healing is painful, exhausting, and comes at a great price. But there is hope if you're open to receiving it. If you want to be made well.

Jenny reminds us that disowning our pain is not the path to healing. We must acknowledge, name, embrace, and even learn to love and nurture those wounds that bind us - the broken parts of ourselves - our shame and grief and fear. She encourages us to learn to love and truly live - through embracing our holes, limps, and brokenness - rather than avoiding and ignoring them and allowing them to fester.

This book would be a great asset to anyone working to overcome their own spiritual holes in an effort to find wholeness. It is a wonderful ally to not feel so alone on a long and treacherous journey, such as that embarked by those seeking healing in order to feel whole again. Laugh, cry, and embrace the healing power of everyday sacred moments. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for this honest review.*

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Review ~ Counterfeit Comforts: Freedom From The Imposters That Keep You From True Peace, Purpose And Passion by Robia Scott

Counterfeit Comforts: Freedom From The Imposters That Keep You From True Peace, Purpose And Passion by Robia Scott

Counterfeit Comforts by Robia Scott is a candid exploration of the worldly ways in which people seek comfort and purpose in their lives. While it starts out focusing mostly on comfort foods (ice cream when you're down, chips when you're bored, etc.), it moves on to reveal the much deeper problems that are the root of most of our cravings for temporary relief - stress, depression, anxiety, shame, grief, etc. Robia intertwines stories from her own journey with Bible passages and her personal insights from the Holy Spirit in order to increase your understanding and awareness of God's messages for your life and the purpose of it all. She shares her own methods of quieting her mind and body from the hustle of everyday life in order to be more open to receiving God's wisdom, counsel, and comfort.

This is a great starter book for anyone looking to find insight as to how to gain freedom from earthly substitutes for things only God can provide. It doesn't matter if you are a new Christian (or considering it) or if you believe in God but feel that somehow you aren't as close to Him as you'd like to be - either way, the suggestions presented will help strengthen your bond with God and help you feel more confident of your ability to find and follow His plan for your life. Whether you are battling eating disorders, alcohol, depression, insecurity, shame, identity issues, chronic busyness, or even relationship problems, this book offers great insight and encouragement for the long journey ahead. It is not a workbook, and it's also not a difficult read; this means that for everyone who feels they need to start "somewhere" but has no idea where or how to do this, this book would be a wonderful tool and asset. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.*

Purchase Links:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Review ~ Earth Psalms: Reflections On How God Speaks Through Nature by Francine Rivers

Earth Psalms: Reflections On How God Speaks Through Nature by Francine Rivers (Tyndale House Publishers)

Earth Psalms is a breath-taking and mesmerizing weekly devotional by Francine Rivers. Revealing 52 insights into God's world of nature, Francine invites you to share in her observations to see God's beauty all around us. Each weekly devotion includes a few Bible verses and an opportunity to reflect, apply, and connect with God through prayer. This book is full of beautiful full-page photographs to bring her words to life and help us embrace the richness of God's landscape.

Honestly, just looking through the pages of this book was enough to make me feel in awe of the wonders that are all around us. The pictures, coupled with Francine's remarkable tales, weave our everyday encounters with God's magnificent purpose and power. Her ability to see the beauty of God's plan in the mundane everyday happenings is both profound and inspiring. This book would be a beautiful gift for anyone who would appreciate a wonderful reminder of God's presence every day. My only complaint about this book is that I found it impossible to limit myself to reading just one section at a time, and kept wanting to read more and see what beauty would unfold next. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.*

Purchase Links:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Book Review ~ Take Your Life Back: How To Stop Letting The Past And Other People Control You by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop

Take Your Life Back: How to Stop Letting the Past and Other People Control You by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop (Tyndale House Publishers)

Take Your Life Back by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop is designed to help you recognize and acknowledge the ways in which you lead a reactive life, in order to help you move toward a responsive life. This is an excellent starter book for people who have hit bottom and know that they have problems dealing with life, but aren't entirely sure as to the root cause or how to proceed in order to find healing and growth. It also has a lot of good general information in case you think you know the foundation that's led to your current problems, but don't want to read a lot of different books in search of the perfect one that'll relate to what you're going through. It covers various kinds of trauma, mental abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, dependency, co-dependency, narcissism, and borderline personality disorder. It's not really an action plan (although a 12-step plan is included); consider it more of a guidebook to point you in the right general direction and give you the encouragement you need in order to recognize that healing is possible and to take those first (and hardest) steps toward recovery from your seeming brokenness.

Having read several similar personal growth/recovery books, I didn't really learn anything new from this book. But, as stated, it is a great starter book full of information and comforting stories to encourage someone to begin a very long journey. I'd also recommend it as a good guide to hand to someone who is acting as a safe person/support for anyone taking the journey toward healing/recovery. It will help others understand the path you're on, the problems that have led up to this point, and the steps you need to follow in order to reach a better place. 5/5 stars. There is a companion workbook, which I have not had the pleasure of looking at.

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for this honest review.*

Purchase Links:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Life Update ~ Practice Makes Progress

You know the old saying of "practice makes perfect"? Well, I need a re-write. My life isn't perfect. In fact, very little about my life is perfect, and honestly, I don't want it to be. At least not by society's standard of proclaimed perfection. I'm going for progress. Just some kind of effort being made to demonstrate that things can get better, and evidence that they have. Slowly. Very very slowly at times...

My daughter was having yet another meltdown explosion when I came to the realization that we needed a slogan that was much more forgiving than the seeking of perfection. In one of the many self-help books I've read lately, the author introduces the concept of "Imperfect Progress". This is the idea that most of our would-be progress is held back based on the fear of lacking perfection in our attempts. The gist of it is that we will fail. Repeatedly. But as long as we learn something and attempt to make progress, failure is better than the fear that keeps us from even trying. That's what grace is for.

So it was during yet another screaming episode from my 12-year-old that I waited for her to take a few breaths and asked her about the importance of practice when something is hard (such as self-control). The angry mutter of "practice makes perfect" came out of her mouth. Nope, wrong answer. So I told her that I'm not expecting perfection from her, that'd be ridiculous and way way too hard for her to get even close to in her current emotional state. Instead, I want her to just simply try to do better. Make progress. Practice makes progress. You may never achieve perfection, which is fine, because that's an unreachable or unsustainable goal in most instances anyway. But the only way you'll make progress is by trying - by practice. It took several times of walking her through our new "practice makes progress" slogan before she caught on to the full implications of it, but by the end she was less weighted down and had much more realistic expectations of herself (and the rest of the world). I'm not saying that the fight is over, or that she'll keep track of this idea in the heat of the moment - at least not at this point in time. But as long as we both can remember that concept after the cool down period is over, and find some sort of progress to be claimed, than it's served it's purpose in helping everyone through a hard spot with a little more grace in the moment.

So there it is, practice makes progress. Now, if I can only find a way to convince myself that progress is "good enough". Baby steps, right?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review ~ Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart: Building Faith, Wisdom, And Character In The Messes Of Daily Life by Jim & Lynne Jackson

Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart: Building Faith, Wisdom & Character In The Messes Of Daily Life by Jim & Lynne Jackson (Bethany House)

Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart by Jim & Lynne Jackson is a very refreshing dose of sanity in what has become the sheer chaos of raising four kids (8-12). This book focuses on teaching the Discipline That Connects approach to parenting. It shows you step-by-step how to build a relationship with your kids based on the following biblically-based messages: you are safe with me (foundation), you are loved no matter what (Connect), you are called and capable (Coach), and you are responsible for your actions (Correct). These form a rough pyramid with the largest emphasis being on the foundation (safety), and the smallest portion or peak being the correction (responsibility).

This book is not about quick fixes or easy answers. It also does not start by trying to "fix" problems with your child. Instead, it presents common scenarios and typical outcomes within a family where the parents are stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, or simply at a loss and feel they've tried everything. Between my own childhood and dealing with my four kids over the last 12 years, there wasn't a single scenario in the book that I couldn't relate to in one form or fashion. Yes, I knew that what I was doing wasn't working. Yes, I'd get upset and caught up in the moment and say things I would regret or feel shameful/guilty about later. Yes, I had read countless parenting books and tried every idea I could come across in an attempt to regain "control" of an out-of-control child... Yes, I needed a new approach. And this is it!

This book focuses and calming yourself first and foremost, so you can approach your kids rationally in make them feel safe around you, even while being punished. If you've ever had a child shrink in fear because you were upset, then you should be able to recognize the need here. It then walks you through ways to modify your own behaviors that you know feel wrong but you just don't see a way around when you're caught up in the moment. There is hope. This book demonstrates how to show unconditional love while disciplining, how to involve your child in the problem-solving process so they learn to become responsible, and even how to pick up the pieces and get a "do over" when you mess up. Because you will mess up, just like they will. Over and over again, because we're all still learning and trying to get this right. The important thing isn't the getting it right part, it's the loving and forgiving and trying to do better next time.

The real eye openers came for me in chapter 6 when they're listing common problem areas and suggestions for how to be a better parent when you're not at your best, and also at one point when they explain that compliance is not obedience. The first 2/3 of this book are basically a how-to, with lots and lots of real life examples to help pull you through. It's the equivalent of actually being present for a weekend seminar on how to be a better parent and overall communicator. The last 1/3 of the book is appendixes that list even more specific problems and creative solutions for how to help your children grow in your love in order to make better choices.

This book is very highly recommended to any parent that is having problems dealing with the day to day messes of raising kids. Unlike most books that focus on younger children, you could easily pick this up and get a "do over" even if your kids are teenagers. It also addresses harder issues such as stealing, habitual lying, and hitting.

As soon as I finished this book, my two oldest were fighting and I took it as an opportunity to test the method I'd just learned. Within five minutes, there were sincere apologies, heart-felt communication and legitimate plans to try to do better next time. This was the largest impact of any parenting concept in years! 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Purchase Links:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review ~ Missing Jesus: Find Your Life In His Great Story by Charles & Janet Morris

Missing Jesus: Find Your Life In His Great Story by Charles & Janet Morris (Moody Publishers)

Missing Jesus by Charles & Janet Morris is a collection of anecdotes that show you how different people (past and present) have refreshed their faith by finding glimpses of Jesus' story within their own lives. The reality is that many Christians today seem to get so caught up in the rules of being a Christian that they somehow gloss over the purpose of being a Christian: to follow Christ. Learn about ways other people have pulled moments from their own life to reflect upon the greatness of God's grace and mercy, and the beauty that is offered to us by re-focusing our sights on Jesus, rather than the laws (thinking like a Pharisee). My favorite part is in chapter 8, when the authors stress that we need to be "recovering Pharisees".

From the subtitle, "Find Your Life In His Great Story", I figured there'd be some kind of personal application section. But there isn't. There are just lots of nice stories, which would probably be great to just help you feel reconnected if you were having a bum day. My personal recommendation would be that instead of reading this straight through as a conventional book, I would use it more as a devotional for those days that life is just hectic and you feel drained or lacking. Each chapter is broken into several small stories that are typically detached from each other. If you simply read one of these stories a day (in order), you'd have a little over 40 days of stories to help you recognize that bonding with Jesus is as simple as looking for His touch in your daily life.

Overall, I'm giving this book 3/5 stars. It's not a bad book, but it's not great either. It'd be a good boost for someone that gets tied up in the daily grind and needs reminded as to the purpose for their life. It's not a good book for someone who has wandered far enough off the trail that they need a map, guide, and flashlight to find their way back.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this honest review.*

Purchase Links:

Monday, September 26, 2016

Life Update ~ Here's To Life...

Life's been hectic here. We spent most of last week prepping for our biannual Free-For-All event, which took place this last weekend. This season's event ran Friday-Sunday, with great success. We gave away books, toys, clothing, and household items to over 100 people during the three-day event. We also had several people donate items to the cause, which is always a tremendous blessing.

After spending all week sorting through items to put them out on Friday, we had to clean out the trailer in order to relocate the Christmas Project storage from the garage into the trailer. Three filing cabinets and over a dozen plastic tubs later, and our Christmas Project storage has a new permanent home! I'll get pics up from the inside of the trailer after we do a little reorganizing and make it look semi-decent. :)

Today was spent trying to get ZoKo's school efforts sorta back on track after she took Thursday-Sunday off in order to help out and get some Service Learning credit in. Speaking of credit, she's earned five quarter credits in the last week, all A's; Bible & Character, Visual Arts, Child Care & Development, Recreation, and Biology.

As for my little corner of the world, expect some book reviews coming in this week - I've got four books on my waiting list right now. Whichever ones I don't get through this week will be done during the weekend, since I'll have plenty of reading time at the KAMO rally.

I'm sure I've got plenty more to say, but I can't come up with anything at the moment, so until next time... Peace.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Greek For Everyone by A. Chadwick Thornhill

Greek For Everyone: Introductory Greek For Bible Study And Application by A. Chadwick Thornhill

Greek For Everyone by A. Chadwick Thornhill is designed to allow anyone to learn the basics of biblical Greek at their own pace, even with no previous knowledge of the language. I really found the layout of this book to be easy to follow. The step-by-step progressions made it flow in such a way that I could keep track of and utilize what I learned every step of the way. Most of the chapters end with a "your turn" section encouraging you to put the new concepts to work, and a list of new words to memorize. By the end of the book, you will have memorized almost 100 basic words, which are critical to translating the New Testament. The author stresses to take your time with each chapter and really learn the material before moving on.

When I started reading this book, I had never studied the Greek language before. My own lack of knowledge became painfully obvious in chapter 1, when he first explains what Koine Greek is, and I'd never even heard the term before. So if I managed to follow and learn from this book, then I dare say the title is well earned, and it truly is "Greek For Everyone". By the end of the book, no, you don't know "everything" about the Greek language and how to translate it. After all, it is an introductory course. But you do end up with a sound working knowledge of biblical Greek, which will allow you to study and interpret the New Testament in more personal ways.

Here's a chapter listing to show the order in which concepts are introduced.
1) Language Learning, Koine Greek, and the Greek Alphabet
2) The Big Picture of Language
3) Phrases, Clauses, and Conjunctions
4) Resources for Navigating the Greek New Testament
5) Introduction to Greek Verbs and Nominals
6) Nominative, Accusative, and Vocative Cases
7) Genitive and Dative Cases
8) Articles, Pronouns, Adjectives, and Prepositions
9) (Independent) Indicative-Mood Verbs
10) (Independent) Imperative-Mood Verbs
11) (Dependent) Subjunctive-Mood Verbs
12) (Dependent) Greek Infinitives
13) (Dependent) Greek Participles
14) Back to the Big Picture
15) Comparing English Translations
16) Bridging Contexts
17) Word Studies
18) The Grammar of Theology (Putting It All Together)

*Disclaimer: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.*

Knowing Yourself Knowing God by Dr. John F. Shackelford

Knowing Yourself Knowing God: From An Ego-Run-Life To A God-Led-Life by Dr. John F. Shackelford

Knowing Yourself Knowing God by Dr. John F. Shackelford is a Christian counseling book focused on helping you learn more about your true self (ego), and expanding your knowledge of God. The purpose behind this insight is to move past your ego in order to form a closer personal relationship with God. The book is divided into three sections: (1) knowing yourself, (2) knowing God, and (3) the stories.

The first section (Knowing Yourself) walks you through personality tests including Transactional Analysis, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the Enneagram. For each, there are websites provided for learning your specific type, and explanations as to what each test is for, how results affect who we are, and what we can do in order to function better based on those results. He also explains his reason behind each test being advised in a Christian counseling setting. Along with these personality tests to help you discover your true identity (ego), he explains the concept of a "false self", and how this affects your relationships with everyone, including yourself and God.

The second section (Knowing God) explains God's gift (grace and love), God's will, and God's desire. It helps break down some of the ideas that are imposed on Christians (particularly as children) as to why they should follow God, why they should "be good", what God expects from them, and what God provides for them. This section would be especially helpful to adults who were raised Christian, but at some point felt a disconnect with God or questioned their own motives for following him.

The third section (The Stories) contains portions of the journey stories of six people who have worked to move from an ego-driven life to a God-led life. These stories show starting points, breaking points, and some of the steps being used to patch their lives back together.

I found this book to be very informative and helpful in my personal quest to heal from my broken past and get closer to God and His plan for my life.

Note: There are a few areas where the content doesn't flow well, and the author seems to have "jumped thoughts" without a clear explanation. I also found about half a dozen minor typos while reading this book. Neither of these issues are frequent enough to detract from the overall appeal and usefulness of the material covered. 5 stars.

*Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book through BookCrash, in exchange for this honest review.*

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The 10 Greatest Struggles Of Your Life by Colin S. Smith

The 10 Greatest Struggles Of Your Life: Finding Freedom In God's Commands by Colin S. Smith (Moody Publishers)

The 10 Greatest Struggles Of Your Life by Colin S. Smith is intended to help the reader utilize the Ten Commandments in order to discover areas of your life that are out of sync with God's will, and receive wisdom to help you break through these struggles. The book contains an introduction, ten chapters, and a 30-page study guide to help you apply the lessons from each chapter. Each chapter is written to address a struggle reflecting the commandment it shares a number with. The struggles (in order) are God, Worship, Religion, Time, Authority, Peace, Purity, Integrity, Truth, and Contentment.

First, the things I like about this book... In the application suggestions (in the included study guide), there are three suggestions given for each chapter: Baby Step, Substantial Move, and Radical Life-Change. This allows the reader to find an application that correlates with their current level of progression on their spiritual journey... I also like that each chapter is broken into several segments, making it easy to read portions of it when you can't get a long block of free-time.

Unfortunately, my list of dislikes is longer than my list of likes. I spent most of my reading time trying to figure out the intended audience (knowing that somehow it wasn't me). It seems to jump back and forth between speaking to the new-believer and the longtime Christian, without much time spent in between the two. This could lead to a lot of confusion for new-believers, as well as potentially leaving them feeling very inadequate for the journey, rather than embracing it. Also, several parts of the book seem to be redundant and jump around a lot so it's hard in places to figure out what point the author is trying to make.

Honestly, my strongest complaint about this book is more of a warning than anything else. I think the subtitle (Finding Freedom In God's Commands) could be misleading to the wrong person. I'm at the point in my journey where I'm struggling with self-worth and shame, and was hoping that said "freedom" could help me embrace God's love and forgiveness more fully by rediscovering the Ten Commandments. That's why I got this book. However, most of the book is dedicated to pointing out our short-comings as humans and how we all fall short of perfection, and that none of us can live up to these Commandments. While I agree that we all sin and fall short of perfection, and that we all need God's forgiveness and redemption, focusing on your short-comings is not the best way to feel "freedom" if you are already in a pit of despair. I fear that to the wrong person, this book could simply add fuel to a chaotic spiral and make their already low sense of self feel even more devastated.

So, please, only read this book is you have a relatively strong sense of contentment with where your life is at this present moment, and are looking for ways to build a closer relationship with Christ by tightening your level of commitment toward following His example. This book is not recommended for use to build contentment if your present life is radically different than how you would desire to have it.

Overall, I'm giving this book 3/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review.*