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.*