Tuesday, February 28, 2017

God Among Sages by Kenneth Richard Samples

God Among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader is a very thorough comparative examination of Jesus versus the leaders of four other world religions (Bhakti Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam), laid out in an easy-to-follow format by Kenneth Richard Samples.

The first part of this book is a conclusive study on Jesus Christ's unity with God, the historical accuracy of Scriptures and other related teachings, and secular historical evidence of the existence and authority of Jesus Christ.

Part two compares Jesus with Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad (each in his own distinct chapter) through the study of each leader, his religion, and how it lines up with Christ and Christianity. Here, Samples covers the historical narrative of each leader's life, his values and beliefs, and the role that played on forming the religion he is associated with. Then, he discusses that leader's religion through it's history, beliefs, and teachings. Finally, each chapter in this part is concluded with "Suggestions for Evangelistic Encounters" with each of these religions. Most statements about each leader and his religion are done in a compare/contrast format to show how they align with Christ and Christianity.

The last part of God Among Sages reveals how Christians should treat and respond to followers of other religions, in light of current affairs and Biblical teachings.

Samples provides ample evidence to back up all of his conclusions, along with providing a fair and adequate view of the major alternatives of Christianity. I think this book would be a good read for Christians seeking to know more about other religions, as well as those aspiring to go into missions work looking to plead Christianity to followers of any of the covered religions. I also appreciate that each chapter has discussion questions that are perfect for personal review or for group study. 5/5 stars.

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

About the author (back cover copy):
Kenneth Richard Samples is a senior research scholar with Reasons to Believe, the premier science-faith integration ministry. An adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University, Samples is the author of Without a Doubt, A World of Difference, and 7 Truths That Changed the World.
Purchase Links:
     Christian Book

Monday, February 27, 2017

Attend by Laura Davis Werezak

Attend: Forty Soul Stretches Toward God is an anthology of simple, practical, and effective ways to attend to God in our daily lives, written by Laura Davis Werezak. In it, you will find 40 methods for stepping away from the everyday hustle of life and enjoying a closer communion with God through the miracle of everyday moments. Each of the suggestions spans for a couple of pages, where Laura explains not only what to do, but also how and why this act helps our soul to recharge and reconnect with the one who created us. She includes classic teachings, prayers, and scriptures to support her ideas, as well as personal anecdotes.

Some of the included ways to attend to God are as simple as opening a window or calling an old friend to reconnect. Others take more effort and energy (but are worth every ounce of it), such as asking someone for forgiveness. Most of them are designed to be done in ten minutes or less, although the reader is encouraged to spend as much time attending to God as can be allocated. All of these "soul stretches" can be achieved by anyone who has the desire to feel God's breath and presence in their ordinary life.

Laura does a wonderful job at making this book easy to read and understand. I did find that some of the exercises aren't really a good fit for me personally right now, and I would invite you to read every one of the exercises (in order), but pick-and-choose which ones you want to give a shot on your first go-around. Maybe the others will be more appealing at a later date or after you've accomplished the ones that call to you from the start. Overall, I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. While it's not quite what I'd hoped it would be, it's great for someone looking for a starting spot or stepping stone to connect (or reconnect) with God on a more personal level, and most of the activities can be done without too much deviance from your daily routine.

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

About the author (copied from book):
Laura Davis Werezak received her MCS in Christianity and the Arts from Regent College in 2011. She is married to Clint, an Anglican minister, and they live in New York City with their two young daughters.
Purchase Links:
     Christian Book

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

His Last Words by Kim Erickson

His Last Words: What Jesus Taught And Prayed In His Final Hours is a 7-week bible study of John 13-17 by Kim Erickson. Kim leads us on a verse-by-verse study of John 13-17 as well as a quick overview of chapters 18-21. The main purpose behind this study is to reveal what Jesus emphasized in the days proceeding his death, and how we can apply these teachings to our lives today.

Kim's insights into these chapters show us that while Jesus' final lessons emphasized loving your neighbor, he also stressed the importance of accepting his love for us, as well as how we can focus on that love in order to rise above the daily pain and tribulation we face in this world.

Like previous bible studies by Moody Publishers, this bible study utilizes a dual-color font format to allow the reader to easily distinguish between Kim's writing, scripture excerpts, and study questions. There is also a discussion guide at the end of each week, to be utilized in a small group setting.

I found this study to be very easy to understand and it was an enjoyable experience to strengthen my personal walk with Jesus. I would highly recommend it for anyone who needs a reminder of God's love for each of us and his plans for our lives. This book would be a blessing to a new or struggling believer, as it focuses on the grace offered to those who have the faith to believe. 5/5 stars.

*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.*

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Treasures In Dark Places by Leanna Cinquanta

Treasures In Dark Places by Leanna Cinquanta is the story of her personal journey to find God and help spread His message to poverty-stricken parts of northern India. Leanna leads us through the trials of her childhood and adolescence, showing us the various times that God slowly wound His way into her heart, until she finally decided to listen to Him and follow His calling for her life. Once she acknowledges His calling, He leads her to northern India, where she lives with the natives and becomes a part of their community as a means by which to spread the gospel and Jesus' good news to the inhabitants.

Leanna realizes that one woman can only do so much, and she founds TellAsia Ministries to reach out to the masses and provide aid and hope to those without.

While I found this book to be an interesting background to Leanna's world and the reason she got into mission work, this book is not at all what I expected it to be based on the front and back covers. I had incorrectly been under the impression that it focused primarily on her work to help aid and assist children, particularly those who were orphaned or abducted and involved in sex trafficking. This portion of the story only takes up a very small amount of the book, with most of the book focusing on Leanna's own youth. While that story would be more intriguing to someone looking for a history of her personal life and ministry, it is not what I was looking for when I got the book. Overall, I'm giving it 3/5 stars, deduced mostly from the misrepresentation of the contents based on the back cover blurb.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

60 Days Of Happiness by Randy Alcorn

60 Days Of Happiness: Discover God's Promise Of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn can be read as a 60 day devotional (as the title implies), or in larger chunks as a more traditional book. Each of the 60 days begins by posing a question the reader may have, such as "Why aren't Christians known for their happiness?". This question is followed by a brief scriptural excerpt and a quote relevant to the issue at hand. Randy then uses biblical explanations, personal anecdotes, and real-life examples to shine a light on God's view of the issue, as best as we can learn from the Bible. After each reading session (an average of 3 pages), Randy includes a simple yet very detailed prayer to help us become attuned to God's desires for us and our happiness.

In the clever introduction, Randy explains how this book came to be. It's drawn from selected portions of his larger book on the subject, Happiness.
"While I've written the big book Happiness and also a very small one, God's Promise of Happiness, I felt the need for a medium-sized book for those who want more than the one and less than the other." (page xi)
While I have not read either of the other books mentioned, I found this book to be just right for providing insight into a lot of different issues surrounding the concept of our happiness, both individually and as a society. The readings were all simple enough that my 12-year-old can relate to and learn from them, yet complex enough for me to gain a new understanding of things I had not thought to look at in the way in which Randy presents them.

Overall, I'm giving this book 4/5 stars, and would recommend it to anyone who struggles to find a place for happiness in the daily flow of life. If nothing else, start by reading just the sections that appeal to you. By the time you finish, you'll most likely want to go back and read the rest to see what insights you've been missing.

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

About The Author (back copy):
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and a New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books, including Heaven (more than one million sold), The Treasure Principle (more than two million sold), If God Is Good, Happiness, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. His books have sold about ten million copies and have been translated into nearly seventy languages.
Alcorn resides in Gresham, Oregon, with his wife, Nanci. They have two married daughters and five grandsons. Randy enjoys hanging out with his family, biking, underwater photography, doing research, and reading. 
Purchase Links:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Moving From Broken To Beautiful Through Forgiveness by Yvonne Ortega

Moving From Broken To Beautiful Through Forgiveness is an inspiring gem by Yvonne Ortega. It is book 3 in the Moving From Broken To Beautiful series, although I read it as a stand-alone book with no issues. Yvonne starts her introduction by congratulating the reader on picking up a book on forgiveness. "You show courage and a positive attitude." She then goes on to explain, in her candidly loving way, that she has no intention of pressuring you or giving you an extra burden to carry by expecting you to take steps you're not ready for or by making you feel more guilt than you already possibly do.

Whether you are tired of being bogged down by your own negative feelings toward someone who's hurt you, or whether you simply feel that it's time to do "something" to move on and let go of past harm; this book is for you. Yvonne's sincere kindness pours from the pages as she reminds you of God's grace waiting to embrace you if you dare to take the treacherous steps into the vast unknown.

First, she reaffirms in clear, concise language exactly what forgiveness is not. For example, forgiveness does not mean the person gets away with wrongdoing. It also does not mean that you forgive the person right away. What a relief for those of us who struggle with this concept, to truly realize that it's an ongoing long-term process rather than an overnight cure.

Next, Yvonne explains to us what God says about grievances and bitterness, and how God says we should treat our enemies. These truths may be hard to swallow depending on your stage of forgiveness, but they're necessary to discover. I love that Yvonne takes great care to not accuse or shame the reader, which would risk opening further wounds on an already difficult trek.

Finally, we learn the steps of forgiveness. This is not a quick and easy method by any means, but it is gentle to the soul and will make you feel better about any progress you've made rather than feeling worse about how little distance you've covered.

Each chapter ends with activities, affirmations, scriptures, a prayer, and built-in journal pages to help you on your journey. This book could easily be done as a weekly study with a trusted friend or women's group, or on your own with your bible and a cup of coffee. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is open to the need for forgiveness, whether you are just considering the path from an arm's length or if you have already been on this course for a while and would just like a gentle nudge and guidance to keep you on the road. It's also worth noting that this book is loving enough that it would be suitable for someone just starting their journey with Jesus and looking for biblical guidance to forgive past sins - including their own. 5/5 stars.

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

Purchase Links:

About the author (back cover copy):
Yvonne Ortega survived and thrived after breast cancer, divorce, single parenting, car accidents, and multiple family losses including the loss of her only child. It's her passion to help others find the same hope and beauty she's discovered, despite the losses. She is the author of Moving From Broken To Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons To Help You Move Forward and Finding Hope For Your Journey Through Breast Cancer, Revell 2007.
Yvonne is a Licensed Professional Counselor, bilingual professional speaker, and speaker coach. YvonneOrtega.com 

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Returning by Rachelle Dekker

The Returning is the third (and final) book in the Seer series by Rachelle Dekker. This is the first book of hers that I have had the pleasure of reading, which means that my review is based solely on this book as a stand-alone rather than as the conclusion of a longer story. Since this book picks up almost 20 years after the ending of the second book, The Calling, and Rachelle does a wonderful job of introducing us to the current world and its inhabitants, I didn't feel that I was at a disadvantage for having missed out on the first two books. That being said, I do fully intend to go back and read the other books because of how much I enjoyed this one.

The Returning introduces us to two cities at odds against one another.

Trylin City is fully embracing the light, with complete faith in the absolute power of the light and all that can be accomplished through it. Never seeking to harm or find revenge, but hoping to find a lost daughter and to help the light spread back to Authority City.

Authority City is built on an illusion of peace and harmony, where almost all the inhabitants are given a Genesis Serum in order to "forget" memories, emotions, and rebellion. While there is no fighting, there is also no love. The leaders of Authority City are guided by the control and power offered by the darkness, believing that the light (and the emotions that come with it) are dangerous and will end life as they know it.

Elise is a young woman who was taken from her parents in Trylin City as a child and raised in Authority City. Being the only person in Authority City that is immune to the Genesis Serum, she forgot her true nature not by being injected (as the other citizens did), but by being taught that she was unloved, unwanted, abandoned, and worthless - both to her parents and to those who now comprise her little world. Things change when Elise starts realizing her own power, hidden in her true identity.
"Remember what I call you, beautiful daughter. The voice of the wind rumbled inside her, and another wave of tears stung behind her eyes. Remember who you are. Your identity lies in me alone, and I see you as blameless. Beautiful, perfect daughter." (page 226) 
As the power starts to shift from darkness toward the light, a great battle ensues. Elise struggles with learning her true identity, while other Seers from Trylin City question her believed ability to rescue the world from the pending darkness.
"Don't judge yourself for forgetting; otherwise we are right back where we started... Remember that all moments are love's way of bringing you back to yourself. Only in forgetting do you get the chance to remember... Even in moments of doubt, you are still perfect; even in times of fear, you are His. And once again, you get to walk through your doubt and fear and remember that you are the light of the world. Isn't that amazing?" (pages 311-312)
Ultimately, this is a story about forgetting, remembering that which has been forgotten, and forgiving. It is a powerful message for anyone who has ever struggled with finding their true identity or worth within the light, or who feels so covered by the darkness of their own suffering and shame that forgiveness seems like an impossible dream.
"All the suffering you face, my friend, you create yourself. Only you can choose to suffer. You can also choose to let it go." (page 355)
Rachelle has done a wonderful job at providing the words necessary to help the reader envision this world and the power struggle taking place within it. She has related powerful truths that every person could benefit from hearing, time and time again. This book has definitely earned its place on a shelf and in my heart, and will help serve as a reminder on those days that I am feeling inadequate for the path set out before me. 5/5 stars.

(Disclaimer: I received a free print edition of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.)

About the book's author (copied from inside book):
The oldest daughter of New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker was inspired early on to discover truth through storytelling. She won a Christy Award for her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Choosing, which was followed by two more books in the Seer series: The Calling and The Returning. Rachelle graduated with a degree in communications and spent several years in marketing and corporate recruiting before making the transition to write full-time. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Daniel, and their diva cat, Blair. Visit her online at www.rachelledekker.com.

- Select Q & A with Rachelle Dekker -
(as supplied courtesy of Tyndale Fiction)
You talk about the power of belief in the book. What is the purpose of faith, and what makes faith so powerful in people’s lives?
Belief and faith are everything. We form our own realities. We make judgments based on the past and what we think the future will bring; then we shape our idea of what we are capable of around those beliefs. Imagine if we truly believed we were infinite sons and daughters of the creator. How different would the world look then? When we believe and have faith in who the Father calls us, then the world looks pretty different.
The theme of identity is explored in all three Seer books. How does forgiveness relate to identity?
For me, forgiveness is more about the one who feels wronged than the one who committed the wrong. What if, for a moment, you believed that nothing could harm you? That you, as a believer, are seated at the Father’s table and standing with him? Can anything harm the Father? If you believe no, then can anything harm you—the true you, the true spirited self? So then, forgiveness becomes more about letting go of false belief and stepping into the true identity that the Father gave to you. I know it’s radical, but belief like that could change the world, don’t you think?  
Aaron is a somewhat mysterious character throughout the series. What is he supposed to represent and what kind of spiritual leader is he?
I like to leave this one open, which I know isn’t really the answer you want. I want the reader to decide who he is to them. For me he’s a guiding light, an angel maybe, a representation of the spirit who communicates with us and leads us. He can be many things - mostly, though, he’s a great way to hear truth.
 Purchase Links:
     Tyndale Fiction
     Christian Book

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Nothing To Prove by Jennie Allen

Nothing To Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard by Jennie Allen is a stepping stone for those of us who are exhausted from the charade of pretending to be "enough" for ourselves, others, and God. Jennie starts by addressing that unquenchable thirst that many of us face even when we seem to have life figured out. We feel like we're suffocating, but we keep pretending that everything is okay.

During the first few chapters, Jennie shares with us her deepest fear of not being enough. With this confession comes the lesson:
"God is not after great performances or great movements. He is after us! God already knows we are not enough, but He's not asking us to be." (page 32)
Jennie goes on to show us how to admit that we aren't enough, hand our baggage over to God, and allow Him to give us the freedom He is so willing to quench our thirst with. She identifies common behaviors and thoughts that we need to let go of, and offers suggestions in order to strengthen our relationship with Jesus.

Through a series of personal stories and biblical reflections, the second part of the book - God's Streams Of Enoughness - serves up seven chapters, focusing on specific feelings or concepts to let go of and what to replace them with. Each chapter ends with an Experience Guide to help you along your journey. The seven streams are Fulfillment (to replace Thirsty), Connection (to replace Lonely), Rest (to replace Tired), Risk (to replace Passive), Hope (to replace Afraid), Grace (to replace Ashamed), and Calling (to replace Empty).

When I first started reading this book, I found it frustrating that all of the Bible references are not listed in the text, but rather are on the Notes page at the back of the book. However, by about halfway through the book, I was thankful for this because I makes it so much easier to use the concise list during my personal Bible reading/journaling time without having to flip back through the entire book.

I enjoyed the first part of the book, and was eager to dive in to part 2. However, I found myself having a hard time making it through the chapters that didn't really apply to my personal battles at this point in my life. For anyone reading this book, I would suggest to read part 1 in its entirety. During part 2, if reading the less applicable chapters are a hang up, then skip to the most pertinent issues presently interfering with your life and livelihood. You can always go back and read the rest later.

Overall, I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. I was really hoping that the less pertinent chapters (for me) would be broad enough to yield a beneficial study, but instead I found the examples to be specific enough that I couldn't see a clear way to fully embrace the lesson.

*Disclaimer: I received a free proof copy of this book from Blogging For Books for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.*

About the book's author (copied from back cover):
Jennie Allen is a recovering achiever who is passionate about Jesus. She is the best-selling author of Anything and Restless, as well as the founder and visionary for the million-strong IF:Gathering, which exists to gather, equip, and unleash the next generation to live out their purpose. Jennie speaks frequently at conferences such as Catalyst and Q. She holds a master's degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Zac, and their children.
Purchase Links:
     Christian Book