Making Jesus Unforgettable

When I was asked to review this book, the author, Dr. Joseph F. Smith, introduced himself and the conceptual design of this book. He sent me a copy of it for review purposes. The review wasn’t required to be positive, and the thoughts below are my own.

This book takes a rather unique approach to helping the reader draw closer to Jesus Christ through a reading and internalizing of the Gospels. There are 49 “Landmarks”, which are the portion of the book which help the reader draw mental pictures. The mental pictures in turn, help the reader internalize the message of the Gospels and remember the meaning of a given passage.

An interesting example of this approach is found immediately at the outset of the book. Landmark 1: Index Finger, discusses the idea of the index finger representing the number one. Rather than stopping with that simplistic image, the author expounds upon the image of an index finger the size of a log, and the reader is supposed to cut down that log. Due to the described size of the log (index finger), the reader is lead to the point of understanding a pro-logger would be needed to cut down this huge index finger.

It sounds a bit weird if you ask me, but if the reader continues reading beyond the first three paragraphs of the book and turns the page, the pro-logger image is related to the Prologue found in John 1. Subsequent sections in this Landmark are Introductions, with Pro-Logger introducing himself. The text of the Introductions are the beginning portions of the other Gospels.

By the time the reader has read through to the end of Landmark 1, this image of a huge, living index finger needing to be cut down by a pro-logger, has helped the reader gain the importance of these beginning sections of the Gospels and what they mean to the overall Gospel story.

This book could be used as a reference book, with commentary over sections of Scripture, but that would not be the intended purpose of the work. The Landmarks do not simply stand alone, they are interwoven and cross referenced together to help interweave the Gospels together into the cohesive message they are intended to convey.

The exaggerated imagery used in the Landmarks is purposeful and rather intriguing. If you have found the Gospel story to be familiar and un-inspiring, you might give this book a try and see if it doesn’t spark your imagination to fall more deeply in love with a familiar story.

Eco Bible – Volume 1

Recently I was contacted about reviewing a work called “Eco Bible: Volume 1, An Ecological Commentary on Genesis and Exodus”. I agreed to give it a look and a copy was sent to me for review purposes. As I have been reading in it, I have mixed thoughts about it.

Firstly, I find this an intriguing approach to the find insight and inspiration in the Jewish Scriptures. The authors; Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Rabbi Leo Dee, as denoted by their titles, are Jewish rabbis. Thus, the basis for much of the insights included come from the Midrash. As I am not Jewish, I am far from understanding the Midrash and it’s collective wisdom. That said, there is much commentary included in this volume, drawn from the Midrash, to give me a lot to think about.

An early example of the insight comes from the commentary on Genesis 1:3. This verse reveals to us that God said, “Let there be light”, but I had never connected the fact that the sun was not created until Day 4 of Creation. Thus, the “light” was not the physical but a spiritual one. While a reader may or may not agree with this interpretation, it must make one stop and think. This I find quite useful and beneficial. When one stops to think, the world becomes a bit more amazing.

There are many such insights and revelations which I came across, and will continue to discover as I continue reading this as a reference work. For me, it is not a cohesive read from cover to cover. I read it as I study a given verse or verses, much as I would other commentaries.

While I find some entries very insightful and thought provoking, other commentaries seem much more tangential rather than reflective. What I mean is some entries seem more agenda presentation than Bible commentary. Take the entry for Genesis 41:20,24 as an example. These verses refer to the dreams Pharaoh had regarding a coming drought. The first portion of the commentary has meaningful, thought provoking insight. However, as the written commentary continues, it devolves into a statistical analysis of how many calories a cow eats and how much water a cow drinks, all in an attempt to illustrate how livestock is a non-equitable food source.

I find this an interesting read, and it is quite informative in it’s content. There is much to cause one to pause and think about. I also find the tangential comments to be informative and thought provoking, but in many ways non-relevant to the Bible. Trying to merge an agenda with the Bible never seems to work in my opinion. This work is well written and informative, it is written with a purpose, and at times the purpose takes a dominant position and the Bible verse a submissive. These portions I don’t like. When the commentary is more on-point to the text of the Bible, I find it very thought provoking and insightful.

Would I recommend this book and the subsequent one which is yet to be published? Yes. As I said earlier, there is much thought provoking insight in this book. As I am a pastor, I read all types of reference works to help me gain a greater understanding of the background and context of the Bible. With commentary included which is as old as 3500 years, it is hard not to find information which is beneficial to my understanding of the Bible.

Cotton Candy Killer

This is a novel written by Mary Holt. She provided me with a digital copy for purposes of my reviewing the book for her.

As this is a second novel in a series, I feel the author did a good job of allowing the reader to be introduced to the material in this novel independent of the first novel. I have not read the first novel, but did not have a problem in understanding the pretext of the previous novel and how this one flows from that one.

This work is a mystery and I don’t want to give any of the plot lines away in the review, so I won’t go into a lot of specifics. My comments are on the writing style, not on the content, as the content stands on its own.

In my opinion, some readers will have problems with this book. The character development is a bit heavy-handed and could have been written in a more subtle fashion. To this point, one character in particular is often ridiculed and made to appear inept and oblivious to the world around them. For the most part, the characters seem to be described using their negative qualities as their identities.

The flow of the story is decent, allowing the reader to get engaged and keep going rather than having choppiness to the plot. It is a relatively engaging story, but the meta-story of the main character is more intriguing than this singular novel and will likely to cause the reader to want to read other books in this series to see how the protagonist copes with life.

A Violent Hope

The author of this book, Ericka Clay, reached out to me to see if I would review her book for her. I agreed to review it, so she sent me a digital copy of it for review purposes.

As I began reading the book, I was a bit puzzled by the author’s writing style. It seemed rather choppy and overall seemed a bit confusing as it jumped from first to third person, back and forth. It took me a while to get into the flow of reading it. The more I read, the more I understood my initial confusion.

This book is not about a single person, and it is not a linear storyline. It includes the storylines of multiple people interwoven and presented in a past/present/future timeline fashion. Confused by that description? Let me try to clarify.

The initial paragraph introduces the reader to the character Mack. Mack is a boy of six when the book begins. Chapter two jumps to Mack as an 11-year old, and so on up to chapter five when Mack is an adult. During these chapters, the reader is introduced to other characters, and then after the fifth chapter, the reader is taken on a journey though the different characters stories, but the chapters jump from character to character along differing timelines.

As I said, I was a bit puzzled by the writing style, but when I realized how it was being written, I thought it a rather genius style for the purposes of this book. I would not recommend this writing style for a lot of different types of books, but for this one the style is quite appropriate.

To the subject matter. Honestly, this is a tough read. I am a pastor and I lead a congregation who sponsors a Celebrate Recovery program, a biblically based 12-step program for recovery. As I have been around people in CR, I have marveled at their stories of transformation. Many of their stories have had profound impact on my ministry and have really helped me be more understanding of how someone becomes an addict and makes me want to do more to help prevent the next generations from falling into the pitfalls which have led to addition, and worse, in this current generation.

A Violent Hope tells multiple stories, which when read together, are literally gut-wrenching. I see the stories of these characters being played out in the lives of the precious people attending Celebrate Recovery. It is painful for me to read this book, and it is difficult to read large chunks at a time.

There is a lot of very sensitive material in this book. I don’t want to give away the author’s plot lines, so I won’t discuss the topics here. I will say this though. Ericka has done a fabulous job of painting word pictures to leave the reader understanding what she is describing, without using graphic language for shock value.

I believe a lot of people who struggle with past difficulties and pains in life will likely find this a difficult read, even painful, as they may see themselves in the pages of the book. It is not a glossy, sugary-sweet story about how God makes all things great for His people in the end. However, if the reader will stick with the reading through the painful parts, my honest opinion is they will find exactly what the author intends. Hope for the hurting which is only found in the arms of Jesus Christ.

Who’s Got Your Back

This is a book which is to help reshape the idea of biblical manhood. The typical stereotype of the macho, self-sufficient man is not the image portrayed in the Bible, and as such it has caused many men to struggle throughout their lifetime.

Honestly, I do not see a large number of men I know being willing to sit and read this book. Most of the men I know read very little. This book, while it contains much valuable insight and helps attract attention to the issues with which men contend, has been a challenge even for me to read. It is not a difficult read, containing valuable insights and information. The problem for me is it seems rather sterile, almost clinical in its presentation.

I do not think this is a bad book, or poorly written. I wish I could give it a glowing review and say it is the best book ever written concerning this important topic, but I like to read and this book just has not captured my attention. As a group read where guys could get together and talk about it, it would be a good resource.

Unfortunately, I don’t see many men picking it up and reading it on their own, which is ironically the entire point of the book in the first place. Life is not meant to be lived in isolation, it is intended that we live in community.

Random God Sightings

I was recently asked to review this book, and when I read the description about it, I found it an intriguing concept so I am reading it now.

The author, Kelly Hanes, has compiled 26 short stories of incidents where she describes the event and her interpretation of how she experienced the presence of God through each encounter.

The book is designed to be read one story per day, to help the reader begin to sense God’s presence around them in the mundane situations of life. Some stories are more profoundly moving than others, but the goal of each story is to help the reader see God’s presence when it would normally be overlooked. There are not any huge revelations present, but the authors recounting of the incident and her inspiration by any given event helps the reader to see clearly what the author intends the reader to see.

I tried to share a story or two with my wife, by re-telling the substance of the story, only to find that my re-telling pales in comparison to the author’s telling. As I read the stories, I am emotionally drawn in, just as the author intends. I finish the story, then have to let it soak in, trying to determine if the author’s recounting is really the presence of God, or something else. With each story, I find myself longing to have such and encounter in the real world hoping to experience the sentiment shared by the author.

In my opinion, this author is truly gifted in her ability to move the reader’s spirit in the direction she intends and plants seeds of hope with every story she shares that we can experience the presence of God in our daily lives if we allow ourselves to see beyond the mere physicality of our world.

The book is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Random-God-Sightings-Kelly-Hanes/dp/1633372650

A Spiral into Marvelous Light

This is a novel I was asked to review. A brief synopsis of the work needs to be shared before I go further. A famous conservative, evangelist and political activist dies and a liberal newspaper report is tasked with writing an article encompassing the life and death of the evangelist.

I was a teenager in the 1980’s, so much of the material in this novel really seems to be more biographical than fictional. At many points, I felt as if I was remembering vague memories of what I saw happen throughout the 80’s and 90’s. When I reached the end of the book, I read the author’s endnote regarding his inspiration for the evangelist, and it became quite clear that I had heard similar stories unfold during those years. Growing up in a conservative midwest small-town, I  clearly understood much of what the reporter in the story discovers.

I don’t want to give away any of the details of the book, so I don’t want to address specific plot points. I will say the author does a nice job of writing, be it biographical or fictional. The story is well-told and moves pretty quickly. In the end, the newspaper reporters story is written and the response by his editor is spot-on in my opinion.

I would love to expound on the editor’s conclusion, but it would be unfair to the author to do so without the background story being understood, so I will not delve into that any further. I believe this book would be good for both liberal and conservative readers to read in its entirety if for no other reason than to reach the editor’s conclusion. Don’t cheat and read the end first though just to see what about what I am referring. Readers will do themselves a great disservice to know the ending without reading about the journey.

 

Devotions from the Beach

This is a very pretty devotional book. It is full of wonderful color pictures from areas near beaches and related images from a variety of locations. There are 100 devotions which draw inspiration from the images, and a verse of Scripture. This is one volume from a series of devotionals published by Thomas Nelson. Each volume focuses on a different location, and the devotions are all in the same vein.

Aside from the differences in pictures, these volumes are pretty similar. The type of devotions are consistent, and while they are not offensive or unsound, they are pretty light as far as they go. A brief scripture, a nice picture and a devotional thought tying the two other components together. For the water lover or devotional collector, this would be a nice gift. If you want to give a devotional as a gift, this series would offer you nice options if you are not looking for Scriptural depth as these are only one page each.

I received a copy of this book for free from BookLook Bloggers for review purposes. The review did not have to be positive.

NIV Starting Place Study Bible

Study Bibles have a great advantage over other types of Bibles in that they have a broad base of information available to the reader rather than a narrow or specialized focus. A devotional Bible frequently does not give a lot of cultural context or historical data. A reference Bible does not have a lot of study material typically, it has a system of interconnecting verses throughout the Bible. A study Bible on the other hand can contain any number of features, depending on the goal of the publisher.

The Starting Place Study Bible is an amalgamation of five other study Bibles and the Essential Bible Companion. The five different study Bibles included are the Quest, Foundation, Archaeological, Student and Rock Solid Faith study Bibles. The benefit of this combination is a broad platform of information is interwoven into the NIV text of the Bible. One of my favorite features is the “Context Notes” feature. These are insets throughout the Bible. They are presented in a folder format presentation. The types of folders are People, Lands & Rulers, Culture & History, Archaeology, Ancient Texts & Artifacts and Reliability. The type of information included with the note is designated by which folder tab is highlighted.

There are study notes throughout the Bible as well, and tables spread through the text of things such as the Messianic Psalms and a Harmony of the Gospels. There are maps through the Bible, reading plans, subject index, etc. A wide variety of material is included. While the study aides do not go as far in depth as the individual study Bibles they are drawn from, they do a fantastic job of drawing the most useful information from the individual works and combining to make this study aid heavy study Bible.

I received a free copy of this from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for a review. The review did not have to be positive. All thoughts are my own.

Maxwell Study Bible, Hardcover

It is always interesting when multiple versions of a Bible are released. As I do not have the previous versions, I cannot speak as to what the differences might be, thus my review will be of the content of this version alone. That being said, there are quite a few extra helps included in this version. Biographical profiles of leadership, book introductions, and notes on mentoring and influence are all included within the NIV text found in this Bible.

John Maxwell is a widely know author and speaker on the topic of leadership. Throughout this Bible, the writing of Maxwell are interwoven with the text, highlighting examples and principles of leadership through utilization of the Biblical text. Additionally, there are summaries of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and the 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader and the applicable Scripture pertaining to these laws and qualities. Lastly there are several articles on being a leader included in the end-materials of this bible.

As one can see, there are many features included in this Bible. However, for all of its additional material, there are some basic items missing. There are no maps contained within the Bible, nor is there any kind of concordance or dictionary. Pretty basic stuff in even the most inexpensive Bibles, and these items could have been added without much effort. There are a few textual footnotes included with the Bible text, but no real cross-referencing. Lastly, there are no study notes of any type of Biblical information beyond those highlighting the leadership materials included.

All in all, if you are looking for a specialized Bible for a leader in your life, this would be a good option. If you are looking for a good, all-purpose study Bible, this is not the one you want. It is pretty one-dimensional in it intent and purpose, becoming a Biblically sound leader. Knowing that is the purpose, I believe it hits that mark very well. I also believe this is a highly specialized Bible with that singular purpose in mind and is not applicable for much study beyond that focus.

I received a copy of this Bible for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for a review. The review did not have to be positive. All thoughts are my own.