Book Review: The Last Christian ** Win a Copy!**

ATTENTION:  I found this review in my drafts folder.  This blog tour is a good month or two old now (the emails are on my old computer).  However, I felt obligated to post it now anyway and to offer my apologies to WaterBrook for my error.

Title: The Last Christian

Author: David Gregory

Publisher’s Synopsis: In the future, it’s possible to live forever—but at what cost?

A.D. 2088.

Missionary daughter Abigail Caldwell emerges from the jungle for the first time in her thirty-four years, the sole survivor of a mysterious disease that killed her village. Abby goes to America, only to discover a nation where Christianity has completely died out. A curious message from her grandfather assigns her a surprising mission: re-introduce the Christian faith in America, no matter how insurmountable the odds.

But a larger threat looms. The world’s leading artificial intelligence industrialist has perfected a technique for downloading the human brain into a silicon form. Brain transplants have begun, and with them comes the potential of eliminating physical death altogether—but at what expense?

As Abby navigates a society grown more addicted to stimulating the body than nurturing the soul, she and Creighton Daniels, a historian troubled by his father’s unexpected death, become unwitting targets of powerful men who will stop at nothing to further their nefarious goals. Hanging in the balance—the spiritual future of all humanity.

In this fast-paced thriller, startling near-future science collides with thought-provoking religious themes to create a spell-binding “what-if?” novel.

I must confess, I had trouble with this book at first.  After a confusing start, it became interesting, and then collapsed into a bit of confusing.  Part of the trouble was that there were several plots, happening all at once, and so it was like starting to read four or five books at exactly the same time.  Read part of a chapter of one, skip to the next, and then to the next, and so forth.  Because of that, I almost didn’t continue the story.  A part of me just wanted to be done, but once the stories began to converge in tangible ways, it wasn’t work to read the story, and then by about half-way through, I was engrossed.

The fascinating part of this futuristic novel is how similar some parts are to my own novel I wrote last year, Volition, and how other parts are so drastically different.  At first, I became concerned that mine would be too similar in some of the reality issues, but fortunately most is not so I doubt anyone but me would see any similarities.

I really can’t explain the story without giving away plots.  There were parts I loved, other parts I hated, and as much as I hate it, the ending was absolutely perfect.  The message of the book, however, is the key.  I really think that every Christian in America needs to read this novel.  Its message is powerful and simple.  The Christian life isn’t something you live.  The Christian life is what Jesus lives through you.  It sounds like the same thing, but as this book so brilliantly demonstrates, they are not.

Read the book.  If you don’t win it from my blog, go to amazon.com, to your local store, or to the library and get the book.  Wade through the beginning… I bet most people didn’t have the trouble I did, but even if they did, it’s worth it, and read the book.  Compare what the author teaches through the story with scripture.  Be a Berean.  I promise you, you will not be disappointed.  Well, unless you want a Pharisaical life filled with human attempts to live a life that only Jesus can do for you.

I have two copies generously provided by Multnomah/WaterBrook.  I am giving away both copies.  Simply leave a comment and tell me why you think we tend to grasp the Christian walk is something we do rather than something Christ does through us.

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Do You Ever Wonder…

How the rest of the world observes Christians?  When they read a blog post about Bible versions, dresses vs. pants, elders or congregational rule, modesty, movies, or the flaws in different ministries, do they go, “Wow… ” and if so, why?

Do they see hearts so in love with the Lord that we want to please Him with all of our being… or do they see people who miss the essence of what– or rather Whom– they claim to believe?

I bet this seems kind of odd after my recent “Dear Young Person” rant.  After all, I was pretty harsh.  I know I was.  Sometimes, you have to “turn over the moneychanger tables” and other times you have to back off and remind a brother to “go and sin no more.”  Christians have a horrible reputation of “shooting their own”.  “Friendly fire” is common in churches and Christian circles.  The sad thing is, because of that, true sin is often overlooked, excused, or practically encouraged under the guise of “love”.  It isn’t loving to watch someone drink poison.  It isn’t loving to let someone destroy themselves.

Do you remember when you were a kid?  Maybe it was the time you started to lie about who broke Mom’s vase and then ‘fessed up.  Mom said, “I’m just glad you told me the truth.  I’ll clean it up.  Just be careful on your way to the kitchen.”  You deserved some kind of consequence and all you got was forgiveness.  Why?  Because Mom saw that you were penitent and that you chose not to compound an accident with a wrong.  That’s what Christians should do when their brother sins against them.  It’s the right thing to do.

If the sister is in continual sin, it does her no good for you to pretend like it’s all ok, or worse, justify it.  “I know you just trashed your husband’s reputation all over Facebook, but he really did blow it and you were just venting.”   Gulp.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen, if Christians quit trying to live up to a set of rules and started just immersing themselves in the Bible.  I mean really FEED on it.  Make it such a part of our lives that we feel hungry– starving even– without it.  And then… just because I like to be radical… live it.  Not rules, not regulations, not a check list of ‘to-dos’, not even a “WWJD” kind of Charles Sheldonesque thing…  Just that when you’re ready to fire off a stinging reply to someone who unjustly blasts you, instead you remember to “see that no one repays another with evil for evil , but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”  You don’t do it because it’s another “godly discipline” but rather from an outflow of what you’ve been infusing into your heart.  In other words, you got slapped on one cheek and instead of raising your hand to retaliate, you opted not to (which leaves you open to further attack hence, the other cheek thing).

  1. Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
    Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
    Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
    Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
  2. Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
    Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
    By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
    Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
  3. Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
    And run not before Him, whatever betide.
    In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
    And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
  4. Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
    Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
    Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
    Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Yes, sometimes I wonder what the world thinks of Christians… but then I put that thought out of my mind.  I really don’t want to know.  I don’t want to know because deep down I know it isn’t what I want it to be.

Book Review: Dancing with My Father **Win A Free Copy**

Title: Dancing with My Father

Subtitle: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy

Author: Sally Clarkson

Publisher’s Synopsis: Let Your Soul Dance with Delight in God

Do you sometimes feel victimized by circumstances? Are you overwhelmed by weariness, fear, or discouragement? Do you wonder, Where can I go to claim the promise of Jesus that my joy could be made full?

When trusted author and mentor Sally Clarkson noticed a lack of joy in her own life, she realized how easy it can be, especially for women with overloaded to-do lists, to feel weighed down by drudgery and disappointment. But rather than slogging through her days, Sally wanted to know the delight of God’s presence. She began prayerfully exploring how to cultivate deep-rooted joy even in the midst of difficult seasons.

In this warm and wise book, she invites you to experience for yourself what happens when you trust God to lead you into a life of anticipation, passion, and purpose.

Weaving biblical insights with real-life stories that reflect every Christian woman’s deepest longings, Dancing with My Father reveals how any woman, in any circumstance, can daily live in beauty and grace, joy and peace.

Having read much by Sally Clarkson over the years, I was curious about this book when it arrived.  Was it about Father/Daughter relationships or more like Heavenly Father/Daughter ones.  To my relief, it was the latter.  I wasn’t too keen on reading a woman’s perspective on how my husband should relate to his daughter unless it was designed to help my daughter understand how her Daddy thinks differently than she does.  One thumb up for that alone.

The opening charge of the book is JOY.  I need joy not only in my relationship with the Lord, but in every aspect of my life.  Joy.  Another thumb went up.

Mrs. Clarkson works hard to remind us who the Author of joy, happiness, pleasure, and life truly is.  She reminds us that God isn’t a great Cosmic spoiler in the negative sense.  He’s not there to spoil our fun, He created it!  Instead, God is a different kind of Cosmic spoiler.  He spoils us with the richness of His overflowing gifts into our lives.  I’m not sure Mrs. Clarkson would appreciate my weird analogy, but there you have it.

The book is rich in anecdotes, stories, and scripture.  Each chapter ends with a few questions designed to get you thinking and keep you thinking.  I think that is the best part of those questions– the keep you thinking part.  At the end, there is a prayer.  Now, at first, I was bothered by it.  I don’t usually like scripted prayers.  However, sometimes, I think it might be a nice start– something to keep your focus on where the Lord might be taking your prayers.  For those things alone, two more thumbs up.

However, I must say, I think the book was a little … oh, I don’t know.  Random.  It wasn’t clearly organized.  Some things seemed to jump around a little, and a couple of times she seemed to contradict herself.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she really did.  I think it’s a little like Jesus telling us not to judge one another and then Paul coming along and saying that we will do it.  One is obviously talking about the heart and the other about actions in the body of believers.  However, on the surface, they seem to contradict.  With just one person writing down the thoughts of the author in this book (and this time the author herself), I would have thought she’d be able to keep a more cohesive line… or at least her editors might have helped.  However, it’s not a major problem… just a few frustrations of the book.  On that score, one thumb down.

Now, for those who know me, this might surprise you, but I’m not giving away my copy of this book yet  I want to go over it again, most slowly.  I want to answer the questions, think deeply, and really eek every bit of nectar I can from this book.  However, I do have ONE copy to give away, so if you’d like to win a copy, post a comment and tell us what part of  God you CAN see in your father or father-figure.

I want to thank Water Brook for providing this book for review and for the giveaway copy.

Book Review: Angels *Win a Free Copy!*

Title: Angels

Subtitle:  Who They Are and How They Help…what the Bible Reveals

Author: Dr. David Jeremiah

Publisher’s Synopsis: The Remarkable Truth about the Agents of Heaven

People have long been fascinated by stories of angel sightings, yet many contemporary beliefs about angels are based on misconception and myth rather than solide, biblical truth.
As he’s done so brilliantly for decades, respected Bible teacher Dr. David Jeremiah uses Scripture to unveil the remarkable truth about these agents of heaven and their role in our world and our lives.
What are angels? What is their role in God’s plan? Are they present? Do they appear? Do they give us personal insight about our work and our worship?
In this broad and thorough survey of Scripture, Dr. Jeremiah clearly and simply separates fact from fiction as it relates to angels. His enlightening findings are supported with illustrations and insights from prominent teachers, such as Billy Graham, Corrie ten Boom, C. S. Lewis, and more.
Dr. Jeremiah’s down-to-earth style guides readers around the hype about angels and directly into the “substance of things unseen!”

Where to begin?  You see, I have a ‘system’ for doing book reviews.  It’s pretty basic.  They arrive at my house, I open them, read the back, rub my hand over the cover a few times (no this isn’t some mystical ritual designed to infuse the words into my soul by touch, I just like how new books feel), and then put them in the “to read” basket.  I need to take a picture of that sometime.  It’s pretty cool.  Anywho, then, a week or two before the blog tour, I pull out the book, stare at it for a day or three while I write on my own stuff, and finally crack it open.  Then I usually inhale it in about two hours, open up my WordPress dashboard, and click on that “new post” button.  The review begins, ends, and posts in about half an hour with interruptions.  Not too shabby.

But, once in a while, I start to read a book and realize, I can’t do it that way this time.  There is so much information packed into the book that I want to share, that I’m terrified I’ll forget when it comes time to write the review.  So, with those books (and I can count on one hand the number there have been… two I think), I start with the WordPress post open and write as I come to things.  I’ll bet it’s easy to find them based upon a different writing style, and yep, you guessed it; this is one of those books.

I expected a book on angels to be either riveting, nauseating, or down right boring.  Well, we’ll see but from the bit I’ve read thus far, I’m going for riveting.  Grab a cup of coffee, get yourself a cookie or twenty, and make yourself comfortable.  We’re in for a journey through the fascinating but often misunderstood subject of Angels.

I read along through the first pages nodding at the frustration of the actual worship that some people seem to have of angels.  Most of my doubts about whether Dr. Jeremiah would be one of those worshipers dissipated during those pages.  He points out that Satan himself was once an angel and presents himself as an angel of light.  Two of the most influential religions in the world today began with the ‘vision’ of an ‘angel’– Islam and Mormonism.    Page sixteen has a quote I feel compelled to share.  “The syrupy-sweet, spirit-tingling taste of a little angelism can ruin people’s appetite for the good, solid food of God’s Word and His gospel of grace and truth.”  Wow.  That’s all I’ve got to say.  If the rest of the book is this good, we’re in for an amazing journey.

It was a sobering thought to be reminded that every person who claims to have encountered an angel and yet, has does not claim Jesus as Savior, cannot have possibly been helped by an angel of God.  A fallen angel, perhaps, but Hebrews makes it clear that God sends angels to help His children.  This really drove home to me how often I ignore the very real truth that Satan’s angels are still angels, and they are still at work in this world.  You see, I tend to get a little tired of people blaming Satan for their own selfishness and sinfulness.  The old ‘the devil made me do it’ just doesn’t cut it with me.  I’m sorry, but every time you snap at your husband for forgetting the one thing you needed and he promised he’d bring home (not that I’ve ever done anything so revolting, mind you), it’s not Satan there forcing you to do it or even luring you into the temptation.  Nine times out of ten… or more like ninety-nine out of a hundred, you did it without needing his encouragement.  He’s probably grateful to get the credit without the work, though.  The fact is, every man who falls into pornography wasn’t necessarily tempted there directly by Satan.  A man is perfectly capable of immersing himself in it without any outside inducements.  The same is true of the lust of money, the overindulgence of food, or the sin of anger or bitterness.  Yes, Satan tempts us to sin– but I really don’t see Him doing it when we’re doing a fine job by ourselves.

What did all of that have to do with angels and whatnot?  Well, I was trying to point out that because I tend to refuse to give Satan the credit for my own sinfulness that didn’t require his additional help, I tend to gloss over the fact that he and his minions DO try to prowl about and seek those who otherwise need his distractions from the truth of God.

Dr. Jeremiah makes an excellent argument for modern day angelic activity and while I’ve never doubted the presence of angels in our world, I have unintentionally dismissed it.  The odd thing is, so many times in my life something should have happened that didn’t.  I’ve been protected from minor things like a ricocheted bullet barely grazing the side of my face instead of piercing my eye as it should have to several times that I might have been molested had it not been for an unusual intervention that shouldn’t have occurred.  I always saw them as God’s protection over me and that hasn’t changed, but reading the book, I do question why I never wondered if God had used angels for that purpose.  Other times, I’ve no doubt of the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but those times were more for me to do something rather than for my own protection.  Pray for this person, send that person something to encourage them, make that phone call.  You know that nagging in your spirit that won’t go away until you yield…  I’m not talking about that.  I’ve no doubt that those times, I’m feeling the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.  It’s a very fearsome thing, wonderful, but fearsome.  However, those times that something should have gone wrong but inexplicably didn’t… who knows?  Perhaps I have an angel or twenty to thank for their service to the Lord.

As I read, I started to wonder, why angels?  This is the omnipotent God of Heaven and Earth.  Why on earth would He need angels to do what could happen with a thought..  I think it’s because of our humanity.  We respond well to direct interaction.  Our spirit reacts to it.  We crave interpersonal connection that God has chosen to reserve for Heaven.  I cannot touch God.  I cannot weep on His shoulders.  However, if He chose to, He could send an angel to bless me with that kind of ‘in the flesh’ support.  I think that’s why God uses angels, but so far, it’s just a theory.  Let’s see if Dr. Jeremiah happens to address it.

I have to say, I enjoyed the “flight of the angels” as I like to call his speed trip through Scripture to show what angels in Scripture did and why.  I understand why he broke the Bible up into sections to show specific purposes to angelic activity lumping all the announcing into one, all the protection into another, and all the warrior activity and so forth.  I’m just a chronological kind of gal and that little bit bugged me.  Nothing major of course, but it bugged me.

He gives us three warnings that he sees in scripture(paraphrased):

  1. Don’t recreate angels into our own ideas of what they are or should be.
  2. We cannot allow ourselves to let angels replace God in our lives.
  3. Don’t try to worship angels.

One of the most poignant reminders in this book is of the meaning of the word angel.  It’s root word means “messenger”.  Now, if you’re like me, you learned that in Sunday school or maybe it was in Bible lessons at school.  Whichever it was, you knew in your head that this is so, but man, it really hit home to me exactly the point of angelic activity.  I’m not talking about further revelation from God.  Yes, I believe the canon of scripture is complete, I do not believe that we receive new and continuing revelation today that is on par with scripture in any way, shape, or form.  However, that doesn’t mean that God does not use these messengers to proclaim His truth (that will not be contradicted from His Word) to us in some more physical or other fashion.  Seeing an angel as a messenger certainly helps drive away the “Christianized Santa Claus” that so many people seem to expect from angels.  “I can’t find my check… maybe God will send an angel.”  Sigh.  He drives home the point that the messenger is the envelope that carries a piece of the person writing.  You don’t admire and give your loyalty to the envelope– you save it for the message and the one who wrote it.  Brilliant analogy in my opinion.

A nit-picky aside:  Why is it that he capitalizes “Another” when referencing the Holy Spirit but when referencing Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit as “he” there is no capitalization.  I truly despise the way we’ve removed capitalizing the pronouns for deity.

One of the most profound parts of the book were the last three little paragraphs of chapter four.  Here, Dr. Jeremiah points out that there is an aura of mystery and awe around angels in scripture, but modern Christians have become very arrogant in trying to reason the Lord and His ways out into neatly compartmentalized and easily understood boxes.  We think we’ve cornered the God market.  How foolish we are.  Angels are just one tiny bit of proof that the Lord of Heaven and Earth is far too majestic, holy, and awesome for us to possibly grasp with our feeble, fallible minds.

He makes a case for angels having been created to help us.  I think his case is weak.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible or that I even disagree with him, however the fact is, I don’t see scriptural support for his premise, and therefore, I don’t’ think he’s proven his case.  He also makes speculations about different things in scripture possibly being angels.  While I don’t disagree that they could be (one was the star over Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth), the way he did it felt a little… oh, I’m having trouble with the right word.  I think careless is as best as I can do.  He’s a little careless with his theories.  While he does identify them as simply possibilities, there is something about the way he writes that makes it easy to see them as assumptions.  I think he treads near dangerous waters with the theories.  I’m sure it could be done in a way that makes the speculative aspect more overt, and I wish he’d done that.

One of the most simple but amazing things that the book talks about is order.  After several paragraphs about the possibilities of ranks for angels, he says, “Unlike the angels and nature, we humans have deliberately turned away from God’s original design for us.  So now we have to go through the struggle of rediscovering that ordinary design, then understanding and applying it.”  And then later “Yes, orderliness is just as important in church and at home as it is in nature and the angelic sphere.”  He asks if the reader is experiencing disorderliness at home or in the church and if so, where might Satan (and I’ll add our own sinfulness because I do like to put blame where it is due)… he asks specifically, “Can you pinpoint the ways that God’s designed is being overlooked or opposed?”  Wow.  Just, wow.  YEP!  That really made me think.  I have a feeling that this one small section of the book might be life changing for me!

I loved how he shows us what we can learn from angels.  How to worship, how to revere, how to fear the Lord.  In a day when simple reverence is missing from so much of our lives, it’s a fine thing to be reminded, especially by those constantly in the presence of the Lord, just how majestic He is.  We need a little old fashioned awe, and one way to learn it is by watching how the angels react to the Lord and His presence.  One could say we learn how to react to the present of His presence.  Just sayin’.  They also show us how to work– how to serve God!  This is something people are always wanting to do, and so often not succeeding.

Through chapters on Satan and through to how angels accompanied Jesus through His life, this book gives very solid Biblical information about angels.  The author is very careful to point out when he is speculating, but his writing style or something always seems to soften it as almost fact.  A lazy reader could easily come away from the book believing things that the author himself may not agree with.  It’s my only real problem with the book.  On a topic so important and so nebulous, it’s very important, in my opinion, to make any suppositions very clear– abundantly clear, so as not to perpetuate the modern folklore that surrounds angels.  So much of it is pure garbage.

Do I recommend the book?  Absolutely.  Am I glad I read it?  You bet!  It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject and I think that what he shows as absolute truth is spot on.  Much of his theory I think is loosely but Biblicallly supported.  It’s a book I’d recommend to anyone who knows they have a lifetime of misinformation to correct.  However, if for nothing else, his point regarding orderliness is worth the read alone.

Waterbrook provided this book for review and a second copy for me to give away.  I am having a drawing  from the list of commenters.  So, don’t forget to leave a comment and when you do, tell me what about angels interests you most!

I’ll try to draw on Friday.  I’m off to draw for Male Factor right now!

Blog Review: Primal

Title: Primal

Subtitle: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity

Author: Mark Batterson

Publisher’s Synopsis: Our generation needs a reformation.
But a single person won’t lead it.
A single event won’t define it.
Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living creatively, compassionately, courageously for the cause of Christ.

This reformation will not be born of a new discovery.  It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient.

Something primal.

Mark Batterson, Primal

What would your Christianity look like if it was stripped down to the simplest, rawest, purest faith possible? You would have more, not less. You would have the beginning of a new reformation—in your generation, your church, your own soul. You would have primal Christianity.

This book is an invitation to become part of a reformation movement. It is an invitation to rediscover the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that turned the world upside down two thousand years ago. It is an invitation to be astonished again.

This is my official “Book of the Year”.  When the invitation came into my inbox, I was more excited about this book than I’ve been about any other book since I started doing the book reviews for Multnomah/Waterbrook.  I must say, it didn’t disappoint.  Everything I hoped this book would be and more– it’s in here.

Starting with a vivid description of the descent into Rome’s catacombs, this book slowly peels away the layers of modernity that shroud our Christianity in the twenty-first century and leaves us with a stripped-down and raw faith.  This faith  looks like a stalk of wheat before it is battered, pounded, threshed, ground into flour, enriched, bleached, and refined, and then kneaded into dough for the perfect loaf of homemade white bread– perfect and pretty, but having lost some of the best parts of its essence.  This raw faith is what Mark Batterson termed primal.

The first quote that grabbed my heart and squeezed it in a new and invigorating way (much like a masseuse works a muscle), was in chapter two.  Batterson says, “in my experience, it is much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one.  Anyone can put on an act.  But your reactions reveal what is really in your heart.  And if you love God with all your heart, you won’t just act like it.  You’ll react like it.”

Wow.  That’s all I’ve got to say there.  Wow.

I nearly stood up and cheered when he talked about people who come to the pastor/minister/preacher and say that they’re leaving because “I’m not being fed.”  His illustration that his children learned to feed themselves as toddlers, so if a Christian is starving, it’s their own fault, was brilliant!  It is about time we as Christians took responsibility for the fact that if we own a Bible, can own a Bible, or are anywhere near a place that we can find a Bible, there’s no excuse for spiritual malnutrition.  Take this quote:

“We are too easily satisfied in our study of Scripture.  Or should I say, we are too easily dissatisfied?  Maybe that is why we’re so infrequently astonished.”

He describes what he calls “Bibleolatry.”  I fear I may be guilty.  I’m praying about that one.

Learning, wonder, curiosity, mental capacity and acuity– he addresses them all in the chapter titled, “Holy Curiosity.”  I wanted to shout “Batman!” when I read that title.  Isn’t that the cartoon where someone calls everything ‘holy’ instead of using foul or slang language?  I have to admit, I laughed hysterically when he said, “So how do you love God with your medial ventral prefrontal cortex?”  I think that was the point.

Can I just stop now and say how deeply I felt the call to creativity?  Mr. Batterson whipped out a fresh canvas for me and painted a picture of absolute beauty.  With his reminders that Psalms repeatedly commands us to “sing a new song”, combined with the fact that we are made in the image of a magnificently creative God, I felt drawn from a part of my soul that I often forget is there, to create.  I crave that part of me that is inspired by all that is beautiful in the world– the Word.  I long to express my joy in who He has made me to be in some tangible way.  Failure of imagination, as J. R. R. Tolkein called it, too often rips at the heart of who I am– who Christians are.  We’ve handed over almost all of the arts to the world as beneath us from our spiritually lofty heights and as a result, the world has cornered the market on not only what defines art, but how and by whom it can be legitimately expressed.  Christians, once leaders in artistic expression and innovation, are rapidly becoming the poor relation– copycats trying to baptize their work in the holy water of Christianity to make it relevant to a world that already owns the “real thing.”

This is where the author and I did disagree strongly.  He took this creativity into a new path– worship.  At the core of this, I agree with him wholeheartedly.  There is nothing spiritually superior in maintaining the ‘old ways’ simply because they are the old ways.  However, the fear of, as he puts it, “fad[ing] into irrelevant oblivion” is a dangerous one.  He says that he is very aware that ther are “ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet.”  This is where he and I deviate hugely.  I think the point is, we don’t “do” church.  We are the church.  If we want to get Primal, let’s really get primal and quit trying to make church a to-do list or an experience and simply experience being who we already are.  What characterized the first Christians?  Does it characterize us?  Do we meet together; are we bubbling over with our joy of the Lord?  What about simple beauty defined in actions such as singing, praying, and reading scripture without trying to create an experience around it.  Why not let our worship be the experience rather than create an experience as an act of worship?  However, at the core, as I said, I do agree.  His one line captures the heart of what I think is the crux of the issue.  “Faithfulness is playing offence for the kingdom even if some Pharisees find it offensive.” (emphasis mine)  Thankfully, he does say he recognizes that there is no virtue in being different for difference’s sake.  His examples don’t always fit that acknowledgment, but it’s a beginning.

One line still haunts me though, “Is our lack of ideas really a lack of love?”  And from that,  Mark Batterson’s book ends with a  rally cry for a new reformation-  a call to Amo Dei.  Love God.

Was the book what I expected?  Nope.  Was it the definitive work on the subject?  Nuh uh.  Did he come from the perspective that I would?  Hardly.  Do I recommend it?  Absolutely.

I don’t agree with everything he says.  I didn’t think I would.  I doubt he’d agree with everything I say so we’re even if that matters.  I can’t see why it would.  I want to offer the book for someone else to read, but I’m not quite finished with it.  I’ll eventually put it in the bundle I’m building for a large give away.  Meanwhile, I want to reread sections and explore some areas with my Bible open to see if some of our disagreements aren’t because I’m wrong.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But don’t wait for me to pass it along.  If you possibly can, run, don’t walk those fingers over your keyboard and order a copy.  Better yet, drive over to the local Christian bookstore and bring home a copy today.  I can’t imagine that anyone would regret it.

Now my question for you.  I am tempted to do a “Primal Project”.  Three hundred sixty-five days of seeking what being “primal” would mean for Chautona Havig.  What do you think?  If I did do it, what would I do and how would I do it.  I’m intrigued.  Fascinated.

Thank you Multnomah for providing this copy for review.

Book Review: If God is Good *Win FREE Book*

Title:  If God is Good: Faith in the midst of suffering and evil

Author: Randy Alcorn

Publisher’s Synopsis: Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.

In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God–Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.

In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Alcorn offers insights from his conversations with men and women whose lives have been torn apart by suffering, and yet whose faith in God burns brighter than ever. He reveals the big picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world–now and forever. And he equips you to share your faith more clearly and genuinely in this world of pain and fear.

As he did in his best-selling book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn delves deep into a profound subject, and through compelling stories, provocative questions and answers, and keen biblical understanding, he brings assurance and hope to all.

First, I must confess I didn’t have time to finish the book.  I finally decided to post a review of what I could than hold off any longer.  So, while I can’t comment on the entire thing, I can say that whatI read was not the fluffy pile of platitudes that I expected.  Most books of this nature either ignore the raw pain of suffering or wallow too deeply in it.  Alcorn seems to balance both sides very well.

While I didn’t agree with every one of his theological points, I did cheer heartily as he attacked Open Theism with grace and skill.  Bravo Mr. Alcorn.  I agree heartily that this should be something we didn’t need to worry about and should be appalled that we do.

His style is unique.  The word I’m looking for escapes me and I’m too lazy to look it up… argh.  Starts with a D.  Anyway, it’s very much like I might see a textbook on the topic.  The point of reading this book is to learn.  If you’re picking it up for warm fuzzies, skip it.  He’s forthright and an excellent teacher but he is also thorough.  While an easy read in the sense that it is written with clear concise language, it handles the topic thoroughly.  I was impressed.

It seems to me that the author did extensive research and interviews to show that what he has found in the Word is applicable to us, today, and in our own unique circumstances.

I have a few minor reservations about the book but they’re so minor, I’m not going to mention them.  It was hard to decide to give it up.  I really thought I’d like to keep it and loan it out to friends who might need the encouragement.  I know I’ve got to finish it before I can bear to part with it.  However, I can’t help feeling like someone needs it.  I feel silly saying that, but it’s true.  So, I’m going to do my part to try to get it into whatever hands might need it before I will.

Mr. Alcorn?  Thank you for tackling a difficult subject, while immersed in the Word, and telling us what we NEED to hear rather than what we think we want to.

Book Review: You Were Born for This *Win a Free Copy!*

Title: You Were Born for This

Subtitled: 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles

Authors: Bruce Wilkinson as told to David Kopp

Publisher’s Synopsis: Anyone can do a good deed, but some good works can only happen by an act of God. Around the world these acts are called miracles–not that even religious people expect to see one any time soon. But what would happen if millions of ordinary people walked out each morning expectingYou Were Born for This starts with the dramatic premise that everyone at all times is in need of a miracle, and that God is ready to meet those needs supernaturally through ordinary people who are willing to learn the “protocol of heaven.”

In the straightforward, story-driven, highly motivating style for which he is known, Wilkinson describes how anyone can be a ‘Delivery Guy’ from heaven in such universally significant arenas of life as finances, practical help, relationships, purpose and spiritual growth.

You Were Born for This will change how you see see your world and show you what you can expect God to do through you to meet real needs. You will master seven simple tools of service, and come to say with confidence, “I want to deliver a supernatural gift from God to someone in need today–and I expect to!” God to deliver a miracle through them to a person in need?

This book is about seeing the miraculous around us and being a part of delivering and receiving those “miracles”.  I must confess, I have a very difficult time using the word miracle.  People often mock me for that– they assume it’s a lack of belief in them or a discomfort with God so directly intervening in our lives.  They are wrong.  I am uncomfortable with the loose way the word is tossed around.  We use miracle these days like we do love.  We say we love ice cream, pizza, a good TV show, our friend, our mother, and our Lord.  We also facetiously use it to say we love that which we do not.  Miracle has become just as equally and liberally sprinkled over our conversation and I’m uncomfortable with it.  I keep trying to teach myself not to misuse love and I don’t want to get into the habit of saying that the amazing is a miracle.

I define miracle very strictly.  To me, a miracle is a supernatural event that runs contrary to nature.  So I’m even one of those obnoxious people who is not comfortable talking about the “miracle of birth”.  I don’t see birth as a miracle.  It is a carefully designed and orchestrated event that God set into the natural motion of living on this earth.  It is marvelous, wondrous, amazing– but it’s not a miracle.  Turning water into wine is a miracle.  Feeding five thousand with enough food for four or five tops– that’s a miracle.  Especially when you consider that there were LEFTOVERS.  It isn’t a miracle if you meet a need that you didn’t know was a need.  It’s wonderful, God be praised and all glory to Him for leading you in that direction so He could bless someone through you, but it’s not a miracle.

So, reading a book with the subtitle : 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles was kind of difficult to do.  Somewhere in the first couple of chapters, I decided to see the words “every day miracles” as one word.  It was a little mind game I played on myself, but it really helped me to read the book and give it a “fair shot” so to speak.  I kept reading everydaymiracles and voila… it seemed to transform into a completely new word that was easier for me to follow.  If you decide to read the book (and there truly is a lot in this book that I think Christians today need to read), if the word miracles used in this context bothers you like it did me, perhaps seeing it as one word or changing it to blessings or something will help you.

One of my biggest objections was the seemingly constant reference to The Prayer of Jabez.  Anyone who knows me at all knows that I do not like most trends in Christian circles.  If it’s “spiritually popular” it usually means I’m not going to like it.  I didn’t like Left Behind, The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose Driven Church/Life, and similarly popular things.   I joked once that I expanded my territory by removing the book from my house.  Instead, I bought The Mantra of Jabez from Canon Press and that now holds the place Mr. Wilkinson’s book once did.  Because of that, I nearly rejected the opportunity to read this book.  I was afraid I wouldn’t like it.  But as I’ve said before, I LOVE being proven wrong, love being stretched and this book was an opportunity to do that.  I’m very glad I did.

Mr. Wilkinson says something in the first few chapters that was a lovely breeze of fresh air over me.  I loved it.  He gave a picture of heaven (I won’t spoil it for you) and my first thought was, “Finally someone sees heaven a bit more like I do.”  I’ll admit, that one thing, combined with really inspiring stories about real people doing real things to make a difference in the lives of others, was worth reading even if nothing else he said was applicable to my life.  (And yes, there were things I needed to take to heart, take to the Word, and ask the Lord where He wanted me to make changes– the book is very encouraging that way.)

I would say my biggest objection in this book was a story he told about the death of a child.  Without giving away the details, he quite plainly states that because someone didn’t follow God’s nudge, this child died and the implication (or was it more overt– I can’t remember) was that the child’s death was the worst thing to happen to the child.  I had several problems with his conclusion and one being that we do not know the mind of God.  We don’t know if this child was a Christian and was going home to be with Jesus or if he was lost forever.  We don’t know so much and to make the statement that he died as a direct result of some unknown (and possibly non-existent) nudge bothers me.  I think it’s wrong.

At the risk of being accused of quibbling, I also took issue with his assessment of his own story.  He told about trying to do work and being interrupted until finally he decided to lay it aside and embrace the interruption and the result was heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time.   He saw his determination to do “his own thing” as something wrong, but as I read the story, I saw it Divinely orchestrated.  Had he not kept working when he did, the interest that the interruption developed in him and his work would potentially (actually almost certainly I would think) have never happened.  What he saw as resistance to the Lord’s ‘nudge’ seems to me more like the Lord holding him back from following it until the best moment.  Quibble?  Yes.  But I do think it shows how easily we assume we’re so pivotal in the Lord’s work rather than the Lord’s work through us as being what is so pivotal.

One of my favorite points in his 5 point list of things to do to “experience an everydaymiracle” was the last.  Number 5.  “Transfer the credit.”  I get very frustrated with formulas to follow for “success” in Christianity, life, or anything else for that matter.  We’re people– humans.  We’re diverse, unique, and formulas while great in the kitchen and the laboratory do not work so well in people.  I know why he wrote it with his little bulleted lists and numbered steps.  Modern people, particularly Americans, like their “steps to” success.  We want a brief to-do list with everything carefully outlined and summarized for us.  It’s who we are as a culture and I understand that.  I think, to a certain degree, he had to write the book that way, and I don’t fault him for it.  However, that last “step”… transfer the credit, it spoke to me because it is the one thing you rarely see in these kinds of lists.  It was like a reminder– stating the obvious, yes, but a reminder.  It took the sterility out of the formula.  I loved it.

A buzzword he coined “God Pocket” blessed my socks off.  I have a tendency to be what is kindest to call “thoughtlessly generous”– generous without giving thought to if it is how the Lord would want me to give.  I’m a need meeter.  If I see a need, I have the funds/ability, I try to meet it.  I love to try to help meet needs.  However, just because there is a need, and just because I can meet it, doesn’t mean that I am the best one for it and it’s hard to know when/where/how.  His idea of  the “God Pocket” really encouraged me to become deliberate in preparing to meet needs rather than reacting to the needs in front of me.  I think it is what I’ll take from the book and use/value the longest.

So, as I finished the book, I really examined my heart.  Was I willing to ask the Lord to let me be a part of the everydaymiracle that Mr. Wilkinson encouraged?  Did I want that?  Was I willing to risk the kind of vulnerability that it requires?  Did I think it was what the Lord wanted of me?  I really prayed about it because I’ve known people who lived lives very much like the author describes and they are wonderful lives.  However, after much prayer and wrestling with desire over expectation, I truly thought that instead of praying for something to come my way, I’d ask the Lord to prepare me if He chose to bring something my way.  Then the words of Isaiah came back to me and I realized that I did want to be sent– even if just once.  So I prayed again and I have asked the Lord for just one moment– one everydaymiracle to remind me of how  God works in the lives of people, through His people, and as He is glorified, we are blessed.

I’ll share what happens if I can.  I don’t know when it’ll come, but I truly expect the opportunity.  I look forward to it.

If you want to be encouraged and see what the Lord is doing around us, read the book.  If you need to see how the Lord might want to use you in your every day life, read the book.  If you want simple ideas for how to see life through a new perspective, read the book.  It isn’t theologically flawless.  I took issue with several things.  However, with its faults, this book had a focus that I can sink my teeth into– doing all to the glory of God, stepping outside our comfort zones to serve others, and seeing opportunities where once we’d have seen nothing.

To win a copy of the book, just post your name and I’ll do the rest.  Hopefully I’ll do this book and Stray Affections on Friday.

Giving, Receiving, and Bearing Burdens~

Acts 20:35-  In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Ahem.  I love to quote that verse.  I also love to quote Galatians 6:2- “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

It’s so easy, whenever someone has a need that you can and want to fill, it is wonderful to be able to say, “You’re supposed to let me bear your burdens.  You can’t do the bearing if the other person won’t let you pick up the burden!”  I also have been known to say, “I can’t give if someone won’t receive.  By not receiving, you’re prohibiting me from experiencing the blessing of giving.”

It all sounds so wonderful until you’re on the receiving end.  Suddenly, your words come back and haunt you.  It is worse when you don’t even NEED to receive.  Why is it that accepting help from people when you need help is hard, but when you don’t, it’s nearly impossible to  swallow?  Why is blessing others when they aren’t in want wonderful, but when we aren’t in need, it’s miserable?  Why do we live such double standards?

Do the body of Christ a favor.  Next time someone does or offers to do something for you, let them.  Accept it graciously.  Show the kind of appreciation and acceptance that you want others to show you.  Yeah… I think I have a verse for that one too

Matthew 7:12-  So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Ouch.

Book Review: The Friends We Keep

Title: The Friends We Keep:  A Woman’s Quest for the Soul of Friendship

Author: Sarah Zacharias Davis

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Why are women’s friendships so tricky?

During a particularly painful time in her life, Sarah Zacharias Davis learned how delightful–and wounding–women can be in friendship. She saw how some friendships end badly, others die slow deaths, and how a chance acquaintance can become that enduring friend you need.

The Friends We Keep is Sarah’s thoughtful account of her own story and the stories of other women about navigating friendship. Her revealing discoveries tackle the questions every woman asks:

• Why do we long so for women friends?
• Do we need friends like we need air or food or water?
• What causes cattiness, competition, and co-dependency in too many friendships?
• Why do some friendships last forever and others only a season?
• How do I foster friendship?
• When is it time to let a friend go, and how do I do so?

With heartfelt, intelligent writing, Sarah explores these questions and more with personal stories, cultural references and history, faith, and grace. In the process, she delivers wisdom for navigating the challenges, mysteries, and delights of friendship: why we need friendships with other women, what it means to be safe in relationship, and how to embrace what a friend has to offer, whether meager or generous.

I was eager to read this book when it arrived.  Aside from the absolutely stunning cover (and like most people I do judge a book by its cover), the topic was one that fascinates me.  I read a lot about friends in my on-line communities and I watch friendships around me in my day-to-day life.  I’ve reflected on my friendships, those of my parents, my other friends and their friendships, and I’ve always marveled at how very different we all truly are.  So, when I got the invite to review this book, I jumped at it eagerly.  It was almost like a mini-course in sociology.

Ms. Davis wrote a compelling book full of real-life anecdotes both from her own experience and the experiences of others.  Her observations about what makes and breaks female friendships was hard-hitting and with no holds barred.  I put the book down with a renewed repugnance for gossip, searching my heart for any sign of jealousy, and with a new understanding of what so many women talk of that I have never understood.

We’ve all heard it, and I bet most of us have said it.  “What is this, Jr. High?”  Female relationships have often irritated me, even as a small child.  The cattiness, pettiness, and drama is naturally abhorrent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten in the middle of that kind of garbage myself.  I’m not immune, but the degree to which so many women seem to live in that kind of world… even crave it… has never made sense to me.  When I’ve found myself on the other side of the curtain after the drama has ceased and the ‘play’ is over, I’ve been disgusted with myself– ashamed.  It makes me want to stick to the few friends that I know don’t play those games so I don’t let myself get sucked into them.  I never understood how or why some women are willing to go through that kind of ordeal repeatedly.  What I consider a nuisance, they consider the worthwhile price of friendship.  After reading this book, I understand it.  My personality is such that I still don’t seek it, but  I do understand it.

The author did an amazing job of illustrating the deep need that most women have for friendships through television and movie examples.  The odd thing is, I’ve seen two or three out of about twenty possible examples.  One, I barely remember, one I did enjoy and appreciated, and one was a brief reference to Little Women and while not the typical story of female friendships, it is a fine example of female relationships which of course, female friendships are.

She touched on best friends, circles of friends, life-long friends, losing friends, unlikely friendships, being betrayed by friends, cultural friendships (her story about ancient Chinese culture and friendships was amazing), and the changes that friendships endure.   I love how transparent she was (funny choice of words considering she’s written a book by that name) about her own failings and successes as a friend.

To be honest, I only had one objection to the book and I think I’m probably in agreement with her at the heart of things.  She wrote about confronting friends, playing the Holy Spirit, and seemed to imply that it’s really not our place to confront friends when they’re making mistakes.  I might agree with that for the most part.  Seriously, I really think too often we take it upon ourselves to meddle in the lives of others.  It makes me think of that poem I’m always quoting and I’m sure people are sick to death of reading, The Fool’s Prayer.  Those lines (yeah, the ones I usually quote… they’re the ones I need to read/hear the most)

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!

I think she’s right.  We’re often quick to meddle in the heart-strings of our friends.  We have truth that we should speak… but our timing is off.  We have things we should say and don’t… I wholeheartedly agree with her on that… with one caveat.  Scripture is plain.  If our brother is in sin, it is not a loving or appropriate thing to ignore sin.  We don’t try to convict, we don’t try to be judge and jury, but we do, because we love our sisters, point them to the Word and provide that “faithful wound” proving ourselves true friends rather than enemies.  I’m afraid, however, that too often we’re much to eager to prove our faithfulness rather than grieved to be forced to do so– something else she touches on in the book.

So, you see, I do agree with her.  I am just a little cautious about how she worded it, because I am excessively fond of commas and caveats  (only Cathe will understand why I added commas in there, but I did it for my friend.  See, I’m not entirely without heart!).

I cannot stop thinking about her section on gossip.  It’s truly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic.  No, she isn’t exhaustive or original.  Nothing she says was new information that overwhelmed me with its brilliance (no offense Ms. Davis).  However, somehow the way she arranged her thoughts into words managed to resonate with me in a way that nothing on the topic ever has.  I see the ugliness of gossip in my own heart and life in areas I’d never seen it before tonight.  It’s amazing how something you truly despise as I do gossip can still be rooted in your own heart.  She showed me the weed and where it was growing in her book.  I’ll always be grateful.

I want to give this book away.  It’s such a great book that I want someone else to be blessed by it.  I just can’t.  I need to read it again.  I need to read it with my Bible open and my heart laid bare before the Lord.  I also need it for reference.  As I said, I don’t understand the deep seated need for so many women to connect on the level that Sarah Davis discusses.  This book helps me understand.  That understanding helps me be a more well-rounded and compassionate person.  Anyone who knows me knows that I could use all the compassion I can get.  So, I’ll have to keep it here, share around the town with my friends here, and swallow the “guilt” I feel for not offering it to one you.  Forgive me?

Oh yeah, buy the book.  I can’t guarantee she won’t say things that don’t rattle your cage a bit, and I did have that one objection, but honestly, I think we need our cages rattled some and as I said, I think we actually agree… I just think she’s not quite as fond of caveats as I am.

Introducing: Argosy Junction ** Win a Copy**

I’m doing a shameless plug for my own book because I really want to share some things about this story that are very dear to me.

First, I want to talk about my inspiration for this story.  Argosy Junction began as a NaNoWriMo challenge.  I’ve done NaNo for three straight years.  The first year, I challenged myself to write a romance (that being the point of the story rather than a part of the story), and Hope 101 was the result.  Last year, I made myself stick to an outline (I never write with an outline… I usually don’t know the end of the story when I start writing!), and I finished a week ahead of time with Thirty Days Hath… In 2007, my NaNo challenge to myself was to write about a subject near and dear to my heart.  Phariseeism and what happens when it grows into legalism.  Argosy Junction, then called Not As I Was, took months to finish even though I wrote the allotted fifty thousand words in the thirty day time frame of NaNoWriMo.

In Argosy Junction, a small group of like-minded families grow more unified of mind until deviations from the core are seen as sin and rebellion rather than individual methods of applying principles.  I’d seen this happening repeatedly with friends and online and it hit home closely.  I love rules.  I confess, I see how ‘spiritual’ I look with rules.  I tend to lean toward Phariseeism in my heart so writing this book was very cleansing to see where I might end up if not careful.

Nothing that the church in this book encouraged was wrong in and of itself.  Much of it is a part of my own life.  From clothing choices to gender roles, I support them all,  and this book was not intended to be a vilification of anyone’s personal convictions.  My point in writing this book wasn’t to attack anyone’s application of scripture.  Rather, my purpose was to show what happens when we make our applications law where scripture does not.  I took each tiny extreme to its “logical” conclusion and showed the pain that resulted and how that pain affects different people.  (You see the varying ways that different people respond.  From growing hard, to panic at change, clinging closer to the rules, to utter rejection of the Lord and His church,  people handle the extremes very differently.)

The other thing I wanted to share with you was the unintentional symbolism in the story.  I’d originally started with a bison ready to charge as an opening to the book.  My dear friend Judy had an obstetrician who met her husband in Montana while she was reading a book and looked up to see a bison pawing the ground.  Her thought, “how picturesque.”  A Jeep raced across the countryside, a door flew open, and my friend’s doctor was ordered into the Jeep by a park ranger who eventually became her husband.  She later discovered that Mr. Bison was ready to “charge”.  I had considered using that as my opening scene.  I thought it’d be fun to put her story into print, but I was changing it up quite a bit.  Then I learned that there is some kind of book that begins with a very similar story happening in the Outback or some place like that.  Well, I didn’t want that.  So, I went for comic relief and brought in sheep.

My reason for explaining all of this is to show how unintentional the use of sheep in the book was.  For the sheep rancher’s family to be the ones who have walked away from the Lord’s “flock” was a bit of irony that I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried.  On top of that, seeing the shepherd being one of the main people who led the Lord’s flock down that path away from His “green pastures” really brought home the point that we always look to The Shepherd, not just a shepherd and how important it is for the Lord’s shepherds to keep His flock in His fields and not lead them astray.

This brings us to the final thing I wanted to share.  The cover of this book has so much unintentional symbolism it almost hurts.  At first, I was looking at page after page of sheep pictures, pictures of the Montana Rockies, and horses.  I tried ranches, boots, and even guitars and hats.  Finally, I realized that maybe a piece of barbed wire would give enough empty space for words, so I looked for that.  The moment I saw this barbed wire with a bit of wool attached to it, I knew I’d found my cover.

As I recently contemplated the picture, my heart constricted.  The Lord puts protective fences around our hearts and lives.  He does this out of love and concern for our physical, spiritual, and emotional safety.  That’s what the piece of fence on the book would symbolize, but it has a barb.  That barb is just like the additional rules and regulations man adds to the Lord’s fences.  Perfectly harmless if you keep an eye out for the fence and keep away, but if you aren’t careful and get too close, it can hurt.  If you look very closely, you’ll see that the wool on that barb is tinged with blood.  Oh, how it hurts me to realize how often the church is the cause of Christians’ deepest wounds.

The cover shows all of this, and I can’t take credit for it.  It wasn’t intentional.  I don’t like to credit or discredit the Lord’s hand in anything.  To say the Lord did this, implies that somehow my cover is ‘inspired’ and that is not what I mean to say.  However, I can’t help but wonder if the Lord didn’t lead me to the very picture that I needed for my book knowing that there was this subtle story within the picture that symbolizes a major theme in this book.

I am so excited about this book.  While Noble Pursuits is always going to be dear to my heart as one of the first stories I wrote as an adult, Argosy Junction is a deeper more well-rounded story.  I always recommend Noble Pursuits with a caveat, but I have no caveat for Argosy Junction.

Argosy Junction will be available through Amazon.com in six to eight weeks.  Until then, it is best purchased directly from me.  Just email me at:  chautona at chautona dot com.

However, in keeping with my tradition of giving away copies of books I review, I thought it only fair to give away a copy of Argosy Junction so please do leave a comment if you’d like to win a free copy!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog contest for those who have read the book!  Both bloggers and their commenters will have a chance to win!

Book Review: Blue Like Play Dough *Win Free Copy*

Title: Blue Like Play Dough

Subtitle: the shape of motherhood in the grip of God

Author: Tricia Goyer

Publisher’s Synopsis: In the everyday stretch and squeeze of motherhood, Tricia Goyer often feels smooshed by the demands of life. In Blue Like Play Dough, she shares her unlikely journey from rebellious, pregnant teen to busy wife and mom with big dreams of her own. As her story unfolds, Tricia realizes that God has more in store for her than she has ever imagined possible.

Sure, life is messy and beset by doubts. But God keeps showing up in the most unlikely places–in a bowl of carrot soup, the umpteenth reading of Goodnight Moon, a woe-is me teen drama, or play dough in the hands of a child.

In Tricia’s transparent account, you’ll find understanding, laughter, and strength for your own story. And in the daily push and pull, you’ll learn to recognizes the loving hands of God at work in your life… and know He has something beautiful in mind.

Well, title didn’t grab me, but the subtitle was exactly the kind of thing that draws me and, forgive the pun, grips me.  Tricia Goyer wrote a book that, in so many ways, I could have written.  We have an amazingly similar life in some areas and polar opposite in others.  We both know the sting of unwed motherhood, challenges of fighting perfectionism, and the ups and downs of home education.

Interspersed with stories that make you laugh, cry (yes, I actually had a tear or three when reading of her grandfather’s passing), and empathize, Mrs. Goyer takes you on a journey through the truths of scripture and deep into your own heart to discover where you and the Lord have disconnected.  Was it an easy read?  Yes.   And no.  Every page had me reading happily, and then back tracking to reread a line, paragraph, or the entire page.

It’s not a deep Bible study.  There isn’t a need for a lexicon or Bible commentaries.  This is good.  Mothers rarely have time to spend hours disecting a verse.  They need direct reminders of God’s truths in encouraging and practical but time sensitive ways.  Finding time to read a book in a single sitting is a difficult thing for the women most needing of the encouragement in this book and the author is clearly sensitive to it.

Like Trisha Goyer, my oldest three children are ‘grown’.  I relate to where God is stretching her and where He has squished her back into the container.  I think most mothers can relate either to where she is or where their lives are going.  She kept a beautifully blanaced combination of past and present stories to encourage and stimulate us to ‘love and good deeds’.

If I have an objection to the book, it’d be her use of  The Message as her scripture reference.  I prefer a literal translation over a paraphrase.  However, it did get me looking up the scriptures she used to ensure their appliciability and correct contextual use ,and perhaps that was the intention!  Seriously, that was my biggest objection and it’s obviously a pretty weak one.

Honestly, if you need encouragement, like to keep your encouragement tank full, or just need a bit of a prod to reconnect with your Lord, this book will encourage nearly anyone with a family– even if they aren’t a mother.   I’d never call this a deep book, but neither is it fluff.  She managed to pack some meat into nice bite sized pieces that you can pick up, chew, digest at your leisure, and when hungry again, pick up again.

I am excited to have TWO copies to give away.  I’ll try to draw names on Friday, but with my upcoming dental work, I could be doped up on drugs and forget.  Please forgive me if I do.  I will definitely draw sometime before Sunday I’m sure.

Book Review: A Perfect Mess *Win a Free Copy*

Title: A Perfect Mess

Author: Lisa Harper

Publisher’s Synopsis: On those days when French fries litter the floor of your minivan, when you think bad words about other drivers, when your smile hides an anxious heart–in those moments when you fall short of all you’d hoped to be–what does God see when He looks at you?

In your less-than-lovely moments,
God sees a precious daughter in need of His perfect love.

In this liberating look at how God adores and transforms imperfect people, Bible teacher Lisa Harper weaves poignant stories of her own personal foibles with a fresh take on selected Psalms to reveal a loving Father who remains your greatest champion even when you don’t feel anywhere close to holy.

Join Lisa in discovering what happens when we stop trying to hide our inadequacies and doubts and instead trust God with our anger, frustrations, flaws, and regrets. As you accept God’s loving invitation to exchange your junk for His joy, you’ll find the imperfect pieces of your life shaped into a glorious pattern of divine grace.

Oh I was looking forward to this book.  When the email came into my inbox, I nearly danced.  I was so excited.  Any time a book focuses on God’s deep love for us while acknowledging that nothing we do can earn that love, I get almost wiggly in my anticipation to read it.  I mean, let’s face it.  We’re flawed.  Anyone who knows me at all can probably give you a list in either alphabetical or chronological order of every last one of those things.  I know I can.  So, like any human, I need… crave that reassurance that the Lord truly does love me in spite of myself.  My head knows it at all times, but my heart just needs a little reassurance now and again.  I like to remind myself that “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12 and 10:17).

So, when I picked up this book, I was ready for another infusion of “you are precious and loved by the Lord.”  I wasn’t disappointed.  I was, however, very surprised.  You see, I didn’t know that it was a journey through a few select Psalms to see just how deeply we are loved by the Lord.  I didn’t realize that I was going to be regaled with hysterical stories of climbing hills with dead goats and dropping bottoms.  I didn’t expect to read about how she called the police on a policeman or how she rappelled from the rafters as a stunt at a women’s conference and somehow, in the middle of this hysterical book, make it all relevant to the general theme that the Lord treasures us.  He paid the ultimate price for us.  How could He not consider us precious!

I’ll be honest; I didn’t know if it’d be a fluff piece about “warm fuzzies with Jesus” or if it’d really delve into the Word while showing us the reality of our worth in and to Jesus.  These kinds of books often are what my father calls ‘spiritual bubblegum’.  Tastes good… gives the jaw a convincing workout… but in the end, the flavor is gone and you’re still hungry.  This book was more like a really tender slice of roast with potatoes, carrots, green beans, and a cherry pie for dessert.  (After all, those stories, while not necessary to the nutritional aspect of the meal, sure do give it that extra pizzaz that makes food a meal.)  It had all of the meat and nutrition needed and the extra goodness of dessert.

At the end of each chapter, there are a few soul-searching questions under the heading, “Enough about me, what about you?”  I’ll confess, while reading the book, I skipped over them.  However, while writing this review, I started looking at them closely in order to make a semi-intelligent comment about them.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I found myself reading through all of them and doing some deep introspection and questioning… just me and the Lord hashing out my innards… you know, the kind that a doctor couldn’t fix if he wanted to.  (I assure you, any wise doctor wouldn’t want to.)

She asks some of the most interesting questions.  This is not your typical, “What did you get out of this chapter?” type question list.  These are soul stirring thoughts to really make you think.  Some are funny, “Would you describe your relationship with Jesus as a fast dance like a fox trot or a samba, or a slower number like a waltz?  Why?”  Others really make your imagination chug to life again.  “If you were to plan a non-traditional Bible study, describe some of the main components.  For example, where would you meet?  What would the schedule entail?  Would it be interactive or more lecture oriented, like a classroom?”  OY!  How about, “What’s your favorite movie scene depicting a character overwhelmed with gratitude?”

Finally, if for no other reason (and there are plenty of others I assure you), this book is worth every penny if only to read the story of how her father taught her a lesson as he pulled her off a table.  I think I’ll use that in my own life a million different ways.

This is one of those, “Buy the book.  Do not go past GO, do not collect $200 dollars.”  (The book is only 13.99 after all!)  I’m really struggling with whether or not I want to give up my copy so I’m not telling yet.  Meanwhile, I have AT LEAST one copy to give away to a blessed commenter compliments of Waterbrook Press.  I’ll give it away sometime this weekend.  I’d say when, but frankly, I don’t know when.  Depends on how my mouth is doing.

Book Review: Holy Roller *Win a free copy!*

Title: Holy Roller

Author: Julie Lyons

Publisher’s Synopsis: Julie Lyons was working as a crime reporter when she followed a hunch into the South Dallas ghetto. She wasn’t hunting drug dealers, but drug addicts who had been supernaturally healed of their addictions. Was there a church in the most violent part of the city that prayed for addicts and got results?

At The Body of Christ Assembly, a rundown church on an out-of-the-way street, Lyons found the story she was looking for. The minister welcomed criminals, prostitutes, and street people–anyone who needed God. He prayed for the sick, the addicted, and the demon-possessed, and people were supernaturally healed.

Lyons’s story landed on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald. But she got much more than just a great story, she found an unlikely spiritual home. Though the parishioners at The Body of Christ Assembly are black and Pentecostal, and Lyons is white and from a traditional church background, she embraced their spirituality–that of “the Holy Ghost and fire.”

It’s all here in Holy Roller–the stories of people desperate for God’s help. And the actions of a God who doesn’t forget the people who need His power.

Well, anyone who knows me and my church history knows that I was going to have trouble with this book.  After a year in a holiness pentecostal church in my early teens (and an important and treasured year I might add), it isn’t any wonder that I’d be torn by what I read.  I almost declined the opportunity to blog this book because I didn’t know if I could be an impartial blogger.  Just as an ex-Catholic might find a conversion to Catholicism story difficult to be objective about, so I knew that my theology would clash mightily with what I found in this book.  Was it fair to the publisher to take on this book with my bias?

However, those who know me well, also know that I love to challenge my beliefs.  I love to study the ‘other side’ of an issue and prove it, by its own ‘proof texts’ so to speak, true or false, right or wrong.  I just couldn’t not read this book, and as I did, I prayed that the Lord would take any blinders off my eyes, unlock any barriers to my heart, and let me see what the Lord wanted me to see in this book and nothing else.  I didn’t want to be nit-picky about differences of opinion or theology.  I just wanted to read, examine, and take it one page at a time.

To say that I was blessed by much of this book is an understatement.  The sheer love of the Lord that Julie Lyons and her church shows can’t help but be encouraging.  It was very familiar to me.  I have fond memories of that year in Noel, Missouri where I met people in a little church ‘on the hill’ who loved the Lord in a way that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere.  I always want to say that there is a depth to it that I don’t usually see, but that isn’t quite accurate.  I think it’s more of a where the depth is rather than what it is.  It’s like a long stream with many deep swimming holes.  I see Christians plunging into depths all along the stream, but that church jumped in a hole that I’ve seen few others breach.

The stories in this book are out of this world.  They should be.  What the Lord can do is out of this world.  Every word on the page drips with the author’s awe of the manifested majesty and power of the Lord in the lives of those of her church.  She has seen people healed of addictions and felt the same healing in her own life.  She has walked through doubt, despair, and spiritual arrogance and come out on the other side triumphant.  Regardless of our theological differences (and they are huge), I respect how consistently she gives God the glory for everything.  I think too often we give a platitude of glory to God instead of a heart-felt acknowledgment of His majesty.

There were several things in this book that I do take strong objection to, and I feel obligated to mention them.  First, is the gossip.  For example, I didn’t need to read about preachers fondling their genitals as they gave a sermon.  It wasn’t necessary.  Being true doesn’t make gossip any less sinful.  She did a much better job in telling of the rampant sexual immorality in some pentecostal circles in other areas of the book.  I also didn’t need to be reminded quite so often of her same-sex attraction struggles.  I feel for her, I do.  I understand that her deliverance from that problem and the long-term consequences of confessing that struggle to the world made it necessary to share it with us.  I appreciate her vulnerability, and honestly, I think it gave a bit of needed authenticity to the book.  However, I don’t think the repeated reminders of that struggle throughout the pages were necessary.

My biggest objection was the constant reference to ‘black Pentecostals’.  In a book that ends with such a powerfully positive picture of racial ‘blinders’, the constant reminder that these are blacks and those are whites was jarring and in my mind, prejudicial.  It was the perfect picture of reverse discrimination.  Perhaps it’s my predominately Californian glasses that makes it so easy for me to see people as people instead of as ‘color’.  In such a racially diverse area of the country it is hard to see it as such a big deal.  I know this isn’t true of every corner of the country and that is probably why I am so bothered by the constant reference to cultural ethnicity, but in my life, a person’s skin color is referenced only if they’re the only person of that color in a room and you’re trying to point them out to someone who knows them.  “Joe is the white guy in green shirt in the corner.”  That’s much easier than giving a police description.  “Joe is over in the corner, about 5’9″, 180 lbs, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a green polo.  Dark red hair.  See him?”

Reverse discrimination is a pet peeve of mine.  We’ll never put solid bridges between the cultural rifts in our country if we continue to harbor old prejudices or forge new ones in retaliation for old ones.  There was once a very strong black/white line of demarcation in this country and no one denies that it was forged initially by whites.  However, when people redraw that line by touting the superiority of blacks in this or that area rather than focus on the individual as a person rather than a skin color, we’re no better off than where we were.  I don’t know if Ms. Lyons does this because of her position as the only white woman in a black congregation or because she has truly crossed over to the idea that one race is superior.  That is what bothers me about it.  I can’t tell.  I think I know that she doesn’t mean to imply ethnic/racial superiority, but I’ll be honest, it isn’t clear.  Even the author admits that her friend (a black woman) confronted her on having a bias against white Christians.

What I found a little ironic is how upset she gets at the ‘white’ notion that blacks are somehow more innately spiritual and yet throughout the book, that is what I read.  Over and over the line, “black Pentecostals” are this way unlike their sterile white counterparts.  “Black Pentecostals” care about living the Word more than knowing it in their heads like their “white” Evangelical brothers.  When you read these statements every few pages in a book, it is hard not to find a comment about how frustrating it is when whites are impressed by blacks and their spirituality.  She does, in her defense, point out that sometimes the black spirituality is “smoke and mirrors” to quote her.

I learned things from this book that I don’t know the author meant for me to learn.  Perhaps she did.  I learned that if I do not want someone to judge my heart (I got thoroughly sick of reading how empty my ‘religion’ was without her worship style), I need to show the same courtesy.  I’ve never been one to attack a person for how they worship.  I have charismatic and pentecostal friends, and while I do not agree with them in this area, I love them and I do not attack their understanding of scripture.  I’ll debate it if we’re in that kind of conversation… I love a good debate, but I’m not about to tell them that they’re fake, putting on for effect, or demon possessed.  Yes, I have heard people explain pentecostal worship as demon possession and I loathe that.  (Caveat: In trying to come up with descriptors that someone might accuse a pentecostal of, I want it known and clear that I do NOT believe this to be true of Pentecostals any more than I believe this author’s sweeping assumptions about Evangelicals or displaced paedo-Church of Christers are accurate.  I found it a little insulting to hear how shallow and senseless my faith is.)

One of the best statements in this book, is on page 188.  I think this one concept will always stick with me and if I gained nothing else from this book (and I did!!!), these two paragraphs alone were worth it.

“What many Christians miss, and what many nonbelievers don’t recognize, is that the spiritual life is not a solitary way of life.  Being an individualist and getting by on your own don’t cut it.  God never intended for us to walk this Jesus road alone.  God refers to His followers as a kingdom and a family.  Saint Paul describes Christians being joined together in a spiritual body.  Each of us has a little meaning or purpose outside the context of our place in a functioning body of believers.

“Many people of my generation show for a better church like you might trade in an old car for a newer or more luxurious model.  The flit from church to church, never forging intimate relationships with other believers, never experiencing the blessing of submitting to pastoral leadership, never grasping what it means to have sisters and brothers who share your burdens and fight alongside you.  As spiritual kin we laugh together, suffer together, cry together.  I rejoice when a sister or brother rejoices; I mourn when one morns.  They do the same for me.  Joy is greater when it is shared, and pain is diminished when others share it with you.”

If you are not a pentecostal or charismatic, and if you find it difficult to avoid becoming defensive when your theology is dismissed because it wasn’t genuine for another person (the author), don’t read this book.  However, if you swallow the bias for and against different theology than yours, the book is a good read.  It’s excellent in giving an accurate picture of life in South Dallas and of life as a pentecostal (and I refuse to put ‘black’ there.  What she describes is very true of the 100% white pentecostal congregation I attended in Missouri in 1984/1985).  It is difficult for me not to launch into a theological dissertation of why I disagree with some of her beliefs, but that isn’t the point of this book really.  She’s not trying to convert people to ‘black Pentecostalism’.  She’s trying to give an accurate picture, warts and all, of what it looks like in one area of the country.  In her church.  In her life.  I have to respect that.

Do I agree with everything in this book?  No.  Did I get frustrated with sweeping assumptions and judgments?  Yes.  (And I’m sure she gets tired of the same so we’ll call it even.)  Am I glad I read it?  An unequivocal yes.  I learned things from this book that may or may never have touched my life in the same way.  I gained greater respect for people who know how to love the ‘unlovely’.  For a woman who lives a very middle class life in a very middle class town with very little crime, or ugliness at her door, it was a huge eye-opener to see the other side of the coin and the difference Jesus makes there.

I have two copies of this book to give away  I’ll draw for them on Monday.  It’s my birthday Monday so I think that’ll be fun to give away presents to other people on my birthday!!!  Maybe I’ll even check the birth certificate and “draw” at the time I was born for kooky funness.

The Church of Your Dreams~

Ever notice how everyone has a different idea of the perfect church?  A lot of times, you can only tell by what they don’t like in a church but we all have our idea of the ‘ideal church.’  My in-laws value friendliness, especially in the pastor/preacher.  One of our favorite ministers was found lacking in their view because in his natural shyness, he wasn’t blatantly open and welcoming.  My parents, on the other hand, value space.  They don’t want to be smothered by friendly faces as they enter the door.  They don’t know you, they aren’t your new best friend.  Give ’em room.

I was thinking about this today as I pondered the different kinds of churches and I realized, that this is the point of the church.  We are to be “all things to all men” when we can but of course we can’t truly do that especially when there are many different kinds of “men” at one time but we can individually help make the corporate church a place of comfort.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given is to be the church you want to have.  If you want to enter the doors and feel welcome, then by all means, welcome people as you would be.  If you’d want a little space to warm up and get to know someone, then do that.  If you want a church where children are valued, value the children around you- especially those that aren’t easy.  If you want a church where educational choice is respected, then show respect for the authority of parents who make different choices than you have.  If you value modesty, then be an example of modesty in all things.

In a world of things that can divide God’s church even farther than it already is, why do we let things that aren’t a threat to the purity of doctrine, be such bones of contention?  So the teens have pizza parties and you don’t see that as a legitimate use of church funds and time- does the doctrine from the pulpit align with the Word?  So the ladies have retreats and you’re convicted to serve in your home- is what is taught there Scriptural?  So there isn’t a welcoming committee to every new visitor- is Jesus welcomed there?

This world is full of fallen people.  The church is full of fallen but redeemed people.  That is proof that every facet of Christ’s church has redeeming qualities- the Holy Spirit resides there.  Do we “quench” the Holy Spirit by our lukewarm attitude toward the less than perfect among us?  Have we become so arrogant as to forget that in our critique of the imperfections of others around us that we too are imperfect and part of someone else’s idea of an imperfect church?

Oh that we’d become deeper than the sum total of our personal preferences or convictions

On the Topic of Clothing…

I was reading Nancy Wilson’s blog today and this sentence popped off the page and slapped me upside the head.  (She really needs to teach her words some manners.)

 

Women are to exercise and express their faith in God by many means, one of those being how we dress.

 

Isn’t that the crux of it though?  How do we want to glorify God with what we wear?  Is it a prairie muffin styled jumper with a platter collar and big bow at the back of our waist length hair?  Is it a pair of plaid capris, and a babydoll top with a t-camisole under it for extra modesty?  What about a pair of comfortable jeans and a flannel shirt?  Maybe make those jeans a full jean skirt- or a straight one.  Boots or sandals?  Cut and styled hair or simple straight long locks?  However we choose to dress, we either glorify or bring reproach upon our Lord.  What’ll it be?

 

As for me and my children, we’re striving to glorify the Lord.