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Category Archives: Books

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “All Is Well” by Frank E. Peretti

AllIsWell Frank Peretti is the best-selling author of the Christian thriller This Present Darkness, but he is also the author of one of the most touching Christmas books for children that I have ever read.

All Is Well: A Story for Christmas is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.

If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.

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Book review: “Rooms” by James Rubart

Rooms Rooms by James Rubart is a Christian novel about a wealthy young Seattle software developer who gets a cryptic note saying that he has inherited a house on the Oregon coast from an uncle he doesn’t remember. When he goes to claim his house, he finds that he has inherited a house with weird rooms that God is using to change his life.
Some people have compared this book to The Shack, since both books call a man to a house and force him to deal with the pain of his past. However, there are many differences between the two books. Rubart is a more experienced and better writer. He uses vivid descriptions that paint a clear picture of the characters and events. Rubart does not delve into any questionable theological teachings, the way the author of The Shack does. However, The Shack is more emotionally satisfying as an answer to the problem of suffering. Rooms deals with pain, forgiveness, and includes a good romantic story, but it reads more like a science fiction novel, and for some reason, I found it harder to suspend belief and accept the alternate lives and time travel that takes place in the novel. Rooms is also very long, but I’m glad I stayed with it to the end, as the plot picks up pace, and comes to a fascinating and satisfying conclusion.

I listened to the audio version of the book, which was 9 CD’s. It made a good book to pass the time on long trips from Georgia to Mississippi.

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Book review: “Immersed: 40 Days to a Deeper Faith”

Immersed
Immersed: 40 Days to a Deeper Faith, is a daily devotional designed to develop deeper Christian disciples, written by Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois. It is divided into six chapters designed for each week, and each chapter has seven daily readings, except the last chapter, which has five readings, bringing the total to 40 daily readings. Each reading is about two and a quarter pages in length. The book may be read alone as a daily devotional, or read in conjunction with a small group discussion or church-wide campaign. I read one reading each day for 40 days, as suggested, but on my own without a group discussion. Each daily reading comments on a particular scripture verse, which he explains and applies to daily life, and concludes with points to ponder and reference to two chapters of the Bible as a suggested daily Bible reading. The seven weeks of devotionals cover the subjects of God’s Word, personal renewal, following Christ in difficult times, recognizing blessings and blessing others, choosing a missional life, and living out your faith in the real world.
Munton writes in a conversational style, filled with everyday illustrations, making it easy to read. However, don’t assume this is just light reading. He has many keen insights that often sent me to my knees in prayer, reflection, and got me on my feet to take action.
Munton has a gift for memorable illustrations. The story on Day 22 is a beautiful example. Munton tells how his father learned to count his blessings, while alone on a mountain during the Korean War. Then (spoiler alert) Munton shares how after his father died, they found a photo of his Dad in uniform in Korea. His mother pointed to the mountain behind him in the photo and said, “that is the hill where your father counted his blessings” (p. 110). Munton also knows how to turn a phrase and is full of provocative quotations. He says, “our hope is not that our problems will be absent but that our Lord will be present” (p. 80). He says, “the mission of Jesus– and, therefore, the mission of His disciples– is about more than helping nice people be nicer. It is about helping dead people find life” (p. 140). He says, “We can never be worthy of salvation but we can live worthily in salvation” (p. 176).
Each daily reading ends with reference to two chapters of the Bible suggested for daily scripture reading, designed to take the reader through The Gospel of John, The Acts of the Apostles, and Proverbs. While I agree that it is an important part of discipleship to read through books of the Bible, I wonder if it might have been better to if Munton had done the daily Bible readings differently. Most of his assigned daily Bible readings do not relate to the daily devotionals. However, since each daily devotional is built around a key Bible verse, it seems to me it would have been better to assign the reader to read the whole Biblical chapter that includes the focus verse of each day’s devotional, giving greater context to the excellent devotionals that Munton writes.
Despite that minor critique, this book is one of the best resources I have read for personal discipleship. I highly recommend it.
Copies can be found online at amazon.com, or at discounted bulk prices directly from the author at http://www.dougmunton.com.
In the interest of full disclosure, Munton is a personal friend of mine, and I received a complimentary copy of his book, but I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

Book review: “Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales”

DeadLawyersTellNoTales If you like John Grisham, you will probably like Randy Singer. I have read many of Singer’s legal suspense novels, and I found his plot twists to be consistently good, often better than Grisham. Singer is a Christian writer who avoids profanity and has a Christian worldview to his books. As a Christian myself, I really like that. But if you are not a Christian, don’t let that put you off, especially in Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales. Although his previous novels are not “preachy,” this novel is even less so. Singer simply weaves a captivating story of redemption. Landon Reed, a former SEC football quarterback who went to jail for taking a bribe to throw a game, wants to redeem himself by becoming a lawyer and helping others. He is an imperfect man who nearly falls again, and then gets caught up in a law firm where somebody is slowly killing every lawyer at the firm.

From beginning to end the plot kept my interest. Each short chapter seemed to end with something that made me want to read the next chapter and learn how the plot would resolve. Singer is a lawyer himself, and is able to describe complicated legal situations with clarity and detail. But what made this story engrossing in the first half was the theme of forgiveness and a second chance. In the second half, the plot accelerated and I couldn’t put down the book until I finished. This is probably Randy Singer’s best book to date.

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Book review: Joe McKeever, “101 Cartoons”

101Cartoons  Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying some pancakes with Joe McKeever. When he noticed that the waitress was friendly, he immediately pulled out a pad and pencil, asked her to stand still and smile, and in a few moments he had drawn a wonderful cartoon of her likeness. She was so excited, another waiter came to ask about it, and he gladly drew another one. Everywhere he goes, Joe draws pictures of people. You might say that he’s the quickest draw in the West.

McKeever’s cartoons were published for years in Pulpit Helps and are still a regular feature in various Baptist newspapers through Baptist Press. Now McKeever has published a great collection of some recent favorites, entitled 101 Cartoons. Each cartoon is a full page, and nearly all are in full color. Most of the cartoons poke fun at religious subjects, as is illustrated by the photo at the bottom of this review. Others, like the cover photo above, poke fun at life in general.

McKeever has a corny sense of humor, which I like. He pokes fun at pastors, deacons, pastor search committees, hypocrites in church, seeker-sensitive churches, Calvinism, fickle church members, Facebook, smart phones, politicians, TV, the lottery, sports, health and exercise, among other things. Some of the cartoons make a serious point, such as the one that shows a man in a wheelchair in front of a church with inaccessible steps, who says, “I’ll bet this is a real pretty church on the inside.”

The print is large and easy to read, and as you can see from the photos, they are very colorful. It makes a great coffee table book for enjoyable conversation with family and visitors.

101 Cartoons is available from Amazon.com or you may purchase it directly from the author and he will inscribe a personal greeting and cartoon inside the front cover for you. Send a check for $15 for one or $27 for two, to Joe McKeever, P. O. Box 855, Kenner, LA 70063. In the interest of full disclosure, Brother Joe gave me a complimentary copy of his book along with the pancakes; however, he did not ask me to write this review– I was glad to do that myself!

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Book review: Max Lucado, “Outlive Your Life”

OutliveYourLife   I have read about 20 books by Max Lucado. I love his gift for telling a story and turning a phrase. However, after reading so many of his works, I began to feel that if I’ve read one of his books, I’ve read them all. So when I got a copy of Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, I let it sit on my bookshelf for over three years.

Recently, some circumstances in my own life drew me again to the title. I’d like for my life to make more of a difference, so I decided to see what Max had to say. I was deeply moved– to take action.

This book uses the familiar writing style of Lucado that has made him one of the bestselling Christian authors of modern times: vivid storytelling with a surprise ending, and clever, poetic phraseology. For example, he described the apostle Peter’s reaction to the vision to eat unclean food by saying, “Peter was pondering the pigs in the blanket when he heard a knock at the door” (p. 146). He also follows a Biblical theme, as he does in most of his books. This one focuses on stories in the Acts of the Apostles to encourage Christian readers to make a difference in their world, the way the early disciples did.

What really stands out in this book, however, is how boldly Lucado calls on Christians to be involved in social action. Again and again, he urges Christians to help the poor, care for orphans, feed the hungry, etc. He is very specific in examples of how to do that, more so than any other book of his that I have read to date. He does so without abandoning the gospel message. In fact, chapter four, “Don’t Forget the Bread,” stresses that if we help the needy and don’t share the gospel, we are like he was when his wife sent him to buy bread at the grocery store and he came home with everything else and forgot the main thing: the bread.

Each of Lucado’s books include a discussion guide at the end, but this book has a “Discussion and Action Guide” (emphasis mine). America’s most inspirational author intends not only to inspire, but to move the reader to action. For this reader, he succeeded.

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Book review: “Lord, Show Me Your Glory”

HerrBookI was attending a writer’s conference, and a publisher who was speaking to us said that books often sell well because of marketing and famous authors, not because of the quality of the books. Someone asked the publisher to name a book that did not sell well but was such a quality book that he was glad it was published. The publisher said, “Yes, the book is Lord, Show Me Your Glory by Ethel Herr.”
The book was out of print, so I ordered it from amazon.com. I’m glad that I did.
I spent the year of 2008 going through this devotional. A wonderful journey it was. The book is divided into 52 chapters to be used as 52 weeks of devotions. But each “Week” actually has two or three qualities of God to study, so it really amounts to about two or three devotionals for each week. For example, Week Four is a devotional on God is Carpenter, Potter, and a Working God, Week Twelve is on God as Living Bread and Manna, and Week Twenty is on Discipliner, Teacher/Master and Rabbi. You get the idea.
Herr has a very descriptive writing style. For example, in Week Eleven she describes God’s omniscience by saying, “grace without God’s omniscience would be as elusive as a hollow wind whistling through the broken window panes of an empty church” (p. 72). She also has keen insights into the character of God. In Week Eighteen, she says this about God’s as Resurrection and the Life: “So, when He chooses to let our dreams die so He can give us a resurrection rather than a healing, we sometimes feel abandoned” (p. 114). Each section lists scripture readings for further meditation on that particular quality of God. I found that looking up those scriptures was almost as enriching as the text of her book.
The experience of going through this book will help you understand the character of God in a powerful way. If you are looking for a practical devotional that is all about you and how you live your Christian life, this is not it. But if you are looking for a devotional that will make you forget yourself and will leave you in awe of our wondrous God, bowing before Him in worship, then find a used copy of this rare gem of a book online and order it.

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Book review: “Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in China”

RedeemedByFireMost Christians who are interested in missions are aware that Christianity has grown dramatically in modern China, despite persecution by the Communist government. But the story of how Christianity grew and what it looks like today in China remains a mystery to most Western Christians. Lian Xi, a native of China who is now professor of history at Hanover College, lifted that mystery for Western readers in 2010 with his carefully researched book published by Yale University Press, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.

Xi briefly surveys the presence of Christianity in China in ancient times, and then focuses most of the book on Christianity in China in the 19th and 20th centuries. China was forced to sign treaties with Western nations that included official toleration of Christianity after 1858. For the next century, over 23,000 missionaries poured into China from the West, half of them Americans. While this mission effort did contribute to over 623,000 members in mission churches by 1949, it also led to a deep resentment against Christians by most Chinese, who saw it as a religion of foreigners that was forced upon them. This resentment erupted into violence at times, such as the Boxer Rebellion. Xi stresses that Protestant Christianity was able to become truly indigenous under Communist rule, and no longer was seen as a foreign religion. The Communist government unwittingly allowed this to happen, by settting up the officially recognized and state-controlled Three-Self Church. Most Christians rejected the Three-Self Church as guilty of ungodly compromise with the state, and turned instead to a variety of underground church movements.

Xi then follows the stories of several influential indigenous movements among Protestant Christians, including the True Jesus Church, the Bethel Band, the Jesus Family, and the Little Flock, with charismatic leaders like John Sung, Wang Mingdao, and Watchman Nee. Most of these churches held to a fundamentalist faith, a charismatic leader, pre-millennial hope, and a revivalistic, if not Pentecostal, fervor. Some half million Christians died under Communist persecution, but by 2000 there were 15 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics in the official registered churches, and an additional 30 million Protestants and several million Catholics in underground churches.

Westerners tend to idealize the faith of Chinese Christians, but Xi points out that the lack of theological training and isolation from any accountability in underground churches occasionally led to doctrinal heresies and mixtures of Chinese folk religion with Christianity, as well as opening the door to leaders who were dictatorial and sometimes immoral. Despite these shortcomings among the underground churches, Xi credits them with having a powerful appeal by offering hope to the powerless under Communist oppression. Despite the phenomenal growth of Christianity in China, it is still a minority faith in China, and expected to remain  a religion of the common people, not a majority faith or a faith of those in influence or power in China.

I found Xi’s research to be thorough and highly informative, but it came across as somewhat aloof and skeptical of genuine faith. He tends to explain away the faith of Chinese Christians in terms of sociological factors. He includes stories of the moral failings of Chinese Christian leaders, but he reports very few of the stories of commitment, martyrdom and persecution suffered by Chinese Christians. Nevertheless, Xi’s research is likely to become a standard resource for any historian or missiologist wishing to understand Christianity in modern China.

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Book review: Many choices in study Bibles

StudyBiblesCopyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

When it comes to studying the Bible, not only are there many choices of translations, but also many choices of study Bibles. Here is an overview of some that I have found helpful.

There are several general study Bibles that are connected directly to a certain translation of the Bible. If a person cannot afford an entire set of commentaries, or wishes to have commentary on the whole Bible in one volume, these study Bibles are the best option. The NASB Study Bible (also available with the same notes as the NIV Study Bible), the HCSB Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible and the Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) are examples of this. Each of these study Bibles have extensive introductions to the books of the Bible, maps, and notes at the bottom of the page to explain the text in the particular translation used. The ESV Study Bible is the most scholarly and exhaustive of these study Bibles. The HCSB Study Bible is in a more popular style, and makes the best use of color, making it the easiest to read. The Jeremiah Study Bible has notes by popular Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah.

Some study Bibles focus on a special purpose. The Archaeological Study Bible (NIV) includes notes and articles that explain the cultural and historical background of the Bible. The Life Essentials Study Bible (HCSB) and Life Application Bible (available in NLT, NIV, NKJV, NASB) focus on applying the truths of scripture to our lifestyle. The Life Essentials Study Bible makes use of QR code. Readers can scan the code with their mobile phone and watch a video of a Bible teacher explaining the passage in greater depth. The Discover God Study Bible (NLT) focuses on devotional and doctrinal truth. This is an excellent study Bible for a new believer. The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB) includes notes and articles that defend the Christian faith against non-Christian religions and skeptics.

All of these study Bibles are excellent resources in shedding light on God’s word. I refer to many of them on a regular basis, depending on how I am studying a particular passage. But none of these aids can substitute for simply reading the text first yourself. I would recommend you read and read again the text and make your own notes on what you observe before you turn to these or any other study aids. After your own study, check your observations with those of the experts. That way, you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly to you through scripture, and to speak to you through those who have studied it before you.

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Book review on discipleship: “Growing Up”

GallatyCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

Robby Gallaty’s life was radically changed from drug-dealer to the pastor of a growing church. He credits the transformation not only to his conversion experience, but also to the process of personal discipleship he enjoyed under David Platt and others. His book, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples, shares his passion for discipleship that he is living out as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Gallaty gives a strong Biblical argument for the need for discipleship. The focal point of his book is the suggestion that instead of depending on Sunday School classes to do discipleship, churches should have small, closed discipleship groups with a leader and 3 or 4 other people of the same gender. He uses the name “D-group” for such discipleship groups. He prefers such small groups over discipleship by one-on-one mentors, saying one-on-one mentoring is harder to reproduce and may turn into a counseling relationship instead of a discipleship process. While he gives good reasons for the D-group, he seems to overstate the case that his is the best way. After all, Gallaty himself was mentored one-on-one by David Platt, while Jim Putnam’s book, Real-Life Discipleship, describes some effective discipleship with small groups that are larger than the size that Gallaty suggests.
Nevertheless, Growing Up is a useful resource for church leaders wishing to get serious about discipleship. The book is filled with practical advice about growing in one’s prayer life, Bible study, evangelism, and discipling others. Gallaty is fond of acronyms. The last six chapters of his book form the acronymn for the discipleship process: “CLOSER” which stands for Communicate, Learn, Obey, Store, Evangelize and Renew. He suggests the “HEAR” method of Bible study: Highlight, Explain, Apply and Respond. He says the D-group needs “FAT” belivers: Faithful, Available and Teachable.
While I would argue that D-groups are not the only way to do it, the fact remains that Gallaty is actually leading his church to do something, rather than just talk about it. I would highly recommend Growing Up as a resource that church leaders can use to implement true discipleship in their churches. It is “REAL” (Realistic, Easy to Read, Applicable, and Life-changing).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I received a free copy of this book for review, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

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