Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Gospel in Bonds: A True Story by Georgi Vins


The Gospel in Bonds: 8 Years in the Sovie Gulags - Imprisoned For His Faith by Georgi Vins, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, $13.99 list price, paperback

From the publisher:
A Soviet government tried to extinguish God's Truth by placing its messengers in bonds. But the light of God's Word and its hope of salvation could not be destroyed even in the darkest prison camp.

Georgi Vins, a Baptist pastor living in the U.S.S.R., was 37-years-old the first time he was imprisoned for his faith in a Soviet prison camp. He left behind his wife, his children, and his church. Over the course of thirteen years, Pastor Vins spent a total of eight years in the gulags.

But in the pages of this book, you won't read about a man who felt sorry for himself or who wallowed in the misery of his sufferings. Rather, you will hear the true stories of believers whose faith in Jesus Christ took preeminence in their lives and who allowed nothing, not even a Communist government, to take away their faith and their hope.

Threaded through The Gospel in Bonds is an intricately woven theme of love for God's Word and faith in the Gospel, even in the midst of severe punishment and deprivation.


I was so humbled after reading Georgi Vins' account of his imprisonment for his faith as a pastor in the Soviet Union several decades ago. Living in the U.S., I can't imagine a world in which my life would be threatened and I could face prison for my faith. Perhaps that day is yet to come and I can only hope I will have the strength to endure it as Georgi did. This book is a truly inspiring testimony of the power of God's grace, provision, and protection in the midst of persecution, and Georgi's deliverance from prison to exile in the U.S. where he and his family began a ministry to return to help the church they left behind.

One thing that really broke my heart was how precious the Bible was to Georgi and other prisoners, something most of us take for granted as many of us likely have several copies gathering dust. Vins and others were so hungry for God's word that they were willing to risk anything - even torture and extended prison sentences - to get even a few scriptures to read. At one point, Georgi's most treasured possession was a tiny copy of the gospel of Mark that he kept hidden in the heel of his shoe when he wasn't sharing it with his fellow inmates. Holding my Bible in my hands each day has taken on a new sense of gratitude and reverence for it since reading The Gospel in Bonds.

I was moved by not only Vins' experience but also that of his wife and children. When we hear of someone imprisoned for his or her faith, we forget that their families also suffer a great deal due to the stigma of their association with the person and living with the absence of a father or mother; daughter or son. Both Vins and his family had every reason to feel sorry for themselves under the weight of such injustice but instead they used it as an opportunity to strengthen their faith and share the gospel.

Included in the book are several photos and poems written by the author before, during, and after his imprisonment.

This is a book all believers in the "free world" need to read. Persecution may not affect all of us now, but as social and political forces continue their attack on Christianity and biblical values, such things may not be that far away. Georgi Vins' story makes the persecuted church personal and points the reader to the sovereignty of God and how He is at work in the most difficult circumstances.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada


Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada, NavPress (Tyndale House Publishers), $14.99 list price, hardcover.

We all desire healing or deliverance from suffering. But what if those things do not come in the way or timing we want...or not at all? Is it because we didn't have enough faith? Does it mean God has not answered our prayers or that our circumstances are more than He can handle?

Joni Eareckson Tada knows well the questioning that comes the midst of pain and suffering and through this book she gives witness from her own forty-seven years as a quadriplegic that God is indeed in the healing business, always answers our prayers, is the source of our peace and joy in any circumstance, and is never absent through our suffering. But her main message is that the real healing we should seek, and the one God promises through faith in Jesus Christ, is the healing of our hearts from sin to salvation - a far more deep and eternal healing than the physical which scriputre tells us is temporary and fleeting by comparison.

This devotional of 31 daily readings encourages the reader to seek this deeper healing. Each reading begins with a personal story from Joni about God's faithfulness in her own life in the midst of struggle, followed by an applicable scripture and closing prayer or thought. The title, Beside Bethesda, is in reference to the Biblical account in John 5 in which Jesus healed a paralyzed man who who was laying by the pool of Bethesda, hoping someone would help him into the water so he could be healed. Jesus passed by, had compassion on him, and healed him.

The devotional on God's perspective of time and eternity was especially meaningful to me. In it she writes, "From where you sit today, what things in your life seem to be taking “a long time”? Ask the Lord to kneel with you as He knelt with the man at the pool of Bethesda, to feel your frustration and fading hope, and to sustain you with His perspective, gift you with His incomparable peace, and empower you with His patience, so much richer and deeper than your own."

I was also blessed by this thought: "...the Lord is so supremely in charge of the world that everything touching our lives as Christians is ordered in such a way that it serves our good. This is true whether we face cancer, broken relationships, job loss, bankruptcy . . . or even a broken neck at age seventeen. The strong hope of the believer is not that we will escape “bad things” in the course of our lives, but that God will transform every one of our hardships into an instrument of His mercy to do us good. That assurance goes way beyond the promise that “everything will be okay.” Romans 8:29 reveals a far more stunning, mind-boggling purpose than that: Through our sufferings, we are being shaped into the very image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ."

Beside Bethesda is one of those books I wish I could afford to buy for everyone I know. I especially appreciate the message of joy and hope it brings and am humbled by Joni's honesty about her own times of discouragement and how the Lord sustains her each day. It is a much needed Biblical perspective that focuses on the deeper healing the Lord wants to do in our hearts so that we can be more like Him.

With Christmas approaching, this would be a wonderful gift idea.


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From the publisher:
A 31-day devotional from bestselling author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada that takes readers on a month-long journey toward the deepest healing God offers. The entire book is framed against Joni’s visit to the healing pool of Bethesda to seek healing where Jesus healed.

As Joni relates aspects of her own journey in dealing with the most painful “unanswered prayer” of her life, readers will learn to see beyond potential quick fixes to the deepest and greatest solutions God has for them. As the journey continues, readers deal with topics such as contentment, patience, unanswered prayer, transformation through suffering, wrestling with God, and hoping in God.





Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves


The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, $12.95 list price, paperback.

The Other Side of the River is Kevin Reeves' biographical account of his time spent involved with a church that was part of a movement called the "River", also known as the River Revival, the Third Wave, and the Latter Rain. This movement includes many Word of Faith and prosperity gospel preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Jesse DuPlantis, Bill Johnson, Kenneth Hagin, and others.

Reeves began to question the claims of outrageous and unbibilcal spiritual manifestations and soon discovered blatant discrepancies between what his church leaders were teaching and what scripture really said. The more of the elements of false teaching he uncovered, the more he found himself a target of threats and alienation from other church members but no matter what the cost, he was determined to save himself, his family, and as many other members of his congregation as he could.

Some of the topics Reeves addresses as false teaching include the Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel movement, seeking "signs and wonders", valuing experience over scripture, holy laughter, being "slain" in the spirit, visions and prophecies, the misuse of spiritual gifts, questionable worship practices, encouraging mystical experiences, the emphasis of Jesus' humanity over his deity, claims that we are gods ourselves, and seeking to establish the kingdom of God here and now on Earth, to name a few.

What Reeves frequently observed was that if someone supposedly had an unusual experience or manifestation, the validity of his or her claim was rarely questioned. He writes, "If something is exciting, promotes unity on common ground, and especially if it is wrapped up in supposed power, there will be no lack of participants. While the sincerity of most involved is probably genuine, fervent belief is no safeguard against the fraudulent. We must settle, once and for all, that every spiritual experience and practice must be measured against the Word of God. If a practice or doctrine is not in the Word, it must be discounted for safety's sake. Otherwise, the playing field becomes immeasurably broad. With no definite perimeters to bump up against, subjectivism rules the day, and with an ever increasing yearning to top the last spiritual experience. Personal preference then becomes the final arbiter, and spiritual anarchy rages throughout the body of Christ. Instead of being ruled by the objective Word of God, we become like the spiritually bankrupt sons of Israel after the days of Joshua, when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6)." (p. 69)

This book isn't the author giving his opinion of these false teachings but is his eyewitness account of what he observed and experienced. He exposes the tactics leaders of this movement use to lead many astray through spiritual manipulation with threats of divine retribution and outrageous claims of their supposed authority from God. I appreciated Reeves' careful application of the truth of scripture to show why these claims and practices are unbiblical.

The Other Side of the River is a much needed warning for those who are involved in elements of this movement. It is also a valuable resource for those who have been delivered from it or never were in it so they can share with others why so much of the teaching is not truth according to scripture.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Grain Brain Cookbook by David Perlmutter, MD

The Grain Brain Cookbook: More Than 150 Life-Changing Gluten-Free Recipes to Transform Your Health by David Perlmutter MD, Little Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), $30 list price, hardcover.

In his bestselling book, Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter presented evidence of a correlation between high blood sugar and inflamation in the body - caused in part by a high-carb, low-fat diet - and diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's Disease, depression, migraines, and ADHD, as well as increased risk for heart disease.  A change in diet that eliminates gluten (found in most grains, flours, and baked goods), sugar, and processed carbohydrates is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of these debilitating conditions now and for years to come and this companion cookbook will make those changes easier.

This is a lifestyle change that is of special interest to me as I am dealing with insulin resistance, also known as metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. Having this cookbook to help with meal choices gives me hope of succeeding in reversing this health issue.

I've been impressed with the recipes in my first reading of the cookbook. They use ingredients that are easily found in most grocery stores, are easy to prepare, and are family-friendly. Dr. Perlmutter has done a good job of helping the reader eliminate potentially harmful ingredients while still being able to enjoy favorites such as burgers (check out the Best Beef 'n Cheese Burger), roasted chicken, soups and stews (including chili), and desserts. I also appreciate that some color photos are included for the recipes; always a plus for a cookbook.

Two recipes I enjoyed were the Baked Chicken Parcels and the French Fried Almonds (could become my new favorite savory snack!). I have several more tagged to make in the days ahead including Texas-Style Chili; Broccoli, Mushrooms and Feta; Coconut Chicken Soup, Cauliflower Hummus, Spicy Chicken Burgers with Guacamole, Greek Salad, and some of the salad dressings. 

The cookbook includes an overview of the information discussed in the original book, a helpful list of foods to include in the pantry, foods to avoid, and those to use in moderation. The list of foods that are allowed is a good one that will help me find alternatives to the ones I need to give up as I modify my own recipes so I don't feel deprived or feel I am giving up taste for health.

For those who want more information and details of Dr. Perlmutter's program and the science behind it I do recommend reading Grain Brain but for me, this cookbook is a vital tool for success with this lifestyle change.

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From the publisher:

Dr. David Perlmutter's groundbreaking bestseller Grain Brain revolutionized the way we think about our health, exposing the devastating effects of wheat, sugar, and carbs on the brain and empowering us with new knowledge: By eating the right foods, you can profoundly affect how your brain will be working next year, in five years, and for the rest of your life.

The Grain Brain Cookbook equips you to do just that, presenting more than 150 delectable recipes to keep your brain vibrant and your body fit, all while dramatically reducing your risk for - and treating - Alzheimer's, depression, ADHD, and epilepsy, as well as relieving more common, everyday conditions like chronic headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and "senior moments" of forgetfulness. The meals in this book are wholesome, easy to prepare, and best of all, delicious to eat, making your transition to a gluten-free life seamless, satisfying, and stress-free in the kitchen. Enjoy a terrific selection of options for every meal, including Eggs Benedict with Zucchini Pancakes for breakfast, Spicy Chicken Burgers with Guacamole for lunch, Gruyere-Glazed Pork Chops and Cauliflower "Couscous" for dinner, Curried Almonds and Kale Chips for snacks, Coconut-Cashew Bars for dessert, and many more.

What you eat is the most important decision you make every day in terms of your health, and once you've tasted how good the Grain Brain diet can be, you'll want to keep making the right choices day after day. The Grain Brain Cookbook gives you all the tools you need to shift your body away from dependence on carbs, cut gluten from your diet, eliminate sugar cravings for good, embrace healthy fats, and establish a new mealtime repertoire for long-term, vibrant living.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Spirit-Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit by Charles F. Stanley


The Spirit-Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit by Charles F. Stanley, Thomas Nelson Publishers, $15.99 list price, paperback.

There is much confusion and misunderstanding in the church about who the Holy Spirit is and what His ministry is to believers. Some barely give His presence a passing thought once they become a Christian. Others take it to the opposite extreme of attributing to Him all kinds of strange signs, wonders, manifestations, and requirements to tap into His power for personal gain that are totally unbiblical.

Dr. Stanley cuts through the confusion and reveals what the Bible says about this third person of the Trinity, why He was sent to us, what His real ministry is, and what a Spirit-filled life looks like. He explains things such as baptism of the Holy Spirit versus being filled with the Spirit, and what the gifts of the Spirit are. We learn what scripture says is evidence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, mainly by the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22). It is the presence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in even the most difficult situations that is evidence of His power in the Christian's life. We also see the Holy Spirit at work through the gifts He empowers each believer with to confirm Christ as Savior and the truth of scripture, to edify one another, and to accomplish God's will in the church.

Stanley also warns about seeking false manifestations of the Holy Spirit as he writes, "stay clear of any teacher, preacher, or anyone else who encourages you to do something, read something, or say something to harness the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's power cannot be harnessed. His power cannot be used to accomplish anything other than the Father's will. He is not a candy dispenser. He is not a vending machine. He is not a genie waiting for someone to make wishes. He is Holy God." (p. 130) He briefly mentions some of the counterfeit practices attributed to the Holy Spirit and why they are not biblical. (For detailed reading about the false teaching and practices wrongly attributed to the Holy Spirit I recommend John MacArthur's book, Strange Fire.)

I appreciated the balanced teaching and focus on scripture in this book as well as Stanley's personal accounts of how the Holy Spirit became real to him. It is a book I can gladly recommend to anyone seeking to know more about who the Holy Spirit is and it is one I am going to read again so I can continue to apply the teaching to my own life as I learn to surrender areas of struggle to the Lord and live a victorious life of faith with the power to do all Christ asks of me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters by Andrew Shaffer


How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack by Andrew Shaffer, Three Rivers Press (Random House), $14.99 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
Sharks Are Flying at Your Head at 300 mph.
How Will You Survive?

In the apocalyptic world we live in, Mother Nature is angry. Danger waits at every turn, and catastrophes like the Los Angeles sharknados have taught us that we need to be ready for anything. Too many lives have already been lost.

But fear not. How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters is the first and only comprehensive guide to surviving the very worst that Mother Nature can throw our way. Inside this life-saving reference, you’ll find:

• Vital information about dozens of unnatural disasters and ungodly monsters that can injure, maim, or kill you, from arachnoquakes and ice twisters to piranhacondas and mega pythons;
• Easy-to-understand survival tips for avoiding a bloody demise;
• Inspirational words of wisdom from survivors, including Fin Shepard and April Wexler;
• Useful resources, such as the Shepard Survival Assessment Test (S.S.A.T), and much more.

With this essential book in hand, you too can be a hero who laughs in the face of calamity while saving friends and family. Or you can just avoid getting savagely ripped apart by a robocroc. Either way, you’ve been warned. Now be prepared.


My family teases me about my enjoyment of cheesy disaster movies. They feel a need to remind me that such things are fiction and I (mostly) agree. But on the other hand, wouldn't it be better to be prepared for any scenario than to write it off as impossible? I mean, who would have thought in our lifetime that we would see a winter storm turn into a "snowmageddon" or "snowpocalypse" or "polar vortex". That's what they called recent winter weather on CBS This Morning and other national news programs, and the media would never exaggerate anything so serious. So if a snowstorm or even a blizzard can escalate into something as cataclysmic as a snowpocalypse, then anything can happen, right? Just last summer my local news warned of a stink bug invasion and the summer before that it was gypsy moths and ash tree borers that were threatening to take over mankind. So in light of such things, isn't it better to be prepared than sorry?

In any case, my family won't be laughing at me now that I'm armed with all the information I need to protect them from not only sharknados but also polar storms, swamp volcanoes, ice or fire twisters, a beeclipse, bataclysm or the dreaded boaricane. And I'm more prepared than ever to fight off attacks by piranhacondas, gatoroids, and of course, Big Foot. Spoiler alert: a chainsaw should be part of every survival kit and one should also consider including a laser pointer and Axe body spray.

In all seriousness, I laughed my way through this book. It is a well-written satire on the real life drama the news media (and weather people in particular) create with their doomsday, end-of-life-as-we-know-it reporting. I enjoyed how it is written as if fact which for me simply added to the humor. I'm recommending it to friends and family who are kind of nerdy like me and who appreciate this kind of humor.







Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fried & True by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman


Fried & True: More Than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman, Clarkson Potter Publishing, $22.50 list price, paperback.

Fried chicken is the ultimate American comfort food and one of my personal favorites so I am happy to see a whole cookbook devoted to it. Most of the recipes are from chefs and restaurants reknown for their fried chicken and offer variations of the classic most of us think of. Others offer something different such as a Spanish version that includes anchovies, Provolone cheese, garlic, and red pepper flakes; and one that is brined in sweet tea. The side dish recipes are likewise a nice mix of classic and trendy, from cole slaw and biscuits to a watermelon Greek salad.

The recipes themselves are easy enough for cooks of any level and use ingredients that are mostly basic. Especially helpful is the first chapter entitled Fried Chicken 101 which discusses what oils are best, what kinds of pans to use for best results, and how to choose a chicken, and how to cut one into pieces for frying.

Most of the recipes are actual fried chicken using whole pieces with bone and skin intact but there are a few that use boneless, skinless chicken breasts and at least one that is oven-fried, eliminating the need for oil. That is the one I tried and it was great. It uses corn flakes for the breading which maintained the crispy texture one wants with fried chicken. But I also intend to try a classic buttermilk fried chicken recipe to see if I can come close to duplicating what I remember my grandma making.

This book has nice photos scattered throughout as well as some personal stories about the cooks featured. Overall a nice addition to any home cook's library.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman


Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman, Harper Collins Publishers, $15.99 list price, paperback.

On the surface, Olivia seems to be a successful businesswoman with a loving family and handsome fiance yet in reality, she is not happy. When her mother dies and leaves a final wish to have her ashes scattered in two separate locations in a rural Southern hometown that she rarely spoke of, Olivia and her sister are confused but Olivia uses the opportunity look into her mother's past as way to postpone dealing with her doubts about getting married and staying at a job she hates. She heads south on a summer road trip with the intent to uncover the secrets of her mother's past but ends up discovering some important truths about herself as well.

Sometimes I finish a book with a smile on my face and this was the case with Cancel the Wedding. It was truly one of the best novels I've read in a while. I was drawn in from the beginning by the mystery surrounding Olivia's mother as to why she would want her ashes scattered at a place she rarely talked about. There is a definite suspense that builds as Olivia meets people who provide details from her mother's past - as well as those who obviously know something but refuse to give up their secrets - and also a touch of romance as she gets help from Elliot, the owner of the local newspaper. I also enjoyed the other characters such as Logan, Olivia's teenage niece who accompanies her in the quest. The sometimes disfunctional relationship between Olivia and her sister also adds a touch of realism to the story line.

This would be a great book to take on vacation or to the beach. Or to read at home on a hot day in the comfort of air conditioning with a glass of iced tea as I did. Fans of mystery as well as romance will enjoy this story.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The American Heart Association Go Fresh Cookbook


Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook With Shopping and Storage Tips by The American Heart Association, Clarkson Potter Publishers, $19.99 list price, paperback.

It's easier to achieve a heart-healthy lifestyle when you can cook at home with ingredients you've chosen yourself. The American Heart Association has compiled a collection of more than 250 recipes that helps the home cook do just that. The recipes are not only healthy but the editors have also compiled those that are quick and easy to fix, making this a good cookbook for beginners as well as experienced cooks. They are also great for everyone, with or without heart health concerns.

The book begins with a section offering tips for the best times to shop for fresh foods and how to store them, how to cultivate healthy eating habits, and suggestions for leading a healthy lifestyle. The recipe section includes chapters for appetizers, snacks, beverages, salads and dressings, seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian entrees, vegetables and side dishes, sauces and condiments, breads and breakfasts, and desserts.

I was able to try two recipes from this cookbook that I liked - Lemon-Tarragon Chicken and Turkey Pasta Salad with Feta. The recipes seem family-friendly and use regular ingredients I would be able to find at any local grocery store, with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and lean meats. That's a plus when you live in a rural area as I do, and don't have easy access to specialty stores. There are a a few photos of some of the recipes in a center section of the book but I would like to see more. I always prefer the kinds of cookbooks that have a photo for nearly every recipe.

Overall I do like this collection of recipes and would recommend it to anyone wanting healthier meals.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sight Unseen by Iris and Roy Johansen


Sight Unseen by Iris and Roy Johansen, St. Martin's Press, $27.99 list price, hardcover

Kendra Michaels is an agent for hire by both the CIA and the FBI because of her amazing senses and the ability to see what others miss. Once blind and now with sight restored due to an experimental surgery, Kendra uses the heightened senses she developed as a blind person along with sight to catch clues that most other agents overlook.

It was this extraordinary talent of observation that led her to determine that a traffic accident was in fact murder. It turns out she was right but more disturbing is that this crime scene was just the beginning of several to follow as a disturbing pattern emerges. Someone is recreating the murders from Kendra's most notorious cases. She has a fan - a stalker - who is now targeting her loved ones and then her as the final victim in his gruesome game.

I'm a fan of Iris Johansen. This collaboration with her son Roy featuring one of her characters from previous novels is well done. I enjoyed the suspense and the fact that just when I thought it was over and Kendra was now safe, the authors threw in a surprise ending. I'm looking forward to the next novel featuring this character and recommend this book for a good summer read.