Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Praying Over God's Promises: The Lost Art of Taking Him at His Word by Thomas R. Yeakley, NavPress, $12.99 list price, paperback.
We can believe God and take Him at His word. That is the main message of this book that explores the kinds of promises God makes and how they are applicable to our lives. The author encourages the reader to study the scriptures for God's promises and claim them in prayer.
I was glad to discover that this was not another "prosperity gospel" book telling readers that God promises wealth, health, and prosperity based on the many verses that are usually taken out of context to falsely support those claims. In fact, Yeakley writes that such abuses of scripture in interpreting God's promises should be avoided. He says, "When we talk about pleading promises in prayer we are not talking about a "name it and claim it" belief system. God does not promise us a carefree or trouble-free life, even if we walk in obedience to Him and seek to live in dependence upon Him. ...Promise claiming does not give us the right to expect that we will always experience the world's best, but it does give us the right to expect God's best." (p.75)
I also thought this would be more of a devotional with daily promises of God to read and pray through, but it is not. Instead, it is a book about the kinds of promises God makes in scripture, how to read and interpret them correctly as they apply to our lives today, and how to pray through them and claim them when dealing with various circumstances. One of my favorite chapters in the book, How to Plead a Promise, gives biblical examples of men who, by faith, prayed and reminded God of what He promised and were shown favor as a result (Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, and Nehemiah).
This is a good and encouraging resource that motivated me to search the scriptures for God's promises and pray through them, knowing that "the word of the Lord holds true, and everything He does is worthy of our trust." (Psalm 33:4).
Monday, April 13, 2015
Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real? by Mark Hitchcock, Tyndale House Publishers, $15.99 list price, paperback.
A look in any bookstore, and especially Christian bookstores, will reveal a growing number of "heavenly tourism" books by authors who claim to have been to heaven and back, usually as a result of a near death experience (NDE).
So what is the problem with these accounts? According to author Mark Hitchcock, there are many issues discerning Christians need to consider before jumping on the visits to heaven bandwagons. Foremost is the problem that each account is inconsistent not only among the various claims, but also with what the Bible already tells us about heaven, God, and Jesus. The various authors claim they received new revelations that are outside of scripture, their experiences exalt self over Christ, and in some cases Jesus as Lord is downplayed altogether as he is depicted as just another person in heaven.
A primary concern is that many embrace these books and movies as evidence that "heaven is for real", trusting in unsubstantiated extra-Biblical claims instead of what God already tells us about heaven in scripture. Hitchcock writes, "The underlining premise of all these books is that God's Word is incomplete or somehow ineffective to let us know that heaven and hell are real - that we need more than God has given us in the Bible. Without exception, the author of each book says that God wanted him or her to tell people about the experience so readers will know that heaven or hell is real. But don't we already know that if we read the Bible?" (p. 125)
The books the author examines include Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo, 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie, To Heaven and Back by Mary Neal, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin Malarkey, Waking Up in Heaven by Crystal McVea, A Divine Revelation of Heaven and A Divine Revelation of Hell by Mary Baxter, and 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese.
Hitchcock compares the claims of each of these authors to what the Bible really says. Each one comes up short and therefore must be suspect as being any kind of substantiated visit to heaven or hell. As he quotes A.W. Tozer, "Whatever originates outside the Scriptures should for that very reason be suspect until it can be shown to be in accord with them. If it should be found to be contrary to the Word of revealed truth, no true Christian would accept it as being from God."
The main message of this book is not to try to explain what these people actually experienced and whether it was demonic or not, but rather to warn that if their messages are different than what scripture teaches, then we must not accept them as valid. Hitchcock also points out that in all of scripture, only three people were given a vision of heaven and then given permission to tell about it: Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the apostle John. The apostle Paul was also given a vision of heaven but was forbidden to give details about it. The fact that there were so few granted this experience in scripture should make us wary of the hundreds of claims, especially since there is so much inconsistency among the experiences and with scripture.
I appreciated the attention to Biblical truth in this book as the author examined the claims of various authors and compared them to what scripture really tells us. It is a needed resource for discerning Christians, not only so we know why something about these experiences doesn't ring true, but also so we can have the conversation with others when the next visit-to-heaven-and-back book comes out.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Happy Christian: Ten Ways To Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray, Thomas Nelson Publishers, $16.99 list price, paperback.
Some of us have personalities that are more like Eeyore than Pollyanna, and at times even the phrase "happy Christian" can seem like an oxymoron. I confess I was hesitant to read this book because I thought it would either be another "health, wealth, and prosperity; name it, claim it; if you can think it you can have it" message or that it would simply re-write The Power of Positive Thinking with a more Christian slant. I also was wary that it might encourage outright avoidance of anything bad in the world and only acknowledge the positive.
My concerns were put to rest just pages into this book. The message is this: Bad things do happen, negative things are part of life, but as a Christian, we have lots to be happy about - even joyful. We have a hope in Jesus that lifts us from the despair and negativity that bombards us every day, especially if we are constantly plugged into social and electronic media.
As Murray says, it doesn't have to be an either-or existence. He writes, "Jesus leads us through the dark valleys and beside the still waters. He wipes away our tears and teaches us how to rejoice. He fixes spiritual problems and promotes spiritual flourishing. He targets sins for demolition and graces and gifts for strengthening and exercising. He pulls the backslider out of the filthy ditch and shows the godly new vistas of spiritual beauty."
The chapters include topics that all begin with "Happy": Happy Facts, Happy Church, salvation, media, world, praise, giving, work, and differences. The chapter on media was especially meaningful to me as the author showed how much of a steady diet of negativity we receive through it, especially in this digital age. It never stops unless we make a conscious effort to turn it off. It was sobering to learn how much this affects us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically and most of the time we don't even realize it.
The chapters on salvation, praise, and the church give great biblical perspective to the joy and hope we have in our faith, and how we can better encourage each other. The chapter on differences was a good one that discusses how to see diversity in a more positive, biblical light instead of feeling if more people were just like us, we'd be happier.
Murray does a good job of combining modern science and psychology with the timeless truths of Scripture to give readers a guide to countering the negative with positive facts.
I feel this is a book that will benefit any Christian as it points us to the joy that passes all understanding that we have in Jesus, even in the midst of negative circumstances.
Friday, March 20, 2015
Little Beach Street Bakery: A Novel by Jenny Colgan, William Morrow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing), $18.50 list price, paperback (Available March 31, 2015)
Polly has had bad luck as her graphic design and advertising business with partner (in business and love) Chris falls victim to the 2008 recession and they lose it all to bankruptcy. Their relationship is put on hold as Chris goes his way and Polly seeks solace at a run-down and remote seaside resort on the Cornish coast.
To help keep her mind off her troubles, Polly takes up a favorite hobby of baking bread. There is something healing about kneading and pounding the dough and turning it into a loaf of satisfying bread. She shares her bread with the locals and it soon becomes in such high demand that she opens a bakery, named Little Beach Street Bakery, in a reluctant partnership with her landlord who seems to hate her.
This novel is also a romance as Polly meets a local fisherman, a handsome beekeeper, and is still emotionally connected to her former love, Chris. And then there's Neil, the puffin, who also steals her heart.
This was one of the best novels I've read in a while. It was entertaining, light reading and I enjoyed the characters and storyline. Although the book does have closure, I'd love to read a sequel. This would be a great take-along novel for the beach or vacation.
A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, Weaver Book Company, $19.99 list price, paperback.
The authors of this book also wrote God's Super Apostles, which is an overview of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. Think of that book as "101" and this one as "201" that goes a step further, digging deeper into the claims of NAR and why much of it is not biblical.
Basically, the NAR is a movement that seeks to return the offices of apostles and prophets, not only to the church in general, but as leadership that the church must submit to. They claim these offices have been long neglected and need to be returned to "their rightful place of rule."
If you have been exposed to the teachings of Bill Johnson and Kris Vallatton of Bethel Church (Redding, CA), Randy Clark, C. Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, Mike Bickle, and Che Ahn, or follow organizations such as Charisma magazine, Bethel Church, The International House of Prayer (IHOP), Healing Rooms Ministry, GOD TV, Trinity Network (TBN), and the Passion Bible paraphrase by Brian Simmons, then you have been introduced to NAR.
Its teachings include dominionism (taking control of the world in order to restore the Kingdom of God in advance of Christ's return), generational curses, prayer walking (specifically to engage in spiritual warfare in neighborhoods or cities), soaking (often a form of meditation that encourages out of body experiences), spiritual transference of power from a NAR leader to someone else, and spiritual mapping (identifying territories or regions that specific demons have been given to rule, and then driving them out).
The authors aim to present a biblical response to this movement and I felt they handled the claims with objectivity and accuracy in their evaluation of it. Their purpose, as they state in the preface, is to convey two major goals: "First, to give people an idea of the sheer size and reach of the NAR movement. And second, to systematize its key teachings and practices and evaluate them on the basis of Scripture and careful reasoning. ...the NAR perspective crosses these boundaries [that is, certain broad parameters, revealed in Scripture and practiced in the historical orthodox church], and it does so in part because of flawed theology rooted in a flawed understanding of Scripture."
Further, the authors are clear they do not link the NAR movement with mainstream Pentecostalism and charismatics, nor do they argue for cessationism (that the miraculous gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are no longer active today). The focus on the book is to demonstrate how deeply the NAR false teaching has infiltrated the mainstream church, and to show why components of it are unbiblical using scripture itself, and often the very scriptures that NAR leadership uses out of context to support their extremest view of the offices of contemporary apostles and prophets and the supposed authority that comes with those.
I believe this is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to know the truth about this movement and to be equipped to recognize the false teaching when it comes. I do recommend reading God's Super Apostles as an overview of the NAR, but for more specific information as to why certain teachings do not line up with scripture and who specifically is teaching them, A New Apostolic Reformation is a much-needed book for the church.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
The World Needs More Love Letters All-in-One Stationery and Envelopes Pack, Hannah Brencher, Random House Publishers, $12.99 list price.
This is a stationery pack designed by Hannah Brencher, author of If You Find This Letter and founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, that serves as a convenient way to write letters to others, whether people you know or to random strangers as she promotes in her book and website.
The stationery is in notebook form with forty assorted sheets (8 each of 5 designs) that can be removed then folded and sealed to create their own envelopes with a gummed flap at the top of the sheet, and pages of clear self-adhesive seals included for the sides.
The sheets are 7" x 10" and fold to create a 7" x 4.5" envelope. Both sides of the sheets are decorated in coordinating colorful, modern geometric designs with a white, lined 6" x 8" area on the writing side and a white block for the address on the envelope side. The cover shown in the product photo is an example of one of the designs and how the address area looks.
The inside of the front and back covers include 40 letter writing prompts from Brencher. My favorite was number twenty-one: Write down your best life lessons then leave the letter in a favorite coffee shop for someone else to find.
I tend to write longer letters and like to enclose extras so for me this set is somewhat limiting. But, I also sometimes write random notes to leave for strangers so for that purpose, I like the simplicity of having a sheet of stationery and envelope in one and will be able to put this set to good use. It would be good for traveling or to tuck into a bag or briefcase to write quick letters over lunch, commuting to work, at a coffee shop, etc. I think it would also be a great gift for a child or teenager to encourage them to write letters.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Only God Can Make a Kitten by Rhonda Gowler Greene (writer) and Laura J. Bryant (illustrator), Zonderkiz (Zondervan Publishing), $12.99 list price, hardcover.
This is a sweet book for children that points to God as the creator of all things as a child's questions about where things come from are answered by his mother. It is written in rhyme with colorful illustrations.
Here's an example:
There! Shining bright!
Who makes the sparkles in the night?
can make a star.
As with most children's books, this is not deep but I wouldn't expect it to be. It does, however, introduce to young children that all things, including themselves, have been created by God. This is an important first lesson.
I liked the simple rhymes that include flowers, the ocean, trees, fruit, the stars, rocks, birds, and humans. The illustrations are delightful as the reader is taken through a day of discovery with a young boy, his mother, and baby sister. It would have been nice to have a father present, at least at the end of the book when they return home from their adventure, but it doesn't detract from the overall message of the book.
I'm looking forward to reading this to my granddaughter.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
God's Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, Weaver Book Company, $12.99 list price, paperback.
The New Apostolic Reformation is a movement that seeks to return the offices of apostles and prophets, not only to the church in general, but as leadership that the church must submit to. They claim these offices have been long neglected and need to be returned to "their rightful place of rule."
If you have been exposed to the teachings of Bill Johnson and Kris Vallatton of Bethel Church (Redding, CA), Randy Clark, C. Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, Mike Bickle, and Che Ahn, or follow organizations such as Charisma magazine, Bethel Church, The International House of Prayer (IHOP), Healing Rooms Ministry, GOD TV, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and the Passion Bible paraphrase by Brian Simmons, then you have been introduced to the NAR. Its teachings include dominionism (taking control of the world in order to restore the Kingdom of God in advance of Christ's return), generational curses, prayer walking (specifically to engage in spiritual warfare in neighborhoods or cities), soaking (often a form of meditation that encourages out of body experiences), spiritual transference of power from a NAR leader to someone else, and spiritual mapping (identifying territories or regions that specific demons have been given to rule, and then driving them out).
NAR doctrine is also taught under names such as Third Wave, Manifest Sons of God, Kingdom Now, Latter Rain, Word Faith, and Fresh Fire, among others.
This book outlines what the NAR is, how it began, what their mission is as stated by its own leadership, and scrutinizes their claims to having authority over the church. The authors then show through scripture which components of it are false teaching and why.
Technically speaking, it is written in a clear format that documents the facts of what the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement is as defined by its own leaders, who those leaders are and what they say about the mission of the NAR, and what scripture they use to defend their (self) appointment as an apostle or prophet and the authority it gives them. Then, the authors simply take the scriptures the group uses to make their claims, and the actual words of said leaders, and show why this movement is based more on false teaching and wrong interpretation of scripture than truth. Each chapter addresses a specific component of the movement's teaching. This format appealed to me because I felt it simply presented the facts based on the NAR leadership's own words, then compared that to what the Bible says; focusing more on the facts than opinion.
For me, this book also was a great resource for understanding what the biblical roles of apostles and prophets really were and clarified how those roles might manifest in the modern church, if at all. I found that some of my own understanding was challenged, which I always welcome. They do not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and deny the possibility of any apostleship or prophetic ministry or exercising certain spiritual gifts in the church; they simply take an overview approach to defining the often subjective teachings of this movement - depending on which leader you listen to or what latest "sign and wonder" is being touted - and compare them to what the Bible really says. If it doesn't pass the test of scripture then it must be considered false teaching.
The book is not anti-charismatic; in fact, many charismatics, including The Assemblies of God leadership, have denounced the NAR. My answer to the critics of this book would also be, if the NAR really is a valid movement based on biblical truth, then there should be no hesitation to have it scrutinized in light of scripture but many of the leadership become very defensive when that happens. That's what we are supposed to do and I feel the authors took a true "Berean" approach in looking at the teaching with an open mind while testing it against scripture in order to validate it as either truth or false.
The chapter contents include:
1. What Is the New Apostolic Reformation?
2. NAR Apostles: The Generals
3. Apostles in the Bible: A Close Look
4. NAR Apostles vs. Apostles in the Bible
5. NAR Prophets: The Secret Intelligence Agents
6. Prophets in the Bible: A Close Look
7. NAR Prophets vs. Prophets in the Bible
8. Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare
9. What the Bible Really Teaches About Spiritual Warfare
10. Unifying the Forces through “Apostolic Unity”
11. A Miracle-Working Army
12. What the Bible Really Teaches About Miracles
As an overview of the NAR and their objectives, this as a great resource for anyone who wants the basic facts about the movement. I found it very informative as it answered questions I had about the movement, confirmed why I felt uneasy about some of the teaching, and actually corrected some misconceptions I had as well.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Twisted Innocence by Terri Blackstock (Moonlighters Series), Zondervan,$15.99 list price, paperback.
Holly Cramer has made mistakes in the past, including a one-night stand with Creed Kershaw that resulted in the birth of her daughter Lily, whom she adores. She has worked hard to keep the identity of her daughter's father a secret and has avoided all contact with him due to his criminal past. But when the police come to her home searching for Creed in connection to a drug-related murder, she realizes her secret is no longer hidden.
Holly's worst fears come true when Creed shows up and kidnaps her and Lily as he tries to avoid the police, but she soon sees a tenderness in him toward his daughter and begins to question whether he could be guilty of murder. She also discovers his connection to Leonard Miller, the man who killed her sister's fiance and her brother-in-law, and who has eluded all attempts to bring him to justice.
Holly has to decide whether to trust Creed to lead authorities to Miller and thereby prove his own innocence, or if it is all a lie that will put her, her daughter, and her family in danger.
I enjoyed this latest book in the series, and always appreciate the underlying story of God's redemption for the characters in Blackstock's books, and her ability to create good suspense in the storyline. Even when the ending isn't always happy, I am never disappointed.
Twisted Innocence is the third book in the series and it could stand alone for someone who hasn't read the previous books as enough background is given, but it would be helpful to read the others first.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward For Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls, Tyndale House Publishers, $15.99 list price, paperback.
From the publisher:
Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward—away from harshness, caricatures, and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.
For me, the best books are those that make me think outside my own box and encourage conversation about things that aren't always comfortable. This is one of those books.
I confess I began reading it with some hesitancy because often, and even within the church, to disagree with someone or to not take the politically correct stance is automatically labeled as intolerant, judgmental, or being un-Christlike. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of Christian books that take that approach but I was glad to discover this author didn't. Instead, his focus is that not every issue needs to become a battle or a reason to take sides; that we can hold to our convictions while not attacking those who do not agree with us. He prefers to label disagreements as critiques in which we ask questions and critique opposing views in light of scripture rather than see the person as the enemy or the idea as an argument to be won at all cost so we can be the one who was the most right. As he advises, "Critique when you must - affirm when you can" (p. 98). It's a good filter to use.
The chapters include the topics of politics, moral and lifestyle choices, wealth vs. poverty, and several other issues that can cause division even though not all are specifically biblical issues (being a Republican vs. a Democrat or how we spend or make our money, for example). The chapter that spoke the most to me was Self-Esteem or God-Esteem that dealt with the issue of pride and caring too much about how others see us instead of who we are in Christ. Often it is pride that drives the need to be right and it's a message I needed to hear as I try to keep the grace filter in place when encountering those I don't agree with.
Striving for a way to disagree without offending or being judgmental is a good message but just as one can become a doctrinal bully on the one hand, there is the concern that this kind of message can have us can swing too far the other way and be so concerned that we not offend that we hesitate to take a stand on issues that are truly biblical ones or that are blatant sin. I felt what was missing in this conversation was how to handle those kinds of issues lovingly with other believers without compromising truth when a confrontation is needed - not to win the argument but because the other person's very eternity may be at stake if they continue down a certain path of false teaching or something the Bible clearly says is sin, yet are not open to being questioned. I understand the "eat the fish, spit out the bones" approach to those we don't completely agree with, but sometimes the whole fish (the opinion or teaching, not the person) is rotten and needs to be confronted. Maybe it is too big of a topic that needs its own book.
That said, over all I do recommend this book because the message of disagreeing without offending and not needing to make everything a battle is a good one and the author encourages us to examine why we are taking sides. Is it for ourselves or for Christ? And if for Christ, are we representing Him well and responding as He would?
I received a copy of this book for review through the Tyndale Blog Network book review program but the opinion of it is my own and was not solicited, nor was a positive review required.