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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck

Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck, Thomas Nelson Publishers, $16.99 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
In our increasingly shallow, self-centered world, quaint notions such as timeless truth and reverence for a holy, awe-inspiring God seem irretrievably lost. They’re not.

Many of us have fashioned a domesticated deity—a casual, malleable source of love and good feelings as we define them—and yet our spiritual lives are sedate, dry, devoid of passion or purpose.

Even so, today’s postmodern epidemic of rampant restlessness—and our failed, often destructive attempts to ease it—may be evidence of an ancient ache, a deep hunger for transcendence in all of us.

Drew Nathan Dyck makes a compelling case that the more we all seek is available by knowing and worshiping the dangerous God of Scripture—a God who is paradoxically untamable and accessible, impossibly mysterious and intimately knowable, above and beyond our physical world yet powerfully present within it. He is a God who beckons us to see him with fresh eyes and let him lead us to a faith that is wild, adventurous, and rooted in a deep understanding of his eternal character.

Yawning at Tigers charts a course away from the “safe” harbor of sanitized, predictable Christianity, into deeper waters where, yes, danger lurks, but where God’s majesty, love, and power finally become more real and transformative than we could have imagined.

This book challenges readers to not take lightly the holiness and all-powerful nature of God as we also embrace him as our loving savior and father. At times it seems the two are incompatible but as the author points out in scripture, God himself says he is both.

I appreciated how this book helped me acknowledge the fearful, holy side of who God is. I've lately been bothered by the trend in the church to make Jesus just like one of us - a good ole' boy we can hang out with and who overlooks our faults under grace. Yes, he is loving and his grace covers "a multitude of sins" but we must not lose sight of God's power, holiness, sovereignty, and transcendence. Just as we would have a healthy fear of a tiger or lion - especially if encountered outside of a cage - so we must have a respectful fear of God and not confine him to a cage of our own making that makes us comfortable.

Because he is holy, sin and disobedience cannot be tolerated yet he still reaches out to us. One attribute of God (his holiness) doesn't diminish the other (his grace). Instead of these views being incompatible, they actually work together to give us a true picture of who God is and helps us appreciate his love all the more. As Dyck writes, "Don't lose sight of God's holiness and power. Those very qualities make his love significant. Without a healthy respect for God's greatness, his affection loses value. ...The affection of a familiar, buddy deity is one thing; the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who dwells in unapproachable light, is something else entirely." (pp.101-102)

This message is needed in the body of Christ. We need to embrace the grace of salvation while at the same time acknowledging the holiness and majesty of God with respectful fear, seeing him as both lion (or in the author's words, tiger) and lamb.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Extending the Table: Recipes From Afghanistan to Zambia by Joetta Handrich Schlabach

Extending the Table: Recipes From Afghanistan to Zambia in the spirit of More-With-Less (Revised Edition) by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, Herald Publishing (Menno Media), $24.99 list price, hardcover.

From the publisher:
Cook with neighbors from around the world as you prepare flavorful dishes and feel the warmth of their kitchens. This revised edition of Extending the Table simmers together the best-loved recipes from the first edition of this global cuisine cookbook with the enticing flavors of new recipes.

Extending the Table contains stories, proverbs, and recipes from more than ninety countries. Extend your table in the spirit of the More-with-Less Cookbook by experiencing the gratitude, hospitality, and foodways of friends near and far.

Book Two of the World Community Cookbook series. Royalties fund global relief, peace, and community efforts.

What is New in the Revised Edition:

•Colorful photographs of mouthwatering dishes and of people from around the world.
•Recipes and stories from places like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Thailand, and Cambodia.
•Labels and indexes for gluten-free and vegetarian recipes.
•Regional menus to help cooks plan special meals from a particular country or continent.

I enjoyed this interesting cookbook with its focus on the foods and hospitatlity from around the world and appreciated being made more aware of how other cultures respect the sources of their food and use simple ingredients to prepare sustainable and tasty dishes using what one has on hand. No matter where one is from and no matter how impoverished or wealthy, one thing all people have in common is gathering to share a meal, however simple.

The recipes reflect the cultures they come from, making it easy to prepare a menu with an international theme in order to try new dishes or raise awareness of another culture. There are many photos and stories of people throughout the book, making it more than just a collection of recipes.

Chapters include:
1. Extending the Table
2. Beverages: An Invitation to Friendship
3. Breads: Rising, Breaking, Reconciling
4. Soups: The Hospitality of Poverty
5. Salads and Vegetables: Caring for the Earth, Caring for One Another
6. Everyday Main Dishes: Honoring the Everyday
7. Festive Dishes: Flavors of the Feast
8. Appetizers, Snacks, and Condiments: Nourished by Diversity
9. Desserts: A Season for Sweets

The index also includes lists of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.

Some of the recipes I intend to try include Chicken and Rice, Zucchini Soup, Spicy Lentil Pot, Wild Rice Casserole, and Enchilada Casserole.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Loving Kitchen by LeAnn Rice

The Loving Kitchen: Downright Delicious Southern Recipes to Share With Family, Friends, and Neighbors by LeAnn Rice, Thomas Nelson Books, paperback.

"The kitchen table is a place where memories are made and cherished for years to come. It's a place to connect with those we love - to encourage and support one another and to celebrate the many blessings in our lives. Gathering around the table provides the opportunity to share life with those we hold dear."

So writes the author LeAnn Rice in the introduction, setting the tone for the cookbook which encourages readers to not make food that is complicated but rather to prepare meals that extends love to family and friends.

The recipes themselves are simple enough for any home cook to prepare and are both family and company friendly. It is a complete collection of recipes that includes breakfast dishes, breads, salads, soups, sandwiches, main entrees, side dishes, and desserts. The recipes I was able to try so far with good results included the Italian Meatloaf and Split-Pea Soup. I have several others bookmarked such as the Southern-Style Beef Tips Over Rice, Cheese Overload Macaroni and Cheese, and Caramel Apple Crisp. The recipes have common ingredients that can be found at any grocery store, which I appreciate. If I have to hunt for ingredients that aren't easily found locally, I'm not likely to make the recipe.

There are plenty of photos included which is always a plus, although some of the photography is amateurish and makes the food look less appealing than if a professional did the photos. But that said, including some photos is better than none and the good recipes make it worth having. The personal notes by the author about the stories behind some of the recipes, or her suggestions are good and lend themselves to the homey feel of the book.

Overall I did like this cookbook. It is one I can see myself using on a regular basis as well as giving it as a gift.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest For a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth

Reposting this review of one of my favorite books that encourages simple living.

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest For a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth, Tyndale House Publishers, $14.99 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
Have you ever stopped to think, Maybe the Amish are on to something? Look around. We tweet while we drive, we talk while we text, and we surf the Internet until we fall asleep. We are essentially plugged in and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rather than mastering technology, we have allowed technology to master us. We are an exhausted nation. No one has enough time, everyone feels stressed out, and our kids spend more hours staring at a screen each week than they do playing outside.

It’s time to simplify our lives, make faith and family the focal point, and recapture the lost art of simple living. Building on the basic principles of Amish life, Nancy Sleeth shows readers how making conscious choices to limit (and in some cases eliminate) technology’s hold on our lives and getting back to basics can help us lead calmer, more focused, less harried lives that result in stronger, deeper relationships with our families, friends, and God.

I admire people who are able to do what this author did in making the choice to limit or even eliminate technology that wastes time and resources, and choosing instead a simpler lifestyle patterned after that of the Amish.  I live in an area that has large Amish and conservative Mennonite communities so I'm aware of the kinds of things the author is writing about and while I'm careful to not put the Amish up on a pedestal as being more holy or better than everyone else, I do admire their thriftiness, respect for natural resources, and the focus on relationships and community instead of Facebook status updates or following friends on Twitter.

What I liked about this book is that, while based on Biblical principles, it isn't preachy about "save the earth" but instead offers tangible ways we can live a more sustainable lifestyle that benefits not only the environment but our overall health as well.  Incorporating conscious choices about how we will eat, what kinds of homes we will live in, methods of transportation, how we will dispose of trash, and how we will spend our waking hours can all add up to a life that is less stressful and often more economical.

The chapters include the topics of home, technology, finances, nature, simplicity, service, security, community, families, and faith.  In each, Sleeth compares the standard American way of living in each of these areas to that of the Amish.  She isn't suggesting that anyone live without electricity, meet in homes for Sunday services, resort to horse and buggies for transportation, but she does offer tips on how to transition from a wasteful, technology based lifestyle to one that is more simple.

The chapters I appreciated the most were the ones on home (Amish homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean) and technology (technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master).  The chapter on security was also good as it points to the truth that the only true security, despite technology and everything else, is found in God.

This is a great book for anyone who desires to live a simpler life.  For me, it serves as a motivational resource without guilt or feeling I have to "go Amish" in order to achieve that kind of life.