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.


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.

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.