Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: God Wants Your Heart

I recently received a complimentary copy of Frank Viola's God's Favorite Place on Earth in exchange for an honest review.
      As author, Frank Viola, journeys back to Bethany during the days of Jesus he delves into the heart Bethany and its three well renowned inhabitants. Why did Jesus return to Bethany time and time again? What can today's believer gain from the biblical narrative of Mary, Martha and Lazarus? Once we proclaim the name of Christ, we will have to battle against fear, rejection, materialism and complacency to name a few arenas. These struggles are expected for all Christians everywhere. We are called to lead others to Christ and His love, but first we must allow that love to be enough to stand strong in His glory and power.
      Bethany was a place where Jesus found acceptance, while the rest of the world persecuted Him. Lazarus was resurrected by Christ, as we all are when we come to Him. Mary anointed Jesus because she saw his inherent worth and value. She loved Him extravagantly and threw caution to the wind. Her reputation wasn't worth anything to her enabling her to freely love the Lord. Our hearts are Jesus' Bethany, a place for Him to dwell. His ascension has allowed us to spiritually ascend with Him and one day will lead to our physical ascension. Martha learned worship can look differently for different believers, and yet be as fully heart-felt. As believers we must expect Him to come in to our lives and move magnificently within it. It is only when we die to ourselves then Christ can live through us.
      Viola serves his craft well retelling and elaborating on the biblical text of Bethany. Each chapter opens with Lazarus recounting his experience with Jesus. The author pens the voice of Lazarus with ease and clarity. The additional narrative seems in line with Scripture and lends a bit of depth to the characters' hearts that are not explicitly explained in the Bible. Subsequently after the story in each chapter, the Bible verses that were drawn from are shared, as well as teaching and practical, daily application.
     God's Favorite Place on Earth captured my heart quickly. These pages paint a beautiful, captivating portrait of what life in Christ can be. The narrative wove a more complete  picture of Bethany and its happenings. I can only hope that this book will capture the hearts of many more readers and believers, helping them to find their life in Christ in His abundance. May your heart become another Bethany for Christ to rest.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Saddle Up to Enchantment

BookSneeze on behalf of Zondervan Publishing provided a complimentary copy of Tyler Blanski's When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity in exchange for an honest review.
     Postmodernism has left an indelible abyss in daily thought. Truth is questioned and in some minds whatever is held as true for the individual is deemed truth. Relativism is the word for our day. When truth is compromised perceptions and world views are skewed as well. Gone are the days of living in unity with Creation and the Creator. The mystique of the world has been stripped away by the scientific community of evolution. When one takes away the days of Creation a lot more is lost than a few days. The luster of Christianity dulls. So, now what? How can we get back to be mesmerized by our surroundings, His story and captivated by Christ?
     Blanski poses these questions and endeavors to discover the innate beauty in our lives. God's handiwork attests to being. His fingerprint is unmistakable. Yet, the secularization of society has embedded us into a world of black and white on the printed page. If something, some notion cannot be verified by empirical data than we are to chalk it up to myth, the very place that God has been relegated to.
     However, as believers when we look at our faith and hold it to be truth why aren't we willing to accept Balaam's talking donkey as a possibility? If God has the power to create us, than certainly He has the ability to make a donkey speak words of wisdom. If donkeys can be used by God just imagine the possibilities for our own use and lives. The repercussions or at least potential repercussions are amazing. Blanski finds enchantment in the mystery around us. He peels off secularism and materialism and journeys counter-culturally across the historical landscape of the Bible.
     Tyler Blanski, a writer and musician, fascinates the reader with his idyllic, whimsical pen that is all his own. I was just as captured by his language, as much as I was with his thought. Don't misunderstand, his thought process is something to behold; it is the blending of the two that makes When Donkeys Talk a wonderful book full of enchantment that allows the reader to peer into Blanski's spiritual quest.
      Evidently, I am a huge fan of When Donkeys Talk. I can only hope others will discover this book and join Tyler for a ride on the back of a donkey plunging the depths of Christ's wonders. One word of caution: the synonym for donkey is used a lot and there may be a couple other words to color your cheeks.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Encouragement for Today from Days Past

Chosen Books provided a complimentary copy of R.T. Kendall's These are the Days of Elijah: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things in exchange for an honest review.
     Author Dr. R.T. Kendall brings fresh perspective and years of wisdom to These are the Days of Elijah. Drawing from passages in 1 and 2 Kings he looks at the life of Elijah, including triumphs and trials. God first prepared this ordinary man for an extraordinary ministry. Elijah's life was pock-marked with fear and anxiety, even depression and was highlighted with prophecy and miracles. As he delves into Scripture Kendall lays out biblical application for today. How can we stand strong in the faith as we answer God's calling in the face of worldly persecution?
     God imparts the Spirit to help us and lead us to begin and maintain us in our journey. We will face mistakes and trials that will further refine us into the people God wants us to be. When we step out into the unknown risk will be the word of the day. Some days will be filled with disappointment and questions, it is then we rest in faith knowing we are serving the Almighty. Patience and perseverance will be required, diligence and reliance on God to see us through. Elijah is the perfect example of all of this following the Lord and at times fleeing enemies.
     So often, believers today either disregard Old Testament prophets altogether casting them out as irrelevant or hold them in such high esteem these characters are lifted up out of reach. I found These are the Days of Elijah insightful and utterly relevant. Kendall unpacked the verses in such a way it brings life to Scripture of old. Sometimes the New Testament is heralded as the Living Word and the rest is discounted as stale. Yet, when the time is taken to look at the OT books in depth, a whole new world is uncovered for our exhortation and spiritual maturation.
     I would highly encourage any believer who is being led into a new ministry to read Kendall's work or someone who is struggling in their ministry. Elijah was a man who is a prime example to uphold. When we follow God and seek Him it is then we will fulfill our first calling to glorify Him. These are the Days of Elijah is a book well worth the time to read and reread for years to come.

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Interesting New Book I'll Be Reviewing - An Amazon Bestseller

Shortly, I will be receiving a review copy of "God's Favorite Place on Earth" by Frank Viola. The book released May 1st and stayed in the top # 50 on for 8 straight days. There's a lot of buzz about this book on the Web, and I'll be writing a review after I read it.

Here are a few interesting nuggets about the book.

* It's been recommended by 47 Christian authors, including John Ortberg, Jack Hayford, Leonard Sweet, Tricia Goyer, Mary DeMuth, Greg Boyd, Todd Hunter, Jon Acuff, and many others.

* There is an interesting video trailer for the book that introduces it.

* The book tells the story of Jesus in the little village of Bethany and the amazing things that happened there through the eyes of Lazarus. It combines biblical narrative, dramatization, theological insights, and nonfiction devotional teaching. It argues that "Bethany" was God's Favorite Place on Earth and explains how every Christian and every church can be "Bethanies" today for God.

* The book addresses 18 specific struggles that Christians face today and offers hope, challenge, and fresh insight.

You can check all of this out at

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Review: Free to Be

Tyndale Publishing provided a complimentary copy of Amanda Jenkins' Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist: Learning to Be Free in exchange for an honest review.
      I only wish I had this book at my disposal years ago. Author Amanda Jenkins in her quirkiness has vindicated every obsessive compulsive thought and action I have ever conceived. Really. Every woman has her issues, but it is when we voice them they lose their stranglehold on us. Jenkins in sheer honesty and bluntness lays it all out there and then chooses the better road, sometimes only after she has stumbled down the path that led her to the conclusion that there was a better path. Is it vanity that enslaves you? Or maybe money, friendship or pride?
     In my favorite-titled chapter, Diet Coke, Jenkins explores idolatry. Diet Coke in all its simplest terms is a beverage, but when it becomes a crutch for harried days it becomes an idol. Funny how things that seem so trivial can loom large on the horizon if our perspective is askew. She lends validity to a woman's insecurities and explores the repercussions of allowing the issues to take hold of our lives. And then the path to freedom is explored, how we can gain a foothold and push the nemesis out the door.

     The greatest strength of Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist is the path to freedom is always biblical. She answers worldly problems with biblical acumen. Another strength that stood out was Jenkins' honesty. I think I may have even blushed a time or two and yet, was relieved to read such candor. Instead of bottling in her awkward moments trying to hush them up, she acknowledges them and the issues within all to dismantle their grip on her. In doing so, freedom ensues and a life lived out well follows.
     Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist is refreshing and invigorating. It explores the depth of the heart and soul and engages the mind. Often our heart determines our actions. With intentional mindfulness we can find freedom from the emotions that rule the day and live better, live well and live free.

Read an excerpt from Amanda's book here.

   Author Q & A   

  About the Author . . . Amanda Jenkins attended Northwestern Bible College and graduated with a degree in biblical studies and communications. She has worked in sales and marketing for a number of Christian retailers, as well as in visual communications and advertising. For the past 14 years she has taught Bible studies for women of all ages and is passionate about communicating truth in a culturally relevant and humorous way. She lives just outside of Chicago with her husband, Dallas, and their four young children, including their newly adopted son. 

1. What is your hope for this book, Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist? 
That my transparency would get readers one step closer to freedom from their own impossible goals; that it would open their eyes to the strangleholds we sometimes don’t even see, but shape the way we think and spend our time; that it would get us laughing at the stuff we hide; that when brought into the open, things like vanity, materialism and desire for recognition would lose their power/hold on our minds and hearts. 

2. In your book, you talk about your addiction to perfection. What were the signs that this was an issue for you? 
Little things. For a long time, I didn’t let my husband see me without makeup. I got really upset/frazzled when people dropped by unexpectedly. I got easily embarrassed when I messed up, and I wouldn’t admit to struggling. And I thought I had life pretty together—that I actually didn’t struggle/mess up/sin as much as other people did. 

3. You talk about God speaking into your life, waking you up to the true cost of your addiction to perfection. Can you tell me about that? 
Praying and listening to God have changed my life because they’ve changed the way I think. But in the beginning, it just good old-fashioned conviction. He’d been in my ear for a while, pointing out when I was being ruled by perfectionism—more accurately, by my insecurity and fear of being outed for NOT being perfect. After an embarrassing moment, He said to me very clearly, “You can fight the process, but this is happening. You’re taking off the mask. I suggest you get on board.” 

4. Tell me about the journey of letting go of subtle yet destructive idols of perfectionism and replacing them with God’s truth. What did that look like for you?  
Simply put, I talk about my sin and the things I’m struggling with, to God and to others. It’s amazing how many opportunities there are in a day to be honest. And it’s amazing how being honest diminishes the power certain strangleholds have. 
5. What advice might you give someone in your same situation so that God can release her from her obsession and accept the true freedom that comes through the love of Christ?  
Get specific with God first. Ask Him to show you not just what the strangleholds in your life are, but all the ways they’re manifesting. Perfectionism was a stranglehold that was showing itself in all kinds of destructive ways in my life. And God dealt with them one by one, and being honest with and accountable to others was a part of that process for me.  
6. When did you realize that you had to share this story? What message do you hope will resonate with your readers? 
As I started to share a little of my own struggles, I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one drowning; that my issues were common, and that being open and honest diminished their hold on my heart. 
7. What encouragement would you provide to those who feel overwhelmed by their own perfectionist expectations?  
God doesn’t allow His kids to stay trapped when they don’t want to be. He baby-steps us, one vice/chapter at a time.  
8. In your book, you talk about the “tragic irony” for Christian women of basing our self-worth on what we can and cannot get accomplished. Can you talk about that a bit? 
The whole point of being rescued from our sin by Jesus is that we didn’t earn it. But then somewhere along the way, we start trying to deserve it—which means we’re prideful when we’re doing “well” (meeting our own expectations) and insecure when we’re not. The tragic irony is that we lose sight of the grace that saved us in the first place, for ourselves and everyone else. 

9. Is this something that is an ongoing struggle, or do you feel as if your perfectionist days are behind you? 
I’m experiencing freedom I’ve never known before, but my perfectionism continues to rear its head. My standards for myself are still too high, but I’m aware of them and their destructiveness. I’m allowing God total access, and I’m working hard to surrender to the changes He’s making in my heart/mind. I’d say that God has my perfectionism on the run.  

10. What is the best advice or encouragement that you have received? 
Start talking and keep talking. Satan wants us to be quiet—to hide our sin from ourselves and everyone else. But sin gets bigger and more powerful in the dark, which is why God wants us to live in the light. So we need to talk. We need the encouragement and accountability that comes in numbers. And we need to share the stories of how God is rescuing us. Again.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: Rich and Diverse Fiction

Bethany House provided a complimentary copy of Tracie Peterson's The Icecutter's Daughter in exchange for an honest review.
     Tracie Peterson really needs no introduction. However, I was absolutely amazed to find out she has penned over 90 books. What makes that so extraordinary is that not one of her books I have read has disappointed. The Icecutter's Daughter is no exception.
     The reader will find the historical context rich and diverse. Set in the late 1800s in Minnesota the German Krause family makes a living with use of their prized, Belgian horses. In Winter the Krause family relies on cutting ice off the lake to provide wages. Miss Merrill Krause, a young lady who is approaching spinsterhood in that day and age, finally meets a man that piques her interest, though her allegiance for the last 10 years has been to be the lady of the family as her mother died years before. In reality though her duties among her male-dominated environment haven't allowed her to give her loneliness much thought. Primping and pampering are far from her vocabulary.
      Enter Swedish Rurik Jorgenson from Kansas. He was betrothed to a family friend, Svea Olsson, long ago. He travels to Minnesota to assist his furniture-making uncle, Carl, as his health is failing. The time away bodes well as he realizes his heart does not belong to Svea. He quickly falls for Miss Krause. It is when Svea and her brother follow Rurik that problems ensue that may well mean the heartbreak of many.
     Peterson always does an incredible job of developing the characters. Their personalities and maturation all come through as the story progresses. The antagonists of the book are just disagreeable enough that they made me shake my head in dismay a few times. The story lines are never far-fetched and seem reasonable, though perhaps at times a bit unlikely. The Icecutter's Daughter is a story I will not forget for sometime. After investing time to read a book of 300-plus pages the story embeds into the heart.
      The main lesson learned from this volume was that grace really can be extended to the most distasteful of people in and through God's love. Even Merrill had a hard time extending grace to Svea when her schemes were complicating her plans. It was through the wise advice of others that led her to show Christian love and charity despite what her emotions were otherwise advising her to do.
      The Icecutter's Daughter is a great read. It will capture your attention and heart. The foreign names at first may throw you for a loop, but after that it will be smooth sailing. I hope that if you are a Christian, historical fiction fan this will be a book to pick up. Of course, Peterson fans will enjoy this one immensely.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: A High Goal to Aim For

WaterBrook Multnomah recently provided a complimentary copy of Joshua Harris' book, Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth Without Putting People Down, in exchange for an honest review.
    Many people outside the church are turned off by the very people on the inside. Even if they hold to true orthodoxy holding right belief, all too often they come across as arrogant know-it-alls who turn their noses up at those that are lost. Which frankly, is ironic, considering they have lost all humility forgetting they too are sinners. On the other hand, there are those that water down the Gospel in order to appeal to the masses and throw truth out the window. That in turn doesn't serve any of God's purposes to build His Kingdom. So, what does one do? How can believers share the Good News without frightening others away?
     In Humble Orthodoxy Harris calls for believers to remember their roots and know that we are still sinners who need God's grace every day. We share in humility, holding onto truth firmly, but lovingly. We share the message with others out of love, the love we have been given and the love we have in abundance. When we incur hard hearts, we persevere with gentleness and the knowledge we are loved beyond measure. What greater motivator is there to extend His love than that very love itself? And above all, we must allow that love to shape our own attitudes to those around us even when they are unlovable, just as Christ loves us.
     I don't think this book could have come at a better time. We all struggle with the news of today, yet Christians know there is a greater hope for the future in Him. It is commonplace and all too easy to just blame the people of an ungodly society than pray for their souls. It is easier to the shut the church doors behind us than open our hearts and mouths to proclaim the truth in love. It is disheartening to hear people who are intimidated to go to church for fear of hypocrisy. Who can blame them? Not I, for I am a sinner and will gladly tell you so.
     Overall, Humble Orthodoxy is a rather small book with crazy-large repercussions. It is compact and concise, humbling and very thought-provoking. Which leads me to this: humble orthodoxy is a goal to aim high for, but is not attainable fully. If I say I am right, my beliefs are definitive truth, than that leads me to arrogance, not humility. If I say I am humble, that seems arrogant. Of course, the fact is not one person is completely right, so no one can claim they adhere to orthodoxy perfectly. We all should be humble enough to say though, we just don't know it all for we are finite beings and cannot possibly contain God's infinite wisdom.
      Joshua Harris has presented a small volume that will illuminate our own hearts. I pray that Humble Orthodoxy reaches the hands of all in the church. May right thinking be coupled with good behavior, but for the love of our Creator and not for the love of ourselves.

Joshua Harris
Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is the best-selling author of Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths That Last and several books on relationships, including the run-away bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children. Find out more at