Saturday, July 30, 2011

my first Hands On Bible - Tyndale Kids


My first Hands-On Bible was produced by Tyndale Kids with the hope that preschoolers can "experience the fun!" and "live the truth!" of the Bible.  I have to say that I am very impressed.  I currently have a 1 1/2 year old little boy who loves to read books and flip pages. Although he is too young to sit still and read through the bible stories with any consistency, he is captivated by the pictures and activities that are included in this Bible. 

What truly makes this product unique is that it is the only preschool Bible with actual text from the Bible.  It features the New Living Translation. I have always had issues with preschool Bibles because they tell stories about scripture but do not include any Scripture text!  This Bible not only has NLT passages that are age appropriate, but it indexes them with both the biblical chapters and verses.

My first Hands-On Bible also includes many activities, prayers and picture lessons to engage your child in learning while they are reading.  An example is the story of Jesus as a Boy in the Temple, taken from Luke 2:41-52.  The scripture in this Bible is interspersed with colorful hand-prints that lead to an activity you can do with your child.  The story includes activities such as dancing at the festival, hiding a toy and playing hide and seek (to mimic Mary and Joesph searching for Jesus when he disappeared), and making worried faces.  All biblical passages conclude with what they call "The Jesus Connection" and offer suggestions for further learning, such as going on a church walk, building a special fort, or saying personal prayers.

This is a wonderful Bible that I look forward to sharing with our family.  The hard back cover and thick glossy pages make it very sturdy and easy to handle.  If I have any complaints about My first Hands-On-Bible, it would be that some of the things included might go over the heads of preschool aged children and might be more appropriate for ages K-3.  However, I appreciate that they did not make the Bible too simplistic and take away from the truth of the stories and the power of reading actual scripture to your children.  I believe that My first Hands-On Bible would be a wonderful addition to any family's prayer and devotional time.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crazy Love - Francis Chan


I really wanted to like this book.  I had heard that Francis Chan's latest book was in the vein of Radical by David Platt, and that if I liked Radical I would love Crazy Love.  Well, I didn't.  I can see where this idea would take root, as both books are calls to abandon the mediocre faith walk that today's American Christians seem content with.  Both authors make "radical" claims, challenge believers to give up material things for Jesus, and highlight truths in the gospel that make what the Church is teaching today seem almost unbiblical.  But that is where the similarities end.

Throughout the first few chapters I found myself agreeing in many ways with what Francis Chan was laying out.  But his writing often seems simplistic and I found myself longing for David Platt's explanation of the crucifixion in his book Radical (a beautiful description of God's wrath poured out on Jesus) instead of Chan's continual expression of  "crazy, amazing love".  He is of course correct in saying this, Jesus's love is crazy, amazing and beyond belief.  I appreciate how Chan explains that there is more to the Christian walk than being comfortable, praying occasionally, attending church and giving a respectable tithe.  I really enjoyed the Chapters on Love and how as Christians we will be known by how well we love God and love one another.  It was a refreshing wake up call to how we treat each other and how Jesus expects us to die to ourselves in order to live out this call to love.

However, in his most controversial chapter of the book on lukewarm Christians, Chan takes a stance that I can not get behind.  He basically says that the lukewarm Christian is not a Christian at all, and we will not see them in heaven.  Wow.

To understand this statement you have to recognize the difference between salvation theologies.  Within the conservative Christian doctrine there are two different ways to interpret salvation; Lordship theology and Free Grace theology.  Francis Chan is clearly in the Lordship vein, as he boldly asserts that you are not a saved Christian if you are lukewarm.  He also asserts that you are in need of salvation if you are not in the 10% of Christians who lead an "obsessed" life, 100% committed to the Christ walk.  In stating this, Chan is making the claim that although you are saved by grace through faith, you are not an actual Christian if your life is not bearing the fruit of this decision through works. He uses scripture to back up this assertion.

While I agree with many things that Crazy Love calls us to consider, I can not come down on the same side of salvation theology as Chan.  I came away from this book almost feeling fearful for many people who might question their salvation experience.  Yes, faith without works is dead.  Yes, we are called to obey Christ, to live this life committed to him.  I believe that Christians should look different from the world, and that there is absolutely nothing in this life that should hold more appeal to us than falling madly in love with Jesus.  But, I do not believe that you can cheapen grace by tying it down to works.  Grace is free.  Salvation is Jesus + nothing.  I can not agree with the statement that lukewarm Christians are going to hell- nor do I agree with the way Chan interprets the Scripture in Revelation about the church at Laodicea.  I also do not believe that unless you are one of the "Super Christians" that Chan highlights in his book you are not walking with Christ and are therefore not truly saved.

There are many things to appreciate about Crazy Love, so this is a mixed review.  I can only hope that anyone reading this is spiritually mature enough to take away the call to action but not succumb to fear based theology.  If, according to Chan, going to heaven is tied to how well we follow Christ on Earth, then we are ultimately saying that Jesus died for works. It is important to remember that we will be known by our good works, but His Grace is enough.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Treasuring Emma - Kathleen Fuller


As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I am quite familiar with the Amish fiction genre, but I have never had the privilege of reading a novel by Kathleen Fuller. I have been missing out, as I thoroughly enjoyed Kathleen's unique take on the Amish community in Treasuring Emma.  Unlike offerings from Beverly Lewis (who I do love to read for different reasons), Kathleen's novel was not bogged down by constant descriptions of Amish jargon and lifestyle. In fact, at times I forgot I was reading a story about an Amish woman as I was drawn into the actual plot instead of being force-fed Pennsylvania-Dutch vocabulary.

Treasuring Emma by Kathleen Fuller is book #1 in the Middlefield Family Series. It revolves around the lives of the King family, specifically Emma and her sister Clara.  Emma is an unmarried Amish woman, still heartbroken over her childhood love who left their community for the English world.  Clara, is married and disillusioned with her loving but unemployed husband, stewing in the bitterness of depending on their community for money.  Both sisters have to face what it means to depend on God and to trust in his provision as they deal with the death of their parents, the return of old flames, and past family tensions.  When an evil relative brings trouble to the community, Emma and Clara realize that God is truly the only one who can bring them happiness and hold their world together.

It is clear that Kathleen Fuller writes about a less conservative Amish community in this novel.  In response, the novel has a more "real world" feel to it.  The story touches on jealousy, greed, sex, lust, anger, evil, depression, financial worries and more.  The characters struggle with emotions and feelings that are typical of all humans, and I appreciate that the author does not gloss over these difficulties with pat answers and platitudes.  Even more encouraging was the fact that Emma is overweight and not particularly beautiful. It is very rare to see this description for a main character of a novel, and I commend the author for writing Emma with honesty and spiritual beauty, allowing her to find happiness in the end.

I would highly recommend picking up Treasuring Emma for your own library, especially if you appreciate Amish fiction.  I look forward to completing the Middlefield Family Series.

Disclosure of Material: I received this book free from the publisher via Book Sneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rumors of God -Daren Whitehead & John Tyson


Rumors of God is just what I needed to read right now.  Written by Daren Whitehead and John Tyson, it explores what it means to be a christian today, so far removed for the first church of believers at Pentecost.  Reflecting heavily on the biblical book of Habakkuk, the authors lay out a foundation for Christianity that will renew your spirit and answer questions about how God has called us to live.

I have read a few other books that also explore this idea of a "shallow Christianity", namely Radical by David Platt. While I found those books a little more life changing and motivational, I appreciated the message that Rumors of God delivers.  Lately, I have found myself burdened by the lack of desire in our church culture to get to the root of who God is and what he asks of us.  At times, I feel as though the gospel message has been so watered down that we are merely operating inside tried and true formulas, mostly based on tradition.  The shallow Christianity that the authors discuss stands in opposition to the model of Jesus in the Bible.  The Jesus/God we have created in our Christian culture often conflicts with truth from Scripture.  The reality is that we are far removed from the missional life that God calls us to live.  I think that Radical addresses the idea of the Great Commission more thoroughly, but there is a place for what the authors are trying to say through Rumors of God.

I enjoyed reading this book   It seems like a good starting place for the believer who is jaded by how the church operates or with their own spiritual walk.  It nails down the tenets of the faith and irons out misconceptions with Scripture and stories.  The authors call us to abandon a life of mediocrity and to strive for the abundant life that Jesus promised us.  I would also suggest the above mentioned book for further reflection.

Disclosure of Material: I received this book free from the publisher via Book Sneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Place Called Blessing - John Trent with Annette Smith


A Place Called Blessing, written by Ph.D John Trent, is an attempt to describe the method of "bestowing a blessing onto a relationship" from a fictional point of view.  I have not read The Blessing, the author's previous non-fiction book that delves much deeper into this psychological theory.  Still, it was not difficult to pick up on what "the blessing" is and the ways it was eventually communicated to the protagonist of the novel.

The story chronicles the life of Josh, an emotionally abandoned little boy who loses his mother and father and is separated from two brothers.  He is shuffled through the foster care system, unpacking his scant belongings at many houses, but never staying long due to his deep-seeded fears and issues.  At six years old, when it finally seems as though Josh might be forever reunited with his brothers, an unfortunate accident changes the course of his life.

Through adolescence Josh often acts out in anger and trusts no one, but through the first person narrative the reader gets to see a glimpse of the broken little boy who so desperately wants to be loved.  As Josh turns eighteen he rents a room from a mother and son who turn out to be the family he is so desperately searching for.  The journey they take together is painful and difficult, but Josh eventually finds the peace he seeks.

I very much appreciated the message of this book, especially the inside look at orphaned children and the foster care system.  However, the writing style is not especially proficient, often feeling jerky and simple.  Seeing as how the book is told from Josh's point of view, this at times works to the novel's favor, but often I found that detail and depth were sorely lacking.  Still, I would recommend reading this book as it beautifully portrays how a life can be changed by unconditional love.  I also think it calls attention to the failing foster care system in this country and hope it inspires people to look into how they might love another child and give them the gift of "the blessing" too.

Disclosure of Material: I received this book free from the publisher via Book Sneeze. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.