Monday, November 19, 2012

The Purpose Driven Life, Expanded Edition

I cheated.  Author Rick Warren requests you take 40 days to read The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? so you can reflect on each chapter.  Instead, I read through it in 8 days.  So, it is possible, okay I know, I missed out on the full impact of the book.
In The Purpose Driven Life, Warren walks his readers though the theological and practical spiritual steps to living on purpose.  Each chapter is a daily meditation that focuses on one topic and finishes with points to consider and questions to ask.  For the expanded edition, Warren has added codes that can be scanned by a smart phone and provides access to videos that accompany the chapters.  The book is broken into sections on living for God’s pleasure, living as part of God’s family, living to imitate Christ, service and missions.  At the conclusion of the book are numerous appendixes for additional resources, including some free ones, and Bible verses.
Lately, I have been complaining about generic Christian books and my frustration over them.  In many ways I can see how The Purpose Driven Life provides nothing really new and is generic. But even when I read the first edition over 8 years ago I never got the sense that Warren was trying to provide breakthrough ideas.  Instead, I think he was attempting to make 2,000 years of theological study fit within a container that was understandable to the general public.  The reaction and book sales make it clear that he accomplished his goal.  So in many ways I feel like generic Christian books are trying to copy the Warren success, rather than this book being part of the problem.
I really do suggest reading this book as a group.  I can remember when I did this in weeks one and two our group discussed questions like what job does God want me to have.  But by the time we dug into the content the question really became what kind of person does God want me to be.  Ironically and results may vary, that is when jobs and other personal requests opened for the group.  The Purpose Driven Life was one of the most successful group studies I have been part of.
I really would recommend this book as a small group tool or a book that would be helpful to a new believer.  Even for those who have been around for awhile it can be very useful.  I found myself contemplating Warren’s comments about how the church is filled with servant-leaders not servants.  And the new chapters on envy and people pleasing are highly insightful.  All in all, the expanded edition only helps to build on the success of this highly popular book.             

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Twelve Unlikely Heroes

Twelve Unlikely Heroes: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and what He Wants to Do with You by John MacArthur outlines the lives of 12 figures from the Bible who proved to be heroic though they may have seemed ordinary.  Those profiled are drawn from the Old Testament, such as Joseph and Gideon, and the New Testament, like John the Baptist.  Though the biographies are predominately from the Old Testament.  Many will be familiar with like Joseph but the book also includes more obscure figures like Enoch and Onesimus.  Though these heroes were all very different people, MacArthur shows how all were people of faith and acted on God’s direction. 
Overall Twelve Unlikely Heroes is clear and easy to read.  Some of the chapters are balanced more towards Christian living teachings, like the Enoch chapter, due to a lack of biographical information.  Other chapters, like Joseph, are more heavy on biography due to the vast amount of primary and secondary material available.  Honestly, the chapters that were the least effective for me were Joseph and Miriam, which was really heavy on Moses, because they cover material that others have presented from pulpits, videos and other books.  It was profiles for James, Mark, and Onesimus that were the most effective to me since they are figures we hear less about.  I also appreciated MacArthurs use of tradition and church history to help expand on the Biblical information we have on these figures, while be transparent to their source.  Overall, Twelve Unlikely Heroes is accessible book that could serve as a good introduction to the lives of these early heroes.    

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Friday, October 5, 2012

Heaven Change Everything

Heaven Changes Everything Cover

Heaven Changes Everything: Living Every Day with Eternity in Mind by Todd and Sonia Burpo is a devotional that builds on the story of Todd Burpos’s bestseller Heaven is for Real, which details the Burpos’ son Colton’s experiences during a near death experience.  There are 42 entries which are written by one or both of the Burpos that follow the same format.  Each chapter opens with a brief excerpt from Heaven is For Real, followed by a narrative that builds on the principles of the excerpt or discusses events that have happened since the publication of the first book, a thought to contemplate and finally a Bible verse linked to the devotional’s main point.  The topics covered vary from serving, grieving, the afterlife, evangelism, prayer and many more.
As I read though this devotional, I found that it would be what most would expect from a devotional reader with brief chapters that can be mulled over.  I believe that this offering would be of interest to two audiences.  First, fans of Heaven is For Real will likely enjoy this text since the Burpos expand on stories within the original book and share stories from their life about what has happened since.  The second audience is those who are wrestling with grieving.  Having lost a child to heaven, and have him returned they speak of loss in a different way than others that did not walk through journey.  Additionally, as a pastor and his wife they have seen and helped others in their periods of loss.  Overall Heaven Changes Everything is a typical devotional that fans of Heaven is For Real will likely pick up to enlarge the story of the Burpo family. 

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Grace by Max Lucado

Cover of Grace
Grace!  It is a powerful and often misunderstood concept.  And it is foundational to our faith.  Max Lucado in Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine attempts to wrap his readers’ minds around this complicated and important word by showing examples of grace in action in the lives of ordinary people, who often prove themselves extraordinary, and the pages of the Bible.  Lucado notes that we often have a wimpy picture of grace and that he wants readers to understand the transformative power of grace.  The grace that Lucado offers is one that reshapes the recipient giving us a heart transplant in his words.  The chapters of Grace shows how grace changes us to be more giving, more caring, and more receptive to the work of God.  The main text is followed by a study guide. 
So, if you have read and liked a Max Lucado book before, you probably know what you are getting in Grace.  The book is easy to read and Lucado’s strength is his ability to write in a clear and entertaining way.  Most anyone can pick up and understand this book.  The chapters are brief and easy to read through in a devotional style.  So, if you have read and not liked a Max Lucado book before, you probably know what you are getting in Grace.  So for those who dislike Lucado’s style you already are well aware of this and probably should not pick up this book.  Grace is a typical Lucado book sure to please Lucado’s core audience.       

Friday, September 14, 2012

Greater: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller. Ignite God's Vision for Your Life

Greater: Dream Bigger. Start Smaller. Ignite God’s Vision For Your Life by Steven Furtick looks to inspire learners to stop living mediocre lives and step into the life of greatness God has meant for them.  Furtick provides both practical, theological and inspirational advice for believers to escape their a life of waste to one that is greater, greater than labels, greater than earthly success, greater than our own dreams.  To show us how to live this greater life, Furtick relies on two chief illustrations.  The first is the prophet Elisha who went from plowman to Israel’s most distinguished prophet of his day.  The second is stories from Furtick’s own Elevation Church and the people that he does life with.  Furtick directs our attention to Jesus, the ultimate example of one who lived a life using the principles Furtick has discovered to being greater. 
The following is probably more of my thoughts on “Christian” publishing and not Greater persay.  Why as a belief group that speaks living in freedom do we need so many “self-help” books.  Furtick himself acknowledges that he could be seen as just another self-help book.  My question is why does he need to address that issue?  Let’s be honest, self-help books are ones we read, consider, and then forget about as we pick up the next title.  I call it Generic Christian Book and they tend to have the themes of look to Jesus, throw off the bonds and live in freedom, do more for Jesus.  Don’t worry they also tend to all give us the same recipe; have faith, pray, read your Bible, be nice to animals (okay I made that up).  Honesty this is not about our authors but us as consumers.  Publisher and authors are putting these Generic Christian Books out because we are buying and reading them, but as I look around are we living them with the swagger that says the Father loves me and I am free!  Often, I think no.
With that being said, Greater is a text that I would drop into the category of Generic Christian Book.  Yes, I like the use of Elisha.  Yes, the books are well written.  But I think a “mature” believer should have read much of this elsewhere or heard similar concepts from the pulpit.  Greater should be of benefit to a new believer who needs to move past that old mediocre life and does not know how yet, but it is us “mature” believers that seem to need this sort of message again and again and again and again.  Reading with a bad attitude, some of the examples from real life mentioned in the book did not impress me.  And I was frustrated with impression given early in the book that one with deep faith who takes a deep risk will have a windfall soon after, especially when Furtick discusses in depth later in the book the difficulties walking out on faith will experience. 
Honestly, I was probably pre-disposed to not be as open to Greater as others who will pick it up.  I almost feel bad saying it but I see it as a trend within theBbody.  Maybe I am reading too many Generic Christian Books improperly giving me the impression that we are staggering in our belief instead of strutting with confidence.  As someone who reads a lot, I say let’s start listening and living the messages of a book like Greater instead of recycling and re-reading it’s concept that we need to live lives of greatness.     

Review Copy Provided by Blogging for Books

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rudy: My Story by Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger and Mark Dagostino

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger with the help of Mark Dagostino tells us for the first time a story many of us thought we know in Rudy: My Story.  Rudy: My Story retells the familiar story of Rudy Ruettiger’s efforts to play for his beloved Notre Dame football team.  Ruettiger tells the story of his large and loving family in Joliet, Illinois, and their growing love of Notre Dame.  Ruettiger loved sports, but hated school which meant his chances to go to college were non-existent.  In the era of the escalating Vietnam War Ruettiger joined the Navy and received an unintended benefit, access to the G.I. Bill.  Ruettiger used access to education through his military benefits and a community college to build the grades needed for him to be admitted to Notre Dame.  Once admitted he worked to become a walk-on to the football team and served for two years on the scout team.  The highlight of his football career was his one opportunity to suit up and play in one collegiate game.  Ruettiger and Dagostino then detail Ruettiger’s post college career and how he worked to get the blockbuster movie about his life, Rudy, made. 
This is a familiar and yet different story than many of us know for Rudy.  Ruettiger explains how some incidents in his life were changed or ignored to make a story suitable for the theater.  For example his service in the Navy is ignored in the movie, along with his on-campus boxing success.  The book makes it clear that Ruettiger and his desire to suit up for a game were known by many throughout campus.  Additionally, his father was more supportive than depicted in the film.  In many ways the real life story is simply not as exciting as the movie, as we should expect.  Additionally, the information after Notre Dame is very unclear, such as leaving information about his wife almost completely out.  If anything the story of Ruettiger’s missteps in getting the movie made is one that adds to the story of Rudy the movie.
Ruettiger makes it clear that he wishes to further the message of Rudy.  Everyone has Rudy in this in his opinion and his combination of dreaming and doing has inspired many.  Ruettiger succeeds in sharing his life and message.  But in many ways this combination sports biography and self-help books falls a little flat for me, mostly because I constantly compared it to the movie!   
Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand recounts the story of World War II hero Louis Zamperini in Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.  Zamperini was a troubled youth until encouraged, or maybe forced, by his brother Pete to become a distance runner.  Zamperini participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, and his performance helped propel the young runner onto the world stage.  Zamperini was preparing for the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo when World War II broke out.  He entered the Army and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a bombardier.  After harrowing bombing runs against Japanese bases from his base in Hawaii, Zamperini’s plane crashed into the ocean.  Zamperini and his surviving crewmates were lost in the ocean with Zamperini spending over 40 days in a life raft.  After his recovery from the ocean, Zamperini experienced brutal conditions in Japanese captivity.   The reader is left with the question of how and will Zamperini survive his incredible and horrifying story.      

Hillenbrand is a solid author who spins a story that is engaging.  Readers will be regret putting down Unbroken when in the midst of the story.  And Zamperini’s story, of which I was not aware, is incredible.  It leads one to wonder how we did not discuss Zamperini more often in history courses as a representative of those held captive by the Japanese.  I left the story understanding how these men would have seen the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a god send as Hillenbrand chronicles events in several POW camps around the events of the flight of the Enola Gay.  Hillenbrand does an excellent job of providing tension to her readers as one questions if Louis, crewmates, or other POWs will survive the war.  Additionally, this is a book that I have been talking about as I read it.  My copy will be passed to a co-worker as I have been unable to not share Zamperini’s story as I dug into Unbroken.  Along with being well-written the text is also well researched using both oral interviews and archival documents.  Sources also come from both the United States and Japan. 
Unbroken is an excellent book that I cannot recommend enough.  It helped provide a very personal and engaging face to the facts and figures of Americans in POW captivity.  And with a story that includes castaways at sea is highly engaging.                                 

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tender Warrior by Stu Weber

Stu Weber in Tender Warrior provides a description of Biblical manhood.  Weber reinforces what other author’s have also brought forward, there is an absence of real men in our society.  He then proceeds to provide a detailed summary of what a real man should be.  He discusses the need for men to have both strength and be able to show tenderness to those they love.  He explores how a real man interacts with his spouse, providing both provision and understanding.  This is followed by an in-depth discussion of the role of fathering and the need for real men to father children.  Weber points out beyond one’s family, a man needs companions to do life in.  He concludes with a picture of what a true man is.  A true man follows the focuses model of Jesus.  He notes that society has emasculated Jesus giving a picture of a pansy.  Weber extends notes the focuses vision of Jesus, a man who was both a warrior king and also one who could show deep compassion. 
Honestly, I kind of think this book is lost on me.  The portions of the book that resonate with me are really things I believe I am doing now.  And there is a lot of material similar to what I have read in men’s issues books before.  And those things that don’t resonate with me failed to challenge my thoughts but were discarded.  I’m not saying the material is not good or the book is not well written.  It just simply did not provide me anything new.  Part of this could be my non-hunter attitude, as this book uses many hunting stories that are lost on me.  Luckily as someone who has studied military history, Weber’s leads using his military experience did keep my attention. 
So I asked myself what would I do with this book.  First, if a believer had never read a book of this type I would suggest it as a starting point that would give them a good overview of these issues.  It would likely challenge a young husband who has not yet thought about these issues.  And I would be very willing to provide this book to someone not following Christ who wants to know what Biblical manhood looks like.  It is likely for these reasons that this book has continued to find a large audience since its original 1993 printing. 
Review Copy Provided by Waterbrook Multnomah

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love Does: Discover A Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World

Bob Goff in Love Does: Discover A Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World shares practical lessons learned from a life lived on faith and how they link to the teachings of Jesus.  Goff writes relatively short chapters centered on poignant and often humorous stories from his own life and those that he does life with.  Goff, a lawyer, leads what many of us would call an extraordinary life where in his spare time he supports global justice initiatives.  One of his stories recounts how he became a Consul for Uganda, with many of his stories relaying his own experiences in that country.  In fact, the proceeds from the book are divided between Donald Miller’s Mentoring Project and Goff’s Restore International Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda, which provides educational opportunities for children in war torn northern Uganda.  In the vast majority of chapters Goff explains how his experiences have enlightened him on the life and teachings of Jesus, restating the basics of New Testament passages without the typical Biblical citations found in “Christian books.”
Goff’s message is clear, Love Does!  Love is something that has energy and action around it.  And as Christians it is not enough for us to think about love but we have to put love into action.  By expressing love in an active way we can share in the work of Jesus and get to know Him in a better way.  Love does not sit idly by but moves!
Love Does is easy to read, with the reader feeling like you are engaged in a conversation with Goff.  Goff tells stories and he has interesting stories to tell.  With this being said, I think there are three key groups this book can be helpful for.  First, those seeking to know about Jesus will enjoy this book.  Goff’s writing is easy to engage with and his choice to restate Biblical text without citing makes the book non-threatening to a non-believer.  One does not have to be in the club to understand what Goff has to say about Jesus!  Second, those wanting to find direction in their Christian walk will get simple advice from Goff, do something.  And his tales show how powerful just moving in a direction can be if you don’t know where to start.  Third, Christians deep in their faith can stand to review Goff’s lessons.  Goff makes it clear that we make religion too complicated.  For Goff through action we can get clarity about God as He uses motion to make things occur around us.  Especially convicting for me was the chapter on Stalking Jesus!  Yes, stalking Jesus.  He notes that often we spend so much effort getting to learn the “facts” about Jesus that we are looking at Him from 1,000 yards away while failing to know Jesus by responding to work and entering into life with him.
Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years introduced us to his friend Bob Goff, a force to be reckoned with.  In Love Does we get to know Goff on a new level through his own words.  I feel comfortable saying Goff is my friend.  We both love Disneyland!  And if I really need to run something past him, I do have his phone number.  Because you should always be able to contact a friend directly!  Thanks friend for reminding me that love is an action verb!
Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Empty Promises by Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson in Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You're Believing addresses head on the issue of idols in our lives.  Wilson notes that "idolatry is when I look to something that does not have God's power to give me what only God has the power and authority to give (Wilson, Empty Promises, 5).  He then goes on to explain that we, including those in the church, are practicing idolatry on a daily basis not allowing us to achieve our purposes.  Wilson then chronicles the common idols of our day, including the warning signs that we are worshiping at a false idol.  These idols include; power, success, money, beauty and religion.  Wilson notes that humans are inclined to worship and that only by worshiping God can we achieve our true purpose of reflecting Him.  Wilson finishes with practical tips for connecting with God and throwing off false ones. 

I have to be honest, I went into this read expecting generic Christian book and a continuation on the themes in Wilson's first book Plan B.  Instead, I found all new content that was challenging and to be honest things we need to be saying to each other.  Wilson is honest and calling us out in the church on our issues.  Chapters on pleasing others for their approval and religion for the glorification of self will make many uncomfortable.  There was plenty in this book that I found challenging!  Wilson identifies the sin of idolatry in the midst of God's people and then gives us the prescription for overcoming it.  The text itself is very well written, easy to read, and has a nice balance of personal stories, Biblical references and secondary supporting sources.  Overall Empty Promises is a very challenging book attacking issues that are often blind spots in the church. 

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Thursday, March 15, 2012

God Gave Us Love

God Gave Us Love by Lisa Tawn Bergern with art by Laura J. Bryant introduces kids to God’s amazing love.  In this short board book Little Cub discusses with his Grandpa the nature of love; including love for family and others, like otters who can be tough to love.  Grandpa teaches Little Cub about the great depth of God’s love and how we in response should love those that are just not loveable, like our family, but also unlovable otters.  The lesson is told accompanying by charming illustrations of Little Cub and his family, and even otters.
This is a review of a board book edition of this title which have previously been printed in other formats.  It is packaged and targeted for children 0 to 3.  And honestly it does not work well.  For a board book, there are too many words on a page and too much content.  I’m pretty sure that the book has more words than this review, which is a bad recipe in my opinion for a board book.  And that content is well above the head of most of that age group.  Personally, I feel that this title would work much better with children closer to 5 than 3.  Personally, I would recommend buying a non-board version of this story and give it to children older than 3. 
Review Copy Provided by Waterbrook Press

Friday, March 9, 2012

Great Day Every Day by Max Lucado

Max Lucado in Great Day Every Day: Navigating Life’s Challenges with Promise and Purpose inspires his reader to make the most out of day the Lord has made.  The book is broken into three key sections, “Saturate Your Day in His Grace”, “Entrust Your Day to His Oversight”, and “Accept His Direction”.  In general the book focuses on reorientating one’s view of a day, not seeing it as either ordinary or a challenge to overcome.  Instead Lucado challenges the reader to see God’s hand in the day, and be able to make the most of every single day in completing the purposes that God has built them for.  He shows his readers how to overcome crisis, depression and fear in order to achieve these purposes by entrusting one’s self to the Lord.  By entrusting everyday to God, Lucado shows that one can overcome the challenges of the day to have purpose and direction.  The core chapters are all followed by a one page “Daily Compass” that helps the reader reflect on the content of the chapter.  There is also an extensive discussion guide for small groups.  Additionally, the text is followed by a 30 day devotional, which though not written by Lucado, follows the three themes of the book. 
Great Day Every Day is a reprint of Lucado’s earlier Every Day Deserves a Chance.  The main differences between the two versions is the “Daily Compass” was previously labeled “Daylifter”, the 30 day devotional is not present in the earlier version, and the packaging and art of Great Day Every Day has a more serious tone.  Lucado, as always, is a very good writer with chapters that are easy to read and comprehend.  I think this would be a decent resource for a daily devotional due to the shortness of the chapters, usually 5 to 9 pages, and the “Daylifter” wrap up.  Anyone who has read a Lucado book in the past will be familiar with this type of Lucado book and content.  This does appear to provide more for the customer dollar than the original printing with the addition of the 30 day devotional.  Overall Great Day Every Day is a typical Lucado offering which fans will enjoy. 
Review Copy Provided for Purposes of Review

Friday, February 3, 2012

Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall examines the use of humor in the writing of author C.S. Lewis.  Lindvall breaks humor into joy, fun, the joke proper, and satire and flippancy.  The author then explores in depth Lewis’ each use of humor in his writings ranging from fiction to theological.  Lindvall shows that Lewis clearly enjoyed humor and uses a wide range of humor in this works.
Within 30 pages I knew I would not enjoy this book.  Don’t get me wrong, Lindvall’s analysis is through, comprehensive and well researched.  Sadly, it’s a book about funny things that is not funny.  Instead it is dense and the reader plods through text instead of runs.  Part of this is probably my point of view.  I read this book for fun, it’s about humor.  This book should not be read for fun.  It should be read for a serious understanding of Lewis’ use of humor.  I would call this text literary criticism, not biography, and was not what I expected or hoped for.  If I was to be asked to write a criticism paper of Lewis, this would be a must use resource.  I should not have tried to read this book for “fun.”  And I should have listened to my buddy who tried to teach me about sunk cost!
Review Copy Provided for purpose of review

Monday, January 23, 2012

When Work & Family Collide by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley in When Work & Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family provides practical and theologically sound advice on balancing home and work life.  Stanley notes despite the negative connotations to the word “cheating” that everyone does it.  He reframes cheating as “choosing to give up one thing in hope of gaining something else of greater value (Stanley, 1)”  The book provides examples of the negative impact on the family lives of many well meaning people who worked hard but neglect sharing their time with their families.  Stanley examines the life of Daniel from the Old Testament to provide principles on making a stand for our families.   He notes that Daniel took the stand to not cheat on his God under the pressures of those who worshiped another God.  Daniel shows us a strategy to not cheat.  Daniel addressed the issue directly, asked for but did not demand change, and offered alternatives.  In the end Daniel was allowed to test his claim that he would benefit by not eating foods dedicated to false idols, a test that he decisively passed.
This is a reprint of Stanley’s Choosing to Cheat, a book that I have cited and used to help my decision making over the last few years even though I have never read it.  Stanley presents to us a message that we all need to examine, balance.  We all know that we can and do at times cheat our families and he does not shy away from this fact.  Let’s be honest many of us have cheated our families in order to support the work of the church.  Stanley shows us that we can balance our lives and that the benefit to us is better than any raise or work promotion.  This is a book that I think every parent, husband, wife, minister, breathing person should consider in determining how to best make decisions for their futures. 

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah