Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Storm by Jim Cymbala

           Perhaps you have heard of or have been one of those who survived a devastating natural storm in your life. Hurricanes like Sandy, Ike and Katrina have ravaged the United States in recent years and have created untold destruction in their aftermath. But in the world, sometimes these storms are easily identifiable and there are ways to prepare for the effects that we may encounter. Jim Cymbala's latest book "Storm" doesn't address natural weather patterns, but it does detail the signs that show a spiritual storm is likely to come on the church world, and he discusses the things that we can do to better prepare ourselves for it's arrival.
           For over four decades, Jim Cymbala has been the Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in the heart of New York. He has written extensively in the past and is no stranger to storms, both naturally and in the spiritual lives of the multitudes he has ministered to faithfully for years. I received the book "Storm" for free as part of the book review program for bloggers, available through Book Look at http://www.booklookbloggers.com/ . It was a good read and inspiring, particularly in the area of prayer.
           What can help us before the storm arrives? It is prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit which are the emphasis of the preparations that the author discusses. While building a case for the inevitable storm to come in the church world, Pastor Cymbala stresses the vital need to not only connect with God in this time, but the courage to believe that He can and will change things if His people will pray. Though he does address some of the current trends in the church that are leading up to the storm that is to come, he does not 'bash' the leaders in the church world. He merely exhorts them to focus on that which is Biblical and important in all of our churches everywhere.
           One interesting feature of the book is the testimonies interspersed in it's pages. Every few chapters will appear one chapter that is exclusively dedicated to telling the story of individuals in the Brooklyn Tabernacle who have lived through their own storms and have seen God change their lives for the better. We all may face different types of storms in our lives. But, leaders like Jim Cymbala can help us to prepare ourselves for their arrival and equip us to still be standing tall when their winds have died down for good.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be the Message by Kerry and Chris Shook

          Pleasantly surprised. That's the way I would describe my reaction to the new book by Kerry and Chris Shook, titled, "Be the Message". This book was offered to me for free through the book review program for bloggers, available at http://www.bloggingforbooks.org from the Crown Publishing Group. I am not sure what I expected when I first received it, but it was an interesting read that kept me going until I finished it. This was a noteworthy contribution from Kerry and Chris Shook, who Pastor the Woodlands church, in the Houston, Texas area of the United States.
        What makes this book excellent is it's basic premise that I could sum up in two words "Do Something". Whereas many Christian books can focus either entirely on scripture, or in today's culture can be caught up with the emotional, family, vocational and other issues, this book is a clarion call to make a difference on the world we live in today. It is simple, practical and yet motivational in it's approach, with out being a hyped up sales pitch to jump on the trail of the latest fad.
         One of the ideas contained in the pages is the concept that we embody Jesus Christ on the earth. We are the visible expression of what He is like to others. Opening the book as a Pastor stating how tired he is of more sermons, Kerry launches into an exhortation to Christians to begin putting into practice all that they have learned in church and from Christian leaders. What follows are areas these thoughts apply to and illustrations that paint a picture of how each one of us can be effective in reaching out beyond our comfort zones. Just as a note, though they wrote the book together, they don't usually distinguish which one of them is speaking unless they deemed it necessary,
          The book has suggestions at the end of each chapter that will both challenge you to listen to God prompting you on how to be a blessing, as well as practical ideas to make those promptings a reality. If you are wanting to make a difference around you, this will be a helpful resource in accomplishing that goal. I am glad I chose this work and look forward to reading more material from this great couple in the future.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt

                    There are some stories which need to be told simply because of the impact that was felt by the hero's contribution to society. The life of David Livingstone most surely is a tale worth rehearsing to countless generations to come in the future. Jay Milbrandt, a professor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota has penned a new work about Dr. Livingstone's life called "The Daring Heart of David Livingstone" and I was given this book for free to review as a part of the book review program for bloggers, available at http://www.booklookbloggers.com/ .
                    First, in case you are not familiar with David Livingstone's story, he is the British explorer who was a primary influence in the abolition of the East Africa' slave trade in the late 1800s. This biography chooses to focus on the expeditions which were paramount to achieving that end, rather than focus on the details of his childhood and early life experiences. The book provides an examination of the journeys that became the impetus for his quest to see the slave trade stopped in East Africa. Though, as you will read, Dr. Livingstone set out to discover the source of the Nile and did not succeed, he became burdened by the conditions slave trading had created in East Africa, and had a God given passion to see it stopped.
                    Each chapter begins with a map of the part of the journey discussed in that section, along with how long from that it would be until the East Africa slave trade ended, and the amount of slaves affected at that time. It details the voyages to achieve that end, and you may find yourself surprised by how 'human' Dr. Livingstone was, as many who travelled with him left due to conflicts with his personality and leadership abilities. Though the writer does document some of the spiritual aspects of Dr. Livingstone's life, I found it to be a little weak on emphasizing the commitment of his faith in the exploration process.
                     God uses men and women who are flawed and imperfect to accomplish great things. David Livingstone never lived to see the East Africa slave trade abolished or to ever discover the source of the Nile River.  But, what he did was touch the lives of an untold number of people, both those he came in contact with and those who would be freed from the tyranny of slavery through his relentless efforts to undo injustice. From this book and from Dr. Livingstone's life, may you take away the challenge to do great things, the courage to attempt the impossible and the commitment to not give up in the face of persistent opposition.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Abraham by Charles Swindoll

               Charles Swindoll has been ministering and writing for many decades of his life. Among the works that he has penned, several of them are about specific characters from the Bible. One of his most recent works on "Abraham" was given to me for free through the book review program for bloggers, available at www.tyndaleblognetwork.com. After reading it recently, I was made more aware of the details of Abraham's life that, though I knew them before, were brought into clearer focus through this literary work.
               While not discussing every piece of Abraham's life with overdone inspection, the book highlights the stories that are found primarily in the pages of Genesis, reconstructing a chronological history of this great patriarch of faith. The text of scripture is covered a section at a time, with applications to our lives found at the end of each chapter. Dealing with a variety of topics throughout the narrative, including failure, lying and death, there is a considerable amount of information relating to many areas of life that we will encounter on our journey on this earth.
               One of the things I like about Dr. Swindoll, and it is no exception in this book, is his use of illustrations in his material. He pulls from a variety of sources, with works footnoted and cited at the end. But, while this was one of the positives of the book, I found one of the drawbacks to be some of the conclusions he drew from the text of scripture. On occasions, I felt that he was reading into the verses and pulling out conclusions that were not specifically stated. I still found the book pleasant but not as compelling of a read as I would have initially thought.
               Still, this work can be a useful resource for someone wanting to learn more about scripture in general and the life of Abraham in particular. I was glad to see it available and hope that Dr. Swindoll will continue to write more scriptural works about characters and even books of the Bible, so that future generations may learn the lessons of the scriptures.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Heavem, Hell and Life After Death by Kay Arthur


              Bible teacher Kay Arthur, the founder of precepts Ministries, has been faithfully expounding the truths found in the scriptures for decades, consistently, day in and day out. She has authored numerous books previously and has provided Bible study resources on dozens of topics. Through the free book program for bloggers, available through available at www.booklookbloggers.com , I received a complimentary copy  of Kay's new Bible study resource "Heave, Hell and Life After Death" for review. It was a simple, but pleasant read for me.
              The book is part of a series of 40 minute Bible study tools that Precepts Ministries offers. It is approximately 120 pages, and is divided into six sections. Each section addresses a particular question, such as "Why do we have to die?", "Can we live again after death?" and others. Within the topics lessons, there are things to discuss and to observe. Anyone familiar with Kay's method of Inductive Bible Study will recognize the circles, underlines and symbols she uses for marking up scripture passages. And one of the features I like about this tool is the scriptures verses that are in the column found to the side of each page, so that you don't have to look them up to study them.
              Though the book can be used by anyone, it addresses the leader of  a small group in the pages, to guide in the process. Ideal for either a group study or individual efforts, the book will help anyone who has questions about heaven, hell and the afterlife. I will caution, however, that to get the most out of this resource, you have to do what she recommends. In other words, if you just read it as a book, and don't do the lessons, you may not find it as enjoyable.
              Bible study is important, especially in the culture we live in, which is quick to question everything and to promote unscriptural viewpoints. I hope that Kay and her staff will continue to produce resources that help the body of Christ and unbelievers everywhere to learn the Bible. If you choose to use it, I believe it can aid you in growing in your knowledge of God and His word.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Case for Christ - student edition by Lee Strobel

                 The field of 'Apologetics' might sound to someone unfamiliar with the term as though one would be studying how to apologize. However,  to followers of Jesus Christ, this discipline is a look into how to effectively give a defense of the Christian faith. One of the more well known teachers of Christian apologetics is a former writer for the Chicago Tribune, an author by the name of Lee Strobel. Lee was converted to Christ while researching the facts of the Christian faith many years ago and wrote a book for adults that became a best seller called, 'The Case for Christ'. And my task, recently, was to delve into the student edition of 'The Case for Christ', given to me free of charge by the program for bloggers at http:// www.booklookbloggers.com/blogger/resources/9780310745648.
                  As a student edition of it's name sake, this version condenses much of the material examined in the original edition. The book is about 120 pages and is divided into three major sections, asking who Jesus is, how reliable was the information about Him and can a dead man be raised back to life. The nine chapters tackle each of these subjects and present a synopsis version of the material. It is filled with many age appropriate illustrations and does a good job of tackling the questions, giving the author's own personal journey of how he approached the subjects when he first researched them decades earlier.
                  Honestly, the book is full of good information that is very important, but I personally did not find it engaging my attention enough. Perhaps this is because I am not a teen or twenty-something or maybe it is due to my familiarity with much of the material already. Either way, I was not as compelled as I have been by other apologetics books I have read previously.
                  In spite of this, if you have a teen or college student, or know of one, who has questions about the Christian faith or wants to learn how to defend their own faith, this is a good resource to start them with in their quest. The length and style make it a quick read and it is formatted to be used in small, discussion based groups (with other resources available for that purpose). Everyone, at one time or another, has had some questions about why Christians believe what they do. This is a tool that can be used to answer those questions and to point others to faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God, the Savior of the world.