Tag Archives: Christian

Book Review: Second Chances by Max Lucado

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Second Chances by Max Lucado is the latest compilation of stories from one of the great modern Christian story-tellers. Max this time ties all of his stories together under the theme that “God gives second chances”. He breaks that down into stories of the rebellious, regret-riddled, prideful, mistake-makers, those with a faltering faith, and those who have hurt us.

The first story is familiar to those who know the New Testament – the parable of the Prodigal Son, but told from the perspective of the son. He tells the story of someone who suddenly realizes how far he’s fallen and decides that it’s time to stop making excuses and pretending that he’s better off than he really is. That is followed by the story of a mother seeking her daughter who had run away to the big city. Another similar story tells of a father desperately reaching out to his daughter who had run away with a boy. In each story, the person who left home had to overcome their pride and accept the love freely offered to them back home.

Those who have regrets are addressed next – missed opportunities, squandered dreams, or drowning in sin. Max weaves stories of how there are second chances offered to everyone who looks for them and accepts God’s offer of forgiveness and love. One story tells of people carrying around sacks of rubbish that represents their sins. The only way to get rid of them is to let someone else who doesn’t have any rubbish take it from them.

We read stories of Paul, Jonah, Peter, Moses, and many other prominent figures in the Bible. Each is told in Max’s style. Of course, that means that Max takes some creative liberties with the stories. They’re all based on the Bible or themes that we see in the Bible, though few should be taken as exact translations.

My take: If you’ve read Max Lucado before and enjoyed his works, you’ll like this one. If you aren’t familiar with his writings, this is a good representation of his work and a great read. For those struggling with forgiveness, the stories in Second Chances will be helpful. I really liked the stories and readings. They make for quick reads, but give you quite a bit to think about.

Disclaimer: I was given a preview copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: The Action Bible Handbook by David C. Cook

The Action Bible Handbook: A Dictionary of People, Places, and Things

The Action Bible Handbook by David C. Cook is the companion to The Action Bible. It’s a dictionary for those reading the Action Bible to help them understand the people, places, events, and beings discussed in the Bible. It’s arranged alphabetically by topic. The details are sufficient to help children understand a little more about what’s going on, giving details about the people, history, or events as appropriate. There are links provided to both The Action Bible and to the verses in other Bibles.

There are a handful of illustrations throughout the book. Because this book is designed as a dictionary more than something to sit down and read, the pictures are all well done, but limited to one every page or two. The definitions sometimes give several examples, such as the definition for Diseases. Other times, they just provide the basics, such as with Donkeys. The references sometimes are a bit broad, such as entire books of the Bible, but more often point to specific chapters or verses.

My Take: I like this as a Bible Dictionary resource for children. The amount of detail is just right for them to better understand the terms they’ll come across in the Bible. I do see a couple of things that felt missing to me. Maps just don’t seem to show up at all. For those of us in America, it’s hard to relate to the places as easily. Showing some of those locations and why that location is important would have been a nice to have in some cases. I was also a little disappointed that for as many Biblical names as the dictionary includes, there was no pronunciation guide for those names. That would be really helpful for times when we hit a really unfamiliar name. Overall, though, I liked the resource. Those issues are minor compared to the value the book does provide.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on anyone’s part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: The Action Bible Devotional by Jeremy Jones

The Action Bible Devotional: 52 Weeks of God-Inspired Adventure

The Action Bible Devotional by Jeremy Jones contains 52 devotions based on The Action Bible. Each devotional section contains a selection from The Action Bible in graphic novel format, a key verse, a look at how this applies to our lives today, some activities to bring it all together, some questions, and a place to write what you’ve learned. Finally there’s an application to share what you’ve learned with others or to focus on the bigger picture.

The verses come from the New Living Translation of the Bible. The book is well illustrated with a great graphic novel format to highlight the passages in the Bible. They tell enough of the story to capture the important points without becoming inappropriate for kids. This doesn’t replace actual Bible reading, but can be a great resource to do some weekly devotions as a family or even individually. The order of the devotional readings seems to be based on the traditional ordering of the books in the Bible, not the actual historical order.

My Take: I really like this format for devotional readings for kids. Even for adults, I think there’s enough to think about in the questions that it’s worth reading with your family. The stories tie in well with the devotional reading and I really like the way they are tied to our modern lives. I wouldn’t get into the habit of using The Action Bible or this devotional in place of regular Bible reading, but I can see this being a useful supplement to help with regular reading.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on anyone’s part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Totally Awesome, Super-Cool Bible Stories as Drawn by Nerdy Ned

Totally Awesome, Super-Cool Bible Stories as Drawn by Nerdy Ned

Totally Awesome, Super-Cool Bible Stories as Drawn by Nerdy Ned is targeted at late Elementary to early Middle-School kids to tell the stories of the Bible in an entertaining, but respectful way. Corey Adams works in some great illustrations along the way, provides the readers with spaces to doodle, and tells the major stories that make up the Bible. Corey throws in humor just enough to keep things interesting, but doesn’t go far off point. The language is definitely over the top, but not in a way that diminishes the meaning of the stories.

We start off in Genesis, seeing the Creation and Fall and working our way through Noah, Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We move through Exodus, making sure to include the Ten Commandments along the way. Judges touches on some of the main judges we know in that book – Deborah, Samson, and Gideon. We meet Ruth, Samuel, Saul, and David. We move through the major and minor prophets, spending a bit more time on Daniel than the others, but that works in this context.

Corey then moves to the New Testament, starting with John the Baptist and Jesus. He spends several chapters following the life and teachings of Jesus, summarizing them in an entertaining, but accurate, manner. However, when it comes to the final days of Jesus leading up to the cross, Corey takes a more somber tone. He writes of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus in a more serious tone with much less joking. That works well to emphasize this part is important. At the resurrection, things get a little more jovial because all is right again.

We end the New Testament section following Acts, Paul, and so on. Corey summarizes some of the major points Paul makes in his letters in one chapter, emphasizing their importance, though ending with a texting summary. He does say that he prefers Paul’s version. He finally ends with the Revelation when Jesus will come back.

My thoughts: Overall, I think this is a decent summary. Some parts may be a little too silly for my tastes, but I’m not the target audience. Some parts may not quite be summarized the way I would do so or perhaps emphasize a different point, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the way Corey tells the stories. This is definitely not a replacement for a real Bible, but could be useful to point out some of the stories in the Bible to those who find it hard to concentrate or read through the Bible. The spots to doodle could be useful, though some guidance on what might be good to doodle would have been appreciated – in the way that the Doodle books are popular now. It’s something I would consider letting my kid read, though with enough checking in to make sure they weren’t taking everything in here literally. I enjoyed the illustrations throughout and think they worked well to emphasize the main points of the stories.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Risk is Right by John Piper

Risk Is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than to Waste It

Risk is Right by John Piper is a short book outlining why Christians should not only be unafraid of risk, but take more risk in their lives. A lot of this material seems to build on John Piper’s earlier work, Don’t Waste Your Life. John Piper starts by reminding us of the calling we have as Christians – “to make much of Jesus Christ and his glorious, universe-encompassing kingdom.” He tells us that there are thousands of ways to magnify Christ in our lives and that all are important, but there’s also something about sacrificial love that stands out. This doesn’t necessarily imply dying for our faith, but it might and dying would be better than living a wasted life.

John tells us that risk is part of this life. We don’t know what will come next, whether one second from now or one year from now. We can speculate, but all of our plans could come to nothing through an accident, illness, change in circumstances, or any number of events we can’t know. Does that mean we should live in fear, not making any decisions? Of course not. Piper writes of Friedrich Bonhoeffer when he was confronted with the evils of Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer saw the church being taken over by the Nazi party and pled with others to support them rather than keep putting off the decision until it was too late.

We’re reminded of the faithful in the Old Testament who took risks that could have led to their death, but which they saw as the better choice. Esther going in to the king not knowing if she would live or die because she entered uninvited. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced with the choice of the fiery furnace or bowing to an idol. Both stories tell of people who knew being faithful to God was more important than their lives. Daniel 3:16-18 sums it up well, essentially saying that if God is able to deliver them then so be it, but if not, they still would not serve other gods or worship the idol.

Finally, John walks us through the New Testament, following Paul and others who risked much to serve God. Romans 8 reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We’re told that we are more than conquerors with some great word illustrations. We’re left with the exhortation to not waste our lives nor to be foolish in the risks we take, but to put our faith in God, follow Him, and live accordingly.

My Thoughts: Risk is Right is a pretty short read at around 45-50 pages of actual text. That does not diminish it in any way, though. I was very encouraged by the selections John Piper used in supporting his arguments. He reminds us that sometimes not playing it safe is the right thing to do in order to serve God. He doesn’t encourage us to take foolish or selfish risks, but does plead with us to trust God and act accordingly. As a Christian, I think this is definitely worth reading.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen L Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress: From John Bunyan's Classic

Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen L. Taylor is a retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. The language has been simplified and the characters adapted to be more accessible to children. The characters may still need a little explaining to younger children, but most make sense without too much assistance.  As in Pilgrim’s Progress, we start in the City of Destruction following “Little Christian” as he travels from the city to the Cross and finally to the Celestial City.

The story is told without any lessening of the characters. We still feel their struggles and see them stumble, be rescued, fall, and get up again. Little Christian and his companions slowly make their way towards the Celestial City, encountering many of the issues that a Christian has to face in their walk with Christ – doubt, despair, pride, worldly wisdom, and so on. Here those traits are introduced as people and are seen as a fatal flaw. At times Christian is tempted to follow or join them and always pays for those failings when he does in some way.

As with Pilgrim’s Progress, there are two stories – Little Christian and Christiana. Both follow the original story as faithfully as can be expected in an adaptation. My daughter was captivated by the story and couldn’t wait to see what the next trial or rescue would be. She was pleased when Christian finally made it to the Celestial City and entered into his rest.

My Thoughts: I think this is a pretty faithful re-telling of the story. The characters remain largely unchanged. The language is significantly more accessibly than the original, and it can be read by a late Elementary age child without too much assistance. I’d definitely be ready to help with concepts or ideas as they come up because this is sure to raise some questions. If you want a version of Pilgrim’s Progress that can be read more easily or by a child, I’d recommend this. Of course, remember that it’s an allegory and not meant to be taken literally at any point, but that’s part of the charm of the original and this version.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: A Hobbit Devotional by Ed Strauss

A Hobbit Devotional: Bilbo Baggins and the BibleA Hobbit Devotional by Ed Strauss is a collection of 60 devotional readings that tie in to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. While released to coincide with the movie release, I think that the devotional has something to offer to Christians who are also a fan of Tolkien’s work. Each reading ties loosely to selections from the Hobbit and proceed in the same order as the book. There’s a short quote from The Hobbit at the beginning and a devotional reading that ties Middle Earth to our life as Christians.

We open with a devotion on “blind spots” – tying in how the Hobbits lived their comfortable lives unaware of the dangers in the wider world with how Israel was content with what they had instead of following God and then with how we tend to just sit back and ignore bigger problems around us. We’re willing to give money so someone else deals with the problem, but rarely act ourselves. This leads to a comparison with how Gandalf shook up Bilbo’s life to how Jesus shakes up a Christian’s life in the next devotion. Ed Strauss works through many similar comparisons, some of which hit a little closer to home than others.

Overall, I’d recommend this devotional to fans of Tolkien’s work. It’s not a deep devotional by any means, but if you take a little time to ponder each reading they draw some great comparisons to Bilbo, the Bible, and our lives today. The book is definitely heavy on the descriptive text and summaries, but Ed Strauss works in Bible verses and quotes from Tolkien’s work well to tie them together. We’re reminded that Tolkien’s Middle Earth is not “Christian”, but see how Tolkien’s faith influenced his world and characters. I never felt that the comparisons between Bilbo and our faith were contrived and that is one of the main reasons I can recommend this book.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book with no expectations on the publisher’s part. I was not influenced or compensated for this review.

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Book Review: The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead

The Spirit Well (Bright Empires, #3)

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead is the 3rd book (out of 5 planned books) in Bright Empires series. Mr. Lawhead includes a short summary at the beginning of the book, but your understanding will be quite a bit better if you read the series in order, starting with The Skin Map and The Bone House. Once again, we enter the world where Ley Lines can take people from one time and place to another. We take up the adventures of Kit, Wilhelmina, Lord Burleigh, the Flinders-Petrie clan, and even meet some new ley-travelers as we go along the journey. Kit wanders out of his encounter with the Spirit Well into more modern times. Mina keeps searching for Kit and Cosimo only to meet Kit in very odd circumstances – before she (presumably a future version of herself) rescues Kit and Cosimo. We learn a little more of Lord Burleigh and how he started his ley-line travels. We also learn more about the descendants of Arthur Flinders-Petrie.

The most interesting people introduced in this book to me were Cassandra Clarke, an archaeologist who accidentally discovers ley travels, and the Zetetic Society. The Society is made up of other ley-line travelers who are dedicated to finding whatever Arthur Flinders-Petrie discovered in his adventures. They know that it’s something important and want to find it before Lord Burleigh. They know that Lord Burleigh would abuse the Spirit Well for his own purposes. The society recognizes a higher power and wants to serve the good purpose they detect in it. Stephen Lawhead isn’t always overt about the Christian themes he puts into his books and he doesn’t make a huge deal about it here, either, other than to note the “Habiru” in ancient Egypt and references to God when the Zetetic Society meets to induct Cassandra.

When I started reading this, I had assumed that this was the final book in the series so was a little surprised when I got to the end of the book. The ending was either a really ironic ending or it was a cliff-hanger. I was pleased to realize that there will be 5 books in this series and the 4th is scheduled to be published later in 2013.

My Take: I really enjoyed this book. While I felt that The Skin Map got off to a somewhat slow start, the series quickly picked up after that to make for an interesting read. We jump from character to character, time to time, and place to place, but the stories are all interconnected. The characters all have their own motivations for exploring the ley-lines and they all make sense in this context. I wouldn’t recommend this for most younger readers, but figure that late teenage years and up might do well with the series. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Mr. Lawhead’s writings or who enjoys time-travel fantasy.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions in this review are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.

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Book Review: In the Manger by Max Lucado

In the Manger by Max Lucado is a set of 25 excerpts from Max’s books that form a set of readings for use during the 25 days leading up to Christmas. Each reading includes a Bible verse and a selection from one of Max’s books and focuses on an aspect of Jesus. Each day ends with a short prayer to help the reader focus on God becoming man, celebrating the miracle of Jesus coming into the world as a man.

Max Lucado writes in an easy to understand set of stories. If you’ve read his works in the past, these will be familiar to you. If you haven’t and are looking for a short devotional to help you focus on the Christ of Christmas, this set of readings is not a bad one to get you started. I appreciated Max’s speculations on what the prayers of Mary and Joseph might have been for this little baby destined for things beyond what they can understand, though he does show some of what we know will come that Mary and Joseph likely didn’t.

I can appreciate this set of readings in preparation for Christmas. The short stories and thoughts are just deep enough to give us something to ponder but are easy enough for a child to read along with the family. As these are stories and thoughts from Max Lucado, I’d caution the reader to not treat them as what actually happened, but as one author’s take on the way people could respond to the way God chose to send a baby into the world as part of His plan. Max ends with a prayer that we see Jesus the way Thomas did, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” With that end in mind, Max does a good job helping us to take our thoughts off of the typical busy-ness and distractions of the season and reminding us of the wonders of Christmas.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book by the publisher with no expectations. This review was not influenced by the publisher in any way.

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