Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Watch for the Light - Readings for Advent and Christmas

Watch for the Light - Readings for Advent and Christmas, is a beautiful collection of readings filled with spiritual insight and wisdom. Selections begin on November 24 and continue through January 8 providing the reader with an entire season of reflection up to and preceding the Advent season. Some of the authors included in the collection include Thomas Merton, Phil Yancy, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many other well known Christian writers.

I was extremely excited to receive this book for review. Advent is always an important time in my home as we prepare for our Christmas celebrations. As I began reading the daily selections, my heart was filled to overflowing. It was evident each selection was carefully chosen and placed in the book to provide the reader with spiritual food for thought.

One selection I particularly enjoyed was written by William Willimon. Willimon begins his article by talking about the difficulty most of us have in being able to accept gifts or compliments. It's not natural and we feel awkward, he implies. He says we're better at being givers and we "enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That's one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity." He says, "We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us. Everyone gives on Christmas, event the stingiest among us, even the Ebeneezer Scrooges." The reason Willimon thinks we're better givers than receivers is because we're proud and arrogant people. But, says William Willimon, as he talks about the biblical account of the first Christmas, "...we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are." He explains what God wanted to do for us was " strange, so beyond the bounds of human effort and striving, that God must resort to utterly unnatural, supernatural means. It tells of an unimaginable gift from a stranger, a God whom we hardly even knew. This strange story tell us how to be receivers." Willimon says God often loves us by giving us gifts we didn't think we needed and these gifts help transform us into people we don't necessarily wish to be. He uses the example of King Ahaz and how Isaiah, the prophet, is begging Ahaz to trust in God's promises to Israel instead of placing his trust in an alliance with Syria. Isaiah warns Ahaz and tells him God is going to give him a sign, a baby. Surely this was not what Ahaz expected as a sign from a mighty God, but it's the sign God gives. It is at this point, Willimon says, "Then this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are - empty handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby."  As I read William Willimon's article, I realized his article caused me to focus on Christ Himself. Jesus, the greatest gift of all, was given to all of humankind by God. He didn't expect anything from us in return, but gave His gift freely. The only requirement was that we be ready to receive.

Watch for the Light - Readings for Advent and Christmas is a powerful book filled with a variety of beautiful readings. The main purpose of the collection, according to the Editors, was to encourage a rediscovery of Advent and point the reader toward a season of inward preparation. The editors also want us to know "Advent marks something momentous: God's coming into our mist. That coming is not just something that happened in the past. It is a recurring possibility here and now. And thus Advent is not merely a commemorative event or an anniversary, but a yearly opportunity for us to consider the future, second Advent - the promised coming of God's kingdom on earth."

Thanks to Plough Publishing for allowing me the privilege of reviewing this book in exchange for my honest review. It was my pleasure to read this collection and provide a positive review however I was in no way encouraged to do so.

To purchase the book, click this link.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Gospel in George MacDonald

The Gospel in George MacDonald is a beautiful collection of works from George MacDonald’s many novels, fairy tales, and spiritual writings, This compilation was edited by Marianne Wright. These specific selections were dedicated to Marianne’s grandfather. Marianne’s grandfather was a devoted fan of George MacDonald (but never met him or knew him).  Wright’s collection of MacDonald’s works brings together some of the most profound and lasting selections from his long career. Ms. Wright’s goal, in publishing this book, was to bring together passages from MacDonald’s writings “that best illuminate the good news of Jesus, which was the constant theme and the joy of his life.”

George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and had great influence on many of well known authors including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton. Mr. MacDonald dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and used his love of writing to accomplish this goal. He once said, “People find great fault with me – that I turn my stories into sermons. They forget that I have a Master to serve before I can wait upon the public.”

Mr. MacDonald lived a life of suffering. He dealt with many lung problems most of his life. English winters were hard and several of his children died from tuberculosis. In order to provide a healthier environment for his family, George moved them to Italy where he lived for twenty years. During this time, he wrote over twenty two books. A short while later, MacDonald and his family moved to England. George and his wife, Louisa, celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and the following year, his wife died. After his wife’s death, MacDonald rarely spoke but spent his days longing for the next life.

George MacDonald had a beautiful and clear understanding of the gospel of Christ. It impacted him so profoundly he felt the need to share his faith daily. Besides his personal faith in God, frequent themes found in his writing include discipleship, and conscience. He firmly believed God uses events of each day to teach and lead his followers. He called it “the holy present.”

I found this collection of his works intriguing. Even though I attended seminary and have a degree in Christian ministry, I had not heard of George MacDonald before reading this book. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis helped bring the works of MacDonald the recognition he so well deserved. Without their influence, perhaps his works would still be unknown to many today.

I particularly enjoyed reading an excerpt from his novel Lilith. George MacDonald’s brilliant use of imagery allowed me to feel as if I were standing in the midst of the dense forest searching my soul.

I would recommend this collection of works to anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of George MacDonald’s Christian worldview. Although he is not as well-known as C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, his works paved the way for them and gave them freedom to delve into the same type of writing.

I would like to thank Plough Publishing for giving me an opportunity to review this book. I was not encouraged to give a positive review however it is my pleasure to do so.

Follow this link to purchase The Gospel in George MacDonald

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

NIV Holy Bible for Girls - Journal Edition (book review)

The beautiful cover
The new NIV Holy Bible for girls - Journal Edition, is a beautiful, hardcover Bible. With a modern floral design on the cover, it immediately draws the reader in and beckons creativity to begin. Inside the front cover is a special presentation page perfect for gift giving.

This Bible is designed to encourage the reader to journal thoughts and notes along the sides of each page in spacious lined margins. With the increased popularity of Bible journaling, the NIV Holy Bible for Girls, is the perfect starting place for those just getting beginning this special spiritual discipline. Girls of all ages will enjoy this pretty Bible, but most especially those aged 8-18.  The New International Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible is easy to read and understand and will allow readers to instantly grasp the concept of God's Holy Word.

Features of the Bible include:

  • Beautifully designed hard cover
  • Presentation page
  • How to Use This Bible instruction page
  • Elastic closure strap
  • Wide lined margins for journaling, notes, or drawing
  • Thicker paper perfect for use with markers and pens
  • Ribbon marker
  • Easy to read font
  • Weights and Measures chart
  • The presentation page
  • Easy to understand New International Version
I have an 8 year old granddaughter and I allowed her to preview the NIV Holy Bible for Girls with me. The first things she said when she picked up the Bible was "this is so pretty!" As I watched her reaction while flipping through the pages, I knew she wanted one of these Bibles for her very own. I explained the lined areas in the margins were perfect for writing special notes or words God impressed upon your heart. She was thrilled to know it was okay to write in a Bible and wanted to know more about Bible journaling. 

The NIV Holy Bible for Girls would make a wonderful gift that would be treasured for many years to come. I am very impressed with the attention to detail and the quality of this beautiful Bible. 

I would like to thank Handlebar Publishing for allowing me the opportunity to review this Bible in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not encouraged to give a positive review although it is my pleasure to do so!

All the Pretty Things - a book review

Edie Wadsworth, author of All the Pretty Things, writes a heartfelt memoir about growing up in Appalachia. The daughter of a broken family, Ms. Wadsworth candidly shares her story of heartbreak and hope. 

The story begins as Edie allows us to enter into her childhood growing up in the poorest part of the Tennessee foothills. As a young girl, Edie learns quickly that life is full of disappointments and heartache. Not only does she struggle with having her physical needs met, she also struggles with having her emotional needs met. Edie lives with her father in a dilapidated trailer park. Her father, a heavy drinker, often neglects the needs of Edie and her sister. Although Edie's father is often drunk, he tries to make light of the situation finding ways to feed Edie with laughter. But the laughter and silliness don't do the trick. Edie needs more. 

When their trailer home burns down, Edie and her family move in with Edie's grandmother. The extended family are as poor as Edie and her father but together, they pool resources and manage to eek out a living. Edie is constantly searching for the love she so desperately needs and seeks it from not only her father but also her estranged mother. Neither of her parents are able to give Edie what she needs but she clings to hope. 

As the story progresses, we see Edie drawing us more deeply into her story of vulnerability. The deep wounds created by unmet needs turn Edie from relying on her Earthly father to looking toward her Heavenly Father. 

I found this book challenging to read as I reached the middle section. I grew tired of reading the same type scenarios without much action or story line. The author writes well and this is an actual memoir so perhaps I was expecting too much. In any event, I think those who enjoy reading about true life stories in poverty stricken areas of the Appalachians might find this book enjoyable. 

I would like to thank Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Beyond Suffering Bible - book review

It was a bright and beautiful day. My granddaughter had come to visit. At three years of age, her favorite thing to do is play and oh, how she loves to be outdoors. Since I'm her favorite playmate, I never mind when her little hand reaches out for mine begging me to join her in a game of tossing the ball. As we head outside, her tiny laughter melts my heart. We tossed the ball back and forth for several minutes. Her eye hand coordination hasn't developed fully yet so she missed the ball often. Though she didn't mind, she found it funny to ask me to retrieve the ball whenever she missed. Being a good grandmother, I obeyed her gentle commands and chased after the rogue ball. This toss and miss game continued and we reveled in laughter. Once more, she threw the ball my way and it skittered down a leaf strewn path. I ran to gather the ball in my arms and in a split second, found myself on the ground. There had been a hole and I'd found it. As I lay upon the cold ground, my daughter came running over to see if I was okay. I sat up and told her I didn't know. I needed to sit there a few minutes and gather my wits about me. A few minutes passed and I thought I was probably just suffering hurt pride, but when I tried to stand, I felt a searing pain in my left wrist. It was abnormally shaped and swelling rapidly. At my daughter's insistence, we went to the doctor. After having my wrist x-rayed and examined, the verdict was in - a fractured wrist.

At close to sixty years of age, I'm no spring chicken. The next few days were filled with a throbbing pain. I quickly found myself unable to do the most menial tasks. It was frustrating to be suffering and I didn't like it one bit.

Later that day, the mail came. I'd received a package. I could tell from the size and shape that it was a book. Trying to open the package with one hand was difficult, but I managed. Inside I found a new Bible. As I pulled out the book, I read the title, "The Beyond Suffering Bible." I had to laugh! God's timing is always perfect. I slipped it out of the casing and flipped it open. The first page I came to was a beautiful devotional written about Joseph. I read it carefully and was impressed with the tender way it was written. I could imagine Joseph sitting in a dungeon year after year wondering if he'd been forgotten. But as I read the devotional, I was reminded that even in the midst of difficult circumstances, God is faithful. He does not forget us or fail to see our suffering. What a beautiful reminder as I glanced down at my throbbing wrist. Though my injury in now way compared to all Joseph experienced, it was still important to me. It impacted my life and caused me to struggle.

I continued to look through the Bible. It was too heavy to hold with only one arm, so I lay it on the table. I noticed several things about the Bible. Not only did it have devotionals throughout, it also had connection points, little reminders of how God works in our own lives. They contained practical solutions and helpful hint along with Scripture application. Profiles on important Biblical characters were included and were written to help readers grasp details about these individuals. I also noticed at the beginning of each book of the Bible, an introduction was given. These introductions included important information and contained themes related to suffering and disability.

Joni Earekson Tada has been one of my role models for some time. Due to an unfortunate diving accident, Joni was left a paraplegic at a young age. Through her suffering, Joni developed a beautiful relationship with Christ. Years of pain and physical disability caused her faith to grow stronger day by day. She has used her life to glorify God and her ministry has helped others learn to look to Christ for their strength. Joni was the perfect person to compile the beautiful Beyond Suffering Bible. She knows first hand what a life of suffering involves. (You can watch a short video of Joni here.)

My broken wrist has caused me to be unable to blog or write for the past few weeks. These are two of my favorite things to do. Since I'd committed to write reviews for several Christian companies, I had no idea how I would keep those commitments. I surely didn't feel like typing with one hand. It would have been too difficult. But I found a way to honor my commitment and was very grateful. By using a voice to text typing program, I completed today's book review. I have many more weeks of being incapacitated as my wrist heals. Thankfully, the pain has eased some but still affects my daily tasks. As I focus on all the things I can't do because of my wrist, I'm reminded, through the devotionals in the Beyond Suffering Bible, that often God uses trials and suffering to teach us.

I'm thankful I received this Bible at the perfect time! God used it to minister to me and I'm sure He will use it to minister to you as well. What a perfect gift this book would make for anyone dealing with pain or injury. It would also be a wonderful reference for those who are either just coming out of a season of suffering or just entering one.

I would like to thank Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary copy of the Beyond Suffering Bible and for giving me the opportunity to review it for them. It was my pleasure and I was in no way encouraged to write a positive review.

The Beyond Suffering Bible is written in the New Living Translation which makes it very easy to read and understand.

Learn more about the Beyond Suffering Bible here

Joni Earekson Tada talks about the Beyond Suffering Bible here