Sunday, April 29, 2018

Embraced - Lysa TerKeurst

Subtitled “100 Devotions to Know God is Holding You Close”, this book had some excellent devotionals. Among my favorites were ones which listed key thoughts, such as one on humility, which made the points that God is our provider, providing what we need but not always what we want, and providing what protects our hearts. Her devotionals seemed aimed at someone getting used to a walk with God rather than at those who have matured in their faith. At times she belabored points, and at times her self-consciousness (such as the devotional where she was envious of the shape and size of another woman’s legs) was more than I could take. But I am not a young woman, so a young woman’s perspective and concerns are no longer mine. The author writes in a clear, straightforward way. After recently reading some writings of other young women, I found TerKeurst’s style refreshing. She said what she meant and meant what she said without using phrasing that sounded self-impressed. I like the fact that I think her writing will stand the test of time. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Way of Abundance - Ann Voskamp

I am of a generation that was taught to write in keeping with certain rules, where a sentence such as “So my grandma Ruth, she told me . . .” would come back with “, she” crossed out in red. Words such as “realest” and “realer” were unacceptable as replacements for “most real” or “more real,” if they were acceptable at all, because how can “real” have degrees? It is or it isn’t. And one did not invent words such as “givenness”, especially when meanings are not supplied but need to be inferred. Writing was to be clear and unambiguous, or it was not good writing. While Voskamp’s more recent writings are much improved over the tortuous One Thousand Gifts, the same thread of intensity over everyday things and events continues. This paragraph on page 29 is typical: “I put the porcelain pitcher on the barn board shelf by the farm table. All of us in a heart-breaking world, we are the fellowship of the broken like that painting of Jesus over the table. Over all of us is the image of the wounded God, the God who breaks open and bleeds with us.” This paragraph appears on page 162, in a chapter on doing for others: “And there’s an answer that lives cruciform, broken and given like bread, a broken way forward through brokenness, that gives grace forward, that gives forward, that chooses to make its life about being a gift, that moves dreams and hopes and abundant wholeness forward.” If this kind of repetitious, pseudo-philosophical, pseudo-wise, pseudo-authentic writing is your thing, then you will love this book, but be warned that it plows over the same tired theme repeatedly, making the point that giving and living by grace are essential. Many chapters bear titles such as Decisive Givenness, Vulnerable Givenness, Breaking Brokenness, Sacrificial Givenness, Held Brokenness, Living Givenness, Yielding into Givenness, Unashamed Brokenness, Sacrificial Givenness, Grieving Brokenness, Zacchaeus Brokenness, Crisis Givenness, “If Only” Brokenness, Koinonia Brokenness, Patient Brokenness, and Esther Givenness, as if adjectives and nouns were laid out in two lists and then joined willy-nilly. The writing seemed to me to follow that same randomness, matching events in the author’s life with some overblown application. The chapter about locking her keys in a vehicle and waiting for a spare key to be delivered (p. 194) is described as a near-crisis with “Patient Brokenness” as the lesson: “Passion has much less to do with elation and much more to do with patience. Passion embraces suffering because there’s no other way to embrace love. Love isn’t about feeling good about others; love is ultimately being willing to suffer for others.” So if locking your keys in your vehicle qualifies in your life as suffering (by contrast, previous generations would have considered this a mere inconvenience and a consequence of carelessness), this is the book for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer a straightforward writer who says what she means and means what she says, with events shrunk down to scale and points made succinctly, then look elsewhere. Because her writing is so popular, I gave Voskamp’s work another shot, in hopes it had calmed down from that self-impressed silliness of her earlier work. Never again: I'm not afraid to say it: The Emperor has no clothes. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Can Only Imagine - Bart Millard

The back story of the famous song is written by the lead singer/songwriter of MercyMe. It begins as a story of early trauma, abuse and neglect, resulting in a wounded, damaged adolescent. Bart Millard’s father, an intimidating, severe figure in Bart’s life for many years, was diagnosed with cancer, which wrought a spiritual transformation that was life changing for both of them. A relationship characterized by pride and fear softened into one of repentance, honesty and openness. Bart says his father went from being a monster to being his example in all things. Bart’s father died in Bart’s senior year of high school, but by then, a firm foundation had been constructed for Bart which would guide him all his life. Bart tells the story of the formation of MercyMe, a band that self-promoted for many years, ministering mostly through youth worship events, including conferences and camps. Living on a shoestring, the band worked together to cover all the bases necessary to keep itself going. This is a fascinating story of the group’s slow success, living on the edges of contemporary Christian music. Bart’s paternal grandmother, a great influence in Bart’s life, was the inspiration for both the band’s name (“Mercy me!” she once said. “Get a real job!”) and the famous song. After Bart’s father died, she said, “Bart, I can only imagine what Bub must be seeing right now.” Her words percolated in Bart for many years before he wrote, in 10 minutes in the middle of the night, the words to the now-famous song. The tale of how the song wove itself into the band’s history and gradually skyrocketed to fame, taking the band along with it, is a fairly simple story, part of the great charm of this very readable book, told simply and engagingly. A bonus is the sweet story of Bart and his wife, Shannon, who knew at 13 that she would marry Bart. The reader senses the great blessing these two have been to each other and how Shannon’s family helped preserve Bart through his traumatic childhood. Everyone will enjoy this book, although two groups of people may struggle emotionally with the first third of the book: those who have not been exposed to childhood trauma and those who have. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Finish First - Scott Hamilton

This is the first book by this author that I have read. I found it enjoyable and challenging. The author combines his own life story with the lessons he has learned about perseverance, and it makes for a personalized aim that encourages the reader to find their own challenges, and to pursue and persist. This would be a good resource for anyone who feels stuck, as it talks about such things as the great value of failure, of editing others' criticisms, and of the importance of habits. While the book had some good points, I found it repetitious; it would have made a fine magazine article but was overly long as a book. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Shaken by Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow wrote this book to both tell his football story and to encourage readers when life goes awry. I found Tim’s story interesting and gained an understanding about how unstable the life of a professional athlete can be. Tim talks about how to assure and reassure yourself as well as how to move forward when disappointed. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Tim Tebow. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

When Is It Right to Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic for more than 50 years. She is sympathetic to the physical, emotional, social and spiritual struggles of those who are challenged to have a full life. This book is Tada’s answer to the right-to-die movement, and she writes thoroughly, considering the movement itself. One of her unique contributions to the topic are her beliefs about how euthanasia affects others, self, Satan and God. I understood the author to say she believes that only when death is actively approaching without hope of reversal is it right to withhold life-sustaining measures. This was a thought-provoking work with which I happen to not agree, as I am of the opinion that science has outpaced ethics; just because a person can be kept alive does not mean they should be. The last few decades have challenged medical ethics with mind-bending dilemmas in a way they have not been challenged for millennia. Artificial means of sustaining life now call for reason and emotion to make decisions that bodies alone used to make, which makes it necessary for books such as this one to be written. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How Healing Works by Wayne Jonas, MD

Although the word “holistic” is not used by the author, that is his approach. Jonas begins in Section 1, Rethinking Healing, by describing how he learned that a solely Western approach to medicine garners poor results, often little better than a placebo might. Using a number of case studies, the author describes in Section 2 The Dimensions of Healing, which include the presence and comfort of family and home, acting right (choosing beneficial behavior), loving deeply and finding (or attaching) meaning (to the health situation). In Section 3, Your Healing Journey, are helpful approaches addressing body, behavior, social and spiritual aspects of healing by focusing on inner, interpersonal, behavioral and external factors including physical environment, the behavioral dimension, social/emotional needs and mind/spirit connection. I found Sections 1 and 2 to be overly long, with many points belabored by case studies described in great detail. For example, the first 15-page chapter includes four case studies occupying 12.5 pages, which I found far exceeded my interest. Repeatedly the author states how the placebo effect can account for close to 80% of medical successes until I wanted to scream, “I GET IT!” It is unfortunate that so much of the book was devoted to case studies, which could have been summarized in a paragraph or two; the text really bogged down in those first two sections. Section 3, though, was worth the price of admission, being both helpful and interesting. Approaching a patient as a whole person makes sense, and having a medical doctor take this approach was refreshing. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.