Dug Down Deep – a book review

Dug Down Deep.jpgAbout the Book –

What will you build your life on?

With startling transparency, Joshua Harris shares how we can rediscover the relevance and power of Christian truth. This is book shows a young man who rose quickly to success in the Christian evangelical world before he realized his spirituality lacked a foundation—it rested more on tradition and morality than on an informed knowledge of God.

For the indifferent or spiritually numb, Harris’s humorous and engaging reflections on Christian beliefs show that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars—it is for anyone who longs to know the living Jesus Christ. As Harris writes, “I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.”

Whether you are just exploring Christianity or you are a veteran believer finding yourself overly familiar and cold-hearted, Dug Down Deep will help you rediscover the timeless truths of Scripture. As Harris challenges you to root your faith and feelings about God in the person, work, and words of Jesus, he answers questions such as:

What is God like and how does he speak to me?What difference does it make that Jesus was both human and divine?How does Jesus’s death on the cross pay for my sins?Who is the Holy Spirit and how does he work in my life?

With grace and wisdom, Harris will inspire you to revel in the truth that has captured his own mind and heart. He will ask you to dig deep into a faith so solid you can build your life on it. He will point you to something to believe in again.

About the Author – joshua harris.gif

Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of local churches. A passionate speaker with a gift for making theological truth easy to understand, Joshua is perhaps best known for his runaway bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which he wrote at the age of twenty-one. His later books include Boy Meets Girl, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is), and Stop Dating the Church. The founder of the NEXT conferences for young adults, Joshua is committed to seeing the gospel transferred to a new generation of Christians. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

My Review –

It seems like I’m always just a bit too late with getting my ideas out into the real world. If I were going to write a book about theology, a book about the basic essentials of the Christian faith, a book that would be readable my anybody in my congregation – this would be that book. Josh Harris has taken the core beliefs of the faith and put them into a very readable form. I don’t believe he’s “dumbed down” these doctrines. Rather, he’s put them into the language of most of the people of my congregation.

Harris also does a very good job of incorporating these key doctrinal concepts into real life, something for which I am very thankful. When I first began my “trek” into discovering the doctrines of grace, I’m sure I made my theology seem very academic. I’m hoping that over the years, I’ve softened the seminary approach and developed a much more pastoral approach to helping people see that we “do” theology every day of our lives. This is what Josh Harris has done in this book. He takes you along with him as he reminisces about this same process of discovery. Having served as a pastor for several years now, he too has learned that pastoral aspect of making sure what you preach moves into the realm of real living. I especially enjoyed the chapters, “Ripping, Burning and Eating” (a chapter all about the doctrine of Scripture) and “God With A Bellybutton” (solid, plain teaching on the reality of the incarnation).

Out of this entire book, I think the final chapter, “Humble Orthodoxy,” defines what Harris is doing here. He could have written (or been aided by another author) a book that lays out the doctrines of grace from a Calvinistic point of view, thumbed his nose at everyone and said, “There, this is the truth. Take it or leave it.” But that’s not Harris (at least, as I know him through all I’ve read of him and from him). I think Jesus would be pleased with this effort – Josh has captured the truth, presented it well, done it all the while conveying a sense of love that he wants you to experience as you follow Christ, and he’s done it humbly. Well done, Pastor Harris. Well done.

This book may be purchased online at:

Waterbrook Multnomah

or, their parent company,

Random House

This book was provided for review by Waterbrook Multnomah.

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Closer: Devotions to Draw Couples Together

About the Book:

closer.jpegThe Love Dare challenged individuals to love their spouse more. Quiet Conversations for Couples shows wives and husbands how to grow that love together. Introduced with Scripture verses and engaging stories, these 52 devotionals will inspire couples to draw closer through faith conversations–those quiet talks so vital for emotional and spiritual intimacy in a marriage. Guided, practical action steps round out each reading.

About the Authors:

Burns_Jim1_Feb09.jpgJim Burns – Jim Burns founded the ministry of HomeWord in 1985 with the goal of bringing help and hope to struggling families. As host of the national radio broadcast HomeWord with Jim Burns, Jim’s passion is to build God-honoring families through communicating practical truths that will enable adults and young people alike to live out their Christian faith. In addition to the radio program, Jim speaks to thousands around the world each year through seminars and conferences. He is also senior director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University and an award-winning author, whose books include Creating an Intimate Marriage, Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality and Confident Parenting. He has been featured through numerous media outlets including CNN, ABC, Focus on the Family, and Library Journal. Jim and his wife, Cathy, have three grown daughters and live in Southern California. Visit http://www.homeword.com.

Burns_Cathy.jpgCathy Burns – Cathy and Jim Burns have been married for over thirty years. They have the privilege to speak to couples each year through conferences on “Creating an Intimate Marriage” and Growing Together Spiritually.” Cathy is also a teacher at a Christian school for kids with learning disabilities.

My Review of the book:

This was a relaxing book to read… for review purposes! If Ann and I were going to work through it, over the course of a year (which we just might this upcoming year), it would be refreshing, fun, challenging, hard work and potentially transforming. Each chapter is anywhere from two to four pages long. The reading portion is followed by a section of questions (Faith Conversations) to get you and your spouse talking about what you’ve just read together. Next is “A Step Closer” – the action steps you’ll take individually or together in order to put what you’ve read and talked about into practice. All in all, this is a very practical book.

Devotional topics include:

• creating connection

• high-maintenance marriage

• the happiness effect

• no regrets

The Burns suggest that 30 minutes a week would accomplish more than most couples are doing currently, so why not jump right in and give it a go.

A chapter entitled, “Servant Love or Selfish Love” has some great discussion starters; e.g., “Are there situations right now that make it difficult for you to respect me?” “Are there times when it is difficult to love me?” The personal anecdotes are helpful. Insights gleaned from working and helping other couples prove to be a great encouragement.

Whether your marriage is rock solid or on shaky ground even at this moment, I think this is a tool you could use and greatly benefit from. Very practical, very specific.

This book may be purchased from Bethany House Publishers.

This book was provided for review by Bethany House Publishers.

More Than a Match – a book review

more than a match.gifAbout This Book
Prepare Yourself for Lasting Love

You’ve searched a lifetime for that special person, but how can you be absolutely certain that you’ve found “The One”? And more important, how can you hold on to that love for the rest of your life?

More Than a Match explores the “compatibility factor,” demystifying the science behind matchmaking and giving you the tools you need to find the love you want. You’ll learn how to apply the specifics of good compatibility to a prospective date or mate, as well as how to break things off when you find yourself in the wrong relationship.

But since great relationships aren’t built on compatibility alone, marriage experts Michael and Amy Smalley also delve into the “forever factor,” giving you the skills you need to turn your romance into a lifelong love affair. You’ll learn how to deal with conflict, how to develop a healthy sex life, and how to recover when you inevitably hurt one another.

Fantastic marriages begin long before the exchange of the rings; they start when two people in search of love commit themselves to learning to how to love well…and forever. Because finding and keeping the love of your life is about much More Than a Match.

smalley_michael.gifAbout the Authors
Michael and Amy Smalley hold master’s degrees in clinical psychology from Wheaton College. Michael is the Director of Marriage and Family at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas.

For the past ten years, they’ve spoken to audiences around the world, sharing practical, refreshing advice for finding a love that will last a lifetime. They also have authored or coauthored several relationship books, including The DNA of Relationships, Men’s Relational Toolbox, and Don’t Date Naked.

Married for ten years, Michael and Amy live with their three children in The Woodlands, Texas.

My Review – I don’t usually enjoy reading marital or even premarital books. I simply find too few that approach the issues from a biblical perspective. Oh sure, most will tell you they do, but basically, it’s just the same old recycled secular psychology with a few Scripture verses thrown in for good measure so the book can be marketed as Christian guide to marriage.

More Than a Match by the Smalleys falls somewhere in the middle for me. There are parts of this book I really like. I enjoy the conversational style that the Smalleys use throughout the book. They keep taking turns speaking/writing, just as if they were sitting in your living room or you were sitting in their counseling office. This approach makes the reading very easy, clear and enjoyable. If you’re the type who likes “technical marriage manuals” with clearly delineated points of methods and principcles, this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re tired of those technical manuals, I think you’ll find this a breath of fresh air.

Using past experiences, especially with each other prior to and subsequent to their wedding, Michael & Amy Smalley engage the reader. One of the most touching examples of forgiveness I’ve ever read came when Amy revealed that she was not a virgin (from a previous relationship/engagement). Michael simply fetches a bowl of water and a towel, washes her feet in a stunning re-enactment of Christ’s act of servanthood, and lets her know that God has forgiven her, as has he.

My only concern with this book is, as a pastor who seeks to tell his congregation that God’s Word is sufficient for all of life, I find a noticeable absence of Scripture used in the Smalley’s approach. There are references to passages, some occasional quotes, but nothing that borders on what I would call Scriptural teaching. Most of the texts are simply proof texts. If I had to recommend any area of improvement for this book, it would be this: use Scripture as the all-sufficient source of God’s authority for life & living that it is.

I’ll recommend this book because of its style, uniqueness among marital books and the good points I mentioned. I only do so with the reservations mentioned.

This book may be purchased at WaterBrook and Random House.

This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.

99 Ways to Stretch Your Home Budget – a book review

budgeting.gifAbout This Book
With words like “recession” and “record unemployment” filling the air, the typical family–regardless of how the economy is treating them–will be paying attention to the budget. That’s why 99 Ways to Stretch Your Home Budget will receive a warm reception as it delivers scores of practical ideas to save cash around the house.

About the Author
Cheri Gillard is a freelance writer and editor for multiple publishing companies with numerous writing credits. Formerly an obstetric and pediatric RN, she hung up her nurse’s cap when she gave birth to quadruplets… after which she became well-acquainted with trimming home budgets.

My Review –
A very timely and very helpful little book. Weighing in at just 105 pages, you’ll find this a handy guide to draw upon quite frequently without necessarily having to read it cover to cover.

Gillard breaks budgeting down into easy to define categories: food, fashion, housing, and more. Under each category, she uses common sense and wisdom to recommend ways you can save money in your own budgeting. Most of the numbered recommendations also give a ballpark figure for you can save (depending on your area of the country) each month by following these suggestions. Very helpful and great motivation.

This may seem like a short review, but this book is just so practical I don’t need to say too much more – I’ll budget my words and save you some time. Order this book and make it your New Year’s Resolution to start saving money.

You may purchase this book at WaterBrook or at Random House.

This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.

Reading the Classics – Redemption Accomplished and Applied

I’ve been reading John Murray’s classic work along with Tim Challies and several others. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read this entire book. The section for this week, however, I’ve referred back to several different times, because the extent of the atonement always seems to generate lots of questions (well, that’s putting it mildly). I poured over this chapter a few years back when preaching through the book of Hebrews stirred up this “controversy.” My message was simply entitled, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” During the message, I never once used the phrase “limited atonement” or even “particular redemption.” I simply walked through the passage, used the basic principles of exegesis, applied that in the exposition and preached that Jesus could not have died for all or all would be saved.

RedemptionMurray.jpg

Amazingly, there was only one person who asked to talk to me later that week about this message. He asked me point blank, “Do you really believe that?” My reply was, “Yes, I do; it’s right there in the text of Scripture.” That led us on a six-month long journey of discovery: discovery for me, that this man could not truly exegete a passage of Scripture, especially if it had to do with the atonement. For him, it was just “Jesus died for your sins and for the sins of the whole world.” When asked, what does that mean, it basically came down to the usual “We’re all savable.” In other words, Christ’s work on the cross only gives us potential, not reality. It’s all in our hands to make it real.

Murray, in chapter 4, gives, what I consider to be, an “iron-clad” argument for the particular effects of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Murray shows that the “all” or “whole world” passages cannot mean a literal “all” or “whole” otherwise you’re left with universalism. Following this, he uses two passage to show the necessity of the particular extent of redemption. The first passage is Romans 8.31-39. What a masterful display of basic exegesis without any word games or mind tricks.

The second is actual a group of passages that deal with the phrase “for those who have died in Christ.” This section “seals the deal” for me. If Christ died for all people, as mere potential, they cannot be said to be alive in Christ, for their resurrection in Christ is merely potential, not reality. And there is no one alive who is spiritually dead who can make themselves alive due to mere potential. It is only those for whom Christ died that are also alive in Christ because they have really died with Christ.

Then Murray goes to 1 John 2.2, a classic passage that most who disagree with this particular doctrinal teaching use. I was once at a Pastor’s Retreat years ago where this came up during a volleyball game. One pastor, a true “Five-Pointer” had made his case earlier in the day during the course of conversation. Another pastor, who was clearly “Arminian” in his theology took great exception to this discussion and kept referring to 1 John 2.2 as his only argument. He wouldn’t exposit it; he just kept citing it. During the volleyball game later that evening, these two men found themselves on opposite sides of the net in the middle of the front row. During the intense volleys that followed, the one would hammer the ball at his opponent and shout “1 John 2.2! 1 John 2.2!” If he couldn’t exegete his way out of the deal, he would pound his opponent into submission on the field of competition! Well, that has little to do with Murray’s discussion, but it shows the centrality of such a passage. Again, Murray, with his inimitable style, shows how this passage puts forth the clear scope, exclusiveness and perpetuity of Jesus’ propitiation.

Reading through Murray is a chore. It’s not light reading you can skim over as you lay down to sleep each night. But it brings great comfort and assurance as I read through it. There is consolation offered through Christ’s work on the cross precisely because it accomplished something real. If my salvation was merely potential awaiting my power to make it real, then I’d have no true confidence or assurance. Instead, I have a guarantee that I will be saved from the wrath which my sin deserves – in Christ alone. This is the glory of the cross.

The final short conclusion in Chapter 5 helps sum up where we’ve been so far. Far too many Christians want to talk about the crucifixion and their subsequent salvation in terms of their own experience – how it’s made them feel. Rather, we are to make Scripture our basis of assurance. The Bible is the norm for judging our salvation, our forgiveness and our assurance. Now, onward to the application of this wonderful news.

And the Shofar Blew

booklg_andtheshofar.gifAbout the Book – In the Old Testament, God called his people to action with the blast of the shofar, a ram’s horn. God still calls his people today. In this relevant and timely contemporary novel, dynamic young preacher Paul Hudson is committed to building his church–but at what cost? As Paul’s zeal and ambition build, he loses sight of the One who called him. As Paul and those around him struggle to discern what it truly means to live out their faith, they must ultimately choose between their own will or God’s plan.

About the Author

Francine Rivers began her literary career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism. From 1976 to 1985, she had a successful writing career in the general market and her books were awarded or nominated for numerous awards and prizes. Although raised in a religious home, Francine did not truly encounter Christ until later in life, when she was already a wife, mother of three, and an established romance novelist. Shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1986, Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books, and then re-released by Multnomah Publishers in the mid- 1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set during the time of the California Gold Rush is now considered by many to be a classic work of Christian fiction. Redeeming Love continues to be one of the Christian Booksellers Association’s top-selling titles and it has held a spot on the Christian bestseller list for nearly a decade.

Since Redeeming Love, Francine has published numerous novels with Christian themes – all bestsellers– and she has continued to win both industry acclaim and reader loyalty around the globe. Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa.

Francine and her husband Rick live in Northern California and enjoy the time spent with their three grown children and every opportunity to spoil their four grandchildren. She uses her writing to draw closer to the Lord, and that through her work she might worship and praise Jesus for all He has done and is doing in her life.

My Review – In some ways, this book was very frustrating. As a pastor, it always pains me to read, even in fiction, of pastors who stumble and fall. In this case, Paul falls hard.

Barely out of seminary, Paul and his wife, Eunice, and their young son, Tim, move to California to take over the ministry at a church that has all the appearances of dying a slow death. Paul has served as an associate pastor at a very large church in the midwest. He was also raised as a PK – pastor’s kid. His father looms large in Paul’s life, and sadly, there’s nothing good about this shadow. He views the opportunity to take an old and dying church and build it into something God would be proud of (and yes, I mean those words, as much as it hurts to use them). He soon loses focus on the ownership of the church, the people of the church and even his own calling to lead the church.

Meanwhile, his wife, Eunice, and son, Tim, serve in his shadow, seeing him become more and more like his father. Eunice humbly serves and submits, not wanting to “rock the boat” and point out the obvious. In fact, this was one of the other things that really bothered me about this novel: no one wanted to “rock the boat” by way of biblical confrontation, pursuing biblical peace-making. No one.

When an author draws you into the story enough to get good and mad at the main characters, I think she’s done a pretty good job of writing. Francine Rivers has done just that. There may be some character development flaws, but I think their minor. I read one review of this book and the reviewer took Rivers to task for creating a cardboard cut-out of a pastor. Unfortunately, I’ve known a couple of men similar to Paul and while I think it’s almost impossible for one man to destroy a church, that one man can do a tremendous amount of damage.

Paul and Eunice have their own path to walk. God moves powerfully, sometimes even in His loving discipline, to work His will in His church. I’d highly recommend this work.

This book was loaned to me. I did not receive anything from the publishers for this review.

Cry of the Hawk – a book review

Cry of the Hawk by Terry Johnston

About the Book – Western potboiler that will stain the reader with grease, blood, and smoke. Jonah Hook, Confederate soldier, gains an early release from a befouled Union prison by signing up for a year as a “”galvanized Yankee”” to fight Indians on the frontier. Meanwhile, his wife and three children, waiting for him at home in backwoods Missouri, are abducted by the “”Avenging Angels”” of Brigham Young, out … More sweeping the land to rid it of threatening “”Gentiles”” but showing much more aptitude for raping, killing, and looting. The angels sell Hook’s boys to Comancheros and save Hattie, the daughter, for future deflowering by a wealthy Mormon buyer. The crazed leader of the pack, Jubilee Usher, takes Gritta, the wife, as a concubine. While she and Hattie, both kept on a steady dose of laudanum, tour the countryside with the depraved Mormons, the depraved white men fight the depraved Indians, allowing Jonah to meet famous scouts and soldiers like Jim Bridger and George Custer. The Indians and soldiers skirmish, graphically slashing and scalping and creatively mutilating each other. Jonah finally gets his release, only to return home and find a vacant ruined homestead. He and cousin Artus set off to search for the family. Along the way, Jonah kills buffalo for the railroad, fights Indians again, and falls for Grass Singing, an Indian prostitute. He finally locates the Mormon angels and…some issues won’t be resolved until the sequel. In his fast-paced but uneven latest, Johnston (Carry the Wind, 1982, etc.) magnifies the violence and stench of the Old West.

About the Author – Terry C. Johnston was born on the plains of Kansas and immersed himself in the history of the early West. His first novel, Carry the Wind, won the Medicine Pipe Bearer’s Award from the Western Writers of America, and his subsequent books, among them Cry of the Hawk, Dream Catcher, Buffalo Palace, Crack in the Sky, and the Son of the Plains trilogy, have appeared on bestseller lists throughout the country. Terry C. Johnston lives and writes in Big Sky country near Billings, Montana.

My Review – Having read many of Johnston’s other novels, I knew what I might be getting as I picked this book up off the library shelf. Johnston captures life in the western frontier during the mid-1800s, right after the Civil War. He’s done a tremendous amount of research on this area, it’s history, it’s people and characters, it’s geography and life in general on the frontier. I think these novels would be classified as historical fiction since he works in historical characters – “Wild Bill” Hicock, General George Armstrong Custer, Roman Nose, and a host of others – historical places and battles, alongside his key fictional characters of Shad Sweete and Jonah Hook.

The action moves along steadily, especially during any of Johnston’s fight scenes. As in all of Johnston’s novels, the violence is graphic. He holds nothing back in showing either the mutilation which the Indians inflicted upon the white man or the brutality with which the whites exerted against the Indians. It’s not pretty and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Jonah’s plight is a pitiable one. Having been released from a Civil War prison camp to serve in the army in fighting and establishing the western frontier, he longs for home and family. When he is finally able to go home (about half way through this tome), he finds Gritta, his wife, and his children have been taken (he suspects this right from the start, although he entertains doubts about her simply leaving to go back east to her family). The remainder of the story follows his efforts to search for them. There are times that I grew impatient as it seemed his searching got put on the side burner while he continued working for the army. But I have to remember, they had no phones, no electronic means of searching at all. They barely had the telegraph (and the lines for these were continually cut by the Indians). So travel was slow (much of the first year was spent getting about by foot) and the searching even slower. The ending leaves you hanging for a sequel.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction of the American frontier during the Indian Wars of the mid- to late-1800s, this might just be the book for you. If you have a queasy stomach over vividly descriptive depictions of violence, I’d leave this one on the shelf.