Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose

Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose
by Dutch Sheets
Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1173-7
US $15.99

Over the ages, there has been much confusion about “authority” in the Christian church. For many denominations like Roman Catholicism, it implies human hierarchy. For some churches, the word  “authority” conjures up ideas of Apostolic Succession. The author of this book is writing about the word for a charismatic, full-gospel, and pentecostal readership. Here the meaning described the Christian believer’s authority over a particular sphere God has given him.

But there is still not a general consensus about how much authority the believer has. Generally speaking, these spheres of authority include authority over certain kinds of physical and mental states such as disease and the power of sin; authority over demons, and authority over certain groups such as family, church, geographic regions.

Dutch Sheets has written a book which shows the Biblical reasons for his belief about authority in prayer. He describes the purpose of God in creating Man, and what was lost when the First Adam fell. There are doctrinal definitions of authority versus power, and Satan’s loss of Authority over certain spheres because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, shed blood, and resurrection. Then he describes how Jesus Christ --the Second Adam-- returned that authority to us. There are also many examples, testimonies, and anecdotes about how authority has helped in the lives of Christians. Some of these examples show Dutch Sheets himself and/or some of his friends working behind the scenes to affect the outcome of the nation. These examples might sound a bit arrogant, far-fetched, wild-eyed, or innocent to readers who don’t believe that God works through people.

But the author appears so humble -- and never states that he alone can use his authority in Christ-- that one can easily believe these testimonies. Those Christians who do not know anything about the authority of Christ might be put off by the fact that someone believes in supernatural answers to prayer. They will also have to put aside some of their Calvinist fatalism or change some of their definition of God’s sovereignty. (The book doesn’t go overboard into dominionism.) Certainly, people raised to believe that suffering is ordained of God and must be patiently endured will have to truly ponder the choice and power inherent in this doctrine of authority.

There is much humor in this book, and it feels like a conversational memoir. There are also Bible verses that explain this doctrine. This is definitely a good book to read if one wants to understand a balanced presentation of the Christian doctrine of authority. Recommended.

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind by J Heinrich Arnold

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind
 by J Heinrich Arnold

  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Publisher: Plough Publishing House; New Expanded Edition edition (January 2, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

Okay, first things first: I never knew who  J Heinrich Arnold was before receiving this book to review. As anyone who reads my blogs knows, I avoid reading much modern theology because I find the more popular ones -- by famous televangelists and theologians-- to be a tad empty. Not that I'm that full or that deep, but I've read enough to know that other theologians --of old-- wrote about certain topics with more knowledge, maturity, subtlety etc.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the author of this book (or collection of writings) was born in 1913 and died in 1982. Yes, my kind of theologian! He also served as an elder in a Christian communal movement called Broderhuf. I don't know much about the Broderhuf except for being in their neck of the woods one day in our family travels. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for Christians who turn their backs on the world and try to live holy simple communal lives. Unless it gets all cultish and oppressive.

The book is divided into three large sections (The Disciple, the Church, the kingdom of God), which are further divided into subsections such as (under the Disciple) The Inner Life, Repentance, Conversion, Faith, Dogmatism, Commitment, Reverence, Surrender, Sincerity); (under The Church) Community, Gifts, Forgiveness, Unity, Baptism, Lord's Supper, Family Life, Illness and Death, Evil and Darkness, World Suffering; and (under The Kingdom of God) Jesus, The Living Word, The Cross, Salvation, The Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God.

This edition has the Discipleship book, with expanded sections such as taken from different works and from letters. As such, there is a flow to the paragraphs in the sections but sometimes....not. Because the excerpted letter paragraphs are placed in the chapter without introduction.  Still, its good to see these excerpts from the letters which show a very kind pastoral heart...which can be firm if need be.  

One would think that a spiritual leader of people committed to living apart from the ruin hypocrisy of Christendom would be very hard and dogmatic. On the contrary. In the section on dogma we see a person who respects Christian dogma but who seeks primarily that those in his fellowship find the relationship with Christ.

This book is really good. I love what he says --in his firm way-- about love, marriage and sex.

A couple of examples:

"Sex is man's secret, something that he feels touches on his inmost being. Every disclosure in this sphere reveals something intimate and personal and lets another person into his secret. This is why the area of sex is also the area of shame: we are ashamed to unveil our secret before others."

Or this (from a letter):

"Your question, 'Why do I feel attracted toward this boy if he is not meant for me but for someone else?' is a bit of a rebellious one, It accuses someone higher than yourself. Ultimately, it accuses God. Human nature being what it is, we often feel attractions that we have no choice to reject. That is simply part of our human weakness. Who is destined for you, or whether or not someone is destined for you, is not for me to say. The important thing for you is to give your life to Jesus."

Can you imagine getting a rebuke like that from your spiritual leader? And keeping the letter?

He must have been a very great man.

I highly recommend this book. A copy was sent to me by Plough publishing for a fair and honest review.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: Gift of Truth by Robert Fleming

Gift of Truth 
by Robert Fleming
Urban Christian

  • File Size: 1110 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Urban Christian (February 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HG21C4S

  • Robert Fleming is one passionate writer. He understands the history of African-Americans and the history of the Black church and his knowledge abounds in this novel about a minister who tackles racial religious compromise in the South.

    We've met this minister before in Fleming's first novel Gift of Faith. In that novel, we were more involved with the main character's/narrator's life as he recovered from his wife's suicide and her murder of his children.

    In this novel, he is more of a spectator. He is healed of the wound caused by his wife's betrayal and suicide but now he has to encounter betrayal on an even larger scale. Trouble is, discernment and truth is needed.

    His friend Reverend Peck, another minister, has called him down to Alabama; a self-styled prophet has arrived on the scene and has sheep-napped the minister's flock. The prophet, Wilks, comes from a long line of shysters and con men and he performs flamboyant healings in front of frenzied audiences.

    I'm trying to review this book without giving away spoilers because there are twists galore!

    Complicating the problem of flock-nabbing are the racial and socio-economic tensions between the poor Black farmers, the rich white agribusinessmen, the KKK, and white lawmen. For the religious Black men, there are great obstacles and temptations. Social compromises to protect one's reputation or one's life, sexual temptations, monetary temptations, and the compromising of truth.

    This is a very good novel. The challenge of being a prophet --especially one who is called to battle social ills-- echoes both the lives of prophets in the Bible and the lives of African-American activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others. Of course the prophets in the Bible are totally holy, but the prophetic activists and great ministers of Black history have been flawed.  

    I had a few nits of course. The main one is that the author is so knowledgeable about African-American culture and history that sometimes there feels like way too much teaching going on for a novel. It's not bad, of course, and one does get the feeling the book is written to honor great Black heroes and musicians. But Mr. Fleming is a cultural historian and that kind of writing is to be expected.

    A few writers might feel the author is picking on certain types of Christians i.e. pentecostal types. But I don't think that Mr Fleming was doing that. But I do think he is saying that Christians can sometimes be like sheep if they don't discern the truth and stand up for it.  Some Christians might be offended by events in the story but I encourage them to read through the book and finish it. As I said, there are some good twists. 

    Wednesday, November 26, 2014

    Review: Evening Prayers For Every Day of the Year by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

    Evening Prayers For Every Day of the Year by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

    Growing up with the Book of Common Prayers, I have nothing against written prayers per se. Some of them are lovely and the best written-in-stone (so to speak) prayers are usually like perfectly distilled, perfectly chistled heartfelt communication from the depths of our spirit. As a penteocostal, charismatic, Christian, I also love a good spontaneous prayer. Who knew there was a book of written prayers that was perfect for folks like me!

    I've never heard of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt but apparently (at least from the cover) he was quite influential with folks like Karl Barth and Boenhoeffer. And I can see why.  

    First, the prayers are addressed to a living God who wants to do wonders in the world. They are prayers which seem to be born from someone keenly acquainted with the work, love, and power of the Holy Spirit. This is amazing to me. One cannot read these daily prayers and the Bible verses connected with them without developing a spirit of expectancy.  Blumhardt repeatedly asks God to show His power, His love, His healing, His Wisdom.

    Secondly, the prayers in this book are not necessarily evening prayers. There are very few prayers which actually should only be said at night.

    Thirdly, the prayers are very very very insightful and although they don't read like treatises, they very well could be. The prayers are heartfelt and one often feels as if one is overhearing an intimate private conversation between a holy saint and God. But the prayers pack so much wonderful theology that they enlighten the heart and mind as one reads them.  

    Fourthly, the prayers are accessible. The language they are written in are modern and conversational. A child of ten or eleven can understand them as well as an adult. The super-theologically-educated will like it as well as those who know little about God.

    Fifthly, the theology is presented in a way that will not offend anyone. Okay, unless one is extremely legalistic and picky about some pet theology, one will not find anything to argue about.

    Lastly, this book is a classic. I didn't know the author until I got this book. And now I know why this is a classic.

    I highly highly highly recommend this book. I have the book in hardcover and I guess my only nit is that the kindle is so expensive. ($8.49) Especially for a Christian book.  But that's my nit, I guess.

    I received this book freely in exchange for a free and honest review.

    Review: Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

    • Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Harmony (August 5, 2014)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0385348118
    • ISBN-13: 978-0385348119

    When I first saw the description (and promise) of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner I thought this book would be perfect for travelers, missionaries, ex-patriats, and public servants in federal/regional/local government offices. Now I think it would be perfect for COMMITTED travelers, missionaries, etc.

    The book promises to teach us the natural way of learning a language. But natural doesn't necessarily mean easy. After all, as Wyner relates, children learn language naturally. Adults do not. Primarily because children are surrounded by a language they have to learn. So they pick it up. But adults either have other things to attend to (and thus cannot concentrate on learning a foreign language) or they are trained wrongly when they do try to learn.

    As is common in all self-help books, there is a lot of research to ponder. Research helps us understand why we have to do what the author is telling us we have to do. So yeah, there is some stuff to wade through. Most of it is fun wading if one likes learning and understanding new linguistics stuff. But if you just want instructions, you might be put off by the scientific/psychological reasoning behind the game plan.

    Wyner describes three kinds of fluency: hearing the language, speaking the language, and writing the language. All these are interconnected, but they are connected in a way that we need to understand. Specifically the mind needs to be engaged in order to learn and preserve language -- and most language techniques don't engage the speaker's heart well enough to create permanent language learning. Thus Wyner gives techniques to help his readers learn how to train their minds.    

    And the techniques are many. As are the resources. This book is jam-packed full of techniques. Techniques having to do with Google Images. Techniques with flash-cards. Techniques with ear-training. Techniques with tongue-training. I really love the sections on how to pronounce certain vowels. There are a lot of lists as well. I tried a few of these and downloaded some software. I think this book will help a lot of people, even if they don't use all the techniques. As I said, it's all about committment. I suspect, though, that a lot of people will find the book confusing in parts. Those IPA charts are still muddling around in my brain.   Recommended...if you're committed.

    I got this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Review: Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer

    Pieces of Me
    Amber Kizer
    Delacorte Press
    US $16.99/$18.99CAN
    ISBN 978-0-385-74116-3
    291 pages
    Amber Kizer’s story is about organ donation and the lives of teens who are affected by it. As such it is not primarily a fantasy; it’s more like an illustrative story with some philosophical and theological existential discussions thrown in.

    Jessica, a teenaged loner with an overbearing mother, would rather be left to herself. Except that she dies. And pieces of her are sent to various recipients. She spends the rest of the book hovering near them, attempting to converse with them, trying to comfort them with sage advice, and being something of a dead guardian angel.

    After Jessica's accident, the book leaps six months and this is troublesome. Jessica's reaction to her death is not explored at all. That is problematical because Jessica's behavior as an all-knowing super-helpful dead person is so at odds with her formerly living self that the reader wonders how such a change occurred.

    Some books are difficult to review, especially if the book is from the heart of an author who has health issues. At least, I find those books hard to review because the book is obviously a heart-child. The book seems written primarily to show the importance of organ donation and it does that. The characters are the typical teenagers one finds in young adult novels; they find life especially difficult

    I had expected this to be more of a fantasy. But, aside from the fact that Jessica is invisible, not much else is fantastical. When alive Jessica felt there was no purpose to her life. Now that she is dead, she strives to become part of the world. . .even if vicariously.

    The living characters are all in emotional or physical ruts. They include Samuel, a religious boy who tries to see small miracles in life; Vivian, a girl who has cystic fibrosis and who is loved by; Leif, the gorgeous school athlete who begins examining himself when he get an injury; and Misty who feels very guilty because someone died in order that she might get a liver.

    The lives of all the characters are caught in snapshot like moments. It gives the story a cinematic after-school special episodic feel but it also made this reviewer wish the story had been only about one or two characters. Connecting to the characters becomes difficult because they almost feel like symbols. And although I felt some of the insights given by the characters to be simplistic or maybe theologically light psychobabble, they may prove helpful for some children who need to accept or verbalize the emotions caused by their health issues.

    Recommended for children who are going through a hard time because of health issues.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Review: NIV First-Century Study Bible

    This is a review of the kindle version which I freely received without for a fair and honest review.

    The NIV First-Century Study Bible is arranged like most study Bibles. There are the usual sections with charts, maps, word indexes, etc. The differences with this study Bible is a long list of ancient texts used to shed light on the verses, Middle Eastern history, literary tropes, ancient laws, poetry and writing stule.

    I love archaeology, anthropology, history, linguistics, and cultural studies so I really liked this Bible. The Bible is thorough and most of the verses are annotated. The hyperlinked annotations shed light on the cultural and religious meanings behind the Bible verses we know or think we know. Historical documents such as the writings of ancient historians --Josephus, for instance-- and documents by Jewish and Christian scribes are included.  Some of these might bother some people who don't want to see how (for instance) the story of Job is similar to another story in that region.

    There are many definitions and explanations of the significance of words and objects. The editors also show how full of humor some of the Bible texts are. There are some notes which show a more direct less prudish (honest?) reading of certain texts. The Bible is full of slangs and sometimes translations prefer to translate certain words in a way puritanical minds would appreciaate. This version shows in the footnotes what was really going on in some verses. For instance, Genesis 43:34 is translated "drank freely" whereas the literal meaning of the words are "they got drunk together."  

    Moving about and through the kindle version is intuitive. Or maybe I'm just getting better at moving around the kindle version. (I don't have a kindle. I used a kindle app on my chromebook.)

    The reader who may enjoy this book best of all are Messianic Jews and readers who want to understand Jewish history. The reader should also be someone who doesn't get too bent over shape about opinions, surmises, and varying opinions. The fun of this Bible is looking at the history of what other rabbis have said about certain passages. If you're prickly about knowing exactly what certain passages mean, you'll lose out on the fun of this book.

    The blessing and the curse of this version is that it brings the reader face to face with the assumptions we have about certain passages. For instance, many Christians are taught that The Lord's Prayer was created by Jesus. But the footnotes show that Jesus used parts of different rabbinical traditions to put the prayer together. The idea of God being called "Abba" ("Daddy") is another example of Christians thinking that Jesus had changed many aspects of religion. There are paragraphs taht show how similar certain aspects of Egyptian law are to the laws in the Bible.

    This kind of challenge to a certain kind of argumentative Christian who likes to believe that the word of God is being tested. Yet the editors are profoundly committed to the uniqueness of the Christian Bible and it is evident that for all their archaeological commentary, they believe the word of God to be God-breathed. I would not give this book to the kind of person who is argumentative or who is not skillful in reading comprehension. I know that's a harsh thing to say but I can see some people feeling the book is challenging Scripture when it isn't.

    I highly recommend this book. It might turn the reader into a history nut but some people might think it shakes their faith.

    Friday, October 31, 2014

    Review: The Goblin Emperor

    The Goblin Emperor

    By Katherine Addison
    Tor Books
    Published 2014
    448 pages
    Hardcover $19.70
    kindle $10.99
    Paperback $8.09
    ISBN 978-0765326997

    The protagonist of The Goblin Emperor is Maia, fourth son of the emperor of Elfland. He and his goblin mother were cast-off by his elfin father. But the sudden death of the emperor (and his heirs) in a nasty airship accident has thrust Maia back into a court that was not expecting a half-goblin to rule over it. Maia, who has lived in uneducated exile, now has to learn what he should have been learning all along — court etiquette, clan alliances, court laws and politics, dance moves, imperial behavior.

    Maia is one of the best characters I’ve encountered in a while. He’s kind-hearted, tolerant, self-loathing (because of his dark skin), apologetic about his existence, and full of insecurity. He’s confused about everything and his intellectual growth is the same as the reader’s because we are as lost in this world as Maia is. More so. Luckily for Maia— perhaps too luckily— he is surrounded by a few relatives, courtiers, and councilors who are willing to help him in a court which largely belittles and despises him. And this is one of the serious miscalculations of the novel.

    The Goblin Emperor contains whole sections that cause one’s eyes to glaze over. There are other sections where a reader simply rolls her eyes. First, the eye-rolling. There are a whole mess of Wish-fulfillment characters in this book. All are placed in the right places to make our main character feel better about himself. I have nothing against wish fulfillment characters but Horatio is a good wishfulfillment character to Hamlet, Prince Idra is not a good character for Maia. Prince Idra pretty much takes the words out of Maia’s mouth whenever they are talking.  While the emperor has many enemies out to get him, he also has a whole bastion of people whose existence are made wonderfully better because he has arrived in their lives. Worse yet, the characters who dislike the emperor are “bad,” worthy of (the reader’s) mockery, unenlightened, greedy, or weak. Yep. whoever loves the emperor is incredibly good. And because Maia likes and approves of certain oppressed people we know he is good because he is politically-correct for the reader. There are feminist-agenda storylines that don’t actually matter to the plot. They seem thrown in to make the emperor look “good” and progressive or because the author seemingly had to get all her agenda stuff off her chest. I mean “all.” This easy delineation of good characters versus bad characters is so judgmental, easy, and childish that
    one can only endure it and keep reminding one’s self that this is a flaw of many newbie writers with passionate convictions who don’t believe they’ll have another chance to get all their stories out in other published books. Trust me, I know whereof I speak. When I first began writing, I was tempted to do this kind of thing but luckily my friends slapped some sense into me.    

    The oldfashioned feminism creates pages of sorrowful wimpy princesses who “want to study the stars” but are forced to marry, noble good homosexual former priest who are being blackmailed, and lesbian princesses who run away from home to become sea captains.

    As for eyes glazing over: The worldbuilding is a mess and is not integrated into the story as well as it should be. I’ve always thought that a good world-builder should also be a good teacher, specifically a good language teacher. The reader should be dropped into a novel like an immigrant dropped into a large city. Utterly confused but with enough clues to fend for ourselves.  This book is overly complicated and doesn’t have that teacher sensibility. And no, the glossary in the back is not that helpful.

    For one, the language and naming system get in the way. I’m all for inventing new languages and names but information should not be continually thrown at the reader at breakneck speed on every page of the book.  And, if they are being thrown at us, they should really be part of the plot. It often feels that the author throws information at the reader in memo form and almost as an aside. Casual backstories are jockeyed around as self-contained or extended anecdotes. And again, they often have nothing to do with the main plot, which makes the main plot somewhat thin.

    Even with all this glut of information, the world-building is insufficient. It’s as if the author’s priorities were in the wrong place. So much is left unclear. The only difference I can see between elves and goblins is that elves are white and goblins are black. I don’t know the difference between elves and men or if men really matter in this world. The magic and fantasy are inconsistent. A conversation with the dead here. An airship there. But for the most part the racial issues between elves and goblins weren’t really explored.

    The book is a strange compelling combination of the confusing and the simplistic. I say compelling because although I found this book incredibly confusing more on this later I couldn’t put it down.

    While I’m not a feminist, I do agree with some of their tenets. I admire some authors’ goodwill toward black folks, equality, etc., but sometimes I cringe when I see token Black women or Magical Negroes. While it is good to have allies, sometimes those allied to our cause can be frustrating. Bad Feminist fiction is often reductionist and The Goblin Emperor  often seem to exist primarily as a vehicle to carry an agenda. Gay rights is a large part of the feminist movement but the presence of Magical/Suffering Homosexual might make some gay folks cringe. The blackmailed suffering homosexual snippet was particularly egregious because the author’s desire to show how much gay folks have suffered at the hands of conservative people not only doesn’t fit into the story but she leaves the reader wondering if the author thinks homosexuality is unnatural, given the elffolk and goblins reaction to it.  Why not just create an elfworld where homosexuality is normal? Unless this is a specific branch of Judeo-Christian elves out there, this is a case of the agenda missing its mark. I’m thinking of Kari Sperring’s fine fantasy novel, Living With Ghosts which had homosexual characters and of Sylvia Kelso’s Amberlight, which is a feminist fantasy novel which does not fall into typical feminist tropes. 

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    Review: The End, My Friend by Kirby Wright

    The End, My Friend
     by Kirby Wright 
    ISBN 978-0974106793

    In Kirby Wright's The End, My Friend, the powers that be have come undone. National and local laws have crumbled. Militias, warlords, and gang-leaders rule the streets.And Tony and Eva have to get away from it all. 

    They have to get out of the city and into the safe areas, Oregon for instance. Other humans are dangerous, and yet it would be great to find allies one could trust.

    This is a futuristic story without any science fiction or supernatural events. It's the author's image of a possible scenario -- the USA after economic and governmental collapse. The author assumes --probably rightly-- that if the US ever had a meltdown, there would be looting, murdering, raping, and mayhem throughout the larger cities and danger on the highways. The country would be full of badlands and bad guys with only a few safe regions. 

    The first two or three chapters have a distinctively "real" feel. But then, the author does something with his characters which some readers may not like. The story, which had felt like a mainstream novel suddenly becomes a bit stylized. Not entirely, but a bit. The characters speak and do things that characters in a noir novel might do.  Think Mad Max meets Sin City. It's not a bad thing, and it certainly will not mar the book for those who like hip larger-than-life characters. Evo is tough, but for those who like to see regular folks in novels, she is way too tough. She is a broad, a dame, a femme fatale, if necessary. And the conversations between the characters are a bit too tough-guy lingo. 

    This is a good book, a novel filled with suspense and disturbing insights into the American psyche.  But the hipsterification of the main characters and the stereotyping of some of the Big Bads they encounter reduces the impact. Recommended. 

    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    Review NKJV Study Bible -- Full Color Edition

    If you like the KJV translation of the Bible and you have a strong shoulder, the NKJV Study Bible: The Complete Resource for Studying God's Word -- Full Color Edition is a good one for you. This thing is heavy, familiar (because it retains the cadences and modernized version of the good-old-KJV), and very insightful.

    This Bible has the usual Book Introductions, and outlines, cultural notes, charts, maps, and diagrams that one finds in all study Bibles.  Those are all good but what totally blows me away is its other features which show a thoroughness that just thrills me.

    The Bible is set up as follows:
    A Foreword which lists all that is contained in the Bible, A Table of Contents of the entire Bible, Special Abbreviations, Preface to the New King James Version. After this, there is an article entitled "How to Understand What the Bible Means by What It Says." This is a neat little article by Earl D. Radmacher which everyone who reads the Bible should read.  It depicts a four-part process: Word Focus, Word Relations, Context, and Culture.

    Then there is a listing of  the Books of the Bible entitled "Books of the Old and New Testament", a list of Articles, List of Bible Times and Culture Notes, List of Charts and Diagrams, List of In-Text Maps, List of Word Studies. These lists  show the titles and pages of the articles scattered throughout the Bible. Thus the List of Articles contain articles in all the Bible books.

    For instance, the articles in Psalms are: The Poetry of the Psalms, Image of God: His Reflection in Us, Psalms on Creation, Psalms of Lament, Royal Psalms, Two Sides of the Coin, The Messiah in the Psalms, Psalms of the Passover, The Sanctity of Life: Created in His Image.

    The Bible Times and Culture Notes section lists the historical, geographical, and cultural illustrations and notes.  The same goes for the Charts and Diagrams, Maps and Words Studies sections.
    The Bible Itself: Then The Old Testament. After this, there is the Harmony of the Gospels, which shows how the gospel passages work together. The New Testament.

    Then the Table of Monies, Weights, and Measures, Teachings and Illustrations of Christ, Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Christ, The Parables of Jesus Christ, The Miracles of Jesus Christ, Prayers of the Bible, Subject Index to Annotations and Features, Concordance, Map Index, Maps.

    This is a really good Study Bble. One of the best.

    First of all, The NKJVStudy Bible includes verse by verse study notes. Yes, every verse has a commentary. In certain books such as the psalms, even chapters have commentary! These notes even have cross-references. Not just a few perfunctory ones, mind you! In addition, there are cross-references in the middle of each page. Included in the notes sections are also inset boxes with Word Studies, vocabulary definitions and explanations of translations based on Strong's dictionary. The notes on the verses have an academic feel but also feel very human. The writers really went all out and mined all the Bible verses for meaning.
    The chapters in the Bible are divided with sub-headings which are always useful i.e. Balaam's First Prophecy, Balaam's Second Prophecy, Balaam's Third Prophecy.

    The Subject Index and Concordance are very good and should be useful to most people.

    If I have anything to whne about -- and I often find something to whine about when it comes to Bibles-- it's a very small complaint. And it seems odd to complain about it seeing the NKJV goes over and above most Study Bibles. But here goes: They include a page called Prayers of the Bible. Now, they didn't have to include this page. Most Study Bibles don't. But if they are going to include it, I think they should've been less perfunctory about it. Considering the amount of work done with the rest of the Bible, the scantness of this list is appalling. I suppose they could have said, "SOME" of the Prayers of the Bible. Then I would've been pleased. But they missed the boat on that one. For instance, they listed only three prayers by Paul. Anyone who has read the epistles know there are much more than that. Even if Paul only says, "I bend the knee and ask the Father..." it's still a prayer, right?

    This is the Full Color Edition. The color is useful for illustrations, photographs, maps, etc for the most part but they are also used with the sub-headings in the chapters. Interestingly, the words of Christ are not in red letter. . .which I half-expected. A lot of people like that. And if they were going full-color, that would've been easy enough to do.  The font is not n large print but it is readable by most folks. And I suspect if they had made the font any larger the book would be a back-breaking labor to carry around.

    I like this Bible a lot and highly recommend it. I won't be carrying it to church though. Although I like the NKJV I will continue carrying my Gardener's NIV Bible to church. Because I've already started marking that one up and because it is way less heavy. Anyway, a highly recommended Bible. So far, my favorite Bibles have been

    NIV Integrated Study Bible, NIV Spirit-Filled Bible, the One-A-Day Chronological Bible, the NIV Gardner's Bible, and this one.  

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Review: City of Stairs

    City of Stairs

    by Robert Jackson Bennett
    Broadway Books
    Published 2014
    464 pages
    ISBN: 978-0804137171
    Paperback $9.49
    Kindle $7.99

    The City of Stairs “boasts” a perfect heroine. By the third chapter I knew how special this particular snowflake was and that set my impatience in motion. City of Stairs is a cross genre — detective and fantasy novel. I wasn’t too displeased about the author using detecting as a means of examining the culture. But I did get annoyed that our heroine always had the answer for everything. Mary Sue perfection in the extreme.

    Imagine a continent whose indigenous population —and whose gods— have been defeated by a smaller nation they had formerly enslaved.  The conquerors, the Saypuris, have no gods and they have done what all imperialistic nations do: they’ve removed almost all traces of the Continental’s gods from the public sphere. However, one cannot erase history or a culture’s nostalgic attachment to its deities. Thus, secret adherents to the old gods still persist. As do many “miracles.”  Religious extremists, called Restorationists, are going around fomenting riots. The miracles are also problematic because they really shouldn’t be happening without a god operating them.

    When the novel begins, an important Saypuri historian has been assassinated. He had a special love of Continental culture and seemed to have stumbled upon something that cost him his life. Are the Restorationists behind his murder? Are the gods and the Restorationists working together? Heck, are the gods still around? And if they are, what do they want? And do we —the reader— really want these gods around?

    Now this is where the book and I began to part. I also will have to part ways with readers who consider religion evil. Yep, there are many things in this book which I dislike which readers might actually love. So, here goes.

    True, the Continentals have a very backward attitude toward women and homosexuals. But as a dark-skinned religious woman, I’m hard-wired to be on the side of the religious Continentals. I dislike imperialists even if the heroine is imperialistic lite and “admires” the religion of the conquered Continentals. She’s not scornful but she is smug and patronizing. And she has taken on the imperialist burden of  preventing a culture from finding its past. Let me confess that as a kid I was always on the “Indians’ side” whenever I watched cowboy movies. I always rooted for the monster to win when I watched Creature Features. And no matter how weird the religion was in any film or book —nonfiction or fictional— if they were battling atheists, I was always on the side of the religious characters. Religion, history, and politics make strange bedfellows.

    Seeing this is my personality, I ploughed through the story, knowing that I was really just being peevish. I tried to give the novel a chance. But a rich effete closeted gay aristocrat whose cultural politics and religion is ruled by his sexuality, a tough-as-nails ball-buster female governor, a brawny Hagrid-like bodyguard from the north, and an ignorant emotional judgmental misogynist religious conservatives Big Bad were all stereotypes I had to wade through. Funny thing though: I couldn’t stop reading because of the fantastic worldbuilding.

    The worldbuilding and the detective story go perfectly well together. Our stereotypically open-minded and plucky heroine is up for her task of discovering all that is left of Continental history and destroying it. The way the world is built, the history and ramifications of each deity’s power, the social implications of cultural war —and the interactions of the various religions — were so well-drawn, they were amazing! The worldbuilding made for a good book.

    Still, ultimately, the “war against the gods” thing irked me. Again, it probably won’t irk most secular-thinking scifi/fantasy readers but the whole “Who watches the Watchers” Star-trekking of religion can really bother a conservative religious person. So, excellent book. But not for me. 

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Review: NIV Once a day Bible Chronological Edition

    NIV Once a Day Bible -- Chronological Edition
    Paperback: 1280 pages
    Publisher: Zondervan; Special edition (October 31, 2011)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 9780310950950
    ISBN-13: 978-0310950950
    Paperback $13.98
    Kindle $10.99

    It's been a while since I've read the Bible from cover to cover. If you're a Bible reader like me, you end up reading certain sections over and over in your daily devotionals and avoiding others. So it's good, every other year or so to read through the Bible.

    This time around, hubby and I are using the NIV ONCE A DAY BIBLE (Chronological Edition) and I was so pumped to order it from Zondervan for review. Reading the Bible chronologically would be a fun way to read it. Plus the fact that certain chapters are assigned to you -- Day One had my hubby and I reading Genesis 1 through Genesis 4-- keeps you on track. There are also reflections at the end of each "day."

    Day 4 is when the chronological aspect kicks in.  In this case, Day 4 begins with the Book of Job, after the mention of Haran, Nahor, and Abram in Genesis 11. Job is placed in a different position in this book than in the NIV Integrated Bible. Understandable because although we know Job is the oldest book in the Bible, no one is really sure where in the timeline it fits. So one chronological Bible might place Job after Ishmael, another after Abram. It's not a big deal but it does subtly shift our understanding of Job and one is tempted to ask, "Is Job a descendant of Abram through Ishmael or not? OR is he just some other non-related person living around that time?" This Chronological Bible is done by the folks at Walk Through the Bible, a group I highly respect so I won't whine.

    Other differences is that this is how the Bible books are integrated. But again, that is about the art of the editor. Interestingly, the historical books are merged and interwoven very well with the psalms and the prophets, and the epistles are interwoven with the book of Acts, but the books of the Torah, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and the first seventeen chapters or I Samuel (everything before Day 103) are pretty much left alone and unintegrated into the larger chronology. I like the NIV Integrated Bible a bit better because with the integrated Bible similar passages found in Leviticus, Exodus, or Deuteronomy were placed beside each other.  

    There is a chronological index with the readings for each day so if you wish to avoid certain books, you can. I always avoid the books of Ezra and Nehemiah but now that they're all woven in with Daniel, Esther, a couple of psalms, and Zechariah, I guess I'll have to read them.

    There are reflections at the end of each day. They are not particularly insightful, but they aren't useless either.  I would think that anyone reading the Bible chronologically would probably already have studied their Bible so deeper Biblical insights might be needed. Or even commentary about the chronological events. But why be picky? IT's a good edition and it's actually a fun way to go through the Bible.

    Like all chronological Bibles, this is not to be one's sole Bible. Bible books are separated, split up, and interwoven into other books. The psalms, for instance, are all over the place. So, this is definitely a supplemental Bible.

    All in all, this is a really good Bible and a fun way to read through the Bible. My only nit is the type size. The print is readable but still a bit too tiny. True this is a paperback but even so. Little old ladies read paperbacks. I shouldn't complain because the paperback isn't expensive. Recommended.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Review: In Capable Arms by Sarah Kovac

    In Capable Arms
    by Sarah Kovac

    I generally don't like Christian non-fiction. I find much of it dishonest or preachy...especially autobiographical books.

    But In Capable Arms is an incredibly pleasant exception.

    This is the bio of Sarah Kovac who was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that occurs in about one in every 3000 births where the arms are pretty much useless.

    Kovac tells about her experiences growing up and coming to terms physically, culturally, emotionally, and theologically with this disability. She writes about the shame and fear she went through and continues to go through. As this is a book written by a Christian, she also writes about her faith and about the theological, doctrinal issues and platitudes she went through

    It is also a story about family, about marriage, and motherhood. The writer's depiction of her parents' parenting philosophy, her own fears of being a capable mother, and her journey to self-acceptance will touch anyone even if the reader does not have a disability.

    This book is recommended for everyone, disabled or not, who have had to battle to gain self-acceptance or who has had struggles which make them feel "abnormal." The writer is insightful and shows the philosophical and emotional pitfalls that those with any kind of life struggle might fall into.   There are little insets with questions that the reader may journal about. These attempts at interacting with the reader seemed slightly intrusive and a perfunctory attempt to a kind of self-help book for Christian women's group. The journal questions really don't quite work. Either they should not have been included or they editors should have prepared more questions, surveys, reading guide, or commentaries.

    However, the inclusion of some kind of reading guide is habitual with some Christian non-fiction. Some readers will like the inclusion and may find the journal questions useful.  Recommended.

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

    Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

    The Martian, by Andy Weir

    Andy Weir has managed to create an exciting book about numbers. The Martian is a fun book. It’s a quirky book with an engaging main character, but it is not a perfect book.

    Its perfection lies in the fact that the main character is as much an alien to the reader as he is to the world he finds himself in. He is an earther stuck on an inhospitable planet where he faces starvation, death by cold, death by thirst if he is not rescued. But he is also an alien -- a martian if you will-- because unlike the rest of us Earthers, he is an astronaut. Astronauts are not made like you and me. They are constantly heroic, they don’t allow fear to oppress them, they know stuff.

    Our hero is in danger, but there is absolutely no doubt in the reader’s mind that he will save himself and stay alive until he is rescued. In that respect, the bus has no tension. And yet tension is everywhere because the hero Mark Watney is constantly on his toes and constantly having to muddle through botanical, mathematical, engineering experiments. This is where the fun comes in. The Martian feels like a survival manual. It feels like nonfiction. The reader is constantly being taught about space, chemistry, physics, and botany. But it doesn’t feel as if one is being taught. One is simply being pulled along breathlessly in the wake of a kind of superman whom one cannot identify with but whom one likes because he has good humor and seems like a humble but smart guy.  

    But as I said, the book has problems.

    The problems are mostly in the sections that are told in the third person. It is here where the author shows that he has much to learn about writing scenes, descriptions, and real characters. The third person narration didn’t add much to the book  and only shows the shortcomings of the author. All that said, I recommend this book highly if you are a math geek and if math doesn’t give you a headache.

    This is a short review. A larger review of this book will be up at THE FAN in August 2014

    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    Review: NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

    I really love this Bible.. well there is my usual caveat: I like the NIV but I love the NLT. But you know...other than that....

    The basic subtext of the commentary in this Study Bible is Restoration. One executive editor is  David Stoop, a psychologist and founder of New Life Ministries, which offer counseling and treatment across America. The other executive editor is Stephen Arterburn, who has a masters n Education. So there is this pervasive idea that the person reading this study Bible has been through a hard time --perhaps even endured some destruction in her life-- and is ready to rebuild her life, her relationship with God, and to allow God to lovingly rebuild her.

    I know that all sounds like pychobabble but that's just me. The commentaries profiles, etc do not sound like psychotherapy. They really do feel spiritual. And trust me, I have a real dislike for anything that hints, sniffs, reeks of psychobabble...probaby because I've often found Christian psychologists to be more psychological than Christian. But that's just me. Perhaps.

    Unlike the Spirit-filled Bible which has a lot of names I recognized, the writers and editorial staff of this book are unknown to me. (That's not saying much, of course. . .but it goes to show that a great Bible study doesn't have to be written by folks who are famous in Christendom.)

    The Study Bible begins ith a User's Guide which discusses how to examine our lives. It's a short little feature but that alone is something every christian should read.

    Then a list of features follow:

    The features in this Bible are similar in many ways to those found in other Bibles but there are also some differences.

    There is the usual Bible Book Introductions, Text Notes, Devotional Reading Plan, Spiritual disciplines devotionals, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles. But difference here is the focus on spiritual discipline as a means of renewal and restoration.

    Each Bible Introduction includes: The Big Picture (a synopsis of the Bibe book), Spiritual renewal themes found in the particular book (for instance, the spiritual renewal themes in Genesis are A Good Creation, A Ruined World, Promises of Redemption, and Hope for Reconciliation.)

    The Spiritual Keys Devotionals,  Devotional Reading Plan, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles are all interspersed throughout each book and each chapter also contains insightful notes for Bible verses at the bottom of the page.  Indexes to all these are included in the back of the Bible.

    The index to text notes include such psychological terms as boundaries, commitments, communication, complacency, peer pressure, compromise, choicesdenial, rationalization, discouragement, self-esteem, blame, accountability, wholeness, inventory.

    There are seven keys -- the ones found in the beginning introduction:
    1) Seek God and Surrender to him
    2) See the truth
    3) Speak the truth
    4) Accept responsibility
    5) Grieve, forgive, and let go
    6) Transform your life
    7) Preserve Spiritual Gains

    All these have subtopics and verses that apply.

    Seriously, this remedies the biggest flaw of the Celebrate Recovery study Bible which felt as if all we got was a litany of blaming former victims. I mean I understood the sorrows of the folks in celebrate recovery but the book felt a bit constrained by the whole recovery terminology. (But i digress.)

    The Bible Characters in the character profiles are the usual folks...but given that renewal spin.  I really liked the one about Herod's Family and greed.

    The spiritual disciplines, devotionals, and profiles show the disciplines as:
    Bible study and Meditation, Fasting, Prayer, Repentance and confession, Service, Silence, Solitude, Spiritual Friendship, Stewardship, Worship.  All these also have subtopics. For instance the spiritual friendship subtopics include "But isn't God enough?" "Friends for life." "Maintaining our relationships" "Touching heart, soul, and body" and "Marriage: A most intimate friendship."

    I heartily recommend this book. I received this book from Zondervan at no cost for a fair and honest review.

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

    Dark Eden
    Chris Beckett

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Corvus (January 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848874634
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848874633

  • Wow, this is a great book! I've always loved anthropological scifi, where we see the power of culture on human affairs. I also like speculative fiction where a writer comes up with a speculation...a kind of "What if?" and then we get to see the ramifications of all those "what ifs."  Part of the fun of what if stories is being aware of how the smallest thing affects or is affected by that great what if proposition.

  • So then, imagine an Adam and Eve couple, stranded on a dark planet with no sea and no sun. They decide to have children and they have told these children about the world they came from. These tellings are passed on through subsequent (often mutated because they are inbred) generations. How is a spaceship to be described?  Why it's a boat in the starry swirl sea above!    

  • This what if speculation of the novel comes very close to being a parable and some folks might fnd themselves being uncomfortable with that. What is this book saying about Oral Tradition? (and in a subtle way, about the gospels, since the gospels --according to some-- were oral traditions?) And what is the mix of truth and misunderstanding? What is the purpose of story? To inspire? To change? To lock us into tradition? What if the story has elements of conservatism and revolution in them? What to choose? When do you revolt against Elders? When do you listen to them? Should you stay in a static place awaiting rescue from the sky or should you move on from the old doctrine, so to speak?

  • Other readers might find the book hard going because there is a whole lot of talk about "slipping with" folks. Morals are different in a world without talk of God and where the idea of Jesus has disintegrated as the King of the Juice. (We get the feeling that either Angela wasn't too bright or the tales she told got diuted over the years.)  I'll also add that "juice" is the word for semen in this book.

  • Well, there are a lot of words for stuff in this word. The author is new at coining words, and of course one has to read this story intuitively in order to feel what a certain word might mean. It's not that book is meant to be a puzzle but you'll have to muddle through a bit and sometimes you might not fully understand what a "leopard" looks like or what trees on Dark Eden actually look like.

  •  Since this is full-on speculative, I can't say the writer set out to challenge the Garden of Eden Biblical narrative. There is only one line there which seemed to be a dig at religion. But there is a feel in the novel ...a kind of arrogance toward old stories, and the author does seem somewhat proud of himself as if he has shown his readers that he is an honest seeker after truth who has struggled with accepting anything by faith and he understands their quandary. In that way, certain parts of the story feels downright smug and other parts feels wrong. If a person of faith had written a story with the same premise, that person might have included a god or might have had more insightful things to say about the idea of traditional storytelling. But then the believer would have a different purpose. I also think that a modern Christian writer would probably not have created such a culture. Christian writers are notably dishonest and prudish about sexuality and there probably would have been some dishonesty in exploring the sexual culture of the descendants of Angela and Tommy.   

  • And yet, the ramifications of the story works out so well in so many fine and wonderful details that one can't be too angry. Atheists will use it to show how wise they are in their opinions. Some might even use this book to mock religious people. But I don't think this is what the author fully intends. This is the beginning of a series so who knows where the author will go with it? Does he intend to mirror other events in human history and Biblical history? We already have the makings of tribes and as the book ends, there are hints of tribal warfare coming in FAMILY. As such, we can't make any decisions about the author's feelings about faith in a god or gods of anykind. Not until he makes the people of this world "make" a god or if a god presents himself to the people of Eden. At present there are moments in the narrative when some great coincidence happens and one finds one's self asking why. Why has hero John Redlantern found this relic? Why did the adventurous group from FAMILY find what they found? Is it just by chance? Is it providential guidance from a god or from the universa God? Is it just a writer doing the easy stuff and creating coincidences in the plot?  We shall see.

    All in all, this is an amazing book.

    I'll be writing a longer review for this on The Fan sometime in September. Til then....
    I received this book through the blogging for books website. 

    Friday, August 08, 2014

    Review: The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible

    Review: The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible
    Dr William H Marty
    Dr Boyd Seevers
    Bethany House
    ISBN: 978-0-7642-1128-7

    The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible is a good book for Christians who need to understand the timeline, summary, and spiritual significance of the books of the Bible. It is a good starting place for Christians who wants to get a basic idea of each Bible book before reading it. That means the entire Book of Psalms or the book of Isaiah are distilled into four succinct pages. The writing is accessible and informative. 

    Sometimes, one finds one's self wondering why a particular book was written in the first place. Especially when for the price of this book, one could get a book which gives much more indepth commentary ..or even buy a good used printed study Bible from Ebay or a new study Bible on kindle.

    How shall I describe this book? Well, it's somewhat useful for those who have never read their Bibles or for people who know Bible verses but who really don't know why or when each Bible prophet wrote his book. Think of it as the Cliff Notes edition of the Bible, although Cliff Notes would probably be more indepth. 

    There is another book, published a few years ago, called:
    The Whole Bible Story: Everything That Happens in the Bible in Plain English by Dr. William H. Marty
    Yep! The same author. I really liked that book. This book looks like the outline for that book. So... I ask again: why was this version needed?  Did someone say an even smaller summary of the Bible was needed? 

    The authors should have given their manuscript to folks who know nothing about the Bible. Why do I say this? Bevause sometimes the belabor seemingly unimportant points and ignore important points. When they belabor an unimportant point, the knowledgeable Bible reader finds herself feeling she has subtly been indoctrinated into some picayune pet authorial doctrine. For instance, in Genesis, they go out of their way twice to mention the Sethite theory and to declare that no one is sure who "the sons of God" is. (This seems to be done to make the reader aware of the Sethite doctrine.) Yet, earlier in the Genesis chapter, the authors don't comment on what the meaning of the "serpent" might be. If ever there was a place which needed a comment about what folks not "knowing" or agreeing on an interpretation, shouldn't this be it? No, really! Serioiusly! It's not as if I want the author to jump around from book to book, but if they said something to the effect of: "the book of Revelation defines this serpent as Satan" then I'd be cool.

    And speaking of the Book of Revelation, the authors repeatedly say that the book was written by John. Well, yes, the book is written by John but John also says it is also a revelation given by Jesus. And John was directly told what to write to the seven churches. Instead, the authors say that John describes Jesus as being the source and subject of the book of Revelation. A comment which felt kind of mealy-mouthed to me. If the authors wanted to be fair, they could have said that "some people -- not us, mind you-- believe that these were actual visions. But we feel that John was consciously using apocalyptical metaphor."  I understand that authors need to cover their butts in case they offend testy argumentative Christians but I wish this book had been more honest about what the authors actually believed. Instead, we get a feeling of authors putting themselves in a safety-zone in order to have a book that is the lowest common denominator among denominations. Of course writing a book about the Bible...well, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. We Christians are pretty argumentative. Still, for all their generalize summary of the Bible books, one does get a strange feeling that one is being treated to a party line.

    Call me a cynic but I tend to think that many Christian authors of big publishing companies try to keep themselves safe. They write about the same 600 or so topics.  Christian publishing houses just like selling books. Christian authors don't seem to really care about writing better than their competitors. They just imitate each other. I can imagine the editorial meeting for this book: "Let's put 'Quick-Start Guide' in the title. Folks like the words 'guide' and 'quick-start' and will buy our book. And this book will really help those folks who don't want to read the Bible."  

    There is nothing reallly bad about this book. It could certainly help a lot of people. But there really isn't anything all that great about it either. There are countless other books that seek to encapsulate the Bible and who do a better job. Heck, one can go on the internet and find used study Bibles that are more helpful... and those study Bibles INCLUDE an actual Bible.  

    If you can afford to, and if you really hate reading the Bible and want to pretend you have, I'd suggest getting Dr Marty's other book. Or David Pawson's Unlocking the Bible. It's a little bit more expensive and it is kind of heavy to carry around but it's much more helpful than this one is. The chapters describing each Bible book are like introductory sections in a Study Bible. One leaves the book feeling dissatisfied...and vaguely looked-down upon. 

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Review: NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible

    Review: NIV God's Word for Gardener's Bible
    edited by Shelley Cramm, General Editor

    And who is Shelley Cramm, you might ask? I don't know who she is. If she is popular in Christian circles, I'm unaware of that. Maybe she's popular in gardening, horticulture, and landscape cultures. Funny thing, though: Although she is a total unknown -- at least to me-- this is one of the best study Bible's I've read. I'm really digging it. (I m so tempted to put in a lot of plant puns in this review.)

    I thought this Bible study would be sort of homespun and cutesy. It's not. It has some great devotionals, though. Devotionals that touch the soul but which are also incredibly informative. I probably will not look at figs the same way, after the section on the significance of the fig tree in the garden of Eden.

    Gardeners who read their Bible are probably already aware of the significants of pests, droughts, watering, planting, pruning, etc. I'm sure gardeners see the Bible through gardeners' eyes, just as scifi writers see the Bible as a book by a creator about worldbuilding, or lawyers see the Bible in terms of legal documents. But do most gardeners know about the plants in the Gardens in Persia?

    There are some wonderful insights in this book and some great devotionals. One of my favorite is the discussion of Xerxes going into the garden after Esther had revealed Haman's plot to him. It hadn't occurred to me to see the situation as symbolic of going into one's place of repose to ponder bad news. Yes, I thought as I read the devotional, this rings spiritually true.

    The book contains 260 daily readings and 52 weekend readings all arranged in weekly themes. One cannot go a few pages in this Bible without seeing these devotionals. The weekly themes are divided into sections which include Garden Tour, Garden Work, Garden Stories. These sections are further subdivided. For instance, Garden stories include devotionals on Seasons, Sun and Shade, Weather, Pest and pestlence, Jesus' Parables, Israel's horticultural allegories, Away from the Last Supper, Jesus, the Seed, the Root, Branch, and Firstfruit, Harvest of Righteousness, Intimacy with God in the Garden. All these readings are scattered (sowed) throughout the Bible but there is a guide to all of them collected in the Introduction.

    Each devotional contains a verse to meditate on, a passage to read, and other Biblical passages with which to compare to the original verse. The devotional follows, which may or may not include quotes from gardening books, and historical and hortological backgrounds. The devotional ends with a prayer. Then a short sentence directs the reader to other devotions in that particular category.

    One of the best parts of this study Bible is how the editor shows the thematic flow of certain plants. The fig leaf in the Garden of Eden pops up in the Genesis section. Later, the cursed fig tree closes the metaphor. The meaning and purpose of the olive leaf in the dove's mouth as a symbolic truth to Noah on through to the Mount of Olives. The lentils Esau ate in exchange for his birthright, through the rape of Tamar to Ezekiel's bread to Daniels pulses. Rahab's use of flax and the Proverb 31 woman's use of flax. And now I certainly understand why the prophetess Deborah would sit under a palm tree.  After reading through this Bible I'm tempted to wade through and meditate on all the floral images and spiritual essences that are hinted at in the Song of Solomon.  

    The book is hardcover and feels sturdy. It's thicker and smaller than the other Bible studies I've been reading, which makes it handy for one's church bag. The print is normal-sized. I would've liked a large print but that might be asking too much. The translation is the NIV. I highly recommend this book to all Bible readers but especially to folks who love gardening.

    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Review: Celebrate Recovery Bible

    Okay, I shouldn't feel so angry. After all, the HarperCollins folks didn't exactly say the Celebrate Recovery Bible was a Study Bible. bad for assuming it was...because the Celebrate Recovery Bible is kind of. . .lacking.

    It might be me. I've been reading and reviewing a lot of Bibles lately. And when I see the amount of work put into Bibles such as the NIVintegrated Bible or the Spirit Filled Bible or the Modern Life Study just makes the Celebrate Recovery Bible look pale in comparison.

    First of all: what it has:

    There are some great testimonies from Christians who have had addiction, abuse issues. Those testimonies are pretty brave because we allknow how judgemental some Christians can be. OR how self-reliant. So kudos for these folks who put their stories out there for readers to identify with.

    The Celebrate Recovery Bible also has Bible character studies. For instance. I am Eve. And you can imagine what insights can be drawn from the whole Eve, temptation, and forbidden fruit thing. There are also other characters such as Moses, the Demoniac, the Syro-Phonician woman (whose daughter was oppressed by demons...or as some would say addictions. The mother is shown as the archetypal suffering parent of a child who should be in recovery.)

    Like all Bibles, it has Book Introductions, Lesson Studies, Recovery-Related Scripture Ties, Topical Index, Daily Devotionals, Subject Index, the Eight Principles and Twelve Christ-Centered Steps of the Celebrate Recovery Program.

    The Celebrate Recovery Bible has a foreward by Rick Warren and is a "purpose-driven recovery resource with devotions and articles by John Baker." It is designed for Christians in Recovery. The Twelve Step groups such as AA, Alanon, OA, NA, etc began as Christian organizations. However now they have become places where figuratively one's Higher Power could be a chair or a rock. This book seeks to return the twelve steps to its moorings and to show the Bible verses that are behind those "Christ-centered steps."

    A good goal, I think. So I really can't fault the Bible. Except I was kinda expecting more.  The way the Bible uses the Scripture "ties" seems a bit facile and the commentary about some of the Bible characters seems a bit old hat and sometimes forced into the recovery motif. For instance, Martha of Mary/Martha/Lazarus fame is depicted in a way in which the Bible never depicted her. In the Bible we get a snapshot of her reaction on a particular day, a particularly busy day. Jesus says nothing about her recovery "issues" and Martha is shown in the Bible as being very spiritual but somewhat harried about having new guests suddenly show up at her house: cultural hospitality issues and requirements of women etc. But in this the character study says Martha is "spiritually-barren," "a people-pleaser," someone who wanted to "impress people"  whose "self-identity revolved around identity." Really????? Jesus is depicted as "confronting Martha's non-productive habits and emotions." Seriously?

    I'm all for folks getting insights that suit and touch their lives but sometimes I had to roll my eyes because of the over-reaching. But there is also a part of me that thinks they could have been more involved in all the Bible verses than they are. They really don't comment on the Bible chapters, books, stories, etc as much as they c ould have. And they hit all the typical Biblical stories, which gives me the feeling that these folks don't read their Bibles themselves. They just work with Bible stories they know.

    So a part of me thinks they should've really been more in-depth with the Bible study...and another part of me feels "heck, I'm glad they didn't do to other Biblical passages what they did to the Martha section."

    I guess I can recommend this Bible. It will no doubt bless many people. And it does tie-in the Scriptures to the twelve steps. But it wasn't particularly impressive as a study Bible.  

    I got this book as part of the Harper Collins booklookblogger review program

    Monday, July 07, 2014

    Review: A Floating Life

    Floating Life
    Tad Crawford
    ISBN: 978-1611457025

    Tad Crawford’s A Floating Life is ostensibly fiction. The nameless narrator is adrift, not knowing where he is, where he will end up, and why he finds himself in disparate places. As fiction, the plot revolves around his confusion about his sudden dislocations, the breakup of his marriage, and his new job as assistant to someone who is trying to harness the energy of the waves.

    But that is only important if one accepts the story as fiction. The story, however, is not fiction. It is not even surreal fiction, although the situations that happen to our narrator are all quite dreamlike. Rather, this book is almost like a literary rift on change, fluidity, and confusion. The thematic question is: “What is change? What is energy? How do we drift with life? How do we control our drifting? And will our hero learn to change and to accept change, come what may?”

    The book is philosophical, speculative psychology. Therefore those who buy this book expecting anything like a story will be very disappointed. But those who like books that symbolically explore the human psyche will find this book very beautiful, odd, fantastical and profound as it rifts on existence, change, goals, and cosmic and human energy. Those who like Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Carlos Castenada might like this. Some of the images used by Crawford will lodge in and haunt the psyche for a long while.        

    Monday, June 30, 2014

    Review: New Spirit-Filled Life Bible

    The NIV New Spirit-Flled Life Bible is a great Bible for Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians. The Executve Editor is Jack W Hayford, Litt.D. and anyone who has heard Dr Hayford teach will understand how profound his insights are. Other editors are Paul G Chappell, Ph.D., Kenneth C Ulmer, Ph.D, D.Min., Judy Brown, Ed.D., Roy Hayden, Ph.D., Jonathan David Huntzinger, Ph.D., and Gary Matsdorf, M.A.

    Other Contributors are people well known in Charismatic circles, including people such as Reinhard Bonnke, D.D., Paul F. Crouch, Billy Joe Daughterty, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick Price, Pat Robertson, James Robison, among many others lesser-known but just as influential.

    The Book contains several sections, one of whch covers forty-one themes known as "Kingdom Dynamics." The kingdom dynamics are essential to those who believe in the pentecostal message of the full gospel and the good news of the kingdom. Because this study Bible seeks to highlight the past and present works of God's Holy Spirit, it is quite different from Bibles which may have more preterist leanings.  In order to show the timeless workings of the Holy Spirit, the editors have used a dove symbol whenever a Biblical text connects to the Holy Spirit.

    The Kingdom Dynamics themes include Prayer Power Precepts, Spiritual Empowerment Precepts, Personal Growth Precepts, Supernatural Ministry Precepts, Global Outreach Precepts, among others. These precept sections contain essays and sermons on topis and specific Bible verses.

    There is also a word wealth section which shows the meanings of certain important words. So if one is lookin gup the meaning of grace or forgveness, one can find them easily.

    Then comes the Truth-In-Action sections whch are charts that show what each Bible book teaches. The end sections of the Truth-In Action connects to the Word Wealth found in the books and to Kingdom Dynamics. There are also charts and in-text maps.

    Each of the Bible books begins with a description of the Author, the date the book was written, the theme of the book and the key words of the book. Then the Author's history, the Date, the content, the personal Application, Prophesies about Christ,, description of the Holy Spirit, and Outline of each Bible book is given.  There are charts that show a Bridging of the Testaments and which harmonize the gospels. After the book of Jude, there are studies which prepare the reader for the Book of Revelation, showing all the possible views of the Last Days.  (It doesn't take any particular view, leaving the decisions to each individual Christian.) After the Book of Revelation, there are articles on the Holy Spirit Gifts and Power, and The Holy Spirit and Restoration, World Evangelism, Ministering Healing to the Nations, Understanding Messianic Jewish Ministry, How to Lead a Person to the Savior, and a Concordance.

    Throughout, there are clickable Bible verses for almost every verse in the Bible which gives geographical, theological, cultural, and other information.

    As I said, links are aplenty. I don't know how the printed version of this study Bible would look but I definitely want one.  I generally don't use kindle versions of Bibles because I get lost with all that skipping around then backtracking to get back to the Biblical text.  The way the kindle s set's possibe that one can read all the notes on the Biblical text without reading the texts themselves. And unless you are good at using kindle, I suggest you read the How to Uee This Bible section and links. If you can, I'd suggest getting the printed version.

    This is a very good Bible and I highly recommend it.

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