Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Review: The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

Notable features of The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy from the Publisher:

  • Gospel-centered Bible stories expressed in ways that speak to toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Children will learn the good news of God’s love for them.
  • Traces God’s perfect promises through fifty-two Old and New Testament stories.
  • Brightly colored illustrations by Trish Mahoney highlight each story and add fun [teaching] elements [such as counting, opposites, patterns, and object recognition] to keep young children’s attention.
  • Each story ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to reinforce the message.

My Thoughts:

There is much to love about The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy. As noted in the Publisher's description, this book has a lot of visual appeal and fun elements that make it a joy to read with toddlers and preschoolers. These engaging teaching elements combined with frequent questions make it a delightfully interactive book. The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible also contains a lot of amusing words and interjections like "Pop!", "Sssluuuurrrrrp", and "Hooray!" Most importantly, the entertaining aspects of this book are not an end in themselves but a means to communicating the glorious truth of the Gospel to young people: they are sinners in need of a Savior, Jesus Christ. Throughout the story Bible, key truths to remember, most often pointing to God's character and work, are highlighted in bold letters, and each lesson seeks to point to Jesus Christ in some way. While the connection to the larger redemptive storyline wasn't always clearly demonstrated and the main point of the Biblical account wasn't always the focus of this author's retelling, this story Bible was generally faithful to the text of the Bible and clearly presented the Gospel throughoutThe Beginner's Gospel Story Bible is a fun and worthwhile addition to the libraries of those with toddlers in their lives.

(Please note, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible does contain artistic depictions of Jesus Christ.)

**Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: The Good Portion: Scripture

"…happiness cannot be fully discovered as long as we remain ignorant of God's Word" (95).

Do you long to hear from God and to know Him more intimately? Do you spend time in the Bible daily, share it with others, and turn to it first in the face of trials, suffering, and weakness? Do you find yourself longing for and delighting in the Word each day? Are the Words of God in the Bible more precious to you than your most valuable possession and sweeter to you than the sweetest treat? How and when we approach the Bible betrays what we believe about the Bible

Christian Focus Publications has begun a promising ten-book series called The Good Portion. In in its first volume, Scripture, Keri Folmar shows us where and how we can hear God most clearly. Her ultimate goal is to "shed light on the treasure and the sweetness of the sacred Scriptures" (pg. 17). She begins by addressing the nature of the Scriptures as God's revelation of Himself and then, progresses to the characteristics of the Bible that naturally flow as a result of its Author. She shows us that the Bible is, above all, about a relationship with the living God. Utilizing insightful analogies, she demonstrates the practical implications of what we  believe about Scripture, including how those beliefs influence our handling of the Word.

At first glance, Folmar asks questions that may appear to have easy answers:

  • Can we know God?
  • How can we know God?
  • Is the Bible really God's Word?
  • Has the Bible been corrupted?
  • Can we trust the Bible? (and what difference does it make)?
  • Can we understand what God has to say?
  • Is the Bible really necessary to know God?
  • Is the Bible enough for us today?

However, Folmar reveals that there is much more to these questions than initially meets the eye. Most importantly, she encourages her readers to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ as the central character of the Bible. Folmar rightly recognizes that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture and yet, reminds her readers that this help does not negate the need for hard work (111). Affirming that "there is only one right interpretation" to the text before us, Folmar helpfully shares "several overarching principles or guidelines for interpreting the Bible" (111-112). Additionally, she illustrates the importance, role, and limitations of historical and cultural context for determining meaning. If we fail to answer these questions in accordance with the Scriptures, we will believe the wrong things and live in ways that do not honor God.

Keri Folmar’s bibliography includes some of the best works on the Scriptures including John Frame's Doctrine of the Word of God, Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited, and Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. Throughout The Good Portion: Scripture, Folmar seeks to make biblically faithful, Scripture saturated, sound doctrine accessible to a wider audience. She avoids getting bogged down by over-technical vocabulary without diluting the truth. At the close of each chapter, Folmar includes a chapter summary and numerous questions covering both content and practical application making this book a good option for group or individual study. Although there were a couple of places where I would have liked to see more depth, Folmar intentionally weeds out excessive details to keep this book manageable and ultimately, provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

In a day when women are longing to hear a word from God, Keri Folmar shows us that we need look no further than the Book that He has already graciously given us. All we need to do is take it up and read it well. I pray that this will open many women's eyes to the wonder of the Word and its Author and whet their appetites to study with vigilance seeking to rightly divide the Word of truth!! May we derive sustenance from the Scriptures that enables us to bear fruit (128).

"Believer! There is enough in the Bible for you to live upon forever. If you should number the years of Methuselah, there would be no need for a fresh revelation [Methuselah lived 689 years!]; if you should live until Christ should return to the earth, there would be no necessity for the addition of a single word; if you should go down as deep as Jonah, or even descend as David said he did, into the depths of hell, still there would be enough in the Bible to comfort you without a supplementary sentence" (Spurgeon as quoted by Folmar, 165).

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for sending me a complimentary copy of The Good Portion: Scripture in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: Irenaeus of Lyon

Teaching faithfully, traveling frequently, and writing fervently, the Apostle Paul was one man who took Jesus Christ's command to make disciples seriously. In his first letter to his disciple, Timothy, he closed with these endearing, fatherly words of exhortation:

"O Timothy, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith" (First Timothy 6:20).

Paul repeats his exhortation and continues this thread in a second letter to Timothy, even going so far as to mention, by name, specific people who had turned away from the glorious, saving truth of the Gospel. Paul's warnings to Timothy were not unique; he also warned many others to whom he wrote. Sadly, false teachers presented a frequent challenge in the early days of the church. As a result, Paul instructs Timothy, saying:
"...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Paul was not the only apostle with concerns for the purity of Jesus Christ's teaching. The Bible reveals that Peter, John, and others also warned against false teaching and sought to equip faithful men and women who would continue to preserve the faith and defend it when it was attacked. Where the Bible leaves off, church tradition informs us of those who imitated the pattern such as John who discipled Polycarp of Lyon who went on to disciple Irenaeus and so on up to our present day.

Thankfully, in our generation, Simonetta Carr has taken up the baton of faithfully teaching the Gospel and of sharing the accounts of those throughout history who have done likewise. The latest title in her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series focuses on Irenaeus of Lyons but also features faithful saints such as Polycarp, Justin the Martyr, Blandina, and Pothinus who stood firm on the truths of the Gospel, even in the face of persecution. Each of these believers sought to faithfully serve God in their generation, guarded the good deposit that was entrusted to them, and taught others to do the same. Ms. Carr shows us that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us!

Church history is never dull when Simonetta Carr takes up her pen. She seeks to write about aspects of her character's lives that will be interesting and relatable to her audience. In Irenaeus of Lyons, she relays aspects of his education, travels, friendships, strengths, and weaknesses. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Irenaeus's life was his sense of humor. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't be amused by some of Irenaeus's antics for proving the absurdity of false teaching, especially when Ms. Carr includes a comical photo of a royal Gourd, Melon, and Cucumber. Less relatable to most Christians in America, but no less dull, are the age-appropriate accounts of persecution and martyrdom faced by the saints of which she writes.

Most importantly, Ms. Carr relates accounts that demonstrate his commitment to the Scriptures and its over-arching redemptive story line as demonstrated by this quote:

"Most of Irenaeus's arguments, however, were based on the Scriptures, which he quoted freely. God, Irenaeus said, has revealed Himself in the Bible, giving all the truth men and women need to know about Him and our relationship with Him. And the Bible teaches that there is only one God, in both the Old and the New Testament, and He is good, perfect, and just. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation we read one long, beautiful story: how God saved His sinful people" (38).

Time and again, Simonetta Carr succeeds in going "beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" in an age appropriate way (2). As with previous titles in the series, readers of Irenaeus of Lyons will encounter a carefully researched account that is edifying complete with a  map, a timeline, fun facts, and an excerpt from Irenaeus's major work, Against Heresies. Captivating artwork and an abundance of vivid photos on thick, glossy pages in a sturdy hardcover make this book yet another collectible title that will endure many years of enjoyment.

Irenaeus of Lyons is a thought-provoking children's biography that is sure to encourage many to guard the good deposit entrusted to them, reading "...the Scriptures faithfully and with humility, seeing both the Old and New Testaments as one unified story" (54). I pray that many will be motivated to preserve the faith handed on by the apostles, to entrust it to faithful men and women who are able to teach, and to defend it when it is threatened by false teachers just as Irenaeus and those who followed him sought to do.

Simonetta Carr maintains a delightful website where you can discover more about her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" including insightful videos of the writing/illustrating process, activity and/or notebook pages for several existing titles (Augustine of HippoJohn CalvinAthanasius), as well as, a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused ReviewsReformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Irenaeus of Lyons in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: Descriptions and Prescriptions

"OCD, ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder . . . these are no longer just technical terms and medical diagnoses, they are part of our common vocabulary and culture.

As Christians, we shouldn't isolate ourselves from this discussion or dismiss these important issues. But we also should be careful not to accept the entire secular psychiatric diagnostic and treatment enterprise without question. What we need is a balanced, biblically (and scientifically) informed approach that neither blindly accepts nor harshly dismisses psychiatric labels, diagnoses, and medicines that are prescribed to help those who are suffering.

As both a Biblical counselor and medical doctor, Michael R. Emlet, MD, gives readers a Christ-centered approach to psychiatry and guides both lay and professional helpers through the thicket of mental health labels and treatments with a biblical lens. In a clear and thoughtful way that puts the person experiencing mental health issues at the forefront, Emlet uses Scripture to show how the Bible engages in the discussion of psychiatric labels and the medications that are often recommended based on those labels. The first book in the "Helping the Helper" series, Descriptions and Prescriptions will give readers a biblical, gospel-formed perspective to help them understand and minister to those struggling with mental health issues."

My Thoughts:

As a Christian woman with a Bachelor's degree in psychology and who maintains an interest in biblical counseling, I thoroughly enjoyed this concise read. Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications is fabulously focused and concretely concentrated on the issue at hand. I found it helpful to formally consider the strengths and limitations of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from a biblical perspective. I especially appreciated Emlet's references to our fundamental nature as image bearers and worshipers and how that influences our ministry to sufferers and sinners "...who struggle with disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors" (pg. 9). In addition to applicable Scripture references, there are a number of insightful word pictures to aid the reader in thinking through these sensitive issues. Most importantly, Emlet keeps the Gospel of Jesus Christ central to the discussion. In the end, Emlet doesn't offer a "one-size-fits-all" approach but helps guide the reader toward a careful wisdom framework.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Book Review: A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star

A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely StarWhat is it like to grow up in the jungles of Africa? That's what J.A. Myhre sought to depict for her children through her Rwendigo Tales. Originally written as Christmas presents, but now, a gift shared with a wider audience, Myhre shows rather than tells her readers what it is like to grow up in the jungles of Africa. Her experience as a doctor who has served with Serge in East Africa for over two decades uniquely qualifies her to present the distinct challenges of those living in the African jungles. A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star is the third book in her series, aimed at youth, which takes us on a journey with thirteen-year-old Kusiima and his family. Each book is set in the same general region and follows different characters, so they do not have to be read in a specific order. In her Introduction, Myhre informs us that:

"Events in this book have their roots in the real lives of real people who love each other and raise their families in places increasingly affected by the same injustices the boy in this story struggles with: loss of those he loves, disease [AIDS], poverty, deforestation, poaching, and rebel movements" (pg. v).

I thoroughly enjoyed A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star over a rainy Sunday afternoon and evening despite the fact that it is a somewhat "heavy" book gently introducing young people to the brokenness and complexity of this world. Although it doesn't expressly tell how the Gospel makes a difference in Kusiima's life or how the Gospel gives hope to those facing sin and suffering, it lends itself well to that discussion. Myhre's writing is engaging, wholesome, and age-appropriate while avoiding over-simplicity in vocabulary, plot, and conflict and is a thought-provoking introduction to life in the jungles of Africa.

Book Synopsis from the Publisher:

"Just thirteen-years-old, Kusiima has no time for school, sports, or hanging out with the other boys in his African village. With no father or mother to take care of him, he works long hours to support his grandmother and sickly baby sister. Then one day, Kusiima’s life suddenly changes when he travels into a nearby protected forest. In the forest, Kusiima is presented with many choices, all with uncertain outcomes. Should he go along with illegal logging? Help to save an endangered baby gorilla? Follow a donkey to who knows where? With each choice, Kusiima has to make yet another decision about what is right in front of him. As he does, he meets a mysterious doctor who holds the key to his past and his future. In the end, Kusiima is faced with the hardest choice of all. Can he forgive a great wrong and heal a broken relationship?"

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: A Small Book About a Big Problem

A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace
In a post-Fall world, there are no strangers when it comes to anger. Ed Welch's latest book, A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger,Patience, and Peace, seeks to address and tame this universal problem. I welcomed the idea of succinct meditations that could be read in under two minutes each. It was refreshing to drink deeply of the rich, Gospel-truths in which this book is rooted. I love that Welch didn't leave any stone unturned when it came to various manifestations of anger but included commonly overlooked habits including: sarcasm, grumbling, complaining, gossip, withdrawal, silence, indifference, envy, and jealousy. I appreciate that he didn't merely focus on outward behavior modifications but looked more deeply at the heart issues that drive anger, seeking to apply biblical truths.

Naturally, a short book with a limited word count presents certain limitations. Understanding these should help prevent disappointment and misunderstanding.  This book is largely about addressing the reader's anger. Although Welch mentions that sometimes our judgments are accurate and often contain some truth, he tends to focus on the undesirable aspects of anger, narrowly defining it as: specializing "in indicting others but is unskilled at both self-indictment and love" (pg. 11). This aims the focus of A Small Book About a Big Problem on the negatives and destructiveness of anger without giving attention to the fact that our propensity for anger is part of being made in the image of God, was corrupted by the Fall, and is in need of God's redeeming grace.

Several aspects of the book would benefit from further development. Welch notes that "There are times when we should speak out against the wrong, even when it was done against us" (pg. 13) and that we shouldn't excuse anger (pg. 118), but he doesn't clearly spell out when those times are, what circumstances surround it, or how one should go about it. Some guidelines would be helpful here.

When speaking of personal injustices, the focus is largely on the reader looking to and imitating Christ who entrusted Himself to the righteous Judge (1 Peter 2:18-23) and the good that God intends to accomplish through mistreatment. While Welch qualifies this with a short statement excluding violence and encouraging the reader to seek help when in danger, his overall emphasis on trusting God's judgments such that one need not take matters into his/her own hands leaves unanswered questions. Does "justice in the end" (pg. 54) mean that there is never justice in this world? Is this not the reason that God has placed authorities (both church and civil) over us? While Welch would advise others to seek outside help, at times, in A Small Book About a Big Problem, there doesn’t seem to be room to meaningfully explore these significant, sensitive issues. Excluding these important questions left me wondering, "Is this treatment of anger careful enough when it comes to the mistreatment received at the hands of others or does it have the potential to leave the most defenseless people vulnerable?" Such delicate matters necessitate more words!

Is there ever a place for good/righteous anger? Is all anger entirely bad, save God's? Can human anger be redeemed as we grow in Christ-likeness? After examining Exodus 33:1-3 and 12-17, Welch compares human anger with God's anger and remarks:

"It is hard to imitate. It is possible but very hard. At some point you want to aim for this: 'Be angry and do not sin' (Ephesians 4:26). For now, follow Jesus's example and have zero tolerance for all anger that reacts to personal slights or attacks" (pg. 123).

This is another statement that left me wanting.

When exploring a topic as volatile as anger, short meditations seem to fall short of sufficiently exploring the many questions raised. All in all, A Small Book About a Big Problem is a good start, but ideally, it would be paired with another resource to provide some needed balance.

*Many thanks to NewGrowth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of A Small Book About A Big Problem in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: Counseling Under the Cross

Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life
What does a man do when he encounters the grace of God and finds peace with God? In Counseling Under the Cross, Bob Kellemen introduces us to Martin Luther and shows us how he learned to apply the Gospel to daily life. Initially, "Luther had attempted to care for his soul through his own wisdom and it earned him nothing but despair. Only as Luther clung to the sufficiency of Christ and Scripture did he find peace for his troubled soul" (pg. 25). Kellemen relates how God used His people and His Word to open Luther's eyes to the Christ of the cross, transforming him into a man whom God would use to minister His Word to others.

If you have read any of Bob Kellemen's works, then you likely know of the significant influence that Luther has had on him and will recognize the lens through which he views Luther's counseling. Through Luther's writings, Kellemen illustrates his four biblical compass points to speak gospel truth in love, what Kellemen refers to as "gospel conversations," compass points which Kellemen would contend were derived directly from Luther's works. In a fresh way, Counseling Under the Cross demonstrates that:

“Changed lives occur as we apply Christ’s changeless truth to help suffering people know that it’s normal to hurt (sustaining) and possible to hope (healing), and as we help sinning people to know that it’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven (reconciling), and supernatural to mature (guiding)” (Robert Kellemen, Equipping Counselors for Your Church, pg. 65).

According to Kellemen, "...Luther's counseling followed the historic focus of pastoral soul care and spiritual direction...[that] dealt with the evils we have suffered in a fallen world and with the sins we have committed" (pg. 40). This pastoral concern of Luther's became the spark that ignited the Reformation making this work a timely gift in light of the upcoming 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Kellemen demonstrates how the: "'Sufficiency of Scripture' is the heartbeat of the Reformation. God's Word is sufficient, authoritative, and profoundly relevant for all of life and all of ministry" (pg. 221).

Counseling Under the Cross is well-documented and includes many quotes from Luther's letters, sermons, table talks, and other writings. While at times, Kellemen's terminology may seem cumbersome, his message is faithful to God's Word, centered on the Gospel, and provides useful categories for ministering the Word to others. Each chapter concludes with a "tweet-sized" summary for review, and the entire book wraps up with a call to make application from what we've learned. Kellemen shows how he has spent that last two decades of his ministry standing on the shoulders of a faithful brother who has gone before us. The thoughtfully selected quotes in Counseling Under the Cross are like flowers plucked out of books that will likely lead many readers to the garden of Luther's works in the future.** May we all continue to minister the Word to our brothers and sisters who are suffering, fighting sin, and seeking to grow in holiness, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us just as Dr. Kellemen has done with Luther.

If you'd like a taste of the content that you can expect to find in the book, Dr. Kellemen has put together an edifying PowerPoint presentation.

You may also be interested in these related book reviews: Gospel Conversations, Equipping Counselors for Your Church, and Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

**(Many thanks to Aimee Byrd for introducing me to Hannah More's  excellent analogy through her book, "No Little Women". In it, Aimee Byrd writes: "One of the best treasure troves is the footnotes of the book you are reading. Authors pluck flowers out of books that will hopefully lead you to the garden they came from!" -- pg. 212.)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Book Review: How We Got the Bible

How We Got the Bible - Handbook   -     By: Timothy Paul Jones
Throughout my childhood, I was presented with a number of opportunities to examine the faith of my parents and the church that we attended. However, most of these opportunities were fairly black and white with challenges coming from folks who were generally antagonistic to Christianity. It wasn't until I attended a Christian university that my New Testament professor introduced me to the world of textual criticism and Bart Ehrman. In spite of his profession of faith and role as a pastor at a local church, that man seemed to do everything he could to undermine the Bible. I was unprepared to refute the claims I encountered, but I didn't thoughtlessly embrace the man's teaching or that of the books he was promoting. God faithfully brought me through that rocky season and used it to strengthen my faith. Over the years, I've continued to study the subject a bit, and I've sought to equip my kids to face "the real world" with a strong, biblical foundation. I want them to examine their beliefs and the beliefs of others and to think critically about them all. When it comes to considering the claims made about Scripture, Timothy Paul Jones has given us an excellent primer in How We Got the Bible.
According to Dr. Jones, the "purpose of this book is to deepen your trust in the Bible by helping you understand how God's written revelation made the journey from the mind of God to the sixty-six texts in your Bible today". In seven concise chapters, Jones explains what the Bible is, how the Old and New Testaments were composed and answers many questions, including:
  • What's so special about the Bible?
  • Is it different from other books?
  • Is it reliable?
  • What does it mean that it is inspired and inerrant?
  • Do Christians need the Old Testament?
  • How was the Bible collected and arranged?
  • Which books belong in the Bible?
  • Why do some Christian religious groups include additional books (like the Apocrypha) in their Bibles?
  • Why don't we continue adding books to the Bible today?
  • How did early Christians recognize which texts truly were God's Word and choose to receive them? 
  • Did early Christians care whether the events described in the New Testament really happened or whether the books were written by the authors who claimed to write them? 
  • How can the Bible be without error if the copyists made mistakes?
  • How do archaeological discoveries such as the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls serve to confirm the accuracy of the Bible and result in increasingly accurate translations?
Throughout How We Got the Bible, Jones is faithful to the Bible. He utilizes relevant anecdotes and humor to keep his presentation engaging and relates many historical accounts to show the continuing importance of this subject today. He includes numerous visual aids such as colorful paintings, photographs, and charts that are sure to benefit the reader. Jones reminds us of the privilege of having God's Word in our language and concludes his work with a challenge explaining the work that remains for the 1,800 people groups who do not yet have a Bible translation in their language. I recommend this work for any group or individual who desires a gentle introduction to the means through which God has been faithful to bring His Word to us.

*Many thanks to Rose Publishing for a complimentary ebook copy of How We Got the Bible in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: The Book of God

     Is the Bible from man or from God? Is there any evidence that it is different from other books? With the many years that have passed and the number of translations that have been produced, how can we be sure that the Bible we have is the same as the authoritative, infallible original? Are we sure that we have all of the books that should be included or are some missing, only yet to be discovered? There are many questions that can be asked of the Holy Scriptures.

The back cover of The Book of God: How We Got the Bible is reminiscent of the formatting of the text at the beginning of a Star Wars movie, an interesting way to entice people to read about the story of The Book of God. It certainly captured my attention. Upon arrival, I left this book on our coffee table to see how long it would take for someone to peruse it. Given the graphic novel format, it wasn't surprising to find that it didn't take much time for The Book of God to garner some attention for itself from my children, which was more than I could say about the other, slightly outdated "How We Got the Bible" book that we were scheduled to read. Clearly, this presentation won my kids over and makes this book unique among other books containing similar information.

     The Book of God: How We Got the Bible is comprised of four parts: "The Production of the Bible (How the Bible Was Written)", "The Process of the Bible (How the Bible Was Selected)", "The Preservation of the Bible (How the Bible Spread)", and "The Proof of the Bible (How the Bible Has Survived and Is Trustworthy)". Ben Avery did a good job of honestly answering many questions surrounding the Bible, concisely summarizing this information and offering a gentle introduction to the subject. I commend it to those seeking to be better educated concerning the substantial evidence that confirms God's hand in preserving His Word for our generation.

*Many thanks to Kingstone Comics for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Book of God: How We Got the Bible in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: Classroom Friendly Supplies Pencil Sharpener

Every year, the kids look forward to filling up their school boxes with fresh supplies. Among the various items, we usually pick up some inexpensive pencil sharpeners. We have also tried more expensive, electric pencil sharpeners. Typically, these quickly became a source of frustration rather than a useful tool and didn't offer a satisfactory solution with lead frequently breaking and/or jamming the sharpeners and motor burnout being our top issues. So, this year, we decided to try something different. Thankfully, an elementary school teacher has been in our position and was offering a solution to our pencil sharpener woes.

After testing this pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies, we are happy to say that we have found a useful sharpener for our homeschool. This pencil sharpener is sturdy with metal and heavy duty plastic components, so we anticipate that it will hold up well with long-term use. The website has useful videos and images that demonstrate how to use it, how to remove occasional jams, etc. (We found that our colored pencils tended to jam the sharpener slightly more frequently than our pencils.) This sharpener makes a very long, sharp point.

This is a useful hand crank pencil sharpener, and we are grateful to have it in our service. We commend it to you if you're looking for an alternative to unreliable pencil sharpeners.

If you are interested, you can learn more about these pencil sharpeners at the Classroom Friendly Supplies website.

*Many thanks to Classroom Friendly Supplies for providing me with a complimentary pencil sharpener in exchange for my honest opinion!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review: Reformation Women

"Death comes when our work is done, not before or after" (pg. 113).

Rebecca VanDoodewaard has done the church a wonderful service in revising, expanding, and correcting James I. Good's 1901 work, Famous Women of the Reformed Church. Originally appearing as a series of magazine articles, each chapter succinctly presents the life of one saint as a "…biographical sketch--an introduction to a woman who could be the subject of an entire book" (pg. xv). Through Reformation Women, VanDoodewaard successfully whets one's appetite to learn more about the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us!

In her Introduction, VanDoodewaard attempts to set the stage by detailing "…major events, documents, and figures…to provide a larger context" (pg. xvii) so that each chapter can focus on a specific woman. Unlike many modern works, she selected "…believing women who helped form our Reformed faith but who are largely unknown now" (pg. xi). Throughout Reformation Women, VanDoodewaard highlights the beauty in the diversity of God's people:

"A range of personalities, abilities, and positions gives us a sample spectrum of what faithful, strong service to Christ and His church looked like then. These same principles and examples are invaluable for helping women today bear fruit within the broad boundaries that God gives us in His Word" (pg. xi).

Within the Preface and Conclusion, VanDoodewaard considers some of the characteristics that were common to all of these believing women: they were devoted, faithful, brave, compassionate, and self-sacrificing; given to hospitality; stewarded their intellectual abilities to understand Scripture, theology, correspond, etc.; and sought, above all, to glorify Christ and build His Church. They weren't always right, but God was faithful to use them to influence, protect, and multiply His church. Reformation Women illustrates that change truly is a process, not an event. VanDoodewaard honestly allows us to see both the good and the bad in the lives of these saints so that God gets the glory rather than merely elevating humankind.

One of the things that I appreciate about this book is its emphasis on truly biblical womanhood. Through these women, VanDoodewaard shows us that "Real femininity is strength--a uniquely feminine strength that is tough and ladylike" (pg. xiii). She shows us what Christ-centered, healthy marriages look like (and some unhealthy ones!). She shows that there are times when it is appropriate for a woman to submit to her husband and authorities (church and government) and times when she should obey God rather than man. These women were not doormats or mindless. Education was a high priority with God's Word being of utmost importance. For example, Charlotte Arbaleste was involved in an odd case of church discipline in which,

"She genuinely believed that the local church was overstepping its bounds and was willing to argue the point to keep her biblical freedom and clarify procedure. She could only do this with integrity because she knew her Bible and church polity. The fact that she was a woman in no way diminished her responsibility to understand the denomination's ecclesiology and to speak out when it was being abused" (pg. 59).

We desperately need examples of women who submit to godly leadership, as well as, examples of women who know when to stand their ground and fight for what is right, regardless of the consequences.

The "…women of that day were not just sitting around waiting for their husbands to do things: they were reading, writing, and ruling. They were teaching children, sheltering refugees, and balancing husbands. They directed armies, confronted kings, and rebuked heretics" (pg. x). They comforted, encouraged, served, and studied. As VanDoodewaard records:

"These women were not hanging out on social media or mommy blogs, waiting for spiritual maturity to happen. They actively pursued it: Bible reading, prayer, attendance at worship (often several times a week), fellowship with the saints, theological study and discussions, and conscious self-denial matured them into usefulness that God blessed. Personal projects, comfort, and plans were subservient to the mission of the Great Commission" (pg. 113).

Reformation Women isn't a book that seeks to merely entertain the reader but is immensely practical. Many chapters close with a practical application for modern Christian women, and the Conclusion fittingly brings the book to a close by outlining seven application points that will strengthen the church today based on common facts about these women's lives. Among them, she shows how these women were able to live the way that they did:

"Their goals were not a great weekend, or seeing kids through college, or even helping with grand-children. Their goal, in different spheres, was the establishment and flourishing of a strong and faithful church that would be there long after they were gone. Because they were aiming for things beyond their life spans, it gave perspective and purpose to their everyday actions. Thinking long term gives us the ability to act meaningfully in the short term" (pg. 113).

That being said, Reformation Women isn't a "preachy" book. These women's stories are absolutely fascinating. Filled with accounts of joy, sorrow, and humor; victory and defeat, loyal friends and plotting enemies, I could hardly put this book down. VanDoodewaard highlights both unusual deeds (fleeing in disguise, preventing war, enduring persecution, and resisting arranged marriages) as well as everyday faithfulness in the mundane. It is encouraging to see how God faithfully intervenes in people's life circumstances to bring them to the Gospel and use them for His glory, especially when it seems unlikely from a limited, human perspective.

Throughout this book, I found myself longing for more details and jotting down questions for further study. Mrs. VanDoodewaard successfully whetted my appetite for further study, indeed. I would love to know more about how these women balanced their many responsibilities, educated their children, managed their homes, etc., and because her sources are well-documented in footnotes, I know just where to turn for additional information!

Most importantly, VanDoodewaard uses Reformation Women to point us to Christ and His all-sufficiency in the midst of life, whether that's joy or sorrow, peace or anxiety, prosperity or poverty, comfort or persecution, affliction, exile, and/or death.

I'm grateful that Rebecca's husband brought her Good's book, as well as, other resources and supported this project with peanut butter cups and pizza for supper. I pray that many will be encouraged to faithfully use what God has given them and where He has placed them for His glory and trust that many will be blessed by Mrs. VanDoodewaard's labor and sacrifice! :)

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for sending me a complimentary copy of Reformation Women in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: Pray About Everything

"If a man walks with God for 100 years, he remains a pupil in the school of prayer" (pg. 39).

In Pray About EverythingPaul Tautges shares with his readers seven brief meditations that are faithful, Biblical expositions of various passages of Scripture. Originally shared with his church as they began prayer meetings, these messages can be read relatively quickly. Although topics are not treated exhaustively and may leave the reader with some unanswered questions, they are thought-provoking and would serve as a good starting points and/or discussion starters.

Mr. Tautges rightly recognizes that the God of the Bible isn't a cosmic candy dispenser. Nor is he a giant genie who jettisoned his magic lamp. For the one, true, living God to answer our prayers, we must come to Him on His terms. We would do well to ask, "What are these terms?" and "What makes prayer effective?"  These are just some of the questions that Paul Tautges addresses in his book, Pray About Everything.

While there are already a number of published books on prayer, Pray About Everything sets itself apart by placing a more significant emphasis on the importance of congregational prayer than other books on the subject, many of which, while very good, tend to focus on the private, personal discipline of prayer. Although this book is intended for the average Christian reader, numerous appendices are provided for those who lead prayer nights, small group studies, etc. Pray About Everything is a Gospel-centered, biblical book that will aid the reader in praying according to God's will as revealed in Scripture. These are the kinds of prayers that God promises to answer.

This book can be purchased from many retailers including:

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!