Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Amazing Grace - A Book Review



Amazing Grace recounts the story of John Newton and one of his most beloved hymns in an engaging way for children ages three to six. It has a large font with just the right amount of text per page to match the (generally short) attention spans of this age group. Additionally, the authors seek to retain the listener's attention by asking simple questions along the way. Although simple enough for this age group, these questions are not simplistic and have the potential to lead to helpful discussions about family, discipleship, companions, rebellion, fear, prayer, God's forgiveness, and grace. Additionally, these questions may serve to draw listener's into Newton's story and make him more relate-able. Best of all, each of these components leads the child on a journey to see themselves, like Newton, as a sinner in need of God's forgiveness freely offered through Jesus Christ. Amazing Grace paves the way afresh for the Good News of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

One note: Like many Christian resources, this book seems to summarize Gospel. It's closing pages say:
"Do you know what 'grace' means? It means God gives us what we don't deserve. Because we sin, we deserve God's punishment. But when we believe in Jesus and ask for forgiveness, God forgives and saves us..." (39).

While it is essential to believe in Jesus, the question may remain, "What are we to believe about Jesus?" Unfortunately, due to brevity, this didn't seem as clear as it could be in this book. I would encourage everyone reading this book to go one step further with their kids and read First Corinthians 15:3-4:
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."

This will help present the Gospel more clearly to one's listener(s). The book closes with three suggested questions for discussion, and a fourth would complement these well: "Why can God give sinners grace?" (The First Corinthians passage above answers this question well: Because Christ died for the sins of all who would believe, and God accepted His sacrifice.)

As soon as we finished Amazing Grace, my kids asked me if we had the next book in the series. We thoroughly enjoyed this title, and I am happy to commend this title to you, my readers.

If you're in Canada, you can purchase this book through Reformed Book Services.

*Many thanks to Biblical Spirituality Press and Reformation Heritage Books for sending me a complimentary copy of this book!! This is my honest opinion.

Monday, December 3, 2018

God Counts - A Book Review

PUBLISHER's DESCRIPTION

In this engaging, illustrated children’s book by Irene Sun, young readers learn how numbers declare the glory of God, discovering Bible stories and the truth, beauty, and goodness of our sovereign God through numbers and patterns. With countable illustrations and an easy-to-learn structure, children who are always seeking, finding, tracing, and counting numbers will be captivated by God Counts.


Through simple language kids will understand, God Counts shares theological truths and helps children become familiar with Scripture, exploring the patterns of creation, numbers in the plan of redemption, and the intimacy of a personal relationship with God. This children’s book explores how God counts every fish in the sea, every star in the sky, every hair on their heads, and every tear in their eyes.

By discovering numbers in God’s world and in his Word, parents help their children foster a deeper love and knowledge of who God is and how he counts them as his. Families will be enriched as they learn together how numbers magnify God—just as a telescope magnifies the stars—and each numbered lesson points to a larger redemptive story of Scripture. On each page, the illustrations engage readers, displaying not only a picture but a mosaic of patterns. 

This playful children’s book serves as a beginner’s theology book for young readers who love numbers and patterns, introducing the Trinity, the God of order, the holiness of God, the problem of sin, the rescue and love of Jesus, and much more. Children who love to count will be filled with wonder, leading them to understand deeper truths about God, themselves, and the world around them.
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MY IMPRESSION

God Counts is colorful and contains much biblical truth. It's fun to count various objects with littles throughout the pages of this book. I appreciate that it included Scripture references. At times, the organization seemed a little random and scattered to me. It goes from:

God
to humans as image bearers
to the Trinity, cross, & resurrection (without mentioning sin)
to the beauty of creation
to new creation
to God speaking
to sins that God hates
to God's presence with us (like Joshua)
to the rescue of his children (like Noah)
to imaging God through the Holy Spirit
to God seeking his lost children
to forgiveness (of the disciples)
to eternity
to infinity.

One concern that I have about this book is that God Counts seems to assume that preschoolers are saved and heaven bound which could lead to a false assurance of faith if parents aren't careful to balance out what is presented here. God Counts lacks any call to repentance and faith. That being said, Number 11 does lend itself well to this discussion when it mentions that Judas did not return to Jesus for forgiveness, but the other eleven disciples did return and were forgiven. The final number reads:

"Twelve tells us we will live with God forever"

and the book concludes with:

"God counts all of your steps
Until you walk with him side by side.

God counts all of your days
Until you see him face to face..."

While there is much to commend in this book, in light of these particular issues, I would only recommend this to those who are grounded well enough in Scripture to balance out what they read with their listeners.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press for sending me a complimentary copy of this book! This is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Fever, a Flight, and a Fight for the World - A Book Review

A Fever, a Flight, and a Fight for the World: The Rwendigo Tales Book FourWhat is it like to grow up in 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 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 Fever, a Flight, and A Fight for the World is the fourth book in her series, aimed at youth, which takes us on a journey with "A doctor volunteering in a village plagued by a mysterious virus...and a young girl...the only other survivor..." who find themselves on a deserted island. Each chapter leaves you wanting to read the next.

Like the previous title in this series, I thoroughly enjoyed A Fever, a Flight, and A Fight for the World over an afternoon and evening. Although it doesn't expressly tell how the Gospel makes a difference in the character's lives or how the Gospel gives hope to those facing sin and suffering, it lends itself well to that discussion. Myhre's writing continues to be engaging, wholesome, and age-appropriate while avoiding over-simplicity in vocabulary, plot, and conflict and is a thought-provoking introduction to life in Africa.


Book Synopsis from the Publisher:


A Fever, a Flight, and a Fight for the World is a compelling African adventure story that will enthrall eight- to fourteen-year-old youth who love adventure and learning about faraway places. In the exciting fourth and final book in the Rwendigo Tales Series, readers will be inspired by ordinary people who make the extraordinary choice to stand against great evil. Written by J. A. Myhre, a doctor living and working in East Africa, this adventure story teaches readers of all ages important truths about justice, overcoming evil, and the courage to make a difference.

In A Fever, a Flight, and a Fight for the World, A doctor volunteering in a village plagued by a mysterious virus wakes up on a deserted island injured, sick, and near death—with no memory of how he got there. As Dr. Mujuni slowly regains his memory, he pieces together the horrific reality of what happened to the community and learns just how far the government-backed officials will go to silence all knowledge of the epidemic. As a young girl named Nyakato, the only other survivor, nurses him back to health, Dr. Mujuni must devise a plan to make their way back to the mainland, but what they discover on their journey is even more dangerous than they could ever imagine.

Through a series of perils and hazards, Mujuni and Nyakato must fight for more than their own lives, learning the true cost of overcoming evil and greed. Through their adventures, readers will find hope in the midst of great loss, triumph and courage in the midst of death and injustice, and love in the midst of darkness.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press for sending me a complimentary copy of this book! This is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

God Made Me and You - A Book Review

God Made Me and You: Celebrating God's Design for Ethnic Diversity
PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION

This beautifully illustrated children’s book invites kids to explore God’s design for ethnic diversity and challenges readers—both parents and children—to learn and live out counter-cultural, biblical views, fostering a lifelong celebration of diversity for the glory of God. Designed for four- to eleven-year-olds, God Made Me and You by Shai Linne is the second book in the God Made Me series, starting with God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.

MY THOUGHTS

My preschoolers and I enjoyed God Made Me and You. The combination of colorful illustrations and lyrical rhyme make this book a lot of fun. Shai Linne communicates that His readers are image bearers who exist for God's glory, love, praise, etc. God Made Me and You primarily focuses on externals (tall/short, hair/eye color, disabilities, etc.) and would serve as a good starting point for further conversation(s) highlighting what it means to be made in the image of God. Most of all, I appreciate that this book follows the redemptive story line (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) and has a clear Gospel message. God Made Me and You is a useful picture book to help preschoolers appreciate the diversity of God's design in creation.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press for sending me a complimentary copy of this book! This is my honest opinion.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

All That's Good - Book Review


Hannah Anderson (3 Book Steal)
"How can we, imperfect as we are, develop an instinct for recognizing and embracing the good? How does discernment equip us to navigate a broken, complicated world with confidence and joy?" (13) These are the central questions that Hannah Anderson attempts to answer in her latest book, All That's Good. Her goal is not simply to tell her readers what to think but to shape how they think, and she desires to "lead you away from our common disposition to fear-based thinking toward a place of hope and abundance" (14).


Skillfully weaving stories and teaching together, Hannah Anderson's writing is a delight to relish! Rather than focusing on the evil from which we ought to abstain, Anderson directs us to focus our gaze on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable as defined by Scripture, not as an end in itself but as a means to a greater end, namely, seeing and savoring Jesus Christ.These chapters are not intended to be exhaustive but contain thought-provoking insights which challenge the reader to think deeply about these adjectives.

Perhaps the section that ministered to me the most in this season of life was the last chapter in which Hannah was honest and transparent about how the gift of discernment is "dangerous" (see The Gospel Coalition article by this title for further explanation of this) and can lead the one who has it to feel incredibly lonely at times. She notes that, sometimes, the gift of discernment can feel more like a burden than a gift. Hannah Anderson writes:

Hannah Anderson
"If your experience is anything like mine, you will quite possibly feel alone in this. Instead of relishing being the 'prophetic' voice, you'll agonize over it. If you truly have the gift of discernment, you'll also know the weight of what you are about to say. But because you see good and evil more clearly, you'll also see more clearly what's at risk, and like Jeremiah, even if you try to keep quiet, you'll find the weight of God's message stronger still...(209).
I know there have been times when I have sinned by silence and other times I have spoken in arrogance. I also know there are times when I have frustrated people by simply being a dissenting voice. I know some would prefer I be the proverbial meek and quiet female tasked with maintaining social norms. And if I'm honest, I'd prefer that too. As I've confessed to Nathan [hubby] on more than one occasion, 'I'd be anyone else if I could.' But at the end of the day, none of us can tell God that He has made a mistake in forming and gifting us the way He has" (pg. 182).

She goes on to write about the natural longing for communion and belonging that we have but how brokenness creeps in, even in the life of the church. But she doesn't leave her readers in that hopeless state but shows how Christ also suffered and how coming to the Lord's Table forces us "...to reckon with the fact that nothing else is good enough to draw us together. In coming together, we defy the brokenness and proclaim a greater, shared good" (pg. 184).

All That's Good is not a "x"-steps-to-decision-making book. At times, the content will likely complicate your decision making process(es), but it will make you think about how you can glorify God as you seek to embrace the good of His creation. Like Hannah Anderson's previous books, Made for More and Humble Roots, All That's Good offers much food for thought and is a joy to read.

Many thanks to Moody Publishers and Hannah Anderson for providing me with a complimentary copy of All That's Good. These are my honest thoughts!


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Book Review: Good News for Little Hearts


I remember the first time the fine pastors at Living Faith Church introduced me to the world of biblical counseling. I was hooked! I longed for someone to make these ideas more accessible to a wider audience, especially my children. I've never been particularly good at writing fiction, but I knew that there was a gem of an idea there. Finally, a like minded sister has watered that idea seed and allowed it to grow and blossom.

At present, there are three volumes in the "Good News for  Little Hearts" series which seeks to help kids and parents face anxiety, failure, and anger in a God-honoring way. While these animal stories don't quite have the enduring charm of classics such as the Beatrix Potter books, Little Bear, or Frog and Toad and some conversations between characters seemed to come off a little unnatural (and maybe even a little "preachy") at times, my little ones enjoyed them nonetheless. The volumes are sturdy and full of creative, vibrantly colored illustrations. Each book concludes with Tips for further helping your child and four "Back Pocket Bible Verses" in the New Living Translation that you can cut out and give to your child.

Zoe's Hiding Place: When You Are Anxious begins in a mouse house and contains some of my favorite illustrations. The mouse house contains all kinds of treasures lending itself well to an "I Spy" game. Unfortunately, content-wise, it was my least favorite. It reminded me of the type of moralistic Christian books with which I grew up. While Jesus was mentioned by name, the Gospel wasn't clearly proclaimed. This book makes it seem as if God is with everyone for good all of the time and doesn't make any distinction between those who are His people and those who are not. However, that being said, the book does lend itself well to a Gospel presentation. You'll just want to continue the story by explaining to your kids that the reason why a holy God never leaves or forsakes His children in spite of their sin is because Jesus was forsaken in place of all who would believe and bore the penalty for their sins when He died on the cross and that Jesus didn't remain forsaken but was raised from the dead on the third day and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God the Father making intercession for us and that He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within all who trust in Him. All in all, Zoe's Hiding Place is an okay title but not my favorite of the bundle.


Buster's Ears Trip Him Up: When You Fail has the clearest Gospel message of the three books, and both it and Jax's Tail Twitches: When You Are Angry mention the need for Jesus' forgiveness. I love that these books clearly point our kids to Christ! As far as articulating biblical counseling material, Jax's Tail Twitches seems to have the most content as it models the proper way to handle conflict: going to God in prayer, taking the log out of one's own eye first, asking forgiveness, and being reconciled. Parents will want to make sure to avail themselves of the parent tips at the end for the clearest Gospel presentation in this work. Buster's Ears Trip Him Up came in close but, in addition to confessing sin to God, parents will likely want to  follow the example and parent tips in Jax's Tail Twitches and encourage kids to apologize and reconcile with those who have been hurt by their prideful boasting.


All in all, these titles are useful picture books that will serve adults as they seek to minister to children in their lives and help them to better image and glorify their Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Many thanks to New Growth Press for sending me complimentary copies! I was not obligated to write a positive review. These words are my honest opinion!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: The First Testament, A New Translation

The First Testament
One of the aspects of writing that I most love is playing with words! As a matter of fact, I'm one of those nerdy people who relishes pouring over a thesaurus to find just the right word. In some respects, translation work can be something like that as well since the translator must find precisely the right word(s) to capture what is communicated in the original language, and this isn't always an exact science as languages don't always have perfect word-to-word correspondence. This is why it is so valuable to consult multiple translations when studying a particular passage of Scripture. To that end, John Goldingay has sought to serve the Church with a fresh translation of the Old (First) Testament.


STRENGTHS:

- Fairly easy-to-read (minus the transliteration of names and places which might be hard on the average lay person)

- Consistent translation of Hebrew words across the entire work due to single translator completing the entire project

- Incorporates word plays directly in the text and headings where they can be better noted and appreciated rather than relegating them to footnotes. (Ex. "Babel becomes Babble-on" is the title for Genesis 10:21-32)

- Fresh word choices help readers to slow down over familiar passages, taking them in afresh. For example,

  • "Yahweh" replaces "LORD"
  • "Yahweh's instruction" replaces "law"
  • "awe" replaces "fear" 
  • "sacred" replaces "holiness"
  • "deliverance" replaces "salvation"
  • "wrongdoing" replaces "sin"
  • "rebellion" replaces "transgression" 
  • "waywardness" replaces "iniquity"
"I acknowledged my wrongdoing to you;I didn't cover my waywardness.I said, 'I shall confess my rebellions to Yahweh',and you yourself carried the waywardness of my wrongdoing."Psalm 32:5

I'm no Hebrew expert, so I'm a bit neutral on replacing sin and iniquity. However, I do tend to think "rebellion" is more clear in modern-day culture than "transgression". My understanding is that there is something of a progression between these three terms with sin being a failure to hit the target, transgression being rebellion (ex. seeing the line and choosing to cross it), and iniquity being premeditated rebellion.

WEAKNESSES:

- Every word choice didn't seem to be an improvement. Word replacements in this translation were frequently less vivid and seemed to result in reduced clarity.

Most notably, "righteousness" was substituted with "faithfulness". Again, I don't know Hebrew, but my understanding is that there is a distinct Hebrew word to convey the idea of faithfulness, and it isn't the same word that is used to convey righteousness. While faith is an aspect of righteousness, faithfulness and righteousness are not equal concepts. (Paul Helm has a helpful blog post dedicated to this if you want to read more about it.)


Another example is that "authority" is utilized in place of judgment. Genesis 18:25b is far less precise and makes little sense when translated:

"Isn't the one who exercises authority over the entire earth to exercise authority?"

Clear as mud, right?

"Steadfast love" is replaced by "commitment". Again, while steadfast love involves commitment, it is far more than mere commitment.

- In some places, gender neutrality obscures the original Hebrew. Vern Poythress has a helpful article on this subject with regard to the TNIV. While Goldingay doesn't make every mistake made by the TNIV, he does make the same mistakes in Psalm 1 and 8, Genesis 1:27, and others which seems worth noting.

- Book introductions seemed to reflect a weak doctrine of the Word in favor of modern historical criticism.

This is perhaps my greatest criticism. For example, the introductions to Genesis and Exodus question the historical accuracy of the original authors saying that the accounts are more like a Hollywood movie based on fact. The introduction to Deuteronomy suggests a late authorship and/or compilation during the reign of Josiah contrary to Christ's affirmation of Mosaic authorship. Goldingay writes that Jonah is merely an allegory.

- As mentioned above, transliteration of proper nouns made this translation a bit clunky, at times and seems as though it would present more of a hurdle for a lay audience with no language background.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Overall, this translation could be helpful for a seasoned reader of Scripture who wants something fresh to stimulate thought. However, I'm not sure it warrants the price tag.

*Many thanks to IVP for sending me a complimentary copy of this title! These are my very own, honest thoughts. ;)

Monday, May 7, 2018

For the Love of Discipline - Book Review

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11, ESV).

For the Love of DisciplineDiscipline. Does that word carry a positive or negative connotation for you? What is "discipline"? What does it look like in the context of parenting? Should one do it? If so, when and why?  Does discipline differ from punishment? If so, how? Perhaps few subjects carry the weight of this one, with a diversity of strong opinions running the gamut, and so, we tend to avoid talking about it, and yet, discipline is hard work and a thankless job with eternal consequences, so we could really use support and encouragement along the way. To this end, Sara Wallace joins the sea of voices with For the Love of Discipline.

Building upon the foundation laid by folks like Tedd Tripp (Shepherding a Child's Heart) and Elyse Fitzpatrick (Give Them Grace, previously reviewed here), Sara supplies practical applications for those who already have a solid foundation in applying the Gospel to a child's heart. She successfully combines sound theology and amusing word pictures for a book that is fun, gracious, and edifying. Again and again, Sara points parents to Christ's finished work and demonstrates the difference that the Gospel makes in one's parenting.

At approximately four and a half pages per chapter, For the Love of Discipline is a quick read that addresses some common parenting challenges. Among the questions addressed in this book are:


  • How do we use rewards in a way that addresses the child's heart, points him/her to the Gospel, and glorifies God as opposed to merely modifying behavior temporarily?
  • What is the difference between a reward and a bribe?
  • How do we celebrate obedience rather than simply doing "damage control" for disobedience?
  • How do we find the balance between too much or too little discipline?
  • How do we set realistic expectations with our kids?
  • Are there times when we should "let things slide" and just "let kids be kids"?
  • How should we respond when our child tells us, "No!"?
  • How do we handle tantrums in toddlers and bigger kids?

Additionally, Sara shares practical tools that are serving her in her parenting journey including:

  • the benefits of utilizing structure and routine;
  • how using stories and "word bundles" can be beneficial alternatives to lecturing;
  • how to navigate sibling relationships, teaching children how to be peacemakers rather than peace breakers, as well as, how to show love and serve one another.

Furthermore, Sara raises some thought-provoking questions for her readers throughout the book such as: "Who or what are you teaching your kids to fear?" and "Are you offering your kids comfort that will persist throughout their entire lives?" At the close of each chapter, Sara includes questions and/or activities for reflection to help her readers apply the chapter's content.

Like many books, I found some chapters more helpful than others, and there were places where I didn't agree or would do things differently, but all-in-all, Sara Wallace has written a wonderfully encouraging book with much practical advice that will serve parents as they seek to faithfully run the race set before them, planting seeds for the Gospel all along the way. While I wouldn't consider this a replacement for some more foundational parenting works (like those mentioned above), I'm grateful that Sara has added this Gospel-centered contribution that is personal, winsome, and warm! Sara's heart for God's glory shines through on every page, and I am happy to commend this book to others for their edification.

*Many thanks to P&R Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader copy of For the Love of Discipline, offering me the opportunity to share my honest opinion regarding the contents!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Graciousness: Tempering Truth With Love (Book Review)


"Peacemakers are people who breathe grace to others in the midst of conflict. Since we cannot breathe out what we have not breathed in, this process hinges on our moment-to-moment relationship with God" (Ken Sande as quoted by John Crotts, pg. 68).


Zealous for truth. That's me. Expressing the truth with more zeal than love. Sadly, that is also me at times. This side of heaven, I imagine I will always be able to benefit from some practical methods for cultivating graciousness. That's why I was excited to read John Crotts' latest book, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love.

Crotts spends the first half of his book laying a biblical foundation by examining the Bible's commands for Christians to be gracious, setting forth the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul as positive examples and the church at Ephesus as a cautionary tale of sorts. The second half of the book aims at highlighting practical ways to cultivate graciousness by considering our hearts, the value of others, and our actions, as well as specific suggestions for cultivating graciousness in community.

Graciousness is well written and offers wise counsel. For example, Crotts advises his readers not to merely read books about graciousness but to read biographies about those who exemplify it and adds this beautiful explanation:

"Theoretical kindness provides instruction, but lived kindness adds authenticity and tangibility to principles" (pg. 127).

To that end, Crotts makes excellent reading recommendations. The influence of outstanding works such as Ken Sande's Peacemaker, Paul Tripp's War of Words, David Powlison's Speaking the Truth in Love, and Donald Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (among other titles) can be clearly seen within the pages of Graciousness.

All-in-all, if you are looking for a book that will remind you afresh of the truths of God's Word and the Gospel which will help you to infuse your conversations with graciousness, you will find this to be a worthwhile companion. It is a short, easy read in which Crotts handles Scripture faithfully and is a good, general primer on the subject. Crotts writes: "Raw conviction without gospel hope produces despair" (pg. 130). Readers are likely to find both within the pages of Graciousness.

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

Here are some additional excellent books that have helped me cultivate graciousness in specific areas:


  • General - Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (This book does a really great job of practically demonstrating ways that we can affirm others when we are particularly tempted to be critical, especially when it comes to unbelievers with whom we have very little in common and even often find ourselves in disagreement. It has been a number of years since I have read this book, but I can still helpfully recall examples from this book. The illustration that I probably mentally re-visit most frequently is one in which he strikes up a positive conversation with a pro-choice protester while on a pro-life march. It's quite the conversation and wonderfully instructive! For more of my thoughts on this book, you can read my review.)
  • Marriage - When Sinners Say, "I Do" by Dave Harvey
  • Parenting - Everyday Talk by Jay Younts