Category Archives: Christian Living

Book Review: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson

This is one of those rare books that has an absolutely ridiculous sounding name but is actually very good to read.  In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day is all about seeing your daily struggles as God-ordained opportunities to mature your own faith and grow His kingdom.  The title is a reference to the Biblical character Benaiah, who is found in II Samuel 23:20-21.  Benaiah (for those of us who have never heard of him) was a man who literally killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day – hence the name of the book.

Batterson introduces his thesis by sharing the story of Benaiah and examining it in some detail.  Then he sets out seven skills needed to properly view obstacles as God-ordained opportunities to thrive, spending a chapter examining each one: Overcoming adversity, Unlearning fears, embracing uncertainty, calculating risks, seizing opportunities, defying odds, and looking foolish.  The irony of reading this book for me is that I’ve got a couple of challenges I’m facing now in my jobs, and just last week (before I even picked up the book!) I was sharing with Melissa that while the challenges seem to be great in many ways I also feel that God has placed these in my path for a specific reason.  In short, I feel they are God-ordained opportunities for me to guide and help others while at the same time growing in my own faith.

The only complaint I had about the book is that at times I felt like I was re-reading Soulprint because there were some sections that seemed as if they were verbatim from his previous book (which I reviewed).  Batterson’s style is easy to read and enjoyable yet at the same time he raises some great points which require careful and deep consideration.  I’m going to recommend reading this book if you need help seeing your every-day circumstances as God-ordained opportunities to grow in Him, giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

One disclaimer, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but am not required to post a complimentary review in exchange for it.

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Book Review: Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella

If you want to read a book that falls into the category of “I can’t put this one down” then add Now I Walk on Death Row to your summer reading list.  Wow!  How do I summarize this one?  It was, truly, one of those books that once I started to read it I couldn’t put it down.  This is the true-life story of Dale Recinella, a Wall Street finance lawyer, who decides to ask the question, “Does Jesus really mean what he says?”  The answer, he concludes, leads to a transformation in his life that can only be explained as miraculous.  Over time he leaves his work as a finance lawyer and enters the full-time ministry (volunteer, ministry, I might add, not paid ministry) serving “the least of these”.  Mr. Recinella begins by serving the homeless and down-and-out in the inner city where he lives, then transitions to serving AIDS patients, then works with men in prison, and eventually ends up as a volunteer chaplain ministering to the inmates on Florida’s death row.  It is a remarkable journey – one that is a model of what it looks like to “walk by faith and not by sight”.  This book at times made me laugh, cry, and even get angry – it was everything a good book should be.  And to top it all off, it is a true story.  Now I Walk on Death Row challenged me – and will most likely challenge you – to examine if you’re really taking Jesus at his word and if you are truly living the life God has called you to live.  What was shocking (and humbling) as I read the story is not how bad life is for many people in this world, but how ignorant I am of the pain around me and how unwilling I can be to sacrifice my own self to share with them the good news of Jesus’ love.  This book receives 5/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope by Trevin Wax

Counterfeit Gospels is one of those books every Christian leader – and every Christian should put on their “required reading list”.  It pulls no punches and will probably convict (offend?) everyone who reads it at some point within its pages.  Trevin Wax tackles one of the most important questions the Church is struggle with today: namely, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”  The heart of Christianity is the Gospel, but there is so much uncertainty and disagreement among Christians leaders (and Christians in general) over what “the gospel” is, it leads to disagreement over what it means to be a Christian.

Wax identifies a three-pronged approach to understanding and sharing the gospel: The Gospel Story, The Gospel Announcement, and The Gospel Community.  He identifies six different counterfeits in this book: The Therapeutic, The Jugmentless, The Moralistic, The Quietist, The Activist, and the Churchless Gospels, first identifying what the real Gospel is and then disarming each of these counterfeits.  I’ll be honest to tell you I was convicted during my reading of this book that I’ve fallen sway to varying degrees to some of these counterfeits, and I believe any honest believer would find themselves hard pressed not not find themselves in the same boat.  If you’re comfortable in your understanding of The Gospel and how you live your Christian life then this book probably isn’t for you, but if you want to honestly examine whether your beliefs measure up against the truths of Scripture then take the time to read this book and contemplate the truth found within its pages.  This is a definite 5/5 stars.

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Book Review: Working it Out – A Journey of Love, Loss, and Hope by Abby Rike

If you have watched The Biggest Looser you have probably heard of or seen Abby Rike.  Abby competed on Season 8 of The Biggest Looser, and this book is her story.  For those looking for a book on weight loss (which I wasn’t), this book may very well be a disappointment because it’s not about weight loss primarily.  What is is about, though, is so much more – and it is worth the read.  In 2006 Abby lost her husband, five year old daughter, and two-week old son in a terrible car accident, leaving hear all alone.  As she tells the story, she lived in an ideal world with a wonderful family.  The book is more about dealing with the loss of her family than anything else, and, as someone who has experienced an untimely death of a loved one, she very accurately explains the grieving process so many of us have gone through, and the feelings we encounter.  Yes, grieving is hard and life is difficult and bad things happen – we can all accept that – and there is the whole stages of grief thing we all know about.  But what Abby discusses with such honesty and openness is what she felt from other people and their failure at times to support and care for her.  She discusses the struggle to make it appear as if everything is just fine when it’s really not, and the almost impossibility of finding someone on whom to open up to that won’t judge you, won’t try to explain away your pain, won’t go running when you come near, and will be willing to just listen and not say something stupid in response instead of just staying silent.

The book does talk about her weight loss journey and her time on the show, but the bulk of the book introduces you to her family, their deaths, and her grieving process – in fact, you are 2/3’s of the way through the book before weight becomes a major issue and The Biggest Looser is really mentioned (she downplays the weight issue so much that when it does come up it’s almost as if it comes out of no where).  Again, this is not a book about weight loss but a book about grieving, suffering, and learning to live in a fallen and broken world.  She is honest in saying she’s not there yet and she still has rough days – which, unless you’ve experienced the untimely loss of a loved one you can never fully understand – but she is willing to share her journey in an honest and open way.

Perhaps the best chapter in the entire book is the very last one, the one entitled “A Letter to the Reader”.  Here she gives an update on where she is now, she overtly shares her faith in Christ, and acknowledges that we don’t always understand or know what will happen.  My only disappointment with the book is that it didn’t feature her faith more openly, particularly earlier in the book, but it is something she remedies at the end.  Overall I’ll give this book 3/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: Defeat Fear Forever by Christina Li

One of the greatest advantages of blogging specifically to review books is that I’m able to read a lot of books I normally wouldn’t read on my own, partly because when I choose books I choose stuff I may not spend money on, and partly because some stuff literally just lands in my lap.  This has been a great experience over the past several months.  Today I finished reading Defeat Fear Forever by Christina Li, one of those books that literally just landed in my in-box to review.  Ms. Li’s first book can be purchased by visiting her web page, and she also has a blog which can be accessed by clicking here.

Now for my review.  Over all, I found the book rather simplistic and lacking in depth, not to mention some significant theological issues; I also found her reliance on the KJV to be cumbersome to read through at the beginning of the book, though, to be fair, she also quotes heavily from the Amplified and the Message (KJV at the beginning, with more Amplified in the middle, and the Message in the latter third).  In terms of readability, her writing is very conversational and easy to understand, though when Bible verses are quoted back-to-back in multiple translations I did find myself wishing she had chosen one over the other instead of making me wade through two different ways of saying the same thing.

My biggest disappointment in the book is that there was no clinical examination of fear, no exploration of the psychological sources of it.  Granted, the book was clearly written for Christians (the gospel message is not even introduced until the latter 1/3 of the book), focusing solely on the spiritual aspects of fear without giving it any context psychologically left too much up to the reader to understand exactly what she was referring to.  For example, while Ms. Li touches on the difference between positive fear (“fear of the Lord”) and negative fear, there could have been a much deeper study of these two terms that would have made the book easier to read.  Each chapter ends with a summary paragraph (or paragraphs) that begin with something along the lines of “In this chapter, we discussed…”  and for the first three or four chapters when I got to that paragraph I literally found myself thinking, “Oh, so that’s what this chapter was about?  That’s not what I thought.”

While I understand that there are differences of opinion within Christianity in regards to theology, there are three major concerns I have with this book, and, over and above my criticism above, are why I would not recommend it to any of my friends or family.  Before I mention those, let me be clear that I fully accept that Ms. Li is a sister of mine in Christ and I am not suggesting she is not.  I am simply taking a different opinion on three theological issues (one which I consider rather significant).  The first is her position on speaking in tongues, the second is the implication that we can loose our salvation, and the third is her over-glorification of man in God’s eyes.  Without going into a deep theological treatise here defending my own views, I’ll simply show hers and say how my disagreement impacts my understanding of the book.

Let’s start with tongues.  While many evangelicals will say that tongues has ceased, I am not one of those people.  My issue with Ms. Li is not that she believes in the gift of tongues or speaks in tongues herself.  My issue is that at multiple times throughout the book she heavily implies that tongues are a requirement for salvation.  Take this statement from Chapter 6, where she presents the gospel message:

“The obvious first thing to do is repent of your sins (say you’re sorry for all the bad things you’ve done), get baptized in Jesus’ name, and receive the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, Acts 2:38”

Again, I have no issue with speaking in tongues, but in this passage, and several others throughout the book, Ms. Li seems to suggest that tongues are a sign that we are saved, which begs the question: If I don’t speak in tongues am I not saved?  And if that is the case it is simply not Biblical teaching.  Paul himself addresses the issue of tongues quite extensively in his epistles to the Corinthians and flat out tells us that not everyone speaks in tongues – it is a gift to some but not to others.  To list speaking in tongues as a requirement in the same sentence as “repent of your sins” during  a gospel call is to put a requirement on salvation that just isn’t in the scripture.  Later on in the book she retells an incident where she went in to pray for a friend in the hospital and wasn’t sure what to say to the person, so she prayed first in tongues and “waited for the interpretation.”  (Chapter 9).  While I’ll be honest and say I don’t have this gift of the Spirit, I will say my understanding of Scripture is that the person who speaks in tongues is never the interpreter for what was said.  Perhaps I’m wrong on this second point, and if I am any of you readers are free to point that out.  This is not my main issue with the tongues issue.

My second issue is that suggestion that we can loose our salvation.  Again, I’ll quote Ms. Li in Chapter 6:

“Once a person has been saved, he/she needs to take steps that will insure he/she stays saved.”

As with tongues, the doctrine of eternal security is one that (unfortunately) divides people and denominations.   But it is a doctrine I subscribe to.  So let’s be clear on this: Scripture clearly teaches that once we are saved we can not loose our salvation, so there are no “steps” we can or must take to “insure [we] stay saved” – it’s simply not Biblical.  Why is this an issue?  In a book about overcoming fear I find it absurd that the author would place forth a doctrine which should rightly contribute to fear (ie, “I’m afraid because I don’t know if I’m saved or not.  Did I do enough today to insure my salvation?  What about yesterday?  Have I confessed all my sins?”)  This one doctrinal position seems to me to make her entire thesis impossible (that being, we can overcome fear forever).

Finally, what I call the over-glorification of man in God’s eyes.  Perhaps this is symantix, but, again, it is significant.  Ms. Li throughout the book seems to have a very high opinion of humans, writing that

“In fact, He [God] wants me to sit on His throne – next to Him!” (Chapter 6)

Now, again, this may not be that big of an issue, but I read no where in scripture where we are told we will sit next to God on His throne.  God is the only one who will sit on God’s throneYes, we as humans are the crown of creation and we will serve as judges over angels, but we will not sit on God’s throne.  She talks about the difference between vertical and horizontal relationships (ie, Master/Servant and then two equals); the book indicates that God wants to have both a vertical and a horizontal relationship with us, but while Christ does call us his brother we are never equal to Christ – we will share in his glory, but never in the fulness of his authority.  She also mentions that you and I should consider Jesus our fiance’ because, in essence, we are since we are his bride.  While in some ways this may be technically true, we do need to remember that the Church is the bride of Christ, not individual people.  Additionally, at several places in the book she flat out writes that we should not trust our feelings, but then in Chapter 8 we’re told to tell God “the desires of your heart” so that we can know what God wants for us.  Which way is it?  Are we supposed to ignore those feelings we have or are we supposed to look to them for guidance?  Personally, I think there’s a little truth in each answer – but there was no in-depth treatment or examination of this in the book.

So why are these three issues enough to push me away from the book when there are plenty of good things in it (see below for some great quotes)?  In the case of tongues, Ms. Li is placing a requirement on salvation that just doesn’t exist in Scripture.  This is the modern day equivalent of the first century requirement that Gentiles be circumcised to be saved.  We are trusting in something outside of the grace of God for our salvation.  In the case of eternal security, I have already pointed out that without a belief in that doctrine we have something to fear and that fear can never be put to rest, which is a direct contradiction to her thesis.  In the case of the third, by raising the view of humans to such a high level we run the risk of becoming God ourselves (note, Ms. Li does NOT say or imply that and I don’t believe she feels that way, but it will be a logical conclusion of someone who is not well-grounded in scripture to reach).

There were some great testimonies of the power of God throughout the book (the story of her husband preaching at the prison and the story of the little girl who couldn’t walk are two of them), and some great quotes that are worth sharing.  My favorite two highlights are the statement in chapter 2 that “Fear is a choice” and her final conclusion that “Fearless living isn’t really hard.  It’s simply choosing to trust the Lord no matter what the circumstances around you are.”

But because of the theological issues I have with the book and the sense that the book lacks some real spiritual and psychological depth, I can not in good conscious recommend it to anyone.  A wonderful book worth reading is Robert McGee’s Search for Significance.  While not specifically on fear, it does explore fear and the reasons behind fear as well as how fear affects all areas of our lives, helping us to understand the root causes of our insecurities and fears, bringing specific Biblical promises to counter the lies we have been led to believe.  If you’re looking for a book to read on this subject that is the one to invest money in.  I’ll give this book 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the author specifically to review on this blog.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: Awakening by Stovall Weems

Okay, somehow when I ordered this book I missed that it was on fasting.  Ooops!  The book is titled Awakening: A New Approach to Faith, Fasting, and Spiritual Freedom is subtitled 21 Days to Revolutionize Your Relationship with God.    The book is a short and quick read (about only 150 pages for the book itself, then it follows with 21 daily devotionals), but definitely worth the time.

Weems puts a lot of time into developing what he terms the “awakening experience” and laying the groundwork for the need for a 21 day fast.  He also does an excellent job – perhaps the best I’ve read yet (and I’ve read a lot) – on the difference between fasting under the Old Covenant in the OT and the New Covenant in the NT.  His final conclusion is spot on: we fast not to get something from God but to draw closer to Him, and a reminder that God is a filler, not a forcer, but in order for God to fill something we need to first create a void which needs to be filled.

One of the highlights of the book is that each chapter (there are only 12) ends with “An Awakening Story”, or a personal testimony from someone who has undertaken the 21 day fast and grown as a result of it.  Some of the stories were the predictable, miraculous ones one would expect, but others were more down-to-earth.  But all were a reminder that God does work in peoples’ lives in miraculous ways.  The only point of contention I might have with Weems is the huge emphasis he places in the book on the importance of feelings in our walk with God.  Too often feeling are deceiving, and I got the impression at several times that it would be easy to mis-interpret or mis-understand what Weems is saying about following our feelings to justify getting off-track.  But this is a minor issue, and, when viewed through what he says in the rest of the book regarding following the Word of God and setting up boundaries, I believe it would be a gross misrepresentation to twist his emphasis on feelings to justify sin.

One area I wish he would have spent more time in would be when he actually defines and describes beginning a fast.  Weems does a fantastic job for the first 124 pages of establishing the need for prayer, fasting, and Bible study, but then devotes only 20 pages to actually describing the 21 day fast in any detail and only 7 pages actually going into detail about types of fasts and actually deciding how to fast.  Over all, I’ll give this book 4/5 stars.

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One disclaimer, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but am not required to post a complimentary review in exchange for it.

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Book Review: What Good is God? by Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors because he tackles the questions most others are afraid to even talk about – and he does it in a raw and honest way.  Yancey pulls no punches in his struggles and is not afraid to answer with “I don’t know” if that’s really the case.  What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters takes no detours from this style, and it does not disappoint.  Yancey asks some big questions and offers some great answers.

The book chronicles 10 trips Yancey has taken over the years to address and interact with people going through terrible trials: victims of the Virgina Tech massacre, a trip to post-apartheid South Africa, and a trip to Mumbai, India during the terrorist attacks there in 2008.  Most people look at tragedies such as these and ask, “Where is God in all of this?”  Yancey asks the same question – and then answers it.  He finds the good in what appears to be evil.  Scripture tells us that “My ways are not your ways”, and that God is in control, yet at chaotic times in this world it is hard to believe.  Yancey doesn’t try to explain away these evil events with simplistic answers – instead, he acknowledges the evil and then searches for good that comes out of it: the churches and Christians who minister to those in need.  God is present in our world, as is evil, and we need to remember that this world is still under the realm of the evil one.  Yancey never tries to explain away the hurt or disappointment of the people in the situations he chronicles.  Instead, he looks for others who are meeting their needs in the name of Jesus.

And in so doing, he challenges us to do the same.  This is by far one of the most convicting books I’ve read in a long time – and it has re-opened my eyes to the hurt around me as well as how God can use me to minister to the needs of the hurting.  If you are looking for a book to encourage your faith by helping you see God working in the lives of people across the world then this book is for you.  If you pick the book up thinking Yancey will answer the question “Where is God in all of this” by trying to explain away the evil around you, you will not find it here.  Evil is present – and Yancey admits that; what he does is look for (and find) God in spite of (or perhaps because of) that evil.  This is a definite 5/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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