The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Book by Jared Kennedy (illustrator Trish Mahoney)

 

I’m so excited! Litfuse just sent me The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy (illustrator Trish Mahoney) to review. As a grandma of preschoolers, I’m always looking for books that don’t just tell bible stories as “fairy tales” unrelated to anything else, but rather books that connect the whole story of redemption from start to finish. This is one of the latter. There are several reasons I love it.

Focus on Promise

This book focuses on promise, tracing God’s perfect promises in 52 stories from the Old and New Testaments. In each story, one key truth is highlighted in boldface type. It isn’t always at the end of the story, but can be found anywhere. This makes a fun game for the kids – find the promise! Each story ends with a question to discuss with the child, often a question focusing on Jesus–even in the Old Testament. Salvation and the Holy Spirit are frequent. The book skips those parts of the stories that kids might have a hard time understanding. For example, it doesn’t tell that Moses killed an Egyptian. It just says that Moses went away.

Gorgeous and Educational

In addition, vividly colorful illustrations and fun elements can teach colors, counting, opposites, patterns and object recognition. These are not obvious, so the reader can look for them or not, depending on the child’s interests and level. Each story is six to eight pages, with simple language, short sentences, and lots of action words and onomatopoeia. The paper is thick and glossy. It’s gorgeous! The book is large, boasting more than 300 pages (which may make it a little heavy for a preschooler to hold by herself). The stories are very abbreviated – perhaps too abbreviated for the target age. But most preschoolers will enjoy this book. I sure do!

 

Creating a Spiritual Heritage

A Spiritual Heritage: Connecting Kids and Grandkids to God and Family by Glen & Ellen Schuknecht

As a mom and grandma, one of my primary goals in life is to make sure that my kids and grandkids are not simply following Jesus, but really following Jesus. That they have a faith that sticks in times good and not so good. This seems to be more of a challenge with each passing year. Not only does the culture create increasing obstacles, but even defining what following Jesus means in today’s environment seems to be a moving target. Even more challenging is how we as older adults speak well into the lives of our adult kids and grandkids.

Glen and Ellen Schuknecht offer a plethora of good information in their new book, A Spiritual Heritage: Connecting Kids and Grandkids to God and Family. They are involved in discipleship and family ministries at Veritas Academy in Manchaca, Texas and have made a deliberate commitment to daily build a spiritual legacy in their family. This is done more by dozens of small actions and rituals rather than by one grand thing.

Glen says, “These little things are what allow your precious kids and grandkids to fall asleep safe in God’s arms and wake up knowing they are part of something big and special.” He encourages us “through careful prayer and intentional conversation,” to “build a legacy of faith that will sustain your kids, your grandkids, and all your future generations throughout their lives.” That’s a goal I can subscribe to.

But the Schuknecht’s don’t just spout platitudes and sanctimonious words. They offer practical tips and examples in every chapter. And while their family seems to be one of those Norman Rockwell paintings, they offer examples of other less idyllic families they’ve worked with using their conversational coaching RITE formula: Relate, Inspire, Teach, Equip. Finally, each chapter includes one or more “Quick Tips” sections that summarize their points.

While much of this book is common sense and while some who have been Christians a long time might say, “I knew that…,” I found enough good ideas to consider this book a good investment. For those who are new to the faith or who grew up without strong family bonds, it’s a must-have.

Thanks to Kregel Publications for inviting me to review this book.

Life is Full of Detours

Hagar: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Me by Shadia Hrichi

Hagar: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Me by Shadia Hrichi

Do you ever wonder what God is doing in your life? You head in one direction and end up taking a detour to somewhere else. That’s sure been my story for the past year. More about that in another post…

My friend, Shadia Hrichi, is publishing a Bible study on Hagar that looks wonderful. (BTW, have you ever seen a Bible study on Hagar? Shadia is working on a series on the often-overlooked people in the Bible. I love that concept!)

Today on her blog she revealed a portion of the first chapter, titled “Life is Full of Detours.” I loved this paragraph:

After Abraham and Sarah left Egypt, taking hordes of animals and slaves with them, they traveled right back to where they started. Could it be that God was watching over Hagar and that He decided to remove her from Egypt and its pagan gods? Might He have orchestrated this little detour into Egypt  — not because God needed to send Abraham and Sarah in  — but because God desired to bring Hagar out?

Wow! She calls this “God at work behind the seen.” I love it. It makes me wonder what God is doing “behind the seen” in my life. And yours.

 

Fiction Friday! Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes (The Isaiah Cadre) by Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus

How do you maintain your faith in times of unexpected trouble or trauma? Especially when it hits you out of nowhere. And what if the trauma has long-lasting effects—perhaps for the rest of your life? Would you still be able to trust God?

Beauty For Ashes: Isaiah Cadre, Book 1 (Isaiah Cadre Series) is the first of a series by my friend, Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus. It chronicles the story of Kelly, a student at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in 1981. She is an MK (missionary kid) and in love with Matt, a PK (preacher’s kid). She is also part of the Isaiah Cadre, a group of dorm mates who have committed themselves to God and one another.

The book starts off a little slowly, but sets the stage well for an idyllic college experience, deep friendships, and young romance. It gives context that will be important later. And then the unthinkable happens and in a moment, Kelly’s world is shattered. Her faith is tested. Her love is tested. Even her friendships are tested.

The book offers a realistic portrayal of the way many people handle sudden trauma. It especially demonstrates how trauma affects a normally logical person, and how shame can distort one’s thinking.

I highly recommend this book. I loved it even though it’s not  my demographic. It’s well written, fast moving, and thoughtful. The author offers discussion questions for personal use or better yet, for a book group. Or even for a cadre. And best of all, it’s free on Kindle!

 

Do You Want to be Transformed?

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life       by Christy Wimber

For those of us who are serious about our faith, the idea of becoming transformed is always a priority. We’re always looking for the next step in our metamorphosis into Christlikeness. That’s why I was excited for the opportunity to review Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber (Kregal). I was eager to learn what John Wimber’s daughter-in-law would add to my Christian walk. Her chapter topics increased my enthusiasm: what Jesus said yes to, mercy, renewing the mind, identity, grace, and calling. She identifies transformation as a journey, not a destination and focuses on deliberate, sacrificial choices as vehicles for transformation. All good ideas.

Unfortunately, the book fell short of my expectations. I think there were some good ideas in it, but they were often lost in a rambling narrative that would have benefited from a strong editor. Her writing was not tight and she often didn’t choose the best words or phrases to make her arguments. Her points were weakened by redundancy and rambling. Callout boxes didn’t reinforce or repeat important concepts. They were simply the next sentence, with little reason for being set apart. There were few stories or examples – just narrative. And while she offered some good theories, there was little in the way of practical “how to.” The result was a book I was not eager to return to and few memorable points.

I would love to see this book rewritten and re-edited. It’s clearly a concept needed by today’s Christians. But sadly, this edition doesn’t cut it.

Brave is the New Beautiful

Brave is the New Beautiful:

Brave is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You by Lee Wolfe Blum

Life is hard. It seldom goes like we planned. Bad things happen to good people. Life comes crashing in — or oozing in. And we’re expected to be brave?

As Americans, we want easy answers, quick resolutions. As Christians, we want Jesus to wave his magic wand and make it better. The reality is, answers are seldom quick or easy or perfect. The big question is then, what do we do? How do we react or respond? How do we find hope in the midst of the hopeless?

Lee Wolfe Blum is brave. And beautiful. As a therapist in an addiction and eating disorders program, she explores what it means to be brave, facing her own demons and telling the stories of other women who have faced theirs. In the process, she makes it clear that while there are no easy answers, there is Jesus. But not just the “right answer” Jesus. No, the real, gritty Jesus who meets us in the mess.

Blum weaves her own story of burnout and her resultant quest for wholeness with the stories of other women in a gracious and gentle way. But this is not the typical namby-pamby “isn’t Jesus sweet?” book that I so often review. Blum tells raw, authentic stories of vulnerability laced with faith. Her writing is beautifully crafted, but not every story has a happy ending. Some don’t even have an ending. Just like in real life.

Brave Is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You reads smoothly, but I wouldn’t call it an easy read. It moves deeper with each chapter and offers hope without guarantees. Just like real life. It will be a resource in my ministry. My only complaint is that she wrote it for women only. I would love to give a book like this to many men who are also facing tough stuff. Who also need to be brave.

 

You’ve Got Power!

You've Got the Power!

The Very Same Explosive Power That Raised Jesus From the Dead Lives in You!

Do you ever feel like it’s Good Friday all the time? Like your life is a walking death, filled with pain and defeat? Like God forgot you and threw away the key? Frankly, that’s a common mindset among Bible-believing Christians. So many Christians I know exhibit more of a victim spirit than a victory spirit. And yes, sometimes I do too.

I get it. Life can be hard. Sometimes very hard. We hear every day of the unfairness, the hardships, even the atrocities that seem to plague the inhabitants of this little green planet. We feel as if nothing we do can or will make a difference.

But is that true?

I know. It seems like it. We seem to be helpless. We feel like the ten spies who returned to Moses with a message of defeat after discovering that the inhabitants of the Promised Land were giants. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Do you ever feel like a grasshopper in the face of the giants in your life? Do you feel defeated before you begin? If so, then today is for you. Today is the day you can take back your power. The day you can begin to conquer your giants.

How so, you ask? Sure, Jesus’ resurrection bought our salvation. That’s all well and good for eternity, but what about today? What about the giants I face today? What about my depression? My fears? My debt?

Here’s what today means for you:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:18-23)

That’s God’s promise to you on this Resurrection Day. Whatever you are facing, however low you feel, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you! The word for power in verse 19 is dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. And if that weren’t enough, Paul modifies dunamis with two other superlatives, incomparably and great, which basically mean “to surpass or exceed in greatness.” It’s as if he were reaching to find a phrase that would express the incredible magnitude of this power. And then he goes on to explain the impact of this power. Not only did that power place Jesus above everything, including your problem and the demons activating it. It also put everything, including your problem and the demons activating it, under his feet!

So the next time you feel discouraged, disheartened, or defeated, remember that power which raised Jesus from the dead and let it enlighten your heart with hope. Rise up and take your rightful place. Look your problem in the eye and put it under the feet of Jesus.

Have a blessed Resurrection Day!

Photo Credit: Brendan Sceroler

What an Open Heaven Means to You

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel by John E. Jonson

When reading the gospels, do you ever wonder what it’s all about? What it means to you? If those stories from so long ago really have any impact on your life today? I think if we’re honest, we all feel that at least on occasion.

John E. Johnson tackles these questions in his new book, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel.  In a conversational, almost irreverent tone, he takes thirteen of Jesus’ conversations with others in the Gospel of John and explains how in each, Jesus is demonstrating what an open heaven looks like and what difference it made to His hearers and to us.

Contemporary and Scholarly

Johnson weaves his language between 1st century commentary and 21st century vernacular, reminding the reader that yes, this applies to you. He takes pages out of today’s headlines with mentions of elections, human needs, and the #NeverJesus crowd. And he inserts his reader into the narrative with, for example, Jesus asking the disciples “what food stores remain open” or the disciples recognizing that “even at thrift store prices, there is not that much money in the deacon fund to cover the need” of feeding five thousand adult males, not to mention the women and children. Blended into this very real, very contemporary narrative is excellent scholarship, many quotes, and precise documentation.

Applies to Real Life

So what does an open heaven mean to an ordinary person pursuing splendor? I found myself engaged with Jesus, the human, the one who faced common everyday needs and opportunities in his setting which strangely had a lot in common with my setting. This book took Jesus from “way back then” to right now, from “I wonder how this applies to me” to “Wow, that’s just like my life.” More than any commentary I’ve read, Under an Open Heaven gave me actionable concepts. In addition, application questions at the end of every chapter helped to extend the concept of an open heaven to my everyday life.

This book is readable and penetrating. Well worth your time.

BASS 2017

Ministering at BASS 2017

Ministering at BASS 2017

I just spent the weekend ministering at BASS 2017. What is BASS? It’s the Bay Area Sunday School Church Workers convention. Held in Castro Valley the first weekend in March every year. This year I had the privilege of keynoting in the counseling track. That meant doing five workshops over Friday and Saturday. It was exhausting at one level, but oh so invigorating at a much deeper level. I love ministering at BASS. It’s a wonderful picture of the church in the Bay Area, filled with hungry people eager to learn more about ministry.

This year I taught five workshops, all of which were well received:

  • Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging People
  • Obstacles to Healing
  • How to Talk so Others will Listen and How to Listen so Others Will Talk
  • Survival Tips for the Wilderness Journey: When the Itinerary You’re on Isn’t the One You Signed Up For
  • How to Get Your Warrior Back

Can’t wait for next year!

Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control

"Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible" by Shannon Popkin

“Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible” by Shannon Popkin

What do Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam have in common? According to Shannon Popkin, they are all “Control Girls.” And what is a “control girl?” It’s a girl (or woman) who, one way or another, believe that it is good, right, or necessary to take control. They take control over their husbands, their kids, their circumstances, and try hard to control God. Their motives and methods are different, but the result is always the same – tragedy.

In Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, Popkin has taken a topic I’ve seen little written about and tackled it well. She is an excellent writer, skillfully blending solid biblical study with personal examples. She goes deep by lesson 2, which I appreciated. And every lesson was peppered with good strategies, penetrating application questions, and depth I seldom see in a women’s book. Great job for her first book. You’ll want this book for yourself, your women’s group, or for someone you love.

My only complaint about this book is that she aimed it squarely at and for women. Sure, we need it. But her points are equally pertinent to men, and I’m sure she could have found a half dozen men to write about. I would love to use a book like this for a co-ed Bible study or in ministry with male clients. But hey, let’s get the women in line and pray for the men!