BOOK REVIEW: The Trail, A Tale about discovering God’s Will, by Ed Underwood

When life gets chaotic, it is common to look for guidance, direction, planning.  Sometimes we just want an easy sign to follow.

The Trail is an allegorical telling of our search for God’s will.  Matt & Brenda are struggling with a decision: should they take the job and move to Pasadena?  What does God want them to do?  They seek direction from Sam, an old firefighter/pastor during a weekend retreat in the mountains.  Through the walk, the hike, the struggle to follow the trail and directions, more than simple events unfold.  Sam wastes no time explaining his 8 principles of knowing God’s will to the couple, but everyone gains knowledge in the end.

I found the fresh outlay of the eight principles in story format worked well.  Although the story was pedantic at times, it drew me from point to point as the characters hiked and talked, and echoed the technique Jesus had of teaching thru parables, or stories.  (Matthew 13:34)  I liked the character of Sam, the rugged and straight-shooting firefighter-turned-preacher, for his clear mind, tender heart, and encouraging spirit.  He felt believable to me, especially when he revealed his own shortcomings and struggles.  The couple seemed perfect at first, Matt an edgy accountant, out for facts, details, speed and accuracy.  His struggles would be internal, and tension mounts when they conflict with his wife, Brenda, his tender-hearted helpmeet.  I thought the resolution of their conflict a bit forced, (especially the urging of Sam for Brenda to offer quick forgiveness to Matt for a major indiscretion), but the continued reminders to seek God’s truth in His Word were refreshing.  In the end, whether a big decision, such as forgiveness, or the smaller matter of which job offer to take, framing the question in these principles will help with perspective, and Godly choices.

The book is written by Ed Underwood, a self-stated radical follower of Jesus, and pastor for Church of the Open Door.  Underwood states that you must be in God’s general will (established principles any Jesus-follower can glean from the Scriptures for what we are to be doing), before searching for further personal guidance.  He does not clarify these principles, which could confuse a new believer.  He simply describes being in God’s general will as intimacy with God, a daily effort.  Though Underwood does not get technical,  or theological, he does outlay a lot of Scripture to back up his principles.   Sam seems to be a fount of Biblical references, and requires the couple read verses linked to each point.  I think the message is written to those who need a fresh look on an old question: What does God want me to do?  The answer Underwood gives is held in a story that will keep you pondering long after you finish these pages.

 

I am required to note that I was given a copy of this book in return for my unbiased review for Tyndale House Publishers., as part of the Tyndale Blog Network.

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BOOK REVIEW: Help for the Fractured Soul, by Candyce Roberts

Thinking I was about to read a typical book on emotional healing, I picked up Help for the Fractured Soul: Experiencing Healing and Deliverance from Deep Trauma, by Candyce Roberts.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The book is a gutsy advocate for therapeutic intervention of those who have experienced trauma at the hands of others – often thru ritual and repeated abuse.  It speaks to those dealing with multiple personalities, and related disorders caused by such abuse.  This book is not for the faint of heart, although I thought the author’s portrayal of such true scenarios was gracious and tender.  A simple approach of prayer, coupled with quiet compassion and the expression of trust, are key elements of this author’s healing process. I ended the book in respect for the humility and love this author has shown to some really tough patients/clients.  I would highly recommend it to any pastor seeking knowledge and hope in this area of ministry to a small but tortured (and often hidden) set of members of any congregation.

This review was in return for my receipt of an advance copy of this book from Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group, thru Bethany House Publishers. My thoughts are my own.

 

Resources:

Candyce Roberts

BOOK REVIEW: Chasing the Sun, by Tracie Peterson

Tracie Peterson’s latest novel (of more than 90), Chasing the Sun, is based on a remote Texas ranch during the Civil War.  Beautiful Hannah Dandridge is orphaned on a large ranch with two younger siblings to care for, when she discovers that the ranch may not legally be hers.  Conveniently, the guaranteed-handsome William, (son of the previous owner) returns, and initiates flying sparks and fluttering lashes, and a generous slap of Baptist belief and pat Scripture application.  Complete with Comanche warriors, a smattering of Spanish phrases, and a growling geezer as William’s rival, it competes with a Pop-Tart for my attention.

If this is as good as it gets after writing 90-plus novels, it proves that anyone can write.  Thank you, Tracie, for dispelling my fears.

The plot was predictable, the characters uninspired, (yet quoting Scripture right and left), and the ending so pat I expected to hear the echo of “Ole’!” in the background.

One scene gave me the desire to respond with a “ROTFL”: Hannah has just approached  a Comanche warrior to make the gesture of peace, which is granted due to her recent display of excellent nursing skills on the son of the Chief, when William interrupts her.

“She tried not to notice how his rather disheveled appearance only served to draw her attention.  His brown hair seemed a little more wavy than usual, and the top of his bib shirt was unbuttoned and folded back to reveal a hint of dark chest hair.  She looked away quickly, lest her thoughts betray her.”

The few women I have known who would have been capable of presenting the Gospel to a Comanche warrior in full battle dress (Mother Theresa?  Corrie Ten Boom?), would not have had the slightest interest in chest hairs, attached or otherwise.  I also found it irritating that Hannah is not the least bit attracted to the son of the Chief, but perhaps he was lacking in chest hair.

I give this paperback one star: for being written in passable English, and assisting in bonfire-production (the cover makes pretty colors!)  If this is what sentimental Christian women are choosing to read, then the Enemy has already won.  On a more serious note: for a commendable alternative, with edgy plot and insightful characters, I would suggest any work by Francine Rivers, or Lois Henderson.

My thanks to Bethany House Publishers, for kindling: I enjoyed my roast.  (Translation: my  unvarnished, uninhibited and generally negative review is in trade for the receipt of this book).

Resources:

Tracie Peterson

Tracie’s writing tips (oh, goody!)

Texas (just thought you might need a little of the real thing)

BOOK REVIEW: What a Son Needs From His Dad, by Michael A. O’Donnell, PhD

Perhaps because of the PhD, Michael A. O’Donnell’s latest offering, What A Son Needs from His Dad: How a Man Prepares His Sons for Life is a re-working of better works found on nearby shelves at the Christian bookstore, library or worse, Goodwill.  Mine will undoubtedly end up at the latter.  Full of labeling tricks, I found it to be pedantic.  Ten short chapters (the book is only a scant 141 pages, no graphics), which seem to follow William Bennett‘s focus points, but with none of the depth, classical touches or inspiration.  One bright light: the tool he offers to work through the Lord’s Prayer on p.75 seems a vital element for spiritual growth, and the only piece of the book I would recommend.

Overall, this book is “preaching to the choir:” godly dads who already want to be better fathers, but it could not reach those who might need beginner’s practical help and simple uplifting chapters (something Dobson or Robert Lewis, or Bennett).  No chance for any mom, either.  In short, academic fluff to keep up the degree.  I have a better idea: save the time buying, reading and processing this dull book, and invest in a respected dad within your church who is humbly trying to raise godly kids.  Better yet, find 3 and start a Bible study or encouragement group!

This quite candid review was made possible by Bethany House Publishers, in return for my advance paper copy.  You are free to join their reviewers too!

 

Resources:

Michael A. O’Donnell

Focus on the Family

christian dad

christian fatherhood: crosswalk article

There are scant resources that pop up with this topic…hmmmm.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Healing is a Choice, by Stephen Arterburn

Despite my misgivings of the title, Healing is a Choice  is not a quick-fix manual, in the style of certain tele-evangelists.  Stephen Arterburn writes his most current tome in a conversational manner, workbook style.  I was pleased to find a wealth of thoughtful material, presented for normal, hurting Christians, about topics that the mainstream Christian church typically shies away from.

Presented in a 10-chapter format, where healing choices contrast with the lies that have been sold to us, Mr. Arterburn does not avoid the painful elements of life when discussing either his own story or those of others he has counseled on his daily radio show.  The version I reviewed contained workbook pages with each chapter – an essential part of this book.  Not for gift-giving, (unless you are a counselor), but personal growth in subjects like “The Choice to Feel Your Life,” in chapter 2, contrasted with the lie that “Real Christians should have a real peace in all circumstances.”  This hit home: while going through my own painful journey, I heard this lie – usually from smiling people without the depth of a healing process.  In contrast, the knowledge that my emotional pain was valid became liberating, and brought me (slowly) to peace and forgiveness.  With every chapter, I sensed a need for deeper study, which is why this review has taken so long (I am still not finished, but I hope you get the gist: excellent stuff here!).

In Mr. Arterburn’s words: “Your healing may be physical or it may be emotional and it could be spiritual.  I don’t know what God has for you. I am confident, however, that if you make the healing choices presented here and counter the lies you need to stop living, you will experience some level of healing to a new degree.” (intro,p.15)  In every page, every chapter and especially in the workbook pages, you are encouraged to make this a spiritual healing, by interacting with our grace-filled Saviour.

My hope is that this book is the fuel for your joyful living!

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review, as part of the Booksneeze review blogger group.  You can join also!  Just click on the button at your right.

Resources:

Stephen Arterburn’s online radio presence : New Life Live Show

Christianbook.com’s listing of his written works

Amazon’s page: Stephen Arterburn

BOOK REVIEW: The First Gardener, by Denise Hildreth Jones

Drawing upon the perspective of gardener and governor’s family in a historic Tennessee mansion, Denise Hildreth Jones‘ novel The First Gardener examines the faithful response to overwhelming tragedy.  Interspersed with humor, patience, and Southern pride, it is an easy read for such a difficult subject.

The family of Gray London, governor of Tennessee, fills the mansion with light faith, laughter, and familial joy.  Then an auto accident strikes, and all are affected, beginning with Gray’s wife Mackenzie, mother to Maddie, their only child.  In the wake of the accident, their faith, family, and even functioning are challenged – to exist, even to make it past this terror.  The joy of the book is the soulful gardener Jeremiah, who monitors both the plants of the mansion, and tends gently with the inhabitants by gifts from his greenhouse.  Mackenzie’s mother Eugenia, with her gaggle of elderly girlfriends, rounds out the support system with laughter and nearly impossible Southern spirit.

I found the novel thoughtfully written, the faith fully functional with deep trials, and the interactions sincere.  There were points that found me laughing out loud, and Jeremiah’s quiet reflections about the Lord were balm, while his idiomatic speech was a bit strained at times.  The first sentence, “The sides a my bologna gone and curled up in that cast-iron skillet when a pop a grease splattered out.”  I almost laid the book down.  I did also struggle with the trials, because the well-drawn characters made me hurt with them, and for them, but I thought the author’s conclusions were well drawn.  Pulling through infertility, pride, denial, depression, adultery, or death, Jones does not take the easy way out on any topic, and the journey is worth a few bumps.

As this is not her first book, you may enjoy the author’s website, which includes the first chapter to most of her prior writings.

I rate this book 3 stars, for enjoyable Christian contemporary fiction, and was pleased to receive a complimentary copy for which to complete my review from Tyndale Blogging Network, of Tyndale House Publishing.  You are welcome to join their team!

Book Review: Walls by Ryan Rush

Taking the visual cue of the Berlin Wall, Ryan Rush writes Walls: Why Everyone Is Stuck And Nobody Has To Be, arguing that we are all blocked in some spiritual ways.  “Walls block us from living, giving and experiencing God’s best in our lives.” His examples include anger, fear, doubt, shame…with room to personalize.  Ryan also clearly states that circumstances are not our walls, though they might tempt us to be distracted into believing so.  He proposes several godly steps toward breaking those walls down (there are often more than one) for your optimal growth in Christ.  Ryan’s style is easy, conversational and simply put – I finished the book in an afternoon.  I would not recommend that speed, however,  as this book may require several perusals for progress on said walls.  Anyone with stubborn mental blocks or spiritual strongholds (his provoking example is Mother Theresa) would be strengthened by simply considering Ryan’s method.  The book includes discussion questions to spark comprehension and conversation, spaces to record your thoughts, and begin naming your walls.

Personally I found this resonated with several internal struggles I have faced, with compassion and healing support, and an emphasis on the promises of God, with examples both thought-provoking and encouraging.

I was grateful to have the privilege of reviewing this book for Tyndale Blog Network, of Tyndale House Publishers and received a complimentary advance copy to complete my review.

Book Review: The Grace of God, by Andy Stanley

Grace is a tough two-way street:  I want it freely, yet I struggle to give it abundantly, which makes this book required reading.  My empirical knowledge of this subject has recently been tried by characters in my life who require it – often at odd with my desire to bestow it.  Andy Stanley expounds upon this very concept with the living color of stories from Creation to God’s very Grace-with-us: Jesus.  His earthy writing reminds me of Eugene Peterson, writer of The Message, while giving the clarity and punch of Max Lucado‘s beautiful prose, and yet so riveting in doctrine, like that of Chuck Colson or Francis Schaeffer, that I could not stop reading.  Andy has married a hard concept with examples that breathe for my life today, and in the doing of it, I am encouraged to keep on, to improve, and to smile while on my walk.

He begins by pointing out that “grace is understood best within the context of relationship,” and proceeds to open our eyes to a masterpiece that has been painted for us, by the hand of our God.  Before we existed, He created: the creation continues and astounds us daily by the strength of His grace and relationship to us.  I would not have seen beyond a pretty nature scene to the care God bestows in it – to me! – without my eyes being opened by this book.

Another example of Andy’s depth comes in the explanation of  Matthew’s initial genealogy of Jesus: from the perspective of Matthew, a forgiven tax-collector, and further, from the astoundingly lurid female recipients of grace who pepper Christ’s lineage.  Finally, I could understand the inclusion of Tamar in my Lord’s past.

I am supremely grateful to have had the privilege of reading, absorbing, and humbly applying the lessons in this essential book, and joyfully expect it to become dog-eared in my library.  I cannot more highly recommend it.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: Good Morning, Lord:I Don’t Know Where You Are Going, But I’m Going With You; by Sheila Walsh

by Sheila Walsh

cover photo

Having read several of Sheila Walsh‘s books, I was not disappointed by her cheery perspective on women’s morning devotional books. Speaking to issues I have had, am having, and potentially will face each day, she redirects my thoughts to the One who began the morning for me. For example, page 72-73 focuses on God as my Deliverer: beginning with her story, space to list my specific fears from which I need deliverance, and then guiding me to a listing of the characteristics of my Deliverer (with more space to scribble, which I love), and finally a summary prayer based on the Scripture anchoring the final page. While I had hoped to make this a gift book, I am being drawn to it’s use myself!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.