BOOK REVIEW: You’re Stronger Than You Think, by Dr. Les Parrott

When the first page of a book promotes the author’s website and another $5.95 (after coupon code), one must be wary.  You’re Stronger Than You Think: The Power to do What You Feel You Cant, by Dr. Les Parrott, does make such an offer, and leans heavily toward ‘think-and-grow-powerful’ mentality of the mega-churched.  In fairness, his practical suggestions are good, but the overall impression is vague empty promises based on human effort.  Linking Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with the Apostle Paul, Parrott summarizes his self-help strength source: “It’s found in your mind, your heart and your soul.  To use it-to summon your strength- all you have to do is say you need it and then listen for the still, small voice.”  No humility here.

I disliked the frequent ‘plugging’ of the author’s website offers, and the questions at the end of each chapter were silly.  He generally talks around a subject, quotes others, and ties in cute stories.  Pure feel-good fluff, with a touch of Scripture on top.  The darker grey pages at the end of sections hold good specific ideas (for instance, to clear your head, practice a mind-dump: write down every little thing that is on your mind, even the silly thoughts, for more clarity.), and evaluation quizzes (also silly).  I did like chapter 6: “Be Bold: there’s strength in taking risks”, but you could borrow the book from the library for those 20 pages.

In short, don’t bother (unless mega-church mantras are your style).  Read Think and Grow Rich, by Hill for the real thing.  I’m sure it will have the same effect: dust, not wealth.

My advance copy of this book was my only compensation for this frank review, for Tyndale Publishers.  My thoughts are my own, and haven’t made me rich yet.  Everything I have is grace from my Giver.

Resources:

pdf first chapter 

Dr. Les Parrott

  bio

other works

website

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: The Cause Within You, Finding the One Great Thing You Were Created to do in This World, by Matthew Barnett, with George Barna

I chose  The Cause Within You for it’s title in the Tyndale Summer Reading Program, and was fascinated by the stories Matthew Barnett tells of his visionary downtown Dream Center in Los Angeles.  Recounting stories of hope, healing and restoration, while reaching out to the ‘untouchables’ of our culture in south central L.A., Matthew weaves a hopeful slice of encouragement onto my plate today.  I had expected a 10-step book, or at least some practical suggestions, given the title, but that was not to be.  Rather than be discouraged, it was astounding to hear of the self-sacrifice he and many of his congregation had made to serve their community. I particularly liked the insistence he had that service to Jesus must come quickly, steadily, and solidly into the lives of others – waiting for long planning, or committee meetings is not how Jesus did it, nor should we.  He quotes Nike’s favorite slogan as an impetus to their response to ideas, and given the book, stories and web-site I reviewed, it seems to be working.  He appears to be a modern day St. Francis of Assisi – complete with Twitter feed and Facebook page.  I wouldn’t knock it – when the church gets practical, God is preached.  Many times, more effectively than any amount of theology could explain.  This book was enjoyable, easy to read and encouraging.  It inspires practical attempts to live out faith in your world, your city, your home.

This review was completed for the Tyndale Summer Reading Program – you can join also!  I found the copy at the library (no free book today!)

Resources:

Matthew Barnett bio

Dream Center 

BOOK REVIEW: Unstuck: Your Life. God’s design. Real Change, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Written for the Christian whose faith seems stagnant, Unstuck, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross attempts to reach a very select audience.  Citing extensive research, a three-step plan for breaking out of a faith rut is written by two men who are part of the Back To the Bible ministry.  Further, the endorsement of Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is featured prominently on the cover and first pages of this book.

But even with all that, the book felt flat.  While I agreed in principle that the Bible, and engaging in study of it, is a vital means for revitalization of life, faith and relationships, this book did not inspire me in the execution of it.  Part one focused on the deadness: burnout, busyness, and the research behind suggesting the Bible was meant to combat these struggles.  I didn’t need a book to explain the research, in fact, if I had picked this up at a bookstore, it would have been because I wanted to get unstuck.  So Part two    described the process of the “Power of Four:” time with God, refreshed thru the Bible, recharged by it, and having a 2-way connection with Him.  Part three applied this process to personal experience.

The book extensively relies on, quotes from, and refers to research.  Just from my daily glance at Google news, I have become very skeptical of ‘research’ and while this may be the most researched method on the planet – it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before I picked up the book.  While I think the authors meant to simply establish their credibility, it made the book feel like required textbook reading, rather than an encouraging walk with a friend.  After reviewing so many of this genre of books, I am partial to those who do have a plan (this one is 45 days), but am cynical about research.  I am further cynical when chapter one is titled “Confessions of a Spiritual Loser,” as that just doesnt smack of the charisma needed to get me ‘unstuck’ from my current hang-up.  While I don’t want Tammy Fay Baker to smile at me from each page, simple honesty goes far with me.  The author’s story of his return to faith was moving, yet his continual use of this title suggested a lack of insight to me.  Leaving the faith, or lonely in the faith, is not a loser – it is a lost and hurting person out of touch with his Saviour.  And no research will help.  The 45 day plan might, but I found the Scripture suggested and questions to be unconnected at best, and left me with more questions when finished.  This would be very frustrating if read alone.  In a group, it might work.  (Where’s the research on that?)

On the flip side, the web site (gotandem.com)suggested in each chapter as a resource for further follow up, seemed well-done, engaging, and clear: daily Scripture delivered at your specified times, for the purpose of continual growth.  The authors did not cite the research involved in the creation of the web-site’s name, a story I would be curious to hear.  I would simply skip the entire book, and go to the site: the author’s stated purpose would be fulfilled (you would be getting into a lot of Scripture, in timely doses), and not have to wade thru pages of research and ineffective counsel on the very deep woes that bog down believers.

From personal experience, in the addictions, hangups and sins that enslave, being told to ‘read more Scripture’ or ‘go to church more’ simply angers – because it shows a lack of understanding of the enslavement.  A slave is not free to simply do those easy things: it is foreign, untrusted and means nothing.  Only when the enslaved reaches bottom, cries out to the Saviour, and has counsel and accountability is change possible.  No amount of reading or attending works when internally, the message can’t change, and the reader cant ‘hear’ what is being said.  That’s where this book misses the mark: it is written without concern for the audience.  Stuck people don’t want research, they want help.  Coating the help in statistics makes it that much more ineffective.  This would be the equivalent of a researcher extolling the numbers of hungry, the value of a sandwich to a homeless man on the street: just give him a sandwich for crying out loud, and keep your research!  Give him a hug, a shower, a smile – anything but this tome of boring (if well-meaning)facts.

In comparison, it is no surprise to me that The Purpose-Driven Life is a bestseller.  Read it instead, and the resources there are far more apt.

This review is in return for the copy of the book Bethany House provided me.  My opinions are my own.  No surprise there!

Resources:

Arnie Cole

Michael Ross

Back to the Bible

BOOK REVIEW: God Loves Broken People, (and those who pretend they’re not), by Sheila Walsh

Sheila Walsh, who needs little introduction, begins this engaging book with the statement: “If I could write one book in my lifetime, I would ask God to make it this one, the very book you hold in your hands.”   The book is not only available, it is written with the best in her.  She writes real encouragement for life’s trials, in embracing the love He offers us in and through them.

Offering healing from life’s very real hurts, her stories span from the 2 Theresa’s: Mother Theresa and Theresa of Avelioux, Bonhoeffer, and other assorted saints and Biblical figures – some expected, some surprising in their offerings, as well as stories from her friends.  The mingling of story and Scripture brings refreshing glimpses of hope into old tales, making them applicable and comforting.  Her recurring themes of love, forgiveness, hope and grace resound.

An example from chapter 6: “What can I know for sure?  Three rock-solid truths to keep you standing, whatever happens,” she offers first, Nothing surprises God, second, therefore, you can trust Him in your pain, and thirdly, Nothing separates you from God’s love.

I appreciated her breezy, yet truthful style; the fact the study guide is at the back, not interrupting my read with boxed questions, and her vulnerability in sharing her own personal story thru this book.  Thank you, Sheila, for writing your book of a lifetime.  It seems God took you at your word.

Resources for further study:

Sheila Walsh, bio

other works

blog

My thanks to Booksneeze, for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.  It was a pleasure, as always to review new content: and you can join too!  Click the Booksneeze button on your right…

BOOK REVIEW: The Exceptional Life, by Stephen Arterburn

In sync with my glowing review of Stephen Arterbur’s previous work, Healing is a Choice, his current book  The Exceptional Life felt like a natural extension of the message: change is possible for anyone.

I was anticipating a continuation of healing principles thoroughly explained, and was not disappointed.  Stephen asks “Want to upgrade to the Exceptional Life?” and it would be a moldy person who did not answer in the affirmative.  In each of his 8 chapters, he gives practical help for recovery from guilt, shame, resentment, fear, anger, instant gratification, learned helplessness, isolation, and addiction, in order to gain the exceptional life, of God’s design.

Stephen doesn’t candy-coat our issues, nor the work needed to regain God’s best for us.  In each chapter, stories are woven to bring into focus each trait – of need for change, and the steps that will accomplish it.  In stark contrast to the superficial life advertised everywhere we look, Arterburn’s book will delve into the pain of alcoholism, overeating, adultery, and less-notable traits like shame and anger.  Few Christian authors dare to say clearly that there is more work to living the life of Christ after reading and praying, but Arterburn is one, and I thank him for his continual stand for growth and change.  Still fewer will stud their theories with personal stories and humility, but Stephen is also of this camp.

If you are looking for change, but do not want the hubris of an Oprah book, I encourage this read – it will become a journey into life!

This review was written for Bethany House Publishers, in return for my advance copy.  You are welcome to join also!

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 One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, by Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker, with free book giveaway!

To start off your new year strong, you may consider an excellent new devotional for men by Tony Dungy: The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge.  Each day of the year is given a story, primarily sports-related, but with pithy spiritual insights, and (the uncommon part), a key principle to put into action that day.

VIDEO SITE:

the-one-year-uncommon-life-daily-challenge

For example, December 14th (the day I received this copy) includes the text of I John 4:7-8, 12  and a story of Tony’s friend James Brown.  “JB believes that every person is a valuable and special child of God.  And JB acts like he believes it.”  Summarizing, the Uncommon Key recommends “Spend time with the people God brings into your life today….”  As you can see, this is a simple and straightforward devotional for men who seek to begin living their faith, or need a basic push in that direction.  This will not contain deep theology, only practical living examples.  But for most of us, that’s the Jesus we are supposed to be: real.

In that vein, I recommend this devotional, and offer a free copy to the person giving the 5th comment.

This book was provided freely to me by Tyndale Publishers, in exchange for my candid review and giveaway (you get a new book, not my copy!)

Resources:

Tony Dungy personal website and challenge

Amazon page of Tony

Tyndale Publishers

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: Pattern of Wounds, by J. Mark Bertrand

In his second novel about the homicide detective Roland March, author Mark Bertrand brings the oxymoronic Christian murder-mystery to life in Pattern of Wounds.  Rushing through the Christmas season in a noose-tightening suspense and breakneck pace, the detective hardly pauses for sleep.  The gentle process of his spiritual questioning fits the few moments allotted for reflection.  Bertrand winds the story through gritty patches of current crime scene investigations, a deepening trail that looks suspicious for serial murder, and his past experiences with an unsolved family crime.

There was no putting this book down: it had all the raw detail of a CSI episode, while improving plot variations and character development, and minimizing repetitive visual trauma.  The crime remained reprehensible, but no nightmares resulted.  I found Bertrand’s alliterations clever: (describing a walk in downtown Houston), “…passing one, two, three abstract sculptures nestled in among the corporate logo, I feel like an ant in a redwood forest, awed by the imbalance of scale.”  His character sketches bring into piercing detail their subjects and solidify his detective’s evaluating eye:  “…a familiar looking stranger with a Fu Manchu mustache and a nickel-plated barbecue gun on his hip,” or my favorite: “Tammy stands there in a glittering red short-sleeved jacket, a cheap sequined wrapper for the squarish lump of her body.  She holds her hands toward me, her knuckles concealed behind a row of mismatched cocktail rings.”  I can just see her shopping at Ross.  And fitting in the word “zydeco“?  Pure vocabulary brilliance. Yes, you will have to look it up yourself.

While I revelled in the tight pace, authentic prose, I will note that those looking for an Amish romance or ‘Christianese‘ conversion will be disappointed.  This is simply well-written fiction about a tough work environment, with a heady pace.  God is mentioned briefly, faith is touched on gently, but no great leaps of change are made.

I was pleased to complete this book review for Bethany House Publishers, in return for my complimentary copy (which I will be keeping, though it deviates from my usual fare).  I give it 5 stars, and look forward to Mr. Bertrand’s next work.

Further Resources:

prior book, Back on Murder

 

J. Mark Bertrand

 

BOOK REVIEW: Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir, chronicles the semesters spent in graduate studies at Oxford University for Carolyn Weber’s graduate work in Romantic Literature.  Along the journey, as the title hints, she is gently drawn to the same faith as C.S.Lewis.  The story reels you in with snippets from the history of Oxford’s hallowed halls, descriptions of England‘s jeweled beauty, stirring quotes caught from her studies, and her personal passage of heart.  An eloquent love story of the most elemental nature, told in first-person prose, Carolyn weaves her history into ‘His’-story to her.

Beginning with an agnostic faith, Carolyn embodies the self-sufficient American as she completes undergraduate work, and finds herself the surprised recipient of a full scholarship to Oxford.  Her interactions bring her into a vibrant group of students and professors, and as the Michaelmas, Christmastide, and Hilary terms unfold, so does her discovery of God in the midst of her simple life.  Chapter 13 brought me tears as Carolyn re-thinks even the relationships dear to her, including fiance, mother, alcoholic father at Christmas, and her sister’s unquestioning love.  Finally, in Chapter 21 my breath is as ragged as a runner while following her final sprint from doubt to the grace of belief.  Throughout, her vague romance with a truly faithful fellow student (TDH, as she names him) bewitched me into an eager desire for the epilogue.  Sadly, the ending is disjointed, hesitant and a misfit with the rest of the well-thought out pattern of the book.  My theory is that she wrote it 14 years later, and had lost the flow of its writing whilst living life.  Overall, I still give this book 5 stars, and have already bought it for a good friend of mine, who will appreciate the depth of faith, sparkling quotes and tender love of both Saviour and TDH found here.  I highly recommend it then, and my hat is off to Carolyn for this valuable and tender story of God’s hand, outstretched in our life.

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.