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.

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: 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: Earthen Vessels: Why our Bodies Matter to our Faith, by Matthew Lee Anderson

 

 

The notion of actually considering my physical frame in light of Scripture was a new one to me.  Despite, or perhaps because of an evangelical understanding that my mortal body harbors sin, I suppose I spend very little time thinking about it.  To such as I am, Matthew Anderson writes Earthen Vessels, a theological exposition of the relevance of our physical spheres to our spirit, and thus our faith.  He argues that we cannot disregard it – in light of the Creator’s genius (which could occupy yet another tome), and His obvious plan for just such a frame to aid us in our spiritual walk.  Touching on tough issues such as homosexuality, lust, tattoos, abuses, and the place of spiritual disciplines towards the body, Anderson delves deep into a very personal relationship with our Savior.  But this is not a book for self-help, but rather reflection, for ponderings, for an awakening of subjects not thought on.  I expect to re-read it, and keep it as a reference point – some of his points are startling, some expected, but none are mundane.  This would make a good gift to deeper theologians, to anyone in ministry, or to spark a great discussion.

Matthew Lee Anderson also blogs on the site MereOrthodoxy.com, and is found on Twitter and Facebook, where he invites comments.

My thanks to Bethany House Publishers, who provided this copy in exchange for my review.   You may join also! click here.

Book Review: Same Life, New Story: Change Your Perspective to Change Your Life by Jan Silvious

Jan SilviousSame Life, New Story captivated me.  It brought together most of my favorite themes: positive change, encouragement, strength-despite-tragedy, and clear Biblical examples, in order that the reader might actively enjoy their benefits.  Citing Naomi, Leah, and the more unusual Jehosheba, among ten marvelous women’s stories of the Bible, Silvious weaves their facts into your struggles, making it possible to both believe in personal change, and become empowered to see it occur.  Jan speaks to those enduring loss, abandonment, abuse, infertility, and aging, among many other struggles, with cheering grace.  Each chapter grabs your attention, (“Don’t be held hostage by the past” and “Delete the drama of the day”) in a progressive layering of Biblical coaching, week by week, including personal reflection questions, journal entry prompts, and group discussion questions.  I wanted to savor this book slowly, drinking in the hopeful words, and giving myself time to absorb her insights.  I highly recommend it for women seeking life-change of any type.  This would be an excellent choice for group or personal study.

This review was done for Booksneeze: in which I received a complimentary copy of the book, in exchange for my review.  You can do the same: click on the button!