Friday, February 27, 2015

Shirley, I Jest!

Shirley, I JestShirley, I Jest by Cindy  Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shirley, I Jest! is a hard-hitting expose on the behind the scenes strife and drama that shows why those were not so "Happy Days" for Laverne or Shirley....just kidding.  It is not that at all.  And if that is the type of work you are looking for you will be disappointed with this great little book (maybe Dustin Diamond has something new out that could fill that gap for you).

What this book is is exactly what you would expect and exactly what you should want.  Honest, insightful, humorous. Williams is not out to throw anyone under the bus but also does not whitewash areas of struggle or conflict.

It was nice to read about here childhood and early career.  This is not a book that will take a major investment of time or energy but it is a book that please the reader, both in form and content.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Spurgeon's Sorrows

Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who suffer from depressionSpurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who suffer from depression by Zack Eswine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most of those Christians I interact with the most are quick to reject the insidious “health and wealth gospel.”  For the most part, we all can see that teaching for the perverted lie that it is.  However, that doesn’t always keep us free from the bondage of a health-and-wealth lite, a “Come to Jesus and you’ll be happy, your marriage will be better, your kids will act better, your problems will fade away” teaching that is destined to fall short this side of eternity.  We may reject the notion that you can speak a Maserati into your driveway and bind the spirit of influenza, but this overly realized eschatology, this “Jesus will make your life better” gospel, has problems of its own.

One problem that even the most well-intentioned believers struggle with understanding is depression. We often do not understand it and lose patience/sympathy with those suffering with it. We are overly quick to be overly trite and are often overly unhelpful because we are overwhelmed and undertrained.   Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine has been published to help us with all of these issues and more.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is biography meets pastoral exhortation.  In taking us through the suffering of CH Spurgeon, Eswine encourages the reader to heed the words and life of this hero of the faith.  Pastors deal with enormous emotional struggles by bearing the burdens of an entire flock and standing on the frontline of spiritual warfare.  Couple that with personal tragedy and a predisposed temperament towards melancholy and the struggle grows exponentially.   Enter Charles Spurgeon.

Eswine uses the events of Spurgeon’s life and ministry to help the reader try to understand depression, to help those with depression, and to cope with it ourselves.  This book is full of wisdom and grace and will serve the Church well.  It is short and easy to read and deserves a broad audience.  Spurgeon’s Sorrows bears the subtitle of “Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.”  It offers that and so much more.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Behold the King of Glory

Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus ChristBehold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Russ Ramsey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the worst at taking things for granted.  This morning I woke up in a warm house while it sleeted and snowed outside.  I had soft-boiled eggs and fresh brewed coffee for breakfast after I used our indoor bathroom.  I threw snowballs at my kids because my muscles had oxygen-rich blood flowing to them because of my defect-free heart and healthy lungs and because my nerves functioned properly due to my healthy brain and spine.  I hit the cat because I don’t throw very well.  I started my paid-for and functioning vehicle after saying goodbye to my beautiful wife and made it the 20 miles to my great job on less-than-ideal roads without incident.  It is easy to take things for granted.  Even really, really nice things.

Even really, really amazing things.  As a Christian I have found it easy to take the story of the greatest of lives for granted.  I have come to the Scriptures and the stories with a ho-hum, same-old same-old, “We’ve been here before” attitude.  My familiarity with this narrative, coupled with the residual sin that still entangles this justified sinner, has often bread a contempt of the apathetic sort.

The first time I encountered this truth it crushed me.  I never expected this story to lose the, deserved, impact it had had on my thoughts and affections.  As I have grown in my faith and endured the spiritual valleys and spiritual dryness that God uses so often for my good, I have realized that this is part and parcel of being a finite, sinful being engage in active, spiritual battles.  So, instead of lamenting my trip through the valleys, I have learned to look for ways that the Shepherd is leading and comforting me through them.
Behold the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey is a work that will be used to refresh many a weary traveler.  Ramsey takes the reader through the biblical narrative in a fresh way.  Behold the King of Glory reads like a historical fiction about the life of Christ but with an emphasis, a heavy emphasis, on the “historical.”  The historical aspect is Ramsey’s fidelity to the biblical text.  Ramsey harmonizes the Gospel accounts and presents the life of Christ in one narrative rather than four accounts.  

But there is fiction.  And this will be off-putting for some but I do not think it should be.  This is not a “search for the historical Jesus” or a veiled attack on the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  Ramsey is presenting the Scriptural portrayal of Jesus.  What he does helpful is to make explicit the implicit.  Ramsey includes in the narrative the thoughts and feelings of characters and the cultural assumptions of the time.  He gives context.  What you would normally find in the study notes of a Bible, Ramsey weaves into this narrative.  

So, we should not burden ourselves with questions like “Did Peter really think that?” or “How would we know that Thomas said that to the other disciples?” or etc... The answer is, of course, “We don’t know.”  And while it would be wrong for someone to present these sorts of speculations as the revealed word of God, Ramsey does not.  This is not a new translation.  It is not designed to supplant the Gospel, it is a supplement.  This is a teacher teaching us the word through story.  And doing it very, very well.

Behold the King of Glory reminds us of the fact that this story of God become man, this story of redemption accomplished, this story of love to the point of death, this story of victory over death actually occurred.  It happened in real time, in a real place, with real people, and accomplished real results.  God actually became man.  Jesus Christ actually tabernacled among us.  He actually taught, healed, rebuked, and performed mighty acts.  He actually died and he actually rose.  He actually ascended and will actually return again.  Ramsey reminds the reader of these truths in a way that consistently points the reader back to the Scriptures, refreshed and ready to meet the God of the universe in the pages of his revelation.    

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher

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Monday, February 23, 2015

God's Word

God's Word (Making Him Known)God's Word by Sally Michael
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

God’s Word is another tremendous book in the Making Him Known series.  This volume is about teaching children about God’s Word, the Bible.  It seeks to show what the Bible is and how it functions in our entire lives.  The concepts are clearly covered and in a manner that keeps children engaged and interested.  The illustrations are nice.  They add to the lessons and do not overwhelm or distract.

As in all the other books, God’s Word includes brief instructions for parents and good starter questions to lead into times of discussion and to see where your children are with specific concepts and lessons.  What is consistently surprising about works like these is how they are able to take complex and nuanced topics and distill them for young minds.  That, in itself, is not that impressive.  But to be able to do so in a manner that retains the depth of the topic and keeps the young audience engaged and understanding is a real feat.  And it is commonplace in this volume and the others in the series.

While Sally Michael doesn’t use terms like inerrancy, inspiration, perspicuity, illumination, etc…  But, she does teach these concepts and even more and does it in a way that kids get it.  Sally Michael uses Scripture, stories, and historical anecdotes to teach about the Bible, its place in the world, and its place in our lives.  Every book in this series is a blessing, to families and to the Church as a whole and the volume, God’s Word, is as good as the rest!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Romans 8-16 for YouRomans 8-16 for You by Timothy Keller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Good Book Company has consistently been a blessing to the church through the thoughtful and approachable works they publish.  The Bible for You series of short commentaries/study guides on books of the Bible is no different.  I have had the opportunity to read a few of these and have walked away from each one encouraged to study the Word of God more and edified in my love and worship of the one true God.

Timothy Keller writes this volume on Romans 8-16 after writing the companion volume on Romans 1-7.  Keller is his usual self.  His work is clear and concise and immanently readable.  I was intrigued by his handling of certain texts and spurred to greater study and clarity in areas of disagreement.  I am always put off by “missional” terminology that floods Keller’s works (see “live the Gospel”, etc.)  That being said, I have no problem recommending this book and have already gifted a copy to a good friend.

The setup of this book is especially good.  Keller goes quickly though the text and does not get bogged down in disputes and minutia.  The study questions are short and basic but serve their purpose well.  For areas of debate and concern, Keller offers a few appendices in the back of the book to dive into the deeper waters.  Separating these out like this allows a broader audience to benefit from this great work.
This is a series of books that I consistently enjoy and benefit from.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

From the Website
Written for people of every age and stage, from new believers to pastors and teachers, this flexible resource is for you to:
• READ: As a guide to this wonderful letter, helping you appreciate the great gift of righteousness with God.
• FEED: As a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ as you read and meditate on this portion of God’s word.
• LEAD: As notes to aid you in explaining, illustrating and applying Romans 8–16 as you preach or lead a Bible study.
Whoever you are, and however you use it, this is... Romans 8–16 For You

"I have always believed that at the heart of Romans 8 you have the secret to really using the gospel in your heart to change yourself in a profound way." Tim Keller
Join Dr. Timothy Keller as he opens up the second half of the book of Romans, beginning in chapter 8, helping you to get to grips with its meaning and showing how it transforms our hearts and lives today.
Combining a close attention to the detail of the text with Timothy Keller's trademark gift for clear explanation and compelling insights, this resource will both engage your mind and stir your heart.

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