Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Wicked Women of the Bible" by Ann Spangler

Twenty very wicked women.  Some are wickedly bad and the rest are wickedly good.  What they all have in common is their lives point us toward the redeeming love and goodness of God.  

Wicked Women of the Bible, by Ann Spangler, brings the stories of these twenty women to life through real and incredible portrayals.  Each story gives us a life lesson, showing that whether bad or good, sinner or saint, God uses us in incredible ways to build His kingdom.

Each chapter focuses on a different woman.  Some have bigger and longer stories, some only have a small mention in the Bible but there is a takeaway from every woman in the book.  In this book, wicked can mean a lot of things.  It can be wicked in the traditional sense like Jezebel or a prostitute who is despised by those around her, or it can be a different type of wicked, the women we often look to for guidance on good living like Deborah or Hannah.  Each one has their story told, a lesson for all of us to learn from.  The story is then followed up by a brief section that includes information about the times and culture the woman lived in, and another brief section with questions for Bible study.

I wanted to read this book purely based on the title.  As a Christian woman, I often find myself gravitating toward stories and studies of women in the Bible to mentor and guide me in my own life.  But there are quite a few women in the Bible who are often glossed over when it comes to their stories.  We wouldn’t want to take lessons from someone like Jezebel, would we?  But even those stories have their purpose and they can guide us in our lives.  No matter what, they all point toward the goodness of God toward His people.

This is an easy book to read and I think it would be perfect for a group study.  There is so much information to discuss here and a lot of time can be spent with this book.  The questions that are included are great for leading, but I think the discussion would form naturally just from reading this book.  I enjoyed reading this book over a length of time, reading one story and letting it sit and marinate for a while, rather than reading straight through.  

I was also very impressed by the amount of information that is included.  The stories are written out with a little bit more than what you get from the Bible but everything is sound and accurate because of the amount of research Ann Spangler has put into it.  There is a wealth of footnotes to explain the meaning of words, the time period, the political and cultural background.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Spangler truly has a talent for making the Bible accessible and showing us how to take Bible stories and apply them to our lives.  I think it is easy to often take stories just as stories but there is so much goodness in them that are relevant today and that continue to impress upon us the greatness of God.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley. The opinions expressed above are my own

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Boundless" by Bryan Bishop

Bryan Bishop spent many years travelling the world as a researcher for Youth With A Mission and it was on these travels that he was able to experience the many unique ways that Jesus is worshipped in different cultures.  But there was something he found that truly surprised him - groups of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who followed Christ while still maintaining their old religious customs.  These people thought of themselves as followers of Christ rather than Christians.  And as Bishop began to get know these people, he discovered a new way of worshipping Jesus that could inspire and transform the traditional methods of Western Christianity.

In Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us About Following Jesus, Bryan Bishop shares the stories of people he has met around the world who are worshipping Jesus in ways unique to Western Christians.  He explores the many different customs that are incorporated into worship around the world and gives a fresh perspective on what it means to follow Christ.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend very multi-cultural churches in my years and I have always thought that this has given me an interesting perspective on the way culture and Christianity are intertwined.  I was very much interested in reading this book because I am fascinated by the different ways people worship and how so many differences can still lead to the same expressions of faith.  But this book went beyond what I was expecting.

I thought this book would just look at Christian churches throughout the world. Instead what it does is introduces us to people who follow Christ while never quite leaving their old faith.  Bishop mentions John Travis’ C1-C6 spectrum of Christ-centred communities, which shows the diversity of the ways that Christ is worshipped in the Muslim world.  C1 is a church established by missionaries identical to where they come from, is conducted in the language of the missionaries, and members call themselves Christians.  C6 is where faith in Jesus is kept a secret due to persecution, they worship secretly in small groups, and they fully identify as Muslim.  

The people and groups that are talked about in this book are looked at through this spectrum.  Many people fall in the C4, C5, and C6 areas of the spectrum.  Many do not use the term “Christian,” they will often refer to themselves as “a Hindu who follows Jesus” for example.  It is understandable why people choose to follow this road, in many parts of the world the term Christian is associated with negative things that aren’t always related to the faith.  For many people, leaving the faith they were born in means being ostracized by their family and community and they don’t want to lose these relationships.  

There is a lot that Western Christians can learn from these groups.  Often, we think that Christianity should be uniform, that it should look the same across the world, and that the Western form of it is the proper form.  What if we try to shake off the label of Christian and instead call ourselves Followers of Christ?  Could this transform our faith?  Could this make outsiders more comfortable in the faith?  This book will have you asking a lot of questions of yourself.  It will make you take a good look at your faith.

But this book isn’t all about how great this model of worship is.  Bishop does take the time turn around and question whether this is a good way to go about following Christ.  He asks the questions of whether or not these some of these people are truly following Jesus and whether in order to be they need to shake off all that remains of their former beliefs.  He takes the time to sit down with people who have spent time in these communities and who feel that maybe this isn’t the best approach.  He shares the story of a community that followed Jesus after one man received a vision but who years down the road were not able to flourish as believers.  This book does present a well-rounded view.

I appreciate how Bishop also took the time to visit followers of Jesus who worship in traditional cultural ways right here in North America.  It’s important to see that this is a global movement and that Christianity can flourish in many ways everywhere.  

As someone who spends lots of time with people of other faiths, this book gave me hope and determination of the different ways we can bring people to Jesus.  I often struggle with sharing the faith in ways that doesn’t attack the other faiths or put them off of Christianity.  I know going into it that many people have negative attitudes and experiences of Christianity and because of that it is hard to reach them.  This book helped me to see that there are many different ways to relate Jesus to their lives.  Jesus meets people where they are and what God wants is from them to put their faith in Him.  His salvation is for everyone but our worship will come in different forms.  And that is okay. 

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"For the Love" by Jen Hatmaker

Whether we like it or not, we all have to deal with other people on a daily basis.  And that can be challenging, not just for introverts, but for anyone who has to deal with difficult people.  So what’s the secret to doing so and keeping your sanity in tact?  Jesus’ extravagant grace.

In For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, popular blogger, writer, and television personality Jen Hatmaker shares the secret for getting through difficulties and joys of dealing with people.  Whether we’re related to them through birth or marriage, work with them, go to church with them, or just pass by them, we need God’s grace to make sure that each interaction is done with kindness and love.

I have to start this review by pointing out the obvious - Jen Hatmaker is absolutely hilarious.  Before reading the book, all I knew of her was from following her on Twitter, I hadn’t read her other book or seen her television show.  I enjoy her tweets so much, they are an equal combination of humour and inspiration.  And this book is written in the same way.

For the Love is a call to live life with truth, love, and grace no matter what situation you find yourself in.  In a world that is constantly busy, often judgmental, and at times confusing, grace will be the change.  The amazing thing about this book is that it shows all of this through fun and humourous topics such as fashion, pet peeves, and Facebook comments, to serious life topics such as motherhood, marriage, and social justice.

This isn’t a Bible Study, this is a book about living out Jesus’ example and His miraculous grace in our everyday lives.  At times it can feel like it is a little light on the topic but these are the kinds of books we need. Not every Christian book has to be heavy on the theology.  Sometimes it can just be about having a good laugh and enjoying your down time.  

This isn’t a book that I would recommend giving to someone so they can learn about the faith, especially if they are not Christian.  This is a book I recommend for women who are committed to the faith and who are looking for guidance but also looking for some fun reading.  There is a lot of wisdom in the book and a lot of great points to think on.  This book is easily applicable to everyone’s life.

And while Jen is right about so many things in this book, there is one thing that she gets especially right - leggings are not pants and tights are not leggings.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading: Zephaniah

The Book of Zephaniah is the prophecies of Zephaniah, a man who introduces himself as a part of the royal lineage and descendant of Hezekiah.  He prophesied in Jerusalem during the reign of Josiah, the King of Judah from 640-609 BC.

The book focuses on the impending judgment of God and the restoration of God’s people.  In fact, it mentions the day of the Lord more than any other book in the Old Testament.  The message of this book is applied to todays Christians as a reminder of the judgment of God and is a call to godly living.  We are by nature a sinful people but the Book of Zephaniah reminds us that our God is one of restoration. It is in Christ that we find our hope and salvation and our lives should reflect that.

Application Verses

Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests - 1:7

Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger - 2:3

She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God - 3:2

Therefore, wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent - 3:8-9

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing - 3:17

Monday, June 8, 2015

"How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible" by Keith Ferrin

You read the Bible, but do you ENJOY reading the Bible?  Is it something that you like or something you do because you have to?

These are very important questions.  If you don’t like the reading the Bible, you will be missing things that are very important.  If you’re just reading the Bible because you think you have to, it may not speak to you the way it should.

Keith Ferrin knows what this is about.  For years, he has been speaking to churches and writing books about a person can enjoy the Bible and get the most out of it.  His latest book, How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible, is full of help and guidance to make sure that you can get everything you need.  This book shows you the best way to approach the Bible from a relational mindset.

When it comes to the Bible, I have always been a studier.  I like sitting down with my Bible, a workbook, a pen, and a journal.  I have always felt that if I’m not writing things down, I’m not learning.  Sitting down to just the read the Bible has always resulted in my mind wandering and at the end of it all, I don’t feel like I have taken in much at all.

But this is the way that the book advocates.  It tells you to get rid of the pens and the workbooks (for now) and just read.  Spend time in the word.  Start in one spot and just read.  Focus on your relationship with God.  Treat reading the Bible like sitting down for coffee with a friend.  

The book has ten tips that will help you get to this point.  While it sounds easy enough to do, it can be difficult for many people.  Each tip comes with a study guide, Scripture references, and a prayer at the end.  The study guide is great for group use but also works well for the individual.  

Right from the start, I could feel this book changing my views on how to read the Bible.  I did as the book says and I put away my study guides and just began to read.  And while it was an adjustment, it was good.  Sometimes, we just need to go back to the basics, go back to what is easy.  Rather than searching for the answers, I felt like they were coming to me.

My favourite part of this book though is that there are some reading guides. Ferrin shares different ways that you can read the Bible to really enjoy it and get to know it.  There is the 60 Day Adventure (in which you spend 60 days reading one book, with the examples of Philippians and 2 Timothy), 4 month challenges (with guides), and a Group Study Plan (Ephesians is given as the example.)  I plan to use this book solely over the next year to guide my reading by trying all of the plans given.  

It doesn’t take long to read through this book and understand what it is teaching.  If you’re new to the Bible, a struggling reader, or a longtime Bible student, there is something in this book for you to gain a better understanding of God’s Word.  I highly recommend this small but impactful book.  As the Gary Thomas quote on the cover of the book says, “this book delivers on what the title promises.”

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reading: Habakkuk

Habakkuk was written by the prophet of the same name in the mid to late 7th century BC.  This book is the eighth in the set of minor prophets.  Much of the book is a dialogue between God and Habakkuk, in which Habakkuk questions the violence he sees before him and what God is doing about it.  The book is useful to Christian living as it speaks to a person growing in their faith and putting absolute trust in God.  

Verse 2:4 is the central message of the book.  “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”  This message is repeated three times in the New Testament:

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. - Romans 1:17

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. - Galatians 3:11

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. - Hebrews 10:38

Application Verses

Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. - 1:12

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. - 2:14

His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.  And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. - 3:3-6

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. - 3:18

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reading: Nehemiah

I had recently finished reading a book that related the topic (building the Kingdom) to the book of Nehemiah.  The next morning, as I read through my Twitter feed I found a lot of people I followed tweeting passages from Nehemiah, and I thought that it was good enough reason for me to also read the book.  As I had recently decided to read the Bible rather than study it, this was a good place to start, a book I was pretty unfamiliar with.  Here is what I learned:

The Book of Nehemiah tells of the work to rebuild Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.  Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the King, a high-ranking official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes I at the capital city of Susa, which is in modern-day Iran.  Nehemiah got permission from the King to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its walls.  The work was completed in 52 days and while he was there, Nehemiah also made a genealogy of all the nobles, officials, and people who were living in Judah.  The Book of Nehemiah and The Book of Ezra was usually read together as one long book.

Application Verses

The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build. - 2:20

Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. - 9:5

Remember me, O my God, for good. - 13:31