Friday, August 29, 2014

"Atlas Girl" by Emily Wierenga

When Emily Wierenga left home at the age of 18, she figured she would never return.  Growing up in a strict religious home and battling every day to not fall into the eating disorder that almost took her life at the age of 13, she was desperate to find God on her own terms, in a new place.  And so Emily set out across the world, through Canada, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and Central America as a student, missionary, and teacher.  But it wasn’t until her mother’s brain tumour brought her home that she discovered God was waiting for her there all of the time.

Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look is a deeply personal, poignant story that will touch you right from the start.  Emily Wierenga’s memoir of faith and forgiveness will resonate with every reader.  With all of the brokenness in the world, it is easy to close yourself off from all of it and from God, but Wierenga’s story will bring you hope in the darkness and inspiration for your journey.

Emily starts by sharing about her childhood in the Congo and how her father’s call to missions and later to the pulpit affected the family dynamic, especially for her mother who never felt the same calling.  She shares about heading to the other side of Canada to attend school and questioning her faith when she was supposed to be teaching others about it.  She talks about dating her husband, going to the Middle East as a missionary, her friends and family.

But the deepest and most introspective moments come in two places.  First, when she talks about battling anorexia that started at the age of 9 and within a few years had her hospitalized.  And second and most importantly, when she returns home as an adult to care for her mother who is suffering from a brain tumour.  It is here where she reconciles her childhood with her understanding of God as she cares for her mother the way a mother cares for a daughter.

Her story is strong enough to move you - to faith, to tears, to forgiveness, to God.  But what makes this book so moving and beautiful is Emily’s writing style.  It is poetic and lyrical.  It is introspective, full of grace and mercy.  She isn’t telling you about her life, she is inviting you into it.  Rarely, do people give so much of their hearts and souls on paper as Emily does in this book.

About the Author

Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including "Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look" (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.   Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books , a division of Baker Publishing Group

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Face to Face with Jesus" by Samaa Habib with Bodie Thoene

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” - John 14:6

It is a headline we have seen many times.  A bomb rips through a church during service on the other side of the world.  Five hundred people try to escape but there is only one door to leave through.  Many people lose their lives.  But this time, one woman comes back to life.  

When Samaa Habib first heard the voice of Jesus Christ calling her to Him, she knew she was making a dangerous decision.  Samaa grew up in a Muslim family in the Middle East and she knew that she would find opposition everywhere she looked, especially within her own family.  But she was not prepared for what happened after the bombing.

After one of the bombs exploded next to her, Samaa met Jesus face to face in heaven.  But He gave her a message that her time on earth was not finished.  She took back with her a renewed hope and love, a spirit that would never be broken, and a mission to bring people of all walks of life to the Saviour who guides her.

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love by Samaa Habib with Bodie Thoene is a heart-wrenching and inspiring account of Samaa’s early life, conversion, and unflinching faith in Jesus Christ.

Samaa was raised in a country that is 98% Muslim and where conversion to Christianity is considered punishable by death to many.  But as her country plunged into a civil war and her family tried desperately just to stay alive, she found herself being called to Jesus through people who came into her life.  After converting to Christianity, her struggles worsened but her faith grew and the supernatural power of Christ touched her life in many ways.

This is an incredible book.  I was so moved by Samaa’s faith in the face of violence and death.  Shortly after I finished reading the book, my pastor spoke of how difficult it can be for us in the West to understand miracles.  He spoke about Christians in parts of the world where there is war and persecution placing a high importance on them when we don’t.  This book shows you why.  

I was so inspired by the stories of Christians who came to her country and spoke openly about Jesus Christ.  I was glued to the pages in which she describes the church services and the community of Christians she belonged to.  In the face of persecution, they stood strong for Jesus in a way that many of us will never have to experience.  It is amazing to read these kinds of stories.

What I loved most about reading this book was reading about the conversions to Christianity of her family and friends.  It really shows us the importance of patience and prayer in witnessing to our loved ones.  It took a lot of time but even Samaa’s fiercest opponents were changed by her life and testimony.  

Moving, inspiring, and permeated by His love, mercy, and grace, this book is an fantastic read.  Looking at our faith through the eyes of a convert who faced persecution and terror for her decision will move and push your faith in incredible ways.


I received a copy of this book courtesy of Chosen Books.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Hope Rising" by Scott C. Todd

She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. - Proverbs 31:20

As Senior Vice President for Global Advocacy at Compassion International, Scott C. Todd has travelled the world and seen the poverty most of us will never see, let alone experience.  People living on $1.25 a day, children dying from diseases that were eradicated in the developed world decades ago, women forced to sell their bodies to make money to feed their children, places where people are too scared to go outside at night to use the bathroom, he has witnessed this extreme poverty firsthand.  But it doesn’t have to exist.

In Hope Rising: How Christians Can End Extreme Poverty in This Generation, Todd shares why poverty still exists in our world and what we can do to change this.  Todd argues that if we accept the fact that poverty is not to be expected and begin to live accordingly, we will change our world.

Twenty-first century Christians are in a unique position to change the world.  The internet and social media are bringing us stories from around the world.  People working on the ground in foreign countries, in places torn apart by war or natural disasters or amongst people who have never heard of Jesus Christ, are able to send their stories back to us in an instant.  We have the means to create grassroots movements, to send our money around the world, to lobby our politicians for change in a very public manner.  Even if we can’t go to the other side of the world, we have the means to change the world at our fingertips.

In this book, Todd shares the shocking facts about poverty.  He shares the stories of children and families he has met and he shares the sobering statistics.  A generation ago, 52 per cent of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty.  Today, that number is down to 21 per cent.  That is amazing change but that is still 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty.  Todd challenges every one of us to find a way to make a difference by sharing the stories of people who have made an impact on this world and gives us ways that we can start to make a difference today.

This is a powerful book.  It is something that a lot of people might not want to hear.  But the fact remains that extreme poverty does not need to exist in the world and the people in the best position to fix that are Christians.  The Church is already creating change throughout the world.  When we open our eyes to the fact that poverty is not supposed to exist, that it is our call to go out into the world as Jesus did and care for the poor, we will be able to move mountains and change this world.

This book should be required reading.  We may think that we know what is going on around the world or we may already be doing the work but this book will be a reminder why we are doing and it will show us that we can do more.

Quotes

“For the first time in human history, we have the realistic possibility of ending extreme global poverty.  But the presence of poverty is so historically familiar that the change is difficult to imagine.  And if it is hard to imagine, it will be nearly impossible to expect.” (Loc. 400, e-book)

“The main point is this: we should not slump in defeat before an enemy that is already halfway dead.  We have proven that simple things, such as vaccines, clean water, and mosquito nets, are effective tools.  We can end preventable child death.  It’s that simple.” (Loc. 665)

“The trouble is with our theology of power.  We simply do not comprehend the power within us. We are quick to say that we have no power, but that’s false humility.  Quick to insist that it’s God’s power in us (and it is), but we really act like tenants claiming that the landlord should fix up the place when He has left that for us to do.” (Loc. 1197)


“Our motivation to work for the end of extreme poverty should be rooted in our love for God and our love for the poor.” (Loc. 1894)

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Dynamic Women of the Bible" by Ruth Tucker

When we read the stories of people in the Bible, we almost always find ourselves reading the stories of men.  And it makes sense - fewer than 10 per cent of the people named in the Bible are women.  But when one looks, they find strong, edgy, determined, game-changing women within the pages.  Even the nameless women have incredible stories to tell.

In Dynamic Women of the Bible: What We Can Learn from Their Surprising Stories, Ruth Tucker profiles more than fifty women who have left their mark and who can still influence and inspire today.  

Most Christians know the stories of Eve, Sarah, Naomi and Ruth, and Mary.  But what about the names Abigail, Michal, Sapphira, Dorcas, Rhoda?  How much do we know about them?  What about the women who weren’t even named but still given mention in the Bible?  What can they teach us about ourselves?  This book will have give you a bigger picture of them, fill you in on the whole story, and show how you can relate their lessons to your own life.  

This book goes beyond the traditional books on women in the BIble.  It is more than just a who’s who.  It gives a complete pictures of the lives of these women.  It does seem to take a few liberties when filling in the gaps and I can’t comment on the correctness of this so it is good to take it with an understanding that some of these gaps will be filled with assumptions.

What this book teaches us is that women can look to the Bible to help them deal with any issues they are going through.  Our lives are reflected in the Bible.  The amount of time between these women and us isn’t important, the women in the Bible dealt with the same issues we do - seeking God, serving God, struggling with sin.

This book would be an excellent tool for a women’s small group study.  The Questions to Think About at the end of the chapter will help lead in reflection and discussion.  I really like how the questions encompass a wide range of thinking and application.  Two examples are:

As we reflect on a daughter of a great patriarch and a Canaanite woman named in Jesus’s genealogy, should we be surprised that neither appears to have even a perfunctory relationship with God?

You’re a defense attorney standing before the New England town fathers of The Scarlet Letter fame.  Or a defense attorney today.  Your clients are Lot’s daughters, the details of whose planned pregnancies have been brought to light.  What arguments would you use to defend them?


I have chosen these two questions because I think they excellently capture the journey this book takes readers on.  This book will have you looking at the women in their own time and their importance in the Bible but also applying their stories to your own life and making you think about how their timeless examples affect us today.

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Finding Spiritual Whitespace" by Bonnie Gray

Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Do you feel as though you are running on empty?  Are you tired, exhausted, fed-up, worried, or troubled? Is there no time for yourself?  What you need is rest.  Not just a quick respite, but deep, rejuvenating rest.  The kind of rest you can only find in God.

After debilitating panic attacks, anxiety, and insomnia led to the discovery and diagnosis of post-tramautic stress disorder, blogger Bonnie Gray discovered the importance of what she calls “spiritual whitespace.”  What took her through her journey and led her to healing was this whitespace that allowed her to make room in her heart for a deeper relationship with God than she had ever experienced.  This whitespace allowed her to discover the rest and rejuvenation she so desperately needed.  Her new book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest chronicles her journey and helps others discover this rest for themselves.

From the first page, you are drawn right in by Gray’s lyrical writing.  There is such a beauty to it that jumps off the page.  As someone who has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, I can only imagine how even more beautiful these words are when you’re in that dark place.  This is a book I would have devoured if I had it during those times.

This idea of spiritual whitespace isn’t new but it is certainly something important.  It’s really about being in a place where you give all you have up to God and trust in Him that He’ll bring you the rest you so desperately crave.  When I was at my deepest point of my anxiety and having bouts of insomnia, I would lie in bed and sing gospel songs and pray.  I could feel my worries leave my body as I sang and I knew that His arms were around me.  At any other moments of my day, I probably wouldn’t have felt the same but in the stillness and the quiet, God revealed His healing power.  This book is about helping you achieve that.

The book is divided up by chapters that explain why whitespace and rest is important for your life.  Each chapter concludes with questions that relate your life to what you have just read, actions for you to try, and prompts to help you in your conversations with Jesus.

Kudos to Bonnie Gray for sharing her story, I can only imagine how difficult it was to tell.  But as she shares in the book, it was a part of her healing.  And I’m confident that this book will help to bring great healing to others.

Quotes

“Jesus understands the isolation of pain.  Jesus understands that when we keep it in, it separates us from the rest of the world, like damaged goods.” pg. 133

“When we think about spending time with God, we often beat ourselves up for not spending enough time.  That guilt kills intimacy of the heart.  Whitespace doesn’t keep track of the amount of time.  Time doesn’t exist in whitespace.” pg. 168


“Rest is not a lifestyle.  Rest is a living journey: a relationship.  Resting is a relationship we walk by faith with Jesus into our most vulnerable places.” pg. 193

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 

Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Women of the Word" by Jen Wilkin

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2 Timothy 2:15

As a Bible teacher, Jen Wilkin has seen firsthand how impactful studying the Bible can be on a woman’s life.  But she is concerned that too often we let our emotions rule our studies and we focus on ourselves rather than God, which results in often missing what we need.  And so she has written a book that teaches women how to go deeper in their study and how to focus on what we need from it, rather than what we want from it.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin is an important and needed resource for all women who study the Word.  Small but packed full of information, this book will help you look at how you read the Bible and identify methods that will take you into the Bible in ways you haven’t experienced.

Bible literacy is a term that may not get discussed much but is very important for every Christian.  It’s not simply enough to just read the Bible.  There is so much there for us deep in those pages that a quick read or skimming can’t give us.  It’s very important that we make sure we are Bible literate so that when we read the Bible, we do so to hear what God has for us.

There are a lot of books out there about how to study your Bible but I think that this book is a pure gem.  Wilkin lays everything out in an easy to read and easy to understand manner.  The book takes the intimidation factor out of studying the Bible and gives an easy to follow way to get the most out of your study.

First, Wilkin discusses the importance of Bible study and makes the case for Bible literacy.  She takes a look at the various ways that people study their Bible that are incomplete approaches and don’t give a full view of what is available within its pages.  From there she presents the 5P’s of Sound Study - Purpose, Perspective, Patience, Process, and Prayer.  She delves deep into each of these to show their importance and how they will change the way you study.  After she completes this, she walks through an example of how to put this method into practice.

If you’re familiar with the Inductive Method of Study, the method presented in the book will not be new to you.  But this book does help explain why this method is important and show you the rewards of reading the Bible this way.  This is a resource that you will go back to again and again.  

Quotes

“Learning what the Bible says and subsequently working to interpret and apply it requires quite a different practice than many of those we commonly associate with “spending time in the Word.”  We cannot afford to assume that our good intentions are enough.” (Loc. 236, e-book)

“Both the false teacher and the secular humanist rely on biblical ignorance for their messages to take root, and the modern church has proven fertile ground for those messages.” (Loc. 314)


“We must make a study of our God: what he loves, what he hates, how he speaks and acts.  We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned.  We must make a study of him if we want to become like him.  We must seek his face.” (Loc. 1297)

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"The Fifth Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John...You" by Bobby Conway

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” - Matthew 28:19

We all know the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  But did you know that there is a fifth gospel?  That’s right, it’s the gospel of you, the Christian.  Jesus’ intention for us as Christians is to live a life that will point others in the direction of Him, just like the four gospels do.  Many people will never read those ones, but they will definitely read us.

The Fifth Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…You by Bobby Conway with Jeff Kinley is a call for Christians to live out the message of the Gospel.  It is a call to evangelism, to spread the Good News wherever and whoever you may be.  But many of us find it difficult to do.  We worry about how we will be perceived, or if we are smart enough to do so.  But here, Conway shows you that Jesus wants to use you.  This book will help you prepare to be a witness for Christ.

This is one of the most convicting books I have come across recently and it was exactly what I needed.  Every day, I spend more time with people of another faith than I do with Christians.  And yet, I struggle with how to share the Gospel with them.  Actions and example have been more my method but as this book shows me, it’s a start but I can do more.

Sharing the gospel can sometimes be overwhelming for people (I know it is for me) but this book is written in a manner that will teach and equip you easily and thoroughly.  I like how easy the book was to read, it doesn’t read as an academic text but rather in a very relatable way.  Each chapter ends with Gospel Appeals and Questions for Further Thought and Discussion, things to guide you in thinking about how you can put into practice what you have just read. 

As the world grows smaller, we more and more come into contact with people who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  He isn’t looking only to pastors or theologians or trained missionaries to do this, but rather to you.  Every day we have an opportunity to bring the Gospel to people through our words, actions, and love.  This book will remind you of that and show you how you can minister to those who need Him.

This book will be released on August 1, 2014, and I highly recommend putting it on your list of books to buy this summer.  

Quotes

“But being bold about Christ and His claims requires a confident, courageous faith and the ability to endure what people might think about you.” (Loc. 253, e-book)

“Suffering through irritations, unpleasant experiences, pains, and even persecutions can be a powerful and convincing tool in the hands of God.  It’s a clarion voice of testimony, broadcasting to our family, friends, and world that Jesus and His sustaining love are real and available…and that it works.”  (Loc. 1224)

When the world sees Christ in Christians, they just might want our Christ.  A Fifth-Gospel Christian seeks to reflect Christ so the world can know His love as we do.  We live a life of love so they can experience God’s endless love too.” (Loc. 1789)


“There really are five Gospels, my friend.  And though most of your unbelieving friends may never read the first four, you can be certain of this - they’re reading you.  God in you is bringing the credibility of Jesus to a watching world.  Let’s show them how truly awesome He is.  Be a Fifth-Gospel Christian.” (Loc. 2285)

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