Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"No Greater Love" by Levi Benkert and Candy Chand

Levi Benkert was a California developer dealing with the fallout of the real estate bust when he casually took a phone call one day at the park.  Little did he know, that phone call would change his life.

A friend was calling to ask him to take a two week trip to Ethiopia to help with an orphanage they ran to save young children from the superstitious practice known as "mingi."  In many tribes, children were deemed cursed, or mingi, if there parents were not married, if the parents did not formally announce they were trying to conceive, or if the child's upper teeth came in before their bottom teeth.  Keeping a mingi child meant that they were inviting evil spirits to the community, and thus they killed the children to keep them away.

Worried that it would seem he was running away from his responsibilities (and perhaps he was), Benkert felt the pull to go on this trip.  Upon arriving back in the US after his two week trip, he knew that he needed to go back to save these children.  And so Levi, his wife and three kids sold all their worldly possessions and moved to Ethiopia to help put an end to the brutal practice of mingi.  

No Greater Love is Levi's story of the work they did (and continue to do) in Ethiopia and their struggle to do what God was calling them to do in the midst of a life that is completely foreign to them.  

If you're looking for a feel-good missionary story, this is not it.  And that is why I loved this book so much.  I am in awe of people who do missionary work around the world and they are doing fantastic work.  But it's not the rosy picture it is often made out to be.  And Benkert is so completely honest about their naivety going into this work and how uninformed and unprepared they were.  He is also completely honest about the difficulty of the work and the many moments where they wondered why they were there, how God could want them to do this, whether or not they were actually making a difference, and whether it was worth the discomfort and trouble it was causing them.

This should be required reading for people going on mission trips.  Not to scare them out of the work but to prepare them for the difficulty they will inevitably face.  To show them that the work is going to be hard but worth it.  

This is a book that is difficult to put down, you'll want to read right through in one sitting.  It's heart-breaking and inspiring.  You will be amazed at the Benkert's story, their determination and their strength.  This is a fascinating story of people called by God to care for orphans and proves that the most important thing no matter where you are in life is to trust in God no matter what your situation looks like.

To learn more about the practice of mingi check out this article in Christianity Today.

To learn more about the Benkert's work in Ethiopia check out their website Bring Love In.

I received this book as part of Tyndale's book blogger program.  The opinions expressed above are my own and I have received no compensation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Stand By Me" by Neta Jackson

Avis Douglass and her husband Peter are at a turning point in their lives.  Peter wants to sell his software business so the two of them can head out on a mission trip to South Africa with one of their friends.  With the economy the way it is, it seems like the perfect time.  But Avis is worried about her daughter Rochelle and grandson Conny who she hasn't heard from in months, not since the night they had a terrible argument.  Rochelle is sick and without an income and she faces a tough road ahead of her.  Avis couldn't possibly leave the country not knowing where Rochelle is.  And when Avis and Peter are asked to join the pastoral team of their church, all of their plans are thrown up in the air.

Kathryn "Kat" Davies made the life-changing decision to follow Christ at a Christian music festival a few years ago, upsetting her parents.  When she decides to drop out of med-school and her leave her upscale life in Phoenix to go to school in Chicago to become an educator her parents pretty much disown her.  But Kat is committed to living a radical life for Jesus, living and attending church in inner-city Chicago, and doing all she can to help people she meets while dumpster diving for food behind a local grocery store.  But Kat has a habit of talking too much and not listening enough and it often gets her into trouble, no matter how well-meaning she is.

When Avis and Kat cross paths at SouledOut Community Church, it isn't exactly a match made in heaven.  Kat is looking for a mentor, an experienced woman who can lead her in Christ and this new life she has committed herself to.  But Kat is a little too much for Avis and she ends up getting under her skin.  Avis just doesn't have the time to deal with Kat's over-reaching zeal with all that is going on in her life.  However, Avis soon discovers that no matter how much she fights it, she needs Kat more than she thought she would.

Stand By Me is the first offering in Neta Jackson's SouledOut Sisters collection.  Avis Douglass is a character in Jackson's previous Yada Yada Prayer Group books and now her life and church are the focus of their own series.  I haven't read any of the other Yada Yada books but I highly enjoyed this one.  It definitely makes me want to start in on the other series'.

I really enjoyed how Kat and Avis represented two totally different people committed to the same cause.  The beautiful thing about the Body of Christ is it is made up of people from every walk of life, of all ages, races, incomes, you name it.  Kat is a young, enthusiastic girl who recently came to Christ and walks with that zeal to live radically every moment of every day.  Avis represents the mature woman who has spent her life in the church, dedicated to building the Kingdom with the benefit of time and experience.  Kat and Avis exemplify what Titus 2 teaches about the older women in the church mentoring the younger women.  

Jackson's writing is easy to follow, well laid out and tells a good story.  Sure the book got a bit frustrating.  You want to reach into the pages and give Kat a good shake, tell her to relax a bit.  You also want to reach into the pages and give Avis a poke and tell her to wake up to what is in front of her.  But in the end, Jackson works it all out.  I'm hooked on this series and I look forward to what is next for these two women.

I received this book courtesy of Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze Program.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Sarai" by Jill Eillen Smith

The story of Abraham and Sarah is a well-known Biblical story.  A beautiful young girl, Sarai marries Abram promising to give him a son and heir.  But as time goes on, her womb remains empty.  Having made Abram promise to not take another wife as long as she lives, she worries that he won't hold up his end of the bargain if she can't hold up hers.  To what lengths will she go to bear Abram's son?

Sarai is the first novel of Jill Eileen Smith's Wives of the Partiarchs series.  Well-researched, it gives readers an in-depth look at life in the time of Genesis and new perspective on a person we know of, whose struggles we know of but who we don't really know as a woman and wife.

When I first heard of this book it intrigued me.  I don't usually read novel versions of Biblical stories and so I was interested in starting with this one.  I thought it would be wonderful to get more of the story and get a bigger picture of what the story means.

However, I just couldn't get into it.  I actually did not finish the book.  It was very slow to me, I felt like too much was just setting up the story in the same way and I lost interest.  I couldn't connect with the character of Sarai or any other.  I've tried to go back and continue reading but the same thing happens.  I could tell that Smith had really done her work and put in great effort to give readers the full feel for the time and I commend her for that.  I had hoped that would hold my interest through to the end.

Good news is, I seem to be the only one who feels this way.  I guess sometimes we just can't get into books, even good books, and that's what happened to me.  So here are some reviews of Sarai to help you decide if this is a book you want to read:

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The iFellowship Christian Social Media Hop is a weekly link-up for Christian women to gather online and get to know each other.

From time to time I have linked up here at Faith Filled Reading but not really introduced myself.  My name is Shan and this is my little place on the internet where I share my thoughts on the Christian books I read.  I'm a voracious reader and I read all sorts of books, but I wanted to spin off from my regular book blog to share and discuss Christian issues.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you'll take a look around and hopefully find some interesting books to read.

Please share your favourite Christian books in the comments section below.  I'm always looking for recommendations.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him - Psalm 34:8

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Christ Alone" by Michael E. Wittmer

In my review of Love Wins I mentioned that while many people will not agree with what Rob Bell puts forth, one thing you can hope is that it opens up a discussion and allows the light of truth to shine through.  

Michael E. Wittmer's Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins does just that.  Wittmer clearly and concisely enters the discussion, pointing readers to the truth of God's Word and inviting readers to discover it for themselves, while still showing respect to Bell and his book.

Each chapter examines a different issue/topic from Love Wins.  Wittmer answers the questions put forth by Bell using the Bible.  To assist readers in understanding where Bell's ideas come from he includes different schools of Christian thought.  Each chapter is well-rounded and written in an easy to understand way, which was my biggest criticism of Love Wins.

After reading Christ Alone, I actually understood much better what Bell was trying to say.  My thoughts that Bell wasn't looking at things in the larger picture are summed up by Wittmer when he says "Theology, or our understanding of God, is more like a sweater than a smorgasbord.  We can't logically walk up to the Bible buffet and load up on the teachings we like while skipping the ones we don't: give me an extra helping of love but hold the stuff about wrath.  Instead our beliefs about God and the Christian life are intertwined like the strands of yarn in a cable-knit sweater.  When we tug on one, the others tend to come, too" (pg. 2).  

Christ Alone presents the subjects touched on by Rob Bell in Love Wins as a cable-knit sweater.  Both the love and wrath of God are discussed in a manner that brings everything along, touches on all the aspects and presents the subject matter in a balanced way.  If you have read Love Wins and have any questions (or know someone who does) I recommend this book.  I also recommend it for people who are in agreement with Bell's book.  It is a respectful book that wonderfully adds to the conversation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Love Wins" by Rob Bell

In Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Rob Bell tackles the age old debate about heaven and hell with an argument that is different and divisive, causing great controversy within Christian circles.

Many Christians have struggled with the concept of hell and where it fits in with God's love.  People wonder how a God who is full of grace and mercy could send His own children to eternal damnation.  Many people face the fear of bringing this up in the church and expressing their doubts.  

And so author and pastor Rob Bell has written a book that allows people to face these questions, and that "presents a deeply biblical version for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance.  The result is the discovery that the 'good news' is much better than we ever imagined.  Love wins." (from the back cover.)

This book is definitely controversial.  It's one that everyone has been talking about, even if they haven't read it.  So even if you disagree with the book you can positively acknowledge that it has opened up the discussion and provided the opportunity to examine the questions people are often scared to talk about.

I don't know that I can deeply comment on the theology of this book, whether Bell is right or wrong.  I consider myself an open-minded Christian who is always open to God showing me the right path, not the church or any person in particular.  Right now my faith is more about feeling than scriptural knowledge, as I dig deeper into His word. However, I just couldn't get behind the ideas that Bell is presenting.  Like most books of a theological nature, there are some good points and some that just don't hold up.  There were quite a few times in the book where I felt that his arguments didn't quite make the point he was trying to.  

But most importantly, for me, I could not get past the writing style.  All that it is trying to achieve (flow, youthfulness, being down to earth) did not exist for me.   I found it difficult to get past the style and really get into the meat of what he was trying to say.  

This is definitely not a book for new Christians.  And I highly recommend that if you know someone reading it, you open up a discussion with them.  This is one of those books that requires deeper insight, deeper research and deeper discussion.  A topic like this needs to be looked at from all sides and can't just skim the surface.  I think it does a good thing in taking us back to the love of Christ, the grace and mercy of the Father, but in other areas it's a big stretch.