Seeing the Voice of God by Laura Harris Smith


In contrast to the last book I reviewed on dreams, Seeing the Voice of God is a book that constantly focuses the reader back on the Lord and supports everything in it with valid scriptural references.  I found the chapters on the science of sleep offered insight into my own sleep patterns, the dream symbol dictionary was extensive (over 1000 images) and supported by Bible verses, and the real-life stories of those who have come out of sin situations revolving around dreams was truly inspiration.

The chapter on interpretation was one of the spots where I really became convinced of the deep Biblical emphasis of the book.  Laura Harris Smith writes,

Remember that the best interpreter is the Holy Spirit within you.  The same symbol could speak different things to different people, and only you live in your life’s story and know for sure.

This sentence is a wonderful example of how she continually points back to God throughout the book as she talks about dreaming, and, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot beyond that I can say.  If you’re looking for a book that will constantly point you back to the Lord on this sensative topic then I highly recommend Seeing the Voice of God.  I’m giving it 5/5 stars.  Below is a video preview of the book.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

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What Your Dreams are Telling You


What Your Dreams are Telling You is a do-it-yourself guide to interpreting your own dreams.  As one who dreams a lot, I was excited to read this book, but, as a Christian, I was highly disappointed in its content.  Author Cindy McGill obviously has a lot of expertise in the area, I just expected a more Christ-centered book than what I found – especially considering it’s published by Chosen Books, who claim to publish “well-crafted books that recognize the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit and help readers live more empowered and effective lives for Jesus Christ.”  In this book, however, I found that lacking.

McGill identifies a framework for dream interpretation, laying down seven principles to guide the interpretation.  But, to be honest, they were just too vague and almost new-agey to me.  She talks about how we are all “receiving life messages in [our] dreams” (p29), but she doesn’t do a very good job of identifying the source of those messages (to be fair she does they can come from one of three sources: self, truth, or lie, but there’s never what I would consider a suitable way of discerning which of the sources one is dealing with).  And perhaps I missed it, but I was 39 pages into the book before I found any reference to “God”, and of her seven principals it was the final one (#7) that even introduced the idea of connecting with God (though here he is referred to by the generic “giver of dreams” and elsewhere she chooses to use the more generic “Creator” or “God” when referring to Him).   She does reference the Holy Spirit on page 91, but he is referenced almost apologetically when she writes, “I encourage you to ask the Spirit of Truth to come and help you interpret your dreams.”  Why is this a simple suggestion?  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if there is a “Spirit of Truth” then that would be the ultimate source for dream interpretation and without his input there would be no interpretation?

So how long did it take to find Jesus in the book?  Again, unless I missed it, he shows up on page 155 (the book, without appendixes, is 156 pages, so the penultimate page of the book).  She talks about how she had an “encounter” with God through Jesus and the changes that have happened as a result.  But here’s the kicker: she says, “But that is my story.” (p156, emphasis hers).  Yes, I understand dreams are personal and so is a relationship with Christ.  But it stands to reason that if Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” as Jesus claims he is, that more than being just “her” story, every story must start in the same place: with surrender to God’s will through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

And it was that message that was absent throughout the book.  Her insight on symbolism in dreams and the stories of people who have “heard” the messages they were being told through dreams are all insightful and inspiring.  But at the end of the day there’s nothing in this book that points back to Jesus; it’s all about “me”.  And I was looking for something more.

9780800795658So I’m giving this book a 1.5/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Real: Becoming a 24/7 Follower of Jesus


“If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus?”  This is the key question Jamie Snyder challenges his readers with in his book Real, and he actually does a really nice job with his argument.  Over the years I’ve read a lot of books that hit at the heart of what Christianity is supposed to be about – recent titles that come to mind in the past couple of years are Radical by David Platt (which, for the record, was one of the very first books I ever reviewed on my blog), and, more recently Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.

Here’s the difficulty I have with many of these books that challenge modern-day Christianity: even though they suggest they don’t put forth a “program” or a list of things to do, in essence they really do prescribe how we’re supposed to be good Christians.  Take this excerpt, for example, from Real:

The joy factor in your life and mine will never be a result of working hard; it will always be the natural by-product of living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit…Living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit is not so much about doing as about being. (p79-80)

Then later in the book Snyder writes, “We must get this: Christianity is not about following a list, a creed, or a mere doctrine.  It is about following a real man named Jesus.”  (p142)

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Sounds good so far; and I agree 100%.  But the disconnect (for me) happens in the the middle section of the book.  Snyder tells us that when we seek to follow Jesus we will live a life defined by:

  • Unbridled Joy
  • Daring courange
  • Rebellious joy
  • Risky faith,
  • Relentless hope
  • Scandalous grace
  • Mad love

The danger I fear is that people will view these as a the very list of things they are supposed to do that Snyder attempts so hard to avoid.  And this is the struggle with every book I read like this.  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that all these things are byproducts of a life lived with Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but if we focus on getting these things rather than focus on dwelling with Him (the “being” that Snyder referenced at the beginning), we’ll be doing nothing more than the what the Pharisee’s did with their rules and regulations.

God has been teaching me this year that what is important is my relationship with him – the relationship that has a natural ebb-and-flow because it’s, well, a relationship between two beings – and one of us is imperfect!  The only metaphor I can think of (which I happen to think is a very biblical metaphor) is marriage.  There are certain aspects of all healthy marriages as I’ve come to learn – two of them are that couples spend time with each other and that they communicate with each other.  But if the focus shifts to the spending time or the communication and off the marriage then the marriage is no longer healthy.  So when we focus on only showing grace or love or joy or courage I’m afraid that too often we take our eyes off Jesus – something the writer of Hebrews warned us about.  This is a delicate balancing act between “judging a tree by its fruit” and remaining connected to the vine.

As I’ve read these books more lately I’ve actually felt a little convicted.  But not convicted that I don’t live up to what the author is saying, but that I’m reading the book at all rather than just spending time in the Word.  It’s as if the Holy Spirit is saying to me, “There’s nothing new here.  Just read my word and accept it for what it says – I will explain it to you.  Just abide in me and this stuff will take care of itself.”

So, I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars (I would be tempted to give it a perfect five, but that would just be too high, so I’ll drop it back a couple of spots to 4).  If you read it with an understanding that what you read about a things that Jesus will do in you as he transforms and sanctifies you as you remain in him, then you will learn much from the book and hear him speaking to you through it.  If, however, you look at these things as a list of things to do, you’ll miss Snyder’s point entirely.  Either way, I personally think it would be wiser to spend time in, say, studying Ephesians or reading the gospels and studying the life of Jesus.  You’ll learn the same thing, but you’ll learn it from the source.

For the record, I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher Bethany House in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Thrive: Live Like You Matter


Written by Lisa Toomey and published by Abingdon Press, Thrive: Live Like You Mean It is a book about living the abundant life Jesus promised in John and that Solomon talked about in Proverbs.

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I’ll be honest and say that when I first started reading the book I was a little nervous.  At the outset there were times I felt like I was going to read a classic self-help book that fell more inline with the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel movement than with Biblical Christianity.  It actually started on the second page when I read the statement, “God wants you to have this amazing life where you live life to the fullest and experience the wonder of human existence through the relationships that you have.”  But as I worked through the book I found my concerns were put to rest.  While there are times I wish Thrive had been more overtly focused on allowing Christ to demonstrate his power through us (particularly in the beginning, when the more generic word “God” was used), as the book progressed I saw more and more of Jesus in it.

The title comes from Proverbs 11:28 when Solomon writes, “Those who trust in their riches will fail, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”  And from there the book focuses on answering the question, “What does it mean to be righteous?”  The answer, we find, is in having good (right) relationships – relationships with God, with others, and even with ourself. The next nine chapters then lay out a very practical, understandable plan to develop right relationships, empowering us to live the righteous life, and thereby thrive as the the scriptures talk about.

As I mentioned, I do wish sometimes Christ would have been more forefront – particularly in the beginning of the book.  One example is found in chapter 2, the chapter on integrity.  The first nine pages of the chapter introduce this idea of letting our “yes be yes”, and it talks about it in the context of relationships.  But it isn’t until 11 pages into the chapter that prayer is specifically talked about in the context of finding guidance – but listed before prayer is finding “wise people, whom you trust, and ask for advice,” then we should gather resources, find help, and read wisdom.  It’s not until the next paragraph we’re told, “Take your questions to God.”  It would seem to me that if having a “right relationship with God is the foundation to righteous living” (a quote that comes about four pages later in the chapter), that it would be the first thing we’re told to do, not the fourth or fifth.  Another example of this would be in chapter six where we read, “Having a relationship with God is a good way to seek out the truth…” (emphasis mine); I would argue (and I think scripture would support me) that having a right relationship with God is the only way to seek out and know truth.  It’s little things like this throughout the book that jumped off the page at me.

So where did I finally become more convinced of the book?  It was the chapter on forgiveness, which I found to be the most profound chapter in the entire book.  Suffice it to say that Lisa clearly pointed to Jesus working in our lives here when she wrote, “We cannot experience the forgiveness of Jesus without having our entire being changed.”  There was literally a change in the book moving forward where Jesus was mentioned more by name – where he was generally absent in the beginning, he was present from about chapter five on (to be fair he was mentioned, but the more generic name “God” was used, one that in our culture can mean many different things).  Later in chapter eight (about hope), it becomes clarified again that we are not doing this alone.  Lisa does a nice job of defining “Hope” in a clear, biblical way that takes it out of the contemporary vernacular where we can “hope for nice weather” on Saturday to having a solid foundation in the creator of the universe to care and provide for us.

Overall, then I’ll give the book a 3.5 our of 5 stars, mainly because I want to see Jesus more front and center – he needs to be explicit, and there needs to be no doubt that living the abundant life Jesus calls us to (the life Solomon says would be an example of thriving) doesn’t always look like we want it to look like; righteousness doesn’t mean people don’t get sick, bills go unpaid, or bad things don’t happen.  Righteousness means that even in the face of these things, we still live the life God has called us to live in Christ, we still practice right relationships with him and others, and we measure “thriving” by a different standard than this world’s standard (the “My ways are not your ways” from Isaiah 55:8).  I think that what I’m saying here was implied in the book, but for me I’d like to see it more explicitly stated.  The book is certainly worth reading (if it weren’t I’d only give it 1 star!), just make sure you are strongly grounded in some of these issues before opening the pages so that you can fully understand it in context.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the published (Abingdon Press) in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.  I’d also like to once again thank Lisa Toomey, the author, for agreeing to be interviewed by me, which can be read in yesterday’s post.

Book Review: Praying with the Grain by Dr. Pablo Martinez (Blog Tour)


Every once in awhile I read a book and have the thought, “Every person needs to read this book.”  And once in a blue moon I read a book and have the thought, “Every leader needs to read this book.”  But very rarely do I have both thoughts at once – but this book is an exception.  Put simply, Praying with the Grain is a book every Christian needs to read and every church leadermust read.  It’s not only that good, it’s that important.

Praying with the Grain examines prayer through the lens of personality types.  Dr. Martinez, a Christian counselor, uses the personality types established by Carl Jung and explains how one’s personality impacts how that person prays.  It examines strengths and weakness of prayer for each type, offering suggestions for people with specific personalities to strengthen their prayer.  His whole premise is that three factors have an impact on prayer: temperament, personality, and circumstances.  He argues, quite convincingly, that the first two are permanent and linked to our character (who we are as people) while the final one changes as life changes.

All I can say is go get this book and read it.  It has had a profound impact on my understanding of prayer and it’s helped me adjust how I pray as well as better understand why I struggle with certain aspects of prayer.  This is absolutely one of the most influential books I’ve ever read and deserves a shining 5/5 stars.

 

Book Review: Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas (Blog Tour)


Several months ago I was honored to be selected to participate in a blog tour of Gary Thomas’ new book Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul.  Thomas is one of my all-time favorite authors, one I’ve referenced before.  This particular book initially seemed a departure from Thomas’ other works, since most of his works are much more, how shall I say it… Contemplative in nature.  But the book is worth the read.

Thomas argues that our physical health directly impacts our spiritual health, and he makes the argument very well.  My concern as I began reading the book was that it would focus more on the physical body and not enough on Christ, but I did not find that the case.  As with all of Thomas’ works, this book repeatedly focused me on the finished work of Christ and motivated me to examine my own theology of the body in a way no one else has ever done (I’m actually reading another book on the body which I’ll be reviewing soon).

As an example of this constant reminder of God’s grace offered through Christ, read this quote from page 72: “Because of God’s grace, yesterday doesn’t count.  Because of God’s hope, worry about tomorrow is inappropriate.  This moment, this day, this hour, are we being faithful toward God, honoring him with what we eat and don’t eat, and taking care of our bodies accordingly?”

Later on in the book Thomas pulls no punches in his accusations against us as Christians: “Laziness is the great spiritual assassin of our time…Laziness is more than a sin – it’s an attitude that undercuts our sens of duty to God and our obligation to our neighbor, and an attitude that wastes our lives.” (p101)  He then offers physical fitness as the cure for laziness and compares it to farming: “Much of the work that produces [physical fitness] is unseen.  No one is applauding or even recognizing our efforts.  But the life it creates can be used by God to bless and serve many.”  (p107)

Overall, he challenges us to maintain our physical fitness not for our sake or for our body’s sake, but because unless we are physically fit we will be unable to fulfill the jobs God has left for us: “God has given you many gifts and hard-won experience – are you maintaining your body in such a way that you can be a good steward of these gifts until God chooses to take you home?” (p121-22)  He then spends the rest of the book laying out this theology – this plan to honor God by keeping our bodies healthy so we are physically able to serve him for this lifetime.

I’m giving this book 4.5/5 stars.  For the record, yes I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.