99 Stories from the Bible


I’ve been on this kick recently of reading and reviewing children’s books, book I got in an effort to find resources to support me in guiding their spiritual development and growing their faith.  Some have been good, and some have been not-so-good; unfortunately, this book falls in the latter category.

The difficulty with reading books that take Biblical stories and water them down to levels kids can understand is that it’s hard to reduce the word of God at all – how do you take the fall and reduce it to just a couple of sentences without loose the truths contained in it?  Not to mention the story of the crucifixion and resurrection.  And that’s the problem with 99 Stories from the Bible – in trying to reduce the stories into “readable” versions for little kids, the truth is water-ed down (at best) or completely omitted (at worst).

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If you’re looking for a devotional to do with your kids, this book isn’t it – I would still recommend Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible instead.  Overall I’ll give this book 1/5 stars; for the record, I did receive a complementary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

Bedtime Prayers that End with a Hug


Devotionals for little kids are hard to write – and too often I find them shallow and missing out on the big-picture of what scripture is telling us.  But I have to say I was impressed with the Bedtime Prayers that End with a Hug.  Most appropriate for young children (I’d say 2-4), they are short and to the point, yet they are also very clear and theologically sound.

978-1-4143-8354-5One thing I loved about the book was the simplicity and also directness of the prayers themselves.  These were prayers I can pray with my girls, that they can understand, but also that have deep truth contained in them.  The book makes a great supplement to reading an appropriate children’s bible (personally, I would recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Loyd-Jones) and can begin the life-long process of teaching our kids both the importance of pray and the process of actually praying.

Overall I’ll give this book 4/5 stars.  For the record, I did a receive a complementary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

My Princess Devotions Preschool Edition


Having two girls (currently 6 and 4), I am always looking for good books that I can use with them to build scriptural knowledge and invest in their faith development, so when I was given the opportunity to review the One Year My Princess Devotions Preschool Edition I was excited to have another tool in my tool box.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my (or my daughter’s) expectations.

Divided into 365 daily readings, the book selects a single verse, assigns, it a topic, then presents what it calls “Princess Thoughts”, a prayer, and a conclusion referred to as “Princess in Action.”  Overall, though, the thoughts, prayer, and action sections are short and shallow – even for pre-schoolers, each section ranging in length from just a single sentence to perhaps as many as four sentences.  But there is no context given for the verse, and little effort is made to tell the story of scripture.  If you’re looking for a devotional to use with your kids, this leaves much to be desired.  While it may supplement other training you do, I certainly can not recommend it to stand on its own.  I’ll keep it on my shelf and use it more for topical issues as they arise, but other than that it’s not something I will regularly pull down to use and, more tellingly, it’s not something my girls run to and get when it’s time for devotions.

978-1-4143-6905-1Overall, I’ll give this book a 2/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a complementary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Heart & Tongue


For the month of November the leadership team at my church (of which I’m a member) is reading through the book of Proverbs – one chapter a day, and the date of the month corresponds to the chapter we read (so since today is the 11th we are reading the 11th chapter).  Reading a Proverb a day is actually something I learned a long time ago from my dad, who has consistently read through the book every month for years (literally) – I remember as a kid seeing him reading every morning, and it was typically in the book of Proverbs.  It was a discipline I had through my college years, but it’s not something I’ve continued with great faithfulness like he has (to my shame).  So the exercise this month with some other guys at my church has been both a return to the familiar and also a journey into the new revelations God has in store for me (and us).

While I certainly will not post about my readings every day (obviously – since I’m 1/3 of the way into the month and haven’t posted a single thing yet!), there’s been a common theme over the last several days that I wanted to reflect on.  And it has to do with the words we speak.  For anyone who’s even glimpsed the book of Proverbs, the amount of space dedicated to the words we speak is obvious and difficult to miss.  In addition to Proverbs, many Christians are familiar with James’ teaching on the tongue (see James 3:3-12), as well as Paul’s (see Eph 4:29) command to not let unwholesome talk come from our lips.

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But I guess I’ve missed a key connection on many of these verses before.  Proverbs 10:20 reads, “The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.”  Many times proverbs are set up as two contrasting ideas – working vs. laziness, purity vs. wickedness, etc.  So when I read this verse and it contrasted the tongue and the heart it peaked my interest – and it was as if God told me to go back and meditate on it and read it again.  So I did, and I was reminded of this verse: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45)  (emphasis mine).  And I realized that this proverb, like many others, is actually creating a contrast – a contrast of the heart.  Jesus said that what we speak comes from our heart; if you’re not a follower of Jesus, here’s an extra-biblical quote that is similar:

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So Solomon (the author of Proverbs) is telling us what Jesus also told us: the words we speak are a reflection of our heart – the words of the righteous reflect a righteous heart while the words of the wicked reflect a wicked heart. Connected with all of this was the Ephesians passage listed above, which we discussed at some length this past week in our small group.  One of the things that convicts me when I read Paul’s words is that it says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.”  It doesn’t list exceptions (ie, when you’re angry or venting or sad).  None.  That’s how much we’re “allowed”.  And I think the reason is that our words reflect (and often betray) our heart to those around us.  My colleagues at work think I never curse – and every time they curse around me they typically apologize (not sure why they feel the need to do this, because I’ve certainly never said anything about it – they just have never heard me curse and I guess they figure I’m greatly offended by it).  My wife once told me that her grandmother told her cursing revealed a weak mind – it was what we said when we were too ignorant to use a better word.  Now I certainly won’t tell you that my words have always been (or always are) free of four letter words, because on occasion (typically when I’m alone and angry), one slips out – especially on the road.  Not something I’m proud of, simply stating a fact.  But it’s also something I’ve worked hard to overcome over the years – and, if my work colleagues are any judge, God has certainly been gracious to me.

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Don’t take this post as an anti-cursing post, because that’s certainly not it.  The purpose of this reflection is to ask the question, “If my words overflow from my heart, what do they say about the condition of my heart?”

If I say I love Jesus, do people hear me talking about Him?  If I say I’ve surrendered to Him and I strive to serve my family and faithfully lead my wife and kids to be more like Jesus, is it apparent in my speech?  If I value the covenant and commitment I made to my wife on our wedding day do I participate in “wife” jokes when I’m out with the guys to get a laugh?  How about when my kids want to play a game – do I speak harsh words to them?  Am I dishonest when asked a question, or manipulative, or un-trustworthy?  How about when someone comes to me with a problem they need advice on or someone to help them process – does it stay between us or do I turn around and use it as gossip with the next person I see?

Now I know the old saying that, “Talk is cheap”, and I’m not suggesting that just because we say something we do something.  I’m simply suggesting that often times our words (or lack thereof) say something different than what we want them to say – and is that because of an inconsistency in our actions (we don’t practice what we preach) or is it because the words themselves reflect a problem in our hearts?  God promised us in Ezekiel that he would give us a “new heart”, and Paul certainly preaches that we are “new creations” (see Ezekiel 36:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:17).  Yet how does this play out in our words?  If we’re to take Solomon (and Jesus) at his word, then we need to recognize there really is a connection between our words and heart.  The words we speak and the tone we use to say them reveal a wealth of information about the state of our heart.  What do your words say about you?

40 Days of Grace


Where the previous devotional I read fell flat on it’s face, 40 Days of Grace blew me out of the water.  Here was a book that every time I opened it I was brought face to face with my risen savior and my own unworthiness as a man, reminding and refocusing me on the grace of God found in Christ.  I found the book challenging, inspiring, convicting, and encouraging all at once.

The daily readings averaged probably 4-5 pages each, comprising of some teaching (sometimes in the form of a story), scripture, a question to meditate on, and a daily prayer.  My wife and I have been going through the book together and it has sparked many conversations every morning – conversations that often times we need to end not because we run out of something to say but because I’ve got work to get to!  The message of the book focuses us squarely on God and his grace, leading us to respond to Him in worship and submission.  And isn’t that what a good book should do?  Show us Jesus and allow us to respond?  If you are looking for a devotional that will challenge and inspire, this is the one.  I give this book an enthusiastic 5/5 stars.

9780857214430For the record, I received a free ecopy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

Limitless


Limitless was actually a title that I had tried multiple times to get my hands on for a review copy, so when I finally did I was ecstatic.  I had heard much about Nick Vujicic, the man born without arms or legs who has been used by God to reach literally thousands of people; I had heard about his strong testimony, his incredible faith, and his ability to inspire and encourage people, so when the devotional came I told my wife about it and we set out reading it together.

But I’m not sure I could have been more disappointed in the book.  Some people may say that my expectations were too high, but it wasn’t my expectations for the book in general that weren’t met but rather my expectations for his theology that disappointed me.  Throughout the devotional we kept reading about what Nick had done – not what Jesus had done.  Granted, he referenced God, and every chapter started with a Bible verse.  But that was it.  After every day’s reading my wife and I would look at each other and say, “Really?  That’s it?”

Nick’s basic message (that we heard) seemed to be, “If you believe hard enough in your self then you can do anything.”  Not once did we ever get the message, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  Rather, we heard, “I can do all things.”  We weren’t directed towards trusting more in God, or even the prosperity-gospel message of “Just have more faith and it will be okay.”  No, we were just told to believe in ourselves, have more confidence in our ability, and everything will work out just fine.  It was, in short, a watered-down message of self-help and positive thoughts void of any real reference to a risen savior.

And I guess that’s why I was so disappointed.  I haven’t read his other books, nor have I heard him speak, but I’d like to give Nick the benefit of the doubt here and say that we just misunderstood him.  Unfortunately, in a review I don’t have that freedom.  There are books that after I read I put on my shelf to keep, there are others I share with friends because they are that powerful, there are those I donate to church libraries because even though I may not want to keep them they are worth passing on, and then there are those books that, honestly, after I read them go straight in the garbage because I refuse to keep them and I refuse to pass them on.  This book falls into that last category – I can not in good faith recommend it to anyone who wants to draw nearer to Jesus.  So, I’ll give it 1/5 stars, mainly for bad theology.

For the record, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.