When I Pray What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson


Sometimes I hate writing reviews, and, honestly, this is one of those times.  When I first was offered this particular title I was very excited, mainly because prayer is something I have often struggled with in terms of being committed to and feeling like I “do” well.  And when I received the book and started reading it I was so ecstatic I shared with several friends, “I’m reading this great book on prayer!”

Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t stay with me.  To put it quite bluntly, I found the book became depressing and downright boring.  In the first chapter I really connected with the author and his struggles with prayer – and he raised many of the questions I have found myself asking over the years.  But then as the book progressed I felt like he never really came to a clear answer, but I just kept reading over and over about his struggles without seeing any victory.  To be fair and transparent, I never finished the book, but by the time I was half-way through it (literally) I found that reading it was sapping my joy and I was more discouraged than I was encouraged, so I had to stop.  Maybe the author finally did reach some resolution (though in my skimming of the last half of the book it didn’t appear he did), but if he did he arrived there way to late to keep my attention (and I typically have a high level of tolerance and patience for wading through books).  In short, reading it because a chore rather than a joy.

So, for that reason (and that reason alone), I’ve got to give the book 1 star and I just do not recommend it.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

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Too Many to Jail


Let me start by saying Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley is available until April 5 for just $.99 on Kindle – and you need to order it now by clicking here.  The book tells the story of the Christian church in Iran – a country where you’d expect the church to be dieing – but to the contrary, Iran is the country with the fastest growing church in the world, growing at a rate of nearly 20% every year!

In the book Bradley provides several chapters that give a brief overview of the history of Iran since the Islamic Revolution, with an eye towards explaining both Christian persecution during that time and the growth of the church.  He goes into detail regarding five house churches, and the book really is a study of the growth of the house church movement in Iran.

Rather that provide you with any further details about the book, though, I’d like to share what the book has forced me to think about – and reminded me of.  Overall, it has led me to reflect on my own witness for Jesus (0r lack thereof) – I’ve had to ask myself, “Why is it there are so many people in Iran who are willing to go to jail, be tortured, or even die for sharing the Gospel and I’m afraid to talk to people here in America?”  The boldness of these believers is both inspiring and convicting.

The book also addresses why people are so open to Christianity (and, honestly, why do I assume they aren’t open to it here?)  The biggest reason?  It’s really simple: the primacy of Jesus Christ.  Bradley writes, “Ask an Iranian why they are attracted to Christianity and the answer is often very simple: Jesus Christ” (p. 104).  It makes me wonder, why don’t people in America say that?  Is it because we’ve done a lousy job of showing them Jesus?  Several times in the book Bradley wrote about how in the house churches Christians told others (evangelized them) simply what God had done in their own lives – it is the story of testimony.  Yet here in the American church we struggle to get people to even see the movement of God in their lives, yet alone tell others about it!  There’s also an emphasis in the book on the practice of church discipline in the Iranian church: “[The church] is particularly string in two areas: sexual relations and gossip” (p. 131).  The process?  People who fall in these areas are first warned and asked to live pure lives, but if they continue they are asked to leave the church.  It’s that simple.  And do you notice the two that have been picked?  Wow!

The other reason the church is growing?  Christians aren’t afraid to share Jesus with people!  Even in the presence of persecution, Christians share the good news:

“The policy for Christians who do not actively threaten the status quo of the Shia state is discrimination, which often leads to the ordeal of emigration…It is true that many hard-line Muslims in Iran interpret the Sharia law as demanding death for male apostates and life imprisonment for females.  Hence, in more colorful publication,s the impression can be given that a Muslim in Iran who becomes a Christian spends every waking moment in fear of being murdered or dragged of to a kangaroo court to be sentenced to death.  However, even Iranian officials can be uncomfortable with this image and there is no record of any Christian facing that sort of treatment in Iran – as long as they are quietist and not active at all…The issue is that many Christians are not quietist” (p. 165-6, emphasis mine).

Read that again – if Christians in Iran would be willing to put up with some discrimination (political, economic, etc), they could live their lives without fear of torture or murder.  But even know that they do not remain quiet but insist on sharing the good news of Jesus with non-believers! Bradley also writes, “One man closely involved with house churches made this striking comment, ‘The people are so open that you can get away with anything in evangelism if you go about it the right way.’  In other words people want to hear about Jesus, and if approached in the appropriate way they will make a commitment” (p. 147, emphasis mine).  Why aren’t the Christians afraid to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus?  Apparently they actually believe what he said, and they believe it enough to risk it all – but they’ve also found that when they share Jesus with others people actually respond by also taking on the risk of following Jesus.

When was the last time you heard anyone in America talk like that?

Overall I’m giving this book 5/5 stars – if you’re willing to confront your own fears about sharing Jesus with others.   If you’d like to check out an excerpt before spending the $.99 for the book (see link at top of page) you can find one if you click here.

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

 

 

Skin in the Game by Rick Lawrence


Skin in the Game is a book about the risk it takes to be a follower of Jesus. Christianity isn’t for the light of heart, and Lawrence offers us some questions to consider in reflecting on our own level of commitment to Jesus.  81o4joU5zgL._SL1500_The book contains eight chapters, each focused on using a story from the gospels to ask a reflective question designed to draw us to further invest in “the game”.  The chapters are short and easy to read (the book is only about 150 pages), but don’t mistake its brevity as an indication the book is a lightweight. To the contrary, the questions Lawrence asks cut to the core of who we are (or claim to be) as followers of Jesus, and each chapter contains group discussion questions for further reflection.

Perhaps the chapter I enjoyed most was the one focused on our identity as believers.  Lawrence reminds us that what is most important is knowing who God is and who God says we are.  When we have a clear understanding of our identity then our behavior and perspective on life will radically transform. But we need to be willing to not only listen to what God says, not only be willing to believe he is right, but also willing to admit we may be wrong and let go of the lies we believe about who we are and why we do what we do.

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

The Evangelism Study Bible


As I’ve mentioned before, it’s difficult for me to review the Bible.  After all, what am I supposed to write?  “Great job, God!  You knocked it out of the park on this one!  I see a best seller here!”  I mean, I’m certainly not going to critique it and suggest there are mistakes, that something could have been worded a little more clearly or gently… “Hey, God, overall I like the book, but this Jesus character?  He was pretty blunt – couldn’t you have toned him down a bit?”  Yeah, not gonna happen.

So when I was given the opportunity to review the Evangelism Study Bible I understood that I was not reviewing the scripture itself but rather the extra-biblical resources contained in the Bible – things like book introductions, the concordance, study notes, etc.  This particular bible is a NKJV, so unlike one of my earlier reviews I wasn’t even reviewing the translation.

So here’s my thoughts…  Overall the notes seem to be helpful and high-quality.  They do a nice job of bringing an evangelistic focus to verses I would have never thought about looking at in that way (as in the notes on how to help a new believer choose a church aligned with the building of Solomon’s temple in 2 Chronicles).  The concordance seemed comprehensive enough for a paper version (let’s be honest, at this point I use the internet on my phone to do word searches more than anything else), and the included ribbon bookmark was a nice little feature that I always appreciate in any Bible.

But I guess this is where I get hesitant: why not just public a book on evangelism rather than embed a book within the Bible?  Wouldn’t that be more useful and easy to read?  It’s like they took a book of Q&A on evangelism, cut it up into small chunks, and then just split them up on pages throughout the scripture – but, as with all Bible, the important stuff isn’t this commentary, it’s the scripture. And I guess that’s my biggest struggle with bibles like this in general.  I’ve been in too many settings where someone will read the notes or commentary as scripture, when they aren’t.  I’m not suggesting notes and commentaries are bad, I’m just saying they don’t have the same level of authority as do the words of scripture themselves.  Many who read the Bible seem to understand this, and I’m certainly not against using notes and commentaries in Bible studies and discussions (I do it myself).  But there are also many who seem unable to distinguish between what God has written and what man has interpreted and written.  At the end of the day, these Bibles too often seem more about marketing than they do anything else (as a disclaimer, I have multiple study Bibles at my house that I have purchased).  In many ways I think someone could find more valuable and accurate resources (and save some money) by doing a little online research or just purchasing a commentary/study guide/book as they could by purchasing one of these Bibles.

Having said all that, it is not a mistake to purchase a Study Bible and if you’re looking for a good translation to carry around with you and you want to get some “bonus” features thrown in, this is an excellent choice.  I often think of buying study bibles as a 2-for-1 deal – you get the Bible and a basic commentary for one price.  So if you want the ease of carrying only one book, or if it’s more cost effective to purchase a study Bible rather than a Bible and a commentary, this may be a good option for you.  I’ll give this book 3.5/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy in exchanges for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders


It seems that the last couple of books I’ve reviewed have been bombs.  Honestly, I was having a hard time getting excited about reading another book to review because I was wanting to read something good for a change – so when Gospel Formed appeared in my mailbox I left it lying on the table until the very last minute before the blog review was due.  Boy was that a mistake.  I am not sure I’ve read a book this spot-on in a very long time.  Medder’s style is conversational, yet the truths he expresses are deeply profound and transformational.  Every word is packed with intense meaning; this is one of those books where just reading two paragraphs made my mind spin as I contemplated what he was talking about – and hopefully that’s a reflection of the depth and richness of what he writes and not of the simplicity of my mind!

With very few exceptions, I’m not sure I’ve read many books that focused me more on the life and work of Jesus than Gospel Formed did.  Every word of every paragraph on every page was about Jesus.  Medders didn’t talk about being gospel-centered in his book, he actually demonstrated it.  This is one you’re going to want to read with a pen in hand because you’ll be underlining and writing in the margins (and when I didn’t have my pen I felt like I was missing more than I was taking in).  His thesis is simple: the secret to Christian growth is Christ, and then he spends the rest of the book showing how that is true.   He writes,

“The gospel is the center of the Bible, and it ought to be the center of our lives, homes, churches, ministries, spiritual disciplines, songs, parenting, marriages, jobs, – everything.  The focal point of the Christian life is one cross and one empty tomb.  Without the gospel, we lack the proper understanding of any doctrine, and especially a robust knowing of God himself…The gospel is the message of the church.  Christians are made strong because of the gospel…It’s all gospel.  All the time….The gospel, the news of the eternal Son of God dying in our place for our sins, is not only the center of the Bible; it’s also the center of history.”

And he’s just getting started.  Like a boxer delivering one bone-jarring jab after another, Medders doesn’t pull any punches, continually putting us in contact with what is central to life in Christ: namely, Jesus himself.

If I could give a book a higher rating I would, but I’m limited to a perfect 5/5 stars.  You need to get this book and read it, and you need to let the truths of it seep deeply into your soul.  I don’t say this lightly, but if you’re looking to be reminded of what it means to live your life in light of (and response to) the Gospel, this is by far the best book I have ever read and reviewed on the subject.

Yes, for the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.  And since I’m offering such  strong recommendation on this particular book I don’t want anyone reading this to think I only offer “good” reviews – in fact, there are plenty of books I’ve given poor marks to and which end up in my trash can.  This is probably the strongest review I can give: normally when I finish a book I either throw it away (if it’s no good) or give it away (if it was worth reading).  When a friend saw this sitting on my table and asked about it I told him that when I finished reading it I’d let him borrow it; as I started reading it I was kind of sad I said that because I don’t want to give it up, so when he told me he secured a copy on Kindle through a sale I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t have to let this one get out of my hands.  This is one I’m going to have to read a second time.

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.