Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Book Review: At the Feet of Jesus by Joanna Weaver

You were made for more than serving God; you were made to know Him.

Intimacy with God-to know Him and be known by Him. It is what our hearts desperately need, but somehow life conspires to keep us busy and distracted.

For anyone who struggles when it comes to daily devotions, At the Feet of Jesus extends an irresistible invitation to set aside your duties and find the amazing peace and incredible joy that come from time alone with Him. Drawn from Joanna Weaver's beloved Bethany trilogy, each reading in this 365-day devotional includes a Bible reading passage and reflection question. All-new material and "Going Deeper" sidebars are also woven throughout.

Discover for yourself the riches that come from spending a portion of each day alone with God. At the feet of Jesus-where true life begins!

Includes a unique One-Year Bible Reading Guide.

My Thoughts:  I really appreciate the diversity and flexibility of this devotional.  Each day has a verse of scripture that the devotional focuses on and then there's a "digging deeper" section with additional scripture and some thoughts for reflection.  

I love that there is flexibility with how much time you may have to spend doing devotions.  On days you are rushed, you can read just the verse and devotional - it doesn't take long, but the devotions are right on target and you will find yourself renewed or challenged by Weaver's thoughts on the scripture for the day.  But, on days where you do have the time, you can dig a little deeper on the same subject.  I love that she has more than one scripture for the topic and her reflections make it easy to focus on that topic and to personalize it or make it relevant to your life.  

And finally, there's a unique plan for reading through the Bible in a Year - something any long time reader of this blog knows I am now very passionate about!

Both approaches to scripture are important - focusing on small sections of scripture to focus on meaning and personal application, as well as getting a broader view of scripture that can only come with reading the Bible in its entirety.  This devotional contains it all in one volume.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Book Review: Hot Buttons by Nicole O'Dell

About the Book: Nicole O'Dell helps address the Hot Buttons in teens' lives before the issues become problems 

From dating to drugs, modesty to purity, morals to popularity, teens face all sorts of tough issues. How teens respond to these hot-button issues can have lasting effects on who they want to be and who they actually become. What if parents can help their teens prepare for these hot buttons-before the issues become a problem?
The uniquely packaged Hot Buttons Series is an accessible, quick-reference resource that parents can use to equip their children to make the right decisions, even in the face of peer pressure and outside influences. More than just another how-to manual, Hot Button Dating Edition offers practical real-life situations that parents can read and discuss with their preteens. Topics include: physical activity, missionary dating, and violence/abuse in dating relationships.
Author, mom, and broadcaster, Nicole O'Dell provides short scenarios followed by three or four responses that a teen might choose in that particular situation. Parents are then encouraged to help their children explore the issue, ask questions, and discuss the options, so when a similar situation comes up in real life, the teens are already prepared to respond.

Hot Buttons Dating Edition offers practical real-life situations that parents can read and discuss with their preteens. Topics include: physical activity, missionary dating, and violence/abuse in dating relationships.
Hot Buttons Internet Edition helps parents prepare their teens for online challenges they may face. Topics discussed include: internet activity, file sharing, social networking, and internet predators.
Hot Buttons Drug Edition braves the scary world of substance abuse, equipping parents with facts, warning signs, and real-world scenarios on: alcohol; Marijuana and other drugs; inhalants; and prescription drugs.
Hot Buttons Sexuality Edition offers the facts about teen sexuality, backed by statistics; specifics for how to talk frankly about sex with your kids, discussion about the growth of homosexuality and bisexuality among teens; and compassionate advice for guiding your teen to reclaim purity.

My Thoughts: When I saw these books available for review, I immediately scooped them up.  I love reading parenting books, and with our oldest daughter well past her 11th birthday, the teen years are coming up quickly so this was well-timed.

Something that often irritates me about parenting books is that they often have a lot of wonderful information but have little practical or specific tips on how to apply all that newfound knowledge.  With these books, that's the focus and my favourite part - the strategic scenarios.  The entire book is no nonsense, straightforward and hard hitting - always something I appreciate.  But the strategic scenarios is where these books shine.  Best teaching happens in conversation or "stories" anyway, these books give you scripts (or even just ideas) on how to proactively begin the conversations you need to have with your children on the tough issues.

I couldn't recommend these books highly enough - if you're a Christian parent with teens or tweens (or a non-Christian parent concerned with the above topics - keep in mind it will be presented from a Christian point of view), you need a copy of this series!  I usually end up donating many of the books I receive for review to our church library - but not these ones.  These are staying in my home library!

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Book Review: Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Wally Armstrong

About the Book: Experience the Gift of His Friendship 

Do you want to experience Jesus as real? When we look at Jesus' life on earth, we see Him calling people to simply know Him. He made no demand on them to believe theological propositions. "Follow me" was the invitation which they accepted. They got to know and communicate with the real person. There is a big difference between believing something is true and experiencing it as real. This is the story of how Wally Armstrong learned to communicate with the real person of Jesus in his everyday life. Armstrong experiences Jesus up close and personal and introduces readers to the same experience. In a conversational manner, he explores what it is like to have a relationship with Jesus as if He is sitting right there next to us. He keeps an empty chair ready and imagines Jesus sitting beside him as they talk.

My Thoughts: Most believers would describe Christianity as a personal relationship with Jesus built on the justification we receive as a gift of grace through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ when He died on the cross and rose again.  Most believers would claim a personal relationship with Jesus.  But how does that actually work out practically in our lives?  Do we really have a personal relationship with our Saviour?  Do we take the time to talk with Him as though He is a best friend that has come for coffee, or to play a round of golf with us?  Do we think He has time for us?  Do we think He cares about everything in our lives - from the mundane to the intensely personal?

If not, we sure should!  In this book, Wally Armstrong shares his experience and provides suggestions for how we can make that belief a reality in our lives.  He doesn't have a one size fits all approach, which is good, because worship and communication looks different for everyone.  But the key is to do it.  Practice the presence of Jesus.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Book Review: The Memory Jar by Tricia Goyer

About the Book: Book One in the Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series

Every year, 30-40 young Amish men descend on the cozy little town of West Kootenai, Montana, arriving in the spring to live there for six months and receive 'resident' status for the hunting season in the fall. They arrive as bachelors, but go home with brides! Sarah Shelter has lived in West Kootenai for the last ten years and wonders if she will ever fall in love.  Since the tragic death of her best friend, she carries her memories in a jar along with the small items connected to them. For just as long, she's also been carrying around her emotions instead of allowing them to penetrate deep into her heart. Now she's met a kind and gentle man who may be able to break down the wall. But can Sarah risk her heart to finally achieve her dreams?

My Thoughts:  This book delves deep into the very personal subject of death and dealing with the hurt and loss that goes with it.  Very few people deal with grief in a healthy way throughout the entirety of the journey and this book deals with one of the ways we can staunch our grief instead of working through it.  

The budding relationship between Jathan and Sarah is also filled with more depth than you'd first expect as they each need to deal with their differing expectations and hopes, as well as differences in their family values and faith - even though they both come from similar backgrounds.

The story was very well written and I look forward to reading more books from this series!

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Book Review: You Don't Know Me by Susan May Warren

About the Book: A Deep Haven Novel

Sometimes the secrets we keep to protect ourselves can be our undoing.

To all who know her, Annalise Decker is a model wife and mother. She’s a permanent member of the PTA, never misses a sporting event, and is constantly campaigning for her husband’s mayoral race.

No one knows that Annalise was once Deidre O’Reilly, a troubled young woman whose testimony put a dangerous criminal behind bars. Relocated through the Witness Security Program to the quaint harbor town of Deep Haven, Deidre received a new identity and a fresh start, which began when she fell in love with local real estate agent Nathan Decker.

Twenty years later, Annalise couldn’t be more unprepared for her past to catch up with her. When Agent Frank Harrison arrives with news that the man she testified against is out on parole and out for revenge, Annalise is forced to face the consequences of her secrets. Will she run again, or will she finally find the courage to trust those she loves most with both her past and her future?

My Thoughts: Susan May Warren is one of my favourite authors for a reason!  Anytime I see a book review opportunity for her books, I snatch them up as quick as I can, and this one did not disappoint.

I absolutely love the storyline of this novel.  I enjoy reading books and watching TV shows and movies about witness protection, but this one brought in a few different angles I'd never considered before.  

Can you even imagine flying down to say goodbye to your daughter for the last time before she enters the program, knowing you'll never see her, her future husband or children again in your lifetime?  

Can you imagine being the one leaving everything behind, knowing you can never risk contact with your family again?  

Can you imagine being the man assigned to the protection and safety of a young girl?

Can you imagine being married and finding out years later that your spouse is in the witness protection program?

Warren does a masterful job dealing with these angles and more.  

I recommend this book 200% - pick it up, you'll be glad you did!

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Book Review: Life with Lily by Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher

About the Book: Book 1 in the ‘Adventures of Lily Lapp’ series.

Lily is six in this story, just starting first grade in a one-room schoolhouse in upstate New York. Her parents are busy building a farm, and soon animals join the family—Jenny the cow and Chubby the miniature horse. A baby brother arrives, too, which Lily has mixed feelings about. (She wanted a sister!) Aside from a mischievous friend like Mandy Mast, Lily is happy at school and even happier at home. 

Trouble is brewing at the schoolhouse and change is on the horizon for Lily and her family.

My Thoughts: Life with Lily reminded me of an Amish version of the Little House on the Prairie books (which I loved growing up!), but this is a simpler, faster, lighter read.  

What is fascinating about this book is that it is based off the real lifestyle of little girls growing up in Amish communities right now, in this day and age, not years in the past.  

It's definitely written from a child's perspective, and therefore easier language and sentence structure, so I found it a little hard to maintain interest in it for myself, but I'm looking forward to giving it to my daughters to read and see what they think!

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Book Review: Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson

About the Book: A young woman traveling the Oregon Trail in 1842 must rely on a stranger to bring her to safety. But whom can she trust with her heart?

For two thousand miles along the trail to Oregon Country, Samantha Waldron and her family must overcome tremendous challenges to reach the Willamette Valley before winter. Together they weather autumn storms, hunger and thirst, and the dangers of a wild and unfamiliar country. But when their canoe capsizes on the Columbia River, they must rely on handsome British exporter Alexander Clarke to rescue them from the icy water.
Alex escorts Samantha and her young brother, Micah, to Fort Vancouver. There Samantha is overwhelmed with men vying for her affections, but the only one who intrigues her-Alex-is the one she cannot have. When his betrothed arrives unexpectedly from England to escort him home, Samantha becomes determined to create a home for herself and Micah in the fertile valley far away from the fort. But how will an unmarried woman support herself and her brother in the wilderness alone? 

Then Micah disappears into the wilderness one rainy night, and Samantha must rely on the man she loves-the man she’s trying desperately to forget-to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

My Thoughts: Another book from the American Tapestry Series, Where the Trail Ends is a fascinating novel set mainly along the Oregan Trail.  Though I've never been a huge American/Canadian history fan, I have always been very interested in the stories of the pioneer's themselves - not the discoverers, but the every day people who made the incredibly difficult trip west in search of a better life.

This novel was very well written and, despite obviously never experiencing anything remotely close to this myself, I was able to really connect with the characters and the many hardships they experienced along the way.  I really loved the character of Samantha as I tend to like spirited, intelligent and determined women and she was certainly that!  

One thing I was disappointed in was that the synopsis of the book revealed far too much of the plot.  I know this isn't a suspense novel, but I still prefer not to know so many details ahead of time.  

One thing I really liked was how one situation was resolved (won't give it away) by God setting things into motion months ahead of time - His sovereignty always amazes me and I loved how that worked out practically in the lives and relationships of this novel.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Book Review: Queen of the Waves by Janice Thompson

About the Book: When pampered Jacqueline Abington secretly elopes with the family gardener, she asks another woman to take her place on the much anticipated maiden voyage of the Titanic. Tessa Bowen hails from a poor corner of London but has been granted the opportunity of a lifetime—a ticket to sail to America aboard a famed vessel. But there’s a catch: she must assume Jacqueline’s identity. For the first time in her life, Tessa stays in luxurious quarters, dresses in elegant gowns, and dines with prestigious people. Then a wealthy American man takes an interest in her, and Tessa struggles to keep up the ruse as she begins falling for him. When tragedy strikes, the game is up, and two women’s lives are forever changed.

My Thoughts: I've always been fascinated by the Titanic, and would likely read almost any fiction book set on the magnificent ship.  We are also avid cruisers, so the setting of this novel definitely can't be beat.

As you can tell from the above book synopsis, the storyline is a bit of a stretch as far as believability goes.  It's not often that a rich, society girl falls in love with the gardener enough to be willing to leave her riches behind - though women blinded by love often imagine themselves capable of almost anything, so it's still in the realm of possibility.  But that Tessa, a girl who had never been off her family's poor pig farm, would be able to impersonate a high society lady with only 2 weeks training, is definitely a stretch.    That being said, the characters themselves were very well developed and I was able to see past the storyline difficulties and was still caught up in the relationships and how everything would all play out. The author's descriptions of the ship and characters onboard were fantastic and made it easy to envision the drama as it unfolded.

One thing I thought was very believable was Iris (Jacqueline's lady's maid) and her reaction to having to be subserviant to Tessa, who was from an even lower class than the maid herself.  

There are several spiritual themes dealt with in the book, including the abuse Tessa endures from her falsely religious father which naturally twists her view of God, deceit on the part of several characters, forgiveness and grace.

As in any book of fiction set on the Titanic, you know how the the Titanic will end up, but you don't know what will end up happening to the characters. There were also several relationships that had a bit of mystery or intrigue involved.  Both of these factors caused me to want to read on to discover how everything worked out - and I was not disappointed with the ending.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy of Queen of the Waves - a book in the American Tapestry Series.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Book Review: The Trouble with Cowboys by Denise Hunter

About the Book: Annie Wilkerson is Moose Creek’s premiere horse trainer and equine columnist for Montana Living. Money is tight as she tries to put her kid-sister through college and provide for her young nephew. When Annie’s column is cancelled, she’s given first shot at a new lovelorn column—and she can’t afford to turn it down. Only problem is . . . Annie’s never been in love.

Always resourceful, she reluctantly strikes a deal with the town’s smooth-talking ladies’ man Dylan Taylor: She’ll work with his ailing horse, Braveheart, if he’ll help her answer the reader letters.

Working closely with Dylan is harder than Annie imagined, and she quickly realizes she may have misjudged him. But her unwavering conviction that cowboys are nothing but trouble has kept her heart safe for years. And she can’t risk getting hurt now.
The more Annie tries to control things, the more they fall apart. Her feelings are spinning out of control, and her sister’s antics are making life increasingly more difficult. Annie knows she needs to turn the reins over to God, but surrender has never come easily.

When Dylan reveals his feelings for her, Annie doesn’t know what to trust—her head or her heart. The trouble with this cowboy is that he might just be exactly what she needs.

My Thoughts: This book managed to deal with a few serious topics - single parenting, rebellion, control, loss of parents, loyalty, sacrifice - while still being a really fun read.

I like it when works of fiction can reveal truth to you while keeping you entertained.  I appreciated the reminder to never judge a book by it's cover and the danger of false assumptions.  Another important life lesson was being willing to hand over control of all parts of our lives to God - easier said than done, but such an important lesson to learn.

I was able to connect with all of the characters in this novel (some more than others, of course), and really enjoyed the storyline.  Even though the ending is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, I still enjoyed watching it unfold.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Monday, 8 October 2012

If God is good.....

In studying for my post on my Bible blog for this past Sunday's passage, I learned something that absolutely blew me away.  Something I had never truly understood before, and I wanted to share it with you.

We presume upon God's goodness.  We all do.  Believers and non-believers alike.  We enjoy the blessings of family, air to breath, water to drink, food to eat almost like it's our right to have them.  And often with little thought or credit to God who has blessed us with them. (Except maybe on Thanksgiving - wow, what an appropriately timed post, right?!)

But the moment things go wrong, we blame God.  How could He allow this to happen?  How could God possibly claim to be good and then allow _____ to happen to me?  If God is good and powerful, then why didn't He stop it?

Not only that - how come the God we see in the OT is so wrathful?  God destroys all but Noah, his sons, and their wives in a flood.  God strikes down Uzzah "just because" he touches the Ark in an attempt to prevent it from crashing to the ground.  God turns Lot's wife into a pillar of salt "just because" she looked back as her hometown was destroyed.  40 boys are killed by a bear "just because" they made fun of one of God's prophets.  And on it goes.

When I read Pastor John MacArthur's answer to that question, I was blown away.  Here it is (emphasis mine)....

Now listen, if you look, watch this, at the Old Testament with the New Testament in view, you're going to get confused because we live in an aura of the goodness and mercy and grace of God. And if you go back from that perspective, you're going to get all confused in the Old Testament. The problem is we feel that God is unjust because we are comparing His justice with His mercy, not His mercy with His law. Let me show you what I mean. We have to go back to creation. You cannot look at the Old Testament from the New Testament, you have to look at the Old Testament from the creation.
Now, God said this, "In the day you eat of the fruit of the tree you shall surely...what?...die." When God created He said, you sin--you die. The New Testament reiterates the wages of sin is...what?...death. The soul that sinneth, said Ezekiel, it shall die. You eat, you die. In creation, all sin was a capital offense. Any sin, God had a right to kill. Now think of it this way. God made man freely. Created man of His own choice freely. He made man to glorify Him. He made man to radiate His image. He made man to manifest His person. But man rebelled. R.C. Sproul says he committed cosmic treason.
Now if God freely made man and God freely gave man his life and God freely gave man the conditions to continue that life, and man chose to violate that, then God had every right in the world to take that life back, right? After all, He gave it freely. Whenever we sin we are striking a blow at God's sovereign character. We are misrepresenting His image and His intention for us. We are insulting God and does not He who freely gave life have the right to freely take it back if He gave the conditions and we violated them? Is that unfair?, He gave the conditions, that would be just. He has every right to take back the life He gave when that life violates His conditions.
Okay, Adam and Eve ate. Let me ask you a question, did they die?, they didn't die. Did they get justice? No, what did they get? Mercy. And at the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, God's mercy was activated and you know what else was activated? The plan of the cross because as soon as God was merciful to sinners, somebody had to take His justice, right? And the cross became a fixed reality. So originally every stay with me...every sin required death. Is it unjust by God's law to take the life of the rebel to whom God has been so good? No. But God didn't exercise His justice, He was merciful to Adam and Eve.
Now listen to me. By the time you come to the Mosaic law, you only have 30 to 35 capital offenses. That is not cruel and unusual punishment, that is an amazing reduction in the severity of God's judgment, isn't it? Because originally it was any sin and now it's just 30 to 35 of them. And who knows how many thousands there are. God is so merciful but by the time He gets to the Mosaic era He's reduced it to 30 to 35. And you know something else? Even in the case of those 30 to 35, there were times when God did not enact His justice. There were times when the people of Israel did all of those things and God spared their lives. He was merciful. Wherever there was adultery in a marriage, there was supposed to be death. But because they were so adulterous all the time, God permitted them to divorce as a gracious merciful alternative. And they were to die for idolatry but how many times did God forgive that idolatry? And how many times was He merciful? They were to die when they were committing fornication but how many times did God show His patience? They were to die when they murdered, but how many times did God seem to overlook it? He was so patient, so patient.
Now you see, beloved, that is the point. If you compare the Old Testament with the original created standard, the Old Testament is full of listen to me...but we are so used to mercy, we are so used to grace, we are so accustomed to getting away with our sin, we are so used to not being punished, we are so accustomed to grace that we abuse it. And whenever God does do what is just, we think He's unjust. That's how confused we are. And that's how we despise the goodness of God. When God knocks down in death Ananias and Sapphira, we say, "Well, how can God be so cruel?" when the fact is, how can anybody else in that congregation stay alive, they were all sinners. You see, we so trade on God's mercy and we're so used to abusing God's grace that we are offended if God isn't merciful. And that's the truth. He chooses times not to be merciful.
You say, "Well, I still don't understand why He does it." Listen, I'll tell you why. Because it's so bad now and we trade so much on His mercy and abuse His grace so badly now that if He didn't give us those frequent examples of His justice, imagine how much more we would trade on His mercy without any fear of repercussion. The reason that God from time to time takes a life and comes down in severe judgment is because periodically throughout the flow of redemptive history He has to illustrate what should happen to bring us back to our senses because we are so accustomed to His mercy. If we didn't have examples of the consequence of sin, we would go on blissfully trading without a thought on His mercy....
So why are there throughout the Old Testament and even into the New, why are there those illustrations of God's instantaneous wrath? They're examples and God does those to show us what should happen to all of us and to build in our hearts attitudes of thanksgiving. Every day I live I should say, "Thank You, God, thank You for being so merciful and overlooking the sin today that should have caused my death and eternal judgment."
I'll tell you, we would never tolerate the insubordination that God tolerates. We tread on His mercy even with these examples, can you imagine if there weren't these examples what would happen?..
we are so used to mercy, so used to grace, that we think justice is unjust.


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