Friday, September 15, 2017

All Saints - A Review








A Review


If you have seen the movie, you will want to read the book to get the rest of the story. If you have not seen the movie, you will want to read the book to get the whole story.


The movie was a moving experience, but the book provides so much more detail that the reader quickly realizes that the story is much more important than that found on the big screen. Rev. Michael Spurlock is appointed to a dead end church in Smyrna, TN. The church had gone through a very difficult church split and had a mortgage that far exceeded the remaining congregation's ability to care for themselves. The decision had been made by the local church and the denominational representatives to sell the property and move to a smaller location that could be had for the cost of rent while they began the rebuilding of the church.


God had other ideas.


Into their midst walked a small group of refugees - sent to check out the local Episcopal Church. On the surface, it would appear that the refugees would bring more drain on the resources of the church than they could possibly add. But, to quote myself, "God had other ideas."


What happened was the transformation of lives - both the American church members who stayed with the church and the Karenese refugees that joined them in worship. But the transformed lives did not stop there - it would include, over time, members of the Smyrna community, both its general population and its officials (police, government, etc.). Pastor Spurlock, the church, and the Karen would need to learn to trust God if the church was going to survive.  Throughout the story we see unexpected answers to prayer - from the heavens, in the form of needed rain; people, who brought skills at the right time; and equipment, like the "1000 gallon water tank with a pump mounted on a trailer."  


The story introduces us to the pain that the church felt when Rev. Spurlock chose after four years to take a position in New York, but the reader also celebrates with the church as they realized that God had sent the next pastor that they needed on their spiritual journey.


At one level, All Saints is the story of a church. But it is also the story of changed lives - lives unexpectedly touched by the Grace of God.
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

5-Minute Bible - A Review






5-Minute Bible
100 Stories and 100 Song

5-Minute Bible Cover.jpg

By
Stephen Elkins

A Review

A children’s Bible story book that is nicely conceived, but poorly executed. Stephen Elkins is known for producing colorful and entertaining books for children - he has attempted to add a bit of his creative genius to his newest work.

Each of the 100 two page stories consists of four parts. The first three parts are attractive and well-done. The colorful artwork will hold the reader’s attention and be inviting for parents to share with their children. The Bible stories themselves are written to be understood by the preschool child and read by the first and second grader. The colorful artwork will draw the child's (and parent?) attention to the story. Accompanying each story is a brief 10-20 word lesson summary of what the child might remember from the story. Also accompanying each story is a short children’s song.

And that is where this reviewer finds fault with the book. Some of the songs are well-known, such “The B-I-B-L-E, Yes That’s The Book For Me.” Others are lyrics are set to familiar hymns - except that, for this non-musician, it was often difficult to force the provided lyrics to fit the suggested tune. Finally, there are unfamiliar songs for which there is no suggested tune - suggesting that the songs should be familiar, even though they are not. All of these concerns could be address by including a CD (or 2) with the music for parents and children to sing along with. Similarly, a set of MP3 files could be made available on the book’s web page.

Which leads to this reviewer’s final concern - the web page given in the book’s introduction leads to a page saying that some page (not the book’s page) is under development. Yes, this new page is under development, but there is no indication that it is related to this book and, in fact, has no content at all. According to the book introduction, the page will present the full lyrics (alas, no music) for all the songs in the book; but not even the lyrics are present. (Note this review is being written one week after the publication date, and these problems could be addressed in the near future).
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Convicted - A Review










A Review

There are three kinds of books about grace:

The first are those that examine the topic Biblically or Theologically. My favorite book in this category, because it had a major impact on my life shortly after it was released, was Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening. The problem with these books is that the reader is left wondering, “Is this the way it really happens?”

The second kind of book that can teach us about grace are those fictional titles that weave grace into the story of the characters. A recently reviewed book that picks up this themes is Candace Calvert’s Maybe Its You.  But the reader is easily reminded that, “Yeah, this is fiction.”

The third category are those books which illustrate God’s grace lived out in the lives of real people with real problems dealing with real life on the streets where they live. Convicted is just that.

Jameel McGee is a young black man found at the wrong place at the wrong time. He is arrested by Andrew Collins is a police officer on the fast track - that knows what is best for his community and will do anything (even if it is dirty) to clean up the community.

The truth comes out as it is discovered that Andrew is stashing drugs in his locker to use against criminals for whom the cases were not quite as obvious as he wanted. Jameel would go to a state prison in Michigan for a crime he did not commit; Andrew would go to a federal prison for defrauding the justice system with false evidence.

Both Jameel and Andrew would need to learn of God’s grace - toward themselves and toward others (including each other). It was not easy for Jameel to let go of the anger he felt for Andrews lies and behaviors that left him serving four years of a ten-year sentence. It was a lesson he would need to relearn multiple times in the years ahead.  It was not easy for Andrew to learn that God could allow someone to forgive him for the damage done. It was a lesson he would need to hear multiple times in the years ahead. But they did learn about grace - and this is their story.

The story is told completely in the first person, flowing back and forth between Jameel’s and Andrew’s voice. We are presented with the emotions that each experienced as they moved through their story. We also see the hand of God working in their lives - they could not always see it in real time, but only became aware of it as it unfurled in the days, months, and years, ahead of them.

In these 200+ pages, we see how God’s grace can change the lives of two men that, at one time or another, wanted to destroy the lives of the other. We see the lives of two men who learned to work together and to love each other.
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible - A Review










A Review


At almost 2500 pages, this is one of the largest Study Bibles I have encountered; but that is okay, it is also one of the best.


With copious notes for both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the comments focus on both background material (as the title suggests) but also material suited for more typical Study Bibles. My current preaching series centers around the book of Philippians 3. Here is an example of the kind of material found in this commentary (clipped from Amazon.com):



The text is full of illustrative material that would bring the scriptures to life for the congregation of the person studying Bible for themselves. Along with the many notes, are a series of over 300 essays on Biblical history and archeology. The full-color images, cross-references, a concordance, and indexes to the essays add additional value to this Bible edition.


For the church looking for an attractive gift for their pastor during “Pastor’s Appreciation Month” (October), this would make a nice addition to the pastor’s gift. Similarly, this Bible would make a wonderful gift for a pastoral student - whether in a college, seminary, or non-traditional program.  This would also serve as a nice addition to a lay person’s or  church library.
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This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.






Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Apologetics Study Bible: Christian Standard Bible - A Review



Apologetics Study Bible CSB.jpg


A Review


Holman Bible Publishers has combined one of my favorite Study Bibles with what is becoming a favorite preaching Bible. The result is a tool that I will be keeping on my shelf for years to come.

Over the last few months, I have begun to appreciate the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), beginning with a couple of reviews published in February and March of 2017. It is quickly becoming my favorite pulpit Bible. I am becoming increasingly excited as Study Bibles are becoming available based around the CSB. The Apologetics Study Bible is the third such Study Bible to cross my desk.


The Bible text used in this edition is the newer Christian Standard Bible. But the changes do not stop there. Notes have been updated in this newer edition. As one example, the notes of the original HCSB Apologetics Bible for Colossians 2:8 are as follows:

2:8 The term “philosophy” occurs only here in the Bible. Paul was not making a blanket denunciation of philosophical study or even Greek philosophy (e.g., Platonism, Stoicism). Nor was he worried that the Colossians’ faith would crumble if they subjected it to critical inquiry. The article (“the”) appearing before the term in the Greek text suggests that the opponents had characterized their own teaching as a “philosophy”—the specific teaching Paul opposed.

The newer CSB version rewords this slightly and adds a bit more content:

2:8 The term “philosophy” occurs only here in the Bible. Paul was not making a blanket denunciation of philosophical study or even Greek philosophy like Platonism, Stoicism. Nor was he worried that the Colossians’ faith would crumble if they subjected it to critical inquiry. The article (“the”) appearing before the term in the Greek text suggests that the opponents had characterized their own teaching as a “philosophy”—the specific teaching Paul opposed.

“Elements of the world” (stoicheia) suggests supernatural agencies or spiritual beings.

Knowing that the text was not merely imported from the previous edition into the newer edition is a helpful observation. It means the editors were not only thinking about the Bible text, but also about the  contents of the notes.


Note - this review is specifically for the hard copy of the CSB Apologetics Study Bible. Kindle versions are flawed in that they do not provide access to the main Apologetics Study Notes - this is true for both the HCSB and CSB versions and for the separate, though related, student versions. LOGOS versions of the original HCSB Apologetics Study Bible does not have this flaw. CSB versions of both the Apologetics Study Bible and the Student versions are in the queue for possible development - given sufficient pre-orders.


Is it worth purchasing the CSB Apologetics Study Bible - only if you want the most up-to-date details and notes. I have not checked every note, so I cannot verify that there are no critical updates to the notes - the buyer may want to check important verses, chapters, or books, for changes.


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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Seeds of Revenge - A Review






Seeds of Revenge

Seeds of Revenge cover.jpg

by
Wendy Tyson

A Review

Megan Sawyer and her friends from the small town of Winsome, PA, are in the middle of another series of murders, a series which could easily tear the town apart. Megan owns a small organic farm on the outskirts of town and also runs a small cafe and store in town in which she markets some of her products. The cafe has quickly become the hub of town gossip - if you want to hear the latest news (true or false) visit the cafe. Winsome was also a place that was inviting to family reunions - and this one was turning deadly.

The disliked patriarch of the family was the first to die - but others would follow. Then other members of the community started to be threatened as well. The police chief was young and was learning his role in murder investigations very quickly. This was not his first case (see Wendy Tyson’s earlier novels in this series for those details), but it was becoming his trickiest to solve. With so many misleading clues and possibilities, naming the wrong suspect could lead to more deaths.

A bit harsher than some cozy mysteries, but still a satisfying read. Set in rural Pennsylvania, the place almost feels like home (without the murders, of course): warm fireplaces, ice covered roads, small town life. A walk along the frozen canal might be just the way to finish day’s work. The town, the plot, and the characters will welcome all readers to again visit Winsome, Pennsylvania.  
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Greek For Life - A Review






Greek for Life cover.jpg


A Review

The authors have created a “coach in a box” for the student of NT Greek. The book is not designed to teach Greek, but to, as the sub-title says, provide “Strategies for
Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek”.

The book is not written as a study book of Greek vocabulary or grammar. Rather it discusses a set of 8 general principles that can be used to enhance and retain the Greek a student has learned. The chapter titles sum up those principles.

  1. Keep the End in Sight   
  2. Go to the Ant, You Sluggard   
  3. Review, Review, Review   
  4. Use Your Memory Effectively   
  5. Use Greek Daily   
  6. Use Resources Wisely   
  7. Don’t Waste Your Breaks   
  8. How to Get It Back   

As one reads, the reader feels like he or she is working with a coach. The hints and principles are practical and will assist the student as he moves through his or her study of the Greek and prepares for life long Bible Study using the Greek text. I could wish that I had such a book or coach during my three-semester sequence of Greek.

I also wish I might have had a similar coach as I studied Pascal, Data Structures, and Database Development, later in my career. Thus, two comments seem appropriate. First, the same principles apply to the study of any topic - from History to Mathematics to Chemistry to Physics. Second, given the first comment, a publisher might take the time to share this material with other authors to create parallel books in other disciplines.  The examples given throughout the book are derived from a multi-semester course in New Testament Greek, but could easily be adapted for use with other disciplines.

This book needs to be assigned reading for every Greek student the summer before they begin their study of NT Greek. The book should sit on the coffee table in every Greek professor’s office - easily accessible for a referral to students as needed.

In summary, this book will not teach you Greek, but it will prepare you to learn Greek.
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.