Reviews

Book Review: Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 3.17.09 PMBesides my father, several hundred are pastors in my circle of family, friends, and church activities. So I’m well acquainted with the varieties in which they come. As a teenager, my favorite kind was those with a bad-boy history (Note to self: Rewatch The Cross and the Switchblade).

But NONE of the pastors I know look like or talk like Pastor Nadia. Even the ones with a past of worldly notoriety are just as, or almost as, tame and predictable as every other pastor. Sure, there’s the occasional ponytail or a tattoo peaking out of a sleeve once in a while, but for the most part, all the pastors I know are cut out of more or less the same cookie mold. The frosting may be different on each, but the cookies are all the same.

Reading Pastor Nadia’s unorthodox, unfiltered narrative was like eating a fudge cookie after a lifetime of vanilla. It made me somewhat uncomfortable–I liked it, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted the content to infect my soul. It’s like my brain was stubborn, resisting her use of colorful, unholy language to describe holy content.

So while reading Accidental Saints I had to remind my stodgy righteous self to do more than hear the raw, straight-from-the heart voice of  Pastor Nadia. And when I truly listened, I saw her and others—not as mere people—but as God’s children. They were testimonies of grace and compassion, of discovering Jesus. Yet the book is not really about the men and women who meander into Pastor Nadia’s life and ministry.  Each chapter is about how she finds in someone new a little bit of God. The book is also a guide for the reader on how to turn everyday encounters into opportunities to be like Jesus—to be a saint.

Oh, and if I’ve lead you to believe every page is filled with expletives, that’s far more true. While there’s a small sprinkling of them over the 200 some pages, there is also a mother lode of descriptive gems that reflect Pastor Nadia’s intimate knowledge of her Savior. Here’s one:

I need to be broken apart and put back into a different shape by that merging of things human and divine, which is really screwing up and receiving grace and love and forgiveness rather than receiving what I really deserve.

The sting of grace is not unlike the sting of being loved well, because when we are loved well, it is inextricably linked to all the times we have not been been loved well, all the times we ourselves have not loved others well, and all the things we’ve done or not done that feel life evidence against our worthiness. Love and grace are such deceivingly soft words—but the both sting like hell and then go and change the shape of our hearts and make us into something we couldn’t create ourselves to be (p. 180).

Accidental Saints has made me question the status quo of my Christianity.  And that’s a good thing—even if it makes me squirm a little.

If you have 20 minutes and 47 seconds to spare, here’s Pastor Nadia talking about her journey from a life of self to one where Jesus is central :) One of my favorite parts of this is towards the end: “God will use all of you—not just your strengths, but your failures and your failings and your brokenness. God’s strength is perfected in human weakness—so your brokenness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and make something beautiful.”

For the record, I received this book for free from Crown Publishing Group (a subsidiary of Random House) for reviewing it on my blog.
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Book Review: A Minute of Vision for Men by Robert Patterson

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 11.05.08 AMMy first thought when I received this book was that it’d be a great gift for Chris, a colleague at work. [Nothing better than a gift that costs nothing :)]

But first, the review. So I read it at record speed, noting the following:

From the title to the colors to the content, the book is touted as a book for guys. But a lot of the content could be relevant for women too. While I get the rationale behind a devotional just for men, especially in a book culture where there are a lot more books specifically for women than there are for men, I’m not a fan of segregating daily devotional material by gender. Just my very subjective preference :)

That being said, if you’re a trivia buff looking for great stories with details about people and events, this book is perfect for you.

The title is almost like God pleading, “Please, just give me one minute of your day.” How could anyone say no to that! This book is a great baby step for a man—or a woman— wanting to invest in their spiritual health.

Having made these observations for my review, I presented the book to Chris. “Thanks,” he responded. “But does it come as a podcast?”

“There’s a Kindle version,” I offered.

“Hmm. I prefer listening to my devotions while driving to work.” [Note to publishers: While Chris is just one guy, he just might be representative of many men out there—Under a minute is great, but even better is being spoon fed an audible version ;) *sigh* MEN!]

Check out other great books from Tyndale House PublishersAnd for the record, I received this book for free from Tyndale Blog Network for reviewing it on my blog.

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Book Review: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson

battersonNot all great preachers are great writers. Mark Batterson is one of the few who are. Like my favorites, Max Lucado and Charles Swindoll, Batterson has the cadence of a poet and the wisdom of a pastor.

This book includes profound thoughts that are beautifully crafted. Here are a few:

God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ.

We’re inspired by people who face their fears and chase their dreams. What we fail to realize is that they are no different from us.

In the beginning, the Sprit of God was hovering over the chaos. And nothing has changed. God is still hovering over chaos.

Your ability to help others heal is limited to where you’ve been wounded

The premise of this book is that you can experience success and blessings when you boldly chase after dreams that come from God—be it those revealed in the faintest of whispers in your subconscious or those packaged in calls heard loud and clear. The book then goes on to prove this premise by shuffling examples and practical lessons, beginning with Benaiah.

And because I’m a sucker for nobodies who surface as heroes, I love that Benaiah and his lion-chasing bravado on a snowy day is the foundation of this book (despite reviews—like this one—that question the heroic details of the story). For me a story doesn’t  have to be accurate in order to inspire and motivate me. The storyteller and preacher in Batterson were successful in making me assess missed opportunities, while recalibrating my life lenses with a vow to make the rest of my life on earth more accountable to my Creator God.

In spite of the much needed motivation I received from this book, I did find that everything from the illustration of Benaiah to the contemporary examples to the practical tips could have been sandwiched into a much shorter book. The repetition of some content and fillers had me speed reading through much of the book. Other than this shortcoming, I really like this book and have passed it on for someone else to benefit from its encouragement.

For more information about the book from Waterbrook Multnomah, go here. To learn more about Mark Batterson and his ministry, go here.

And for the record, I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales, by Randy Singer (Tyndale)

deadSome books take a good 20 pages to set the stage before actually telling the story. That’s not Singer. With him there’s no dillydallying; he pulls you right into the story in the very first page. I like that.

By the same logic, I would have liked to seen the lawyers die a bit sooner. Instead it happens much later, about half way through the book. The title told me they were going to die, so I wanted that pivotal point to show up earlier :)

The story itself is well woven and well told—simple and void of overreaching prose. The storyline holds the reader captive and the ending is well worth the wait. Some may find the sub plots somewhat far-fetched and distracting, but I didn’t. I felt they added to the development of the characters.

Although a pastor, Singer does not unnecessarily pepper his story with random Bible verses or biblical principles. Instead the characters tastefully reflect Singer’s pastoral persona: there are steps taken in faith, grace expressed in second chances, and contentment in living every day—no matter that might look like.

(I received this book free from Tyndale. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

 

 

Humble Orthodoxy, by Joshua Harris (Multnomah)

humbleNo matter how good a book is, first impressions do matter. In this respect, the book fails: Humble Orthodoxy is the size of my hand and the thickness of my phone, retailing at  $9.99—that’s 16 cents per tiny page of the 61-paged primary section of the book.

On the other hand, the premise of the book is totally worth the price. On the cover, the subtitle of the book is “holding the truth without putting people down.” in the first few pages is this: “We need to be courageous in our stand for biblical truth. But we also need to be gracious in our words and interaction with other people.”

This is probably the shortest book I’ve ever read on the need for authentic Christianity, yet between every few lines is a home run. This little book is the slap of rude awakening many of us Christians need right now. Here are a few of these zingers, each of them worthy of the hashtags #humbleorthodoxy and #livelikeChrist.

  • “Truth matters . . . but so does out attitude.”
  • “One of the mistakes Christians often make is that we learn to rebuke like Jesus but not love like Jesus.”
  • “All of us should be less concerned with whether others are being faithful to God’s truth than with whether we are being faithful to God.”
  • “The truth is not our truth; it comes from God. And the ability to uphold it with loving humility comes from him too.”
  • “Orthodoxy shouldn’t be a club to attack someone else. It should be a double-edged sword that starts by piercing our hearts, laying them bare before God so that we say, ‘Forgive us, Lord!’”
  • “Are we giving as much energy to obeying and being reformed by God’s Word personally we are to criticizing its detractors?”

True to its premise, the book includes excellent study guides with applicative exercises.

All in all, this is a small yet powerful book that’s relevant to Christian living.

(I received this book free from Multnomah. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

lead for god’s sake by todd gongwer (tyndale)

ImageIt took me forever to get through this book.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great book on the principles of servant leadership. It’s got strong practical, applicative points to make. It’s got a decent story line. It just wasn’t my style; that’s all.

Gongwer, weaves in leadership attributes and lessons through a story–a parable, to be accurate. A story, that is stretched through the hundreds of pages from start to finish. That may work for most, but not for me.

If I want a parable, I go to the gospels, to Jesus. Or maybe to Swindoll’s Tardy Oxcart. For me a parable is short and pithy–something memorable, something that makes its point with subtlety yet without belaboring me with details.

So, while the book gets an “A” from me for content, it scores far less for its delivery.

(I received this book free from Tyndale. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

the witness by dee henderson (tyndale)

For me, the book was just meh. Plot line was rather formulaic and predictable. And there was very little character development. I loved the author’s use of descriptive language, though.It kept me engaged despite the stuff I didn’t care for.

Maybe I’m biased because I have an aversion to books labeled as religious fiction simply because of a sprinkling of prayers or random, awkwardly placed meet-Jesus conversations. I want to meet a character who squeezes my heart with a yearning to know Jesus even more. I want a story that assures me that all is good when God’s in control–even when all doesn’t seem all that good.

Maybe I’m biased because I rarely read religious fiction. (I’m also too cheap to pass up a free book.) To me a true story of someone’s walk with Christ echoes hope and strengthens my faith in providential possibilities more than any piece of fiction could ever do.

So, considering I’m just one person, one review, and Henderson has several bestsellers while I have none, she must be doing something right :)