book review

Review: Whisper by Mark Batterson

9780735291089Often claiming to hear the voice of God is to admit you’re bat crazy. So even when we have such an experience, we often keep it to ourselves rather than make a public announcement.

Whisper unfortunately does not deny that looking crazy is one of the outcomes of a lifestyle in communion with God:

Faith is the willingness to look foolish. Noah looked a little crazy building a boat. Sarah looked a little crazy shopping for maternity clothes at age ninety.  The wise men looked a little crazy following a star to Timbuktu. Peter looked a little crazy getting out of a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. If you aren’t willing to look a little crazy, you’re crazy. And when it’s the will of God, crazy turns into crazy awesome (p. 101)!

Using personal stories, anecdotes, and biblical truth Mark Batterson builds a strong defense for the connection between God and us that grows through communication and intimacy. And key to this relationship is the “voice” of God that intervenes into our lives, leading us into God’s will.

Batterson emphasizes that God’s “voice” does not necessarily manifest itself in thunder or audible words like it did for Moses on Sinai. Instead when we open our minds, our hearts, and our senses we can “hear” Him speak to us in seven love languages: through Scripture, desires, doors, dreams, people, promptings, and pain. In his exposition of each love language, Batterson brings to it his pastoral perspective. For example, about God speaking through doors, he goes beyond the usual “when one door closes, another opens.”

God closes doors to protect us.
God closes doors to redirect us.
God closes doors to keep us from less than His best (p.107)

And about pain:

. . . pleasures turn into pain when we misuse and abuse them, but make no mistake, every pleasure in its purest form is a gift from God. Yes, we can turn them into sinful pursuits when we try to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. But pleasure is a gift from God nonetheless. He whispers through those pleasures, and we should give thanks for them. But we better pay close attention to pain too. . . .

Nothing gets our full attention like pain, It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives. It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow. It refocuses priorities like nothing else (pp. 172–173).

While I loved the way Batterson dissects God’s voice and presents it as a tangible tool for the Christian life, I was a bit weary of the many anecdotal references.  I would have preferred less of them and more biblical insight and support for the excellent points He makes.

He also retells stories from his other books, and this too I could have done without–but then, I understand how first-time readers of Batterson would need these stories as context for the content of this book. This was not a big deal–I just speed read through those parts

The above two observations are pretty minor. Batterson’s writing and his passion for Christ, as always, rises above these and all else.

Responding to God’s voice, gentle promptings, strong presence, and undeniable assurances are all testimonies of who He is and who we are in Him. This book confronts and challenges the reader to not only listen for God’s voice but to respond to His calling—to understand Him and to live in His will.

Go here for more about Mark Batterson and his other books.

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

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Review: Zen Camera by David Ulrich

zenBefore smartphones and Instagram filters, like many others, I didn’t dare share my photos with anyone let alone with the world, But today apps and quick lessons on YouTube can make most photos worth a second look.

So given all the photography tools out there, one would think another how-to book, let alone a hardback, full-color, meticulously indexed book, on the subject would not be worth the purchase. I’d agree, except this is not the usual type of how-to book; this is more like the master classes that are so popular these days: it’s a journey with an experienced man and his lens. And with him your eyes are opened anew to perceptions hidden in plain sight and you experience life from a magical point of view.

David Ulrich’s Zen Camera begins: “Photography is a powerful form of visual expression, available to everyone” (enthusiastic emphasis is mine). He continues, “No experience is complete, no meal finished, no friendship consummated until we have taken a picture. The photograph replies, I was here. I witnessed this event, met this person, or relished this experience.”

In this book, Ulrich teaches the foundational principles of photography in six chapters, titled: Observation, Awareness, Identity, Practice, Mastery, and Presence. Each ends with assignments and a challenge to capture something new. Yet, in spite of the homework and tips, he goes beyond the how-to’s, beyond sharing his experience and expertise. He grounds it all in a deep appreciation of beauty and the creative power of human beings.

An added bonus is the details and thought the publisher has put into making the book itself a piece of art. From its size to its scattered photographs to the cover, it’s too beautiful to be shelved with only the spine visible. Mine has found a place on my coffee table.

Published by Watson-Guptill, 2018, 217 pages.
For the record, I received this book for free from Watson-Guptill for reviewing it on my blog.

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Review: I Was a Child, by Eric Kaplan

If you’re expecting a typical memoir, you’ll be disappointed. I Was a Child is more like an illustrated storybook for adults. To appreciate it you must let go of the usual expectations of a memoir to enrich you with new insights into the human psyche or inspire you to make positive changes in your life.

Abandon those lofty pursuits for a few hours. Instead, snuggle up in your favorite blankie, preferably with easy access to cookies, and travel back to the simpler times of childhood. I promise it’ll be worth every minute.

Both Kaplan’s words and drawings spill from the voice of unbridled youth—straightforward, honest, perceptive, unbiased. The child’s point of view is so pure, I am amazed at how the adult Kaplan stayed out of the head of his younger self.

And the drawings! Oh. My. Goodness. Throughout the book, Kaplan’s cartooning was the string that yo-yo’d me between personal and universal truths. It made me see both the normal and the absurd child in me. Kaplan’s story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. It’s about retracing life through the eyes of a child, yet understanding and appreciating all of it through the maturity of adulthood. It’s about sifting through events, religion, pop culture, and less-than-perfect people and realizing that, in spite of the flaws and shortcomings, there’s plenty left that’s good, plenty left to shape and mold us into unique individuals.

Here’s Kaplan’s own summary of I Was a Child:

I Was A Child, published by Blue Rider Press, 2015, 210 pp.

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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.

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.

i am his, by rita j platt (navpress)

For every woman out there who has missed out on experiencing the wondrous bond that exists only between a father and a daughter, this book is especially for you. For those out there who have been disappointed in relationships, be it with spouse, sibling, parent, child or friend, this book is for you too.

A day-by-day study over a period of 8 weeks, this book encourages the reader to get real–to face fear, anger, pain and disappointment and reach out to our Father God who can fill the emptiness of life on earth. This is a study of the character of God from the perspective of his created being. It is an exposition of  the original plan of Eden for a perfect relationship between God and man. It is also the story of Platt’s personal journey of letting go of emotional baggage and leaning on trust in God.

Through her story and that of others, Platt draws the reader to reflect of God’s Word and promises as solutions to the brokenness of life.

Definitely a good study guide.

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

soul shaping by stephen w. smith (david c. cook)

I’m a big proponent of group studies. The accountability, support and perspective that comes from sharing ideas and learning together often have long-term benefits. The couples my husband and I studied with once a month, some 15 years ag,o are our closest friends today; their children and ours were bonded for life as well. But this long lasting bond doesn’t just magical result from every group study. The glue that brings all members of the group together is the common passion or yearning and the product that feeds the emotion and need. When the subject matter resonates with everyone, you have a winner. Soul Shaping is that kind of book

For a group searching for ways to begin a renewed, active life in the hands of Jesus, this is the perfect study guide. Each lesson is portioned into sections, varied and targeted for different learning styles. The lessons taught are then reinforced through a exercises in one or more spiritual discipline. A lot of white space and a good choice of font and layout make the book very user and pen-friendly.

If you or your church is looking for a new set of Bible studies, this is it.

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