book review

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: 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.)

love food & live well, by chantel hobbs (waterbrook)

This book on losing weight and feeling fit is based on what the author calls the 80/20 rule–be disciplined and conscientious about what you eat 80 percent of the time and treat yourself to whatever you want the remaining 20 percent of the time.

I like the idea and I like the fact that the message comes from someone who herself lost some hundred pounds or more. Full of practical suggestions and gentle admonishment, the book makes losing weight seem doable.

My only criticism of the book is that everything that had to be said could have been said in half the number of pages. In many places, it seems to drag on and on, going somewhat off the topic.

Other than that, it’s a good book. Unlike a lot of quacky diet books on there, this one makes sense.

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

the reason why by mark mittelberg (tyndale)

My spirituality was rote in many ways until I was almost 30 and began to question why I believed what I believed. With my discovery came a determination to encourage my children to question the faith they were reared into and discover with clarity their personal manifesto. My son’s manifesto and its evolution over 10 years, beginning at age 14, reflects his spiritual growth. Somehow, putting down in writing your reasons why you believe what you do has more of an impact that just knowing about it in your head. When it’s tangible and portable, your beliefs are more apt to be passed on and shared to bring meaning to someone else.

The Reason Why is that kind of book. It is a rewrite of one man’s manifesto written about a hundred years ago. Passed on, it has been used by and inspired millions. There’s nothing revolutionary or revelational about  the content. It’s simply one man’s reasons why he believes in the Bible as God’s inspired Word, why he believes in Jesus and His forgives, why he believes he is called to be a Christian. Yet, in its simplicity, you can see his sincerity, his faith, his conviction.

Mittelberg does a great job is editing the original manuscript for clarity and relevance. His use of modern-day examples and quotes from writers such as C. S. Lewis is well-balanced and appropriate.

This is the book no matter who you are–For the seasoned Christian, it is a refreshing affirmation of faith; For the curious wondering what Christianity is all about, it’s the perfect primer; For the casual reader, it reads like the autobiography of a man on a journey of self discovery.

My son’s manifesto has impacted his immediate circle over the years. I’ve used it as an outline for a Bible curriculum; a friend used in for a series of Bible studies for youth; others have read and been encouraged to reexamine their spirituality. A manifesto is meant to do just that–to bring purpose and meaning to your choices. And this book does just that–Laidlaw’s reasons why cause the reader to find purpose and meaning.

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

bad girls of the bible (waterbrook)

I must be the atypical woman. The back cover tells me that ten million readers already love Liz Curtis Higgs’s writing, yet I don’t. The very things that others seems to like about her style is what I don’t–her “blend of contemporary fiction with biblical commentary” and her “unique brand of ‘girlfriend theology’.”

I did like her biblical commentary and the section at the end of each chapter called “What Lessons Can We Learn from So and So.” What I didn’t like was the long fiction narrative that I had to wade through to get to the shores of biblical understanding. The story of Eve as told in Genesis is plenty good enough for me. I don’t need it spun any more. I don’t need Eve to be Evelyn from Savannah and the Devil to be Devin. I don’t need God reduced to a human stage and theatrics to understand Him better.

This fictionalization takes up about 1/3 of every chapter before Higgs gets to the biblical commentary which I enjoyed for the most part.  Again, I could have done without the over-humanizing of God. For instance of page 23 she says of creation, “First, though, God tried pets,” implying that God’s initial plan was for animals to be Adam’s intimate companion and that Eve was Plan B. To me this says that God was not God enough, not omniscient enough, to understand Adam, his own created being. Something about suppositions like this throughout the book doesn’t sit well with me.

Like I haven’t said enough already, here’s another–I didn’t care too much for the cutesies tucked into Higgs’ commentary either. For example, in her introduction of Genesis 2:21 ( So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the placed with flesh), she says ” Say, two favorite movie titles in one verse: While You Were Sleeping and Adam’s Rib!” I can see how this may be a humorous ice breaker in a live presentation, but I don’t think it’s worthy of the cost of print.

Along the lines of trying to be cute, there’s also the last section of each chapter called, “Good Girl Thoughts Worth Considering.” I’m not sure if that’s good girl thoughts or good girl thoughts. Or both maybe?

But like I said at the very beginning, perhaps it’s just me. If Higgs is making a difference to a million+ women, she’s got to be doing something right. And maybe I’m just not girly enough for it.

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

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