Sunday, January 31, 2010

'Songs of Deliverance' by Marilynn Griffith - Book Review and Giveaway

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In my adventures in the blogosphere and book reviewing, I am being exposed to a lot of wonderful authors.  The latest is Marilynn Griffith.  She is a freelance writer and author, speaker, and a wife and mother to seven children who lives in Florida.  She is also the compiler of stories on a site called SistahFaith, which features true stories of hope and healing.   

Her latest book, ‘Songs of Deliverance,’ is an emotional and intense tale about characters who live in Testimony, Ohio – Zeely, Ron, Grace, Brian, Jeremiah, Sean, Quinn and many more.  These characters were first brought to life by Mrs. Griffith in ‘Rhythms of Grace’ which took place prior to the events of ‘Songs of Deliverance.’     

The opening scene of ‘Songs of Deliverance’ features Zeely during her college years, fifteen years prior to the current events.  She is forced to make a difficult decision which will impact her life forever (don’t want to give away this plot point!). 

Each of the chapters is written in the first person point of view of the different characters.   It is a wonderful technique which makes each character come alive.  In fact, I could easily see this book come to life in the form of a movie.  Many movie stars came to mind as I read the book.

I loved the fact that many of the characters were constantly in prayer and constantly aware that they needed the Lord’s help in order to become better people – and more like Him.  Sin abounded, but God’s grace abounded all the more.  It was a very powerful portrait of faith and grace. 

I found this book to be beautifully written.  A couple of my favorite lines are: ‘the love he wanted was still packed in boxes on the floor of my heart’ (p. 122) and ‘even though my life had come undone, God was still tending to the stitching.  I was just seeing the underside’ (p. 159).

This book is full of twists and turns and real life episodes.  I was constantly surprised by the latest revelations.  Each new twist made the world smaller and brought the characters closer together.  Most of the characters in this book are Christians, but they also, as do we all, live in the world.  They have made mistakes and lived full lives, and each is coming to the Lord for deliverance and redemption in his/her own way and on his/her own terms.  In the end, the Lord delivers and redeems many of them  (not all of the storylines were resolved in this book, so I am patient!).   Although I did not read ‘Rhythms of Grace’ (which might have made this one easier to follow), I do want to follow the people of Testimony, Ohio, to see how lives turns out for all of them, and therefore hope there is another book on the way.    

This book was provided to me for review purposes by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


I would like to pass along this gently read book along to one of you.  It is in perfect condition; it is covered in clear contact paper, which is a great way to extend the life of your paperbacks!

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Laban Ministries Women's Tea - A Lovely Time Was Had by All!

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So far, this year has been full of firsts.  Today's first was attending a Tea.  The Women's Tea, First Presbyterian Church in Trenton, MI, was to benefit the Women's Literary Center, run by Laban Ministries, International based in Congo, Africa.  The ticket was provided to me by my friend from church, Becky (thanks, Becky!).

The menu was tasty.  We had the choice of Earl Grey or Orange Spice teas.  There were lots of yummy tea sandwiches: chicken salad, cream cheese & pecans, ham salad and peanut butter.  A Tea would not be complete without scones - with clotted cream & current jam.  For dessert, we had carrot cake or pound cake.  The people at First Presbyterian outdid themselves with a lovely afternoon for lots of ladies who were blessed and very well sated!

Laban Ministries International, according to their website, was founded in 1938 by Dr. & Mrs. Laban Herbert Smith, who arrived in Congo as pioneer missionaries.  Dr. Smith served as the country's first oral surgeon. They served in Congo for 15 years, opening 90 villages, each of which was supplied with a pastor and a grade school after the Belgian Government granted permission to allow missionaries to teach national children only.  They had two sons, Jim and Jack, who were born in Congo. 

Continuing from Laban Ministries’ website, Jim and his wife, Nancy, began their married life together at a local church in Dearborn, Michigan, serving in various capacities of the church, including that of co-pastor for 13 years, after which Jim traveled as a music evangelist until 1977, when their home burned to the ground and God called them to the Congo. Jim and Nancy with their three children, Shawn, Nicol, and Todd arrived in the capital of Congo (Kinshasa) on December 6, 1978. Nancy was expecting their 4th child, Jack, who was born on the mission station of Vanga, where Jim and his brother, Jack, were also born. A Bible school was opened in January, 1979, with seven students, followed by an evangelism outreach, dispensary, and orphan care. 

Their four children continue to serve the Lord.  Shawn Lantz, their older child, is a women’s ministry speaker and the founder of Esengo Ministries, based in Nashville, TN.  She is the author of two books, ‘Congo Vignettes: Stories of God's Faithfulness to Three Generations in the Heart of Africa,’ and a bible study, ‘Living with Unmet Desires: Exposing the Many Faces of Jealousy.’  I will be reviewing those titles shortly; stay tuned!  Todd Smith is part of the Christian singing group, Selah.  Nicol, now known as Nicol Sponberg, was formerly a member of Selah and is now a successful solo artist.  The youngest, Jack, is the worship minister at Gilead Baptist Church in Taylor, MI.  And Jim and Nancy commute between Congo and the US to fund raise and to enjoy their beautiful family.  

Each lady at the Tea was given the gift of a purse, made by some wonderful ladies here in the USA, or a bead bracelet, made by the ladies at the Women's Literary Center in the Congo.  We then headed up the church’s sanctuary, where Jack and his wife, Molly, shared their vocal talents.  Then Nancy Smith introduced a video showing some of the women whose lives that have been affected by their ministry.  Finally, their oldest daughter, Shawn, came to share her heart about the ministry with which she has been involved her entire life.  She shared that the intent and purpose of the Women’s Literary Center is to add light to the lives of the women of Congo who have been kept in darkness. 

To addition to the Women’s Literary Center, other aspects of the Laban Ministries include evangelism, medical outreach, Laban Bible Institute, and Radio Nkembo (Radio Glory).  Radio Nkembo has a 300' tower and a 2500 watt transmitter. Christian broadcasts reach as far as 450 land miles, 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Thanks to the Smith family for their decades of service to the Lord.  Their lives clearly show that the Lord blesses His own!

I consider Laban Ministries to be very worthwhile.  If you feel led to contribute to an established ministry which has been helping people for over 70 years, please prayerfully consider this one.  You can contribute here.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

‘North! Or Be Eaten’ by Andrew Peterson – Book Review

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Full Disclosure Fact # 1 – this is the first time in a long time that I have read a book in the Fantasy Fiction genre.  Full Disclosure Fact # 2 – this is my first encounter with the talent of Andrew Peterson, the author of the latest novel I've read, ‘North! Or Be Eaten.’  In addition to his writing credits, Andrew is also a singer/songwriter and recording artist in the Contemporary Christian genre who has ten albums (I will be checking into his music next!). 

This is Book Two in Mr. Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga.  Book One is entitled ‘On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.’  The Wingfeather Saga follows the adventures of the Igiby family; the children are Leeli, Janner and Tink.  Other characters in this interesting tale are the children’s mother, Nia, their grandfather, Podo (a pirate in his younger years), and Peet the Sock Man (aka Artham P. Wingfeather), among many others.  

The story is full of amazing – and scary! – creatures such as the Toothy Cow, the Horned Hound (the horn is on his forehead), the Fangs of Dang, the Snickbuzzard (complete with a belly button!), the Chorkney (a large flightless bird), the Bomnubble, the Bumpy Digtoad and the Quill Diggle.  Many of these creatures are featured in illustrations in the novel – several by the multi-talented Mr. Peterson! 

There are many allegorical themes which can correlate to the author’s Christian faith.  The main characters regularly pray to the Maker.  The adventures of the Igiby family are a constant battle between good and evil.   The family’s ultimate destination is Kimera, which can be likened to Heaven.  It is ultimately a story of redemption. 

This novel is geared to the Young Adult Category, which is listed as ages 14 to 21.  Although I am well past that age, I still think it is valuable to read books which spark our imaginations.  And this novel does that very well. 

Despite the fact that fantasy fiction is not my favorite genre, I still found this novel to be both entertaining and compelling.  Admittedly, it did take me quite a few pages in for it to grab my attention.  I think it would have been helpful to have read Book One, ‘On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness,’ in order to more easily catch on.  Once I did catch on, I can favorably compare it to C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series and J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy, both of which I read many years ago.  Mr. Peterson has the ability to create a fantasy world with characters that we ultimately root for, no matter our age.

In addition to the two titles in The Wingfeather Saga, Mr. Peterson is also the author of ‘The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats,’ a book explaining the lineage of Jesus to children ages 4 to 8.     

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher, WaterBrook Press.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

‘Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die’ by John Piper – Book Review

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John Piper is one of the foremost theologians in our day.  He is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis Minnesota.  He earned a Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Divinity degree in New Testament Studies from the University of Munich, Germany.  He is the author of over thirty books.  The latest book I have read is ‘Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die.’
Pastor Piper offers reasons why Jesus came to die that I had never thought of in the way that he has.  I have a tendency to miss the joy that is supposed to be the hallmark of living for Christ, and sometimes forget that Jesus is living His life through us - it is no longer our own.   As the apostle Paul states in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I loved Reason # 15 – ‘To Make Us Holy, Blameless, and Perfect.’  According to Dr. Piper – “One of the greatest sources of joy and endurance for the Christian is knowing that in the imperfection of our progress we have already been perfected – and that this is owing to the suffering and death of Christ” (p. 49).  I need to be reminded that, when I accepted Jesus, I became perfected in Him, as my life is now His life.  What a blessing!

Reason # 49 is also a favorite – ‘So That He Would Be Crowned with Glory and Honor.’  Dr. Piper states: “If we are to be as happy as we can be, we must see and savor the most glorious person of all, Jesus Christ himself.  That means that to love us, Jesus must seek the fullness of his glory and offer it to us for our enjoyment” (p. 117). 

According to the Wikipedia entry for Dr. Piper: “Piper advocates Christian hedonism and teaches that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" and that God's highest pursuit ("his glory") and man's deepest and most durable happiness come together in one pursuit – namely, the pursuit of joy in God. He was awakened to this notion in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis, among others, and then found it throughout the Bible, for example Ps 16:11; 37:4; Phil 3:1; 4:4 among others.”

There are many ways to interpret the Bible.  I find Dr. Piper’s perspective to be refreshing.  He focuses (not just in this book, but in all his writings) on the person of Jesus Christ.  And he brings to the forefront the supremacy of Jesus.  There is no one more important in the world, and no one who should be so esteemed, as the Savior and Messiah of the world.  Sometimes I have a tendency to forget that in the clutter and in the distractions of life.  But Dr. Piper directs me back to where I need to fix my gaze – on Jesus Christ.  I also appreciate his perspective that we are to live a joy-filled life; that is the Lord’s delight for us!

You can learn more about Pastor Piper at his comprehensive website, Desiring God.  His catalog of sermons from the last 25 years is available there at no charge, as well as other materials. He also blogs on that site.  He tweets on TwitterI would highly recommend that you follow him if you haven’t yet.  You can also be his fan on Facebook.

Pastor Piper’s latest book is ‘A Sweet and Bitter Providence,’ which I will be reviewing soon.  I would also highly recommend another book, 'Don't Waste Your Life.' It's very thought-provoking, as you might imagine!

This book was provided to me for review purposes by Crossway Books of Wheaton Illinois, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'Finding Inner Peace During Troubled Times' by William Moss - Book Review and Giveaway

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Finding Inner Peace During Troubled Times’ is certainly a timely subject for a book during these stressful economic times. 

The premise of this book is that Jesus Christ is the source of our peace.  This world offers many distractions, difficulties and hardships.  But the peace that passes all understanding can only come from Jesus.  We need to return to the path to peace that God shows us, and that is in the person of Jesus.

The author of this book, William Moss, has an impressive resume.  His career has involved oil and gas exploration, real estate development, ranching operations, security investments, motion picture and television production, and public service. He has successfully operated 15 corporations, and is currently a trustee of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. 

Mr. Moss provides a blueprint for obtaining that peace.  Inner peace can be found through the spiritual practices of prayer and meditation.  Each Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, one of the three members of the Trinity.  That peace emanates from the Holy Spirit.  This peace transcends all of the distractions of the world, the flesh and the devil.

The writers of the Bible (who were inspired by the Holy Spirit) are quoted throughout this gem of a book.  Among the appropriate passages is Psalm 34:14: “Turn from sin and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  It is clear from that portion of Scripture, written by King David, that pursuing peace is a choice we have to make; we need to seek it – and we will find it.  Another passage is found in Colossians 3:15, written by the apostle Paul: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” 

Inner peace is attainable, and it is not too hard to come by – if we follow the guidelines.  The answers are found in the Bible, and Mr. Moss expounds upon them very well in this lovely little tome.   

I found 'Finding Inner Peace During Troubled Times' to be of great help.  It provides information that is useful to show you how to achieve inner peace, which can seem to be so elusive at times.  I thank Mr. Moss for sharing his insights on this important subject.

This book is published by The Barnabas Agency, and was provided to me by B & B Media Group, Inc. for review purposes.


I have a copy of this book (thanks, Audra, from B & B Media Group!) that I would love to pass along to one of you.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The ESV Study Bible - Book Review

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As a seminary student, I have an appreciation for a good study bible, as well as a superior Bible translation.  I think I have found an exemplary combination of both in the ESV Study Bible, published by Crossway Bibles of Wheaton Illinois.

This Bible was created by a team of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers.   These contributors come from 9 countries, representing nearly 20 denominations and more than 50 seminaries, colleges, and universities.  Among the esteemed team members is J. I. Packer, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University, is a Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada and is highly esteemed as one of the foremost theologians in the world. 

In 2009, the ESV Study Bible (ESV stands for English Standard Version, by the way) won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Christian Book Award for Book of the Year, the first time a study Bible achieved this distinction.

Primary features of this Bible are (these statistics comes from the inner book cover flap):

·   2,752 pages of teaching, explanation, maps, articles,  and Bible texts  
·   2 million words with 20,000 notes and other resources
·   200 full-color maps printed alongside the ESV text and notes 
    throughout the Bible
·   40 all-new illustrations including full-color renderings and architectural diagrams
·   200-plus charts providing concise summaries and key insights
·   Over 50 articles on essential topics of theology, ethics, and biblical teaching
·   80,000 cross-references and an extensive concordance

A bonus with the purchase of The ESV Study Bible print edition is an online edition of the print edition.  Features include the Bible in searchable digital form, interactive links to all of the materials, the ability to create personal online notes, the opportunity to listen to the audio ESV, as well as additional resources available only online.

I happen to enjoy and appreciate the English Standard Version of the Bible.  The intent of the translators was to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer, while taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages.   This translation is true to the original languages, while at the same time highly readable. 

Each book of the Bible includes an introduction which provides interesting information on, among other things, the author, the date, the theme, the timeline and literary features.  I found the numerous footnotes to be especially helpful.   The maps come in handy for putting yourself on site (if you don’t have the opportunity to personally visit the Holy Land).  There are maps throughout the Bible, as well as a large section at the end of the book.    There is also a very extensive Concordance.  Articles topics range from Biblical Ethics, Interpreting the Bible to Religious Cults, and The Bible and World Religions.  If you have any questions about anything in the Bible, you are highly likely to find it in this edition!

In summary, I would say that this Study Bible is invaluable for both the seminary student and the Christian who wants to learn more about the most important book that has even been written, and anyone else who wants to study at a deeper level.  I anticipate using this ESV Study Bible for the rest of my life, and would recommend it highly.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

'The Last Word' by Kathy Herman - Book Review

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Kathy Herman is a prolific author of Christian suspense fiction novels.  ‘The Last Word’ is the second novel in the Sophie Trace Trilogy.  I have not read the first book, ‘The Real Enemy,’ but it was not necessary to have read that book to appreciate this book.  ‘The Last Word’ stands on its own.

Here is the book trailer:

The Sophie Trace Trilogy follows the Jessup family of Sophie Trace, Tennessee.  Sophie Trace, which is a fictional town, is set in the Great Smoky Mountains in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge vicinity, on the North Carolina border.  The mother, Brill Jessup, is the chief of the Sophie Trace Police Department.  She previously served eighteen stellar years on the Memphis Police Department as a detective.  She has been married for twenty years to Kurt, who is the owner of a chain of five quick copy stores called SpeedWay.  They have three children – Ryan, a pre-law student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Vanessa, a sophomore at the University of Memphis and Emily, the baby of the family at age ten.

There are several interesting subplots in this novel.  Vanessa returned home for the summer after her sophomore year seven months pregnant – without advising her parents in advance.   The father of the baby is her psychology professor.  Vanessa has decided to give life to the baby, but returns home unsure whether or not to keep the baby.  Another subplot is a killer on the loose.  This murderer kills a member of Chief Jessup’s department, and also kills a member of her previous department, the Memphis PD.  And he warns several people that Chief Jessup is next.  And the mayor of Sophie Trace is placing the blame on the chief for many of the city problems that have happened since she took over as chief (despite all of her exemplary work).

I will not give up any plot points, but suffice to say that Kathy Herman is masterful in her storytelling skills.  I finished this novel hungering to follow the further adventures of the Jessup family.  And I was excited to see that the trilogy’s setting was in the Great Smoky Mountains, one of my favorite parts of these United States

I was happy to see Ms. Herman weave the Gospel throughout the story.  She does a wonderful job showing the stages that an unwed mother (who is a Christian and was raised in a Christian family) goes through when she has to reconcile herself to her actions and accept (or reject) the forgiveness that is offered to her by the Lord.  In addition, Chief Jessup shows love and compassion for her fellow man when she could have easily fallen into the human emotions of revenge and bitterness.  Instead, she followed the will of her Heavenly Father.

Kathy Herman has written several bestselling novels over the years.  This is the first time I have read, and was absolutely delighted with it!  The hallmarks of a great novel are that 1) you want to keep turning the pages to learn where the story is going, and 2) you are sorry when you reach the last page!

The third novel in the trilogy, ‘The Right Call,’ will be released by David C. Cook in March 2010.  I am glad that I will not have to wait very long for the answers to the questions that lingered at the end of this book!  

You can order this book here.

This book was published by David C. Cook and provided to me by the B & B Media Group for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Thicker Than Blood' by C.J. Darlington - Book Review

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'Thicker Than Blood' is the first novel from Miss Darlington, who has a wonderful entertainment website called TitleTrakk.  I have been aware of this novel for a while, due to my familiarity with this website.  So I was awaiting it with eager anticipation. 

Miss Darlington did not disappoint!  The winner of the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest, ‘Thicker Than Blood’ tells the story of two sisters – Christy and May Williams.  They have been estranged since the death of their parents in an auto accident fifteen years earlier, when Christy was eighteen and May was fifteen.  Their lives have taken very divergent paths.  Christy has led a rebellious lifestyle, but is trying to get her life on track.  She is employed as an antiquarian book buyer at Dawson’s Book Barn in Longmont, Colorado, and is dealing with her addictions and the consequences of past sins.   Christy is dealing with a lot of guilt over her past; her coping mechanism is masking her pain through relationships with dangerous men – poor choices – and excessive consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.  May is part owner of the Triple Cross Ranch, also in Colorado.  She is a Christ follower who was brought to faith through the influence of her Aunt Edna, who raised her after the death of her parents.  She is also dealing with life challenges, including the potential loss of the ranch due to financial difficulties. 

Miss Darlington does a wonderful job of fleshing out two dimensional characters into vibrant and rich people that you would love to meet!  She has previously worked in the antiquarian book industry, so she knows whereof she speaks.  She provides an interesting glimpse into a very interesting industry – especially interesting for book lovers!  Ranch life is also well represented in May’s story.  Being a lifelong city slicker, I saw the hard work that ranchers endure on a daily basis, especially during the calving season. 

Thicker Than Blood’ is a wonderful story of redemption, forgiveness, and God’s love reflected in His people.  The Christ-following characters in this work provide a wonderful model for others in how to exemplify Christ likeness in action.  Miss Darlington is very adept at keeping the story moving and engaging.  And the novel provides a wonderful portrayal of the healing power that comes with a relationship with Jesus and the peace that passes understanding which only He can provide.  

You can read the first chapter here.  And you can read an interview with C.J. here.

There is a 'trailer' for the novel.  It provides a neat visual view, and makes me hope it gets made into a movie!  

Miss Darlington did a masterful job in this debut novel.  Novel # 2 is in the works, and I look forward to reading about the next stage in the lives of the Williams sisters.  It will be interesting to see where their faith leads them and how their renewed relationship evolves. 

Please note that the author provided a copy of this book to me for review purposes.
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