Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reclaiming Hope

I was a little hesitant to read and review Michael Wear's new book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America - I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, I'm a lifetime Republican and have trouble understanding how people can support candidates who are rabidly in favor of such divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage, Planned Parenthood funding, and more. I can get behind helping the poor and expanding social services, including healthcare, but have trouble getting over the murder of thousands upon thousands of unborn children. So I figured I'd look at another point of view and read a book by a Christian who actually worked for President Obama in the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The back cover says:

""An important and extremely timely book...Get it, read it, and talk to others about it." --Timothy Keller, author of Reason for God

"A warm, engaging read of the author's experience with faith, politics, and the intersection (and sometimes collision) of the two. Reclaiming Hope is an important contribution in this age of religious and political polarization." --J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy

Before he had turned twenty-one, Michael Wear found himself deep inside the halls of power in the Obama administration as one of the youngest-ever White House staffers. Appointed by the president in 2008 to the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and later directing faith outreach for the president's 2012 re-election campaign, Wear threw himself wholeheartedly into transforming hope into change, experiencing first-hand the highs and lows of working as a Christian in government.

In this unvarnished account of faith inside the world's most powerful office, Wear gives unprecedented insight into the most controversial stories of the last eight years, from the president's change of position on gay marriage and the politicization of religious freedom to the administration's failure to find common ground on abortion and the bitter controversy over who would give the benediction at the 2012 inauguration. Wear also reveals the behind-the-scenes struggles behind some of the administration's signature achievements, including the adoption tax credit and making human trafficking a presidential priority. And he offers a rare window onto the ways the president himself viewed the role of faith in politics.

More than a memoir of the Obama administration, Reclaiming Hope is also a passionate call for faith in the public square, particularly for Christians to see politics as a means of loving one's neighbor and of pursuing justice for all while promoting racial reconciliation and fighting for religious freedom for people of all faiths. At a time when large numbers of thoughtful Christians are arguing for withdrawal from participation in public institutions, Wear's experience at the white-hot center of civic life shows how and why Christians must be involved in every aspect of cultural life even if failures seem to outnumber successes while working on behalf of the nation's common good."

I'll admit, I was halfway expecting Wear to be a progressive CINO (Christian in name only) who doesn't believe in the traditional, orthodox elements of faith and is pro abortion, pro gay marriage, etc. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he is an orthodox Christian who I could see myself having a lot in common with. I did do some eye-rolling in the first few chapters as Wear seemed to fawn over Obama to the point of near-religious fervor. But I'm glad I kept reading, because the book ended with Wear resigning his position due to no longer being able to square his religious values with working for the Obama administration. I greatly enjoyed the inside look into the Obama administration. It did help me to change my opinion a bit about Obama, although I do still have many disagreements with him. I liked getting a closer look at who he is as a person rather than just the polished sound bytes. I especially liked the insight into Obama "changing" his position on gay marriage, because I always felt like that was suspicious and, sadly, this book seems to confirm the fact that he lied about his position on gay marriage and deceived the public. I'm not surprised, but it just kind of confirms my cynicism regarding politics and is a great reminder that our hope isn't in the political system, but in Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book to every Christian.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to provide an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Because You're Mine

I was attracted to Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble for two reasons (okay, three): the cover (it's stunning, attractive, and bold); the fact that the main character's name is Alannah (I have a 9 year old daughter named Alannah); and the fact that it's a suspense novel, my favorite book genre. The back cover reads:

"Alanna has been plagued by tragedy. So it should come as no surprise that in the beauty that surrounds Charleston, all is not as it seems.

When her husband is killed by a car bomb while their band is on tour in Charleston, Alanna doesn’t know where to turn. Her father-in-law is threatening to take custody of the baby she carries, but the one thing she knows for sure is that she can’t lose the last piece of Liam she has left.

Their manager offers her a marriage of convenience to gain her U.S. citizenship and allow her to escape her father-in-law’s control. It seems like the perfect solution . . . but her doubts begin almost as soon as she arrives at Barry’s family home, a decaying mansion surrounded by swamp.

To make matters worse, Liam’s best friend survived the car bomb. She’s never really liked Jesse and now she can’t seem to get away from him. When he takes Liam’s place in their band, it’s almost more than she can bear.

But then things start happening. Things that could easily cost Alanna her life—or the life of her unborn child. Are they merely coincidences? Or is there something much more sinister at work?"

Because You're Mine is a very fast read, and a solid, if predictable story. The characters could have been developed a bit better, and the plot twist/reveal/storyline could've been a bit less thinly veiled, but it was still a good read. I enjoyed sitting down with it at night and scaring myself a little. I appreciate a suspense novel that has Christian themes/underpinnings, and in this Colleen shines. The Christian aspects aren't overbearing or conspicuous, but they are there are fitted into the story well. While this isn't a groundbreaking or life altering story, it's a fun thrill ride to spend an evening or two in front of the fire reading. Recommended for lovers of Christian suspense.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to provide an honest review. All opinions are my own.

31 Verses To Write On Your Heart

Liz Curtis Higgs is back with a new book, 31 Verses To Write On Your Heart. 31 Verses is a small hardcover book that is designed to be used as a 31-day study through 31 important verses that Liz hand-picked as essential to memorize and meditate on. I was attracted to this book initially by its absolutely beautiful cover. I'm always a sucker for a book with a gorgeous and inviting cover! The cover immediately made me feel calm and soothed and want to pick up the book. The back cover reads:

"Let His Truth Find a Home in Your Heart
Here are the words of hope you’re looking for when your faith needs a boost or a friend needs encouragement. Chosen by more than a thousand women as their favorite verses in the Bible, each one is worth learning, worth sharing, worth remembering,

You’ll find verses you already know and love: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Others may be less familiar but are no less powerful: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25). All of them capture the truth of God’s goodness, mercy, and love for His own.

Best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs invites you to experience—
* a deeper, richer understanding of thirty-one treasured verses.
* a fresh look at how these timeless truths can impact your life.
* a new passion for memorizing Scripture, verse by verse.
* thirty-one creative ways to keep them in your heart forever.

With a study guide included, 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart is a daily devotional and a small-group Bible study, wrapped in a lovely gift book overflowing with joy!

"Consider 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart your new spiritual strategy for deepening your daily walk with God. "
—Karen Ehman, author of Keep It Shut"

Liz starts this book off with an introduction that briefly details her first foray into reading and studying the Bible. She describes a pastor "prescribing" her the task of reading the book of John after confessing all of her sins to him. I love that Liz never hesitates to share her past to make every woman reading her books feel welcome and like they belong. She notes, "That's one of the beautiful things about the Bible: it meets us right where we are." Each chapter introduces the verse, expounds on it, gives a prayer prompt, a tip for memorizing Scripture, and gives you a space to write out the verse in your personal favorite translation. I especially appreciated this aspect because I prefer the KJV and 99% of the time, this isn't the version used in Bible study books. This makes it difficult when the book assigns a Scripture to memorize and the version given in the book isn't the version I'd like to memorize. I often have to squeeze it into the margin. This dedicated space in Liz's book was so helpful! A study guide with questions and reflections for each chapter is included in the back for personal or group use. I loved this book and loved how much Liz delved into each verse. I need to become more proficient and memorizing (and, the difficult part, retaining!) Bible verses and this book was a huge nudge in the right direction for me. I highly recommend 31 Verses To Write On Your Heart to every Christian woman.

I received a copy of this book in order to provide an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, January 9, 2017

What Falls From The Sky

I was so excited to read Esther Emery's book, What Falls From The Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds. I have a love/hate relationship with technology, social media, and the internet. I struggle with balancing screen time with real life time, but I use the internet so much less than many people I know. I see the people around me constantly on their phones and it's one of my biggest pet peeves. The back cover says:

"Esther Emery was a successful playwright and theater director, wife and mother, and loving it all - until, suddenly, she wasn’t. When a personal and professional crisis of spectacular extent leaves her reeling, Esther is left empty, alone in her marriage, and grasping for identity that does not define itself by busyness and a breakneck pace of life. Something had to be done.

What Falls from the Sky is Esther’s fiercely honest, piercingly poetic account of a year without Internet - 365 days away from the good, the bad, and the ugly of our digital lives - in one woman’s desperate attempt at a reset. Esther faces her addiction to electronica, her illusion of self-importance, and her longing to return to simpler days, but then the unexpected happens. Her experiment in analog is hijacked by a spiritual awakening, and Esther finds herself suddenly, inexplicably drawn to the faith she had rejected for so long.

Ultimately, Esther’s unplugged pilgrimage brings her to a place where she finally finds the peace - and the God who created it - she has been searching for all along.

What Falls from the Sky offers a path for you to do the same. For all the ways the Internet makes you feel enriched and depleted, genuinely connected and wildly insufficient, What Falls from the Sky reveals a new way to look up from your screens and live with palms wide open in a world brimming with the good gifts of God."

I loved What Falls From The Sky. It's a quick read that you can knock out in one sitting, and it's written blog-style. Esther is extremely raw and honest in her writing, and doesn't hold back, even what it comes to her flaws and shortcomings. She's also honest about her intentions and motivations for going without the internet for a year. Esther really inspired me to take stock of my own technology use and focus more on God. Everything she said resonated with me and really hit home. I often lament on how our culture is so technology-focused and I feel like it's negatively impacting us so much. I highly recommend this book to not just every Christian, but every human being.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to provide an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Of Stillness And Storm

I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Reader's Copy of Michele Phoenix's new novel, Of Stillness And Storm. The premise of the novel sounded fresh and new - I read a LOT of books, and often times it's the same plots recycled over and over. I still enjoy them, but when I see something that looks especially out of the ordinary, it makes me even more excited to read it. Of Stillness And Storm takes place in Nepal and focuses on missionaries Lauren and Sam, along with their son Ryan. It's told in the first person view of Lauren, who's struggling with the realities of their life and mission in Nepal. The back cover reads:

"“I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing.”

It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing.

At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.

Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.

Publisher's Weekly - In this fine novel, Phoenix (Tangled Ashes) realistically captures the deep struggles enveloping a missionary family.

RT Book Reviews - Phoenix’s latest takes a thoughtful and realistic look at the hardships missionaries endure and the strain that missionary work can place on a family. This book should be required reading for every wife and husband in the mission field who is trying to do God’s work. Readers will run through a gamut of emotions while reading this book as it addresses hard questions about priorities and what God asks of us. Readers will be able to relate to the main character; she’s likeable, real and her struggles are genuine. This is a book that will take a reader out of their comfort zone but will also leave readers with thought-provoking questions long after reading. Well done!"

This may be a Christian novel about a missionary family in Nepal, but leave any preconceived notions about what type this book might be behind. Starting with lyrical, haunting prose from the very first page, I was absolutely hooked and couldn't put it down. This is a bold and dynamic tale with themes of love, loss, betrayal, longing, and more. I was immediately swept up and immersed in Lauren's world - this is one of the most atmospheric books I've read lately. I love Christian books that tackle subjects that are hard and difficult and that others shy away from, and Of Stillness And Storm definitely fit the bill. I highly, highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of this book from Litfuse in order to provide an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Falling Free

I selected Falling Free: Rescued From The Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin mainly because the foreword was written by Jen Hatmaker, whose books I have enjoyed. I kind of figured it would be a story similar to Jen's, and many other Christian's stories lately: leaving behind a cushy, comfortable life to move into "the scary city" to serve God in a new and different way. It seems to be the new trendy thing to do in Christianity today. The back cover reads:

"“Shannan’s story feels at once familiar and spectacular, ordinary and exceptional. You will discover that at the same time her words make you squirm, you will wish you lived next door to her. You will want her wisdom and you will want her pickles.” —Jen Hatmaker (from the foreword)

Shannan Martin had the perfect life: a cute farmhouse on six rambling acres, a loving husband, three adorable kids, money, friends, a close-knit church—a safe, happy existence.

But when the bottom dropped out through a series of shocking changes and ordinary inconveniences, the Martins followed God’s call to something radically different: a small house on the other side of the urban tracks, a shoestring income, a challenged public school, and the harshness of a county jail (where her husband is now chaplain). And yet the family’s plunge from “safety” was the best thing that could have happened to them.

Falling Free charts their pilgrimage from the self-focused wisdom of the world to the topsy-turvy life of God’s more being found in less. Martin’s practical, sweetly subversive book invites us to rethink assumptions about faith and the good life, push past insecurity and fear, and look beyond comfortable, middle-class Christianity toward a deeper, richer, and ultimately more fulfilling life."

I could appreciate Shannan's story, although I couldn't relate to much of it personally. I've always had to live in a semi-sketchy town/neighborhood, just this side of the poverty line, with my kids attending an underfunded and poorly performing public school. So although I couldn't relate to her "before" life, I've been living her "after" life most of my life. It's hard to feel sorry for the insecurity and fear she feels when that is just everyday life to me since I've never had the privilege of living in a cute farmhouse on an acreage and having plenty of money. However, there is a lot of good from this book. I appreciate that "cushy" Christians are beginning to understand the plight of the rest of us a bit better. I recommend this book to those who are interested in the new trend of urbanizing Christianity.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to provide an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

Nothing To Prove

Nothing To Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard is Jennie Allen's bold manifesto against pretending, performing, and fighting to prove yourself. This is the first book I've read by Jennie Allen, although I've certainly heard of her and her previous books, Anything and Restless. As soon as I opened the book and started reading the introduction, I was hooked. I especially loved this quote from the introduction: "I was free of the expectations, the roles I play, the pressures of real life. Nothing about my circumstances changed in that moment. But everything on the inside shifted. I didn't realize until then that, accidentally, I'd let me life subtly turn into a performance. On that dirt floor, I forgot all of my lines, abandoned all of my roles, dropped all of the costumes ... I had nothing to prove. I drank in grace. I hadn't known that was what I'd been so thirsty for." This kicks off Nothing To Prove. The back cover reads:

"No More Pretending. No More Performing. No More Fighting to Prove Yourself.
Are you tired, inside and out? Are you trying your best to measure up yet you still feel as if you re losing ground and missing out on the best parts of life?
You are not alone.
Jennie Allen understands the daily struggle so many of us face with inadequacy and insecurity and the fear that we are not enough. And she invites us into a different experience, one in which our souls overflow with contentment and joy. In Nothing to Prove she calls us to
* Find freedom from self-induced pressure by admitting we re not enough but Jesus is.
* Stop doing things for God, and start doing things with Him.
* Admit our greatest needs and watch them be filled by the only One who can meet them.
* Discover how God moves wildly through those who have nothing to protect and nothing to prove.
* Make it our goal to know and love Jesus, then watch what He does in and through us.
As you wade into the refreshing truth of the more-than-enough life Jesus offers, you ll experience the joyous freedom that comes to those who are determined to discover what God can do through a soul completely in love with Him.

Discover the answer to your soul-deep thirst
Too many of us have bought into the lie that our cravings will be satisfied if we are enough and if we have enough. So we chase image, answers, things, and people and we wonder all the while, Why am I still thirsty?
My single goal with this book is to lead your thirsty soul to the only source of lasting fulfillment: Jesus. He is the living water, a limitless supply that will not only quench your thirst but will fill you and then come pouring out of you into a thirsty world.
Because of Him, you are loved. You are known. You can take a deep breath.
Because you have nothing to prove."

I also appreciated that she immediately brings attention to how the devil keeps of from God's grace, in part by distractions and worldly pleasures: "So if I were your enemy, I would make you numb and distract you from God's story. Technology, social media, Netflix, travel, food and wine, comfort. I would not tempt you with notably bad things, or you would get suspicious. I would distract you with everyday comforts that slowly feed you a different story and make you forget God. Then you would dismiss the Spirit leading you, loving you, and comforting you. Then you would start to love comfort more than surrender and obedience and souls." I love that she isn't afraid to bring this up - I've been battling this in my own life and I see it in so many Christian's lives. This is a very important aspect that some people are afraid to touch.

Nothing To Prove is divided into two sections: Our Desert Of Striving and God's Streams Of Enoughness. Jennie takes us through these two themes and then weaves them together to show us that we don't have to keep striving, because God is enough and He will give us everything we need. Topics touched in include fulfillment, connection, rest, risk, hope, grace, and calling. There are also sections called "Experience Guides" that ask questions and lead you deeper into the texts and concepts. I truly enjoyed this book because I've always struggled with feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I could relate to Jennie in so many ways, and reading this book felt like chatting with a good friend. I highly recommend this book to any Christian woman struggling in this area.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in order to provide an honest and unbiased review. All opinions are my own.