The Sinners’ Garden by William Sirls

17657644William Sirls writes a “Christian” drama about the lives of five people in the small town of Bennis, Michigan. The story centers around the mysterious appearance of a beautiful garden on the edge of town and it’s connection with the trials of the main characters in the story, especially a young teenager who has been scarred by the abuse of his father.

The story is beautifully written and almost exclusively focuses only on just a few characters. The characters were well fleshed out so that you really cared about them. The story really centered around the need for this young man to reconcile with his mother and especially with God.

The issue of physical abuse and the pain (physical and emotional) it caused was strongly emphasized and appears to be the central focus of the book as it begins and ends with that theme. And from there, Sirls focused on the need for healing of those wounds. Forgiveness was key. For the “healing” of several characters, forgiveness was the main issue and the change after they forgave was amazing.

The story also deals with the issue of death – death of a pet, of a father, of a friend and knowing where they will be after death. How you can know you are going to heaven or your loved one is in heaven? According to Sirls, this is based on faith. And heaven is the ultimate healing of sickness.

What was missing in this story though was a focus on Jesus. Certainly God was mentioned all the time. They saw “a man” in the garden but not his face. The conclusion was that this was God. Andy goes to his pastor seeking spiritual help and there is not one mention of Jesus Christ and redemption. In fact, not once did the name of Jesus or Christ come up (unless you count the word “Christian.” That was disappointing as this book could really have been a great testimony to salvation and healing through Jesus and the cross. For that reason, I feel that Sirls missed the boat. There is more to Christianity than believing in God. No one can come to the Father except through Christ.

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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The Power of a Half Hour by Tommy Barnett

Power-of-a-half-hourVery well written, The Power of a Half Hour by Tommy Barnett is a practical book about using your time wisely in a way that will impact your life and the lives of those around you. Barnett’s thesis is that breaking your time into chunks of 30 minutes to accomplish various goals and activities is a powerful way to turn your life around towards the purposes of God.

The chapters are very brief – they can easily be read within a half-hour and therefore it’s not daunting. Barnett systematically deals with almost every area of Christian life and discipline. In fact, it almost seems like the book is a discipleship guide. What I like about this is that it’s very practical rather than theoretical.

On the other hand, I felt like the “half hour” principle was sometimes forced. Not everything important in life takes place within 30 minutes and yet he makes it seem like that. Five minute increments can be just as important as 30 and the same can be said about an hour or two. Jesus would pray all night and fasted for 40 days.

That said, I would recommend this book as a discipleship guide. It would be ideal for a small group to read and discuss on a weekly basis. And Barnett always keeps our feet on the ground making it very real all the time and that is what is needed. Walk the talk.

Thank you to Waterbrook Press, which provided a copy for review as part of the “Blogging For Books” program. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Ghost Boy by Martin Pestorius

ghost boyAn absolutely amazing story! From the first chapter all the way to the end I found myself not wanting to put this book down as I was drawn so deeply into the life of Martin. Several things amaze me about this book.

First of all, it is an autobiography. The story alone is amazing but the fact that Pistorius writes it all himself is astounding. The style, the flow, the way he describes things are all so beautiful and well done. It’s surprising that he didn’t use a ghost writer.

Second, it was a learning experience for me like none other. To be able to enter into the mind and experiences of someone with these disabilities helps widen my world view, my understanding, and my compassion for those suffering with disabilities. The abuse he received as many treated him less than human is tragic. Martin gives us an insider’s view that is very rare. That said, I felt that for the most part he left out the subject of God and religion. Certainly he mentions God a few brief moments. Toward the end he briefly mentions that God will be the center of their marriage which reveals that God is a bigger part of his life than he has told.

Third, it was inspirational to see how someone with so very little was able to accomplish so much. We take for granted so much in our everyday life. To make a single sound, to pour a cup of coffee, or sit up without falling over – all of these were things Martin could not do. And yet he overcame his limitations, graduated from college, found full time employment, and married the woman of his dreams. Incredible!

This is a book that will bless you enormously as it did me!

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Fearless by Eric Blehm

fearless

This is the true life story of Navy SEAL Adam Brown. This is truly an inspirational story as you see how one man is able to overcome so many obstacles to succeed at the highest level in the US military.

What is amazing to me is that this is a story of a crack cocaine addict who is able through the help of the Lord God to overcome his addiction which basically had destroyed his life. His focus on being the best he can be through the military and defending his country is amazing. Over and over again the principles of patriotism, hard work, being a team player, family, and of course serving God above all come shining through.

Although Adam Brown was by no means perfect, he is an outstanding role model for men today and I am very thankful his story is told. I hope that this story will inspire many others not to be a big hero in lifting themselves up but in being a servant to lift others and carry them. Selflessness is the core element seen over and over again in Adam’s life and that is what it is to follow after Christ.

We need more true life heroes like Adam Brown!

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Blessed Child by Ted Dekker and Bill Bright

_240_360_Book.957.coverA thriller from start to finish, this is one book I had a hard time putting down. I’ve read Ted Dekker before and so I knew his writing was strong and gripping – I wasn’t disappointed. What WAS surprising, was the strong evangelistic emphasis in this novel. Maybe that is the influence of Bill Bright.

Although the story follows the boy Caleb’s miraculous ability to heal, the message is not that healing of the body is the most important, but the greatest healing is that of the soul. This was strongly emphasized in the second half of the book. And in the end it was made very clear that there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ.

At times the spiritual experiences described in this book seem ‘over the top’ but as Bill Bright comments in a note at the end of the book, these miracles are no less spectacular than those found throughout the Scripture. We are normally so closed to the spiritual world that we don’t see it as real.

I finished this book encouraged in faith and longing for a closer relationship to Christ. That’s more than most novels are able to accomplish. 

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Paper books or e-books?

kindlefrontReading with an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) is more and more popular today. And I have to admit that it’s a very convenient way of storing and reading books. It’s great to have so many books right at your fingertips. You don’t have to lug volumes around with you. They are easy to use and lightweight.

A little over a year ago I broke down and bought a basic Kindle. I mainly wanted to use it to read books that I was able to receive to review and also the many classics and resources you can download for free. I was excited and started my adventure by even designing my own cover for it from an old hardcover (ripping out the pages, etc.). I dove headfirst into my new Kindle.

But to be honest, I found that I was missing holding and reading a real book with a cover and pages. I don’t know what it is but I just don’t feel like I’m reading a book when I read a screen. I can even underline in an e-reader but it’s just not the same as underlining in a book. And then when I’m done I can’t pass on the book to a friend or give it away to someone who could appreciate it. After all, there is just something about holding a real book in my hands and turning the real pages and also having it on my shelf. Maybe it’s silly but that’s much more comfortable for me.

So now my Kindle sits on my desk unused for weeks and even months at a time. I pick it up and it’s dead because I haven’t used it since May. Oh well. I don’t feel guilty because I love my books and in my mind e-books are not really books.

I wonder if anyone else feels the same?

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Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

Jesus-on-Every-Page-3D1-695x1024I’m thankful for books like this which draw Christians back into the Old Testament. Author David Murray notes many times that most Christians know little if anything about the Old Testament and don’t relate it to Jesus at all.

The author takes us on his own journey of discovery into the Old Testament in which he finds Jesus Christ over and over again. The first section of the book is this initial discovery of Jesus in the Old Testament. The second (and main section) takes the reader through specific areas in the Old Testament which reveal Jesus.

I think this is a good introduction for the average Christian to the concept of Jesus as found throughout the Old Testament. He doesn’t get into too much detail and moves quickly from example to example which helps the reader stay focused. Personally, I would have liked to see much more detail and development of many of his points but that would demand a much longer book and less accessible for every reader.

Murray throughout the book cites reformed sources and authors, apparently in order to give greater credibility to what he is saying. First of all, I don’t believe that he necessarily needs those citations to bolster up his argument. Scripture is clear alone. Secondly, for those (like me) who are not from a reformed background, it doesn’t add (or take) anything from the credibility. They are simply quotations to support the point. They do reveal that his insights into the Old Testament are nothing new.

That said, I hope that many people read this book and rediscover the Gospel in the Old Testament – find Jesus in the first 2/3 of their Bibles. It’s nothing new – Christians have been finding Christ in the Old Testament since the first century.

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Turning Your Down Into Up by Gregory L. Jantz

Turning Your Down into Up is a book written for people who are suffering from depression. I found this book to be very practical and useful. Although I haven’t experienced the kind of depression that Dr. Jantz describes, I found it very helpful to know the symptoms and as a pastor I can use this resource as a help to those who are in need.

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Each chapter is filled with practical examples of the stories of those who struggle and the background issues behind their depression. Jantz fills his book with so many varied examples that it seems that anyone with depression should be able to find a point of contact and help.

I found it very insightful that Jantz gives homework at the end of each chapter as well as the use of journaling. This is not just about knowing the causes or issues involved but he asks the reader to actually do something in your life about it.

Also, his approach to depression is holistic. For example it can be caused by family background, abuse, present loss, chemical imbalance, spiritual issues or any combination of these. I appreciate that he spent a chapter on the spiritual issues and healing that is needed although I wish it was more of a central topic than just one of many chapters.

But all in all, I would recommend this book for anyone who is suffering depression.

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I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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Unveiling Grace by Lynn Wilder

9780310331131_p0_v1_s260x420This book is a first person account of a woman who was a member of the Mormon church for over 20 years and eventually left the church as a result of reading the New Testament. Eventually her entire family leaves the Mormon church and become Christians. This is their story.

Reading this book was very eye-opening to say the least! First of all, it was very well written so it was easy to follow. But secondly, it was absolutely fascinating to hear firsthand about this hidden world of Mormonism revealed. Over and over again I was shocked as to the control and manipulation of the leaders of this cult.

At the end of the book is a very helpful appendix which supplies a list of Christian ministries to Mormons, a glossary, and a very helpful table of comparisons between the Scripture and Mormon teachings.

Honestly, I had a hard time putting the book down as I was anxious to see this family freed from the deception in which they were enslaved. If you have a connection with anybody from this cult, this book is a must-read!

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Zondervan Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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When God Makes Lemonade

0849964709.jpg_5When God Makes Lemonade is a fantastic book of short but true stories from a very wide variety of authors. Most stories are around 6 pages long  and include a wide spectrum of topics. The tie that binds all these stories together is the tragedy that amazingly turns around into triumph. Although not all stories are clearly focused on God or Christ, most at least point to Biblical principles.

Whether you want to find a story for a sermon, to be encouraged in hard times, or to bring a word of hope to a friend in trouble, this book will help. As a pastor I’ve already used several stories as powerful illustrations and will continue to do so. At the end, Don Jacobson promises that this is merely the first volume of others to come. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

This book has been reviewed as a part of the Book Sneeze Blogger review program. Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers who provided a copy for review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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