Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Strategically Small Church by Brandon J. O’Brien

When Bethany House offered me this book to review, I was intrigued by the title since I have experienced the most “hands-on” ministry over the years in the small churches I’ve attended rather than the large mega-churches. We have moved to different parts of the country and been involved with various sizes of churches, and I have generally experienced more opportunities to be actively involved in ministry in the small churches. The problem is, of course, that pastors are being trained in seminaries in ways to make their churches grow in numbers. Success is measured in the church world in increased numbers. But just as real, genuine success is measured in the Christian life by relationship with Jesus Christ, true success of churches should be measured by commitment to ensuring that relationship in individual members and reaching out into the community and trying to cause that type of relationship to develop for each person reached.

Mr. O’Brien offers examples of churches and ministries where some of his principles have been applied and the resulting successes (successes by a spiritual standard, not a worldly standard). I found this fascinating because I have experienced churches with very small congregations and a dynamic missions outreach and I have experienced mega-churches with little going for them but “inreach” – entertaining each other with parties and outings. No one is saying a mega-church can’t do effective ministry, but at least one pastor Mr. O’Brien cited in this book found that planting smaller churches instead of building ever-larger buildings for his growing congregation led to more effective ministry and that those smaller churches were dynamic forces in their communities. As the author puts it, “small churches are uniquely equipped to carry out what perhaps are the three most important functions of the church: evangelism, discipleship (including leadership development), and passing the faith from one generation to the next.”

I would recommend this book to all pastors and lay leaders who are struggling with the concept of successful church development. It will be extraordinarily freeing for many to realize that success need not be measured in quantity but more important is (spiritual) quality – a reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the ministry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce

Amy’s biological clock is ticking but nothing seems to be going quite as she planned. Her writing career hasn’t really taken off either and she is marking time being adjunct faculty at the college she attended. The books started out with some amusing dialogue and I was entranced for a chapter or two but then it just got rather boring and bogged down. Amy’s quirky friends were a little too off the wall. The theology expressed in the book was a little off. I’m not sure it should earn the Christian Fiction label. By the end of the book, I just didn’t care how it turned out. Bethany House provided me with this book to review. In their defense, I will say that 99% of the books I review for them are wonderful!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann

Although this genre is not my usual fare, I was drawn to the book by the author’s name. I have read her work before and enjoyed it. Since Bethany House was offering me the book to review, I decided to give it a try. It is one of those books that you don’t want to put down till you read every last page because the suspense keeps building and you want to know the outcome.

The story revolves around Noelle, a privileged young woman who is fleeing danger in her life that is only wispy pieces of memories that she can’t pin down. She just feels the danger. In her quest to hide from what she feels is pursuing her she ends up renting a room on a ranch in the mountains of Colorado where she meets Rick (the rancher) who has a deep faith in God. She feels that her trauma is somehow God’s fault and so she resists Rick’s efforts to tell her about Him.

The story has many twists and turns but Noelle eventually turns to God and in doing so resolves her aversion to following her heart to Rick. Her journey through her memories and the tricks played by her mind is interesting and well written. I love the depth of the characters and the hand of God on the lives of the characters throughout. This was a great read and I’m glad I stepped out of my reading comfort zone to review it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hatteras Girl by Alice J. Wisler

Hatteras Girl is Jackie, born and bred on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She is a writer who writes articles for a local magazine. She and her childhood friend Minnie have had a dream since they were children of owning the wonderful Bailey House Bed & Breakfast. The Baileys befriended them when they were young and always made them feel welcome at their B&B and it became an almost magical place for the two young girls. Now the Baileys are deceased and the house has fallen into disrepair but an opportunity arises for them to rent it and reopen it. The fact that the realtor involved (and owner of the property) is the good looking Davis Erickson, the Bailey’s grandson seems almost too good to be true. And sadly it turn out to be. But Jackie has learned from childhood to trust in God and wait on his perfect plan and life takes some surprising turns.

I enjoyed reading this book and am grateful to Bethany House for giving me a copy to review. The only jarring note in the book was that the china used at the B&B was referred to several times as Royal Dalton. The Baileys were from England and I’m sure the author was referring to the famous British china company Royal Doulton. Since I don’t know much about the North Carolina coast, it made me wonder if some of the research was lacking and some other points might be wrong as well. That being said, it didn’t detract from a well-told story.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: First Things First by Kurt and Brenda Warner

When Tyndale offered me this book to review I thought it looked interesting. I was intrigued with the idea of a professional football player who was a Christian and a family man. However, I had no idea who Kurt Warner was and I certainly am not a football or sports fan.

One typically thinks of professional football players as rather large juveniles whose main goal in life is to have a good time at the expense of whoever gets in his way. This story is about the antithesis of that. Kurt Warner married Brenda when she was a divorced mother of a disabled toddler and an infant. He made it his goal in life to make her life and her children’s life a good one. They ended up having 7 children in all now ranging in age from late teens to toddlers.

This book is about what works for the Warner family and how they are raising their children to be responsible human beings. It’s about how they all treat each other and how much they love each other in the process. These two parents each brought their own personal baggage into their marriage and have worked very hard at their relationship and making it all work for everyone involved. It’s a fun book because they are able to be truthful about their past and even laugh at themselves at times.

One of my favorite stories was when Brenda and her son were at one of Kurt’s games and a fan from the other team was sitting in front of them. The person in question became annoyed at Brenda’s loud encouragement of her team and told her that if she didn’t stop that she would strangle her with her scarf. Brenda’s son looked up from his DS and said, “I think you can take her Mom.”

If you want an inspiring story about faith in God, parenting and marriage or if you just are a fan of Kurt Warner’s and want to know more about his life, you will find this to be a very enjoyable book. It’s not a novel, it’s a true story, but it is still a page-turner.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Rip-Roaring Good Read!

I probably never would have chosen this book if Bethany House hadn't offered me a free copy to review, but I would have missed out on a great story! This one had it all, dangerous cowpoke with sticky marshmallow center, prim schoolmarm with heart of gold and lots of bad guys trying to get the drop on them! And if that wasn't enough it was chock full of charming orphan kids and a bunch of Indians to boot! It kept me reading till I finished the last page. And to put the icing on the cake and the cherry on top, the main characters had a relationship with God that didn't seem contrived by the author to get the "Christian Fiction" label on her book. I highly recommend this one and can't wait to see what else this author has available or coming soon!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Love’s First Bloom by Delia Parr

When Bethany House offered me this book to review, I had not heard of Delia Parr but was intrigued by the synopsis of the story. I am glad that I received this book and got the opportunity to review Ms. Parr’s work. The story was extremely well-written and was interesting in its subject matter. The story involves a young woman, Ruth, whose father is a minister. He runs a rescue ministry for New York City’s prostitutes. The story begins in 1838. One of the prostitutes he was helping is murdered and he is accused of the murder. He sends his daughter and the toddler daughter of the prostitute into hiding before he is arrested. She is to pretend to be a young widow and the mother of the child. Her biggest struggle is avoiding the reporters who are determined to find her. One of them, Jake Spence aka Asher Tripp, falls in love with her in his pursuit of the story. Many events incur and all is finally resolved satisfactorily. There were two rather odd incidents in the story that really did not blend with the story or add much to it and I’m not sure why they were included. One was when a drunk attacks Ruth because for some reason he is connecting her with his dead wife. She prevails and he apologizes the next day. The other is when a young teenager riding on a donkey manages to get Ruth all wet because he is asleep and not tending the donkey. Weird. Other than that, I like the book and enjoyed the suspense right to the end when all is explained. I also like the seamless way the faith of the main characters was woven through the story.

Monday, October 25, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander

This was one of those novels you don’t want to put down. The story is about a widow trying to run her ranch and raise her two boys in a small Colorado town in the late 1800s. The daughter of a doctor, she is able to assist the town’s new doctor and a relationship develops between them. The one annoying aspect of this story was that it is apparently third in a trilogy. The author alluded to the other couples’ stories but really didn’t give the usual synopsis that authors of series usually give you to get you up to speed if you haven’t read the previous books. Ms. Alexander also alluded to other aspects of the characters’ lives throughout the book and was a little too vague and a little too far into the book before offering some explanation in my opinion. I found that slightly aggravating. However, the way the story enlightened me about doctors and the practice of medicine in that time period was fascinating and I am very pleased that Bethany House offered me a copy of this book to review. Also very pleasing about this book was the genuine Christianity portrayed in many of the characters. It was just a natural part of the story and not at all forced. These characters had a genuine relationship with their Savior and they lived their faith. So many so-called Christian fiction books seem to have the “Christian” part added as an afterthought, but not this one. It is just a natural part of the characters’ lives. That is so refreshing! I especially liked the way the author handled the issue of death and dying and the afterlife. It was very tastefully done and also very enlightening. This books leaves you with a warm cozy feeling and a desire to cherish time with your loved ones. I can’t wait to find the first two books of this trilogy and hopefully have two more cozy reading experiences. I’m looking forward to future works by this author who has become the newest addition to my “favorite authors” list.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Masquerade by Nancy Moser

This book kept me interested right up to the last line. That being said, however, I can’t really say I liked the book when all is said and done. It just isn’t believable in so many places in the story and also the references to God and prayer seem contrived and maybe even salted in after the fact.
The story revolves around a titled English girl, Lottie, and her ladies maid, Dora, who grew up together and were friends. When the Lottie’s parents arrange a marriage for her with a rich gentleman in the States, she and Dora are sent to New York to meet him and his family. Once they leave the ancestral home they travel as friends rather than as lady and lady’s maid. Along the journey Lottie comes up with the brilliant idea to switch places so she can go out into the world on her own and find true love and Dora can improve her station in life by pretending to be Lottie and marrying Lottie’s intended husband. That’s all good but Dora falls in love with a handsome doctor on the boat. As they each go through crisis after crisis after arriving in New York, they each finally find their true love. The trouble is, I couldn’t really figure out how they got to that point. When the doctor locates Dora in New York and finds out what she is up to he doesn’t seem too impressed with her at that point. The author never explains how Dora suddenly knows that he loves her and is the only one for her blah, blah, blah. By the same token, Lottie, who has seemingly only know Sven for 3 or 4 days and most of that time thought he was married to someone else and didn’t even really give him much consideration suddenly realizes he is her one true love and they get engaged. Huh?? It was like the author got tired of writing the book and decided to bring everything to a happy conclusion all of a sudden and jumped from point A to point C, totally skipping point B. It took what could have been a great story and made it truly silly. The aloof hostile mother-in-law to be suddenly turns into a down to earth person for no apparent reason toward the end and the sister-in-law to be turns from the wicked witch of the west to the wonderful friend and sister and then for no apparent reason back to the wicked witch. Huh?? I really wanted to like this book but I’m still going over it in my mind wondering how something with so much promise turned dud in the last couple of chapters. Bethany House sent me a copy of this book to review and I was glad for opportunity. It is very rare that one of their books disappoints.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This is what Christian fiction is all about!

IN EVERY HEARTBEAT by Kim Vogel Sawyer

When I received this book from Bethany House to review, I expected an enjoyable read. What I didn’t expect was how gripping and engaging the story is. The story is about three orphans, friends, who are given the opportunity to go to college. The year is 1914. They all have their “baggage” from being orphans and all are looking for love and acceptance in some form or another. Pete wants to be a minister. Libby wants to be a writer and Bennett just wants to be the big man on campus. As they work through their wants and needs they each find unexpected twists and turns along the way and each find some closure to the issues that have plagued them. Libby find a relationship with God and this opens the way for her and her best friend Pete to share some common goals. This is what Christian fiction ought to be. There is plenty of action and suspense and logical resolution of very real feelings and problems. There are even some humorous moments. I felt almost as if Kim Vogel Sawyer was putting herself into the character Libby and the writer Libby was becoming was the writer Kim Vogel Sawyer already is. Maybe just fanciful on my part but I felt like the character traits that Libby developed as her relationship with God grew were ones already belonging to Ms. Sawyer. This story has all the elements required to keep you glued to the pages to the very end and then leave you wanting more.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good Stuff!

None of this is original -- some of it I have been carrying around tucked in my Bible for years -- but it gives me "good chills" every time I read it again.

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It never was between you and them anyway.


Giving when you feel like keeping
Praying for others when you need to be prayer for
Feeding others when your own soul is hungry
Living truth before people even when you don’t see results
Hurting with other people when your own soul is hurting
Keeping your word even when it is not convenient
Being faithful when your flesh wants to run away.

A Posture of Active Resistance

What is resistance?

Resistance is when we row against the tide of the culture and refuse to adopt evil practices just because the majority of people around us appear to be adopting them.

Resistance is when we do the right thing, solely because it is the right thing to do. (Stand up for what is right, even if you are standing alone.)

Resistance is refusing to go along with those who invite us to participate in activities that bring no glory to God and are contrary to His commandments.

Resistance is saying no to offers of drugs and other harmful substances.

Resistance is holding the line for a good cause.

Resistance is first and foremost a firm decision to engage in the struggle against evil, rather than turning away, backing off, or retreating from the devil’s attack.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Sparkly Pink Fun!

Tyndale has sent me yet another wonderful children’s Bible to review! The Princess Bible is for preschool girls and is such a wonderful, sparkly pink board book!
Each story tells about one of God’s princesses and then relates the story to the Princess the Bible belongs to. For instance, it tells the story of Ruth in simple terms and then it says, “Ruth was God’s princess. She loved Naomi and helped with the work. Ruth loved her husband, too. The family grew—they had a son—and Ruth loved everyone. The next page says, “A princess loves her family.” Then you insert your child’s name into the next two sentences (for instance, if your child’s name is Bree); “Bree is God’s special princess. Bree loves her family.” Each story ends this way with a personal attribute and the fact that the child is God’s special princess.
At the end there is a little story with hand motions that pulls it all together.
My granddaughter loved this book! She was really excited about having herself in the story! I can recommend this book for all your little princesses.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hands-On Bible (New Living Translation) from Tyndale

If Tyndale hadn’t given me this Bible to review, I would have bought it anyway! What a great Bible this is for kids. My desire is for my grandchildren to have as much knowledge of spiritual things as is possible and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This Bible will make a great resource tool for that goal. There is a lot of information and explanation given in this Bible in a fun way. There are also activities, crafts, experiments etc. that the children can do that will enhance their understanding of the facts and principles. There is so much to do and experience and learn with this Bible – it is not just for hauling along to church on Sunday so you can get “points” with your teacher. It is for enjoying! And even though there is much, much to experience within the pages of this book itself, you can also go to MyHandsOn Bible.com and find even more! I highly recommend this Bible – buy one for each of your children and grandchildren. They and you will be glad you did. (And buy one for yourself – the kids shouldn’t have ALL the fun!)

I am running a contest so you can have a chance to win a certificate for a free copy of this Bible. The contest will end Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 10 p.m. Central Time. For a chance to win, leave a comment and tell me your favorite kids Bible learning resource and why you especially like it. Only comments that fit this criteria will be considered for the contest.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Somewhere to Belong by Judith Miller

This story takes place in the Amana Colonies of Iowa in 1877. The story involves two girls, one who grew up in the Colonies and one a recent and unwilling transplant to the Colonies. Both girls have to decide where they fit in with this community and lifestyle. This is not your typical “plain” tale about living a simpler life. There are some twists and turns here and it is refreshing to see the fact portrayed that these people have to deal with some of the thornier issues of life just like everyone else. This book is well researched and well written. The characters are believable and likable. This was an excellent story and I would recommend it to anyone who just wants a relaxing reading experience. Bethany House provided me with a copy of this book for review. Thanks Bethany House!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hearts Awakening by Delia Parr

This was a great book! I loved the setting and the characters. This was just a most enjoyable read. Bethany House gave me this book to review and I am so happy for this opportunity to discover new authors! I’ve never heard of this author before, but I will be looking for her in the future.

This is a story set in 1840 in Pennsylvania. The main character, Ellie, was past marriageable age and considered a spinster at 31 because she had taken care of her invalid mother until her death. She is offered a marriage of convenience to help a widower with his two children. They have to overcome some obstacles, many of them in their own imaginations, but it makes for a warm, family story and leaves the reader quite satisfied with the outcome. I don’t want to say too much about it – discover it for yourself. You will be happy you did.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson

This story takes place in Nebraska in 1871. A group of widowed ladies are recruited in St. Louis by a wily entrepreneur with the lure of claiming their own homesteads in Nebraska. Unbeknownst to them, he has already arranged with the bachelors in the small settlement in Nebraska where he is taking them to choose their brides when they arrive. Of course this does not set well with all of the ladies when they discover the scheme. A small group of them take matters into their own hands and file their own claims and work together to make their dream happen. Predictably, most of these ladies had made a romantic connection with a local bachelor before the end of the story. The story took some unexpected and sometimes slightly implausible turns, and it was fairly predictable but for all of that it was thoroughly enjoyable. I did think the author could have developed her action a little more, i.e., making the resolution of the conflict a little less easily and quickly solved. Bethany House gave me a copy of this book for review and once again I am grateful to them for introducing me to an author I hadn’t discovered up until now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The New Living Translation Break Through to Clarity Bible Contest and Giveaway

The New Living Translation Break Through to Clarity Bible Contest and Giveaway

Visit www.facebook.com/NewLivingTranslation and click on the tab that says “Sweepstakes”

Fill out a simple form, take a quick Bible clarity survey, invite your friends to join and you’ll be entered to win one of our exciting prizes.

With each fan number milestone a new prize will be given away.

Grand Prize

Apple iPad 64G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fifth milestone
Retail Value: $829.00

2nd Prize - Already awarded

32G iPod Touch and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fourth milestone
Retail Value: $300.00

3rd Prize – Will be awarded when fan count hits: 3500

Kindle DX and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the third milestone
Retail Value: $489.00

4th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 16G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the New Living Translation Fan Page hits the second milestone
Retail Value: $499.00

5th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 32G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the first milestone
Retail Value: $599.00

Prize Eligibility – Recently updated to include more countries

Sweepstakes participants and winner(s) can be U.S. residents of the 50 United States, or residents of any country that is NOT embargoed by the United States, but cannot be residents of Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India. In addition, participants and winner(s) must be at least 18 years old, as determined by the Company.

Sweepstakes Starts

March 17, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Sweepstakes Ends

April 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Wait, there’s more!

Visit http://biblecontest.newlivingtranslation.com/index.php for a chance to win a trip for two to Hawaii!

Here are the details:

Choose one of six passages of Scripture from the New Living Translation and consider:
How do these verses encourage you to know God better?
What is God teaching you in this passage?
How does this passage apply to your life?

Submit your answer and you’ll be entered to win.

Just for signing up: Everybody Wins! Win a Free .mp3 download from the NLT’s new Red Letters Project. It’s the dynamic, new presentation of the sung and narrated words of the Gospel of Matthew. You win the download just for entering! Or choose to download the NLT Philippians Bible Study, complete with the Book of Philippians in the NLT.

Every day, one person will win the best-selling Life Application Study Bible!

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