Kick your shoes off and enjoy the ride of your life!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions

Note: This post is from my previous blog.

In this book, Max Lucado sets out to answer 172 questions, falling under the general categories of: 1) Hope: God, Grace, and "Why am I here?", 2) Hurt: Conflicts, Calamities, and "Why me?", 3) Help: Prayer, Scripture, and "Why church?", 4) Him/Her: Sex, Romance, and "Any chance of a second chance?", 5) Home: Diapers, Disagreements, and "Any hope for prodigals?", 6) Haves/Have-Nots: Work, Money, and "Where's the lifeline?", and 7) Hereafter: Cemeteries, Heaven, Hell, and "Who goes where?". I found a couple of instances where an allowance for evolution/old earth might be seen, but otherwise I didn't find anything I would consider to be theologically incorrect. My main frustration was with how short the answers were. At best, roughly a page and a half was the longest answer given. 

There isn't a great deal of depth, not surprising because of the length of the answers, so I would recommend this book to someone who is fairly new in their faith. However, after 6 months or a year a person who has been consistently feeding on Scripture should be able to handle more extensive works. 

Overall, I'd give this book a 3/5. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

Take Action Bible, NKJV: Together We Can Change the World

Note: This post is from my previous blog.

For the most part, this is a Bible, plain and simple. There are some notes as to certain manuscripts having slightly different wordings, and there are some cross-references given (all of these as footnotes as far as I saw...there are no center column references), so this is not a study Bible. I advocate that primary reading of the Bible is done without study notes because those notes are not inspired text. Read for yourself what Scripture says, wrestle with the ideas, write down your questions and observations and keep that list handy whenever you read; the more you read, the more you will find your questions answered. Use study Bibles and commentaries when you're stuck, but be sure to check those things against the rest of Scripture and be aware that while there are many godly people who have written great works about the Bible, they are still human and subject to error (unlike the Bible which was divinely inspired). 

The main addition is that there are five groups of color photos inserted, falling into the categories of "Go," "Serve," "Give," "Heal," and "Teach." These sections have brief stories of people who have gone out into the world and are serving God in these areas, and there are a couple of questions asked per couple with Scripture references. I think anyone who reads these stories should be inspired to take action, even if not called specifically to world missions. 

In the back is a list of 52 Take Action ideas. These ideas can be implemented anywhere, so people of all ages and abilities should be able to find something they could do (or at least be thinking along the lines of service). Many of the ideas are not expressly Christian, simply nice things to do. I don't have a problem with that per se, but if I am truly wanting to follow the Great Commission, I can't stop with merely a smile and a handshake (my life has to square up with Scripture, there's no doubt about that, but there are plenty of nice, charity-minded people who aren't saved-there has to be something more). Neither am I necessarily advocating door-to-door witnessing or fire and brimstone street preaching. There must be a balance. 

This Bible is visually appealing, and while not pocket-size, it is small enough to fit easily into backpacks, briefcases, and suitcases and taken basically anywhere. It would make a good gift, especially for someone who may be mission-minded. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

The Final Summit

Note: This post is from my previous blog.

I found this book to be quite interesting. I have not read the prequel, so I don't have a complete grasp of everything the main character did, but I think most of the pertinent details were given in this work. Especially because this is a work of fiction, I don't want to give too much away, but in order to steer you towards or away from this work, I'll share a bit of what's taking place. 

It is now 28 years after the events in The Traveler's Gift. David Ponder has used what he was given in that adventure to become very successful. He is approached early on by the archangel Gabriel (who took him on his last adventure) and told that a summit of all other Travelers throughout time is being convened to discuss an important question: "What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?" Ponder, being from the current point in time, is chosen to lead the summit because he represents the everyman (unlike all other Travelers, Ponder has not aspired to greatness) and because he should care the most earnestly about the result of the summit. 

Many characters throughout history make appearances in this work. King Solomon is in the stands watching the summit proceedings, as are Anne Frank, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein, to name a few. I would suggest a reader particularly take note of World War II era personality Eric Erickson. 

While and entertaining read, this book is quite theologically shallow. Gabriel mentions that in history, God has decided to start over, and says the most recent of such reorganizations took place with the Flood in Genesis. If you want to count Adam and Eve being banned from the Garden of Eden, then I can be okay with this statement, but as it is written, it suggests that there have been several other instances where such events have taken place. Another problem I had with the theology is when Gabriel tells us that current scientists suspect a highly advanced civilization that existed some 30,000 years before the Aztecs and the Incas. As I reread this portion, Gabriel doesn't say that these people are right in their assumption, but being a staunch believer in a young earth (roughly 6,000 years old), this portion rubs me the wrong way. And, by and large, there is little reference to God, Jesus, or the Bible. 

I found the resolution to the summit to be anti-climactic. I won't spoil the answer that is ultimately accepted, but to me, it falls far short of what would truly need to happen. We cannot save this world, as God has already declared He will eventually destroy it and create a new heaven and new earth. What we can do is give people the chance to be saved by faithfully witnessing to everyone of God, Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice that has redeemed us from sin if we would only accept it. 

Overall, I'd give this book a 3/5. It is well-written, and should be quite entertaining for anyone 10 or 12 and older. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

A Conversation with God

Note: This post is from my previous blog.

I found this book to be a very interesting approach to answering questions that many have. The questions are categorized as being about God, the Bible, the Future, Pain and Suffering, Jesus, the Kingdom of God, Heaven and Hell, Humanity, Christian Living, and Today's World. Each answer is just a few pages long, and is written from the persepctive as being answered by God, Jesus, and several characters from throughout the Bible. This book is meant to be written in a very personal way, which it manages to some degree, but it's not the smoothest dialogue. 

The Notes section at the end of the book quotes the verses that were alluded to in each chapter and gives the references to those verses that were quoted within the chapter itself. This is a minor thing, but I don't especially care for endnotes (I prefer footnotes if such notation is going to be necessary) - however, in the way that this book is written, I think it would have been something of a distraction to have parenthetical references within the text itself. 

This book doesn't use fancy terminology ("Christianese"), but neither is it incredibly deep. I got the impression it is targeted more specifically to non-Christians or newer Christians who have not had a great deal of theological training. It is by no means a tome on apologetics or systematic theology, but it is a good beginning for those not ready to step into the resources of academia, and I'd recommend it especially to middle and high school students who are asking questions. 

One nice feature is how this book is organized. The questions are all independent, so you can pick and choose which ones seem interesting to you at the moment. 

Overall, I'd rate this book 4/5. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

Couples Who Pray

Note: This is a post from my previous blog.

The title of this book immediately grabbed me as my wife and I have been committed to praying together since before we got married. Granted, I didn't expect that any book would have some incredible, earth-shattering truth contained within, but I thought the book might at least be interesting. 
While I agree that prayer is the most intimate act in which a couple can engage, I found the studies and testimonies did little to reinforce this. There were several couples quoted who I had never heard of, but there were several celebrities quoted, too, and yes, celebrities are people just like the rest of us, but the feeling I got was more of the celebrities being used to sell the book than anything as six celebrity couples were mentioned right on the front cover. 

Probably what alarmed me most was the very sparse use of Scripture (granted, the quizzes in the first appendix mention God and the Bible a couple of times, and the second appendix listed forty circumstances and corresponding verses). The book had the feel of trying to appeal to everyone, that prayer will make the lives of every couple better. I don't discount the power of prayer, but truly effective prayer only works in the lives of Christians. To that end, this book would have been much better served by starting with an evangelistic message. 

The basic message of the book is that if you are married, you should pray with your spouse. 

I'd rate this book at best as a 1/5. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

Voices of the Faithful: Inspiring Stories of Courage from Christians Serving Around the World

Note: This is a post from my previous blog.

Voices of the Faithful: Inspiring Stories of Courage from Christians Serving Around the World
Thomas Nelson, 2010
English, 480 pages

I am generally not very impressed with devotional books because there tends to be little meat. While I found nothing inherently wrong with this book doctrinally, it was also light on content. I appreciated the emphasis on missions, and the monthly themes that gave more consistency than I have seen in many other books of this nature, but I would have preferred to have heard more in-depth stories of the missionaries involved rather than just the little snippets. 

My recommendation would be to not use this as the sole source of devotional material. The readings for each day are short, and it would be most beneficial to spend time in true study of the Bible itself. Since this book is divided into monthly themes, and verses are given at the top of each page, I would suggest supplementing with a more thorough study of the verses given and/or the topic of the month. 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

Nick of Time by Tim Downs

From the back cover:

"The Bug Man is getting married on Saturday...if his fiancee can find him.

"Forensic entomologist Nick Polchak lives in a world of maggots and blow flies and decomposing bodies. No wonder he's still single.

"But Nick has finally found a woman as strange as he is--dog trainer Alena Savard, a woman who is odd, reclusive, and can seemingly talk to animals. It was a match made in heaven.

"Nick and Alena are scheduled to be married on Saturday--but there's one small problem. Nick has disappeared.

"Caught up in a murder case involving an old friend, Nick finds himself on a manhunt that's drawing him farther and farther from the church where Alena is waiting. But will he make it back in time? Could Nick's single-minded focus cause him to forget his own wedding? Is he really pursuing a killer, or is he running away from something else?"

I have to say that this story was a good read, and I had trouble putting it down whenever I got started in it. Mr. Downs has done a great job of creating quirky characters. My one complaint with the characters is that they didn't seem to grow until the very end of the story, and they seemed a little over-the-top, particularly main character Nick. However, I haven't read the other books in the series, so I am at a bit of a disadvantage there. I was pleased that Nick learned a lesson in the end, and Mr. Downs set it up nicely for at least one more sequel.

For being listed as Christian fiction, I was disappointed that there was so little mention of anything related to Christianity. As an aspiring author myself, anything I want to get published under the heading of Christian fiction needs to be not merely covered with a bit of Christian veneer but full of information that will speak to the readers in a way that they will be drawn closer to God, be they Christians already or not. My other main complaint is that the book retails for such a high price ($15.99 for a softcover). This isn't terribly unusual in the realm of Christian publishing, unfortunately, and is not a direct commentary on this book or author specifically, just something of note.

I would be very interested in reading the rest of the books in the series so I could see where the characters have come from and where they are going. Overall, for readability and interest, I would give this book a rating of 4/5 stars.

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review from BookSneeze.

A fantastic look at the problem of evil...

Note: This is a post from my previous blog.

This book is one of the best expositions on the problem of evil that I've ever seen. Filled with stories from Alcorn's interactions with people, the human element is clearly seen. He balances this beautifully with an abundance of Scripture, for which I deeply respect him (too often Scripture is left out of discussions on topics it clearly addresses). Alcorn has also done a very thorough job. There is a lot of repetition (though most people learn best by hearing something over and over), but the topic is addressed from many angles. 

Some have said that the font in this book is small enough to make it the equivalent of a much longer book, but I don't agree. That being said, this book is on the longer side, which might deter the more casual reader. To overcome this issue, the book is divided into eleven sections based on general themes, and there are forty-five chapters, each in the neighborhood of ten pages. This book is thus set up well to be read in small portions over a longer period of time. It is also quite easy to read and understand. 

If you are faced with serious questions about the problem of evil and aren't sure of the best response, or even if you're familiar with the problem and want a more in-depth look, this book is definitely one I would recommend. 

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

Mere Churchianity is an interesting discussion...

Note: This is a post from my previous blog.

I have to admit, when I first started reading this book, my reaction was entirely defensive. I have grown up in the church my entire life, and even though I recognize that it's not perfect, some of my best memories and greatest learning experiences have taken place inside. However, I have come to understand that my hour or two a week at church is no replacement for daily growth through prayer and study of the Word, sometimes rereading passages and wrestling with the things they teach for days or weeks because of something I don't want to admit I'm doing wrong. 

Spencer makes several interesting points along the way. One that particularly stuck out to me was, "Wrong ideas about God are, themselves, false gods. They are idols just as much as a graven image." It is vitally important that we have a full, complete picture of who God truly is, and for that we need to be well-versed in the entirety of Scripture. Part of coming to such an understanding involves other believers who will see things we don't see, and church is one location you would expect to be able to partake in sharing. From experience I know this isn't always the case (and I'm sure many of you have sat in Sunday school classes and felt like you couldn't or shouldn't participate). I have learned a great deal from my various involvements at church over the years, but I've also learned a great deal at coffee shops, in living rooms, and outside, to name a few, as I've had lengthy, deep conversations with godly men and women. 

I guess a frustration I had while reading this book was that it seemed like Spencer was elevating out-of-church experiences so completely above in-church ones. I would argue that there is a balance to be found, that it is a both/and, not an either/or situation. 

My other frustration, which was minimal, was that the verses he quoted were not referenced directly in the text but were instead endnoted. I don't generally mind footnotes because they are right there on the page you are reading, but I don't usually take the time to turn to the back of a book to read the references. 

While I don't fully agree with the stance that Spencer took in this book, I would rate it as a 3.5/5 for the amount of discussion reading this book could generate. 

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Been a while since I posted...

As the title of this post and the timestamps of all of my posts indicate, it has been a while since I've added any content here. Being busy has contributed to this, as has being distracted by other things, but it seemed that now would be a good time to add some more. Lucky you!

Tim and I--well, mostly Tim--have finished a draft for the fourth Truth Chronicles book. I believe it will be heading to the editor soon, which is exciting and terrifying all at once. We both know several comments that she's going to make, but that doesn't make it easier. Tim also has ambitious plans to get a draft for the fifth book mostly or totally finished by the end of the month. I know I haven't gotten any writing done for that yet, so unless he has, it'll be an interesting prospect. He has a couple of weeks off, though, which will help. I only have one day off between now and then, and Abi and I will be traveling for a good portion of it, so I don't know how much I'll accomplish. I will just have to press forward with all of the time I can manage and trust that the effort will be enough.

I have been doing a little bit of writing and prepping for other stories in the last couple of weeks. I'm hoping to get things fleshed out enough that even a few minutes here or there will provide ample progress. My goal is to have two or more stories drafted in the next 6-12 months. Depending on their content, they may or may not be something in which the publisher of The Truth Chronicles would be interested. Who knows...perhaps by this time next year I'll have a couple of solo writing credits to my name. Sounds exciting!

Work has been going well. I am undecided about making a career out of being a Medical Technologist, but for now it feels somewhat like a necessity. Abi and I have been making tremendous strides in paying off the debts I brought into our marriage, so to embark on a new career or a lower-paying career at this point wouldn't be the wisest decision I could make. I get along with my coworkers, which is a blessing, but there are many things I think I could do and make a living that seem like they would be more enjoyable. Some of those ideas involve me staying at home full-time, and as long as we live in an area that actually gets snow and/or ice during the winter, that's a very attractive option.

That seems to be the short of it. Life is generally good here, and Abi and I are still excited about the possibilities presented by us being in Des Moines.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Things are happening...

It's been quite a month, full of ups and downs. Probably the most frustrating was spending nearly two weeks in an emotional funk that distressed Abi and made life pretty miserable. While we think there was definitely a spiritual element to it all, an attempt by the enemy to keep my mind off of God and whatever plans He has for me (and us) here, some of it was also do to my negligence to give each day to God and spend time faithfully in His Word. I'll admit, I'm still not perfect with that, but I think overall it has gotten better. My goal is to be both more consistent with simply reading the Bible regularly, as well as spending more time in it in each session and really thinking about what I'm reading.

I go back and forth with whether or not lab work is really what I want to do with my life. I don't want to be guided primarily by just feelings, but yesterday morning I wasn't able to get my car started. It hadn't been that cold overnight, but after last winter I knew I needed a new battery, but had put it out of my mind until yesterday. I ended up at work two hours later than my regular starting time, but I found I had a lot more fun in those two hours doing a bit of writing while I waited for the auto store to open, then going to the closest store only to find out their store on the other side of town was the only one that had the battery I needed, paying for the battery, stopping at home to pick up my lunch, driving to the other side of town, picking up the new battery, and installing the battery right there in the parking lot. Now, I'm almost certain that auto repair is not the field for me, but I got a great deal more satisfaction out of that little bit of work than I think I got out of the entire week at my actual job.

I'm grateful that Abi has a job that she enjoys and is able to do from home. I'm also a tiny bit jealous. I'm trying to think of things that I could do in a similar fashion. I don't know if I will come up with such a career, but I want to explore my options. Writing is one thing that might possibly work in this capacity, though I will need more than six books with my name on them for that to work. I started writing a story yesterday that I've had somewhat plotted out for at least five years, and I have a few other ideas in mind that might work well as a start. To actually make a living writing, I'd need a lot more than what I've got planned, I'm sure.

Abi had a great idea of a craft we could sell, one that would generate significant profits compared to the expense of materials and the time involved. We're not sure how much income this would actually generate, but as a start, I'd be happy to see even an extra hundred dollars or two each month, just so we could pay that much more down on our debts and keep the interest from piling up so much.

I'm going to be looking at Odesk and other similar sites online to see if I can secure even some occasional jobs. Since I owe my current employer two years of service, I have time to develop a portfolio for whatever I find interesting, and anything extra we can earn during that time will just help us get out of debt more quickly. As it stands, we could very well be out of debt entirely by the end of 2014, earlier depending on how much extra either of us can earn. If we were out of debt by the time my commitment at work was completed, and I had a viable alternative income that I enjoyed earning, then hey, the sky's the limit!

I don't want this to be a total whine-fest, because I am very grateful to have a job, especially in this economy. And it's entirely possible I'll find a niche at work that I really enjoy and am able to fill. I know I'm still struggling with how different it is than working at Mayo and working exclusively in one specific field.

Well, I think with that I am going to call it a morning. Things to do today in preparation of the potential arrival of my sisters-in-law.