The Antioch Testament (review)

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The Antioch TestamentThe Antioch Testament by Donald Joiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a wounded Syrian Christian refugee entrusts Chaplain Charles Monroe with a heavy and ancient-looking manuscript, Monroe is sure he’s in possession of something precious. Sending it to his brother Ken in the States for its preservation proves wise. Monks in a U.S. Eastern Orthodox monastery recognize the manuscript’s ancient language and, on translation, it turns out to be the letter of an early Christian, Ignatius, written to Dorothea, the daughter of Theophilus (the man to whom Luke addressed Luke and Acts).

When the Syrians discover the manuscript has left the country, official Amir orders Sentry in the U.S. to get the manuscript back no matter what it takes.

An injured Charles Monroe soon returns home from war. Author Donald Joiner unfolds The Antioch Testament in an epistolary style, having the monastery translators read the letter chapter by chapter to the Monroe brothers. In this way he tells the post-resurrection story of Jesus’ disciples (devoting a chapter to each). He tells where they traveled and to whom they preached, names their prominent converts, and relates how they died.

These readings are interspersed with conversations between Amir and his henchman as they work on a plan to steal the manuscript and return it to Syrian soil.

Joiner has done a good job of digging through ancient Roman and church history to give us a version of what might have been the fate of the twelve apostles. (I was impressed by the fierce opposition those first Christians faced from both Jews and Romans, and how steadfast and loyal the disciples were.) Joiner uses the discussion between the Monroe’s and the translators at the end of each chapter of letter-reading to introduce alternate versions of the story from tradition and underline what he feels are important points (like the Apostle Peter’s leadership of the early church).

Though successful as a work of history, The Antioch Testament is, in my opinion, not as successful as a work of fiction. The story starts out strong, with some great battlefront scenes. But once we get into it, the characters are never explored and remain one-dimensional. The dialogue is stilted, with large chunks of “teaching” delivered under the guise of conversation. Even the sub-plot of the attempt to steal the manuscript feels slow-moving and wooden.

However, readers who are mostly interested in ancient church history as it relates to the fate of the disciples will find The Antioch Testament rewarding.

I received The Antioch Testimony as a gift from a publicist for the purpose of writing a review.

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Without Proof (review)


Without Proof (Redemption's Edge, #3)Without Proof by Janet Sketchley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two years after her fiancé Gilles died beside her in the cockpit of the plane he crash-landed on a Nova Scotia highway, Amy Silver is getting back on her feet emotionally and physically. She has even taken off the gold chain that held Gilles’ engagement ring. Then comes the day reporter Troy Hicks makes an unwelcome appearance at the Stratton Art Gallery where Amy works.

He is full of questions. Despite that the police investigation concluded the crash was an accident, is Amy sure? He’s heard rumors of foul play. Will she help him dig deeper?

Troy’s snooping around followed by his article in the paper starts a series of events that make Amy more suspicious than ever that the plane malfunction of that awful day was no mishap after all. But should she try to prove it? At what price?

Gilles’ good friend, artist Michael Stratton now Amy’s boss at the gallery, begins acting strangely too—protective, even possessive. Trouble is, she has begun to fall for him. So what do his actions mean? They’re probably loyalty to Gilles, big-brotherly care, or even emotional instability—surely not a sign of the deepening relationship she hardly lets herself dream about.

In Without Proof, the final book in the three-book Redemption’s Edge romantic suspense series, author Janet Sketchley introduces threats, danger, and mystery into the homey tranquility of Stratton Gallery, the gallery / residence Amy, Aunt Bay, and Michael share. Soon the sinister lurks behind each phone call and text message.

We view unfolding events through Amy’s eyes and wonder, is art buyer Ross Zarin the considerate gentleman he appears to be? Why is Gilles’ sister Emilie so desperate to get Amy out of the way? Is Michael’s concern for her genuine or the first sign of a stalker-in-the-making?

Without Proof addresses many important themes including fear, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. Through the unflinching Christian faith of Aunt Bay, Amy faces her own feelings of unworthiness. Through the testimony of Ruth Warner (from book 1 of the series) Amy realizes she needs to forgive her absent father. There’s also the sweet, but never cloying, romantic side of the story that had me cheering for Amy from the first page.

Sketchley’s skillful way with words kept me spellbound until the story’s last action-packed scene. Though this book ends the series, let’s hope Sketchley has some more romantic suspense brewing in her Nova Scotia study!

I received Without Proof as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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It’s time to see “God loves me”


Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly


For the last few years, many of the clocks that I use—like the ones on my computer, ipod, kitchen stove, bedside, car, and digital photo album—display the time in a three- or four-number readout. Often when I check the time, I notice what one could call a lucky hand if playing cards—like 11:11 (four aces); 2:22, 4:44 or 5:55 (three of a kind), or 12:34 (a straight).

However, I don’t believe in luck. As someone who knows that God is present moment-by-moment in my life, I decided, a few years ago to interpret those “lucky” series of numbers as little love notes from God. So for the last few years, each time one of my digital clocks displays a good hand, I take it as a little nudge from God—His way of saying, “I see you, Violet, and I love you.”

It’s amazing how often I happen to glance at a clock at the exact moment it displays one of those times. And it’s amazing  too what a difference it makes in my day to be reminded that God sees and loves me.



This post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday, hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning. This week the theme is “He calls you Beloved.”

Love Triangles (review)

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Love Triangles, Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today's IsraelLove Triangles, Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today’s Israel by Bobbie Ann Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her memoir / travelogue Love Triangles, Bobbie Ann Cole writes about her love affair with Israel. When she and husband Butch move there, it is to fill a six-month time period till their rented property will again be available to them. However, after only three months they begin thinking of applying for permanent residency, called making Aliyah* when you’re Jewish (as Bobbie is).

There is one problem. Bobbie and Butch are Christians. The interpretation of the Jewish immigration policy in the last years has kept many Jews who believe Jesus is their Messiah from gaining permanent residency. This has Bobbie constantly on edge, worried that she’ll jeopardize her chances of immigrating. And so she guards what she says, avoids establishing intimate friendships with the locals, and even changes who she associates with.

Much of the book is descriptions of biblically familiar Israeli sites. In vivid and picturesque language Cole describes what she hears, sees, smells and touches. She also recalls what happened in the Bible places like Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and more. Repeatedly she mentions that in Israel she feels closer to Jesus than anywhere else in the world:

What I loved, but as someone relatively young in faith had never known before, was following Jesus all around the Land. That was a powerful incentive.

In our three months there, we had met Him in the Negev Desert, in Jerusalem’s Old City, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. … We had discovered that even though the country was constantly on high military alert, there was what Butch referred to as ‘that safe, spiritual feeling,’ a serenity rooted in faith, a trust that God ‘has it.’” KL 129.

I found this book informational and inspiring in several ways. First, it opened my eyes to the way Jews who believe in Jesus are singled out as ineligible to become Israeli citizens. Second, Cole’s descriptions of modern Israel juxtaposed against her sometimes whimsical and imaginative retelling of what happened there in Bible stories made me want to visit Israel more than ever. And finally, through Cole’s story I have gained a new appreciation for Israel’s story and the love of the people for the land both in the past and present.

You’re probably wondering if Bobbie and Butch made Aliyah. Were they successful in immigrating? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

*‘Aliyah’ literally means ‘going up,’ a term originally used to describe how Jews from all over the ancient world would go up to the temple at the very top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem for Jewish pilgrimage festivals” – KL 768.

I received the Kindle edition of Love Triangles as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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If (review)

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If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God's What If PossibilitiesIf: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities by Mark Batterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In his newest book If, author Mark Batterson uses Romans 8 and the powerful little word “if” to challenge readers to live the Christian life with more obedience, faith, and abandonment.

Section headings “If only,” “As if,” “What if?” and “No ifs ands or buts” focus on four sides of the idea. In the “If only” section Batterson challenges us to live without regrets. In the “As if” part, the gauntlet is to live as if the unseen and invisible were true. The “What if?” parts are about dreams coming true, about the bigger-than-we-expected results of giving ourselves to God and the working of the Holy Spirit. In the “No ifs, ands or buts” Batterson gives us his bottom line—the things about which he feels there are no ifs, ands, or buts, and challenges us to name and live by our own.

Batterson explores these facets of “if” through a slice-and-dice of Romans 8 and stories (taken from history, his early life, and his experiences as a pastor of the multi-campus National Community Church of Washington DC). Each of If’s 30 chapters begins with a verse or part of a verse from Romans 8 and he also draws our attention to the prominent themes and “if” phrases of this chapter.

The writing is lively with a chummy tone that lends itself to cliché and trendy expressions. In other words, it doesn’t read like a textbook or theology tome.

The exegetical feature does make the book feel a bit rabbit-trailish as far as idea flow is concerned. Perhaps that was by design, for Batterson says in the Introduction: “If is not a systematic theology … If is not a commentary; it’s more of an impressionist painting … a landscape of faith, hope and love with right brain brush strokes” – Kindle Location (KL) 246.

I enjoyed the stories and illustration though numerous times here too I found myself puzzling over exactly how the story I was reading related to the idea or principle being discussed.

Batterson excels, though, at inventing catchy phrases and sayings. My ebook is full of highlighted passages. Here are a few:

“God has blessings for us in categories we don’t even know exist” – KL 2798.

“Our destiny has far less to do with what we do than who we become” – KL 3292.

“For better or for worse, your deepest held beliefs will define who you become” – KL 4142.

“Convictions are lessons learned from experiences we’d never want to go through again, but we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world” – KL 4161.

Full of energy, enthusiasm, faith, and challenge, If is recommended for Christians in the 20-40 crowd—or those finding themselves at a life crossroad or stuck in a backwater.

I received an ebook version of If as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Denominations–members of One Body


At a Bible study class I attend, this week one of the class members bemoaned the existence of denominations. Her sentiment caught my attention, partly I’m sure because I was already thinking about the topic for this week’s Spiritual Journey Thursday. But partly too because I don’t agree.

Yes, I know we can look at denominations as a bad thing–a sign of disunity in the church. However, I think of denominations as another example of the diversity in the body of Christ. Just like individuals are parts of the body of their  congregations, with each member having its body counterpart role to play, so church denominations, with their various emphases, priorities and projects, play different roles in their communities and in the universal church.

I myself have benefited from three denominations.

CCMBC_logoI grew up in a Mennonite home (Mennonite Brethren to be precise). It was a rich culture of faith rooted in the Bible that expressed itself in foreign and home missions, with a strong emphasis on knowing what and why we believed as we did. Music was important. I studied piano and was part of many choirs. Social justice was a value. All our churches supported the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee), the relief arm of various brands of Mennonite churches. The MCC raised money to help in natural disasters around the world and aided third world entrepreneurs. My Mennonite community was also big on peace. Only one of my uncles participated in WWII and that as a medic. My dad and the rest were conscientious objectors.


C&MAThrough many years as an adult, our family attended Christian and Missionary Alliance churches. Again we were enriched by being part of vibrant congregations. Community outreach included wonderful Christmas and Easter choir productions. Sunday School and Awana programs were great for the kids.  A missions conference was the highlight of each year with slide shows and displays of mementos from snake skins and ebony carvings to Bibles printed in illegible scripts.


PAOCFor the last fifteen years, my husband and I have attended a Pentecostal church. We were attracted by the sense that the Holy Spirit was at work in this particular assembly. These years have built on all that I’ve learned and experienced in the denominations I was part of in my youth and middle age.

There are practices of other denominations I’d love to explore. The three I’ve been a part of do not use liturgy. In my minimal exposure to it, I’ve been impressed with the richness of its readings, creeds, and prayers, and the value of yearly reliving the cycle of my faith’s holy days.

I’ve also wondered what it would be like to live in community–as in having all things in common like the first Christians in the New Testament churches did.

When Christian denominations compete and tear each other down they can be a bad thing for sure. But when we view each other as partners, family members, even members of the same body with different gifts and roles, denominations are surely an asset to the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven.


This post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday – hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning. The topic this week is DIVERSITY IN DENOMINATIONS.