Storm (review)

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Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live InStorm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In by Jim Cymbala

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Cymbala, who experienced Hurricane Sandy in 2012, likens it to the storm he expects will soon hit the evangelical church of North America. In Storm he gives advice to pastors and lay people about how to get ready so that the light of faith won’t be snuffed out like the city lights of Lower Manhattan were in Sandy’s wake.

“I believe followers of Jesus in America are on the cusp of something horrible. I, and many others, see the early warning signs all around” – Jim Cymbala, Storm, Kindle Location 148.

Three areas that cause him to be concerned about the American church are:

    1] The church isn’t as big or popular as it thinks it is.
    2] Personal transformation is rare.
    3] Biblical literacy is declining.

To remedy this he addresses lacks and needs in a variety of areas:
* The failure of modern models of church planting and growth (he calls them “fads and trends”).

* The need for prayer, both personal and corporate intercessory prayer.

“… the deepest secrets of prayer are only learned by spending time with God” – K.L. 805.

“Think about the people we love and worry about but rarely pray for” – K.L. 2641.

* Godly, exemplary leadership.

“… the quality of spiritual leadership can only be measured by how it looks in the Lord’s sight” – K.L. 1096.

* The need for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our churches and ministries.

* A clear, Christ-centered gospel message.

* Clarity on the difference between the Old and New Testament Covenants.

“Old Testament passages are only properly used when they ultimately point us to Jesus and the New Covenant” – K.L. 3006.

* How to live in anticipation of Christ’s return.

First person stories of people from his church whose lives illustrate the point he has just made follow chapters of teaching.

The book’s ideas are logical and the points well supported with Scripture. Cymbala speaks from a wealth of pastoral experience which gives his voice and message credibility,  passion, and urgency.

There is nothing new here, really, just a plea to get back to basics, made urgent because of how quickly events are changing the political and social landscape in America and the world. For those who have lost fervor or gotten bogged down in esoterical theology, this easy-to-read book is an invitation back to Bible essentials.

I received Storm as a gift from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers for the purpose of writing a review.

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The Holy Land Key (review)

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The Holy Land Key: Unlocking End-Times Prophecy Through the Lives of God's People in IsraelThe Holy Land Key: Unlocking End-Times Prophecy Through the Lives of God’s People in Israel by Ray Bentley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Holy Land Key Ray Bentley ties history, current events, phenomena in the skies, and Israel’s feasts and festivals with prophecy to develop a holistic view of Israel’s place in history past, present, and future. The ideas he puts forward have developed over decades of trips to Israel and relationships with individuals living there, both Jews and Gentiles.

I appreciated the principles of interpreting Scripture and history that Bentley presents.

He suggests that to hasten end-time events with “… God’s glory being poured out for the final and greatest harvest the world has ever seen…” we need to adhere to God’s order: “…. for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16-17). In other words, more than ever Christians need to reach out in love to the Jewish people (Kindle Location 666).

He maintains that to understand and interpret prophecy, it’s important to recognize the patterns in scripture. One pattern that he identifies is “first natural, then spiritual” as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:11 (K.L. 1687).

A principle of interpreting prophetic passages that flows out of this is similar: “… look first for the natural meaning of the scripture and then for a spiritual meaning” (K.L. 1725).

He gives a lot of significance to signs in the heavens, drawing permission from Genesis 1:14, which says about the lights God created: “… let them be for signs and seasons.” His explanation of how, in the past, blood moons have correlated with dramatic developments in Israel is fascinating. The fact that two more blood moons are expected to occur in 2015 to join the two that happened in 2014 will have me watching developments in Israel more closely than ever. However, his linking of the signs of the zodiac with Israel’s feasts seemed a bit far-fetched to me.

All in, I appreciated Bentley’s ideas on how to interpret prophetic passages through the Jewish mindset. His love for the Jews is outspoken, but balanced by personal friendships with non-Jewish Christians in the Middle East. His explanation of the history of these people groups with their claims to the same small bit of land in a conflict that is more intense than ever helped me better understand current affairs in Israel and the Middle East.

I received The Holy Land Key as a gift from the publisher through Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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Borrowed Gardens – new poetry anthology

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It’s here at last–the project that’s been in the works for over a year! And just in time for Christmas too.

Borrowed Gardens - poetry anthologyBorrowed Gardens

Authors: Bertoia, Jeannine; Fisher, Tracie; McNulty, Del; Nesdoly, Violet

Publisher: SparrowSong Press (printed by First Choice Books), December, 2014, Paperback, 128 pages

ISBN: 978-1-77084-501-5

About the Book (cover text)

“A collection of poems to touch hearts. They are personal—time and circumstance snapped through the lenses of four women. In their word photos memories abound, family is honoured, love is voiced. Together they speak to a mosaic of people and places, in lands far and near, to times lived and yet to live.”

About the Writers (cover text)

“The pieces represented in this collection are the work of four Vancouver Lower Mainland women. Jeannine Bertoia and Tracie Fisher met in the Fine Arts Department of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. They began to share their poetry in 2005. They were joined in 2006 by freelance writer and poet Del McNulty and finally by author and poet Violet Nesdoly in 2007. The group meets regularly to support and further each other’s creative endeavours.”

A personal note:

I’m so proud of this book—the joint effort of all four of us.

The cover is a painting by Jeannine: “Spring Garden.”

Del conceived the cover design with its stylish bookmark flaps.

The title is taken from one of Tracie’s poems and reflects the theme of gardens, plants, and flowers—one of the subjects that runs through the book. (Other topics that keep recurring are home, family, nature and travel.)

I did the layout and typeset the book’s contents.

Here to whet your appetite are some of my favourite lines from my fellow poets:

From Jeannine’s prose poem “Stories”

 

“…Huddled on a grey rock, a yellow towel on our laps we told each other stories, yours a stream of laughter, mine told over and over until we became the story. I felt the child under my skin and her face a reflection of my mother and daughter…”  – p. 35

 

From Del’s poem “The Going”

You will go
it will be so tomorrow
where harvest sun
flames the path no longer narrow
we will part then
as light simmers on leaf and limb…”

– p. 66 – this poem won the 2010 Surrey International Writers Conference Poetry Award.

And from Tracie’s title poem “Borrowed gardens”

I wander in borrowed gardens
on pollen-painted legs
trail my hands
through rivers of rosemary
rows of lavender
my fingers retain
lingering aromas…”

– p. 112.

Borrowed Gardens is available from the individual authors.

Price: $12 Cdn. + postage (I will post exact price to mail within Canada & to the U.S. shortly)

Order from me by email (Please put “Borrowed Gardens Order” in the subject line)

Payment by personal cheque or money order.

An Insider’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare (review)

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An Insider's Guide to Spiritual Warfare: 20 Battle Tested Strategies from Behind Enemy LinesAn Insider’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare: 20 Battle Tested Strategies from Behind Enemy Lines by Kristine McGuire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When, one day, a man asked Kristine McGuire, “What is spiritual warfare?” she was surprised. McGuire, who describes herself as aware of spiritual things since childhood, had never realized people might not be attuned to the spiritual dimension and unaware of the battles taking place in that realm. Her difficulty in coming up with a good answer for her questioner challenged her to study spiritual warfare. An Insider’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare is the result.

The book consists of five sections that contain a total of thirty chapters. Within them she discusses spiritual warfare from many angles. These include defining what it is (Chapter 1 of Part 1 “Life in the Spiritual War Zone”); examining the “Weapons of War” (Part 2, subjects include “The Belt of Truth,” “The Breastplate of Righteousness” etc); naming “Common Battlefields” (Part 3, topics include “Suffering,” “Worry and Fear,” and “Lust”); exposing the enemy’s tools in “When Supernatural Meets Natural” (Part 4, topics of pagan culture, familiar spirits, ghosts and more); and, finally, challenging us: “Take Back Your Ground” (Part 5, subjects include overcoming war-weariness and praying the Bible).

Sprinkled as text boxes within the chapters are the 30 Battle-tested Strategies promised in the subtitle.

Example: “Strategy Point #1: As God’s adopted child, you have the right to call out ‘Abba Father!’” – p. 26.

At the back of every chapter is a “Your turn to Reflect” segment—five questions that invite the reader to interact with and apply what they have just read. Some chapters also tag on a relevant Scripture passage and a “Take Action” section.

The book ends with a bibliography of sources for supplementary reading and a topical index.

I found the book logical in idea development and easy to understand. McGuire’s voice is passionate and compassionate as she speaks out of conviction and personal experience. Here, for example in the chapter “The Subtle Influence of a Pagan Culture,” she talks about how even Christian culture has, through avoidance, begun to accept the occult:

“Although some Christian apologists and teachers have been warning the Church of the influence of mysticism and the occult in the Church for years, such warnings have often fallen on deaf ears. Many say there is no such thing as paranormal activity, witchcraft, divination or spirit communication, often placing all occult activities into the category of fanciful tales or outright trickery.

“This is how occultism is gaining, and has gained, a foothold in many Christian lives. We have a community of believers with limited knowledge of the Bible. They have questions. When they do go to their pastors seeking answers, or with stories of paranormal experiences, they are rebuffed” – p. 159.

Section four, where McGuire tells stories about her own involvement in the occult helps us see the pathway in and out of occultic deception. Her voice of experience in these matters sets this book apart from other books about spiritual warfare.

At this time when paranormal subjects are getting lots of book, internet, and TV attention, we really need the kind of testimony and teaching that McGuire gives in her book. It is an excellent resource for Christians old and new. For the experienced believer it is a good review of spiritual warfare basics. For the new Christian it is for a clear explanation of what spiritual warfare is, and how and why we need to be involved. For all it is a challenge to holy living in every part of life.

I received An Insider’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare as a gift from the publisher, Chosen Books, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Restoring Health: Body, Mind and Spirit (review)

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RH - HirdRestoring Health: Body, Mind and Spirit by Ed Hird

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Restoring Health: Body, Mind and Spirit, Rev. Ed Hird takes us through the Bible book of Titus. Using that three-chapter book (a total of just 46 verses) as his outline, he addresses a wide range of issues, from the worker’s need for physical health and fitness to decrying the introduction of New-age elements, like labyrinth prayer, into the modern church.

The Island of Crete, where Titus pastored, was an island of pirates. Hird delves into pirate history, practice, and folklore to show us the type of people that were in Titus’s congregation. Alongside that exposé he shows us how we in the modern North American evangelical church have many of the same pirate tendencies. Hird then interprets Paul’s instructions to Titus for us, giving pastors, teachers, and lay people much food for thought on how to recognize and deal with the rebellious, deceitful, immoral, and idolatrous pirate behavior that has and is creeping into personal lives and churches.

Hird speaks openly of his own experiences. The book is written in a warm, chatty style with Hird often sharing personal and family anecdotes along with his experiences as a working pastor, and the fruit of his research.

However, I do feel that some of his stories and illustrations take the reader on tangents that aren’t vitally connected to his message and in that way blunt the book’s focus. Also, the Table of Contents lists the verses from Titus as headings, but doesn’t list the modern issues Hird addresses as he expands on those verses. The book would be more helpful as a reference if the modern issues addressed, such as the need for exercise, principles of giving, yoga within the church etc. etc. were also listed in the Table of Contents or an index.

All in all, though, this is an interesting commentary that gathers its material from sources as varied as Hird’s visit to Crete to the writings of many including John Calvin, John Stott, William Barclay, C.S. Lewis, even Poor Richard’s Almanac. Above all it is based firmly on the Bible. The book is thoroughly footnoted and includes a bibliography for those who would like to do further study. It would make a fine addition to the library of any minister or Bible teacher.

I received Restoring Health: Body, Mind and Spirit as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Twenty-One Candles (review)

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Twenty-One Candles: Stories for ChristmasTwenty-One Candles: Stories for Christmas by Mike Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mike Mason (Canadian author of The Mystery of Marriage, Champagne for the Soul and the Blue Umbrella fantasy series for kids) has a personal tradition of writing a Christmas story every year. This book is 21 of those stories, collected into a “wonder-full” volume of tales, as different from each other as each Christmas we live is one-of-a-kind. Some stories are short, others long, some playful, others serious, some fairy-tale-like, others as real as photographs. What binds them all together, though is the way each reflects some facet of the deepest meaning of the season.

From the one with the earliest date, 1981’s “Christmas Rocks”—in which the narrator and his friend, weary of the commercialism of a Winnipeg mall, drive to Gimli to choose a unique water-lucent rock for each person on their list—to 2014’s “In the stillness of the Night”—set in Hope BC with a local tourist attraction, the Othello Tunnels, playing a major role—these tales are recognizably Canadian, yet have a universal, parable quality to them that sets them beyond time and place.

The two that touch me most deeply are “Born with Wings”—about a sick baby expected to live just hours, born on Christmas day. Any parent who has lost a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death will relate to this poignant, tastefully told tale and its Christmas message.

The other favorite is the 1984 tale that closes the collection, “Bound for Glory.” Its tame yet mysterious beginning:

“A light rain was falling as I set off across the platform. … It was Christmas Eve, close to midnight, and the station was unusually busy, though not with the bustle of a daylight rush hour but with the trance-like commotion of darkness…” Kindle Location 2939.

soon reveals a carload of citizens fleeing for the border, among them a couple with a newborn baby. Enter soldiers with guns, making threats and culling group by group from the coach. Of course there is a surprise at the destination.

Stories in this book have been read at the Vancouver Pacific Theatre’s annual Christmas Presence programs. Now that they are available to all, they’re sure to add their special light to the Christmases of many more individuals and groups. I, frankly, love this book. It’s the kind of volume I feel like buying as a gift for friends and family members because I just know they would love one or another story in it.

My one gripe with the Kindle version of the book is that there is no table of contents. Actually there is a Table of Contents, but it’s not listed under the “Go to…” options in my Kindle reader’s “Menu.” I found it when I paged onward from the cover.

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My Battle Against Hitler (review)

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My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third ReichMy Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dietrich von Hildebrand, a German professor of philosophy in Munich, watched with dismay as Germany fell under the spell of Hitler and the Third Reich. In 1933, at age 43, he and his wife Gretchen left Germany to live in Vienna.

In exile he founded a weekly magazine (Der Christliche Standestaat—The Christian Corporative State) that, for five years (until the spring of 1938 when Hitler took over Austria and the von Hildebrands had to flee), was dedicated to unmasking the nationalism, militarism, collectivism, and anti-Semitism that combined to make up the ideology of National Socialism espoused and enforced by the Nazi party.

My Battle Against Hitler is Dietrich von Hildebrand’s story. The book is made up of two sections. The first part—von Hildebrand’s memoirs—contains selections from the 5000-page memoir he wrote in 1958 for the benefit of his second wife to help this much younger woman understand his life. This section is organized by year.

The second part is fragments of the essays he published in the Vienna magazine from 1933 to 1938.

The whole thing is stitched together by pieces written by John Henry Crosby and John F. Crosby, translators of the memoirs and essays. The book begins with John Henry Crosby’s chapter “The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.” Throughout the book pieces written by the Crosby’s connect the dots between journal entries and put the essay fragments into context.

Von Hildebrand’s journals are interesting and colorful. They depict him as an inveterate people-watcher who tended to categorize those he met as black or white depending on how they viewed Bolshevism and National Socialism. Any whiff of sympathy to those movements colored his entire opinion of a person.

He was someone who also seemed readily star-struck with those in power that he admired. His account of meeting the Empress and Emperor Otto of Belgium in 1933 is typical of his reaction:

“The Empress made a very strong impression on me. There was something unbelievably elegant and aristocratic about her face, while her presence as a whole seemed to combine both strength and tenderness. She was immensely attractive. … Afterward I was able to meet Emperor Otto, who also made a very great impression on me. He was then still very young, about nineteen or twenty. …I was amazed how well informed he was about all the problems in Austria and how intelligently he spoke about them” – Kindle Location 1927 & 1934.

As a whole, his memoirs introduce us to the philosophers, thinkers, and politicians of the day with whom he rubbed shoulders in Vienna and other parts of Europe. They are infused with his philosophical idealism which is rooted in his Catholic / Christian worldview. And so he saw Bolshevism and National Socialism as players in the age-old drama that was far bigger than what was being enacted on the stage of Europe at that time:

“In reality, there have been only two fronts in the world for the past two thousand years; the front for Christ and the front against Christ. He is the cornerstone which separates all spirits” – Kindle Location 5012.

Though I found many of his essays hard to follow (he was a deep, philosophical thinker, quoting names of contemporaries as handles of philosophical movements with which I’m unfamiliar), his strong convictions and clear thinking is, as a whole, hard to resist. I couldn’t help but contrast his well-thought-out opposition to Nazism to our popular movements which, herd-like, seem to be fueled by little more than trending tweets and social medial ‘LIKE’s. Von Hildebrand would have been aghast.

In our time when dueling worldviews continue, von Hildbrand stands as a shining example of someone who knew his convictions, was a master at communicating them, and stuck by them no matter how popular opinion shifted. This book is a worthwhile read for his defense of the Jews alone. The journal entries and essays where he decries anti-Semitism could help bolster our own resistance to this movement that is again finding a voice on the streets and university campuses around us.

This book is a treasure for those interested in a close view of pre-World War II Vienna, the political atmosphere and movements of the time, and how one Christian thinker analyzed and evaluated the philosophies that underpinned those movements.

I received My Battle Against Hitler as an e-book download from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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