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.

The Silver Locket (review)


The Silver LocketThe Silver Locket by Sophia Bar-Lev
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“ ‘I think that there’s something special happening here—a kind of “hashgacha pratis” like the Rabbi talks about. … Oh, that’s Hebrew for “an intervention of divine providence” ’ ”The Silver Locket, p. 23.

The “something special” Rosalie Lapkin refers to in the above quote (taken from a conversation with her, Sarah Rosenfeld and the Rabbi’s wife) plays out over the next 20+ years of Sophia Bar-Lev’s novel The Silver Locket. In it Rosalie’s and Sarah’s lives intertwine at the most basic level—a shared child.

The story, that is set on opposite sides of the U.S. (Massachusetts and California), encompasses the time from the conception to the marriage of Rebecca Lapkin Silver (1941 to 1965). In it we experience the minefield of mother-love, adoption, and abortion—particularly from the mothers’ points of view. We witness the powerful aftermaths of both deceit and honesty. We see how kept secrets can sap energy and steal joy. And we watch the goodness of God playing out in mercy, love, forgiveness, and second chances.

I really enjoyed the Jewish cultural setting of this book with its emphasis on family and faith, and its distinctive holidays and ceremonies.

The background material to the book states that the story is based on a true one and its plot often had he feel of actual events to me. I liked that the location and date of the action heads most chapters—helping me to keep my bearings. In lots of ways the story also felt like a time capsule with its mention of U.S. political events and the cultural trends of the time:

August 1960 – California: “By now they were on their way stopping enroute for lunch at a relatively new restaurant that was garnering a great deal of attention in 1960 with their year long advertising campaign: ‘Look for the Golden Arches’ ” p. 167.

1960 – Massachusetts: “The key turning point of the campaign was the four Kennedy-Nixon debates, the first presidential debates ever held” – p. 182.

November 1960 – California: “Swiss Family Robinson was playing in theaters nationwide. It was the first wide screen Disney film shot with a new technology called Panavision lenses” – p. 198.

But more than these interesting historical tidbits, the book delivers some wonderful wisdom. Listen to what Sarah says when she counsels her friend who is struggling with guilt over the two abortions she’s attempted (one of them successful):

“God always forgives when we turn to Him; and He expects us to forgive ourselves as well. … we have to learn to forgive ourselves.”


“Has it occurred to you that maybe God didn’t let it work? That perhaps He was protecting you from yourself? … It’s about an unborn life that has a purpose and a destiny and I want you to consider that your baby’s destiny may just be more important than your emotions” – p. 92,93.

And this bit by Rabbi Lowenstein:

“It’s time to be done with secrets. Just tell the plain truth” – p. 236.

This is a beautiful, positive, and life-affirming story that renews faith in God and people.

I received The Silver Locket as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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Openness Unhindered – review


Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with ChristOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Openness Unhindered’s author Rosaria Butterfield on a video where she told her story of coming to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle. I loved the fact that my favorite book, the Bible, was instrumental in her conversion. Openness Unhindered testifies to how she has continued to engage with it at a deep and thoughtful level.

In the book, the second one she has authored about her faith since she left her old life around 1999, she alludes briefly to her conversion story. Then she goes on to talk about how she has wrestled with her past and come to a place of equilibrium as a home school mother and pastor’s wife. Passages like the following tug at the heart:

“I am and always will be Rahab—a woman with a past. So, what does a person like me do with such a past? I have not forgotten. Body memories know my name. Details intrude into my world unpredictably, like when I am kneading the communion bread or homsechooling my children. I take each ancient token to the cross, for prayer, for more repentance, for thanksgiving that God is always right about matters of sin and repentance” – Kindle Location (KL) 631.

She stresses the importance of her new identity in Christ and of repentance. Even the title of the chapter on repentance testifies to how foundational it is to her: “Repentance: The Threshold to God and the Answer to Shame, Temptation and Sin.”

In chapters titled “Sexual Orientation—Freud’s Nineteenth Century Mistake” and “Self-representation—What Does it Mean to be Gay?” she unpacks the history of the gay rights movement and explains how “gay” has become a term of identity. In fact, she argues, gay doesn’t even belong, as an adjective, together with Christian. She says:

Gay is a word that carries stigma because of God’s moral prohibitions against homosexuality. … Because the Bible is clear on the point that homosexual practice is a sin, and because gay is a synonym for the implied desire for or practice of homosexuality, the stigma of this term is an act of God’s love, because God uses it to convict his children of their brokenness” –KL 2111.

Another powerful chapter is the one on Christian community. Here Butterfield describes how their family’s hospitality toward neighbors and church members became a closely woven safety net for all involved.

This was a great read! Though I did find the theological chapters a bit of a slog (Butterfield was a university professor in her former life and in plumbing these challenging topics comes across somewhat professorial), for the most part I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“When we are owned by God, we are ruined for the world. And this marring of us for the world is one of the birthmarks of conversion” – KL 595.

“Temptation comes in many forms, but it is always personal, uncannily tailor-made for our individual moral weakness, and it takes aim at God’s character, seeking to ransack our faith” – KL 1343.

“Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” – Sam Allbery quoted on KL 2320.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is trying to understand where homosexual practice fits within the Christian life and the church. Openness Unhindered is a part of my own Kindle collection.

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Courting Cate (review)

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Courting CateCourting Cate by Leslie Gould
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At 23, Cate Miller is considered practically on the shelf by the Amish community of Paradise, Pennsylvania. A serious bookworm of a girl, tall, with dark hair, she lacks everything her small, blonde, happy sister Betsy has at 17, including a boyfriend. That’s something their widower father is determined to change, however, when he announces, one spring day, that Betsy will not be allowed to marry before Cate does.

Cate meets Pete Treger at the bookmobile and there’s instant interest on her part. But the way his eyes sparkle when they first light on Betsy convinces Cate he’s just another of Betsy’s potential conquests.

Lots of plot twists and turns make this an Amish fiction like no other I’ve read. There’s no focus on a Rumschpringe (an Amish teen girl or boy’s running-around time), no hankering after the non-Amish life, no Amish girl falling for an outsider or vice versa. But there are lots of complicated family dynamics in this book about loyalty, sacrifice, and love.

Courting Cate is another book I read just for fun this summer and I found it a great read!

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The Fourth Kingdom (review)

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I decided to spend some time this summer reading just for fun. The “Fiction” folder on my Kindle has been a great source of books for this.

I download Kindle editions throughout the year when they catch my eye for whatever reason. When I get around to reading them, I often don’t remember when I got them or why. The Fourth Kingdom by Alexandra and Joyce Swann is one such.
The Fourth KingdomThe Fourth Kingdom by Joyce Swann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fourth Kingdom the Swanns combine a world of genetic engineering and cloning with a couple of brilliant professors, some Nazi Germany diehards, and a Christian home-school family to craft a dystopian world that pits evil against good—the New Mexican Doppelganger Center versus Missouri’s Cornucopia; Dr. Karl Helmick versus Dr. Alexander Sinclair; Helmick’s son Josef versus the Sinclairs’ twins Joshua and Jarrod. As unnamed but palpable evil advances on the Sinclairs we sense this will be a fight to the death.

The plot is a combination of science fiction and biblical prophecy. It drew me in to a world that I found both fascinating (for its scientific possibilities) and repulsive (for its potential for ruthless badness).

Though the writing was clumsy in some places (heavy-handed description, dialogue laced with backstory that sometimes devolved into outright lecture), I quite enjoyed this book’s black-and-white characters, speculative setting, and surprising story line.

The Fourth Kingdom ends with several loose ends yet to tie up. The Force, Book 2 in the two-book The Kingdom Chronicles series, beckons.

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