Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Book Reviews (page 2 of 5)

Good Christian books I can recommend

Red Like Blood

Red Like Blood

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Red Like Blood by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. There are eighteen chapters in the book, each considering a different aspect of grace. In every chapter, the co-authors share their own stories of how God has touched and changed them through grace. Bob’s story of his extra-marital affair and subsequent divorce is the backdrop for the book. When God went after Bob, the result was an explosion of grace which touched not just Bob’s life but many others, including that of his ex-wife. Joe is the pastor who demonstrated grace by unreservedly accepting Bob back into the church.

Red Like Blood has a very conversational, easy-to-read style. I know I’ve said it before in my book reviews but you really do feel as though you are listening to these stories from old friends over steaming mugs of tea and chocolate biscuits. At times I laughed, sometimes I cried. Above all, hope and faith grew in me that God can change even me by His wonderful grace. The best thing I can do now is to share the notes I made while reading it, along with a few quotes from the book itself to hopefully show you how good it is!

I loved chapter 4 ‘The Appearance of the Unseen God’ because it reminded me of how much God loves me and the fact that He initiates ‘exquisite’ moments with me. ‘…if Jesus was here on earth it struck him that Jesus would want to hang out with him.’

From chapter 6 ‘Independence and a Toothpick Cross’ where Joe considers a tiny model of Jerusalem: ‘…a god who will come down and die on a toothpick cross in the middle of an obscure town, in the middle of an obscure country, in the middle of an obscure planet, in the middle of an obscure galaxy is exactly the kind of God I need.’

The title of chapter 9 ‘The Math of God’ could have been off-putting to a mathematical dunce like me, but it turned out to be a fantastic read, reminding me that Jesus is my treasure and the way to get to know God better is through suffering. Bob quotes part of a talk by Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens): ‘God happily shares his gladness, his joy flooding over heaven’s walls, filling your heart in a waterfall of delight which then streams out to others in a flood of encouragement and then erupts back to God in an ecstatic fountain of praise. He imparts a new way of looking at your hardships. He puts a song in your heart.’

I think chapter 10 on ‘Eating Work and the Search for Satisfaction’ was my favourite in the whole book and has stayed with me since reading it. Joe states: ‘Everyone needs to feel loved and everyone needs to feel important. Let’s call it security and significance.’ Using red and green M&Ms – candy-covered chocolate sweets – to represent love (red) and feeling important (green), he challenges you to ponder where your priorities truly lie and what you are really living for. Are you stingy with your red M&Ms? Do you try to get as many green M&Ms as possible? ‘Jesus claimed he came to provide us with life and that life was going to be abundant. This life would flow out of us in a river of red and green. And then he went and died on a cross to give us that life.’

Bob shares honestly about being addicted to porn since his early teens, and how he found freedom by discovering that God is infinitely more satisfying than giving in to temptation. ‘Porn addiction is a ball and chain. Neuroscience has demonstrated it has the same effect on the human mind as heroin and is equally difficult to break away from.’

Red Like Blood is summed up: ‘This is a book about brokenness and grace and redemption. There are a thousand ways to be broken and only one way to be made whole. There are two amazing things about Christianity. The first is the power and magnificence of grace and what it does as it sinks deeper and deeper into a soul. The second is the plan of God to allow us to participate in his plan to heal the world.’

I unreservedly recommend this book, which is suitable for anyone to read since it doesn’t contain any religious jargon. Thank you to Cross-Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for providing me with a free ecopy for the purpose of writing a review.

 

 

Three Decades of Fertility

Three Decades of Fertility

 

Three Decades of Fertility: Ten Ordinary Women Surrender to the Creator and Embrace Life was a fascinating read. Each chapter is written by a different woman sharing her story of how she and her husband decided to stop using contraception and to give their fertility over to God’s control. They are all open and honest about their plans and dreams for their lives. Some, like Natalie and Stacy, embraced the idea of children and being full-time mums, while others, like Sue, were feministic in their views and had no intention of ever having children. Indeed, Molly, who planned to go to the mission-field, firmly believed that she and her husband ‘would be most effective for God’s kingdom if [they] were unencumbered with children’.

While each woman’s story is unique, they all have one thing in common: at some point in their lives, they decided to trust God with their fertility and welcome the results. These couples recognised that children are gifts from God, and believe that it is not up to us to say: no thanks God, we’ll decide how many children we want and when. Because if children are gifts, it is up to the Gift-Giver to decide when they arrive, how many are given, and how long we may keep them.

A brave step to take, especially in today’s society where children are not always seen as precious or valued, where abortion and child abuse are common-place. These couples had to deal with other people passing judgment on them and their larger-than-average families. They have been perceived as ‘irresponsible’ in having babies into their forties. But, for all the couples in the book, it has grown their faith in God – in His promised provision as creator and Father. These are just ordinary couples who do not have huge incomes, but who have seen God provide for all of their needs. Some did not stop at having their own children but reached out and adopted others.

For someone who has never been pregnant and is infertile, this book provided an intriguing insight into that mysterious world of pregnancy and labour. I admired the women’s honesty in sharing their aches and pains and battles with morning sickness. Some of the women ended up spending the second half of their pregnancies on enforced bed rest while others seem to breeze through the whole nine months. Those who suffered miscarriage share about it honestly, explaining not only how they dealt with it individually but as a family.

Some of the women have had periods of infertility while others have now reached the end of their child-bearing years, and they discuss their feelings of grief and the need to accept each new stage in their lives. I realised that the grief over not being able to get pregnant is as real for infertile couples as it is for those who already have a family yet long for another baby.

At the end of each chapter, the women answer various (very personal and searching) questions such as: how do you deal with the fear of increased miscarriage, infant loss, or birth defects? How do you balance life with older kids and babies? Is it being greedy to want more babies at the risk of not being able to meet the needs of the rest of the family? How do I deal with extended family members, friends, and even the medical community who disapprove of our continuing to want more babies as we get older?

The last couple of chapters are contributed by professionals who look at maintaining good health during pregnancy – physically, mentally and emotionally – and the role nutrition plays in aiding fertility and supporting the body during pregnancy, post-fertility and the menopause.

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It’s radical and compelling. What these women advocate makes sense. But they do not push their biblical conclusions on the reader, they just share their journey with God. I have already ordered a second copy of the book as a present for a friend. I think one of the most important things this book says is: it’s okay to have a large family, so enjoy your gifts from God whether they arrive through pregnancy or adoption.

I believe that each of the women who has contributed her story to this book also writes at Visionary Womanhood.

I am grateful to Cross Focussed Reviews for providing me with a free e-copy of this book for the purpose of writing an unbiassed review.

Compassionate Jesus

Compassionate Jesus

When I first heard about the opportunity of joining this blog tour and reading Compassionate Jesus by Christopher W Bogosh, I was excited at the prospect of learning how Jesus’s compassion can be put into practice in modern healthcare. While this book did consider that to a certain extent, I was left with a general feeling of disappointment and confusion.

Using Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan, the author unpacks seven elements of biblical compassion: 1) putting other people’s needs before our own, 2) not discriminating against race, colour, creed, etc, 3) taking risks in order to help, 4) tending wounds and alleviating pain and suffering, 5) providing comfort and safety, 6) providing for extended care needs, 7) following up.

The author then argues that for many people (Christians included), health is their god. When ill or in pain, they live as if this life is all there is and will pursue seeking a cure at all costs. He writes: ‘…when hope in healing is the focus of a person’s life, then Jesus will be less important, and when this happens, idolatry prevails.’

He also discusses the difference between when the medical profession consider a person to be dead and when the Bible says a person is dead. Out of this, he looks at living wills and how these can be used for good, including ensuring that the individual’s organs are not harvested before their lungs and heart cease to function (the author’s experience is based in the US, I don’t know at what stage a patient’s organs would be harvested in the UK).

He provides wise and helpful advice regarding the sometimes agonising decision relatives face when switching off a patient’s life support: ‘Whether the person lives or dies rests in the hands of God.’

I was, however, puzzled by the author’s attitude to praying for physical healing. He states several times that ‘it is not wrong to pray for physical healing’, which seems rather a negative statement.

The last chapter is dedicated to the hospice movement, which in the US is heavily influenced by Kubler-Ross’s reincarnation beliefs. The author encourages churches to minister alongside hospices.

I struggled with this book. At times, the author comes across as a little narrow-minded, so focussed on the spiritual that he seems to disregard physical suffering, and biased against praying for miraculous physical healing. He frequently makes very strong, somewhat insensitive statements which he then unpacks; I suspect this is a way of getting the reader’s attention, much as preachers use hyperbole.

I was provided with a free copy of this ebook by Heritage Reformation Books and Cross Focussed Reviews for the purpose of writing a review.

 

 

The Button Legacy

The Button Legacy

The Button Legacy by Ginger Marcinowski is a thoroughly enjoyable story covering three family generations. Set in New Brunswick, the story begins in the mid-1950s. The whole book revolves around an old decorated tin box in which buttons are kept. Each button tells a tale, and successive generations of children love to plunge their hand into the box on wintery or stormy evenings, pull out a button and settle down to hear the story. Some are poignant and some are tragic, while others are downright laugh-out-loud funny. Like when Grandma Ellen discovers a mouse in her dress and races onto the driveway, shrieking and tearing off her dress (literally) before throwing it away from her… seconds before visitors arrive to witness their hostess standing there in nothing but her undies. Or Aunt Amy unwittingly showing off her muddy bloomers to the vicar one stormy night.

There is a secret hidden inside the button box that not everyone finds straightaway, yet it’s a secret that, once discovered, is life-changing.

The Button Legacy is fast-paced without being rushed. It is just long enough to satisfy and short enough to read in a couple of sittings. The characters are interesting and lovable, and it is through them that the reader sees tragedy and heartbreak, and can understand why Grandpa John is so concerned. Yet there is hope and satisfying love to be found through the stories in the button box.

I really enjoyed this book and can happily recommend it. Ginger’s earlier book Run, River Currents is also available on Amazon and is now on my wish list….

I am grateful to Cross Focussed Reviews for providing me with a free e-copy of this book for the purpose of writing an unbiassed review.

Dog Tags

Dog Tags

I love well-written Christian suspense thrillers – and Dog Tags by Heidi Glick did not disappoint. The story opens with the Knight, a serial killer brooding over his latest victim and planning the next woman to ‘rescue’. Throughout the story, we are gradually shown more of this man’s character, thought life and his past. Aside from the Knight, one of the other main characters is Mark Graham, a lecturer at a local college. He was previously a corporal in the military but retired after he was injured in an attack that killed his best friend. Mark is now confined to a wheelchair and in addition to his lecturing, he runs Fishy Business – a fishing tackle shop – with a couple of friends from the military. Mark is learning to cope again when Beth Martindale erupts into his life. She seems familiar but he can’t quite place her…. and then he realises that she is the kid sister of his best friend.

Mark fights against getting too close to Beth, afraid she will trigger off some of his PTSD symptoms, and fearful that she will learn what really happened that fateful night when her brother was killed.

Beth, too, has her secrets to hide and tries to keep her distance from Mark. Why is she so determined to keep a certain high school year book from him? Who was her secret admirer?

All this time, the Knight is in the background, keeping a watchful eye on Beth, determined to rescue her from the man in the wheelchair. Who is this mysterious Knight? Why has he chosen Beth? And how does he know so much about Mark and Beth? Could he be someone that they both know and trust…?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which kept me avidly turning the pages. I was a little disappointed by the ending which I felt could have perhaps been stronger. But, overall, it was a great read and I hope that Heidi Glick will write more books because I would definitely buy them.

I am grateful to Heidi Glick for providing me with a free copy of Dog Tags for the purpose of writing this unbiassed review.

 

Yielded Captive

Yielded Captive

Yielded Captive is a great title for this book:  it took me captive!  What a page turner, I just couldn’t put it down.  I started reading it on the bus, having no idea how emotionally involved I would get with the characters (please don’t let me cry, Lord!).  Dalaina May jumps right into the story, grabs the reader’s interest, and away you go with her on a dramatic journey deep into the Peruvian jungles.

The main character is a young woman called Allison who, with her husband Eric, has dedicated her life to reaching the Shampiri tribe for Jesus.  The story opens with Shampiri warriers shooting Eric and the small missionary team with arrows, while capturing Allison and their toddler son Isaac.  After a long, exhausting trek through the jungle with the warriers, Allison is dismayed at being given to the Shampiri chief as his wife.

Grieving for the loss of her husband, raped repeatedly by the man she is forced to live with, and unable to communicate with those around her, Allison contemplates ending her life.  How could God put her in such an awful situation?  What purpose could He possibly have in allowing this to happen?

You will have to read the book for yourself to discover the wonderful – and unexpected – things God accomplishes through Allison living with this tribe, and the gracious way in which He grows spiritual fruit in her life. There are twists and turns along the way to keep the reader on her toes.

I loved this book, in fact I read it twice in three weeks!  I’ve even bought a copy for a friend’s birthday (ssshh, don’t tell).  It’s got everything in it: drama, love, adventure, romance, suspense.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I hope Dalaina May keeps writing books because I would love to read them.

I’m grateful to BottomLine Media for giving me a free ecopy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.

 

 

Refuse To Do Nothing

Refuse to do Nothing

What a book!  When it arrived in the post, I was surprised to discover it was all about modern-day slavery.  Huh?  But I was intrigued because it was written by two normal-sounding, ordinary mums.  Right from the Foreward, Refuse to do Nothing is gripping reading.  Sometimes I was horrified by what I read; there were times it made me feel nauseous, there were lots of tears, and sometimes I had to take a breather between chapters so that I could process the issues raised.  But I was compelled to keep turning the pages.

In the initial chapters Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim introduce themselves and their families, and share how human trafficking/slavery first came to their attention.  Throughout, their mantra is that we shouldn’t just read the book, cry, and then move on.  Oh no, they are passionate that we each do our bit – no matter how small – to end the suffering of modern-day slaves.  In almost every chapter they give the US National Human Trafficking Hotline number (888 373 7888) – it’s 0800 0121 700 for the UK – and urge readers to keep this number in their phones so that they have it to hand when they come across a victim of human trafficking.

The early chapters cover the fact that human trafficking exists – even on your own doorstep – and reveals some useful tips for how to spot it.  There are more slaves now than there have ever been.

The later chapters deal with particular issues:

*  Do you know all the components that make up your smart phone?  Where do those components come from?  How are they mined and by whom?  Are the working conditions fair?
*  What about chocolate?  Is your favourite company’s brand guilty of using slave labour and exploitation of children?  Which supermarkets make a point of stocking fair trade chocolate?  And which are out for the cheapest price?
That bargain blouse I saw, why is it cheap?  Is it because the high street store is having a sale?  Or was it manufactured in shocking conditions by slaves?

Shayne and Kimberly are keen that we are not just shocked, but that we take action.  They clearly point to actions individuals can take that will make a difference.  There are useful websites to check which companies and stores stock fair trade goods and who stand against using slave labour.  At the close of each chapter there are reflection questions as well as suggestions of how to take action.

As I read of the awful misery and suffering that human trafficking causes – and remembering an Asian expatriate working in Abu Dhabi who told my friends with tears in his eyes that they were the first people who had spoken kindly to him in months – I had to make some changes.  The UK national hotline for human trafficking is now on my iPhone, just in case.  I find myself looking at people (door-to-door salesmen, cleaners, etc) with different eyes – are they doing this because they have chosen to do it or because they are being forced to do it?  My husband and I are becoming much more selective about what we buy.  You see, once we know about human trafficking, we have a responsibility to act.

Refuse to do Nothing is changing my life.  Some of the horrific stories contained within its pages haunt me.  I can make small changes:  I can pray for an end to human trafficking.  And I can be responsible about what I purchase.  But I cannot sit back and refuse to do nothing….

Thank you to IVP for providing me with a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.

To Walk Or Stay

I commited to reading To Walk or Stay by Lara Williams because of signing up for a blog tour; it’s not necessarily the kind of book I would choose to read.  However, I found myself hooked from the very first words of the Introduction and struggled to put it down.  I forced myself to read it in two or three sittings, but I could have devoured it in one go.  Lara has such a readable writing style – you really do feel as if you’re sitting cosily with her, mug of tea in hand, chatting confidentially about stuff.  She has a real gift for drawing in her reader and keeping you turning the pages.

Although To Walk or Stay is about marriage, the lessons Lara shares from her story and experience are much broader than that.  In fact, I found I could relate well to much of what she wrote from the illness I had in 2010.  I liked the way the book is set out with each chapter covering an issue that Lara has had to face in her marriage:  her husband’s betrayal, her need to control, her right to be loved, to leave or not to leave, choosing forgiveness, prayer.  She discusses sensitively the choice between divorce and staying in a marriage, carefully considering what the Bible has to say.  I couldn’t detect any judgement or condemnation on her part, just a raw honesty of the way she chose to deal with these difficult, heart-breaking issues.  What did God want for her?  What was His best for her and her family?

At the end of each chapter is a short section of relevant questions along with some suggested Bible passages for use in small group discussion.  This is followed by a section called ‘Digging Deeper’ in which Lara unpacks some general spiritual and biblical truths that she learned through this rocky period of her marriage.

For wives or husbands struggling with the heartbreak of adultery and betrayal, I would strongly urge them to read this book.  God is able to do impossible things beyond anything we can imagine in the most unlikely of circumstances.  To Walk or Stay is a book that every Christian counsellor and church pastor/elder should read, especially when giving marriage advice and ministering to hurting couples.  There is much hope and strength to be drawn from someone’s personal experience coupled with biblical truths, as Lara demonstrates in her book.

In spite of feelings, and regardless of what may seem like a hopeless situation, the Lord may challenge you to stay committed in your heart, regardless of the unlove of your spouse.  He may dare you to stay because he may want to do something wildly miraculous in your home.

My thanks to Christian Focus for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.  If you’d like to hear an interview with the author, click here.

Good Mood, Bad Mood

Good Mood, Bad Mood by Charles D Hodges MD is a useful and readable book on how to help people who feel sad or who suffer from depression.  I would say it is invaluable for anyone wanting to offer help and hope to anyone suffering in this way.  The book is full of godly wisdom and medical insights.  As a practicing physician and Christian counsellor, Dr Hodges is well qualified to discuss these issues with wisdom, compassion and knowledge.  It is not a long book, nor is it filled with medical jargan.  It is easily accessible to anyone with an interest in such matters.

In the first three chapters, Dr Hodges looks at the way society views depression.  The next two chapters discuss the fact that the emotion of sadness is now often diagnosed as depression, leading to sadness being classed as a disease rather than a normal emotion.  The second half of the book examines the hope that God offers through His Word when we struggle with problems and emotions such as sadness, anger and worry.  In the final two chapters (14 and 15), Dr Hodges unpacks bipolar disorder and how sufferers can be helped.

I liked the fact that Dr Hodges uses examples from the Bible, as well as case studies from his own practice, to look at real people suffering genuine problems and emotions.  He shows our sympathetic and wise God who cares deeply about us when we go through hardships and sadness by looking at Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the New Testament.  He points out that sadness is a necessary emotion whose purpose is to drive us to God, as seen in the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mum, in the Old Testament.  Did you know that sadness is a gift from God?  The first time sorrow/sadness is mentioned in the Bible is when we have a description of the way God feels about creating mankind in the time of Noah – God was sad that He had created mankind because all we think of and do is sin (rebelling against God in one form or another).

Dr Hodges dispels various myths such as depression simply being a chemical inbalance in the brain.  He backs up his statements with medical research, science and the Bible.

There is definitely a place for medication and cognitive therapy for people suffering from depression.  Our problem in the West today is that all too often people are diagnosed with ‘depression’ when actually they are ‘sad’ for legitimate reasons – maybe the loss of a family member, being unable to have children, losing a job, illness.  Medics are sometimes quick to prescribe medication to help but, as Dr Hodges points out, very often the medication either doesn’t help or causes horrible side effects that require more treatment.  There is a definite place for Christians to listen to, pray with and learn to counsel people struggling with these problems.  People suffering with sadness, anger and worry desperately need the hope offered in God’s Word; they need to compassionately be told that God knows all about their problems and that He loves and cares for them.  People need the truth of the Bible spoken to them in love today.

Good Mood, Bad Mood is essential reading for anyone involved in counselling, especially in the church.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  I suspect it is a book I will constantly be referring to and dipping in and out of.

My thanks Cross Focussed Reviews and Shepherd Press for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of a review.

Suffering Well

In my opinion, Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond is a vital book that every Christian should read.  Paul has a very readable style that is accessible to readers and non-readers alike.  The book opens with looking at two scenarios:  Simon is struggling with persecution for his faith and Sally is suffering with a terminal illness.  Paul asks the reader:  ‘If an angel appeared to you tonight in a dream and said that you had to choose between experiencing either Simon’s suffering or Sally’s suffering, which would you choose and why?’

Paul then goes on to ask and address pertinent questions.   He encourages Christians to consider what the Bible says about suffering, rather than simply trying to answer the question of why there is suffering from society’s point of view.  It is easy to think of God as some weak being who cannot do anything about suffering in the world, whether persecution of His own children, natural disasters, or mass shootings  We can sometimes be tempted to make excuses to our non-believing friends for Him.  But Paul considers what God Himself has to say about suffering.

There are different kinds of suffering.  There is the suffering of persecution for being a Christian, natural suffering such as flooding or illness, and the suffering that comes with Christian maturity of longing for those around us to know God.  Paul explains from the Bible that ‘suffering is at the very heart of God’s plan to create a perfect world and to glorify Himself through His Son’.  It is through suffering that Christians mature and deepen their intimacy with God.

After considering the whys of suffering from a biblical perspective, Paul shows the reader – again, from the Bible – what our response to suffering should be.

I found this book to be encouraging and challenging.  It is very helpful in preparing for suffering (we all go through hard seasons from time-to-time, it’s part of life).  It has blessed and edified me, strengthening me to keep going in the face of adversity.  In a time when the health, wealth and prosperity gospel is popular, it is invaluable to have this excellent book teaching God’s viewpoint on the issue of suffering.  It is a book that every Christian should read and refer to regularly.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  If I had to describe it in two words, they would be well-balanced and biblical.

If you would like to hear more from the author, listen to his interview with Shaun Tabbatt at Cross Focused Reviews.

I am grateful to Cross Focused Reviews and Matthias Media for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.

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