God's Book of Prayers, by M.A.R.

God's Book of Prayers: Each and Every Prayer in the Bible
BOOK DESCRIPTION (from the publisher): Each and every prayer in the Bible is now available, together and categorized. God’s Book of Prayers and The Lord’s Prayers both contain all the prayers of the Bible. God’s Book of Prayers separates each into nine categories for convenient reading, while The Lord’s Prayers lists them in biblical sequence, with an exhaustive concordance of major words or phrases. Both versions have some elementary analysis of all the prayers for better understanding of the whole of the prayers in God’s Book, including the most common words in biblical praying. These volumes will help you to easily be able to pray God’s own words!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: M.A.R.’s love for God and God’s Word and his belief in prayer radiates from this volume. Being a believer for more than 30 years, ordained to the ministry, and licensed in 1984, he has never lost his fascination with all things God, especially His Holy Book. Via military service, retired U.S. Air Force, M.A.R. and his wife ministered in several churches worldwide. Toward the end of his military career, God planted the seed for this prayer book, and thus has been in progress for over a decade. He declared 2011 “The Year of the Book of Prayer in the Bible,” and with God’s arranging of his schedule, M.A.R. was able to finally mine the (hopefully) final prayers from the Scriptures. This is the third book he has compiled, along with two games, one being a Bible Book-by-Book card game. Also a former certified Texas public high school math teacher, M.A.R. and his wife of more than three decades reside in a small south Texas town near San Antonio with several animals.

MY THOUGHTS: This book contains every prayer in the Bible, except those spoken in second- or third-person. The prayers are very well-organized, not only divided into categories (blessing, confession, insight, petition, praise, response, statement, thanks, worship), but within each topic, the list further divides. For example, there are prayers about thanks, and then prayers that include the word thanks.

Introductory material includes explanations of what prayer is, to whom we pray, unanswered prayers, how to pray, and examples. Several eye-catching charts point out interesting facts about the prayers of the Bible, such as the most common words and a comparison of the different types of prayers.

God's Book of Prayers is a great resource for topical searches. I recommend it to anyone looking for inspiration as they lean on ancient conversations with God to enhance their prayer life.

**I received a free ebook copy of this book from BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review.

ESV Journaling Bible, by Crossway

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The ESV Journaling Bible provides the perfect way for you to keep a journal of your spiritual life right inside the Bible that you read and study every day. With covers and formats that look like the finest journals, the Journaling Bible features two-inch ruled margins for writing observations, reflections, prayers, praises, and journal entries. This unique Bible makes a great gift and lasting keepsake for anyone who values God's Word.

Features:
  • Cream-colored paper
  • 2" ruled margins
  • Book introductions
  • Ribbon marker
  • Smyth-sewn binding

Wanting to enhance my Bible study time and find a creative outlet for expressing what I learn, I got a new Bible. This one has extra space along the outside of each page so that I can take notes or illustrate what I've gleaned from that page.  I did lots of research about the different types available and found that I wasn't the only person thinking along these lines.

There are one-column, two-column, blank pages between the scriptures, leather covers, hardbacks, and the list goes on. The Bibles come in NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, and NKJV. You can even choose between blank margins, lined margins, and margins that already have some graphics included, which you color in and then add your own personal touches. So many choices!

Thankfully, artistic Bible journaling is pretty popular right now, so there were tons of places I could lurk before making my choice. I found blogs and Facebook groups, pinterest boards and youtube tutorials. This is great news for a non-artist like me who WANTS to make beautiful things but doesn't quite know how.

I finally decided on the one-column (meaning there is only one column of scriptures per page) ESV from Crossway, with a solid cover and an elastic band that keeps it closed when not in use--and also flattens the pages I've just drawn on.

There are several theories of how this should be done, but I've found that within the communities of journalers, there is surprisingly little judgement and tons of encouragement. Some choose to only use the margins and never cover the actual scriptures. Others cover portions or all of the scriptures, usually in a background color that enhances the illustrations or words they've chosen to focus on. Still others do their study in the Bible then illustrate in a separate drawing pad. So far, I fall into the first category. I have chosen to highlight or underline the scriptures I'm focusing on but I don't cover them. Those who do, obviously use other Bibles for reading or study, and this artistic version serves as a creative journal only.

I've been pleasantly surprised at how many options there are for using this Bible. Of course, I can write my notes without fear that the little yellow sticky paper I had available at the time will fall out later. These notes are permanently attached to the page! I can use pens and simply letter a verse that stands out to me. Or I can take a giant leap and draw along the sides, top, and bottom of the page, since there is so much space for expression. I'm careful to date each entry so I can look back and see where I've been on this spiritual journey.

Many of the illustrations I've found are shared from people just like me--okay, more artistic versions of me--who choose to make their work available. They are gracious to allow copying, so that's pretty much what I do right now. When a verse stands out to me, I generally have an idea of what it "looks like" artistically, so then I google away until I've found something close. Sometimes I trace it onto my page, and sometimes I just use it as a guide. I'm quite thankful there are so many artists out there who are okay with this.

Here are a few resources for those who are interested in getting started.

Ideas from Pinterest (You could get lost here, digging through the bazillion boards devoted to bible journaling and #illustratedfaith!)

One of many Facebook groups dedicated to sharing ideas and asking questions

Illustrated Faith, an official page with products, message boards, and events

A series of blog posts about doodling, with daily projects and step-by-step instructions

A large collection of Youtube videos specific to journaling in your Bible

Happy arting! I'd love to see how you illustrate your Bible in the comments below.

The 30-Day Faith Detox, by Laura Harris Smith

The 30-Day Faith Detox: Renew Your Mind, Cleanse Your Body, Heal Your Spirit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION (from the publisher):  A reset button for your body, mind and spirit!

In this new, groundbreaking total-being cleanse, wellness expert and certified nutritional counselor Laura Harris Smith takes on not only your body but also your mind and spirit.

Day by day, prayer by prayer, you will confront 30 universal faith toxins like doubt, discouragement and anger. And flush them out.

Each day offers a simple body detox that associates specific body organs with the faith toxins you are flushing out, and by the end of the 30 days, you will have a total body detox.

Using ingredients right from your own kitchen, you'll get delicious recipes for colorful smoothies, juices, soups and entrees. There's even a section for veggie-haters! Make the connection between physical health and spiritual health, and start feeling better physically, mentally and spiritually.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Harris Smith founded Eastgate Creative Christian Fellowship with her husband, Pastor Chris Smith, and is the Director for the Eastgate Creative Arts Conservatory, where among other things, she mentors young writers all over the world in her online creative writing classes. An actress, playwright, poet, and media dynamo, she was a TV host on the Shop at Home Network and is the author of multiple books. With one foot in ministry and one in media, Laura and her husband have six children and reside near Nashville, Tennessee.

MY THOUGHTS: Healthy eating, detox teas, and purposeful nutrition are all the rage. There are books, websites, videos, programs, and groups for every nuance within the spectrum of taking care of yourself. What makes this book stand out are several things.

1. The information is presented in bite-sized chunks. After a two-chapter introduction walks you through the basic premise behind detoxification of your body's major systems, you start 30 short, easy-to-follow daily challenges. I have found other resources to be quite wordy and hard to understand, even though I have lots of experience in health care and probably know more about human anatomy and physiology than the average reader. I tend to get bogged down in the gorey details of exactly how certain nutrients work inside our bodies and what some common toxin does to each of my systems on the cellular level. Just give it to me straight and in everyday language, or you've lost me. The 30-Day Faith Detox is a straight shooter, getting right to the point and then moving into the daily challenges.

2. The premise of the book is a holistic approach to healthy living. The author explains early on how the connection between our minds, our bodies, and our spirits leads to poor health in one or more of these areas when they are not properly cared for. Each day begins with a spiritual toxin and the corresponding emotional toxins. After an explanation of common things that we know cause us harm but probably don't notice or think about normally, we are presented with the cleansing diet for that day and a short explanation of how it works in our bodies. So while you are working through what you've learned about yourself from that day's devotional section, your body is cleansing itself of built-up gunk.

3. The plan is easy to follow. Okay, let me clarify that. If you're not ready to deal with these spiritual topics--social influence, financial, health-related, relationship, and purpose/identity toxins--then you could hit some roadblocks to moving forward. However, the author is very direct and specific in exposing danger zones and how to move past them. And since you only get one issue per day, you have time to stew a bit on each topic before moving on the next day.

4. The recipes use ingredients you probably already have and can find in any regular grocery store. There's no need to find a specialty market or get online and order an array of products to carry out this cleanse. And when you finish the 30 days, you will have learned some new recipes and sustainable habits you can continue to use to equip your body for optimum health.

Still not convinced you can stick with this for 30 days? You will find accountability and encouragement through the offical Facebook groupfree recipe cards and a signed copy of the book if you order from LauraHarrisSmith.com, and 30 free videos as part of the faith detox challenge (code included in the book).



I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: In just a few short years, massive shifts in public opinion have radically reshaped society’s views on homosexuality. Feeling the pressure to forsake long-held beliefs about sex and marriage, some argue that Christians have historically misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on this issue. But does this approach do justice to what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality? In this timely book, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung challenges each of us—the skeptic, the seeker, the certain, and the confused—to take a humble look at God’s Word. Examining key biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments and the Bible’s overarching teaching regarding sexuality, DeYoung responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike—offering readers an indispensable resource for thinking through one of the most pressing issues of our day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored numerous well-known books.

SOURCE: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

MY THOUGHTS: If ever a topic has caused confusion and division among Christians, it is how to view and react to homosexuality. I was curious about this short, 160-page book, and happy to find that it cut through the cloudiness of the issue and went straight to the source of all truth, the Bible. However, he holds Christians to the standard of loving those who experience same-sex attraction and seeking to understand and reach out to them.

In the introduction, the author points out three classes of readers he expects to be speaking to--those already convinced that homosexuality is wrong, those convinced it is right, and those who are confused by the voices of our culture and their understanding of the Bible. With this audience in mind, the topic is dealt with in a direct yet compassionate way throughout the book.

The first section delves into what the Bible says about homosexuality, from the early laws of the Jews through the churches being established in the New Testament and including word studies in the original languages.

Part Two answers common objections heard within communities that are affirming homosexuality among Christians. The author presents solid Biblical proof against the arguments popping up all over social media and in sermons and blog posts across the country.

The conclusion sums up what is really at stake if the Church changes its stance on sexual sins. Appendices briefly address cultural topics such as same-sex marriage and attraction, and include ten commitments for Christians and churches to take into consideration.

I found this book to be a very thorough resource, concise and conclusive.  Considering the relevance of the topic in today's world, I would certainly recommend it for any person in ministry, and I think it would make a great book for small-group study.  A free study guide can be downloaded from the publisher.

As Soon As I Fell, by Kay Bruner

As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: What happens when being radical for God brings you to the edge of disaster? When Kay Bruner and her husband, Andy, took their young family to live on an island in the South Pacific, she found the purposeful, adventurous life she'd hoped for-along with isolated living, dangerous sea travel, tropical illnesses, and a floundering marriage. As they worked on a Bible translation project with a local language group, Kay sank into burnout and depression while Andy medicated his stress with a pornography addiction. Bringing life back from the brink required a radical reinvention of life, from a ministry and marriage built on high performance and spiritual heroism, to a nourishing daily walk of grace, freedom, and intimate connection. This is a story about going to extremes for spiritual acceptability and failing dismally, only to find that love and grace transcend failure. For anyone who's ever asked, "When will I be good enough for love?" this book resoundingly answers: "Right now. You are loved, right this minute, in this mess." While few of us will live on a tiny island in the South Pacific, many of us will find hope and healing in this story of a painful fall into the arms of love.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the great state of Texas. Kay divides her work days between counseling and writing. She blogs at www.kaybruner.com.

MY THOUGHTS: As a missionary, I identified with the culture shock, the inadequacy, the loneliness, the pressure from without and within, the feeling of being overwhelmed by it all and not seeing how God could possibly make something beautiful out of the mess life on the field turned out to be. I was riveted to this book and thought Kay's story couldn't possibly get worse, when each page seemed to prove me wrong.

I have found that my time on foreign soil has served to help me grow far more than those I came to minister to, and that God has shined light on all sorts of misconceptions and untruths in what was forming the foundation of my beliefs, not only theologically but in who I was at my core. Kay went through a similar journey--maybe we all do--and I found hope in how God patched up those cracks to fix the faulty foundation.

I applaud Kay and her husband for their willingness to share such personal details, not only because I know so many people will find themselves in their story, but also because their happy ending offers hope and encouragement.

**The author offers a free study guide with great questions for reflection, which are appropriate both for personal use or group study.  Download it here.

Growing a Strong Marriage DVD Study

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION: In Starting Strong, learn about the importance of cultivating a strong and solid biblical foundation. This study guide combined with candid, never-before-seen video interviews with your favorite marriage experts will help you explore what it means to have shared vision, unity, and belief in your spouse, as well as how to find your true identity in Jesus. Through touching and personal stories, timeless wisdom, and sage advice, you’ll glean spiritual understanding and inspiration for a lifetime of marriage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR of the STUDY GUIDE: Amy McGowan holds a Bachelor of Arts in biblical studies (Ouachita Baptist University) and a Master of Arts in Religion in marriage and family counseling (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). She has a passion to help strengthen marriages and teaches marriage enrichment seminars alongside her husband.

SERIES: This is the first of a video Bible study series entitled, Growing a Strong Marriage. The next study is Working Together, followed by Staying Connected (Summer, 2015).  By clicking either of the links above or scrolling to the bottom of this review, you can preview videos that are part of this study.

MY THOUGHTS: Whether you're looking to marry soon, newly married, or deep in the trenches of matrimonial bliss, this study speaks to where you are. Six couples you've probably heard of within Christian circles share about their own marriages on the DVD that accompanies the workbook, making you feel like you're all sitting around in a comfy living room while these marriage experts tell you personal tidbits.

Four lessons make up volume 1--How We Met, Moving into Oneness, Identity in Christ, and Paths to Christ in Marriage. The study guide includes passages to read, questions to answer in the group, and questions to answer together in private after that particular lesson. A leader's guide at the end of the book walks you through how to use the material in a group. Biblical principles are the center of this study, evidenced by the scriptures on every page.

This is not an intense, crisis therapy sort of curriculum. The contents of Vol. 1 are great for understanding the foundations of a marriage centered around God and His ideas of living happily ever after. The videos really help to make the content come alive, and the questions that accompany each session make you think but don't open up the proverbial can of worms that might make for tense group get-togethers. I would definitely recommend this resource for couples who are starting out, who need a shot in the arm to fan the flames, or who are perhaps new to the faith and want to understand the Biblical concept of marriage.

This series is available for purchase from Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.


Growing a Strong Marriage Preview Video from Hendrickson Publishers on Vimeo.

I received a free copy of this product to review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations. I am part of The CWA Review Crew.

Runaway Radical, by Amy Hollingsworth

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the WorldRunaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World by Amy Hollingsworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Travel the world, change lives, save souls. (Note: Results not typical.)

A young idealist heeds the call to radical obedience, gives away all of his belongings and shaking off the fetters of a complacent life, travels halfway around the world. There he discovers, among the poor and the fatherless of West Africa, that he has only surrendered to a new kind of captivity.

There is no doubt that young people today are fully invested in social and human rights issues. They start their own nonprofits, they run their own charities, they raise money for worthy causes. Books on saving the world abound, topping the bestsellers’ lists, fueling the drive to prove not only commitment to the world but devotion to God.

Now there is a new crop of books starting to emerge, detailing the consequences of trying to save a world that is not ours to save. But none of these books tell the story that
Runaway Radical tells; this is the first book to highlight the painful personal consequences of the new radicalism, documenting in heartbreaking detail what happens when a young person becomes entrapped instead of liberated by its call. His radical resolve now shaken, he returns home to rebuild his life and his faith.

Runaway Radical serves as an important and cautionary tale for all who lead and participate in compassion activism, in the art of doing good— both overseas and at home— amidst this new culture of radical Christian service.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS:  Amy Hollingsworth is the author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World's Most Beloved Neighbor, based on her nine-year friendship with television's Fred Rogers. She has a master's degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor's degree in English and is an adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she lives with her husband Jeff and their children, Jonathan and Emily. She has written for various magazines, including ParentLife, and was a writer for eight years for The 700 Club television program.

Jonathan Hollingsworth left college at age 20 to pursue a new life as a missionary in Africa. He has since returned to college. This is his first book.

MY THOUGHTS: My heart broke for this young man. I saw him through the eyes of a mother, proud of those steps her young adult is taking out into the big, bad world with a sincere hope to make it a better place. I saw him through the eyes of a missionary, having seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of this giant machine we call Christianity, from the inside out. I saw him through the eyes of one of the leaders who has encouraged young people to "go big or go home," rallying them not to settle for status quo but to run as hard as possible and not look back. I just wanted to go find this guy and give him a big hug, telling him how sorry I am that he went through what he did.

His mother starts the story, leading us through situations no young person should ever have to endure, shining light on what happens when radicalism goes too far. Jonathon's brave but shaky voice joins in, and I can only admire him even more for sharing his story after so many negative reactions he experienced.

This book serves as a warning to Christians leaders, and it brings up questions we may have to struggle to find the answers to. It has definitely caused me to understand why some red flags have popped up for me in the past and why we need to look more deeply into how we are training eager young people to share the Gospel.

I received an ARC of this book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.