Concordia Publishing House

Review: Live a Jesus-Centered Life

5 Things You Can Do to Live a Jesus-Centered Life
by H. R. Curtis

You have seen how good Jesus is, that he loves a sinner like you. You rejoice that he died for your sins and has risen from the dead. But now you want to go deeper. How can you live a Jesus-centered life? H. R. Curtis tackles that topic in this excellent, short book. He encourages readers to go to church, go read, go pray, go work, and come home. He offers practical ways to do all the above, shows why they work, and how you can keep going when you fail.

I love that this book opens up with a very solid explanation: This is not how you get to heaven, and you don’t help by doing any of these things. All this is reaction to the fact that “It is finished!” Throughout both Law and Gospel are emphasized, too.

The book is also very practical. For instance, it walks through different ways to read the Bible in the “Go Read” chapter, and talks about how to experiment to find out what works best. The book also recommend a number of resources to go deeper.

In the “go to church” chapter, the book assumes that your congregation uses traditional liturgy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it may make some difficulties depending the home congregation of those reading the book. That said, it explains why the classical liturgy can be so useful. I’m still not a “high church” type person myself, but this section is still very useful.

The “go read” chapter I found especially helpful. It talks about how to get a grip on the “big ideas” of Scripture, and how that help you understand what you’re reading as you dig into the Bible.

Now, the book has a definite audience: People who already know the basics of the Christian faith but want to go deeper. I would not hand this book to someone who was brand-new to the faith. It makes too many assumptions for knowledge level. That said, if someone does know the basics and wants to go deeper, the book is a home run.

I’m glad to have it on my shelf. Check it out if you want to know how to better live a Jesus-centered life!

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Review: Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply

Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply
by Deb Burma

Ever notice how a lot of people love coffee? There’s so many varieties and ways to drink your coffee! In Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply, author Deb Burma uses coffee and coffee culture as illustrations to draw us closer to Christ. We see that he has poured us an overflowing cup that we can indulge in!

I expected this book to be cute and light. It’s billed as “A Bible study for women,” and my experience of such things are usually, unfortunately, fairly shallow. I’m happy to say that while this book is indeed cute, it’s not shallow!

Burma talks about cups and how we fill them,using this as illustrations of how we fill ourselves. Do we use “bad beans” of sin or bitterness, or are we filling up on God’s good promises? We want our coffee mugs cleaned out; do we see that Jesus has cleaned us out? There are so many coffee blends; God has given each individual unique blends of personalities, talents, and opportunities.

In each of the seven chapters in the book, Burma presents at least five “mini” devotions with a lot of biblical meat. However, as the illustrations run throughout, nothing gets overly heavy. I think this would be an ideal Bible study to start a women’s group with for that reason! There’s also a recipe for a coffee-related item at the end of each chapter, as well as ideas for service projects.

I could tell the book was definitely not aimed at me, but as I’m hardly a woman, that doesn’t surprise me. However, if someone wanted to start a women’s Bible group, this is one of the books I’d gladly encourage her to check out!

Review: The Problem of Suffering

The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope
by Gregory P. Schulz

Greg Schulz’s daughter was buried three days before what would have been her first birthday. His son died at fourteen. In The Problem of Suffering Schulz offers his heart. He shows that there are no easy answers, but there is comfort. He shows that in this world, there is real pain. And through it all, he points to Christ.

The foreword (written by Harold Senkbeil) says that this book will change you.

It did. (more…)

Review: Without This Ring

Without This Ring: Surviving Divorce
by Donna Pyle

Divorce rips apart what God had made one. How do you survive that? What happens next? This is not a book of devotions. It is not a how-to showing you how to justify your divorce. It is not a guidebook to make sure you’re always in the right. Instead, it walks through the emotional and practical journey of what to happen when divorce comes. Throughout, Donna Pyle shows scenes from her own story of heartbreak. She also sprinkles in many other stories that show other aspects of divorce. Most chapters end with a few ages each written by a pastor and a professional counselor reacting to what Pyle wrote. Each chapter is followed with a guide for further prayer and journaling.

This book isn’t aimed at me. I’m not divorced, and Lord willing, I’m not planning on a divorce! Hopefully, though, no one going into marriage plans on divorce. I figured that I should get some more training and knowledge in dealing with people in those circumstances, though, and so I picked up this book.

I’m glad I did. (more…)

Review: Religion on Trial

Religion on Trial: Cross-Examining Religious Truth Claims
by Craig A. Parton

So, there’s a lot of religions out there. How do you know which one is true? Are any of them true? How do you test them? Does it even matter? In Religion on Trial, Craig Parton posits a way to test religious claims. Parton is a trial lawyer, and holds religion to the same standards that he would any witness on the stand. As he states in the introduction,

So, whether you are utterly convinced that you are one with God or the divine or that you are an insignificant piece of matter in a gigantic but ultimately purposeless cosmic game, or you are positive that God may be there but is deathly silent, or you are sure that your “religion” is true because it makes you feel good about your balanced spirituality and integrated personality, you should not fear a relentless search for the truth.” (8)

Parton’s presentation is pretty solid. He walks through a bunch of valid questions: Aren’t all religions the same anyway? How do you evaluate them? Do any of them make verifiable truth claims? Does it even matter? By examining evidence and laying out what can’t be controverted, and by presenting everything as if it were a trial, Parton shows an adept hand at talking through what truth is. This book could be very handy for anyone looking for some guidance in apologetics. (more…)

Review: How to Talk Confidently with Your Child About Sex

How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex
by Lenore Buth

Trying to figure out how to have “The Talk” with your kids? What do you tell them when? How do you know what they already know? When do you let go? When is it too much for them to handle? In How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex, Lenore Buth walks parents through many tips. Throughout she points to Jesus as the source of our confidence, and encourages parents to point to him constantly.

This is the last of the Learning About Sex series from Concordia Publishing House. I’ve reviewed several books in the series (which you can read about here, here, here, here, or here). In short, the series has been good but a little uneven.

This book falls into the “strong” category. Buth does a fantastic job pointing to Christ as the source of both the parent’s and the child’s identity. She offers several sample conversations, how to initiate them, and how to graciously answer questions that might make a parent uncomfortable. I greatly appreciated her grace-filled responses to questions a child might have about sin. (more…)

Review: The Executioner’s Redemption

The Executioner’s Redemption
by Rev. Timothy R. Carter

Tim Carter participated in more than 150 executions. Not a lie, not a fiction, not a story. He worked for the Texas State Penitentiary death squad.

And then he became a pastor.

The Executioner’s Redemption is his story. How did he end up on the death squad? What did that do to his emotions? To his soul? How did Jesus reach him there, and what did it mean once he was a Christian? Tim Carter takes us through his life, and how good the grace of God is. (more…)

Review: Family Faith Walks

Family Faith Walks
by Kelly J. Haack

So, you want to start helping your family draw closer to Jesus, but they’re not the type to gather around a book every night? Is there some other way to approach devotions?

In Family Faith Walks, Kelly Haack presents about one hundred activities that, with discussion, can provide good spiritual illustrations. Each activity comes with a Bible passage, the idea for the activity itself, follow up questions that draw out the spiritual truth, further activities to cement the concept, a prayer, and further ponderings for adults to dig deeper into the truths presented. The activities are presented month-to-month for easy searching (for instance, there’s a Halloween activity in October). (more…)

Review: Pastoral Care under the Cross

Pastor Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering – Revised Edition
by Richard C. Eyer

Where is God when people suffer? God suffers with them on the cross. In this excellent book, Richard Eyer guides pastors with multiple practical applications. He begins by laying out the theology of the cross, and then in subsequent chapters applies that theology to various suffering groups: the elderly, the dying, the mourning, the depressed, and others. In the end, he always points to Jesus as showing that God is with the sufferer.

I love Eyer’s definition of pastoral care: “Pastor care consists not in removing someone’s suffering but in helping the sufferer learn to interpret his or her sufferings in the light of the cross” (21). So much of our culture focuses on taking away suffering of any kind, even saying that life isn’t worth living if it’s going to involve suffering. Eyer reminds us that Christians have a different outlook. The point of life isn’t escaping suffering; it’s Jesus. “The goal of pastoral care is not necessarily to remove a person’s discomfort, but to help the sufferer use the discomfort for growth in faith and love of God” (71). (more…)

Review: Heartbeat!

Heartbeat!
By Stephen J. Carter

Do you long to live with passion for God’s Word? You know you’re supposed to, and you understand that the Good News that Jesus is your Savior is overwhelming, but something just doesn’t connect? In this book, Stephen Carter looks at the examples of those who live with passion for God’s Word, examines what lies in the way of our living with passion, the importance of confession, how to discover the Word of Christ, how to dwell in that Word deeply, and how to live out that passion in the world. Carter himself explains his goal: “God’s heart beats through His Church, gathered around His Word and Sacraments. His heart beats in you through Baptism as you immerse yourself in the Word of Christ. Consequently, your heart will beat with God’s passion for the world as you praise him, serve others, and bear witness to your faith in Christ daily and throughout your life” (22)

When I started this book, I quickly became very worried I was wasting my time. First off, Carter is fine with his theology. I didn’t notice him saying anything wrong at all. He’s very Gospel-centered, for which I am grateful. However, the first fifty pages are supposed to be examples of people who live with passion, which will show us why living with passion for God’s Word isn’t just some good ideal, but something we want to pursue.

Except… after reading those fifty pages, I was frankly bored. (more…)