Review: Family Trees & Olive Branches

Family Trees & Olive Branches
by Christina Hergenrader

Your family tree might have some unsightly blemishes that no one likes talking about. Maybe your family tree is stunted or warped. Is your family tree a mighty oak or a palm tree? No matter what, your family tree has influenced you in many ways, whether you recognize it or not. Why not have a family tree grown in grace? But how do you create a culture of grace? In this book, Christina Hergenrader shows readers how to grow in that grace and extend it to your immediate family and beyond.

I recently read a book about how to speak to your children that led me feeling guilty, not empowered. The book lacked any forgiveness. I didn’t recommend the book.

This book is the exact opposite of that one. Hergenrader has written a book soaked in the Gospel. She constantly reminds the reader that their identity is “child of God” and it is based on what Jesus has done, not on what we do. She begins, ends, and revels throughout in the Gospel. And throughout, she unpacks what the Gospel means as we live with our families. (more…)


Review: Living with Dying

Living with Dying: Blessings and Prayers for Those Who Grieve 
Ed. by Scot A. Kinnaman

This little book provides a wealth of resources for those preparing for death, readying for the death of a loved one, or mourning. It contains devotions, Bible passages, favorite hymns, selected psalms, and prayers sorted by category easily looked up in the table of contents or in the index. Those who mourn or those who minister to those who mourn will find much help in this book.

In general.


Except when it doesn’t help. (more…)

Review: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? 12 False Christs
by Matthew Richard

Which Jesus is real? Is it the national icon who stands for America at all times (and probably your political party)? How about the moral example who shows you how to live? Or is Jesus a therapist who helps you get past your problems? All of these Jesuses are spooking around, depending who you talk to. Which one is real, and what do we do with all the other Jesuses?

Matthew Richard has done a fantastic job in this book showing many ways our North American culture has reshaped Jesus into various idols that look Christian but really, really aren’t. Every chapter begins with a story demonstrating a time someone in Richard’s life espoused a fake Jesus. It continues to show the presuppositions that undergird each fake Jesus and this fake Jesus’s weaknesses. Then there’s a section detailing how to respond to each fake Jesus, followed by a brief summary of what the real Jesus does in contrast to the fake Jesus. (more…)

Review: Words Kids Need to Hear

Words Kids Need to Hear
by David Staal

Parents are vital in the lives of their children, and what they say can transform a young life forever. What are the words kids need to hear from their parents? How can parents effectively convey those messages? How do you keep from going too far, because there’s always that pesky need for balance? In Words Kids Need to Hear, David Staal lists seven phrases every child needs to hear.

This book is filled with good, practical advice. It shows parents the need to ask their children for forgiveness. It points out that children need to know they’re treasured. It reminds that parents need to actually say, “I love you.” I agree with each of the seven phrases Staal picked out, and the reminder to do so is well-taken.

Staal also takes time to show how each phrase can be practically integrated into family life. I appreciated those parts of the book, offering many ideas on how to say “no” or “I believe in you.”

I found his balancing “Words of Caution” to often be a bit too short, though. Parents do need to actually say “I love you,” of course. But if the parent loves the child so much that the child becomes an idol, that love has become a sin that will damage both parent and child. More words of warning to show the proper balance would have been appreciated.

So, yes, there are definitely positive aspects of this book.

But. (more…)

Review: Hope When Your Heart Breaks

Hope When Your Heart Breaks: Navigating Grief and Loss
by Michael W. Newman

When pain shatters the heart, we need to find Hope again. In fifty-two four-page devotions, Michael W. Newman guides the reader through many aspects of their loss, pointing to Jesus as the Hope we have in this broken world.

Holy cow.

This book is good.

In the section entitled “How to Use This Book,” Newman tells the reader to not read through the book from beginning to end, but to browse the table of contents and read the devotions that seem to match what they’re feeling at that time. The book is helpfully broken down into sections: The Beginning, Thoughts, Life, Self, Faith, People, Future, Fears, Love, and Hope for a New Season. Each devotion is titled in a helpful manner, such as, “When Your Friends Say They Understand,” “When You’re Angry at God,” “When You Need a Hug,” or “When You Fell like You Want to Disappear.” (more…)

Review: Ruth

Ruth: A Love Story
by Own A. Dorn

Ruth had nothing. She had left her people to follow her mother-in-law back to a foreign land to serve a foreign God. And yet that God had a huge plan for Ruth. He guided her life, bringing her to a certain field, where a man would change her life forever, and through these two people, God would bless all nations.

Look, the story of Ruth has been done to death in Christian fiction. I have seen so many novels on the shelves of Christian bookstores that tell and retell this story. (A rather good one is Ruth A.D. By my friend Lydia Eberhardt; if you’re looking for a creative retelling, I recommend that as a great place to go.) After all those retellings, does this one hold up?

Well… kind of.

This is another in the “God’s People” series that I’ve reviewed a number of previously. Most have been outstanding. And this one is good. Not spectacular, but still well worth the time. While the writing as far as storytelling has a lot more explanation than I personally prefer, it tells the story well and introduces us to the many characters. We get to know Naomi as the bitter woman. We get to see Ruth as the one trying to serve. We get to know Boaz as a man of standing. And through it all, we get to know God and his grace better.

Unlike some other volumes in this set, the sidebars here are incredibly useful. Agricultural and marital customs are crucial to understand if you’re going to “get” Ruth, and the sidebars here lay out all that’s necessary to “get.” I walked away grasping many of the agricultural concepts much better.

This particular book is also shorter than most of the other books in this set. The others have been a little over forty pages; this one is only thirty-six. If you’re looking for a hefty retelling of Ruth, this is not the book to get. However, the biblical book of Ruth is only four chapters long; this book being shorter just makes a lot of sense to me. If you’re looking to get the historical account without a lot of fluff, this really is the best I’ve seen.

So count this as another win in the “God’s People” series. Let’s hope the rest of the set keeps up the good quality!

Review: Joy in the Parish

Joy in the Parish
by Charles T. Knippel, Ph. D.

Churches so often seen like joyless places. Ministers go about their ministry without joy. Is that what God intended? Are we meant to worship in places of joy? If so, what happened, and how can we reclaim joy? In this slim volume, Dr. Charles Knippel uses his years as a pastor and seminary professor to show what was meant to be and how to achieve it.

Knippel wrote a book that’s a useful handbook, but entirely too short. It feels a bit like a good abstract of a longer work; there’s no examples of what he’s talking about and no illustrations to show what he means.

However, despite its brief nature, there is a lot packed into these very short chapters. (more…)

Review: Bible Handbook

Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook, Second Edition
Introductions by Jane L. Fryar
Edward A. Engelbrecht, General Editor

That Bible is a pretty thick book. It can be bard to understand. What do the different money denominations mean? What was in Abraham’s tent? What does a shepherd do? What kind of foods did they eat back then? Can you show me a bunch of maps? Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook gives two to three-page introductions to each book of the Bible along with articles covering some broad biblical topics. Lavishly illustrated with many maps, there are few pages without something to attract the eye. It also includes a lengthy dictionary that explains many biblical concepts.

The bulk of this book is a great resource to have on any Lutheran’s shelf. The introductions to the Bible books are both concise and focused on Law and Gospel. Each intro includes sections including, “Who wrote ______? When? Why?” “What’s the best way to read ______?” “How is _________ organized?” “How does ___________ point to Jesus?” “What are the key chapters and verses in _________?” If you’ve ever had the Concordia Self-Study Bible and you’ve looked at those introductions, these will feel a lot like those, but more detailed. (more…)

Review: Reclaiming Glory

Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying churches
by Mark Clifton

Every year hundreds of churches close their doors for good. Right now there are thousands of churches in the States that are irrelevant; if they closed for good, maybe two dozen people would be affected, and the neighborhood wouldn’t even notice. Does it give glory to God to close a church? Does it give glory to God to merely survive? In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton outlines a process to help replant churches, showing that the goal must be to give glory to God, or else it’s just an exercise in idolatry.

In general, I really wish I’d had this book a number of years ago. I’ve already learned a number of these lessons the hard way. His characteristics of a dying church are spot-on: “Dying churches love to discuss, debate, define, and describe” (22). “They value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached” (23). “They see the community as the resources from which they can grow, when in fact they need to understand that the truth is just the opposite. The community is not there for the church; the church is there for the community” (27).

Clifton’s “Six Replanting Imperatives” are also exactly what’s needed: Pray without ceasing. Love the church’s remaining members. Exegete the community. Simplify your strategy. Focus on reaching young men. Make disciples who make disciples. (more…)

Review: The Wounded Spirit

The Wounded Spirit
by Frank Peretti

This one isn’t fiction. Peretti is known for his Christian horror books such as The Oath and The Visitation. This time, though, he tells his own story of disfigurement and being bullied, and the bitterness that swallowed him up. He also tells how he was rescued from a life of anger, though he still bears scars on his soul to this day. He gives a rallying cry for the Christian church to preach against bullying and to call it the sin it is. In the end, he offers multiple resources for those who want help and for those who want to help.

This book made me weep. It recalled the many wounds I received when I was in grade school. I was not beaten as Peretti was, but the raw way in which he speaks about his past is something I identify with in great measure. Peretti underlines that his story is not unique; everyone has been wounded. Everyone has been broken. Everyone is a mess. (more…)