Book Review: “Bound to Be Free,” by D.A. Horton

Bound to be Free

Bound to Be Free, by D.A. Horton, has a nice sermonic quality to it. The book is divided into two sections: Part 1: The Performance Trap, and Part 2, The Trap of God’s Grace. Part 1 deals with what Horton calls a “performance trap” in which the entrapped person falls into a “self-induced legalism” in seeking acceptance from God. (p. 2) Regarding this “performance trap,” Horton writes: “In the performance trap, we run ourselves ragged trying to find success all in the name of earning God’s love.” (p. 2) Horton relates his personal experiences in this “trap” and expounds on the dangers and consequences of it.

In Part 2, Horton shows the reader the way out of the performance trap through trust in God, reconciliation to God, understanding God’s love for all of His children, and partnership with brothers and sisters in Christ. Horton seems to write from personal experience, and the personal stories interwoven throughout the book are a nice addition to the points Horton makes.

At first glance, this reader thought Horton’s choice of the phrase “Trap of God’s Grace,” seemed a bit unusual—indeed, it seemed contrived or forced to be the counterbalance to Part 1 of the book. However, Horton does make sense of the phrase, stating that “Inside the trap of grace we’re protected by Christ because it was His performance that was accepted by God, not ours.” (p. 100)

At about 172 pages, Bound to Be Free is a relatively quick and effortless read. On a scale of 1 through 5, I’d give the book a 4.

***NOTE***In exchange for my review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review.

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Book Review: C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity: The Crisis that Created a Classic

C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity: The Crisis that Created a Classic, by Paul McCusker, is a fun read for fans of C.S. Lewis’s work. It is a relatively short book, and is written in a clear style that makes it easy to read.

The book provides the reader with some insights into C.S. Lewis’s life, and in particular, how World War II and its impact on Lewis’s life influenced and served as the catalyst for many of his writings. The focus of the book, of course, is that Mere Christianity was birthed out of the talks Lewis gave on the radio during that time, and the book does a nice job of showing how Lewis’s involvement with radio came to be and how the talks blossomed into Mere Christianity.

Although this book is not a true biography (it is part history, part biography), McCusker covers some of the important events that transpired in Lewis’s life, and the reader comes away from the book with a better understanding of C.S. Lewis. The people with whom Lewis lived and associated (Janie Moore, Warnie  his alcoholic brother, and of course, “The Inklings,” all make up parts of C.S. Lewis’s life and likely served as a catalyst for some of his writings.

McCusker also gives the reader some details about Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, which is, of course, the underlying theme running through most of Lewis’s writings.

Although the book focuses on the events that led to the publishing of Mere Christianity, attention is given to other well known books, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as well as the science fiction trilogy consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Fans of C.S. Lewis will enjoy this book. As a fan myself, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

***NOTE***In exchange for my review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review.

 

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Book Review: Little Book of Great Dates: 52 Creative Ideas to Make Your Marriage Fun (Focus on the Family Books)

If I could sum up in just one sentence what Little Book of Great Dates, by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, is like, it would be this:

It’s an “okay” book with some decent ideas that could help committed, married couples maintain and further develop a close relationship.

Of course, most of the ideas in the book are quite obvious. The purpose of the dates is to promote a better understanding of one’s spouse. Communication, transparency, willingness to try new things, and openness are crucial to the making of great dates that lead to a great relationship. There really isn’t anything new here.

However, the book isn’t very expensive, and the suggestions and advice are worth the price of admission. I don’t think all of the ideas for “great dates” will work for everyone (I thought some were corny) but there are plenty of ideas to choose from.

To me, the most important concept of the book is (ironically) not necessarily where you go on your date, but how you and your spouse use the date experience to promote understanding and communication in your marriage. Making time to be together with your spouse (without the kids, without discussing the family finances) is one of the struggles that the book addresses. But again, nothing new or amazing here, it’s just a matter of making a date night a priority.

I’d give it 3 and half stars out of 5.

***NOTE***In exchange for my review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review.

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Book Review: Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales

Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales, by Randy Singer, makes for a fun read. This could definitely make one’s beach-reading list for the summer.

Within the first few pages, Singer captures the reader’s interest with sharp writing and quick storytelling. Singer maintains a good pace as the story unfolds, and he doesn’t let it bog down.

That said, I recommend NOT reading the back cover/jacket of the book before reading the story! It gives away too many plot points, some of which don’t take place until almost half-way through the book. If you like legal/mystery/thrillers, I recommend that you simply read the book without knowing anything about it. You’ll probably enjoy it; it’s a good book. The characters are interesting, and there is even a bit of a twist in the ending, which is quite enjoyable.

For those of you who prefer a little background on a story before you plunge in and read, I’ve included the following (but I promise not to give away too many plot points):

In general terms, Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales does a great job of tying the characters’ lives together with an engaging story. Landon Reed spent some time in prison for taking part in a point-shaving scheme. He’s a changed man, now, however. He’s a young father, with a faithful wife, and he hopes to become a lawyer—which is quite a hurdle, considering his conviction.

Reed eventually becomes an attorney, and he ends up working on a high-profile murder case, thanks to an older attorney named Harry McNaughten, who becomes Reed’s mentor.

Reed works long hours on the case, and he’s hardly at home, which poses some marital complications. Soon, things start getting dangerous—very dangerous. His family’s safety is in jeopardy, as well as his own. And then . . .

. . . Well, I recommend you read it for yourself.

***NOTE***In exchange for my review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review.

Randy Singer

Links:

For a list of questions and answers about the book, see http://mediacenter.tyndale.com/downloads/press_kits/DeadLawyersAuthorQA.pdf

Read an excerpt here for free: http://files.tyndale.com/thpdata/FirstChapters/978-1-4143-8675-1.pdf

Watch and Listen to the author discuss the book:

Author Video: http://mediacenter.tyndale.com/downloads/press_kits/RandySinger.mp4
and Book Trailer: http://mediacenter.tyndale.com/downloads/press_kits/DeadLawyers.mp4

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Book Review: The Language of Blessing

Blessing
OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK:

In The Language of Blessing, Joseph Cavanaugh writes that “[I]f all people walked in their callings and contributed what God gave them to contribute, every need in our communities would likely be met” (77).

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But how does one discover one’s calling? How does one recognize the callings in other people’s lives? Cavanaugh provides some good answers to those questions in The Language of Blessing.

Essentially, the book contains two primary topics that serve as goals for the reader: (1) how to recognize one’s own talents, and (2)(a) how to recognize and (b) facilitate talents in others. Cavanaugh explains that “All people have within themselves a potential ‘fire in the belly’—one or more internal drivers that enable them to develop the gift within, let their light shine, achieve great things, and contribute their unique genius to the world” (163).

Cavanaugh provides web links to free resources throughout the book, and he provides “Ten Keys for Observing Gifts and Talents” (page 154-58) that can help readers learn to walk in their own calling and thereby pour out blessings to others.

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One of my favorite parts of the book is about how words have the power to bring life or death . . .
The advice Cavanaugh gives in the book is an excellent reminder of the power we hold in our tongues. For example, parents have the first opportunity to recognize and nurture their children’s gifts. Cavanaugh relates, early in the book, a sad, personal story of how his father crushed a youthful, blossoming interest in horticulture with only a few sharp words. Cavanaugh warns us that “words bring forth life or death. . . . What you say has the power to give life to dreams and callings—or to snuff them out before they have a chance to develop” (11).
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FINAL NOTES AND COMMENTS:

At times, it seemed to me that many of the points Cavanaugh made were common sense, but even so, The Language of Blessing is worth reading. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

There are nuggets of wisdom woven throughout the book, and it seems that even a well-seasoned Christian will benefit from Cavanaugh’s insights. I personally found the chapters on affirming the talents of others (talents that may often go unrecognized) to be a challenge. I know I have been guilty of focusing on other people’s weaknesses, rather than on affirming their talents.

I should do better.

So should we all.

Therefore, let’s take Mr. Cavanaugh’s advice and learn to recognize our own and others’ talents; then, with that talent-recognition ability in place, let’s speak the “language of blessing” to others so they will in turn recognize and use their talents for the betterment of society.

***NOTE***In exchange for my review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review.

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Book Review: Walking with Bilbo, by Sarah Arthur

225px-Walking_with_Bilbo

Walking with Bilbo, by Sarah Arthur, is a wonderful little devotional book. Arthur does a very nice job of tying themes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) to the Bible. She has a levelheaded approach and doesn’t try to force analogous ideas between Bilbo’s journey and that of the Christian faith, but instead, she uses common sense and her own knowledge of Biblical stories and concepts to create this inspiring devotional.

I was concerned (before reading the book) that Arthur might make dubious conclusions about Christian concepts within Tolkien’s work—but she doesn’t. Tolkien didn’t intend for his work to be completely allegorical, and she understands that. Essentially, Arthur acknowledges that in all great stories, one can find Biblical themes. Arthur (who is an “unabashed Tolkien junkie” – to quote the back cover) simply focused on The Hobbit (and LOTR) to write a solid devotional. A good devotional should inspire the reader to read the Bible more, and Walking with Bilbo will likely do just that.

What if I haven’t read The Hobbit? Can I still enjoy Walking with Bilbo?

It is probably not essential that one has read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to enjoy this devotional, but familiarity with the characters and events in those books will enhance one’s understanding of the references to them in Walking with Bilbo.

Although the devotional predominantly revolves around Bilbo’s experiences in The Hobbit, Arthur references characters from LOTR as well. For example, in Chapter 3, page 24, of Walking with Bilbo, Arthur paraphrases a quote from LOTR. Arthur writes, “As Sam says toward the end of The Two Towers, no one remembers the tales in which the characters give up and turn back.” Arthur analogizes Sam’s (Samwise Gamgee, for those of you who haven’t read LOTR or seen the movies) statement to the concept that Christian faith sometimes requires a person to not “play it safe”: i.e., once you follow Jesus, “there’s no going back to life as it was before” (24). Certainly, the reader could understand that concept without having read LOTR (or having seen the movies), but familiarity with LOTR adds depth to one’s understanding of Arthur’s discussion.

So, to sum it up, one could enjoy this devotional without knowledge of The Hobbit and LOTR, but I think it best that one has read those books before reading Walking with Bilbo.

Layout of the book:

There are 22 chapters, each with a different theme. It is very easy to read one chapter per day (or more), as the chapters are about 7-9 pages long. The book is less than 200 pages long, and it includes a “Quick Reference Guide” in the back for terms that are used in The Hobbit and LOTR.

Each chapter begins with a short quote  from The Hobbit, and then Arthur’s discussion of the chapter’s topic. She incorporates scripture into her discussion very well, and I found many of the devotions applicable to my life.

At the end of each chapter, Arthur includes a “Going Further” section, followed by recommended scripture passages to further one’s devotional time. Although I read it alone, I think Walking with Bilbo would make a great group devotional (especially for Hobbit or LOTR fans!).

Conclusion: If you are a fan of The Hobbit and LOTR, and you are one who believes that reading the Bible is an essential part of your Christian walk, then you will likely enjoy the devotional, Walking with Bilbo. It will challenge you to think more deeply about matters which concern all of us. I recommend it.

***NOTE***In exchange for my honest review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review. My review is my own opinion.

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Book Review–American Patriots: Answering the Call to Freedom

American Patriots: Answering the Call to Freedom, by Rick Santorum, is a powerful book that every American should read, if only to gain an understanding that the United States was founded and fought for by many men and women who held Biblical beliefs and incorporated those beliefs into their ideas of what government should be—and what it should not be.

Essentially, the book is a series of mini-biographies about the inspiring lives of some of the heroes and heroines of the Revolutionary War. The mini-biographies are organized around the themes of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—words you probably recognize as part of the Declaration of Independence.

Often, the people’s lives detailed in this book are those of people you probably haven’t heard of (unless you are an avid and accomplished student of history), yet these people played pivotal roles in securing the freedoms enjoyed in the United States. American Patriots challenges the reader to gain an appreciation and understanding for the level of commitment our predecessors held in their fight against the British Empire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The quality and design of the book is interesting as well, as the pages have an “antiqued” look and design. The printing quality is clear and pleasing to read. American Patriots is an easy read, and it can be completed in a few hours. (The book is about 130 pages long.) The book is not an in-depth look at the Revolutionary War, nor does it go into intimate detail regarding the people discussed. I don’t think the purpose of the book was to provide a complete account of the Revolution or the Patriots’ lives, and I reviewed it with that understanding. With that frame of mind, I give American Patriots 5 out of 5 stars.

Here are just a few of the inspiring people you will read about in American Patriots:

Charles Carroll, a man worth about thirty million dollars in today’s money, had signed the Declaration of Independence, certainly putting his immense wealth and his very life at risk. Why did he risk it? His own words reveal his beliefs that motivated his commitment: “God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these States, to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue” (77-78).*

* all numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in American Patriots

Elias Boudinot, who among other things, spent $45,000 of his own funds to furnish provisions for American prisoners, was another example of a true Patriot. His Biblical values pervade the story of his life, and he went on to help create the American Bible Society in 1816 (95-101).

Emily Geiger was a young woman who believed Heaven had sent her to help the Patriots. She carried a message to General Sumpter—after first being captured by the British. Her story was interesting, and she certainly risked her life for the cause of freedom (80-82).

John Laurens gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country—even when that sacrifice could have been avoided. Laurens, against the wishes of his father, joined the Patriot cause. Of significance is that John Laurens was a wealthy man and could have avoided conflict, yet he willingly gave up his life in battle for his belief that all people (including the 260 slaves his father owned) should be free. Santorum reports that John Laurens’s grieving father “arrang[ed] for the freedom of all 260 family slaves, as his son, the advocate of the right to life and freedom for all, had requested (23).

Laurens’s dedication and ultimate sacrifice changed another man’s beliefs (i.e., his own father’s—who stood much to lose by freeing his slaves). That sacrifice had the effect of freeing 260 human beings from bondage. John Laurens was a true Patriot for the cause of the value and dignity of life!

Francis Marion was a real hero who served as the model for Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, in the movie, The Patriot. Marion fought in the French and Indian War and picked up some of the guerrilla tactics of the Cherokee Indians. Like his fictional counterpart, Marion and his small group of men hid in swamps and used surprise tactics to deal strong blows against the British. The British, thwarted by Marion’s tactics, named him “Swamp Fox” (67-72).

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THE BOTTOM LINE: If you are an American, you should read this book. You owe it to yourself and to your country to be knowledgeable
about the sacrifices our founding fathers (and mothers) made and the belief systems that those Patriots held.

***NOTE***In exchange for my honest review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review. My review is my own opinion.

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