Friday, April 21, 2017

NIV Faithlife Study Bible, Standard Print

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NIV Faithlife Study Bible
Standard Print

ISBN-13: 9780310080572
Hardcover: 2704 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: March 7, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Filled with innovative graphics and rich commentary, this visually stunning study Bible delivers helpful insights designed to inform your faith. Robust study notes are built on the original languages and adapted from the popular Faithlife Study Bible app. The balance of striking graphics, comprehensive study features, and intriguing insights from multiple points of view will keep you curious as you explore the treasures of God’s Word.

Features include:

-The full text of the most read, most trusted modern-English Bible – the New International Version (NIV)

-In depth book introductions that include an outline and information on authorship, background, structure, themes, and a map, a timeline, or both

-Verse-by-verse study notes with the unique focus of revealing nuances from the original biblical languages for modern readers

-Informative contributions by respected scholars and best-selling authors including Charles Stanley, Randy Alcorn, and Ed Stetzer, among others

-Over 100 innovative full color infographics, comprehensive timelines and informative tables to enrich Bible study. Three detailed life-of-Jesus event timelines chronicling his infancy and early ministry, the journey to Jerusalem, and the passion and resurrection. 27 family trees and people diagrams illustrate the interconnectedness of key characters in Scripture

My Review:
NIV Faithlife Study Bible is a New International Version with copious study notes. These notes included word studies, information on people and places mentioned in the verses, and cultural or historical background information. It also had maps, timelines, family tree charts, tables comparing different theological views, and infographics showing things like a fishing boat, ancient Israelite house, and royal seals of Judah.

It sounded like the study notes would focus on helping the reader understand the text for themselves rather than telling the reader what to think about the verses. In the New Testament, that was generally true and I felt the notes and graphics were interesting and helpful. It's in the Old Testament--especially early Genesis--that I had some problems.

The Old Testament notes often assumed that other Ancient Near Eastern beliefs deeply influenced the biblical narrative and beliefs. I believe that Genesis preserves the true history of the universe, and any similarities found in ancient myths are degraded forms of that true history. So I had problems with statements like "this reflects an understanding common in the ancient Near East" about how the universe worked, and then the verse was explained using New Eastern beliefs. And we're told that "the deep" in Genesis 1:2 refers to chaos and a chaos deity, thus God created chaos and so "the chaos is part of what God deems 'very good'" All because the word for "the deep" is somewhat similar to the name of a chaos deity in a religion that existed around the time of Moses.

The notes sometimes provided a look at a various viewpoints. In early Genesis, they gave more information about views that don't favor the plainly intended meaning of a verse. So we're told that the author of Genesis 1:5 specifies the length of the day with "evening and there was morning," but then they immediately say it could really mean any length of time. They could have simply stated the nonliteral interpretations rather than making it clear that they favor a nonliteral view. The notes for Noah's Flood mention that there is evidence that backs up a global flood and the verses clearly indicate such, but then basically say that a global flood is still questionable. I would have preferred it if the notes just stated the various views or that there are similarities with other religions rather than telling us what to think.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Graphic Example:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation by Robert Morgan

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Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation
by Robert Morgan

ISBN-13: 9780718083373
Hardback: 192 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: April 4, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through BookLook.

Book Description from Goodreads:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight. — Psalm 19:14

Do you long to deepen your intimacy with the Lord? To find a sense of soul-steadying peace? To develop emotional strength? Then you will need to pause long enough to be still and know He is God. Trusted Pastor Robert Morgan leads us through a journey into biblical meditation, which, he says, is thinking Scripture—not just reading Scripture or studying Scripture or even thinking about Scripture—but thinking Scripture, contemplating, visualizing, and personifying the precious truths God has given us.

The practice is as easy and portable as your brain, as available as your imagination, as near as your Bible, and the benefits are immediate. As you ponder, picture, and personalize God’s Word, you begin looking at life through His lens, viewing the world from His perspective. And as your thoughts become happier and holier and brighter, so do you.

My Review:
Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation examines the practice of meditating on Scripture. The author started by explaining what biblical meditation is and the many benefits of practicing it (like peace, energy, hope, insights, etc.). He talked about biblical and modern examples of people who practiced biblical meditation and provided "quick tips" about practicing Biblical meditation. He also explained how to meditate on Scripture by pondering, personifying, and practicing the verses to help you to internalize these truths and gain God's perspective on life.

While it seemed like much of the book focused on convincing the reader to take up (and stick with) biblical meditation, I did feel comfortable that I could do it after completing this book. I enjoyed the 10-day meditation guide at the end, which takes you step-by-step through the "ponder, personify, practice" process using some verses quoted in the book. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book.

Side note: He included a story about having trouble sleeping once due to a sudden fear that popped into his mind, but meditating on a Scripture verse allowed him to fall back to sleep. I've been struggling with fears popping into my head when I'm trying to sleep, but I've been able to remain calm since I started pondering Bible verses as I go to bed. I felt like that story was just for me.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dawn of Christianity by Robert J. Hutchinson

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The Dawn of Christianity
by Robert J. Hutchinson

ISBN-13: 9780718079420
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: March 14, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through BookLook.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
The Dawn of Christianity tells the story of the last week of Jesus' life and the first few years after his death and resurrection. Using the most recent studies by top Christian and secular scholars, Robert Hutchinson reconstructs all of the known accounts of the witnesses to the resurrection and the initial years afterward, when they spread the word about what they had witnessed.

My Review:
The Dawn of Christianity is a "narrative retelling" of the last week of Jesus' life and of the first few years after his death and resurrection. The author used direct quotes from the Bible, summarized what happened, or created a fictional narrative of what might have happened. However, this is a commentary rather than pure narrative.

While talking about events, the author provided information about the political situation of the time and archeological discoveries. For example, he described what the temple looked like and the likely location of the crucifixion along with details about crucifixion. The author also talked about what skeptics of the Bible have thought and now think about various passages.

While he usually said "some skeptics doubted" or similar phrases, a few times he said "scholars doubted"--like anyone who believed the accuracy of the Bible couldn't be counted as a scholar. He also tried to explain away the supernatural elements. If Jesus raised someone from the dead, that person wasn't really dead but asleep and Jesus just revived them. (Happily, Jesus' resurrection was not explained away using this argument.) According to the author, Jesus just assumed that anyone criticizing the system would end up dead--yet he held out hope he'd avoid death and considered running away to a foreign country. He also had Jesus secretly arranging things like the use of the donkey and the Upper Room and keeping this information from his closest followers for security reasons.

The part about the first few years of the early church was mostly a summary of events described in Acts along with some political background information. The commentary effort was mostly spent on the events right before and after the crucifixion. There are plenty of books that cover that material and do so in a way that's easier to read (as this had a more academic tone).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Alive in Him by Gloria Furman

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Alive in Him
by Gloria Furman

ISBN-13: 9781433549779
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Crossway
Released: March 31, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description from Goodreads:
God's grand plan for the redemption of creation has been in motion since before time began. The book of Ephesians lays out this glorious vision, highlighting the coming of Christ's kingdom on earth--a kingdom that will soon arrive in full.

In Alive in Him, Gloria Furman leads us deep into the biblical text, exploring the book's main themes and showing us how the blessings we have received in Christ empower us to walk in a new way. Designed to be read alongside the book of Ephesians, Alive in Him draws us into the plotline of Scripture, directing our gaze to the love of Jesus Christ--a love that has the power to transform how we live.

My Review:
Alive in Him is a thematic study of Ephesians. Rather than studying Ephesians verse-by-verse, the author took a section at a time and explored its theme. She assumed you will read the text in your Bible before reading this book. The first half is about what Christ has accomplished through the cross, and the second half is about how we can walk in the light of that reality. I liked how she pulled verses in from other parts of the Bible to help us better understand the points made in Ephesians.

While the author is very enthusiastic about the topics covered, this is a dense book as she didn't use many stories to illustrate her points. I normally prefer this style, but there were times I'd have to re-read sentences and was still left unsure exactly what she meant. It sounded profound but needed more or clearer explanation. Overall, though, I enjoyed this study of Ephesians.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Jesus by A. W. Tozer

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by A. W. Tozer

ISBN-13: 9780802415202
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Released: March 7, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Tozer helps to high thoughts of God brought low—yet no less moving—for the common reader. Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son features selections from Tozer’s writings on the God-man, Jesus Christ. It follows the chronology of Christ's earthly life and explores classic themes of Christology, helping readers better comprehend and appreciate Jesus’ person and work.

When you set out to study Christ, you want to behold His splendor the best you can. Read Jesus and appreciate anew the Savior of the world and the power of the written word to glorify His name.

My Review:
Jesus is a collection of 17 sermons or essays by A. W. Tozer that are organized by periods of Jesus' life. The first essays tended to focus on the character and work of God and Jesus, and I enjoyed these. Some of the later essays got sidetracked into pointing out the errors of belief in certain Christian (or non-Christian) groups rather than focusing solely on the work of Christ. While interesting in a historical way (especially as some of these errors are still around), I didn't enjoy these as much.

The questions at the end of each chapter generally helped me to think over and process that chapter. Tozer tends to dig deep on a topic. He's not difficult to understand, though he often explained things in a way I'm not used to. I usually needed to stop and think things over as I read it so I could contemplate his full meaning. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting collection, especially to those who enjoy Tozer's writings.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Story Travelers Bible by Tracey Madder

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The Story Travelers Bible
by Tracey Madder
Illustrated by
Tim Crecelius

ISBN-13: 9781496409157
Hardcover: 356 pages
Publisher: Tyndale Kids
Released: March 1, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Join Lana, Munch, and Griffin on the adventure of a lifetime as they travel through the Holy Land and learn about the stories, cultures, people, and places of the Bible. High-quality illustrations, engaging sidebars, and scripture passages draw kids into the narrative.

The Story Travelers Bible teaches kids that the Bible is more than just a bunch of tales told by parents and Sunday school teachers, but the Bible documents God's work in and for His people from the beginning of time. The Story Travelers Bible will take kids on a ride through 85 Bible stories.

My Review:
The Story Travelers Bible is a children's Bible story collection for grades 3 - 7. The stories were told in present tense since the modern main characters (Lana, Munch, and Griffin) watch from a time-traveling bus as events happen. They started at creation and ended with John's revelation about the new heavens and new earth. The stories were usually tied together with a summary of what happened between these stories, so it reads as one continuous story.

There were side bars providing simple memory verses, some commentary about the events, and information about the various countries mentioned. Overall, the stories were retold pretty faithfully to the biblical versions. They skipped over things that parents might not want to explain, so Ruth simply goes to Boaz and he wakes up--no lying at his feet--and Rahab's occupation was never mentioned. Jael "quickly and quietly kills Sisera" without the details of how it was done.

The illustrations were simple in style yet looked more like real people than cartoons. They were also reasonably accurate in terms of what the people and things may have looked like. However, the illustrator didn't do a good job with early Genesis. It's hard to take the Noah account seriously as literal history when the illustration made it look like only a few animals would fit in the boat. Then the toy-like boat landed, apparently about to fall off off the top of a small mountain peak, with no way for the animals and people to get off the Ark.

Eve was shown sitting against the forbidden tree while she tells the serpent that they can't eat from the tree or even touch it. Oops! And both text and illustration had Adam asleep in Eve's lap, so he ended up eating the fruit without knowing where it came from. That's the one addition made to the biblical text that had theological ramifications, and I don't think the biblical text indicates that to be true. Anyway, except for early Genesis, this was one of the better children's Bible story collections that I've read.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Really Woolly Easter Blessings by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

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Really Woolly Easter Blessings
by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

ISBN-13: 9780718092566
Boardbook: 40 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: Feb. 21, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through BookLook.

Book Description, Modified from BookLook:
Winter’s nap is over, and new life is all around! Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping. And the Really Woolly characters are discovering God’s goodness all around them. Curl up with your little one, and join the fun while learning about the hope of Easter and springtime!

Adorable rhymes, sweet Bible verses, and prayer starters will make reading time a special moment for you and your child—to connect with each other.

My Review:
Really Woolly Easter Blessings is a Christian children's board book (apparently for ages 2-5 years old; I would have guessed a little older). Rather than a story, this book contains a series of rhymes. Each double-spread page contains a simple Bible verse, a fun rhyme based on that verse, and a very short prayer thanking God for that topic. The topics cover God's love and care for us (including what Jesus did for us on the cross) as well as new life and spring.

Due to the spring theme, the illustrations show the animal characters among lush, green grass and many flowers. I'm going to be reading this to a young one growing up in a city in the desert, so I'm not sure how well she'll be able to relate to the illustrations. However, I do feel that the author did an excellent job of making topics like God's forgiveness understandable to young children. Overall, I'd recommend this meaningful, enjoyable book of rhymes.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

"The LORD will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain that waters the ground" - Hosea 6:3

Grass of green and skies of blue,
Birds softly chirp their songs for you.
Tulips lift their sleepy heads
In yellows, purples, pinks, and reds.

We watch the seasons come and go,
But this, dear child, be sure to know:
The Lord is with you every day--
His perfect love is here to stay!

Dear God, I'm so glad Your love for me never changes or goes away.