Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Names of God

book cover

The Names of God
by George W. Knight

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing
First Released: 2009

Source: I won the book from publisher in a contest.

Back Cover Description:
Know God Better--Though His Fascinating Names

If you'd like to know God better, this study of more than 250 of His most important names and titles will help. From "Abba, Father" through "the Word," you'll see the incredible breadth of God's personality as depicted in scripture.

By veteran Bible reference writer George W. Knight, The Names of God shows you the context, meaning, and implications of key names of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Lavishly illustrated in full color, featuring images both classic and contemporary, The Names of God is a unique Bible reference book with a devotional flavor.

The Names of God had entries for 73 names or titles for God the Father, 151 for Jesus, and 26 for the Holy Spirit. The author gave a verse in which the name is used, summarized the context of the verse, explained what the name meant in that context, listed the related names that are used elsewhere, and gave a meditative thought about the name. There were also 'side' boxes which had verses from hymns that use the name or related Bible verses.

The pictures illustrated the name or a point made in the text--usually those things which might be unfamiliar to the reader. There were a lot of nice, useful pictures, but I found some of the pictures a bit odd--like a picture of a dog with the caption 'Dog's are well-loved as faithful companions' to illustrate the title "Faithful"

Though not specifically set up as a devotional, the discussions for each name were relatively short and ended with a devotional-type thought, so it would work well as a devotional. The information was rooted in the Bible, contained good theology, and had some nice insights. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those looking for a devotional-type book and/or those wanting to learn more about the many names of God.

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 from pages 32-33
God of My Salvation
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18 [NIV: God my Savior]

This passage from the little-known prophet Habakkuk is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. It is filled with agricultural imagery from the prophet's time, including crop failures and the loss of livestock. But Habakkuk's faith allowed him to see beyond the troubles of the moment to the deeper reality that the God of Salvation was in charge. He would not let him down.

Rephrased in modern terms, Habakkuk's sentiments might read something like this: "Although the grocery money is gone, energy prices are going through the ceiling, my mortgage payment just jumped by four hundred dollars a month, and I don't know where the next meal is coming from, I will rejoice in the Lord and continue to trust in the God of My Salvation."

God of Peace
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus...through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work [NIV: equip you with everything good] to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21

The author of the epistle of the Hebrews brought his book to a close with a request for the blessings of the God of Peace to rest upon His people. This is one of the most beautiful benedictions in the Bible.

Some people think of peace as the absence of conflict. But peace according to the New Testament is the inner tranquility of those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ and have been reconciled to God because their sins have been forgiven.

The Lord is the God of Peace because He sent His own Son to make it possible for us to experience this sense of well-being. This is how the apostle Paul expresses it: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

God of the Whole Earth
For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. Isaiah 54:5

This name of God from the prophet Isaiah emphasizes His unlimited jurisdiction. There is no place on earth where His authority is limited. This idea is just the opposite of the view of most pagan nations of Bible times. They believed their gods were local or regional in scope. These deities existed to serve their needs and protect them from their enemies, so their authority as gods did not extend beyond national borders.

This is why Naaman, a Syrian military commander, wanted to carry dirt from Israel back to his country after he was healed by the prophet Elisha in Israelite territory (see 2 Kings 5:17). He thought this miracle-working God was a regional god whose power he could transfer to his own people.

The Lord's presence doesn't have to be carried back and forth from one country to another. He already exists in every place--the supreme God over all the world. The psalmist declares, "The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Quotes: Feeling the Cost of Sin

From Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie (p. 6):

It's in our suffering that we can truly begin to identify with [Jesus' suffering...on the cross]. We can finally get a tiny taste of what he was willing to endure out of his love for us. This is the deep knowing most of us have at least said we wanted, though we never thought it would cost us this much.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of Believing God by Beth Moore. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:

Anonymous (a.k.a. ebeandebe)

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of this book from Books-A-Million (see the sidebar for instructions of getting a ChristFocus Book Club discount on your order) or your favorite bookstore. Anyone is welcome to join in our book discussion which starts on January 1, 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Book Review: How to Reach Your Full Potential for God

How to Reach Your Full Potential for God cover

How to Reach Your Full Potential for God
by Charles Stanley

Hardback: 256 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
God has more for you.
... more ways for you to feel joy.
... more ways for you to experience His peace.
... more ways for you to encounter His beauty.
... more expressions of His love to shower upon you.

Are you ready to experience God's best?

In How to Reach Your Full Potential for God, best-selling author, teacher, and pastor Dr.Charles F. Stanley lays out seven essentials to an abundant life--the life of purpose that God planned specifically for you.

"You are not here by accident....You are here to accomplish a job that God assigned to you from eternity past."

If you settle for less than God's best in your life, the world will lose your contribution, and you will miss the exhilaration of reaching your full potential.

"It is an awesome, eye-opening, and inspiring thing to catch a glimpse of how God is working in your life--weaving together who He made you to be with those things He has prepared you to do and experience."

Chapter by chapter, Dr. Stanley makes the biblical path to fulfilling your God-given potential clear, practical, and inspiring. Follow it to experience the joy, peace, and love that your heavenly Father has waiting for you. Read these pages, embrace these principles, and enjoy every moment of life at its best.

The title of this book is excellent in describing who it's for. If you want to reach your full potential for God, then this book is for you. It's written in a style of a coach (Dr. Stanley) telling an athlete (the reader) how to win the game (a life serving God) with the game plan coming from the Bible. Some of the advice might sound a little extreme to some readers, but I'd agree that extreme is appropriate if you want to reach your full potential--just like a top athlete is willing to push themselves beyond the comfortable and easy to do his best.

Some chapters, like chapters 4 and 5, came mainly from the Bible and used a nice amount of Scripture to support his points. (I really liked chapter 5, by the way, and I hope he has or will someday write a whole book on "a clear/clean mind.") Other chapters drew an overall principle from the Bible and then, since the Bible didn't give specifics, drew on other sources to create a game plan.

While this book is rather self-focused, it's not "you ought to have these goals (do these things) if you want to be a good Christian" but a "here are our goals and here's how to accomplish them." At the end of most chapters, he gave an example of how a real person applied that chapter's principle and what the results were.

I had a slight question here and there about the nuances of how he phrased a statement, but overall I found his theology solid. I liked that he has the reader focus on God as their source of strength to accomplish everything. So, if you want to reach your full potential for God and would like Bible-based coaching on how to do it, this book will help.

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 from Chapter Three (pp. 23-24, 30)

After you shake off the bonds that are keeping you from seeking and acknowledging your potential, you are likely to encounter several hurdles in your attitude or thinking. These obstacles can trip you up unless you are willing to overcome them with your faith. Let me point out at least seven of these hurdles.

Hurdle #1: A Limited Perspective

Some people are focused solely on themselves in the here and now. As a result, they are extremely nearsighted. They see only what is happening right before them or what is affecting their lives with the greatest intensity at any given moment. Concerned only with what is happening this hour or this day, these people live in the moment, sliding from minute to minute without any thought. They react to life rather than respond to it. Reactions are immediate, instinctual, impulsive, and generally arise from emotion. Responses, by comparison, are measured, evaluative, and "thought out" to some degree-and therefore, they tend to be slightly delayed in time. Both reactions and responses have a spiritual root but their expression is different. The Lord calls us to express godly responses--behaviors based upon our spiritual value system, our belief in God's Word, and our intimate relationship with Him.

Others view life by looking only in the mirror. They see only how people, circumstances, or situations affect them--not how they might impact the lives of others. Although these personality types do not consider others, they usually expect others to think continually about them and are upset if that is not the case!

If you believe that your purpose in life is solely in the here and now, or that your purpose is wrapped up entirely in what will benefit you, it is very likely that you will become extremely self-indulgent. You will ask only, "What brings me immediate pleasure and satisfaction?" And then you will seek out and pursue only those things.

The real question to ask is, "What does God have in mind for me and for my life?" Our ultimate purpose on this earth is not to gratify and satisfy ourselves, but to bring pleasure and joy to the heart of the Father.


Hurdle #6: The Fear of Failure

Another major hurdle that can trip us up is the fear of failure. Each of us must acknowledge that we already have experienced far more failures than successes. How many times do you think you fell down learning to walk as a baby before you finally took your first steps? How many wrong notes did you play before you mastered your first piece on the piano? How many times have you misread driving instructions and taken a wrong turn?

All of us have failed at some things. But that does not mean we are failures. It tells us that we have tried some things and discovered that we needed more skills, more sensitivity, more love, more information, or more of God's presence and power in order to succeed. Failures teach us if we will choose to be taught. They inform us if we will open our minds to be informed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Book Quote: Real Fruit

From Content to Be Good, Called to Be Godly by Janet Denison (pages 157-158):

A real apple is created because it was attached to a tree that produces an apple. Artificial fruit can sit in a bowl and look good for years. With a little dusting, this plastic fruit will maintain its fresh and "tasty" appearance. Real fruit doesn't need maintenance for the best appearance--it requires sustenance.

An artificial witness can often look better than a genuine witness. The artificial witness seems flawless and is "stem free." It makes sense because a false witness is manufactured, not grown. A real witness cannot be manufactured; God himself must create him. What strengthens and sustains your witness: you or God?

But the real difference between my two apples is the weight. One apple is much lighter than the other because it is hollow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of this book from Books-A-Million (see the sidebar for instructions of getting a ChristFocus Book Club discount on your order) or your favorite bookstore.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Giveaway: Believing God

Believing God cover

I'm giving away my (lightly used) copy of Believing God by Beth Moore. It's an excellent book for Christians, full of truths that can transform your life.

Read my review to learn more about the book.

This contest is for USA and Canada residents only.

If you've never won a free book from ChristFocus Book Club, enter the contest by either:

On Twitter, send me a tweet saying "Hi @christfocus. Please enter me to win "Believing God" by Beth Moore."


Leave a comment on this post asking to be entered in the contest for Believing God and also leave some way for me to contact you if you win.

If you've won a free book from ChristFocus Book Club before, I'd ask that you don't enter the contest for this book if you aren't at least halfway finished with the book you won. Sorry to be so picky. I just really want to see these books read and talked about.

I'll randomly select the winner at noon (central time) on December 24, 2009 and list them on this blog. I'll inform the winner and ask for their shipping address. If the winner hasn't responded within four days of notification, a new winner will be selected.

I hope everyone has fun with this, and I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks of this book!

January Book: Believing God

Believing God cover

Believing God
by Beth Moore

Hardback: 270 pages
Publisher: Broadman & Holman Publishers
First Released: 2004

Source: Bought from

Why I Chose This Book:
I chose Believing God to be our January/February book club discussion book because it's God-focused, Scripture-based, and contains truths that can transform lives.

This book is easy to read and understand while still digging deep into the word. The author illustrates her points using accounts from the Bible as well as from her own life. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who feels like being a Christian hasn't changed them much, or who feel like they're stuck repeatedly falling into sin and can't get free, or those who are seeking the abundant life Christ came to give us.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Do you believe God or merely believe in Him?

Do you take God at His word, believing what he has told us, or do you just believe in His existence and the salvation He offers?

What does it mean to believe God? Abraham and Moses believed God. This planted in them a seed of faith that grew into towering oaks of steadfast trust and belief. Hebrews 11 is full of other examples of bold belief. In Believing God, Beth Moore explores what it means to believe God and how this can transform our lives.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Is it working? Your belief system, that is. Is it really working? God's intention all along has been for the believer's life to work. From divine perspective toward terrestrial turf, God meant for His children to succeed. God stated unapologetically in Joshua 1:8 that conditions exist under which "then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success"� (NASB). Are our Christian lives successful? Are they achieving and experiencing what Scripture said they would? In a recent sermon my son-in-law preached, Curt told us the only way we were going to impact the world and the next generation is to prove that our faith in Christ is real and that it works. For countless Christians I'm convinced it's real. My concern is whether or not we have the fruit to suggest it works.

I fear the reality of most Christians differs dramatically from our theology. We bear little resemblance to a church causing the gates of hell to tremble. I squirm as I suggest that the gap between our theology and our reality is so wide we've set ourselves up for ridicule. The sad part of it is that some of us are working pretty hard at something that is hardly working. Why do we spend so much time and energy on spiritual exercises with few effects while the rest of the world sleeps in on Sundays? Why are some of us getting up before dawn to have a quiet time with effects drained to the dregs by noon? Why are we running out of ink in our highlighters marking Scriptures that rarely jump off the page and onto our pavement? Why are we doing everything we can to convince others to do something that hasn't worked terrifically well for us? Why won't some of us admit that for all practical purposes the present belief system of most Christians isn't working?

Certainly those of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior have received the automatic and glorious result of eternal salvation. However, the primary reason God left us on earth after our salvation was for our Christianity to "succeed"� right here on this turf. We're getting by but getting by, was never our destiny. We were meant to be profoundly effective. Why have we accepted average? Are the few effects most of us see and experience all Christianity has to offer? Is this it? All we can expect? If so, someone out there needs to feel sorry for us.

I'd volunteer except that I no longer buy it. Our status-quo system of contemporary Christianity isn't working, and I'm bucking it. Thankfully, so are a number of others. Some of us no longer want to play like the emperor has new clothes when he's walking around, as my grandmother would say, as naked as a jaybird. The church, comprised of all believers in Jesus Christ, is generally pretending she's cloaked with kingdom power and effectiveness while in reality she has exposed herself in powerlessness to the ridicule of the world. We can't blame the devil. For the most part we've dumbed-down New Testament Christianity and accepted our reality as theology rather than biblical theology as our reality. We've reversed the standard, walking by sight and not by faith. We want to be the best of what we see, but frankly what we see is far removed from God's best.

Read more from chapter one.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Quotes: Worship

From Because He Loves Me by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick (page 139-140):

God created us to be worshipers because it is right that he be known, loved, and worshiped. This isn't because he is needy and wishes someone would tell him how special he is. No, it's because he is perfect and the worship of his perfection is holiness in action.

Because he is God and perfectly holy, everything in him revolves around him and elicits worship from all creation (Luke 19:40). When we fail in holiness, we fail because we're not centered on him...we're worshiping something else. We aren't believing in his goodness; we're creating other gods to worship...

Although worship is God's goal, he also has great regard for our happiness. He desires our worship because our happiness is inextricably tied to our worship of him. When we think on him, rejoice in him, and praise his glorious holiness, then, and only then, will we find the happiness we're seeking. What a blessing that he has tied our happiness to his glory!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Giveaway: Scouting the Divine

Scouting the Divine cover


This book seems perfectly suited to being a Christmas gift, so I've decided to do a Christmas Giveaway for my review copy (which is a finished version, hardback, just like what you'd buy in a store) of Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg.

Read my review to learn more about the book.

One copy is being given away. This giveaway is for residents of the US & Canada only.

To enter the contest, either:

On Twitter, send me a tweet saying "Hi @christfocus. Please enter me to win the book SCOUTING THE DIVINE by Margaret Feinberg."


Leave a comment on this post asking to be entered in the contest for Scouting the Divine and also leave some way for me to contact you if you win. I'd also love to hear why you're interested in winning this book.

I'll randomly select the winner at noon (Central Time) on December 17, 2009 and announce them on this blog. (Yes, I'm sorry, but this means the book isn't likely to arrive at the winner's house by Christmas.) I'll inform the winner and ask for their mailing address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Book Review: Scouting the Divine

Scouting the Divine cover

Scouting the Divine
by Margaret Feinberg

Hardback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy provided by publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Ancient Truths. Modern Life.

While some dismiss the Bible as a dusty old book, author Margaret Feinberg view its pages as portals to adventure: Not only is it chockfull of clever plots and compelling stories, it’s also laced with historical insights and literary beauty. Yet, lately, I can’t help but notice the gap between the ancient world and my own.

What does it mean to know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd when the only places I’ve encountered sheep are at petting zoos? How can I understand the promise of a land overflowing with honey when I buy mine in a bear-shaped bottle? Can I grasp the urgency of Jesus’ invitation to abide in the vine when I shop for grapes at a local grocery store?

Join Margaret on a spiritual adventure that moves from reading the Bible to entering stories that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled, and savored--and, in the process, discover for yourself the beauty and wonder of Scripture all over again.

Scouting the Divine is Scripture-focused and a fast, enjoyable read. About half of the book was spent describing (in a "as it happened" style) how she found the expert, arriving and getting to know the expert, and what the author's day with them was like. She then would ask the shepherd/farmer/beekeeper/vintner questions about verses in the Bible that related to sheep and shepherding, farming, beekeeping, and growing grapes. They would answer, and she'd then apply what she learned to bring out insights about the Bible.

Though I've read books on these topics before, the author still brought new insights to the subject. The sheep and vineyard sections were especially good. I'm a farmer, and I felt that the farm section could have been more insightful. I also didn't entirely agree with the farmers' take on one parable (about the tares), though the lesson they derived was Bible-based. The honey section didn't have much of a Bible-application section since there's not much about honey in the Bible, but what was there was interesting.

Though the author was asking these questions of a modern shepherd, etc., she did research the ancient practices and brought up the differences where she knew about them. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants further insight into the parables, metaphors, and events of the Bible.

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 from pages 50-51, 52
I knew that the spotless sheep was representative of the flawless sacrifice--the Son of God--who was to come. But when God asked for the sheep without blemish, spot, or defect, he was asking the people not just to hand over their best, but also to sacrifice something they had worked years to develop.

I imagined shepherds struggling, season after season and year after year, to create what was, in essence, the perfect sheep. Then, they sacrificed the animal. For me, it would be like spending months working on the perfect prose, then lighting a match and burning it. The act places me in a posture of depending on God to create through me again. For the common shepherd, sacrifice meant trusting that another strong, perfect sheep would come along and contribute to the flock's long-term survival. I now understand why the temptation to hold back or offer a less-than-perfect sheep at the altar was so great.

And God didn't just ask for the perfect sheep; he also wanted its wool. Deuteronomy 18:4 instructs shepherds to give the first shearing of the sheep as an offering to God. Above the crackling warmth radiating from the stove, I read the verse aloud to Lynne.

"Is a first shearing a once-in-a-lifetime offering?" I asked.

"Yes, everybody wants the first shearing, especially if it's from one of your best lambs. The first shearing is the finest fleece that's used for the best clothes. First fleece is the wool that's neither itchy nor scratchy, the wool everyone wants next to their skin. It's also the smallest shearing, because of the size of the sheep. To ask for that is a real sacrifice!"

That meant each sheep's best wool comes only from its first-ever haircut, with every subsequent sheering decreasing in value. I was intrigued by the idea that God asked for the first virgin wool, a shearing that could never be recovered.

....For the first time in a long while, maybe ever, I had felt with my own hands what God desired from sacrifice. It was nothing like what I had expected. All too often when I think about giving my best to God, I think about giving big. But in asking for the first fleece, God isn't asking for the biggest. He wants the smallest and the softest.

He doesn't want more--he wants the best.

Read the introduction and chapter one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Quote: The Right Kind of Fear

From Fearless by Max Lucado (page 87):

A healthy church is where our fears go to die. We pierce them through with Scripture, psalms of celebration and lament. We melt them in the sunlight of confession. We extinguish them with the waterfall of worship, choosing to gaze at God, not our dreads.

And from page 169:

“They fell on their faces and were greatly afraid” [Matt. 17:6].

This is the fear of the Lord. Most of our fears are poisonous. They steal sleep and pillage peace. But this fear is different.

“From a biblical perspective, there is nothing neurotic about fearing God. The neurotic thing is not to be afraid, or to be afraid of the wrong thing. That is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong thing. When God is fully revealed to us and we 'get it'; then we experience the conversion of our fear....’Fear of the Lord’ is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.” [quote from Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, pp. 102-3]

How long since you felt this fear? Since a fresh understanding of Christ buckled your knees and emptied your lungs? Since a glimpse of him left you speechless and breathless? If it's been a while, that explains your fears.

When Christ is great, our fears are not. As awe of Jesus expands, fears of life diminish. A big God translates into big courage. A small view of God generates no courage.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Fearless" Daily Devotional

This Daily Devotional is from Max Lucado's book, Fearless.

Read Hebrews 13:5-6:

NIV: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

What reason does the writer give for being content with whatever we have?

What promise does the writer give us?

How does he want us to respond to this promise?