Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Discussion for Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

As you read Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie, this is where you can make comments on the book, ask questions (of other club members or the authors), or answer questions that I post here.

Click on the title of this post to see the discussion and to get the comment box so you can post your own comments.

If you're not familiar with blogger, you can then leave a comment by:

1) Scrolling down to the bottom of the page (preferably after reading the discussion ;) ).

2) Write your comments in the text box right below "Post a Comment."

3) Click on the selection box to the right of "Comment as" and chose the "Name/URL" option. Type your first name into the correct place in the pop-up box (you can ignore the URL box) and click the Continue button.

4) Click on the Post Comment button. Your comment should now be posted.

Giveaway: The Mormon Mirage

The Mormon Mirage

The lovely people at Zondervan sent me two copies of The Mormon Mirage by Latayne C. Scott when I won the Twitter contest. I told them I was one person (with two Twitter IDs that won), but I also said I'd hold a giveaway for the second copy if they sent it. They liked my idea and sent two copies. So we're having a giveaway of this excellent book!

Read my review to learn more about the book.

This contest is for USA residents only.

To enter the contest, either:

On Twitter, send me a tweet saying "@christfocus Enter me to win "The Mormon Mirage" by Latayne C. Scott."


Leave a comment on this post asking to be entered in the contest for The Mormon Mirage 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 September 9, 2009 and announce them on this blog. I'll inform the winner and ask for their mailing address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Book Review: The Mormon Mirage

The Mormon Mirage

The Mormon Mirage
by Latayne C. Scott

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Won during a Twitter contest held by the publisher

Back Cover Description:
As a gifted young student at Brigham Young University, Latayne C. Scott once was an ardent proponent of Mormonism. But a meticulous examination of Latter-day Saint (LDS) doctrines and practices convinced her that she and countless others had believed a lie. In the first edition of The Mormon Mirage, Scott shared her remarkable journey out of Mormonism as she uncovered shocking inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the faith she had loved and lived.

Thirty years later, Mormonism and Mormon scholarship have evolved with the times. In this third, revised and updated edition of her well-known book, Scott keeps pace with changes and advances in Mormonism, and reveals formidable new challenges to its claims and teachings. The Mormon Mirage provides fascinating, carefully documented insights into:

• DNA research’s withering implications for the Book of Mormon
• the impact of new “revelations” on Latter-day Saint (LDS) race relations
• new findings about Mormon history
• increasing publicity about LDS splinter groups, particularly polygamous ones
• recent disavowals of long-held doctrines by church leadership
• the rise of Mormon apologetics on the Internet

More than a riveting, insider’s scrutiny of the Mormon faith, this book is a testimony to the trustworthiness of Scripture and the grace of Jesus Christ.

A little background: I have an aunt and uncle who became Mormons when I was young. Their two children grew up as Mormons, married Mormons, and are raising their children as Mormons. The little they've said to me about their beliefs never made much sense to me. Six months ago, in an attempt to better understand what they believed, I read several chapters of a "covert Christians to Mormonism" book that my uncle had given my mother. This book attempted to demonstrate that even Christian Scripture proves Mormon beliefs. However, the verses they used in the book only 'proved' their doctrine when the verses were taken out of context and badly twisted. Not to mention that some of the doctrines taught in that book contradicted each other. I was frustrated and confused--why couldn't my Mormon relatives see the problems I so clearly did? Obviously, they were coming at it from a whole different viewpoint. I felt I needed to understand that viewpoint before I could effectively communicate with them about their beliefs.

When Zondervan held a Twitter contest for The Mormon Mirage, I jumped at the chance to win it. I hoped that someone who had been a Mormon and deeply understood how they thought yet who was now a Christian and understood how I thought would be able to help me understand the Mormon viewpoint by accurately comparing it to my own.

I was right. This is a wonderful book for those who have Mormon relatives or who want to better understand and communicate with Mormons when they come calling.

The Mormon Mirage is thoroughly researched with many links to free online resources for those interested in studying any of the covered topics more deeply. The author briefly described why she, personally, left the LDS church, the deep doubts she had about God and herself afterward, and her journey to becoming a Christian. She carefully covered what Mormons believe (and why she no longer believes it) concerning Joseph Smith and his visions, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and what they teach about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the holy spirit, Satan, etc. She also covered their other main theological ideas (including what Mormons mean when they use terms like "saved" and "hell"). She also briefly described various lesser-known denominations/splinter groups that follow Joseph Smith's teachings.

The information was useful and easy for me to understand and remember. The book really helped me understand how Mormons view their teachings and how they make them make sense in their own minds. I now feel confident that I can effectively communicate with my Mormon relatives. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to better understand Mormons and what they believe, especially those with Mormon relatives.

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 One
[pp.20-21] There are many books and magazine articles written to convince Mormons of their doctrinal errors. Many of these, however, make at least one of two major mistakes. One is underestimating the intelligence, integrity, or character of the LDS people. Many times when I was a Mormon, I had read some otherwise factual literature against Mormonism which by its bitter or berating tone turned me off. The doctrinal point the writer was making never sank in. Such literature implies that Mormons believe as they do because they are stupid, narrow-minded, or satanic. Since I considered other Mormon friends and myself to be intelligent, open-minded children of God seeking to do his will, I would toss such offensive literature into the nearest trash can. Then I would offer a prayer to God for the soul of anyone who would tell such lies in print where they might be accepted as fact by someone who’d never met a good Latter-day Saint.

The other great error committed by many writers on Mormonism is that of not checking their facts. Like the mother of the girl who asked me about my navel, such writers discredit themselves with inaccuracies. Some writers, carried away in their enthusiasm, embellish facts — it’s easy to do — but when I would run into such stretching or bending of the truth in writings critical of Mormonism, I would dismiss as also erroneous anything else I read there that didn’t agree with LDS doctrines I had been taught.

When you confront many Mormons with, for example, copies of the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, or strange prophecies made by Joseph Smith which never came true, some will be dumbfounded. Often such things are unavailable to them through regular Church channels. If, therefore, a book errs when covering things they do know about, how can they trust new information on things they have never heard of?

The most effective weapon of all in Dan’s armory was three-pronged. First was his overwhelming faith and confidence in the Word of God, the Bible. Second was the prayer that he continually offered for my soul’s enlightenment. Third, and most penetrating, was the love he had for me. Had we not loved each other, I don’t believe I would have had the courage to leave the comfortable LDS way of life. Had he ceased loving me before my conversion was completed, I fear I would have returned to the womb of Mormonism and lived ever an infant, frightened and dependent, but secure in my deliberate ignorance.

I finally came to an impasse in my spiritual progress. I was struggling against the bonds of Mormonism — tradition and heritage, doctrinal comfort and love. Yet I felt that something was terribly wrong there — why did my teachings and background in Mormonism conflict so sharply with my new knowledge of the Bible? Why the inconsistencies in LDS historical accounts and early documents?

Read all of chapter one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Book Quotes: Thinking Differently

From Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite (p. 95):

Or we think, After I get my life together, once I get perfect, then God will use me. Good luck with that!

That's not the way God works. Look through the Bible--God uses imperfect, broken, hurting people everywhere. Being broken and hurting and imperfect is the human condition. It's what being human means in a fallen world. Who else is God going to use?

And from page 130:

If becoming the real you depends so much on your thoughts, how could your life be different if you thought differently?

...What if you saw yourself as forgiven and free, a servant of God on a mission every day?

...What would happen if you opened your eyes to what you can do for God, not what you can't?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: The Bible and the Land

The Bible and the Land

The Bible and the Land
by Gary M. Burge

Trade Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
As the early church moved away from the original cultural setting of the Bible and found its home in the west, Christians lost touch with the ancient world of the Bible. Cultural habits, the particulars of landscape, even the biblical languages soon were unknown. And the cost was enormous: Christians began reading the Bible as foreigners and missing the original images and ideas that shaped a biblical worldview.

This new book by New Testament scholar Gary Burge launches a multivolume series that explores how the culture of the biblical world is presupposed in story after story of the Bible. Using cultural anthropology, ancient literary sources, and a selective use of modern Middle Eastern culture, Burge reopens the ancient biblical story and urges us to look at them through new lenses. Here he explores primary motifs from the biblical landscape—geography, water, rock, bread, etc.—and applies them to vital stories from the Bible.

The Bible and the Land is a useful, God-focused Bible reference book. It started off by describing the land of Israel and discussed why the author thought God brought them there instead of another land. He then discussed the Biblical motifs of the wilderness, shepherds, rocks, water, bread, and names. He described what they would have meant to the Jews at the time to help readers better understand what Jesus and the Bible writers were conveying to their audience.

I felt the Name section was missing some important information needed to fully understand "the name of" statements in the Bible. However, the Shepherds, Rock, Water, and Bread sections were excellent, insightful, and provided some enlightening information I hadn't heard before.

The author often talked about Jewish traditions, which gives the reader a good view of what the Jews believed in Jesus day. However, the author often didn't point out that the Jewish traditions he referred to usually put an emphasis in a different place than the Bible does. It's not a major concern, just a warning to read these sections with discernment.

[Note added Sept. 6, 2009: After reading his second book, Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, I begin to wonder if the author is instead not deeply familiar with the Old Testament. In both of his books, he several times gives the wrong person credit for an action when referring back to the Old Testament.]

The book contained lovely color photographs that illustrated what the text was referring to. It was a quick read and easy to understand. Overall, I'd recommend this to those who want a better understanding of the context of the Bible and Jesus' teachings--both readers who don't have time to read longer books and those who can't get enough of this type of information.

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 Six
Judaism distinguished between "living" water and common water. In fact, the oral law of early Judaism (the Mishnah) devoted an entire chapter to the classification of types of water for special uses (Mikva'ot). Its first section even classifies six grades of water and their religious value! Living water is not a reference to "moving" water or "fresh" water per se. Living water is water that has come to us directly from the hand of God (e.g. rain, a spring, a river). It is water that has not been "ported" or "lifted" by human hand--as stored water has--and so carries a divine potency (Mishnah, Mikva'ot 3-4). Of course, such living water is generally free and moving, but that character is secondary to its origin.

Many Jewish purification rituals had to take place in such living water. For instance, at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) the community believed in regular baptismal washings. These baths (Heb. mikva'ot) could not be filled with ordinary carried water, but needed a direct link to a spring that flowed from nearby hills. Thus, Qumran today shows an intricate network of channels that moved rain water into the community and distributed it into ritual baths without human interference. In fact, this living water was considered to be so potent that only a drop of it was required to transform an entire bath of common water into something that would cleanse ritually. Living water had the power to cleanse and purify.

Read chapter one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Quotes: All God Has Done

From Listening for God by Marilyn Hontz (page 18):

Of course, some people say they don't like to read the Bible because it is just a list of dos and doesn't. The more I read, however, the more I realized that the Bible is not a rule book but a record of how God has reached out to people through history.

Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, uses the book of Ephesians to explain this idea. He notes that the first three chapters tell the church about the many spiritual blessings God has given them. Only in chapter 4 does Paul begin to discuss how Christians should live in light of all that God has done for them. "I found that when people began to discover who God is and all that God has done, they were eager to respond to God and did not have to be pushed or exhorted to pray or to serve....They could not do enough for the Lord as they came to the recognition of what He had done for them."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: The Tender Words of God

The Tender Words of God

The Tender Words of God
by Ann Spangler

Hardback: 288 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2008

Author Website

Source: I bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
Over the years, Ann Spangler has read through the Bible several times, plowing straight through from Genesis to Revelation. But like many people who tend to be self-critical, Ann found it easier to absorb the harsher-sounding passages in the Bible than those that speak of God’s love and compassion.

Then one day, Ann listened as her friend Joan talked about a time in her life when she became convinced of God’s love.

Ann expected her friend to reveal something complicated and difficult, a tragedy perhaps that God had brought her through.

But Joan had simply decided to set aside one month in which she would act as though God loved her.

And that settled it for her—for good.

In the months that followed, Ann decided to develop a remedial course in which she could reflect morning and evening on the most tender words of God in the Bible. She prayed that God’s penetrating Word would transform her as she hunted through Scripture for words of mercy, compassion, peace, and protection.

The Tender Words of God is the result of this process, offering ninety days of devotional readings on some of Scripture’s most encouraging words. While the core of the book is Scripture, each week contains reflections and daily prayers that chronicle Ann’s struggle to know God better. These are included not because she believes her quest is all that remarkable, but precisely because she knows it is ordinary, expressing as it does our common longing to love and be loved, especially by the One who made us.

Ann invites you to join her on this journey to know God better, to let his tender words become like guardians at the beginning and at the end of each day, convincing you once and for all of his faithful, committed love.

The Tender Words of God is a God-focused and Scripture-focused devotional. It takes a Hebrew word (or words) each week, looks at what it means, then looks at verses that use that word and what it means for us. (The words are compassion, forgiveness, peace, strength, protection, love & mercy, blessing & provision, guidance, faithfulness, hope & comfort, healing). The author also has a small section on how studying that week's word impacted her life and her view of God.

I bought this book for a male friend who thought God viewed him harshly, but I enjoyed reading it. It has some very good insights. The friend I got this for thanked me and said it helped him get a right view of God. So I'd highly recommend this devotional to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting.

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: Chapter One
God Speaks Words of Compassion

The Hebrew word raham, which means “compassion,” is intimately connected to the Hebrew word rehem, which means “womb.” Throughout the Scriptures, God reveals a kind of motherly compassion for his people.

In one of the Bible’s most moving passages, God reveals himself to Moses as “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Jesus, too, displays great compassion for those who are needy. In fact, his compassion moves him to act on behalf of the sick, the blind, the hungry, and those without a shepherd. He even raises a man from the dead after witnessing a mother’s sorrow. Compassion is an attribute of God, and it is closely related to mercy or pity. The Greek New Testament words for compassion are eleos and splanchnon.

Read the introduction and more of chapter one.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Giveaway Winner for Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

The winner was randomly selected using a random number generator by numbering the entrants in the order they entered. The winner of Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie is:


Congratulations! I'll get the book out to you in Monday's mail.

Everyone who didn't win can join in the fun by buying this book from your favorite book store and joining our book club discussion which will start in September.

(If you're going to buy online, please consider buying through the Books-A-Million ad/link in the sidebar so we can have more giveaways in the future.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Book Quotes: Love Your Enemies

I have not read this book, but I came across this quote on another site which I thought I'd share.

From The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory Boyd:

While people in the kingdom of the world usually do good to those who do good to them, followers of Jesus are called to do good even to those who harm them (Luke 6:34-35). When struck on the check, we are to offer up the other (Luke 6:29). When asked by an oppressive Roman guard to carry his equipment one mile, we are to offer to carry it two (Matthew 5:41). Understood in their original context, these teachings do not tell us to allow people to abuse us, as though we are to love our enemies but not ourselves. To the contrary, Jesus is giving us a way by which we can keep from being defined by those who act unjustly toward us. When we respond to violence with violence, whether it be physical, verbal, or attitudinal, we legitimize the violence of our enemy and sink to his level. When we instead respond unexpectedly—offering our other cheek and going a second mile—we reveal, even as we expose the injustice of his actions, that our nemesis doesn’t have the power to define us by those actions. (p. 39-40)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: Praying God's Word Day-By-Day

Praying God's Word Day-By-Day

Praying God's Word Day-By-Day
by Beth Moore

Hardback: 382 pages
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
First Released: 2006

Author Website

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
With half a million copies in print, Praying God’s Word is author Beth Moore’s best-selling release to date. A landmark book among women and men, it continues to serve readers in “tearing down strongholds by captivating our minds with the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Now, the perennial favorite is available in a convenient day-by-day reading format as Beth encourages readers to seek the mind of Christ through fervent daily prayer directly from Scripture.

Praying God's Word Day-By-Day is an excellent Scripture-focused devotional. It has a quick devotional thought at the top of the page followed by a prayer using Bible verses. Though the prayers won't always apply to you on that day (though most are general enough that they do), they are still wonderful reminders of God's faithfulness and power. I'd highly recommend this book to any Christian.

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 Introduction & Sample Devotional
This book is a result of my unquenchable desire to share one of the most effective approaches to the liberated life in Christ that God has ever taught me: praying Scripture to overcome strongholds.

Actually, I didn't discover what a vital part of my liberation this approach has been until long after I had begun practicing it. I suddenly realized it was no accident that I was finally set free from some areas of bondage that had long hindered the abundant, effective, Spirit-filled life in me. After the failure of all my formulas, in my desperate search for freedom I cast myself entirely upon God. He faithfully led me to several deliberate practices that He knew would work. Stunningly, in fact.

Many of us have expended unknown energy trying hard to topple these strongholds on our own, but they won't fall, will they? That's because they must be demolished. God has handed us two sticks of dynamite with which to demolish our strongholds: His Word and prayer. What is more powerful than two sticks of dynamite placed in separate locations? Two strapped together.

[...there's more introduction, but I'm ending here so you can see one of the devotionals...]

July 30

Before we can get controlling thoughts out of our minds, they must become Christ-controlled thoughts while they're inside.


Lord God, one of the most important principles I will ever learn about life in the Spirit versus life in the flesh is found in Romans 8. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:5-6).

Lord, the key to the Spirit-led life is my mind-set. Teach me to feed the Spirit and starve the flesh. Father God, through constant use of the solid food of Your Word, help me to train myself to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:14).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Book Quotes: God and Suffering

From Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz (page 144-145):

I needed Christ's resurrection power. Was I also, however, willing to say with the apostle Paul that "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10, italics mine)? Sure, I wanted to know Christ and to experience the power of His resurrection--but suffering? I appreciate Simone Weil's insight that "the extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it." Life on earth is full of hardships and suffering, but God has the ability to intermingle the very worst negative and the positive and use it for our good--a supernatural good.

God never wastes anything--including suffering. He is a redeeming God.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Review: The Expanded Bible: New Testament

The [Expanded] Bible

The Expanded Bible: New Testament

Hardback: 672 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Source: won a copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
The Expanded Bible: New Testament reflects the latest scholarship, current English, and the needs of contemporary students of the Bible. This New Testament includes a multitude of study aids right in line with the text. Expanded translations and other helps make it possible for you to study the Bible while you read.

* Expanded translations bring out the meaning of words and offer alternatives.

* Literal meanings of terms from the original languages are included where they can provide more understanding.

* Traditional wordings assist recollection of familiar terms and expressions.

* Comments explain passages that can be understood better with a brief remark.

* Useful references supply rewarding opportunities for comparing other Scriptures.

* Variants display additional wording in some of the original language texts.

I love this "study the Bible as you read" New Testament. For me, this is the ideal study Bible since I don't have to drag out multiple Bible versions and thick reference books anymore to get the same result. I've already had several "ah-ha!" moments while reading verses that used to confuse me. My only complaint is that I have to use another Bible to look up the Old Testament verses referred to in the New Testament. I hope an Expanded Bible: Old Testament is in the works!

I have other Bibles with tiny footnotes that give some of this information, but often I get so busy reading that I stop noticing that there are notes. This book puts the notes and alternate/literal wordings right into the relevant text so you don't miss them and you know exactly what word or verse they refer to. These [expansions] are clearly marked so you know if the given information is commentary, a literal translation, other possible meanings for the word, the traditional wording, etc.

However, having the expansions directly in the text does make it difficult to quickly read only the main text. I wouldn't use this New Testament if I was going read several sections out loud in a Bible study group or whatever. However, it would be a great version to use when discussing those verses.

If you aren't familiar with the New Testament, I'd suggest using a "normal" version of the Bible for your daily readings. When you're ready to dig deeper or you're starting to get so familiar with the Bible that you feel bored, this is a great New Testament to get.

I'd highly recommend The Expanded Bible: New Testament to people who want to dig deeper into the full meanings of the verses they're reading and/or who would enjoy having study notes "as they happen" instead of in small print at the bottom of the page.

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.


Read from The Expanded Bible: New Testament.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Giveaway: Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow


I'm giving away one new copy of Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie at my own expense. It's such a great, insightful book that I think everyone should read it. Unfortunately, I can't afford to buy the book for everyone. :-)

Read my review to learn more about the book.

This contest is for USA residents only.

The giveaway runs from August 1st until noon on August 15th. If you've never won a free book from ChristFocus Book Club, enter the contest by either:

Follow me (@ChristFocus) on Twitter and send me a tweet saying "@christfocus Enter me to win "Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow" by Nancy Guthrie."


Leave a comment on this post asking to be entered in the contest for Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow 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. To let me know you're steadily reading the book you won, please comment on the book in the correct book discussion post on this blog or comment about the book on Twitter using #cfbc. Once you've done this, you can enter this contest (see instructions above in green).

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 August 15, 2009 and list them on this blog. I'll inform the winner and ask for their shipping address.

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