Tag Archives: non-fiction

Review: Mud in Your Eye, by Gord Penner

Mud in Your Eye, by Gord Penner (Word Alive Press, 2009)

The subtitle of Mud in Your Eye explains its meaning: “he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud.”

The book’s back cover warns, “If you don’t see yourself the way God sees you, then you will more than likely see yourself the way you think others see you.” Hmm, there’s a whole lot of truth to that.

In talking about Jesus’ encounter with the blind man and the mud (John 9:1-41), Gord Penner asks, “Are you willing to have mud smeared on your eyes? Do you trust Jesus enough – do you want to see badly enough – that you’re willing to let Jesus have his way in your life, no matter how it looks?” (page 5)

Each chapter of Mud in Your Eye is 3-4 pages long, good for a quiet, reflective pause in your day. What I appreciate most about them is the focus on Scripture and on how it applies to our lives – and the challenge to truly believe it. The word of God has power, and we need to hear – and sometimes speak – what it says.

Canadian author Gord Penner is also a motivational speaker and life coach. His name was new to me, but I’m glad I found his book.

Book source: my personal library

Review: Blooming, by Marian den Boer

Blooming, by Marian den Boer (Word Alive Press, 2009)

Blooming, subtitled “This Pilgrim’s Progress,” is a collection of short, slice-of-life vignettes from the den Boer household. Many were originally published as articles in The Christian Courier. Each one ends with a Scripture and the author’s thoughts as she looks back on the incident.

Marian den Boer writes with a friendly, engaging style, as if she’s sharing these events with a good friend. She’s not afraid to admit when she fails, and she has a keen eye for the humour in a situation. It’s interesting to read the lessons she draws from her life, and although our own experiences will often be different, the lessons still apply.

Marian sums the book up best herself:

The stories… reveal the day-to-day experiences of my sometimes frazzled self as I mothered six children over a period of approximately 15 years. The Holy Spirit subtly, yet dramatically, convicted and convinced me in the nitty gritty of everyday family life… I lived Christianity from my head. As the years progressed God patiently changed me into someone who attempts to live Christianity from the heart as led by His Spirit. (pp. xii, xiii)

Although each chapter is short, I kept turning pages for “just one more.” Watch for Blooming when the short-list comes out for this year’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

For more about Canadian author Marian den Boer, visit her blog, Blooming: This Pilgrim’s Progress (and Regress). You can read the introduction to Blooming here, and sample chapters here and here.

Review copy purchased by reviewer (at Miracles Christian Store).

Review: Your God is too Safe, by Mark Buchanan

Your God is Too Safe, by Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2001)

In a day where many teachers either speak in “academic-ese” or dumb down their language, Mark Buchanan’s writing is a refreshing treat, comparable with Philip Yancey. What sets his books apart from other life-changing works is the beauty of the language. The images and descriptions are fresh, original and strong.

Your God is Too Safe is subtitled “Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control.” It opens with a candid look at life in “borderland”—that place where many of us get stuck, saved but slow of heart and unfruitful. The second half of the book calls us to life in the “holy wild.” Here Rev. Buchanan offers practical steps to take if we’re willing to risk walking with a God who is not safe but is good.

The book stresses the value of holy habits, often called spiritual disciplines. These are to be God-ward habits, not legalistic rules; practices that develop into new life patterns. Holy habits lead to practicing the presence of God through worship, expectancy, confession, solitude, fasting, reading Scripture, servanthood, prayer and celebration.

I appreciated the author’s honesty about real people’s struggles, his own included. We can all relate to the section on borderland, having been there. We can leave borderland for the holy wild, and Mark Buchanan’s words instil within us a longing to do so.

Mark Buchanan is a pastor in British Columbia, and one of my favourite Canadian authors. Your God is Too Safe was his first book, published in 2001. Since then he’s written Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, The Holy Wild, The Rest of God, and Hidden in Plain Sight. Each one has blessed me as I’ve read it.

You can learn more about Mark Buchanan and his books at his website. Your God is Too Safe is available in trade paperback, audio or e-book from Chapters-Indigo, trade paperback and audio book from Christianbook.com, and trade paperback only from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. You can also order it through your local bookstore.

— trade paperback and audio book

Review: The Penn of Denn, by Denn Guptill

The Penn of Denn, by Denn Guptill

The Penn of Denn, by Denn Guptill (Forever Books, 2009)

Denn Guptill has a gift for picking up on something newsworthy or current, adding a bit of humour or common sense, and finding a spiritual application. The Penn of Denn will make you smile, nod, scratch your head, perhaps even pray.

Subtitled “The world through Denn coloured glasses,” this book is a compilation of Canadian author Denn Guptill’s thoughts on a variety of subjects: church, sports, nature, celebrities, politics, etc.

Most of the brief readings (each less than a page) first saw print in the Bedford Community Church bulletin (Nova Scotia, Canada), where Denn was pastor at the time. A few longer ones are from his sailing column, “Aboat Time”.

Because it’s the writings of a pastor to his people (and now shared with us), there is talk of sin, grace, forgiveness… perennial Christian subjects. There is no finger-pointing or blaming, but there is a compassionate desire for all to experience the awareness of God’s grace. Sometimes that comes out in a plea for Christians to share the news of the spiritual life they’ve been given.

Since this is a collection of writings to a particular congregation over a period of years, some selections refer to old or local news. The principles still apply. Not everyone’s writings could translate to the larger audience, but Denn Guptill’s do. I think it’s because he speaks to common issues in a conversational way.

Reading The Penn of Denn is a bit like sitting with the author for tea and a friendly chat. The content isn’t heavy, but it isn’t fluff either. It’s the stuff of everyday life.

The Penn of Denn is available at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Barnes and Noble. To learn more about the author and read the latest weekly instalments of The Penn, visit his blog, The Penn of Denn.

Review: Because We Prayed, by Mary Haskett

Because We Prayed, by Mary Haskett

Because We Prayed: Ten Considerations for Effective Prayer, by Mary Haskett (Word Alive Press, 2009)

Our troubles don’t end when we become Christians. They may even get worse. But belonging to Jesus means we’re not alone. We can pray to a living and powerful God who loves us.

In Because We Prayed, Mary Haskett looks at ten considerations for effective prayer: faith, forgiveness, not judging, the Holy Spirit, the Enemy, spiritual warfare, hope, evidence, the value of prayer, and victory in Jesus. In her own gentle style she shares key truths learned through Scripture and personal experience.

Because We Prayed is a small book, easy to read yet offering solid teaching. I took a chapter at a time so I could digest it before moving on. Each chapter finishes with three application questions for personal reflection or group discussion, and with a prayer.

This isn’t a theology text, but it’s theologically sound. It’s meant for the average reader. New Christians, seasoned pastors, and everyone in between in a variety of denominations can benefit from these brief readings. Prayer is a work to which all Christians are called. It can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. It’s our duty—and our privilege. If it’s boring, we’re doing it wrong. And prayer works.

Let Mary Haskett challenge and encourage you to deepen your prayer relationship with God. You won’t be sorry.

Mary is the author of two non-fiction books: Reverend Mother’s Daughter and Because We Prayed. Reverend Mother’s Daughter received the Bronze IPPY Award in the 2008 International Literary Competition and was a finalist in the Life Stories category, The Word Guild of Canada National Award, 2008. You can find her online at her website and her blog. It’s been my pleasure to work and pray with Mary in The Word Guild prayer team, and I truly appreciate her gracious spirit and her sincere faith.

Review: A Journey to the Heart of Evangelism, by Janice Keats

A Journey to the Heart of EvangelismA Journey to the Heart of Evangelism, by Janice Keats (Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009)

A confident young woman sits across from you and throws out a challenge: “Tell me why I should follow Jesus.”

Umm… well…

You could probably tell her a few reasons, if you had time to think, but she’s asking now.

What Canadian author Janice Keats did in that situation was to share her own story of coming to faith. No debating or teaching or “shoulds,” just a personal experience that had credibility because she’d lived it.

Some people have amazing faith stories, complete with miracles and release from addictions. Others can’t remember a time when they didn’t know God.

A Journey to the Heart of Evangelism is for all types of Christians, and as the subtitle promises, each of us does have a story.

This is a slim book because our stories don’t need to be complicated – we just need to think through how to share them.

A Journey to the Heart of Evangelism maintains that although some are given the gift of evangelism, all are called to share Jesus’ message – with His help.

The five chapters are designed for personal or group study. Using Scripture, teaching, and application questions, the book addresses our many fears and excuses, and challenges us to live obedient to and dependent upon God.

By the end of the study, we’ll not only know why we need to be involved in sharing our faith stories, we’ll see it’s not as intimidating as we might have thought. And our faith will be refreshed by revisiting our experiences.

The final part of the book contains questions to help us discover and articulate what it is we want to say about this God who’s made a difference in our lives. There’s even a place to record the names of four people we want to remember to pray for and to share our stories with.

And like St. Peter says, we’ll “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

In A Journey to the Heart of Evangelism, Janice Keats has given us a helpful way to demystify sharing our faith: it’s about our stories, not about arguing or logicking people into the Kingdom. Most of us don’t have theology degrees, but we all have stories.

A Journey to the Heart of Evangelism is available from amazon.ca, amazon.com and from the Wipf & Stock website, and can be ordered into your brick and mortar store as well. For more about the author, visit her web page and her blog, The Master’s Path.

[Disclosure: Janice Keats is a personal friend, and that’s how I discovered her book. I think if it were written by a stranger I’d still speak as highly of the content. I like books that don’t just tell you what to do but – like this one – that equip you to do it.]

Review: I Run to the Hills, by C. Maggie Woychik

I Run to the Hills, by C. Maggie Woychik

I Run to the Hills: Reflections on the Christian Journey by C. Maggie Woychik (Port Yonder Press, 2009)

Committing one’s life to Jesus Christ is an act of faith – and the first step of a journey. I Run to the Hills: Reflections on the Christian Journey is a series of brief, interconnected readings that illustrate the deepening of this spiritual relationship from gratitude and obedience into love.

The mountain-journey theme and its allegorical feel evoke memories of Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet on High Places and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, although the language is clear and contemporary.

There’s something about presenting the message this way that lets it penetrate better than if it came via a direct essay or sermon. Jesus used story too – it sneaks past the hearers’ mental filters better than a frontal approach.

In typical journey fashion, and as every Christ-follower knows, the pilgrim travels and reflects, learns and grows… and occasionally takes unwise detours. These side-trips vary from person to person. I Run to the Hills highlights the dangers of the Desert of Duty and the Plains of License. The story doesn’t end there, though, but presses onward and higher toward the mountaintop.

Most of the readings in I Run to the Hills are only a couple of pages long. They’re grouped in longer chapters if you want to read them that way, or you can take them in morsel-sized moments. Either way, prepare to be challenged, encouraged and refreshed on the journey.

Author C. Maggie Woychik’s prose has elements of poetry and plenty of pithy sound-bytes. As we journey, she says, “Truths are for digesting, not just consuming.” And she tells us how: “Firmly clasp the piece of Light – catch it; then slowly release your fingers, using care not to allow it to slip away or be snatched by the cunning Truth-Robber.” (p.29)

C. Maggie Woychik is an award-winning author whose work has been published in a variety of magazines. I Run to the Hills is her first book. To learn more about Maggie, check out her website and spend some time on her blog, Encouraging Emerging Authors.

I Run to the Hills is a delightful, refreshing book to read and then to savour again over time.

Review: West Nile Diary, by Kathleen Gibson

West Nile Diary, by Kathleen Gibson

West Nile Diary: One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease by Kathleen Gibson (BPS Books, 2009)

Bugs are an unwelcome but expected part of a picnic. The mosquito that bit Rick Gibson in August 2007 gave something back: West Nile neurological disease.

West Nile Diary is the story of Rick and Kathleen Gibson’s battle to recover from what Kathleen calls “the pirates of West Nile.” Like a pirate attack, the disease hit without warning, plundered their lives and left them facing a difficult and uncertain future.

Kathleen tells their story through journal entries, emails and her newspaper column, “Sunny Side Up.” It’s a frank, personal account that left me not only cheering for the Gibsons but feeling like I now know Kathleen much better than our passing acquaintance would suggest.

The book is non-fiction but it reads like a novel, complete with escalating tension and reversals. It’s done without chapter breaks, each entry two pages at the most, and I stayed awake way too late reading “just one more.”

It’s a story of illness and the struggle to regain independent life, but it’s not a “downer.” Certain sections had me blinking back tears, but others made me laugh. Kathleen’s informal and personal writing style made it feel like she was telling me the story one-on-one.

According to the CBC website, “In Canada, 42 people have died from the virus since 2002.” The same article adds, “In 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada said the number of human cases totalled 38.” That’s down from 2,401 in 2007 and 6 in the first 37 weeks of 2009. Let’s hope it stays down.

Only one in 50 cases will develop into meningitis or encephalitis like Rick’s. Most readers will be the lucky ones who escape West Nile entirely. But we’ll all experience serious illness—either as the victim, the caregiver, or the supportive friend or loved one.

West Nile Diary lets us walk in the footsteps of one couple’s journey and although our own may be very different there are similarities for which we can prepare.

For all the good medical staff, there will be some clashes. Some good friends will fade out of our lives; others will amaze us with their care. We’ll develop new friendships with fellow travellers. Life will change. We’ll have no guarantee of the future. If we make it through, re-entry to “the real world” will be surprisingly scary, and the caregiver will find it hard to let the healing person become independent.

What made the difference every day for the Gibsons was their relationship with God. Kathleen prayed each day for “strength for today and hope for tomorrow.” God always said “yes” to that prayer. As well as restoring much of Rick’s health, He drew the couple into caring relationships with people they’d never have otherwise met.

Kathleen says, “I’ve learned three things in my journey down the West Nile with Rick and the pirates: God is a lot stronger than I thought he was, I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was, and God can do exquisite things with broken circumstances.” p. iix

To learn more about Canadian author Kathleen Gibson, visit her website. And be sure to check out her “Sunny Side Up” column. Kathleen is also the winner of Word Alive Press’ 2009 non-fiction contest for her book, Practice by Practice: The Art of Everyday Faith. Publication date has not yet been announced, but I hope it’s soon.

In closing, as Kathleen says in West Nile Diary, “PS. Wear repellent.”

Review: Whispers that Delight, non-fiction by Andrew T. Hawkins

Whispers that Delight, by Andrew Hawkins

Whispers That Delight: Building a Listening-Centered Prayer Lifeby Andrew T. Hawkins (Word Alive Press, 2008)

“Does your prayer life seem like a one-way conversation? Do you have difficulty quieting yourself to listen to God?”

These questions from the back cover of Whispers That Delight may evoke quiet “yes” responses from many Christians. Andrew Hawkins knows better than to offer an instant fix. Instead, his PARE approach is a framework within which we can deepen our prayer like. And it can be used whether you have ten minutes or an hour.

It seems paradoxical to suggest the way to more intimate communion with God could come through a structured format, although the Old Testament Israelites wouldn’t have found it so. In Whispers That Delight the format is simply the means to a desirable end, and the author makes it clear that the Holy Spirit’s prompting must take precedence over externally-imposed structure.

The acronym PARE describes Rev. Hawkins’ pattern for prayer, and he reminds us that to pare is to cut or shave away thin layers. As we pare off “the superficial things which occupy our minds,” (p. viii) he promises we’ll discover more of God.

P is for preparation, when we refocus from ourselves to the goodness of God in praise and thanksgiving. This is also where we confess anything that’s inhibiting our communion with God and receive His forgiveness and restoration.

A is attentiveness, with our spirits fixed on God’s presence to hear what He may have to say. One person may “hear” words, another impressions or images, another through reading and meditating on Scripture.

R is our response: to love, to intercede or repent, to act. Rev. Hawkins says, “Although God gives specific guidance and even surprises us with supernatural directives, when we meet him in prayer he primarily empowers us to do what we already know to do.” (p. 95)

E is a fitting end: enjoyment. Instead of rushing off into the day with a “Thanks, God!” we need to take time to linger a few minutes in His presence, just for the experience of being with Him.

Not that we should stop praying then—the concept of prayer without ceasing, practicing His presence, is worth pursuit. But our intimate, one-on-One prayer session has ended for another day.

Whispers That Delight comes with three appendices, one of which I think would serve better at the beginning: “Tips on Reading Whispers That Delight”. Essentially, the tips are “Read with the heart, read small portions at a time, and to go deeper, study the quoted Scriptures.”

Reading in bite-sized chunks is definitely wise. This isn’t at all a hard read, but the subject itself requires careful consideration and prayerful pondering. To breeze through Whispers That Delight would be to “read” the words and miss their effect on our hearts. I’m glad I took it slowly.

Rev. Andrew T. Hawkins is a Canadian author, and pastor to St. Paul’s Congregational Church in Ontario. Whispers That Delight is a book for all denominations and levels of faith, and it received The Word Guild 2009 Writing Award in the Book—Biblical Studies category.

Review: Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Let Go: live free of the burdens all women know, by Sheila Walsh (Thomas Nelson, 2008)

We all need deliverance in one area or another. To receive it, we need to let go: of self-effort, legalism, past hurts or actions, unforgiveness, shame, lack of self-worth, fear, loneliness… the list could go on.

Men need this freedom too, but Let Go is a woman-to-woman book. Each chapter opens with brief quotes and a contemporary parable. Sheila Walsh shares her personal experiences as well as teaching from Scripture. Chapters end with a few questions for discussion or private contemplation, and with a prayer.

Initially I feared this would be a lightweight overview of complex issues, but I needn’t have worried. Sheila introduces each element with a gentle touch and goes deeper in successive chapters. This is a good way to approach touchy subjects like hurt and shame that we may have to chew on a while.

Sheila’s music has blessed me for maybe 30 years now, and a recurring theme is that God loves each of us—more than we can imagine—no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

This is the message at the heart of Let Go. Sheila writes, “God’s love for us is based on who he is. This truth can change our lives if we are able to receive it.” (p. 172)

Sheila Walsh’s transparency and her heart for God make her a woman He can use to touch others. Let Go is an encouraging book that’s well worth reading. To find out more about book and author, you can read the opening chapter of Let Go or visit Sheila Walsh’s website.