Past Book Reviews
The Book Nook – Happy Reading! by Cheryl Nolan, Church Librarian
Mar/Apr Book Feature: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
A new book purchased by our Christian Education Department for our church library is Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I wasn’t sure what the book was about but the title intrigued me.
Exhausted, tired and burned out on busy, Shauna Niequist struggles to find a “new way to live, marked by grace, love, and play.” She discovers her inner self and makes changes in her life from the inside out. Her book Present Over Perfect is about her journey; a journey that changed her life for the better, bringing a peace and calm she so desperately wanted. Shauna loved her life. She loved writing, her husband of 11 years, and her two young boys, but “it’s like I was pulling a little red wagon, and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling. That red wagon was my life, and the weight of pulling it was destroying me.” Advice from a mentor propelled her into making changes.
One of the early chapters focuses on “disappointing people.” Shauna realizes she needs to learn to say no. “I was deeply invested in people knowing that I was a very competent, capable, responsible person.” People who have difficulty saying “No” feel that doing so makes them appear incompetent and incapable. However, her belief that responsible and hard working resulted in safe and happy led to “a deeply exhausted and resentful woman.” She realized that saying no was key to her transformation and accepting that she was going to disappoint some people. But she also realized she gets to decide who she will disappoint. She acknowledges she will need a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of her own purpose to accomplish this.
Another chapter is titled: Vinegar and Oil. Shauna describes the act of praying in terms of a vinegar and oil cruet where the vinegar with its oregano and bits of red pepper flakes floating in it sits on top while the rich and flavorful oil rests on the bottom. When you begin to pray she suggests you think of that image and pour out the vinegar to God, all the things troubling you, the acid of your day, whatever hurt you or is jangling your nerves or spirit. Then you can truly experience the oil, “the grounding truth of life with God, that we’re connected, that we’re not alone, that life is not all vinegar.”
The publisher’s note claims: “In these pages, you’ll be invited to consider the landscape of your own life, and what it might look like to leave behind the pressure to be perfect and begin the life-changing practice of simply being present, in the middle of the mess and the ordinariness of life.”
Shauna Niequist has found a way to blend her numerous roles of mother, wife, home manager, daughter, friend, speaker and writer in a way that leaves room for peace and calm and especially for her faith and her God. What she learned is “to stand where I am, plain and sometimes tired, unflashy, profoundly unspectacular. But present and connected and grounded deeply in the love of God, which is changing everything.”
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
Jan/Feb Book Feature: Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado
Max Lucado has written several books on the Christmas theme. The Christmas Child was first published in 2003. It’s a story about finding your way home for Christmas. A Chicago journalist finds himself in Clearwater, Texas on Christmas Eve. “Lonely and alone, he encounters old faces and new facts…a hand carved manger, a father’s guilt, and a young girl’s faith. The trip into the past holds his key to the future, and a scarlet cross shows him the way home.” In 2011, Christmas Stories: Heart-warming Classics of Angels, a Manger, and the Birth of Hope is collection of stories depicting Christmas through the eyes of characters such as a lonely businessman and a heavenly angel. Max Lucado’s 2013 Christmas selection was titled The Christmas Candle. Edward Haddington is a lowly candle maker who is visited by an angel who imparts a precious gift that Edward manages to lose. Released in 2014, In the Manger invites readers to experience the birth of Christ through 25 inspirational stories. Also published in 2014 was a children’s picture book titled The Christmas Story For Children. It’s beautifully illustrated by Fausto and tells the story of Jesus’ birth and his love for all of us.
This year Max Lucado has published another beautiful Christmas Story titled Because of Bethlehem. As is true with almost all his other books (he has published over 100) it has already become a best seller, in fact, it was out of stock and on backorder when I went to buy a copy. Max starts out his book proclaiming that he loves Christmas, even all the things that many people grumble about like the long lines of holiday shoppers in crowded stores. He claims he loves Christmas because “somewhere someone will ask the Christmas questions: What’s the big deal about the baby in the manger? Who was he? What does his birth have to do with me?” When Max and his brother asked their dad these questions years ago his father answered: “Boys, Christmas is about Christ.” Thinking about what his father said, Max has been asking the Christmas questions ever since. He realizes that because of Bethlehem God knows what it is like to be a human. We have a friend in heaven. He understands our tough times. He’s been there.
Max Lucado claims “Christmas begins what Easter celebrates. The child in the cradle became the King on the cross.” When we arrive at judgment day there is no fine print denying us. God doesn’t say: “Clean up before you come in.” He beckons “Come in and I’ll clean you up.” Because of the birth of a baby in a manger, God gets us and God saves us. Because of Bethlehem we have the promises of Christmas; we have hope. The trip to Bethlehem was one big hassle for Mary and Joseph. Out of the hassle hope was born. Christmas reminds us how “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God. (Rom. 8:28 NLT)”. Remember it isn’t Santa-mas, or shopping-mas or even reindeer-mas! It’s Christ-mas but not unless you receive and understand the message of Bethlehem. Read this story of Bethlehem, of how love is born and hope is here.
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
Nov/Dec Book Feature:
The Ishbane Conspiracy by Angela, Karina, & Randy Alcorn
On one of my trips to Alpha and Omega, I asked about recommendations of Christian books for adolescents and this was the title that was very enthusiastically suggested. It didn’t look particularly interesting to me. The cover hinted at vampires and the occult but you can’t judge a book by its cover!
Randy Alcorn is an accomplished author with more than thirty books published and accredited to him, perhaps the most widely known is Deadline. The Ishbane Conspiracy was a collaboration with his daughters Angela and Karina who were young adults during the writing of the book. The main characters in the story are eighteen, nineteen and twenty year olds but the book is not just targeted at that age group. Alcorn comments that “It’s a book about young people and the struggles thrust upon them by their culture and the enemies of their souls.” He goes on to claim that one of the outstanding benefits of reading a good story is “entering into another person’s world and coming away with a better understanding of real people.” The Alcorns are hopeful that their book will “make readers of all ages aware of the spiritual battles we face.”
The format of the book takes a little getting used to because it switches back and forth in a sort of light vs dark, real time vs afterworld and earthly time vs other-worldly. The real world exemplifies present day high school, college, home and work life challenges of busy but average families. The good vs evil comes into play with letters from Prince Ishbane, a devout follower and protagonist for Satan and whose job it is to tempt and sway young people (who he refers to as vermin) convincing them that “their deepest needs can be met by anyone or anything besides Him.” Prince Ishbane writes his letters to his worker in the field, Foulgrin, who is the foot soldier for Ishbane. He’s the one who actually initiates and orchestrates the situations and environments requiring morally challenging decisions by the young adults. Prince Ishbane provides the leadership, scenarios and game plan to Foulgrin who sets the scene and implements his evil temptations and tactics. The battle between light and darkness is intense as we see the main characters struggle with the forces of evil thrust at them in our modern free-spirited world.
Jillian Fletcher is a picture-perfect cheerleader who is afraid of losing control. She is convinced that her Ouija board is able to connect her to a spirit guide and believes the Wiccan way of life and philosophy may be a perfect fit for her needs. Ian Stewart is an athlete who dabbles in the supernatural and berates his friend, Rob Gonzales, who is a college student, a Christian and former gangbanger who is trying to turn his life around. The last member of this foursome is Brittany Powell who is a brilliant tough girl who trusts no one including God since the recent death of her father who was a born again Christian. Just to add to the mix, Brittany’s younger brother is truly alienating himself from his family, friends and school. Largely unsupervised, he is obsessing on inappropriate websites, dungeons and dragons, and occult movies.
Through Prince Ishbane’s letters, how the forces of darkness and the temptations of evil prevail in our current culture and society are clearly defined for the reader. The question is what can this foursome do to resist the dark forces attacking them? As Randy, Angela and Karina Alcorn so eloquently stated: “Do yourself a favor and read a book hell would love to censor.”
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
Sept/Oct Book Feature:
Fish! By Stephen C. Lundin Ph.D, Harry Paul, and John Christensen
Fish is not about Rainbow Trout or Pike or even the activity of fishing per say! It is, however, about catching something. “Catch the Energy & Release the Potential!” and “A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results” are more accurate indications about this little book on fish that sold over 2 millions copies, primarily to people in big business and especially those who are hoping to boost productivity in their organizations. I read the book several years ago but it came to mind recently as we were planning for VBS, Rally Sunday and also changes occurring at HBC.
The authors propose: “Imagine a workplace where everyone chooses to bring energy, passion and a positive attitude to the job every day. Imagine an environment in which people are truly connected to their work, to their colleagues, and to their customers.” I thought: Imagine a church where everyone chooses to bring energy, passion and a positive attitude to worship every day. Imagine an environment in which people are truly connected to serving God, to their church family and to bringing others to Christ.
The story is written as a parable from the perspective of a fictional character, Mary Jane, struggling with a new position in an organization and a group of employees (the Third Floor) who have a reputation as “The Zombie Group” with adjectives such as unresponsive, unpleasant, slow, wasteland and apathetic used to describe them. They arrived late, were reluctant to use new equipment and often made negative comments about each other and their customers. Mary Jane must some how lead staff members who are set in their ways to realize that if they don’t change they will eventually find themselves looking for other employment. Although the ideas for change are presented for a business audience, the concepts are applicable to any organization or group that has a common purpose.
The “Fish” philosophy is based on the belief that “people like to work in an environment that is fun, energizing, and where they can make a difference.” People like to worship in an environment that is fun, energizing, and where they can make a difference! The ideas set forth in this parable are based on the practices and attitudes demonstrated in the day-to-day business of Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. Some of you may be familiar with Pike’s. It’s world famous for it’s “flying fish.” I actually witnessed this phenomena several years ago when I was in Seattle and will never forget the experience. The workers made it memorable for me by their interactions among each other and with their customers who eagerly observe the fish fly across the market from worker to worker. They have fun while they work is an understatement!
The four key philosophical ideals of Pike’s Place Market are: 1) Choose your attitude (the fish guys are aware that they choose their attitude each day), 2) Play (the fish guys have fun while they work, and fun is energizing), 3) Make their day (the fish guys include the customers in their good time), and 4) Be present (the fish guys are fully present at work).
A chance encounter with one of the workers at the fish market leads Mary Jane on a journey that starts with a change in her attitude and the discovery and implementation of those four ideals on the third floor. This enables her to transform the Toxic Third Floor into a flourishing, happy work place. The fish philosophy offers an interesting perspective on embracing change and the importance of working together for a common purpose.
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
July/Aug Book Feature:
Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown
I first met this book at Alpha and Omega bookstore when a group of us were selecting books for our church book fair. The cover is done in sepia tones suggesting a nostalgic story and pictures four women walking hand in hand. It is subtitled: A Story About the Spiritual Journey. Aren’t we all on a spiritual journey? So I purchased the book. That was two years ago. Last year a sequel was released: Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope and I can’t wait to read it before the third book comes out this fall.
The story starts out introducing each of the four main characters with glimpses into childhood experiences and events and then transports them forward to their current adult lives. Each character is at a crossroads in their lives and struggles with issues from their past that is hindering them in some way from moving forward. Hannah is a pastor who is forced to take a sabbatical and doesn’t know who she is if she is not “pastoring.” Meg is a widow and a recent empty nester. When her daughter goes off to England and her mother for whom she has been a caregiver, dies, she doesn’t know how to find courage or strength to combat her loneliness. Mara is a woman who has very low self-esteem and has never learned that she is truly loved unconditionally by God. She has bounced from relationship to relationship and struggles with navigating a problematic marriage and disrespectful children. Charissa is a hard working graduate student aiming to earn a doctoral degree and wants to get things right. She’s a perfectionist who gets very uncomfortable when things don’t work out as she’s planned. She struggles with not always being in control.
All of these women finally come together, reluctantly following through on suggestions from others to participate in a Spiritual Journey beginning at The New Hope Retreat Center where their spiritual leader, Katherine starts them on their pilgrimage. The reader is led on a pilgrimage as well when each retreat session introduces a key concept such as “praying the word”, “praying with imagination,” and “self-examination and confession.” Each woman finds inner strength to face the truths that are roadblocking their spiritual journey.
As I read each woman’s individually story, I pondered which one I was most like and finally decided that I’m a composite of all of them agreeing with Sybil MacBeth’s comment: “I have been on retreats with [these characters] and I am one of them. Their neediness, arrogance, cluelessness, perfectionism, self-pity, codependence . . . are mine. By the end of the book I was grateful for author Sharon Garlough Brown’s fresh eyes and voice. She not only gave me resharpened tools for my journey with Jesus but also reminded me that I need fellow pilgrims to love me and keep me honest along the way.” (Sybil MacBeth, author of Praying in Color) Sensible Shoes is a great book for a discussion group.
The publishers of Sensible Shoes include a book study guide and offer book club resources on line to support a discussion group. If anyone is interested in participating in a Christian Book Club, please let me know. I’ve thought about it many times this past year because I’ve read some very good Christian literature that I would enjoy discussing with others.
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
May Book Feature: Springtime of the Soul by Carole Hamm
I love reading books that connect me to places I have been and experiences I am familiar with because I have been there. Carole Hamm accomplished that in this book. Her family business, founded by her father and thriving still, is The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. If you traveled to PA to see Moses, you have also experienced the hospitality of the Country Cupboard. It started out as a simple little farm market and today, the restaurant, gift shops and hotels, serve about 20,000 visitors weekly.
Just as the family business grew, Carole’s faith grew. Her book is a reflection of that spiritual journey as noted in her journals that she started during a difficult time in her life. She grew up in a loving home, always believed in God, and attended church and Sunday school with her family. However, when she got married, as many young couples, their lives were consumed by everyday duties of life, balancing work and home, paying bills, coordinating schedules etc. They had little time or energy for spiritual commitments. When her husband had a heart attack and nearly died, Carole had a spiritual awaking and surrendered herself to God, praying “Thy will be done.”
During this challenging time, she rejuvenated her spiritual life. Her book, Springtime of the Soul, came out of the journals she kept during this process. She “uses the daffodil as a metaphor for her own blossoming faith.” The “daffodil principle” is a message of hope and promise of beauty and glory to come at the appropriate time. Throughout the book, Carole defines the “daffodil principal” and the relationship between us and God’s message to us. For example: “The daffodil is a symbol of rebirth, a sign of new beginnings. There is a mystery to its growth that lies beneath the surface, remaining dormant until just the right conditions are present for it to be called forth. I you were to cut through a daffodil bulb in November, before any growth occurs, you would find within it a perfectly formed embryonic flower, complete with stem, petals, and even stamens and pistil. Until the daffodil is ready to begin its journey toward the sun, that embryonic flower remains encased and protected by layers of nourishing tissue. God has created us in his complete and perfect form, and he waits until just the right conditions are present to bring us forth into the beauty that he knows exists within us.” In another “Daffodil Principle” she states: “As fragile as we may think the daffodil to be, it remains quite hardy-laughing at the inclement weather conditions possible throughout April. God will protect us against the harshness of this world and continue to show us how to proceed with out growth. Even if we stop short of our breakthrough, he will see to it that we resume our development when the conditions are right.”
Spring is my favorite season. Bright, beautiful green is abundant, signifying new life. Resilient blossoms peak courageously through the snow. Everything is fresh and new in the warmth of the sun. Opportunity awaits! My connection to this selection goes a bit beyond the experience of visiting The Country Cupboard. I also grew up in a loving home where Sunday school and church were a part of life. But I also fell victim to the seemingly unending and exhausting challenges of family life when I married and had children. The catastrophic event that brought me back to church was the fear of losing my eighteen-year-old son during Desert Storm when he was sent to Saudi Arabia. That’s when I learned to pray! Springtime of the Soul is a book to read and reread. “For lo, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:10-12)
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
April Book Feature: The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal is internationally recognized for his work identifying Nazi war criminals and has authored many books including: Murderers Among Us and Justice Not Vengeance. A made for TV documentary featured Ben Kingsley as Simon Wiesenthal in the 1989 HBO biopic “Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story.” He has earned awards and numerous honors worldwide for his tenacious efforts to ensure that we never forget the atrocities against humanity during WWII.
The Sunflower; On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness was written in 1967 and has experienced a resurgence of interest lately and has become a popular read for book clubs and also as the focus of a Bible study in a local church. Forgiveness is the crux of the issue presented. This edition, revised and expanded, was published 20 years after the first edition for two reasons claim the publishers: 1) “We felt it would be interesting to hear the responses of a new generation” and 2) “the world has not stopped seeing horrors that approach genocide – in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and countless other nations around the globe – as whole classes of people are targeted for extinction by criminal regimes.” Are we not still in the throes of mass killings in the Middle East, right here in our poverty blighted cities, colleges and educational campuses?
The first part of the book, The Sunflower, is a narrative of Wiesenthal relating his experiences leading to and including his internment in several Nazi concentration camps. During his last years of confinement he was brought to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria where he was called to the bedside of a dying SS officer. The officer requested a Jew, no one in particular, just a Jew and after confessing his crimes as a Nazi soldier, implores Wiesenthal to forgive him so that he may die in peace. The second part of the book, The Symposium, is a collection of over fifty responses to the question Wiesenthal poses to the reader at the end of his story. “Change places with me and ask yourself the question: What would I have done?” Does one person have the right to forgive the sins against others by others? What about collective guilt?
As Christians we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, our collective quilt. We believe He forgives our sins and “washes us white as snow.” During the Lenten season we reflect on our lives and engage in a personal atonement as we renew our beliefs in the tenets of Christianity and living each day embracing the “Fruits of the Spirit” which includes forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy. Read The Sunflower and reflect on this concept of forgiveness and how it might lead you to forgive or seek forgiveness in your life.
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
March 2016 Book Feature: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Christian author, Jan Karon’s, new book is a continuation of the Mitford sagas. At the end of Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, we left Father Tim adjusting to retirement and looking forward to his son Dooley’s wedding. Come Rain or Come Shine is all about the wedding or the “Big Knot” as all the locals affectionately know it.
Most of the story takes place at Meadowgate Farm, which is Dooley and his soon to be wife’s new home. Father Tim and his wife Cynthia have moved to the farm to help out with preparations for the wedding. Dooley and Lace have decided they want a simple wedding on a shoestring budget. Father Tim is going to marry them at Meadowgate Farm and the barn will be the venue for the reception with a potluck dinner provided by the guests. Dancing and music will follow dinner on the big country porch with music provided by the locally famous Ham Biscuits. However, the guest list keeps growing and is never really finalized until the day of the wedding when some unexpected quests arrive.
This saga is inundated with unexpected events and fractured relationships. It has all the chaos that typically surrounds people planning for a wedding. The couple gets lots of advice from their loved ones and must decide how to solve some challenging situations as they get closer and closer to the day of The Big Knot. Dooley becomes more and more aware that his idea of a simple wedding is merely a dream.
This wasn’t one of my favorite Jan Karon books. I’m not fond of chaos and have little interest in reliving the negotiations and efforts to placate disgruntled family members that often are present in planning a wedding. The writing style in this book seemed chaotic as well. There were many times I had to stop and search for which character was the focus of the segment and where and when a situation occurred as I was reading the story. It was a bit too choppy for me; however, the overall story was fun and endearing.
For those of you who follow and enjoy the Mitford characters, this is an expected sequel to Somewhere Safe With Someone Good and you won’t be disappointed inCome Rain or Come Shine. This one ends with an expectation for the next sequel, which most likely will include a bull named Choo-Choo, and a four year old named Jack Tyler.
Happy Reading! Cheryl Nolan
February 2016 Book Feature: War Room by Chris Fabry
War Room is a “novelization” by Chris Fabry because the book was written based on the movie by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The movie was presented in selected theaters in our area during the fall months of 2015 but not for very long at any one theater and it certainly did not get the kind of publicity experienced by Star Wars fans. People were lined up hours, even days before that movie aired in local theaters. Too bad fans of prayer did not so publically exhibit their enthusiasm to view a motion picture. Imagine the power of millions of prayer fans advertising and promoting their message with the gusto of Star Wars die-hards.
The book is sub-titled “Prayer is a Powerful Weapon” and that is clearly the over arching message of the story. Although written as a fictional piece, the characters and events lend themselves to enlighten the reader of the numerous opportunities each day for us to seek God’s support in prayer. The story focuses on a family that has drifted away from the core values that founded their relationship and get caught up in the worldly push to move up the economic ladder at any cost. The wife, Elizabeth, played in the movie by Pricilla Shirer, a popular women’s bible study writer, is a realtor. Her husband, Tony, is in pharmaceutical sales and is very good at his job but that seems to be consuming him, affecting his relationships with family and friends. They have one daughter, Danielle, who, it seems, neither one of them knows very well. The family is in real trouble and although they all seem to know it, no one seems to know how or is motivated to do anything about it. That is until Elizabeth meets Clara, an elderly lady who lives alone and has finally accepted that it’s time to sell her home and go live with her son. While touring the house, Elizabeth ventures into Clara’s “war room,” the closet she has adapted to her purpose of waging war with God in prayer. The closet was empty except for a chair, a pillow, a Bible and notes taped to the walls. “Now this is where I do my fighting,” claims Clara. Clara adds Elizabeth’s name to her list on the wall of her closet and asked God to help her see what Elizabeth needed most. Clara prays: “O Lord, You know I have a big mouth. But You can use anything that’s surrendered to You.” Clara also states: “The goal of prayer is not to change God’s mind about what you want. The goal of Prayer is to change your own heart, to want what He wants, to the glory of God.” Clara’s relationship with Elizabeth yields the way to some new perspectives and hope, which bolsters Elizabeth as she embraces her struggles and wages her own war in prayer. During Elizabeth’s spiritual journey, she learns how purposeful prayer can change lives.
The War Room is a beautiful story and the message is at least as important as Star Wars and deserving of more attention than it received. If you believe in prayer, read this one. “Just do it!” as someone recently suggested. Check for future events at HBC for other opportunities to experience the power of prayer from the War Room.
January 2016 Book Feature: Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Boys in the Boat isn’t written by a theologian or about theology but it does have a strong theological thread woven into the story that binds the 1936 Olympian oarsmen together. It’s a story of perseverance, determination and faith. Overcoming great odds, nine young college students from the state of Washington beat the elite rowing teams from the east coast and Great Britain and Hitler’s premier team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The Washington State boys on this winning team are sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers. They are hard-working boys who work to put themselves through college, help support their families, and train relentlessly with each other. Author, Daniel James Brown, tells the story from notes and journals of the boys and conversations with the sister of Joe Rantz. Joe Rantz is the heart of the story. His mother died when he was very young and his father has difficulty coping with the loss, so Joe is sent away to live with a teacher. Joe’s older brother marries and his father remarries. Joe goes back to live with his father but Joe’s stepmother is not a happy person and grows to resent Joe’s presence in their home. The family packs up and leaves, leaving Joe to fend for himself. Fourteen year old Joe learns to set goals for himself, to rely on his faith and, eventually, to trust in others.
Trust is the most difficult personal characteristic for Joe to embrace. George Yeoman Pocock becomes a mentor for Joe and offers gentle guidance throughout Joe’s rowing years. George’s perspective on life and rowing are inseparable, and he shares this belief in many encounters with Joe over the years as Joe hones his rowing skills and matures as an individual and more importantly as a member of a team who must rely on his teammates to succeed. George says: “It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, when it’s nearing perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you of yous. Which is your soul.”
Young Joe Rantz learns early in life that God has given him everything he needs. He meets the challenges head on and through perseverance and faith finds glory. When Brown went to meet Joe for the first time, he wasn’t planning on writing a book of Joe’s extraordinary life but after talking with him, he realized the power of his story. However, Joe insisted that the book not be just about him but about “the boat.” Brown states: “I realized that “the boat” was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both – – it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.”
I can think of George Pocock as a Jesus kind of guy, a coach who guides us with words of wisdom and insight, leading us to be bound together by his love, trusting in his everlasting love and persevering with us through the difficult times. You’ll enjoy Boys in the Boat.
December 2015 Book Feature: A Bethlehem Christmas by Charles R. Swindoll
December often presents a bombardment of emotions for many of us. Families get together to celebrate this joyous season with excitement and sometimes, even trepidation. In the hustle and bustle of Christmas gift giving and gift receiving and entertaining friends and family, it is easy to neglect the “reason for the season.”
A Bethlehem Christmas is a retelling of one of the most published Bible stories in the world, the story of the birth of Jesus. What makes this narrative different is that it is told from the voice of three main characters: Mary, Joseph and Gabriel. Only three chapters unfold the events and emotions that led up to the night a King was born. Charles Swindoll has a talent for taking a centuries old story and making it new. Swindoll believes that most of us are very familiar with the nativity story since we’ve heard it since we were children but suggests we need a new perspective, a new way of experiencing it that would bring the significance of this monumental event closer to our hearts. He claims “My hope was to tell the same old story, but this time as if I were the one personally involved in the events – first as Mary, then as Joseph, and finally, as the angel Gabriel.” Swindoll enlisted the help of his son-in-law, Mark Gaither, to research historical volumes and “extra-biblical sources” with the goal of adding “colorful details that help bring the ancient scenes to life in a relevant and reliable manner while staying within the lines of accuracy.” As I read the book, I had a feeling of being there, in the Holy Land, during that time and place. Swindoll’s characterizations are entirely believable as he recreates the issues of the day through Mary and Joseph’s eyes.
Charles Swindoll states: “My hope is that it will cause many to celebrate the sacred season and, at the same time, realize what a treasure we have in the One who makes it sacred.” I believe he does just that in this story. You may consider adding a reading of A Bethlehem Christmas to your family Christmas traditions to start the Advent Season with “the reason for the season” in the forefront instead of as an add-on.
This book and a shelf-full of other Charles R. Swindoll books come to the Hilton Baptist Church Library through the generosity of Michael Gerega. Thank you, Mike!
November 2015 Book Features: A Little Taste of God’s Love and Loaves and Fishes
November is traditionally all about food. Our family starts talking about menus and recipes for the upcoming holidays in early September. Some of us are traditionalists: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. But some of the crew likes to change it up a bit! So we start searching for recipes. So I searched and found that our church library has The Food and Feasts of Jesus by Douglas Neel and Joel Pugh for you traditionalists but I also found two gems for the adventurists. We have Loaves and Fishes by Herald Press and A Little Taste of God’s Love by Carol Molski.
A Little Taste of God’s Love is a collection of bible stories and craft activities. We start out with the story of creation. Since God created Adam and the earth, the first recipe is “Dirt Cake” or “Dirt Pudding” as some of you may know it and includes gummy worms and frogs. The accompanying activity is using homemade dough to create “new things.” God then creates the animals and we have a recipe to make pigs in a blanket. The corresponding activity is face-painting animals with homemade face paint. The story of Adam and Eve and eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden is followed up with a recipe for “Adam’s Apple Crisp” which the children can enjoy as they discover the star in a crosscut apple which they can then use to make apple print designs. The stories are short, sweet and to the point and the craft activities and recipes provide an opportunity for fabulous family fun.
The other book, Loaves and Fishes, provides an opportunity to introduce children to the concept of world missions and feeding the hungry. It’s subtitled “A ‘Love Your Neighbor’ Cookbook.” The book starts out by telling the story of Jesus with his disciples, Phillip and Andrew, on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee and the miracle of feeding five thousand people with just five barley loaves and two fishes (John 6: 1-14). But then to bring it into perspective for children of today, the authors pose an analogy: “If all the children in the whole world came to a party to share one GIGANTIC cake, North American children would receive more than a fair share of it.” The authors then go on to point out that not only do some of the world’s children not get a fair share of birthday cake, but also they don’t get enough healthy foods either. Posing the question: “What can we do about it?” they go on to suggest not only some very good recipes but some ideas about Christian giving.
October 2015 Book Feature: Home Field Advantage by Ken Ruettgers with Dave Branon
Well, whether we’re ready or not, fall weather is headed our way. In keeping with fall, I wanted to review a book with a fall theme and came across a book that’s been in the library for a while but I’m not sure anybody has read it. When I started reading, I thought the book was rather new but when I checked the date, I found that it was written in 1993 making it over twenty years old. Perhaps if I knew more about the author I would have realized that sooner. Anyway, it’s a book about football or so I thought when I picked it up. Fall and football seem to go together, at least in the Nolan family. However, Home Field Advantage is more about building a winning family than about building a winning football team.
Home Field Advantage is a father’s guide to the importance of role models in a child’s life. The reason I thought it was more current was that when I started reading it, the ideas and concepts that Ken Ruettgers presented seemed so relevant to the issues our culture continues to face today. Ken aptly points out that if fathers don’t take responsibility for ensuring their sons and daughters have a positive role model, there are many, many other options that children eagerly choose to fill the void. Ruettgers titled one chapter: “Beaver: 6, Beavis: 35 – Kids: 0.“ By looking at these characters from TV shows, you can see how our nations values and morals have changed, claims Ruettgers. He quotes a comment from a teacher who taught for a while, decided to stay home with her children, and then returned to teaching several years later. In her early teaching experience, she would enter the classroom and say “Good morning, students” and the children would reply: “Good Morning, Miss Jones.” A generation later when she returned to teaching, she entered the classroom and said, “Good morning, students” and one of them yelled: “Shut up, b—.“ The teacher asked this question, “What happened to America between ‘Good morning, Miss Jones’ and ‘Shut up, b—‘?” Ruettgers asks the questions “When did this happen?” and “What are we going to do about it?” He spends a good deal of time discussing how we let this happen claiming a general complacency such as “getting used to losing, promoting self-centeredness, laziness, arrogance and the acceptance of deviance.” He proposed several strategies for combating the problem using football analogies, generating a “play book” of sorts.
Ken Ruettgers describes a “triple threat” quarterback as a formidable foe hard to stop. He then describes and compares it to a “triple threat” role model initiative for families. “Level One: The first level includes our responsibility as the parents of our children. We should concentrate on them, because we’re the key to their success in this life. Level Two: The second level of role modeling within our circle of influence relates to folks with whom we have regular contact – our extended families, our co-workers, our neighbors, and our friends. Level Three: The third level moves beyond the group we see every day and out into the world. It includes people that we may have only infrequent contact with.” He continues with a detailed description of each of these levels of influence on our children. Ruettgers strongly believes “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but what happens in your house.”
Home Field Advantage is a good read for all congregational members since we all have the opportunity and ability to influence others in our church family, in God’s house. Every time we dedicate a child, we agree to help and support that child to grow in our Christian faith when we agree “to minister to all of God’s children by taking an active and responsible role in the ministry of the church according to our abilities.” Our HBC Covenant lays it out clearly for us!
September 2015 Book Feature: Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
Lupton starts his book “In the United States, there’s a growing scandal that we both refuse to see and actively perpetuate. What Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.” Lupton claims that he has spent four decades serving in inner-city environments to develop models of urban renewal with changing neighborhoods from “’dangerous’ and ‘blighted’ to being called ‘thriving’ and even ‘successful.’”
With almost 90% of American adults involved in some way in the “charity industry,” it is obvious that charitable service is a way of life of the American people. However, our efforts may be hurting rather than helping because it creates dependency and destroys personal initiative. “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.” As an example of the problem, Lupton cites statistics of the over one trillion dollars sent as benevolent aid to Africa. Per-capita income, life expectancy and literacy have plummeted. “Aid, though intended to promote health, becomes ‘the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.’”
Lupton claims: “We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity.” Offering another example, Lupton states: “Expenditures for a week of service by church and college groups are grossly out of proportion with what is actually accomplished. U.S. mission teams who rushed to Honduras to help rebuild homes destroyed by hurricane Mitch spent on average $30,000 per home – homes locals could have built for $3,000 each. The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American mission trip to repaint an orphanage would have been sufficient to hire two local painters and two new full-time teachers and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school.” The book includes many examples of similar stories and suggests ways things could have been changed to achieve more desirable results.
Lupton maintains that, “Again and again we are finding that when it comes to global needs in organizational development and human development, the granting of money creates dependence and conflict, not independence and self respect. By changing the equation to other means of exchange, we find that we are empowering people based on shared responsibility, mutual support, and accountability.” When Lupton moved into inner city Atlanta, he began to see the other side of giving. He watched body language facial expressions and closely observerd the giver and the recipient of the giving. He observed “how quickly recipients’ response to charity devolved from gratitude to expectation to entitlement.” His scrutinizing look at the anatomy of giving and at other charitable organizations and mission efforts led to his realization that there is an “unhealthy culture of dependence.” That pervades our kindhearted giving, Lupton claims. “Doing for rather than doing with is the norm.”
Lupton’s book certainly provides multitudes of ideas and food for thought for those who are involved in charitable organizations that support the needy in the Rochester area and surrounding communities.
July/August 2015 Book Feature: How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath
Well summer is finally here and summer vacation is upon us. School is out and children are eager to enjoy days and days of play. Play is an opportunity for children to learn and practice socially positive behaviors with the guidance of important adults in their lives including members of our church family. With all the examples of negative interactions among people shown in media and experienced on playgrounds etc., it is beneficial for children to have caring adults mediate and explicitly teach and practice appropriate social skills with them.
One book that facilitates that concept is How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. Maurie J. Manning expertly illustrates this picture book. It is written in an engaging and conversational style that children readily relate to. Children can identify with the emotional issues that the main character, Felix, encounters in daily interactions with others.
Felix wakes up one morning and discovers that he has an invisible bucket floating over his head. He has a terrible morning as he gets ready for school and things don’t improve at school. Eventually Felix figures out the connection between his words and actions and the state of his bucket. With a changed attitude Felix and his family are much happier.
Another book supporting the same idea of a bucket is titled: Have you filled a bucket today? : a guide to daily happiness for kids by Carol McCloud. In this story, children learn about the gift of kindness. This award-winning book encourages children to express kindness, appreciation and love each day and demonstrates examples of positive interpersonal behaviors.
Both of these books are worth sharing with children and both encourage family discussions about kindness, loving attitudes and a Christian spirit.
June 2015 Book Feature: Wake Up Generation by Paige Omartian
Wake Up Generation, subtitled You Have a Life – How Will You Use It? is the story of Paige Omartian’s battle with cancer and a message that she believes all young people need to hear. David Williams claims this book is a must read, “a clarion call to live the life God calls us to live.” Paige asks: “What if you never find your life’s true purpose?” She suggests that question scares a lot of people! She also claims that “almost everyone in our [young adult] generation struggles with these questions: What is my purpose? Who was I created to be? What can I possibly do to make a difference in this world?”
When Paige was diagnosed with cancer, she was an active, vibrant, young student whose life was turned upside down by a life-threatening disease. She asked: “Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” Through the course of her battle with cancer, with losing her leg, and coming to terms with her new normal, she realizes that she was never alone during her ordeal. In the midst of her suffering, when people told her that God had a plan for her, she thought of it as a polite cliché. But as she gained strength after treatment and during recovery, she realized that God did have a plan for her. “He was using my pain to deepen my faith, grow me, and teach me invaluable lessons….He opened my heart to realities that I never would have known existed without the battle I was intended to fight.”
Paige’s life verse comes from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Through “The Make a Wish Foundation,” she travels to a recording studio in Nashville and meets someone who makes a difference in her future.
Paige’s message to the youth of today is “break the chains of apathy, ignite your passion, discover your God-given purpose, and see how precious your life really is.” In telling her story, Paige inspires others to seek and live out their purpose in life. It’s time to wake up, Paige says to the youth of today. “If you’re still breathing… there’s a reason you’re here.”
I selected this book for the month of June because June is typically a month of graduations and weddings, which signify an ending to one way of life and a beginning of another. Paige’s book is about growing and moving on in faith and accepting God’s presence in your journey as you embark on new beginnings. Paige Omartian is the daughter-in-law of Stormie Omartian, Christian author of many books of which we have a few in our church library. Paige is now a recording artist who travels the country, sharing her music and story with others. She and her husband Chris, live in Nashville, Tennessee.
May 2015 Book Feature: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Still Alice is about living with Alzheimer’s disease. This powerful novel was also made into a movie that won an award this year for Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Alice. Alice is an accomplished professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is fifty years old and is proud of the accomplishments she has worked so hard for in her life. The diagnosis changes her life. This story is a moving and vivid depiction of life with Alzheimer’s disease and anyone who has been touched by this devastating disease will recognize the episodic frustration and challenges of day-to-day life as the catastrophic effects of the disease progress.
Some important questions come up when Alice tells her husband, John, of her diagnosis. He is in denial and does some research and asks her to be tested for the mutant gene(s) that is known to be present in Alzheimer patients. The test is positive and confirms her diagnosis. Alice is flooded with many questions. She thinks back to her father who was an alcoholic and realizes that some of his behaviors in his last years may have been Alzheimer effects instead of alcohol related. She wonders, if she’d known, would their relationship have been better. Would she and John have decided to have children? When she tells her three children, will they want to be tested for the gene(s)? Her daughter wants to start a family. Will this change their plans? Will they consider genetic altering or modification? Would they consider termination of a pregnancy? Would your children want to know their probability of suffering from or living with Alzheimer’s disease? The author artfully weaves these critical and pertinent questions into Alice’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease.
The author also accurately develops her characters and through them enlightens the reader’s perspective about living with Alzheimer’s disease. Life may be shorter for the person with Alzheimer’s but it is not necessarily tragic. Alzheimer’s disease robs the person of brain cells and cognition, not personhood. The patients lose their former selves and they live in the moment but the point is, they live! They can tell you what they want or don’t want in the moment or what they like or don’t like. They are human beings with wants and needs and are capable of genuine loving. They struggle to communicate and require the care of someone who is empathetic, insightful and perceptive.
Perhaps one of the most unique accomplishments of this story is that it brings to light the essence of a disease that has touched so many families in this country and provides several resources to support the reader who wants more information.
April 2015 Book Feature: The Easter Story by Antonia Jackson & Guiliano Ferri
This version of The Easter Story is written by Antonia Jackson and illustrated by Guiliano Ferri. It is a well-done children’s book explaining the story of the first Easter from Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem, through the crucifixion, to the resurrection.
The retelling is both clear and detailed and explains fully the message of God’s love. It is easily understood and the gentle yet elegant illustrations support each page of the narration without overpowering the message. The muted colors don’t overpower the message or the page and the visual images expertly summarize the words on each page lending more than adequate support for each concept depicted. Images of the crucifixion are accurate but not scary or too explicit for young children.
The story ends with these encouraging words: “But now Peter’s love and loyalty were unshakeable. ‘Take care of my flock of followers,’ Jesus said. ‘Tell all the world the good news of God’s love, which is stronger than death.’”
The Easter Story is a sophisticated picture book for both younger and older children. This is a great book to share as a family during the Lenten season.
March 2015 Book Feature: The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate
The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate is about faith and hope. Iola Anne Poole is a mystery. She lives in a large, historic Victorian home on the Outer Banks in the Carolinas. The main character, Tandi Jo, rents the small bungalow next door to Iola’s grand house. Tandi Jo, her young son, J.T. and her teenage daughter, Zoey are looking to start a new life after fleeing an abusive and dangerous environment.
Tandi’s past is steeped in issues surrounding family relationships (her abusive husband, her sister, her grandparents and parents) and the consequences of living with alcoholic parents. Her one respite were the times she spent with her grandparents in the Outer Banks. She is trying to come to grips with her past as she grapples with the challenges of the present and tries to plan a future in a place she desperately wants to call home. One day she discovers Iola Poole’s body and starts a journey of self-reflection and an awakening to the possibilities in her life.
Tandi is offered the job of cleaning out Iola’s house and discovers Iola’s prayer boxes. For each year of her life, since she was a very young girl, Iola has written letters addressed to “Dear Father,” and placed them in the box with little mementos of events from that specific year. After reading a few letters, Tandi realizes that “Father” is God and these letters are prayers, her conversations with God. She also finds out that, in her will, Iola left her house to the church and that there are a lot of misconceptions about who Iola was and her connection to the house in this small town. As she struggles with the day to day challenges of a single parent living with limited resources in a new place, she discovers that there are plans in the works to tear down the historic house to build a run-off that will save the recently built million dollar mansions from storm damage. The plan will also destroy the village and the livelihood of its residents.
Tandi realizes that the prayer boxes and letters could save the house and the town. She relies on faith and courage that she didn’t know she had to make a difference in the lives of the people she has grown to love and care about. She also learns to trust in herself, in others and in God to build a better future for herself and her children.
This is a perfect book to read on these snowy cold days of winter. You can almost feel and smell the salty sea breezes.
February 2015 Book Feature: AHA Awakening.Honesty.Action by Kyle Idleman
This book, AHA, is currently one of the most popular selections of Christian literature. If you were a fan of “Not a Fan,” you probably will be a fan of AHA. Idleman employs the same easy style of writing that makes you feel you are actually engaged in a conversation. His books beg participation and engagement from the reader. Humor, truth and insight offer opportunity for a spiritual awakening, an AHA.
Idleman defines AHA as: “a sudden recognition that leads to an honest moment that brings lasting change.” This definition is clarified and illuminated through the parable of “The Prodigal Son,” from Luke 15: 11-28. Idleman illustrates his points with vivid analogies and life experiences. He claims that an AHA has three vital ingredients, much like the recipes from his favorite cookbook, The Three Ingredients Cookbook. The parable of the Prodigal Son has the same three vital components as an AHA: 1) A Sudden Awakening, 2) Brutal Honesty, and 3) Immediate Action.
In order to experience an AHA, you have to recognize that you’ve journeyed to a “distant country,” a place where you’ve walked away from God or strayed from a Godly path. The Prodigal Son finally realizes that he has turned his back on his earthly father and his heavenly father. He is destitute, penniless and hungry. This is his AHA, a sudden awakening. Next, he’s brutally honest and admits: “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” If there is no honest reflection and recognition of the current situation and your acceptance of your responsibility for being there, then AHA doesn’t happen. In order for the AHA to be complete there needs to be action. This is where you accept responsibility and do something about it. The Prodigal Son says: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” This awakening, honesty and action result in a lasting change. The son who was lost is now found and welcomed back into his father’s house.
I wonder if, as a church, we are on the brink of an AHA. In some ways we acknowledge where we are: HBC Sunday attendance is declining; few young families attend church, etc. Have we really awakened to where we are? Have we come to our senses? Are we ready for the brutal honesty? Are we ready for immediate action? Idleman warns about “projection” (It’s not my fault.) and the “blame game” (Projection is when we follow our sudden awakening with excuses and justifications. So Instead of accepting responsibility, we assign blame…” pg. 117).
Read this book and see what you think. It also lends itself to a Bible Study with discussion questions included at the back. There is also a youth edition that includes a Bible Study. Both books offer the opportunity for a spiritual awakening, an AHA.
January 2015 Book Feature: “Chicken Soup for the Soul” by Jack Canfield
Jack Canfield has written numerous “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. There are even several in different categories such as Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Chicken Soup for the Christian Family’s Soul or Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul, which happens to be the one I just finished reading. There are generous helpings, portions and servings of “chicken soup for your soul” all directed at comforting, healing and humanizing us. Each book is a collection of a hundred or so stories written by well-known names such as Gloria Steinem, Art Buchwald, Max Lucado, Erma Bombeck and Robert Fulghum as well as lesser-known individuals. The purpose of the stories is to “open the heart and rekindle the spirit.” Reading one of the stories is like eating a bowl of homemade chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather; it warms the chill and heals the hurt within.
January is generally a cold and chilly month and many people (especially those who do not travel south seeking sun and warmth) suffer from holiday bustle fatigue, emotional doldrums and physical illnesses like colds, flu bronchitis etc. etc. etc. It’s a great time to curl up with some “Chicken Soup!” I have many favorites from Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul. In “Grandma’s Garden,” LeAnn Thieman recalls lessons learned from her grandmother while gardening. Gardening wasn’t just about “cultivating plants, it was about cultivating faith.” “When I Grow Up” falls under the sub-title of “ageless wisdom.” Barbara Russell Chesser recounts the words of wisdom offered by three elderly women who each describe their formula for success and key to longevity. Emelia Smith, who is 103, claims that living one day at a time is the only real choice we have. She quotes Proverbs 12:25: “Anxious hearts are very heavy, but a word of encouragement does wonders.” She tries to fill every conversation with words of encouragement and to be an example of living each day celebrating life. Clara Fentress, ninety-seven, says that attitude makes all the difference in life. She believes an “attitude of gratitude” gives grit and gusto for living. “Life is too short to dwell on what I do not have…” Count your blessings is her message. Winnie Russell Lattrell, 82, takes her words of wisdom from Mark Twain who stated: “I am now an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Her message is don’t worry. She reminds herself daily “God loves me and will take care of me regardless of what happens.”
The last story I’ll mention is titled: “Beautiful Day, Isn’t it?” Barbara Johnson’s day starts out rotten. She oversleeps and is late for work. Things at the office don’t go well and her trip home seemed to promise more of the same when the bus was late and jammed offering standing room only. She hears a voice from the front of the bus booming, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” The man continues to make positive comment on the spring scenery, about landmarks along the way, churches, parks and so on. The man’s enthusiasm was contagious and when she reached her stop, she was smiling. As she gets off the bus, she glances at the “guide” and sees “an older gentleman with a beard, wearing dark glasses and carrying a thin, white cane.” Ms. Johnson quotes Helen Keller: Worse than not having sight is having no vision.” So, I suggest to you HBC readers, to go into the New Year with some heartwarming stories that may power a positive vision for you in 2015.
December 2014 Book Feature: The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell
Charles Tazewell’s book, The Littlest Angel, is another book about change and discovering where one fits in. The story’s origin in 1939, was the result of a request from Screen Guild producers to “write something” to fill an urgent need as a backup plan in their anticipation of what they believed was a forthcoming crisis. The crisis never happened but Charles wrote a story whose popularity would outlive him and in fact, become an “international classic.” It debuted on a Christmas Eve radio program and was narrated by Helen Hayes. Children’s Press of Chicago released the book form in 1946 and it has subsequently been translated into many languages and been reprinted at least two more times. Written for children between the ages of four and eight, it has become a favorite of young and old alike perhaps because everyone can relate to the issues experienced by this youngster.
The story starts out reminding me of PJ Funny Bunny or Rotten Ralph and ends up with “The Little Drummer Boy” in mind. PJ Funny Bunny and Rotten Ralph are characters that are basically screw-ups constantly getting into or generating trouble wherever they go. The Littlest Angel swings on the Golden Gates, sings off tune in the celestial choir and just can’t seem to get it together in heaven. Eventually he is summoned to appear before an angel of peace to deal with the growing disciplinary issues. He is greeted by the Understanding Angel who asks him what would make him happy in paradise. He grants the Littlest Angel his request and things turn around for him. He becomes troubled once more when he learns of the upcoming birth of Jesus, the Son of God. As all the angels prepare their gifts for this blessed infant, the Littlest Angel must decide what gift he will give. What can he give to please the holy infant?
I believe most of us have struggled at one time or another to adjust to a new and different situation or environment and screwed up a few times. We’ve also been asked to search our hearts for what we can give in someone’s time of need. How will you handle the changes at HBC and what will you give this season. Enjoy this delightful children’s story, which was graciously donated to the church library by the Daubert family.
November 2014 Book Feature: “Somewhere Safe With Someone Good” by Jan Karon
Jan Karon’s newest book, “Somewhere Safe With Someone Good,” is already a best seller. The story takes the reader back to the small town of Mitford where Father Tim Kavanaugh retired from Lord’s Chapel five years ago. After devoting his life to nurturing and supporting the people of this community, he’s not sure how his role as “retired” will play out. In the five years since Father Kavanaugh retired, he discovered he had a brother he never new about, traveled to Ireland to research the roots of his heritage, got married and moved back to Mitford.
Father Tim is glad to be back in Mitford; however, he feels that something is missing from his life, like a pulpit. When offered the opportunity to take over as an interim, he struggles with the decision but ultimately refuses. He feels his life needs to take a different direction but he’s not sure what that is yet.
Jan Karon is very adept at developing characters that are very real and relevant in today’s world. Many of us struggle with finding our way in new situations such as change of jobs, loss of a loved one, empty nest when the children go off to college or get married, and retirement–a group that, as a recent survey pointed out, many of our congregants fall into. I myself was at a loss last September when I walked by all the multitude of school supplies and realized I didn’t need to buy any. I didn’t have a class to prepare for; in fact, I didn’t have what had been my life for thirty years to go back to. Life changes generate an opportunity to reevaluate what your purpose in life is to become. That is exactly what Father Tim Kavanaugh must do as he builds a new life and a new purpose in his old and familiar community. Jan Karon expertly takes us on that journey with Father Tim and all of the endearing characters in Mitford, a town that “takes care of its own.” This is a great book to curl up in your favorite comfy chair with, along with your favorite beverage on a cool fall day or evening and enjoy.
October 2014 Book Feature: Proof of Heaven by Eban Alexander, M.D.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Dr. Eben Alexander is unique in that it is written by someone who is renown in his field as one of the best neurosurgeons in the world and an experienced researcher, conducting scientific studies of brain anatomy, physiology and functioning. Dr. Alexander was a professor for fifteen years at Harvard Medical School. He spent years treating severe and life threatening brain conditions. He had heard many stories from patients about inexplicable events and near death experiences but, while listening patiently, still dismissed them as altered states due to chemical changes in the brain, medication side effects, or highly active imaginations, etc. Dr. Alexander knew that near death experiences (NDE’s) “may feel real but are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.”
However, when a form of meningitis attacks his own brain, he spends a week in a coma from which the doctors believe it is nearly impossible for him to recover from and most likely would have severe brain damage if he does wake up. During this coma state, Eben’s brain is completely shut down. The part of the brain that makes us human, that controls thoughts and emotions and cognition is not functioning. Just as doctors are considering stopping all treatment, Dr. Alexander’s eyes pop open. It is truly a miracle that he survives but the real miracle is the spiritual journey and experiences he recalls as he tells his story. He shares his struggle with reconciling the knowledge of neuroscience with belief in heaven, God and the soul. His spiritual journey during his recovery led to his affirmation that life after death does exist. “My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave.”
If you are a skeptic, read this book. Also, thank Vern Eisenbraun who generously donated it to the HBC Library.
May 2014 Book Feature: Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont
Many of you may be familiar with Women of Faith speaker, Patsy Clairmont. She’s an itty, bitty, witty powerhouse of energy with a faithful perspective of everyday life. Patsy has often been described as a firefly, flitting from place to place and bringing light into the lives of others. In her book, Stained Glass Hearts, Patsy compares people to stained glass windows pointing out that with God’s power, the broken pieces can be repaired and transformed. “With candor tempered by wind-whipped wisdom, Patsy provides a new lens through which to view our lives.” She recounts many real life experiences of her own and creatively weaves in themes of art and music as she leads us to discover God’s steadfast love for us even in the midst of our darkest moments. She quotes Eugene O’Neill, “Man is born broken. He lives mending. The grace of God is glue” and Lamentations 3:22-23, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
In her chapter titled, “Enough to Make a Stained Glass Heart Sing,” Patsy quotes an old Chinese proverb, “Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.” She goes on to explain how to “maintain a green tree heart” through a “blustery winter” with several suggestions, the first being to remind herself that life-giving sap is on the inside. Real change happens within each of us as we acknowledge the power and potential when Jesus is in our heart. She also adamantly points out that we must have an attitude of gratitude. We can choose to view life through a lens of gratitude. “Actively being grateful is a conscious choice at first, then with ongoing attentiveness, a habit. Gratitude dissolves anger and untangles the knots inside.” She also suggests that we might “learn to be content not to have all our questions answered.” When we acknowledge that not all our questions will have answers, it is a humble relinquishment, an acceptance that we are not in control. “Stained Glass Hearts reminds us just how brightly the light of God can shine…” and that each of us has a “potential for color, sparkle, and great purpose through the grace of God.” Patsy Clairmont’s writing style is humorous and delightful, blessing the reader with encouragement and hope.
April 2014 Book Feature: The Orchard a Parable by Elisa Morgan
This title may seem familiar to many of you since it was the focus book for a Revive Alive
Sunday morning worship service that transformed our sanctuary into an orchard. I thought it might be worth revisiting as we move into the next phase of our pastoral search process. It is a small book, only 91 pages, with a big message. One can probably read it in an hour and it’s written as a parable. There is an underlying message, a lesson to be learned.
In the next several weeks, we at Hilton Baptist Church will be addressing the task of
determining what our core values are and discerning God’s vision for the church. The Orchard provides an opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective story. Elisa Morgan opens her story with an assertion that “most of us want to live productive and meaningful lives – lives that matter.” The Bible, in the book of Galatians, tells us that we can produce two kinds of fruit, the good fruit of the spirit or the fruitless results of living a life of sin. Morgan’s parable invites us on a journey with the orchard keeper: “Just stroll with me. Every day, join me in the orchard here. Together we can take an inventory of areas that are growing well and areas that need attention and dream of new areas to begin growing.” Isn’t this what we are invited to do as we determine God’s future plans for us at HBC?
This parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Although there is not literally an orchard keeper, what does really exist is the lush fruit of character that grows from a life well lived. “It grows in the lives of those who know God through his Son, Jesus Christ.” When the fruit of the spirit is evident in us each day, others see it. It attracts others to Jesus and to the hope and desire to have a relationship with Him.
Elisa Morgan invites you to take a walk in the orchard of your life. You can accept the opportunity to take an inventory of the fruit in your own life and thereby, better prepare you to collectively participate in the development of our HBC story. Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice. You choose to live a life that matters. You choose to tend to the needs of the orchard. Morgan closes with the question: “Are you ready to grow a life that matters?”
March 2014 Book Feature: Power Surge by Michael W. Foss
Michael Foss subtitled his book: six marks of discipleship for a changing church. That’s what caught my eye when I chose this book for March. We are in a transitional situation where change is inevitable. I was looking for something that might ease the pain and discomfort that accompanies the cycle of change when a church is faced with calling a new pastor. Unfortunately, I did not discover any quick and easy answers between the pages of this book. What I did find was some powerful principles and ideas for meaningful discussion of what it means to live our faith in the body of Christ within the building we call our church.
Foss addresses several pertinent questions that are facing churches today such as:
1. Why are churches closing their doors
2. Why is it that 91 percent of all households in the US own a Bible yet only 38 percent of adults read the Bible in any given week?
3. Why is biblical illiteracy rampant among Christians?
4. Why does the Christian message, the good news of the Bible not seem to get through?
5. Why are Protestant churches losing more and more members?
6. Is church no longer effective in meeting the needs of people in the 21st century?
We live in a culture where the world has changed quicker than the church and now it is time for the church to catch up claims Foss.
The author asserts that the role of the church and the clergy in communities has changed over the years. In the past, “the ministry of the church and the role of the clergy functioned like social glue as well as a source of spiritual solace.” Times have changed and in today’s church, Foss claims that the “clergy have lost their privileged positions at the center of community life; hundreds of civic and social organizations compete for the time, talents, and finances of the citizenry; postmodern pluralism has relativized every belief and value system so that the faith is reduced to a commodity in the religious marketplace. He suggests that the church needs to change from a membership model to a discipleship model and therein lies the power surge. When a church is focused on discipleship, Foss states that the congregation “discovers the depth and breadth of their oneness with Christ and their oneness in Christ with each other, and the result is new energy and passion, a new sense of joy and meaning and a church marked by healthy interdependence rather than codependence.” He explains the marks of discipleship in a church and cites many stories from his own experience that transformed his church.
Michael Foss is a dynamic writer who presents some excellent concepts to consider. His ideas are well grounded in biblical context and support what it means to be an actively practicing Christian.
Cheryl Nolan, Church Librarian
February 2014 Book Feature: Crazy Busy by Kevin Deyoung
Kevin Deyoung claims his book, Crazy Busy, is “a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem.” He’s right! A very familiar response to “How are you doing,” in today’s world is “I’m very busy.” Families are on the go. We’re plugged in, hooked up and connected in a multitude of ways. In fact we have an insatiable appetite for being plugged in, sometimes to the point of addiction. When was the last time you went out to eat and didn’t see everyone at the table checking their iphone, ipad, texting, tweeting checking face book or playing a game? You can have an app for everything from shopping at Wegman’s to finding your way there.
Deyoung’s book does not propose to solve the problems you have with time management but he does make some very clear points about the three dangers to avoid, seven diagnoses to consider and one thing you must do. His 3,7,1 plan is a way to tackle your schedule and “suggestions for reclaiming your sanity, and a lot of encouragement to remember your soul.”
One point Deyoung makes is that there are two realities in our globalized world today; our complexity and our opportunity, which creates a lifestyle with relatively few limits. Busyness can rob our hearts and choke our spiritual lives. In fact, Deyoung claims busyness can kill more people than bullets. He delves into topics such as “Kindergarchy,” freaking out about your kids, the “screen” strangling your sole, serving others without setting priorities and my favorite, “You better rest yourself before you Wreck yourself.”
We live in a time where money is more plentiful than time. “Wealth can be created, but no one has the ability to grow more time.” Deyoung quotes Peter Drucker: “The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.” We don’t have an infinite supply to use.
In his concluding chapter Deyoung refers the reader to the story in Luke 10 of “Working Martha” and “Lazy Mary.” He summarizes that Martha is freaking out and Mary has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words. Neither is wrong in their choice, they both serve God. Each of us must decide our priorities and consider what is “the good portion” in your life. What are your priorities? Do you make time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His word? If managing a busy life is challenging you, read this short book about a big problem.
If you are planning for a year, sow rice;
If you are planning for a decade, plant trees,
If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.