“Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons”, by John Piper (book review)

In this 208-page book, John Piper offers his reasons for being so fond of the Apostle Paul.  Obviously, these are his opinions, and you or I may be drawn to other notable figures in scripture.  However, it is good to slow down and dig deeply into the reasons why we are so fond of such people.  While there are 30 chapters – reasons – each chapter really goes much deeper than one mere reason, as we all know one thought certainly leads to another. 

In 2019, I decided to dedicate a considerable part of my reading time to one man: John Owen.  I’ve begun with “Mortification of Sin in Believers”, and have been challenged much!  I say that because I found chapter 10 of “Why I Love the Apostle Paul” to be most interesting, most insightful: “Learning Lat in Life to Know and Kill My Most Besetting Sins”.  That’s not because the other 29 chapters are no good, but simply because my mind is presently fixed on the theme of killing sin.  In that chapter, Pipers writing supports and even clarifies some thoughts Owen wrote…not because Owen did not say it well, but because another vantage point is worthwhile when it opens a door just a little wider, allowing light to shine on a thought.

Years ago, Piper said something like this: It’s not usually entire books that change people; not even entire chapters; but paragraphs change people.  The thoughts in chapter 10 truly were worth the time of reading this book, so I included a few of his clarifications in my “Mortification” book study journal.

I give the book 4 stars.  It certainly isn’t on my favorites shelf at home (especially since I read the Kindle version), but it is truly worth reading.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition (ESV)" - (book review)

In order to review this Bible edition, I need to review two different aspects: (1) the Bible format itself, and (2) the artwork and space provided for personal artwork and journaling.

First, the Bible format: I truly love the fact that the pages are single-column style.  This is due to the fact that the outer margins are two inches wide.  If there were two columns of print, the columns would each consist of about five small-print words 😆

Next, the print is fairly small.  It's not smaller than the average Bible, but I still require reading glasses for this one.

Finally, there are no cross references, or notes, or book introductions, or a concordance.  THIS IS NOT A STUDY BIBLE.  That's perfectly Bibles are not a requirement in order to be a legitimate Bible.  Just know what it is and is not before buying it.

Second, the Journaling aspect:  Oh muh-word...I have two words for the color scheme: Ug - Ly! The covers are forest green (I love forest green)...but all the artwork is printed in gold, and the edges of the pages are also trimmed in gold.  I find it all to be rather gaudy, to be honest.

Next, I do like the fact that the margins are a whopping 2 inches wide!  This allows for a lot of note-writing, artistry...whatever fancies the reader.

Each book's title page, so to speak, is a full page of art, and the inspiration/meaning of each is explained in the back of the bible.

Finally, all of the artwork font is in solid print, so there's really no room for coloring in the letters if that's what interests someone.

Rating: I give this edition just 2 1/2 stars.  It's really just kindof blah...and I appreciate good art.  This art, though....well.....

Disclaimer: I received this Bible free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"The Story of Redemption Bible" (book review)

Weighing in at about the same as a ream of paper (maybe a little heavier), and standing approximately 2 inches thick, this is one beefy Bible!  I wouldn't exactly call it a "study Bible" per se, but it has its uses as a study Bible.

But first, let's talk about its features.  

  • Each chapter begins with a "Title Illustration", as well as an introduction.  At the back of the Bible is an "Index of Title Illustrations", which provides a very brief (one or two sentences) explanation of that particular book's illustration. (See inset photo).
  • The pages are single-column spreads, with hefty outside margins that are approximately 1.25 inches wide.  This allows for ample note-writing space, which is prime real estate in the worlds of study Bibles.
  • English Standard Version: I love the version!  I'm a fan of the NKJV as well as the ESV, so this one is just fantastic.
  • The commentary is not designed as other study Bibles....but probably because this is not another study Bible.  Instead, because the commentaries are designed to enhance and explain the Bible's big-picture storyline of redemption, the commentaries are "in line" with the test of scripture.  What that means is that whenever Greg Gilbert (editor) felt the need to explain certain aspects of the story of redemption, he placed the commentaries in a place that made literary sense.  They could be at the end of a chapter, or even right in the middle.  I appreciate this feature because reading through regular commentaries in study Bibles can get distracting when trying to read large portions of scripture, whereas this style intends to enhance the storyline.
  • There is a "Chronological Overview" in the front of the Bible if the reader should choose to read cover-to-cover chronologically. 
  • Or, should you so choose, there's also a traditional "Daily Reading Plan" in the back.
  • One feature I truly like is the simple "Story of Redemption Timeline" as the very last layout....a four-page spread!  It's not too complex, but allows the reader to get a simpler glance to the Bible's history in a single layout.
  • Overall, I think this Bible makes for a great tool for a new / new-er believer who is trying to wrap her mind around what the Bible means from beginning to end.  For the new believer, a traditional study Bible can feel intimidating.  That's certainly not to say this Bible is not useful for a "seasoned" believer, but it's simply not set up as a Bible that can be used to make and find cross references.  Other good study Bibles help make those connections for the reader, but this one is designed with big-picture themes in view.
Overall, I give "The Story of Redemption Bible" 4 out of 5 stars....I knock just one star off due to the lack of cross references.  Otherwise, I like it!

DISCLAIMER: I received this Bible free of charge from Crossway publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"Spiritual Leadership", by J. Oswald Sanders (book review)

Are you wondering if you have what it takes to lead? Or are you wondering if you still have what it takes to lead? As J. Oswald Sanders makes clear throughout this book, there is a lot involved in leadership, but even more-so in spiritual leadership. He writes, “It is not a calling we choose to pursue, but is it calling we choose to answer.”

If any of these thoughts strike a chord with you, this book may well be a good resource to consider. In twenty-two chapters (206 pages), J. Oswald Sanders leads the reader through the highs and lows, ups and downs, joys and sorrows of what it means to be a spiritual leader.

Reading this book came at a particularly useful time for me, as I have recently embarked on answering the call to be the interim music director in our local congregation. In short order, many issues and small fires have already surfaced, and I have felt the burden of their increasing weight as these matters cannot continue to go ignored.  So, I was encouraged in reading this book that I am not alone in these struggles, but have a good company and knowing that I can get through them all with the right mindset…and I may even come out the other side as a better leader as a result.

Sanders reminds the reader that:
·         sometimes leadership calls us to cut to the heart and render judgment in difficult situations, while other times decisions require patience and grace;
·         that it is no virtue to be disliked as a leader, but it is also dangerous to pursue being popular;
·         that a true leader humbly serves others and sets them up for success, while poor leaders pridefully promote themselves and their own needs;
·         that good leadership comes at a cost in the form of fatigue, loneliness, criticism, and rejection.
·         that all difficulties provide opportunities to reveal who the true leaders are.

While there are a plethora of very good books pertaining to leadership, this is one of the better books I've read on leadership in the church – “Spiritual Leadership”.  I would highly suggest it to anyone who is considering answering the call to leadership, or to anyone currently in a leadership position who is struggling under its burdens.

No doubt about it, I give “Spiritual Leadership” 5 out of 5 stars!

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. I was not required to provide a positive review. All opinions are mine.


"The Crown Lord, by William Sirls (book review)

"The Crown Lord" is the newest release by William Sirls, in which he attempts to put the racial shoe on the other foot, so to speak. This book found its genesis while Sirls, who is white, was serving time in federal prison with a black roommate. Sirls admitted that their time together helped each of them see less color, and more of humanity.  As a result of their time together, Sirls promised his roommate that he would write a book with a storyline that intended to reverse roles as it pertains to race.

Quite literally, just about everything in the stortline was reversed.... whites were degraded with a slanderous name, stereotypes of whites liking certain types of food and beverages, social ills and pressures, etc.  On the other hand, blacks were in the majority and held the positions of prestige and power, etc.  Imagine all the same actors of today's world just with opposite skin colors.

Unfortunately, Sirls attempt in this book didn't affect me the way I'm sure he had hoped. I didn't find it inspiring nor truly thought-provoking. Instead, it was simply too cliche for me.  Let's be honest, calling whites "pinkies" will never carry with it the same  vulgar undertone that the N-word does. I appreciate his efforts at trying to help white people understand the minority situation by putting the proverbial shoe on the other foot, but it just failed to inspire me.

Additionally, the storyline itself never captured my attention, and therefore never sustained my attention. I honestly struggled to get through this book. That disappointed me, because I really liked his first release, "The Reason".

Another aspect that I didn't like was the especially vulgar language. I'm not opposed to occasional swearing in books or movies, because I know that is real life. But this book was replete with vulgar language, which did nothing for me.  Sometimes crude language can enhance a particular mood or thought, but there was so much of it in this book that it detracted from it instead.

My promotional copy indicates that the book was to sell for $25.95. Barnes & Noble Cary it for just over $23, and Amazon carries it for roughly $17. Unfortunately, I would be disappointed if I paid more than $5 for this book. I appreciate his efforts, but see above.

I give this book just two stars out of five.

Disclaimer. I received this book free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Girl, Wash Your Face", by Rachel Hollis (review)

Ladies, if you’re captured by the style of Rachel Hollis and “Girl, Wash Your Face”, please know that what you’re NOT going to get are worth consideration.  But first…

What you’ll get: Enthusiastic, entertaining, honest literature from a gal who is probably a lot of fun to hang out with.  She addresses some pretty difficult issues that many in our culture would be embarrassed to address, and she does so in a winsome way.  Rachel herself read the book, and her style is excellent.  But that’s about as far as I’d go for the benefits of this book.

What you won’t get: Good theology.

The issues: From the very first pages, Hollis makes it clear that she believes all of life is in OUR control, YOUR control. This book is for YOU, all about YOU, and it’s up to YOU whether you succeed or fail.  YOU need to be your own hero.  Hollis said, “God, mama, and your partner can’t change you without your help.”  But this is not true.  While mama and your partner can’t change you, God certainly can.  He doesn’t need us to waive our green flag of permission to do as He wills.  But sadly, Hollis’s view of God is an exceptionally low one.  A book that focuses readers on all-things-ME – what I need to do or stop doing or start doing again or start thinking or stop thinking, etc. is highly problematic and selfish.

For being a “Christian” title (published by Thomas Nelson), the gospel of Jesus Christ was completely absent.  Sure, she occasionally used words like “God” and “church” and “Christian” and “faith”, but there was little to no substance behind their use.  She quoted a couple passages from the Bible, but used them out of context.   The ones I remembered were, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”, and “He who began a good work in you will complete it.”  The misapplications were the usual ones, passages used to suggest God will help you attain YOUR dreams…YOU just need to keep reciting the right words (or mantras, as she liked to call it) to yourself.  To call this a “Christian” book is a misnomer.

Here’s the big issue: Hollis failed to point readers to the true Jesus, plain and simple.  Instead, she went so far as to suggest that there is no one right religion or religious view.  This, then, takes the gospel of Jesus Christ off the table, which, therefore, means there’s no directing the readers to repent from sin, no calling readers to trust in Jesus, and there’s no urgency to awaken readers to be right with God through Jesus Christ.  Sure, she talked about “faith” and such, but never really explained what that means. Regrettably, this could be interpreted by any person to be faith in literally anything.    
As an aside, here’s a hint for future reading and listening ventures: When you read/hear key words and phrases like "be a better version of yourself" or "my truth", etc., (which were used repeatedly) be on guard.  We aren’t told anywhere in Scripture to attain to a better version of ourselves, but to humble ourselves, repent from sin, and follow Jesus.  Sinners are powerless in and of ourselves to defeat sin and make us an inkling better.  Instead, we need God the Father to call us, the Holy Spirit to quicken our dead selves, and Jesus to be our substitute.  Additionally, statements such as “This is my truth” is one rooted in relativism, suggesting that what’s true for you may or may not be true for me, and vice versa.  This takes the proclamation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ off the table because, in Hollis’s opinion, Jesus is just one avenue among many as possibilities to better ourselves…if that’s possible.

To conclude, I want to express how I’m honestly heartbroken for Rachel.  It is clear throughout her book (as well as in the interview at the end of the audio version), that her ultimate goal – her driving passion in life – is to be a “mogul”, to be on the cover of Forbes as a top female entrepreneur.   Sadly, she never said she desires to live a holy life in conformance to Christ, never mentions joyfully being made be right with God through Jesus Christ, never mentioned repenting from sin, etc.  Instead, her pursuits appear merely materialistic, endeavors for fame and fortune that will fade with time.  Instead, what we all need is Jesus Christ.  We need his perfect mediation because our sins so deserve God’s punishment.  We need the hope that only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives in being right with the Father.

While my while my heart breaks for Rachel, my ire falls on “Christian” publishers like Thomas Nelson for bowing – once again – to the almighty dollar for printing what sells, rather than printing the true gospel of Jesus Christ.


"Spiritual maturity", by J. Oswald Sanders (book review)

I am always blessed in Reading the works of dead theologians. While brother Sanders only passed on to glory in 1992, yes his words remain helpful today.

This book is divided into three parts.  Part one is entitled, “The Overruling Providence of God”, and deals with the character of the first person of the Trinity: God the Father.  Part 2 is entitled, “The Supreme Vision of Christ”, and handles the second person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ. Finally, part 3 is entitled, “The Spirit - the Breath of God”, and obviously discusses the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

Each part contains 7 stand-alone chapters, meaning one does not necessarily need to read chapter one in order to understand chapter 2 in order to understand chapter 3, etc. That point was clearly stated in the editor’s Forward, so I decided to read successive chapters from each of the three parts in numerical order. For example, after reading chapter one on the Father, I read chapter 8 on the Son, then chapter 15 on the Holy Spirit. Then I proceeded reading chapters 2, 9, and 16, until I finished the entire book in such a sequence.

I was truly blessed and challenged by numerous thoughts Sanders penned throughout the book, but the chapter that most profoundly influenced me and captured my mind was Chapter 3, “The Undiscouraged Perseverance of God”. In that chapter, brother Sanders detailed several nuances from Genesis 32 as it pertained to the God of Jacob.

Pay attention to these words of his, "The god of Jacob. No two characters seem more ill-matched. No single sentence more strikingly illustrates the undiscoverable perseverance of God."  As we know, Jacob was a schemer and a deceiver (not much unlike us, I might add), and yet brother Sanders does a marvelous job encouraging the reader in the gospel as we struggle with our own sinful flesh. He wrote, “The perseverance of the saints is possible only because of the perseverance of God." 

As I struggle in my own sin, I was encouraged my brother Sanders’ words, “[God] does not despair of us even when we despair of ourselves. His patience is never at an end. His resources are never exhausted.  Praise God!  Brother Sanders continues, “The devil preaches a message of despair...God is preaching the gospel of recovery. The God of Jacob is pre-eminently the god of the second chance to Christians who have failed and failed persistently.”

O brothers and sisters in Christ, what a truly glorious encouragement in the gospel this chapter and the entire book was! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed from front to back, something that is so necessary in our regular reading.  Pick a copy of Spiritual Maturity up for yourself, and you will not be disappointed.

RATING: 5 stars.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.