"ESV Prayer Bible", by Crossway (book review)

I truly appreciate the intent Crossway had in putting this Bible together.  Sadly, however, I think it kinda missed the mark.  Rather than providing a host of insightful prayers inspired by following the text of scripture that teach people how to pray scripture, it mostly contained numerous prayers that simply seemed to fit a particular text of scripture.  That said, there are still good things to take away from this Bible.

First and foremost of helpfulness is the short section in the introduction that discuss “The Problem with Prayer”, “The Solution”, “How to Pray the Bible”, and “Who Has Prayed the Bible?”  I learned years ago from Dr. Charles Swindoll how to pray the Bible and make it personal, and that’s what the short section, “How to Pray the Bible”, addresses.

Next in helpfulness is the “Author Index”.  If you have a particular theologian you’re looking for, or a favorite perhaps, this is a helpful section that directs the reader to the prayers written/spoken by those persons.

Another helpful section is the “Prayer Index”.  Basically, this is the converse of the Author Index in that if you’re looking for a prayer for a particular passage of scripture, not concerned who the author of the prayer is, then this section will fly you right in.

Finally, the prayers contained within this Bible are truly rich in depth, and many believers would do well to learn how great leaders of the faith have prayed in ages past.  It seems too often prayer times are saturated with requests for Aunt Betty’s big toe or Uncle Joe’s persistent cough.  I’m being facetious, but I think you get the point 😉.  These great leaders of the faith have prayed prayers than span the ages.

Overall, I guess I expected more from this Bible.  I fully hope to use it in developing liturgies and prayers for our Sunday morning worship gatherings, but I can still say I was slightly disappointed with it.

Rating: I give the Prayer Bible just 3 stars out of 5.

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.


"Discerning Your Call to Ministry", by Jason K. Allen (book review)

Christian men who aspire to be -- and have the desire -- an Overseer in the church seek a noble calling. But how can one be sure that his desires are truly a calling from God, or simply a fanciful wish?
In this little book, Jason K. Allen asks 10 questions to help the reader determine if he is indeed called by God into the ministry. Just in case you might already be thinking, "Aren't we all called into the ministry?" I'll explain Allen's point of reference.  At the outset, Allen categorizes ministry into three parts. First, all Christians are ministers: Because we follow Christ as Lord, we are called to share the gospel and make disciples.  Second, all Christians are all called to ministry: We minister in our homes, in our work, and in our play.  Finally, there is THE ministry, the pursuit of pastoral Ministry: not all Christians are called to this office.  This is the ministry office that is the focus of the following 10 questions contained within its 150 pages:

1) Do You DESIRE the Ministry?

2) Does Your Character Meet God's Expectations?

3) Is Your Household in Order?

4) Has God Gifted You to Preach and Teach His Word?

5) Does Your Church Affirm Your Calling?

6) Do You Love the People of God?

7) Are You Passionate about the Gospel and the Great Commission?

8) Are You Engaged in Fruitful Ministry?

9) Are You Ready to Defend the Faith?

10) Are You Willing to Surrender?

The conclusion closes the book with an encouraging reminder that a man who has just examined his life answering these questions may very well feel as though he's just endured surgery. However, he encourages the man who still believes he is called to THE ministry to speak with his pastors and elders about it. Conversely, he also encourages the man who may no longer believe he is called to continue faithfully serving his church, because he is not, after all, a second-rate Christian.

This is a truly practical book that serves the church well by helping men ask (and answer) crucial questions before excessive time and money are invested into a fruitless pursuit.

I give this book five stars for its solid theology and useful practicality.

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


"Gospel Transformation Study Bible (ESV)" by Crossway (book review)

I’ll put it right out there: I love love love this study Bible!  It has officially replaced the Bible I’ve been using the past couple years that just wasn’t quite what I wanted.  I think I finally found it!  Here’s why:

First, I highly prefer the English Standard Version (ESV) and New King James Versions (NKJV).  This one is the ESV, so it meets the first criteria.

Second, the page layout is single column format, rather than double column.  I don’t recall reading any other book that has a double column layout except for a study Bible.  I simply think it breaks up the text too much for my tastes.

Third, the comments in the footers pertain to the overarching gospel story the Bible proclaims, rather than how a single editor interprets passages.  Therefore, most footer comments don’t handle just single verses, but larger passages that support the Bible’s story of the gospel.

Fourth, the outside margins are quite large, right around an inch wide!  The inside margin is rather narrow, however.  But there is ample space to write notes, which is a big deal for me.  In this picture, I've placed a standard size mechanical pencil in the binding for reference.  Passages with large amounts of poetry (such as Psalms and other locations) provide ample room for lengthy notes!

Fifth, the concordance is relatively large.  It’s obviously not huge like a stand-alone concordance, but for a Bible it is satisfactory.  There’s also a quality topical reference section adjacent to the concordance that is also satisfactory.

Sixth, many of the names of the general editors and staff are recognizable: Brian Chapell and Dane Ortlund are the general editors.  Other contributors of commentaries include Michael Horton, Kevin DeYoung, Jared C. Wilson, David Helm, Greg Gilbert, and Mike Bullmore, just to name a handful.

Finally, the page thickness is sufficient for writing in it with a sharpened pencil without the pencil cutting/tearing through.  A huge pet peeve of mine is super thin Bible pages.  The pages in this Bible are not ultra thick (which would make for an even thicker overall Bible), but they are also not onion skin thin!

Rating: I definitely give this Bible 5 stars!

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.


“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.