Monday, August 3, 2015

Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney

Donald Whitney, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, must have heard more than his share of watered-down, repetitive prayers.  More than that, he has heard many Christians--pastors, seminarians, and laypeople alike--complain that they don't know what to pray, they get bored, they run out of things to pray about after a few minutes, or they just "say the same old things about the same old things."

Whitney expounds on his teaching about prayer in his short but powerful book, Praying the Bible.  The premise is simple: "To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text."  He recommends using the Psalms regularly, but states that any scripture can be a "diving board" for prayer.  To clarify, "this isn't reading something into the text; it's merely using the language of the text to speak to God about what has come into your mind."

I love the heart of Praying the Bible, encouraging both the use of scripture and the use of God's language in our prayers, giving God's words back to him.  Whitney makes a clear distinction between studying scripture and praying scripture.  The two can blend, of course, but they are different.  Praying the scriptures may have its limits, as there may be specific things to pray for that aren't naturally drawn in a scripture prayer time.  I think of prayers for healing, corporate prayers for an event, petitions for something very specific.  He does address these kinds of prayers.  By using scripture, he says, "Instead of the generic 'Please bless this' and 'Be with them' prayers, people pray things the Bible commands about particular people and situations."

Praying the Bible is best suited for personal, devotional prayer.  He describes using it in small group prayer, but I think that would be more limited.  Most of all, his suggestions can be a great model for reviving a flagging prayer life.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

For the Right to Learn, by Rebeca Langston-George, illustrated by Janna Bock

Sometimes bravery is simply insisting that what is right, is right.  Rebecca Langston-George, with the help of Janna Brock's illustrations, tells a modern tale of bravery in For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai's Story.  When the Taliban took over the Swat Valley region of Pakistan, they insisted that girls should not be allowed to attend school.  Malala Yousafzai, whose father was a teacher passionate about education for boys and girls, was not about to give up her right to learn.  She turned her opposition to the Taliban's restrictions into a blog and came to  be known around the world for her outspoken advocacy.

As her fame grew, so did the Taliban's desire to shut her up.  But she fearlessly continued.  Soon they tracked her down and shot her.  Miraculously, she survived.  She ended up becoming the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Langston-George tells Malala's story well.  It deserves to be heard by young people all over the world.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage, by Kim Kimberling

If there's one thing I want, it's an awesome marriage.  What married person doesn't?  Now Dr. Kim Kimberling reveals the secrets in 7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage: Strengthen Your Most Intimate Relationship.  As much as it drives me crazy when authors (or their editors) when they use "secret" in their titles, Dr. Kimberling comes around; he clarifies that these 7 secrets are no big secrets.  They are steps any married couple can take to strengthen their marriage.

Secrets or steps, Dr. Kimberling's seven points are well-taken.  In sum: stop destructive patterns, put God first, listen to each other, learn to fight right, find balance in your schedules, practice sex as the "mingling of souls," and remember you're on the same team as you fight for your marriage.  Each step is worth reading and putting into practice.  

Although he puts it at number 2 of 7, I think he would agree that putting God first should be first in marriage.  God first, spouse second.  Prayer is central; studies have demonstrated that couples who pray together have very low divorce rates.  "Prayer, reading the Bible, worshipping, and serving together al work to align you and your spouse both relationally and spiritually."  These are "intimate and personal acts" which, almost inevitably strengthen a marriage.

Dr. Kimberling provides abundant examples from couples he has counseled as well as from his own marriage.  His principles are sound.  His next steps and suggestions are practical and doable.  Every marriage will have its struggles, one way or another.  Secrets or steps, Dr. Kimberling's seven points will get your marriage headed in the right direction.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In His Image, by James BeauSeigneur

A group of scientists obtains permission to examine the Shroud of Turin.  Several features lead the team to be convinced that it's an authentic burial shroud, but there is some question as to whether it could possibly be Jesus' image.  During his examination of samples taken from the shroud, one geneticist discovers some cells--living skin cells.  He speculates that they could be skin cells left by the buried person, after his resurrection.  He secretly uses the cells to clone the person, successfully cloning Jesus himself.

That cloning sets the stage for book one James BeauSeigneur's Christ Clone Trilogy, In His Image.  The clone, Christopher, is really a secondary character in the action of the book, but as world events swirl around him, it becomes clear that there's something special about this young man.  The Middle East is in turmoil, the Dome of the Rock has been destroyed and the Jewish people are rebuilding the temple.  Christopher has become a leader in the U.N. just as the U.N. has risen to a more prominent role in world affairs.

BeauSeigneur draws heavily on biblical prophecy (as you might expect).  Whether he does so in a way that is faithful to the message of scripture, well, who can say?  At times I wondered whether BeauSeigneur is writing as a Christian, or whether he's simply writing speculative fiction with biblical themes.  Christopher seems to embody the character of Christ in many ways, yet BeauSeigneur also draws on New Age elements as well.  (As a side note, while the language is fairly mild, I think his use of four-letter words would keep his books off the shelves of Christian bookstores.)  I will be interested to see how Christopher continues to develop throughout the trilogy.  Is he the reincarnation of Christ?  Or the Antichrist?  I guess I'll have to keep reading. . . .

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bombs Away: The Hot War, by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove, "the Master of Alternate History" (according to Publisher's Weekly) writes prolifically about what might have been.  He holds a Ph.D. in history from UCLA, so his historiographical eye is keen.  In Bombs Away: The Hot War, Turtledove imagines a world in which the US, mired in a conflict with the Chinese and Koreans, hopes to end that war by dropping a few atomic bombs on some Chinese cities.

In avenging their fellow communists, the Russians respond by bombing a few European cities.  Since the NATO treaty states that an attack on US allies is viewed as an attack on the US, Americans drop some bombs on Russia, then Russians drop some bombs on US cities.  The Hot War gets very hot indeed.

Turtledove tells the story from a wide variety of perspectives, in Asia, the US, and Europe.  Characters include the president and his advisors, civilians dealing with the impact of losing their homes or living near the blast sites, and, especially, soldiers and pilots on the front lines.

The novel is best described as a series of vignettes.  His descriptions are evocative and personal.  The emphasis is not so much on the global picture of war, although the big picture comes together, but on how the war touches people around the world.  Those personal glimpses, however, don't congeal into a story as much as a simple timeline.

I got a kick out of one character who said, "There ought to be stories where some little thing happens differently and everything that comes afterwards gets changed from the way it really was. . . . It might be fun, make you think a little while you're reading," like if the Nazis won World War II.  In a bit of self-effacing humor, Turtledove has the character add, "Nobody's every gonna want to read about that, not in a million years."

Bombs Away does make me think about what the world might look like if, in those early years of the Cold War, it did turn hot.  I don't know how close the US and other countries have come to "pressing the button."  I'm sure there were plenty of close calls.  Bombs Away reminds us how lucky we are that a nuclear hot war has--so far--been avoided.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jars of Hope, by Jennifer Roy

I don't think I'll ever get tired of reading true stories of heroism during WW2, especially concerning resistance to the Nazi menace.  Jennifer Roy's Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children from the Holocaust adds a new title to inspire us.  Irena Sendler's father passed along a legacy to her.  He taught her that people's race, religion, or wealth don't matter, but whether they are good or bad.  He taught her, "When someone is drowning, give him your hand."

Irena became a social worker, and when she say the Nazis force the Jews into the ghetto, she smuggled medicine and food in to the needy Jews.  Soon she began smuggling babies and children out, hoping to save them from death in the concentration camps.  When parents asked for guarantees that their children would survive if they sent them with Irena, she replied, "I can only guarantee that if your child stays here, he will die."

Irena kept careful lists of the children, in hopes of reunited them with their parents.  She put the lists in jars, which she buried until after the war.  She was arrested, and lived for a time as a fugitive from the Nazi occupiers.

Meg Owenson's illustrations beautifully capture the dreary bleakness of occupied Poland, while spotlighting the hope that Irena brought to these children.  Irena is truly a hero who deserves to be remembered.  The strength and character she displayed inspire me not to ignore injustice and to risk my own comfort to meet the needs of others.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

I loved this book.  I'm always eager to read anything Neal Stepheson writes, and Seveneves did not disappoint me.  The book opens with: "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."  How's that for an image?  Soon, astronomers and mathematicians predict that while some of the moon parts will remain in lunar orbit, as the pieces collide and break apart, the surface of the earth will be subject to a hail of moon rocks that will render the surface of the earth uninhabitable for millennia.  All of the resources of the earth begin to focus on one thing: the survival of the human race.

A small crew has been working on the International Space Station, which becomes the focal point of man's space-ward expansion.  The first two-thirds or so of Seveneves focuses on the trials of this first generation of off-world humans as they attempt to establish a livable, sustainable community in space.

Some things I love about Seveneves: Many books, sci-fi and otherwise, have been written about the end (or decimation) of human life on earth.  Many put the cause in the hands of humans, either through nuclear war or environmental abuse leading to an unlivable ecosystem.  Others write of an alien invasion.  Stephenson chooses neither the man-made catastrophe or alien invasion scenario.  Neither does he dwell on the cause of the moon's explosion.  No definitive answer is ever found for the cause.  The point is not the cause, but the response.

While surely he took some liberties with the science involved, and projected technology forward a bit, Stephenson's characters primarily rely on today's technology, or a very believable next-step expression of today's technology.  At times, Seveneves read like a non-fiction account of actual events.  (I mean that in the best sense of non-fiction.)  He focuses on orbital mechanics, on space habitat design, and on what day-to-day life would look like on an expanded International Space Station.  It's all very believable and realistic.

The last third of Seveneves takes place 5000 years after the moon is destroyed.  In these chapters, Stephenson's imagination runs wild.  He still keeps a solid grounding in the realities of physics and orbital mechanics, but his future world-building is pretty "out there."  The descendants of the earth-born humans have mined asteroids and mastered large-scale building in space.  I would love to see some renderings of the structures he describes!  My imagination reached its limits. . . .  They also continued to develop bioengineering so that they have reseeded the cooling earth, making it habitable again.

While his science and world-building are fascinating, I should not neglect to mention that he does tell a great, sweeping epic throughout.  Seveneves is full of relatable characters who draw the reader into the reality of seeing their home planet destroyed and figuring out what life will be like going forward.  It's the kind of book I didn't want to put down (although at nearly 900 pages, it's not a book you'll likely finish in one sitting).  Seveneves is not a book to read, it's a book to savor and experience.  I must say, I was a bit sad when the experience was over.  Like many of Stephenson's books, Seveneves deserves more than one reading.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!