Category Archives: Religion

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood by Humphrey

Adult coloring books are all the rage right now. They have complicated, detailed designs that help calm and focus and ultimately reduce stress. Coupling this with a daily devotional sends like a great idea. But it isn’t done well at all.

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood
Devotions and Coloring Book to Nourish Mom
by Sarah Humphrey
Abingdon Press
August 2016

See the included picture for example of how this utterly fails at being a coloring book. This is a random picture that is very representative of what can be found. The drawings are sparse and uninteresting. They are all hearts and flowers with very little detail and no difference between pages. There is a ton of open space. Nothing that makes the artist do fine designs or focus on the miniscule details.

The cover design is more detailed than almost every page inside the book.

I’m very disappointed.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps by Guthrie

Timely advice, unfortunately.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)
By Nancy Guthrie
Crossway
September 2016

I read this book a couple months after my father died and about the time that my wife’s grandmother died. I wasn’t sure how to respond and whether or not how I felt about how others responded to me was normal or not. This book answered those questions.

Guthrie does a great job of explaining why we should or shouldn’t say something or anything. Each section has details on why she is making the case for the response she recommends in certain situations and then she does an admirable job of sharing her own story of loss to bring the message home. While that would be the end of it in most books, Guthrie goes a step further and includes actual quotes from others who went through grieving and what worked for them and what didn’t. I found these parts the most eye opening. Some of the quotes seem reasonable but the way they came across to a hurting person was surprising and enlightening. They also served as a warning. I don’t want to make those mistakes when I’m speaking to friends about losses.

The only place I felt this book fell short was in the redundancy. I felt that after the first few chapters a lot of what Guthrie said was already said. I got the point early on and then felt it became repetitive to the point that I ended up skipping through the mid to end part, reading the examples but skimming the author’s content. This could have probably been an even shorter book that it was. Whatever the case, the beginning is worth the price of admission.

I used specific tactics learned here with my wife and also with a friend who lost his mother. They worked. They understood how much I cared and really opened up about their loss. This book will help you gain very effective was of communicating.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids by Dr. Cartmell

8SimpleToolsForRaisingGreatKids_3DWe all know how to be great parents, right? That’s why our kids are coming out perfectly and they never have any trouble. Oh, wait…

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids
by Dr. Todd Cartmell
Moody Publishers
January 2015

The title says 8 tools, but in reality the author includes 40 tools in 8 categories. Each of the 40 small chapters is about 3 pages long, many starting with an anecdote from counseling children or his own life and including simple ideas for overcoming the challenge.

In fact, my favorite parts of this book were the stories from his counseling. Listening to children say things that no parent would ever want to hear of themselves is motivating and convicting. Nearly every chapter I found something I should do better.

For that reason and others I highly recommend this ready to read and digest book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Under The Sea Holy Bible and Giveaway

undertheseaIn a sea (heh) of Bibles, the Under The Sea Holy Bible is a nice addition to the kid’s section of Bibles.  It’s in an easy to read format designed to help children connect with Biblical concepts.

Under The Sea Holy Bible
Zonderkidz
March 2016

Bright colors and sparkly glitter adorn the cover of this Bible, meant for children.   This is not an ordinary children’s Bible, in that it is the full text from Genesis to Revelation.  Many children’s Bibles are abbreviated stories highlighting the “heroes” of the Old Testament or focusing solely on Christ’s miracles in the New Testament.

This Bible is also written in the New International Reader’s Version.  A foreword discussing this NIrV version mentions that it is an extension of traditional NIV.  Its purpose is to make reading (and understanding) the Bible easier for children, adults learning to read, first time Bible readers, readers whose first language is not English, and those who have trouble understanding what they read.

A cursory glance of verses with which I’m familiar shows the meaning of the verse is virtually unchanged by adapting it from KJV.  The foreword also mentions that the translators worked to reference the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament as they worked to create the NIrV in an effort to maintain the integrity of this translation.

The remainder of the Bible is just that:  NIrV of the full Bible text.  There is also a dictionary and an index of “Great Bible Stories.”  These two sections could be greatly improved.  The dictionary is only 5 pages long, and the Great Bible Stories section is a list of 92 common Bible stories.  Both of these could be very much extended for referencing.  This would allow the Bible to work for children as they age.

This Bible also has a few inserts related to important concepts:  prayer, the 10 Commandments, love, and important children in the Bible to name a few.  Here’s where I would also like to see an expansion.  There are only 3 of these inserts in the whole Bible.  The last one is the ABC’s of becoming a Christian.   The Bible would appeal much more to children if there were more of these relevant passages included throughout the Under The Sea Holy Bible.

All in all, this is a very nice starter Bible for children.  It has the basics needed for a 3rd or 4th grader.   As a child gets older and begins to explore more, it is a Bible that would need to be replaced with one that has more expansive passages and explanations about concepts throughout.

 

Want a copy of your own?  I have partnered with Fly By Promotions to provide this review AND a chance for you to have a copy of your own!  Just leave a comment below telling me what Bible verse is your favorite to share with children.  I’ll draw a winner on April11th!  The winner will get his/her own copy of the Under The Sea Holy Bible.

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Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 3rd grade science nerd and toddler aged busy body. You can visit her world of randomness at justwanderingnotlost.net, where there is no spoon.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

God’s Not Dead 2

gods-not-dead-2Is this not-quite-a-direct-sequel just another overly simplistic “Christian” film serving to highlight the Newsboys on stage again – or is there a story worth telling here? The quick answer: Unfortunately, it’s more the former.

God’s Not Dead 2
PureFlix Entertainment
April 2016

The first God’s Not Dead was an emotional punch to the intellect with some really interesting data for Christians looking for apologetics-lite, (which is to say the apologetics data without the details.) The presentations in the classroom of the first movie were outstanding but shallow and too quick. The interactions between characters were under-developed and the atheist was an offensive caricature. The ending was far too tidy. Some of these same problems infest God’s Not Dead 2 as well.

Grace Wesley (a constantly concerned and very earnest Melissa Joan Hart) is a school teacher who, while talking to Brooke Thawley (Hayley Orrantia), one of her students after school and off campus about the loss of her brother, says that she finds hope in Jesus. Brooke then (very coincidentally) finds that her brother had a Bible and was keeping his faith a secret from their unbelieving parents. After reading some of the Bible, Brooke brings up a quote by Jesus in a class on non-violent civil disobedience and asks her teacher if the quote fits the discussion. Grace says it does. The movie is very careful to show the only time Grace proselytizes is off campus, while in the classroom Grace only answers the question raised by a student in a very reasonable, non-religious way.

No matter how reasonable, Grace’s school decides to hold a disciplinary hearing for bringing religion up in class. Grace refuses to recant – simultaneously affirming her Constitutional right to free speech and her religious duties to follow God first – and so the discussion goes to court to allow the judicial system to determine wrongdoing (or not).

Here’s where it get’s very shallow. The lawyers who take up the case are (of course) from the ACLU and are depicted as preying on the situation and Brooke’s parent (even selling them on how this case will help Brooke get into college). Pete Kane (yes, like in killing Abel), played by Ray Wise, is nefarious, self-serving, one dimensional and unbelievable. The only thing we know about him personally is that he wears and respects shiny shoes. We know literally nothing more about him. I say unbelievable, but what I mean is that it is only unbelievable outside of a “Christian” film. In this film, it makes total sense since much of the message is clear pandering to the Religious Right.

In a promising change from the first film, there is an unbeliever in the film who is reasonable, more fleshed out and who grows throughout: Tom Endler, Grace’s lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe.) While Tom does read some of the apologetics information he doesn’t do a quick death-bed confession of Jesus or couple up with Grace, thankfully. He is consistently himself throughout and believable.

Rev. Dave (reprised by David A.R. White) is what connects this movie to the last (along with a couple cameos from the previous film) when he gets jury duty for the case. Rev. Dave has to make a troubling decision – completely unrelated to the court case – to turn in three years of his sermons to the government. Why he was asked to do this or to what entity in the government is unclear. This sub-plot felt like pandering and fear mongering, but then I looked it up. In 2014, Houston asked five pastors to do just this. From Snopes.com, “The subpoena asked the religious leaders to turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” (HERO stands for Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.) So, still unrelated, but yikes!?

Like the first movie, the courtroom allows for some interesting apologetics to be clearly explained in what I think are the best scenes (and possibly most redeeming scenes) in the movie. Specifically the scene with J. Warner Wallace, the author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. In one scene he says, “I’m not a Christian today because I was raised that way or because it satisfies some need or accomplishes some goal. I’m simply a Christian because it’s evidentially true.” Scenes like this are when the movie shines.

How the court case comes out – if you need a hint just remember this is a “Christian” film – isn’t the biggest issue to the filmmakers. Like the last film, at the end you’ll see a list of many court cases like this one that purport to prove Christian persecution in the United States. But I’m left wondering if this storyline was a good example of the “persecution.” I always ask the question, “What if the actions being discussed were done by an [X] instead of a Christian? Would I be cool with that?” In this case, what if the teacher discussed Mohammed and was open about her Muslim faith? Not a big deal since the class room scene wasn’t against the law; there was no proselytizing. But what if that same Muslim teacher met with your daughter after a significant loss and pointed her to the Quran? Would you still be ok? Probably not, which means it was probably not cool to do that as a Christian – at least legally in pluralistic America. This is one view. We either need to be ok with everyone sharing their faith or none. But like a lot of propositions by the Religious Right, Christians want to be free to share our faith but we don’t like it when others do. (Just check out all the posts about kids learning about Islam in school for evidence.)

A reasonable conversation about the issue of religious freedom doesn’t happen in these movies. Instead we get straw man arguments and over simplistic motivations. The other teachers and principle are unrelentingly anti-Christian, the lawyers are one sided, the only reasonable people in these films are the Christians and that’s just too simple for a movie trying to shed light on a complicated problem. Christians have the right to be Christians everywhere we are. We have freedom of speech. But we need to balance the rights and expectations of who we work for and those we are talking to. What if Brooke was offended by Grace’s recommendation to look in the Bible? What if Brooke were Hindu or Muslim and this proselytizing created a hostile environment in the classroom? Because it didn’t in this story doesn’t mean it wouldn’t or couldn’t in real life. We have to be mindful of this.

All this to say that this is exactly the movie you’d expect. It’s shallow, quick and affirms the fears of Christian Americans that atheists are out to get us and to take away our rights. Atheists are evil and have nothing better to do (like scientist professors in the previous film). They are in power and we are the underdogs. And because everything wraps up too cleanly at the end of every film (with a Newsboys concert, of course) we have hope. Blah.

Christian entertainment could be so much more. The scripts could be more complex, with at least some measure of nuance. Not every opponent is an enemy and out to get us. There are some situations where the courts, the ACLU or schools have gone too far and it is great that there are legal defense groups out there to fight for religious liberty. But telling the stories could be so much better.

(It also doesn’t build trust that this movie is only out to help shed light on serious issues rather than make money when there are so many books, CDs and journals and so on for sale already a month ahead of the release. Search Amazon. It’s incredible – in a sad way.)

Because of the shallow characters, the mostly vanilla acting, and the overly one dimensional plot that doesn’t take it’s issues seriously I recommend you pass on this one.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This pre-release movie was screened by the studio.

Jesus Today by Young & Fortner

jesustoday“Rest and hope go together – like macaroni and cheese, cookies and milk, you and Me.” (p44)

Jesus Today
Devotion for Kids
by Sarah Young
adapted by Tama Fortner
Tommy Nelson

There has been some controversy surrounding Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and associated works because of the way that she writes in the first person as Jesus. There can be danger in this kind of activity, but there isn’t automatically danger here. In fact, in almost every sermon you’ll ever hear you will experience a similar activity by the pastor concerning what God says or is saying. Sometimes it is reworded to be first person, like, “Jesus is saying, ‘I’m here for you and will help you,'” and sometimes it is kept in third person, “God is saying that he will carry your burdens if you will cast them upon him…”

I’m being generic here, but let me give you an example from page 114, “Because you belong to Me, I’ll guard your heart and mind with My peace. Let My peace control your thinking-and always be thankful.” Verses accompanying this daily devotional include Colossians 3:15, Psalm 18:30 and, of course, Philippians 4:6-7. All this to say, that so long as Sarah Young is paraphrasing Jesus in line with Scripture then we shouldn’t have an issue. I didn’t see anything that put up a red flag.

Each daily devotional is clear and short, which is perfect for kids, and comes with two to three accompanying Bible passages. Most of the topics are about how God loves us, is there for us, wants us to follow him and is a safe place for us. Tama Fortner did a very good job making sure that the topics and reading level were appropriate for younger kids.

As for me, I liked this devotional and my kids do as well.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

ESV Men’s Devotional Bible

ESVElegant. Helpful. Wooden.

ESV Men’s Devotional Bible
Crossway
November 2015

This is a beautiful Bible. The text inside is tight, sharp black text with gold headings and highlights. Devotions take up a page (and if there is left over room it is left blank, making it obvious that this is not a part of the Bible.) Each devotion ends with directions to the next. The devotions are excellent as well. Each is theologically sound (from the evangelical perspective.) None that I read were overly simplistic in content or wording and none were overly positive, self focused either. Well done in my opinion.

According to Crossway, the publishers of the English Standard Version (ESV), this translation is “word for word” rather than “thought for thought” (like the NIV), which the translators of the ESV believe relies more on the interpretation of the scholars, thus making it less “essentially literal” than the ESV. There is no way, however, to translate idiom, cultural syntax and grammar without the interpreters having to be relied upon. Have you ever heard a joke from another country? If someone who was a native speaker and who also understood English had to interpret it for you then you understand that all translations – if they are to actually convey what the original writers meant – will have to have interpreters of thought as well as words.

An example 2 Peter 3:10-11 (the random passage/ verse of the day):

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives. (NIV)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, (ESV)

While essentially the same words, the interpretation of the NIV correctly conveys the point of the passage: that judgment is coming and when it does how you lived will be judged. So you should be living holy and godly lives. The ESV is less clear in the resolution or focus of the passage (how we should live), in my opinion.

All that to say that the ESV, in my opinion, is a little too wooden literal and isn’t as good a translation as the NIV for those who want to read the Bible and understand it easily. But it isn’t a bad translation at all. The evangelical scholars involved did a good job in translation based on their criteria.

Win A Copy: Propeller Consulting is providing an opportunity to win a copy for yourself! Simply make a comment here or on Facebook to be entered. One entry per family. Winners cannot have won another Propeller/ FlyBy contest within the last 30 days. BookGateway.com will select the winner by random drawing to be fulfilled by FlyBy. We are not liable for lost or damaged products. This contest will end December 4.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This movie screener was provided for the purpose of evaluation.

CEB Deep Blue Kid’s Bible

CEBDeepBlueColorful. Engaging. Themed.

CEB Deep Blue Kid’s Bible
Common English Bible
August 2015

There are a lot of things to like about this children’s Bible. It is full color throughout, has a cast of helpful cartoon characters that pop up from time to time in normal reading and is themed so that all the helpful tools fit together in a nice package. The Sailboat talks about character traits, the Umbrella talks through emotions during tough times, the Lighthouse talks about the basics of faith, and the Life Preserver helps with tough to understand passages.

There are other helpful tools as well like devotions, trivia, memory verses and my favorite, Bet You Can! where the young reader is challenged to read a passage in a short amount of time. This mimics some of the homework that readers in third through fifth grade do. There is also a checklist of memory verses that the young reader can start with, including page numbers, to help build up their Biblical knowledge. There is a lot of great stuff for young readers to really dive in.

A note about the Common English Bible: readers of the NIV or especially the NKJV/ KJV will likely be surprised by some of the changes that the CEB makes. Like other newer “modern” translations, the CEB attempts to make the Word readable and understandable for those who speak modern, American English. If a reader has grown up in a church tradition they are likely to remember certain phrases, names, verses or passages in the translation that they came from. Phrases you’re used to like “In the beginning God created…” are changed to “When God began to create…” (Gen 1:1-2). Angels are called “the Lord’s messenger” which is actually the correct way to say that. “Happy” is exchanged for “Blessed” in the beatitudes likely because people don’t normally say “blessed.” Scribes are now “legal experts,” which is also accurate. These are all easy to understand and digest.

Some will struggle with other changes like “repent” becomes “change hearts and lives” (Mark 6:12). The biggest issue I’ve read about is the change from “Son of Man” to “The Human One.” Neither title make much sense without studying them in light of Scripture, but people are used to Son of Man. If this is an issue for you then go with the NIV.

In my opinion, I would have preferred the benefits of the Deep Blue tools and resources to be added to an NIV Bible than the CEB because I prefer that translation. However, the CEB is accurate and readable and with these tools for kids I think it’s very well made and worthy of recommendation.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This movie screener was provided for the purpose of evaluation.

Growing in Faith, Hope, and Love NIV Bible for Teen Girls

teengirlsbibleHelpful. Insightful. Perfect for her.

Growing in Faith, Hope, and Love NIV Bible for Teen Girls
Zondervan
October 2015

When reviewing a Bible I think it’s important to differentiate between the content of the Bible translation and the additional content added to make it specific. The NIV is one of the most trusted and most scholarly translations available and has been for several decades. What I’m reviewing today is the additional content added specifically for teen girls and whether or not I believe it adds value. The short answer is yes.

Another short answer on why I think this version is value added: I’ve never seen my 12 year old daughter get into a Bible as much as she has been with this. There are a dozen book marks and after only about 3 weeks she’s made this book look very well used. We both love the full pink pages with excepts from books called Growing in Faith Hope Love, which are short devotionals based on passages in the book that is being read. For instance, my daughter has book marked “You Are Enough” from Jeremiah 33:3 where she read about how, like the Prodigal, so-called friends may abandon you but we shouldn’t accept the lie that they left because we weren’t enough. God says you are valuable. You are enough. (The passage is from a Zondervan book The Bare Naked Truth by Bekah Hamrick Martin (2013).)

I also like the memory verses that are highlighted in the text (like Psalm 139:16) and the chapter start pages that answer important questions like when it happened who was in the book, key passages and a quick overview. NOTE: the dates are taken from majority late dating standards, which many scholars may not agree with. For instance, Revelation shows A.D. 90 as the date it was written when many scholars believe, like I do, that Revelation could not have been written prior to A.D. 70. Whatever. It’s still a great resource and most of the dates aren’t make-or-break issues anyway.

Any Bible that actually grabs the attention of the intended audience and gets them reading is a winner in my opinion. This book does it for my daughter and so I’m sold.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This movie screener was provided for the purpose of evaluation.

My Final Word by Colson and Morse

myfinalwordSame. Late. Unfinished.

My Final Word
Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most
by Charles W. Colson
and Anne Morse
Zondervan
August 2015

It’s hard not to admire Chuck Colson. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit that after conversion to Christianity his life was turned around and then he became a man of integrity and focus. Although not as conservative as he, I enjoyed Colson’s concise and informed commentary. He was thoughtful and intelligent. As such I was really looking forward to this book. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

The is a collection of partly finished thoughts and commentaries. They lack the polish of the finished product we are used to from his radio and print commentaries. They are much more exactly how they were described in the preface: recorded thoughts that Colson would collect as he considered current events or after reading something. But having passed away, these are no longer current. Unfortunately, even the most current of the current events – gay marriage – was legalized just prior to this book’s publication. Another example of how these just aren’t timely anymore.

Many of the commentaries run together. Many don’t have a solid conclusion, rather provocative thought. What I took from this is how much the editors helped Colson with his Break Point commentaries. They focused and wrapped them up. These in the book are not at that level.

All an interesting read, but not what I was hoping.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.