Category Archives: Christian Living

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.

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.

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.

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage by Kimberling PhD

7secretsClear. Basic. Works.

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage
Strengthen Your Most Intimate Relationship Paperback –
by Kim Kimberling, PhD
Abingdon
July 2015

How many relationship books are truly revolutionary? Not many. Love languages, the sexes are from different planets, love verses respect and so on are the ones that counselors and church leaders go back to again and again. Most of the rest are read and set aside as time goes on. This isn’t to say that they aren’t good, but that they mostly tell us what we already know – or what most other books already say. This book falls into that second category.

If you are newly married or have a marriage on the rocks, this book presents the right information that will help you. And, frankly, more people need to read books like this one. The 7 Secrets (paraphrased from the table of contents, no spoilers): The attitudes and behaviors that hold us back, putting God first, being present and listening, fighting fair, making time for our spouses, a higher view of sex, and teamwork.

Doctor Kimberling accurately discusses the basics of relationships that need to be followed in order to create a great marriage or to right the ship. But not a lot of it is new. There isn’t a quick take away or catchy new way of thinking of things. Again, this doesn’t equate with inaccurate or unhelpful, but – and I hesitate to say this, but honestly, it seems the right way to describe the book – forgettable.

As a reader of dozens of relationship books (both out of need and out of my role in my local church as a leader) what I really valued about the author’s approach was that he peppered in so many real life stories. Some of them don’t resolve, but these stories served to ground the messages in reality. It was easy to empathize with the couples in the book making following the author’s advice more relevant.


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.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Hudson

Coffee-Tea-and-Holy-WaterThere are a lot of really great books out today from authors trying to call American Christians back from materialism, false idols and malaise – the American church – but this book takes us one step further by putting our version of Christianity in its place in the big picture. Not all Christianity is the same. Not all issues are the same. Not all methods are the same. But Christ is the same.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water:
One Woman’s Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe
by Amanda Hudson
Abingdon
March 2015

Amanda Hudson decided to visit five different countries to find out what Christianity was like on the ground and in the homes of the believers in those countries. What she finds is eye opening. Brazil, for instance, is extremely superstitious and much less materialistic and the challenges of spreading the Gospel are specific to their culture. Wales suffers from apathy and a post-Christian mindset. Tanzania, China and Honduras all have their own customs, their own challenges, their own versions of worship. Every new place she visits works to shed light on what American Christianity struggles with and ideas for overcoming those struggles.

This is part travelogue, part diary and part challenge to overcome American Christian issues, this book is a must read. As someone whow has been on short term trips to other countries I can attest to the need for Americans to think outside the borders of our narrow, very rich lives, and see the world and Christianity in the big picture. When we see how others live in abject poverty but demonstrate limitless generosity we are humbled. When we see actual idols – small statues! – next to statues of Christ, the Bible takes on a very real, very timely message for those who barely crack it open because of its otherness.

In my opinion, every Christian in America should visit Christians in other countries on short term trips, but if they can’t then books like this one are a must read. Christ is there in every culture, and finding Christ in the midst of all the different cultures in this book help readers cut out all the excess and see the beauty of a refined and purified Gospel.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

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

Faith of Our Fathers by Pure Flix Entertainment

Faith-of-our-fathers-movie-posterArmed with high hopes and a bag of snacks, I attended a pre-screener of the faith-filled family film, Faith of Our Fathers.

Faith of Our Fathers
Pure Flix Entertainment
July 2015

I genuinely enjoyed it; however, I left feeling grieved that it fell short of what it could have been. I have the unsettling conviction that it will draw scathing criticisms from people outside the Christian faith, many of them merited.

It cannot be denied that, at times, the acting is stilted, the plot under cooked, and the credibility almost totally lacking. (For example, Rebecca St. James’s cameo as a sultry car thief, though well acted, was pretty ridiculous).

Be that as it may, it held my interest throughout and made me laugh out loud more than once. More importantly than that, it is a movie that glorifies Jesus Christ and proclaims the gospel message. Also, what with its messages on faith, patriotism, friendship, and fatherhood, Faith of Our Fathers has more substance than most of the drivel that one can find in movie theaters these days.

(Be forewarned, this movie contains war violence, so you might not want to show it to the younger kiddies).


Jaime Jane Motok is a violin teacher by trade, a lover of Narnia, funny movies, Simon and Garfunkel and the perfect cup of Joe.

A preview version of this movie was provided by the producers for review.

Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels

nockelsI’ve enjoyed listened to Watermark and Passion in the past, both Christy Nockels. I recognize that when it comes to music, personal tastes will drive a lot of whether or not someone enjoys something. All that to say that you may very well enjoy this album and I hope you understand when I say that I didn’t as much as I thought I would.

Let it Be Jesus
by Christy Nockels
sixstepsrecords
April 2015

Let it Be Jesus was recorded live, but doesn’t flow like a normal service. There is almost no background noise, crowd noise or continuation from one song to another on most tracks. (Some do have noticeable crowd noise especially towards the end, like If You Never, but once done, the sound starts completely over, like on Leaning On You.) I found most of the songs to be much more CCM than worship oriented. What I mean is that most songs were from the perspective of the singer and what God has done for them or what they will do now that they have God, which is what CCM usually covers. Examples include, Rock of Ages, Find Me at the Feet of Jesus, or My Anchor. Most songs are not directed at God, which is what you would find in worship songs. (This isn’t all of them, of course. Leaning on You is a very good worship song directed toward God.) Some songs were hard to describe. I’m not sure what Everything is Mine in You is about. I’d like to read more about that Theology. I can guess, but it’s not clear, which I think worship should be. (Again, preferences, right?)

Also most songs tend not to build or swell. Very little urgency in them. Ballad focused (again the CCM focus). This is a shame as Nockels has a strong voice and could totally have rocked some more up tempo songs. The closest you get would be the overly happy Freedom Song or how My Anchor starts to build but then plateaus and stays at middling urgency. There isn’t an Oceans or Brave here.

Overall, I found this album to be a calm, relaxing CCM studio sounding album. A couple worship tracks but for the most part something we will find on the radio in coming months. You know, safe for the whole family stuff. As for me, I’ll grab Bethel or United next time I’m looking for something to worship along with.

Congrats to Kathrine E. of Murfreesboro, TN for winning a download of this album! For more chances to win, click the Giveaway page in the menu drop down above.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

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

The War Room by TriStar and Faithstep Films

WarRoomThe War Room is an excellent, feel-good family film that will likely make you laugh and cry.

The War Room
TriStar & Faithstep Films
August 2015

It almost crossed the line towards the too-long side, but if you are like me you will not want it to end. The character arc of Tony (the father) pushed the boundaries of believablility – [SPOILERS] his transformation from selfish, abusive, lustful con-man to the kind, generous, jump-roping community center direct he is at the movie’s end is somewhat silly in its stark suddenness. [END SPOILERS]

However, as this a movie about miracle and the power of prayer, I have decided to forgive the Kendrick brothers and declare this and excellent film. Don’t miss it!


Jaime Jane Motok is a violin teacher by trade, a lover of Narnia, funny movies, Simon and Garfunkel and the perfect cup of Joe.

A preview version of this movie was provided by the producers for review.

Grace of God

An ex-detective finds himself investigating the disappearance of $30,000 from a church. The question of money turns out to be secondary to the question of faith. But is the question well asked?

Grace of God
A Story of Easter Traditions
Phase4Films
March 2015

Why this is a story of “Easter Traditions” is unclear. What it is – basically – is a long form sermon illustration about a group of people at a church finding their way. A mother who finds her daughter (and more), a daughter who finds strength to stand up to abuse, an investigator who (is this really a spoiler?) finds God. Everything fits so tightly together you’d think it was made up! Ha. Ha. Ahem. Yeah. It’s like that.

The film isn’t good. I found the plot is mediocre at best. Editing was harsh and quick. The characters are cookie cutter: an ex-thug who found the light, a self sacrificial, peaceful preacher, a smart-allecky daughter, and so on. At times, the acting was outstandingly bad. I wonder when Christians are going to hold entertainment up to the standards that we should expect instead of just being happy that there was a story with a “happy” ending and no cussing.

(I say happy here in quotes because I’m not certain that the outcome was the best one.)

I don’t recommend it and I hope other Christians will avoid the film and send the message to the producers that we expect more. Stories don’t have to be neat, they don’t have to be clean, they don’t have to quote the Bible every few minutes. The Bible itself isn’t neat or clean and does a way better job showing the way.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

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