Category Archives: Religion

Forty Days of Celebration by Baxter

CelebrationI’m a big fan of devotionals. And too often in our society I feel we focus more on the negative than the positive and when we focus on the positive we focus on false positives. True joy, though, is something we Christians need more of – and should be known for. Does this Scripture Journal help us with joy? Maybe.

Forty Days of Celebration
A Scripture Journal
by Elizabeth T. Baxter
Common English Bible
January 2015

Each day the “journal” has two to three passages from the Bible, all in Common English Bible version, with a meditation question. The verses focus on the goodness of God and our response to him in the Bible. Lots of praise the Lord, promises of God’s love and character. The meditations tie the passages together and then ask us to consider some questions. For me, I’m expecting these to be about joy and celebration, but many just aren’t. And some are confusing. Day 22, for instance, we are asked to think of those who are “vulnerable and powerless in our world today” and then how we can “responsibly use power to respond to” them. What power? I’m not sure. Shouldn’t this ask us who we should pray for? Maybe support financially? But then, how is this tied to celebration? I’m just not sure I get the connections between the meditations and the passages and topic.

But there’s another question of whether or not I should buy this at all. Like all devotional publishers, I believe that the hurdle you have to get over in order to entice buyers is to somehow show more value in the paid product than all the free devotionals available online (via email lists, websites or great apps like Bible by LifeChurch.) In this case, I just don’t see the need. Some good stuff here, but I’m not convinced as a consumer to spend $10 when I can get daily devotionals for free on my phone – where I can also make notes and highlight, see the verses in different translations and see what popular authors and teachers have to say about the verses?

Like another Scripture Journal (Meditation also by Common English Bible) there is very little room for “journaling.” There is no room set aside on the page for your thought and if you just want to write you’ll have less than half a page on the majority of days. This devotional is 124 pages (the previous one is 122), which makes it very short and pricey (at the $9.99 publisher suggested price.)


@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.

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.

Forty Days of Meditation by Hawkins

meditationReading the scriptures every day and then pondering thought provoking questions are worthy uses of a devout Christian’s time. So this book has to be a great resource, right? For several reasons this book falls short of its goals.

Forty Days of Meditation
A Scripture Journal
by Pam Hawkins
Common English Bible
January 2015

Each day the “journal” has three to five passages from the Bible, all in Common English Bible version, with a meditation question. Day 1 for instance has Exodus 20:1-6 (God warning against making idols with threats about punishment to the third or fourth generation), Psalm 95:1-7 (a song of thanks to the God and Lord of all things and an exhortation to bow down to him), Mark 12:28-31 (Jesus saying that the greatest commandment was loving God, with everything in you, and loving neighbors), and Ephesians 4:1-6 (Paul calling believers to live in unity with other believers because there is only one Lord.) The meditation for this day is, “What difference does it make for you that the Lord of life is “one Lord,” one God, and that you are called to have no other gods? Recall a season of life where another “god” claimed your loyalty.”

On the face, that’s not a bad combo. There are passages about idols and a single God to worship from the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles with a question about “one Lord.” But where it fails is in exposition. There is an assumption here that the reader would understand what idols are, which I think is not appropriate. Consider a normal person looking to get closer to God. Ask them what other “gods” they worship (and maybe read them the Exodus passage) and they may honestly be confused. They are not Hindu, or Muslim, or any other religion that worships another “god.” It is the responsibility of the writer to engage the reader at their level and briefly explain what they mean by other “gods.”

Not all meditations are clear. Day four asks the reader to “Name and describe a “wide open” or “deserted” place where you have felt close to God…” without context of what to do with that feeling. Conversely, some of the meditations are excellent. Consider Day 11, “What is the difference for you between believing something about God and believing in God?” Others are just as poignant. I’d like to believe this isn’t a preference thing, but the fact is that when we read books it’s impossible to remove our bias and expectations. For me, the meditations were generally loosely tied to the passages and in many cases vague in a not helpful way.

I also have a problem with calling this a “journal” because there is often less than half a page on which to write. For such a small book (122 pages), there was certainly room enough to add 40 more pages to give room to actually journal. (Not having these pages to write on cannot have been a cost saving thing as we are already being charged $9.99 suggested retail for 120 pages. That’s 0.08 a page! Normal novels – 350 pages or so – come in at $0.02, or four times less. My point: this is overpriced and certainly could have added the “journal” part into this “scripture journal.”)

In conclusion, it’s hard to imagine someone reading this and actually meditating on each day and not growing. I believe, however, that it could have been much better with a little more clarity in the meditations and the addition of the journaling pages.


@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.

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.

I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last by DeArmond

chooseyoutodayThe problem with marriage today isn’t any kind of external pressure. Instead it’s internal expectations. “Happily every after,” marriages of “my” dreams, and so on. We think the other person is automatically going to make us happy and meet our needs. We think that marriage is about what we get out of it. We count on our spouses to “complete us.” But that’s not how it works.

I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last
by Deb DeArmond
Abingdon Press
January 2015

DeArmond does a great job resetting expectations in this book. Love is a choice that has to be made every day by both spouses. True love is sacrifical, not selfish. And for those who want the best possible marriage, this is a great place to start.

I Choose You Today starts with choosing God, then moves into choosing our spouses. First in pursuit, loving and blessing then on to honoring, trusting, forgiving to finding our places in relationship by sharing burdens, submission to each other, service and then to fun things like intimacy, romance, laughing and so on. Each day we read about a topic with witty, charming illustrations, along with purposeful self discovery questions to consider, a Bible verse and a common sense quote and then a sample prayer.

I found that following through this guide helped remind myself of my responsibilities in my marriage. If you’re looking for something to remind you of the best parts of marriage and maybe give your marriage a boost this is a great place to start.


@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.

Implications Abound by Adam4d

2015-03-17-implications-abound2Like The Oatmeal, but for Theology Nerds.

Implications Abound
A collection of curiously Christian comics
by Adam4d
CreateSpace Independent
March 2015

In his first collection of comics from his website, Adam4d chose an eclectic collection of his work. Some of it is clearly earlier – the art is less detailed, and tends to be more issue based – while some looks and works like some of his more recent work – having more detailed characters acting out quotes from historical figures, pastors and authors or providing more in-depth commentary on Christian issues. While the art style varies, the theme is the same: modern Christianity is under the microscope. But it never comes across as intending to harm.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-01-1 Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-10-1

Some use satire simply as an attack, while others make a point. (Think political cartoons). Adam4d’s work is primarily a way of teaching. Even those who may feel attacked have to admit that it wasn’t the artist who did the attacking; it is the Word, quoted faithfully in context, or quotes from theological and intellectual greats from history that convicts.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-56-10-1If there was a letdown it was in how short the book was. I understand that with full color it would have to be shorter to be affordable, but, like many fans of his webcomic, I have my favorites that I’d have liked to see included. Some of his newer stuff is really top notch as well. But that’s what the second collection if for, right?

With religious work there can be – rightly so – concerns about orthodox views. Nothing I’ve read so far would not be considered orthodox. While I don’t know the author, his work strikes me as tending to Reformed if any set of doctrinal beliefs without any controversial or secondary issues to cause readers of different backgrounds to stumble. If you are an orthodox Christian you will find a lot to agree with here. Beware, though, should you hold to unorthodox beliefs as they will come under the scrutiny of the Word.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-52-26-1I haven’t had as much fun reading about theologians, laughing at (and being rebuked for) so-called Christian behavior, or learning complex theological arguments in clear, deep ways since I read Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like a few years back. Hilarious, poignant, needed. This webcomic and book are part satire, part teaching, and part rebuke and 100% required reading.

I highly recommend it!


@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.

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know by Kampakis

10truths_rnd2Teens have it tough these days. I’m sure every generation says that, but how many generations have almost no privacy, the ability to be bullied from anywhere in the world at any time, and live in a world that is so overwhelmingly visual that almost all other aspects of our life take a back seat?

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis
Thomas Nelson
November 2014

In this world, it’s important to know the truth about yourself and the right and wrong ways to act. With relativism so prevalent it’s tough to sell “ultimate truth” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that we shouldn’t try. And this author tries and succeeds on so many levels!

The 10 Ultimate Truths focus on 10 important ant issues that girls (and boys, to an extent) deal with:

Popularity
Confidence
Reputation
Interacting with Boys
Self Worship
Perseverance
Patience
Image
Inner Beauty
Self Talk

As I read the books – as a man with two teenaged daughters and two sons – I found that the truths here applied to boys as well as girls in most cases. The truths exposed were demonstrated and illustrated for girls but they apply to everyone. Consider the “Interacting with Boys” chapter, for instance, where the truth is “Chasing boys doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a nuisance.” While the illustrations may change the fact is that boys are at least as likely to annoy girls buy how they pursue girls as girls are buy how they pursue boys. I don’t believe the point here is not to show interest but a healthy way to show interest is the key. That’s a lesson everyone can learn from.

I loved that when you read through the book you don’t just get answers, you get questions. Self discovery is a key way to make learning stick. The author includes several important questions in each chapter to bring the topic home. Also included are relevant Bible verses that tie these current teachings to the timeless truths of the Biblical teaching. Verses like Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is greater than silver and gold” fits perfectly with the chapter on reputation.

Reading through the book I not only thought these were truths that my daughters should know but that I wished that I had known these things when I was a teen. These really are “ultimate truths” as they speak to who we are as created and loved beings and speak to an inner peace that just doesn’t come from any other source but the foundation of God. This is a must read for teenaged girls and their parents. I highly recommend it.


@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.