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Saint Patrick the Forgiver–The History and Legends of Ireland’s Bishop
Saint Patrick the Forgiver
retold and illustrated by Ned Bustard
Is Saint Patrick’s Day just a great time of celebrating Irish heritage with parades, green beer, and shamrocks? Ned Bustard shares the real story of St. Patrick along with some of the tall tales that have surrounded his legacy. In his book Saint Patrick the Forgiver, Ned Bustard retells the ancient story in poem format that is suitable for young and old.
Patrick was born in 385 in England. He was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Ireland where he worked as a shepherd. He had an encounter with God and became a follower of Christ. Later God spoke to him in a vision, provided a boat, and led him safely on the long journey back to his family.
After this escape he had another vision that he was to return to the land and people who had enslaved him. He was able to forgive them because God had forgiven him.
This book is a treasure of spiritual truths, beautiful poetry, and fitting illustrations. Saint Patrick the Forgiver would be a wonderful addition to your St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It shares history and legend differentiating between the two. Most importantly it teaches the lesson of forgiveness.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian, Religion and Spirituality
Notes: 1. The author’s note at the end summarizes the book in prose and has two discussion questions, a verse from Ephesians on forgiveness, and two resources for further reading.
2. Intended Ages—4-8, but it would make great family reading for all ages.
3. Currently Amazon has a special pre-order price for this hardback that is almost 50% off. (I have no financial connection with Amazon; I just noticed the price when I looked for the age range.)
Publication: 2/21/2023—InterVarsity Press (IVP Kids)
Hello, my name is Patrick—
you may have heard my story.
I walked the span of Ireland
to tell of God’s great glory.
To the Irish I returned
to preach of love and grace.
I spoke first to the High King’s son
—our Lord he did embrace.
I saw the Spirit moving
all across the Emerald Isle.
It wasn’t luck—it was God’s grace,
and that always makes me smile!
Three Sisters–survival in the midst of death
by Heather Morris
I present to you a review for a book that will transport you unwillingly from Slovakia into the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The horrors are especially difficult to read about because this novel was so well researched including interviews with primary sources, two of the three sisters who are protagonists in Heather Morris’ Three Sisters. The third sister had passed away before the author began this project. Unlike some survivors of the concentration camps, these sisters talked about their experiences to people who wanted to hear, especially their family members. These relatives were a treasure trove of information about the camps, the Nazi selections of individuals, hiding from the SS, and the kindness and treachery of nonJews.
Family, of course, is very important to Cibi, Magda, and Livi, the three sisters. Their father makes them promise to always stay together and support each other. Their grandfather gives them the mantra of “hope and strength” which they carry with them through the worst of times. Later they can joke about bad conditions by comparing them to the deprivation they experienced in the camps.
Three Sisters is a hard book to read, but another worthwhile reminder to not allow this history to repeat itself. Ironically, the last part of the book which was about happier times brought the strongest emotional response from me. This reaction is a tribute to Heather Morris as a storyteller who, despite the tragic subject matter, brings her characters to life in such a way that you feel like you really know them and you understand them as much as is possible as an outside observer.
I recommend this book. I know these characters will stay with me for a long time.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Notes: by the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Publication: October 5, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
As the plaintive cries of their families fade, new voices—angry, hate-filled voices—greet them as they make their passage through the town. Their former friends and neighbors are hurling rotten fruit and stale bread at their heads, yelling their joy that the Jews are finally leaving. Cibi and Livi are stunned by the taunts, the full-throated bile being dispensed from snarling mouths.
…they will never forget their desperation to put something, anything, in their stomachs. These days they savor every mouthful, but, more than that, they cherish the freedom to move around the city as they choose, no longer under the watchful and penetrating gaze of a kapo or worse, an SS officer.
Cibi thinks about the space in her heart where God used to live and wonders, for a second, if the peace she feels in her sisters’ arms is a sign that maybe He never really left.
Christmas at the Amish Market–finding the right mate
Christmas at the Amish Market
by Shelley Shepard Gray
Sometimes we forget how stressful being a shopkeeper in the month of December can be. There is no exception for Amish merchants as many customers seek out their wares for unique, special gifts. Wesley Raber has been working at his family’s large Amish market since he was a boy. As a young man he gradually took over most of the operation, but he had never tried to handle it alone until his father had a heart attack.
Jenny, who has a month-long break from her job as a nanny, is called in to help at the market. She stays with Liesl who is actually her niece although they are close to the same age. Wesley has been courting a frustrated Liesl for many years but has never proposed. Liesl is an expert seamstress and through her work has met the widower Roland and his four year old daughter Lilly.
Since Christmas at the Amish Market is a Hallmark book, you can guess where the plot is headed, but as always it is fun to learn more about the characters and their struggles, experience the ups and downs of their lives, and watch as romance develops in a very proper Amish way. The Pinery is a Christmas event center that plays an important role in the story. It attracts tourists and locals to view the magical light displays, sample delicious food and drinks, and get lost in a tree maze.
“For sure and for certain,” Christmas at the Amish Market is a fun holiday read with a quiet Amish background showing people trusting God and seeking his guidance.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Romance, Religion, Christian
Notes: The book includes a recipe for Cincinnati-style chili. It is served in an unexpected way, and the reason it is a Christmas Eve tradition for Liesl’s family is shared in the story.
Publication: November 8, 2022—Hallmark Publishing
…while Wesley was kind and sweet to her, he didn’t exactly have as much passion for life—or for her—as she might have imagined. He was more the steady, plow horse type of man. He clip-clopped along at a steady pace but never exactly did anything flashy.
He was currently in between a rock and a hard place with a side of torrential rain added into the mix. It was the holiday season, and he had a slew of customers needing to be served and two parents who were depending on him to not let them down.
“You know as well as I do that our Lord is in charge. Everything happens in His own way and in the right time. Doesn’t do any good to second-guess accidents and whatnots.”
The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life
The Remarkable Ordinary
by Frederick Buechner
Art and music as gateways to God—an interesting thought Frederick Buechner uses as the basis of his first chapter in The Remarkable Ordinary. That beginning was a little slow to take hold on me, and it didn’t really continue on as a predominant theme in the book. In fact, the book continues forward in three parts with a total of eight chapters. As I read, I felt like I was examining Buechner’s mind, his thought processes, his memories, and most importantly his search for God in the ordinary things of life. When he began a relationship with Christ, he was “all in.” Not content to read the Bible through as a first step, he wanted to jump right into seminary. He eventually decided that his training in the ministry and his skills would be best used as a writer rather than as a pastor. He never used the term philosopher, but that is what I see him as. The Remarkable Ordinary is part philosophical treatise and part memoir. He delves into therapy sessions, dreams, and family history that helped form his character and beliefs.
Buechner is honest and introspective, and the book is a product of his soul searching. Each chapter is a collection of his thoughts on various themes. He reflects on holiness, our personal journeys, our efforts at controlling others, and the wars we wage with ourselves and those around us. He shows facets of God to us as he examines the arts, other people, the ordinary things around us, and our stories, dreams and memories. He ties all of these parts of the “remarkable ordinary” into our need to “stop, look, and listen to life.”
I actually read much of the book twice in an effort to understand Buechner’s views. It is different from other books I have read by religious leaders. Buechner is very open about his beliefs and his past and yet, probably rightly, he did not reveal all as he continued to clarify his thoughts. Some things are too personal to share with the world. Frederick Buechner passed away on August 15. 2022, leaving behind a legacy of 39 works of fiction and nonfiction in several genres written over a span of 60 years.
Category: Nonfiction, Christian
Publication: October 3, 2017—Zondervan
It seems to me almost before the Bible says anything else, it is saying that—how important it is to be alive and to pay attention to being alive, pay attention to each other, pay attention to God as he moves and as he speaks. Pay attention to where life or God has tried to take you.
We’ve all had saints in our lives, by which I mean not plaster saints, not moral exemplars, not people setting for us a sort of suffocating good example, but I mean saints in the sense of life-givers, people through knowing whom we become more alive.
I was so motivated because I was at that point so on fire with, I can only say, Christ. I was to the point where when I would see his name on a page, it was like seeing the face of somebody you loved, and my heart would beat faster. I had to find out more about him.
I certainly am always at war one way or another with myself, and some of them are wars I must fight to try to slay the demons, to kill the dragon, to lay the ghost to rest. But there are other wars you fight with yourself that are really not worth fighting at all. The war to make yourself be more, do more than you have it in you really to do or to be.
Some Golden Daybreak–the Second Coming of Christ
Some Golden Daybreak
by Lee Roberson, D.D.
Having worked through two different current Bible studies on the book of Revelation, I came away with more questions than answers. I learned that there are three major perspectives that scholars adopt to address this New Testament book of prophecy. I remember clear teachings when I was a child at Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, so I searched online for a book by the pastor at that time. On a used book site, I found Some Golden Daybreak, a collection of 17 sermons on the Second Coming of Christ written by Dr. Roberson. Since then, I discovered that Amazon has both paperback and a Kindle version so this book has clearly passed the test of time.
I highly recommend Some Golden Daybreak. Its teachings are based on Scriptures found in both the New and Old Testaments and address such topics as the mark of the beast, Armageddon, and the much debated Great Tribulation. It answered many questions for me satisfactorily. If you have wondered about eternal life and salvation, this book will provide hope, inspiration, and answers.
Category: Christian, Religion
Publication: 1957—Sword of the Lord Publishers
He invites all sinners to come and to drink of the water of life. No one is excluded. All are invited. What is the water of life? It is salvation through faith in Christ. How do we take it? Freely, without money and without price. It is for everyone.
He is coming again. He is coming in power and great glory. The Christ who was prophesied to come as Saviour hundreds of years before He was born; the Christ who walked upon the earth and died upon a cross; the Christ who arose triumphant from the grave; the Christ who ascended back into Glory; the Christ who gave His promise before leaving this earth that He would come again—this Christ is coming.
The more we study the truth of His coming and the more we observe the trends of the times, the more we feel like fervently praying, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
Through Gates of Splendor–a call from God
Through Gates of Splendor
by Elizabeth Elliot
Five young men felt God’s call to share the good news of Jesus with an Ecuadoran Indian tribe that had never had positive encounters with outsiders. Their bad experiences date back to the ruthless rubber traders of the 1870’s—“civilized savages against unbaptized savages.” They had Stone Age technology, were feared by other Indians for their unprovoked ambushes, and had a language known only to themselves. The missionaries and their wives had a daunting task. They started by evangelizing more friendly local tribes and establishing bases, many refurbished from areas abandoned by Shell Oil Co. From these bases they did flyovers of the Auca land, first to find where in the jungle the Aucas were living and later to communicate with them by dropping gifts to demonstrate their friendly intentions.
When they felt the time was right, they finalized plans to land and meet with the Aucas in person. The book becomes very intense at that point. After an initial positive meeting, there is literally radio silence instead of the expected call back to the wives. A search and rescue team went in consisting of Ecuadorian military, volunteer missionaries and Indians, and U.S military. It was a dangerous mission.
Although the preparation and action are the basis of the story, the core of the book is faith in God. Elizabeth Elliot, the author of Through Gates of Splendor, was the wife of Jim Elliot, the first missionary of the group to respond to God’s call to contact this people group who had never heard of Him. Jim Elliot was willing to die if need be to share the good news of salvation to the Aucas. He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The story of the lives of these young men and their dedication to God is inspiring and many of their notes and thoughts are recorded in this book. In its pages you will see a vivd picture of what God’s call can look like as well as how these missionaries and their wives responded.
Category: History, Christian, Memoir
Notes: The 40th anniversary edition which I read included:
2. Photographs, many taken at great peril by a Life magazine reporter who chose to stay with the search party when he could have returned to the base and safety.
3. Two Epilogues. One was written in 1958 explaining the immediate aftermath of the first contact and one written in 1996 relating the lives of the families as they evolved over the next 40 years.
Publication: Originally 1956
40th anniversary edition in 1996—Living Books (Tyndale)
“If that old engine had quit up there, God alone could have saved me. I might just as well admit it frankly right here; I don’t like to fly over stuff like that and I have to have a pretty good reason to be over it without a good position-check and a good river to identify my position by. But these are people for whom Christ died, and you have to find them before you can take the Gospel to them, so I was happy to have stumbled on them.”
Pete Fleming was one of those who could not be content while the Aucas remained in darkness. In his diary he wrote: “It is a grave and solemn problem; an unreachable people who murder and kill with extreme hatred. It comes to me strongly that God is leading me to do something about it, and a strong idea and impression comes into my mind that I ought to devote the majority of my time to collecting linguistic data on the tribe and making some intensive air surveys to look for Auca houses….I know that this may be the most important decision of my life, but I have a quiet peace about it.
September, 1955, was the month in which Operation Auca really started, the month in which the Lord began to weave five separate threads into a single glowing fabric for His own Glory. Five men with widely differing personalities had come to Ecuador from the eastern United States, the West Coast, and the Midwestern States. Representing three different “faith-missions,” these men and their wives were one in their common belief in the Bible as the literal and supernatural and perfect word from God to man. Christ said “Go ye”; their answer was “Lord, send me.”
Prayer in the Night–for those who work or watch or weep
Prayer in the Night
by Tish Harrison Warren
“Compline” or “Night Prayer” dates back to the fourth century and is intended to be a simple, private service to end the day. It includes Psalms and other Scriptures. One of the prayers, the subject of Prayer in the Night, is:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, analyzes this prayer describing anecdotally and theologically how and why the prayer has come to mean so much to her.
Life has not been particularly easy for Warren or for many of the parishioners under her care. She is honest and real about her struggles. Most of the book is written in layman terms, but there are some theological concepts that she labels somewhat abstractly. For example, “theodicy” was not a part of my vocabulary although I am aware of the inner conflict many have wondering “why bad things happen to good people.” She used it enough times in context that I was able to adopt it.
Warren doesn’t shy away from pain, vulnerability, weariness, and grieving. She points out the differences between the suffering and the afflicted and how God brings comfort to both. While much of the book addresses the darker side of life, she also brings light on that darkness with the joy, love, and trustworthiness of God.
Category: Christianity, Religion, Theology
Notes: Includes Discussion Questions and Suggested Practices for groups or individuals to encourage deep thinking and application.
Publication: January 26, 2021—IVP
When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline in grief cannot be mere optimism that maybe our circumstances will improve because we know that may not be true. We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.
The hope God offers us is this: he will keep close to us, even in darkness, in doubt, in fear and vulnerability. He does not promise to keep bad things from happening. He does not promise that night will not come, or that it will not be terrifying, or that we will immediately be tugged to shore. He promises that we will not be left alone. He will keep watch with us in the night.
In a culture that’s increasingly committed to nursing every grievance, there’s deep wisdom in being able to name what is right and whole about life, to keep moving forward despite obstacles, to have a wider perspective, to look hardship in the eye and laugh.
Seeing Beautiful Again–encouragement
Seeing Beautiful Again
by Lysa TerKeurst
Are you going through a hard time, something that is devastating and you have no control over? Do you wonder if you’ll ever “see beautiful” again? Lysa TerKeurst experienced three of those, two physical and one relational, in a short period of time. She has written several books that describe her journey. In Seeing Beautiful Again, she has drawn from her experiences and writings to compose a devotional book to guide readers through fifty days of their struggle. The goal is to give hope and demonstrate that by clinging to God’s promises, readers can stay the course and trust God.
Seeing Beautiful Again is divided into sections and each section begins with a letter to the reader from author Lysa TerKeurst. Each devotional begins with Scripture and ends with a prayer. In between Lysa shares her thoughts on the topic. These passages sometimes include parts of her personal story and always draw the reader to God’s truth which can be applied to a personal situation.
TerKeurst’s other books like Forgiving What You Can’t Forget examine in depth our response to hurts. This devotional is a daily dose of encouragement to fight the good fight and to remember God’s love and His promises in the middle of the trauma.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Religion, Christian Life, Women’s Issues
Publication: March 30, 2021—Harper Collins Christian Publishers
Their victory never hinged on their ability or any of their well-thought-out plans. It was solely dependent on their unwavering obedience offered to a loving and mighty God.
My job is to be obedient to God. God’s job is everything else.
Father God, thank You for reminding me I can trust You in the waiting. I know I can entrust every season of my life into Your hands. Thank You for being present in every moment, strengthening me in the places that I feel inadequate to keep going. When I feel uncertain about what’s ahead, remind me of who You are. I know it will get me through. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The First Christmas–Eastern philosophical take on the Nativity story
The First Christmas
by Stephen Mitchell
While I am not a theological scholar, I have been a Christian for over sixty years. Those are years in which I have studied the Bible, and God has grown my faith. When the author of this book gives an interpretation that I disagree with, I can accept that as a difference of opinion. An example in Stephen Mitchell’s The First Christmas is the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. In the Bible this event is reported in chapter one of Luke. I believe this account literally, that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in a physical form and spoke to her in an audible voice. In fact, there is a dialogue recorded there. The author wants to interpret the appearance as a bright light (“the best I could come up with,” he says) and its communication as “empathy and telepathy,” nothing “so gross as speech.” Based on the writings in Luke, the author is creating a fiction that, though unconfirmed, could have happened. Many describe near death experiences as a comforting, blinding, white light. So, here, the author is using his imagination within the context of an angel visiting Mary.
What is more believable in his telling of the story are the extensive thought processes that Mary must surely have engaged in during the days and months following the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God as He comes to Earth in human form. The Bible doesn’t give details of all of her thoughts and feelings, but it does record her song of praise often called The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Luke also shows us that her response is meditative.
There were shepherds who had an angelic visitation. After that they came to worship the baby Jesus, explaining how they found the little family in Bethlehem filled with visitors paying their taxes. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Using common sense and based on Biblical evidence that Mary was a reflective person, the inner dialogue the author creates is believable, even if you don’t agree with all the fictional details.
There are some larger issues with this novel, however, that bother me. Mary says “No one had ever prophesied that the Messiah would never die.” This statement skirts the issue that there were many Old Testament prophecies which predict the Messiah would be resurrected to reign in His eternal kingdom. Her statement feels like a deliberate distraction in the text. Author Mitchell is clear that Mary would know the Jewish teachings. Therefore, she would have been aware of the many prophesies that Jesus would be resurrected and sit on the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1). Psalm 49:15 says “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.” Interpretations are acceptable, but contradictions are not.
The format of the book is interesting. The author states “my only agenda was to inhabit the characters.” He tries to put himself into an ancient time and experience it as each of the characters in the Nativity story might have. As he looks at the role each person or animal had in this pivotal moment, the author makes the decision to tell the story in the third person for the people and first person for the animals. He separates the chapters with an “Interlude” which is his opportunity to reveal his thoughts as an author and provide some background information. This format (which he explains in an Interlude is based on “the glorified sestet of an Italian sonnet) is a good choice for this book. Unfortunately, the author deviates in the second part of Mary’s story and interrupts the tale as he inserts his “authorial I” into her story rather than waiting for the Interlude. This happens again in Joseph’s story. In general I found Joseph’s tale more convincingly told. Oddly though, Mary and Joseph were approached in the book by angels who were totally different in appearance with Joseph’s angel not even culturally appropriate to the time period.
The section of The First Christmas that tells of the visit of the wise men is an elaborate fictional tale of two Jewish scholars who travel to the East studying Buddhism and other mystic philosophies that concentrate on meditation and finding the god within. It deviates from Scripture in many ways, most notably in the visions of the future of Jesus and his family that the men have as they sit with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. (In the book, they visit the family in the stable whereas most Christians believe this visit occurred somewhat later as the Bible says the wise men or magi went to a house.) If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and He was with God from before the creation of the world, as set forth in John 1:1-3, then much of this chapter is disturbing. They envision a confused young man, estranged from His family, and perhaps mentally deranged. A reading of any one of the four gospels shows anything but what they see for His future. He was fully man and fully God. Their supposed vision is not in character. They even shortcut and omit important parts of His death, fantasize his burial in a mass grave, and totally neglect His resurrection.
The last major section focuses on the donkey and is my favorite. The donkey tell the Nativity story from his perspective. Recalling ancient donkey traditions, he retells the Biblical story of Balaam’s donkey who could both see angels and could talk. He points out the good qualities of donkeys—intelligence, honesty, service, dignity, and trustworthiness.
I have an admiration for the author as a multi-lingual translator, well-versed in many Eastern religions and philosophies. He possesses a great imagination and makes connections from various works of literature. I hope that he will return to the Bible to connect with Jesus in a personal relationship. I don’t regret reading The First Christmas as an intellectual exercise, but I don’t recommend it as an Advent activity or as a pleasure read.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Religion & Spirituality, General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: November 9, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
[From the chapter Yosef (Joseph)] Where was the Lord now? Not here, not amid this swirling chaos. But if the Lord was not with him, it was his own fault. He knew that. God had not left him; he had left God. It could be no other way.
[From the chapter Yosef—speaking of Maryam (Mary)] She was graced with a quality he had been striving for all his life, ever since he had realized what his purpose, what the purpose of every Jew, was: to love God with all his heart and to fulfill His commandments as impeccably and with as much joy as he could summon.
[From the chapter The Donkey] …throughout the day angels from every order of the hierarchy descending to take a peek at the new little visitor. They don’t knock or announce themselves; they just fly in through the roof or the walls, without so much as a by-your-leave, and nobody greets or even notices them. When they see me, though, they nod to acknowledge my presence and to let me know that they know I know.