How to Frame Your Faith: One Moment at a Time

FramingFaith.cover

Framing Faith = Perspectives on Faith

Sounds catchy doesn’t it? Framing Faith. It is the title of the next book I chose to read and review. For me, it elicits vibrant images of a golden crucifix, stained glass Orthodox icons, or even prayer circles around a campus flagpole of the red, white, and blue. When coupled with the photographic technology we enjoy in the 21st Century I anticipated something quite touching out of a book designed to pictorially capture the Christian faith. Think about it, place some burning incense behind the lens of a high-resolution camera and you can practically smell the fragrance better than you would a scratch-n-sniff. So again, not only did I hope this would be worth by time, but a spiritual boon to boot.

Now that I’ve elevated your expectations on par to mine, let us delve into the actualities of this book. Written by Matt Knisely, an experienced photojournalist, Framing Faith is described by its subhead: ‘From Camera to Pen. An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World.’ Okay, so this isn’t entirely about the pictures. The premise is more to foster spiritual perspective analogous to effective photography and storytelling. Not what I was initially hoping for, but I’ll evaluate the book for what it is, not by the cover I anticipated.

In all honesty, I enjoyed the book tremendously. Sure, I am a content writer by trade, so anything pertaining to effectively communicating an authentic story to elicit a desired response rings true to my ears. His success to that affect, I will tell you, is well communicated. Full of honesty, stories, and teachable moments, the book was a narrative in its own right, which added to the credibility of his experience.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll summarize the book. In the first section, the author wants his readers to FOCUS on stories that matter, stories that hold our attention because they are authentic and connect us to others. In the second section, he wants us to CAPTURE those moments, enjoy them, and let them influence our perspective. In the third section, he instructs us to use these moments to help us DEVELOP who we are and where we are going, to find beauty and hope in the darkness and seek God in the light. In summary, he is using terminology from his trade to give his readers different perspectives about faith.

I’ll be honest. Since I initially had alternate expectations for the book, I almost discarded it as an amateur attempt at spiritualizing photography. It didn’t help that the book contains random black and white images which look like stock photos for a 1990’s advertising firm. Perhaps I fail to grasp their significance, but really, what are they for? They don’t add to the book in any way. I would venture to say they actually subtract from the book. If these images paralleled what I described at the beginning, pictorially capturing the Christian faith in a modernly stylistic way, I would understand, and even consider it a nice touch to a book about photojournalism and storytelling.

I’m giving this book 4/5 stars because I jived with his writing style and enjoyed the unique, intentional content; not the typical shallow ‘feel good spirituality’ book. If the pictures had more relevance I’d have probably bumped it up to five.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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NIV Integrated Study Bible Review

A new way to look at the text of Scripture.

Like Moses viewing the Promised Land from a distance atop Mt. Nebo, so Christians today stumble through the Scriptures from a kind of distance caused by time. We get stuck in the minutia of genealogies and Levitical regulations, and fail to see the connection of one story to the other. Why is the Bible so confusing in that regard?

As the NIV Integraged Study Bible  (NIVISB) points out, our English Bibles arrange the books of the Bible according to content rather than chronology. Historical books are grouped together; philosophical and poetic books have their grouping; prophetical books are side by side; even the epistles find themselves bunched together. The NIV Intgrated Study Bible offers a unique point-of-view to put the books of the Bible in perspective. It achieves this primarily through the placement of parallel passages next to each other on the same page.

Even as a literate society, we have difficulty grasping the chronological progression of the biblical story, both Old and New Testament, and so many have turned to this studious option to better understand the history of our faith. When events are placed in context with each other, the lightbulb will flash, and even passages that were otherwise dreary suddenly come into focus.

This is especially common, and especially useful, when it comes to genealogies, the Mosaic law, the time of the Kings, the Psalms, comparing the Gospels, and pinpointing the epistles in the New Testament timeline. This just so happens to include some of the most interesting stories of the entire Bible as well as some of the driest reading you can imagine. Yet repetition denotes importance when it comes to ancient literature, and it will hopefully come alive to you as to their importance if given in this format.

Are there downsides? I did find navigation to specific passages a bit more difficult since there were so many parallel passages to compete with and many books are not in their ‘traditional’ location, so this doesn’t fit well as a main ‘study Bible’ that you’d bring to church or a Bible study. Some might want to argue the finer points about the placement of certain Psalms, the book of Job, or even fail to see the point in all those darn chronologies, but those are not issues worth complaining about in a finished product such as this, and merely require some insight into those genres of literature. How would I rate this against other chronological Bibles? I’ve seen several other Chronological devotional Bibles or study Bibles, and they do have their perks depending on their focus.

Devotional Bibles will have extra thoughts about the passages that will help you to relate it to your own walk with God; Study Bibles will give you extra tidbits of history, archaeology, theology, and such; the benefit and unique factor of the NIV Integrated Study Bible is that parallel passages are physically laid out next to each other on a page for direct comparison (and to take a mental note that the two books being compared are recounting the same events). Say you’ve heard both sides of the story about the continuity or dis-continuity of the Gospels and wanted to examine the direct evidence for yourself. Say the Mosaic law tends to befuddle you and you’d really like to get a better grasp on what the tabernacle or the Temple really looked like, or what the priests’ daily duties really looked like. Then this is a Bible for you. Just understand that some of the timeline is up for interpretation. But when you are basing your entire premise around chronology, you have to put your foot down somewhere or it won’t do you any good.

Now, if you are the type who wants an all-in-one Bible, then the NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible is all three of the above examples wrapped into one. An alternative is also the NIV Daily Bible, which is a 365 chronological devotional Bible with some helpful study notes. But if you’d like the Bible without all the extras, pure and simple, and in a historical layout, the NIVISB is a better choice.

What could be better than when you discover everything you read in the Scriptures is part of a carefully planned continuum in God’s redemptive story for mankind? That is why I give this positive review of the new NIV Integrated Study Bible: A New Chronological Approach for Exploring Scripture.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson

Most books like these are from powerhouse authors who once disbelieved, and actually set out to disprove the gospel, and in so doing, discovered the supreme veracity of Scripture. The author of this book does admit to certain doubts, as all people do, but claims no such journey of discovery. Maybe I’m spoiled when it comes to apologetics because of such names as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and J. Warner Wallace, who all have compelling testimonies to back-up their desire to seek objective evidence.

I don’t want to say that an author must have a Pauline-style conversion to write a winning book regarding the evidence of the resurrection, however, because everyone’s testimony about life-change is valid and helpful for building God’s kingdom.

Besides, every capable Christian must be asking and answering these essential questions about their faith. The Resurrection is the pinnacle of history, the reason for our faith, the reason why Jesus was exactly who he said he was. Every author who can correctly put this into perspective is doing the world a service. These sorts of books are not just a fad, but finally a focus on the most convincing truth for being a Christ-follower: the resurrection!

The author has not limited his audience to the secular skeptic alone, however, and makes his appeal to the doubting Thomas. He paints a new light on this disciple, and those like him, and applauds their desire for evidence. This is not a secret club of blind believers, after all, but a confident knowledge in what was publicly acknowledged, seen, and heard. This is exactly the allure of the book’s subtitle: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. There is nothing wrong with wanting evidence, a reason to believe. And that is why Christianity, and only Christianity, is true.

So I do recommend this book to read and to have available among your other apologetic novelettes like More Than A Carpenter, Cold-Case Christianity, and The Case For Christ. The authors also made this a short read, short enough that you’d be comfortable giving it to your doubting friends as an encouraging gift, and it is conversational enough for anyone to pick it up and understand its precepts.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Cockerill

Ask me about the Christian faith, and I am just as likely to draw from the Old Testament as I am from the New Testament. Christ may be the cornerstone of the church, but the mortar between every brick is the Old Testament, filling in-between every word of the New. True Christ-followers are from a Judeo-Christian heritage. Just as English literacy is a prerequisite to be successful in an American society, so Old Testament literacy is required for believers to understand what they believe. So I could not pass up a book titled Christian Faith in the Old Testament, written by Gareth Lee Cockerill.

Cockerill is certainly not new to this subject matter. I could tell by the way he flowed through the information, page after page, chapter after chapter, like a well-rehearsed teacher. Of course, when you’re too well rehearsed in a presentation you tend to fly through the facts a bit arbitrarily, as was sometimes the case. Not that his points were ever irrelevant, but he wouldn’t always guide you through his thought process with introductions or transitions between his thoughts until you arrived at a critical juncture later on.

This is especially evident in the first chapter, which quickly felt like a straight up expository lesson on the Genesis narrative. Again, not that it was irrelevant, as it begins his explanation of the overarching story-line that extends through the entire Old Testament and into the New. This story line is an essential component of relating the relevance of the Pentateuch. But I am afraid the purpose of this abbreviated exposition deserved a grander anticipatory set for the benefit of its readers. But I would say this is the type of book that builds up as you read further, gaining momentum as you gather the essential facts, and culminates as it bridges the gap between the OT and NT. Because of this, it would be the kind of book you wouldn’t mind reading again, like a good movie with so many twists and turns you could watch it ten times before you catch everything. It will help to connect the dots that might not have been clear the first time around.

One item is of lasting importance, and, quite possibly, the most important question addressed for many critics and seekers, is that of God’s seemingly prevalent tendency toward judgment in the Old Testament. Too often the perception is of a God with dual natures; that of capriciousness in the OT and that of benevolence in the NT. But let us be clear: both testaments recount the same God in all his fullness. There is no duality. Cockerill first helps us to see this continuity when he quips that “judgment is also a mercy that restrains sin” (29). In the context of Genesis he is referring to the preventative measures God implemented to save mankind from utterly alienating themselves from God. But in the broader perspective of the OT, as the book continues to extrapolate later on, all the actions which God performed that involved punishment and death was, in effect and in purpose, His means of restraining the utterly pervasive and deleterious infection of sin.

Why else would the Psalmist refer to such things as the overtly strict Law of Moses or to the slaughters of holy war in the context of God’s praise? Not because the Hebrews inherently enjoyed rigid restrictions or relished in spilling blood, I assure you. They were overflowing with gratitude for the blessings their nation enjoyed by being removed from the evils of sin. The law explains, in very practical terms, how to avoid the effect of sin, whether it be sin from human depravity or sin’s curse in nature. Herem, or holy war, removed the effect of sin that encroached in the form of utterly depraved and base nations of men who worshiped idols and relished in the suffering of others. God’s judgment is always just, and believe it or not, it actually makes the world a better place because it mercifully, albeit temporarily, cuts back the weeds of sin.

In a way, God removed this mercy somewhat during the NT by not restraining sin, so that His Son would be crucified. I don’t say this to dampen the mostly positive tone of the NT, but merely to balance our perspective between the Testaments.

I will end my commentary of this book at that, as I do not wish to rehash too much of what is already covered in Cockerill’s careful work. I will even omit the rest of the unspoken praises and criticisms, for the details are yours to judge. In affect, I hope this has whetted your appetite enough to read it, as I am thoroughly convinced this is the type of book, and this type of holistic understanding of the biblical story, that every Christian needs (and every seeker seeks).

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield

This book, titled Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield, deserves a hearty grunt and a thumbs up; though I am not going to surround this book review with a lot of opinions regarding this conclusion or much fanfare about the timeless truths you will rediscover about manliness in its pages. In fact, I’ll risk being too simplistic to say that it was just as it needed to be. Regardless of how you might imagine a book like this to be, this book will tell men who they need to be. And that’s good enough.

I’ll be frank, Jack, this book called me to the table as a man, and told me how to man up. From the catchy cover, to the four memorable maxims (something to keep with you the rest of your life), to the key words that describe how to show yourself a man through manly examples, this book delivered.

I still have my doubts on the validity of a field of study dedicated to gender studies. My gut tells me it is only the spawn of a gender blending experiment, where gender roles are no longer distinguishable. So of course there have been many Christian authors eager to combat this enemy who so casually wishes to toss aside the legacy of manliness. Kudos to all those men who try, though many fall short of the task.

Luckily, I can endorse Stephen Mansfield’s stab at the challenge. Men of the world, read this book.

I review for BookSneeze®
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne

Ever see a successful leader or business and wonder how they do it? They are the kind who always seem to have air beneath their wings and wind in their sails, constantly finding the elusive updrafts to soar to new and exciting heights. The secret to their success, however, does not reside in their flawlessness. In actuality, it is rather the opposite. Successful innovators experience failure and frustration all the time; it is in their preparations and their responses to those failures which define them. Larry Osborne extrapolates this critical point in his book for the innovator titled Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail.

Far from the disingenuous motivational speaker with slick hair, political smile, and messages that guarantee your success, Osborne isn’t afraid to tell you that failure is a part of the equation. And that is the dirty little secret of innovation: most innovations fail! Not because change and innovation are unimportant, or that all great ideas are doomed to fail, but that “failure is an integral part of the change process.” So the book’s advice revolves around the crucial notion that “success is not found in their ability to avoid failure. It’s found in their ability to minimize the impact of failure.”

You’ll find yourself flying through these 21 engaging chapters that give you a front seat row behind the eyes of a successful innovator, his experience adding an element of authenticity to his advice. As a senior pastor at the successful North Coast Church in northern San Diego County, widely viewed as a highly innovative and influential church, he verifies many of his principles with personal anecdotes.

This brings up why I am actually quite excited about a book like this, more so than I might usually admit, because this book is applicable to businesses and churches alike! Too often, I’ve been frustrated by the way so many churches and ministries have regulated themselves to this ho-hum non-profit status, as if their existence is nothing but; as if they are not expected to operate like every other respectable, responsible, for-profit company. Since they are not overtly trying to make any money they don’t have to live up to any particular standards outside of meeting the regulations for 501(C)(3) status. Baloney! Pastors should read this book. Board and committee members of charitable organizations should read this book. Even churches, missionaries, food banks, and special interest groups need to innovate in order to stay helpful, relevant, and make any sort of an impact.

I would recommend this book for any kind of leader or entrepreneur. Not because this book will necessarily blow your mind or change your life, but it will affect the way you think about innovation and risks involved. It’s not about lack of risk; it is about calculated risk. It’s not about absence of failure; it is about preparing yourself to recover from failure. I’ll surely keep it around as a practical handbook. I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

I review for BookSneeze®
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Afloat by Erin Healy

afloat-book-cover

Nothing in particular drew me to read this book. It had a vague blue cover with an equally vague title. Perhaps this was the draw. I had no preconceived notions about the book, no external input, no preference of genre. I’ll admit that her collaboration with Ted Dekker on previous titles ended up persuading me to take the plunge and read Erin Healy’s novel titled Afloat.

The story takes place in a beautiful setting called Eagle’s Talon, a cove that projects past the outpouring of the Rondeau River. This cove is home to an innovative housing project of condominiums that are under construction and will float right on the river. The project is engineered by our protagonist, Vance Nolan, and funded by the antagonist, Tony Dean. If that isn’t enough potential for an interesting plot line, the prologue foreshadows even greater turmoil when a clandestine figure carries out some shady job under the cover of darkness at the construction site.

The meat and bones of the story, the underlying moral of the story, concerns the battle within each of us for self-sufficiency. Is our goal and comfort in life to be completely self-sufficient? Or can we allow ourselves to rely and trust in others; especially God? Through a variety of trials, whether natural or man-made disaster, human vice, or providing for self and family, and a smattering of supernatural interventions, such as visions, angelic interaction, and shiny fishy things, the different characters in the book are forced to decide one way or the other.

The book does a great job at portraying the natural decline of characters who choose self-control at all costs. When people try to take control for their own preservation, even with good intentions, it only results in disaster. But when you choose to trust God and his servants on earth, when you choose to put others before yourself, that is the source of blessings and love.

Good, you may say, it has a good Christian purpose, but what about the novel as a novel? Many books with a strong moral or theological implication struggle to hold interest as an actual story, such as a book I previously reviewed, The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook. Healy did not succumb to such a problem. What made the realism most keen for me was the dialog. Characters stayed in character and acted according to character, if you know what I mean.

The self-sufficient businessman was ever the politician. The five-year-old was ever the little, silly boy you would expect out of, well, a five-year-old boy. Even static characters, those who didn’t change their philosophy or perceptions on the world much, such as Vance and Tony, were effective as foils of each other, whereas dynamic characters, such as Danielle Clement, the feminine interest between the two men, progressed down a realistic and difficult road of change and development in her perceptions and expectations.

I would give this book a thumbs up, both for the interest it holds as a novel, and for the truth it contains for the Christian life!

I review for BookSneeze®
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.