Multiplied Blessings

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Proverbs 11:24-25 (NIV)

In math, when something is subtracted from something else, what is left is always less than the original amount. So, it seems when a person gives away something he should have less than with what he began. When it comes to generosity, however, this math concept does not hold. Proverbs 11:24-25 tells us that when we give freely of our money, time or compassion, we gain more and we find refreshment, not poverty.

How can this be? Think about the times you have shared something with others. Maybe you contributed money to a cause, or provided a meal for a family in crisis, or just gave someone a hug and an encouraging word when she was down. Did you feel like you lost or gained something when you did these things? If you felt that you gained something, what were those rewards? A new friend, a happy heart, greater understanding of what it means to love unconditionally? A returned favor when someone did something generous for you? We do gain more when we are generous!

One aspect of generosity is hospitality. I recently read Just Open the Door by Jen Schmidt, a book that inspires us to reach out to others by inviting them into our homes. Her stories and Scriptural reminders that we are called to be in community with others encourage us to learn the true meaning of hospitality and put it into practice.

In her book, Jen explains that excuses such as busyness, insecurity, and fear of rejection can be overcome, and that opening the physical door of our homes and the symbolic door of our hearts to others is both Biblical and rewarding. In addition to her personal stories, Jen also includes testimonies from others and practical ideas to help us navigate the realm of hospitality and learn how to confidently invite others into our homes.

I’ve always enjoyed having people over but more often than not I don’t ask people over enough because of my insecurity about cooking. After reading this book, though, and being reminded of the true meaning of hospitality, I am encouraged to open my door anyway.

Hospitality is serving others, and the following verses are encouraging reminders to do that:

Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (NIV)

Romans 12:13 – “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (NIV)

Hebrews 13:16 – “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (NIV)

1 Peter 4:10 – “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV)

Generosity is more than adding to someone’s life by subtracting a little from our own. It’s multiplied blessings for both the giver and the recipient!

Lay Your Burdens Down

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

I recently read a book that encourages us to unlearn the patterns we have established as adults – things like being self-sufficient, educated, busy, apathetic and private. The book is Growing Down by Michael Kelley, and it includes some fascinating points that fit within the idea of Proverbs 3:5-6 – rely on God and not on yourself.

Kelley’s main argument is that we become adults when we learn to be self-sufficient, and it is this self-sufficiency that runs counter to what Jesus asks of us – to come to him as little children who rely on him, wonder at him, rest in him, trust him, and let our real selves be known to him and to others.

There’s no doubt that adulthood changes us from carefree kids to burdened adults with worries and disappointments that we accumulate over time. But Jesus calls us to lay our burdens down at his feet, rest in him and trust him (Matthew 11:29-30), which comes more easily when we have those childlike qualities of dependence, excitement about everything, and a carefree attitude that does not worry about what others think of us.

Proverbs 3:5 says we are to trust God with our whole heart, and to do that we must clean the clutter from our heart and make it singularly focused on him, which brings us back to complete trust and dependence on God.

Do you trust God with your whole heart? Or is your heart divided by other things in your life? Have you laid your burdens down, or do you continue to carry them with you over the miles and years? These are questions that came to my mind after I read Kelley’s book.

I really enjoyed Growing Down and found the points thought-provoking and relatable. Kelley covers several practical areas of life where we can apply the changes he suggests, such as moving from self-reliance to dependence, complexity to simplicity and apathy to passion. I particularly enjoyed the examples he used from his own life to illustrate some of his points. Kelley has a great sense of humor, and if you are a parent you will particularly enjoy his stories.

While I was intrigued by most of his points, especially those in the chapters on self-consciousness to innocence and education to wonder, I think there are points in other chapters, especially the one on busyness to rest that I’m not sure I agree with. He supports his points with Scripture but I think there are places where his points can be clarified and strengthened. Regardless, this is a great book to inspire you to consider whether you have a childlike faith and how you can grow down to attain it and grow up in Christ.

Like a Tie Around Your Finger

“Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Proverbs 7:2-3 (NIV)

Solomon repeatedly emphasizes in Proverbs the importance of studying God’s word and incorporating his commands into our daily lives so that we can live close to him and glorify him. With our busy schedules, it can be hard to find time to read God’s word daily which is why some people choose a devotional book to make it possible to read a portion of Scripture each day. I currently read Scott Patty’s Words of Grace and found it a refreshing devotional book.

Words of Grace is organized into three sections: Our Great God, God’s Work in Our Lives and Responding to God in Faith. Instead of providing a daily personal anecdote as many devotionals do, Patty instead explains a passage of Scripture and then provides personal questions or thoughtful statements for the reader to consider. All of the devotions point to Christ and will help you grow in your Christian walk.

The layout of the book is elegantly simple – Scripture is written on the left page and the devotion on the right page, so if you did not have your Bible close by the passage is written for you. While the devotions are short, they include a wealth of detail and the personal questions will give you things about which to pray.

The devotions in the book are one good way of “binding [God’s commands] on your fingers,” as Solomon says to his son in Proverbs 7:3. They are like the tie you put on your finger to not forget something.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Live Like Jesus

In this week’s post, I encouraged us to live like Jesus as we receive God’s wisdom through reading his word. My newest book review is a great resource if you want to better understand the life of Jesus.

The CSB Christ Chronological includes the text of the four Gospels and presents the life of Jesus in chronological order, using parallel passages that are color-coded and listed side by side. This format makes it easy to compare different passages in the Gospels, and it helps the Bible student see at a glance which events in Jesus’ life are presented in each of the Gospels.

In addition to the Gospel text, the book also includes study notes for certain passages. However, if you are looking for a study Bible, these notes are not comprehensive. This resource is unique in that it presents Jesus’ life in chronological order, beginning with John 1:1-18/Mark 1:1/Luke 1:1-4 and ending with John 21:24-25.

The CSB translation brings the Scriptures to life, and has become a favorite in my family, partly because it is new to us and partly because of its accuracy and readability. This hard cover book is square in size and actually looks like a coffee table book. The design is clean and appealing.

If you are looking for a refreshing way to study the four Gospels or for a nice gift book for a friend, CSB Christ Chronological is a good choice.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Do We Embrace Diversity?

My newest book review is for Rich Perez’s book, Mi Casa Uptown: Learning to Love Again. In his book, Perez reminisces about his childhood in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, and he expresses concerns about raising his own family now in NYC. His main concern is that cities are not friendly toward family life, and often when members of a different culture move into a city for the sake of “bettering” the area, they wind up eradicating the traditions and identity of the culture that was first there. He makes the point that while areas like his Hispanic hometown community of Washington Heights are happy to have white people move in, they want them to meld with their culture, rather than try to make it like the white culture. Perez eloquently says, “Inner-city neighborhoods don’t need the dominant culture to act as our father, we need them to act as our friends. We need partnership, not paternalism.”

Perez and his family started a church in Washington Heights as a step toward making inner city life better for families, and their guiding philosophy is, “Plant roots, make homes, build families, love neighbors, trust Jesus, and die well.” Each of those actions serve as individual chapters in his book, and Perez fully explains this philosophy through personal stories and Scripture in each chapter.

Having lived in the suburbs all of my life, it was fascinating to read about inner city life. And since I have served as a short-term missionary, it was eye-opening to consider whether my own actions were meant to accentuate rather than dominate another culture. I appreciated Perez’s point that we must love and take pride in our cities, because if we don’t we simply cannot be a good neighbor to the others who reside there. We must be actively involved in our neighborhoods to embrace diversity and to share the love of Christ.

How we handle diversity is such a relevant topic today, and Perez makes many interesting points. If you decide to read this book, share your thoughts in the comments section. I would love to hear what you think.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Big and Little Coloring Devotional Review

My newest book review…

The idea behind the Big and Little Coloring Devotional written by Rachel C. Swanson and illustrated by Jacy Corral is fantastic because it aims to meet a need of moms who desperately want to spend time in God’s word but can’t do so because their children demand most, or all, of their time. The layout of the coloring devotion allows a mom and a child to sit across from each other at a table, flip open the book, and color the page in front of them. The child’s page is a lower skill level coloring page, and the mom’s page includes a short devotion and a higher skill level coloring page. Both pages have the same Bible verse on them.

While I love the idea, I only gave the book three stars because I’m not sure young children can or would actually color their page for five minutes, defeating the purpose of mom getting the time she needs to read and think about her devotion. However, elementary age children could color the page, and it might be a nice idea for mom and child to talk about the devotion or Bible verse while they color together. I think this is a great way to talk about God’s word with your children. However, most of the devotions are mom-focused and would not be appropriate for the child. The parent could just talk about the Bible verse and this would be good, too. But, again, this does not meet the need of moms of preschoolers.

The coloring pages are well-done and the images in them match the material of each devotion. While most of the devotions are insightful, and one even asks the mom to share the Gospel with her child, there are some devotions that include vague or flowery language that make them hard to understand. In these cases, the writer’s style seems as if she wants to write in the style of Oswald Chambers, but can’t quite make the leap. I think if she wrote all of the devotions from the perspective of a mom, and did not try to be a philosopher, this book would be much more convincing because her devotions about her experiences as a mother are very good. I also think if the devotions included discussion questions that a mom could ask her child as they color their pages, this would make the book better, and more meaningful, for both of them.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Life on Purpose

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (HCSB)

Proverbs 14:34

I just finished reading The Power of Purpose: Breaking Through to Intentional Living by Michael Catt, the pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The main message of the book made me think of Proverbs 14:34 because one of the main points the book makes is that we should live our lives with purpose, and we do that by living a life for Christ. As church members when we live for Christ, we bring life back to the church, something greatly needed in our current culture. Even though Proverbs 14:34 refers to a “nation,” I believe this same principle applies to our churches.

The Power of Purpose is unique in that it explains why and how to live a life of purpose by looking at the book of Philippians. Topics in the book include living a life of prayer, consistency and service, all of which lead to contentment as Paul defines it.

While the book is filled with practical advice on how to live, I believe Catt’s most compelling arguments focus on the reasons for the decline of the church. He argues, “The blame for the powerless church in America lies not outside the church, but within her.” Unfortunately, many of us church-goers can attest to disunity in our churches, and Catt’s illumination of the apostle Paul’s arguments about living a life for Christ are good solutions to bringing dying churches back to life.

The book features a host of quotes from pastors, theologians, writers, philosophers and famous Americans. But, while it is easy to read, some of the chapters are not tightly focused and feel a bit disjointed because the author jumps from one topic to another without going very deeply into any one theme. All that said, the book includes many one-line quotes that convict us to live a life of purpose, a life for Christ, and that makes this book valuable to anyone who reads it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Sing With Your Heart!

“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.”

Proverbs 3:13 (NLT)

I recently received another book to review, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty. It is a compact book that provides a multitude of reasons for congregational singing. The Gettys have done a nice job incorporating Scripture and quotations from theologians to help make the case that singing together as a group can change the lives of individuals, families and entire church congregations. The book aims to encourage people to sing, even if singing isn’t their particular gift, by noting that God looks at the heart, not the harmony. In the same way, when people, regardless of their skill level, begin to hear and believe the words of truth they are singing, their worship becomes more real.

As I was thinking about how singing relates to Bible study, I thought of Proverbs 3:13, which reminds us that we find joy when we seek out the truths in God’s word, and one way we can discover those truths is by singing them.

Sing! is a great resource for pastors, worship leaders, musicians, song writers and music industry production teams. There are “Bonus Tracks” for each of these groups at the end of the book which give insightful questions and suggestions to encourage congregational singing.

As a layperson who does not carry a tune, but loves singing and all things pertaining to music, I appreciated learning about the things that worship leaders and musicians should consider in order to encourage 100 percent of their members to sing in church. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter were helpful and thought-provoking as well.

However, I believe Sing! makes a better study for worship leaders than for congregation members. Even so, the non-musician will still appreciate reading the occasional song lyrics in the book and being reminded that the most important things are singing with your heart, believing what you sing and not worrying what you sound like.

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.


Names of Jesus

In my post earlier this week, I mentioned focusing on the names of God to help us learn to live out Proverbs 18:10 and trust the name of the Lord. If you would like a longer devotional than the 30-day one I suggested or one that is focused specifically on names of Jesus, there is a new book, 100 Days With Jesus: A Daily Glimpse Into the Person of Christ by Diann Cotton.

This devotional focuses on 100 names of Jesus, and while some of the traditional names like Bright Morning Star and Living Water are included, there are unexpected ones like Baby, Unchangeable and Minister in the Sanctuary. The devotions are short and will take only a few minutes to read, but they include some nice features. Each devotion begins with the verse from which the name of Jesus is derived. This is followed by a definition of the key word(s) that make up the name. Then the author provides her thoughts on the name, and the devotion ends with a personal question and prayer of praise.

Though short, the devotions are still insightful, and I enjoyed reading about both familiar and unfamiliar names of Jesus and seeing how the author conveyed her thoughts on the verses. I love the author’s story of why she wrote her book – to better understand the names of Jesus that she had put on Christmas ornaments for her tree. It is such a good thing to not take what we hear for granted but to study and investigate when we have questions about the Bible.

The cover of the book is beautiful, and this book would make a nice gift. My only complaint about this book is the pictures that accompany each devotion. While I think color photography is a nice approach and there a few good images scattered throughout the book, most of the pictures seem like stock photos and don’t really add much to the devotions.

Overall, though, I like this book and it will draw you closer to Jesus as you meditate on his character described each day.

Interested in Apologetics?

Recently, I received a copy of The Apologetics Study Bible published by Holman Bible Publishers and I think it is a nice resource for those who would like to learn more about defending the Christian faith. This Bible is filled with articles by experts in apologetics such as Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias and Josh McDowell. Some of the articles are easier to understand than others; however, even the most difficult material still gives a good starting point for those seeking to learn apologetics terminology and then research further from there.

Articles cover a variety of topics including “What is Apologetics?,” “How Can We Know the Bible Includes the Correct Books?,” “What About Those Who Have Never Heard about Christ?,” and how Christianity relates to other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism. When I received this Bible, I sat down and started reading the articles and it was hard to put down because each time I turned the page, there was yet another topic I wanted to learn about.

The new CSB translation is easy to read and understand, and the layout of this Bible is beautiful. The type is in two columns and the font is large and easy on the eye. Jesus’s words are not red letter; however, Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament are set in boldface type in the New Testament text. Although this feature is not unique to this particular Bible, it nevertheless works well for an apologetics Bible because, among other things, it makes it easy to see how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the New Testament.

There are some study notes underneath the Biblical text, but not for every verse. So, if you are looking for a comprehensive study Bible, this one may not be for you, since the study notes serve mainly to reflect apologetics ideas as they fit in with specific verses. Another nice feature of this Bible is the “Twisted Scripture” notes that occur occasionally to point out how certain Scriptures are manipulated or interpreted incorrectly.

The structures of the introduction sections for each book in the Bible are unique – while each introduction includes an Author section, the remaining sections are structured uniquely to best relate to the particular book they cover. The Bible also features an annotated bibliography for topics in apologetics, a nice concordance, and a handful of color maps.

Overall, I really like this Bible because it is so easy to read and it has opened my eyes to ways to defend my Christian faith. I also think an unbeliever would find this Bible useful to answer questions they have about the Christian faith.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own. I look forward to using the new CSB translation and apologetics study notes as I research Proverbs for new posts.