Graciousness {A Cross-Focused Reviews Review}

Do you ever have trouble controlling your tongue? Or is that just me?  I want to be honest, and I want to be helpful, but sometimes the way I say things just comes out hurtful.  Because I really need some help in this area, I was really thrilled to get the opportunity to review Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love.

In  graciousness, John Crotts is addressing Christians who are zealous for God’s truth, but who struggle to communicate is in a loving way.  Crotts gives us a biblical description of graciousness, examples and commands from the Bible and methods for cultivating graciousness in our hearts and in our lives.

One of the first questions Crotts tackles is, “Why do we need graciousness?”  According to Crotts, “people with great zeal to take in and understand God’s truth who do not then work out that truth out in their character and within loving relationships will develop a stagnation of spiritually toxic pride and ultimately spiritual death.”

God forbid.

Crotts also examines the Ephesian church at length, and concludes, “Jesus is saying it would be better to have no church in the massive, thriving city of Ephesus than to have an unloving church, even if it preaches the truth and opposes people who oppose the truth.”

I’ve been in churches like that before, and I couldn’t agree more.  You can feel that something is wrong and it is a turn-off to both Christians and non-Christians. Jesus tells us quite plainly in John 13:35, when he says, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  I want to be known by my love.  I want to be theologically correct, but that’s not what I want people to know me for.  I want them to know me as someone who loves my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The theory and Biblical examinations in the first part of the book are excellently done and interesting. However, the meat of the book is truly in the application that Crotts has for us.  He takes four chapters to examine how to cultivate graciousness in your heart, in your mind, in your actions, and in your community.

In these chapters, he is full of both practical and biblical advice for seeing graciousness in your own life.  I think so many of these are good tips, but as he says, the big thing to remember that your graciousness (or lack thereof) is an outpouring of what is in your heart. You must see your own sin before you can repent of it, and I think if you read this book, you might be surprised by the about of sin that you find in your own heart.  I know I was, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to repent and to grow in my process of sanctification through such an excellent book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review, but I did so because I really love this book!

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Authorized

When you ask 100 people to pull a Bible off their shelves, 55 of those people are going to pull down a King James Bible. Two of those people will be my husband and my father. It is the translation that I am going to hear from the pulpit of my church. It is beautiful, lyrical, and not quite as archaic as Shakespeare. Hearing thee/thy/thou as I read the scriptures just makes me feel more spiritual.

Yet, as I have become more and more involved in the study of the Bible, I find that I tend to pull out my ESV when I want to study deeply. It’s also the translation I use the most when I read the Bible to my children. Sometimes, when my children had difficulty understanding Paul’s phraseology as we studied 1 & 2 Corinthians last year, we even found ourselves pulling out an NLT because it was ten times more to understand for my ten year old than even our ESV. In the KJV, we found Corinthians to be indecipherable. (In fact, I first started using an ESV when I had difficulty understanding Amos and Isaiah in the KJV as an adult in a Bible study. I count on the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and understanding, but finally decided that understanding the sentences was an important part of that!)

I also, not too long ago, attended a church that was KJV-Only in a way that was quite exclusionary. Part of the reason why I no longer go there is because I was uncomfortable with the KJV-Only atmosphere that made me feel like I was heretical for appreciating (and using) multiple translations. I still carry wounding from that and will not be speaking to it, but I truly admire the even-handed and charitable approach that Mark L. Ward, Jr. uses in his book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, towards both KJV-Only people and those who would like to completely ditch the translation.

Ward is very respectful of both groups as he begins his book by considering the value of the King James translation, and he begins to spell out what we would lose if we abandoned the translation. Many of those losses make me sad. I didn’t realize how many things that I still love about the King James until I read what Ward had to say about it as a cultural touchstone and a unifying factor among Christians.

However, despite all the good things about the translation, people who read that translation (including me!!) often find that we don’t understand the words that we are reading. Ward has identified two areas where have a tendency to misunderstand the King James version. The first area is the area of “dead words.” These are words that are just archaic and out of use, like the word “besom” instead of “broom.” The other category is more insidious, and includes the “false friends” of words that we assume we know, but that the language has changed the meaning of over the last four hundred years. This could, of course, lead us to assume an entirely different meaning is behind a verse than what truly is behind the verse.

Another argument that I’ve heard used to support the King James Version is the argument that it is written as an easier reading level than the other translations. (That’s the one that always makes me feel stupid as I struggle through Isaiah.) Ward explains how the King James Bible’s low “grade level” score is something that is a little deceptive by explaining how those scales work and how sometimes books in foreign languages get lower scores than the King James, yet no one suggests that this means we should be able to read those books.

Then, Ward pulls out the best argument in his tool box as to why we should consider using other translations. He pulls out the translators’ preface to the King James to explain how their thoughts were that the King James should continue to be revised in accordance with language changes. He discusses how the New Testament itself wasn’t written in formal Greek but were written in the common, spoken language of the people. If God speaks to us in our language, why would we want a Bible that wasn’t written in our language?

Ward then goes through the ten common objections to using non-KJV translations, and this is a very helpful section of the book because so many of the objections that I have heard pastors and laymen make to use of non-KJV translations are considered. Some of those are valid objections, and others are objections we can dismiss. All of this information was helpful to me, and I valued highly this section of the book.

In the end, Ward has an opinion on which translation is the “best,” and because of this book, I am determined to make sure that I use them all. I don’t want to abandon the KJV, but I also want to make sure that I understand the Bible, and there are too many great translations out there not to make use of them all.

The Healthy Living Handbook {A Cross Focused Reviews Review}

I’ve been trying to be a little healthier this year.  It seems to be my New Year’s Resolution, and in fact, is my resolution every time I go to the doctor’s office. I am not always successful though, and many times I feel like a failure. So, I was attracted to The Healthy Living Handbook as a review because the subtitle was “simple, everyday habits for your body, mind and spirit.”  I thought that perhaps, if I read this book, I might find a few habits that would stick with me and improve my overall health.

Smith divides her book into three sections: spirit, mind, and body. Each section has ten chapters or healthy habits to help you to make the simple changes that will allow you to have a more positive and healthier life.

Throughout the book there’s some good advice and some advice that I consider to be less than sound. For example, there’s a great chapter in the mind chapter on organizing your stuff.  There’s another great chapter in the food section to help you to avoid fast food.

However, the chapter on prayer discusses praying in tongues as a normal thing to do, and she recommends practices such as lectio divina that I would consider to be suspect at best.  I found these chapters very off-putting as well as the chapter on not being discouraged where she said she considers discouragement as being a sin.

In the end, this book is a mixed bag, and not one that I will be recommending.  I did find some good stuff in the book, but the good stuff that I did find was tainted by the suspect advice that I found in a few chapters.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.   This has not affected my opinions and I was not required to write a positive review.

Live Like Jesus {A Cross Focused Reviews Review}

Sometimes I struggle to connect my faith that i have in my heart and head with the actions that I find myself taking each day. So, when Live Like Jesus came up from review, I thought that the title sounded intriguing, and I decided to request a copy.

In this book, Putman discusses the gospel message, and attempts to present a new perspective on the gospel that is bigger and more sensational than what we can imagine. He examines Romans 6-8 in light of the realizations that he has had about the gospel message, and shows you ways that you can live like Jesus too.

I have to start off talking about this book by admitting that this book is a charismatic work. If you’ve read my blog for more than five minutes, you know that I lean towards reformed theology, so as you can imagine, I found lots to disagree with Putman about.

However, I do agree with Putman on this:

It is easy to dismiss a different perspective about how sin affects our relationship with God because it is not how we are used to processing the meaning of Scripture. I understand that, and I do think we need a compelling reason to ever reconsider a central tenant of our faith. That being said, any frame of theology that does not match what is clearly written in scripture must be rethought too.

Although I do think some of the things that he says disagrees with scripture, I also think that there are plenty of things that Putman gets right.

Here are some of the things:

  1. We cannot dismiss different perspectives simply  because they are different.  We must test ideas against scripture.
  2. We do not put enough emphasis on the resurrection of Christ.
  3. We cannot make ourselves better by “trying harder.”
  4. Our sin problem is at the very core of our being.  Being as sinner is not what I do.  It’s who I am.
  5. Adam and Eve’s sin gave Satan dominion over the earth.

I could keep going,but I’m not going to here. As you can see, I found plenty of areas of agreement with Putman.  I disagreed with what he said about repentance.  I believe that Jesus’s message is one of repentance, and that the apostolic writings confirm that.  I think that he pits Paul’s writings of grace against John, Peter, Jesus and the Old Testament writings. I think he’s often not seeing the forest for the trees.  I think this leads him into heretical territory.

I disagree that, as a believer, I am fully dead to my sin nature. I struggle every day, and I don’t interpret Romans the way that he does.  I just can’t agree with him.

I really struggled with how to recommend this book or not, and I found that I could not recommend it because I believe that the content is, at times, heretical.  This is a well written book, and he knows at the outset that many are going to disagree with him.  I am one of those people.  I don’t see the gospel the way he does.  I was entertained throughout the reading because his examples, stories and word pictures are perfection.  I liked this book, even as I disagreed with many of the core tenets that he discussed.  In fact, I loved his dandelion example for sin in our lives so much that I added it to the notes in my Bible.  This was a challenging read, and I am glad I read it because reading from perspectives we disagree with often sharpen and challenge our own faith.

Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross-Focused Reviews. It has not influenced my review, and I am giving my honest opinions on this book.  I have not received any payment for this review.

The Cat Who Went to Heaven

As long as I have been reading children’s books, it surprises me that there are Newberry Medalists that I have never heard of.  However, there are actually a good many that I never knew existed.  Such is the case with the most recent book that I read to my six year old, Ellie.  The Cat Who Went to Heaven  was the Newberry Medal winner for the year 1931, and the story surrounds a penniless painter who is given a big and prestigious assignment, his housekeeper and a stray cat that she brings home from the market.

As the painter works to bring to life a scene of Buddha’s end of life, he meditates on the different animals that paid homage to Buddha, while noting that the cat, “refused homage to Buddha…and so by her own independent act, only the cat has the doors of paradise closed in her face.”  He begins to paint in Buddha and the animals, and the cat watches.  Will he go with a traditional scene or will he include the cat, even though cats are viewed poorly by the Buddhists around him?

Ellie says that this is a five star book.  She says, “It was good because it is good.”  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think that she means that she enjoyed the story, but perhaps, she didn’t find it to be memorable.

I found that this was a delightful little story.  It doesn’t have much substance to it, and the fable itself is actually kind of bittersweet.  However, most Buddhist tales that I have read don’t have saccharine sweet endings, so this is appropriate.  I think that I am going to give this book to my twelve year old.  He enjoys cats and books about them, and he hasn’t had a lot of comparative religion, so this is a good and gentle reminder of who Buddha is and teaches a little about his life and some general ideas about Buddhism.

Bad Kitty Camp Daze

For the second night in a row, I read Ellie a Bad Kitty book.  This time it was the newest Bad Kitty book, Bad Kitty Camp Daze.  All Kitty wants is a little peace, 22 hours of sleep and giant delicious meals.  Does Kitty get that?  No.  Instead, she has a wild puppy and even more wild baby that want to play all the time.  During some of this rough play, Kitty get bonked on the head, and she begins to believe that she’s a dog.

Puppy is so stressed out that their owner decides to send puppy away to a nice relaxing camp.  Unfortunately for him, Kitty, still thinking she’s a dog, stows away in his back pack.  Kitty fits right in for a while until it becomes apparent that she really is a cat.

Ellie loved this book.  She was too tired to give it a full review, but she says she loves it and gives it five stars.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was better than Bad Kitty Takes a Test, and I enjoyed the Dog/Cat interplay.  I also learned about how catnip affects cats from the book.  I have always thought it was really weird that our cat eats catnip instead of sniffing it, but I found out that this was actually a common response for cats, and that eating catnip actually calms a cat down.  Totally cool to learn from a book, right?

Bad Kitty Takes the Test

I promised myself that this year I would count and write at least a little bit about every book that I read, including the ones that I read to my six year old daughter.  She’s not an independent reader yet, so she and I do a good bit of reading together in the evenings when my older children have their nightly reading time.  I let her choose the books for nighttime reading, so the books are really varied, but one of the authors that my children pass around with each other is Nick Bruel.  They especially like the Bad Kitty chapter books, and last night Ellie and I read Bad Kitty Takes the Test together.

Bad Kitty has recently had a string of not very catlike behavior. So, as a surprise in the mail, she receives instructions that she has to go take a test to prove that she really is a cat.  She ends up going to cat class is a couple of Chatty Kitty, Uncle Murray and a chicken wearing a cat costume.  Will she pass the test? Is she really a cat?

Ellie says: “I’d give it 1,000,000 stars.  I loved it.  It was funny.  My funniest part was when Bad Kitty tried to cheat and Chatty Kitty complained. It was really weird when the bird said, “Meow!”  My favorite part was how somehow Uncle Murray’s drivers’ license came out of an egg.”

I say that Bad Kitty books really don’t disappoint.  They are always amusing and fun.  This one was a very humorous and not too subtle critique of standardized testing as well as a book about Bad Kitty.  That’s something I can really get behind as a Mom, and it’s something that I think goes over the heads of my homeschooled kids just a little bit.