Friday, December 31, 2010

A Tardy Christmas List

Books to Read for Christmas

Now that the 2010 Christmas season is behind us, I thought I’d make a list. (I must admit that the fact that Sherry over at the Semicolon blog is dedicating this week’s Saturday Review of Books—links to a variety of reviews by reviewers all over blogdom—to lists of reading suggestions helps, too.) My list is dedicated to books that you must read for your Christmas pleasure. I’ll admit, this is a favorite topic of mine, and sometimes I don’t even wait until Christmastime to read a book or story centered on the Nativity or even any of the legends that have been established all over the world at this time of year. So, if you have an inkling to be Christmas-y during 2011, pick one of these up and enjoy some hot cocoa. Finally, in addition to the Gospel account in Luke 2, and of course (beware of shameless self-promotion) either Something Special at Leonard’s Inn by yours truly, read some of these classics and ought to be classics:

Ø A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ø How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Ø The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (well-deserved Caldecott winner)

Ø Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies (an early version of novelization of a popular movie)

Ø The Christmas Chronicles by Jeff Guinn (three novels now available in a single volume, the collection includes

o The Autobiography of Santa Claus

o How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas, and

o The Great Santa Search

Ø The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (others in the trilogy are okay)

Ø Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright

Ø The Judge Who Stole Christmas by Randy Singer

Ø Magi by Daniel L. Gilbert

Ø The Christmas Wish by Richard Siddoway

Ø The Paper Bag Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne

Ø The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere

Ø The Christmas Child by Max Lucado

Ø The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern (the story that inspired the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life)

Ø And don’t forget this year’s collection of stories—The Nativity Collection—by Robert J. Morgan

And while you’re enjoying Christmas reading, don’t forget to find a copy of O Henry’s classic short story “The Gift of the Magi”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone (Sorry I haven’t linked all the books or reviews, but most are available at your favorite brick and mortar or on-line bookstore). To see most of my reviews of books on the list, just click the Christmas link in the “Labels” sidebar

—Benjamin Potter, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Precious Pearl – Robert Lloyd Russell

© 2010 Infinity Publishing, West Conshohocken, PA

Every so often an author or publisher will stumble across this review blog and read one. Having done so, they might contact me to see if I’d be willing to review their book. If it sounds like something of interest to me, I’ll bite. That’s what happened a little over one month ago. And the result was a pleasant Bible study on a little addressed parable. Robert Russell is a Bible teacher and management consultant who takes his study of the Scriptures seriously. He has written other articles and books including a previous volume in this study series, and has edited a collection of the words of Missionary/Martyr Jim Elliot.

One Precious Pearl: God’s Design for His Church studies the parable known as the Pearl of Great Price found in Matthew 13. The author acknowledges that this particular parable has often been neglected in favor of other parables surrounding it, but insists that this simple parable is one that holds an ocean of wisdom for the church. Dividing the study into two sections, Russell presents background to the parables of Matthew 13, and then draws some lessons from the Pearl of Great Value.

One conclusion that is not necessarily part of the main-stream of thought, but bears credence since this is a lesser-dealt-with parable, is the idea that the Pearl is a reference to the Church (rather than the popular Kingdom; or the less than likely Salvation). In part II of the book, Russell compares the Church to a valuable pearl at length, and brings a new light—might I say, a new luster—to the images Jesus is presenting.

The chapters are kept short (between two to five pages in length) for easy access to the material. Even slow readers like Yours Truly can finish the entire book in a relatively short time. Such arrangement of the chapters makes the book ideal for devotional reading or for personal or small group study. The ideal audience for this book (and its companions in the Christian Concepts Series, one would assume) are Bible teachers, preachers, and students of the Scripture who are interested in learning more about specific passages. This book will find a worthy spot among my study materials and I’ll have another excellent resource the next time I’m preparing a study or sermon from Matthew 13. And you can, too. (four out of five reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, December 30, 2010

[Disclaimer: This book has been provided to the reviewer, free of charge, for the purpose of review. All opinions about the work are the reviewer's.]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Nativity Collection – Robert J. Morgan

© 2010 Nashville, Thomas Nelson

I have kept it no secret (from anyone) that I love Christmas. I especially love reading Christmas-related books. With this in mind, my Blushing Bride discovered a new collection of Christmas stories to wrap and place under the tree for me. The author is Robert J. Morgan, pastor of the Donelson Fellowship Church in Nashville. Morgan is also the writer/compiler behind such devotional connections as Then Sings My Soul and On This Day in Christian History. In this collection, he brings his love for Jesus, his communication skills, and the emotion accompanying the Nativity story to present a book filled with the Hope that pervades the Christmas season.

From the fly-leaf we learn that Morgan is in the habit of writing a new fictional story built around the Nativity to share with his congregation each Christmas Eve. Reading this selection of six of these tales will make you want to trek to Nashville next Christmas Eve just to enjoy the next installment. Each of these stories is well-crafted and brings to mind Christmases past and present. You will relate to the characters as they renew their joy in Christmas, in Christ, and in Life.

The book opens with “Ollie” which reminds us that Christmas has more to do with relationship and less to do with presents than most Americans are ready to admit; includes a Christmas honeymoon story (entitled “Nativity Seen Smiling,” but that I would have called “Felipe Navidad”); “Poet Boy” – a hat-tip to Christmas Pageants; and closes with the most poignant address of Christmas I have seen in a great while. In all, there are six stories that draw our attention to the Manger of Bethlehem.

Don’t wait until next Christmas to purchase this little book. Get it today, prepare to be blessed, and prepare yourself to renew your own joy in the season, in the Savior, and in the salvation He brings. I give Mr. Morgan five out of five reading glasses for this book, and can’t wait for new volumes of these gifts he has given year after year to his church. Now, we can all share in the gift of story.

—Benjamin Potter, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Radical – David Platt

© 2010 Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

David Platt is the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills. Prior to this he lived in New Orleans until being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He is a man of study and a man of vision (both of which play a vital role as he writes this book).

From page one, Platt not only challenges readers with Scriptural truth, but also shares genuinely about his own struggle with following a Master who poured His life into a handful of men while Platt himself leads the modern phenomenon known as a mega-church.

Within the pages of Radical, readers are confronted with the difficult truth that living the American Dream is not the biblical call to discipleship that we as Americans would like to believe. Chapters are devoted to giving up one’s own desires for the sake of spreading the gospel, and denying oneself in favor of feeding the hungry.

In a day when everyone is writing books about how to grow your church, how to get God to do things for you, how to make the most of your Christian life, Platt is a refreshing voice. He doesn’t sugar-coat the gospel; he doesn’t soft-pedal; he simply looks into the scripture and exposes our traditions and pet philosophies to the light he finds there. Consequently, one of his conclusions—that our salvation is not ultimately for our benefit (to get to go to heaven), but for us to have an opportunity to glorify God—flies in the face of the egocentric society that has developed in America (often in the name of Christ).

This is a book that should be read. Change that. This book is a MUST read for anyone who calls themselves “Christian.” The biblical foundation alone is worth the read, but the call back to living according to the teachings of Christ make it invaluable in the development of a Christian walk. So, I’ll say it over in another way, “Read this book.” (Five out of Five reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, December 21, 2010

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

On This Day in Christian History – Robert J. Morgan

© 1997 Thomas Nelson, Nashville

Robert J. Morgan is a pastor and compiler. His inspirational devotionals include Then Sings My Soul (volumes 1 and 2), and he has a heart for developing devotional readers. In On This Day, he attempts to provide stories of inspiration from the lives of Christian Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes.

The book holds 365 stories from the life of the Christian Church. The stories range from the challenging to the bizarre, from the encouraging to the repulsive. Morgan offers a daily snapshot of life in the Church from her earliest days and into the twentieth century. Some of the stories will make you say hallelujah, while others will cause you to scratch your head in confusion (wonder?).

The author’s stated desire is to link each of the stories with a particular day in the year, and he takes great pains to do just that. Sometimes this connection is most natural, while at many other times it is forced and formulaic. Included are some of the more familiar (and almost overused) stories from the faith such as the well-worn story behind the writing of the great hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” Other stories are more obscure—making them fresher to the reader.

Why read a book like this? As a pastor and speaker, I am always looking illustrations that speak to the heart—what better place than in a volume packed with stories. Others may want to have a “page-a-day” quick devotional thought. Would I recommend this book for inspiration or devotion? I would have to say no. While I would not go so far as to discourage reading of the book, I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. That said, I give Mr. Morgan 3 reading glasses for his effort.

Benjamin Potter, December 21, 2010

[Disclosure of material connection:I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with The Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."]

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