Kris Mares

Just a woman trying to love Jesus and others a little bit more…

Book Reviews: #HeadScratchers and #Solve May 11, 2016

One of the perks of ministry is having colleagues who write books. Since I LOVE books, reading the work of pastors around me is fun. And when I get personalized signed copies, or advance reading copies… well, let’s just say that this preacher girl spends a few hours in a happy place!

One of my colleagues and tweeps (you know, a Twitter peep) is Talbot Davis. He has several books out right now. I first “met” him in some interesting Twitter discussions. Then, at our annual conference last summer, I met him in person for the first time. You know what impressed me most? We’d never met in person, but he immediately recognized me and knew my name. He personalized the copy of Head Scratchers that I bought and since then we continue to interact on social media. Bonus: we both are English Majors turned preachers, so there has to be something good about him right?

Recently, Talbot has finished a new book – Solve. When he was looking for advance readers and reviews, I jumped on the chance! So he sent me a copy in exchange for my (hopefully) good review (brave and trusting guy). Below are my reviews of both Head Scratchers and Solve. Since Head Scratchers is signed (and I bought it), I’m keeping that one! I’ve giving away my copy of Solve though, so leave a comment at the end of the post and you’ll be entered into the random drawing! People who follow my blog via email will have a second entry into the drawing, so make sure you sign-up to follow via email AND comment below for two chances to win!

Head Scratchers looks at five odd, hard to understand and sometimes scandalous things that Jesus says. As a preacher, I have a hard time making sense of Jesus’ hard sayings sometimes, so it was helpful for me to hear what someone else had to say. For each saying, Talbot reminds us that “Context is Everything.” We can’t take one statement in isolation, but must back up and see it within the bigger picture. So what does it mean to hate your mother and father? What is the unforgivable sin? Why wasn’t the disciple supposed to bury his father? Each chapter was easy to read, gave some great “real life” stories and examples and ended with thought-provoking discussion questions for personal reflection or small group discussion. A couple of times, there seemed to be some rambling (we preachers do that sometimes), but it always came back around. For me, the last chapter was the most powerful (seriously thinking about that one for a while) and I hope you’ll join me in praying Talbot’s prayer:

Lord, let there be revival through hard words. Don’t fill us with false promises of prosperity, but enliven us through truth. Let new Life break out among your people and your churches not because of wine and roses but because of flood, sweat, and tears. (Head Scratchers, p103)

In Solve, Talbot takes a conversational approach to the person and work of Nehemiah. Another easy to read, filled with background study, Solve helps the reader think about how to move from being one who point out problems toward being a “solutionist.” I loved all the historical context Talbot gave and hoped for an additional footnote or two that might have pointed me toward additional reading on the subject (I’m a nerd like that and know that others might be too). Each chapter shared good stories/examples from the Talbot’s ministry at Good Shepherd UMC. The addition of some “non-church” examples or “other church” examples may have helped me connect even further with the main points. I do know some people who are really struggling with conflict in their life and Solve would be a good read and guide to help them reflect upon Nehemiah’s lessons for their own life. For me, it was again the last chapter (although the least exciting biblical read) that was meaningful and leaves me thinking about who bears my mark.

Overall, I recommend either book to people to read for specific times in their lives. Head Scratchers for those wanting to delve deep into Jesus and Solve for those in the midst of church or family or work or life conflict. Both are easy enough for a person unfamiliar with the Bible, but contain enough “meat” for those further along in their faith journey.

Remember, if you want to enter to win my read copy of Solve, please comment below and sign up to follow my blog via email! Drawing will be on May 15th!

(Note: The links above are affiliate links.)

 

Shelter for the Spirit August 21, 2015

When graduate school graduation began approaching, people started asking me “What are you going to do after graduation with all the free time you’ll have?” I usually answered “Get my house in order.”

You see, during four years of graduate school, my home had become a place of disarray. I crave organization and order and a good plan. My family functions better that way. Grad school wasn’t good for having an organized home.

This summer, I’ve had time to rest and begin the process of getting my home back in order. I’ve decluttered. I’ve sold. I’ve given away. I’ve thrown away.

And I’ve read.

I’ve just finished reading this precious book. It says what my heart feels about a house being a home. It’s helped me think through why I minimize and why I keep some things over others. It’s helped me think through how I want my family and guests to feel in our home. It helped me to be intentional about the atmosphere in my home.

Why is my home so important? It’s not just where I sleep and keep stuff. It’s not just home base.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lordyour God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NRSV)

Home is where family first knows God at work. Home is where God’s love is known to those who live and visit here. Home is where people see the best and the worst of us, thereby allowing a powerful transformation of the heart and mind. “Home work is serious stuff. This is where we confront our shadow side, our loneliness, and the people who can see through us when we least want to be transparent. This is where our words and actions are truly consequential. Regardless of how incidental we may be to several billion other people, to those in our household, we mean the world. This is a major responsibility” (p. 176).

So this day, I vow to be more intentional about getting my home in order. Not so that it “happiness [is] based on how majestic something looks from the outside” (p. 177), but so that my family and guests are touched on the inside. So that being in my home means something special to people, so that it brings them just a little closer to Jesus.

What do you do to make your house a shelter for your spirit and that of your guests?

 

Not Buying It! August 13, 2015

In my search for contentment and good stewardship, I’m always on the lookout for people who have pursued simplicity and less consumerism. When I was perusing the shelves of my local library (one way I can read voraciously without spending), I saw this book and picked it up on a whim.

Immediately, I was drawn to the idea of not buying things for a year. I would love to be able to do just that, so I was hoping that I would be inspired. What I found, was a woman journeying in life who shared an honest assessment of her struggle to not buy things, her deep desire to do good for the planet, for the poor worker, for the sustainability of the world, yet her desire to just have some nice things. I appreciated her honesty in the struggle to make do with what she had, find a way to spend time with friends that didn’t involve money, and at the same time, learn how to receive gifts from others. When you don’t have money to spend, it’s hard to simply receive.

Over the last several years, our family has drastically reduced our consumption. Partly because we had to and partly because I have a growing committment to my inner “tree-hugger” and living a more sustainable lifestyle. The vast majority of our clothes come from a local consignment store or are hand me downs from family and friends (with the exception of Racer’s work pants and all our tennis shoes) or are freebie t-shirts from events/promotions. We’ve been reducing the amount of stuff we bring in (even asking family to give “experiences” rather than things), reusing what we can in a variety of ways (vases, art projects, turned pants into shorts) and we take a bin of recycling every week.

But somehow, I still get a great longing to buy. To shop. To spend money on shiny objects that promise to make me slimmer, give a smile, and heal my soul in just 5 simple steps. Well, you get the idea. I still have this urge to shop.

Why? Well, I think the best gem of the book came in December. On Christmas Eve, Judith Levine and her significant other were walking and stopped into a religious service. Although she says they are atheists, I think she write something that speaks so loudly to faith: “But I do want something that religious offer in abundance; the permission to desire wildly, to want the biggest stuff – communion, transcendence, joy, and a freedom that has nothing to do with a choice of checking accounts or E-Z access to anything” (p. 261).

I think there is a void in all of us that is constantly searching for something more. Levine doesn’t think we need religion to find it. I think she’s right there. But we disagree in how we do fill that void, that desire for something bigger than ourselves. You see shopping can’t fill it. Friendship can’t fill it. Marriage can’t fill it. Children can’t fill it. Social activism can’t fill it. Even a life of being content with what you have can’t really fill it.

Only Jesus Christ can fill that void in our souls that we long to have filled.

That, my friends, doesn’t cost a thing.

We simply have to learn how to receive.

And that can be harder than not buying it.

 

If You Know Who You Are, You Will Know What to Do August 7, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews — Kris @ 9:14 am
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At some point in the last couple of years, I picked up this little book.

Generally, I’m a fast reader, but this one took me some time. I had to digest some parts more than others. It’s a book about integrity. While I consider myself a person with reasonably good integrity, there was something that challenged me here. Something that make me think and wonder and question.

Greer says that integrity is “being true to the lives to which we have been called” (p. xi). To be true to that, I have to first know what I have been called to. For me, I have several callings on my life. Wife, mother, pastor. Each of those callings happens within the relationship I have with God through Jesus Christ.

But how do I live a life worthy of the calling that I have received?

Well, that’s the integrity part. It’s being who God has called me to be, in the best way that I can, honoring God with all I have, all I am and all I try to be. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even when that doesn’t meet the expectations of others. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even when I’m afraid I don’t have enough courage. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even though I’m not sure what the point is.

Lately, I feel God stirring something in my soul, but I’m not sure I have enough courage. Lately, I’ve been feeling something on the horizon, but I’m not sure I’m bold enough. I’m not sure I have enough patience or compassion or – please God let me have enough humility.

Perhaps, even though I’ve had this book on my shelf for some time, I’m reading it now “for such a time as this.”

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSV)

 

Enough August 6, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews,Money — Kris @ 7:14 am
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I just finished reading Enough by Adam Hamilton. It’s a basic book about giving and living a financial life that pleases God.

I’ll admit, I read through it pretty fast. There are good points and important principles for managing finances in a way that aligns with biblical teaching. Each chapter has some great questions to help readers really think about their own spending habits, financial goals and how their bank statement may or may not reflect God’s purpose for them.

I particularly appreciated the section that Rev. Hamilton wrote about the problem of affluenza. You see, Racer and I have been on quite a financial journey over the last 8 years. Soon I will begin telling more of that story (watch the Money category here on the blog). But I still struggle with keeping up with the Joneses. Not so much with material things, but in other ways. I want my kids to have the awesome experiences that I see other families give their kids. I want the church I serve to have the cool ministries that my friends’ churches have. I want to be on the ground level of that cool justice initiative in the community. I want my husband to be sought after and important in his field. Although Rev. Hamilton focused on the acquisition of stuff, it hit home for me that I try to keep up with the Joneses in other ways.

So, for those who are feeling stuck financially and need help seeing the hope of better finances, Enough is a good start. For those who have their needs met, but still wonder “Where did our money go?” and want to have a greater impact in the Kingdom, Enough will help you rethink how you are allocating your dollars. For those that have had a significant biblical financial journey already and have a good foundation and plan for giving, saving and spending, then Enough won’t be quite what you need.

Overall, it’s a great “starter” book for those who are beginning a financial journey that aligns their budget with biblical principles. It’s an easy read, but with some practical principles and challenging questions.

 

The Chocolate Diaries May 10, 2011

I just finished reading The Chocolate Diaries: Secrets for a Sweeter Journey on the Rocky Road of Life by Karen Scalf Linamen. It was a really quick and easy read. And it talked about chocolate. I love chocolate. And it talked about God. I love God more.

At times, the book was a little ADD for me, but then in the book the author said she had ADD, so then I understood. There were a lot of people stories – how various individuals overcame life’s hurdles – which I liked. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of discussion questions and a chocolate recipe. To read the first chapter, click here. For a free chocolate cake in a mug recipe, click here.

While the book itself didn’t give me a whole lot to think about, what I am excited about is using this book as a starter study/discussion book for a women’s small group. The Chocolate Diaries has a real “girlfriend” vibe and I can picture a small group of women, sitting around a living room, eating chocolate, discussing life’s journey, laughing, crying and praying. The book is easy to read and very conversational, thus appealing to a wide variety of women (sorry guys, I just don’t see you reading this).

At the end of The Chocolate Diaries, Karen Scalf Linamen challenges the reader to go and “reach out to someone you know who’s traveling a rocky road and share with her one of the sweet secrets in this book.” I plan to do just that with a group of women. So usually, I give my review books away, but this one I will be keeping so that I can share life with a small group.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)

 

31 Days of Drawing Near To God April 17, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews,Ministry — Kris @ 1:02 pm
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I received the book 31 Days of Drawing Near to God for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. The book, by Ruth Myers, was previously released as The Satisfied Heart.

What I most appreciated about this daily devotional guide was that the author began with her own testimony. The first 32 pages chronicles her story of faith, love, loss and full reliance on God. I found myself drawn into Ms. Myers’ life and the faith she relied on and found as she moved through the journey of her life. From young love, to parenthood, to losing a spouse and becoming a single parent, to years of service while waiting on God, the lessons she learned are in the pages of this book to share with us. Read an excerpt of her story here.

Each day features 4-5 pages of easy reading. Ms. Myers’ commentary begins the reading and a prayer ends the reading. The commentary is full of scripture with each day listing “God’s words of love for me today.” These are the verses mentioned and/or included in the daily reading.

If you are interested in having this devotional book, please leave a comment and share how you make spending intimate time with God a priority? How do you fit it into your schedule? How do you deal with distractions? (Can you tell I need some tips? Still struggling with this area of my life.)

 

Indivisible – Giveaway!! February 25, 2011

I finished reading Indivisible by Kristen Heitzmann. I’m slow to post the review, but I had a hard time putting the book down! I really was a great book – mystery, crime and a little budding romance too. It is Christian fiction – so no “kids don’t read this page” parts. No foul words. There are drug references and other than those, I’d be comfortable letting my Professor read this book.

The story centers on a police chief. He follows in the career footsteps of his deceased father. When unusual animal deaths begin to appear, the investigation begins. A local shop manager, her boarder, the new vet in town, the local real estate agent, and a mysterious “germaphobe” all take part in this well-written, suspenseful story. As the police chief and shop manager’s lives continue their complicated, woven journey’s, each must learn forgiveness. A drug ring investigation also causes characters to face hard truths. Will the animal killer be found? Will forgiveness lead to healing?

To read the first chapter, click here.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Because I got it free, I’m GIVING IT AWAY!! To enter and win Indivisible, subscribe to follow my blog via email or Networked Blogs (must have a Facebook account). If you do both, you’ll get 2 entries! Just leave a separate comment for each method you use to subscribe and follow. Maximum of 2 entries allowed. I will have one of my children choose a comment number on Saturday at 5pm Central Time. Happy reading!

 

God Gave Us So Much February 15, 2011

God Gave Us So Much is a collection of three stories by Lisa Tawn Bergren. The stories center on a polar bear family and the lessons of diversity, love and heaven that Little Cub learns. The artwork by Laura J. Bryant is soft, sweet and calming.

The first story, God Gave Us the World, helps Little Cub see that even though there are many different types of bears that live in many different types of environments, God created them all. The second story in the collection, God Gave Us Love, helps Little Cub understand the different kinds of love and that even though we may not like other creatures sometimes, God wants us to share the love He gave us with them. The last story, God Gave Us Heaven, helps Little Cub understand what Heaven might be like and that we get there by the “bridge” that God sent in His Son Jesus.

This book is a great collection of three beautiful books. I read them with Girlie and Gorilla and both were engaged in the story, pointing out different things. Gorilla kept pointing out “mommy, baby” and Girlie snuggled close when hearing about family love. Each story ends with Little Cub going to sleep and would make great bedtime stories (the included bookmark ribbon would help with that)! God Gave Us So Much would make a great gift book for a new baby, infant baptism, or any other special occasion. It’s geared toward preschool-1st grade, but my Professor picked it up and read it too! Easy “God lessons” in a non-“churchy” way.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Although I try to give the books I review away, this one I’m going to keep so that my children can continue to read and enjoy these stories.

 

Blind Hope January 7, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — Kris @ 6:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I recently finished reading the book Blind Hope by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher.  It’s the story of Laurie and her dog Mia, the lives saved and friendships formed.  As I began to read the story – set on the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch – I remembered hearing Kim interviewed by Dr. James Dobson.  When I heard the interview about the ranch, I remember thinking “I need to know more about this ranch.”  Well, now I do.

Blind Hope is an easy/quick read.  Had I been uninterrupted, I could’ve finished it easily in a day.  In life’s time, I finished it in about 3 evenings.  At 178 pages, it quickly moves through the inspirational story of love and forgiveness.  Laurie chooses to “rescue” an unlikely dog – mangy fur, stinky breath and all.  Through caring for the dog – choosing to love and lead Mia – Laurie finds what it means to really follow God – forgiveness, devotion and choice. 

Blind Hope does not go into detail about the tumultuous pasts of either Laurie or Mia.  I admit – I wanted to know why Laurie was so “broken.”  I wanted to know what she did that led her to the choices she made.  I appreciate, however, the writer’s chosen focus of the redeeming love of Jesus.  While somewhat predictable, Blind Hope did make me smile fondly at my relationship with my dogs and the lessons I learn from them.  I also reflected upon the level of my devotion to my Master. 

To download and read the first chapter of Blind Hope, and to see a video featuring the authors, click here.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  And since I’m done with this book, I’ll be passing it on to a family that loves their dogs, loves their horses and loves their Lord. 

If you want to read more reviews for Blind Hope, click here – but make sure you vote for my review!  I’ll be doing more book reviews in the future, so keep reading…

 

 
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