Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (book review)

Taking a journey with a tour guide who knows the terrain and the customs is always so much more rewarding than simply following the directions of some far-removed travel agent. In journeying through the four Gospels of the New Testament, a premier tour guide is close by in Kenneth Bailey and his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. 

All of us bring our own paradigms with us wherever we go. There is a certain way we see the world, and everything gets processed through those lenses. My natural bias, when I pick up the New Testament is to read it through my lenses of a 21st-century American. But Jesus lived in a specific time and place in world history. He lived as a Jewish man in Israel during the time the Roman Empire held sway over world affairs. 

If I try to read about a 1st-century Eastern world through 21st-century Western eyes, I will be missing so much of the richness. Kenneth Bailey lived and taught and was immersed in the middle eastern culture for decades. So with his western understandings and middle-eastern insights, he treats us to vistas of Scripture that I hadn’t seen before. 

Bailey is a first-rate scholar, but by no means is this book an academic study. On the contrary, Bailey’s scholarship will make the accounts of the life of Jesus come to life before your eyes! You will be noticing nuances and insights that you probably missed in all your previous readings. 

If you want to experience the Gospels in a new, exciting way, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes along with you for the journey! 

Dangerous Prayers (book review)

Prayer changes things. That makes prayer dangerous and the pray-ers themselves a danger to anything that opposes the kingdom of God. Dangerous Prayers is a collection of powerful prayers and a brief biography of those who prayed them. 

Growing up, a constant refrain rang in my ears from my parents whenever I faced a problem: “Have you prayed about it?” I’m not sure why we make prayer our last resort instead of our first response, but it often seems that some of the most heartfelt, passionate prayers are offered up in the darkest of times. 

Dangerous Prayers offers a short biography of some world-changing people who changed the world in large part because of their desperate dependence on God’s help, as seen in the frequent and bold prayers they prayed. Many of these prayers were prayed in dark places—prisons, before the executioner, in the midst of war, in unimaginable poverty, or staring down the evils of slavery. These men and women repeatedly turned to God, and God repeatedly strengthened them to accomplish amazing things. Some of the answers to prayer came in their lifetimes, and some prayers were only answered long after they had died. 

Dangerous Prayers is an excellent coffee table book. By that, I mean it’s a great book to leave out in the open as a conversation-starter. Parents could read these short biographies and prayers with their children, and friends could use them as a bridge from past history to current events. But more than anything, keep Dangerous Prayers close at hand will—I sincerely hope—cause you to turn to prayer frequently and boldly. 

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer. 

Defiant Joy (book review)

I’m always intrigued by oxymorons. You probably know what these are—when two seemingly opposite things are put together to make something memorable. Like a fine mess, or deafening silence, or seriously funny. Or defiant joy.

Usually “joy” is paired with descriptives like pleasurable, or bubbly, or uncontainable. But “defiant”? Stasi Eldredge makes the case that we need to fight to hang on to joy—that our pursuit of joy against all odds should be, as her book is entitled, Defiant Joy. 

Stasi shares many of her painful life lessons that led her to the conclusion that joy has to be clung to tenaciously or it can be stripped away quickly. Defiantly clinging to joy doesn’t mean a bury-your-head-in-the-sand denial view of life. It is facing the challenges squarely and honestly, and still recognizing that the joy Jesus gives is greater than those circumstances. 

In fact, one of the first quotes Stasi shares in her book is this truism from C.S. Lewis: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Talk about a powerful oxymoron! 

I so appreciate the transparency and candor Stasi exhibits as she pulls back the curtains of her own battles for joy. She honestly shares her darker moments with us, tells us where she’s still working, where’s she had breakthroughs, and the applicable lessons we can all use. 

I’m sure everyone one of us will have to face joy-threatening circumstances. The principles in Defiant Joy will help you overcome those circumstances while still tenaciously clinging to joy. Read this book for yourself or read it with a friend going through a difficult time. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m a Thomas Nelson book reviewer. 

Book Reviews From 2018

11 Quotes On The Gospel Of Mark

Alongside my daily Bible study time in the Gospels of the New Testament, I have been reading J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. You can check out my review of this book by clicking here. 

These are a few of the quotes I especially appreciated from Ryle’s comments on the Gospel of Mark. 

“We should always read the Old Testament with the desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ.” [cf John 5:39] 

“It will always be found that when prayers are few, grace, strength, peace, and hope are small. We shall do well to watch our habits of prayer with a holy watchfulness. Here is the pulse of our Christianity. Here is the true test of our state before God. Here true religion begins in the soul, when it does begin. Here it decays and goes backward, when a man backslides from God. Let us walk in the steps of our blessed Master in this respect as well as in every other. Like Him, let us be diligent in our private devotion. Let us know what it is to ‘depart into solitary places and pray.’” 

“What extravagant importance is attached to trifles by those who are mere formalists in religion!” 

“Christ’s service does not exempt His servants from storms.” 

“The assaults of persecution from without have never done half so much harm to the church as the rise of false doctrines within. False prophets and false teachers within the camp have done far more mischief in Christendom than all the bloody persecutions of the emperors of Rome. The sword of the foe has never done such damage to the cause of truth as the tongue and the pen.” 

“Incredible is the bondage in which men live to the opinion of the world! Let us all pray daily for faith and courage to confess Christ before men. … In spite of laughter, mockery, and hard words, let us boldly avow that we serve Christ.” 

“It is a dreadful fact, whether we like to allow it or not, that pride is one of the commonest sins which beset human nature. We are all born Pharisees. We all naturally think far better of ourselves than we ought. We all naturally imagine that we deserve something better than we have. It is an old sin. It began in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve thought they had not got everything that their merits deserved. It is a subtle sin. It rules and rains in many a heart without being detected, and can even wear the garb of humility. It is a most soul-ruining sin. It prevents repentance, keeps men back from Christ, checks brotherly love, and nips in the bud spiritual desires. Let us watch against it, and be on our guard. Of all garments, none is so graceful, none wears so well, and none is so rare as true humility.” 

“It is not so much the having money, as the trusting in it, which ruins the soul. Let us pray for contentment with such things as we have.” 

“Above all, let all who desire to walk in Christ’s steps labor to be useful to others. … Let them never forget that true greatness does not consist in being an admiral, or a general, a statesman, or an artist. It consists in devoting ourselves, body, and soul, and spirit to the blessed work of making our fellow man more holy and more happy. … Let us strive to leave the world better, holier, happier than it was when we were born.” 

“The dark ages of Christendom were times when the Bible was kept back from the people. The Protestant Reformation was mainly effected by translating and circulating the Bible. The churches which are most flourishing at this day are churches which honor the Bible. The nations which enjoy the most moral light are nations in which the Bible is most known. … The godliest families are Bible-reading families. The holiest men and women are Bible-reading people.” 

“Let us remember that for our sakes Jesus voluntarily endured the most painful, horrible, and disgraceful death. Surely the thought of this love should constrain us daily to live not unto ourselves but unto Christ.” 

You can read the quotes I shared from Ryle’s thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew by clicking here. 

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid (YouVersion reading plan review)

Tim Elmore has fantastic insights for those who work with today’s youth. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a youth pastor, or a coach, you are always guaranteed some great content when you study what Dr. Elmore presents. 

YouVersion has a reading plan based on Tim Elmore’s book 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid. The reading plan has three advantages over the book—(1) Daily Scripture readings which augment the material covered each day; (2) A video message from Dr. Elmore explaining how we can avoid these mistakes; and (3) A place to have an honest dialogue with another parent/coach/teacher, if you are doing this reading plan as a shared plan. 

There is also one huge advantage the book has over the reading plan—lots more content, including warning signs, and ideas for recovering from past mistakes. 

So the real winning combination is not either-or, but both-and. You should both read the book (you can check out my review by clicking here) and do the YouVersion reading plan along with another adult or two (or three or four…). 

Don’t get blindsided by these 12 mistakes. After all, they are all avoidable and correctable! 

(You can also check out some quotes I shared from the book by clicking here.)

Expository Thoughts On The Gospels (book review)

J.C. Ryle was an Evangelical Anglican bishop who lived in England in the latter half of the 19th century. When Ryle’s words—written over 100 years ago—still resound with truth today, I would call that “a classic”! That is exactly what we find in his Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. 

The Gospels obviously focus on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Ryle takes how Jesus lived and taught and pulls out of them practical applications for Christians in his day, which still have perfect application for Christians today. I think what keeps his words so relevant is how closely he sticks with the biblical texts, seldom straying into his own opinion, but simply saying to us, “Did you see that?” 

His thoughts are presented to us section-by-section, not verse-by-verse as many biblical commentators do. This method has two distinct advantages for us: (1) It’s easier to get a “big picture” view of what Jesus was doing and teaching, and (2) It’s more manageable to use this book as a complement to a personal or group Bible study. 

In fact, Ryle himself suggested that the design of his commentary was with family devotions in mind. Purposely, he doesn’t delve into deep doctrine so that the youngest or most novice of Christians can gain much insight. But don’t confuse that statement with this being “light reading.” On the contrary, even the most tenured Christian will find ample thoughts to challenge his mind. 

I highly recommend this series of commentaries to those who want a deeper Bible study time.  

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