Review for Trusting God When Bad Things Happen by Shelley Hitz

This little book isSoul_finds_rest_nGod part of a larger work, “Forgiveness Formula: Finding Lasting Freedom in Christ, but stands very well on its own. It is a comfortable read, and can be finished in a short time, although personally this is the type of guide that needs to be worked through little by little. The way I would approach this is to read it thoroughly a couple of times first, then sit down with a journal and write reflections as you meditate on a section.

The key the author wants to share with her readers in trusting God when bad things happen is in this quote, “I believe it is important to have a healthy view of God before a crisis happens. Otherwise, we’ll view God through the crisis instead of viewing the crisis through God and His character.” She encourages each of us to examine ourselves and discover how we view God. She offers some guidelines we can use in this process in Part 3 of this book. This is the part of the book I would recommend spending time praying and journaling.

In Part 2 of the book, Ms. Hitz shares with us some of her own crisis experiences. Because of these events in her life, she has had to wrestle with a lot of difficult questions herself. “Why?” is a common response for many of us facing our pain, hurts, and suffering. I find it personally comforting to know that she can write authoritatively about this topic. When facing my own demons, nothing helps more than empathy and advice from someone who KNOWS and has come out of it with a closer personal relationship with Christ and is willing to share what worked for them. She uses some metaphors in this section that may help us get some perspective in dealing with the ‘why’ question. One of those metaphors is the puzzle piece. Imagine yourself holding a piece of a puzzle. You do not know anything about the picture it comes from. You can study the single piece minutely and make some guesses, but in the end you probably won’t even come close to seeing the whole picture. But we can know the One who has all the rest of the pieces and trust Him.

This is not a perfect world. Life is full of brokenness and hurt. We try to escape our pain and often the way we deal with it just adds more pain. As a result of her painful past, Shelley Hitz became involved in a ministry that reaches out to hurting young people. She created some websites to follow up with the speaking ministry and it was her interaction with questions many of the girls asked that led to writing this book.

Have bad things happened to you? Have you ever questioned why God would allow such things to happen? Then I recommend this book for you. It could change your life.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Smashwords. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review: Christmas in Apple Ridge by Cindy Woodsmall

Cover of "The Sound of Sleigh Bells"

Cover of The Sound of Sleigh Bells

Rocky Ridge Apple Orchards

Rocky Ridge Apple Orchards (Photo credit: NixBC)

I received a copy of Christmas in Apple Ridge to review by Edelweiss publishing. This book is trilogy of romance stories by Cindy Woodsmall where the setting involves Amish communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio; most of the main characters are Amish.

In book 1, “The Sound of Sleigh Bells”, Beth carries a secret she has shared with no one, not even her Aunt Lizzy, who is more like a best friend and sister than her aunt. Beth and Lizzy together own and manage a dry goods store. Beth has a good head for business and she has become adept in the role of middleman between Amish craftsmen and a variety of businesses who sell their goods. Her work sometimes takes her  on long buying trips to several communities. What worries Lizzy most is that Beth has chosen a silent and solitude life, not socializing with other young people. When Lizzy meets Jonah, she starts to interfere, and cooks up a slightly misleading plan. But Jonah, a very talented carver, has mental scars as well as physical scars from a serious accident several years ago.

In book 2, “The Christmas Singing”, Mattie designs and bakes cakes for special occasions. Her talent is well known among Amish and non-Amish alike.  Working on her cakes is cathartic while her broken heart heals. Just a few years ago, she’d moved from Pennsylvania to an Amish community in Ohio near her married brother. Things seem to be going well with Mattie until her shop burns down to the ground. Circumstances take her back to her home town for a month while she bakes cakes for Jonah and Beth’s wedding, and her Aunt Lizzy and Amos’ wedding. Unknown to Mattie, the man who broke her heart, Gideon, was also in Apple Ridge, finishing Jonah and Beth’s new home. Gideon had a secret he had kept from his community. He had been battling a rare form of cancer. He had intended to set Mattie free from any ties with him when it looked as if he were losing the fight. But he had eventually recovered, and when she returned he didn’t know what to do and it appeared that Mattie was not interested in listening to him.

In book 3, “The Dawn of Christmas”, Sadie had experienced betrayal just days before her wedding to Daniel. Her family allowed her to join a mission group hoping it would help her broken heart heal. Years later, she is determined to live independently and single, to the disapproval of her family who want her to return home. One night she rides her grandmother’s horse over fields and encounters Levi thrown from his horse and injured. She saves his life through quick thinking, and they become fast friends, recognizing in each other the desire to remain alone and unmarried.

Their relationship doesn’t stay simple for long. Sadie still plans to return to Peru with her mission team, but she needs to earn more to pay for the trip. This becomes a problem when the store owners she worked for suddenly retired and closed their store. So Sadie and Levi team up to make things to sell at Beth and Lizzy’s dry goods store in Apple Ridge. Levi makes large toys and Sadie creates dolls to be sold with them. It doesn’t take long for people to make the assumption that they are courting. Taking the path of least resistance, they allow the speculations to continue, but obstacles kept them confused about what is real and what is imagined about their relationship.

My first impression after reading these three books was how thoroughly the author developed her characters, allowing them tension and conflicts that fit within the lifestyle of the Amish community and seemed feasible and believable. The characters are so well written that it was easy to form attachments to them because of the depth of their personalities and the struggles they live through that brings development and growth. By the end of the third book, Beth and Jonah had given birth to their first child and the reader feels excited for them. Mattie and Gideon are married and Gideon continues to be free of cancer.

Each story can be read independently from the others, although I enjoyed reading them one right after the other. The storyline begun in book 1 builds within the subplots of books 2 and 3. I have always enjoyed authors that create a community peopled by persons in consecutive books and growing their community over time. I will definitely read these books several times and would love to see more books written about others who live in Apple Ridge. I highly recommend this series for those who love to read Amish fiction.

Review: Will You Be My Facebook Friend? by Tim Chester

English: Graph of social media activities

Will You Be My Facebook Friend? Social Media and the Gospel by Tim Chester

Most of us can see easily how social media can be beneficial. It offers inexpensive and often free ways to communicate with our families and friends, businesses, and people of like interests. It offers up a world filled with information and entertainment. But besides all its advantages there are pitfalls and dangers that are sometimes so buried that most of us may not recognize them.

The first problem discussed in this booklet is the time consumed by technology. The author asks us some questions that may help us determine if we need a fix in this area, such as, “Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without technology?” or “Do you use your mobile phone during meals or keep it in the bedroom?” Do you suffer from lack of sleep because you spent too much time on Facebook?

But the amount of time we spend with social media is only a surface problem, so the author delves into the reasons why we find it so attractive. The remaining chapters help us understand why we find social media addictive, recreating our world and escaping the limitations of our physical bodies. He explains how these tendencies contrast with biblical principles and defeat God’s purpose for us. In the final chapter, Tim Chester offers us 12 guidelines for social networking.

I found this booklet to be thought provoking and helpful in leading me to scrutinize my own reasons for the way I use social networking. The author has some great insights why so many people are attracted to Twitter and Facebook. It reminded me of how my teaching colleagues and I would discuss our concerns about the effects of certain children’s programming on a child’s attention span that ultimately would affect their reasoning abilities. That was 30 years ago, and much of what we speculated on has contined to concern us. The results have even been amplified by the introduction of social media to the world. But I have to admit that the spiritual implications had eluded me until I read this booklet.

I would love to see this four-chapter booklet purchased in bulk in churches and placed on their literature racks for people to take home and read. There are some very powerful insights that would help many of us as Christ’s followers avoid being snared into creating our own self-centered cyberworlds and abandoning the world in which God has placed us to interact with our neighbors, friends and family.

I recommend this book for anyone who is using social media for any reason at all. The booklet is short and easy to read. Theology is not the topic, our lives and our Christian testimony are.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: In the Shadow of Sinai

Trust_even_nSilence

In the Shadow of Sinai by Carole Towers

 

Come and meet Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, son of Caleb. He possesses a gift given him by El Shaddai, the little known God of the Hebrew slaves living in the land of Egypt. His skilled hands craft beautiful works of art for the household of Ramses II, a supposed god of the Nile. Bezalel was recognized early for his talents, removed from his home to live in the King’s palace and trained by the head artisan to serve the Pharaoh. When he can, he returns home for a couple of days to his Abba and Imma who live in Goshan among other Hebrews. His father had died in the field making bricks for the Pharaoh’s building projects. But Bezalel has learned much from his grandfather, the Abba, who lives with his mother.

Still, as a young adult living in the palace, how could he believe in such an elusive god, who had been mostly silent for the past 400 years that his people had dwelt among the Egyptians and been enslaved by them? He certainly didn’t understand the faith his Abba possessed for Yahweh, the God Almighty. But things began to change when two brothers, Aaron and Moses, appeared before Ramses. Since part of his day was working on his craft in the huge throne room, Bezalel had a front row seat to the dramatic events that changed his life.

 

Through her well-researched fictional tale of a young artist, the author has woven in the context of the Biblical event of the Exodus. This gives her readers a closer look at it from a different point of view. She has given faces to her readers to gain a more personal perspective of the descendants of Israel. She has given heart to her story to assist us in understanding the ignorance, the bewilderment and the gradual spiritual awakening of the Hebrews during the course of the plagues that led to a massive flight out of a country they had come to know as home.

Bezalel wins our admiration when his caring nature leads him to help alleviate the suffering of his palace friends when they are subjected to the bites of gnats and flies, the pain of the boils afflicting their skin, and the destruction of their food supply from the bloody Nile, the frogs, the locusts, and the death of livestock belonging to the Egyptians. He adopts a little boy who had been beaten by a cruel master in the palace and eventually takes him with his family as they flee Egypt, even though the young lad is an Egyptian himself. Bezalel’s own reaction to El Shaddai in the course of the trauma can be seen as a reflection of the spiritual struggle most Hebrews may have been experiencing.

 

To Bezalel, God Almighty had only been a shadow of reality to this point. In his mind shadows were cold and damp, full of isolation and loneliness. It wasn’t until he met Meri, a very young Egyptian living in the harem of the Pharaoh, that his perception of shadows changed. One day she shares her loving memories of her mother with him. She would feel such contentment in her presence,deriving comfort even from sitting in her mother’s shadow. She felt safe and protected there. Bezalel told Meri his name meant “in the shadow of God Almighty”. Perhaps he had been mistaken in his perspective about living in such a shadow.

 

God manifested His presence in a pillar of cloud and fire, placing Himself between the Hebrews at the Red Sea and the Egyptians in their war chariots, allowing the mass of people to cross the Sea safely. Bezalel may not have been the only one who experienced a renewal of faith in Yahweh that day. God was keeping His people in the shadow of His protection and many trusted Him to keep them safe and secure. There were even some Egyptians in those numbers passing through the waters who had voluntarily placed their lives in El Shaddai’s protective hands.

 

But there were also others who loudly complained whenever things didn’t work out as they expected. Their complaints caused hardship for Moses and Aaron and eventually led to reprisal from Mt. Sinai where God’s presence had settled for a time. He made it clear that this covenant (agreement) went both ways. He would be their Protector and Provider, but they must also agree to follow His ways and become His unique people. They didn’t learn this overnight.

 

I am impressed with the amount of historical detail the author placed into the storyline. She included descriptions of dress and hairstyles, the contrast of customs from the two predominant cultures including language and vocabulary, geographical locations, diet and herbology, worship practices, warfare, and other details that added to this story’s authenticity.

 

The reader is drawn into Bezalel’s world and family through their trials and triumphs. The relationships he built around him were sincere and realistic. He marries Meri and by the end of the book she gives birth to a daughter whom they name Adi, which means jewel. Even though Bezalel suffered the loss of his grandfather in a conflict, his closest friends notice that he had also lost much of the seething anger that had been part of his life so many years. He had begun to realize that to dwell in the shadow of the Almighty was to live in a warm, safe place.

 

I highly recommend this book for all ages to enjoy. If there are to be more books to follow in a series by this author, I will be looking forward to reading those as well.

 

I received a preview copy of this book for review from Cross Focused Reviews.200x200-CFR-Badge-review image