Christmas Songs We Know: A Review

“Mary Did You Know?:17 Inspirational Christmas Songs From Today’s Top Country Artists;” 2007; Word Entertainment (Warner/Curb)

This CD, with just over one hour of traditional sacred music, wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, because it boasts such a variety of artists, I couldn’t resist. While not a fan of country music, I still found this offering enjoyable.

Most of us have favorite singers or musicians. Most of us are on the lookout for a CD by that person. In this instance, I was in the mood for variety so when I saw it in the library display, I gathered it up.

Overall, the songs provide as much variety as the selection of artists. And, for the most part, they’re songs we know. Or at least have heard over the years playing in elevators or while shopping at the mall. It’s called inspirational music because the songs included are about the Christ child, Jesus. Only a couple of them hint at something other than Jesus’s birth and the event of Christmas and the night he was born.

My Favorites are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Diamond Rio; “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Vince Gill; “What Child is This?” by Jo Dee Messina; and “The Christ (A Song For Joseph)” by Billy Dean. And while no one sings “Mary, Did You Know?” like the song’s author, Mark Lowry, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna did a more than respectable job.

The only track I didn’t care for was Leann Rimes’ rendition of “O Holy Night.” That’s a difficult song to sing, for sure. But her arrangement sounded to me more like someone wringing every note of the (USA’s) National Anthem up and down the scale. Perhaps Leann is an acquired taste, but I like to be able to sing along. Especially with Christmas music.

Rather astonishing to see how many of these songs are in the public domain.

The mix on each track is great. No one’s voice – no matter how much I may have disliked it – was overpowered by the background music. Nice blending of voice to music. My ear detected violins (or does ‘country’ music make that fiddles?) a couple of times and that added to my enjoyment. I’m partial to violins/fiddles.

If you’re a country music fan and enjoy sacred Christmas music, I recommend you listen to this one. You’ll hear the traditional favorites and maybe even learn a new one.

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Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review

  • Twas the Evening of Christmas
  • By Glenys Nellist
  • Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
  • Published by Zonderkidz
  • Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8

With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.

One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.

Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.

No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.

A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.

Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.

They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,

As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?

In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.

I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.

You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.

Beloved, Hear My Heart: Book Review

  • Beloved, Hear My Heart: A Deep Sense of Righteous Urgency!
  • By Lawrence Sankar
  • Published by Vision Tomorrow Today
  • 2015, 166 pages

In this book by Lawrence Sankar, thirty-one essays present the author’s “deep sense of righteous urgency,” hence, the subtitle. However, on one of the inside covers, is a different subtitle describing the book’s content, which is “a collection of inspirational messages.” This is only one of several writing issues that confused me in Mr. Sankar’s work.

To his credit, Sankar is most certainly fluent in scripture, and uses it in the essays themselves to explain them. He’s able to make good application of the scripture he uses and the reader can relate to life much of what he says.
While reading the essays and notes following them, I noticed Sankar referred to many of these writings as parables. Some were written as parables; others could not be called parables because the form wasn’t there. This made it difficult for me to trust the theme. I became confused by this as well.

When I tried to find Sankar’s theme for the book–after all, any book should have a one–I finally found something close on page 69. “Believers must become the messenger of change in their family and the catalyst of change in their communities and the wider society.” At any rate, this is what I’m guessing is his central theme. Since each titled entry has a different form (parable, essay, ‘poetic discourse,’ ‘revelation,’ etc.), it took some re-reading of some of them to discover the message he was trying to convey. Often, it was found in his “notes.”

Sankar is passionate about revival and in the essay, “A Timeless Reflection,” he states, “But rather, I have decided to balance my discouragement with a sense of hopeful optimism.” This is evident throughout the book. I’m sad to say this is one of the few consistencies.

“Beloved” would have benefited from professional editing. Perhaps he could have divided the book into sections containing the parables, the essays, the so-called ‘revelations,’ and the rest. Some of his notes seemed to be essays in themselves as if he had more to say.

I don’t disagree with most of what the author says, but his method and having to explain everything to me was somewhat frustrating. The author seems to have a prophetic voice, speaking truth into our lives. However, one with such a voice must exercise grace. Truth and grace is how Jesus came into our lives (John 1:14).

For someone who wants to hear what the Bible says about revival and becoming an agent for change in the world, this book could help. I would suggest the reader dive in with his or her Bible on hand. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Be wise and study for yourself along with this author.

Reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Living a “Good Deeds Life”

My life isn’t rife with so many examples of doing good deeds that I can tell you I’m always on the spot helping. To my dismay, I’m not always paying attention.

Author Henry James said, “Be the kind of person on whom nothing is lost.” This practice probably helped when he wrote fiction. But it has an amazing translation for each of us as well.

Paying attention means we see situations where we can help. We might also recognize when a person needs prayer or encouragement. If we pay attention, it might stir us to be be a cheerleader for people who are making the attempt to do better in their own lives.

I like the idea of living good deeds. It reminds me of the “One anothers” in the Bible. It reminds me of Jesus saying that the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. Good deeds done from love reflect the love of Jesus.

While browsing the table near the entrance of my local independent bookstore, I found a little gem to introduce to you. Erin McHugh’s One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better leads you through a year of simple but effective good deeds. She didn’t start the book on January 1; she started on her birthday. What a cool idea; it was “her” day, but she hoped to put light into someone else’s.

Erin’s ideas are things she did herself every day for a year. I started reading and hoping I could put into practice the same thing she suggested for that day. I’ve also read ahead a bit to see some of the other ideas she wrote about. Her practices are the reason for the book, but her writing is extremely casual; often funny and embarrassingly relateable.

One day she gave fifteen cents to a woman who’d miscounted her change to ride the bus. Erin said she was happy to lean in and say,

“’Here, I’ve got it.’ Because anyone can miscount; she didn’t do it on purpose. And besides, what’s better than when you see a stupid hassle coming and someone steps in and just makes it go away?”

This example is typical of Erin’s book full of living a good deed life. One blurb on the back of the book says, “Erin McHugh is one wise, funny, smart woman, and her book is a blast to read.”

The title of the book suggests that when we do good deeds as a regular practice, we’ll be “a little bit better.” I like to think the motive is less about us and more about watching out for others’ needs. Even when that need is as small as needing fifteen cents more to ride the bus.

Could you be on the lookout for a way to help someone today? Pay attention and you’ll see opportunities around every corner.

Girls Rising up Like a Bad ‘B’ Movie

What’s up with all the “Girls” in literature these days? Everywhere I look–magazines dedicated to publishing, social media, library stacks, you name it–books with the word Girl stand out from the rest as if that particular gender demands it finally be recognized.

If only in the title of a book.

As a writer, I realize publishing goes through trends. We’ve seen books about pets who saved their person’s life, stories about LGBQT relationships or gender confusion, and everyone who was anyone was writing a memoir. We still see the occasional story about someone who went to Heaven and returned to inspire us. Within genres they even create trendy plots and titles.

I suppose one trend that won’t get much attention or come back with a bang is the Western (pun intended). You’d have to be a Stephen King to do it. (For proof, see The Dark Tower series)

You’ve probably read a few of the Girl titles I found during my browsing. Some have been bestsellers; others loved so well they were made into major motion pictures.

Banned books. Which have you read you “Naughty Girl”?

Here’s a list, not by any means complete, of some books I discovered with that word somewhere in the title.

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the sequels)
  • The Girls of Atomic City
  • The Girl You Left Behind
  • The Girl Before
  • The Girl Next Door
  • The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
  • The Girl Who Was on Fire
  • Luckiest Girl Alive
  • The Girl Who Knew Too Much
  • The Girl on the Train
  • Gone Girl
  • The Girls
  • Girls Acting Catty
  • Girl, Stolen
  • Girls in White Dresses
  • Girl, Gone (sound familiar?)
  • Girl in Progress
  • A Girl’s Guide to Vampires
  • Girls Just Want to Have Fun
  • Girls From Da Hood
  • Girls Dinner Club
  • Girls Rule
  • The Sandcastle Girls
  • Kiss the Girls
  • The Pained Girls
  • The Forgotten Girls
  • The Summer Girls
  • The Silent Girls
  • The Good Girls
  • The Drummond Girls
  • The Radium Girls
  • The Wicked Girls
  • Last Girls of Pompeii
  • Lab Girl
  • The Land of Forgotten Girls
  • When All the Girls Have Gone
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
  • The Dead Girls’ Dance
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls
  • The Girls She Left Behind
  • A Few of the Girls

That list is a humble offering from the over 300 entries on my library’s search list which included CD books, downloadable, large print and DVDs. I don’t know which are fiction, non-fiction, or media, but you get the idea.

There’s a bunch of “Girls” out there just waiting for your attention.

Not to mention the daughters, wives, and mistresses in titles. “Women, can’t live without ‘em, can’t kill ‘em” a friend of mine used to say. He could be wrong and it’s a crude thing to say. But I’d be willing to bet some of these titles include a woman dying, whether by natural means or murder.

Speaking of men, did you ever notice most books about men have vaguer titles? The title suggests action and adventure rather than mention “Him.” Men appreciate when we recognize how mysterious they want to remain. At least in fiction. Consider these: “Rogue Lawyer,” “Road Dogs,” “Mr. Majestyk,” and “Come and Get Us.”

Sometimes in literary fiction we get to know a guy inside and out. I’ve discovered those are books that both men and women rate four to five stars on a five-star scale. And yes, I could say that some of my real-life male friends are also open books, so to speak.

I don’t believe I’m going to be adding any of these titles to my “Must Read” list soon. However, I do have a copy of “Little Women” and I never read it as a youngster. It’s probably for good reasons the book is a classic.

Don’t be one of The Silent Girls (or boys). Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles. What did you think of it? How long before we see this trend go the way of the dinosaur (as in “Jurassic World”)

Enjoy your book nook!

Sweet Tea and a Distasteful Flavor

“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony;                By Crystal L. Ratcliff;  CrossLink Publishing 2016

A Book Review

Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.

Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.

Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.

The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.

Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.

Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.

No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”

To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.

The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.

 

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

 

“Two Scoops of Ice Cream…Wait, I Mean ‘Grace’: a Book Review

In her book, “Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top,” Jeanette Levellie wants us to know right up front that God is a gracious God. He’s perfect, but not a perfectionist. He watches over us, but not with an abacus on hand, ready to count our failures. Her stories, told in devotion style, could be read one a day (so you can savor them slowly) or as many as you like at a time.

She’s an expert storyteller so it may be hard to put this one down.One thing I will say, Jeanette has a keen wit. It’s a gentle and kind wit. And it’s most often at her own expense because she’s learned to laugh at herself. She’s a mother of two children and a pastor’s wife. She has bright red hair which she claims can be as unruly as she is. That’s another thing about Jeanette, she’s honest about her failings as much as she is about her love for God. If I was a betting kind of gal, I’d bet she has oodles of friends who love being in her company.

In addition to the delicious fact that there’s ice cream on the cover, the book is full of stories to which we can relate. Even if we’re not a pastor’s wife or have children. Even if we’re brunettes or silver-haired beauties. I’m guessing the target audience is women.

But when you know men who occasionally wonder whether God is really there for them; whether His grace can forgive the messes they make; if the dreams they dreamed will ever come true; or the future holds any promise–Two Scoops of Grace is a book you might want to recommend.

Inside are 72 story devotions ranging from Drive-by Diapers, Culture Shock, A Pitiful Piece of Pie, and From Hair to Eternity. While the author insists we be gentle with ourselves and laugh a lot more, she also uses her stories and the Word of God to help us remember the path we’re called to walk. The devotions are comedic and convicting at the same time. And that can be refreshing.

The words ‘grace’ and ‘chuckles’ had to be in the title of this delightful book. Because, in this life, we desperately need them both.

“Zootopia” Wins and So Will You

A year ago this month, Disney Studios’ Zootopia was released in theaters. At the recent Academy Awards show, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. If you haven’t already seen it, go buy your own copy or head to the rental store.

Zootopia is smart, funny, and full of color. That’s typical of Disney movies. We can also expect endearing characters, a great plot, and a moral to the story. (One or two of those morals are relevant to what’s happening in our “neighborhoods” right now.)

Zootopia brings it home in all respects.

A cute little bunny, Judy Hopps, is determined “to make the world a better place” by becoming the first rabbit police officer. Her parents prefer she stay at home with her 275 brothers and sisters living a risk-free life. But carrot farming isn’t in the stars for Judy and she knows it.

She attends Zootopia Police Academy and, although she graduated at the top of her class, is assigned to ticketing cars at expired parking meters.

Zootopia police have been stymied by 14 cases of missing predators. When an otter goes missing, Judy convinces Chief Bogo she can solve the crime. Bogo gives her 48 hours.

Judy enlists the help of Nick Wilde, a fox who lives up to the stereotype. He’s clever and sassy. Judy uses Nick’s shady practices to trick him into assisting her and the story begins to unfold as a true detective tale.

Rabbit and fox are fortunate enough to discover a license plate number in the sketchy file Judy’s been given. That plate number leads them to the DMV where Nick’s friend, Flash, proves a big help. But Flash, like his co-workers, is a sloth.

Uh-oh.

For anyone who’s waited at the DMV, you’ll relate. Nick and Judy get to the counter immediately. But…er…you’ll love the sloths. Watch Judy be her usual upbeat self. Watch Nick bait Flash into a conversation. Watch Flash finish a sentence. Watch Judy lose her cool. Watch Nick’s smug expression.

The plate number results in an address which leads the duo to the naturalists. The naturalists give them enough information to take them to Mr. Big. He has enough information to lead them to a place where they hear about night howlers. Wolves?

In their search for the missing otter, Judy and Nick play the roles of detective with everything they have in them. Judy proves she’s not a “dumb bunny.” Nick’s foxiness comes in handy, but he also begins to soften. They form a bond that could only happen in Zootopia, where predator and prey can live in harmony. The line between them becomes blurred.

Zootopia includes the dense, color-rich scenes you expect of Disney Studios. The soundtrack is amazing. As usual, there’s visual humor and lines that kids probably won’t understand. (Think: Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy.) But that’s okay. Disney knows it’s the parents who bring the kids.

In the end, Zootopia shows us that we need friends who are loyal and always believe in us. We see that we can live in harmony with those who are different if all parties are willing to work together. Disney does it all so well. It’s a movie you’ll want to own so you can watch it whenever you need to see a great story told well. Or just for the laughs after a rough day.

One critic’s review named it “the best Disney movie in 20 years.” So go out and buy your own copy or get to the video store. Because you must see Zootopia now.

For parents: Zootopia is rated PG-13 for thematic material (animal violence), action scenes and some crude humor.