hot chocolate in june – a review

hot chocolate in june – a review

I must say, it really feels like this year, the Lord is bringing the exact books into my life that I need to read.

I review books for Ambassador International, and when I received the monthly e-mail advertising which new books were available for review, I gave the message a quick scan and nearly deleted it, having determined that I had already committed to doing too much during that month.

Then an author’s name caught my eye.

Holly Mthethwa.

Mthethwa.  I know that surname, I thought.

I recognized it as a South African name, and having spent a decade living in that breathtaking country, my interest was piqued.

I made some quick clicks online and soon discovered that Holly is a white, American Christian who went to South Africa to do volunteer work and ended up marrying a black, South African man.

Me too.

ImageNow I was too interested to simply delete the e-mail from Ambassador.  Instead, I let the arrow of my mouse hover over Hot Chocolate in June, and clicked “Request this Book.”

I’m so glad I did.

It turns out those few details were not the only things that Holly and I have in common.

In fact, in subsequent online conversations, she and I have decided that if we were to meet in person, we would be fast friends.

Holly starts her book by sharing the harrowing story of her father’s sudden onset of cancer and steady decline thereafter.  I, too, have watched a beloved parent waste away to that awful, awful disease.

She had my eyes welled up in tears with her beautiful writing as she recounted the details of those long and emotional months.

Following her father’s death, Holly traveled to India and later to South Africa, both for short-term volunteer positions.

Having also visited India on a missions trip, I so enjoyed reading about Holly’s experience as she witnessed cultural differences, extreme poverty and the heavy veil of Hinduism during her trip.  I could so relate to her own “Americanisms” as she shared the challenges and joys of ministering in a foreign context.

What I appreciated most about Hot Chocolate in June is Holly’s honesty as she fluctuates among a myriad of emotions and points in her spiritual walk.  She openly shares the frustration of the Apostle Paul, who often “had the desire to do good, but could not carry it out” (Romans 7:18).  She writes of her relational struggles and asks important questions of herself as she realizes, “I was willing to stick it out and persevere for all of the things that didn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things, but was I willing to do it for people, for relationship? … I realized this was going to require effort for the rest of my life ….”

Holly acknowledges the ongoing challenge as a Christian to die to self — yet she continues to trust the Lord and seek His will in her life.

During her brief stint working in an orphanage in South Africa, Holly met a man named Oscar.  Prior to her trip, she had accepted a position to work as an auditor in Wyoming.  Though her heartstrings were tugged to stay in South Africa, she fulfilled her commitment and moved by herself to a state in which she had never lived.

While she was there, her relationship with Oscar flourished, and to make a long story short, they got engaged and then married.  Holly moved to South Africa, and as she described her initial challenges as an American in a foreign land, I found myself nodding my head, saying, “Yep.  I totally get that.  Mm-hmm.  Me, too.”

I, too, have sipped hot chocolate in June, desperately trying to find internal warmth in the midst of a chilly S’African winter, with no indoor heating to be found.

As she wraps up this chapter of her story, Holly reflects upon how the Lord has shaped and molded her as she grasps her position in Christ.

This book was indeed a blessing to me as it allowed me to follow Holly’s journey thus far, and to clearly see the Lord at work in her life.

To learn more about this book, click here.

To connect with the author online, visit her at her blog or on Twitter @hollymthethwa

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from Ambassador International for review, and the opinions are my own.

the easter donkey – a review

The Easter Donkey is a lovely children’s book written by Donna Thornton, illustrated by Lynne Pryor, and published by Ambassador International.

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It’s a story about a donkey named Drupelet who gets chosen to play a role in a reenactment of Palm Sunday, then witnesses the sadness and mourning of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at a local church before seeing the joy of the resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday.

What I appreciate about this book is the portrayal of the sadness before the joy.  Without the cross, there would have been no resurrection.  Without the mourning, there can be no joy.  Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness.  Without the atonement, we would have no hope.

This book helps children to realize a fuller picture of the Easter story, and to appreciate Jesus’ work on the cross.

In a culture where most holidays are promoted from a secular point of view and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus have become the main points of focus, I am all for books that emphasize the true reason for the season.

Having said that, The Easter Donkey is a book that could be read all year long, not only during Easter.  As Christian parents, we would do well to surround our children with books that tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection throughout the year, as the reason for our hope should permeate our everyday — not only when we let them hunt for eggs or wear their Easter dresses.

I would recommend this book for children in preschool and early elementary.  While the illustrations were sweet, in my personal opinion as a lover of watercolor, they did not take my breath away.

I received a free copy of The Easter Donkey from Ambassador International in exchange for my honest review.

an infinite journey – a review

An Infinite Journey - CoverAndrew Davis’ book, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, is a real diamond in the rough.

I received a free copy for review from the publisher, Ambassador International, and to say that I was pleasantly surprised would be a gross understatement.

What first drew me to request this book was the raving review written by Tim Challies.

Upon receiving my own copy, I was amazed to find praise from D.A. Carson adorning the cover as well.

My respect for both of these thinkers and writers was a sturdy preface indicating the quality of the content to come.

I was not disappointed.

Davis’ main premise is this: We are all on two infinite journeys – the external journey of the gospel’s advance to all nations, and the internal journey of sanctification (pp. 17-18).  Davis points out that “these two journeys have one goal: ‘the praise of His glory’ (Ephesians 1:12, 14)” (p. 21).

Why are the two journeys called infinite?  Not because they will never be accomplished, but because they both require the infinite power of God in order to take place.

An Infinite Journey is an attempt to organize the Bible’s teachings on sanctification.  As outlined by the author, “… all of Christian maturity can be found under four major headings: Knowledge, Faith, Character, and Action” (p. 29).

Davis uses thorough precision to touch on a myriad of topics in each of these categories, and I found him to be a down-the-line, biblical thinker.  It was refreshing to find a present-day author churning out such solid truth with equal conviction.

I was particularly challenged by this premise near the beginning of the book:

“The Church needs to reclaim a Bible-saturated, Spirit-drenched emphasis on both of these infinite journeys, learning that they are absolutely intertwined.  It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs.  And it is impossible to make genuine progress in sanctification if the people only read good Christian books and stay in classrooms, but refuse to get out into the world as witnesses.  These journeys are mutually interdependent: without progress in one, there can be no progress made in the other” (p. 24).

The chapter that impacted me most was the one entitled, ‘Reliance on Christ.’  God really used that chapter to convict me of my own reliance on myself, as opposed to genuine faith and trust in God.  I was able to see how I have shifted my weight from leaning wholly on God to depending on my own strength (or lack thereof).  This chapter reminded me that God not only initiates salvation, but He brings it to completion, and every step I take in between is purely through His sustaining grace.

One component that I had never considered before was what Davis calls the ‘two-sided coin’ of faith (p. 153ff).  He explains the definition of faith as found in Hebrews 11:1 — “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  According to Davis, the Greek word for ‘conviction’ as used in this verse actually refers negatively to a sense of rebuke or reproach for sinfulness that leads to repentance.  As such, faith has two components, namely the positive looking forward and assurance, and the negative aspect which causes us to see our sinfulness and turn from it.  Previously, I had always considered both parts of Hebrews 11:1 to be synonymous, as opposed to complimentary.

A criticism I’ve read about the book is that its hefty length deters churches from being able to digest it piece by piece, as for a weekly Bible study.  I understand how this could be a hindrance, but I don’t think that should be a reason for not using the book.  To overcome this hurdle, perhaps one leader could read the whole book, highlight key premises for the group, and choose six or eight topics to focus on in depth for discussion purposes.

Another potential criticism could be a tendency to emphasize works over grace.  Though the book is filled with things we are commanded by God to do, I believe the author would be the first to argue that none of these good works could ever be accomplished apart from the grace and strength of God.  Towards the end of the book, I started to feel a bit heavy from the weight of all the requirements of Scripture on a believer, but then the Lord reminded me of Davis’ initial premise, that both of these infinite journeys require the infinite power of God.

An Infinite Journey is a book I would highly recommend not only to pastors and others in full-time ministry, but to laypeople as well.  It is an extremely valuable resource, as it addresses nearly every conceivable component involved in the path of becoming more like Christ.

I would especially encourage missionaries, spiritual mentors and evangelists to obtain a copy, as it is a worthwhile tool for new believers seeking to navigate the forthcoming and lifelong journey of sanctification.

Though it is best read cover to cover, the book could also be useful as a topical reference to answer specific questions regarding certain aspects of the Christian life, such as emotions, self-reliance, or stewardship.

Thank you, Pastor Davis, for this gift to the Church at large.  It is evident through your testimony that you are a man who walks the talk.  May this book be used to encourage many in their growth toward Christlikeness, and may you see the fruit of your labor.

To order a copy of An Infinite Journey, click here.