Author: Joshua

Joshua is the lead pastor of Massapequa Reformed Church (RCA) on Long Island, New York. He and his wife Kathryn have one young daughter. He loves coffee and board games, ice cream and sports—he’s an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers, UConn Huskies, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.

4Mar

Review: How’s Your Soul?

Judah Smith, How’s Your Soul? Why Everything That Matters Starts With the Inside You (Nashville: Tommy Nelson, 2016), 224 pages.

Has anyone ever asked you, or have you ever asked yourself, “How’s your soul?” It’s a question that shakes us awake the rote pretenses of the question, “How are you?” and our often absent-hearted answer, “Good”—and it’s a particularly relevant inquiry as we begin the Christian season Lent. It’s one of my favorite questions for self-reflection, whether or not I’m comfortable with the answer.

In his newest book, How’s Your Soul? Why Everything that Matters Starts with the Inside You, Judah Smith suggests the health of our souls is the often overlooked, but always essential key living each day with eternal significance. I enjoyed this book overall, even if it is inconsistent in quality and Jonah doesn’t always write toward a cohesive thesis, primarily because it is written at a popular level that will be accessible to all. And for Jonah’s ability at times to actually make me laugh out loud.

For Christians, seekers, and just about everybody, it’s a good entry-level guide to exploring the inner you (your soul). For pastors, it’s good not for its theological depth, but for Jonah’s ability to model relatable storytelling (though at times he just seems to like hearing himself talk and I think more than one of his tangents are distracting)—he admits up front that he’s not going to spend time splitting “theological hairs about the difference between the terms soul and spirit.”

How’s Your Soul? is inconsistent, but inspiring. Jonah starts strongly. I loved the first two chapters for his ability to lead me into deep soul reflection.

  1. Home Sweet Home. The premise of the book, with which I agree, is that “your soul is healthiest when it comes back frequently and wholeheartedly to God.” In other words, when we find our home in God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Original Home. When Jonah writes about food, just yes…so funny! But more importantly, Jonah suggests four elements of a healthy environment for our soul from Genesis 2: rest, responsibility, restraint, and relationship.

For me, the middle of the book was weak. I’m not sure how these chapters relate to the overall thesis of the book, and I grew tired of his writing style by this point.

  1. Surprised by My Soul. I’m surprised that I don’t remember this chapter. Or not. It wasn’t particularly interesting.
  2. An Anchor for My Soul. Skip the first half of Jonah’s experience with boating, but dive into his riff on Jesus as the anchor of our soul. Good stuff.
  3. Is Love God or is God Love? Doesn’t seem at all fitting for this book, nonetheless the first half of the chapter is a should-read for everyone living in 21st century American culture. It will help us have better, more honest and truthful conversations about faith.
  4. A Quiet Soul.
  5. An Effective Life. If I may riff on Jonah—which I’ll be doing in my Lent sermon series, Jonah of the Bible that is—the foundation of an effective life is surrender.

Jonah finishes strong in the last few chapters, re-capturing my interest.

  1. New You. The heart of the gospel right here, clearly and compellingly. It never gets old. Well said, Jonah!
  2. Inside Job. “We trust and follow a living God, a real God, who is big enough to begin a process in the human soul and faithful enough to finish it.”
  3. Heaven. I’m troubled a bit by this chapter, confused by unclear statements about heaven, our bodies, our souls…about things spiritual and physical. The book would be strengthened by a little theological care here. Nevertheless, a helpful reminder and encouragement to “set our minds on things above.”

So, how’s your soul? (4 of 5 stars)


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

13Dec

Review: God Bless My Friends

God Bless My Friends (Nashville: Tommy Nelson, 2016), 20 pages.

I first have to admit, this is the fourth board book we own of Hannah Hall’s “God Bless” series from Tommy Nelson. I’m a big fan of God Bless You & Good Night, and our little enjoys it as a bedtime book. God Bless My Friends celebrates the joy and wonder of friendships through catchy, but sometimes forced, four-line rhymes. Can a monkey and tiger be friends? Or a giraffe and a mouse?  Thematically, there is a strong undercurrent highlighting friendship in light of differences:

We’re not alike, but that’s all right—
Our differences are fun!

And a few pages later:

You’re not like me, but I still see
My best friend in the world.

But, that’s a solid message for a little book even if it does feel forced on some pages. Last I checked, my little is not a literary critic! I do appreciate that this book says nothing of “good night.” So many of our board books do. This is a serviceable addition to your library if you like to encourage reading throughout the day, not just at bedtime, like we do.

The cover gives an accurate flavor of the full-page illustrations throughout. Not the most creative illustration work, but the muted style is also a welcome change amidst the world of eye-popping, sensory-over-stimulating colors of so many other books and toys. It’s also worth mentioning that this book, in my mind, and all the “God Bless” series of board books, are very well constructed. (4 of 5 stars)

Buy God Bless My Friends on Amazon
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

14Aug

Review: Celebrate Recovery Daily Devotional

Celebrate Recovery Daily Devotional (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 384 pages.

Sometimes, we all need a little encouragement to start the day. Especially when we’re on a journey toward healing from “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” And, truthfully, aren’t we all on that journey? Though this daily devotional is geared for participants in a Celebrate Recovery program, anybody will find encouragement in its pages throughout the year.

Each of the devotionals are just that: words of encouragement to continue on your path of healing from whatever addiction, anxiety, or abandonment you face. Each day is light, accessible, and a good reminder that in Christ you’re not on this journey alone (with a few written reminders to also journey with friends, family, or other supporters along the way). There’s a daily Bible verse to start and a suggested prayer to finish each reading.

On a brief aesthetic note, what I love about this volume is offset by what I don’t. It’s a beautifully bound hardcover, printed with luxurious paper inside. Unfortunately, Zondervan opted for a color combo that I find more than a minor annoyance. The blue font with orange highlights is flat out difficult to read. Zondervan needs to eliminate this trend from their books. (4 of 5 stars)

Update: I’m revising my original rating of 3 to 4. I was really harsh about the whole blue font thing. Content-wise, I’d say 4.5 as far as the devotionals go, but since I can’t rate a 4.5, I’ll drop half a star for the font issue.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1Jul

Review: NIrV Kids’ Quest Study Bible

NIrV Kids’ Quest Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2016), 1632 pages.

I seem to be on a never-ending “quest” for a solid children’s Bible, not just for my own daughter as she grows up, but also for the church I pastor to give to our young learners. No doubt, publishing companies are on the same quest judging from the shear selection variety on the market. Many of them suffer from poor (and potential racist) representations of Jesus in silly illustrations that shouldn’t pass the editor’s desk in the 21st century. Thankfully, this one does not (but it doesn’t really have images of scenes from the Bible, just little cartoon-like pictures to help illustrate the more than 500 “kids question” that are the selling point of this particular kids study Bible). The questions themselves are standard and meet, but don’t beat, expectations. The NIrV translation is understandable for the young reader. The feature I love about this Bible is fewer and farther in between: Quest Challenges. The Quest Challenges are a neat featurette that leads the child first in wonder, then with a real life challenge, and then with a “quest clue” pointing the child to passages of scripture for further exploration—and not just proof-texting, but inviting the child to explore entire chapters of scripture to listen for what God is saying. On a brief aesthetic note, I find the blue font of the text with orange for headings to be an eyesore. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (3 of 5 stars)


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

6Apr

My Prayer with Miriam

Something I’ve been praying lately, a prayer with Miriam:

Father, grow
our bodies strong,
our minds smart,
our hearts soft,
our faith sincere
in the One who saves.
Amen.

5Mar

“ Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true. ”

- A. W. Tozer -
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