Book Review: “Unwrapping the Names of Jesus” by Asheritah Ciuciu

Advent pic

Looking for a book to deepen and enrich your Advent experience? You need to check this one out!

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus (2017) is written by Asheritah Ciuciu and is published by Moody Publishers. Ciuciu is an author, speaker, and blogger. She runs a website to encourage, equip, and resource followers of Jesus at Her other books include: Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction, Quiet Time for Busy Women, and Walking with God.

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is meant to be a personal daily devotional or one that can be used by a whole family to go through together. The book begins with an excellent brief explanation of what Advent is and why observing it can be such a powerful time of spiritual growth.

The book is divided into the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, and the themes are: Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love. Each week begins with what is called an “Advent Celebration” (there is also one for Christmas Day). This is essentially a guide for a personal experience or a family / small group gathering where prayers are said, scripture is read, questions are discussed, and a Christmas song in sung. Think an intimate “church gathering” in your home. [Supplemental materials for these celebration experiences can be found at]

Then after the “Advent Celebration”, there are five daily readings, each with a scripture, a challenge, a prayer, and additional scriptures for further study. The readings are excellent, not shallow or fluffy, and the challenges are outstanding. The challenges push you to not just simply read about who God is or what it means to follow Jesus, but to then have that move from your head to your heart and ultimately to how you live out your faith.

Finally at the end of each week there are a number of suggested activities to live out the theme of the week with concrete action. These activities are ones that can be done solo or with a whole family or group of friends. These suggestions are thoughtful, fun, practical, Christmas themed, and easily done in the community you live in. [Bonus content and additional resources for these activities can be found at]

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is a beautiful book, both physically and in its content. The readings are rich, the call to action is strong and practical, and without question it will add to your Advent experience.


Book Review: “When God Made You” by Matthew Paul Turner

When God Made You

As a pastor and a father of a young daughter, I deeply care about the books she “reads” (she’s only 2½) and has read to her, especially the books that speak of God. I want my daughter to have an understanding of God that reflects the beauty, love, wonder, passion, and creativity we see of God in scripture. I also want her to see herself and her neighbor in compassionate and grace filled ways, as seen in how Jesus loved and called us to love.

So it matters to me what books will fill her bookshelves and be found on her nightstand. If I’m being honest I approach most Christian children’s books with an expectation that they are going to be just awful. The thing that bothers me the most about many of the Christian children’s books I have seen is the poor theology they contain and the dumbing down of the message of the Bible.

When I received this book, When God Made You to review, the gloves were off. I was ready to mercilessly pick it apart and tell you why you should never read it to your children. But instead, after reading it I couldn’t wait to read this with my daughter and I hope it becomes one of her all time favorites!

When God Made You is written by Matthew Paul Turner who has written numerous books, including: Hear No Evil, Churched, and The Coffeehouse Gospel and is illustrated by David Catrow who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books.

This book is beautiful in every way. The writing is poetic, the theology is rich, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Visually this book is stunning and unlike any other children’s book I have seen. My daughter couldn’t take her eyes off the pages as we read the story together.

The main theme of the book is celebrating and holding onto the fact that we are all uniquely created by God and we are to live and create and love in the fulness of our God ordained uniqueness. Turner writes in a way that inspires. Not only does my daughter love the story but as an adult I was taken aback by the depth of the writing. This is a book that young ones will enjoy and even as my daughter gets older I want to continue to unpack more of the beauty found in these pages.

I so badly want to quote the entire book for you, but since that breaks way too many copyright laws, here are a few of my favorite lines:

‘Cause when God made you, this much is true, the world got to meet who God already knew.

Discover. Explore! Have faith but love more.

‘Cause when God made you and the world oohed and aahed, in heaven they called you an image of God.

A you who views others as sisters and brothers and lives by three words: love one another.

Buy this book for your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, your grandson or granddaughter, your neighbors kids, or your friends who just had a baby. When God Made You is a rare find in Christian children’s literature. It’s a perfect combination of excellent writing, really sound theology, and unbelievable artwork.

To see a trailer on the When God Made You, click HERE.

To see a great video of the author Matthew Paul Turner talk about the inspiration of When God Made You, click HERE.

To visit the authors personal website, click HERE.

* Publisher recommended age range for this book is 3-10 years old. 

** I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: “Show Me the Way” by Henri Nouwen (Lent Series: Part 1/3)

Show Me the Way

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 1 of 3

Show Me The Way (1992) is a book of daily Lenten readings based on the writing’s of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Nouwen was a priest, a professor, and an author of numerous books including the well known: The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Each of the daily readings begins with a few verses of scripture, then a selection of Nouwen’s writings, and closes with a prayer. Unlike the other two books I read during Lent, Show Me the Way is not focused on describing ancient culture in great detail and unpacking difficult theological ideas, but rather the focus of the book is on heart transformation. With Nouwen’s writing being as beautiful and honest as it is, he is a master at writing for spiritual formation.

Throughout the daily readings Nouwen touches on a number of different subjects with subtle power, beauty, depth, and compassion:

loving our neighbor:

  • It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible. (p. 22-23)

what the reality of God means for us:

  • …as soon as I say “God exists,” my existence no longer can remain in the center, because the essence of the knowledge of God reveals my own existence as deriving its total being from his. (p. 31)

finding our identity in our Creator:

  • By accepting our identities from the one who is the giver of all life, we can be with each other without distance or fear. (p. 44)

incarnational compassion:

  • Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human… (p. 44)

I highly recommend Show Me The Way to anyone looking for a book of daily Lenten readings. I found myself almost every day being blown away by the power of Nouwen’s words. This book is a deep dive into reflecting on the condition of your heart and how that translates into how we live in our world. To quote Nouwen again: “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it” (p. 109).

Reading Show Me The Way through Lent was such a meaningful experience and it will certainly be a part of my annual Lenten experience moving forward.


Book Review: “How To Be Rich” by Andy Stanley


How To Be Rich is a book based on a sermon series by Andy Stanley, the founder and pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta Georgia.

The book is quite short, only 135 pages (not including the dvd study guide), and is a very quick read. That being said, even though the book is not all that long, it is full of challenging and inspiring truth.

When I first saw the title of the book I was a little put off and surprised that Stanley would write a book about bettering yourself financially, but thankfully this is not a book about God “blessing” us with more money. The book is based on the passage 1 Timothy 6:18 which says: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” The premise is that chances are if you are living in North America you are already rich (from a global perspective), so it’s not about becoming rich financially, but rather honoring God with the wealth we already have, being rich in good deeds and generosity.

Here are a few great quotes from the book:

“We possess more than most people around the world and throughout history could ever dream about. We have everything we need. But we lose sight of what we need it for” (p. 67).

“…it takes initiative to become and remain aware of what other people don’t have but should have” (p. 102).

“Even if you give 10 percent faithfully, it doesn’t mean you’ll come away with the right perspective about the other 90 percent” (p. 114).

I would highly recommend this book. I found How To Be Rich to be a challenging read as I consider all that I have (on loan from God), and what I do with (manage) what is His. This is the kind of book we as Christians don’t want to read because it makes us feel uncomfortable, but we absolutely should read it. This would be a great book for a whole church to read, a small group study, a Christian finance class, pre-marital counseling material, supplemental material for a discipleship group, or simply for personal study.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review 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.

Book Review: “Growing Up” by Robby Gallaty

Growing Up

In the last few months I have read a number of books on the subject of discipleship, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples by Robby Gallaty is the most recent book I have read.

Gallaty is the senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga TN and is the president of Replicate Ministries.

Growing Up begins with a challenging foreword from David Platt who discipled Gallaty. The book is written in a very readable way making it accessible to everyone, while at the same time the message of the book is not compromised and it maintains the weight of the conviction that disciples are to be making disciples.

In the introduction Gallaty says: “I’ve come to realize that when people don’t know what to do, they don’t do anything” (p. xx). This is a sad but very accurate statement regarding so much of the Church today and the lack of understanding of what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus. This book is going to be an outstanding resource for the Church for years to come, in helping remedy this lack of understanding so many Christians have when it comes to discipleship.

Gallaty strongly encourages discipleship groups of 3-5 people (meeting for 12-18 months) as the optimal environment for making disciples and does a great job in describing what these kinds of groups should look like both functionally and scripturally. Authors like Greg Ogden (Transforming Discipleship) also encourage these kinds groups for effective discipleship to happen in.

Three chapters that really stood out to me were:

  • Chapter Six – an incredibly strong chapter on the importance of reading scripture. Gallaty stresses the necessity of God’s Word in a Christian’s life and then unpacks how we go about reading, understanding, and applying it.
  • Chapter Seven – is a great chapter on moving beyond simply believing in Jesus, to being a follower of Jesus.
  • Chapter Eight – is a convicting chapter on the importance and value of memorizing scripture. This is paramount in the life of a Christian and yet it is rarely encouraged in the church today.

Another feature of the book is that it goes beyond just being a one time read, to being a book that can be used for future study, small groups, and discipleship groups. Each chapter has “Questions to Consider” (which are excellent), and the back of the book is loaded with numerous resources including: Disciple-Making Covenant, Spiritual Journey Inventory, Accountability Questions, and much more.

Growing Up is an excellent addition to the conversation on discipleship for both long time followers of Jesus and brand new Christians. It’s not a call to a new program or a new movement in the Church, it’s a call to remember and live out the mission Jesus Himself gave us when He said “go and make disciples of all nations”.

Here are a few quotes from the book that stood out to me:

“Many Christians are birthed into the family of God and then abandoned. Nobody personally assumes the responsibility of helping them develop and grow. Nobody teaches them the basics of the Christian life, disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, Scripture memory, meditation, sharing one’s faith, or showing the love of Christ to others” (p. 25).

“Every believer should be able to answer two questions. Who am I discipling? And who is discipling me? Every church should be able to answer two questions. Do we have a plan for making disciples? And is it working?” (p. 31).

“You cannot be a true disciple of Christ apart from His Word. You cannot grow as a Christian without the Bible” (p. 86).

“The problem is not with the Architect of the church, nor is it with His plan. The problem lies with leaders of His movement – namely, pastors – and their lack of emphasis on discipleship” (p. 100).