Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard J. Foster (IVP Books)
It's only appropriate a book on contemplative prayer deserves serious contemplation. Richard Foster challenges Christians to embark on a journey into meditative prayer. Personally, I didn't catch up with the tour guide until the latter third of the trip.
The first two sections of the book—"Laying the Foundations" and "Stepping into Meditative Prayer"—offer theologically rich and challenging calls for "descending with the mind into the heart" and "being present where we are." The third section, by far the most accessible, deals specifically with everyday difficulties that hinder Christians who try to listen to God. Foster diagnoses distraction as the primary spiritual ailment of our day, and he prescribes a fast from electronic gadgets for one hour a day, one day a week and one week a year. Foster also offers a helpful series of questions and answers—many that bring into focus concepts that seemed fuzzy in the early parts of the book.
Sanctuary of the Soul is a short book but not an easy read. It's worth the effort.
Ken Camp, managing editor
Christian artist Thomas Kinkade and best-selling author Katherine Spencer release holiday novels set in the mythical New England town of Cape Light. Throughout the series, characters move from prominence to mere mention, but the wise, caring Reverend Ben remains a constant.
In On Christmas Eve, nurse Lucy Bates meets Zoey when the clearly ill teen tries to skip out on her check at the Clam Box. Lucy's husband, Charlie, owns the diner, and the gruff curmudgeon wants to "throw the book" at the rude girl.
Instead, Lucy fetters out her story, takes her home, nurses her, discovers her real identity, and manages to talk the reluctant Charlie and their two sons into temporarily fostering the troubled 15-year-old. But Zoey has other ideas and a will every bit as stubborn as Charlie's.
Meanwhile, Betty Bowman, the divorced mother of a grown son, gears up for a busy Christmas season as a successful caterer. Her business partner arranges for Betty to date cardiologist Alex Becker. He's everything a woman would want, but then she meets Santa Claus. A fire destroys a local charity's food pantry and holiday toy storage facility. Betty and Santa, alias Nathan Daley who earns extra money playing the role, throw themselves into salvaging the holidays only to realize their own lives need salvaging.
In Christmas Treasures, Reverend Ben wonders if he's lost his passion as a pastor. The answer comes when he collapses in the pulpit the first Sunday of Advent. A young female minister temporarily steps in, although not without major challenges from a teen who skateboards through the historic sanctuary and some influential members who disagree with how she handles the situation. Reverend Isabel feels her call is to missions until Reverend Ben announces his retirement and she experiences God's church in action. Will Isabel decide to pastor the church permanently?
Meanwhile, Regina and Richard Rowan and their two children move to Cape Light when Regina inherits a distant relative's farmhouse. Richard has lost his engineering job, the bank has foreclosed on their home, and their savings have been depleted. The couple decides to fix up the dilapidated home, limp through the holidays, sell the property and divorce. But the good people of Cape Light and a caring congregation may have something to say about that.
Like Kinkade's light-warmed pictures, On Christmas Eve and Christmas Treasures paint beautiful word portraits of how the world changes when we let the Light of the World shine through us.
Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president
Woman's Missionary Union of Texas
Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas (Zondervan)
Spiritual formation writer Gary Thomas prompts believers to view themselves as whole people, teaching that bodies and souls are connected. Thomas believes that, in modern society, many Christians have grown soft both spiritually and physically. Laziness and excess rather than "healthy humiliation" define the life of too many believers in Christ. Disciplining the body, eating properly and exercising the body can correlate with a disciplined and healthy spirit, nourishing a longer life and generating the energy needed to serve God diligently and daily.
This isn't another dull medical tome or guilt-inducing self-help manual. Rather, it is a motivational and positive challenge encouraging Christians to reflect and act on an important topic that many do not hear delivered from the pulpits of most churches.
Linking Scripture, excerpts from the Christian classics and peoples' personal stories of inspiration, Every Body Matters is a call to change the lethargic culture of the body of Christ and to "run with endurance the race set out for us."
Greg Bowman, minister to students
First Baptist Church