Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: Reggie: You Can't Change Your Past, but You Can Change Your Future

Reggie: You Can’t Change Your Past, but You Can Change Your Future

I’ve heard Reggie Dabbs speak at several large events and was so wishing that his speaking style would transfer to the written page. That didn’t quite happen but “Reggie: You Can’t Change your Past, but You Can Change Your Future” is still an engaging book that I would recommend to a wide variety of readers.

As a parent this is the book I want my son to read; as a pastor I would love for the congregation I serve to hear this message, as a follower of Christ, I want others to know that they don’t have to let their past define them; what is ultimately important is their identity in Christ Jesus.

Using lots of stories, expanded on with biblical principles, Reggie tells us what it was like to find out that he was adopted into the Dabbs family, and the circumstances surrounding that situation, he talks about growing up, and unconditional love. Then he takes it to the next level as he talks about another adoption: his adoption into the family of God.

I particularly liked the reflection questions at the end of each chapter. They seem like they would serve equally well for individuals or for a small group.

All of us have a past, and Reggie Dabbs shows that it’s possible to overcome that past, and when you overcome it with the help of Jesus, anything is possible. This book just makes you feel good on a lot of different levels.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for the review.

4 out of 5

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: Radical , by David platt

David Platt starts out asking two questions that anyone who claims to be a Christian needs to ask himself: first, am I going to embrace Jesus, even though He says some pretty radical things and drives the crowds away? And then, an even tougher one: am I going to obey Jesus, even when He gets radical?

And that sets the tone for the rest of “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream”. Platt goes on to say that his biggest fear is to be like the majority of the original followers: hear something radical, decide it’s too costly, and walk away.

So by the bottom of page 2, I was torn. I didn’t know whether I wanted to read on and see what kind of radical behavior Platt and his church would be exhibiting, and that I might be called to also, or whether I wanted to delete the book from my Kindle and find something safer to read. And basically those are the two reactions to the radical behavior of Jesus. Get radical yourself, embrace Him and obey Him, or count the cost too high, turn and walk away, find something safe. There really isn't any in-between.

Platt decided on radical, and along the way something strange starts happening. He and others learn more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be a Christian, what it means to follow the Great Commission. And as radical as things seem, it works.

This is not a book that’s easy to like; oh sure on the one hand it sounds good, and isn’t it nice that all those nice church people are acting all churchy? But on the other hand, it doesn’t take long to see that Platt isn’t just saying that this is a fun way to spend a couple of weeks or months doing another program, but rather that he’s inviting us to make a lifestyle change. A change that requires us to be radical enough to listen to Jesus call on our lives, and to be willing to obey, even when it costs us, even when it seems crazy, even when it makes us question our sanity.

Platt has figured out that the American Dream of the house, white picket fence, 2.3 kids and a dog might look good in the movies, but when it comes to building God's Kingdom, that dream gets in the way.

Consider carefully whether you want to read this book. It will challenge you in ways that you’ve probably never imagined.

I dare you to get Radical when it letting Jesus truly be Lord and Savior in your life.

I purchased this book and was not paid for the review.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: "Awakening", by Stovall Weems

I’m a proponent of fasting, so for the most part I enjoyed this book. I’m afraid for the people that might think that all their problems might be solved in 21 days if they just change the way they eat. However this would be more their problem than a problem with the book other than the fact that disclaimers don’t jump out and smack you in the face.

There are a lot of great programs out there and usually I’m more tempted to try them if the author/pastor/futurist/president/CEO makes a point of saying that this worked for them, but in your context and culture some tweaks may be needed. But as Craig Groeschel writes in the foreward, “Stovall is a bit weird – in the best sort of way”, and “normal is not working very well.” So let’s go with weird, get away from normal, and see what happens for the glory of God.

Weems presents a lot of good information about fasting, and about the importance of prayer and fasting, along with some testimonials that call for tissues as you rejoice with the people who really had their awakening as a result of Celebration’s 21 days of prayer and fasting. Most of it doesn’t seem like anything new, but he doesn’t claim that it is. What I am really looking forward to trying, either alone or with some people from the church where I worship, is the material at the end of the book: guidelines for your own ‘21 days’.

There is also a website for additional resources and to get involved with Celebration Church when they fast next January.

Biggest take away for me is the reminder that this is not a diet, it’s a call to get closer to God, and Weems provides encouragement and tools for a 21 day Awakening experience to become a way of life.

I received this book free from the publisher for agreeing to review it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

win a book from Tyndale

Tyndale House publishers has a promotion going where you can win a book. this is from the e-mail I received:
In honor of Tyndale launching its new book club enewsletter we’re running a 30 day giveaway on our website. The Book Club Hub Newsletter will be an email newsletter geared towards people who are in or are running book clubs. It will feature suggestions, discussion guides and great ideas for your book clubs. You can see a preview by clicking here.

Great books available, and sounds like a great resource for your book club

Is that really what it's all about?

Put your right foot in, put your right foot out…do the hokey- pokey, turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!

REALLY? That’s all? That’s what it’s all about?

Unfortunately for a lot of people, the things that should matter in life don’t have any more significance that does than trying to figure out where to put your right foot, or your left foot, or your backside or your head.

Granted there is some benefit to knowing where you’re going next, and having instructions is helpful, especially if we’re willing to follow them, but to give major importance to minor things, even in a song sung mostly by children and partiers seems a bit over the top.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying: it’s important to pay attention to the details, and being off by just a little can cause major problems down the road, but sometimes it seems like we’ve dummied down to the point where the purpose of life is reduced to nothing more than mindless repetitions. And we know it’s more than that.

At least the ‘hokey pokey’ gets us progressively more involved until we put our right or left side in and out, and finally our whole self. Too bad the message is in, out, shake, turn, and consider it good. Why not get in, stay to the end, and make a commitment to something that matters.

Right foot, left foot, backside…is that what it’s all about?

What matters to you? What’s it really all about?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book review: The Sacred Journey

Book review: The Sacred Journey

In a strange sort of way this book reminds me of me. I’m a wanderer, although as I get older, it sometimes seems strange to say that. It’s getting harder to get around; more ‘stuff’ seems too important to not take along, and the thought of sleeping on the ground makes my back scream out in agony. But as I read this book, I wanted to pack a (very small) bag and set out with old and blistered feet and new and tired eyes.

Since this is part of the Ancient Practices series, I was a little surprised to read that it wasn’t a ‘Christian book’, in the sense that the author draws from the wisdom of many religions. And that certainly increases the appeal: pilgrims aren’t limited to being Christian, and it’s a wise man that learns from others, even if they don’t always dance to the same drummer. Besides, Jesus didn’t start out as a Christian: He was born a Jew. And when Abraham started his wandering, Judaism wasn’t known yet.

And as Foster points out, God seems to have been very much in a pilgrim mode as He led His people from place to place, ‘living’ in a tent for generations before allowing the temple to be built for Him.

I was actually hooked by the ‘test’ offered in the prologue. As I evaluated my answers and the reasons for answering the way I did, I found myself looking forward to seeing the answers revealed in the following pages.

This is one of those books that I found difficult to put down, but at the same time, it was difficult to keep reading. I wanted to read more of what Foster had to say, but I wanted to stop and savor every morsel of the delicious meal that he had offered up to the company of pilgrims wandering with him on the Sacred Journey.

Bottom line: I like the Ancient Practices series, and this book is my favorite from the series. (4.5 out of 5)

This Book was provided free by the publisher, with the expectation that I would write an unbiased review.

book review: The Blessing of Adversity

Book review: The Blessing of Adversity.

This is not a book that I would have bought, and if there had been other choices, I might not have even gotten this one. And frankly it just about met my expectations.

I could relate to some of the things that Admiral Black wrote about. I was that kid that got picked last, I’ve not always done my homework and someone else had to point some things out to me. I’ve had bosses that didn’t like me. And I survived. Maybe not to the point that Admiral Black did, but…

We learn that the family was poor, that the author lost his mother and in the process got angry at God. And he got over that anger – lots of people do.

I think that if this book were to be reformatted, edited and sold as a daily devotional it might do well, but in its current format, it seems to be in an in between zone: almost devotional/meditation book -almost memoir- almost textbook; but it doesn’t quite measure up to any of them.

There are some poignant moments, and as a hospice chaplain and pastor, I certainly understand some of the points that Admiral Black was making, and some of the lessons learned, but while I was reading it, it seemed like I was hearing a series of sermons from a first semester seminary student. Make a point then find several scripture references to back it up; another point and several more scriptures.

By pushing, I can rate it a 3 out of 5.

I received this book free from Tyndale House in exchange for the review.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Raising the Bar on Radical

Raising the Bar on Radical

Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God is the follow up to David Platt’s recent book Radical: Taking back Your Faith from the American Dream. I received this pre release review copy which doesn’t include the study guide that will be included when the book releases next month (April 2011).

Platt sets out to challenge the Church, and especially the local church, to become all that Jesus had in mind for His church. It’s not about mega churches, multi-sites and the best worship team; it’s about reaching the world for Christ: being the hands, feet and heart of Christ throughout the world.

He challenges assumptions, and gives practical examples and in doing so asks the members of the local church to consider whether the good that is being done is really what Jesus would do. As I read I kept thinking of examples of the good being the enemy of the best, and wondering what the world would look like if every Christian church now in existence would dare to be as radical as ‘The Church At Brook Hills’. They’ve eliminated much of the 'good' to have resources to do the best. Adoptions, short term and long term missions, church plants and discipling all seem to be skyrocketing, and not because of programs but because the church looked at where it was heading and dared to ask if those plans were really going to help them fulfill the great commission.

As ‘The Church At Brook Hills’ re-evaluated what they had done and what they were planning on doing, they decided to get Radical, and do as Jesus had commanded: start here in Jerusalem and go to the ends of the earth, baptizing, teaching and making disciples. They started in Birmingham and are reaching out to their Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

‘The Church At Brook Hills’ is not my church and it’s not your church. The specifics things that worked for Dr Platt and the congregation that he serves may not work for me or for you. But the principles are the same, and maybe it’s time to evaluate what we’re doing and how we’re serving Christ in our local churches. Is it the best we can do, or are we just settling for 'really good'?

My prayer is that every local church in the world would dare to get ‘Radical Together’ so that every existing people group would come to know the gospel message that Jesus left for us to spread.

The book releases in April and can be pre-ordered now at many on-line booksellers

I received a copy of this book free from Waterbrook/Multnomah in exchange for reviewing this book.

Stock Market Crazies

I need to get a degree in glocal economics.

The other day the various indices of the Stock Market, those confusing jumbles of letters that everyone quotes so knowingly (usually without having a clue what they mean) all dropped because the fighting in Libya was responsible for raising the price of crude oil. I was so comforted when the experts pointed out that we don't even get oil from Libya, but that at some point this type of activity may occur in those places from which we do get oil, so it makes sense to raise the prices and for the market to react.

The next day, the markets were up, because they had overreacted.

The following day the markets were down again because the price of crude oil had dropped.

Recently the markets reacted when the unemployment numbers, jobless rates and other indicators were worse than expected. The next week they dropped again when those same indicators were better than expected.

Today the markets are set to drop again after a tsunami in Japan, which ranked high on a scale of 1 to 10, but so far hasn't been responsible for as much damage or anywhere where near the number of deaths that other tsunamis and earthquakes have caused.

So in our new glocal (global/local)economy it doesn't seem to matter what happens or where it happens, it impacts us all. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes for the worse. But we can't escape the fallout.

When it comes to the economy, regardless of what continent we're on, what socio-economic status we hold, race or nationality, we're pretty much all in this together.

The glocal economy has an impact on a lot of people, but there's something that should be having a bigger impact on the world's population than the economy, a more noticeable impact than it is having: that something is the gospel.

Funny how the markets don't respons when something truly momentous occurs. The Dow doesn't fall when Christian liberties are attacked, the NASDAQ doesn't spike when someone decides to accept  Christ as Lord and Savior. 

Maybe that's becasue God is in charge, and He's just not all that interested in the stock market. He's more interested in the hearts of people around the world, than he is the size of our savings accounts.

Since the market is going to respond as it will to what ever is happening, maybe we should be making things that matter happen, forget about the treasures on earth that are subject to moths and thieves, and start storing up treasures in heaven.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Liturgical Year - a book review

The Liturgical Year: the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life by Joan Chittister

It’s Ash Wednesday as I’m reading and pondering this book, and as I prepare for one of the main events of the liturgical year, according to my own theological standpoint as well as that of Sister Joan, I appreciated some of her insights into the Lenten season. She also explains a little about the Christmas season, and that ambiguous piece of the Christian Year called “Ordinary Time”, and shows that it’s anything but ordinary in the common sense of the word.

Since we’re in the season leading up to Easter, I was a little more attentive to the parts pertaining to Ash Wednesday, and Lent. I thought that some of the comments about the fasting, meditation etc that are associated with Lent were especially insightful, especially for those whose tradition or background doesn’t emphasize this part of the church calendar.

And then there were the times when the Mysteries of the faith weren’t clarified at all, and in my non-Catholic mind, were even muddied even further.

I read, went back, and read over, even did some underlining, but had to force myself to finish the book. It’s not that it’s a bad book; just that it never really grabbed my attention. I’ve read other books in the Ancient Practices Series, and was looking for, hoping for something more.

I f this is the first of the Ancient Practices book that you’ve read, please try another one before giving up on the series.

- In accordance with FTC regulations I note that I received this book free from Thomas Nelson for the purpose of review. However, no stipulations were made on the content of said review

3/5 stars

Thursday, March 3, 2011

When freedom of speech gets ugly

Yesterday, in an overwhelming affirmation of the right to free speech, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of the small congregation of Westboro Baptist Church and their right to demonstrate at military funerals, even when their demonstration becomes hurtful and ugly.

On one hand I’m grieving for the military families who have to tolerate such obnoxious behavior. As a retired member of the USAF I would pray that every member of the armed forces would be offered a dignified and respectful funeral service, uninterrupted by outside distractions.

And I really wish that Fred Phelps would do like many other churches have done recently and remove the word ‘Baptist’ from the name of his church. I shudder to think of all the Baptist churches that are going to be assumed to be in agreement with the actions of Westboro Baptist, simply because of the common denominator of the name Baptist. (By the way, I haven’t talked to any Baptists locally who want to affiliate with Mr. Phelps.)

If the Phelps family wants to rent a hall or a park, pay for advertizing space, or enter a float in a parade as means to get across their message, they should have that right; and if the sin message that they proclaim at funerals is the topic of every Sunday’s sermon, their right to free speech should be protected, but attacking individuals as a way to get to the system seems flawed, and Justice Alito got to the question behind the question in his dissenting opinion: "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,"

I have to wonder if the Westboro Baptist community would be so interested in freedom of speech if demonstrations against individual Baptists got so ugly during a funeral for one of their family members.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

As heartily as I disagree with the method used by Westboro Baptist Church to get their message across, I’m delighted that the Court ruled in favor of a Christian church. Lately it seems that whenever anyone is offended by a Christian message, the ruling goes against the church. Get rid of those crosses along the highway in memory of fallen police officers. Don’t allow protestant chaplains to pray ‘in the name of Jesus’; should we really place all those crosses in cemeteries on Memorial Day? How dare you ask me to pledge allegiance to the flag when it includes the words ‘one nation under God’? Budget shortfalls – no problem- just take away the tax exempt status for some of those big churches. And I keep waiting for people to refuse to accept US currency and demand that the words “in God we trust” be removed. Maybe now Christians will be seen to have some of the same rights as members of other religious groups.

I served in the military as a way of protecting those ‘unalienable rights’ as described in the Declaration of Independence, and to support and defend the Constitution of the United States (including the Amendments),against all enemies foreign and domestic, so seeing the Supreme Court uphold the law of the land does wonders for me. It reminds me of why I was proud to serve, proud to wear a uniform, proud to serve my country.

It’s just difficult to understand how things get so twisted. The Military fights to protect your right to free speech, and that right to free speech allows you to verbally attack individual military members.

So thanks to the valiant efforts of US Military as they support and defend the Constitution, Mr. Phelps and his flock have the constitutional right to disrupt the funeral of members of the US Military -sounds like a classic case of biting the hand that feeds you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sometimes It's Hard To Pray

Sometimes it's hard to pray. 

But not for the reasons you might think.

We all have those moments when there’s something going on that distracts us: something that we would rather be doing; something that has to be done before the deadline; something that a spouse or child or parent needs, and no matter how hard we try to explain, it’s something that they need NOW.  

Sometimes it’s nothing going on right now or in the very near future, but the recent past: we’ve messed up big time and just don’t feel acceptable to come into the presence of the Lord. (By the way, that’s probably when we most need to be there.) And as much as God hates it when we sin, he isn’t real happy when we compound the error by telling him that we’re so bad that His grace isn’t big enough to cover us.  

But there are other times when the difficulty isn’t because we’re distracted, or we don’t feel worthy; it’s when the prayers seem counter-intuitive. It’s hard to pray when the prayer doesn’t fit with what we’re feeling.

I have a hard time praying for people that I’m angry with, or that I just don’t like. It doesn’t make sense to me to be praying for people that have hurt me or the people I love. It’s easy enough to pray that people that tend to cause me problems would find someplace else to work/live/shop/play/worship. But I want to stop there; I don’t always want to pray for them to be happy where ever they end up going.

It’s hard to pray for something that I know goes against God's will; sometimes it happens that someone asks me to pray that for them, and I have to dodge the issue.

 But it’s really hard to pray for something that even though I know is for the best is going to cause someone (or me) pain or loss. When I pray for healing I want to see healing in this world, not the healing that comes with a new body in the presence of God.

And sometimes it’s hard to pray because I know that I’ve already decided in my mind what the answer should be, so in my heart that’s what I’m praying for,  rather than turning things over to God and letting Him decide how to answer. Praying involves listening to God, too, but sometimes I forget that.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard for me to pray. 

So I’d like to know, when do you have trouble praying?