Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: 40 Days Without Food

Russ Masterson heard a call on his life and answered it; the result is this delightful account of his 40 days without food. As he states in the introduction, “I once went 40 days without food. Toward the end of each day I wrote some thoughts in a journal. Six years later I read those pages and found a story of divine goodness to a starving child”.
Not knowing what to do next is a tough place to be, and when you try to figure out the next step and keep hearing that still small voice saying “fast for 40 days” you have to wonder what’s going on. But Masterson figured that he might as well try since the answers weren’t coming from anywhere else. Of course he built in escape clauses and gave himself a way out if he needed it.
And then the fun begins. How do you let people know what you’re doing and then deal with their reactions? What about the bad breath and the mixed up emotions? When will there be enough hours to sleep and how can it be this cold when the temperature is so high.
And throughout are the theological discussions with ‘Mac’ which seem to put things into perspective.
Masterson’s experience closely paralleled my own, which is probably why I so enjoyed the book. Days of thinking I’ll never make it unless I can take a pill and sleep for the next 40-39-38 days, especially if I have to smell anymore of those delicious smells coming from nearby kitchens. Thinking that I’ll never make it unless God starts talking to me, after all look at what I’m doing, and then realizing that this isn’t a bargaining chip and that God is right there, waiting for the committee in my head to shut up so that I can hear what God is saying.
As he struggles with life on life’s terms he learns important lessons, like “I’m not God, and there are some questions that I can’t answer” and lessons about solitude and forgiveness, and especially about love. Oh and there’s also an important lesson about 150# and God's sense of humor.
I rank it 5/5. As an added bonus there is an appendix which offers some practical tips about fasting.
I received an electronic galley free in exchange for a review of this book.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: A Place Called Blessing

About 15 years ago I heard Dr Trent speak about “The Blessing” at a conference. I bought the book that day and have referred to it over the years for use in ministry. I also bought the other book that is mentioned here (“I’d Choose You”) and it was a favorite bedtime book for my son for a long time. “A Place Called Blessing” is based on the principles of the Old Testament blessing as described in “The Blessing”: meaningful touch; a spoken message; attaching high value; picturing a special future; and an active commitment.
“A Place Called Blessing” tells the story of a child named Josh as he grows to manhood. It’s not a pretty childhood, his parents die in a car crash and he and his brothers are put in a series of foster homes; josh quickly learns that many people can’t be trusted. Eventually he ends up in a children’s home, but when he turns 18 he’s on his own. Josh of one of those people that is willing to do whatever it takes, he wants to work for what he gets, and finds it hard to accept things from other people. It’s hard for him to accept dinner, much less friendship of love. But the story progresses and we notice a remarkable change in Josh as he allows himself to be loved and even to love.
The elements of the blessing are almost as subtle as subliminal messaging. If I hadn’t known I was looking for them, I doubt that I would have seen them, but Dr Trent does a good job in the ‘special message’ at the end of the book as well as through the study guide that is included, in showing just how each of the elements appears in the story.
Have a box of tissues nearby, and don’t plan on putting this book down until you’ve finished it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: 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. 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."
I give it a 5/5

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

book review: Every Man's battle

When I requested this book I didn’t notice the part of the title that said this is a companion guide for personal or group study. Although the book might be used as stand-alone material with the reader adapting as necessary to not having read the book, it didn’t work that well for me.
The authors address an important question --how to stay on the path of sexual purity – while being bombarded from every direction with impediments to staying on the path.
The first 50+ pages give the reader a good introduction and overview of the problem and the reasons why men should be focused viewing sex as God intended it. As the authors point out it’s difficult to maintain a biblical viewpoint with the access of internet pornography, movies that 20 years ago would have been rated “R” but are now rated PG-13, and the use of sex in print ads…all to sell something.
One thing that particularly stood out was that thanks to the prevalence of pornographic or sexually stimulating materials so readily available, men are becoming more inwardly focused: even within the confines of marriage, sex often becomes more about intensity than about intimacy.
As the authors point out, if single men don’t fight and win this battle, they get married and it quickly becomes the married man’s battle.
There are some excellent tips in this book for single and married men.
I can’t give this book the high score that it probably deserves because it came as a stand-alone and it seems that it really needs to be used in conjunction with another book.
“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review”.

Our hotdogs church

First day of summer, the temperature finally matched the season, and it was time for PRAYZE. Funny, last month we thought maybe we should have moved the grill in order to be in the sun, but last night we needed to keep it in the shade. How things change!

If you aren't familiar with our PRAYZE, it's a different kind of worship, sometimes we sit in a classroom and study a passage, along with singing some praise songs, or even a hymn, but during the summer we like to move outside, bring out the grill and 'be church'. Who ever shows up is there,there might be music (last night Karen brought her guitar, so we had some singing) but the only sermon preached is done with actions not words, it's the one that we live.

Jess told me that he went through 20 packages of hot dogs last night -that would have been a lot of hotdogs for the 15 or so that were there from the church, but we like to share. So we offer hotdogs to anyone going by.

One man told us that we were God's way of providing him a miracle. He's homeless and was hungry, wondering where he could find something to eat when Lynn and Sharon invited him to come over for a hotdog.

Kids are always hungry, so they're happy, and some of the adults that showed up may not have had a meal yesterday either. Other people just stopped to visit, to listen to the music, and to enjoy the fellowship.

I shudder to think that the way to a person's soul is through a hotdog, but we plant seeds, we share God's love, we invite people to fellowship with us on Sunday morning, and we remind people that we're there, that our church body is a part of the community and that we exist to share the Gospel.

Now if we could just figure out why hotdogs come in packages of 8 and the buns come in packages of 10.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Historicity in Action

I wish I had had this resource when I was growing up. Focus on the Family has come out with a great way to teach people why the Bible can be believed and trusted. “Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case” goes far beyond the basics that used to be all the justification that we needed - the Bible is God's Word. Maybe you’ve heard someone say “the Bible says it, I believe it, that’s good enough for me”.
The problem is that in the multi-cultural context in which we live, many people don’t believe that they can use the bible’s claims to be divinely inspired as proof that it is. In this two DVD set, Dr Stephen Meyer takes us through a series of lessons, starting with Abraham and the Patriarchs, passing through the Davidic monarchy, and ending with the trial of Jesus. in each session he shows us what the bible says, and then uses extra-biblical material that corroborates the scripture: historical records about people and places mentioned in the bible, archeological finds, even styles of writing in use during different periods.
Meyer talks about different world views, and how they do or don’t fit the historical evidence. In this country, the mind set for many years was predominantly Christian, most of us were willing to accept the idea that if the gospel writers said that Jesus quoted something from the Psalms or one of the books of the Torah, that was evidence of the reliability of the bible. It corroborated itself. People who didn’t grow up with that mindset need a little more evidence and this series lays it out.
Meyer also gives some great advice as he tells the students that they are liable to meet people who will challenge their belief in God, Jesus, and the Bible, and they should try to understand where those people are coming from, and now they have information which will help them defend their faith.
This DVD-study guide set is advertised as being for college students, and some of the non-lecture materials are geared toward that age group, but my son, a junior high school student, watched with me and was able to grasp the concepts and interact with the ideas presented. I think that it would also work for an adult Sunday school or small group.
5 of 5 stars, and I want to look at other materials from TRUE-U
Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this material for review purposes.

quotes from the Rogue - a review

I ordered “The Quotable Rogue –the Ideals of Sarah Palin in Her Own Words” without really knowing what to expect. I read it and still don’t know what to expect. Editor Matt Lewis has compiled a number of statements or quotes from Governor Palin that show her to be an articulate and knowledgeable woman. And I ‘m sure that’s the case; however, I was left with the vague sense that these quotes were taken as much out of context as were all the ‘Palin-bashing’ quotes that many of us grew so tired of during the last presidential campaign, and that continue today every time the much maligned Governor and former Vice presidential nominee makes a statement or appears at an event.

This is a collection of quotable statements, excerpts from interviews and media releases, loosely organized by categories such as “On the Real America”, “On Living in Alaska”, “on Civil Rights”, and “On Being Sarah”. A careful study might give the reader some insight into what Mrs. Palin thinks, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the book doesn’t lend itself to careful study.

If you’re a big Palin fan, and are looking for something to counteract the charges that she’s all fluff, there are some quotes that might do that for you, but as much as I wanted to be able to get to know Sarah Palin as a political figure to be contended with, I couldn’t find it in this book. Some great quotes that we’ve heard before are repeated here in context, quotes about ‘that hopey-changey thing’, loving a zamboni, but troopers’ cars need to be a higher priority’, or ‘referring to her opponent in the last election, ‘going rogaine’, and some that might not have gotten quite as much press are included also.

This book is like a plate covered with parsley and other garnish, but without enough meat in the moose stew.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Pair of Prodigals

Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan, in their autobiographical book “Out of a Far Country” have written an intriguing retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son. When it came time to choose a book to review, this seemed to be the best of a rather mediocre lot, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The personages in the book don’t ‘read’ as well as fictional characters might, but there was something in the stories that managed to keep my attention. Although in this case it’s drugs and a gay lifestyle that separated Christopher and his mother, the story is universal and timeless: as children many of us want to be our own person, and so we insist on doing even those things that we know will hurt our parents hearts – not to mention the heart of God. And as parents we want the best for our children and often have a difficult time dealing with their decisions. And God has to deal with all of His children and our sometimes less than wonderful choices.

Although Angela frequently mentioned her Chinese background and culture as being important in some of her decisions, there wasn’t enough of the culture shared for me to really see how it must have impacted her. Likewise she frequently mentioned the marital difficulties that she experienced but at times it seemed that she threw that in as an excuse for her decisions. Just a little more insight might have made it easier to understand some of her thought processes.

Christopher on the other hand seems to have developed a knack for writing; he provides enough explanation so that the reader can understand the environment in which he found himself - without bogging us down with details that would make most of us uncomfortable.

I’ve known people who lived the roller coaster ride of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’ and wish I could say that their lives were such an awesome display of God's grace as was that of Christopher Yuan. The story of the preparing, the God-moments, the total brokenness that was required for both Christopher and Angela to be pulled into God's loving arms where they could experience the redemption that God desires for each of us make this worth the read, regardless what you might think of the literary style or even some of the subject matter.

And the truth is that just like the father and son in Luke 15, just like Angela Yuan and her son Christopher, we’re all prodigals, traveling our own journey away from and back to God. And I join Angela in praying that your ‘sentence’ will be not too short, not too long, but just the right length for you to be able to come to fully experience the love of God.

4.5 out of 5 stars

“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review”.

Why do we strive for 'good behavior'?

I picked up the current issue of "Our Daily Bread" this morning, and today's (June 8, 2011) devotional was based on Revelation 2:1-7. I recently referred to that passage for a paper I was writing, so  was interested to see what was being said about it. Joe Stowell writes: "Good behavior should always be an act of worship. Resisting temptation, forgiving, serving, and loving each other are all opportuninties to tangibly express our love for Jesus -- not to get a star next to our name or a pat on the back".

The passage from John's Revelation is directed to the Church at Ephesus, and in it Jesus chastizes the local congregation for leaving their first love behind. "You have forsaken your first love" "repent and do the things you did at first". (Rev 2 4-5, NIV) 

We see it all the time, not just at church, but at our various jobs, our relationships, in school, even in play. Did you ever buy an expensive 'have to have' piece of sports equipment or video game, and after about a week not have time for it any more? 

We start something new and we're way excited,  but it quickly becomes old, and we tire of the ridicule, or other things take precedence in our lives. New believers are often on fire for the Lord, but as time goes by they frequently seem to run out of stream.  They don't have the time to do the things that they were doing, it's not that they're doing anything wrong, they're just not doing as much of the right stuff or they're doing the right stuff but not dfor the right reasons. As Stowell points out, our good behavior should be an act of worship, an act of telling Jesus how much we love Him.

Stowell refers to the star next to our name, or a pat on the back. I put it a little differently: we don't do ABC or XYZ to earn Jesus' love, to earn God's love, to earn our salvation, but rather because of it! The church at Ephesus might have stopped doing the things they had been doing, or maybe they kept doing some of them, but for the wrong reasons.

People go to church to show off new cars and clothes, but forget to worship while they're there. They help widows and orphans and feed the hungry because it's a tax write-off. Their prayers are a way to let God know what a good job they're doing, and practicing the spiritual disciplines is more about letting others know how 'holy' they are.  It's easy to forsake the first love.

I have to ask myself if I'm doing 'stuff' for the gold star or as an act of worship. My whole life should be an act of worship, sadly though, it doesn't always turn out that way.

As Joe Stowell puts it, "When was the last time you did something "good" out of love for Jesus?

Think about it

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

review of Ian Morgan Cron's "Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

What can I say? I liked the book “Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me”. Ian Morgan Cron writes in a delightfully engaging style, which invites the reader to come into his world, to share his pain, and more importantly, to share in the grace he experienced which allowed him to overcome the demons of his childhood and young adult years.

Billed as ‘a memoir…of sorts’, Cron describes a childhood and adolescence of trying to please a father who couldn’t be pleased. Along the way he describes the terrors of life with an alcoholic parent, his own descent into alcoholism, hitting his bottom, and, thanks to the grace of God, his road to recovery. As he writes about his parents, his Nanny, his wife and children, life on two continents, adolescent angst, disillusionment and joys, things seem so real that at times I thought I must be reading a book of non-fiction. This is the gut-wrenching stuff of life, which usually comes across as sounding false when we try to accurately describe it.

Learn about the difference in jumping and falling, a deliberate descent versus spiraling downward, totally out of control. Be reminded that sometimes it’s not about you (page 212). Learn about God as the grace of glue that mends us (page 248) and be reminded that no one should eat alone (also on 248)

This book is so readable on so many levels: are you struggling with the idea of a loving God? Read this book. Read this book if your family has been torn apart by alcoholism, or if your alcoholism is tearing your family apart. Read this book if your life seems to be a roller coaster ride that the attendant won’t let you get off of. And you can even read this book if you’re just looking for a feel good story with which to curl up by the fireplace.

Warning: (tongue in cheek) One of the great things about this book is that Christian writers endorse it, and you won’t find any gratuitous sex, profanity or violence. Cron is also the author of “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale”. My prayer is that he has more books waiting to be written

Disclosure of Material Connection: 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”