Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bold as Love: launch

BOLD AS LOVE: What Can Happen when We See People the Way God Does, (Bob Roberts, Jr, Thomas Nelson, 2012) is a book that hurts to read. It hurts because at every turn, we see ourselves and our churches reflected in less than flattering ways. Not Bob Roberts’ fault; not the book’s fault. Our fault.
Jesus had this habit of telling people that they should love God, and love others. He even told stories designed to help us realize that ‘others’ really did include others. The people that we are called to love are the people that God loves, and believe it or not, like it or not, God frequently surprises us by loving people other than those that we worship with on Sunday morning.
Advances in technology means that the world as we know it is shrinking, a couple of clicks on the computer and we’re talking with someone half way around the world, someone who lives in a different culture, has different customs, and may worship someone other than the triune God of Christianity. Immigration and emigration patterns mean that our next door neighbors may speak a different language, have different color skin, and they may worship on Friday or Saturday instead of Sunday…God loves them and Jesus calls us to love them too.
Roberts takes us on a journey: a journey that allows us to live our faith daily, and as we live our faith, to share it with members of other ‘tribes’. Most of us have heard of the bible thumpers, the zealots that go out with the expressed intention of converting everyone with whom they come in contact. Roberts offers an alternative. Get to know your neighbor, learn about the differences, ‘talk with’ instead of ‘talk to’. Be a friend. Isolation and insulation are no longer options. Let’s learn to follow Jesus where Jesus goes.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher/author for agreeing to post an unbiased review.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Oliver Twist radio theater

Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater presentation gets five stars! From the very beginning I was entranced as I was drawn into the London of many years ago. I think I read the book once upon a time, but not much of it stuck with me, other than remembering that they made a movie about it, and someone sang a song about somebody wanting ‘more’. Since I didn't remember the story, every twist and turn was new to me, and kept me fascinated.
            Oliver Twist has a rather inauspicious start to life; people and circumstances seem to conspire to make things even worse. Always charming and pleasant, poor Oliver is at a loss to explain what is happening.  As his life takes turns for better and for worse, we are exposed to the rawness of the human condition (hence the recommendation of 12+ years). The human condition of 19th century England is remarkable similar to 21st century America, and then as now, we find that while negativity often gets more press, that there are still good people doing the right thing for the right reasons.
            Listening to all 5 CDs takes some time, so settle back and prepare to be entertained.  After the rest of the family has had the opportunity to listen and delight in this presentation, I plan to donate the set to my son’s High School English teacher.
            The bonus DVD provides interesting insight, and although some things have changed, when it comes to orphans, 200 years isn't enough to erase the pain.
            I received a copy of this CD/DVD set in exchange for an unbiased review.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If only Jesus really meant what WE THINK He said

Red Letter Revolution (Thomas Nelson, 2012) is a series of dialogues concerning some of the major issues facing the church in America today. Authors Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, use an interesting approach of dialoging about issues such as money, homosexuality, politics and a slew of other topics. The fact that they are dialoging isn't what draws one's attention, it's the starting point that they use to formulate their arguments. (By the way this is not a debate with one side for and the other against - Claiborne and Campolo are looking at things from the same perspective.) Their litmus test for their position on the issues is found in the Bible, specifically the Gospels as recorded in the New Testament. We ask WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) and the authors look to His teachings, specifically the words in red, to try and answer that question.

Many of us are familiar with Red Letter editions of the Bible, the editions where the words that are traditionally ascribed to Jesus are in red ink to make it easier to differentiate between what Jesus said, t(including the Old Testament scriptures from which He quoted) and the words of the disciples or the narrator. Campolo, Claiborne and others call themselves Red Letter Christians, because they try to live according to the teachings of Jesus, but they seriously miss the boat when they seem to indicate that if we just read and follow the words in red then we are doing all Jesus wants us to do.

Although I appreciate their heart for the poor and disenfranchised, I take exception to their position that the ‘red letter’ passages are all that we really need, or are somehow more important than the rest of scripture. I actually think that publishers do readers of the Bible a disservice when they print red letter editions. Our attention is automatically drawn to the red, and it is far too easy to give those passages a higher level of importance and skim over or skip completely the black letter passages, somehow relegating them to the category of ‘read if you have time’.

Having said that, I agree with the authors’ positions on some of the issues, and strongly disagree with many others. I would hesitate to give this book to a new Christian, because I think it gives the wrong impression of what it truly means to be a Christian. I know many people of other faiths, or no faith, who do a lot of the good things described in this book. Being a good person doesn't make one a Christian.

I enjoyed reading the book, because as a pastor I want to be aware of what others are teaching, even when I disagree with those teachings.  In this case I think the picture that is presented is skewed.

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.


Monday, October 29, 2012

REVIEW: Jesus a Theography

Jesus a Theography (Leonard Sweet and frank Viola, Thomas Nelson, 2012). A friend recently reminded me of a saying that I haven’t heard recently, but is still applicable: “to understand the God of the New Testament, it is necessary to understand the God of the Old Testament.” Likewise if we are to have a good understanding of Jesus the Christ, it helps to see Him foretold in the Old Testament. Viola and Sweet have done an outstanding job of making those connections that we might miss. At times I thought they were stretching just a little to make some of the connections, but for the most part they are spot on.
            Especially helpful are the times when they put the Old and New Testament (or as they call them the First and Second Testaments) texts side by side. This is not a biography, nor is it intended to be, but a commentary on the biblical signposts to Jesus. Along the way, the reader is gently nudged into the realizing that scripture is intended to be read in its entirety, and not as two separate parts.
            Reading as a Christian, I had no choice but to let scripture continue to transform me; as a pastor, I made lots of notes for future sermons and studies; and as a student, I was impressed with the detail and research that was done to be able to write this book.
            My only complaint is that the authors used end notes instead of footnotes. I find it much easier to look at the bottom of the page to check the references instead of flipping to the back of the book. Granted, many of the notes are simply indicating the particular scripture being quoted, but much of the commentary is interesting and informative and it would be a shame to miss it simply by not taking the time to refer to the end of the book.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the booksneeze review program in exchange for posting this review. I was not required to give it a favorable review. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: The Just Church

Biblically speaking, the Church, local churches, and individuals are supposed to care for the widows and orphans; and Isaiah foretold doom for those who ‘make unjust laws, issue oppressive decrees, deprive the poor of their rights, and withhold justice from the oppressed of [God's] people’.( Isaiah 10:1-2a, NIV). As we sit comfortably  in our pews on Sunday mornings, we know that the prophet wasn’t speaking about us. Or was He?  In The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-seeking, Disciple-making congregation (Tyndale Momentum, 2012) Jim Martin of International Justice Mission (IJM) asks us to look at our role in helping see that the oppressed are allowed to experience the justice that has been withheld from them. From our vantage point of the western church, most of us think about slavery, sex trafficking, oppression and violence in terms of faraway places, but as Martin points out, they might be happening in our home towns too.
This is a call to come out of our comfort zone; to see the link between discipleship ( in terms of following Jesus) and the search for justice. We are warned that this is not for the weak-hearted, and that confronting evil can be dangerous, but counting the cost of discipleship is one of the things that as Christians we are called to do.  Martin shares some of the stories that point out the need for the Church to focus on justice; he describes the work of IJM, and invites us to consider how we might participate in the mission of justice.
Who wouldn’t want to help in such a noble cause? Of course most people get fired up and either want to write a check, and forget the sordidness of the situation or they want to board a plane to head to distant lands to ‘whup the bad guys’. Martin points out why neither of these solutions is the best to be found, and offers alternatives that can make a difference.  
Financial support is good, but IJM wants people and churches to engage in their mission, to focus on injustice, and to be an advocate for its elimination. The book has practical applications for churches to develop a justice mindset that allows them to define their mission, and ‘safely’ get involved with the agency.  (Martin points out that some of the oppressors are violent and dangerous people, so ‘safely’ is relative, but there are steps to take to avoid putting yourself deliberately, (and without safeguards) in harm’s way).
Martin suggests three stages to getting involved with IJM, or developing an ethos for the church that includes a passion for justice. There are several chapters with suggestions (and templates) to help the church Encounter: Meet the God of Justice in an unjust world; Explore: Discover the intersection (in your church) of Talent, Need and Call; and Engage: Move from fear to faith.
You may not like confronting the ugliness of the world, but you’ll definitely grow if you accept Martin’s challenge to re-examine your view of the link between discipleship and justice. 
Guaranteed to get your attention!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Unstoppable releasing soon

Once again I'm reminded of how powerful the message is that Nick Vujicic carries. His new book, UNSTOPPABLE is releasing in just a couple of weeks. If' you haven't had a chance to preview it yet, then you might want to check out these links:

http://scr.bi/NxKSFT  (excerpt from chapter one)

And it's available for preorder now. I reviewed it back in July, http://www.ambassadorinexile.blogspot.com/2012/07/unstoppable-review.html

BTW, UTAH readers. Pray hard that Standing Together is successful in their attempt to have Nick come back to see us!

UNLEASH! the you that God wants you to be

Perry Noble, the pastor at a small (about 16,000 average attendance at 7 locations throughout South Carolina) southern church, has written a book, and it’s just what you would expect from Perry if you’ve listened to his sermons or podcasts or read his updates: “A letter from Pastor P to New Spring Church”.  UNLEASH! (Tyndale House, 2012) is down home wisdom, grounded in and backed by Scripture, about how to live the life that God intended us to live. A life that’s free from the restraints that hold so many of us back from the things that God has in store for us. A life that leaves normal in the dust as it sets out to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit.
            Most people have heard the story of King David, and Noble uses that as the focus of UNLEASH.  David may have done some great things in his life time, but he sure didn’t start out as a giant killer. When Samuel came looking for the future king that he was to anoint, David’s father didn’t even present him before the prophet. Samuel finally asks if there isn’t another son, and is told, yes, but he’s a nobody, a nothing, and he’s out tending the sheep.  God uses the strangest people to do the most wonderful things, and this book is full of examples of how every one of us is destined for greatness in God's eyes, and then there are some ideas about how to let God take us to that place.
Noble says that a lot depends on how we see God: “if He’s small, manageable and normal
 then our view of what He can do through us is going to be about the same, but if we realize how great He really is, then what we can do, through Christ who strengthens us” takes on a whole new meaning.
This book is a little bit autobiography, as the author shares a lot of the hurt and pain in his life; it’s a little bit memoir, as he shares personal stories, his and others, that explain how faith works in their lives. And it’s a lot of encouragement and love. It’s full of appropriate scriptures, and suddenly some of those things that we’ve always wondered about make sense.
If you’ve been wondering “is this all there is?” the answer is “no!”  and UNLEASH is the book that will help you figure out what your next step should be!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's Completely Possible

UNLEASH!, (Perry Noble, Tyndale House, 2012) is a book that's designed to help you shed the chains that are holding  you back from becoming the person that God intends for you to be. Perry Noble's book is available today in book stores, and unless you're waiting until Thursday to order it online, you might want to check it out.

Most people have some pretty unrealistic ideas of what their life in Christ can or should look like. UNLEASH debunks those myths.  Some of the gems:

“It’s completely possible to live a life beyond normal.”

“If our view of God is small and manageable and normal then we will have a small view of what He wants to do in and through us.” 

“We can live a life that is unleashed because of whose we are, not who we are.”

“One of the quickest ways to forget what God says about me is to focus on what the enemy says about me.”

“No matter what circumstances we face, they don’t change who God is. He is still God.” 

"Understand that information about Christ doesn't always lead to intimacy with Him.”

 Most of those things seem pretty obvious, but as human being we tend to forget them on a regular basis. Perry shares how some of these truths (and others) have helped him overcome the past that was holding him back, and tells the story in such a way that you think you're sitting down visiting with a friend instead of reading a book about your life in Christ. Read UNLEASH and discover what your next step towards intimacy with Christ needs to be. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"UNLEASH!" and be free

If you read my blog, you know that I'm pretty lazy about blogging; and that most of my blogs are actually book reviews. I like to read and I've found some publishers that will send me books:I write a review, post it on Amazon or CBD, post it on my blog, send the links to the publisher, and ask for another book. I noticed today that I write a lot of positive reviews, hmmmm. But then it hit me, I ask for books that I want to read, books that sound interesting, that I've heard a lot of good stuff about, or that are new books by some of the authors on my preferred lists. Yep chances are that the reviews will be good.
Sometimes though, the books come from a different source. Like UNLEASH!. I read books and I read blogs. Perry Noble is a favorite blogger and he's written a book.  Perry sometimes thinks outside the box, and he and his team have come up with a neat way to get the book reviewed.I clicked on a link on his blog and a few days later his team sent a PDF along with some things that they would like reviewers to do in the days leading up to, and during the week that the book releases. I read the book. I like the book, and I think you will too. I'll post a review next week, but there's no reason you can't pre-order it now.  Go to the site unleashbook.com,  or go to Amazon, or go to CBD,  and they'll be glad to help you out.

Perry is a no-holds barred kind of guy...what you see is what you get, and as he tells the story of King David, and how his life would have been so different if he hadn't been willing to UNLEASH!, he also shares how different his life is because he learned to unleash.
Many people are like high school Perry at the dance: (see Chapter 1, "Showing up at the Dance")

             "I talked about dancing. I thought about dancing. I watched other people dancing. Quite a few times
                              I almost had the courage to walk onto the dance floor and try dancing."

But there's so much  more waiting for us, if we're just willing to let go of everything that's holding us back:

          "When I take an honest look at my own life and the lives of the people around me, I have to wonder:                            
            are we doing the same thing when it comes to following Christ? Maybe we think about doing                      
           something  radical for God. Maybe we even dream that one day we’ll be more than we are today.
           But we end up merely standing against the wall, never experiencing the rhythm of God’s grace".

This book may just be the impetus for you to start dancing,  to do something radical for God.  All of us aren't called to kill a giant, but none of us are called to stand against the wall, just watching others dance.

Dare to UNLEASH! and see just how well you can dance!

Why settle for great? There's something called "greater"!

Steven Furtick’s Greater: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller, Ignite God's Vision for your Life (Multnomah Books, 2012) is one of those books that are hard to put down. Furtick demonstrates his skill at weaving scripture and current reality into a seamless whole. On one level this book is the story of Elisha, an Old Testament prophet who dared to dream big; and on the other it’s the story of any number of people that you already know, and maybe even yourself. In the words of the author it’s a challenge to live an audacious life.
It’s the reality that God is ready to take each of us to the next level, as long as we’re ready to go there. Just how small Elisha started is anybody’s guess: he was out with the oxen plowing a field. But he certainly dreamed big. Elijah said let’s go, and he went; and when Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet was about to be taken, Elisha asked for nothing less than “a double portion of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9), pretty gutsy request. Elisha know all about good enough, he knew all about great, but he also knew that with God's help there was something more: something called greater. And he wanted it.
But that sense of greater doesn’t just apply to Old Testament prophets, it’s something that each of us can go after; Furtick points us in the right direction, and gives us some hints on how to find it. In our church life, with our family or on the job, we can strive for and reach “greater”.
So get ready to burn your plows, dig some ditches, take just a little bit of oil, and see to what heights God can help you climb, as long as you’re not willing to settle for just good enough.
The author and the publisher have made some resources available for you: you can read the first chapter before buying the book. http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/04/01/sneak-peek-greater-by-steven-furtick/  and get more information about the book here: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?work=203162
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Blessed Church : a review

“The Blessed Church” (WaterBrook Press, 2012). It’s the story of HOW the Gateway, the church Morris planted in the Dallas- Fort Worth area in 2000 has grown to a megachurch with multiple campuses. In short readable chapters, he explains WHAT he along with the staff and elder board have done, but, and this is an important part of my 5 star rating, WHY they did some of the things they’re done. The book is divided into 6 parts which include the story of Gateway, its vision, the role of the shepherd, empowering leaders, church government and the culture that makes Gateway the church that it has become. There’s very little here that hasn’t been said before in lots of leadership and church-growth books, but at least it’s the important stuff. These important tips are scattered throughout the text and called “Keys to a Blessed Church”
I admit that it’s sometimes difficult for me to get past the pages where someone claims that God is speaking directly to him. (My problem, not his). But in this case it appears that listening to that voice has certainly paid off. A couple of important take-aways include the need to take everything to the Lord in prayer, and be prepared to wait (and sometimes wait and wait some more) for an answer. There are some important tips on developing a vision and how a vision can help the church be what God intends it to be. And the one thing that made me sit up and take notice is this simple statement “God made us to want to bring increase.”   Morris continues with, “nevertheless, we pastors are made to feel that our dreams of broad reach and wide impact are somehow inappropriate.”
I was ready to dislike the book simply because of its title. Who are we to think that God should bless our church? But Morris shows how they have been blessed, not because they went out and did and did and did until God was forced to bless them, but how they have been blessed because they have tried to stay faithful to what God was calling them to do.
There are all sorts of excuses for not being a mega-church, but God blessed Adam and Eve and told them to be fruitful and multiply. He told Noah to be fruitful and increase in number. Jesus’ parable of the talents shows that the Christ follower is expected to increase the ‘harvest’.  Our churches are not called to sit back and be comfortable, we’re called to step out in faith, to follow God's leading and watch the kingdom grow. Morris explains what they looks and why we do it.
A great book for those who want to follow God's leading but without understanding “why” might have trouble with the “what” and the “how”.
 "I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Book of Life Recovery: Review

The Book of Life Recovery: Review
The subtitle of this book pretty much says it all: Inspiring Stories and Biblical Wisdom for “Your Journey through the Twelve Steps”.  “The Book of Life Recovery (Stephen Arterburn and Stoop, David, Tyndale Momentum, 2012) consists of 12 chapters which correspond to the steps of 12 step recovery programs (AA, NA, OA, EA, and the many other anonymous programs that have spun off from Alcoholics Anonymous over the past 70+ years.  This book calls the various addictions “problems” which makes it a more universal help. Each chapter starts with a step, followed by a quote from scripture, then 1 or more personal stories  or ‘shares’ along with an ‘insight’ into what the particular step means. Each chapter includes a series of bible studies that can be done individually or in a group and which relate to the issues involved in working the current step.
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous carefully chose the wording in many places of their manuscript. Realizing that many people who suffer from addiction feel far from the Judeo Christian God, and also to be of assistance to people who do not have a specific religious background, they invited sufferers to find a Higher Power, a ‘God of their own understanding”. Christians often have difficulty with that, since as they try to proclaim the God that they have learned about in church, all sorts of ‘gods of my own understanding’ pop-up. This book is unabashedly Christian in nature, and as such is very much needed. For too long people have felt that they could either go to meetings or they could go to church, but the two, because people experience God so differently, often seem mutually exclusive. With this book we are invited to experience a paradigm shift that allows Christians to understand God as He reveals Himself in the church, and to work the steps with a biblical understanding.
The studies that follow each step are short, and don’t require a lot of theological training, but do offer the opportunity to dig deeper into scripture and see how it applies in a personal way. There seems to be an assumption that people working through this book are using the “Life Recovery Bible” and so scripture references often include the appropriate page numbers, a good thing since it’s not a given that everyone grew up winning prizes for Bible drills.
Whatever life problem that you’re recovering from, this book can help you go through the process, and the personal stories help you see that you’re not alone. Counselors and Pastors should find this a welcome addition to their book shelves, a valuable tool that offers insight from a different perspective than they might usually be working from.
4.5 of 5 stars
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review of The Power of Prophetic Blessing by John Hagee

The title intrigues me, the subject of Blessing is one that I am reading about and studying elsewhere, and the first few pages seemed to foretell an interesting read.  In the first two parts of the book, Hagee charts out the course of blessings, states we are born to be blessed (referring to the blessing Abraham received as narrated in the book of Genesis), shows  the power of blessings, and cites Jesus as the source of several New Testament blessings. Part three includes some ‘hands-on’ practical information about how to release, receive and proclaim a blessing.
Throughout the book there are highlighted statements which invite the reader to ‘think on this’.
But, this was a difficult book for me to read. I suppose I have heard of Pastor Hagee in passing, but this is the first of his books that I have read, and am not overly familiar with his ministry. Beyond the fact that theologically I do not agree with his take on Israel, I felt that some of his references to Zion were out of context and included more as a matter of publicity than for what they added to the content of the book.
Another distraction for me was what seemed to be confusion in genre. At times, the tone of the book was that of popular press: chatty and familiar, a conversation among friends with a lot of personal anecdotes about answered prayer in his family(not to mention subtle plugs for his other books and not so subtle plugs for CUfI); and then there would be a switch to a more scholarly style, writing for students and theologians, with lots of references that the average reader will never take the time to check.  
There is some helpful and comforting information in this book, and it will appeal to many people on different levels, but it’s not the type of book I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Rating ‘3’ of ‘5’.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for publishing an unbiased review.  The publisher has also given me another copy to give away. Comment on this blog post before Sept 1, 2012, and I’ll randomly select a reader to receive a copy of the book.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

review: Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs

In exchange for an unbiased review, the publisher has provided me with an e-copy of “Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs” (Multnomah Books, 2012) by Bruce Wilkinson.
Dr Wilkinson asks us to look at where we are on our spiritual journey, where we are in our relationships with God, our spouse, our children, and most importantly to ask ourselves if we are where we want to be. You probably already realize that most people are looking for something more than what they have, or this book wouldn’t have needed to be written. In this book, Wilkinson lays out several principles that help us get to the next step. He uses ‘Three Chairs’ as a metaphor for three types of “spiritual status before God”. The statuses range from 1) no personal; relationship, to 2) nominal Christianity, to 3) a full acceptance of Jesus as Savior AND Lord. The goal of this book is to help us get to the point of full acceptance, and using Biblical examples, the author lays out a plan.
Like several other books by this author that I’ve read, I found “Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs” to be a fairly easy read. The principles that he lays out are biblical, practical, and simple. You don’t need to be a theologian to understand what he is saying. Many books in the popular press claim to have the answers but the reader has to spend so much energy trying to figure out how any of it applies to his life, that he has nothing left when it comes to putting things into practice. IN this book Wilkinson doesn’t try to cover every possibility, rather he limits himself to how to breakthrough to that next level in the context of God, spouse and children. My hunch is that other areas of our lives will be affected to.
I have noticed a tendency for people in general to give up when things get tough. Wilkinson’s analogy of the second chair – the nominal Christian- probably fits most of these people. The Apostle Paul never writes to the churches that they should quit in the middle of the race: he encourages them to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, to finish the race, and to go into training and run as if you want to win. The people that are willing to do all of that are probably in the first chair, fully accepting of Jesus’ Lordship.  And what do we do with the third chair people? We remember that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
We’re all looking for something, and this book may have the ideas, the suggestions, the steps to take that will help us to find it. Great resource for an Adult Sunday School class, small group study or perhaps as part of a class on evangelism.  4.5/5 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Be a blessing

I’ve been thinking a lot about blessings lately. Oh sure, we all like to be blessed, have someone unexpectedly show up to mow the lawn, take us out to dinner, or bring us a present. And we really like the blessings that come in the form of cash or checks- especially in large amounts. But somehow I don’t think that’s what God had in mind when He talked about blessing people.
I have to be careful when speaking of blessings because of the culture in which I live. The LDS church is big on blessings. Some of their members receive Patriarchal Blessings, they bless babies, they offer blessings in cases of illness. Blessings are a good thing, but I don’t know enough about the LDS church to know what exactly is meant by the term. Maybe they mean the same thing I mean, and maybe it’s something different. I don’t know, so please don’t read something that I didn’t write. Don’t hear something that I’m not saying. It’s a word. Some people use it one way, and some people use it to mean something else. Don’t get confused, don’t get upset. Just read and draw your own conclusions.
In their book The Gift of the Blessing, (Thomas Nelson, 1993) Gary Smalley and John Trent talk about the components of the Old Testament blessing. They write that the 5 elements include 1) meaningful touch, 2) spoken words which 3) express high value 4) picture a special future, and 5) entail an active commitment on the part of the person offering the blessing.  Pretty powerful stuff.
And all this because, like many other parents, I want to be able to bless my child. Don’t get me wrong, he has everything he needs, and probably most of what he wants; we do things and go places, but I want to bless him in the sense that God blessed Abraham, that Isaac blessed Jacob (instead of Esau) and like Jacob eventually blessed Ephraim, the son of Joseph.
I want him to know that he is extremely valuable in my eyes and in the eyes of the Lord. I want him to know it because I’ve put my hand on him and told him so. Teenagers often have an inflated sense of their own importance, so he may or may not need affirmation and confirmation – today. But at some point reality hits and he will realize that there’s more to life than what he thinks of himself. I want him to know that apart from what he thinks he is important.
Hopefully he’ll be able to envision the future that lies in front of him, a special future, that means he will accomplish great things, not just to make his life financially secure, but things that will have an eternal impact for someone else, things that will impact a much larger circle than just his family and friends.
It’s easy to assume that he knows I’ll be there for him; that I’ll support his decisions and his endeavors, but he knows, and you probably know,  a lot of people whose parents aren’t necessarily there for them. He’s only going to know that I am committed to him if I let him know it, if I do what it takes to tell him and show him that I’m committed to helping him grow into the person that God intends him to be: a very special person with a great future.
Special and great because God created him that way. As the Psalmist said (Ps 139:14) "fearfully and wonderfully made." 
God created a lot of other people that way too. Who do you need to bless today? Who do you need to touch and affirm? What commitment are you willing to make?
Bless someone today. Future generations will be glad you did. 

Friday, July 27, 2012


I've been a fan of Nick Vujicic since the first time I saw him on a YouTube video. Attending one of his Life Without Limits events and getting to experience his hugs made me an even bigger fan; so I was really pleased to have the opportunity to review his forthcoming book UNSTOPPABLE: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action (WaterBrook Press, 2012)
            Unstoppable is Nick’s story: born without arms or legs; fortunate enough to be born into a loving family: learning how to cope; getting through tough times (including a severe depression) and learning that God sees things differently than we do. Nick doesn’t have a faith walk – he has a faith run, and he runs better than most people with 2 legs. This book tells the story of how God is using Nick in any number of ways, and how some of Nick’s prayers (including his prayer for a wife) are being answered.  
            As I started reading, I was slightly disappointed, thinking that this was going to be another book full of “life gave me lemons – look how I made lemonade” stories. I wanted to send Nick a note telling him that he’s a fantastic speaker, and that he should write in the same style that he uses when he’s speaking publicly. Then, after a few pages, that speaking style seemed to creep in, and the emotions kicked in: tears, laughter, and a real sense of ‘this is how God works!’
            The things that bother so many of us are things that God and Nick have been able to overcome, and as Nick tells his story, it becomes more and more clear why people all over the globe find hope and comfort when Nick speaks.
            You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll start googling Nick’s name to see when he’s going to be speaking in your area.  Can you rate something a ‘6’ on a scale of ‘1 – 5’?
          For more info on this book please visit http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/workid.php?work=218361
          Nick Vujicic's website is here: http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

            I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review (and would gladly have paid for it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Our best efforts: second place to grace

There are a lot of people out there who have issues with Christianity, with the Church, and with Christians; several people have written about how unchurched people tend to look at the church; and the information presented there is a good step in the right direction.  In his book “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: where we Have Failed Each Other and how to Reverse the Damage” (Waterbrook Multnomah, 2011, originally published 2002) Dave Burchett takes it a step further, and looks at the issues with an insider’s perspective.
            I first read this books years ago because I liked the title. But it goes far beyond that. Christians have a tendency to mess up, even after they say the sinners’ prayer, even though they attend church services regularly, go on missions trips and serve on boards and committees. Sin is a big part of who we are.  People outside the church sin in the same ways as Christians and don’t think anything of it, but just let a professing Christian act like a human being, and all bets are off.
            Burchett walks the reader through a series of problems within the “local church” (insert the name of your church here), then he moves on to how Christians often, with the best of intentions, convince their ‘targets’ to look elsewhere (things like ‘do as I say and not as I do’ attitudes, or speaking Christianese - a special language known only to those who have spent many years in a church setting. And then he asks us to take a look at how we can correct some of our self-inflicted maladies.
            All of this is done within the context of we’re human beings, we’re sinners saved by grace, we make mistakes, but we’re still Christians with good intentions. Unfortunately we (individuals and corporately as members of a local church body) don’t always get it right. But, as Burchett reminds us, God is good; grace reigns and there is hope!
            Enjoy the read! 4.5/5
The publisher provided me a free copy of the e-book in exchange for this review. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Tough Guys and Drama Queens

I’m a parent of a teenager; need I say more?  As any parent of a teenager knows, there will be days when that son or daughter that you’ve loved since day one, will be a normal human being, a tough guy, a drama queen, a hot bed of hormones, loving, defiant, and anything else you can think of. Some days all those things happen at the same time.
            For five years after college, I worked on a locked adolescent treatment unit. I figured after that experience I was ready to be a parent, and I even fooled myself into thinking that I knew all about parenting a teenager. Yeah, probably not.
            Even though this book came a few years to late for me to do the pre-teen stuff, there’s a lot of practical information in Mark Gregston’s “Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How not to Get Blindsided by your Child’s Teen Years”, (Thomas Nelson, 2012).  He starts with a session on how the culture has changed in the years since we lived our own teenage experience, moves to some things that we really should be trying to avoid, and writes several chapters on parenting techniques that work.
            Reading through the book gave me a sore neck: I kept nodding my head in agreement. I wish it because Gregston was validating my parenting skills, but it was more along the lines of YES, that makes sense! Why haven’t I been doing that?
            There are two main take-aways for me in this book. The first is that we’re not bad parents, nor do we have bad kids; but sometimes we need to re-learn how to communicate. And secondly, at each stage of their lives, we need to be training our kids to grow into the next phase. The day will come when that mercurial teenager is going to move on – as parents we want him or her to be ready for that challenge. Gregston offers lots of insight based on his years working with adolescents.
            The subtitle is a little deceiving: it doesn’t let the reader know that a lot of the communication techniques that Gregston discusses can be used within the parameters of any relationship, not just parent teen.
BookSneeze provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to post a favorable review. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Some days I wish I had a camera; actually I do have a camera, It's just usually not with me when it would come in handy. Of course at those Kodak moments, I usually can't do anything other than hold my breath and try not to scare something away. Besides I'm a klutz with a kamera, by the time the thing was focused, aimed, and had the right f-stop and aperture, the subject would have flown the coop.

So the camera in my mind makes memories.

I like watching hummingbirds, but I've always wondered where they come from. I know the theory, they're birds - they come from eggs. But have you ever watched a hummingbird? When do they slow down long enough to lay an egg? And how could they sit on them long enough to hatch them? (BTW if you google it,  the various experts say the eggs hatch at somewhere between 13 and 23 days- depending.)

But the other day a friend showed me a hummingbird nest. It looked like a knot on a pine tree; and I'll take my friend's word for it that there were two eggs in the nest. I couldn't see them since the bird was sitting on them. She just sat there while we looked. Wish I had had my camera with me.

And the hummingbird story gets even cooler. My water bottle is red. Hummingbirds like red. And as we were sitting at a picnic table, two of the little critters decided that they wanted a drink. I wish I had had the camera, but trying to get it focused and aimed to take the picture probably would have scared them away long before they got up close and personal with the water bottle.

But I do have the memories. Too bad you can't see the pictures on the inside of my mind!

Some days God just likes to show off. Really. After all, when was the last time you shared your water bottle with a hummingbird.  Thanks, God. That made my day.

Now if you could just teach me how to use a camera.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Pressure's Off - my review

If you read and apply the lessons found in the book The Pressure’s Off (WaterBrook, 2002, 2012) by Larry Crabb, you should see a difference in the way you interact with God. You’ve probably heard that before, and then were given a bunch of rules to follow, things to do, prayers to pray, journals to keep, and constant reminders that if you would just do this, then God will bless you beyond anything you could imagine.
I’ve tried a lot of those methods and systems, and they never worked for me. Maybe I didn’t do it right, maybe something else was going on, but they didn’t work. God didn’t reward my efforts. So I tried harder – and God still didn’t follow my rules. The job offers didn’t come, relationships soured, people died, I didn’t win the lottery. And I wondered why God wasn’t impressed enough with my efforts to reward me.
Crabb calls that the ‘Old Way’ and suggests that it won’t work because we have things backward. He suggests that all of our good works may be an attempt to use God. But he offers an alternative. His ‘New Way’ suggests that we start by growing closer to God, and in doing so we may just find the answers that we’re looking for.
It’s not an easy path to follow: we’re asked to give up control of our lives, to give up our idols (anything that comes between us and God) to turn them over to God, to grow closer to him, to follow his will, and as we grow in intimacy with God, our lives are transformed. It’s not what we do, but what God does that changes us.
Crabb’s writing style is engaging, he uses many personal examples of how to reframe things from the ‘old way’ to the ‘new way’, and simple illustrations help the reader to understand the concepts.
This updated edition contains a ‘workbook’ which should work well for individuals, accountability partners or small groups. I would recommend this book to anyone who is ready to move closer to God, and seek His will rather than just try to do enough to earn a blessing.
5 stars!
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Read the first Chapter here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

learning to trust in God

Years ago I saw a tee shirt with the saying, “When Jesus is all you have, you suddenly realize that Jesus is all you need.” It made me think. A lot.

Did you ever wonder what it might feel like to know that there is absolutely nothing more that you can do except trust in God? That’s a big part of what faith is all about. Christians profess to have faith, we claim that we trust God, we tack on “if it’s your will” to our prayers, and then we rush off blindly trying to make sure that things get done in such a way as to achieve our desired outcome.

Joe Kissack faces that type of dilemma in The Fourth Fisherman (Waterbrook Press, 2012). This book is three stories in one, and even though some parts of the stories seem to be the kind of things that writers make up to sell books or movies, the three stories are actually true. It started out as a story of the faith of three Mexican fishermen whose boat took them farther than they had planned on going. It’s a story of their faith and how they survived being adrift in the Pacific Ocean for 9 months before being rescued. It’s a story of how they learned to trust God, and how their lives were impacted, changed and transformed.

Interwoven between the pages of their story is the story of Joe Kissack, a shining star in his chosen profession. It’s the story of how his way didn’t work, and how he finally had to turn to God if he wanted to reclaim his life and his marriage. It’s a story of how he set out to record the faith journey of those three Mexican fishermen and how on the way his own faith walk changed and he learned to trust God. It’s the story of how on this journey his life was impacted, changed and transformed.

And it’s God's story. It’s a reminder that God can use the most interesting events to call his people closer to him. It’s a reminder that each of us is a part of that grand story that is full of burning bush experiences, and that God wants us to turn to Him, much more frequently than we do. It’s a reminder of the power of prayer, of the need to trust God, and how faith grows as we see God at work.

I rated this book 5 stars. The engaging writing style coupled with a captivating story of survival against the odds make it difficult to put the book down. But on a much deeper level, the implications of a life lived with faith make this a must-read book for anyone who is struggling with life on life’s terms.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher (many thanks!) in exchange for writing this review. I was not required to write a favorable review.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is God's Favorite word "YES"?

Is God's favorite word ‘YES’? Mike Glenn thinks so, and he explains why in his book The Gospel of Yes (WaterBrook Press, 2012).

It’s easy to get wrapped up in religion and religiosity, both of which seem determined to tell us ‘no’. No you can’t do that; no you’re not good enough; no God won’t tolerate that; no God can’t use you like you are. But that happens to be a big lie that all too many people are willing to believe. God can and does use us, just like we are, warts and all.

Having said that, it was difficult for me to review this book. It’s not a book that ‘I couldn’t put down’; there’s a lot of what I would call ‘fluff’ included; and at times I got bogged down by the writing style rather than focusing on the message. BUT, the message of this book is exciting. I was forced to look at how I respond to God's call on my life, and also to look more deeply at that call. We’re invited to learn that when we say ‘yes’ to one thing that by default we’re saying ‘no’ to something else, but beyond that, when God tells us ‘no’ (as he frequently does in my case) there is usually a yes involved also.

I don’t think there’s enough here upon which to base a whole theology, but I found myself drawn again and again to the exciting realization that God isn’t waiting for a total transformation before I can be of service to Him, but that He uses me as I am, and as I respond to His yeses, the transformation continues and I can be of even more use to God.

God has not spent all His time saying ‘no’. His message is more along the lines of: I have something bigger and better in store for you, come closer and let me tell you about it. And that reinforces the idea that since the beginning, God has been inviting us to draw near to him, and even though we don’t do a very good job of living up to His expectations, He continues to invite us to accept his loving kindness.

This book would be useful in a discipling program, where discussion would lead to a deeper understanding of what Pastor Glenn is saying. A mature Christian could definitely use this book to walk a newcomer to the faith through the process of learning more about God's call on our lives and how He has said ‘yes’ in the past to demonstrate His love for us.

Pastors and small group leaders might like to use this book as a basis for a study on responding to God's call on our lives.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Download the first chapter here: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/01/13/sneak-peek-the-gospel-of-yes-by-mike-glenn/

Watch a promotional video here: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/04/27/video-mike-glenn-the-gospel-of-yes-promotional-video/

Thursday, May 17, 2012

FEARLESS : God at work in the life of Navy Seal Adam Brown

If you’ve spent much time reading the Old Testament, you’ll remember that it’s a story of a people who are chosen by God, who promise to be faithful to God, who forget their promises, and eventually return to the God who never gave up on them. You might also remember that there are a lot of things in the Old Testament that just couldn’t have happened. That is, they couldn’t have happened without help – a lot of help. Maybe a better way of putting it would be that God orchestrated some of these situations so that it would be obvious that He was in charge, that this wasn't something that human beings could do on their own.

Reading “FEARLESS” ( Eric Blehm, WaterBrook Press, 2012) reminded me a lot of the flow of the Old Testament, along with some similarities to the parable of the Prodigal Son. Promises made, promises broken, things that couldn’t have happened without God's help, but God was there, helping, and waiting patiently for the prodigal to come home. And Adam Brown did return.

This is the story of Adam Brown’s journey to become a member of an elite team: SEAL Team SIX. Along the way there were lots of obstacles; as his faith and family, along with a lot of prayer, helped him to overcome those obstacles, God was at work doing the humanly impossible.

A history of drugs and arrests didn’t keep him from his goal, even though the military has a very low tolerance for that sort of thing -God at work. (The publisher assured me that the accounts of drug abuse and arrests had been verified.)A couple of physical injuries should have kept him from meeting his goal; they didn’t – God at work, again.

Although most of us will never be called upon to be the type of hero that Adam Brown was, if more people could learn to face challenges like he did, the world would be a far better place.

This is not just a story about the rigors of becoming and serving as a SEAL, it’s a story of how one man was strengthened by his faith and the love of and for his family. It’s a story of overcoming obstacles, pursuing a vision and becoming the person that God wants you become.

And it’s a reminder that sometimes things happen in ways that make it clear that this could have only happened with God's help.

Adam Brown made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life on a mission in Afghanistan. This book could have been told from the perspective of honoring a hero, but Adam himself wanted the story to include his life before Christ, so that in perspective the reader would have to see that this is a story about honoring God.

Wondering about how to live a Christian lifestyle and move along in your Christian walk? Is drug abuse a part of your history? Are you in the military and scared about this deployment or the next one? (Yeah, scared, deep down even though you don’t want to admit it to your friends) FEARLESS may be the book that helps you face those issues head on!

Here are some links provided by the publisher that you can check out

NBC coverage: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/05/11/videonews-adam-brown-fearless-navy-seal-nbc/

Book trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_L8ca7AKEA

WaterBrook News:  http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/03/26/video-fearless-the-undaunted-courage-and-ultimate-sacrifice-of-navy-seal-team-six-operator-adam-brown/
Read the first chapter: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/blog/2012/04/03/sneak-peek-fearless-by-eric-blehm/

And My Favorite (big smile):  http://vimeo.com/41939208

Thanks to the publisher for providing me an advance review copy of this book.(I was not required to write a positive review). Thanks also to the publisher, author and family, for several copies of the book which were donated to the Chapel at the Air Force base in my community.

Friday, May 11, 2012

your thorn -- or His Cross

I saw this cartoon http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m3hs2cN82s1ql5tkgo1_1280.jpg  in the most recent “Christianity Today” and for some reason got thinking about the difference between “a thorn in the flesh”, and “picking up your cross”. The sponge in this cartoon could be replaced by a purple dinosaur (anybody remember Barney?), a spouse, child, co-worker, in-law, a bad back, or a yapping dog that the neighbors leave out in the yard. That person, thing, annoyance is a thorn, not a cross.

We’ve all heard someone say that we all have our cross to bear, but the tendency seems to be to apply the term to things that are really pretty minor compared to what Jesus meant when he said to pick up a cross and follow. The cross in Jesus’ time was a symbol of torture, it was reserved for notorious criminals, and when Jesus said to pick up a cross and follow, he was basically saying if you’re going to follow me, you have to understand that this cross might be your destiny…you’re going to have to buck the system, and in my name you’re going to make some people unhappy. There is going to be suffering, and it will be because you’re one of my disciples.  Think Peter being crucified upside down, or James being beheaded.

The thorn in the flesh, on the other hand, has more of a sense of annoyances, inconveniences, things that distract us, get in the way of carrying out the mission that Jesus has given us. Paul asked god to remove the thorn, and God said that His grace was sufficient, Paul managed to continue working on the things that Christ Jesus had given him to do.

When we confuse the thorn and the cross, we magnify our part in the story at the expense of the Cross and Jesus’ part in God’s plan for all of us.

I’m wondering what I’m confusing for my cross.

 How about you? Is there a thorn in your side that you want to call the cross that you’re carrying for Jesus?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

review: The Jesus Mission

Steven K. Scott, in The Jesus Mission (Waterbrook Press, 2011) talks a lot about the missions that Jesus accomplished, and the ones that have been left for us . He walks us through what he calls the four missions that Jesus assigned us: intimacy with God; accelerated personal growth; empowering other believers; and impacting the lives of non-believers.

To be honest, if I had gotten this book from the library, I probably would have returned it mostly unread, but I had agreed to read the book for the purpose of writing a review, so I stuck it out, and I’m actually glad I did since there are some interesting nuggets buried within the pages.

Although the book is full of scripture references to back up the author’s points, it’s not written by a theologian, and at times it seemed disjointed to me. At times I felt like I was at a men’s conference since many sections end with ‘action points’. Other parts of the book seem like a ‘how to’. Part theology, part theory, part self-help, and a little bit of the author’s personal opinion.

Opinion is good, but even as he writes “He [Jesus] does not give people the option of recasting Him to suit their agenda,” and states that Jesus is a favorite subject of people who want to rewrite history and refashion it to suit their own purposes, Scott spends part of a chapter showing how liberal thinkers such as then Senator Obama were totally off target when they wanted to “spread the wealth around.” That probably wouldn’t have caught my attention except for the fact that Scott’s bio on the dust jacket lists him as an “entrepreneur whose start-up companies have achieved billions of dollars in sales”. No wonder he thinks Jesus wouldn’t be in favor of redistribution of wealth.

There is some good stuff in this book, but it could have all been said in a much shorter book.

I’ll give this book a 3/5.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

OTC meds

as i was going from point A to point B this morning, the radio in the car was on. My kid likes one station, I like another, but the news channel i like is generally pretty repetitive, so we listen to his choice a lot, and when i'm in the car alone, it's news.

a big story today is that many people think that certain meds, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, to name a few should be over the counter. There are 2 pharmacists where i get my prescriptions filled and i would trust either of them to advise me (THANKS, ERIC and STEVE at the Clinton Macy's) but....
we used to get a presecription for some kind of allergy medecine for my son.  The insurance covered the doctors visit (with a small co -pay) and there was a $3.00 co pay for a month's worth of pills. One day i went to get a refill, only to find that that medecine was now over-the-counter, so instead of a co-pay, i was allowed the privilege of buying it retail for $22.95 for the same 30 days worth of pills.

so now that everyone is forced to pay for insurance, a lot of meds will no longer be covered....something just doesn't sound right.

it should also concern us that people will avoid going to the doctor because the pharmacist at the local bigbox store is so much more convenient. Like i said, i trust the guys at the pharmacy i use, but i would rather them be filling my prescriptions than spending an hour with someone who doesn't want to or can't afford to pay to see a doctor.  and if i go ask about blood pressure medecine, the doc might actually look and find out that it's something else, while the pharmacist will probably just talk BP pills.

just sayin'

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Soul Detox

You know there is something holding you back from being the person that God intends you to be. We may think we’re different and unique when it comes to the toxins that are polluting our lives, but as Solomon reminds us, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. A limited number of toxins: behaviors, emotions, and influences, raise their ugly heads and make us sicker than we realize.

Pastor Craig Groeschel in Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World (Zondervan, 2012), encourages us to identify and treat the toxicity in our Christian lives. I enjoyed his conversational style of writing, and it wasn’t until late in the book that it hit me that I could have been listening to a series of sermons. The main point that I took away from this book is that as we are in the world, but not of it, it’s often hard to see how we are conforming to the world rather than to the image of Christ. We become conditioned to things that used to be off limits, and the example we set doesn’t glorify God. We forget how powerful words are, and unintentionally inflict deep pain on others, even as we suffer the pain of words spoken long ago by someone who has probably forgotten that he said them, and has no idea of the pain that those words are causing today.

Millennia ago, the religious leaders thought that they had it covered; they took the Ten Commandments and ‘clarified’ them by breaking them down into over 600 bits and pieces of things to do and not do. The problem is that in most cases they got so wrapped up in memorizing and obeying man’s rules that they had no time to experience the heart of God. Groeschel wisely points out that the toxins that affect us as individuals can and do spread into the church also. I was left with the sense that as we conform more to the world, and in doing so become less Christ-like, that in our churches we are becoming more and more religious: we demand that others act like the Christ-like person that we’re no longer interested in becoming.

Lots of scripture references help the reader in the quest to identify and treat the toxic reactions from behaviors, emotions, influences and religiosity that keep us from achieving our full potential.

I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Secret Service in the fishbowl

Recent news reports indicate that 11 members of a Secret Service detail along with 5 military members were involved in a prostitution scandal. They were in Columbia as part of the advance team assigned to protect our President. The President has indicated that if the reports are true, then he will be angry, and that the individuals involved are representing the USA and should maintain the highest standards.  Agreed!

But my concern is that the emphasis so far seems to be on the fact that they’re not representing us well, and that even though the President wasn’t there, and they weren’t directly assigned to him, that the behavior was unacceptable for someone in that capacity.

Excuse me… drunken behavior that results in the police being called, and hiring prostitutes should be unacceptable behavior for anyone.  Once again it seems that the issue is not what they might have done, but that they got caught, and the behavior was made public. And oh yeah, very rarely does the first time someone gets caught correspond to the first time they engage in the behavior.

Why aren’t we hearing that working in the sex industry does irreparable harm to people, and robs them of the dignity that everyone should have. Where is the outrage that prostitution “isn’t illegal” in Cartagena? Why aren’t people talking about broken relationships and lost trust because of marital infidelity? Why aren’t we hearing more about responsible drinking? Where are the reminders that promiscuity, legal or not, means a higher probability of STDs?

Where do people get the idea that they’re above the rules? Above the law? Above God’s law? Why do we think that just because we’re away from home that we can do things that we wouldn’t do at home.  I’m thinking that if I wouldn’t do something here because I would be ashamed to have my wife, my son, my church family, my neighbors, my friends, or my co-workers see it, then I shouldn’t feel free to engage in that behavior some place where no one knows me.  But that’s me.

I’m sorry there’s going to be an investigation. The money that Congress will spend in their efforts to find out if there is a problem, could be better utilized in fixing the problems that we already know exist.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

review of "Enemies of the Heart"

Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley (2011, previously published in 2006 as It Came from Within) was an easy read - maybe too easy, since I found myself agreeing with just about everything in the book – without having to think about it. There are lots of positives about the book, but it’s still difficult for me to rate: I liked it; it was written in an easy-to-read style, scripture references were appropriate, and regardless of your theological preferences there is something in this book that will touch your heart, but... Having said that, I didn’t finish the book with an urgent need to encourage everyone I know to read it. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it; the included study guide is well thought out and helpful, and I’ll probably use bits and pieces in sermons or counseling sessions from time to time, it’s just not as compelling as some of the other books I’ve read recently.

The book addresses an issue that every Christian has to deal with at some time: that attitude of the heart that so clearly gets in the way of the relationship that we want to have with God, that we want to have with others, and that God wants to have with us. In fact Stanley says these enemies of the heart are busy poisoning our relationships, our faith and our character.

Using metaphors concerning who owes who (‘I owe you’, ‘you owe me’, ‘I owe me’, and ‘God owes me’): Stanley addresses four major heart diseases: Guilt, Anger, Jealousy and Greed, he discusses the symptoms of each of the diseases, and he also offers some simple solutions to those heart problems: “Confess, forgive, give, celebrate. These are the habits that will change everything.

The section on forgiveness was particularly compelling, and if you read only that it would be worth the price of the book. Stanley teaches the reader how to reframe hurt as a debt. “you know what the person who hurt you did, but what exactly did they take? Until you know the answer to that question, you’re not ready to forgive.” And forgiveness, is all about cancelling the debt!

I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Idols Around Us - a review of EMPTY PROMISES by Pete Wilson

Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re believing,(THOMAS NELSON, 2012) by Pete Wilson, Pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, is a book which should strike fear into the heart of everyone who claims to be a Christian. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I serve as pastor at a church affiliated with a mainline protestant denomination, and I have preached about several of the same things Pete writes about. (Maybe that’s why I liked the book so much – he agrees with what I’m already saying). Many times a pastor doesn’t think that his current sermon is one he needs to hear when he starts writing it, but by the time Sunday evening rolls around, he has often changed his mind. I prepare sermons for the congregation and preach them to myself! This book is so scary to me, because it hits so close to home. I don’t know who Pete was writing too, but it was a sermon that I needed to hear again.

This book should cause us to tremble, not because it’s hellfire and brimstone, but because as we read we are invited, encouraged, nudged, prodded (and given an occasional headlong shove) to look at how, instead of following God, we are lusting after idols. Obviously they’re not figurines fashioned of metal or clay - we’re much too sophisticated for that, but somehow, as we head out on this thing we call our Christian walk, most of us seem to get sidetracked by those things that Pete calls ‘empty promises’ those things that would make our lives so much better if only we could obtain them. The problem is, as Pete so skillfully points out it that frequently we do manage to get them in our hot little hands, only to find that they don’t offer as much satisfaction as we were expecting.

Early on in the history of God's Chosen People, the rule is no idols and worship only God. Jesus appears on the scene, and is whisked into the desert to be tempted. Satan says “Worship me, and it will all be yours,” and Jesus wisely replies “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”. (Luke 4:7,8, NIV) We think we’re doing just that, we say we’re doing that, but as Pete points out we really worship a whole lot of other stuff: money, possessions, power, beauty, relationships and more. The idols are out there waiting for us to find them! We find them , take them home and let them get between us and God.

One of the highlights of this book for me was chapter 10 (You are what you worship). In the name of God, in the name of Jesus, Christians across the centuries have done some pretty bizarre things: (think crusades). Today, in the name of worship, we continue to meet in outdated buildings, we sing unmusical songs with theologically incorrect lyrics - because they’re found in the preferred hymnal, and we lavish reverential awe on the Bible that has never been opened, much less read or applied to our lives. (We worship the physical book, rather than the Living Word of God) This is a wonderful reminder that we are to worship God continually, not just for an hour on Sunday morning.

Again I really liked this book. If you’re looking for systematic theology, go to the reference section of your library. This book probably wasn’t written for scholars, it was written for the people who go to church on Sunday morning and might have questions during the week. It was written for the people who want to get closer to God, not just learn to follow a set of rules dictated by a denomination or a local church.

Wilson quotes a number of the important ‘voices’ on the topics, and the variety of theological backgrounds included helped me see (again) that when it comes to worshiping idols as opposed to worshiping God, that people of every ideology have the right idea about what we’re supposed to do, and also that there is no monopoly on the lack of an exact system for putting what we know into practice.

This is a very readable book, (5 stars) and you can probably read it in just a couple of hours, however if you read it that quickly, you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice: take time to read and reflect, to savor the nuggets that are found throughout the book.

Check out the author’s web site, and the links to some video clips about the book.

Author Website: www.PeteWilson.tv

Video Book Trailer- Full: www.vimeo.com/39909473

Video Book Trailer- 60 sec: http://vimeo.com/39932930

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the booksneeze review program in exchange for posting this review. I was not required to give it a favorable review.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

review of Healing Your Church Hurts

Healing Your Church Hurt: What to do when you still love God but have been wounded by his people (Stephen Mansfield, Barna 2010) is a book that should be required reading for church membership classes. We all know that the church is made up of imperfect people, and it’s just unfortunate that more of the congregation isn’t like each of us. But since we’re not all alike, all on the same page, all intimate family members, there are bound to be disagreements. Mansfield gives us some insight into how to handle those disagreeable times that happen in every church.

I was impressed with the profound concepts that were explained in simple words. Mansfield has a knack for pointing out the obvious, but doing so in a way that often left me feeling that I should have seen that before, and wondering why I hadn’t made the connection.

Early in the book, (p 1-3) we are treated to the story of Timmy, a screaming little boy with his hand stuck in a candy machine. Lots of noise, lots of tears, lots of suggestions on how to get the arm out, and finally someone gives a clear and concise directive: “let go of the candy bar.” And often the secret is right there: let go!

Mansfield walks us through several steps, including looking at our part, and helps us see that we’re not quite as perfect as we may like to think. But the good news is that we’re not alone. Several of the stalwarts of Christianity (George Whitfield for example) suffered some of the same things that churches, their leaders and their members still go through today.

Examples, suggestions, and a reminder from scripture (Paul writing to the church at Corinth, reminding them that his Apostolic authority was never intended to tear them down, but rather to build them up.

Hopefully you’re in a perfect church, where everybody gets along and agrees on everything, but if you’re not, reading this book may be the first step in reconciliation and healing.

To read the first chapter of this book, follow this link: http://files.tyndale.com/thpdata/FirstChapters/978-1-4143-6560-2.pdf

Thanks to Tyndale publishers for providing me a review copy of this book.

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