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:

Video Book Trailer- Full:

Video Book Trailer- 60 sec:

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.