Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reveiw: Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids?

One of the questions that I struggle with on a regular basis has to do with sharing the Good News in a way that stays true to the gospel but is also relevant within both the cultural context of my ministry field.
As I read Sam Williamson’s book, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? How Moralism Suffocates Grace (Ann Arbor, MI: Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013) I kept recognizing myself, and some other pastors that I have known over the years.  Sometimes, but not always, that’s a good thing.  Let’s just say that I wish I hadn’t been so easily recognizable in this book, because most of those instances fell into the “not always” category.
Williamson points out what I see as an all too frequent problem: we dummy down the Bible in an attempt to make it more attractive. We gloss over the unsavory parts, and focus on the parts that we think will make us better people. Hello! The main reason Jesus died on the cross, is because human beings aren't capable of making themselves good enough. Yet, as the author points out, we tell the stories of bible heroes and then ask our kids to live up to some impossibly high standard based on those stories. Be as faithful as Abraham; be as good as Joseph, have a pure heart like David did, be obedient like Esther. (And if you do all that, and still aren’t good, then Jesus saves.)  I think, along with the author, that that’s putting things backward.
Chapter 11 (We Read the Bible the Wrong Way) sums it all up for me: “The Bible is not about us!”  Williamson writes about how people tend to read the bible, as doctrine, as rules for behavior and for inspiration. Sometimes we just miss the point. Scripture has doctrine and guidelines and can be very inspirational, but “it’s not about us; [it’s] God's revelation about himself.”  Try reading it through those lenses.
As I read the first couple of chapters I was intrigued, I like the way Williamson showed what he was talking about in the chapter on Esther, and was looking forward to seeing how he applied his thesis to Joseph, Abraham, and David. Then the whole tenor changed. He still writes about sharing the message that is the Gospel, but suddenly it didn't seem like we were talking Sunday school anymore.
That piece of the puzzle is solved in the afterword, “Despite its title, this book is not about Sunday school or its teachers. It’s about our daily need to remember grace.”  If you’re thinking about leaving your church, please read this book before you make your decision. Read the book, apply it, and consider giving your copy to a member of your churches leadership team. Who knows what kind of miracles God has in store for you?
I requested this book from the author because I was intrigued by the title. Based on what I expected from that title, I was disappointed, based on the book itself, I was delighted. This is a short book, easy to read and full of wisdom.

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

review: How God Makes Men

I have to admit up front, that generally speaking, I’m not much of a fan of Patrick Morley’s books, but the title of this one intrigued me, so I requested a review copy. Thanks, Multnomah, for providing me a copy in exchange for a review.
In How God Makes Men: Ten Epic Stories. Ten Proven Promises. One Huge Promise for Your Life (Multnomah, 2013) Patrick Morley tells the stories of 10 men from the bible, men who on their faith journeys learned some valuable lessons. These are lessons that still apply to men today, and include lessons about faith and character and turning weakness into strength.
This is a very readable book, with practical application for our lives today. It’s encouraging to see how some of those heroes of the faith that we studied about in Sunday school classes didn't really have it all together, yet God used them anyway.
One of the struggles that I've had personally lately is trying to fulfill the great commission but seemingly not have any success. The chapter about Peter: “The Principle of Making Disciples - How God Equips Men to Reach Other Men” had a statement that jumped off the page at me: “Jesus has raised up millions of witnesses –us- to help people understand His gospel and respond. Witnessing is simply taking people as far as they want to go toward Jesus.”

It’s time for men to stand up and be the church that Christ has called us to be. This book may be the starting place you need to be in today.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Noah the movie

From the trailer, it looks like there's an interesting movie headed our way>

NOAHSynopsis: After visions of an apocalyptic deluge, Noah, the world’s only righteous man, is chosen to undertake a divine mission to build a massive ark to save his family and all of creation before the impending rains fall and the flood waters rise. 
: Russell Crowe, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson
: Darren Aronofsky 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prototype: a review

Some of us remember from school that a prototype is an early sample of a product, it’s built to test a concept or process and it is to act as something to be replicated. Jonathan Martin, in his book “Prototype: What Happens When You’re More like Jesus than You Think?”  (http://prototypethebook.com/) suggests that Jesus is the model that was used to test the product or the concept, and He is definitely someone that we should try to replicate and learn from.  The knowledge of Christ shapes our identity. Then, once we realize that Jesus loves us, we can begin the incredible faith journey that takes us beyond our wildest imagination. This book is an affirmation of the fact that Jesus can and does take some of the most unlikely people and shape them for His service. It is also a reminder that all Christians are called to be witnesses to God's glory.
Martin’s bio says that he leads the liars, dreamers and misfits of Renovatus (a church for people under renovation) in North Carolina. The book includes many of  Martin’s  stories, but it also includes the stories of many of the people that labor along side of him.  And each story is full of grace. At the church where I serve, we also celebrate the communion mea each week. It never gets old, and Martin has helped me to understand why: “we are tasting the future”. He reminds the reader of the disciples on the road to Emmaus:  “it doesn’t matter how clueless and blind we might be, when we break bread, all of a sudden we can see Jesus again.
Renovatus may be a refuge for liars, dreamers, and misfits, but they seem to know how to ‘be’ the church. And that is what makes this book worth reading. It’s a call to action, a call to get back to basics and follow Jesus. Not the Jesus that we've invented based on pictures from the 15 century, but the Jesus that is described in the bible. Jesus: love who turned the table upside down in the temple. Jesus: the image of the invisible God and the first born over all creation. (Col 1:5) Prototype calls us to community, to worship, to serve, to be the hands and feet of God.

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book . 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

review of the global war on Christians

Remembering the old admonition that it’s wise not to talk politics, religion, or sex, I acknowledge that in taking on 2 of the taboo subjects, John L. Allen, Jr., took on a difficult challenge when he set out to write about the war in which the Christian Church is currently engaged. In his book The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (Image, 2013), he presents the state of the Church from a perspective of how she is being persecuted. He presents a global overview  addressing Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, writes about the myths concerning Persecution, (only where Christians are a minority, no one saw it coming, Islam, and it’s really political –and tells us why the myths are toxic. And then he addresses what he calls the ‘fallout, consequences and response.
I requested to review this book, thinking it would be helpful for a class I’m taking dealing with world religions…in retrospect, I wish I had chosen something else.
The cases of abuse that Allen documents are certainly disconcerting and give cause for alarm. It reminds me once again of how for the most part, we in the west have it pretty easy. We can practice our faith without too much fear of repercussion. Martyrdom is not the norm in the west. On page 273, Allen cites Todd Johnson talking about David Barrett who reportedly, when asked to name the most effective form of evangelism, replied “martyrdom’.  We may admire the martyrs, but most western Christians are in no hurry to join their ranks.
Included in Part III are 2 chapters that might be helpful to those who see the current situation as a precursor to the demise of the Christian church. Allen calls chapter 13 “Spiritual Fruits of the Global War”, and chapter 14 “What’s To Be Done”. He does have some suggestions here for those that assume that the end is near, and points out that in the past, as a result of persecution the church has always rallied and become stronger.
Although the book may seem to be written to galvanize the Church, to stir her from apathy and into action, it often seemed inflammatory to me. My heart bleeds for those who have suffered as a result of this war, and I’m sure that there are incidents around the world, but I was left, unfortunately, with the sense that people groups, governments, and above all, other religions, were being demonized. This may not be the author’s intent, and just my perception, but reading this book reminded me of the ‘war on terror’: the enemy was strangely undefined, but somehow portrayed as omnipresent and an overarching evil.
A main concern with this book is found in the acknowledgements (and if I hadn't agreed to read and review, I probably would have stopped reading on page ‘x’).  Allen states” While I don’t cite individual source material, because doing so would be too cumbersome, I want to acknowledge the main organizations, media outlets and individual experts upon whom I've relied:”. As a student, I find that to be totally unacceptable.  Although he states that he is compiling facts, to not give credit to the person who has done the work is considered plagiarism in most circles, and it also makes it difficult to know how much is fact, and how much is exaggeration, lies or partial truth used to further the author’s cause.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

a simple, but effective prayer

I’ve always been partial to Peter’s prayer as recorded in Matthew 14:30 - “Lord, save me!” , but after reading Robert Gelinas’ “The Mercy Prayer: The One Prayer Jesus Always Answers”, ( Thomas Nelson. 2013) I think I may have to reevaluate.
There’s something about this simple prayer that reminds me of the need I have for Jesus. And for mercy.  In fact I think others have written about this prayer before referring to it as the ‘Jesus prayer’. Regardless of what the prayer is called, it seems to be one of the most effective in scripture. I’m generally cautious when someone says always or never, but as Gelinas takes us through both testaments, there don’t seem to be any incidences of a request for mercy not being answered.
But anyone can read through scripture with a highlighter, or use computer software to find examples, and then compile them, so a long list doesn't impress me. What does make the difference in this book are the first few chapters, about 50 pages of what mercy is, and isn't, and how the author has seen it play out in his life.
A quick read, but with lots of substance. It might just change the way you look at prayer.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my opinion of the book in the form of a review. There was no requirement to write a positive review. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Experiencing the Psalms again

Psalmist, I Am: Live through the Many Emotions of a Follower, It’s OK! By Ray Abner (WestBow Press, 2012) is not what I had expected. The book is a collection of passages from the Psalms that show the many emotions that human beings – people like King David and like you and me- are prone to experience.
Abner has categorized passages that teach us about God, about prayer, about being in distress, about following and praising God, and even how a psalmist (not just King David, but all believers) can proclaim the ways of God, and in doing so point to Christ.
Selections include some of the better known or favorite passages from the psalms, and others that may not be as well known, but are equally applicable. Although Abner doesn't address this specifically, someone once asked if there were any psalm other than the 23rd that is appropriate for funerals. The answer, of course, is ‘yes’.
The ‘I Am’ part of the title comes from the pages that are provided for journaling our own blessings, distresses and praises along with the emotions that are stirred up as we dwell in the Psalms for any period of time.
My initial reaction was too discount the book because of its simplicity, but as I became more engaged, the simplicity is much of what makes it work.
Much thought went into the selection and categorizing of the passages, and they are pleasantly arranged.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Surrounded by Stupid

I wasn't aware that I was doing it so often, but lately I have been sharing internet memes that contain some variation on the theme 'you can't legislate stupidity'.  Someone laughingly? commented on my FB page and asked if were really surrounded by that many stupid people. She also asked if I needed prayer for that area of my life.

My response was that I usually posted something like that right after hearing or reading the news, and it was much more a matter of the state of the nation rather than my personal life, but since then I've been thinking about the things that I post and 'share' on social media.

The posts are often, but not always, my own ideas; and the shares are frequently passages of scripture that spoke to me during my morning Bible time.  I'm not clever enough to come up with the memes that i share, so when i see one that makes me laugh, makes me think or encourages me in some way, i hit the share button.

But back to legislating stupidity. Washington D.C. just happens to provide fodder for many jokes about adults acting in decidedly immature ways. Don't believe me? Watch late night TV: Leno, Letterman and all the rest. I might think a bit more about some of the  things I post, but as long as our elected representatives are so willing to be targets, I'll probably keep sharing those memes. But I'm praying for them too.

( 1 Tim 2:1-4)    I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.(NIV)

P.S. while I was writing this a friend called to tell me of the latest stroke of genius to come from Washington D.C.  : don't issue Nov food stamps. Yeah it hurts people who get the food stamps, but it also hurts the places where they shop.  what a great way to boost the economy.  

Hopefully the people who can will be generous and support their local food pantries---lots of hungry people out there.  

Some Retweetables

Messages from the Pastor’s Desk  by Dr. Jerry L. Jones, Sr. ( Outskirts Press, 2013) is a collection of short pithy sayings that offer motivation and encouragement. If they had appeared in my twitter feed, I probably would have ‘retweeted’ several of them. I got the impression that these are sayings that Dr Jones may have used more than once during the years when he served as Pastor. Motivation and encouragement abound, along with reminders that life as a Christ follower is not always easy.  I would find the book more useful if the ‘messages’ had been arranged in a way that doesn't appear to be haphazard.
I was confused by the disclaimer on the publisher’s page that this is a work of fiction, and that the events and characters are imaginary: there are no events or characters. I don’t ascribe this to Dr Jones, but to the publisher, but it certainly sets the tone for the reader to look at the writing as less than what it was intended to be.
Unfortunately this very short (40 pages) work is full of errors- grammar, punctuation and spelling- which detract from the overall readability of the book. Once again I wonder if the publisher really did anything to help this book become a success.
Although this book can be read in less than an hour, I would suggest that for full benefit, the reader take his time, months if necessary, and use it as part of a devotional regimen. Read one message at a time, ponder it, and look for ways to apply the timeless truths in your own life.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Choose Hope

In general I like Pastor Pete Wilson’s writing style, and this book “Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever” (W Publishing Group, 2013) just makes me hope that he keeps writing.
All of us have those moments when we wonder just what it is that we’re supposed to be doing or learning, and sometimes those moments seem overwhelming. We wonder how we can possibly be of any use to anyone, how we can serve, how God can use us in our brokenness.  And then Pete helps us to realize that “The Bible is a story about broken people, and God’s choice to love them anyway.
This book is about making choices that allow us to experience hope. It’s not a deep theological scholarly tome; it’s an account of a pastor encouraging a member of his congregation or a man walking along side a friend during dark time. It’s the encouragement you may be missing in your life, and which is now available to you.
Hope is a funny thing. In matters of the world it can be fleeting and ephemeral. It’s that emotional turmoil when we’re waiting for the numbers to be drawn for the mega-millions Powerball lottery; it’s the time between the job interview and the notification that you got (or didn't get) the job. It’s sitting by the phone hoping that the latest crush will call. It’s the hours in the hospital waiting room, hoping beyond hope that everything will be all right.
And then there is the hope that Christians experience, the hope that is available to everyone that believes. And it has nothing to do with lottery tickets, jobs, a love life, or even medical things. It’s a hope in the promises of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pete offers 4 concepts that are striking for their simplicity. I was reminded of the Old Testament account of Naaman who was told by Elisha to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. It seemed so simple that he was offended; he wanted something more complex and costly - something extravagant befitting his position in the world. Pete’s suggestions are simple, but not that easy. Remember that people without hope can’t always see beyond the very present current reality. Asking them to choose to change the way they look at something may be difficult.
But at the foundation, these concepts are simple choices. First we can choose to transform or to transfer. Next we can choose to be okay with not being okay; thirdly we can choose to trust rather than please, and last we can choose to free people rather than hurt them.
Four simple choices that help us deal with our past, accept our present, learn to trust God, and be able to forgive those that have hurt us. Let hope in, you’ll be glad you did!

No FTC disclaimer necessary since I bought this book. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When Life Sucks

So life sucks…what are you going to do about it? Life happens, and it’s not always pleasant, but somehow we’re expected to get through it. And then just about the time we convince ourselves that we’re invincible, death stares us in the face. The mortality rate in my state, and in yours, is 100%. Or as someone once said, “From the moment we’re born, we’re preparing to die.
What a pleasant way to encourage someone to read a book, but there it is. “The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Faith in Hard Times” by Frederick W. Schmidt (Abingdon Press, 2013) is a stark reminder that bad things happen to good people, and that people of faith are not exempt from the basic realities of life.
The blurb on the back cover cautions the reader that ‘life is raw, and so is the language in this book’. But the language was, in the context of this story, not a concern. Schmidt frames his book around the death of a loved one, his brother Dave. There was nothing ‘nice’ about the death; Dave, a surgeon, is struck with cancer and for 7 years lives with an “expiration date” stamped on his forehead.  Real people in raw situations react in a variety of ways and one of those ways is to use raw language.
The author helps himself and us to learn to deal with people in those raw situations in a way that would pass the ‘Dave Test”: with authenticity.
All too often when we’re faced with struggles, our own or those of others, we default to a way that is anything but authentic. We rail at God, we leave the faith and the church of our childhood, or at least we take a break. But Schmidt helps us realize that we can be real without abandoning our faith, in fact sometimes the situations serve to strengthen our faith.
The book is basically the 10 questions that comprise the Dave Test. And the answers are not so targeted that they only fit one point of view. They are at once pastoral, in the sense of pastors need to hear this too and also as advice that pastors might give to those who are hurting and grieving. But they also speak to us as human beings: when I’m in this situation is it ok for me to feel this way, and how do I deal with these feelings? They speak to the friends of those who are hurting: I don’t know what to say, what to do; I want to help but feel so inadequate. Answers, suggestions, hints, and subtle nudges alternated with much more overt shoves help us to learn to deal with our own insecurities as we face the ones we love in their times of loss.
This book is for anyone who has ever been in the position of being a friend to someone who was hurting and just didn’t know what to say.

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Saving Casper: respect rather than brute force

Jim Henderson and Matt Casper (Jim and Casper Go to Church) have teamed up again to discuss another important issue in how Christians relate to people outside the church. Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation (Tyndale Momentum, 2013) reminds us that relationship matters.
After the success of their previous book, (Pastor Jim invited Atheist Casper to go to churches with him and to evaluate those churches), the burning question on numbers-focused (nickels and noses, butts and bucks) Christians is simple: but did he say the sinner’s prayer? Did he get saved?
And many of those numbers-focused folks would make a case that they’re being biblical, after all, the Savior’s last words were to go and make disciples, teach and baptize. Preaching from the pulpit at a local church, on a street corner, or at a huge rally should result in people being saved, and then it’s time to move on to the next sermon, the next event, the next corner or city.
But all too often for far too many Christians, getting someone to say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ is the end of the discipleship journey.  Henderson takes things to a new level with Casper. They two seem to have become friends, and although they may disagree on a number of things, they are building a relationship and the doors are left open. Henderson takes a different approach: instead of just trying to force his belief system on someone else, he has become engaged in listening and learning. Yes he does talk about his beliefs, but he is also interested in learning what Casper believes, and why, and how that translates into a worldview in which God does not play a major role.
The discussions in this book deal with the ‘big questions’ from the perspective of differing worldviews, and there is a sense of mutual respect throughout the discussion. Henderson never loses sight of the mandate of the Great Commission, but his approach tends to be gentler than we may have seen in the past. His approach is to lead someone into the kingdom rather than shoving, loving them into the kingdom rather than beating them into it. And although it may take longer, and require more work, the discipleship process is already in place.
Henderson is actively engaged in building bridges instead of walls, and that’s a lesson that we can all be reminded of from time to time.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: God of the Underdogs

God of the Underdogs: When the Odds Are against You, God Is for You (Nelson Books, 2013) by Matt Keller is one of the books that I requested to review because I liked the title, and because of the hype on Twitter. I’m glad I got the book. Using examples of Underdogs from the Bible, Keller sets out to show us why we have no excuses. The fact that we didn’t grow up with all the benefits isn’t a reason for us to condemn ourselves to the pit of failure.
And we all have excuses. Probably one or more of the ones that are highlighted in this book. Excuses like a lack of qualifications, a less that glowing history, a bad reputation, chances being slim to none. But throughout Scripture, God took people that had what surely seemed like legitimate excuses, and changed those challenges into opportunities to excel for the glory of God.
So what, you might ask. Well here’s the deal. God worked miracles through a bunch of misfits that we might relegate to “The Island of Misfit Toys”. He was able to use them because He saw the potential that no one, including the people themselves could see. And God still works those miracles today, using ordinary people, maybe people like you. People who don’t think they’ve got enough to offer to be of much use to anyone.
Keller realizes that even the biblical heroes had obstacles in their paths, obstacles that with God's help they were able to overcome, and that is a truth that is still true today. We have obstacles that, with God's help, we can overcome.
Each chapter comes with a link for additional material to help you get the most out of the book, and help individuals – you, or someone you know- start their journey from underdog to hero.

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

review of Clear Winter Nights

Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and what Comes after (Multnomah Books, 2013) by Trevin Wax is a fun read, with lots of “WOW” moments. You’re reading along, enjoying the story, and suddenly theological truth is staring you in the face.
This is the story of a 22 year old college student, active in his church, who everyone assumes is going to enter the ministry, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Then life happens to him, skeletons in his family are revealed, and the resulting crisis of faith leaves him wondering if his faith is real.
Admittedly the plot is a little hokey at times, a little too pat, but even when the scene is predictable, Wax manages to get his points across.  Young Chris ends up helping care for Grampa after a stroke leaves him needing assistance. A snowstorm ensures that they have time alone for some catching up, and as is often the case, those who know us well can see right through our attempts to mask the pain. Pastoral care at its finest ensues, and along the way Chris has to examine his beliefs, his attitudes and values, and ultimately his faith.
Every time we adapt to the notion that we’re reading a novel, we discover that we’re holding a volume of theology. Sexuality, substance abuse, relationships, death, and so many of the ‘big questions’ are addressed in ways that don’t require a degree in theology to understand.
I’m torn as I try to rate this book: is it great literature? Probably not. Is it a complete theology? No. Did I enjoy reading it? Definitely yes.  If I was in the t-shirt or bumper sticker business, this book would provide whole seasons worth of material. And one of the things I liked best about the ending is that enough of Chris’ questions weren’t answered. Either so the reader can use the attached study questions to help him draw his own conclusions, or hopefully because in the not so different future we’ll be reading about another season in the life of Chris, a young Christian man who struggles with the same issues as most of us.
When Clear Winter Nights first appeared on the list of books available for me to review I passed on it, since I tend to be drawn to different types of reading material, but something prompted me to request the book, and I’m glad I did. Just when you think you’re curled up in front of the fireplace with a good book, King Jesus appears and shares another of His eternal truths.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

review Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

In the Old Testament concealed, in the New Testament revealed. David Murray in his book “Jesus on every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), talks about his search for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament.
            This book chronicles the journey of a pastor to make sense of the Old Testament, a journey which leads to discovering Jesus in a whole new, different, and exciting way.  I can relate to his dilemma, and have made the journey myself, beginning by wondering how I could ever make sense of the Sunday school Bible stories, and now I find myself preaching more from the Old Testament than many in the congregation find necessary.
            Far too many people seem to think that since Jesus is the New Covenant, that the Old Testament is no longer applicable to our lives. In fact as Murray puts it, his interest in the Old Testament was pretty much limited to the first 2 chapters of Genesis and how it related to the creation/evolution debate.  But as he read and studied further, it became obvious to him, as it should to all of us, that Jesus is found all throughout the First Testament, not just in the messianic prophesies such as those found in Isaiah.
            Murray addresses what he calls keys to interpret the pages of the only Bible that Jesus had to read. He helps guide us on a search for Jesus in a number of places: the creation, the characters found in the pages of scripture, in the law, the history, the poetry and the proverbs and in the covenants.
Although at first glance this may seem like the author’s journey, he has done his research, and he offers an impressive list of references which back up his up personal experience. Because this book is written from a first person perspective, the noted theologians and scholars that he quotes give additional credence. But at the same time, the book is written in a style which can be read, understood and enjoyed by the lay people who struggle with the relevance of the Old Testament.
Anyone who thinks the Old Testament is not relevant to ‘New Testament Christians’ should read this book. It offers what for many will be a new perspective on the ancient texts, a new perspective that is actually the perspective that the first century Christians would have held.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for posting a review. A positive review was not a requirement.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

review: Lutzer "The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent

I have mixed feelings about Erwin Lutzer’s (with Steve Miller) “The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent: an Informed Response to Islam’s War with Christianity” (Harvest House Publishers, 2013).
On the one hand, this is a very well thought out and well researched work. It has a compelling message for the Christian Church, one that needs to be heard and heeded. The author presents a problem and offers suggestions as to how the Church should deal with those problems; he offers background information to make his points, and his research closely aligns with what many others are saying. He juxtaposes his thoughts on the situation under consideration with a discussion of the Seven Churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.  The author makes a point early on of saying that he does not intend to teach ways of sharing Christ with Muslims since there are other resources available for those who are interested in pursuing that train of thought.
Despite his expressed intention to not go for the emotions, at times I felt that the book was rather inflammatory in nature, and instead of dealing with Islam’s war with Christianity, that I was reading about Christianity’s war with Islam.
Emotional tone aside, there are some very good points made about the desire for Sharia law to be established wherever there are Muslim conclaves, even when Sharia Law conflicts with the law of the land, in this particular case the Constitution of the United States.
Another point he makes is that the extremists have the advantage: if any moderate Muslim dares to disagree with them, they are seen to be treating Sharia Law, and thus the Quran lightly, or disrespectfully, and that subjects them to censure and punishment. Those who disagree with the more radical statements are often reluctant to express their disagreement lest they or their family come under attack.
As I was reading this, I was reminded again and again of the seeming injustices in today’s society. Someone from a minority group can express any opinion he or she wants with seeming impunity: it’s my right – its freedom of speech. But that same person proclaiming his right to free speech doesn’t want anyone to disagree with him. if you disagree you’re prejudiced, your speech is a hate crime and must be prosecuted.
Given the recent events in the Middle East, this book is particularly timely and should be read by teachers, politicians, pastors, and others interested in learning more about how to respond to Islam’s war on Christianity.

I imagine that I will be able to use this book as a resource in an upcoming class dealing with world religions. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review : Raising Boys by Design

Somewhere along the lines, society has forgotten what it once knew about raising boys.  In their book Raising Boys  by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal about what Your Son Needs to Thrive,  Gregory L. Jantz and Michael Gurian (WaterBrook Press, 2013) set out to remind us of things that we used to know.  (Disgust with our insistence that we be “PC” regardless of the damage inflicted is purely mine – and not hinted at in any way by the authors).
Jantz and Gurion point out that boys learn/grow/develop/mature differently than girls do, (Yes, we’ve forgotten what used to be obvious) and that one boy will develop differently than other boys, even those raised in the same family, neighborhood or culture.  My personal take from this book is that there are a lot of theories out there about raising children, and when people try to apply them universally, without considering the uniqueness of each child, we get into trouble, and raise troubled kids.
The authors encourage us as parents and others involved in raising boys to not try to place each child into a predetermined mold, but rather to celebrate their uniqueness.
This is not just an opinion book; it’s based on personal experiences, biblical teaching, and scientific observations. It’s not a book that is can be read cover to cover without stopping to digest some of the important truths that are being shared.
One of the things that is especially helpful is the roadmap to development for which the authors use the acronym HERO: Honor, Enterprise, Responsibility and Originality (see page 72). Later in the book they will expand HERO to HEROIC and add Intimacy and Creativity (pg 184).
Many cultures have rites of passage for boys turning into men, and although there are some here too (high school graduation, drivers license, among others) the authors are proponents of intentional rites of passage, which include mentoring and studying to learn what being a man really means. The period of study is followed, in the example used in this book, by a public celebration. The example used here involves a scriptural basis and the boys along with dads and mentors, studied the book of Mark as they were involved in service and bonding activities.
Each chapter concludes with a series of “next steps” which help the reader to become more aware of some of the issues involved, and as the questions are answered, it becomes obvious what must be done next.
This book will be useful for anyone involved in the process of boys to men: Dads, grandpas, teachers, youth pastors, pastors, and yes even Moms.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

OPEN, a reveiw

For years, in church and at conferences, men have been hearing about accountability partners, accountability groups, and accountability software. We’ve heard all about accountability, that it’s a good idea, that we should find someone with whom we can be accountable, but other than an exhortation to ‘ask the hard questions’ and maybe be provided with a generic list of some of those hard questions, we were pretty much on our own. We’re like the men that Gross met on a plan: they installed the software on the computer to help them with a porn problem, and then hit the strip clubs in Vegas. The unspoken message being that if you stay away from internet porn, you’re doing OK.  Until now. Craig Gross makes it clear that there are other issues in our lives, and why we need to be open about them all.
            “Open: What Happens When You Get Real, Get Honest, and Get Accountable” (Thomas Nelson, 2013) doesn’t just tell us that being accountable to someone is a good way to deal with one of the very prevalent sexual sins of today’s society. At some level we already know that. But Gross goes farther, and using examples, his own, those of his group members, of people he meets at conferences and on airplanes, he gets real with us as to why we need this gift called accountability and how it serves in all areas of life: porn, yes, but also marital relations, finances, diet, exercise, time management, and just about any other issue you might be dealing with.
And after the examples, comes the work.  Gross not only offers examples of why and what, but also how. Face to face, phone, Skype, a weekend retreat, tailoring the questions, answering the questions ahead of time, to make the most of the regularly scheduled time together.
For years we’ve heard that accountability is a good idea, now we get some insight into why, and how, to be in a relationship that demands gut wrenching accountability. We get examples of how it works, and just as importantly because Gross is so open about his own experiences, we get to see that all this noise about being open and accountable is more than just a good idea. It really works.
Sorry, guys, it’s not a read the book and get over it, type of deal. This is a good idea, an idea that works, but it involves some commitment on your part. Read the book, apply the principles, and watch your life get better!
Highly recommended for men in general, anyone involved with men’s ministry and youth pastors (you don’t really think that you 7th grader hasn’t been exposed to stuff on line, do you?)

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review of "Where Are the Christians"

In “Where Are the Christians: the Unrealized Potential of a Divided Religion” (Plain Sight Publishing, 2103) Shuster starts out by writing that every culture and civilization is shaped by its history, and Christianity is no exception. Accordingly he starts with a history of Christianity, divided into four distinct epochs, starting with the evangelizers of the first 300 years, and finishing with a chapter which studies the period since the reformation.  
The book is divided into 4 parts: a history of Christianity; an attempt to define Christianity from several viewpoints; an attempt to categorize Christians according to their behaviors; and finally a vision for uniting Christians to be the force that Jesus imagined.
Granted the multiple denominations, para-church organizations, not to mention the non-denominational mega-churches lead to interesting discussions about Christianity, but there have been some constants throughout the years as to the basics of the faith. non-negotiable tenets of the faith concerning the Trinity, concerning Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
As I started reading, I thought that finally I had found a brief concise history of the Christian church that I could live with. Schuster has researched and presented the growing pains, the councils, the abuses, the reformation, and some of the movers and shakers. But then, for me it comes to a grinding halt. Among his characterizations of the Christian timeline he includes a group he calls “restorers” and includes the LDS Church and Jehovah Witnesses, two groups which are widely regarded as cults rather than Christian denominations.
I went back and read about the author, who says he has been a Christian all his life, many years as a Roman Catholic, and now a Mormon. This book becomes less about Christianity and more about proving that the Mormon (LDS) Church is indeed Christian. I don’t profess to be able to tell what’s on a person’s heart, but Mormonism, except recently by the LDS church, is not widely acknowledged as a Christian denomination. Other denominations may differ on many things: how to administer the eucharist, at what age should one be baptized, the role of women in the church, the hierarchy. But the attributes of God, the triune God: one in essence, three in purpose (or person, as preached by Sproul) is not open to debate.
Schuster uses data available from the Pew Research Center and the Barna group, widely respected organizations, including a Pew US Religious Knowledge Survey from 2010 (erroneously cited in the end notes as being from Sept 2012). Interestingly enough the various tables and charts that he uses all show members of the LDS church at the top of the list among many denominations as far as religious knowledge and even certain “Christian” behaviors. What is noticeably missing is that in the Pew Forum report it does not say among Christians, in fact in one place the descriptor reads as follows: “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.”
Schuster has done his homework, and there is a lot of good information presented, but there is just enough emphasis on LDS theology to make the entire book suspect. Little things like talking about scripture and including in parentheses “for example bible” cause great alarm. Christianity holds a closed canon, when Christians discuss scripture, they mean the Bible.
Even in his assessment of where the Christians are to be found (departing, adequate, hesitating or laboring) seems to focus on faith as a result of works, rather than works as a result of faith.
Obviously since the LDS church is less than 200 years old, there isn’t a lot of discussion in the parts of the book that deal with the Christian church before 1830. The last portion of the book however does include many references to this rapidly growing religion, culture or cult. Quoting from the book of Mormon in a book about Christianity does not validate it as scripture.
There are a lot of good ideas presented in section 4, a vision for the uniting of the Christian church. Everyone can identify with his basic themes, of strengthening the individual, the family, the church and ultimately the community. Other groups are ‘preaching’ that concept too, so it’s nothing new.

Overall the book is well thought out, well researched, and well written, but I have to disagree with the author’s basic premise which seems to be geared towards including the LDS church as the forerunner and model for the future of the Christian church in America. For me this book was useful in seeing how there are many similarities between the churches of Christendom and the Mormon Church, but there are still many differences, and the differences tend to be in the things that form the bedrock of the Christian faith. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Living in 'Thy Kingdom Come'

In “This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God” ((Multnomah Books, 2006, 2013) Rick McKinley shares lessons he has learned about living the Kingdom of God. Although he has enough lessons for this and at least one more book, he also shares lessons from some of the other members of his community: Imago Dei, in Portland, Oregon.
            The journey that McKinley envisions for his readers contains 3 distinct legs: discovering the Kingdom, Re-visioning life in the Kingdom, and then practicing the presence of that Kingdom. But this is not just s book full of theoretical examples; this is a portrait of life in the trenches. This book is full of examples of people looking at scripture and finding ways to apply it in their own lives to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. It’s people like Dan and Lynn and ‘Blanket Coverage’ or Kindra and Heather who ‘adopted’ a rehab center and showed the women there what God's love looks like in practical ways. (see chapter 8)
            ‘This Beautiful Mess’ is a lot like ‘Jesus in the Margins’ another book by this author. McKinley doesn’t try to paint the picture that life was crap, I found Jesus and now everything in wonderful. He reminds us that Jesus called his followers to pick up their crosses, to be salt and light, and above all to go into the world sharing the gospel.
            It’s that part about ‘go’ that he addresses here. We’re reminded that the world isn’t always a pretty place; that’s there’s dirt, pain, poverty and disease, hurting and hungry people, disenfranchised and marginalized, and Jesus is standing right there with them, waiting to see what we’re willing to do for the ‘least of these.’
This is not an easy book to read, not because of the writing style, the vocabulary, or the deep theological discussions. It’s hard to read because it reminds us that if we get honest with ourselves we might have to recognize that our words and our actions don’t always match – and when it comes to caring for those who need it most, they should.

Highly recommended for anyone who is willing to explore this beautiful mess we call the Kingdom, and is interested in learning how to live within it!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

under attack

       I shouldn't be surprised. But I am. I am always amazed at how Satan uses some of the nicest people to thwart activity that is aimed at furthering the Kingdom of God.
      God calls. People respond, working through the power of the Holy Spirit, and suddenly, just like in the Garden, Satan makes an appearance, and asks some 'innocent' questions - questions designed to stir up doubt, designed to throw up roadblocks.  God didn't really say that, did he? You don't think God meant it that way do you? Do you really think that God would do that, after all He loves you.
   In case you've forgotten, let me remind you. Satan does not have your best interests at heart. His questions are not designed to help you better understand God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. His questions are designed to distract us from the mission that God has called us to. He wants to slow or stop anything that will bring glory to God, slow or stop anything that furthers the Kingdom.
    Lately I've seen things starting to change, change for the better, change that allows more people to be reached for God and His Kingdom, and then there's Satan, sticking his nose in, agitating, causing trouble, and using God's people to slow things down.
    Prayers welcome!

Death by book. A review of death by living

Each of us has a story, it involves the journey from birth to death, the journey called life. In Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent (Thomas Nelson, 2013), N.D. Wilson tells some of those stories. They are personal stories that involve grandparents, and parents, that involve his own story, and those of his children. He seems to indicate at various times that this is a family history that he is writing to that future generations will know the story, understand the lives that resulted in their coming to be.
            I like the concept of telling the story, of being part of the story, of being part of God's story. But this book didn’t draw me into the story. Christian theology, a little atheistic philosophy and Mormon terminology are all represented. The different ideas appear, with no rationale, no justification, no explanation, and as I finished the book, it truly seemed to represent a society where there is truly no standard for good, so there cannot be a standard for bad.
            About 40 years ago I worked with psychiatric patients; one day one of them was doing psychological testing, he looked at an inkblot and described it as a butterfly on LSD. Wilson’s writing style reminded me of that young man. Short sentences. Choppy. Scattered. Difficult to follow.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Future Grace is Waiting

John Piper does an amazing job of showing his readers that grace is a lot more than having gotten something they don’t deserve. Grace is yesterday, today, and most of all tomorrow. Using his vast knowledge of scripture (in English, and apparently in the original languages also) Piper talks of God's promises as having come true even as they are still pending. Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God” (Colorado, Springs, CO, Multnomah Books, 2nd edition, 2012) points out again and again the depth of God's love as manifested throughout the Old and New Testaments, and how we are still waiting for those promises to be fulfilled in an eschatological sense.
This book is slightly easier to read than most textbooks, but there is so much information presented that there is absolutely no way it can be classified as popular press. Piper suggests that one of God's ‘most precious promises’ is found at Romans 8:32 (“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”) The book has many scripture references, with 60 of them coming from Romans chapter 8.
Insights such as shame being well-placed or misplaced not depending on how bad you look before men, but how much glory you bring to God, (p 132-133) or ministry being what all Christians do, (or should be doing), (p 287) or lust interfering with intimacy with God (p 388) or even the fact that persecution will be part of picking up the cross (p 346) jump and scream for the reader to ponder their significance.
If you’re looking for a light read to take to the beach, don’t bother with this book. If you want to be stretched, and come to know the God of love better than you may have imagined possible, grab this book as quickly as possible and plan on spending time devouring it: not gulping it down, but taking it in small bites, chewing, savoring, and pondering it.
The book is well thought out, well researched, and it is obvious that Piper is as scholar as well as a pastor
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to write an honest review.


Monday, July 29, 2013


Alex McFarland has tackled the tough job of picking the toughest of the tough questions about Christianity and trying to answer them, not for theologians, but for young people. (The 21 Toughest Questions your Kids Will Ask about Christianity: and how to Answer Them Confidently, Tyndale House, 2013)
First of all let me get the ‘negatives’ out of the way. I was distracted by the layout of this book, too many sidebars, key concepts and quotes scattered throughout each chapter made it hard for me to follow the author’s train of thought. I think he also got carried away with some of his answers. I kept thinking about the person who when asked what time it is, answers with the instructions on how to build a watch. When I think kids I usually think under the age of 12, but this book definitely seems to be speaking to an older group, and the biographical data says that McFarland has spoken in “hundreds of churches and university campuses worldwide”.  
On the positive side, McFarland has done an excellent job of picking some of the questions that most Christian parents are going to have to try to answer for their children. Everyone seems to want to know why we’re so ‘exclusive’, if the miracles really happened, why God allows such horrible things to happen, and how can anyone think that God really loved the world when the Old Testament is full of accounts that should be rated “R” for violence. Children want to understand the Trinity, and unlike adults, they’re apt to ask someone to explain it to them. They want to know how Christians can be so mean to other people (and each other) and there are a lot of other questions too. Questions that leave most people trembling as they try to answer without sounding to off base.
This is a much needed book. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, like is implies on the back jacket, that we’re all theologians, but McFarland’s point is really that with a little bit of background information, parents don’t need to be afraid to talk to their children about the mysteries of the faith. And he does provide some of that information along with some interesting ways of getting the point across.
Along with some answers, he provides some interesting additional information, geared towards sparking interest in further study on their own. It’s not written for little children in the style of a “Beginner’s Bible” but he manages not to go so far in the other direction that you need a Seminary education to be able to pronounce some of the words, much less begin to understand them.
I rate this book 4/5.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (And I’ve already passed it on to a friend who is helping someone try to make sense of this journey called the Christian Faith.

Friday, July 26, 2013

God uses the most unlikely people

We all make poor choices, and sometimes those choices concern the things that we think are important. Using Samson (read about him in Judges, chapters 13-16) as the primary example, Pastor Craig Groeschel does some teaching on how to pick our battles in such a way as to make an impact for God. In his latest book, Fight: Winning the Battles that Matter Most (Zondervan, 2013), Groeschel makes a strong case for allowing God to use us despite our weaknesses. As he puts it, Samson is the strongest man to ever live, but his story doesn't have a happy, ‘walking-with-God’ ending. Why, because he made some poor choices. (Can you relate?)
Samson was a Nazarite; set aside, dedicated to God, and as such made three vows. 1) No booze; 2) don’t touch anything dead; and 3) hair doesn't get cut.  Of course if you read the Sacred Text, you’ll see that Samson broke all of his promises. Groeschel points out that as Samson got off track, and lost focus, he allowed lust, entitlement and pride to take over. He listens to his emotions instead of God.
Groeschel writes in an engaging style, he’s pastoral, but reading this book was like reading a letter written to me. He’s transparent, but not in the tabloid sensationalism style, and time and again he referred to his own Samson moments. Time and again I was reminded that I have Samson moments too. We’re all faced with Samson moments, but Groeschel shows how he uses (and we can use them too) his faith, an active prayer life, and knowledge of the Word of God to overcome the loss of focus moments in our lives.
The happy ending is that Samson after a life of letting his “I want it” emotions rule his thinking was able to turn back to God. My take away from this book is that I’ll never measure up to the super-heroes of the faith, but that doesn't mean that in my imperfections I can’t be used.
Learn to be a warrior, you’re going to have battles, and you've already got the tools you need to fight those battles (faith, prayer and the Word of God). The choice is yours – what kind of decisions will you make?
I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a favorable review.

4.5 stars.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Your Perception of God Matters (otherwise you can't correct it!)

Everybody has an idea of Who or What God is. Unfortunately for most people they haven’t done quite enough thinking about the question and so they have a distorted view. In his book  God Distorted: How Your Earthly Father Affects Your Perception of God and Why It Matters (Multnomah Books, 2013), John Bishop addresses the problem that arises when we try to put God into the box of being just like our earthly dad, only bigger.
God is NOT just a bigger version of the father that loved you, cared for you, and taught you how to play ball. Nor is the super-sized dad that abandoned you, beat you or abused you in any way. But the mystery of God is such that it’s difficult to understand Him, and so we usually resort to comparing the seemingly unknowable God with someone that we do know, or with the concept as it happens to be defined in our own current reality.  Mixing earthly reality with heavenly mystery leaves us confused. God Distorted is Bishops attempt to help us deal with some of that confusion.
Bishop shares his heart with the reader as he talks about his own life journey which includes a father who abandoned him through death, and the various father figures, good and bad, which have been present in his life. He shares about the efforts he has made, and the mistakes, in his own fathering experience.
This book has three parts. First Bishop talks about different types of fathers, the men who have contributed to our perception of God. Fathers who are absent, passive, demanding or enabling. The men who always seem to be either accusing or abusing. And even the fathers who actually do a pretty good job, but good is not the best. “Good is still not God”.
Part Two talks more about God. The father who is always there, in control, completely safe and always accepting. We do things that aren’t pleasing to God, and he’s capable of truly continuing to love us even though he doesn’t like the things we’re doing.  And Part Three invites us to give up the images of Father God that we have created in favor of accepting the restoration and reconciliation from the God of Scripture.
Scripture, theology and personal experiences from the author and the people that he has interviewed combine to make this book one that you definitely want to read. And for many of us, it’s a book that we need to read and reread so that the perception that matters is the correct one.
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

A review of "I've Got Your Back" by James C. Galvin

I've Got Your Back: A Leadership Parable. Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well,  (James C Galvin,  Tenth Power, 2012) is based on the premise that if Jesus were to write a book about leadership, He would tell it in story form. 
Galvin does not tell a story as succinctly or as well as Jesus.
This parable includes a group of young people who are struggling with people who want to thrust them into roles that they are uncomfortable with. As they meet often and discuss their issues, an opportunity arises to learn how to be a good leader by being a good follower. The parable seemed too simplistic to me although there were some highlights.  I served in the Armed Forces so I can relate to acronyms. REAL (Responsible, Ethical, Authentic and Loving) are definitely attributes that most good leaders have.
The discussion of Types I, II and III followers also made sense as Galvin talked about following God, Inherited authorities (parents, legal authorities) and Human beings (with or without organizational authority).
This book is written in three parts: the Parable, a “Concise Theology of Leadership and Followership” and a study guide. In his Concise Theology, the author includes various scripture references for each of his points, but I still felt that something was missing.
There is some good information presented, but this was not an easy read for me. If I had not agreed to read the whole book and write an honest review, I probably wouldn't have finished it.

3/5 I received a copy of the book in exchange for this review.

book review: Chivalry by Zach hunter

Chivalry: The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World by Zach Hunter, (Tyndale Momentum, 2013) is a not about knights chasing dragons and rescuing damsels in distress. It’s not about being a gentleman in a world that no longer teaches much about opening doors, and assisting with chairs. What Hunter sets out to do here is show how we can use the Knight’s code of conduct to be just people in a world that isn’t always just. The back jacket tells us that this is applying the ‘code’ to the teachings of Jesus is a radical way that will transform the person who applies the principles.
Chivalry is a fun book to read, it includes some theology, quotes from world leaders, some personal insights and interactions, and highlights a definite passion for justice for all, including and especially the marginalized.  The principles that Hunter addresses are sound, and include things like accountability (never walk alone) perseverance (never abandon the quest) justice, morality, and honor.
As I was reading, I kept returning to the idea that a lot of what Hunter writes about is the stuff that we want people to take from church on Sunday morning so that they can use it during the week. In fact some of it is stuff that pastors wish people would practice on Sunday during the Sunday school, worship and fellowship time.
The study questions and ‘codes’ at the end of the book are an excellent resource, and this might be a fun study to engage with in a small group setting.
I saw it as helpful, but not quite as transformational as the author would like it to be.

In exchange for a honest review I was provide a copy of the book by the publisher.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I just love tech "Support"

Yesterday my tablet wouldn't work...well it worked, just wouldn't do everything it's supposed to do. It couldn't find the internet. Took it with me to someplace else and still still no luck.  Come back home and since the lap tops can connect I figure it must be a problem with my 8 month old tablet.  Call tech support. After 1 hangup and 2 transfers,  finally got to talk with someone who was fairly rude, (i didn't appreciate the fact that while he was supposedly looking for a solution, he left the line open so I could hear the jokes being made - he tells me his was liacing (or something like that))

After a while he tells me that he has identified a problem...it's the software, and can be easily fixed remotely, but since my 1 year warranty expired last week, it will cost me $119.00 Yeah I bought the device in Nov, it's now early June, but the one year warranty has already expired, and just a week ago at that....go figure.
In the meantime Nolan tells me that his I-Pod and his tablet are doing the same thing, so maybe it's not the device after all.

I tell the techie his warranty info is wrong, and that I'm going to explore other options.

Call the internet provider, input telephone number 4 times, get transferred to several different departments and finally get to talk to someone who assures me that it's an easy fix, but first, do i know all about "ABC services"?  Nope, so she proceeds to tell me. After a couple of minutes I interrupt to tell her I'm not interested in the upsell, can we just get back to fixing the connectivity problem...... but now, instead of this being an easy fix, of course it's a very complicated problem that's not covered under the basic service agreement. But I can buy the extended service plan, and they'll get me taken care of.

Forget you too!

Next step: what I should have done before wasting time on those calls to Bangladesh!  Unplugged the modem, waited 15 seconds and plugged it back in.  Devices working as advertised.

So glad I didn't pay over $100.00 to have somebody tell me to pull the plug ☺

Device 101...doesn't work? reboot.  if it works, good, if not, unplug something, wait 15 seconds, and plug it back in. Still doesn't work?  go buy a new one. Does it work now? That will be $119.00, thanks for calling!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Real Win review

With a mega-church pastor and a football player as the authors, I expected a bigger win.  The Real Win: A Man’s Quest for Authentic Success has the all of right ingredients, but somehow when the plate is put on the table, it seems like something is missing. 
            Having said that, the authors do a good job of defining winning, and helping the reader to realize that the things that we might think matter, are really only temporary, and usually don’t have an eternal impact. Then they set out to show us what the real win involves, and how to make the difference that really matters.  
            It takes more than what the world might call a success to make the kind of man that God is interested in raising up, and it was a painful reminder to read several of the chapters and see where I could and should be doing a much better job.
            Idols and temptations get in the way of our having a real relationship with God, and then there are the things that we’re not doing – men are not leading their families like God has ordained, we forget that God is still God even when we’re at work, and how are we really doing at loving our wives like Christ loved the church.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write something positive.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Donuts in the Collection Plate?

Plastic Donuts: Giving that Delights the Heart of the Father, by Jeff Anderson, (Multnomah, 2013) is a delightful book. It’s a simple read, but certainly not all that easy if you try to put into practice the principles that the author discusses.
This is a book about biblical models of giving: tithing, giving sacrificially, giving based on your ability, giving because you can. And it all starts with a engaging and charming story about a little girl who brings her daddy a plastic donut. Okay who wants a donut in the collection plate? Even a plastic donut that doesn't leave crumbs.
But this is not a book about donuts or plastic, it’s about giving, but with a twist. Although Anderson discusses different ways that people give, (or don’t give) this is more about the “cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7) and the heart’s role in the giving process.  I smiled as Anderson described the day that his 18 month old daughter brought him a gift, her pleasure in giving it, and her pleasure in seeing his pleasure in receiving it. Yesterday I tried to put myself in that position: I bring something of importance to God, and He smiles as He watches my delight in bringing a present to Abba Daddy.  I can’t imagine Him smiling if I throw a check in the plate with a bitter attitude because I see the offering as a way God has of taking something that’s mine.
I’m encouraging people at the church where I serve to read this book to learn more about giving that delights the Father, and the giver!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Missing the Mark

What’s Your Mark? Every Moment Counts”  ( Jeremy Cowart, Zondervan, 2013) is described on the BookSneeze web site as “celebrity photographer and social artist Jeremy Cowart (presenting) 16 compelling stories of people who are making their mark today.”  I wanted to read/review something from a different genre than I usually do. The cover of the book caught my attention, and the concept of making a mark, leaving a legacy is certainly one which I can embrace.
This book, instead of making a mark, missed the mark.  It includes the Gospel of Mark, and in my opinion blandly written stories of nice people that are doing nice things. I've actually heard of some of the people (Roma Downey, Jeff Shinabarger and Gary Haugen) that were showcased, but if I hadn't  this book certainly wouldn't encourage me to find out more.   In what seemed like a desperate attempt to give this book some credibility, the last  not-so “compelling story” features Jesus as the original mark maker.
“Celebrity photographer” led me to expect some really compelling art. Instead there are pictures of each person holding a picture of some aspect of their ‘mark’.
I like the cover, so  I’ll give this book a 1/5.
I received this book from BookSneeze.com in exchange for my honest opinion in a review. I was (obviously) not required to write a favorable review.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When "Good" is "Bad"

      Spark: Transform Your World, One Small Risk at a Time (Jason Jaggard, WaterBrook Press, 2012) is a book that I agreed to review because the title intrigued me. Much of what Jaggard had to say could be transformational for anyone willing to put forth the effort and follow through, but I found  it hard to follow his thought processes at times: a lot of the content, although interesting, seemed to be more filler than anything else. At times it seemed like I was reading the script for an infomercial for a motivational seminar.  Having said that, there are gems in this book that make the digging well worth the effort.  There are two gems that I found especially useful.

            Jaggard puts forth his case for what he calls “spark groups”: groups of 10 to 15 people who meet weekly for 5 weeks to discuss what kind of risk they can/will make that will do one of two things. Taking the risk is designed to either a) make the individual a better person or b) make the world a better place. As he discusses SPARK groups he makes it clear that there is no curriculum, the intent of these groups is to foster an environment where risk-taking is not only acceptable but encouraged. And it’s important to realize that we can all do something, individually or with the help of friends that will make a difference. But after deciding to take the risk, there has to be some follow through, so the 2nd and following weeks there is some time devoted to discussing the outcome of taking the particular risk.
            The second thing that really stood out is that there is a major difference between ‘being good’ and ‘not being bad’. Using the parable of the talents as told in Matthew 25, Jaggard points out that the man who buried the one talent to keep it safe didn’t really do anything wrong, but in burying the money and hoping that it would be safe, he really didn’t do any good.  If we are truly following Christ, then we can’t just sit back and not smoke, not drink, not cuss, not fool around. We’re called to go and do good, not just not do bad.
            Jaggard has some well thought out ideas, and he shows how they can be implemented in a variety of contexts.
            I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing this review. I was not required to give a positive review.
            Comparing “SPARK” to books I have recently read, I would rate it 4/5. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: of Tyler Blanski's "When Donkeys Talk"

Tyler Blanski offers us an opportunity to return to our roots: the history of the Christian Church. In When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (Zondervan, 2012) he takes us back to the days when Donkeys talked, when miracles happened, and people recognized them as such.  Blanski writes that he had ‘never taken most of the bible seriously” and that he had turned “stories of God-on-earth into ‘life lessons’”.  And in an age where the prevailing philosophy is “it’s all good’, it seems obvious that Blanski may not be the only one who thinks this way.
 Although I sometimes found the writing style (a style that I imagine many people will find refreshing) cumbersome, the story itself is compelling, and it’s one that most people need to be reminded of.
            Recent polls show that the percentage of people who identify as Christians is decreasing, and I wonder if in part it’s because within the glocal culture ‘Bible Stories” are seen as just that, stories written to entertain, parables or analogies meant to illustrate something. As we increasingly allow science to shape our views, we become proportionately blinder to the tenets of our faith. We miss out on angels, on miracles, on God at work in our lives, because an expert has said that it can’t happen that way. When ‘it’ can’t happen but it does, I think we have a miracle.
            One basic scientific belief is that to prove something it has to be observable and replicable. I’m wondering which of today’s scientists were there to observe any of their theories about creation, dinosaurs and a number of other things, and can they replicate it in the lab?  While not advocating a total overthrow do science, Blanski reminds us that some things can’t be explained scientifically, and that’s because they come from a God who is beyond comprehension.
            Only when we become open to the miracles, can we truly understand the grace that God offers us. The miracles in our lives today may not be preceded by an angel saying ‘do not be afraid’, but the miracles are still happening. And as Blanski seems to be saying, the less we believe in the miracles of old, the harder it is to see them today. Conversely, as we rediscover the mystery of the ancient faith, the more likely we are to see the miracles in our lives today.
I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.
Again I liked WHAT Blanski has to say, but I wasn’t a fan of HOW he said it.  4

Monday, April 22, 2013

Obedience can be difficult. A review of "Sent" by Hilary Alan

Obedience is sometimes hard, and when God has plans for you that don’t make sense, it’s even harder. But, as Hilary Alan’s family finds out, being obedient to God brings its own set of blessings, blessings beyond anything you might have dreamed of if you were content to follow your own roadmap to success.  You’ll read their story in Sent: How One Ordinary Family Traded the American Dream for God’s Greater Purpose (Hilary Alan, WaterBrook Press, 2013).
Let me get this out of the way early, I didn’t enjoy reading this book, but I’m still rating it 5/5. I usually don’t like reading books that elicit tears; but instead of blatant sensationalism designed to cause an emotional response the author manages to portray raw emotion, not for effect but as a part of the story.  I also don’t like books that remind me of how far I am from where God wants me to be when it comes to obedience.  This book manages to do both of those things.  And that’s why I didn’t like reading it.  That’s also why it deserves a high rating.
At first glance, this is a simple account of a family who is led to follow where Jesus leads. The author has done a great job of chronicling events without bringing in ‘maudlin’.  This is a story of people who make the leap from sitting in the pews to being the church, to picking up their cross to follow Jesus.
The Alan’s story is typical up to a point: following the road to success and making time to do church on Sunday. But things start to get interesting and atypical when a tsunami on the other side of the world happens, and there is an available heart ready to respond to God’s call. Hilary describes with a rare honesty some of the questions they had before answering God’s call, some of the ‘reasons’ they had for not being able to go, and how God worked things out so that His plans for the Alan family would be accomplished.
Obedience looks like this: “Despite all the opposition and obstacles, walking forward in obedience was easy for us, simply because we believe that all of God’s promises are true. And through it all, God was whispering, “Just trust Me. I know what I’m doing.
I’m praying that as a result of reading this book, I’ll grow in obedience. My call may not be to rebuild after a tsunami, but God wants me to be available to go wherever He calls me to go.

The publishers were kind enough to send me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Altar Ego... God sees me differently than I do

First of all I want to make it clear that I like Craig Groeschel’s writing. That’s a main reason why I requested to review Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are.  And I wasn’t disappointed. Groeschel writes in an engaging manner that makes the written word seem like a personal conversation. It’s like sitting in church and knowing that the pastor is speaking directly to you, even though there may be several hundred other people in the auditorium.
Besides, this is a message that a lot of people need to hear: God is not finished with us yet. God knows what we look like and he’s waiting for us to see that picture instead of the ones that bombard our brains on a regular basis. We don’t have to buy into the images that others try to project on us: inadequate, not smart enough, the wrong body image, we dress wrong, we don’t and we can’t and we’ll never be good enough. God on the other hand sees a masterpiece, the person that can and does and will, the person that God wants to send forth as His ambassador.
In Altar Ego you’ll learn how living with patience, integrity, honor and gratitude makes you the person that God had in mind, and will let you dare to live boldly for God.
My favorite chapter is “bold prayers”. I’m guilty as charged, I soften the prayers, try to give God an out, and miss out on the blessings that God wants to shower on me and others.
5 out of 5!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. 

Firsthand - a review

It’s something that many people in the pews rarely think about, but is their faith really theirs, or is it what Ryan and Josh Shook call ‘secondhand religion’. Religion is passed down from generation to generation; faith is something personal and individual. Explore the differences in Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. (Ryan and Josh Shook, Waterbrook Press, 2013).
With a combination of their own experiences and stories from others who have made the switch from second hand to first hand, the Shook brothers offer valuable insight into the state of the Christian church, a church which according to researchers, is seeing an entire generation slip away.
As a pastor and as a father of a teenager, I’m thrilled that this book has been written. It’s written for teens/20 somethings, but should make perfect sense to anyone who has ever struggled with their faith, anyone who has ever questioned where God was hiding, anyone who ever got tired of church traditions which made no sense because they had never been explained. (And often the only reason that something is a tradition in a particular church is that it has been done more than twice.)
The book itself is an easy and enjoyable read.  Doing the work in the “Think About It” section might be a little more difficult, but worth the effort. This book invites the reader to examine his faith to see if it is the real thing, or just a copy of what we’ve seen someone else doing.
Read the book, answer the questions and ignite the passion that true faith is all about.

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

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review of “The Briarpatch Gospel”

Review of “The Briarpatch Gospel”
Shayne Wheeler’s “The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places” (Tyndale Momentum, 2013) is a book that I requested to be allowed to review for a very simple reason: I liked the title. It sounded intriguing, and after having read it, I’m glad the title caught my attention.  Shayne forces us to look at life where and how life happens, not just as we might prefer to find it.
In my opinion, one of the greater damages that the Bride of Christ has done to Christianity is to allow the misconception to continue that becoming a Christian means your life becomes perfect. We’re all about getting the commitment, the decision, and then our greatest desire is that the new believer will go away and leave us alone, that he’ll go figure it out all by himself, and leave us to the important business of making more new converts; and we really don’t want to have to do much there other than ask someone to say the sinner’s prayer so they can get a ticket to heaven. And if they voluntarily come to us, that’s even better than us having to go to them.  There’s just a small problem. Jesus didn’t say to go make converts, he said to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach them to obey. If you’re all about making converts, your role stops when they say ‘yes’; if your plan is to make disciples, that ‘yes’ means that your work has just begun.
            Wheeler isn’t willing to let us get off the hook easily. With an engaging writing style, scriptural references, and tales that he tells on himself which let us know that he is no stranger to the briarpatch called life, he reminds us of what our calling is.
 But here’s the rub: why do we need another book that tells us that we’re supposed to be following Jesus’ example of serving the poor, the hungry and disenfranchised, and not only serving them, but proclaiming the gospel at the same time? We need it because despite the books that are already out there waiting to be read or put into practice, we still haven’t gotten it right.
            Most Christians are willing to admit that they are ‘sinners saved by grace’, a few more will hint at some ‘unchristian-like’ things in their past and then go on to tell how life is wonderful now and will be so much better when they get to heaven. Wheeler goes a couple of giant steps further, he opens up about those not-so-Christian things, and talks about his time in the briar patch. And because he remembers what it was like, he is willing to go back to seek out others like himself.  Sounds noble, sounds special, sound like martyrdom in the making, and what really messes with my head is that he’s doing it. He’s doing it and I’m not.
            This is a book that you’ll love to hate before you hate to love it. Shayne doesn’t ask us to do anything that he’s not doing, for that matter he doesn’t ask us to do anything that Jesus didn’t do, he just reminds us that there’s more to being a Christian than going to church on Sunday; sometimes we’re supposed to follow someone into the briarpatch, because it’s there, in their comfort zone where we will best be able to minister to them.
            This is an engaging read that will challenge you to get way outside your comfort zone. Not for the faint of heart. I rate it 4.5/5
Tyndale provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One Month to Love: review

Strangely enough, reading “One Month to Love: 30 days to Grow and Deepen your Closest Relationships” (previously published as “love at Last Sight”, Waterbrook Multnomah, 2010) by Kerry and Chris Shook reminded me of Mayberry RFD.  That may be a schmaltzy way of putting it, but it’s meant in a positive way. Sherriff Taylor used to have these heart to heart talks with Opie, talks full of homespun wisdom and truisms, with examples drawn from the Good Book, from what Opie should be learning in school, and what was happening in Mayberry at the time.
In much the same way, the Shooks draw on Scripture, media, and the realities of life according to the daily news and personal experience, to point out important lessons about relationships. Lessons like loving ‘even when’ as opposed to loving ‘until’; like be present instead of letting yourself get distracted by life, like the goal of loving others as God loves us. They talk about things like needs, and how easy, and dangerous, it can be to assume that the needs of those we love are duplicates of our own.
They point out some of the things that we probably all know already, but tend to forget, like relationships are hard work and they can be messy; they remind that if we ‘act as if’, the act, over time, becomes reality.
The book is broken into a month’s worth of lessons with an encouragement to journal about 3 close relationships, each day’s lesson closes with several questions to consider and journal about. There are also some practical action steps associated with many of the days. Especially helpful is the “Relationship Summary” found at the end of the book
I was glad to see the book is full of common sense rather than a lot of high powered, high priced theories and programs. Nothing new, nothing flashy, but an easy read with lots of potential for those motivated to stick it out for the full 30 days. All of which doesn’t mean that this is easy. In fact to do it well may be one of the more difficult things in life that some of us have done.
If the relationships are good, following the 30 day program will probably make it better, but if there are serious issues, a lot of hard work will be required, probably more than miserable people are willing to invest.
4/5 stars
I received an ebook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Les Misérables, my review of Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater version.

Les Misérables, my review of Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater version.
I first read Les Misérables about 40 years ago in a college French class. It was the time of the Kent State riots – students vs. National Guard, (May 1970) and the next few years would see students in Paris revolting against the educational regime, so in a sense this was ‘life imitating art’. The ‘radicals’ among you will enjoy the fight for right, for equality, and the obvious struggles against the haves and the have-nots. There are differences of opinion between the establishment which makes the rules that maintain their elitist status, and those who fight each day to provide for their basic needs often giving up on following the laws in favor of doing what they need to do to feed their families.  Our socio-economic conditions in the US today bear a startling resemblance: the very rich versus the very poor.
But this is also a story of two men: Inspector Javert whose life is spent adhering to the law, and Jean Valjean, a convict (His crime? He stole some bread to feed his sister’s starving children), paroled after 19 years in prison, who experiences grace and experiences a transformation that can only come of God – and he determines to be the instrument by which others can experience the same grace. And for the rest of his life he would pay. He makes difficult choices, choices that put his life in danger, but which are required if he is finally able to truly escape his past, rather than to perpetuate the lie that he is trying to escape.
 Older now, and more mature in years and in my faith, I see this story as one of redemption, of grace, of God's love and His transforming powers. I still root for the underdog, but am not as quick to champion causes which involve violence and needless bloodshed. But this story paints a picture of the human condition, a world that wants to do for ourselves what only God can do, a fact that Javert finally realizes and tragically is unable to accept.
Although I love this classic French novel, and enjoyed listening to it as I drove around from one appointment to another, I cannot give this the rave review that I would like to. I frequently found myself driving distracted: not because I was so caught up in the story, which I was, but because of the sound. Most of the time I had the volume at ‘maximum’ in order to hear the dialogue, then the musical interludes would occur between the scenes: just like television commercials that are considerable louder than the programming. As I drove I had to lower the volume frequently to avoid being blasted out of the car, and then raise it again to be able to hear the story.
The story gets 5 stars, the audio gets 3, overall rating of 4.5stars.
I received a copy of this product from Tyndale House for the purpose of this review. They did not require a favorable review, only an honest one.