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 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