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.