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.