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