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.