Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Leonard Sweet has an interesting way of pointing things out, things that we should have seen, but probably didn't. His recently released book “From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed” (NavPress, 2014) is no exception.
This is more than just a book about the importance of the table throughout the Bible, it’s more than a reminder of how often food was involved in the ministry of Jesus. It’s also a reminder of the importance of the stories that are told around the table. The stories that Jesus told, and the stories that we tell in our kitchens and our dining rooms, the stories that we tell while dining out with friends, the stories that form part of our mealtime rituals with family, friends, acquaintances and fellow Christians,
Sweet points out that identities, including the faith identity of many people is formed around the table, and he laments the fact that in far too many cases, meal time is no longer a community time filled with stories but a solitary time, minutes at the most, where even if there is someone else there, they tend to be ignored in favor of an electronic device.  And the lack of community, the lack of companionship, the lack of story leads to a lack of identity.
Members of a family which eats together has a sense of who they are. They know their history, they know what matters to them, they know what the values are, and, especially when it comes to faith, they understand why they believe as they do.
When people leave the church, it’s because they don’t know why it matters. When the story is told around the table, the ‘why’ is made evident, and surprisingly enough, there are fewer departures.
This is a book that every family should read and heed. It may be much more convenient to do fast food, or to have everyone fix his own plate whenever he gets hungry. But the reason for eating together is more than just making it easy to get the dishes done.
Check out page 5 for the story of the Bible in 6 sentences, 3 for the Old Testament, and 3 for the New. Follow Jesus example, the table is a great place to tell the story.  
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through a bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

thoughts on Bonhoeffer Abridged

I saw a copy of Metaxas’ very thick book “Bonhoeffer” on a friend’s bookshelf, and thought that someday, when I have lots and lots of time, I would like to read it. And then “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (Eric Metaxas, Nelson Books, 2014) became available for review through BookLook Bloggers. I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.
I’m glad for two reasons. First because I liked the book (more on that in a moment), and second because I think 200 pages was plenty, and I’m not sure the details in the extra 400 pages in the original ‘unabridged’ version would have held my interest.
This abridged version has a wonderful combination of theology, history, human interest and commentary on what it was like to live in Hitler’s Germany. In other words we get to see the man Bonhoeffer from multiple perspectives, a fact that allows the reader to really appreciate the complexity of this man who is known, as the title implies, in so many different capacities.
Growing up in a privileged family has certain advantages that Bonhoeffer took full advantage of, and Metaxas does an excellent job of chronicling the adventures and travels made possible because of those advantages.  Although a lot of the book covers the issues concerning Bonhoeffer and his stance towards Hitler, his faith journey is a compelling story within the story. The glimpse of his studies, his various ministerial positions and how he dealt with the conflict between what he was supposed to do, and what he felt called to do are worthy of a book apart from his fame as a member of the opposition to Hitler.
As a pastor I wonder how I would respond to circumstances like those which Bonhoeffer faced. What would my reaction be? How would I reconcile my beliefs with actions I might feel compelled to take? What is the role of the pastor, the congregation, the church when evil is so prominent in the world. Would I have the strength and the courage not only to stand up for what is right, but also to take the actions to counteract the evil, and then suffer the consequences for my actions? Obviously Bonhoeffer had that moral fortitude, and it cost him dearly. I pray that I never have to make some of the difficult decisions that Bonhoeffer felt compelled to make.  
It’s easy to see Bonhoeffer as being cold and impersonal, but accounts of his family, friendships and the relationship with the young Maria bring just the right touch of humanity to the book and to the person.
And I still might, someday when I have lots and lots of time, read the unabridged version.
(PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: I’ve been criticized in the past because many of my reviews are positive. Not all, but many. I am not selling out, or being kind just because I get a free book. I pick the books I want to review because I like the cover or title, because I think they might be interesting, or because they’re by authors that I like, so it’s no surprise when I like the book. I do not get an assignment to review random books – if that were the case, I’m sure there would be fewer 5 star reviews. Sorry, just had to vent!)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

an eye for an eye ?

Is an eye for an eye really the answer, especially when the eye you take is the one who took (somebody else's - not even your) an eye?
              In the aftermath of  the recent shootings of police by civilians after the recent shootings of                   civilians by police, the conversation needs to happen, and it needs to be bathed in prayer. A                few days ago I sent out an email to a lot of people suggesting that prayer was needed. A                      person who received that email is a reporter, and she responded by saying that she had been                thinking about an article on reactions of faith leaders to some of those shootings. I sent a                      rambling response, much of which she quoted in the article. What follows is my original                      ramblings: 
Yes, there probably are some cops who simply have a job, who do the minimal required to get a paycheck, and are counting down the days to retirement. There are others who make mistakes, who might act without thinking things through, even in the split second they have to think-decide-act. There are also the 'dirty' cops that use their position for their own personal advantage or gain. And there are those who let their personal experiences with and opinions of, people of racial or ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation or socio-economic status cloud their judgment and influence their decisions on how to treat the people they encounter in the line of duty. And then there are the good cops, the ones who do their best on a daily basis to treat everyone with respect and dignity as they go to work each day, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way to uphold the law, and to protect the neighborhoods in which they serve. 
 Sounds like any other group of people that is defined by the career they have chosen. (Well, maybe except for the part of regularly, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way.)  There are good cops and bad cops, or firemen, or teachers, or pastors. There are good and bad members of the press, lawyers, bakers, or actors, or electricians, or barbers or garbage collectors. 
 Members of every group protected under anti-discrimination laws are made up of similar categories - those who try to do their best, those who do the minimum to get by, those who make mistakes, those who take advantage of the situation, and those who allow their personal beliefs, feelings, or worldview to influence their decisions.
 So we look at the recent shootings of on-duty police officers and ask if they really deserved to die. Death like taxes, is inevitable, but they didn’t deserve to die like that. As individuals, none of us have been given the responsibility, or the authority to serve as judge, jury and executioner.
Not agreeing with the outcome of an investigation, of a grand jury, or a trial does not give us the right to take the law into our own hands, and because we don’t like the fact that a grand jury chose not to indict one police officer definitely does not mean that we should exact revenge by shooting another police officer.
Our quest for justice should be seeking to make the world a better place for everyone, not just trying to ensure that the “bad guy” gets what he deserves. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NIV) so in a sense we’re all bad guys. We’re the bad guys, and Jesus got what we deserve, so that we can share in what only he deserves.
The conversation needs to happen nationwide about how to deal with disappointment when the system doesn’t work the way we want it to work. Revenge is not the answer, nor is hatred. Looting, burning, random shootings and killings are not the basis for the conversation that needs to happen. The conversation needs to be based on biblical principles of love and forgiveness.
The 10 Commandments used to be posted in public places. The commandments are at a basic level, guidelines for a life in community with God, and with others. Maybe it’s time to start posting them again.

Reading JOHN and The PSALMS through different eyes

This is a difficult review to write. I'm not a scholar of biblical Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, so I can't be sure that the notes are accurate, (any more than I could in any other translation), and since the disclaimer is that the Passion Translation is not a word-for-word translation, but rather a thought-for-thought translation it's hard to see how true-to-the-original  it is.  Having said that, I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading "John : Eternal Love", (BroadStreet  Publishing Group, 2014) from the series The Passion Translation Bible.
                Brian Simmons' passion for the Word of God is evident in both this volume, and another volume, "The Psalms: Poetry on Fire", which was sent for me to review at the same time.  The words of the Word flow across the pages,  and make the parables and teachings come alive with new meaning to a familiar story. The poetry of the Psalms sings out with joy, without seeming to lose any of the meaning of the older and more familiar translations.
                Simmons has thoughtfully included many footnotes that help the reader to understand why he  has chosen particular words or phrasing, including a translation of the word or an explanation of how a particular word was used  in other works. The Words (or thoughts) of Jesus are in Bold print -similar to a red letter edition.
              The Passion Translation seems to be a work in progress:  several volumes cover some of the Old and Some of the New Testament. I certainly hope that Simmons completes the entire Bible, and instead of having to buy several books, the entire Bible will be available in one volume. The separate volumes are useful for Bible Study or small group, but there is much to be said for having everything in one place for easy reference.
          I would give each of these volumes a 5/5. A great new resource for anyone hoping to go deeper into God's Word.

            I was provided a copy of these two volumes in exchange for a review. There was no obligation to write a positive review. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

the Aftermath of a civil War. What happens to Displaced persons. My thoughts on the movie "The Good Lie"

          Last night I was blessed to be able to watch "The Good Lie" on BlueRay DVD.  The movie released a few months ago, and the DVD is available on Dec 23rd. The movie stars  Reese Witherspoon and some unknowns, unknowns because instead of looking for professional actors, the decision was wisely made to find Sudanese refugees or their family  members to bring authenticity to the film. And it worked!
              This is the story of Theo and his siblings and friends who are orphaned during the civil war in Sudan. They have been told to make their way to Ethiopia for safety, but after walking several hundred miles they find that things are no better there, so they change course and head to a camp in Kenya.  Along the way, Theo is captured, but the rest of the group continue on the route to Kenya.  The reach the camp and settle into life in a refugee camp. Thirteen years later, right before 9/11, they are approved for resettlement to Kansas City. They were, but 100,000 others are still waiting for their names to appear on the list of lucky ones.

                 The first part of the movie covers life in Sudan during the civil war. The scenery is stunning, the acting brilliant, and your heart will break over the brutality of war. Senseless killings, children captured and forced to serve as soldiers for the opposing forces. But throughout these scenes there is a sense of hope, even as children are dying from exposure, dehydration, malnutrition, wild animals and yes, enemy gunfire.  In some of the more tender moments the brothers remember their fathers admonition to remember who they are, who they came from,  and their lineage. They have a ritual which helps them remember. Oral history is important.  Yes, there is despair, but even in the midst of misery and pain, there is faith. A Bible is seen in several scenes, and the children pray.

           Hundreds of miles later, they arrive at the refugee camp.  Several years ago,  I visited a camp similar to this in Palestine. Some things are universal.  Thirteen years in the camp, learning to co-exist, sharing the basics, crowded conditions (at one point there were more than 110,000 refugees there). And everyday hoping to be able to return home, or if that were not possible, to be resettled to another country where they could make a new start. 

         And one day a new list is posted of those who have been selected to resettle. Our band of "Lost Boys" - actually 3 young men and 1 young lady, have all been approved to leave the camp and relocate in Kansas City, MO.

           There are lots of "laughs" as this part of their journey unfolds, but they're bittersweet because they're at the expense of someone else. So much of what we take for granted is completely foreign to people in some parts of the world. The airline food on their flight to the US was totally unrecognizable, what's  that machine making the ringing noise, how can you throw away perfectly good food when so many people are starving? If you have traveled to other countries, you know the feeling of seeing something new, and worse, not seeing what's familiar.

Their journey involves finding jobs, learning to adapt to the different customs in a new culture, missing family and friends, falling into the wrong crowd. But just as importantly  the journey involves us, as we have to learn to deal with 'different'.  A part of this incredible journey is seeing how the people who met the refugees  changed with time. Their attitudes changed  as they went from seeing the refugees as interruptions to their lives, as ignorant 'hicks' as problems waiting to happen, to seeing them as the created in God's image people that they truly are.

           The ending, (and I won't tell you what happens) was a little bit  too "Hollywood predictable" for me, but I highly recommend the movie despite that. I don't watch a lot of movies, but I really liked this one on a lot of different levels: acting, local color, scenery, life lessons, and how important it is to believe in something. Also the lesson of an African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

            This movie impacted me in several different ways. Karl the traveler loved the scenery and views of life in a different country and a different culture, Karl the visitor to Palestine identified with the situation in the refugee camp, and the living conditions of a people forced off their land and into a strange place where everything is different, and people live for the dream of returning home. Karl the pastor appreciated how so many people were able to survive unthinkable situations because of their faith in Jesus.  And Karl the transplant to Utah is starting to understand what resettled refugees go through and how individuals and churches can and need to get involved in giving people a second chance.
            On average, about 1100 refugees are resettled in Utah each year. If Utah were a country, we would rank 5th , between Sweden with 2000, and Norway with 900+.  My understanding is that since 1975 about 60,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah.  Much of the resettlement is in the Salt Lake City area, but the area where I live and work is poised to become a new center for resettlement in the coming years.  It's my prayer that people will see this movie and learn from it, not just the plight of people in war-torn far off lands, but the people who resettle in this country and what we can do to help them make a successful transition.

             To make this more fun, Sunday evening before I go to bed, I'll draw the name of one person who has commented on the blog to receive a copy of the Blue Ray DVD (they sent me two - one for me, and one for one of my readers.

        WARNING: you might need Kleenex.   There are a couple of incidences of profanity, and the beginning has quite a bit of violence.

I give the movie an A.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

the beauty of sex: God's way

Sex is one of those things that people either don’t like to talk about at all, or they talk about it way too much, and generally not in the kindest way. And if we approach it from the standpoint that God is against sex, that sex is dirty, then we understand why it’s not something to talk about in polite company. The sad thing is that most people get their wrong ideas about God's take on the subject because of their religion. After all, the bible has a lot to say on the topic, generally in terms of ‘and if you do this, you get stoned to death.” And that’s the sad part, because God has more to say about sex than its bad. God created sex and saw that it was good. In fact according to Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, God loves sex.
            And in the recently released book God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation About Sexual Desires and Holiness (Baker Books, 2014), they show how the Biblical take on sexual activity, as God planned it, is actually not as bad as most of what we learn in our Sunday school classes.  But there is a catch, sex as God planned it is good. When people were getting stoned because of sex throughout the Old Testament, when they were getting chastised throughout the New Testament, it’s because what the people were doing had nothing in common with God's plan.
            This book is two books in one: an exegetical study of the Song of Songs and a fictional account of a small group/bible study about, yep you guessed it, sex. One part of the book, as we might expect covers the commentary on The Song, but the other part takes a slightly different twist. The small group consists of 2 couples, 2 single women, and a single man. Each of them is at a different place on his or her Christian walk, and all of them bring their hang-ups to the table. The fictional part covers their feelings, their baggage, and the progress they make learning to deal with their God-given identity as sexual beings.  
            As each of the 7 confront their past, they learn to deal with their present and look forward to a future which doesn't have to be full of guilt.
            Longman is a scholar of scripture and has written several books, including a commentary on the Song of Songs. Allender is a professor of Counseling Psychology. Together they make a great team, and have written the book that helps us recognize our identity as men and women designed to be in relationships with God and with other people.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A new devotional Bible for Men

As a pastor who is interested in ministry to men, I was excited to be able to review the “Men’s Bible”, an edition of the Good News Translation (GNT) with ‘helps’ provided by the National Coalition of Ministries to Men.  The GNT has been available for years, so it is not my intention to review it; people much more qualified than I have done that many times.  My intention is to focus on the devotional aspect.  What makes this Bible different, special, if you will, is that it has a number of devotions geared towards helping men become the men of God that they we intended to be.  

Devotions written by several dozen experts in the field of men’s ministry address the issues of a man’s purpose, his priorities and help him discover what it means to live as a Christian man.  In other words “how do I live for Christ?”

Unlike some of the other devotional bibles I've seen where the devotionals are scattered throughout the Bible, in this Men’s Bible they’re conveniently located together so they can be easily found. Each one follows a standard format: a prayer, a scripture passage/key verse, the devotional reading, questions to reflect on, an opportunity to respond, and a closing prayer.

Apart from the Old and New Testaments, this Bible includes a “tool kit” – a list of passages that might be helpful in special circumstances or difficult times (i.e. being a friend, caring for the aged, celebrating, temper, college, military, death, jail, losses, temptations, relationships); the “Battle” –the devotionals mentioned above; and the “challenge” additional devotionals at the end of the book covering marriage, pornography and being a friend.

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, this is a great addition to your library. We all have moments when something is going on, and we really need the comfort that comes from God's word. The lists in the ‘toolkit’ make those special passages easy to find.

If you’re a new Christian, this Bible would be a great first Bible. It will certainly help when you think that you’re probably the only one that’s ever gone through a certain something (you’re not) or you’re the only one that’s ever become a Christian and still been tempted by pornography or argued with your wife (you’re not).  And some of the devotions will just make sense because that’s exactly where you happen to be on the day that you read them.

Good Job. A sorely needed resource in today’s society where men frequently “grow up” without a positive male role model. 

See more here

I received a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Experience freedom in a brand new way.

What does freedom look like? It’s probably different for everyone, but there are a few constants. One of them being that we all want it, and another that we probably wouldn't know what to do with it if we had it. And a third is that the freedom that we think we want probably wouldn't be as good for us as we think it might.  It would be devastating.
              We cry out so many different things, but far too often we forget to turn in the direction that we need to turn to find the answers to our prayers, our desires, our search for meaning.  In his latest book, The Answer to our Cry: Freedom to Live Fully, Love Boldly, and Fear Nothing (Baker Books, 2014) Rick McKinley teaches us about freedom from a perspective that makes sense scripturally.
          Spoiler alert: the total freedom we think we want means death. But freedom the way that God meant us to experience it, means finding a relationship with the loving God that really has our best interest at heart.  Freedom the way God wants us to understand it means love and justice.
           McKinley uses a fascinating mix of scriptural references, theology, and personal experiences that can only come because he has found the freedom to share his knowledge and to be transparent about his own struggles – struggles that most people have, even if they may try to hide them from the world.
          His descriptions of freedom invite us to take the next step to bring about the world that God envisions for his people, to step into the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” and realize that as we pray those words we’re committing to do our part to make it happen.  And the examples of what that looks like are found throughout the book. One of my favorites is this one: “Jesus confronts injustice not by calling out attention to the greatest offenders of shalom but by calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We like the idea that we’re made in the image of God, but do we like the idea that our neighbors are too? (116) Simply stated, but oh so powerful in its simplicity.

So dare to be free, cry out for freedom, and let McKinley guide you as you learn about a brand new way to experience freedom. Live fully. Love Boldly. Fear Nothing.

     Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Friday, November 21, 2014

a lesson in love from the VeggieTales

Those of you who know me, know that I'm a big fan of Veggie Tales. So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that when I was offered the opportunity to watch their newest adventure, that I jumped at the chance.

Beauty and the Beet is a charming rendition of a familiar story. And just as in the classic "Beauty and the Beast", there is a lesson to be learned about love.

Mirabelle is traveling with her band, The Veggie Tones, on their way to an important (and hopefully well paying) gig when a storm hits. Maybe not quite as bad as Buffalo, NY got this week, but bad enough that they have to stop because of the weather conditions.  They have no money, and their offer to sing for their supper isn't warmly received by the grumpy Mr. Beet.

As they take on the list of chores that Mr. Beet insists that they do to pay for their meals and room, Mirabelle, alone in the family does so without grumbling. The rest of the family isn't quite as willing to repay "mean" with  "nice" but Mirabelle insists, because God loves here even though she might not deserve it, so the least she can do is love someone else.  And despite the resistance, she perseveres.

Over time Mr. Beet's heart softens in the face of Mirabelle's persistence.  And there are a lot of surprises along the way to his transformation.

A story of what God's love can do, told in a way that only the Veggie Tales can do. Recording star Kellie Pickler is the voice of Mirabelle, and the new songs will have you dancing in your seats.  And of course  there's a new Silly Song with Larry, plus all sorts of bonus features and previews.

If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

If you've already seen it, go ahead, you know you want to watch it again. Fun for all ages. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Are you powerful, powerless or empowered by the Presence of God?

In the interest of posting a timely review, I cheated. Instead of reading a chapter a day as suggested, I read the book in one sitting. I’m sure I missed out on the experience of using this book as a daily devotional, but it is powerful stuff, and as I read, I was blessed with all sorts of sermon ideas and illustrations. I also want to go through the book again, slowly this time, savoring each moment, and letting God's presence strengthen me for the day ahead.

Empowered by His Presence: Receiving the Strength You Need Each Day (Kevin G. Harney, Baker Books, 2014) is designed as a 4 week study – one that can be done by yourself or with a small group. It’s for “ordinary people who long to be empowered so they can live an extraordinary life for the glory of God.”

Each week has a different focus, 1) God's presence in times of suffering, 2) encountering God in community, 3) empowered for the journey through Sabbath, and 4) propelled onward by God's call and mission. Each day Harney uses a familiar Bible story (Esther, Joseph, Timothy, Paul and Peter among others, and especially some of Jesus’ major moments) as the setting to talk about how ordinary people, like you and me, can respond to the inconsistencies of life.

We read about responding to suffering like that of Job, of the need to have a mentor and be one, of how important it is for us to engage with others, in our family, in our church, in our community.  And as we read we are asked to confront ourselves and ask what would we have done, what have we done, what could we do better.

There is a set of study questions for each section, questions that allow us, if we answer honestly, to realize that God's presence is what sustains us, God's Word nourishes us, Jesus strengthens us, and if we think we’re doing it all on our own, we’re really fooling ourselves.

Looking for a small group study? This is one that will take your group on an incredible journey.


Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Churchless - why they're not in church

Gone are the days when almost everyone you know goes to church, and does so regularly.  Gone are the days when the people who don’t go to church are probably going to Synagogue, or Temple or Mosque or some other faith based gathering. Gone are the days when you could tell who was Christian by observing church attendance. The rules of the game have changed, and the church needs to figure out fairly quickly how to deal with the new rules of engagement.
Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, (Barna Group, George Barna and David Kinnaman, General Editors, Tyndale Momentum, 2014) is based on a series of recent surveys conducted by the Barna Group. The results are chilling.  
While most churches think that they are the friendliest place in town and that they are the obvious choice for anyone, those that don’t regularly attend usually don’t see it the same way. And speaking of regular attendance, the new “regular’ isn’t 3 or 4 times a month plus special occasions. It’s closer to once a month.
The ‘millennials’ - people born in the 80’s and 90’s - might not have grown up going to church. They meet people with a lot of baggage concerning religion, and in this postmodern, post-Christian age, that’s to be expected.
A lot of people just don’t go to church; but there are a couple of other groups that we especially need to be concerned with. There are a lot of people who used to go to church, but got disenchanted and left. And there is another group of people who strongly profess their Christian faith, but don’t see the need to affiliate with organized religion.  We can’t set out to evangelize them, they’re already saved. We can’t see them as a ‘project’ – nobody wants to feel like the attention is out of some misguided sense of pity.
So how do we reach them?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a single one size fits all formula, so it has to start with relationships. As good as many church people are at relationships with other church people, when it comes to the dechurched, unchurched, and minimally churched, something breaks down.
Churchless offers insight, gained from talking to members of those groups, of where their interests lie, how they perceive church and religion, and where some of those ideas come from.  There are also tips for making the connections between their faith work and a church family.
The writer of Hebrews warned the early Christians to not give up meeting together, the need for a faith community is equally strong today.
This book is not the kind of book you look for when you want to curl up in front of the fireplace, but pastors and church leadership teams owe it to themselves to look at the state of their church in the context of this book and use the lessons learned as they try to reach and rechurch their neighborhood.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Paws and Stripes: A Dog for Every Vet

Next Tuesday, Nov 11, a new show premieres on A&E. It’s called Dogs of War, and you can watch a trailer here: HERE.
 I was invited to preview the first episode and tell you what I think. When I stop crying, I’m sure it will be easier to type.
Combat Vet Jim Stanek struggles with PTSD. He wanted to get a service dog, but it was expensive and the wait was long. But sometimes those challenges are the things that make miracles happen, and as he waited for his service dog, Stanek realized that there are lots of dogs in shelters – waiting for a home, waiting to be trained, waiting to love a vet.  “Dogs of War” tells the stories of the dogs that get rescued from kill shelters and once trained to serve are paired with Vets who, like Stanek, suffer from PTSD.
This episode tells the story of Michael, an Iraq Vet with multiple physical problems on top of his PTSD, and his dog E Suda (roughly translated as “Got my Back”). We get to see how Vets and dogs are paired, the training that they go through together, and the bonds that they form.
But the vet with PTSD doesn't live in total isolation, and Stanek and the Paws and Stripes help the family adjust too.
Paws and Stripes isn't the answer for every issue that faces our Vets with PTSD, but that 4-legged companion, functioning as a service dog that alerts the vet to increased stress, along with the training that the vet gets on what to do with the alert may just provide the hope that someone needs.
As veterans we volunteer to serve, and sometimes the price we pay for volunteering is higher than anyone could imagine.
Paws and Stripes serves 2 purposes. Dogs are saved from kill shelters and put to work. Vets get a second chance to bring home the piece of themselves that they left on the battle field.
More than just about a dog, it’s about giving a hero the opportunity to live the life he deserves.
This is reality TV that is actually reality.
Watch the series premier Tuesday, and then tune in on Sundays for further episodes.

For more about Paws and Stripes visit Dogs of War .  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In their hearts, they understand that Jesus is for everyone

I asked to review Matthew Barnett’s Misfit Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring the World along for the Ride (Thomas Nelson, 2014) because I liked the title and the cover. I’m glad I did! Reading it is a journey full of laughter and tears as Barnett describes the struggles and the successes of a ministry that has to resemble that of Jesus in its boldness.
Barnett is the pastor of Angelus Temple, and Founder of the Dream Center – a multi-faced ministry operating out of a renovated hospital in Los Angeles. This book is the story of how he left behind the church world he knew to go to Los Angeles to plant a church, and what happened along the way to that church plant becoming the Dream Center as it exists today.
Face it, in one way or another we’re all misfits, and Barnett and his staff, which he lovingly describes: “At our church we have ex drug addicts, pimps and murderers – and that’s just the pastoral staff. You know you've got an outreach church when your ushers wear ankle bracelet monitors” (p34), have found a way to reach even the most misfit of those misfits. And in the process lives are changed.
Jesus met people where they were, a fact that is often forgotten as churches try to draw people to them. Jesus served the ‘least of these’, and expected his followers to do the same. Angelus Temple/Dream Center seems to be reviving that concept. The renovated hospital serves as the base for hundreds of ministries, all of which came about because people some people were willing to reach out and try to meet the needs of others.  Jesus looked for the lost, the hungry, the hurting and the burdened. He calls us to go looking too.
There are a lot of important lessons that this book offers, but I want to mention two. “God hasn't called us to point out the obvious, that people have sinned (I’m pretty sure they know it), but to show them a bright future that they never dreamed possible” (p129). And from page 35, talking about misfits and eccentrics: “Why do people like that feel so connected to the church? The reason the church has so many diverse people is that we are the only place that will welcome them”…The church as the greatest collection of colorful people because deep in these people’s hearts they know that Jesus is for everyone.
Barnett tells stories of how ministries came to be, but many chapters include the stories of those who were ministered to, saw their lives change, and are now in charge of programs ministering to others. This book is a great example of what an inwardly focused church is not. It’s a great example of what Jesus’ church should be!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from BookLook Bloggers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Sunday, October 26, 2014

revisiting Celebration of Discipline

The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines (By Nathan Foster, Baker Books, 2014) is the story of a man who gained a new perspective on life, though some time honored practices. Nathan Foster is just another guy, except for the fact that his father, Richard Foster, wrote a book several years ago wrote a book called Celebration of Discipline which is widely regarded as one of THE must-go to resources when one is wondering how to grow spiritually.
But interest in spiritual disciplines is fading, and this book may just be the catalyst that will revive the interest.  I hope so. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on fasting. Why? Because over the years I have tried to practice that discipline more than some of the others. We have common ground as it were, I understood what he was talking about.  Some of the others were interesting, some not so much so, and a couple of chapters intrigued me: I want to practice them in my own life.
Foster has a compelling way of personalizing the disciplines. He tells his story of how he applied the disciplines to his life – a life, by the way, that has not always been marked with saintliness. He is upfront about his reluctance to embrace the disciplines, but when the time was right, he listened to his father’s assurance that the result of the disciplines is joy, and decided to give it a try.
When I think “spiritual disciplines” my tendency is to think monastic orders, living in a cave like the early desert fathers, or at least leading a pretty austere life style. Foster shows us that even with a job, a wife, and children, that it can be done. And that yes, the end result can be joy.
When someone uses their own past in the context of a book like this, one of two things usually happens, either they pretty it up so much that the reader gags over the saccharin sweetness, and none of it seems believable, or they focus so much on the shock factor that the message gets lost. Foster has struck a nice balance. He is a human being, and as he weaves his story into how he learned about the joy that comes from the disciplines, he neither minimizes not glorifies those parts of his life that have made him the person that he is.  
I suppose that there are groups that would claim the disciplines as their own, and will be upset with Foster’s treatment. Others will be amazed to find that such a thing even exists. Still others will after getting over their reluctance to deal with anything dealing with discipline, will wish they had started the journey sooner.
An engaging and candid treatment of a subject that most are afraid to address.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

Find out more about the program here

Friday, October 17, 2014

comments on "Wisdom of the Sadhu"

The book is called Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh, (compiled and edited by Kim Comer, Plough Publishing House, 2000) and indeed it is filled with wisdom. Sundar Singh (1889-1929) was born in India to a family who practiced their ancestral Sikh faith. At the age of 15 he burned a Bible as a protest against Christianity. The following year, deep in despair, and feeling suicidal, he cried out, and experienced Yesu (Jesus) the Master. He converted to Christianity and was baptized on his 16th birthday. His father disinherited him.
Within just a few weeks of his conversion he adopted the lifestyle of a sadhu: (a lifestyle marked by poverty, devotion and prayer). He was an itinerant preacher, and has been called India's most famous convert to Christianity, and a modern day St Francis.
This book is a compilation of Singh's teachings: parables and meditations. He presents the gospel in a fresh and startling different way to many western Christians, but he remains true to the gospel while interpreting it in the context and culture of his native India. (In that sense he was way ahead of his time, because today, culture and context are primary elements of an attempt to share the message)
Of particular interest to me was the  chapter "A Warning to the West". Although Singh's comments were made almost a century ago, they still apply, and his warning certainly seems to me to have been prophetic.  One would do well to return to the simplicity of Christianity that Jesus taught.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for the review.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stop and use your senses. Comments on Yankoski: The Sacred Year

Michael Yankoski's  The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apple, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life  (Thomas Nelson, 2014) is a story of learning to grow in the Christian faith. Mike Yankoski (Author of Under the Overpass) got tired of talking about, and decided to experience, a life of faith. This book is the report on his year of practicing spiritual disciplines.
The book is divided into 3 basic sections, his experiences growing relationally in 3 directions: inward (depth with self); upward (depth with God); and outward (depth with others).  This book is much easier to read than one I read long ago about Aelred of Rievaulx and Spiritual Friendship, but the basics are the same.
Christianity involves more than an hour in the pews on Sunday. It is very relational, and has to involve more than just taking at face value the seeming evidence that constantly confronts us. You’ll delight in hearing  Yankoski’s stories – yes hearing: he writes in such a way that you have to do more than just read, as he recounts his adventures with Father Solomon as his spiritual director.
This is as much an invitation to practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines as it is the telling of the authors experience in learning to slow down and listen, slow down and observe, slow down and touch and smell and taste the glory of God that exists all around us.
For those of you who are familiar with Under the Overpass, you’ll find the writing style is totally different. That’s not a bad thing, it just took me a few pages to find the rhythm since I was expecting something similar to his previous book.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-Centered Relationships with Muslims

Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-Centered Friendships with Muslims is a 2 -DVD, 6-session study on building relationships. But relationships is not the end goal. Within the context of those friendships or chilly relationships, Christians have the opportunity to share their faith. Because people from many different backgrounds are migrating to the US, many of us have opportunities like never before to share our faith with people of a different faith.
With a 'slide show' that covers several things for the viewer to watch out for, short videos of how the relationships might develop, and downloadable materials for each session, this is a great study for small groups or individuals interested in sharing their faith with adherents of Islam. 
Christians are individuals and so are Muslims, and it's foolish to think that every Muslim we meet has the same background, or will respond equally to the same approach. This series shows 3 different types of relationship, one based on 2 moms who meet while their children are playing at a local park, another based on a work relationship, and the third based on an assignment given to college students. Each plays out in a different way, and this course does not really address some of the more hostile elements of the Islamic faith that are so much in the news these days.
The downloadable materials include background information, leader's preparation guide and participant handouts for each session.
For a basic introduction to building those bridges with Muslim friends and neighbors, this is an excellent beginning. For anyone thinking that this will equip them to deal with any and all situations, it will fall short.
I finished the videos wanting to know how the stories eventually played out: Were there any conversions to Christianity, did the friendships continue, or were the differences so great that the friendships dissolved because of the tension created by faith difference? I would have liked  a final scene with a "five years later" statement, but perhaps that was beyond the scope of this project. Relationships are ongoing and progressive, and the lack of finality is a reminder that we are called to plant seeds, and that we may not see results for some time.
I hope to use this study in our midweek bible study. Hopefully this will be part of a series dealing with how to build bridges with members of other faith groups: Hindu, Buddhist, etc.
In compliance with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, I am required to mention  that Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this DVD.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

You don't have to be perfect

You don’t have to be perfect before you reach out to Jesus.  In fact we don’t seem to have any record of Jesus using perfect people to further His mission. In Unshockable Love: How Jesus Changes the World through Imperfect People  (Baker Books, 2013, originally published as Mud and the Masterpiece) John Burke paints a picture of how Jesus uses very imperfect people in a number of very impressive ways.
The book is a combination of bible stories, biblical truths, and stories of people like you and me. Many of the names have been changed, but there are also a number of people who allowed their stories to be shared under their own names. These are stories of how transformation occurs when people accept the help and the love that Jesus wants to offer.
And the title says it all. One imperfect person who experiences God’s grace has the potential to touch many more lives.  Much of this book is taken from the author’s experience at Gateway Church in Austin Texas. A lot of the ‘rest of the story’ part of people’s post baptismal lives include serving in or leading one of the many programs or regularly scheduled activities.
Ordinary people, recipients of God’s grace, do extraordinary things. We’ve all seen it happen, but many of us might not have realized what was happening.  But this is not just a book about a program that works in Burke’s culture and context; this is about growing and developing relationships that include Jesus. 
I like the book because it challenges the reader to reach out to those who may or may not have experienced Christ’s love before. Reach out, share that love, build the relationship, and then watch the Kingdom grow as more and more lives are touched. 
This book seems to build on another book “No Perfect People Allowed” by the same author.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

As long as she asked - my comments on "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?"

Thanks to my friends at  NetGalley I was able to get an advance e-copy of a fun book by Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, and Father Paul Mueller SJ.  The book, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?...and Other Strange Questions from the Inbox at the Vatican Observatory (Image, 2014).
I have to admit that I had no idea what I was in for when I requested this book. But, like frequently happens, something about the title caught my attention. (C’mon, admit it, you’re intrigued too at the thought of baptizing an ET.)
And now that I've read the book, I think I would, but only if she asked to be baptized.  But the book is not science fiction, (although some of the questions come close). The authors, both Jesuits, are on the research staff at the Vatican Observatory. They have extensive backgrounds in science, and describe their book as being “what it’s like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutually respectful terms.”
People ask questions all the time, and the authors are among those who try to answer them. They engage in a series about the questions over several meals over a 6 day period. The lively exchanges are bantering at times, and engaging as they try to use faith and science to answer questions about the creation, about planets “what happened to Pluto?”, about the star of Bethlehem, how the world will end, and yes, they talk about aliens.
I’m not a Catholic, so some of the references were not familiar, and it was not quite as light a read as I had mistakenly expected and been looking forward to (Think Matt Mikalatos and “Night of the Living Dead Christian”). It was not a book that once I started reading I couldn't put it down (actually I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like that) and it actually took me a couple of attempts to get started.
The authors have done their research, and know their business, and they do present it in an enjoyable manner, but some of the material is, by nature, (at least from my perspective) not the most interesting subject matter. (Some of my STEM friends are shuddering at that statement!)
The thing that most intrigued me though, were the questions. These are supposedly actual questions asked by real people, so it’s interesting to see what people are thinking about when it comes to creation, end times, “Space: the Final Frontier” and how to get around the idea that science and faith can’t co-exist.


my review of "Killing Lions"

Every culture has its rituals and rites of passage. The rituals of some cultures are a little more demanding than those of others. In the Maasai culture, killing a lion which is attacking the livestock entitles a boy to a special ‘hero’ status. That’s quite an introduction to manhood. And from a young man hearing about that type of experience while learning how to become a man in a different type of culture, comes this book. Killing Lions: A Guide through the Trials Young Men Face by Sam Eldridge and his father John Eldridge (Thomas Nelson, 2014) is a dialogue of sorts, taken from weekly phone calls, between a young man learning to be an adult, and his father.
These are the types of conversations I would like to have with my son, and hopefully in a few years, when he reaches Sam’s age, we’ll enjoy that type of relationship. Now the travails of adolescence seem to interfere on a more or less regular basis. And this book gives me hope!
As a side note, reading this book reminded me again of the ‘Fatherless Generation’ that is trying to make these difficult transitions without the benefit of paternal guidance. I’m not saying that everything a Dad says is the best way to do things, but for the huge numbers of kids growing up today that have to go it alone, my heart breaks.
Sam shares some of his adolescent rebellion, and the shock when the reality of adulthood finally hits. And what I enjoyed most was the interplay between father and son… The conversations are about the everyday things that are so important, or, put another way, the important things that we tend to push aside as not worthy of needing someone’s advice on: dating, marriage, jobs, school, being a son and being a father. There’s even a section talking about a relationship with God.  
My prayer for this book is that fathers and sons would read it together, and as for the young men growing up today without a real dad in their life, that they would read this book anyway, and find a godly man to mentor them through the challenges of growing up.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for writing a review. There was no requirement to write a positive review.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Same-sex marriage by McDowell and Stonestreet a review

      I love the comment on the cover: "unthinkable to legal at a dizzying pace", Now What"      
      Sometimes it’s difficult to speak the truth in love. And when the truth involves incredibly controversial subjects, it’s even more difficult. As a culture we seem to demand tolerance, and we’ve come to expect from those who most champion tolerance for their causes 'and if you don’t see things my way, then you’re nothing but a hater.' So how does the church deal with a subject that makes the news every day, is debated in state supreme courts, and as far as the legal system goes, is undoubtedly ultimately going to be decided by the Supreme Court. And all of this which insists that its citizens enjoy the freedom to worship according to their own religious traditions
            Over the past few years in this country, there has been increasing push to legalize same sex marriage. And the church has to take sides. Part of Christianity suggests that Christ’s love is available to everyone, and that Same-Sex marriage should really be a non-issue. Another part insists that the traditional marriage, one man and one woman, is the only model allowed by scripture. So where do we turn for guidance, how do we decide what approach to take when the church has one standard, and the state another.
            In their book “Same-Sex marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage”, Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet address these issues and others.   
            The approach really is 'thoughtful'. Part One (chapters 1-6) look at what marriage is and why it exists. The authors turn to the Bible, starting with Genesis, touching on the 10 commandments, looking at the words of Jesus, and considering the epistles of Paul in order to formulate their arguments. One of the starting points is that God commanded that human beings should be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth. Sex (between a male and a female) is the primary means for that to happen. And marriage provides, or should provide the nurturing environment in which to raise children.
            At some point society has become more accepting of many things that used to be considered anathema.  Over time, attitudes have shifted, and the authors take a look at this phenomenon. What is the process. Can the church use something similar to slow the tide.
            But the book is more than a scathing denunciation of same-sex marriage. In Part Two (7-12) The authors bring up questions, the answers to which, "questioning minds want to know." Most of them deal with how Christians can respond to situations, questions, and debates. The focus is that we should speak the truth in love. There are frequent reminders that the church should be as upset about same-sex marriage as she is about other sexual sins: fornication, cohabitation, adultery, etc; or rather that she should be as upset about the other sexual sins as she is about same-sex marriage.
            We are forced to look at our convictions and see how strongly we support them. What are we willing to do to uphold our convictions? Where do we draw the line? How do we support our family and friends, without supporting their lifestyle choices.
            A very well thought out book. Highly recommended to all who want to know more about how to speak the truth in love, and how to love God's children when we have such a difficult time with the choices they have made.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Yes or No - how we make decisions

How many times a day do you have to make a decision? Probably quite a few.  And as Jeff Shinabarger describes it in “YES or NO: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life” (David C. Cook, 2014), that might be a problem for some of us.
Actually the problem is not that we have to make decisions, the problem is that most of us don’t know how to do that. That’s a little broad, because what Shinabarger suggests is that most people don’t understand the process that they are most comfortable with, and they don’t know their own decision making style.  Who cares what kind of style you might ask, and you would probably be in the majority. But sometimes we make important decisions, decisions that shape our destiny, and we don’t have a clue how to go about making the best decision. Best for us, and best for others who are impacted.
I’m not going to try to describe different styles, (Jeff does a much better job than I could do), but sometimes it’s important to recognize that there are different styles, we’re not all good at all of them, and sometimes it’s REALLY helpful to ask for help from someone who sees things in a different light. The book is full of examples of decisions – for better or worse -that the author and his wife have made, that others have made, and that have come about as a result of collaboration.
There are some excellent take-aways from this book, especially concerning how to involve others in some of those big decisions. I found Chapter 9 “Welcome to the Table” especially helpful. It’s simple stuff, common sense, but so obvious that it’s easy to overlook. Sometimes people (me included) tend to surround themselves with others who think they same way they do. That can be a good thing, but along the way some very viable options get discarded because they fall out of the collective box.
Jeff also points out that none of us have all the skills, and sometimes we have to meet the people that have the skills that complement our own if the decisions are going to turn out as hoped. A great baker with no business skills needs help in running the business of making cookies.
This is a fun book, and Jeff draws on his experience with Plywood People (focused on improvements in Atlanta) and as a consultant to keep things interesting.
Have a major decision coming up? You might want to get this book and start practicing with some smaller ones first.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Everything you need to know about NEGU

     Knee-goo. Keep the tissues handy. Once upon a time there was a couple with three children. A nice family, they served at a church, the kids went to school and participated in sports. They made plans for the future. And then the unthinkable happened. A few words from a doctor, and their lives were changed forever. Erik Rees (with Jenna Glatzer) chronicles his family’s journey in “Never Ever Give Up: the Inspiring Story of Jessie and Her JoyJars® (Zondervan, 2014).
     When Jessie was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma -- ­DIPG for short, lives were changed. And not just in the ways you might think. Jessie’s DIPG took her to hospitals on a regular basis for tests and treatments, and on those multiple trips, Jessie noticed that there were other children who seemed to be suffering, and she started asking “what can we do to help?”
     From that simple question a movement was started. A movement which encourages those suffering from pediatric cancers to “Never Ever Give up!” NEGU (knee-goo) was the message that Jessie shared with children as she handed out her JoyJars® (toys, games, and love). The project started small, Jessie handing out her jars full of joy, but it went viral. According to the blurbs on the book cover “Soon Thousands of JoyJars® were distributed across the United States and to over twenty-seven countries.”
     Each member of the family had a different journey through the ten months of Jessie’s battle with DIPG, and Erick shares a little of each of those journey’s along with much of his own and that of Jessie. But this is not a book about death and dying, it’s not a book about cancer, it’s not a book about grieving and mourning, as much as it is a testimony to the goodness of God, who has a plan even when we don’t understand it: (think the Old Testament Joseph: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” It’s a hymn of hope, even in the face of insurmountable odds; and there’s a call to make a difference –perhaps in the fight against pediatric cancers, and maybe against something else. Maybe it’s something small, maybe it’s a major campaign, but we can each find a cause and fight for it.
     The book can be summed up in the closing paragraphs: “ Use your gifts and passions to guide you to do good, and you will live a blessed life. Keep Hope Alive in your heart, and help others do the same. Plese help Jessie’s life set off a tidal wave of compassion around the world.”
“And never ever Give Up/”
“I NEGU… do you?”
     I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was invited to be part of the launch team, to get the word out about the Jessie Rees Foundation and JoyJars®.  I hope you’ll take the time to go to here and learn more about Jessie, the foundation, JoyJars® and how you can help spread joy throughout the world. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Identical: A little bit Baptist - a little bit rock and roll

     I like to read. I read a lot. I also like free, so I bug publishers to send me free books with the understanding that I’ll read the book and write what I think about it, and then instead of keeping my thoughts private, I’ll publish them to this blog, and maybe even post a review to Amazon or one of those other places.  
       I like to read. I don’t go to a lot of movies. But I do like free, and the other day my new friend Cas, the new digital publicist for Grace Hill Media (who I've reviewed for before), sent me an email with an interesting offer:  THE IDENTICAL, a new movie with Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd and Blake Rayne, opens in theaters next week. City of Peace Films authorized Grace Hill Media to offer a pre-release, in home viewing to some of their bloggers. Remember I like free, so I clicked the link to a trailer and agreed to watch the film.
     My son the college student is taking a film class; he could probably hit on all the points a movie review is supposed to cover, but like I said, I like to read.
     First of all, I liked the movie. It has a strong Christian influence; there was no gratuitous sex or violence, no nudity, no profanity.  A very welcome change from many movies and TV shows, even the news which frequently has to offer the disclaimer that what we are about to see may not be appropriate for all ages.(There's also no drug use, although some of the scenes are set in bars and there is GASP! dancing, drinking and cigarettes).
     The story starts in a small town in the post depression era south.  A poor man excited about the birth of his first child is less than thrilled when his wife proudly presents him with identical twins. He’s been wondering how to feed one child, what will he do with two? That evening finds him attending a tent revival, the traveling evangelist bares his soul and Mr. Hemsley has an idea.
     The babies are separated on the day after they are born; a funeral is held to explain the absence of the second twin; and separated by miles and cultures the two boys grow up. Drexel Hemsley achieves fame and fortune as a singer/musician. The second son, Dexter, known now as Ryan Wade grows up as the son of a preacher man and his wife, a good boy who loves music, much to his daddy’s chagrin. As the boys grow into men, they both gravitate to the same musical genre. Preacher daddy finally has enough and sends his son into the army, hoping that he will get over the nonsense, and accept the calling that the Lord must have on his life. It doesn't quite work, but that’s part of the story.  
     Blake Rayne who plays both of the identical twins looks (and even sounds a little) like Elvis Presley. Ryan Wade grows up ‘a little bit Baptist, a little bit rock and roll’.(They never mention Baptist, but I like the way it sounds)  I was confused for the first half of the movie. Was it supposed to be a semi-biographical film about Elvis? But I finally came to the conclusion that this really wasn't about Elvis as much as it was about an entire era, and the people that made it what it was.
     But on a much deeper level it touches on so many more themes. Making painful decisions, trying to live a life that someone else has decided is yours, becoming the man that God wants you to be as opposed to the man that someone else thinks God wants you to be.(By the way I'm a pastor, am I trying to force my son into a call that's mine and not his?)
     It’s a film about life and death, truth and lies, about anger and forgiveness. It’s a film about redemption. I suppose there is even a case to be made for one or both sides in the nature vs. nurture argument.
     If you prefer movies with car chases, gun fights and rawness, you probably won’t list The Identical as one of your all time favorites, but you might like the music. And you may even get a hint of God's grace as He deals with people who don’t always feel like they’re in the right place.
     If you’re tired of blood and gore and smut, you’ll be glad you found a movie you can watch with your mother without being embarrassed.  A little hokey at times, but more frequently than not the sentimentality worked to the film's advantage. There were a few too many Elvis connections for my liking, but the movie is inspirational, and yes I liked the music.
     Watch a trailer here

     THE IDENTICAL opens in theaters nationwide on Sept 5. A welcome change of pace, as a nice story is nicely told. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Wasted Prayer - a call to action

     From our lips to God's ears…that’s how we all want prayers to be answered, and so when it seems like God didn't hear us, or at least didn't hear us very clearly, we wonder about the effectiveness of our prayers. Some people give up on God, and others assume that they didn't pray hard enough, or they’re not worth God's time, or some other equally erroneous assumption.

     Greg Darley, In Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing (Thomas Nelson, 2014), offers a different perspective. 
     At first, it seems like blasphemy, or heresy, to suggest that our prayers might be wasted, but as he develops his idea, the concept of wasted prayer starts to make sense. When are our prayers wasted? Unfortunately - quite frequently.  Don’t hear what I’m not saying, what Darley didn't say. Prayer is a good thing, prayer is something we need more of in many circumstances. Quite often prayer is exactly what’s needed. But there comes a point, when more prayer is just the opposite of what is needed. There comes a time when what’s needed is action. 
     Darley points out how prayer can be a cover for procrastination, for pride, for isolation, and suggests that to keep praying when God is asking us to move, is disobedience.

     All and all, prayer is a good thing. But prayer after prayer after prayer, ad nauseum, becomes what Darley calls religious prayer, as opposed to prayer followed by appropriate action based on God's response which he labels discipleship prayer.

      Especially helpful is the list of examples of ‘calls to action’ (p 179-180). Sometimes you just need to get off your knees and onto your feet. It’s a good thing to pray – talk to God, it’s also a good thing to pray – listen to God. It’s a great thing to pray – respond in obedience to what God says.

      Wasted Prayer is an easy book to read, and it’s packed full of examples (biblical and personal) of what Darley is trying to explain. There are also ideas of how to put the theory into practice. I’m convinced that my prayer life is going to change as a result of putting into practice the things I picked out of this book. Buckling up and getting ready for the ride.

      I received a copy of this book in exchange for the review.


Be the Message - a brief review

For many years we've all heard that St Francis once said “Share the gospel every day. Use words when necessary.”  Whether it was Francis who said it or not, and whether those were the exact words (or words as translated) is irrelevant. Somebody said it (or something similar) and many people think it’s a good idea. Other than to say that I think words – actually ‘the Word’- is absolutely necessary, I am delighted that Kerry and Chris Shook have managed to provide a practical way to share the gospel other than in the form of a sermon.
Be the Message: Taking Your Faith beyond Words to a LIFE of Action (WaterBrook Press, 2014) reminds us that Christianity involves more than sitting in church for an hour on Sunday.   Not only do they remind us that modern day Christianity no longer seems Christian (quoting Kinnaman in Unchristian), they proceed to offer practical examples of what we can do to remedy that. They remind us that the way we follow Jesus is by living the gospel, not just quoting the right scripture for any occasion.
One of the most powerful concepts they discuss (page 42) is the fact that the Word of God lives in us. Jesus is the Word of God. The Word is the gospel, Christ (the Word) lives in us, so we’re the gospel.
The book is full of examples of how to live as the Word of God, how to live the gospel. How to be the message.
More than just a sermon, this book is a blueprint for becoming the gospel that followers of Christ are meant to be.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

national missionaries trained and quipped by GFA

"It is not we who have been doing ministry, but it is God who has been doing ministry through us. "
There are a lot of places in the world where people still don't know Jesus. There are a lot of people that don't know Jesus.  When I throw out a stat like 40% of the world's population doesn't know Jesus' love. T might not seem like much. After all that’s a pretty small percentage. But 40% of 7 billion plus is right around 2.5 billion. For those of you who like  to see the zeros, here's what it looks like: 2,500,000,000. 

  That's a lot of zeros and a lot of people.  Perry Noble of New Spring Church counts salvations. One of his church's guiding principles or core values is simply stated: Every number as a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God."

2.5 Billion is a lot of names and stories that matter to God, so they should matter to us.  Gospel for Asia (GFA) has one primary aim: to share the good news. To do that they train and send national missionaries into areas where Jesus has not yet been proclaimed. An area of the world by the way where more than 80% of the world's poorest people live.  There is a lot being done, but a lot more needs to be done.

I started this post with a quote from a national missionary trained, equipped, and sent by GFA.  Jesus told us to go and make disciples, it's only natural that God would make it possible for us to be able to do that.  National missionaries are going into remote areas, areas where needs are great, and in the name of Jesus are meeting those needs. Spiritual needs and physical needs are being met, but so much more can be done.

Most of the people reading this blog post live far away from the "10/40 window", but you can still help. (and you don't even have to pour a bucket of ice water on your head)  Click here here to read about Gospel for Asia and see what the native missionaries are doing, and how you can help them with finances and with prayer.

God is doing ministry through them…He can use you to minister to them, so that they may continue to be used by God to minister to others. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Does the truth really matter

Does the truth really matter? Sometimes in this crazy world we live in, it seems like the truth is the last thing that we want to worry about, but when it comes to eternity, truth does matter. What we believe to be true should determine how we act, and how we react. In "Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World (B&H Publishing, 2014) the authors (Andreas J. K√∂stenberger, Darrell Bock and Josh Chatraw) offer arguments to help high school/college students defend their faith.


            For mature Christians, secure in their faith, much of this book seems simplistic, but the intended audience is not so much mature, secure Christians as it is college students. Surveys discussed in the book indicate that many people of college age leave the church. The authors suggest that young people are often exposed to a new set of standards when they go away to school, a wide variety of worldviews, and in courses that many are required to take because of their major, or as an elective for their 'generals' that they are exposed to challenges to their own Christian worldview.


The authors chose to use Dr Bart Ehrman, "one of the leading voices attacking the reliability of the Christian faith" as their reference point, and quote or refer to him often throughout this book. They use Ehrman's arguments and teaching points as a starting point, and offer young Christians tools with which to not only disagree with Ehrmans' stand, but also to defend their faith.


These questions that are discussed in this book are ones that have been addressed many times before, (for example see  Lee Strobel's "Case for Christ" or "Case for Faith"), and are used as examples of the questions that are frequently offered to disprove the tenets of the Christian faith.


Having read other books by K√∂stenberger, and Bock, it took a few pages to realize that this was not going to be what I expected. It is not a deep theological treatise, it is probably not going to serve as an evangelistic or apologetic tool, but it certainly will be useful for teens and young adults who have grown up in the church, and are not confronted by an authority figure, in the form of a college professor - an 'expert' - who denies the truth of all that they have been taught  about God, Jesus, and the church.


I liked the book because it gives students (like my son) permission to think for themselves, permission to challenge theories that are presented by non-believers, by those who teach in secular colleges and who believe that true Christian faith is just another theory, just another version of truth which is as valid as any other truth.


Yes Truth Matters!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for the review.