Sunday, January 26, 2014

On being rich.

Andy Stanley has done pastors around the world a huge favor by writing How to Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have. It’s what You Do with What You Have. (Zondervan, 2013)
Although we've heard time and time again that the poorest Americans are among the richest people in the world, that if you make $37,000.00 you would be among the top 4% of the world’s most wealthy. We’ve heard it, we know it at one level, but at the same time we don’t want to believe it, because it doesn’t seem like much compared to the person who has just a little bit more.
Taking his cue from 1 Timothy 6: 6 and following, Stanley teaches about generosity, giving as Jesus taught, and using what we've been blessed to bless others. Pastors will find this book an easy read, full of information and ideas that they can use to teach their congregations about giving.
We don’t ‘give’ anything to God, in fact it’s just the other way around, God gives us everything, and He expects us to do something with it other than put it in a bank account, and try to impress people that have even more than we do.
This is a quick read, an easy read, and gives multiple examples on how to help people become the givers they've heard about but thought was something that only other people did.
This book is a wake-up call to the fact that being rich is about more than the amount of dollars in the bank account. Being rich is all about doing the right thing with those dollars.

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

In just 30 minutes?

If only it were that easy. Pastor Tommy Barnett, author of The Power of a Half Hour: Take Back Your Life Thirty Minutes at a Time (Waterbrook Press, 2013), claims to be able to teach you how to change your life... in just 30 minutes. If only it were that easy.
In principle, it makes sense. Break your day down into small manageable chunks of time, and break the to-do-list into small manageable tasks. Sounds like things that have been written before in other time management books. But Barnett isn’t breaking things into those small manageable chunks; he’s taking advantage of 30 minute encounters wherever and whenever they occue.
According to Barnett these half-hour blocks have a lot of power: power to impact a life, to chart a life path, to strengthen your faith, to build your character, to advance your dreams, to improve your relationships and even to change the world. Worthwhile aspirations - every one of them.
In the introduction Barnett suggests that he will show ‘how seizing the power of a half hour can make such a difference in these major areas:...[areas listed]” It seems though, that there was not a lot of ‘how to” in the text.
I was disappointed to not see more scriptural references from the pastor of a large church, and although I admire the many worthwhile accomplishments of Pastor Barnett and members of his family and congregation, this book seemed more like a way for the author to show off his accomplishments rather than a time management or leadership book.
At the same time, given Barnett’s involvement with the Dream Center, it’s easy to see how this book is an encouragement to follow your dreams.
Included in the book is a convenient guide for a personal action plan, one for each of the 30 half hour principle. There is a also a small group guide: several 30 minute sessions, one for each of the major areas which Barnett says can be impacted by proper use of a half hour.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eat Like Jesus a review

“EAT LIKE Jesus: Returning to Kosher Christianity” by Andrew L. Hoy (RT Publications, 2013), is not what I expected. I’m not sure quite what I expected, but I liked the title, so when offered the opportunity to write a review, I willingly agreed. From the title, I expected that this was going to be more of dietary guideline, perhaps the latest fad: “the Jerusalem Diet’.  Hoy offers much more, (for which I am grateful). The author found some issues in the first printing which he has corrected (and provided a link so that I could see the revisions – revisions by the way, which do not seem to impact the essence of the authors intent.)
According to a 2011 Pew Forum report there are about 2 billion Christians worldwide. That means two billion people claim to follow Jesus. Unfortunately most people, including me, tend to pick and choose which things that Jesus did that they might like to do also. Hoy has done a meticulous study, of some of the ancient texts (in the original languages) and shows how various translations may agree or not with the original written material.
Although much of the book centers on dietary laws, on a different level, the book also shows how many of our contemporary answers to WWJD type questions effectively ignore what Jesus would actually do.
Using dietary laws as his area of concern, Hoy addresses the issues of how the different ‘dispensations’ have impacted translations of Scripture, until what we are left with is often, if his interpretations are correct, (and often they do seem to be) a watered down version, easy to live with rendition of God's original intent.
Great questions are raised and thought-provoking answers are provided as Hoy discusses Peter’s vision, some of the dietary commands, how people interpret the actions and words of Daniel and Paul, and when humans actually started eating meat.
This book is not an ‘easy read’, nor does the subject matter necessarily lend itself to the popular press.  I appreciate the scholarship that went into the book, but would have preferred something a more engaging writing style.

I do agree with the author’s comments that many of the Kosher dietary laws did probably have something to do with health considerations. Am I willing to give up bacon? Probably not!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan, my review

I’ve read “Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome” (by Owen Strachan, Nelson Books, 2013) before. In fact I've read it several times. To be sure it had a different title, and a different author, and the words were pretty much different from all the other times.  But that’s okay. This book will reach people that the others may not have.
            And it’s a book that bears re-writing and re-reading because the message is so important: being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just something that we do for an hour on Sunday. God is not meant to fit into a small compartment of our life, rather He should be present and visible in everything we do. Following Jesus is not something to put on a bucket list, but something that Christians should be doing all day every day -, at church, with the family, at work, in the community, on mission, and as we go about trying to be good citizens. We’re called to take risks for the gospel, not cower behind artificial fail-safe systems. Even in failure we have the opportunity to risk it all for the sake of Jesus.
            And taking risks is something that the early followers did on a regular basis. As Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim1: 7, NIV) “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  This book is a reminder that we truly can do all things “through Christ who strengthens [us]”(Phil 4:13, NKJV). But we have to be willing to take a risk. 
            Risk implies, but does not guarantee danger, struggles, or loss, and as Strachan leads us through Christian risk taking, he acknowledges that things may not always go smoothly. But, and he is in no way preaching a ‘prosperity gospel’, there is also the potential for great rewards.
            Bottom line are you willing to take a risk and in doing so become the Christian that God wants you to be, or are you content to strive for the world’s version of success, and along the way try to squeeze some God-time in when it’s not too inconvenient. Tired of sitting back wondering what’s next? Then get this book, read it, and go take a risk. Nothing to lose and everything to gain!
            I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't listen to the chatterbox

I want to start by saying that I am a fan of Steven Furtick’s writing.  I enjoyed his previous two books, and so jumped at the chance to receive an advance review copy of Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God's Voice above all Others (Multnomah, 20140).  I was not disappointed.
            We've all heard that voice, that nagging little creature in our heads that reminds us again and again that we’re not good enough, that we’re not living up to our potential, that the expectations that God, the employer, the spouse, the school, or the church have for us are much higher than we can ever hope to obtain: especially considering our most recent performance.  We've heard the voice, and unfortunately way too many people choose to ignore reality and listen to that obnoxious little critter.
 Furtick divides his book into 4 sections: “God Says I Am”; “God Says He Will”; “God Says He Has”; and “God Says I Can”.  With scriptural references and personal stories, he walks us through the process of defeating that nagging suspicion that God is done with us. He reminds us that God has bigger and better in store for us than we can ever imagine.
            I was hooked from the introduction. Furtick writes, “I wake up every day to the crow of the chatterbox.”  He may have been referring to the cock-a-doodle-doo of nature’s alarm clock, but the name for a group of crows is a murder, and doesn't that chatterbox murder our hopes and dreams? If we listen too long, we’ll start to believe all the lies. But we have options. As Furtick points out, we can choose to listen to God.
            Please don’t mistake the readability of this book as an invitation to rush through it, take some time, savor and enjoy it. Listen to God talking to you, telling you that He’s there with you, and there is no reason for you to listen to the chatterbox any longer.

            The publisher provided me with an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a favorable review. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Talking About Sin --Or Not

The people in Utah are divided over any number of things; we don’t gamble here, but... head to Wendover, NV, and count the Utah License plates on cars in the Casino parking lots. We don’t have a lottery, but... head to Malad, ID and do the same count. And I’m pretty sure that in no time at all the marijuana laws in Utah will result in a lot of cars from Utah filling parking lots in Colorado.
            Until just a few weeks ago same sex couples couldn't get married in Utah, then they could, now they can’t. Polygamous relationships were once allowed, perhaps even encouraged, then outlawed, and now they’re not quite as frowned upon, at least by the legal system.
            The clean air act prohibits tobacco products in many places, but e-cigs aren't tobacco, so you can smoke where you can’t smoke. Caffeine in the form of coffee is frowned on, but Mountain Dew? That’s quite a different story.
And my perspective, like yours, depends on how it affects us personally.  One of the things that I've come to realize lately is that our take on social issues, like our take on sin, typically depends on whether or not we “indulge” (directly or indirectly, personally involved, or someone close to us is).  And when it comes to sin, just ask 50 people what sin God hates the most, and you’re likely to get close to 50 different answers. Most of the answers, though, will have one thing in common – something that can be explained in one sentence that goes something like this:  The sin that God hates the most is one that I’m not involved in.
But God says that sin is sin, and as painful as that might be to admit, we don’t do anyone any eschatological favors when we convince ourselves and them that their sin is not really sin. Yes we all want to be politically correct, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and of course we don’t want to get in trouble with any of the activist groups that will target us and try to make us look bad. But in trying to stay on everybody’s good side, we forget about God's Word, and we forget about staying on God's good side. Pastor Rick Warren recently put it like this: “I fear God's disapproval more than man’s.”  (In this interview with Piers Morgan, he also stated, “...while I may disagree with you on your views on sexuality, that does not give me the right to demean you, to demoralize you, to defame you, to turn you into a demon.”)
Pastor Warren was talking about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and tolerance. And of course those are hot topics today in Utah. But if we’re talking about sin, then it goes much farther than that. I don’t even want to get involved in this debate because it takes away from the larger issue of sin in general.  There are a lot of people screaming about the sin of homosexuality, but what about the sins of fornication, and adultery. There is a lot of that going on among good church-going people. Couples live together and head to church weekly, and not much is said about it. Lots of women come to church with their children and dad isn't with them, because he’s not a part of the ‘legal’ family, and often even Mom doesn't know who he is – or care.
And of course we all know people who cheat on their taxes, and think the speed limit and stop signs are for the other guy.  There are plenty of people in this country illegally who are demanding their rights (‘rights’ which in this country are granted to American citizens, and to those who are here legally). What part of ‘respect those in position of authority’ are we missing out on? 
Parents are told to not exasperate their children, and children are to honor their parents. We all know how that’s working out. And how much covetousness, lust, and theft are we willing to accept from our circle of friends? God says that idolatry is sin, but look at how we turn our cars, houses, jobs, families, and bank accounts into idols. Well maybe not idols, but many times it seems that we value them more than we value God. Strike that, we have turned them into idols: we turn to them to give us something that only God can give us. That’s an idol. No other Gods before you?  Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. God-won’t-care-if –I-miss-church -–He-knows-my-team-is playing-today.
Yes we want to love the sinner even as we hate the sin, but I don’t see how that we do anybody any favors when we try to minimize any sin. The loving response is to walk beside the sinner, and teach what Jesus taught. If I can convince you that your sin is not a sin, why would you ever confess it? Why would you ever repent? Why would you ever care about what the Bible says?  As you can read in 1 John 1:9-10 (the Message)  “On the other hand, if we admit our sins — make a clean breast of them — he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we've never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God — make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”
I wish I were perfect so that I could judge those who see things differently than I do. I’m not, and I don’t have that right. God established the guidelines. God has told us what he sees as sin. It’s against that standard that people will be judged.  People, don’t set the standards any more than governments do. That’s left to God. 
Any government entity can pass laws, enact statutes, or put something up for vote. But nowhere does God say that he’s just doing the best He can, and hopefully someday a human judge, elected or appointed by another human being, will make all the necessary corrections. Whether we want to acknowledge something as sin or not, at some point we’re going to stand before the supreme Judge and give an accounting for what we've done with what we had.

So when we want to talk about sin, it seems that the best place to start would be with our own, the things we’re doing that God says he doesn't like.  I don’t mean that we shouldn't be offended by the sins of other people, but when we shift our focus from ‘ours’ to ‘theirs’ it’s way too easy to get distracted and not be able to hear God's voice.  If I’m busy talking about your sin, I’m not even thinking about my own. It might make me a little more comfortable today, but someday I’m going to have to answer for that sin.