Friday, February 28, 2014

Thrive: a great resource for Youth workers

Thrive: Digging Deeper, Reaching Out (Zondervan, 2014) is the latest book by Youth Pastor and Casting Crowns singer Mark Hall.  I liked this book – it was an easy read, suitable for daily devotions, great for conversation starters for a youth group, a valuable resource for a youth pastor and especially for a youth leader who doesn't have the benefit of Bible school or theological studies. Mark brings a lot to the table from his knowledge of scripture, his life experience, his years as a youth pastor, and a few references to the band.
Jesus came to bring life and to bring it abundantly, with all that implies, yet so many people seem to think that life is something to be survived on a daily basis. Mark says that instead of just getting by, we should live life to the fullest; we should thrive in our existence as a member of the family of God.
But it takes a little bit of effort. There’s more than saying a simple prayer and having everything be golden. We’re called to dig deeper into the word, to reach out to others (believers for fellowship and encouragement, and non-believers to share the Gospel.
I didn't glean any new deep theological insights, but that’s OK. This is not meant to be a scholarly treatise or a textbook for postgraduate studies. There is a lot of common sense stuff, things that we might have learned before, have probably forgotten, and need to hear again and again.  (By the way, the chapter titled “Mighty Men”, on page 91, is one of those ‘gotcha’ moments, that reminds us of how we’re supposed to be reaching out!)
My teenage son gets to read the book next, and then it probably goes to his Youth Leader.  On a scale of 1 to 5, this is ‘almost a five’.

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

tools for thought

Gordon Dye’s “Thought in the Absence of Certainty: you Can See a Lot by Looking” (OutskirtsPress, 2014) offers much to think about.
This was not an easy review to write, so I want to be upfront about my bias. Two statements, one in the preface, and one in the introduction bothered me to the point that I had to force myself to continue reading. The first, on page ix, has to do with not including references. The reasons themselves make sense, but to tell the reader that references have been omitted because the writing is clear enough presumes a lot about both the writing, and the reader’s ability. The statement “the goal of this book is not so much reader acceptance as it is understandability” left me confused. That seems to say that the author wants the reader to understand what he has written, but it is of no importance whether or not the reader accepts any of it as valid.
The second statement, on page 2, seemed condescending. “…if you disagree with points made in the summary, you might wish to verify the reasoning behind your disagreement with the corresponding detailed text before putting such matters aside entirely.  What I took from the introduction to his chapter summaries was that the author had included the summary so it wouldn't be necessary to read portions that one might find uninteresting or non applicable to the topic at hand.  In any case, it seemed that this could be interpreted one of two ways. 1) If the summary doesn't make sense, then read the chapter that the summary is supposed to help you avoid reading, or 2) if you don’t agree with me, you must be wrong, so do some further study to see what you missed.
            Having gotten that out of the way, I have to admit that I’m glad I read the book.  Dye does something that many people forget to do: he thinks about the process. There’s a Facebook meme that says it well: “try being informed instead of just opinionated.”  There are far too many people out there who seem to certain about any number of things without having put much (if any) thought into it. “I don’t like it so it must be wrong- and if it’s wrong than I must be right.”  Dye helps put things into perspective, now if he could just make sure that this book, which encourages people to learn how to think, gets into the hands of the right people.
In the introduction we find the thrust of the book: describing insights that we can use, and providing tools for personal resolution of those major issues that cause us grief.
The chapter summaries were helpful, and could probably stand alone, but more information is provided within each chapter, so it would be foolish to read the summary and think you have it down pat. Although the “certainty notations” that Dye uses, ([C1-C5, Cx] to indicate whether information  is possible, probable, or defining, are helpful in understanding and grasping the context, I found them distracting, mainly because I kept returning to the definition of each notation.
If I were classifying this book, it would probably end up in the section labeled ‘Philosophy’ rather than religion, but it does address religious issues.  In the book of Hebrews (11:1, NIV) faith is described as ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Many of the big issues that people face on a regular basis require decisions based on their faith: that certainty that comes from carefully thinking through everything involved.
Because of the issues that I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I am rating this a 4/5. Otherwise I would have rated the book a 5.

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

Making the best of growing older

In his book “Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Longer Life” (Plough Publishing, 2013), Johann Christoph Arnold addresses an issue that most people don’t want to deal with. “I’m getting older, how do I live out my life gracefully?”  After having worked as a Hospice Chaplain for several years,  I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what appears in the pages of this deceptively simple book.
The simple stories of growing old and the obstacles in the way, along with the solutions that others have found, will be useful for anyone who is faced with the inevitability of an aging loved one. And throughout the book, first and foremost comes faith.
The writing style seems simplistic, but the material presented is so engaging and compelling, that I quickly adapted to its rhythm rather than try to force it into a rhythm more closely aligned with my reading style.
“Rich in years” is for the person who is facing his or her own immortality, it’s for the families and friends of that person and it begs to be read by caregivers: professionals and family members. Arnold reminds us that aging is a process, and through that process we change. Our bodies and our minds may slow down, but we still need a purpose, we still want to serve, and with the help of God, family, friends, and community, those needs and wants can still be met.

If you know someone who is slowing down or suffering the effects of aging, you need to read this book. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I like this book

Brad Formsma has hit a home run with his delightful book “I Like Giving: the Transforming Power of a Generous Life. Practical Ideas, Inspiring Stories” (WaterBrook Press, 2014.) And by the way, you may want to have some tissues ready as you settle down with this book. Some of the ‘inspiring stories’ just may inspire you to cry.
If you've spent much time in church, you've probably heard that God loves a cheerful giver. Of course that was usually said right before the ushers passed through with the collection plate. And there’s no doubt that He does. Formsma takes that a bit further, and tells what cheerful giving might look like outside of the Sunday morning worship service.
            The reader is reminded that Jesus once said that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and goes on to tell any number of ways that people demonstrate that principle of being blessed through their generosity. (Counter-intuitive, yes, but it works.)  In this book are lessons on the joy of giving, the joy of generosity, and demonstration after demonstration of what happens when we turn “I have to give” into “I get to give.”  It might be a big gift, but it doesn't have to be: simple gifts bring blessings too, to the giver and the person to whom it is given.
            This is not another spin on prosperity gospel, there are no promises or implications that if you send a check today, that you’ll be rich by this time next week. Unless of course you count happiness and joy as riches and wealth.
The stories have funny titles like “I like Bike” or “I like “Pay Phones” and the title clues the reader in on what is involved in this giving experience. IT’s amazing how people from around the country have chimed in with their stories to make this book possible.
But it’s not just warm fuzzies, Formsma gives tips on how to give, how to live a life a generosity, why we give, and why we enjoy (for those who do) giving. There are clues about why giving is difficult at times, and along the way I was reminded that sometimes it’s hard for me to be on the receiving end, which in turn reminds me that sometimes giving needs to be done in a way that doesn't embarrass the recipient, and that even though the end result might be that I feel the joy that God wants all of us to experience, the giving experience is not always supposed to be about making me feel good.
I read a lot for work, for school and for pleasure.  This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.  I’m sure I’ll go back to it again and again. I’ll buy a couple of extra copies to give to friends.  And my giving story - whatever it’s called - will start with “I Like Books…”

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There is no requirement to write a positive review.

The only reason for giving this book 5 stars on a scale of 1 to 5 is that there is no 6. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

review of "30 Days Praying the Our Father"

To start I have to confess that for the sake of a timely review, I cheated and read 30 Days of Praying the Our Father: a 30 Day Course in Prayer by David J. Gonzalez in a lot less than 30 days. And then I started reading it and praying as suggested.

The “Our Father”, the “Lord’s Prayer”, the “Disciples’ Prayer” is one of the better known prayers of the Christian Church, at least as far as the number of people who can recite the words from memory. But my gut feeling is that this is a fallback prayer for many people, words that they recite when they don’t know how else or what else to pray. But this prayer is so much more than that, and Gonzalez draws on his scholastic and pastoral background to provide some of the meaning as it would have been understood by Jesus’ followers.

Although the prayer itself is a major part of the 30 day plan, each day the focus is slightly different, a different piece of the puzzle as it were. A different phrase might be explained, or different levels of the phrase explained on the previous day.  One of the more helpful things about the book is the scriptural references found throughout. Yes Jesus gave the words, but the references put them in context: what else did Jesus have to say about forgiveness, or the Kingdom, or something like our daily bread?

Following the reading for each day, there is a focus to use while praying the Our Father, and then a page to keep notes on what you may have prayed for, or insights that came to you as praying.

I agree with Gonzalez that prayer should be an important part of each day and that the Our Father is an important part of our prayer toolkit. I enjoy the Lord’s Prayer, and pray it frequently, but it is only a part of my prayer life. I was left with a sense that it would be easy for some people to get overly legalistic about this prayer to the exclusion of other prayers, much like People who insist on “King James Only” since that is the ‘authorized’ version. They forget that the original text would have been penned in Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew and not the British English of the 17th century.  

Would I recommend the book to new believers or a study of the Lord’s Prayer? Absolutely! Would I suggest that this would be the only guide to prayer that they will ever need? Absolutely not!

I would rate the book ‘4’ on a scale of 1-5, simply because I was left with a sensation that something was missing. I can’t clearly identify that missing something, but there was no sense of closure, and a gnawing sense of ‘if you do like I say, you’ll ______.”

I received the book free from the author in exchange for the review. I was not required to write a positive review