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.



Monday, August 25, 2014

It's time to RE...

Great ideas happen. Something works for someone, suddenly it seems like everyone is doing it; and then the momentum slows. In many ways that seems to be the pattern that the evangelical church has fallen into, the momentum has slowed. People have gotten used to the status quo, and may churches have become inwardly focused at the expense of the communities they serve. And unfortunately the people that evangelicals are supposed to be reaching don't see anything to get excited about either.
            Lance Ford as recognized that slowdown in the western church, and offers a prescription, an antidote to the decline of the evangelical church. "REvangelical: Becoming the Good News People We're Meant to Be" is Ford's take on the state of the church, along with some suggestions for restoring the original intent of the church. 
            Alliteration (recalibrate, repent, recommit, reconcile, …) is not my favorite literary device, but in this case it works, and works well, as Ford invites us to relook at the way we're doing things and how we might do them differently and better. He's not suggesting a lot of new ideas, rather that we return to some of the ways that things used to be done and that we've gotten away from.
            As I read, I was struck time and again, by the fact that the church has lost some of her enthusiasm for lost people. REvangelical is a recipe for reaching out to the people that don't walk through the door. It's a recipe for sharing Jesus with those for whom God's heart is broken. It may be time for the church to take a really good look at itself: what she's doing and she's not doing,; who she should be trying to reach, and what she needs to do to get to where Jesus wants to see His Church.
Pastors and leadership teams of any church who is stagnating or in decline might find the ideas in this book useful, that is if they are interested in leaving the status quo behind in favor of reaching people that don't yet know Jesus.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

your call to the Great Commission

I had only read a couple of chapters of J.D. Payne's book Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church (Thomas Nelson, 2014) before tweeting that this book should be required reading for anyone interested in taking their great commission efforts to the next level.

After finishing the book, I want to amend that statement.  It should also be required reading for anyone who is not interested in following the Great Commission. Christ's call on our lives is clear. As Christians we are called to be disciples of a special kind: disciples who make disciples.  

If you're interested in doing what we're called to do, this book provides all sorts of information on issues that the church is called to confront. It's no longer just the fact that there are people in far off places of the world that have never heard of Jesus.   The mission field is wide open in the West as well. The church is growing in other parts of the world, which is a good thing, and it offers new opportunities, and alternatives to the way that things have been done for the past 200 years.  Pluralism presents a new set of challenges, and there are a myriad of opportunities to work with those who have migrated to the west, and are now have opportunities to share the gospel with family and friends in their home lands.

As the cultural mores change, there are challenges that we may not have considered as part of evangelism before, but now have to deal with. In this country there are a lot of people who would consider themselves Christian - but it's not based on a relationship with Christ as much as it is that they know they're not something else. And within that group there are issues: poverty, porn, urbanization, and different learning styles.

For those who are already involved in spreading the gospel, these are important things to know as we look at how to best address the changing picture of Christianity in the world. For others, this book should serve as a wake-up call.

A lot of people seem to think that Great Commission work is for the professionals: seminary trained pastors, missionaries, and evangelists but as Payne so deftly points out, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone who claims to be a Christ-follower to get involved in what Christ called his followers to do.

For some readers the information presented here will be clarification of things that they have already heard. For others is will be new and exciting, and hopefully will be the motivation they need to join God on His mission to call all people to Him. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

India has a "Prime Servant': New PM, New Goals

The movie "Veil of Tears" (learn about the movie) touched my heart and made me want to do something to help vast numbers of women in India who are in bondage of many different kinds. Watch the movie to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

It's a sad state of affairs, so  I was pleased to read a news article this morning that addresses some of those issues, and addresses them at a level that I will never reach. You can read the article here: New PM urges end to violence against women
Prime Minister Narendra Modi basically says that the status quo is unacceptable, and that parents should stop treating their sons so much better than the daughters are often treated. This statement may be a generalization, but in some areas, I'm sure it's the norm. I know some people from India who would be offended to think that we suspected such behavior in their families. 

The 'Prime Servant' as he called himself calls on parents to teach their sons the difference between right and wrong in a country that has been shamed by misogynistic behavior. He also announced a goal of "eradicating poverty in [a country] where hundreds of millions live on less than a dollar a day.

My prayer is that the goals are met. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Gospel for Asia

Some months  ago I saw an ad for a copy of "Veil of Tears" (more info here) a DVD that Gospel for Asia had produced and was making available for churches to introduce congregations to the reality in which millions of people exist. A reality that is far removed from that in which we live.
We showed the movie one evening to a small crowd, but all of us were impacted in one way or another, and we plan to show it again, and hopefully reach a much bigger audience.

Recently Gospel for Asia (GFA) sent some information about how to use a blog to share the ministry of GFA. It sounded like a good idea, so I signed up.  I'm looking forward to sharing with you in the future about the work that GFA is doing with unreached people groups in a part of the world that many of us will never get the opportunity to see except through the eyes of those who are doing Christ's work in far away places.

the link takes you to an info page for GFA and includes a video (less than 3 minutes) about the work that Gospel for Asia is doing. Enjoy!
a Little Bit about GFA

Friday, August 8, 2014

Strange Glory:a review

I've read several things BY Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but “Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Charles Marsh (Knopf 2014) is the first book ABOUT him that I've read. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, including some of Bonhoeffer’s personal papers Marsh paints a picture of the Lutheran pastor that will surprise some and upset others.

First, my critique of the style – some sentences were Proust-like in length, and the attention to detail at points was overwhelming. From this reviewer’s perspective at least, reading the book was laborious rather than a labor of love. I was exhausted at the end of the book, and found myself glad that it was finished. Although I would have preferred less minutia, I was glad that Marsh took the time and made the effort to provide a comprehensive picture of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer’s theology didn't develop in a vacuum, and the references to other theologians and how they impacted Bonhoeffer were especially enlightening.
I mentioned that I've not read other biographies, but I have read and heard some things about Bonhoeffer, and same sex attraction is never one of the things that came to the surface. As Marsh wrote about the friendship with Herr Bethge, I expected to read that Bonhoeffer was forced to wear a pink star, or about antics in some of the Berlin clubs that catered to a certain type of clientele.

From an obnoxious and precocious teen to a brilliant scholar and theologian, Bonhoeffer seems to have written his own rules along the way, and in doing so was able to see things as they were, rather than as someone else would like them to be. The travel stories, his fondness for the arts, friendships and familial relationships that Marsh describes allow us to see Bonhoeffer as a human being, intimately involved in the issues of the day and in the lives of those around him.

In addition to the details about the theologian’s life, this book reminds us that some of the issues that we face in society and culture today are not new. Almost 100 years ago people were dealing with shifting mores and learning to adapt. Politics, sociology, history, and yes theology play a part in each person’s development; Marsh has done a fine job of tying things together in a way that shows that the whole, in this case, is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

This is probably not the book for a casual reader, but the serious scholar of Bonhoeffer’s life will want to add this book to his bookshelf.

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

intentional not random

The title caught my attention, the rest of the book held it. How to Pick up a Stripper and Other Acts of Kindness by Todd and Erin Stevens (Thomas Nelson, 2014) is a delightful read.  Todd pokes fun at himself throughout the book and in doing so points out how many Christians, on a regular basis, miss opportunities to model the message of love that Jesus left for all His disciples – not just Peter and Friends.

The Stevens serve at Friendship Community Church in Nashville, and Erin, after prayer and fasting felt a call to minister to Strippers in the area. This book chronicles their journey of ministering and showing love to people that often get ignored by the church because they function outside the realm of respectability. But the ministry works, and Pastors Stevens share their successes here.

This is a book about outreach, about evangelism, about sharing the gospel. Friendship Church does things a little differently than many other churches, but their intentional (NOT random) acts of kindness have made a lasting impact on many people in their areas of influence. Stevens gives lots of examples of acts of kindness: buying gas, buying lunch, doing laundry, washing windshields – and reminds the reader that the acts are done with no strings attached. This is just a way of demonstrating Jesus’ love.

A lot of what is in this book is common sense, something that many people seem to have only in limited amounts. Stevens talks about things we probably know, but often forget- things like meet people where they are, serve and love like Jesus did, and as Christians we’re called to love everyone, even that bunch of (________)s that we wish would disappear into thin air. But I need to be reminded from time to time of things that I already know.

The last chapter (other than the one that the reader is supposed to write) covers prayer. I was confused: why wasn't this at the front of the book? But as I thought about it, it makes sense to provide knowledge of what and who to pray for when starting out on a new journey.

Is this book a great theological treatise? Probably not so much. Is it enjoyable and entertaining? Yes. Is it informative and instructional? Definitely.

Somebody had to think outside the box to get the idea of heading to a strip club for outreach and evangelism. That’s good….mankind hasn't yet created a box big enough to contain God.  When we learn to love like Jesus, we find that the box isn't big enough for love either.

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