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.