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 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

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 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

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 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

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 .