Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let teh Kingdom Come First

Dr.  Russell Moore addresses several of the hot button topics of today in his book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. (B&H Books, 2015). He is adamant that the church needs to be doing a better job of addressing these issues, not in a political way, but in a way that looks to the gospel of Jesus Christ for answers.
I found myself strongly agreeing with some of his positions, especially how Christianity as a whole has gone from “Moral Majority” to “Prophetic Minority”. I also disagree with others—if I read it right he is not a big fan of creation (61,62). And as often happens, I’m close enough to the middle of the argument, that I could be persuaded either way.  Luckily in most of these cases Moore and I tend to agree.
There is no doubt in my mind that Dr Moore is well versed in scripture and theology. And he quite capably states and defends his position.  Although many liberals will be unhappy with his understanding of many of the issues of today, they will have to admit that he is not just repeating what he has heard from pastors and parents over the years.  His arguments are first and foremost based on his study and understanding of the Scripture, and backed up with scholarly and scientific studies.
The admonition for Christians is to seek the Kingdom of God. Moore points out how that often is at odds with culture and society. The people in the church have a choice: they can be at odds with society as they seek the kingdom, or they can realize that perhaps they need to do a bit more studying before they identify themselves as Christians.
Interestingly enough this book took me a long time to read, not because I didn’t like it, but because I did. I could only read so much before I had to stop and think about how I would respond to his arguments.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. There was no requirement to post a positive review. Having said that, I rate this book 5/5.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Biblical Heaven Is One You'll Enjoy

Scott McKnight talks about Heaven in his newest book The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come. (WaterBrook, 2015). A basic premise of this book is that if we want to know what the Bible says about Heaven, then we should spend time  with the Bible. Seems simple, but all too often people who don't read the Bible think they know a lot about heaven because of stories they've heard, books (fiction) and the movies they've seen. 
McKnight takes a different approach than many authors, as he divides the book into four Parts:  I) The Heaven Question, II) the Heaven Promise, III) God's Six Promises About Heaven and IV) Ten Questions About Heaven. Basically he's turning to the Bible to see what Heaven is and isn't, what God says about heaven, and the promise for believers, and then he turns to what will probably be the part that most people will turn to first- everyone wants to know about pets, about purgatory, and several other questions that McKnight addresses.  And no, I'm not going to tell you what he said about pets, children, or families. I will say that he offers his opinion based on study of scripture.
He closes with a personal  statement of belief about why to believe in Heaven, and again, it's based on scripture, on church history, and faith and belief in the Triune God.

As a disclosure I need to indicate that I received a copy of this book in exchange for the review. I was not required to write a positive review. The publisher is interested in my honest and personal opinion of the book. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Forget the club. Be the Church

Another call to live the gospel, the whole gospel, to truly pick up our cross and follow, not just to pick and choose the convenient parts .  That's the message from Gregg Matte's  recent book, Unstoppable Gospel : Living Out the World-Changing Vision of Jesus's First Followers ( Baker Books, 2015).
Somehow over the years the Church  has morphed from a way of life to a building that people visit one or more times a month, and more if there is a wedding or a funeral.  That's not what Jesus had in mind; Matte calls the Christian community to return to its roots, to remember the Great Commission and the Great Commandment
You'll find nuggets such as "…we seem to be drifting to building relevant communities short on biblical truth." That's a club, not a church" (page 60)
Or this, found on page 68: "The goal of the church is not to make earth a nicer waiting room at the door to hell. The church exists to route us to heaven by way of Jesus."
Matte talks about the Great Commission,  he talks about spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting. He mentions money, and he talks about following Jesus. Not necessarily in the way you may have heard about while you were growing up in church, but the way the fist disciples had to learn to follow. 
Lots of personal examples make for an enjoyable read .
Gotta say this: The publisher gave me a copy of the book in exchange for a review (not required to post anything except the disclaimer).

I rank it 5/5. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

comments on "Urban Legends of the New Testament"

I recently received a copy of a book by David A. Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 common Misconceptions (B & H Academic, 2015) He covers some of the common ones that we’ve heard about for years, like did Paul really say money is evil or the love of money is evil? (No, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.) and were there really 3 wise men or were they kings, or sorcerers? And some others that a little more obscure.
Croteau deals with each of the legends in just a few pages, offering a look at the legend (The Legendary Teaching), then an introduction to his a rebuttal, followed by a consideration of applicable passages. Many chapters close with an application for the reader to use in his own faith journey. Most if not all of the chapters include a brief annotated bibliography.
Many of the legends are ones that I’ve heard before, (and tried to debunk) myself, but there were a few that really made me stop and think. Not sure I agree with 100% of Croteau’s logic, but at least he pointed me back to scripture. And as Douglas Moo pointed out in his endorsement. “Perhaps just as importantly, he encourages all of us to be more careful and attentive readers of Scripture.”
Hopefully this is a book which will challenge more people to go to the source when it comes to their scriptural knowledge, but it is not, from my perspective, a book which is likely to be read and then passed on to a whole group of friends  with a “You gotta read this book…” type of endorsement.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Great Book on Birthing Churches

Wow. Simply Wow. No other words to describe this book. Assumption after assumption shattered. And with each shattered assumption came a new idea. I’m talking about J.D. Payne’s book Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers (IVP, 2015). 
Drawing from his own research and experience, scripture (especially some of Paul’s letters), as well as the experience of career missionaries, and the writings of some of the respected names in the field of Missiology, Payne has put together a brief guide for ‘Birthing” new churches.
Many people who consider planting churches want to take 30 or 40 people from a thriving church, get a building a few blocks away, call a pastor, have some events, and eventually kick off the new church, pretty much a copy of the ‘Mother Church”.  Payne’s model for birthing churches is different in that the growth and the leadership of the new church come from within. The original team develops relationships, models appropriate Christian behaviors and disciples the future church leaders. At all stages the new believers are involved and encouraged to take part in the decision making process. A ‘phase out’ plan is in place from day 1, since this process does not allow for a team to arrive onsite and deliberately set out to clone a church that may work in another culture and context. The relationship is built, and there may be ongoing conversations, discipleship and mentoring, but the goal is to offer enough theology and doctrine to help new believers establish new churches. Paul didn’t stay on as the Pastor of the church at Philippi, nor at Colossae, nor at Ephesus. Corinth and Crete also benefited from his teaching, but it is a reasonable guess that none of these churches were exactly like the Jerusalem church.
Payne also plays the devil’s advocate by asking the questions that many people are bound to have, and then offers a logical response.  He makes it clear in the intro that this book does not contain all the answers, but he does suggest several resources that are available for the person interested in taking their Christian walk one step further.
Of particular interest to me is that the processes explained here should work just as well in the USA (United States of America) as in the USA (Union of South Africa).  I may just have to work through this book with some of the members of our Church Board.
And I bought this book, so don’t have to include the FTC disclaimer. 
Great Book! Get yours today.  Kingdom growth depends on God, but he uses people like you and me to help.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Next Tuesday is Election Day - it's easy to vote

John Wesley, so I'm told, used to tell the pastors under his jurisdiction that they should research issues and candidates, and tell their congregations 'how' to vote. While I might think that's a wonderful idea, I also am wise enough to know that the IRS would have a field day with that.  I'm not willing to risk our task exempt status, but there are things I can say. So let's talk politics:
Tuesday Nov 3,2015 is election day (The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November). In the city where I live, and the in the city where I work, there will be elections for a number of positions, and an question concerning a new tax.  The powers that be make it easier and easier for us to vote. Many municipalities send out 'mail-in' ballots; sometimes early voting is offered, and of course you can go to the polls on election day to cast your ballot. 
The important thing is that you vote. Exercise that right that is ours because of the blood shed by others, because of the sacrifices that others have made to ensure that our Constitutional rights are not trampled on.
And we remember that for Christians the exhortation found in the Apostle Paul's letter to Timothy is that we are supposed to pray for those in authority.  Even if the person who wins the election is not the person for whom you voted, you are told to pray.
Why not start today. Pray for all the elected officials, - national, state, county, municipality- Pray for the person you'll vote for on Tuesday, and pray for his/her opponent. And then keep praying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bethke's It's Not What You Think

I just read  a refreshing book by Jefferson Bethke, with a take on the Gospel that seems so in touch with  the Gospel as presented by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This is not a presentation of a gospel diluted by political correctness.  In  It' Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is about So Much More than Going to Heaven When You Die (Thomas Nelson, 2015), Bethke asks the readers to look at some of the ideas about God and Jesus that they may have always  taken for granted. He asks us to take a look and then he challenges us to look at them in different ways.
If we're willing to follow him, we open the boxes where we think God has been confined and we get to experience Jesus in what is perhaps a new way.  Most people dream about going to heaven after they die, but what if heaven starts when you become a Christian? Is the communion meal just another ritual, or are people really changed when they come to the table?
What if other people aren't what you think? What if there's more to you than even you realize? And get this, God knows your story, and the part you're playing in His story. And by the way, He knows you and loves you anyway.
God knows when you hurt, where you hurt, and why you hurt. If we let Him, He takes our wounds, and turns them into scars. And what are scars but wounds that no longer hurt.
Bethke writes in a manner that engages the reader from the very first page.  Enjoy it by yourself, with a small group, or perhaps, if you’re a pastor, as a sermon series.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  I was not required to write a positive review.


Friday, October 16, 2015

I wish I could vote for Luis Lopez for Ogden City Council (but I don't live in Ogden)

              In the interest of transparency I don't live in Ogden so I can't vote for Luis Lopez in the upcoming election.  I pastor a church (that he does not attend so there's no bias there) and as a pastor I can't tell you how to vote, but as an American citizen I am entitled to an opinion. And I have one.
             I met Luis at a meeting a few months ago and he seemed like a nice guy. I attended the Ogden Hispanic Festival last week and saw Luis playing tug-of-war with a puppy. He likes dogs, so that's another point in his favor. And by the way, the puppy was an adult dog from the K-9 unit of the Ogden Police Department, and Luis was the rope. He volunteered to be the "perp" for a demonstration.  I like that about him too.  But  none of those things really qualify someone for public office. They're bonus points.
            So I sat down with Luis to discuss why I should (if I could) vote for him.  And I walked away impressed. There's a lot of stuff on his interwebs page ( but I wanted to approach things from a different direction. You see I don't think that the 'city'  can solve some of the problems facing Ogden (or Anytown USA)by itself. No ordinances or codes are going to force people to get along. The city can't pass a law that ensures that fatherless children  get 'fathered'.
            The City Council or the Mayor's office can propose, suggest, endorse, advocate programs to ensure that at risk kids have opportunities to succeed, but the solution involves more than a handful of elected officials could ever hope to manage. And Luis has some great ideas for bringing members of the community together to explore ways to help without hurting.
            Diversity matters. Diversity is here. And Luis and I agree that diversity should be embraced. There is such richness to be found in other cultures, not to mention all the food experiences that we miss when we live with  a 'we versus them'  mentality.  (Read the gospels: a lot of Jesus' activities included food--it draws people together.) Lopez wants to reach across the lines that divide us so that we do live as one community.
            I was especially impressed with his commitment to family -- his own and families in the community.   He is passionate about helping and serving  people in the community. Education is important. Providing opportunities and letting people know that they matter and that someone cares are high on his list of priorities.
            And I asked about a touchy subject: can the city and local churches work together for the good of OUR community,  how can we partner?  And his answer was that we need to be in conversation about issues, we need to work together, we need to avail ourselves of each others strengths.  And of course when you bring up religion, it opens the door for a totally different discussion.  How do you balance one groups right to display their religious conviction with another group's right to disagree and be offended? I was impressed, not because of his answer, but because he didn't have an answer. No one size fits all solution,  rather he has a willingness to listen to others, and a support for people to worship in the various ways that people do.
            We also talked about immigration and refugees. This is something else for which there are no easy answers.  I would like to see refugees resettled to Ogden.  For that to happen there has to be housing, job opportunities and reliable transportation. My blunt question was would you not only support resettling refugees here, but would you actively pursue making it happen.  The answer was not the one I hoped for, but one that I respected: 'in principle it sounds good, but I need to know a lot more about it before committing.' 
            I left our meeting impressed, and more than that, I left feeling like we have formed a friendship. If  I could vote for Luis Lopez, I would. If pastors could tell their flocks how to vote,  you guessed it,  I would.  I can't do either of those things, but as a member of the Ogden community  I can encourage you to vote, and if you are a registered voter in Ogden City, when you go to the polls, I encourage you to put your 'X' next to the name Luis Lopez  for council member at large.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

God's Love Is Extravagant

Many people, including me, enjoy the parable of the Prodigal Son, so when the references popped up just a few pages into Vince Antonucci’s latest book, I knew I was in for a ride. (If you don’t happen to be familiar with the story, find yourself a Bible and turn to Luke, chapter 15.) But God for the Rest of Us: Experience Unbelievable Love, Unlimited Hope, and Uncommon Grace (Tyndale, 2015) is not just the usual take on the story: God loves me just like the father in the parable loves the wayward son. Antonucci takes it a little further, and reminds us that extravagant grace doesn’t just apply to me, and to the people who have proved they deserve it.
And by the way, the word prodigal has a meaning that most of us don’t ever think of: wastefully extravagant. And God is definitely wastefully extravagant when it comes to offering us His love, grace and mercy. Do we deserve it? Yeah, not so much so, but we get it anyways.
No, the love that God showers on each of us, is also available for “the rest of us”: a group that in the author’s eyes are generally far outside the realm of the people we expect to see in church, and therefore in God's grace.  His A-Z list of people who are eligible for God's grace includes Adorable people, addicts, atheists and abortionists, Blue men in the Blue Man group, singers named Justin, the Kardashians, overweight obituary writers, strippers in stilettos, ushers and Usher, and even zoologists preparing for the  zombie apocalypse.
God doesn’t wait until we’ve proved that we deserve His love and grace, He showers us with it, and at some point we realize that we don’t want to live without it. The book is full of stories of people (including himself) who one day woke up to the fact that God loved them and decided to respond to that call on their lives.  We’re prodigals—we waste the gifts that God has given us, but God is prodigal too. He has more than enough love to cover our prodigal wandering.
And as a pastor in Las Vegas, Antonucci frequently sees people from the realm of ‘church people’. A blurb on the back cover says that the author ‘performs stand-up comedy in Las Vegas’.  Whether he honed his skill as a comedian through writing, or his writing skills by doing comedy, this book is well written, with a great use of words, and an impeccable comedic timing.
Some of the stories have been told before in his other books, but they are just as relevant the second time around. You might fit into one of the unexpected categories of people that God loves, or at least know someone that does. Whether it’s for you or someone else, you owe it to yourself to read the book.

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


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Some thoughts on "MISSIOLOGY_ 2nd Edition

     The message doesn’t change but the method of delivering it does.  That is evident in sermons, in ‘church music’, and the way we do missions.  Back in 1997 the first edition of Missiology was published, and now in 2015 the 2nd edition of Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions (edited by John Mark Terry, published by B&H Academic) is available. Again the message doesn’t change, but the way we take that message to the world certainly has changed. The nations are coming to us in numbers greater than ever before and at times we have to adapt to the changing climate.

     If you're a big fan of 3-point sermons you might wonder why this wasn’t broken into 3 sections instead of 5, but sometimes we have to change the way we do things.  There is a logic to the sub-divisions, and the papers are neatly arranged according to several themes, the study of missions, a Biblical basis, theology history, and application. (For you three-pointers, you have an intro, 3 points and an application.)
Many prominent names in the field of Missiology are included in the list of authors represented in this edition. They are noted scholars who have advanced the study of Missions through their experience and writing. This is an ideal reference book for all those interested in studying how the Great Commission is being fulfilled in the 21st century…and it certainly has changed over the last few hundred years.

      Although I have no complaints about the authors, the papers, or the way things are arranged, I would have liked to see some indication of when the papers were actually written (and maybe that's there and I missed it). Especially when things are being updated, it's helpful for me to be able to look back and see how things have changed. Is the change something that has been happening over the past 50 years or 100? Or is it a recent (3-5 years) change?

     This a must for the reference shelf of anyone interested in missions.

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

When God Shows Up

     It’s what happens when God shows up.  Woodlawn is a story about God. It’s a story about racism and desegregation in the South. It’s a story about football. It’s a story about love. It’s a story about what happens when God shows up.  It's another example of how when Jesus is involved things don't just stay the same.

     And it’s not just another made-up Hollywood story. This is based on a true story about the football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, AL. It was during a time when the climate was changing, and schools were no longer to be classified as “white” or “black”.  Naturally there is some resistance to the new way of thinking, not just at Woodlawn, but throughout Birmingham and Alabama.

     The school is torn apart, the football team is anything but a team, the coach doesn’t know what to do, and in limps Hank, product of a Christian crusade. Coach gives him 5 minutes to talk to the team, and an hour later MOST of the team is committing to Jesus. (Hey if everybody had accepted the invitation there wouldn’t be any tension – or any movie.

     It wouldn’t be high school without a romantic interlude, and one of my favorite lines comes after a game when an attractive fellow student comes up to congratulate Tony Nathan. Tony's momma cuts right to the chase: what church do you go to? – I don’t go to church.  – you’re going with us.  She goes on to make it clear that anybody who plans on marrying her son is going to church. And by the way, momma is going to fatten this girl up, how else is she going to give her grandbabies. (Tony eventually married this high school sweetheart and they’ve been married for 35 years.)
     There is lots of football action as the story plays out, and anyone who follows high school ball knows how those rivalries lead to excitement.   Love prevails. This is a great look at the culture of another era, one that many of us can still remember. One that needed to change, and thanks to a culture that wasn't afraid to share faith, (although there is a little bit of the law says you can't do that) things did change.

     It would be nice to be able to write the "and they all lived happily ever after" ending, but racism still exists. There are people who don't know Jesus; there are people who mock Christians (as well as mocking Religious Others), so there is still work to be done.

     The team Chaplain came t faith at a Billy Graham crusade, and to bookend the story, the public is invited to learn more about how they can participate in some way in an upcoming crusade.  Why not, there are altar calls in the film, perhaps  a virtual altar call after the film will be just as effective in 21st century as face to face altar calls were in the 20th century.

     Tony Nathan, a name you football fans might recognize, (Does ‘Bear’ Bryant sound familiar? ‘Bama?) is played by newcomer Caleb Castille.  Mr.Castille left  college football after a couple of seasons because he sensed God calling him to acting as a higher purpose. The film also stars Jon Voigt and Nic Bishop among others. Directed by the Erwin Brothers, and produced by Kevin Downes. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are executive producers.

      You might have guessed by now that I liked this film. It's an unabashedly Christian film that doesn't try to change the story to pander to peoples carnal appetites. It's designed to meet our spiritual needs coupled with a desire to point out that racism still exists and needs to be eradicated. And it will be, because that's what happens when God shows up.

      My  friends at Grace Hill Media have given me some books associated with the movie that I can give to a blog reader.  There's also an XL t-shirt.  Comment on the blog, and next week I'll pick a random reader to get the books.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Women in Asia Need Prayer and Fellowship

There are women in countries all over Asia who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.  So what happens next. Here in Utah as in the rest of the United States, it's generally pretty easy to find a church to connect with. That connection with a local church generally means that there are mature Christian women that they can connect with. That connection means more than just fellowship, it means discipleship. 

But what happens when you accept Christ, and there are no other believers in your village? When you're the only person in your family who is a Christ follower? (and in many places the whole family is a religious other and is not very happy with your decision to leave that faith). 

Believers in other countries need the same close fellowship accountability and the study of God’s Word as do believers in the West. Those things play a vital role in helping these women thrive in Christ. 

Gospel for Asia has Women's Fellowships that offer those crucial things that all believers need. 

Please pray this month for Gospel for Asia’s Women’s Fellowships, that they would find new believers, that new believers would find them. Pray for their safety, and that the fellowships would provide an avenue that leads to Christian growth!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

thoughts on Rediscovering Disicipleship

Robby Gallaty (Growing Up, Firmly Planted)  rightfully thinks discipleship is important to the life of a Christian.  In his latest book Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus' Final Words Our First Work (Zondervan, 2015) he shares some of what he has learned about how to more effectively be a disciple, and just as importantly, and probably more so, how to make disciples.
This fairly short book (less than  250 pages including front and back matter) has two main sections. The first part "Know the Man Before You Go on the Mission" offers some historical context from the life and times of Jesus, and also something a little more recent, a missing comma (read chapter 7 to find out how a missing comma totally changes the way we read things). Included in this part is the four-step process that Gallaty identifies from his study of the Gospels as the one Jesus used: 1) Jesus ministered while the disciples watched; 2) Jesus allowed the disciples to assist him in ministry; 3) the disciples ministered with the assistance of Jesus; and 4) Jesus observed as the disciples ministered to others. And then they were released to replicate the process.
The second part is aptly titled "The Method of Making Disciples". The chapters in this section cover a variety of topics such as making disciples in the post-Christian culture, why discipling non-believers doesn't work (disciple making is more than getting someone to say a prayer) along with some of the attributes of a discipleship group.
This is not a book just for pastors or just for the elder responsible for discipleship and evangelism; it's a book for Christians who take seriously the call to be a disciple maker (you remember that pesky command found in Matthew 28). And if you don't take that command seriously you should definitely read this book.
I was given a advance copy of this book for agreeing to be part of the launch team,  to read the book and to post a review. 


Friday, October 2, 2015

God Loves us, and we should all be aware of that, and just like anyone else who loves someone God is fond of giving us good things, and doing good things for us. No argument there.  Good Things: Seeing Your Life through the Lens of God's Favor by Kevin Gerald (WaterBrook  Press, 2015) is an attempt to show some of the oh so many ways that God shows His love for us on a regular basis.
Gerald uses a combination of scripture, explanation and personal stories to get his point across. This is an easy read, and there doesn’t seem to be anything with which to find fault theologically, but the coverage is so broad, that it doesn't really cover much of anything.
This book needs one of two things -- either 1) more pages so the author could cover things a little more deeply and with more of a scriptural approach or 2) fewer topics covered more deeply.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

David Gregory's unlikely spiritual journey

In this age we live in, an age of pluralism, inclusivism, universalism, and anything goes, it was refreshing to read about someone who is looking to define his faith for himself. And so David Gregory defines his faith walk according to a question that a sitting President asked him on more than one occasion: How’s your faith?  How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey (Simon and Schuster, 2015) is Gregory’s answer to that question asked him when he was a correspondent covering the White House during the terms of George W. Bush.
Gregory is an excellent communicator, as one might expect from a reporter who ended his career as moderator of the TV show “Meet the Press”. And he puts those communication skills to good use as he describes mixed faith families, growing up with an alcoholic mother, making decisions as to whether his own children should be brought up as Jewish or Methodist.
There are many people who ask themselves some of the same questions that Gregory has asked in this book, they just aren’t in the position to ask some of the same experts that he did. One of the things that makes the book stand out is that Gregory did more than just ask people who think like him to validate what he already thinks. He talked to Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and even spoke with at least one Hindu, a proponent of the prosperity gospel and members of twelve step programs. He got answers from all of them, and all those answers help him to define his personal faith.
While it’s an engaging story, I never got the sense that David Gregory truly understands what it is that he believes. While I do agree that all religions have their strong points, it’s difficult for me to understand how anybody would feel comfortable with a pick and choose approach to eternity. Understanding other religions is a good thing, picking 1 from column ‘A’ and 2 from column ‘B’ just doesn’t work for me.
I hope that those who read this book, and it’s a well written story, perhaps slanted a bit towards making Gregory look good, will learn from his journey, and then make a decision for a specific religion rather than trying to take the best from each and in the process being left with something that ends up being ‘none of the above’.
Well written, and an interesting story, but theologically speaking, I wish he had come to a definite conclusion.
My friends at Grace Hill Media provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my review.  As a bonus they provided a copy for me to give away to a reader of my blog. One week from today I’ll randomly select someone who has commented on the blog (or on the link to FaceBook)


Sunday, September 20, 2015

thoughts on "Prayer, Power & Results

Prayer is one of the most important tools that a Christian has in the spiritual tool box. Unfortunately it’s a tool that many don’t know how to use, or they forget to use, or they wait until everything else has failed before they think to use. Pastor Bo can’t do anything about your forgetting or waiting to use, but he can help with the ‘how to’ part.
Prayer Power & Results by Abolaji Muyiwa Akinbo (“Pastor Bo” to his congregation) (Xulon Press, 2015) is designed to help develop a powerful prayer life that yields results. Section one consists of 10 chapters designed to bring/give/offer understanding about prayer. What it is, (and isn’t), how it works, and the attributes of a prayer warrior.  The second section, “Prayers for Results” consists of pages of sentence prayers for a myriad of circumstances ranging from difficulties with coworkers, parents, and teenagers, to health issues and almost anything else you can think of.
I like the fact that Pastor Bo uses scripture to interpret scripture but think he could have fleshed out his explanations a little bit more. Similarly, close to 200 pages of ‘prayers for results’ seems like a lot, but often there is only 1 or 2 sentences on the second page of any one chapter, and often it seems like except for one word, (which didn’t really change the meaning of the prayer) the sentence prayers are repeated.
I applaud the intent and the effort behind this book, but would have rather seen the first section expanded, and the second could have been shorter.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review: my thoughts, presented honestly.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Stay is the new going---my thoughts

You’ve seen the saying embroidered on pillows, and perhaps motivational speakers still tell people to “bloom where they’re planted”, but Alan Briggs in his book Staying Is the New Going: Choosing To Love Where God Places You (Nav Press 2015) takes it to a whole new level.
If you go to church on any kind of regular basis then you’ve heard about the “Great Commission”-- Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Matthew 28:18-20; you know that command to go into all the world making disciples.  And there is a lot to be said for traveling the world, sharing the gospel with unreached people groups, but as Briggs points out, there are probably some of those unreached groups right in your own neighborhood, and sometimes the way to ‘go’ is to simply stay, to be there for the long haul. To build relationships and look for opportunities to share.
As Briggs wisely points out, there are more ways to share the gospel than by inviting someone to church. He met people where they were and with time, and perhaps a request to pick apples to make cider, neighbors and acquaintances become friends, and often become part of the kingdom of God.
                In this easy-to-read book the author presents a theology of place, it’s nothing new: the prophet Jeremiah (29: 5-7) discussed the concept centuries before the birth of Christ: “"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (NIV)
                But there’s more to it than just buying a house and letting the mortgage payment make you a part of the neighborhood, it’s all about getting to know, and becoming a part of, the story of that neighborhood.
                Briggs makes several good points, things that we know but may have forgotten, things like church friends can mingle with you friends from outside of church. Things like unchurched people have to deal with life the same as church folk do, and when life happens, sometimes they need a shoulder to lean on.  Things like every Christian is called to be missional, even if they are not a full time, professional, deployed-overseas-missionary.
I liked this book.  I still want to go on a short-term mission trip, but it helped me realize that mission can be done on my block as well as half-way across the world; and for anyone who might be feeling guilty for not having traveled thousands of mile, this book will help you alleviate or eliminate that guilt.
I received a copy of the book form the publisher in exchange for my review.  There was no requirement to provide a positive review.


Buy a DVD instead

Exactly what is a “jackwagon’?  I’m not sure that the book ever answers the question, but that probably wasn’t the purpose of the book in the first place. (On line dictionaries suggest that a jackwagon is a loser, someone you consider worthless or lazy). It wasn’t the title of the book that interested me; it was the author. When I saw that “Diary of a Jackwagon” by Time Hawkins with John Driver, (Thomas Nelson 2015) was available for review I started salivating.  What can I say, Tim Hawkins is funny. His timing is near perfect, the faces he makes leave audiences rolling in the aisles or turning fake leather seats different colors (see page 145 for the reference to that). He sings, plays the guitar, and regardless of what he’s talking about, I’ve never heard anything that would make me cringe if my mother or a child were sitting next to me.
  I mean it, the guy is funny. Much funnier than the book. The words are the same, but the inflections in his voice when talking about certain subjects (read: people) don’t come through on the written page. Neither do the facial expressions, the timing or the hysterical singing style.
I like Tim Hawkins; I like his DVDs; I like watching him in person, but his special brand of humor didn’t, for me at least, translate onto the written page.  If I had just watched Tim performing the routines in this book, I’m sure it would rate an A++++, but as a book it just didn’t work.

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

So you want to be a "Street God"?

Good kids, from good parents, who go to good schools grow up to be good parents with good kids, right? Maybe not so much so. Dimas Salaberrios, whose mother and father were respectively a school Principal and a Corrections officer (ex-Air Force at that) had everything going for him, or so it seemed. There was one thing lacking in his young life. He wanted fame and fortune, he wanted to be a Street God.  This book, Street God: the Explosive True Story of a Former Drug Boss on the Run from the Hood – and the Courageous Mission that Drove Him Back (Tyndale Momentum, 2015) is the story of how Salaberrios got what he thought he wanted, and what it cost him.  But it doesn’t stop there, because at some point in his broken life, Jesus got hold of Dimas and changed his life.
                First of all the ‘negative’: I didn’t care much for the writing style, but that’s personal preference. This is not the kind of book I typically read, but something about the title, and the jacket blurb caught my attention, so I requested a review copy from the publisher. The style may not be to my liking, but the story itself is compelling and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it.
And the rest is positive:
                This is an autobiography and Salaberrios offers the disclaimer that the story is as he best remembers, with some identifying details blurred for the obvious reasons of not violating someone else’s privacy.
The story starts with 11 year old Dimas entering the drug business, and follows his path upwards in that dark world. He recounts how he came to control his own territory, the turf wars that he engaged in, and various encounters with the law.  Along the way he spent time in jail, made several geographic changes, and more than once broke his momma’s heart
Several times, though, people planted seeds in the young man’s heart. Seeds of the love of Jesus, and over time, (sometimes despite his best efforts) the seeds grew. And the story of the “wanna- be”, self-styled Street God takes on a new direction.  Jesus loved Dimas into His kingdom, nurtured him and watched him grow. Today Dimas is a pastor, a speaker, and living proof that God can take the some of the roughest raw material and turn it into something beautiful.
In today’s culture where we tend to label people and then put them into boxes from which they can’t escape, this is a refreshing story. In a culture where the prevailing attitude is ‘what’s in it for me?’, we need to hear how some people make that change from self-serving to  serving God and serving others. This is a story of redemption and a story of hope.
None of us are exempt from the lure of sin and pride can bring down the strongest of the strong. If anyone else tried to tell Dimas' story, it would probably come across quite differently, and wouldn't make anywhere near as powerful an impact. 
Dimas  tells his emotionally charged story without the offensive language and graphic details that we have almost come to expect. Surprisingly enough, his story is just as effective without the profanity or gore. I highly recommend "Street God"  because this story comes from the heart…it's not another 'reality TV' type of story. 
You may think that younger children shouldn't hear this kind of story…remember Dimas Salaberrios was 11 when he started selling drugs.  When should your kids hear what drugs can lead to? Our culture is already telling them that there's nothing wrong with using drugs.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing a review expressing my honest opinion. There was no requirement to write a positive review.  


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Immigrant Is not a Dirty Word!

Immigrant Is NOT a Dirty Word
Conflicted. It's hard sometimes to change  your point of view, but that's where I've found myself heading over the past few years. I used to hear the word immigrant, and like many others immediately thought of those undocumented people from just south of our border who came into the country illegally to have  anchor babies (what an offensive term, then took our jobs, forced hospital ERs to close, and reaped billions in benefits that they weren't paying for -- and I was.  A lot of people also think gangs and high crime rates; and yeah, I guess if I'm honest I used to be subject to irrational and ungrounded fears concerning anyone who didn't look like me.
Where I grew up in New York, 'those people' worked the muck farms, topping onions, picking lettuce digging potatoes, and other poorly paying jobs that nobody really wanted to do because of the long hours in the hot sun doing back-breaking work. In other places there are jobs that no one really wants because of the same reasons, but people who come here looking to make a better life for themselves are willing to do these jobs because it allows them to support their family, to meet their immediate needs and send something home for parents, spouse, children.
But since my I've grown up a little, I've also come to understand that I really didn't have a clue. Some really nice people, from south of the border, and north of the border, and across both oceans  have come to this county as immigrants. A lot of them, like many of my ancestors (and yours too probably) came here to stay, back in the day when there really weren't a lot of laws in place and if you got to Ellis Island they probably let you in.  Many of our undocumented friends and neighbors actually came here legally -- as a tourist, a student, or on some other of temporary visa, and just overstayed the effective dates .  And yes there are some who are so desperate to find a better life for themselves and their families that they are willing to do whatever it takes to come to the 'land of opportunity', even if it means risking everything to get here.
And of course they are those who came here legally, under the auspices of the United Nations, as refugees from a number of places where they were being persecuted for their religious or political beliefs.
And while they are here, some of them have babies; babies who are, according to the U.S. Constitution, citizens of this country. Do some people have babies to game the system? Of course they do. And some undocumented women also have babies just so they can stay here. But a lot of people  aren't intending to scam anybody, they fall in love, get married, and start families.  Sometimes the rules don't work in favor of people who have really good reasons for being here: things like a spouse and children.
Does something need to be done with the issue of people here in this country without the proper documentation? Yes, to level the playing field and make life fair for everyone who lives in this country. Yes, to make it possible  for people to sleep at night without worrying about deportation.  Yes, to make it possible for children to go to college, to make it possible for them to join the military or get a career, to make it possible for them to collect social security or other benefits that they may have paid into for many years, even though they know that they will likely never see any of those benefits.

Immigrant is not a dirty word, and as a nation we need to realize that and stop  acting like anyone who wants to come here is a second or third class person.  Yes the discussion needs to happen, but the narrative has to change.  We need to learn to embrace diversity - it's what has made this nation great. We need a path to citizenship, should we reward people for breaking our laws? No, but a humane way exists for undocumented immigrants to atone for their past 'crime' and Washington D.C. needs to find that way and implement it now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Which Jesus do you follow?

I just read Daniel Darling’s The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is (Baker Books, 2015) and have to say that I like the original Jesus better than anything I could ever dream up.
Darling takes a sometime tongue -in-cheek approach to the various Jesus figures that people have created for themselves over time, often going back decades and centuries,  and comparing those creations to Jesus the Christ as discovered in Scripture.  Meet Guru Jesus, Dr Phil Jesus, along with Braveheart, REdletter, BFF and one of my favorites, Legalist Jesus (they forgot to tell me in Seminary that one of my pastoral duties would be to hand out a list of music and movie ratings that 'good Christians' would enjoy.  And of course we understand that 'legalist' is the term that Christians so freely apply to anyone who doesn't agree with you.
I actually liked this book quite a bit, and would have liked it more if I didn't know way too many people who expect me as a pastor to preach from the pulpit the Jesus that they have created for themselves (and expect others to embrace).  Some of the chapters seemed to be the 'lite version' of what he wanted to or should have said about the Jesus of the Gospels.  This is also an idea which has been used before, although with a different approach and different examples. 
As a disclaimer, I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. There was no requirement to write a positive review, only that it be my own thoughts.


Monday, August 24, 2015

thoughts on THIS MEANS WAR

I requested a review copy of Stephen and Alex Kendrick’s “THIS MEANS WAR” (B&H Publishing Group, 2015) for two reasons. First I have a teenager and second I think we are in a war where the only effective weapon is the one we use while on our knees: prayer.
This book is part of a set of books inspired by the soon to be released movie “War Room”, and is the one especially directed towards teens.  There is also a book for adults, along with two directed at younger children and preteens.  All of them focus on prayer, and a strategy for an effective prayer life.
Most of the 50 chapters in the book provide a short devotional, and ask a question based on that reading. Space is provided for the teen to write his or her answer. Reading the section titles, it’s safe to assume that the books starts at a very basic level (“Welcome to War” and “Boot Camp”) and  systematically progresses to the prayer of a mature Christian, (“ Advanced Training”, “Sniper School”)
There are some good questions in each chapter, but as I was looking through the book, I couldn’t help but feel that whoever put this book in the ‘teen’ category had underestimated today’s youth. (DISCLAIMER: My son graduated from high school a few months ago. In the process, he completed the first two years of college through early college, concurrent enrollment and AP classes.) I asked that son to read the book and give me his opinion…he works with the youth group at a local church, and thought it might be appropriate for the 7th and 8th graders.  That jibed with my initial impression that the target group should be about 10-14.
A positive thing about this book is that it encourages journaling, but rather than free-flowing, “what should I write about today?” there are specific things addressed each day. The concept of war/battle/soldiers will probably appeal to many boys, and despite the current state of the military, I’m not sure that younger girls will be
Unless one is careful it’s easy to assume that the authors are careless and contradict themselves, but actually they are doing quite an adept job of addressing questions in different ways that meet the needs of prayer warriors at different stages of their journey.
In all fairness, I liked “The Battle Plan for Prayer” (the adult version) much better than this book (teen version)


 I received a copy of this book from Icon Media Group in exchange for a review.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are you willing to lose to gain?

              Granted, it's counter-intuitive , but no one ever said that following Jesus would be the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes what the church is called to do, what Christ-followers are called to do, doesn't make sense from a human perspective, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't have a plan.
            And J.D. Greear talks about that counter-intuitive plan in Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send ( Zondervan, 2015). He covers a lot more than just saying it's a good idea for churches to send, but it all boils down to complying with mandate of the Great Commission.  The premise of gaining by losing is simply this, when a church is willing to let go of some of their assets (people, money, leaders, team members) and send them to plant other churches, or as missionaries, the local church may see a decrease in numbers, but the kingdom church grows.  And quite often because the church is willing to send, whatever it was that they lost (members, tithers, workers) are replaced by people new to the church. Not always, but often enough.
            There are a lot of ways that this happens, as members grow and develop as leaders and are sent to plant churches here and abroad.  Lots of ways, but it starts at the level of the local church.  Granted a church of 50-100 members cannot expect to regularly send several teams of 40 people each to plant new churches, but there are ways those smaller churches can get involved. Some of the basics are the same whether your average attendance is 50 or 10,000. When the core values of the organization emphasize a missional attitude, when the church is intentional about being a sending church and is willing to take risks in order to grow Jesus' kingdom, then the church learns to support the idea of sending of losing in order to gain.
This book is not going to please everyone. Greear pulls no punches in suggesting that discipleship and 'sending' should be primary foci of every church. He doesn't have a problem with changing things - especially music. People just don't like to be told what they should be doing - even when they know it's the right thing to do. 
                   The size of JD's church is another factor that makes this book impractical for many people.  "Sure if my church had 8,000 members we could afford to lose 40 or 50". But there is practical advice that fits any context too. (don't say I need 15 people, say I need 5 dentists, 5 doctors,and 5 nurse practitioners. P207)
            Part I is the story of how JD's church got to where they are, Part II is the Plumb Lines (values) that keeps them focused and a couple of helpful appendices deal with strategies for missions and church planting. Throughout the book are anecdotal references to what's working and why at the church where Greear serves as Pastor.
            Pastors, potential church planters, mission team members and leaders should read this book. So should the people who sit in the pews and think "there's no way I could help with any of that. Reading Gaining by Losing may convince you otherwise. There is a lot here that I didn't like reading, probably because I need to hear, and apply it in my life and in my ministry.

I received this book from Zondervan through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials to Advertising."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thoughts on "The Battle Plan for Prayer" by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

Don’t be confused, the cover blurb does not say ‘based on’, it says ‘inspired by’ the feature film War Room.  As I write this the movie hasn’t been release yet, so I haven’t seen it, but the book is about prayer, and the War Room is apparently about prayer, so there you go.
As a pastor I’m always looking for ways to encourage people to pray, and from time to time I also need to be reminded myself of just how important prayer really is. With The Battle Plan for Prayer: From Basic Training to Targeted Strategies, (B&H Publishing, 2015) Stephen and Alex Kendrick have written a book which fills both of those needs.
                The 35 chapters of this book cover a wide spectrum of prayer topics: what prayer is – and isn’t. the why, what and how of prayer, even how to develop a prayer life, and even a section called ‘Targets’ that lists people to pray for, and some ideas on how to pray for them.
                The suggestion is to use this book as a type of devotional, reading one chapter a day, and spending several weeks to go through it. Each chapter is short, and should only take a few minutes to read. There is also a prayer at the end of each chapter, focusing on the topic for the day. The several appendices cover a variety of topics, and there are even discussion questions to help you go a little deeper or at least prompt the reader to think through the passage carefully.
                This is an easy read, and provides a lot of useful information on prayer, but at times I felt the authors should have gone a little deeper into the topic of the day. If the intended audience is the group of people who will become interested in prayer after seeing or hearing about the movie, then this may be all that is needed, but if the readers of this book are already praying and interested in further developing their prayer life, there are other books which will do more than give them ideas.
                I received a copy of this book from Icon Media Group in exchange for a review.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

plastic water bottles - GRRRR

I walked into Wally World today to get some cinnamon. (It's good for the heart, and flavors my oatmeal.) On the way out there was a big bin of bottled water, not cases - individual bottles, and not even cold. The sign indicated that they were inexpensive, but they were still 50Ȼ each. When you buy a case of 24 for  $3.00 that's about 12 Ȼ apiece. 
But the real cost isn't the 12 Ȼ or 50 Ȼ or $1.50 that you might pay for a bottle  - the real cost comes at the expense of the environment.  Finish the bottle and throw it away - wherever you happen to be, and if there's no recycle bin it goes in the trash or on the ground.  Recycling costs money, but not recycling costs space. Those plastic bottles don't magically disappear overnight, they're not biodegradable, and we can't even begin to know what kind of toxins they might release during the 450 years (450! And some sources estimate up to 1000 years)  We can't begin to know because even the earliest of these bottles haven't finished decomposing yet.

Yes they're convenient, but maybe there's a better way to get the fluid we need each day than to throw bottle after bottle into the landfill. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

comments on "Irresistible Community"

Life together is certainly something modeled by Jesus, and is highly recommended within the Christian community, so I jumped at the chance to review The Irresistible Community: An Invitation to Life Together by Bill Donahue (Baker Books, 2015). 
The book has an interesting format: 12 chapters, each introduced by a ‘monologue’ by one of the 12 Disciples. The chapters are broken into 3 sections:  “Join the Fellowship of the Table”, “Practice the Ministry of the Towel” and the “Live in the Circle of Truth”.  Community, service, and how to live with the truth of God's words. .
We were created to be in community, in relationship with God and with others. And that’s what the table is all about. Fellowship, getting along with one another. But then Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist and went to work washing the disciples’ feet. As Christ followers we learn to serve; we grow from serving, and many times serving does more for us than it does for those we serve. And then we have to deal with the facts of truth: it hurts and it heals, it’s dangerous.
So far so good, but for me this was not an easy book to read –it just doesn’t flow.  The monologues at the beginning of each chapter were entertaining, and I would like to see a novel about the Twelve written in this style. There were some interesting facts throughout, and even some things to ponder (an illustration about a robber or a surgeon (p 212) really caught my attention.
There is just too much going on here, and it doesn’t all fit together.

3/5  I received a copy of this book from the publisher  in exchange for the review

Monday, August 10, 2015

review of "Spent Matches" by Roy Moran

In the preface to Spent Matches: Igniting the Spiritual Fire for the Spiritually Dissatisfied  (Thomas Nelson, 2015) the author, Roy Moran, suggests “this book may feel as if it is written by someone affected with attention deficit disorder”. He is right, especially if you try to read this book in a typical linear fashion.  And then you return to the preface, to read ‘bouncing back and forth is by design’, and it starts to make a little more sense.
Because my ADD and Moran’s ADD don’t mix very well, I had trouble getting through the first part of the book. , but shortly after starting Part II “The Solution” it was easier to stay focused. I’m not sure if the writing style had changed that much, if I was adjusting to the style, or (and I think this is the reason) I was so drawn into what he was saying that I didn’t have to focus on how he said it.
The concept of the journey and discovery groups is just different enough from what I’m used to that it makes me want to try them. I just spend 20 minutes (before getting started on the review) checking out the web resources listed in the back of the book.
 But beyond the fact that I can’t focus (squirrel!) Moran points out some interesting stats. And suddenly we have to take notice.  There are a lot of people who aren’t interested in church, they’re not interested in being preached at or being told what to think, but they do have problems, and the Bible might have solutions.  There are a lot of people who don’t know Jesus, and some of them are our neighbors, friends, or co-workers.  (Hard to believe for those who don’t have any friends who aren’t already Christians). There are a lot of people who aren’t looking for religion, but if you can be Christian without coming across as one of “those People”, they just might listen, especially if you put it in the form of ‘several of us are going to look at this together and see what the Bible really says, not just what some preacher or scholar says that it says.’

And one thing that makes sense about the groups, is that there is a facilitator, not a leader, not a teacher, just ‘one of us’ learning right along with everybody else.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, there was no requirement to post a positive review.


Review of "To the Edge" by J.D. Payne

To The Edge: Reflections on Kingdom Leadership, Mission, and Innovation (2015) by J.D. Payne is, as the title suggests, a series of reflections on three different topics. Some can be read as reflections, others are almost suitable for a morning’s devotional reading.
In the digital age in which we currently exist, these reflections would each be suited for a stand-alone blog post, but somehow there is also a sense of connectedness that you might not get from reading a series of posts, one each day over a period of time.
Since I read Payne’s Strangers Next Door a few years ago, I’ve been a fan of his writing, and his heart for the kingdom. I was expecting something different when I offered to read and review this book, so when I started reading, it was a little disappointing – not with the content, just the format (amazing how we try to pigeonhole people). But as I continued reading I found myself caught up in the ponderings of one of the prominent voices in the fields of missions of the 21st century.
Each of the three sections has its own nuggets, there for the gleaning. Try “the Conference No One Hosts” on page 12 – a stark reminder of the all the mistakes, failures, financial outlay, and trial and error that go into finding what does work…. But wouldn’t it be great if someone would tell us what ­doesn’t work before we spend the same amount of money and make the same mistakes.
And then we get to the reflections on mission, and again and again I was reminded of things that I’ve probably heard before, but have obviously forgotten: Ask for the story (p 52), the West is a mission field, (p 53), 8 tracks in an i-pod world (78); and don’t miss “That Deer-In-Headlights Look” on page 85.  A reminder that we need to look into the fields and stop looking into the headlights. 
And then just when you think you’ve adjusted to the possibilities that there are opportunities, and that maybe we are more prepared than we think, we get hit with the reflections on “INNOVATION” and realize that the way we’ve always done it, may work, but then again it might not, and just because we’ve never done it that way before doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to work. Payne provides some great new ideas about trying new ideas.
I started out thinking, OK, and ended up really liking this book.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Into the Fray Review The Book of Acts for the 21st century

The Book of Acts is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, I love reading about how Christianity Spread in the early years of the Church.  And now, with Into the Fray: How Jesus’ Followers Turned the World Upside down. (OR: The Story of Acts Retold for Today) (Baker Books, 2015) Matt Mikalatos has used his extraordinary writing skills to bring the book of Acts from the 1st century to the 21st.  Here’s my disclaimer. I had fun reading Night of the Living Dead Christian; since reading Imaginary Jesus, I’ve used several of those stereotypes as Sermon illustrations. A couple of sermons were based on parts of The First Time We Saw Him, and now this.
To paraphrase myself in a tweet after reading the 1st three chapters, , how can any one person write so well in so many different genres and styles?
Meet Dr. Lucas. He is writing letters to his friend Theo, to explain a lot of stuff that happened to a bunch of guys. Dr Lucas has a dilemma, he wants to start at the beginning, but recognizes that the story itself is so big that it’s hard to decide which beginning. And so he decides to tell The story by telling the stories of people, people who were there, who walked and talked with “the Teacher”
So Dr Lucas wanders around with a handheld recorder and interviews people, and then he writes their stories and sends them to his friend Theo. And there is a caveat to these stories that Dr. Lucas sends Theo’s way: “You know their stories because their stories are ours, just as our stories are theirs. They are the tales and happenings and accounts and reports of the good news about Jesus and about his life and death and teachings and coronation and return”. And then comes the question that each of us must answer: “Where does your story of the teacher become our story of the good news?
And so Dr Lucas sets out, recorder in hand, and collects stories.  If you’re familiar with the book of Acts you’ll recognize the Pentecost event. Names like Pete and Esteban and Felipe will soon be as familiar as Peter, Stephen and Phillip.
The 21st century rewrite of a familiar story could be expanded and would stand on its own as a fun book to read, and a great teaching tool, but there’s a lot more to this book. Mikalatos has also done a great job of explaining the sacred text. With exegesis, expository teaching, and lessons on how to apply the text to our own lives, Matt invites us to make this story our own, to identify the beginning of our story with Jesus, and turn it into a story of the good news that can be shared with others.
But don’t despair, it’s not all theoretical, for those who like some practical advice on how to put the lesson into practice, turn to chapter 14 for some ideas on how to write and tell your own part of our story.  One of the core values at our church is that we are all a part of God's story, and we need to learn to tell that story and invite others into it.  I haven’t decided yet if Chapter 14 is recommended or required reading for the leadership team.
And in Dr Lucas’ last letter to his friend Theo, he reminds him that we can’t change the world without being changed ourselves. We are a part of God's creation, a creation which is being transformed by the Holy Spirit. As it changes, so do we.
On a scale of 1 to 5, can you give more than five stars?  Highly recommended to those who have heard the stories from Acts all of those lives and to those whose journey is just beginning.

FTC disclaimer, I received a copy of this book from the Publisher in exchange for a review. There was no requirement to write anything but an honest review…

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Love in the midst of a mess REVIEW of Messy Grace

In Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others without Sacrificing Conviction Kaltenbach shares his experiences of growing up attending Lesbian parties, Gay Pride parades, and watching a friend from one of his mother’s parties die from AIDS. With two parents who were antagonistic towards Christianity, the story of how the author came to Christ and eventually became a pastor is an incredible lesson in why we should learn to love like Jesus did and to share the good news with others even when it seems that it might be a waste of time. Kaltenbach is fairly candid about the fact that he went to that first bible study, not because of any real desire to learn about Jesus, but, as so often seems to happen, to prove that Christianity was not in his future.
                Along the way something happened that changed his mind and his heart, and in the process he learned several lessons, some of which he shares in this book.
                Particularly heart-breaking are the accounts of how he and his mother and her partner were treated by Christians. Love was certainly not a factor in some of those interactions. When he told the story of how after his mother visited the church where he was pastoring and the following Sunday he was met by the elders with the admonition that he was never to bring “that kind of people” to the church again, I wanted to cry. 
This is Kaltenbach’s story of growing up immersed in the LGBT community, and it’s the story of his conversion, but it’s also a text book of how the church should be responding to the cultural shift over the past 60 years, and especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Same Sex Marriage as opposed to the Biblical definition of marriage as something that happens between a man and a woman.
                Nor is this a suggestion that we just open our arms to everyone and love them without sharing biblical principles. Kaltenbach offers several suggestions grounded in scripture for why we should love sinners (and we’re all sinners, regardless of which community we belong to) but like Jesus we should encourage them to repent and leave the life of sin behind. He presents some of the justifications that he has heard concerning the relationship between the Bible and LGBT activity, and shares how he has responded.
                It must have been cathartic for the author to write this book detailing his personal journey, but it is also a wake-up call for the church. Christians need to respond in love to changing cultural values rather than react in hate, disgust and loathing. Kaltenbach offers a way to reach out in love (after all, that member of the LGBT community is still a member of your family, a friend, someone you love) without compromising biblical standards.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. 

I highly recommend it. 5/5

Jesus answered questions with another question.

People who read scripture regularly have probably noticed that Jesus doesn’t always answer questions directly.  In fact quite frequently instead of answering them directly, He answers them with a question of his own. In Questions Jesus Asks: Where Divinity Meets Humanity (New Leaf Press, 2014) Israel Wayne takes 20 of these questions and turns them into a (very) abbreviated form of a systematic theology.
                The point that he makes, one that many others have made before, is that Jesus is not asking these question because He didn’t know the answers, but for his audience’s benefit. Through school I was always told that I shouldn’t answer a question with a question, but for Jesus, it works. With a combination of scriptural references, cultural background and personal experiences, Wayne explains the reason for Jesus’ questions.
                He doesn’t do it often, but there are a couple of times that Wayne uses words that I’m sure I heard in Seminary, but I don’t remember what they mean, and since I haven’t heard them since seminary I didn’t even bother to look them up.  When you throw around words like “infralapsarianism” or “supralapsarianism” (page 113), you ought to do a friend a solid and explain with they mean.  Granted these were words that Wayne used as an example of how easy it is to confuse people, especially new Christians with ‘christianese’.
                There is some good information presented here for the person who is looking for a basic introduction to many of the topics that Wayne introduces, and the occasional bit of humor adds to the presentation.
                 I received a copy of this book from Cross Focus Review in exchange for this review.

Friday, June 26, 2015

you really don't need to be perfect

Like many people, Sandra McCollom didn't quite understand that we can only do some much. Like many people she was never satisfied with what she was doing, was always trying to do more, and do it all better. She wanted to be perfect. And perhaps as it is for many of us, wanted is quite strong enough:it was like she needed to be perfect. I Tried Until I Almost Died: From Anxiety and Frustration to Rest & Relaxation  (Waterbrook Press, 2015) is her story of finding grace and realizing that she could never be 'good enough' to earn God's love, it's a gift, and it's freely given. You don't have to be perfect to receive God's grace, nor, once you've accepted that precious gift, you don’t have to be perfect to continue enjoying it.
Part I is aptly titled "Breaking Free" and involves helping the reader understand that those needs we have to be 'good enough' or even perfect, do nothing but incarcerate us in a prison of our own making. The prison may not have bars, but the psychological bars and chains are just as effective in keeping us locked up in a place that prevents us from becoming all that God wants us to be, and from enjoying the life He has planned for us.
Part II is a powerful reminder that no, we're not good enough, but don't despair, Jesus loves us just the way we are, but there are still things we can do that please God. Above all is the strong message that all the things that we might think we "have to" do are nowhere near as important in God's eyes, as they are in our own eyes.
Grace is what really matters, God’s Grace, and McCollom explains how the grace filled life frees us from those self-imposed prisons, and lets us have life, and have it abundantly.
 Although this is a personal story, I never felt like I was able to connect with the author, with her despair, or with her joy.  I might, in a pastoral role, give a copy of this book to someone who is overly concerned with being perfect, being good enough, and doing enough. This book might be helpful, at the appropriate time, for someone leaving a 'works-based' religion. I would caution however, that for someone trying to break out of the prison that McCollum describes, reading this book part 2 of this book might just lead that person to exchange one set of chains for another.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.  The opinions expressed are my own.


Friday, May 22, 2015

which came first the kingdom or the church

Ever wonder what you could or should do to fix your church? Or even the Church?  According to Reggie McNeal, in his recent book Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church - and What We Should Do Instead (Tyndale Momentum, 2015), that's the wrong question.
If I'm reading McNeal correctly, and not just reading into McNeal some of the things I wonder about,  we might just have some things backward.  We focus on growing our local congregation instead of joining God on His mission to grow the Kingdom.  We say 'church' as if it were some magical mystical thing when in reality we're talking about our denomination, or the building where a group of us meet on Sunday morning, or our local congregation, whether it's comprised of 50 people or 5,000.
McNeal points out the church was created as part of God's kingdom, (and he points out that 'church' is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, while "Kingdom" is mentioned again and again: the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven). But modern day Christians seem to want to fit the kingdom into the church. Much like people want to put God in a box, a box with dimensions of their own design.
Kingdom work is being done by people who often don't even realize that they're engaged in it. And wrapped up as we often are in our small c church worlds, we don't recognize it as such either. Funny how that works, if my church is doing it, it's kingdom work, if you, your church, or your non-church group is engaged in the same activity, you're just showing off, copying, or engaged in wanna-be activity.
Some great discussion starters  and questions are found at the back of the book.
A great book for church leaders, all of us who can stand to be reminded from time to time how God intends for things to work.

I was provided a copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for an unbiased review.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

American Sniper, the Hollywood version of Chris Kyle’s journey as an American hero.

I had to put it that way, because the movie seemed a little too made up to be real.  First off let me offer a disclaimer: I haven’t read the book, but I have served in the military, and some of the scenes seem contrived. For instance, I can’t imagine that anyone out in the field, engaged in combat operations would be aiming a gun at an enemy combatant with one hand, and using the other hand to hold a phone and carry on a personal phone call. But on the other hand, the movie covers a lot of time in just a couple of hours, boot camp, special training, four combat tours along with a period of time after his discharge.  I also know that when people are in situations as intense as some of the ones depicted in the film that their language is not always family friendly, and again I've been in the military, so profanity is not necessarily unexpected. Having said that, it seems that the f-bombs were excessive.
But beyond that, I enjoyed the film. It can be viewed in so many different ways, and on many different levels. It’s the story of a descent into hell, and the ladder back up; it’s a portrait of PTSD and how it affects individuals and families. It’s a reminder that war is hell. It’s a vivid reminder that sometimes being a hero isn't all it’s cracked up to be
For those who haven’t served in the military, the movie offers insight into what we asked of the men and women who put on the uniform, and beyond that, what we ask of their families during the times when a spouse or parent is deployed. And for some it shows why we honor our troops when they return from those difficult deployments.
As I watched the movie, I found myself wishing that it were just the imagination of somebody sitting at a computer, but the harsh reality is that the world is not a perfect place. We invite young men and women to serve their country; we offer then special training, and then send them off to faraway places where they are exposed to horrors that no human being should ever have to experience, but we don’t have the mechanisms in place to adequately care for them when they return home. Some of them are shattered physically, and we can offer physical therapy and artificial limbs, but how do we help those whose injuries are unseen, but often hurt much more deeply.
The movie is rated ‘R’ for profanity, and with good reason. If you can get past that, it’s a movie well worth watching. 

My friends at Grace Hill Media have given me a copy of the Blue-Ray DVD as a giveaway for facebook friends/readers of my blog.  Comment on the blog, or on my facebook page before May 24th, and be entered for a chance to win the DVD.