Thursday, April 30, 2015

Prayers for Nepal

          You've probably heard someone  say that their world has been rocked.  They meant it as an AHA moment, but last weekend tens of thousands of people had their world rocked - literally. People in 5 or 6 countries felt the tremors and thousands are dead, with the count rising.
                An earthquake. People left without houses, or f they do have a house still standing, they don't dare to sleep in it because of after shocks. A lady I work with has family in Nepal; she reports that they are sleeping in tents, and that it's cold, raining, and hail at times. There is no power, and food and water are limited.
                They're there, we are here, and for most of us the2  best things  we can do are pray and write checks. It's great that people want to go help, but unless you're specifically trained in a field that is needed immediately, what are you going to do when you get there? Supplies and housing are limited. The airport is only partially operational.  Please leave seats available on flights for medical personnel and specially trained emergency response teams.  There will come a time in the next few weeks when "I'm here, what can I do to help?"  may be appropriate, but now the greater need is probably for specific items - items that can be distributed to those in need.
                And how can we pray? Pray for peace in the hearts of those who have lost loved ones.  Pray for healing for those who were injured. Pray for generous, even sacrificial giving from people around the world so that cities can be rebuilt. Pray that much needed supplies will arrive in a timely manner and be distributed throughout the area where there is such need.  Pray for all those involved in search and rescue and recovery efforts. And pray that God will use this horrific event to draw people to Him. Amen

           Even when we don't have words, the Holy Spirit does, our heart's cry becomes the groans of the Holy Spirit.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

5-4-3-2-1 Launch

I’m at that point in time when I’m looking forward to retirement with a mix of anticipation and dread. Some days I imagine how nice it will be to sleep in, to not have to get up if I don’t want to, and then I remember that I usually get up way before the alarm goes off, and that within a few days I would be bored stiff sitting around and counting the days until the next social security check arrives. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why I jumped at the chance to read Launch Your Encore: Finding Adventure & Purpose Later in Life by Hans Finzel and Rick Hicks (Baker Books, 2015)
                Many Christians will especially enjoy chapter 16: “Who Does God Say I Am?”, but non-Christians might take issue with it, so the authors have given permission to anyone who might be offended by that chapter to skip it. Although there are godly principles presented, this books is deliberately not written as a ‘Christian guide to retirement’, nor as a ‘guide to Christian retirement’.  Men and women from all walks of life and diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds will equally be able to apply the principles and increase their chances for a successful ‘life after work’ whether that happens at 40, 60, or 80. And the primary secret is simple: find something that you’re passionate about and then find a way to do it!
                Even though almost anyone can benefit from reading this book, it is definitely not a one-size-fits-all program. But certain things do seem to apply across the board. Part one deals with a challenge faced by many after they retire: what do I do now? We want to live life to the fullest after retirement, not just move from the swivel chair in the office cube to a rocking chair on the porch.  The authors offer some cautions and suggestions along those lines.
               Part II is a reminder that the transition from the work force can take a couple of different directions: entitlement or contributor.  Most people would say that they want to continue to contribute to society, even after they retire, but unless they take some steps to make sure that happens, they are likely to find themselves unpleasantly surprised. In this section the reader is taught to make a life map, which helps him or her determine interests, passions, desires along with how they learn and what brings satisfaction.
               Part III is stories of people who have made a graceful and successful transition, and now find themselves in the position of happily being contributors. A little bit of look what others are doing… see, it can be done.  And Part IV is a detailed plan for finding a purpose and a meaning to life.
            I've worked quite a bit with the elderly in several different capacities. Some of them were a delight to be around, they knew that their entire worth was not wrapped up in their ability to bring home a paycheck.  Others were miserable: without that job (which often they had hated but held onto because it paid the bills) they were just hanging on and waiting to die. They really though life was over.
            This book should be on the mandatory reading list for everyone transitioning from the work force to retirement or an ‘independently wealthy life of leisure’.
      The publisher provided me a copy of this book in exchange for the review. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

let the bible help you discover Jesus

            What a concept! Read the Bible and discover for yourself who Jesus was and is. Rebecca Manley Pippert invites us to do just that in :Uncovering the Life of Jesus: "Six Encounters with Jesus from the Gospel of Luke:" (The GoodBook Company, 2015).
            As Piper notes in the introduction, as she finally, during her investigation of various religions, decided to read the Bible, the Jesus she encountered was not what she expected. In fact this Jesus was not even the Jesus she had hoped to find. She also reminds the reader that it's important to investigate the evidence if you hope to make an informed decision.
            To help the reader, whether a believer or not, make a decision about who Jesus is, and the role that He might play in our lives, Piper has selected 6 passages from the Gospel of Luke, passages which we are invited to look at with open minds and open hearts.
            I liked this book. It's short, with 6 chapters, each one a biblical account or a parable that shows Jesus in a different light. And the fun thing is that other than a brief "historical context" at the beginning f each chapter and the "So what could this mean for us?" at the end. Piper lets the text speak for itself.

            There are a series of questions after each passage or series of passages to help guide us on our quest and ample room for notes. This book would make an excellent resource for a small group/bible study as a few people struggle together to find out who Jesus really is, rather than paint a picture of him based on the pictures that have been painted by someone else. 

you've been called to change the world

Every once in a while someone asks you to dream big; to answer a question concerning what you would do if there were nothing to hold you back: finances, time, resources were not an issue. Sometimes they phrase the question just a little bit different and ask what would you try if success were guaranteed.  There would probably be a lot of differences to our answers, and a lot of similarities. Some of the answers would certainly be self-serving, and some answers would show a deep concern for others.
Stephan Bauman, in his book "Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World" (Multnomah, 2015), asks us to look at a similar question: how can I change the world? What might I do to make someone's world a better place a better place to be?
And he asks us to find an answer that will truly make a difference. Not just for today and tomorrow, but for generations to come. Something that might not be easy or convenient, but that will truly work. Bauman understands that people mean well, but sometimes efforts are reduced to a slogan.  He rightly points out that sometimes we want to take the easy way out.
But what would happen if we didn't worry about easy and looked at what would make a difference, what if we didn't worry about maintaining the status quo, and focused on finding the truth.  What happens when we focus on an single goal, and direct all our energies towards that goal?  What is possible when we set our hearts and our minds towards it.
So POSSIBLE asks us to look at how to change the world.  Much of the world's wealth is in America, much of the world's poverty is in the majority world. Americans could change the face of the world today if all it took were writing a check, but eventually the checks stop and the poverty returns. We need to be willing to think outside the box, and sometimes step out, with a really big step, in faith.  History of full of people thinking 'what if?' and then going on to do the impossible, because they dared to imagine.
Bauman asks us to consider what is possible and then be willing to take that first step out of our comfort zone in order to make a difference.  But in a sense it's not Bauman asking, it's not the book itself that gets us to dream big; its God calling us to join him on His mission, and to do that sometimes we have to ask what is possible, if only….
This book is a great reminder that "impossible"  is not a part of God's vocabulary, and shouldn't be part of ours either.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The People of Acts

"A.D. The Bible Continues: The Book of Acts with notes and insights from Dr David Jeremiah" (Tyndale, 2015), is the Book of Acts with biographical notes about some of the people that feature in the scripture. In fact, in small print at the top of the cover are the words: "the incredible story of the first followers of Jesus, according to the Bible.

The New Living Translation of the Bible is included in its entirety, And every few pages or so a brief biographical sketch is included. People like Peter, Herod Agrippa and Priscilla are highlighted.
 There is a little more information than might be included in a good study bible.

IF you do buy this book, make sure to read the introduction, the  prologue,and the epilogue, because that's where the good stuff is found. The historical and cultural notes that Dr Jeremiah provides help the reader understand what would have been going on at the time that this story of the Christian Church was happening.
 If you're one of the many people who tend to ignore front and back matter, than you might as well go out and buy yourself a good study bible,

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


Messengers on The CW : thoughts on episode 1

Friday a friend was excited about The Messengers, a new show that would be premiering that evening on the CW. I watched it, and Saturday asked if anybody else had watched it. One friend said that after about 1/2 hour she gave up and went to bed, and another friend was surprised that anybody would miss a baseball game to watch a TV show.

And I don't know just where I fit when it comes to reaction, but so far, after only one episode, probably somewhere in the middle. It's doubtful that I would rearrange my schedule to ensure that I could see it. But on the other hand, I wouldn't rearrange my schedule so as to deliberately miss it either. And would I go to bed after watching half of it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

And that's unfortunate. Even after watching the first episode, I'm still undecided as to whether or not I liked the show. I had read a brief comment about the show, so I wasn't totally in the dark, but even with the cheat sheet, it was hard to follow.

This first episode was obviously meant to introduce the main characters and set the scene for the rest of the season, but at times, it seemed like they were simulcasting 4 different episodes, or even 4 different shows. Eventually though, as each mini-episode progressed, it seemed that members of what I know (from the trailer) is going to be the team, were all heading towards a rendezvous spot. It's difficult to figure out what they're going to be doing there, but at least they have a destination.

The premise is a good one: we all have to make choices, and there are factors in our lives trying to influence those choices, for good or bad. I hope that the next episode doesn't seem quite so disjointed, or I may be like my friend who watched for 1/2 hour and went to bed. If it doesn't flow a little better, I may not watch long enough to see what those choices are, and what decisions are eventually made.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Your Partner's Partner is a sinner

"When Sinners Say 'I Do' : Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage" is a DVD series, 8 lessons on one DVD.  Dave Harvey takes an interesting  approach to a Christian marriage. Many couples' courses focus on communication about the important things: religion, money, sex, children, and job sharing around the house.  This one does too, but adds an important element. Whether you're on your honeymoon,  or celebrating your golden anniversary, there is one fundamental fact that both partners need to come to grips with: their partner's partner is a sinner.  
                Did you get that? Your partner's partner is a sinner. Yes, you're a sinner, and so is your spouse.  But just like in every other facet of your life, God recognizes that, and has provided the means to deal with it.  Harvey talks about sin, but he doesn't leave it at that - he also talks about mercy and grace.
                As I watched the video, I couldn't help but notice that Harvey is passionate about his teaching. It's Bible based, and seems to be theologically correct.  As a Christian, as a Pastor, I see this as a valuable tool that I wish could be considered for use across the board with all couples.  That's probably not going to happen. However those who trust biblical teaching will appreciate this course.

I received a  copy of this DVD series in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Messengers: new show on The CW, inspired by The Revelation

A new show is going to hit The CW on Friday (Apr 17) evening at 9/8c. It's called The Messengers, and looks interesting.  The story is inspired by, not based on,  but inspired by, (and there is a difference) the Revelation.
A meteorite hits earth, and a group of strangers are suddenly banded together to play a very special role in the aftermath of that crash. The Angels of the Apocalypse, as they come to be called, team up to do battle with the devil.
We all make choices, but we're not always lucky enough to recognize that our choices are being influenced by forces for good and for evil. We don't live in a cartoon world where a little angel sits on one shoulder while a demon sits on the other, but the same sort of thing happens to us. On the one hand we're encouraged to do what is right, and on the other, we're tempted to sin.
God calls us to use our gifts for good, but there are so many distractions, and Satan, the Father of Lies, the great deceiver, the tempter is always on hand trying to manipulate the situation in his favor.
You might remember Diogo Morgado, the actor who played Jesus in the Miniseries THE BIBLE. He's still around, but this time Morgado plays the Devil.

Click here to watch the trailer

Watch the show on Friday, and comment here  (blog/facebook/twitter) and early next week one of you will be randomly selected to receive an autographed poster.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Evangelism in the face of a hardening culture

There may be a few people out there who honestly enjoy evangelism, there are a probably some who evangelize even though they would rather be doing something else, and then there are the rest of the body, those who are quick to point out Paul’s words: “…Some to be prophets, some to be evangelists,, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). With the implication being that they were given to be something other than evangelists.
And it’s for that latter bunch that Rico Tice has written “Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus even when It’s Tough” (The Good Book Company, 2015).
There are basically two parts to this simple book. Part I explains why we should be evangelizing, sharing the gospel – even when it’s tough. And then Part II gives some tips on how to go about it.
This is a small book, both in number of pages (take out the front and back matter, and we’re talking less than 100 pages) and in the dimensions. The font used is also a larger one than is found in many books. Obviously, based on those simple statements, this is not an in-depth treatment of the subject. And that is one of the positive things about this book.
Tice doesn't try to cover everything ever written about evangelists and evangelism. And that’s a good thing. This book is written for people who haven’t had years of theological training. A book with hundreds of pages in a very small font with hundreds or thousands of footnotes would quickly scare away the very people he was trying to reach.
This book is written for the lay people in western churches; it’s written in a style that tells people: yes, you can do this, it might not be as easy as you would like, but it can be done. Part of your life as a Christian involves telling others about Christ – that’s the why you do it. And here are some helpful tips for doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
As mentioned earlier, this is not a complete resource, but it is an excellent place to start, and a great resource for all the people in any church who insist that the Holy Spirit gave them gifts, but evangelism wasn't one of them.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a review.


Friday, April 10, 2015

how people show Jesus without even realizing it.

There are a lot of movies and television shows that don't make sense to me.  I might start to watch, and then think "this is not God-honoring" or "this is disgusting and shouldn't even be on television". Usually I can disengage. I've even walked out of the movie theater because of the foul language. Sometimes though, I just sit there and keep watching .
Usually then I ask myself why I'm wasting my time on such garbage. I could be doing something productive. But maybe that's the wrong approach.  Advertisers don't spend mega-bucks to promote their products on shows that nobody watches. Regardless of what I might think, somebody likes these things, and as a husband, a dad, a member of the community, a pastor, sometimes I have to pay enough attention to things just so I know what other people are talking about.
But, according to Kevin Harvey,  there may be some other reasons to pay attention to what's popular in today's culture. In his new book "All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Cultures: Finding Our Creator in Superheroes, Prince Charming and Other Modern Marvels (Thomas Nelson, 2015), Harvey suggests that through some of the things that have made it big within the pop culture of today, people sometimes get to glimpse the Savior, get to see God, get a picture of the Redemptive power of Jesus.
And as I started to think about it, it makes sense.  Superheroes show up again and again to save their city from evil (the Bad Guy). How often did God show up to redeem Israel.  In movies, TV shows and books a popular theme is the unlovable, ugly, clumsy, always getting it wrong, picked on  person who slowly but surely undergoes some sort of transformation, and by the end is beautiful and on top of the world.  Our new life in Christ is like that. Our transformation allows us to see ourselves as God sees us and loves us, not as the world does.
Harvey uses examples that most of us might have heard of (even if we haven't read the book or seen the show), and regardless of my opinion, they have proved to be very popular among the population as a whole. Along the way there are "quizzes"  and clarifications', and at the end of the book is a section  called "learn even more" - puzzles and mazes, and games.
I needed this book because it's very easy for me to  see things in Black and White, and sometimes I need to see the nuances of what's in the middle of the spectrum.  It's useful for anyone who has a hard time connecting with today's culture. And let's be honest, society's idea of what's appropriate has changed a great deal since the days of Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. 
A must read for boomers trying to relate to Gen-Xers, Gen Y, and Millenials.

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Tips on dealing with conflict: We Need to Talk

How do you successfully navigate conflict? Most people don't have an idea of how to do so; that makes this book  a great resource for anyone in a relationship of any kind. Family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, even people that you only know on social media will at one point have a conflicting opinion from yours, and those minor clashes of opinions can sometimes lead to disaster  if not dealt with.     
                "We Need to Talk: How to Successfully Navigate Conflict" by Dr. Linda Mintle (the Relationship Doctor)( Baker  Books, 2015) is the layman's guide to getting our feet out of our mouths before the a relationship is damaged either to the point that professional help is needed, or the relationship, marriage, friendship is beyond repair.
                Sometimes professional help is needed, and neither the author nor I pretend that this book has all the answers, but in a way it does, because sometimes the answer is to get to a professional, and get there quickly.   Did you get that? Sometimes the answer is to get to a professional, and get there quickly.
                Mintle starts with an explanation of conflict, and goes on to some of the impediments to successful communication. She explains that since we are all different, and in different ways that we need to learn to identify those differences and learn how people cope and react in different ways.
                She addresses several different types of problems, such as blended families, divorce, conflict concerning sex and affection (we're all different there too), how to deal with difficult people, and how to deal with anger - one of the most misunderstood of all emotions.
                One of the strongest points of this book, from my point of view is the focus of the final two chapters: 'Forgiveness' and "We Can Work It Out".  If forgiveness is not included, then the conflict will never be resolved; and it ends on such a note of hope: WE CAN WORK IT OUT!
Although this would be a good reference for anyone working in the field of counseling, it is also a great resource of individuals to help them learn to deal with the conflicts in their lives.
(And this is from me, not the book: remember, sometimes it's best to seek professional help!)


thoughts on a commentary on the Book of ACTS

               How do you review a 600 page commentary without getting into minutia and quibbling over details? That was the question that I had to ask myself as I set out to look at the Volume on ACTS  EP Study Commentary : " A Study  Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles" by Guy Prentiss Waters (EP Books 2015).  So I opted to be very general in my comments.

                I like the book of ACTS and for some time have wished that I could find a readable commentary that stayed true to scripture. I think I've found it.  Waters has done an excellent job or placing scripture into context.  Waters writes from a reformed perspective, but his work should be useful to anyone, regardless of their theological leaning.

                Starting with a "Prelude to Pentecost" the reader is walked through Pentecost, and  the story of How Peter and Paul helped with the spread of Christianity, complying with the Resurrected Christ's command to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth - Rome as world geography might have been understood at the time .   I particularly like the way Waters explains how portions of the  book relate to other portions of the book, and the results of word studies that he has done as part of his research for this book.  The frequent references to Old Testament passages also serve to show that the Bible is not just a collection of books, but a collection of accounts that together make up the biblical metanarrative.

                  All in all this is a very readable volume; that it is not written in a heavy scholarly language adds to rather than detracts from its usefulness.  Especially helpful are the "Applications" found in each chapter.

              A welcome addition to my Library!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

some thoughts on "The Plot To Kill God

The Plot to Kill God, by Edward Mrkvicka, Jr with Kelly H. Mrkvicka (Outskirts Press, 2015) was difficult for me to read. I just don’t know why. It might have been the rhetoric, it might have been that it seemed alarmist, maybe it was the writing style. It wasn't necessarily that I disagreed with what the authors had to say, I just had trouble following along.
The back cover had me worried; it starts “as we near the second coming…” That type of statement always turns me off. Scripture is clear: no one but God the Father knows the hour and the day. (Matt 24:36). The only thing any of us know for sure is that today we’re one day closer than we were yesterday. But we might also remember that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter3:8). Yes the times that we live in are scary, but as long as I’ve been alive, people have been reading the second coming into the daily news on a regular basis. I dislike, on principle, some of the alarmist reports in the media that seem generated to sell papers or air time.
Having said that, the book itself is not that alarmist. It seems to be an honest attempt to point out that as a nation, as a world, humanity is heading in the wrong direction. Things that have been considered sin for thousands of years, are now considered acceptable, and in many cases, even preferable to the norms that were in force for years. I admire the Mrkvickas for daring to identify sin as, gasp, sin. In today’s culture, those who are living in defiance of God's law demand tolerance for their lifestyle and their choices. If you don’t tolerate, you’re a hater. They, on the other hand, don’t feel constrained to adhere to the same standard for tolerance. Why should they have to tolerate the ‘hate’ spewed by Christians? 
Although I agree that the sins that are identified in this book are sins, it is also important to note that they are not they only ones. It’ easy to choose one of two, and act as if they are the only ones that God cares about. I’m not suggesting that this is the case here, but even in such a short volume, there could have been some sort of a disclaimer that sin is sin, and that even though the author chose several as examples of how specific sins are becoming more and more acceptable in man’s eyes, that all sin is evil in God's eyes.

All in all the “Plot to Kill God” is a reminder that as the nation gets farther away from the Christian values which were in place for many years, that a perhaps unintended consequence is that people grow farther and farther away from God.