Thursday, March 31, 2016

Not as Bright As I Expected

Be Light: Shining God's Beauty, Truth and Hope into a Darkened World (WaterBrook Press, 2016) by Stephen Rodriguez is a 30 day devotional focused on being the light of Christ in the world.  (This review is of the Advanced Reading Copy, expected release date May 3, 2106; page numbers/chapter titles may change in the final version.
The reader is reminded from day 1 that light wins, light triumphs over darkness, and just as light makes an impact in the physical world, Christians are expected to reflect Christ's light, and make an impact for a world that needs that light. A darkened world, that can turn into light.
Each chapter, one per day for 30 days starts with, for lack of a better way to put it, an article about a different kind of light: fire, oil lamps, fluorescent lights, laser beams, refraction, reflection, the milky way and a host of other types of light find in nature, in science, and in our Christian faith.
Each chapter ends with a short reflection, a scripture, and an example of how the different light or light source can be compared to a spiritual light, the light that Rodriguez expects the Christian faith community to carry into the world of non-believers.
There are definitely scraps of wisdom in this book, (things like, "Our righteousness must not end in the church parking lot; it has to be evident in all aspects of our lives." (from the chapter "SafeLight" )
The Light that is intended to shine in this book is not as bright as I had expected. I frequently felt lost in the scientific and missed out on much of the spiritual application that I'm sure is there.

Mandatory Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book in exchange for my review. I was not required to post a positive review. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

thoughts on the movie "Wildflower"

I don't review a lot of movies, because I don't watch a lot of movies but the other day I got an email asking if I would be interested in reviewing an upcoming faith based film. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the PG-13 film since I wasn't familiar with the actors, or actually anyone else associated with the film.  But Wildflower starring Nathalia Ramos and Cody Longo offered a pleasant, family friendly way to spend an hour and a half.
Chloe is an artist, and some of her memories come out in her art work. That art plus a recurring dream lea her to believe that she is dealing with some repressed memories. As she deals with some authorities who don't quite see things the same way that she does, she finds a friend, Josh, who comes to believe her, and help her on her quest for the truth.
Josh is dealing with his own demons, demons that have caused him to doubt God, and question his faith.  His brother is a pastor who is trying to bring this lost sheep back into the fold but it  doesn't seem to be working. Spending time with Chloe, helping her with her demons proves to be the catalyst that Josh needs to revive his own faith walk.
Several plot twists result in healing for both Chloe and Josh. Faith is a main character in this movie, but it's a living faith, showing how people react, rather than some of the disturbing images of bible thumping pastors trying to scare people into heaven.

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

Inviting Others to Dine with Jesus -- tips 21st Century Evangelism

Gary McIntosh, Seminary Professor, Speaker, Church Consultant, Church Growth expert, and prolific author has written another book which should prove invaluable to pastors and church planters: Growing God's Church: How People Are Actually Coming to Faith Today (BakerBooks, 2016).
As we read through the New Testament, Especially the Gospels and ACTS, we notice how often significant religious discussions are held at the table. Food is involved. Throughout the book McIntosh uses ''Dining with Jesus as a metaphor for  engaging our family, friends, and associates with the gospel of salvation" (16). And then he highlights what he sees as a problem in Christian Churches: "While churches are becoming more missional in their thinking, they are becoming less evangelistic in their practice; that is, they are less involved in helping new people dine with Jesus" (p16,17). And this is definitely a book about evangelism.
The book is conveniently broken into 3 sections I: the Church Today, II: Faith Today, and III: Evangelism Today. Part I asks us to look at the story of Jesus and then at our church. What's our mission, our priority, our role, our focus and our context. Then we're asked to put them in the context of the biblical mandate to make disciples.  In Part II the reader is asked to reflect on his or her on faith journey: who led you to Christ? What method influenced your decision" Why did you start to attend church and why do you stay at the church that you're at? And then the part that pastors will groan at: the pastor's role in evangelism.  In Part III, McIntosh Shares some tips for effective evangelism and a chapter called "inviting Others to Dine with Jesus".  Throughout the book we find charts and statistics based on several years of research done to determine what it is that makes a compelling argument for Jesus and His church in the 21st century when so many different world views are competing for their share of the market.

Mandatory Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

is your church to politically correct?

Stop. Right now. Stop what you're doing and go to your favorite Brick and Mortar or online book store and get your copy of Ray Johnston's recently released book Jesus Called He Wants His Church Back: What Christians and the American Church Are Missing. ( W Publishing Group, 2015).
To be honest, when I started reading this book, I thought that it was well written, with some good information, but nothing really new, and so I wondered what kind of review I was going to be able to write, but the more I read, the more  I realized that some of the early pages were setting the scene for the incredible journey upon which I was about to embark. 
Yes, some of the information was stuff I had heard before, but Johnston, staying true to scripture managed to put things in today's context and culture. As societal norms have changed in our country, the Church in America seems to have changed too, and regrettably, not always for the better.
Johnston points out how the Church seems to have joined the rest of America in wanting to be politically correct, even at the expense of sound theology. Like non-believers, believers have fallen into the trap of sweetening the truth so as to not offend anyone.
Perhaps it's time to get reacquainted with Jesus and the life that He promised: "I came that they may have  life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10 NASB).
Whether you're a new believer or have been on your faith journey for many years, this book is one you want to read.

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

This may be the only study Bible you'll ever need

Zondervan has published a new NIV Study Bible, God's Justice: the Holy Bible The Flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil. ( Zondervan Bibles, 2016) 
This is a Bible, the complete text of the NIV, but it includes, as study Bibles tend to do, study notes which usually address a certain point of view. In this case it's God's justice.  What a great topic for the church to address.  It's more than just mercy and judgment ; these notes clarify who justice is for and the plan God has to see that one day justice is achieved. And by the way, justice is not just for the chosen people, or even just for Christians; it's not 'first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Paul writing to the church at Rome--Romans 1:16) .
No, God's justice is for everyone. God's justice is for every living creature. God's justice is for all of creation.  These study notes don't have all the answers, but as I spent time reading them, it became clear that a lot of the things we stress over in the West, are really "first world problems", and are so trivial when compared to what's happening in other parts of the world. Parts of the world where God's justice may not be so readily observable.
What makes this study bible so appealing to me is the number of contributors, and from where they come. I have several study Bibles where all the notes are written by one person. At different times they have been very helpful, but this Bible has notes written by 56 scholars and writers; what makes it even more appealing is the diversity of authors: they come from many different countries, and so we get to see what justice looks like in a variety of cultures and contexts.  And it certainly makes it clear that in many parts of the world, justice is elusive, fleeting, and often hard to see.  And this approach makes sense. The Bible is 66 books written by many different authors over a long period of time (okay, they were all guided by the Holy Spirit), so why should the notes also be written by many different authors?
Each book starts with an introduction to the book, highlighting the theme of justice. And justice , in many different forms, is present in each book.  There are notes throughout each book, and at the end of each book are 'questions for reflection" and a short prayer.  The notes, questions, and prayers helped guide me as I struggled with the whole question of what justice really looks like now, an what it will look like when Jesus returns.
As the editor (Tim Stafford) suggests maybe God's grace and mercy are compelling you to try to find your place in His story, or maybe you're just curious.  In either case, the Bible is the story of how God started with creation and God's love for mankind,  then evil and sin destroyed the perfection of humanity; the story continues with God's attempt to draw mankind back to him and restore the perfect creation that once existed.  Early on perfection was destroyed, but the story ends with "destruction of evil and the flourishing of humanity".
If you're looking for your place in God's story this might be a good place to start.  The Church, and all its members have a part to play in seeing justice restored.  Jesus came to save us for something more than our own personal salvation. (…created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do--Eph 2:10)
Looking for a study Bible? This one is highly recommended.  5/5

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