Monday, July 17, 2017

Quality Time with the Local Police Department

I have a great deal of respect for members of the Police Departments, here locally and across our country. They get to work interesting hours, and although they know what time their shift starts, depending on what might be happening several hours later, they aren’t always sure of what time they might get to sign out and head home.
                Recently I thought it might be interesting to spend a few hours on patrol in the neighborhood of the church where I’m a pastor, so I reached out to the local Police Department. Diana Lopez, the Community Outreach Coordinator, was able to make the arrangements. Thanks, Diana! Last weekend, Officer Ken Huckaby was kind enough to let me spend a few hours riding with him. And a couple of hours into the shift, we realized that we work in the same area of Ogden, and we’re also neighbors where we live.
                I’m not a big believer in coincidences, but there are a lot of “God-Moments” in my life. Shortly after Diana had arranged this ride-along, a blog post appeared in my inbox. The author listed 14 ways to better understand the community in which you’re doing ministry, and one of those 14 things was “Ride with a Police Officer or Firefighter”. Police officers and firefighters tend to be great resources when it comes to learning about the community. And Officer Ken was no exception—more later on that.
                There are always some conditions: you have to agree to some things ahead of time…nothing out of the ordinary, just things to keep you safe. And signing that waiver was just the first of the paperwork I saw that evening. And by the way, that was the only paper work actually done on paper. Computers can make life easier, help with a quicker response—and save trees.
                When I walked into the Francom Public Safety Building, there was a man in a wheelchair on my side of the window. He said something to me, but he was looking down, and I couldn’t hear him very well, so I assumed that he was talking on the phone. It was only when I sat down to wait for someone to escort me back to fill out the waiver, that I realized that he was talking to me. His motorized chair needed to be charged and he couldn’t get home, so he stopped in to use an outlet.  I don’t know if that’s the norm, but it was gratifying to see that this man’s needs were being met.  His appearance and mumbling might have made him a persona non-grata in many places.  He wasn’t hurting anything, or bothering anyone, he just needed enough charge on his battery to get home. And as we talked, the discussion turned to faith. An answer to prayer: “Lord, bring me to people who want to hear about Jesus”. A friend of mine qualifies that when he says that he can make small talk all day long, but he’d rather talk about God's Kingdom.
                It was a slow start as my Ride had paperwork to finish from calls during the first part of his shift. As he worked, we chatted about a number of things happening in the community. Some of the biggest problems were no surprise.  Mental health issues, gangs, and overcrowding in the jail system all contribute to the problems on the streets. Add in drugs and alcohol, and it’s no surprise that the Police Department keeps busy. (Except on this shift. Officer Ken said it was a boring evening, and I should try again some other time. Note to self: try to get a repeat ride)
                How long does it take to become so aware of what’s going on? I thought that I was pretty observant, but it didn’t take long to figure out that situational awareness is a strong point for those who patrol our streets. I could barely make out what the dispatcher was saying, and Ken was responding. After one call in particular we left Ken’s area, and there were several other patrol cars heading the same way. I was pretty amazed at how, without any obvious coordination, each of the responding officers could determine in which direction he needed to head. Ken recognized the person who had called in for assistance, and stopped her to get some more information about her call. It’s interesting how some people who have a lot of contact with the police have a lot of contact with the police!
                Has your car been reported stolen? The oncoming shift is told about it, and as they patrol, they’re looking for it. Concerned about loved ones with whom you can’t get in touch? Someone might be dispatched to check on them.  Something suspicious going on in the neighborhood? The patrol officer might just be driving by, see it, and stop to make sure everything is all right. Something missing and presumed stolen from your apartment? You guessed it, the officer on shift will be sent to investigate and take your statement.
                Of course, there’s a shortage of officers in most departments across the country, there’s a shortage of jail beds, a shortage of funding, and even though mental health issues rank high on the list of problems that an officer might see during any given shift, there aren’t enough Psych hospitals or beds to handle the magnitude of the problem. There is a lot of latitude given when it comes to dealing with issues. Sometimes, usually, a ticket is a much better option than a trip to the 12th street jail.
                What did I learn about police? If Officer Huckaby is any indicator, most police officers are a lot more like Jamie Reagan on Blue Bloods than they are like Hank Voight on Chicago PD.  Ogden is lucky to have officers on the job who care about the community and the people they serve. And a lot of those serving the community have also served their country by spending time in the Armed Forces.  I’m retired from the Air Force, and frequently people tell me “thank you for your service”.  It’s about time members of our Police Departments (and Fire Departments) get the same measure of respect.
                So, what did I learn about my community?  A lot had to do with the people. Seems like the people who show up at homeless shelters and churches aren’t always strangers to the police. And then there are the gangs. I’ve heard of a few of them, but the list is longer than I thought. There are also some places in the neighborhood that are more prone to trouble than others. Interestingly enough a couple of the areas which were pointed out to me, are areas where I’ve recently done prayer walks. Some people might think they should stay away from those areas. I’m thinking I should up my Situational Awareness quotient, and spend more time in those dark areas, praying for God's light to shine there even more brightly.

                And I’m off to pray for a couple of streets in my neighborhood, and for the officers that patrol those streets! 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

get the on line reviews your book deserves

free ebook at Amazon from 4-6 July 2017
If you’re reading Jason Ladd’s new book, it’s probably because you’re writing one of your own. And if you write, you want someone (preferably lots of someones) to read it. When I blog (fairly rarely, but still) I’m writing and hoping that someone will read what I’ve taken the time to write. Writing a book means more hoping than a mere blog post. 
And that’s Jason’s premise in Book Review Banzai: The Unknown Author’s Ultimate Guide to Getting Amazon Reviews (Boone Shepherd LLC, 2017).  It’s a short read, and Ladd has an engaging writing style. I’m not very techno savvy, but even some of the technical stuff seems doable the way he describes and explains it.
I happen to have a young adult living in my house who can help me with some of that techie stuff, importing, extractions, spread sheets and the rest, so while he’s doing that, I can use some of the other techniques that Jason talks about to find the right people to  read the book and write a review. The title should have given you that clue.
Most people who I know have a book waiting to be written, but like me they don’t know where to start with the fun stuff that comes after the book is written: getting it sold. I like to read, and I notice that a lot of the books that I buy have an invitation to write a review and post it on my blog, but also, and especially on Amazon and other sites. I do that frequently, and as a result often get asked to read and review a book. (Free books, YAY!!!) But it never really dawned on me just how important those amazon reviews are when it comes to marketing the book.
So in a nutshell, this book is about finding the people that will read your book, and post the reviews that make Amazon and other online booksellers sit up and take notice (and when they notice, your book goes to the top of the list—can’t beat that for part of your marketing strategy.
Is it easy? Probably not, but if you’ve gone to the effort to write the book, and you want others to read it, you better be willing to invest the time.
And just so you know, Jason follows his own advice. He ‘found’ me and asked me to review his book. What are the connections? I frequently review books on my blog, and because he checked my profile, he’s seen that I retired from the Air Force. That military connection gave him something with which to personalize his emails. (That’s how he got me to review his book One of the Few)
            He also suggests that the author be willing to offer review copies of the ebook for free. Some of them go out before the release date, and sometimes you have to be willing to offer the free ebook even after publication. This is another tip he follows: Book Review Banzai is free on Amazon from 4-6 July.
                That’s right, you can get your own free copy of the ebook from the 4th to the 6th of July. Head to amazon dot com, next Tuesday morning, and start using Jason’s techniques to market your book on Tuesday afternoon.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Their Pain, My Perspective, and Finally a Response

We’ve all been in situations where we’re in close proximity to someone who doesn’t look like us. Some of the situations are temporary, and some much longer lasting.  Some people are forced into situations, and some make a conscious decision to experience life at a different pace than they might otherwise be used to. Immediately missionaries come to mind. They leave family, friends and home to go to a faraway place.
            And then there are people like Michelle Warren. Michelle and her husband made the decision to exchange lifestyles, but they didn’t go to a different continent to do so. Instead they settled in an area of Colorado. The only thing is, Michelle and her husband don’t look like most of their neighbors, and if they weren’t willing to study another language, they wouldn’t even be able to communicate with some of them. Their journey to proximity is detailed in The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action, (IVP Books, July 2017)

            I did more underlining in this book than I have in a long time, and have already used some of what I learned as part of a message for a chapel service at the local Rescue Mission.  Justice is a primary theme, and reading this book helps us see that we have a part to play in seeing justice come about. Biblical, not legal justice, restoration of people, not just punishment for wrongs (p 28). Life among people who are struggling helps us to identify that need for restoration.
            So, what is the deal with proximity? The simple answer is that it gets us close to the pain of an issue, changes our perspective, and most importantly requires a response. And as you can tell, from that 3 part answer, the simple answer is anything but simple.  
            Take a look at the communities that frame the lenses through which you see things. Do you live in one and work in another? Do you truly experience what others created in the image of God are living on a daily basis, or do you just brush shoulders with it during the short periods of time that you are in the vicinity, and then forget about it as you drive away? Michelle is truly experiencing it.
            Part I “Proximity Transforms Us” helps the reader understand what is meant by proximity, including the fact that to truly understand a different culture, we need to do more than attend some conferences or read a few books. It enables us to look beyond the surface for the underlying causes, and the possible solutions to some of the issues. And as we are confronted with the brokenness of others, we are also confronted with our own brokenness, which tends to help us understand even better what others are living through.
            Part II “Proximity Compels Response” is a little bit harder to read, simply because it forces the reader to decide “what am I going to do about it?” It’s one thing to read about an issue, to see it from a distance, and perhaps send a check, or ‘like’ on social media platforms. But when it becomes part of who you are, then a response is required. When proximity to the poor is a choice, you are privileged (108), and with privilege comes responsibility.
            And with Part III “Proximity for the Long Haul” there are some pointers. We can choose to move past fear, we can recognize and pray for healing for our churches, we can continue with our choice to be proximate, even when it is more difficult than we expected. We can live by faith, and stand with those who are already boldly making a stand, making the statement that enough is enough. In God's Kingdom we are all created in His image, and as such we should be willing to stand by our brothers and sisters.
            Earlier this year I was indirectly asked by a friend to choose a word for the year, a word which might shape and frame my actions and attitudes. The word I chose was justice, and this book is helping me with that effort. Michelle wears several different hats, but whichever one she is wearing at any given time is a reminder that proximity shapes us and has not only the potential to make our world a better place, but also the potential to mold us more closely to the Imago Dei in which we were created.
            I received a copy of this book from the publisher.  

            Highly recommended. 5/5

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The NIV Bible comes alive for young readers

Another Bible for kids, and you should care, why? I was thinking something along the same lines, until I got my hands on a copy. NIV Kid’s Visual Study Bible (Zondervan, 2017) is the Complete New International Version Bible, and it’s especially geared for kids from 8 to 12 years old.

                What makes this one special? I’m glad you asked. Almost every page highlights one or more verses and offers an explanation. In a regular study bible, these notes would probably be at the bottom of the page, but here they are in the margins, and stand out, so your junior scholar can read them and get a better appreciation for the customs and culture of Bible times. Sometimes, as in an adult study bible, some of the linguistic nuances are explained.
                Additionally there are pictures, tables, and maps throughout, (cover material indicates ‘over 700 images’) that help to explain the context of a particular passage.  Although I’m MUCH older than the 8-12 years old group, I enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading the notes.
                I was so glad to see that the illustrations weren’t what one usually sees in a kids’ Bible; in this version, with the complete text instead of stories, excerpts, and paraphrases, the illustrations match a level of maturity that the 12 year old will enjoy (they’re not treating me like a kid anymore) but still at a basic enough level for the 8 year old to enjoy. 
                Sure to become a favorite for the young ones in your family, and I can envision a 9 or 10 year old not only reading this bible, but looking forward to reading it aloud to younger siblings or cousins.
                This has all the potential to become THE preferred Bible for Sunday school classes because the teacher has handy access to the supplemental information needed to help prepare a lesson (and encourage further study) and the students will delight in the graphics and explanations.


I received a copy of this Bible from Handlebar Central (and Zondervan) in exchange for the review. 

Questions to ask when you're trying to get out of the rut

Sometimes it feels like things get stuck, and when they do you want to do something to get out of the rut. With that in mind I was excited to have the opportunity to read When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer by Christ Sonksen (Baker Books, 2017).

                As promised, Sonksen discusses seven questions, things like what’s our mission, what are our values, how do we get to where we want to go, and do we have the right people in the right positions. The questions weren’t new for me, and neither were the answers provided. So chapters 5-11 were mostly review of things I’ve read from other experts, some of whom Sonksen mentioned. .
                I did have a problem with his approach to metrics (chap 8: How do we measure a win?) Things like “we look at our music and ask if it’s done with quality”, or “we look at the messages…are they being presented in the highest quality possible?”  And how do you measure if the kids are “learning, growing, and having fun” during the hour of Sunday school. It’s easy to count “butts and bucks”, “nickels and noses”, but quality of the music or the message is a little more difficult to measure. Ask 20 people in a Baptist church, and you’ll get 25 different opinions!
                Having said that, I think the introductory chapters were probably more beneficial to me than the 7 questions. There are some good reminders of what ‘stuck’ looks like, and the review of the stages of church life, although different than others I’ve read, is an encouragement to look at what’s going on long-term (past and present) rather than just look at numbers for the past few weeks and go into panic mode.
                And of course, it’s nice to be reminded that God can do a lot of things through the people whom he calls to serve. Since God uses people, there are often going to be mistakes, but instead of whining about it, making excuses, and pointing fingers, we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.
                If this is new material to you, I would suggest that it’s a good place to start, but I don’t think Sonksen’s answers to the 7 questions are quite deep enough to really get the church out of its rut. The questions are probably the right ones, but the path that is presented to get out of the rut is probably overly smooth.

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


Monday, June 12, 2017

Prayer Tips for Everyone

Another book on prayer? But don’t Christians already know how to pray? And would a non-Christian, a pre-Christian be interested in a book about a typical Christian practice? The short answers are as follows: Yes. No. Yes.
                There are a lot of different ways to write about prayer, depending on your intended audience, and the purpose of your book. And when it comes down to it, a lot of Christians don’t really know much about prayer, or how to pray, other than to recite from memory prayers that they learned as a child for church, meals, and bedtime. And there are a lot of people out there searching for something, without even knowing what, and many of them will turn to prayer even though they might reject the idea of organized religion.
                And those are just some of the reasons that Sherry Harney’s book Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God (Baker Books, 2017) is well worth the read.  Sherry challenges some of the things that I grew up thinking about prayer. There were prayers at meal time, prayers at bedtime, and prayers for church. And prayers were said in a reverential pose: head bowed, eyes closed, and hands folded.  And here’s Sherry, suggesting that it’s alright to keep your eyes open, that God won’t be offended; and yes, some of those scripture passages that suggest we pray at all times and in all circumstances are not just for shock value, these God-breathed words say exactly what God meant to say.

                The book is divided into 4 sections, teaching us to pray with eyes, ears, hearts and lives wide open.  Each chapter of each section includes prayer techniques that the author has learned to use throughout the years, including, in many cases the stories of how she learned those techniques. Quite often Harney offers examples of how those prayers have been answered, and there is also a practical aspect. She closes each chapter with a short segment called “Your Prayer Journey” in which she assigns a specific task for the reader to practice during the week.
                Whether you’re new at prayer, or have been at it for a long time, there’s something for everyone in this book. Highly recommended.

                I received a copy of the book from BakerBooks in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, May 22, 2017

NOSES ON! Red Nose Day 2017

For several years I’ve been seeing commercials for RED NOSE Day, but really, other than knowing I could go to WalGreens and buy a red nose, I wasn’t really sure what it was all about. And since I don’t pay too much attention to commercials, I never explored it any further. Then I heard a little more about it, and realized that one of the goals of this project is to make people aware of childhood hunger and what they can do to help.  Noses On!

Then I was invited to blog about Red Nose Day, and because chronic hunger is such a problem, impacting children in so many different ways, it was a no-brainer.  Kids go to school hungry, and don’t perform well. Before long they’re below grade level, and suddenly their future is dim. Without the education, it’s sometimes hard to get a job, and generational poverty rates spike.
When kids are hungry and there doesn’t seem to be a solution, they become prey to so many of society’s ills. Gangs look like a good alternative. Selling drugs means they have money to help feed the family. Prostitution, with its own set of nightmares, allows them to escape the harsh realities of chronic hunger and chronic poverty. Generational poverty is, to my way of thinking, one of the biggest problems in our society today.
Some schools in our area send food home for weekend meals, but that’s just a bandaid, and there’s so much more that can be done. The school districts offer lunch during the summer, but weekends aren’t included, and there is often an overlap between school ending and lunches starting. Then at the end of the summer, lunches end, but school hasn’t started yet.  This year, because we can, our church is stepping up to fill the gap in our neighborhood. A couple of times a week, during those gap periods, we’ll be handing out free lunches.  It would be nice if all it took was money, but someone needs to go shopping, someone needs to fill lunch bags. Who is going to clean up after lunch? And beyond a full stomach, how are we going to gain their trust and learn what other needs they have?
Although this didn’t start out to be a Red Nose project, it’s easy to say that we proudly stand with this project. Ending poverty, ending hunger and empowering children, worldwide and here in this country, are goals that we should all get behind. 
Since Red Nose Day started over a billion dollars has been raised globally.  Since 2015, Red Nose Day has raised over $60 million in our own country. Wear the nose. Join the fight. Be a part of the solution
Watch some of the video clips showing what a difference we can make:

You can donate here

And remember that this Thursday, May 25th is RED NOSE DAY 2017.  Check listing for the television coverage!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Discipleship by Dad

     Batterson does it again.  I have to confess from the beginning that I am a huge fan of Mark 

    Batterson’s books. I think I have read all of them without being disappointed, and Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be (BakerBooks, 2017) is no exception.

     What I particularly like about this book is that it is personal and practical at the same time. There are far to man books that claim they have the answer to a specific issue, but turn out to be nothing more than an excuse for the author to brag about what he (or she) is doing or has done.

     This is Dad Discipleship at its finest, and when things don’t go as planned, Batterson is Man enough to admit his mistakes.

     Part I is titled Play the Man: Seven Virtues and Batterson goes through some of the attributes that a godly man possesses. Things like being tough, but not hardened, being a gentleman, without being a doormat.

     Bottom line is that God would like for men, created in His image, to think, speak and act in a certain way. And if Dads don’t teach their sons to be godly men, then someone else, or society will teach them something…and it may not be what you want your son to learn.

     Batterson has talked about the rites of passage that he created for his sons in at least one of his other books. I enjoyed reading more about it in Part II.

    Baker Books sent me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

A great book on discipleship

What’s your gospel? Jared C. Wilson tells us that his is “sweaty and ragged around the edges”, it’s ‘smudged”, it’s an “old hymn”, it “broadcasts on a different frequency”, and it’s been “both a welcome mat and a place mat”.  And a few other things. In other words, you may not see it as perfect. But that’s what his latest book, The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People who Can’t Get Their Act Together, (Baker Books, 2017) is all about.

                I remember sitting in church, watching pastors, elders, deacons, lay-leaders, and almost everyone else in the church. And the common thread was “I could never do that”. How can they do that, how can they be so Christian? And more importantly, why can’t I?  Doomed to failure before I even started. And then one day it was my turn to be approached with “I could never do that, I’m not spiritual enough to do that, can you help me be as Christian as you are?”
                But that was a different time, people used to behave themselves in church. We dressed up, and everyone knew the unwritten rules about church: you have to behave, you dress nice, you watch your language, you show up on time every time the door is open, and volunteer and volunteer for everything. The pendulum seems to have shifted, and we don’t expect quite as much, but is that a good thing?
                We’re so used to telling people that God loves them just as they are, that we forget, that He loves us way too much to want us to stay that way. God wants us to grow in our faith, he wants us to grow in our love for Jesus, but along the way, the church seems to have forgotten how to pass on those basic lessons. And so Wilson has written this book about following Jesus for those of us who don’t wake up each morning and spend all day everyday as the Christian who has it all together. That is at least 99.999% of those who identify as Christians.
                There are good lessons here, reminders that if we were all that perfect, we wouldn’t need to be following Jesus in the first place, much less need someone to help us on that path. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect before you get to church, and although church—community and fellowship—is important, we don’t see perfection there, (or, except when we encounter Jesus, anywhere this side of paradise).
                Discipleship is all about following Jesus, and Jared makes good use of these pages reminding us that a faith walk doesn’t start at the pinnacle of success. He reminds me that church is not a museum for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. If we were well, we wouldn’t need to be there. Didn’t Jesus say something like that? (Matt 9:12 , Mark 2: 17 and Luke 5: 31)

                I received a copy of the book from Baker Books in exchange for my review.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stories to warm a young girl's heart

If you have young children, you’re aware of how excited they are when the mailwoman stops and there is a letter for them. In Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart (Zonderkidz, 2107)   by Glenys Nellist (illustrated by Rachel Clowes), there are over a dozen letters to your girl.
                The book is made up of stories. Wonderful stories about some amazing women in the bible. Women like Eve, Rahab, Deborah, Esther, and a couple of different Marys.  There are even some unnamed women; and all of these women have something in common, their stories teach a lesson. There is a character trait identified for each of these women, things like strength, patience, and generosity are highlighted.
                Each story is a short paraphrase of a Biblical account, and several things stand out. They are short, they stay true to the sacred text, they are written at a level that girls 5-10 will understand, and they are written in such a delightful way that girls (and women) will enjoy. There are bound to be some jealous boys in families where a daughter gets this book—the boys are certain to be asking where the book for boys is.
                On each page, you’ll also find a “love letter from God.” The note is attached and opens up like an actual note-card, there is a place to fill in your girl’s name, and ‘God’ recaps the story, encouraging the girl to be prayerful or grateful, and the note is signed with a descriptor, like ‘your strong friend’, or ‘your caring friend’
                I would recommend this book for girls from 5-10 years old, but the book is so appealing, that they’ll probably soon be reading it to their younger sisters, and showing it off to older sisters, cousins, aunts, grandparents and friends.
                A definite must if your household includes young girls.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Some context and culture of Jesus' time

For many years, I have found the Old Testament to contain a wealth of information about Jesus. And quite frequently I find myself in the minority. There are a lot of people who miss out on so much of the richness of the New Testament, because they discount or discard the Old Testament.  What they seem to be missing is that while Jesus was living and teaching what would become the New Testament, he was living in an Old Testament culture, and the bible that he was reading, that he was memorizing, that he was quoting, that he was using in his ministry, that he was living, was the Old Testament. The New hadn’t yet been written.
And so, I jumped at the chance to be a member of Robby Gallaty’s Launch Team for his new book The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow and Easter Rabbi. (Zondervan, 2017).
First and foremost, and something we shouldn’t ever forget, is that Jesus was a Jewish man living 2000 years ago in a Jewish culture.  He also didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. Still today context and culture are important things to be aware of, and the same thing was true in Jesus' time.  Gallaty has obviously done his research and we benefit from his hard work.
If you’ve been around church for a while, you’ve heard the stories, the parables, the accounts of miracles. Hopefully if you’ve been around church for a while, you’ve also read those stories for yourself. They’re found in a book called the Bible.  The thing is though, that things that would have been so apparent and obvious to the people with whom Jesus had contact, often leave us scratching our heads: what are they talking about?
Granted, not everyone has the desire to become an Old Testament scholar so that they can better understand the New Testament. And that’s assuming that they’ve also become a New Testament scholar so they can better live out their Christian faith.  Having said that, insights into the prevailing culture help us to better understand the gospel. And Robby does a great job of giving examples.  He explains why finding a man carrying a jug of water would be easy in a crowded city (see Mark 14:12-15, and remember that carrying water was considered to be woman’s work). What about a fig tree with no figs so upset Jesus (Mark 11:20-21)?
Many people have a mistaken idea of who Jesus really was. We look at the Renaissance era paintings and get a picture in our minds; we hear sermons, and take the preachers word that he knows what the passage really means.  At some point we need to dig a little deeper and find out just who Jesus was, and then make the decision to follow.
Bonus information includes the F-260 reading plan. A bible reading plan that allows you to read Mon-Friday, with time on the weekends to catch up if you happen to miss a day.

I received a copy of this book as a member of the Launch Team. Thanks Robby, for the pleasure and the privilege!

Great answers to your questions about God

     What would it be like if Dear Abby or Ann Landers were to compile all the questions they have had to answer about God, and published them in an easy to read book. I can’t even begin to imagine what it be like, but luckily, we don’t have to wonder, because someone else has taken on the task.  Eric Metaxas’ book Everything You Always wanted To Know about God (but Were Afraid to Ask) was first published in 2005, and is now being re-released by Waterbrook in 2017.

     I enjoy Metaxas’ work (have you read his tome on Bonhoeffer?), so I was a little surprised at the format of this book, since it’s such a different writing style. But the more I read the more I found myself enjoying it.

     People have questions about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, and about dinosaurs. Some people turn to a pastor for answers, but a lot of people who have questions but no pastor to whom they can turn, so this book is a good resource. The answers are short, engaging, and tell the truth without being deeply theological (the kind of stuff that people with questions usually are not interested in reading. Too much info is simply that: too much, so it typically doesn’t get read.)

     In addition to being a fun book to read, this is an instructional book. It teaches the reader how to answer some of those politically sensitive issues. And maybe even answers some of our own.  A great resource for those who minister with/to children, seekers, and yes even those who have been in the pews for a long time but still have questions!


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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

If you had to pick someone who could save the world, the Moast team probably wouldn’t be your first choice.  But God doesn’t always look for the most qualified when there’s a big job to be done—sometimes instead of calling the qualified, He qualifies the called instead.  A group of friends meet regularly to study the Bible together, that is when they’re not off on adventures like most of us could never imagine.
And so the story begins. Queen of Atlantis: A Moast Unusual Bible Study by Edmund Lloyd Fletcher (Total Rewind Publishing, LLC, 2016) is indeed a most unusual Bible study. Enter Jane, a young woman with a form of autism, who arrives in a new town, attends church, and gets invited to a Bible study hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Michael Moast. There’s an announcement indicating that the study group would appreciate having someone with some familiarity with cameras, which seems strange, but those fears area allayed when Jane arrives and the group is actually studying the bible, but they rise up again when she looks for the study the next week and can’t find it. Can’t find it, and indeed has all sorts of adventures trying to find the other members of the group.

Eventually Jane does become a part of the Bible study, against the better judgment of one of the members—who finally agrees to give her a chance, and just in time because this group of people spends a lot of time solving perplexing problems with global implications. And they have a case.  Someone is gathering poisonous sea life and setting out to take over the world.  Luckily the Moast team has their newest member, and her skills with a camera come in very handy as they solve the case, save the world, and make an incredible find in the process.
                This is not a book that I would have bought for myself, mainly because it has a couple of things going against it: 1) it’s not a genre that I typically read, and 2) it’s a children’s’/young adult book (and I don’t have kids or grand-kids in that demographic). However, I was asked to read it and write about it on my blog, and so here we are.  
                Actually, it was a fun read, and if I had been reading it aloud to a child or group of children, I think I would have enjoyed voicing the part of each of the characters (a fairly interesting group!). Although this is not a ‘Christian story’, there are some Christian overtones, and it’s enjoyable to read something where you’re not expecting the next page to have situations which you might not be ready to explain to your child. Also having one of the heroines having to cope with her autism was a nice touch in an age when we don’t always deal well with character flaws in other people.
                The jacket copy indicates that the author is writing for his children because he was having trouble finding clean, kid-friendly adventures, and wanted to make sure that the current generation had such stories.

                I found a few typos, and at times it was difficult trying to follow the story line because action was taking place in several parts of the globe at once, but overall, I give it an A.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thoughts on "Abandoned Faith"

Lately it seems like we’re reading more and more about millennials, and with good reason. As least if you’re a pastor, or in some sort of leadership role at a local church.  In older, established churches, we often have to ask where the millennials are, or at least why they’re not filling the pews in our church on Sunday morning. And everybody has answers, one of them being that this generation doesn’t like pews. Really good news for the people who sell chairs especially designed for use in churches. Except, that even after chairs replace the pews, the millennials are often still missing.
And so, we look at other reasons. And one of them tends to be that an entire generation is abandoning their faith in favor of a new belief system. The tenets of our faith seem to be lost on a group of people. Researchers have identified the problem, but is there a solution?
According to authors Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez there is. In their book Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials Are Walking away and How You Can Lead Them Home (Tyndale House, 2017)

Too adequately address any major problem, it’s first necessary to determine what the problem is, and the first few chapters of this book take a look at what went wrong. Although this book is written for many different subsets of our society, as the pastor of an aging church, which isn’t doing a good job of attracting and keeping millennials, one chapter especially stands out: “How the Church is Failing Millennials”.  The answers are fairly simple. Churches tend to value things like tradition, safety and comfort. There’s nothing wrong with those things until they get in the way of valuing people, service and community.
Part 2 helps those of us who aren’t part of the millennial generation understand what is shaping the worldview of this age group. And unfortunately, it’s not always Sunday mornings spent in church. We need to understand what drives them and what their struggles are. And once we’ve learned what’s going on, we move on to Part 3, where we learn that it is possible to address how to deal with the problem.  Sometimes we need to learn how to love our prodigals. Often that requires tough love, but there has to be a bit of tenderness also.
The authors conclude with some practical suggestions for drawing your wayward son, or daughter, back into the fold. Not surprisingly since this book deals with a generation that seems to have lost its faith, the suggestions include prayer. But beyond that, parents and other adults who want to engage in the conversation need to do some work themselves. They need to know what they believe, and why; and then they need to be able to voice the biblical truths that are necessary for a firm faith foundation
Great book for anyone dealing with those questioning if their childhood faith is still relevant and pertinent to their life.   5/5

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

No more excuses. God's grace has it covered

We all need to be reminded once in a while that God is bigger than our, well, our everything. Lately I’ve been talking about how Jesus helps us deal with our fears. We just need to turn to him and put him in charge of our insecurities, our circumstances, and our lives. Much easier said than done.
And generally, when we have trouble turning those things over, it’s because we think that God won’t help us because of our past mistakes. But here’s the kicker, God's grace is greater than all of that.
Kyle Idleman explains it a lot better than I can, and his newest book Grace Is Greater: God's Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story (Baker Books, 2107) is the written version of his explanation.

This book is an easy read, and Idleman is the consummate storyteller. It could be easy to stay at the surface, and just enjoy his engaging style, but it doesn’t take much effort to go beyond the humor and sense the pain that so many people experience because they won’t or can’t acknowledge God's Grace.
The book is broken into three sections all of them dealing with Grace being greater. It’s greater than our mistakes, our hurts, and our challenges. And when we put all that together, grace is still greater!
This book could be used in so many different settings—anyplace where there are hurting people who need to understand that God loves them, and that His grace is sufficient

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jesus in Your High School

For quite some time, as we as a country have insisted on being politically correct, it’s been harder and harder to talk about God or Jesus in public schools. Not that we haven’t always been able to, just that we’ve been afraid to. After all, someone might be upset. We don’t always grasp the concept that it’s not illegal to talk about Jesus with people who are interested in talking about Jesus. There’s a big difference in forcing someone to accept your belief system, and opening the door to someone who is interested in learning more about why you believe the way you do.
Luckily there are people like Brian Barcelona, who heard from God, and rather than hide behind political correctness decided to follow God's call on his life.  That call, and the resulting journey, is the story being told in Brian’s book: The Jesus Club: Incredible Stories of how God Is Moving in our High Schools (Chosen, 2017). 

Brian didn’t grow up in church, but as a teenager entered into a walk with Jesus. The relationship grew, and shortly after he graduated from High School, God spoke to him in a way that really left him no options but to obey. It’s often hard for us to imagine what God and will do when we are willing to do as he asks, and stay out of his way the rest of the time. But Brian had this God-sized dream of reaching high school students for Christ, and doing it right there in the schools.
Like many other dreams, this one started small, then grew and grew, and it seems like each time things were about as big as Barcelona thought they could get, God added something else to the equation, and things got even bigger.
As the press release puts it: What happens when a former teenage atheist hears God's call to do the impossible—and decides to act on it?
You’ll want to read this book to see how with God, it’s not impossible.

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Not the Treasure I Was Expecting

Leanna Cinquanta tells an interesting story, but it’s more than just a story—it’s her story. 

Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out just how powerful of a story it is. Her story is called Treasures in Dark Places: One Woman, a Supernatural God and a Mission to the Toughest Part of India (Chosen Books, 2017)

Based on the title I was really expecting more of the story of her time in India; and the back cover copy hints at tales of sex trafficking. But this is an autobiography, and the first part of the book is about how Leanna grew up in a basically faithless home. I was confused as she shared stories of living in poverty, but the family was always saving for something, and managing to put enough aside to get it. Impossible wasn’t a word in the Cinquanta family’s vocabulary

And then comes her conversion story, and some of the mysteries that young Leanna had experienced start to make sense. Jesus, was making himself known to her.  And even though for her entire life, her parents had been telling her that she could be and do whatever she wanted to, it took Jesus to prove it to her.  

Leanna is one of those people who hears Jesus speaking to her on a regular basis, and many of us would like to be in that enviable position. But like so many of us, even when it’s clear what God is asking us to do, we want to bargain. In Leanna’s case that call was to India. She pleaded with God to send her anyplace else, but God had plans for her, and He wasn’t about to change His mind.

There are some incredible stories of her life in India, but the big disappointment in this book is that there is only a little about what is being done to rescue children from the sex trade. The little there is seems to have been added in the last couple of pages as an afterthought, almost as though some editor had decided at the last minute that the addition of the story of an abused child would increase sales.

A compelling story, but it needed to have been told in a more dynamic and engaging manner

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review. 3.5/5

Monday, February 27, 2017

Did Doubting Thomas Go to India?

Sometimes I just want to scream at God and ask him how certain things could be happening, why they have to happen to me or to someone I love, and when I don’t get an immediate answer, sometimes, I just want to turn my back on Him. And turning my back on church is often one of the first things that I want to do.

Because church, well at least religion, is often the cause of my doubts and despairs.  People who have never read the bible act like they’ve never read the Bible; people who don’t profess to be Christian don’t act like Christians should act. I want God to make them behave, and I cry out “Why?”

                And even worse, people who do read the Bible act like they’ve never seen one before; people who call themselves Christians act like the worst of heathens. And it’s especially discouraging when I’m one of those people. So, again I have to wonder where God is hiding. I want Him to prove Himself to me, again. I want to see Him, and I want Him to make Himself known in my world.

                Which takes us to the story of Thomas, you may know him as Doubting Thomas. You remember, he was the disciple that wasn’t there with the rest of the gang when Jesus made His first post-resurrection appearance. (See John 20:19-29) When Thomas came back from shopping, or fishing, or out for a walk to clear his head (we don’t know why he wasn’t locked up with the rest of them) he couldn’t believe the incredible story they had to tell him.  In fact he wouldn’t believe it, until that is, Jesus made a second appearance and Thomas was able to see for himself the nail marks, and put his fingers in the nail holes. Sometimes we need proof. Yes, it’s nice to always be able to step out in faith, but that’s not always the case. But when Jesus appears, then like Thomas, there’s nothing we can say but “My Lord and my God!”

                Jesus shows up and shows off, and suddenly my faith is restored, renewed, strengthened—whatever the appropriate word is for the exact circumstance.  

                A lot of times faith is just that—those things unseen in which we still believe and have hope, other times there is empirical evidence. And in the case of Jesus, it’s a little bit of both.

                Last year CNN had a popular show called Finding Jesus: Fact, Fiction, Forgery. Each episode took one of the biblical narratives and looked at some of the evidence for, and against, it. Preeminent scholars were guests on the show, and the viewer could determine for himself whether or not he wanted to believe or disbelieve, or change his mind.

                This Sunday, Mar 5th, season 2 premieres.  Later on in the season there will be an episode dealing with Thomas. Legend has it that it was this same Doubting Thomas who took the gospel to India.  What do you think?   9:00 pm ET/PT on CNN

              Watch the trailer HERE

My friends at Grace Hill Media have sent me a Gift card ($25.00) from Lifeway to use as a giveaway.  Tell me if you think Thomas went to India, and the gift card could be yours. If you get randomly selected, I'll email you the card.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Race to Win- thoughts on the movie

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
The Lord Almighty is with us; (Psalms 46:1-3, and 7a, NIV)

Sometimes things happen and we need to be reminded that God is still God, and he’s with us, making his presence known in so many different ways. We see that happening in the movie “Race to Win” starring Luke Perry and Danielle Campbell.

Let me get the hard part over with first. This film was a little too ‘sappy’ or ‘schmaltzy’ for my taste, and the ending, although a surprise was fairly predictable. There were also a few places where the editing was a little choppy. I recognize that to get across the point that we can remember lessons learned from people that have died, that it was necessary in this film to have Dad/husband- Gentry Rhodes, played by Luke Perry- appear as a physical presence. Too much like shows such as ‘Ghost Whisperer’ or a recent medical show where ‘ghosts’ help the Docs, for my theological understanding.

Having said that, this is a family-friendly, kid-friendly movie. It’s not rated, but there is no profanity, no nudity, no sex or drug connotations, and it deals with death in a very real way.

            Gentry Rhodes loves God, loves his family and loves his ranch and horses; he also has some issues—in other words, he’s not a saint, but he does instill those loves in his daughter Hannah (Danielle Campbell). After Luke dies from a sudden heart attack, the family is faced with several financial issues if they are to keep the ranch and horses that Gentry loved. And it’s Hannah on who the burden seems to fall the heaviest.

            Of course, like in the melodramas of yesteryear, there is a villain; think “You must pay the rent! I can’t pay the rent! You must pay the rent! I can’t pay the rent”. Everything about the guy suggests, even the makeup, suggests that he’s the bad guy.

            Hannah comes up with an idea to make money to pay off her father’s debts (gambling debts, which add up to over $100,000.00) and save the ranch. Her plan fails, but throughout the time of trial, Dad appears and reminds Hannah of how much he loves her, how much faith he has in her. He affirms her in a way that every child needs to be affirmed

            This is a powerful story of faith in God, in redemption, in justice, and of affirmation (something we all need) with enough metaphors to make an English professor go giddy with joy.

            Like any other film, it has its issues, but all in all, this is a good film with which to gather the family and enjoy the reminder that regardless of what’s going on in your life, that God is there to uphold and sustain you. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

thoughts on When the Church Was a Family

It seems that as our culture has become more and more self-focused and me-oriented, that the church has not been far behind. Books have been written on how we’re losing generations Y and Z, how inwardly -focused churches (make me comfortable, I pay your salary) are more and more the norm as opposed to externally focused (concerned with lost souls outside the congregation).
But perhaps this isn’t as new a phenomenon as we think. In a book first published several years ago, Joseph A. Hellerman addresses the issue of change in how the Church functions. When the Church Was a Family (B&H Academic, 2009) looks at the structure of the earliest churches described in the New Testament and compares it to the Church of today.  Do not read into this something that I don’t intend to say, Hellerman is not slamming the modern church, rather pointing out the shift and offering suggestions for how things can be done in a way that honors God.

One of the first things that he points out is that society as a whole has changed, and a Christian culture has also changed. About 2000 years ago, there was a strong sense of family first.  An example he gives is marriages.  Years ago marriages were often arranged, and the young couple may or may not agree with their parents’ choice, but it was understood that sacrifices might have to made for the good of the family as a whole. Try telling your teen aged son or daughter today that they will be getting married in a few weeks—to someone they have never met. Yes, times have changed.

 The local church served as that family. Conflicts were resolved within the church and when someone was in need, the church helped out. Today it seems like we turn to other places for the assistance we (members of a congregation) used to be able to get from the (local) church. We’ve given up family in favor of doing it on our own.

The culture was as it was, and then along came Jesus, followed by Paul, and they worked at setting an upside-down world right-side-up. Next Hellerman introduces us to the Church in the Roman world, places salvation in the context of community and offers suggestions for life together, decision making, and leadership in the family of God. And those things look a lot different in God's family than they do in  a secular setting.

Charts and diagrams throughout help the reader with some of Hellerman’s points. And the one on page 94 points out the subtle differences in where we place our allegiances.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Seven miles for seven words

For many of us, as Easter approaches we are compelled to consider the broader implications of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Many people who I know will start that process by fasting during Lent, a period of time that starts on Ash Wednesday (40 days—minus Sundays) before Easter. Lent is a time of repentance, and introspection, but alongside the somber moments, we also celebrate that Jesus was able to resist Satan’s tempting offers, and in doing so set the stage for His eventual defeat of sin and death.
And then comes Good Friday.  The humiliation, the torture, and eventually the death on the cross of Jesus. It was a horrible death, and just the evening before Jesus had spent time praying that the cup be taken from Him, but when the answer was ‘no’ he showed himself, again, to be the obedient Son, as he went to the cross.
Any of us would have reacted quite differently to the cross than did Jesus. And the 7 last ‘words’ – the statements that he made give us quite a bit to think about as we prepare for the joyous celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Stephen Furtick takes his title (Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God through the Last Words of Jesus (Multnomah, 2017) from the Emmaus walk—7 miles to Jerusalem—that two of the disciples made after the crucifixion and the mystery of the resurrection (they left town before Jesus made his appearance known) (see Luke 24:13)

One word or phrase for each mile on our journey to understanding what Jesus had to say to his followers on that first “Good Friday”.
The events of the day start at about 9:00 am, and by noon Jesus has made several statements. He asks that his tormentors be forgiven, he promises salvation, and he tells us about being adopted into the family of God.   Then at about noon, things start to heat up, and Jesus cries out to God, why am I feeling so alone? I’m thirsting for you. Then the cry of triumph: It is finished—I’ve done everything we set out to do, and finally that joyful reunion with God: into your hands I commit my spirit.
Each chapter consists of two parts: a basic discussion of the ‘word’ itself and some questions to help us think though that part of the crucifixion story, and then what could almost be called a sermon on the theme. 
Several years ago Multnomah published a DVD and participants guide to walk people through the seven last words.  It’s still available from on-line retailers
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dreaming of Justice

Let me get one thing out of the way: I typically don’t like autobiographical works. All too often the style in which they are written tends to be a little too stilted or choppy for my tastes. But at the same time, I find books with the theme of justice to be compelling. And so when the opportunity to review John M. Perkins book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Baker Books, 2017) I opted in. Both of my preconceived notions were correct, the style is, in my opinion, stilted and choppy; but the story itself is so compelling, that I was able, for the most part, to get past the style.

John Perkins has been around for a while, and he has been fighting for justice for a large part of that long while. Dream with Me is the story of that fight. Perkins’ dream is for racial justice, and he has certainly seen his share of injustice, and paid dearly for being a man of color in the segregated south. But today there are other types of injustice of which we are aware, and the people involved in those struggles also have their dreams.
                Much of this story contains a spiritual slant, but Perkins didn’t always have that going for him. He shares how it wasn’t until a grandson started coming home from Sunday school excited about stories of Jesus that he was willing to give church an honest try. And that’s understandable. John Perkins had seen his share of injustice, he had been beaten and jailed, his brother had been shot, and on a regular basis he had been cast into the role of ‘less than’.
                This is the story of how he learned to fight hate and fear with love. Not just love for those who loved him, but love for those who hated and feared him. It’s the story of living out the incarnation. IT’s a synopsis of the Christian Community Development Association, and living among those who need the light of the gospel to help them escape the darkness of the world. It’s about fighting, with love, for those who God loves. And it’s an incredible story of justice taking place before our very eyes.
                I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for my review.


Finding Jesus: Season 2

Last year I really enjoyed watching Finding Jesus, a 6 week mini-series in which scholars and theologians looked at events of the Life of Jesus, and tried to prove or disprove them.
Season two is about to start with the season premiere on March 5 at 9:00 pm  ET/PT on CNN
 this is what you can expect:
CNN’s hit series returns for a second season.  Pastors, theologians, and scholars, will once again examine famous religious artifacts, and bring to life the places and people from the Bible touched by Jesus and the Gospel. This trailer is available so you can get an idea of what the show is about.

And here's a mini press-release

With Lent and Easter around the corner, Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact Forgery  gives readers a great opportunity to relive Jesus’ journey throughout the ancient world, the impact of his ministry, early church history, and why our faith is more meaningful than ever in our modern day world. 
Season 2 will explore the following:
·         The Childhood Home of Jesus
·         The Tomb of King Herod
·         The Bones of St. Peter
·         Relics Believed To Shed Truth About Doubting Thomas
·         The Pilate Stone
·         The Tomb of Lazarus

FOR additional information visit this site

Monday, February 6, 2017

Free to Fake no More

Sometimes you stumble on a book that you can hardly finish because after the first or second chapter you can think of at least three people that you want to share it with. No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, (Zondervan 2017) is that book. Esther Fleece had it made, except for one little thing. Her perfect life was a sham. On the outside, everything was wonderful, but on the inside, everything was falling apart.

                Esther’s story has so many levels and layers that it’s hard to know where to begin. But two things stood out for me: the first is Lament’, and the next is ‘forgiveness’. 
Let’s start with lament. Admit it, it’s hard to be mad at God, especially when everyone is telling you to suck it up, to get over it. But when we turn to the Psalms, there are so many examples of what it means to turn to God when things turn sour. Individuals poured out their heartache, their heartbreak, their grief and sorrow to God. And so did the nation called Israel (The Old Testament Israel: the twelve tribes led by the sons of Jacob—whose name had been changed to Israel—this has nothing to do with the 21st century nation state called Israel.)
Sometimes there is nothing we can do except listen to God as He calls us to Him, as He calls us into a season of Lament. A time when we pull back from the Theater of perfect lives, and let other people, let God speak into our lives. Just like for the Psalmist, just like for Israel, things happen in our lives which we struggle to deal with. We don’t understand them, others don’t understand them, and as Fleece points out, often our friends follow the example of Job’s friends, they try to come up with a reason. Sometimes we just have to accept the fact that the reason is that we live in a fallen world and is not because God is mad at us. (see page 120).
And as we go through the season of Lament, the ‘desert experience’ that many Christians know all too well, the bonus is often that we learn about forgiveness. And forgiving equals freeing. Forgiveness is freedom.
I want to give this book to several people who are struggling with these issues, but I want to read it again and again.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.