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.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

21 studies on the Gospel of Mark

The Gospel attributed to Mark is the shortest of the Gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is also, according to most scholars, the first of the gospels to be written. And when you start at chapter 1 verse one, and read it straight through to the end of chapter 16, it moves very quickly. (I know because I once took a class where we were handed a manuscript of Mark (no chapter/verse designations) and sent to various parts of the campus to read it aloud!) If I could only read one of the synoptic gospels this is probably the one I would pick.
Based on this Gospel account, William Boekstein has given us a book with 21 studies for individual or group use. Bible Studies on Mark (Reformed Worship Inc., 2016) starts at the very beginning and goes through the book, offering insights and opinions on the text.
I appreciated the thought that Boekstein put into writing these studies, and for the most part enjoyed reading through them, although at times it seemed like there was a disconnect between some of the material presented, and the questions at the end of each chapter. I was also confused, in this study of Mark, why the author felt the need to explain why Matthew’s gospel started with a genealogy.  And that disconnect, for me, continued throughout the book. Although he made a point of suggesting that one should study one gospel at a time, he made frequent references to other gospels and to the New Testament letters.
As I mentioned earlier, the Gospel of Mark is very fast paced. In the NIV, the word immediately is used 11 times, and a frequent time indicator is ‘then’. Unfortunately this book didn’t maintain the pace of the gospel. The details that Boekstein provides fit more with the gospel of Luke than of Mark.
Having said that, there is a lot to be gleaned from this book, just as there is from the Gospel on which it is based.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.


Friday, February 3, 2017

      It may be politically correct in this post-Christian era to say that Jesus is one of many, someone who lived and died and taught a lot of neat stuff, just like Krishna, the Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad. Politically correct, but not correct. In his book God among the Sages: Why Jesus Is not just Another Religious Leader (Baker Books, 2017) Kenneth Samples discusses the similarities, and more importantly the differences. 

     The book is divided into three parts which follow a logical progression. Part I is the “Historic Christian Portrait of Jesus” and talks about who Jesus is, how, he saw himself and others saw him; along with ideas on how to answer challenges to that identity. Part II, “Four Major Leaders of World Religions and Jesus”  is a compare/contrast synopsis of Jesus and other leaders. The chapters cover some of the many titles ascribed to Jesus. The titles were chosen to coincide with the titles that other leaders claimed or were given to them. Hindu’s Prince (Krishna), Buddhism’s the Buddha (Gautama), Confucianism’s teacher (Confucius), and Islam’s prophet (Muhammad) are put side by side to Jesus: Lord, Christ, Savior, and son of God.  Part III talks about the truth of Christianity as compared to World Religions (and the 4 mentioned above are just some of the major religions of the world).

         Samples deals with a very touchy subject as addresses the issue of truth: specifically the truth of Christianity.  If the claims of Jesus, and Christianity are true, then by default, some of the claims of other religions must be false. In a culture of inclusivism and pluralism are accepted by many, this is a hard pill to swallow. But Samples treats the issue and the differences with utmost respect.  He insists that tolerance does not mean we agree with everything that proponents of other religions have to offer, but our disagreements should be done in a respectful manner.

         The topics covered in most of the chapters are worthy of entire books (many of which have already been written), so I comment Ken Samples for his clear and to the point presentation of so many difficult to understand topics.

     The discussion questions and suggested readings at the end of each chapter are also very helpful.

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


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A New Generation Means New Methods of Sharing an Old Message

For quite some time the ‘generation of interest’ for communities in general, and specifically faith communities, has been Gen Y or Millennials. It’s a demographic that differs from the boomers, builders, and busters. And just when the experts think they have it figured out, we move onto a new subset of the population: Gen Z-Centennials.
They’re younger, and they have different goals and priorities. And so, the learning curve has to start over for those who are trying to keep up. And by the way, starting now, and for the next few decades, this subset is going to figure substantially in national conversations. That means that we as community leaders, and church leaders, want to know who it is that we are ‘leading’.  In Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, (Baker Books, 2017) James White gives us a picture of who is included in this generation, and the distinctive that separate them from previous generations.

White divides the book into 2 parts; one part addressing current realities that are facing the church in our Post-Christian world.  Here he includes some research on what we are facing in the west, and moves on to the distinctives of Gen Z, and how their thought processes are being shaped. Part 2 is what the author suggests as a response, and the author talks about being countercultural as a church.  (that seems to follow the example of Jesus---when sin entered the world things got turned upside down, Jesus was all about turning the upside-down upside-down, thus making it right-side-up)
But being counter-cultural means we have to learn the culture we want to address, so that we know how to address members of that culture, without offending them (except with Biblical Truth). Chapter 8 includes some ideas for new approaches to evangelization in this new culture.
There are also some manuscripts of 3 messages that Dr White has preached, and his sermon on gay marriage (Appendix A, p 161) is quite an eye-opener. That teaching tool in itself would be worth the price of this book for anyone struggling with how to address the issue in a loving manner, while staying true to Scripture.
White also provides “discussion questions” at the end of each chapter. The questions can be used for personal reflection, but small groups wanting to learn how to share the gospel would benefit, as would church leadership teams as they plan for the future of their faith community.

      I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for posting a review. I was not required to post a positive review.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reaching out and crying out for Justice

As an Evangelical Pastor, (please check any pre-conceived ideas and baggage at the door before reading any further) I want to reach out to Ogden, with a message of hope and support.
These are trying times, and while so many are doing so much, there is so much more that we can do in the area of justice for every member of our community. Recent events in Utah and throughout the country have resulted in so many people feeling belittled and demeaned, marginalized, and even threatened. Other initiatives provide hope for some, but again leave others feeling that their voice may be being taken away.
After a particularly bitter presidential campaign season, many Muslims and Hispanics have expressed concerns which need to be addressed. And POTUS’ recent executive orders haven’t help those fears and concerns. The African-American community has expressed concerns. And yes, sometimes Evangelicals have concerns, especially when it comes to religious freedom and liberty, terms which we use frequently, and not always correctly.
 In many cities it seems that Law Enforcement officials are targets of violence, and so they have safety concerns. As do other first responders, and sometimes even cab drivers.  And let’s not forget the homeless and others who are often marginalized because of their circumstances.
Tolerance is a word which is thrown about, demanded by everyone, but not always offered in return. You’ve seen it often, an individual or group does or says something which may seem a little out of line, and claims that it’s their constitutional right, that’s it’s their religious freedom, that it’s freedom of speech, and everyone else is supposed to accept it as is. “It’s my right!”  But all too often these same individuals or groups, demanding that others tolerate them, see any pushback as something that can’t be tolerated, often trying to push it to the level of a hate crime.
This is a call for us all to work together, to push for justice, to celebrate diversity in our increasingly diverse community. It has to start somewhere, and so I encourage you to join me in expressing concern and solidarity with every member of our community. Speak up when you notice injustice—yes there are ways to do so that don’t call for violence. Be a voice for the voiceless
Some of you are brothers and sisters in Christ, some follow other teachings, or adhere to different religious practices. If you live in my community, you are my neighbor and, I hope, my friend.  You are valued and appreciated, for who you are, but also for the richness of culture that you bring to Ogden. As we celebrate the diversity of our neighborhood, we have to also give thanks for how each of you, each of us, contributes to the well-being of our neighborhood.
            My faith, as perhaps yours does, goes beyond a political affiliation, it goes beyond stereotypes, and it goes beyond the evil of the world that conspires to divide us.  Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I don’t agree with the various theologies that can be found in my neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It means we disagree over some fundamental issues. But disagreement never needs to mean lack of respect. In fact, it is often our differences that lead to even greater respect. Please don’t let your politics overrule your faith walk.
            In a recent letter signed by several Memphis area Evangelical Pastors, and published in the Commercial Appeal we find this sentiment which I hope is soon the norm throughout the land. If it can happen in Memphis, it can happen in Ogden.
         “"We desire and hope that we will demonstrate in more visible ways, to all in our city and particularly to those from diverse cultures and countries, our commitment to love our neighbors," the pastors wrote.
"Further, we reaffirm our commitment, as the Bible directs, to promote peace and to support policies that allow equal opportunities for all to flourish and fulfill their God-given potential."

            Christian Scripture, (and probably other Holy Books) is full of references to how to treat strangers, foreigners, and aliens in the land. (You can go to this page and download the free 40 day “I Was a Stranger” reading plan.) And then we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan which is a good reminder of who our neighbor really is. Jesus did not suggest love your neighbor, as long as he looks, dresses, talks, thinks and worships like you do. He said “Love your neighbor.” As a Christian, I am compelled to be reminded of the essence of Imago Dei—every human being is created in the image of God, and as such is precious in His sight, and deserving of dignity and respect.

            “Justice for all” is such an important part of who we are as Americans: citizens, immigrants, refugees, resident aliens and any other titles conferred by virtue of visa status, but until we treat each other as valued members of our society, treat each other with dignity and respect, celebrate our diversity, and work together for the good of all, that justice will never happen. We have the chance to make it happen, and it can start now- with you and with me. Please join me in in celebrating all that our community has to offer. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

the alternative to upside-down "killing us softly"

Earlier this year I was challenged to pick a theme word for the year, and then try to live that word, enjoy that word, learn more about the word, better understand the word and then model that word.  The word that I chose was justice, and this book helps me to learn more and better understand justice—not the way it is so often defined in human terms, or in terms of how it affects me, but in terms of what God was thinking, what God is thinking when he calls for justice throughout all of his creation.
            Efrem Smith introduced me to a new way of looking at God's justice: turning the world as it is upside-down. (Actually he re-introduced me to this concept—it appears in the book of ACTS.) If you’re looking for a fresh way to engage with the Kingdom of God, you’ll want to read this book. If you’re content with the status quo and maintaining the past, you need to read this book. Killing Us Softly: Reborn in the Upside-Down Image of God (NavPress, 2017) offers some ideas for what we should be doing to further the Kingdom, and why we should be doing it. 

            A basic premise is that Jesus did not come to rule, but to serve, and by the way, he came to serve even those people on the fringe, the people on the outskirts, the marginalized of his generation. As followers of Jesus, we are also invited to be a part of changing things to fit the vision that God had before the Garden, and still has, for His creation. And as the subtitle suggests God’ view of success doesn’t look like what we often identify with that word.
            And turning the world upside-down, from God's point of view, is a good thing. The world we live in is nothing like God designed, it’s already bottom-side-up, so as Jesus declared and demonstrated what the world could look like, he invited us to enter into the right-side-up world that He called the Kingdom of God. (p 40).  God, as Smith explains, is not interested in the world remaining as it is; God is interested in the deliverance, liberation, empowerment, and transformation of upside-down people and in the introduction of an alternative to an upside-down world. (P46).
            I highly recommend this book to anyone who is anxious to leave the status quo of upside-down behind in order to move into the Kingdom of God.   5/5

             Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

People of the Second Chance

Everyone deserves a second chance, and sometimes a third or a fourth chance.  Don’t take my word for it, read the Old Testament and see how many chances God gave Abraham, Jonah, and you’ll probably lose count trying to figure out how many second chances Israel had.  And it continues in the New Testament, but with a twist. Jesus gave lots of people a second chance—think the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. But when he went to the cross for us, he also gave us—you and me,—people in the 21st century our second chance.  
Mike Foster, ”Chief Chance Officer” at People of the Second Chance, talks about getting and giving those second chances. His book People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World (WaterBrook, 2016) is full of examples of those second chances. 

I really like the concept of the book, too many people are marginalized because of mistakes they made earlier in life. Instead of being defined by the way God sees them (and us) far too many people are defined by their past, by their mistakes. Society defines them that way, and far too often we define ourselves that way also.
The back cover copy calls this a “manifesto for prodigals, imperfectionists and hopesters” and that definitely came through in the book. It matters not so much what we have done wrong, but how we respond to the plan that God has for us.  The subtitle of the book “a guide to bringing life-saving love to the world” didn’t come across quite as clearly.
I enjoyed reading some of the second chance stories in this book, but in many cases they were a little ‘light’; and although the boating incident described early in the book was traumatic, my sense is that the author referred to it a few too many times, instead of integral to the point he was trying to make it became mere filler.
"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."


Friday, January 20, 2017

Shalom in Psalms

  Probably some of the most familiar words in the Christian church are “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Some people can even recite the 23rd Psalm in its entirety, or at least they are familiar enough with it to follow along if others are reciting it. But there are 149 other Psalms, just as beautiful and just as much a part of the canon of scripture.
                Many of us have a favorite Psalm, the 23rd or another one (mine is probably Psalm 138)  but other than reading them as we read through the Bible in a year, or when the pastor preaches on one or more of the Psalms, how many of us spend time savoring the richness of the Psalter?
               When did you study the Psalms, when have you prayed them, when did you set aside time each day to be quiet with the Psalms, to use them as part of your devotions, your daily walk with God?
              It’s tough, some of the are less than pleasant to read, they’re songs of lament, of bitterness; others are songs of great joy as the people approach the Holy City. Others have a different focus, but the Psalms are hymns of joy, they are prayers.
           If you don’t know where to start, may I recommend a starting point. A newly released book, Shalom in Psalms: A Devotional from the Jewish Heart of the Christian Faith (Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur, Baker Books, 2017), takes on each one of the Psalms and offers a short devotional message to help us get the most of the Psalm. I mentioned that I am particularly fond of Psalm 138.  The comments are so on track with why this psalm is so important to me. God doesn’t abandon me—or you—He has a purpose for each of us and He will fulfill that purpose.

            You might not agree with every devotional, I didn’t, but at least they encouraged me to think about what the psalms mean to me, what god wants me to hear and learn; and spending time with God is all about hearing what He wants me to hear, not what someone else thinks I should think

In the interest of transparency, I received a copy of this book from Baker Books’ blogging program. I was asked to read and review the book and post the review, which was not required to be a positive review.