Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Bible Story, but not the Bible

If you’re interested in the main themes of the story of the Bible, but don’t feel up to reading the bible, this may be the book for you.  Dr William H. Marty’s The Whole Bible Story: Everything that Happens in the Bible in Plain English (Illustrated Edition) (Baker Books, 2017) was originally published several years ago (2011) and this edition adds illustrations. Some of the illustrations, by the way, were enjoyable to look at and even enlightening.  I also enjoyed the brief intro to each chapter which presented the setting, and the main characters. The chapter conclusion was also as helpful or more helpful than the chapter itself.
                It certainly is in “Plain English” which might be a good thing for some people; but the way it’s written concerns me. Nothing is out of place, the themes are not misrepresented, but I didn’t get enough of a sense that this is not a bible—it’s a condensed version of the metanarrative. Yes, it might be good for the beginner, but unless there is someone to disciple that beginner and lead him or her to the complete Bible there are bound to be some serious misunderstandings down the road.
                This seems to be a fairly basic and elementary rendering if it is used with college students. I might have enjoyed it while in release time religious education when I was in 5th or 6th grade) many years ago) but by High School, much less college, I don’t think I would have appreciated it.
                Another concern I have is that much of the New Testament don’t seem to be adequately covered. The gospels and ACTS have sections dedicated to them, but much of Paul’s theology, found in the epistles, not to mention the Revelation, get pretty short shrift.
                Quite frequently I can pinpoint a specific target audience to whom I would recommend a book. Not the case with this one. My best advice, if you’re having trouble with some of the more literal translations of the Bible, get a paraphrase, or a translation that slants towards thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word. I’m not even sure what to do with this book. I guess it will sit on the bookshelf until I find someone who might be able to use it.

                I received a copy of this book in exchange for a written review.  There was no expectation that I would be required to post a positive review. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

when generosity is transformational

How much does it take to make a difference for the kingdom? And in the broadest sense of the word, the answer has to be “it depends”.  There are all sorts of variables, but one common factor is the willingness to listen to God, and follow where He leads.
                Mac Pier has compiled 31 stories of people who have been willing to do just that, and then give in extraordinarily generous ways. In his latest book, A Disruptive Generosity: Stories of Transforming Cities through Strategic Giving (Baker Books, 2017) Piers relates the accounts of people from around the globe who are making a difference in their cities. 
                Pier explains that there are 3 themes in his book, 1) God's vision for the world as referenced in the book of Isaiah, 2) spiritual movement, and 3) relational networks.  The relational network is something that he builds on, and is a specific one, people that he knows, with whom he has worked, and who he counts among his friends. The spiritual movement is one that is happening world-wide. God is moving people to where they can hear the gospel, and by most accounts, the percentage of believers is growing faster than the general population.
And then there is Isaiah. My favorite part of this book. I was torn between wanting to read story after story, and wanted to read this book as a devotional to be savored over a period of a month.  Each chapter starts with a verse from the prophet Isaiah, then we are introduced to one or two of the people in the relational network, and Mac shares what they are doing in their part of the world. Each chapter ends with a brief statement about the scripture, followed by ‘points to consider” and a brief prayer.
Caution. This is not for the faint of heart. Much of the strategic giving involves tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases millions. This type of giving is far more than I can aspire too, but it inspires me to “give up to my potential”.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Convicted: forgiveness like you've never seen before!

We all know what it’s like to hurt or be hurt, and many of us have experienced forgiveness in its many forms. In other words, we all have stories about forgiveness, but probably none of us quite to the extent of the story told in Convicted: a Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship (Waterbrook , 2017).

Jesus told a story about a moneylender who held 2 outstanding debts, one much greater than the other. The characters in the story include a woman who had sinned greatly, recognized the extent of her sin, and had much for which to be forgiven. She was grateful.  At the same time another sinner refused to see that he also had sinned greatly, he felt that he was entitled to having his debt cancelled.  The same forgiveness was not forthcoming.  As Jesus tells the story, before telling the woman that her sins are forgiven, he makes an equally telling comment to the second sinner:  “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7: 47, NIV)
                Jesus spoke in a parable to illustrate a truth, and the book Convicted is a retelling of a true story. The authors are writing of their experience. Andrew a crooked cop, who had somehow gotten impressed with himself, and felt that he was above reproach. His entitlement mentality led him to places that he should never have gone. And Jameel, someone who, and excuse the cliché, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really. And that misfortune took him to a place where he never planned on going.
                Jameel’s hatred helps him for a time to survive prison, but hatred can’t sustain you forever, and by the time he meets Andrew again, things have changed.
                Andrew is finally held accountable for his crimes, and as you might expect the two men meet. What you might expect is that Jameel’s hatred would lead to a violent confrontation, but instead what we see play out is forgiveness that most of us wish we could experience, but might never have the opportunity to see. And after forgiveness, comes a friendship that crosses lines of race and strengthens the faith walk of each man.
Be looking for this book in Mid-September.

(privileged to be on the launch team, so I got an advance copy of the book) 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

in, and out of, the pit

We all have those moments, those moments when it feels like things couldn’t get much worse, and we’re left grasping at anything that seems to offer us a way out of the pit. Beth Moore in her book Get Out of That Pit: Straight Talk About God's Deliverance (W Publishing Group, 20017), has a lot to say about that pit, or as may be the case, those pits.

                The story line is pretty linear—the horrors of being in the pit; how we get into the pit (we slip in, get thrown in or jump in; acknowledging that there is a way out of that pit, and the steps to getting out (cry out for help, confess to God the nature of the problem, and consent to let Him help). Then we wait for God to show up and show off. Hopefully it doesn’t take too many pit experiences to convince us that we’ve had enough, and so we can make up our mind to try to avoid the things that got us there. And once we’ve allowed God to pull us out we should change out tune, and live a different life, one that keeps us focused on God, which in turn helps us to avoid the pits in the future.
                  I admit that I had not read any of Beth Moore’s material previously, but I know a lot of people who have engaged with her Bible Studies, and have enjoyed them. So I welcomed the opportunity to look at this book.  I should have passed on the opportunity.  Beth Moore writes for women, and I guess I was aware of that, but I figured that this is Bible Study material, so it should have a somewhat universal appeal. It doesn’t.
                I found this book to be rather simplistic in nature, which may be more indicative of her intended audience (and for baby Christians this might be a good start).  In my opinion the cover set the tone for the book. Ms Moore is very nicely dressed, every hair in place, flashy jewelry and nicely applied makeup.  There is no way I was going to be convinced that this woman had ever been near a pit, much less wallowed in one.
                I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review…I was not required to write a positive review.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

We all have a prodigal-- but there's hope

Even if you don’t attend church regularly you’ve probably heard the parable of the Prodigal Son as told in the Gospel of Luke. There have been sermons preached on it, books written about it, it’s been adapted, and I imagine that without much difficulty, one could find movies or plays which at least touch on the major themes of these verses.  So why do we need still another book based on that same passage?
                The simple answer to that complex question is probably because most of the people I know, myself included, have a prodigal in their life. Maybe it’s a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, or a longtime friend. Maybe your prodigal is you. Those people are in our lives, and we all need help in learning to love them the best way we can. We don’t want to slam the door in their face (well maybe at times we do), and we don’t want to enable them in their addictive or inappropriate behaviors, and at the same time we want to help.  And that’s where this book may be helpful.
                Is there hope?  Jim Putman with his father Bill Putman think so, and they explain why, along with a lot of helpful tips in their recently released book Hope for the Prodigal: Bringing the Lost, Wandering, and Rebellious Home (BakerBooks, 2017).

                The book is broken into three sections I: the Ideal, II: the Ordeal, and III: the New Deal. And those section headings are enough to give you the main idea of each section. We know what we should be striving for in our relationships, but sometimes stuff, often horrible stuff, happens, but there is hope for restoration.
                Although I enjoy the Parable of the Prodigals, and the book is based on the story and the main points within, I found this book slightly difficult to follow. Although there were some helps as to who was writing [ I (Jim) or I (Bill)], it was often confusing because the stories were repeated—once in the first person, and once in the third.
I received a copy of the book from BakerBooks in exchange for a review, I was not required to write a positive review.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Who am I and What do I do? Pastoral Theology

Who am I and what do I do? Important questions for the Pastor, and Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace have done a wonderful job answering those questions. And in doing so, they may just have added a new field of study for Seminary students, or those who feel called to the pastorate: Pastoral Theology. The results of their work are found in an engaging and readable book: Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for WHO a Pastor IS and WHAT He DOES (B&H Academic, 2017)
                If you’ve ever struggled through a book on systematic theology, and wondered ‘Why?”, you’ll appreciate this book. No, it doesn’t cover everything in great deal, because it’s intended to answer questions that pertain to pastors, it’s a guide to the road to being a successful pastor. What makes a Pastor a good pastor? Of course, that varies some depending on the personality of the individual but there are certain constants. New pastors struggle to find their identity, and often get bogged down in making friendships, figuring out who the power players (official or unofficial) are in the church, add probably have to deal with the politics that happen in any group as leaders fight for their particular ministry. All that can make it difficult to stay true to the theological basis of being a pastor.  
                The book is divided into 3 sections, each with a particular emphasis. Part 1 deals with the Trinitarian Foundation, part 2 focuses on doctrine, and the 3rd part address some practical issues.
                As I started reading this book, it wasn’t long before I was thinking about a sermon series based on Part I. The 3 persons of God. The authors address theology, Christology and Pneumatology. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Yes, these chapters are geared towards pastors, with discussions of God's character, Christ as God's champion, and the Spirit as God's Companion. But at the same time, if the Trinity is important to an understanding of my role as pastor, the congregation should also be taught about the three persons. Most pastors talk about the Father and the Son, but, and I’m guilty, many pastors neglect the Spirit. The Spirit is often hard to understand—so  He is often forgotten in the life of the church.
                Part II addresses Doctrine, again with three C’s : God's Compassion, His Community and his Commission; so we are introduced to a basic study to the theology of man, of the church, and of mission.  What is the pastor’s role in each of these areas? Yes, they are definitely all important, but sometimes the Pastor is called to take an active role and sometimes he is called to teach the church it’s role.
                But it’s not all book learning. Part III addresses how to put some of these things into practice. How does the minister deal with God's congregation? What is important in the preparation to Communicate God's Word through preaching? What is God's covenant, and how does it apply to families? Especially the family of the Pastor? How do we make sure that our families aren’t being neglected because the congregation is needy, and the demands of the ministry are so great?
                Everything in this book is grounded in scripture, and the appropriate passages are included in the text, so there is no reason to doubt what is being said. Have a doubt? Turn to your Bible and check the reference.
                This should be required reading for Seminary students, and those called to the pastorate. Members of Pastoral Search Committees should read this book, and carefully question candidates based on some of the things put forth on these pages.  Many thanks to the authors for doing such a thorough job of defining the role of Pastor in such an understandable and scripturally grounded way.

                   I received a copy of this book for review.  B&H Academic provided the book in exchange for my review. I was not required to post a positive review

Friday, August 4, 2017

First Friday Coffee with the Ogden Police Department

What a great idea! Diana, Ogden Police Department’s Community Outreach Coordinator arranges a monthly event designed to allow members of the community to interact with members of the department. This morning, it was held at The Daily Rise.  Several officers are there, there’s free coffee, and a great atmosphere.
            I went because there’s something about coffee, but also to show support for the Department. Others showed up because they had questions, and one lady even showed up with a thankyou note for the officers who had responded to a recent 911 call.
            I think this is such a great idea on so many different levels, first and foremost being that getting to know the officers who are likely patrolling in your neighborhood before you need them makes it easier to ask for help later. Personal relationships are so important in every other aspect of our life—family, school, work, church, and the sports or other social activities—why should this be any different.
            In my work as a corporate chaplain, I often hear that a lot of problems can be avoided when people know in advance where they can turn for help. Like a school principal or the HR person at work, a police officer is not your enemy. They might have to respond or react to your inappropriate behavior, but the goal would always be to address the issue before it becomes a major problem.
            These men and women have a tough job, somedays you can make it a little easier for them, just by offering a smile when they drive by.  And by the way, I would imagine that on a regular basis they see things that no human being should ever have to see. Pray boldly for their safety and peace of mind.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Thoughts on Bezet's Real Love

Fess up—you know someone who is far from lovable. Well, at least you don’t find them very loveable, even if their mother does. It would be nice if everyone with whom we ever came in contact was one of those nice people, but God in His infinite wisdom created all of us as individuals, in His image, but still individual. Which means that Tab A doesn’t always fit Slot B.  It doesn’t come naturally to us to love some of those Tab A’s that don’t fit our Slot B. And then God decided that even though we’re different in many respects that we’re supposed to love our neighbor. Even when we find that neighbor fairly unlovable. Oops!
            And my take away from Rick Bezet’s book Real Love in an Angry World: How To Stick to Your Convictions without Alienating People (Baker Books, 2017) is that speaking the truth in love is, in God's eyes, a much better alternative some of our natural tendencies. And of course the flip side is also true, quite often I’m one of those unlovable people; maybe you are too.
            Bezet looks at some of the problems we have dealing with other human beings and offers some suggestions for getting on track. Sometimes that means learning to listen, sometimes it’s seeking counsel before acting on what we think we’ve heard, and sometimes it’s asking for help interpreting what we just heard. And maybe it means getting a different translation of a bible, one written in language that you understand.
            The book is an easy read, and Bezet has a charming sense of humor that comes through in his writing. And it’s all interspersed with solid theology, and pertinent biblical references.
            An enjoyable read, and helpful pointers for loving the neighbor—even when.
            I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for this review.


faith lessons from a horror story

Sometimes blessings come from unexpected places, and sometimes valuable lessons come from pretty strange sources.  For example, would you expect a horror movie to be a source of valuable Faith lessons?
                Yeah, me neither. At least not usually. But sometimes that happens.  In fact, there’s a scary movie being released next week that offers some valuable insight into how when we’re at our weakest, we are ever so susceptible to falling prey to temptation.
                Annabelle: Creation, the story of a possessed deal releases in theaters o Friday August the trailer here
                And one of the main lessons we can learn from films about the supernatural is that evil is real. It’s real, it’s frightening, and when we’re at our best, we tend to walk away, but in moments of weakness, and despair, we’re much more likely to embrace it, especially if it seems that we’ll be able to find answers to our questions, or relief from pain and sorrow.
                So no, I’m not recommending OUIJA boards, I’m not suggesting tarot decks, just offering a commentary on the whys of their use.
                So, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ starts with every parent’s worst nightmare: the unexpected and sudden death of a child. And in the midst of their broken heartedness, opportunities arise for them to find answers. The problem is that by the time they realize that the hoped-for answers aren’t forth-coming, they have been drawn down a dark path.
                Horror exists, horror I evil, but Christians have read the book, and we know how the story ends. God defeats evil. So instead of turning to the supernatural instead of God, we should know that we need to use our faith, to use prayer, to call upon God. He has the answers to our questions. He can help us in our times of grief.

                The movie tells a story, and like all stories it teaches a lesson.  Let the lesson you learn from this be that God is the answer, in our darkest moments, God can heal our bodies and our souls.