Friday, September 29, 2017

Opening our Eyes to the Remarkable Ordinary

Sometimes we need to learn to open our eyes and see God at work. Yes, learn to see Him at work. Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times, we have to force ourselves to think about why we’re not seeing God in our neighborhood and in our lives.  
Frederick Buechner writes in such an engaging style that it’s easy to gloss over the important stuff without even seeing it. My how art imitates life. His book The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look and Listen to Life (Zondervan, 2017) points out that we are often so busy looking for something beyond ordinary that we don’t see the remarkable. It’s happening here. It’s happening now. And yet we miss it.

Sometimes we need to slow down, not easy to do in today’s hectic world, and be careful that you don’t fall into the trap that Buechner, in his 90’s has no choice but to slow down. Being slow is a learned art form.  And it’s in art that we often see the remarkable, or at least teaches us what to be looking for. Those who have a strong faith walk might also be able to see the remarkable: after all we’re used to being told that God is present in even the smallest detail.
And this master storyteller points out the importance of laughter, but also, and no surprise here, of telling stories. Stories matter, and we all have them, but like God, like the remarkable, we often don’t see them, and so we miss out on much of what’s going on in our lives.
The Remarkable Ordinary is filled with stories. Stories that point out how we travel on a journey, to an unknown destination, but if we take time to stop, look and listen to life, we generally end up with a life of peace—better than we used to be, even if we still have room to grow.

I received a copy of this book from Handlebar in exchange for my review 

A Crazy Holy Grace

The name Frederick Buechner sounded familiar, but I didn’t know from where (and I still don’t) so when I got an email asking if I would like HandleBar to send me a copy of his Book A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory, (Zondervan, 2017) in exchange for a review, I gladly said ‘yes’. I’m certainly not disappointed.

This is a short easy to read book, that has to be read more than once. Perhaps easy to read is misleading. It flows, short anecdotal accounts of things that matter in his life. But there are so many different layers that are only uncovered after a 2nd or 3rd rereading.  You pick how you want to read it: as a devotional, as a Readers Digest ™ collection of stories, as a collection of theological essays, or as a starting point for you to get honest about your own pain, your own memories, and your own pathway to healing.
And let’s be honest: we all struggle with pain.  And further honesty means we have to admit that we all have those memories. But pain and memories don’t have to define us. In the midst of darkness, we can still find hope and healing thanks to that “crazy, holy, grace”. Buechner shows us that there is a path up, and remembering the past is often a good way to get started on that path.

I received a copy of this book from Handlebar in exchange for my review 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ordering Chaos

I've read a couple of Gordon MacDonald's books and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style: he tells stories, and brings them alive. The stories are allegorical, and point out life lessons that we can all benefit from, and when those stories are directed at the local church, it's easy to 'recognize' certain people that exist in every congregation.

All that to say that I jumped at the chance to review the revised and updated edition of Ordering Your Private World (Thomas Nelson, 2017).             
At first, I was slightly disappointed to not find the familiar story telling style that i was expecting, but this is a different style of book, and it's written in a different style, and let's face it, the book was exceeding popular 35 years ago, revising and updating, means new information, not a total rewrite in a totally different style.

Even so the familiar style pops up in several places, and brings the story to life.
At its core, this is a 'how to book'. How to keep the focus on the main thing, how to keep the first thing first, how to say no, how to balance the different roles that we all play: child, parent, spouse, (in this case) pastor. It all starts with God.

But it's also the story of a journey. Some of the things that MacDonald has learned over decades of ministry could never be taught in a Seminary class, or at a one-day workshop. He offers tips on journaling, on dealing with people, on maintaining a healthy marriage, friendship and Sabbath. And it all starts with God.

For those interested in learning more about this sense of order, there is also a helpful study guide included in the back of the book. It can be done by individuals or by groups. And face it, at some point we all need help quieting the multitude of voices clamoring for our attention so we can focus on what’s really important.            


I received a copy of this book from Handlebar in exchange for my review. there was not an expectation that I had to write a positive review. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

thoughts on Lance Hahn's "The Master's Mind"

There are a couple of ways that I’m trying to allow my will, my mind, my life, to be bent to the Master’s. One of them is the things I do in my chosen field of ministry. And the other has to do with some self-improvement stuff that I’ve been involved with for the past 40 years.  So the title of this book fascinated me.  But I found Lance Hahn’s The Master’s Mind: The Art of Reshaping Your Thoughts (W Publishing Group, 2107) to be a bit of a disappointment. I want my will aligned with the will of God, and it makes sense that since, as we read in Isaiah: Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," (NIV)
                This book is one I picked to review because I was fascinated by the title; but for some reason, I had a difficult time following the train of thought of the author. I don’t think he was off base scripturally, (and since he’s a pastor, I would hope he would be on track here). There was a lot of good information and examples provided about how negative thoughts often lead to negative actions, and why the Master would prefer positivity over negativity. But…
                When I say it was a difficult read, I don’t meant that it was too deep from me to comprehend, but rather that it was rather dry for my tastes. Additionally I didn’t find anything new to stimulate my thought processes. Others may not have been exposed to some of the things Pastor Hahn writes about, but for me it was a rehash of things I’ve read about in many other places.
                I received a copy of this book from HANDLEBAR in exchange for an unbiased review.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Not your parents' worship--and that's okay

     This was a difficult book for me to read, because it is a book that I needed to read. And even though I like to think that I'm eclectic in my tastes, and that I'm as contemporary as the next guy, I definitely have my biases.  What's wrong with the hymns written 200 years ago? Who says we need to update the contemporary worship music from the 70's?  Why do we need a worship leader instead of a choir director? What's wrong with piano and organ, with the occasional trumpet fanfare on Easter morning?
     Yes, I'm being facetious.
      My friend and co-laborer Fred Lopez of Ogden's Hope Resurrected Church has just released Rising Soundz: From Pain to Purpose. Several of his worship leader/music minister friends have corroborated with him and in addition to the book you can also buy a CD and/or DVD.

     Pastor Fred identifies the need for a sound that this generation can identify with, much as my parents liked centuries old hymns, and I could relate to Maranatha. But things have changed. More and more people in this country (USA) are not identifying as Christian; yes there are Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists, but there is a huge increase in the group that identifies as no religious preference. How does the Christian community reach out to them?
     Lopez paints a picture of the pain that exists in all generations, but is especially visible in a certain element within our culture. But pain doesn't have to end there. God has a plan for all of us, and in many cases our pain can lead to creativity, which in some ways defines our purpose. And that purpose just might be to join God on his redemptive, restorative mission.
     As a strategist, Pastor Fred is able to develop a plan for the worship leaders of this generation to be able to connect with others in their context and culture. He identifies biblical precepts and precedents for the role of worship leader, and just as, if not more, importantly, offers the encouragement that is so sorely needed if a musician is to put forth something 'new'--that is different from what we've been doing in church for a very long time. How do we become a part of the body when we don't fit in? (It's hard to believe that a church would be so picky about who's up in front of the congregation, but there you have it).

     Unity, leadership, creativity come together to make a major impact on those who wish to minister to the least and the lost. And that combination comes together in a number of ways, most of which don't look like your parent's Sunday morning worship experience. Worship is pleasing to God; we are created to worship. You're unique, and your worship is too. Don't let the pain of your past drag you down, allow it to help your soar into the worshiper that God has always intended you to be.

head to this site to order your book.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lean into the Whisper

Sometimes you have to yell to get my attention, but sometime a whisper is even more effective. And sometimes the voice of God is best heard in that still small whisper.  And Mark Batterson talks about that whisper in his latest book: Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God. (Multnomah, 2017). 

                I think I’ve read most, if not all, of Mark’s books, and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed them all. Whisper is no exception. When you start reading a book and sense the passion of the author, you know you’re in for a good read.
                So why do we have to wait for God to whisper? The same reason we wait for others to whisper: we are prone to being so used to the noise and raucous clamor, that we become immune to it.  It might be that we lose our hearing in a certain range, or as is the case with many married couples that selective hearing sets in. Maybe it’s that everyone yells, so when someone is intentionally quiet, we take notice, and lean forward to better hear what is being said. So, God whispers with the hope that we’ll lean forward to hear what He has to say.
                One of the things I like about Mark’s books is the amount of detail he provides. He takes the most (seemingly) random things and puts them into the context of his prayer life and the story line.  I guess we all do it to some extent, but I have a hard time connecting the dots like he does.
                This is another book that I would love to lend to my friends, but I have underlined so many things, that I can’t bear to part with it.
                Simple prayers work. And we learn one in Whisper that is repeated throughout the book: “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening. It’s short, sweet, simple, and scriptural (1 Samuel 3:9)
                Batterson talks about the power of a whisper, and puts the power and the whisper in the context of seven languages: Scripture, Desires, Doors, Dreams, People, Promptings and Pain. God declares His love for us in so many different ways. And all we have to do is learn to listen. 
                I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for my review. There was no expectation that I was required to write a positive review. This book will release soon!


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Is God Loving or Angry

For years I’ve heard about Jonathan Edwards famous sermon “sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. I probably even read a manuscript of it at one time or another, so I jumped at the opportunity to read Brian Zahnd’s book Sinners if the Hands of a Loving God: the Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News. (Waterbrook, 2017)

The title intrigued me. I go to the local Rescue Mission on a regular basis, and while there are others who go there to preach fire and brimstone, I think what’s needed is love, mercy and grace. Most of the clients there know that they have a sin issue. They don’t need to be reminded of that, what they do need to know it that God loves them.
Brian makes some good points about Jesus being the fulfillment of the law and the prophets—He didn’t come to abolish them. And I liked how he used Old Testament examples and then showed how thanks to Jesus fulfilling, completing, perfecting the law, we no longer have to stone people to death, or exact an eye for eye. We can show compassion, and point people to Jesus. We can love them into the kingdom, instead of trying to scare them into it.
And then we have to talk about Hell. I saw some of the same tracks that Zahnd talks about. People burning in everlasting eternal fires. I didn’t like them when I was a teenager, and I don’t like them now. They’re creepy.  I believe that Hell is real, and I like to remember that hell is the eternal state of being out of God's presence. Is it a big room, very hot, flames licking at the edges and little demons with tails running around in red suits, jabbing people with their pitchforks? I think that is an artist’s rendering.  Regardless of what Hell is really like, it’ real, and if we listen to Jesus, the only way to avoid is to go, through Him, to the Father. And here’s where it seems like Zahnd may be straying a little from traditional Christian thought.
As I read through the chapter on Hell (Chap 6: “Hell…and Hoe to Get There”) it seems that Zahnd is suggesting that you can avoid Hell even without professing belief in Jesus. I hate to think that some really God-fearing people, people who worship God, will not be enjoying eternity in God's presence because they stayed true to their religious roots, but I can’t reconcile Jesus’ Words with desired, or aspirational belief system.  Having said that, Zahnd makes a strong case that our version of Hell is probably quite different than the biblical version.
Except for that one area, I enjoyed the book.
I received a copy of the book from the Publisher (WaterBrook) in exchange for a review.

4/5 because of some theological questions. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

How Charles Dickens met Tiny Tim and Ebeneezer Scrooge

    Christmas is just a few months away....(I know some of you are already counting down the days), and for many families, reading a Christmas Carol is a favorite tradition.  This year you can add to the fun by planning on making time to watch "The Man Who Invented Christmas" starring Dan Stevens, Jonathan Pryce and Christopher Plummer.

We all know the story of Tiny Tim and Ebeneezer Scrooge, but other than his knack for taking life as he saw it in London, we know little of how Charles Dickens came up with his classic literature. All right, let's be real, after watching this movie, due in theaters on Nov 22nd, we still won't know for sure; but this is a whimsical idea of how it might have happened. Watch as Dickens 'meets' the characters that he brings to life in the pages of the novel that has brought so much joy to so many people since it was written in 1843.

It's brought joy, and inspired people to become the new and improved Mr Scrooge.  For the last 8 years, the 6th graders at a local Jr High read  A Christmas Carol each year, and then do a Tiny Tim project on the last day of school before Christmas break.  For most of those years they've collected socks and hygiene items which are donated to the local Rescue Mission.   

Where did Dickens get his inspiration? Why did he write this book? we may never know, but thanks to a writer from 175 years ago, homeless people today are a little better off than they might otherwise have been.
watch the trailer here