Monday, December 15, 2008

The Truth About You by Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham, a successful speaker and author, has crafted a mini seminar on finding our strengths. The 22 minute DVD that comes in this toolkit is captivating. While Buckingham inspires us with his words, we view the story of a young man who is good at one discipline yet is highly motivated to move to another discipline. This visual story highlights a myth Buckingham points out: our strengths are not what we are good at and our weaknesses are not what we are bad at. Our strengths are what energize us and our weaknesses are what drain us (whether we are good at the particular tasks or not). Unlike those who may have told us that to advance we have work on our weaknesses, Buckingham encourages us to play to our strengths. Our strengths are what will energize us, make us feel fulfilled, and advance us in our work. A successful team is one where each player plays in his strong position.
Buckingham has a plan where we pay attention for a week to those activities that we look forward to doing and energize us, as well as recognizing those activities that drain us. A “rememo” pad is included in the toolkit to help with these observations. Evaluating the notes we’ve made during the week will help us determine our strengths and be able to write three clear strength statements.
Buckingham emphasizes that each of us has strengths, no one else has exactly the same strengths we do, we will be the most creative and resilient when we play to our strengths and everyone will win when we do so. He reminds us to start the day thinking of our strengths and how we can contribute to them today.
Buckingham also reminds us of the risks involved. Supervisors may not understand when we describe our strengths and weaknesses. (Buckingham’s advice goes against some commonly accepted career strategies.) The money may not be there right away. Working in our strengths, however, will make us better at our job and will lead to advancement in the long run.
This toolkit is great for those entering the career market or for those making a change in careers. Buckingham estimates that eight out of ten people are not working in their strengths in their career. Going through this toolkit will help each of us to find fulfilling and energizing career paths. This is not a book to merely read (although we’ll read it through several times). This is a toolkit with which to work over time, developing our strengths into a fulfilling life of work.
Take the challenge. Find out the truth about you, who you really are.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bon Appetit by Sandra Byrd

This is the second in the Lexi Stuart series. In the first one, Let Them Eat Cake, Lexi gets a job at a French bakery in Seattle. In this book, Lexi is in France going to pastry school and working in the French bakeries,origins of the Seattle one. There is a bit of romance, much of Lexi relying on God and a great deal to learn about French pastry. While eating all of those delicious creations, how do they not get fat? A fun read.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Less than Dead by Tim Downs

This is the latest in the "Bugman" series. Nick is asked by the FBI to look into recent graves found on top of older graves in rural Virginia. The land in which the graves were discovered is owned by a popular senator soon to be running for president. The recently buried skeletons show evidence of murder and Nick sets out to find the murderer. He engages the help of a "witch," a young woman recluse who trains cadaver dogs. The plot thickens as another murder ensues and the less than perfect heritage of the senator and his wife is exposed. There is no overt Christianity in this book although there is a Bible reference to the witch of Endor at the beginning of the book. Downs is back to his engaging style of portraying Nick and the other quirky characters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Quitting Church by Julia Duin

Duin was a newspaper reporter for years and is now the religion editor of The Washington Times. She is one of the thousands of Christians who has not abandoned her Christian faith, but has abandoned the church. Duin sensed for some time that there was something not right about the church. Scores of Christians are leaving the brick and mortar church and developing a subculture of authentic faith.
Some say church has nothing to do with their actual lives (p. 33). John Eldredge, who took a year off from church, called church a "numbing" experience (p. 170). The church is not bringing people into a genuine encounter with God, Eldredge says. He claims, "It's mature Christians who have opted out of the church" (p. 170). Eldredge has found his spiritual needs met in a home church.
The truly reflective and intelligent Christians are finding the church irrelevant. Singles and women are marginalized in the church organization and structure.
Rather than being just another church bashing book, Duin is truly concerned about the state of today's church. While she does not give and real answers to the problems, I think every pastor should read this book to know how those people who used to sit in the pews of his church really feel.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why the Universe is the Way it is by Hugh Ross

Ross is an astrophysicist, old earth creationist, and is passionate about proclaiming that our universe is one with purpose. In his latest book, he looks at the vastness of the universe, its age, its physical properties, and shows why all of these factors point to a universe created by God with purpose for man. Ross agrees with the scientific data regarding the age of the earth (and the universe) so he does not irritate other scientists (much to the dismay, I am sure, of young earth creationists) with his message.
Ross gives some thoughts as to how God relates to His created universe. God's interaction with our universe may be likened to another dimension (of infinite dimension) intersecting our space-time continuum.
The second half of Ross's book is a look at the Bible and what it has to say about our universe. His thoughts on heaven based on physical laws compared with biblical descriptions is fascinating. Which laws will still exist (such as time - there will still be cause and effect relationships) and which will not (like the Second Law of Thermodynamics).
Ross has a great deal of insight regarding how the latest in scientific discoveries add evidence to the idea of mankind living in a God created and God purposed universe. This book would be a good choice to loan to a scientifically oriented friend to then begin a discussion about the existence and character of God.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He and his wife founded the church in 1989 and it now has nearly 6,000 attending with five services. The subtitle of this book is Belief in an Age of Skepticism. The is the best book on Christian apologetics I have read (and having owned a Christian bookstore for over 30 years, I have read many). Keller takes a fresh approach to doubt. The doubter of Christianity must defend how he knows his own belief to be true. One cannot ask more of Christianity than one asks of his or her own beliefs. This is a great book to suggest your doubting friend read. Of course, you would be willing to read a book by Hitchens, Dawkins, or another atheist, right? This is how the conversation begins.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Relin

After a failed attempt to climb K2, Mortenson was nursed back to health in a northern Pakistan village. To repay their kindness, Mortenson vowed to build the village a school. That experience began a continuing journey of building schools for the marginalized people of Pakistan. Gracing bestseller lists for years, this is an inspiring book. While not a Christian ministry, the work Mortenson does is a great example of what one person can do to change the world. This would be a good book for your reading group too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

unChristian by David Kinneman

Kinneman is the president of the Barna Group, which provides research and resources with respect to spiritual issues. The book is a result of studies to see how "outsiders" view Christians. For Christians, the news is not good. The image is quite negative. We are seen as "unChristian" (in that we are not being Christ-like). We Christians are considered hypocritical (saying one thing and doing another), too focused on getting coverts (and not genuinely caring about others), antihomosexual, sheltered (out of touch with reality), too political (right-wingers with an agenda), and judgmental (quick to judge). This book is a real wake-up call for Christians. If you want to be challenged with respect as to how you are perceived by those around you, read this book. You will also find challenges to help Christians learn how to connect with Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born between 1965 and 1983).

Sisterchicks go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn

This is the seventh in the Sisterchick series. Two women, in their fifties, go to England - Olney, Oxford and London. They get into various adventures and in doing so, gain some insights from God about living life. Unfortunately, the adventures are rather dull and the book uninteresting. This book is a far cry from the initial one in the series, which was laugh out loud funny. If the first book, Sisters on the Loose, had been of this quality, I am sure there would not have been a "series." I think Gunn has run out of funny travel ideas and should lay this theme to rest. Gunn has written many novels, starting with books for teens. Perhaps going back to teen themes might be a good idea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holding Fast by Karen James

Living on an island in Puget Sound, I am surrounded by mountains. I remember listening to the daily reports, not quite two years ago, of the rescue efforts to find three men on Mount Hood. I though at the time, “What would make one want to climb a mountain in the midst of winter?”
Karen James answered that question in Holding Fast, the story of her husband Kelly – one of those three stranded on Mount Hood. Through pictures recovered from her husband’s camera, Karen was able to reconstruct what happened on that fatal climb. The men were avid ice climbers and had planned the climb for some time. After they began their ascent, they were aware of the impending bad weather and changed their plans to shorten their time on the mountain. It seems Kelly must have fallen and was injured. An ice cave was dug out for him while the others tried to go for help. As the storm of the decade settled in, with hurricane force winds near the peak, rescue attempts were thwarted. Only Kelly’s body was eventually found. It is thought the others were swept off the mountain.
Kelly’s death was a very public event and Karen shares the struggles she had. Yet her faith in God was sure as was the help and support of her friends.
For Kelly, climbing was like breathing – he had to do it. Karen surmises that all of this happened to show that Christianity is for adventurous and daring men. When people ask her, “Where was God?” she answers, “In the ice cave with Kelly, holding him.”
Holding Fast is a refreshingly honest look at how Christians deal with tragedy. It is an amazing story of God’s comfort and support in a time of great distress.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First the Dead by Tim Downs

This is the third in the "Bug Man" series. Dr. Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist, specializing in insects and how they interact with the dead. Dr. Polchak is sent to New Orleans as part of a government effort to help recover those stranded after hurricane Katrina. Instead, he finds bodies that don't fit in with death having been caused by the hurricane. Teaming up with a couple of quirky characters, including a stranded young black boy, Nick manages to solve the mystery. I do like this theme in mysteries (I read Kathy Reichs) but this is the weakest of the Bug Man novels so far. The plot seems to be a bit far fetched and the Christianity is close to missing altogether. The fourth in the series has just come out and, yes, I'll read it (but I will get it through my public library rather than buy the book).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle

Tickle, after a career in academics, publishing and writing, became the founding editor of the religion department for Publisher's Weekly. That last role has given her a unique view of the changing face of Christianity. Tickle says that what is happening in Christianity now is a "rummage sale", something that happens about every 500 years. Old concepts are thrown out and Christianity emerges anew. Events that precipitated the current Great Emergence include Darwin's theory, Faraday's setting down the laws of electromagnetism, the works of Freud, Jung and Joseph Campbell, and the theories of Einstein and Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg. Various cultural shifts Tickle notes include the use of the automobile, the introduction of eastern religions to the west, the rise of women's equality and the use of drugs. The bitterest battle, Tickle says, is gay rights, challenging the authority of the Bible. Tickle attempts to describe the Great Emergence and predict where it will lead Christianity. She predicts that when it is all over and the dust has settled, Christianity will have readjusted, grown and spread. I highly recommend this book for a great understanding of the current state of Christianity.

What Americans Really Believe by Rodney Stark

This short book records the conclusions of Stark and a number of others regarding the Baylor surveys. Much of the book consists of tables of figures and may seem daunting. The figures do yield some interesting concepts. Stark concludes, based on these surveys, that the Christian community is not losing young people forever. Stark says they will come back to their faith as they grow into the age of having families. The Baylor results differ from other recent surveys and are certainly worth a review.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vienna Prelude by Brodie & Brock Thoene

Even though the Thoenes have written scores of books, this is the only one of theirs I have read. Vienna Prelude is the first in The Zion Covenant Series. The year is 1936. Elisa Lindheim's family is in Berlin but the talented daughter, Elisa, is in Vienna, playing violin with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. We are introduced to several people who help Jews escape the dangers of the Nazis and others who are not willing to recognize the danger that is coming. There is much historical detail and some romance thrown in. The book is long (450 pages) and I felt some of the long sections of characters in thought could have been cut. I trust the historical context is correct as Chamberlain, Eden, and Churchill make appearances. This is not a page turner but the book is worth wading through to be reminded of the situation in Europe between 1936-1938. While the Lindheim family is Christian (Lutheran), the Christianity in the book is practically nonexistent, with the emphasis on the Jewish community.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich

I am finding aspects of Christianity are included in more and more best sellers. Reich's Rules of Deception is a recent example. A rogue section of the U.S. government is selling to Iran, through a third party, implements to build a nuclear device. The character heading up this project is a "fanatic" Christian. He is convinced he can quicken the Lord's return by causing a war between Iran and Israel. The end times view that an individual has does make a difference as to the political leaning that individual will exhibit. It is a scary idea that a "fanatic" in the high levels of the U. S. military or spy service could cause prophetic events to occur. Reich has done a good job of creating a page turner (the book is on the best seller list). It is a shame that he also has to point out to us Christians the problems that may come when we think we can do the Lord's work in causing prophetic events to happen. If you want to read an exciting spy novel and also get a glimpse of how the world views some Christians, I recommend Rules of Deception.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Mile in my Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson tells the story of stuck-in-a-rut Gretchen who decides to buy a run down house, fix it up, then sell it. The book is rather typical of the Christian chic-lit genre. Gretchen was nearly "left at the altar" by her boyfriend and now wonders if she'll ever have another chance at love. Gretchen faces a number of obstacles yet finds love in the end. House flipping might have been an interesting theme a year ago but with the current economic crisis, I think the book will not interest many.

Book Reviews

I am an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction including Christian titles. As I finish books, I'll review them here.