Thursday, December 17, 2009

Primal by Mark Batterson

Batterson says Christianity has lost its soul. He wants to get it back and attempts to do so by going to the primal truth of Christianity. Getting to the primal essence of Christianity involves unlearning and relearning everything we know.
Batterson says our problem is that we are not great at living the Great Commandment. "The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins with rediscovering what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength."
Batterson looks at the four elements of this commandment. God has ordained passion, something that breaks your heart because it breaks the heart of God. We respond to God's creation with awe and a soul filled with wonder at the glory of God. "Loving God with all your mind means making the most of your mind by learning as much as you can about as much as you can." Loving God with all your strength means "expending tremendous amounts of energy for kingdom causes."
Batterson hopes his book will inspire his readers to do great things for God. He knows many of his readers have God-sized dreams within them.
The encouragement in this book may be just what it takes to get you to respond to that nudge of God.

I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

40 Loaves by C. D. Baker

Baker has written 40 meditations, each around a question. A few examples include: Why am I uncomfortable with doubt? Why can't I overcome sin? Why am I afraid of death? Why am I confused about finding God's will?
Some of the meditations develop from Baker's discussions with fellow pilgrims while others originate in his own struggles. I could not identify at all with many of his questions. They seem to describe issues and questions I dealt with decades ago. It seems that writing this book may have been cathartic for Baker as he worked through some of his own issues.
I would not suggest this book to anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a few years. Baker's meditations frequently bring up issues that should be long gone in a believer's life. Then again, perhaps issues are brought up that the reader has never worried about - but will now!
Baker deals with each issue in about two pages when properly dealing with the concern would be a full length book.
Redeeming aspects of the book are the pithy questions and personal prayer at the end of each meditation. These might be used for group discussion.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The End of Christianity by William Dembski

This is a work of theodicy, a branch of philosophical theology that wrestles with the problem of evil. The essential question is, "If there is a good and all-powerful God, why is there evil in the world?"
This is a book for Christians by a Christian. Dembski assumes the Bible is true, that Christ was sinless and undeserving of the Cross and that the Fall was an actual event.
Dembski distinguishes natural evil (disease, hurricanes, famines, etc.) from moral evil (separation from God) and spends time on the origin of each.
Dembski inserts a new twist into the centuries old attempts to answer the problem of evil. In his discussion of old earth verses young earth argument, Dembski supposes retroactive effects of the Fall. He argues that Christians accept the retroactive effects of the Cross (salvation of Old Testament characters) so why not the Fall? The Fall could be responsible for natural evil occurring before the Fall in time (as we know it). "Accordingly, the Fall could take place after the natural evils for which it is responsible." (50) This concept allows the Christian to accept an old earth with animal and plant death in time before the Fall.
Another important point Dembski makes regards the intervention of God in human events. He argues, "...a world open to direct, real-time divine intervention could be empirically indistinguishable from a causally closed world that operates by unbroken natural laws, provided that God, from the start, is able to precisely arrange the unfolding of events." (121)
Dembski argument seems to allow the Christian to have the best of both worlds. He reconciles a traditional understanding of the Fall with a mainstream understanding of geology and cosmology.
I did not understand all of Dembski's rhetoric (I am a scientist, not a philosopher) but I think his work adds a new dimension to the "good God, evil world" question and is worthy of serious consideration.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick

Some of the most painful situations occur when one spouse desperately wants to fix what is broken but the other is stuck in a destructive pattern of behavior with no interest in changing.
Vernick encourages the hurting spouse to begin to see the marriage through the lens of God's eternal purposes. God's purpose is marriage is not the personal happiness of either spouse but that both would become more Christlike. God does care about our feelings but we must remember that true happiness is found in knowing Him and not in pursuing what we think will make us happy.
Vernick says that choosing to act right, even when we don't feel like it, is true obedience. It may be that God is putting us through a difficult period of training and we should not struggle against it.
That does not mean we are to be passive when our spouse does evil. We are to fight back but at the true enemy, Satan. Evil is overcome when we respond in ways that are godly, righteous and loving. Commitment to loving our spouses is learned and requires practice. True love is not some giddy feeling but a deep seated commitment to build up another to their God-given potential.
The prayers at the end of each chapter help internalize the ideas before God.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

99 Ways to Increase Your Income by Frank Martin

This is a very timely book. Martin gives great suggestions. Some of his suggestions are innovative while others are just common sense.
The reader is asked at the beginning of the book to take time to understand the current financial conditions and then establish a budget. Goals are to be written out with the first being to get out of debt.
There are many suggestions as to how to cut expenses.
There are ideas on how to get ahead at work (and get a raise).
If you just need a little extra cash, there are ideas for that too, even if you have to work from home.
Martin rounds out the book with ideas for saving and investing.
Martin ends his book with wise advice for all: be generous and be content.
Any one of the ideas in this book is worth the price (under $6.).
This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Press.
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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The subtitle of Meredith’s book is “A History of Fifty Years of Independence.” It is a sad history. The atrocities recorded in this last century would seem better placed centuries ago. Corrupt leader after corrupt leader tells the story. They were concerned with their own accumulation of wealth and slaughtered those opposed to them.
I wish I would have thought to add up the figures. A million killed under this ruler. Then 250,000 killed by that ruler. Then two million killed in the other tribal war. On and on. It seemed every chapter contained another so many hundred thousand killed.
Chinua Achebe is quoted early in the book: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership.” (221) And that could be said of almost every country. “By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office.” (378,9)
The warfare continues as in 1998 Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war in which 100,000 died. “In 2000 there were more than ten major conflicts underway in Africa.” (679)

Meredith’s conclusion: “In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before.” (681) Africa is a region where school enrollment is falling, life expectancy is falling, and the economic output of the entire continent is less than that of Mexico.
It would appear that Western assistance is the only answer. But Meredith notes that Africa has received far more foreign aid than any other region in the world (more than $300 billion), but with no discernible result. Will more money solve the problem? Meredith notes, “But even given greater Western efforts, the sun of Africa’s misfortunes…presents a crisis of such magnitude that it goes beyond the reach of foreseeable solutions. At the core of the crisis is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government.” (686)
Decades of corrupt rulers have ravaged Africa. What is its future?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Treasured by Leigh McLeroy

We can know a person by what he treasures. Combining vignettes of her own life with biblical stories, McLeroy shows how God meets our needs through items He treasures.
God heals our pain and shame with the fig leaf He treasures. He assures us of new beginnings with the olive leaf of hope. Even when we are sent from a familiar place, God nourishes us with Hagar's water skin. We know that God's plan goes beyond our loss with Joseph's bloody coat. We are encouraged that God looks on the heart (and not our resume) as evidenced by David's harp.
McLeroy closes the book with her own collection of treasures. She encourages her readers to assemble their own treasures. She has included questions for personal reflection and group discussion.
The retelling of biblical stories at length may be a bit much for Christians well versed in the Bible. The strength of the book, I think, is the end section. The full impact of McLeroy's idea will only come to the reader if there is reflection on what is treasured and action taken to journal or otherwise record the meaning of those treasures.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God Gave Us Love by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Little Cub and Grampa Bear are out fishing and explore the meaning of love. Grampa explains that anytime we show love, we are sharing a bit of his love. We don't always feel like loving others but when we choose to do so, it is the right thing to do. God gave us love so we could see the goodness in others. God shows his love to us in many ways and there is nothing we can do to make him stop loving us.
Bergren's book for young readers is a very positive story about God's love and excludes the idea of God finding displeasure in some of our actions.
The new artist for this book is Laura J. Bryant. Her work is not as pleasing as the previous artwork by David Hohn.
This book was sent to me for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Little Cub now understands that God, not Santa, invented Christmas so he and Mama Bear go out to find Him. They find God at work in a variety of ways in nature. God is the great giver of gifts and Santa is only a reminder of that fact.
With art by David Holm, this is a delightful explanation of Christmas and Santa's relationship to it. This book is suitable for young children.
This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Press.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

We modern Protestants don’t do the liturgical year. Perhaps we should. Chittister says, “The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian to fullness…” It is an immersion into the life of Christ. Chittister desires that we grow wiser and holier as we embrace the essentials of life by living in the annual celebrations and disciplines. “We live a liturgical life in order to become like the One whom we follow from manger to the Mount of Olives.”
One might think that revisiting the life of Jesus year after year would not yield fruit. But the idea is that of a spiral. Each year one goes deeper into the experience of the life of Christ.

In living the liturgical year, the Christian approaches the life of Christ from a variety of perspectives. Advent is about learning to wait. Lent reminds us, “We must be prepared to give up some things if we intend to get things that are even more important.” Ordinary time lets us pause for contemplation.
Chittister does a great job in explaining the history and meaning of each part of the year. She got me excited about the adventure of living the liturgical year. I expected some ideas on how to do so but was disappointed. Chittister says, “Liturgical spirituality is about learning to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well.” I just wish she would have told me how to get started!
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Touched by a Vampire by Beth Felkner Jones

Stories are powerful. Christians worried about the influence of Harry Potter. Now there is the Twilight Saga to worry us. Love, romance, marriage and the meaning of life are all seen from a girl’s perspective, through Bella’s eyes.
Some say the Twilight Saga should be embraced by Christians because there are good moral themes in the book. The universe is a moral one. The couple waits for marriage to have sex.
Yet Jones has found disturbing messages in the Twilight books. Violence, for example, is seen as a natural response to any threat. On occasion, the Mormon religion of the author comes through. Jones compares these troubling themes of the book with God’s intention for life.
Jones has included questions for reflection after every chapter. These are great for discussion as to what concepts can be taken from the Twilight Saga and which ones should be left there. She has also included a book-by-book discussion guide to address the themes and messages each book portrays.
This would be a great book for parents and youth workers who want to discuss the Twilight Saga with readers of the series. With the synopses Jones provides, it is not necessary to have read the books to be able to use Touched by a Vampire in discussing and evaluating the Twilight Saga.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Thirsty by Tracey Bateman

A vampire novel in the Christian genre?
Batemen, in her afterward, says she questioned how she was going to write a vampire novel that glorified God. She came up with the idea of a metaphor, relating the vampire’s thirst to that of an alcoholic’s. I am not so sure the novel glorifies God but the book is a good read.
Nina is an alcoholic. She’s lost her marriage, her business and the respect of her daughter. After rehab, she tries to make a new start in her hometown – staying with her sister, the sheriff. The next door neighbor appears to be a nice man but is actually a vampire. Yet he is a vampire with a conscience. He only kills and drinks the blood of “bad” people, unlike the female vampire in town who kills for sport and vengeance.
Dead bodies drained of blood, both animals and humans, set the stage for Nina in danger. She faces the demon of alcoholism and the deadly threat of a jealous vampire.
Nina is close to middle age so I doubt teens would find this novel of interest.
Glorifying to God? I can’t say. But it is a good story and is well written. If you would like an alternative to current vampire novels, this may be the one for you. Discussion questions make this book suitable for a group read.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let Them Eat Fruitcake by Melody Carlson

Four young women live together at 86 Bloomberg Place in Portland, OR. One has inherited the house and the other three rent rooms from her.
The owner of the home has a one night stand with a movie star up from LA. She thinks he’ll leave his wife for her and she ends up going after him in LA and the attempt is a disaster.
The other women of the household are all having romance problems too. Only one of the women is a Christian and she does evidence some concern about the morality of the others at times.
This novel must be for a younger generation who sees one night stands as rather inconvenient and probably leading nowhere. My generation (60+) is different. I am appalled that the immorality does not bother the one Christian in residence. Yes, she is to love her roommate but still…
This book bothers me. It treats immorality as nothing too devastating.
In the end, there are some redeeming factors. Some of the nonChristian characters might actually come to look to God. But no mention of Jesus. And the novel ends on Christmas Day.
This is the second in this Bloomberg Place series. I read it for a book group. I don’t plan to read any others in the series.
Let Them Eat Fruitcake, David C. Cook, 302 pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jesus Machine by Dan Gilgoff

Gilgoff's book came out in 2007 so is not up to date but I wanted to read another account of the political influence of the religious right after having read Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah (see my earlier review). Gilgoff comes off critical of James Dobson and his influence on the religious right and its interaction with politics, but it is mild compared to Blumenthal.
Gilgoff takes the reader through Dobson's rise in popularity and how it was used to sway politicians and their votes on legislation. He shows how religion became a central issue in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. He also reveals how the Democrats were correcting their image and, in fact, made some elective inroads in the 2006 election.
Gilgoff notes that Dobson's social agenda was narrow: same sex marriage, abortion, and the removal of religion from the public square. Dobson used his influence to keep Christians from being involved in "Creation Care" and has been noticeably absent when it comes to issues of human rights.
With Dobson leaving the scene, it is hard to imagine another person with as much influence and control over the Right's political agenda as Dobson had. Gilgoff does speculate that in Dobson's absence the Christian Right may find itself awakened to a more humanitarian agenda. What a thought.

St. Martin's Press, 282 pages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speechless by Matt Latimer

Latimer was the senior speech writer for Secretary Rumsfeld and then a speech writer for President Bush from March 2007 to October 2008.
Working in the White House was his dream job. By the end, however, it was more of a nightmare.
I had no real concept of the speech writing process for presidential speeches. What a disappointment! It is not the president who comes up with all those great sounding lines but someone hired to do so.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book (for me) was Latimer's record of the events of summer and fall 2008. When Bush was ready to make the initial speech about the bailout, a staff member said, "The president is misunderstanding this proposal..." Latimer comments, "The real problem wasn't that the president didn't understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn't seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three." (Page 260) As Bush practiced his speech, Latimer says, "...the president was clearly confused about how the government would buy these securities." (Page 260)
In the late summer months of 2008 Latimer says he faced "some hard truths about the party and movement I loved..." His conclusion, "It was all about being close to power for the sake of power." (Page 276)
Latimer's story is disturbing. Bickering and jealousy among Republicans. Inept leaders. Is this what our politics has come to?

Crown Publishers, 280 pages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

This book gets off to a confusing start. There is a great deal of background information that is necessary to ultimately understand the story line. This information is inserted from time to time as the characters are attending a funeral. I found the insertions intrusive and not adding to the flow of the story. There must be a better way to get this book through to the story line.
Once you make it through the first twenty pages or so, the book is much better. The story then flows relatively well.
There are many social issues dealt with in this book – too many, I think. The holocaust is a major theme with a great deal of background material needed to see its relationship to the descendants’ current family situation.
Another theme concerns a deadly fire from which one of the characters was rescued when he was four. Now he is a teen and is trying to deal with the memories and the possibility of his responsibility in the origin of the fire. Woven into this theme are the father of the family who does not want to discuss the past event and the mother who does.
Mixed in with the family situation is marital strife between the husband and wife. He spends every spare hour with his hobby and she is tempted to form a relationship with a fellow teacher.
And then, to add another theme, there is the niece of the wife who comes to live with the family. Her dad is off in Europe and she was left with her grandma who then died a few days later (hence the opening funeral). Her dad’s quest in Europe has to do with the holocaust and possible valuable but hidden heirlooms.
While some of the themes intertwine, there are just too many of them. I would have rather had one theme dealt with in detail.
I did find the book an interesting read and did learn about Warsaw during WW II. To do the entire story line justice, however, there should have been as much
time and effort given to the other themes as well.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook
Multnomah Publishing Group. I'll pass it along to you if you are the first to comment on this blog.
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Friday, November 6, 2009

You Were Born for This by Bruce Wilkinson

Wilkinson thinks nearly all people have had an experience when they feel they have been touched by God. He calls this a miracle. He says such experiences need not be rare. "The truth is, you were born to live a supernatural life doing God's work by God's power." The aim of Wilkinson's book is to show the reader how to participate with God in experiencing daily miracles.
Wilkinson argues that doing good deeds will not be enough to meet the desperate needs of our time. Christians need to reclaim the miraculous as a normal way of life. God wants to use Christians in an everyday cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
If you love lists or how-tos, you'll love this book. If you have ever asked, "Can someone show me the steps to be used by God?", this is the book for you. There are four keys to a life of miracles, five signals that guide a miracle delivery, and more.
After you've read this book, you'll have no excuse. You will know how to place yourself in a position to receive the nudges from God that lead to a life of being used by Him.

Multnomah Books, 9781601421821, 221 pages.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green by Ted Dekker

It is 2,000 years in the future. Thomas and the Circle serve Elyon and await his return. They have drowned in the healing red waters and are cleansed of the disease that visibly marks the evil Horde. The way of Elyon is to love the enemy but the son of Thomas wants to wage war as Elyon has been silent for so long. Thomas comes back to the present to change the course of the other world. There is evil in this world that will definitely affect that future.
The essentials of history are being replayed in that future world. Everything spiritual here has become physical there. Blood and the Books of History form a bridge between the two worlds.
This fourth book in the series by Dekker completes a circle. This book can be read after Black, Red, and White (as I did), or read first, with the others following. Nonetheless, Green has many references to the events in the previous books. The background information generally comes in the form of characters musing.
I can’t help but think that to read Green as the first in this series would be very confusing. There were times when I was confused and I’ve read the others. I would suggest beginning with Black.
Green makes a smashing finish to The Circle Series.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Limelight by Melody Carlson

The story line is somewhat familiar. The older woman has had a pampered life with cooks and maids and plenty of money. But now her famous husband has died and the Beverly Hills home has been sold for unpaid taxes. All she has left is a few household possessions and a bungalow she inherited from her mother. And the bungalow is in the hometown she was so anxious to leave.
Claudette’s gay stepson flies in to help her move. He arranges a great deal with movers and painters but then returns to Hawaii and his partner. Can Claudette survive? She doesn’t know how to shop, how to clean house, or how to do laundry. She has never had to live on a budget. She doesn’t even know how to be a decent neighbor. She certainly doesn’t want to accept help from anyone, especially her sister. Nonetheless, kind and helpful people, many of whom are Christians, intrude in her life with humorous results.
As Claudette faces her own needs she must also face secrets from her childhood.
Carlson’s book gets off to a slow start. The real action does not get going until Claudette is left to herself and tries to make a go of it, about page 200. But from then on, the action is quick and the laughs frequent. If you persevere through the slow beginning the story is well worth reading. I would recommend it to elderly female readers. There is a reader’s guide at the end of the book which would make it suitable for reading group.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh

What a fun book. I smiled. I laughed. I liked this book. I've read two others by Leigh and I think this is her best.
Piper Pickwick left her home town of Pickwick twelve years ago amidst questionable circumstances. She'd like to leave her hometown in the past even changing her name to Piper Wick. But she must go back to keep her elderly uncle from revealing all the skeletons in the family closet.
From the moment of her arrival, things go wrong. A handsome man, crazy relatives, and an obstinate uncle maker her life a comedy of errors. As Piper faces her past she must decide whether she will come clean in the present. She's a high power PR person back in LA. Certainly she can control this situation...or can she?
There's great humor and just enough romance to make this book fun. A reader's guide at the end of the book makes this a good choice for reading groups. I look forward to the next one in the series.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Matters Most by Melody Carlson

Maya is sixteen years old. Her dad is a musician who left years ago and gave up all parental rights. Her mom is an addict who has been in jail. Maya lives with her uncle and has been doing well, active in school and the church youth group. She even has part time jobs so she can support herself.
Maya is working toward emancipation when her mother is released from prison. Her mother seems to want to reconnect with Maya. Is it just for money? Should Maya stay and work out a relationship with her mother or should she go on tour with a girl's band? Maya is a pretty new Christian. How is she going to deal with these issues?
Maya writes a "green" article for a newspaper and the author has added green tips at the end of each chapter in the book. A reader's guide is included which would make this book great for a teen reading group.
What Matters Most is book three in the Maya series of a Diary of a Teenage Girl. If the story line sounds interesting, I would suggest starting with the first title in the Maya series, A Not-so-simple Life.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

God's Battalions by Rodney Stark

The recent thinking about the Crusades is that Christendom wanted to expand, was imperialistic and "brutalized, looted, and colonized tolerant and peaceful Islam." (P. 20)
No so, says Stark. The Crusades arose as a result of centuries of Islamic provocations. There had been bloody Islamic attempts to colonize the West and there had been new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.
Stark argues that family heads spent much more than could ever hope to be gained in the effort. The crusader kingdoms established in the Holy Land required subsidies from Europe and were not sources of revenue.
In opposition to what some would have us believe, Stark says the Muslims have not been harboring resentment about the Crusades for centuries. Such feelings did not arise until around 1900 as a reaction to the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of actual European colonialism in the Middle East.
Stark reviews history beginning with the seventh century and the rise of Islam. He reminds his readers of the many massacres of Jews and Christians at the hands of Muslims. His conclusion, "...efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant." (P. 29)
Start does not claim that the Crusaders were pure and selfless. Pope Urban's call for a Crusade included the proposal "that participating in the Crusade was the moral equivalent of serving in a monastic order... Certainly salvation would be gained by those who took part." (P. 107) Thus a knight could keep his violent lifestyle yet obtain God's grace.
This is not a politically correct book. Stark uses many sources, however, as he builds his case. His argument should certainly be received as worthy of study.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shadow Government by Grant Jeffrey

Jeffrey says at the end of his book that he has written it to introduce nonbelievers to faith in Christ and to encourage Christians in their faith (p. 200). His goal, “ to provide believers with books they can give to their friends and neighbors who do not yet have a personal faith in Christ.”
My advice is that if you want to give this book to someone, do not give it to a person who is up to date on current events or anyone with knowledge of physics or science in general.
A reader with interest in current events will notice quickly that many of Jeffrey’s sources are from a decade or more in the past. Much of what Jeffrey would have the reader believe is breaking news is really old stuff. When you read this book, keep one bookmark at his footnotes. It will disappoint you.
When Jeffrey talks about futuristic weapons, he is way out of his element. He mentions, “a beam weapon known as a collective accelerator. It uses powerful magnets to accelerate the orbits [sic] of electrons around the nuclei of atoms to the speed of light.” (See p. 93.) If you believe this, try to tell that to the people at CERN who have built the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. The multi-billion euro project is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator and it is expecting speeds of only 99.9999991% of the speed of light (and they are having trouble doing that right now).
Jeffrey would have the reader believe in the invention of a Star Trek type photon torpedo device, an energy beam weapon. But check the footnote and you find it refers to a patent from 1989! (Think that “weapon” was anything real?) And then there is the “Voice of God” weapon. Jeffrey’s source? A blog! And that blogger ends the entry with, “Does it exist? I don’t know.” And who could resist the possibility of weather weapons? (His sources there are articles from 1987-1991.)
Jeffrey would have us believe that, “...globalist strategies and the phenomenal growth and expansion of surveillance capabilities are setting the stage for the rise of the Antichrist... The Antichrist will arise in our generation.” “Governments can spy on anyone without due cause or due process.” “Increasingly, [the shadow government] officials have taken control of Western societies in the name of national security.”
Jeffrey tries to convince the reader there are the secret organizations dedicated to one global government. He goes through the Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. While their meetings and membership are supposed to be secret, Jeffrey knows all about them and their agendas. (Haven't we had enough books on conspiracy theories in the last several decades?)
Jeffrey says his book is “far from sensationalism.” I disagree. He writes a new book about every year so he has to come up with “new” material or recycle something old. If you’ve read Grant Jeffrey before, you already know what’s in it. If you’ve never read Jeffrey before, skip this book. He’ll have another one in about a year and maybe that one will have some truly new information in it worth reading.

I was provided a review copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers. If you would like this copy, be the first to comment on this blog and I'll send the book to you.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur

What would you do if you were a successful, legalistic preacher and your world fell apart? In the past you had alienated your teenage daughter to the extent she ran away. Now you have received word that she has died in childbirth and her husband forbids your contact with the granddaughter. Your wife is so devastated, she shuts down her own body processes and dies.
Jason Faircloth faces a crisis of faith. His daughter, his wife, his reason for ministry, his superficial faith in God...are all gone. He resigns his successful preaching position and sets out to find his granddaughter.

Faircloth never loses his heart for God but does lose his heart for traditional Christianity and all its manmade disciplines. He becomes a self-motivated wisdom hunter, finding God’s truth in the Bible and his honest encounters with others.
This book originally came out in 1991 and was probably before its time. Arthur’s critique of legalistic Christianity will be better received now then it was then. It is a thought provoking book. What does it really mean to be a Christian and how does a Christian act, according to the Bible and not culture? There is a discussion guide which would make this book suitable for a group discussion.
The writing is uneven, however. It would seem Arthur has a message to promote and has added some action here and there to make the entire story acceptable. There is also the woman who comes on the scene (twice) “just” when Faircloth needs rescuing and then conveniently disappears! Certainly she is a loose end that could have been written into and out of the story in a better way.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
Wisdom Hunter, Multnomah, #978259052592, $13.99. See more information at:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kiss Me Again by Barbara Wilson

Many married women yearn for physical and emotional closeness with their mates yet shun intimate advances. This was Barbara Wilson’s feelings in her marriage. She writes out of her own experience with a great deal of compassion. Wilson lost her virginity at age 18. It was not a positive experience for her and she internalized the idea that sex was for a man’s pleasure and that he used women to get it. She protected herself with barriers to intimacy that remained even into her second marriage.
In our time, most couples (including Christians) have sex before marriage. Wilson argues that these sexual encounters establish bonds that remain. Because of sex from the past emotional and physical dysfunction is all too frequent. The good news is that God can heal your wounds and restore your marriage, no matter what your sexual past.
The first part of the book helps the reader understand how sex from the past affects one’s marriage today. The second part of the book deals with healing, taking the reader through specific steps to restoration of intimacy in the marriage. Practical exercises, tools and a study guide actively take the reader through the process. It begins with making a life map, a reflection on the events of your past. Wilson walks the reader through the process of determining where healing needs to take place. She uses many reflective questions with plenty of space to write a response.
A woman’s response to sex is complex. It is more than just a physical act. God intended that it unite the souls and bodies of two people. The bonds remaining from sex outside of marriage leave scars and cause future intimacy problems. Wilson was healed of these scars and shares the steps she took to allowed God to it.
If you love your husband but you don’t want to make love with him, this book is for you. There is healing available. God wants to heal your marriage.
This book is written for women but husbands can benefit from reading it too. The husband can help his wife feel safe and loved as she is healed and opens up to greater intimacy.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
Kiss Me Again, Multnomah, #9781601421586. See more product information at:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

War of Words by Paul David Tripp

Having trouble with communication in your relationships? Do you get angry? Do you get hurt? Do you feel like you are at war when you communicate with your friend?
The subtitle of this book is “getting to the heart of your communication struggles” and that is exactly what it does. The Bible says that our words come from our heart. What we say reflects who we are at heart.
Did you lash out when your feelings got hurt? What does that say about your heart? Do your words reveal you trying to please yourself rather than please God and follow His agenda for your relationship?
Those are the kinds of issues Tripp deals with in this book. It is not a book that offers a quick fix for your communication issues. It is a book that aims to change your heart. When your heart is changed to be obedient to God’s agenda for your relationships, your communication will change as well.
This is not an easy book to read as it requires you to examine your heart. Tripp makes sure the reader understands that allowing God to rule your communication won’t happen immediately. It is a journey of increasing submission to God’s agenda for your communication.
Read this book and allow God to change your life.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal

What an eye opening book. Every Republican should read it.
Unfortunately, there are so many errors at the beginning of the book, some may not make it past the first 40 pages or so.
Some of the errors are just typographical in nature, such as “presenßce” on page 26. Some of the errors are careless in nature, such as, “After graduating from Calvin College, a conservative Christian school in Iowa...” on page 36. Calvin College is actually in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Some of the errors show poor editing, such as “St. Paul’s Xcel Center” on page 284 which becomes “St. Paul’s Excel Center” on page 287.
Some errors show incomplete research or just confusion. For example, Blumenthal takes some time to explain the history and influence of Rousas Rushdoony. But consider the following quotes. “Upon graduation, Rushdoony entered the clergy as a minister in the ultraconservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church...” from pages 17-18. “Then Olasky...abandoned his Jewish background to join Rushdoony’s ultraconservative Presbyterian Church in America[,]” on page 40. Actually, neither of those statements is correct. Rushdoony was ordained into the PCUSA (not Presbyterian Church in America, PCA) in 1944 then subsequently left that denomination in 1958 and joined the more conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Some errors show a lack of Blumenthal’s understanding of the large and complex world of Christianity. Blumenthal speaks of, “...Calvinist-inspired teachings of John Wesley...” on page 55. Wesley was definitely not inspired by Calvin. Consider these statements from “In contrast to George Whitefield’s Calvinism ... Wesley embraced Arminianism.” And, “Wesley ... expressed himself strongly against the doctrine of Calvinistic election and reprobation.” John Wesley was as Arminian as you can get!
Some errors show shoddy research. Consider his claim that John Calvin “burned dozens of heretics at the stake” as recorded on page 23. His footnote says his source is page 153 of The Complete Idiot’s to the Reformation & Protestantism. That “fact” is not there. When one looks at the Complete Idiot’s Guide and other sources on Calvin’s life, the truth is that there was only one heretic, Servetus, executed under Calvin’s authority. Calvin did not want Servetus burned at the stake, spent many hours with him, begging him to recant, but in the end did nothing to stop the execution (see page 159 of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism).
Granted, these errors are not essential to Blumenthal’s argument about the Republican Party. However, I read a book like this one to learn new information. If I find so many mistakes regarding what I do know, is there any assurance there are fewer or less serious mistakes in what I don’t know?
It is too bad Blumenthal could not have been more objective in his writing. His message is important but his bias will turn potential conservative readers away. For example, saying of James Dobson that “sadomasochism [is] at the core of his philosophy” is going to alienate many potential readers (see page 63).
That said, I am very glad I read this book on how the Republican Party has lost its way. The revelations in it are disturbing. If Blumenthal represents how non-Christians see what the right has done in the Party, Republicans are certainly in trouble.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall

Beth Hertzler is a young woman who lost her fiancé in an accident over a year ago yet she still wears the clothes of mourning black. His death is shrouded in mystery and Beth is still bearing pain from it.
On a buying trip for her aunt’s store, Beth sees a carving that tugs at her heart. She buys the carving and, through the conniving of her aunt, begins a correspondence with the carver.
Like Beth, Jonah has suffered loss. His is physical. A sleighing accident resulted in his loss of two fingers and the full use of one leg. He realizes he is a damaged person but has been able to live with it. He knows that all people are damaged in some way.
Can Beth ever learn to live with her damaged self? Will she ever lower the barriers she uses for protection and allow herself to love again?
Cindy Woodsmall has written a wonderful Amish love story for the winter season. The reader experiences the gentle ways of the Amish and how two of them cope with hurt and pain. My only complaint is that the story is over too quickly (at fewer than 200 pages).
I received a free review copy of this book in return for blogging my review. I will pass this copy on to you if you are the first to make a comment on my blog.
ISBN: 9780307446534, $14.99, WaterBrook Press. See product information at:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Veiled Freedom by J. M. Windle Book Review

Relief worker Amy Mallory goes to Afghanistan and becomes the administrator of a compound that eventually houses Afghan women and children released from prison. She comes in contact with a privately contracted security person, Steve Wilson. He was in Kabul in 2001 when the city was liberated as a Special Forces individual. Then, there was dancing in the streets. Now the circumstances are very different with suicide bombers and government corruption. Throw into the mix a young man who wants revenge on the current Afghan Minister of the Interior.
While the subject matter is current and exciting, I found it somewhat difficult to read this book. Windle uses many abbreviations (such as CS, CP, etc.) which are not immediately explained in the text. That detracts from the flow of the story. There was also something about her writing, sentence structure, perhaps, that I found hard to follow. I remember reading a four line sentence, with several commas, four times, in order to understand the meaning. For those who like a gospel presentation in the book, you will be pleased.
Tyndale, #9781414314754, 432 pages.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Love Revolution by Joyce Meyer

The majority of the people we meet today are unhappy. The root of the problem, says Joyce Meyer, is selfishness. We live for ourselves and are never satisfied. We need to declare war on selfishness.

There are people hurting all around. They need to hear the gospel. They also need to have their practical needs met. We need to do something today to make someone else’s life better. Joyce reminds us that we are to get involved in helping others and not just throw money at projects. She quotes Hybels who encourages Christians to “allow poverty to touch us, to involve us…”

Joyce admits to her own selfishness. It was the only life she knew until she met her husband, Dave, a giver. She reminds us Christ can deal with that sinful nature if we allow Him to renew us. Putting others first is a daily surrender.

Loving people as Jesus wants us to will not happen by accident. We will have to do it on purpose. It will cost us some comfort and some pleasure (but look at what Jesus sacrifices). Love takes effort and always costs something. None of us can claim we don’t know how as Meyers gives lots of practical ideas for showing love near the end of her book.

Meyers believes our participation in the Love Revolution will change the world. We are to live to love, being part of the solution instead part of the problem.

The Love Revolution, FaithWords (Hachette Book Group), #9780446538565

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Walk with God by R. C. Sproul Book Review

This book is part of a small series by R. C. and is an exposition of Luke's gospel. The work is aimed at the layperson so is not weighted down with scholarly research. While not delving into the Greek on a regular basis, there are many insights into the text that I found inspiring.
It makes a nice devotional read as one goes through Luke's account. A Bible alongside is not even necessary as R. C. has most of the Scripture account in the text.
(Christian Focus Publications, or Ligonier Ministries, #9781845500948, 424 pgs.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

In Europe by Geert Mak

Geert Mak traveled through Europe in 1999, visiting cities that played in the major events of the twentieth century. He had been commissioned by his paper to do so and his articles appeared daily on the front page. His travels followed, as much as possible, a history in Europe. In this book, each short chapter centers on an historical event of that city with additional comments on the city today.
In Helsinki, Lenin’s train ride from Finland is recounted. In Petrograd, we hear of the crushing of 720 major and minor revolts in one year. The old section of St. Petersburg is essentially frozen in 1917.
Tied in to Mak’s visits to Berlin and Bielefeld is a concise yet excellent account of the rise of the Nazis and how Hitler finally became chancellor. While in Predappio, where you can still buy Nazi and Fascist memorabilia, Mak writes of Fascism and its areas of similarity (and difference) to Nazism.
At Auschwitz, the stories he recounts are depressing. He ponders how much the Germans knew and who turned their heads to the awful truth. He also tells very encouraging stories of people who helped thousands of Jews escape.
The personal interviews Mak recounts are priceless. The reader gets to experience the events through the eyes of those who actually took part. At Stalingrad (Volgograd) we read the account of young German officer Behr, a supply officer on the eastern front in late 1942. In January of 1943, he gave a personal account to Hitler of the terrible conditions in that frozen war zone. “At that moment I realized that Hitler lived only in a fantasy world of maps and little flags. It was then that I knew for certain that we would lose the war.”
Reading of the actions of the French during WW II is depressing. A bright light in the darkness were the resistance fighters. After the war, almost all French collaborators were granted amnesty with many eventually rising to power on deGaulle’s post war government.
Surprising to read about was the Allied practice of bombing residential areas. The aim was to lower German morale but hundreds of thousands of civilians died in the process.
About two thirds of the book deals with the first half of the twentieth century. For someone like me who was born at the end of that period, the extended descriptions of WW I and WW II are welcome.
In the last part of the book Mak looks at the student unrest of the 60s, how Europeans deal with their past and move on, and how eastern Germans adjusted to “freedom.” Mak reviews the ethnic wars of the Yugoslavs, Serbs, Croates and others. How quickly we have forgotten these wars in the light of 9/11. “Kosovo has once again become a forgotten corner of the globe...”
Our forgetfulness is perhaps the reason I found this book so valuable. We need to remember. We need to again encounter the first person accounts of our past. Born and raised in the U. S., In Europe helped me to understand what Europeans have experienced in this last century.
I highly recommend the book. It’s big at 829 pages, but at 20 pages a day you can cruise through the book in a little over a month.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel

Something is wrong with the corporate world today. With an exclusive focus on external results, the inner life of the individual and the corporation has been forgotten. The inner strength erodes while the outer appearance, for a time, still shows life. Like a tree dying at its center, it may appear healthy until a strong wind blows it over.
The answer to our current situation, Benefiel says, is the path of soul-based leadership. There is a necessary place for spirituality in the corporate world. Corporate leaders can and should lead based on values rather than merely the bottom line. The corporate world can return to concern for the well-being of the worker and the customer in addition to profit.
Benefiel gives the reader several examples of individuals who have followed the path of soul-based leadership. Using their examples as well as an increasing amount of literature, Benefiel suggests a leader begins on the path by listening to his or her own heart. A decision is made, steps are taken, and stumbling occurs. The leader finds partners to help.
Benefiel covers the additional soul-based leadership practices of keeping the mission at the fore, practicing gratitude, battling for the soul, and breaking the cycle of violence.
At the end of her book, after the reader is convinced soul-based leadership is necessary and possible, Benefiel explains the process of spiritual transformation. Since the current culture ignores the inner reality of the soul, many corporate leaders might not know how to develop spiritually. Benefiel focuses on the classic Christian formulation of the three ways to describe the process. “The three ways - the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way – describe the journey of the spiritual sojourner from an initial spiritual awakening through many ups and downs all the way to union with God.” (P. 142) The process is not linear (one never “arrives”) but is more like a spiral of repeated and deeper experiences. The developmental process can be applied to corporations as well as individuals.
Not matter what kind of leader you are you will benefit from the admonition and encouragement in this book. Spiritual leadership is necessary for organizational effectiveness. Leaders need to pay attention to their souls and Benefiel’s book is a great place to get started.
(The Crossroad Publishing Company, ISBN-13: 9780824524807, $16.95)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stray Affections by Charlene Baumbich Book Review

Cassandra Higgins, daycare provider and mother of four boys, buys a snow globe at an collector's convention. The little girl and three dogs bring back memories of her childhood. There are good memories of a grandfather who was understanding and support. There is the troubling memory of being forced to give up a found dog to a pound because her mother said they could not afford to care for it.
One night, as Cassandra contemplates the globe, the snow inside swirls and the figures disappear. Cassandra's life swirls as she tries to understand her relationship with her mother, the impact of the suicide of her father when she was a child, and dealing with her lost dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Cassandra's husband Ken thinks giving her a dog for Christmas is a great idea. But will it help her heal or will it bring up too many hurtful memories?
Stray Affections is a great book for dog lovers and a light read for winter evenings.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Called to Worship by Vernon Whaley Book Review

Whaley says there is a prevalent lack of biblical understanding of worship. “People all over, from pew to pulpit, have heads full of misguided notions on the kind of worship that pleases God.” (Page xvi) This generation of evangelicals needs a firm grasp on the principles of genuine worship.
Whaley travels through the Bible to identify the guidelines of worship that pleases God. The creation narrative reminds us man was created for worship. From Israel’s history and the writings of the prophets we find brokenness is a prerequisite for genuine worship, obedience is at the very center of worship and real worshippers demonstrate personal integrity. From the New Testament we find that true worship embraces love for the people of God, shown by service.
At the end of each chapter, Whaley offers practical suggestions to guide the reader to a lifestyle of worship. He reminds us we are in a battle as we fight idols seeking our worship. Our practice of God pleasing worship will culminate in the perfect worship of heaven as seen in the book of Revelation.
A couple of positive aspects of the book include Whaley’s knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. He helps the reader see the many aspects of true worship through the various words used to describe it. Also, if you have even wondered how to use the Psalms in daily worship, Whaley gives a week of devotions as an example.
There were two aspects of the book I found negative. As Whaley goes through the Bible, he quotes or retells biblical narratives, often for several pages. For someone familiar with the stories in the Bible, I would have preferred a synopsis of the account and then the lesson to be learned. I disagree with Whaley in his use of Deut. 28. He believes the curse found in that chapter is still in effect today. He is “certain” the “return of so many epidemic diseases today is the direct result of mankind’s disobedience” is worshipping other gods. (See pp. 204-5.)
Overall, I would recommend this book as sorely needed to get to the foundation of what it means to truly worship God in a manner He finds pleasing. This book would make a great study tool for worship leaders, pastoral staff, Sunday School classes or small groups.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love by Beth Pattillo

The adventures continue in this second in the Sweetgum Ladies Knit Lit series. A new member is added as one has moved away. Each of the women face trials in their love life. Will love conquer fear? Will love triumph over past hurts? Will one woman follow her dreams? I won't give away the story lines as the women come to grips with their own problems while helping others in the group. A nice summer read with a little food for thought thrown in.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

John Newton by Richard Cecil Updated by Marylynn Rousse

It is rare that I give up on a book. I slogged through this one to over half of the original (Cecil's) text and just had to give up. Newton's own narrative is interspersed with Cecil's biography. And then there are the Appendices placed at the end of each chapter. Reading this book is like reading a few paragraphs from one 18th century author, then another, then a few notes about the previous sections. It is very hard to follow. Some of the notes deal with people who knew Newton and are more about those individuals than Newton! I am very disappointed in Rousse's editing job. She could have done a much, much better job of rearranging the material to make it flow in a readable fashion. The language is awkward and hard to understand. A little editing in updating the language for today's reader would have helped also.Cecil"s "authorized" biography was written within a year or so of Newton's death. Perhaps, as it was published so soon, Cecil seems to have deliberately glossed over Newton's life while captain of a slave trading ship. Except for a minor allusion, one would have thought Newton's ship was one carrying spices or something. (One needs to remember his being captain of a slave ship was after his "conversion" during a severe storm at sea.)If you are a scholar and are looking for first sources, then perhaps you will appreciate this book. If you want a readable book on John Newton's life, by all means skip this one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fearless by Max Lucado Book Review

At this time in which we live, it is hard not to fear. We fear that we do not matter and that we are unimportant. Though we are Christians, we fear we have or will disappoint God. We worry despite Jesus’ command not to. We fear for our children: their safety, their health, their future. We fear being overwhelmed by the events of life. We fear the worst is going to happen. We fear violence or a violent death. We fear for our financial future. We fear how our life will end and what will happen to us. We fear what the next surprise in life might be. We fear that God is not real. We fear global calamity.
Max Lucado uses Scripture and encouraging stories to address each of these fears. We tend to forget that we were made by God and are loved by Him. His love is perfect. His presence is with us. We forget that our children, our possessions, our health, our money, everything we have belongs to God. We forget that God provides for us and He asks us to trust Him for our well-being.
We forget that Jesus faced His fears in the garden with prayer. We forget that Jesus comforted his fearful disciples with His bodily presence and that we can find that same assurance in His body, the church, today. We forget that God is sovereign and world events serve His purposes.
Lucado encourages us to place all our fears in the hands of God except one. We fear God won’t stay in the box in which we have put Him. Count on it. He won’t. Plan on encountering the God Whom you should fear with awe, reverence and respect.
This book would be a great study for a small group. For such a use, a 38 page discussion guide is provided at the end of the book. These are troubled times but we are not to fear. Lucado helps us fight our fears by putting our faith in action through relying on the promises God has made to us.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Stearns identifies what his book is about at the very beginning: “What does God expect of us?” It is a simple question but, as Stearns says, the answer is not so simple. “God asks us for everything. He requires a total life commitment from those who would be His followers.” (P. 1) Being a Christian entails a public and transforming relationship with the world, not just a personal and transforming relationship with God.
Stearns weaves his own story into the book. He was a successful Christian, CEO of Lenox, and driving a Jaguar to work. He received a call in January of 1998 from people at World Vision who were looking for a new president. He struggled with the call but ultimately accepted.
Our gospel has a gaping hole in it – the command to go into all the world, to lift up the poor and marginalized, challenging injustice, rejecting worldly values, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. “Proclaiming the whole gospel...encompasses tangible compassion for the sick and the poor, as well as biblical justice, efforts to right the wrongs that are so prevalent in our world.” (P. 22) Christianity is more than just belief. Stearns quotes his former pastor, “It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.” (P. 87)
Previous generations were not aware of world wide needs. Loving their neighbor meant immediate neighbor. Now we can see the suffering around the globe. “And yet only about 4 percent of all U. S. charitable giving goes to international causes of any kind.” (P. 102) Part of the problem concerns the news media. An airline crash in the U. S. or the latest movie star divorce are headline news while the 26,575 children who die daily from largely preventable causes related to poverty go unnoticed.
Stearns notes that the church has a poor record regarding injustices in the world. Slavery was not opposed by the church (as a whole) for hundreds of years. The church was also missing in the 1950s and 60s regarding the issue of segregation. We might wonder how the church stood by when great atrocities occurred in the past. Are we doing the same today by ignoring the poor and hurting in less developed countries?
Is our lifestyle consistent with our faith values? The average giving of church members in 2005 was under 3% of their income. Of the money that is given to churches, only 2% goes to overseas ministry of any kind. “If every American churchgoer tithed, we could literally change the world.” (P. 218) There would be an additional $168 billion for use in ministry to those in need.
Stearns has a daring prayer on page 198. It reads in part, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, to see the world as you see it. Let my heart be broken by the things that break your heart.”
What can one individual do? Stearns gives several stories of the impact of just one person who took Jesus’ commands seriously. One does not have to be rich or be talented. One just has to be willing. “It starts with you. In the end, God simply calls you to be faithful to the things He has given you to do.” (P. 277)

The book is big and an expensive. Because of that, it will not have the impact it could have had as an affordable paperback. Yet it is worth the price and effort to read the book. You just might be the one...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sundays in America by Suzanne Strempek Shea

Suzanne Strempek Shea grew up Catholic and attended services regularly. The combination of the sexual abuse stories of various Catholic priests and being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41, made her revisit her childhood faith. She still went to church, but only when the church was empty and silent.
Seeing the wake of Pope John Paul II, she decided to go on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, visiting other churches. Despite being taught as a child that the roof would fall in (or worse), Shea visited fifty churches in a year of Sundays (and a couple of Saturdays). She attended many churches in her area of Massachusetts and also relied on the specials at Southwest Airlines to attend th
ose at a distance.
Her experiences? She heard a sermon to boycott Wal-Mart at Trinity United Methodist Church of Christ, washed feet at a Seventh Day Adventist Church, sat with thousands listening to Joel Osteen give a 28 minute (TV restriction) talk on weight loss, was fascinated by speaking in tongues, sat in a church totally ignoring the needs of Katrina victims (only 60 miles away), listened to Rick Warren in his typical Hawaiian shirt, and many more.
Her conclusions? Shea didn’t like the glitz, the show, the well orchestrated service. Instead, she was impressed with the simple service, with the heart of people helping others, with genuine hugs, and with people truly living out their beliefs. She visited what, in my mind, were pretty strange churches. Some could hardly be called “Christian.” Others had only a few attendees and rows of empty seats. Some had sterile, modern buildings while others showed an appreciation of traditional art.
While I am troubled by the spirituality of Shea, her observations of the churches she visited were very interesting. Ever wanted to know what a stranger would think of your church service? Read Shea and get a pretty good idea.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Pottillo Book Review

It’s a small town outside of Nashville where a group of women gather together once a month to knit while they discuss a book, the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society. The members: a spinster librarian being forced into retirement, a woman pregnant with an unplanned child right when her husband informs her they will have to declare bankruptcy, sisters who have been vying for the same man (bitter, yet silent about it), and a young woman having an affair with the married son of another member of the group. Throw into the mix an angry teen whose mother is a prostitute in everything but name and an elderly preacher, newly arrived to Sweetgum, who had jilted the librarian decades ago.
Patience, forgiveness, and reconciliation mark the events happening in Sweetgum.
Award winning Beth Pattillo has introduced us to a town just like yours, with hurts and secrets that need to be made right. The characters and situations are all too real. For me, missing what a more clear influence of Christ as events progressed. While some of the characters attended church, Christianity was not an essential aspect of the process of change. Since some of the situations remained unresolved, perhaps the sequel (which I read shortly for a book group) will provide the lacking spiritual influence.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

John Calvin ed. by Burk Parsons Book Review

This year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. This book introduces a new generation to Calvin. As stated in the forward: this best purpose of the book will be served if readers of this book will want to read Calvin himself.
Each chapter is written by a different author and the list is like a “who’s who” of the Reformed branch of Christianity. Due to the variety of authors, the reader will note some repetition and overlap of topics that could have been eliminated with better editing.
Burk Parsons begins by revealing that it was his studying of the Word of God that convinced him Calvin’s theology was the correct interpretation of Scripture. Derek Thomas next gives the reader a
short biography of Calvin. Sinclair Ferguson reminds us of Calvin’s heart for God with his life a marriage of learning and piety.
D. G. Hart addresses Calvin’s role as Reformer and encourager of Protestants in various countries. Harry Reeder notes how Calvin restored the role of church leadership with the offices of pastor, teacher, elder and deacon. Steven Lawson says Calvin was the most prolific of all the Reformers, systematically preaching through books of the Bible.
W. Robert Godfrey emphasizes Calvin in the pastoral role, comforting and admonishing based on the sovereignty of God. Phillip R. Johnson claims that Calvin’s writings, such as the Institutes (published when Calvin was only 27 years old), has secured him a place in history. Eric J. Alexander reminds us that Christocentric is the one word description of Calvin’s theology, preaching and thinking. Thabiti Anyabwile shows us Calvin understood the working of the Holy Spirit in salvation and in the union of Christ and the believer.
John MacArthur explains the first of the “five points of Calvinism,” total depravity. Richard Phillips brings light to the second point, predestination. Thomas K. Ascol defines redemption, recognizing the serious nature of sin. Keith Mathison explains the Remonstrance (opposing the teaching of Calvin) with the Canons of Dort answering the five points. He also gives a good summary of the doctrine of irresistible grace. Jay Adams rounds out the points of Calvinism with an explanation of the perseverance of the saints.
Philip Graham Ryken addresses Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ where, through the Holy Spirit and by faith, we receive Christ and all His benefits. Michael Horton clarifies Calvin’s teaching on salvation and what union with Christ really means. Jerry Bridges explains how Calvin’s theology is worked out in everyday in holiness through self-denial, cross-bearing and hopefulness. Joel Beeke ends the collection with a description of Calvin’s teaching on prayer as a holy and familiar conversation with God.
Calvin has received a lot of bad press over the centuries. If you would like to read what Calvin really wrote, what he really preached and how he really addressed his pastoral roles, this book is for you. As a Calvinist myself, I am glad to see such a readable and understandable book presenting Calvin to our generation.