Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Prayer of the Lord by R. C. Sproul

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. R. C. suggests this is because the disciples noted the link between Jesus’ extraordinary prayer life and His power. Before Jesus gave His followers a model prayer He told them how not to pray (Matt. 6:5-7). The first prohibition is hypocritical praying, especially in public. He also prohibited pagan practices in prayer such as meaningless repetitions.

As R. C. delves into an exposition of the model prayer we are reminded that we do not pray to change God’s mind. We are changed by prayer. R. C. suggests that The Lord’s Prayer should not be used in a rote manner but as a framework that defines our prayers.

Calling God “Father” reminds the Christian of adoption. Only those adopted may call God Father. The first petition is that God’s name would be regarded as holy and sacred by us and by our culture. (This must be the Christian’s attitude before subsequent petitions can be fulfilled.) We petition for Christ’s rule as king to be manifest by our living as citizens of His kingdom. With deep commitment to the sovereignty of God, R. C. explains that “your will be done on earth” is our desiring that God be glorified on earth as He is in heaven. (This section on God’s will is worth the price of the book.)

Recognizing God’s providence we ask Him to give us what we need (not forgetting our own labor and productivity). We understand we have an impossible debt to God and need His forgiveness. But there is a condition attached. R. C. calls this “one of the most frightening lines in the Lord’s Prayer.” He suggests we are to see this as an aspiration rather than a condition as no one can forgive as the Father does.

In the next petition we ask the Father to spare us from the temptation that can lead us into new sin, that the test of our faith should not be so severe but that we would be delivered from Satan (whom God often uses to bring the testing).

R. C. notes that the end of the prayer returns our focus to God. We end prayer by affirming that supreme power, ultimate glory, and the kingdom of heaven all belong to God alone.

Don’t skip the appendix. There R. C. speaks to the question of why we are to pray even though God is sovereign. He also reminds us to balance the promises of God with all of the qualifications God gives regarding prayer.

Sproul’s book is an important contribution to the study of prayer from a Calvinistic viewpoint. Sproul is a scholar yet his work is very readable. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to understand how to pray.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It Happened In Italy by Elizabeth Bettina

Elizabeth Bettina’s grandmother was born and raised in Campagna, Italy. Elizabeth comes across a photo of the church where her Catholic grandparents were married showing a rabbi, among others, on the front steps. Investigating what a rabbi was doing in an Italian town during WW II is the story of the book.
Many Jews fled to Italy before the war since no visa was required. While Italy was an ally of Germany, the foreign Jews were placed in Italian camps but Italian Jews were mostly allowed to live in their own homes. How the Jews were treated in the Italian camps is the amazing story. They were fed well, had medical help, went to school, married, had children, and were allowed to have synagogue. When the Germans invaded in September of 1943 and Italy became an enemy of Germany, the Jews were helped to escape from the camps and were hidden in small towns in the hills. As one Jew protected by the Italians said, “For the Italians there was no difference; we were human beings.” (P. 135)
Bettina reveals an amazing story that until now has been almost unknown. As the book develops, she helps Jews, now living in the U.S., return to those Italian communities that protected them.
Unfortunately, Bettina telling her own story of how she found the information, contacted individuals and completed travel is a much larger part of the book than it should be. Do we really need a seven page chapter on how a cyst and subsequent surgery delayed some of her travel? Do we really need to know what the traffic was like during the taxi ride or that she stood next to Julie Andrews’ daughter during a rainy Macy’s Thanksgiving parade? Such inconsequential details could have been left out. Bettina writes, “The journey kept getting more intriguing.” (P. 195) It is her own journey she is talking about. Less about her and more about the Jewish survivors would have yielded a much more powerful book.

Shepherd's Fall by W. L. Dyson

While Dyson has written other suspense novels, this is the first in the Prodigal Recovery Agency series. The siblings have inherited the fugitive recovery business from their father. The two sons actively operate the agency. A sister is absent because of a family event years ago that caused her to leave home.
The plot involves the escape of a criminal who has vowed to hurt the daughter of Nick, oldest brother and boss at the recovery agency. And yes, the girl does get abducted (one wonders how Nick could be so stupid as to not have someone watching over her). A subplot involves a woman trying to find her fugitive twin for a bone marrow transplant. The plots intertwine to a sufficiently happy ending.
This novel would be good for a book group. There are many dimensions to family relationships in the novel that would lend themselves to great discussions. There are no discussion questions provided at the end of the book but that should not inhibit the conversation.
The Christianity is not very noticeable in the book. The family seems to have been raised with a Christian influence but the characters ignore God in their adult life. Nick, in fact, is rather put out with God because things are not going well.
I do hate it when I can figure out better what to do than the main character. There is so much foreshadowing and threatening that you know the daughter is going to get abducted. So why is Nick (super fugitive tracker that he is supposed to be) to dumb to keep a watch on her?
With all the troubles going on during the book, the ending is a bit too neat. Are they all really going to live happily ever after? Book two in the series will tell.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Healing Stones by Rue & Arterburn

This is the first in the Sullivan Crisp series. Crisp is a Christian counselor taking time for healing on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
The book opens with a woman being caught in adultery. The novel deals with the devastation this brings to her career (and the Christian college at which she teaches), her husband and her children. Crisp helps her work through her feelings while he himself faces his hurts.
This novel is very well written. With male and female authors, the characters are well developed and are "real." The problems encountered are very believable.
This book is great for reading group discussions. A group I am in had a lively discussion.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Principle of Path by Andy Stanley

We all have dreams. We all want to get to that place where we will feel fulfilled. But how do we know we are on the right path? We’ve been hiking and taken a wrong turn, ending up somewhere we didn’t want to be. How do we find the right path to our destination?
Stanley says the same principles for hiking apply to life. There are paths with known destinations. We might think we are going in the right direction but the path will take us somewhere else. Some of us are stuck. We know where we want to be but we have no idea how to find and then stay on the right path. We might have the best of intensions but Stanley reminds us it is direction, not intentions, that determines destination.
Stanley says it is no surprise people end up where they do. It was evident from the path they were on. “Today’s decisions create tomorrow’s experiences.” Others can see where the path is leading. But we deceive ourselves as to why we choose what we do and why we’re on the path.
So, how do we choose the right path? Stanley says first we must know where we are. That means we have to be honest with ourselves. Next comes submission to God. Stanley offers three questions to apply to every option that comes our way.
1) Does this option violate God’s law? 2) Does this option violate a principle? 3) In light of the story I want to tell, what is the wisest thing to do?
Stanley advices we seek the counsel of others. If the results of our decisions are going to be seen by many people, why not ask many people to help us make them? We never outgrow the need for wise counsel.
What do we do when our dream is unreachable (either by our bad decisions or the decisions of others)? Some get mad at God. Some despair. Some panic and make more bad decisions. Stanley advises we trust God.

The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews

“Our thinking creates a pathway to success or failure,” says Andrews. (p. 26) Our past choices lead to the present situation. You can’t say, “It’s not my fault.” Each one of use must take responsibility for where we are before we can go on. Our future is in our hands.
Andrews illustrates these truths through the story of David. He has lost his job. The credit cards are maxed out and he’s taken a second mortgage on the house. In the midst of all his discouragement, David has an automobile accident. While in a coma he takes an incredible journey.
He travels into the past and meets people like Solomon, Lincoln, and Truman. Through these people, David learns the secrets of a fulfilling life. Truman reminds David that “the buck stops here.” Solomon advises to “seek wisdom.” You’ll have to read the book to find the other principles that make up the “seven decisions that determine personal success.”
If you are tired of the traditional self help books, try this one. It is different. Written like a novel, it includes principles that will set you on a road to a fulfilling life.