Monday, May 31, 2010

Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

The authors argue that the church today is suffering from JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. We have lost sight of Christ. They want to present Christ to us in such a way that we can't "help but fall at His feet and give Him [our] undying devotion..." (xix)
Christ is to be our occupation. "[T]here's nothing worth pursuing outside of Christ." (20) Christ is our life. Christ is our sufficiency. "There is much more in Christ than we have ever imagined." (40)
It is in Christ that we find what it means to be truly human. It is not that we try to be Christlike but that Christ lives in and through us. "The gospel is not the imitation of Christ; it is the implantation and impartation of Christ." (72)
Jesus did not call us to follow His teachings but to follow Him. In other religions people can follow "teachings" of the founder without having a relationship with that individual. Not so with Christ. "Christianity is ... a passionate love for a way of living in the world that's rooted in living by Jesus..." (90)
We should not be asking, "What would Jesus do?" We should be asking, "What does Jesus want to do through me right now?"
When we attempt to be like Jesus we fail because we ignore the root of His actions - His union with the Father. "Jesus said clearly that He couldn't do anything in His own strength." (126) Nor can we. "Genuine Christianity is learning to live by an indwelling Christ." (165)
Jesus is to be the very center of our being. When He is not, everything is out of order.
Read this book and be inspired to live the life God desires, the life of "Christ in you."

This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wingnuts by John Avlon

We live in a time of antagonistic politics. Fifty years ago, John Wayne said of John Kennedy, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.” Two years ago, Rush Limbaugh said of Barack Obama, “I hope he fails.”

“Our politics are being hijacked by a comparatively small number of people who seek to dominate the debate by screaming the loudest. … Fear is their favorite tactic as they try to divide and conquer. … The attack of the Wingnuts is an assault on the idea that what unites us is greater than what divides us as Americans…” (21)
Avlon identifies “Obama Derangement Syndrome - pathological hatred of the president often mistaken for healthy patriotism.” (42) (A similar syndrome was diagnosed during the recent Bush years.) It is fed by hyper-partisan talk radio and web sites.
Avalon thoroughly investigates this current atmosphere of hate politics. He interviewed a Southern Baptist pastor praying for the president’s death. He spoke to self-styled theologians convinced Obama is the Antichrist. Some accuse Obama of being a communist, a fascist, or a Nazi. When Avlon spoke to people in the American Communist party or the Nazi party, he found over and over that none of the avowed communists or Nazis thought Obama was even close to their ideologies.
Are we seeing the birth of white minority politics, the resistance of social change propelled by resentment of multiculturalism?
I think Avlon has explained how (and why) the right wing (Christian conservative) branch of politics has become one of hate. His is a sobering report that should be read by all.
Avlon does remind us that the group rhetoric is not as dangerous as is the lone gunman incited by that rhetoric. Presidential assassins (and Timothy McVeigh) have not been members of militia groups but have been influenced by their ranting.
Avlon ends his book by suggesting that centrists declare their independence from the far right and far left. Re-enter the dialogue with faith in the American political system. Stand up against the extremes.

Beast Books, 244 pages.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beguiled by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand

Rylee is a dog walker in an upscale section of Charleston.  Robberies begin to happen in the very houses to which she has keys.  Police reporter Logan is smitten with her and is convinced she is innocent.  Can he find the robber before she is arrested and locked away?  Can he solve the mystery of her father's disappearance?
Gist and Bertrand, former critique group partners, have teamed up to write a delightful book.  The writing is tight and the dialogue is snappy.  The mystery is very serious but not bloody and keeps you interested to the very end.
Don't let the cover turn you off (as it did me).  The cover art for this book is the only weak aspect of the novel.
I look forward to more great writing from this duo!
Bethany House Publishers, 329 pages.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Last Christian by David Gregory

The year is 2088. Christianity has essentially died out in the developed world.
In the U. S. people generally have neural implants that receive programming from a virtual reality grid. “It causes [the] motor neurons to experience the same sensations we experience in the physical world.” (97) Face to face meetings are rare as people can meet each other in virtual reality. A group of scientists are pioneering brain transplants - that is, human brains being replaced by programmed silicone implants.
Into this world comes Abby who has spent all of her life with an isolated tribe in Papua New Guinea. She was born there, a child of missionaries. Now 34, she travels down river to civilization when her tribe mysteriously contracts a disease and is destroyed. She receives a message that has been waiting for her for 16 years. Her grandfather believes she is the only one who can reintroduce Christianity to Americans. She travels to the U. S. to fulfill her grandfather’s desires.
The novel is certainly not the most well-written I have read but it has some redeeming factors. In the course of conversation we find the reasons given for Christianity’s demise. They include scientific progress, the flame out of the Christian led culture war, the attempt to control politics (making Christianity more a political movement than a spiritual one), the backlash against fundamental religion (Islam), the change in the understanding of truth (no longer absolute realities), and the lack of distinctive behavior by Christians (behaving like nonChristians). That list should be the concern of Christians today.
Science fiction is tricky. I read tons of it as a youth and for some reason this book just did not seem to be tightly formed. The virtual reality concept is a loose end, I think. Apparently one could be in virtual reality with another person and the other individual never know it. (P. 247) That is a problem not addressed in the novel.
The message Abby has is a “Christ in you” message, a union with Christ that goes a little beyond the traditional understanding of Evangelical Christianity. I feel a little uncomfortable with that.
At the end of the book, Gregory says you can see the message Abby uploaded to the grid and gives the web address. That web address is where Gregory promotes himself. I tried to find Abby’s message but could not.
All in all, it’s a so-so book. A teen might find it interesting but it is not a page turner and it doesn’t end to my satisfaction.
To view a video:
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Embracing Your Second Calling by Dale Hanson Bourke

Bourke believes that “God has a special purpose for women in the second half of life that is world-changing in its scope.” (8) To understand God’s call we must turn away from clinging to youth. “We will be given a power and purpose beyond anything we have experienced.” (8) “God wants us to spend the second half of our lives worrying less about what we do and more about who we become.” (10)
This book is not about the shape of your body. It’s about the shape of your heart.
Bourke kept a journal as she entered into the last third of her life. She shares her own experiences, the traits she wanted to develop and the projects she contemplated. She interweaves her own reflections with the story of Naomi and the transitions she went through.
Readers are encouraged to be women living fully in whatever season of time they find themselves. Bourke shares stories and gives ideas on how to deal with the past, on leaving the past behind, addressing the idols in your life, and dealing with the transition in identity. Bourke is well read and she suggests many books to help the reader pursue study in areas of need.
Bourke understands the importance of maintaining supportive friends and making new friends. She gives ideas of “being Jesus” to them and encourages older women to be mentors.
Bourke has included boxes beside the text that give suggestions for the reader’s reflections and actions. These make the book a great choice for a group study. A reader could also go through the book alone but will want to have a journal nearby for recording thoughts.
If you are in the second half of your life, reading this book will help you finish well.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 205 pages.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eclipse of the Sunnis by Deborah Amos

Ryan Crocker, posted in the Middle East for over two decades and U.S. ambassador to Baghdad from 2007 to 2009, was asked in 2002 by Secretary of State Collin Powell to produce a memo regarding the future of Iraq should there be an invasion. Crocker predicted the fragmentation and chaos that would follow an invasion. The majority Shiites would vie for dominance over the minority Sunnis. Iraq’s neighbors would try to influence a weakened Iraq. He watched all of his predictions come to pass. (67)
In 2003, the foreign invasion destroyed the Iraqi state. Four million Iraqis have been displaced by the war. Sunnis fled, as did Christians. It became a Shiite dominated state. The invasion had overturned a long established order in the Arab region.
The new Iraqi constitution was approved in 2005 and for the first time in Iraqi history Islam was declared the official religion of the state. The second article of the constitution declared, “no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam.” (64) An Arab state that had previously tolerated Christians now targeted them for conversion or death.
Many fled to Syria and Amos recounts the result. “Syria was a confusing place.” (75) Damascus is a melting pot of dissidents, refugees, loyalists and more. Some fled to Lebanon.
Amos has interviewed many of the refugees and tells their sad stories of survival. When she asked them what kind of country would Iraq be, some answered, “I dare not think about it.” (167) “The American invasion that had removed Iraq from the balance-of-power equations on the Sunni side had tilted the region toward Tehran. The Sunni powers shuddered to think of living under the embrace of Shiite mullahs with nuclear arms.” (178)
Now, Iraq “[is] ranked as the most corrupt country in the Arab world, and the fourth most corrupt among all nations…” (195) “In 2009, more Iraqis were leaving than coming back.” (197) “Iraq [is] effectively a different country, transformed by the sectarian civil war. The Shiites had won, the Sunnis had lost.” (197) Christian minorities are still threatened. The EU stepped up resettlement quotas, promising places for Iraqis, mostly threatened Christians. (199)
Amos ends her book with encouraging words as the Obama administration tries to repair the damage done by the Bush administration. Diplomatic relations with Syria were on schedule to be reinstated. But the bad days for Iraq are not over.
Public Affairs, 213 pages.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

the napkin, the melon & the monkey by barbara burke

What a great little book!  At only 130 pages it is short on size but huge on life lessons.  In story (or parable) form, Burke shares the lessons she has learned in dealing with people.  Each of us is going to have problems.  It is how we deal with them that makes the difference.  She suggests, among other great ideas, when you get in a situation, Stop, Observe, Decide, Act.  The "aha" realizations are priceless.
A great book.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers

Rivers deviates from her usual fiction to investigate her ancestors.  In this novel, the first in a two part series, Rivers tells the story of her grandmother.  Marta was forced by her father to go to work as a young teen in Switzerland.  She manages to get to Canada where she lives her dream by owning a boarding house.  She marries and goes with her husband as he has agreed to sharecrop without her knowing.  After years of hardship they move to California, where the hardship continues.
Rivers writes well and the story is intriguing as the author tries to explain the hard feeling between River's mother and grandmother.  She does it in a manner totally believable.  I am looking forward to the sequel.
Tyndale House Publishers, 483 pages.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Radical by David Platt

Platt asks the reader to look at his or her Christianity. Is it true Christianity or has it been conformed to the idea of the “American dream”?
“Jesus commands us to go,” Platt says. “He has created each of us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and I propose that anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity.” (64)
We say only some need be concerned about global missions yet all Christian can claim the promise of abundant life in John 10:10. Platt says, “In the process we have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.” (73)
He recounts stories of people who “believe they were created for more than a Christian spin on the American dream.” (82) He explores what it means to be radically abandoned to Christ and invites the reader to let his or her heart be gripped “by the radical prospect that God has designed a radically global purpose for your life.” (82, 83)
Each of us needs to ask why we have been blessed. Is it so that we will have a comfortable life, a big house, a nice car, and great vacations? Or is it so that God will be glorified and the nations will know Him?
“Today more than a billion people in the world live and die in desperate poverty.” (108) Nearly half the work struggles to food, water and shelter today on what we might spend for an order of fries. How can we ignore this poverty when we live in comparative wealth? Platt reminds the reader of the comments Jesus made to the wealthy who ignored the needs of the poor. “Regardless of what we say or sing or study on Sunday morning, rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God.” (115)
Would you, like John Wesley, be willing to live on a fixed income and give the excess away? Are you willing to recognize that God has given you more, not so that you can have more, but so that you can give more?
Is this being radical, or just biblical?
Platt challenges the reader to live the radical life for one year.  Pray for the world.  Read through the Word.  Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.  Spend time in another context.  Commit to a multiplying community.  See if living for God's glory isn't more rewarding than living the American dream.
If reading this book doesn't make you want to change your life, I would truly wonder about the condition of your heart.
Multnomah, 217 pages.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Intervention by Terri Blackstock

Barbara's was a nice Christian family.  Then her husband died.  A couple of years later her teenage daughter Emily has become captive to drugs.  Barbara arranges to have her daughter sent to an intervention facility but the woman escorting Emily is murdered and Emily is observed fleeing the scene and is missing.
When the police are slow to believe Emily is innocent, Barbara takes matters into her own hands.  She struggles with trusting God as she pursues Emily and the kidnapper.  She eventually comes face to face with the man so taken with hatred that he is ready to kill again.
Blackstock tells us at the end of the book that she has written this novel out of her own experience.  She faced the struggle of intervention when her own daughter became addicted to drugs.
This is a good novel.  It has just enough family struggle and police intrigue to hold my interest.  This may be a hard novel for parents to read.  I do recommend it.

The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

Whenever I read a book by Andrews I am not sure whether it is fiction or not.  Andrews clarifies the issue in an author's note at the book's beginning.  He really did find some Nazi artifacts.  He used historical facts and wove a story around them to explain the presence of Nazi items on American soil.
It's a good story, too.  A young woman whose military husband was killed by the Germans finds a German on the beach in Alabama.  He was a crewman on a German sub and had been wounded by a Nazi who hated him.  He had managed to swim to shore.  The story unfolds as both characters must address their pain and seek forgiveness.
The reader is made aware of the German submarine presence off the U.S. coast during WW II and the many boats that were sunk.  The U.S. government repressed the reporting of this aspect of the war.  The facts, Andrews says, are true.  He even gives a website to check out the information regarding a sunken German submarine that was discovered about a decade ago in the Gulf of Mexico. 
The story is so well written you want to believe it's true.  And most of it is, says Andrews.  Names and places have been changed but the general story is based on actual events.  I loved the book.
I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for review.
Thomas Nelson, 248 pages.

Monday, May 3, 2010

90 Minutes in Heaven By Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

Piper was pronounced dead after a semi crossed over and hit his car.  A pastor in the line of waiting cars after the accident felt called to pray with Piper, even though discouraged by emergency personnel.  Ninety minutes after the accident, Piper began to sing along with the pastor.  He had come back to life.
Piper relates what he experienced in those ninety minutes although much of it is more than he is able to articulate.  His description of heaven is only a few pages.  The rest of the book contains Piper's experiences in the hospital (34 surgeries), recuperating and ministry he now does with severe accident victims.
Piper has assurance that heaven is real.  He knows that God is still in the miracle business and he knows that God answers prayer.
If you are expecting a detailed description of heaven, this book is not for you.  Piper is still skeptical of such detailed accounts but he is sure of his own experience.  He still has many questions, such as why God had him come back to earth.  Piper does have peace, however.
This book might be good for someone going through a long time of recovery after a serious medical problem.  There is not a clear presentation of the gospel so one would have to verbalize a gospel presentation if you wanted to use this book for that purpose.
Revell, 205 pages.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel

Yes, there are people who claim to be Christians yet live like they are not.  They don't know God.  They might be so ashamed of their past they think God would never love them.  They are workaholics.  They worry.  They live by double standards.  They strive to be happy whether it is what God wants or not.  They trust more in money than in God.  
Through his own experiences and those of others, Groeschel helps the reader deal with these and other issues so that a secure relationship with God can be established and lived out.
What does it mean to you to call yourself a Christian?  Are there inconsistencies between what you claim to believe and how you actually live?
Read this book and Groeschel will help you to authentic Christianity.
Zondervan, 240 pages.