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Review: I Am A Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus by Leonard Sweet

Review: I Am A Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus
Leonard Sweet
2012
Thomas Nelson

Sweet has produced what I consider to be his best work lately. Apparently, I am not alone in my opinion as the book has numerous recommendations preceding the title page. To add anything more than what has already been said seems unnecessary, but since my name is not one of the recognized group I will try to add something from the bottom tier of readers.

Sweet once again is coming against the business model method of church leadership. Yes, even the word leadership is a problem, but Sweet has a difficult time avoiding its use. He is correct though in opposing the mentality of professional churchmen and business practices that have driven the marketing of Christianity of late; however he is not opposed to “plundering the Egyptians” for items or techniques that might be useful. His repeated admonishment to the leaders of Christianity does help refocus on Who is actually supposed …

Review: A Woman’s Guide to Fasting by Lisa E. Nelson

Review: A Woman’s Guide to Fasting
Lisa E. Nelson
Bethany House Publishers
2011

I have read a couple of other guides to fasting, but this one is the best. At least, I think so. Lisa Nelson covers all the bases in this short work. Most important, is the repeated admonition that fasting is not a means to get something from God but that it has much to do with humility before God. That is worth taking the time to read this book in itself. The how-to part is necessary, but the why-to even more so.

Nelson’s style is so relaxed and readable. Her encouragement and personal insights make me want to reconsider the idea of fasting. Yes, I had tried it a couple of times and failed miserably. She offers several approaches to fasting as to length of a fast and timing, like, don’t try to fast over the holidays, unless you are specifically called to do so. I like this lady! She’s also very honest about some of the effects that fasting can have on the body. Good to know stuff even if it d…

Review: Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence by Gordon MacDonald

Review: Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence
Gordon MacDonald
Thomas Nelson
2011

A quiet, well told account of the shift to depth from program by MacDonald. I really think the book would be better suited for a pastoral audience than a general readership. Having said that, I do not mean that the general reader will not benefit from this book. For them, this book is so illustrative of a pastor’s heart and his challenge to follow God’s leading in his life and how it affects the congregation’s lives. Want to help your pastor? Read this book.

For the pastoral ministry group, this book shows how one pastor worked through a challenge put before him. The account is fictionalized, but still contains so much wisdom. Younger leaders need to have a mentor like this author portrays in this book. And the best part is that it so readable. Loved the presentation MacDonald chose for this. His characters are believable as well.

The down side is that there needs to be a sequel to show h…

Review: A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling

Review: A Heart for Freedom
Chai Ling
Tyndale House Publishers
2011

Powerful. Inspiring. Humbling. I was not expecting what this book delivered. It’s Chai Ling’s story to be sure, but it awakens so much more within the reader that I fear this review will fail to cover it adequately. I initially requested this book for review to discover the rest of the story of Tiananmen Square. The visual that is on the cover of that one student in front of the tank is all that most of us will know or remember of that time.

Her ability to tell this story is described as “gripping” by one endorsement and that is so true. The underlying story that comes to life through this book totally captivated me. I found it hard to put down. The hard parts are there too. They can make you cry for her and her countrymen. It is a well written work and a testimony to perseverance and courage.

Her story of freedom is more than Tiananmen Square; it’s the story of women everywhere and especially those who …

Review: With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. by Skye Jethani

Insightful, Illuminating and readable are the words that I think best describe this book. Jethani has focused on five tiny words---under, over, from, for, and with---to illustrate the different ways most of us relate to God. Brilliant idea, I think.

The writing is clear, thoughtful, and even touching from time to time. He does not leaving you hanging with no recommendations for change and does go on in an appendix to give the reader a few ideas that he found helpful. Nothing new there; we know what needs to happen, but a reminder certainly isn’t out of order.

You will find yourself identifying people you know, stages that you may have gone through, or even find yourself in the midst of now. This book explains one of the major reasons for burn-out and disillusionment among Christians.

I liked the inclusion of Loyola’s examen and the brief explanation of that practice. Made much more sense and is doable in Jethani’s version.

There is also a study guide for private or group st…

Review: What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. by Kevin DeYoung and Gregory D. Gilbert

DeYoung and Gilbert have authored a thoughtful look at the mission of the church. The first task they undertook was to sort through the different ideas and definitions of mission. They do arrive at what seems a reasonable definition, which means I generally agree with it. Much of the book is devoted to developing their theme that mission and ministries can be distinctly different, even to the place of losing sight of one another altogether.

Another point they make later is that the church, a Christian, and a bunch of Christians do not necessarily have the same focus, mission, or ministry. That is a very important point and I think needs to revisited and expanded. The confusion that these authors see about the mission of the church is based in that area, I think.

But, as well written as this book is, the crowning glory for it is the epilogue, a fictitious conversation between a young church starter and a mature pastor. If for no other reason than this epilogue, this book need…

Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD

Review: Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World.
Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD
Bethany House Publishers
2011

What a nice change of pace! Looking at the upside of major trends like finances, education, crime, marriage, environment and other big topics that are in constant conversation lately it seems. His approach to the material could not have been handled any better from a layman’s point of view. Wright’s area of expertise is sociology and he teaches at the university level. A textbook this is not. And I for one am very glad. So, when you flip through the book, don’t let the graphs scare you. His explanations are user friendly. The graphs are self explanatory and make nice summations of the discussion.

I was surprised by some of the results of his work, in that they did show positive trends. I was just sure what I had seen and heard elsewhere was more the case. Worldwide educational levels were one such area. The trend is upward. And that is the key to thi…

Review: 40 Days Without Food: Divine Goodness to a Starving Soul by Russ Masterson

In the author’s words, “I attempt to tell an honest story about faith, purpose, and love.” I think he has succeeded in his attempt. I found this book to be engaging and honest. This is not a how to fast manual. It is not hype about how wonderful the experience was for him. It is his story and he puts it all out there about the struggles he encountered during those 40 days. It is a road to discovery for him and most of the discoveries were painful. So why continue? Because he knows that he is growing personally and in his relationships through the process.

His diary style approach to the 40 days is interspersed with flashbacks that reveal some of his historical markers and how they generally are centered on a meal. Food and the table gatherings figure largely for the author and make the fasting more difficult for him in some ways. The struggles he chronicles here touched some of my own, too. What he learned and wrote helped me see some issues in a different light. One ex…

Review: Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running On Empty? by Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath has put words to my questions about what he calls the “New Atheism.” McGrath sees New Atheism as a form of anti-theism, “…an intense anger against religion, which is held to poison everything.” (16). Ah, now we are on the same page with McGrath.

Throughout this book he examines the work of the leading proponents of the New Atheism and one by one is able to show the inconsistencies of their arguments. The best thing is even though some of the points he makes have to do with the proper formation of logical arguments he writes so that those of us who are not schooled in that area can still understand him. That is why I like this book so much. It is clear and yet leaves very little unsaid. It isn’t long either and can be read in an afternoon, and McGrath has engaged several of the New Atheism leaders in conversation. One other tidbit about McGrath, he holds an advanced degree in one of the hard sciences. He is not just taking shots from some scholarly vantage poi…

Review: Seeing the Unseen: Cultivate a Faith That Unveils the Hidden Presence of God by T.W. Hunt

It is so good to see Dr. Hunt back in the saddle again. His work is among some of the best, if not the best out there in the area of prayer. Seeing the Unseen is no exception. His candor and his knowledge of prayer show forth in this short book like a beacon in the night. He shares with his readers his years of experience in prayer without all the fluff that accompanies other books I’ve read on the subject. He makes it clear that the occasional prayer meeting will not suffice if you seriously want to see the unseen, grow in faith, and know God better than you do at this moment. He also doesn’t promise instant prayer warrior status either. He makes it clear that growth is a process, that takes time, and that it takes practice. But he also makes it clear that the end result is well worth the effort.

So what didn’t I like about this book? Not much really. I could have done without some of the introductory stuff, but it was interesting. Slows down the rapid consumption of wha…

Garden, Class, and other Time Eaters

Must be time for another non-review entry.  Good intentions to visit more often just aren't enough.  It's all I've got, though.  Yes, that was a very lame excuse.  It'll have to do.

So what have I been doing that takes up all my time?  Recently, I've been pushing to get a course done before the end of the month.  Tons of reading and three papers later I'm almost there.  Need the final and a "reflection paper" now.  Close, very close to reaching the finish line.  I think I'm beginning to get the hang of how to do these independent study courses.  Beginning, I say.  They are much more work than the online versions.  By about two papers at least and several progress reports.  Believe it or not I am enjoying this.  Learning a few things along the way too.  Start another course first part of July, but it's an online one.  Need the rest from this one.

Got a jury summons.  Suppose to be some sort of privilege, but it ends up being more like voter intim…

Review: We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional thoughts on Heaven by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn uses edited excerpts of Spurgeon’s sermons about heaven in this devotional and adds some of his own content. They make wonderful compliment to Spurgeon. For those who are not familiar with the life and preaching of Charles Spurgeon, Alcorn introduces him throughout this 50 day devotional. The introduction carries a short biography of his life and work, and then Alcorn weaves other fascinating bits of information into his content. But…this isn’t a book to glorify Spurgeon or Alcorn. Its theme is God and the Heaven that He inhabits and shares with His children.

The first few readings are situated in the place where the focus on heaven is the most pronounced, after the death of someone near and dear to us. Sadness gives way to joy as the reader progresses through these opening days. And it continues that way throughout the rest of the book. Alcorn’s comments and illustrations help reinforce the encouragement or exhortation that Spurgeon provides. There are a few ent…

Review: The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi

I downloaded this book for review, but didn’t get to it right away. What a sad mistake. This probably the freshest Christian writing I have read in a long time. Bravo for the author! It inspires, reveals a lost history and lets the reader inside some of the Eastern religions in a way I had not seen before. There’s an impressive group of recommendations for this book but I generally don’t pay much attention to them. For some reason I did this time and it isn’t the usual list that congratulate each other’s work. He has drawn praise from a wide range of readers.

I literally anticipated reading the next page and chapter. A rare thing for me. Reading about something that some in the West have taken for granted or dismissed from the perspective of a people that did not have such a book was humbling, indicting, and awesome. It had been a long time since I have experienced such uplifting work. Read this book! is all I can say.

This book was provided for me for review from BookSnee…

Review: Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competenciew of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks

An endorsement from Chelsea Cain on the back cover of this book says, “This book will make you smarter about the craft. Period.” I totally agree with that opinion. This is a book that covers ground I not seen in other books about how to write the novel you know you can. Maybe the other books I’d read had this information, but he explains it in a way I can understand more clearly. I discovered why one of my forays into such an endeavor was minimally successful and the other attempts much less so. There is much to commend this book to the DIY group of novelists out there.

His repeated, and I mean repeated insistence, that all the core competencies must work together is so important I cannot omit it. Seems reasonable, but in the pages that surround all that insisting I found that even some of the foundational ones were weak or missing in my attempts. How about yours? Please read this book. Go the extra mile or so up front and see if he’s telling you the truth. He does cover …

Quince, Hill Country, Tacos, and Tin Roof

Wow!  It's May already.  Not sure how that happened, but the calendar says it's so.  Part of last month was a vacation and a nice one too.  The quince, as they called it for short, came off without any major glitches and the honoree was sooo pretty in her fancy dress.  It was definitely her evening to shine.  And shine she did.  A little girl, no more.  She has officially joined the ranks of young lady.  I guess in the old days this was a signal for the suitors to line up for their evaluation as possible marriage material.  Not so nowadays, but the custom remains anyway.  

Had some time in the Hill Country after the party and some relaxation was just what the doctor ordered, in a manner of speaking.  There was no doctor or any order from one, but the time was nice.  Didn't know why the skies were so hazy, but discovered later that range fires were burning all over the state.  They didn't get much news coverage, but after a million or so acres a few sites picked up on it…

Review: Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing

Now that was a pretty wild ride---I mean read. It’s written in the style of several of the business books I’ve seen lately. Fast paced, high energy, and packed with all sorts of stuff. I liked it. If you are looking for some overall theme it is probably something along the lines of a wakeup call in your life, or at least five distinct areas of it.

Cooke is a media guy and understands how to connect. In fact in one of his microbursts he states that he starts with knowing who he’s talking to before he starts his communication. Now that sounds pretty sensible, but it doesn’t happen in some circles as often as it could. He’s got all the right words and hooks you right from the start. That isn’t to say that he does not deliver substance. He definitely does, repeatedly in this book. My advice is to give it a decent first read and go back to some of the areas that need attention now. Oh, I think he mentioned that too.

Each Jolt! is neatly packaged and nearly independent of the o…

Review: Love Written in Stone: Finding God’s Grace in the Boundaries He Sets Philip Carson, MD

Dr. Philip Carson MD has written a book that most of us need to read now, and review regularly. He reminds us in several ways that the grace of God found in His expectations upon us is not restrictive but provides the freedom we desire and the healing in body and spirit that is lacking for many of us today. Divided into four different sections he addresses relationships not only with others, but with God as well. Topics like forgiveness, love, commitment and even sex (It’s important and too often an avoided topic.) are discussed. Later in the last two sections, he focuses on health issues and finally the environment. Sounds like a lot and it is, but the author is able to focus in each area with enough depth to be helpful without wearying the reader. Illustrations carry the weight and are well chosen for the point they convey.

There’s very little to say on the negative side, in my opinion. What did concern me is that the folks that could benefit the most from this book will pro…

April!!

Decidedto start thismonth with a post.  Amazing!  The only thing if I don't do it now it'll be a month before I get around to it again.  It's April and snowing.  At least it's not supposed to be the major event like it had been originally forecast.  Or maybe this is the way Nature plans on an April Fool's joke.  Have to wait and see.  

On a different note...got a notification that I'd won a Mosaic Bible from Tyndale.    Entered a contest on their site for bloggers and won.  Yea!!  Looks like a good version too.  Could've have been better timing for me since I'd been looking for a new one for a while.  It has some devotional items included that are right where I am right now spiritually.  Looking forward to claiming it.   Thank you, Tyndale!

Speaking of spiritual things, I think there's a shift in my perspective in progress.  I've noticed it for a while and thought it was just the results of reading different material, but I now believe it'…

Japan, Libya, and Who Knows What Else?

Boy!  Things are happening.  The world can change quickly some times.  Other times it seems to drag on and on.  The quickly part is Japan, of course.  First a major earthquake.  That was bad enough but the tsumani afterward was worse yet.  The numbers of displaced persons is staggering.  Last I heard it was well over 400,000.  The town I live in isn't anywhere as large.  The devastation was shocking.  The media reports here whined about a few boats getting bashed around in a marina.  What is the matter with them?!!  Thousands of people died in a moment and they act as if a boat matters more. 

The rebuilding cannot start for a large area until the nuclear plants are safe again and an alternate source of power has been established.  That has got to a major ordeal.  Hopefully, they will relocate some of the nuclear generation to another area when they begin to recover.  Have to wonder what sort of long term planning that entails.

Could you imagine that happening here?  I'm not sur…

Review: Deeper into the Word, Keri Wyatt Kent

Review: Deeper into the Word: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament.
Keri Wyatt Kent
Bethany House
2011

Deeper into the Word is a compilation of word studies, but is definitely not a lifeless dictionary. In fact, once I picked it up I found myself grazing through several entries at a time. So don’t ignore this little gem. It could be used for private study or as an aid in lesson preparation for those that teach. She includes endnotes for her references. Most of works she cites are not beyond the most modest budget, and several of them can be accessed online. A list of some of those sites is included near the end of the book.

For those that lean toward the more studious side she also includes the Greek derivation for the words studied. That helps us English only types see some additional shades of meanings that just aren’t as obvious in English or highlights the differences more vividly. Her entry for “friend” is an example of the latter.

Don’t skip the introductio…

Time to Check In

It has been a very long time since I've done anything besides reviews here.  Decided to rectify that with a little rambling now.  Why haven't I come around?  Not sure really.  Winter mostly, I think.  It's still officially winter but the days are longer now by about an hour and a half.  That helps.  

Other excuses---been working on the courses I'm taking.  Just finishing up one now and deciding on the next one.  This one was hermeneutics and my first try at an online class.  Not sure if it was a good experience or not.  Don't feel like I learned very much, but time will tell.  Liking the subjects so far and that's the main point as far as I am concerned.  Had an epiphany just lately that these classes are the substitutes for being able to explore the physical world.  That has been curtailed drastically and the world of learning is accessible all the time.  Thought that was a significant discovery.  Takes the guilt away.  What guilt?  The money and not having som…

Review: While the World Watched

Review: While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement
Carolyn Maul McKinstry with Denise George
Tyndale House Publishers
2011
Poignant. Essential reading, for the young and the not so young. This is her story, but it is much more than that. I too came of age during that time, but had no idea anything like was happening in my country; a country I had been taught believed all men are created equal. This only happened in some far off dictator led place. Here, no. I remember seeing the news reports of the events that she mentions but I did not understand their importance at the time. In my part of the country only the Vietnam War mattered. We were preventing the spread of communism. How ironic. Stop one form of oppression while ignoring our own. We are more aware now, right? Not too sure if that’s true.
McKinstry reveals her heart as well as her history in this book. She does so gently and honestly. There’s no vent…

Review: While the World Watched

Review: While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement
Carolyn Maul McKinstry with Denise George
Tyndale House Publishers
2011
Poignant. Essential reading, for the young and the not so young. This is her story, but it is much more than that. I too came of age during that time, but had no idea anything like was happening in my country; a country I had been taught believed all men are created equal. This only happened in some far off dictator led place. Here, no. I remember seeing the news reports of the events that she mentions but I did not understand their importance at the time. In my part of the country only the Vietnam War mattered. We were preventing the spread of communism. How ironic. Stop one form of oppression while ignoring our own. We are more aware now, right? Not too sure if that’s true.
McKinstry reveals her heart as well as her history in this book. She does so gently and honestly. There’s no vent…

Review: Fasting: The Ancient Practices Series Scot McKnight

Review:
Fasting: The Ancient Practices Series
Scot McKnight
Tomas Nelson
2009

Fasting from The Ancient Practices Series is another of the books that seeks to encourage the reader to consider a practice that most religious orders practiced regularly in the past. Fasting is one that has all but been forgotten in most Christian circles. The reasons for that are varied according to McKnight but primarily because of loss of the notion that the body and soul is an integrated unit.
He opens with a discussion of body image, one that focuses on the link between the body and the spirit and develops the theme from there. One development from that is the reason an individual fasts at all. It is not as he points out repeatedly to obtain some favor from God. It is he thinks an expression that comes from a significant or as he calls it “grievous” (xviii) sacred moment. His definition works but it will take the reader a while to understand what he means by it.
The book overall is gently wri…

Review: Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices Brian D. McLaren

Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices
Brian D. McLaren
Thomas Nelson
2008

As stated in the forward written by Phyllis Tickle, this book is the first in The Ancient Practice Series. I had read some of McLaren’s work in the past so I was anxious to see what he had written here. His writings are engaging and persuasive, and this book is not different in those respects. What I did find interesting was a more settled, studied tone. He seems to have matured in some aspects.
The ancient practices are the spiritual disciples that have been around for centuries but largely ignored in some regions of Christianity. This book constitutes a brief overview of the practices and some anecdotal tales of his attempts at translating them from the monasteries to general laity. Keeps the reading friendlier I think.
His writings will rock your boat. You will not agree with some of what he says. You will see some areas that are in need of attention as well. While I tend towa…