Monday, December 26, 2011
A Marriage Carol
Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman
Jacob and Marlee’s marriage was at an end. They both knew it. They had not yet told the kids, but today was to be the end. They were due at the lawyer’s office to sign the papers for a no-fault divorce. It was time, but the weather would not cooperate. To save time they take a shortcut that leads to the accident.
In the hours that follow as Marlee finds help and looks for her husband, she is also faced with her own life - her life as it was, her life as it is, and her life as it might be. It was a long night - a night that did not end the way she had expected. On the other hand … well, you will need to read the book to find out about that other hand.
As Marlee writes, in the first person, “... it is a dangerous thing to have your eyes opened. It is dangerous to see. It is dangerous to love … There is no barren place on earth that love cannot grow a garden. Not even your heart.”
The Marriage Carol may be written as fiction, but it is not fiction. It is my story, it is my wife’s story. But not ours alone - it is many stories of people who have found themselves hurt, lost, and confused. And, just as my wife and I discovered, it is a story that offers hope. It was hope that Dickens offered in 1843 when he wrote the original; it still offers hope for us today.
This review is based
a free electronic copy of the book
supplied by the publisher
for the purpose of creating this review.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The Big Book of American Trivia
J. Stephen Lang
Fun, Fun, Fun.
While I have collected trivia books for several years, most of them have focused on Biblical or church history. I was excited to discover this 360 page book of American History trivia. However, the book was not quite what I expected - but I was not disappointed.
As I picked up the book, I expected to find a series of anecdotes - brief essays - giving trivial facts from American history. Rather, the book is a series of 3,000 questions (and answers). Topics include -
- National, Regional, and Local history
- Well-known monuments (National, Regional, and Local)
- American Personalities (Presidents, song writers, comedians, etc.)
- The arts
- In what year’s World Series was “The Star-Spangled Banner” played at a sports event for the first time? (The answer can be found on page 239)
- What major East Coast city has a Cherry Blossom Festival every April? (The answer can be found on page 145)
- What outdoorsy president was the first president to ride in an automobile? (The answer can be found on page 205)
- What 20th century president was the first to be born in a hospital? (The answer can be found on page 259)
These questions, taken from the back cover of the book, demonstrate that the book can be as much fun as it is educational.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Each of the four stories has it’s roots in the stories we grew up with, but then they are expanded beyond the historic tales passed down to us from our parents and grandparents through story and song. Paul Bunyan is given credit for creating the Golden Plains of Kansas, the Grand Canyon, the greatest of the Great Lakes, the Smoky Mountains, and the bayous of the American South, and the Land of 10,000 Lakes (hey, I remember that one).
Take a trip down memory lane - and share that journey with the children of today. Remember the fantasy that became the folk lore of a previous generation and don’t let it get lost in this one. Tall:Great American Folktales is a wonderful way to carry on those stories.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Between trying two cases, including the man accused of her mother’s murder, her life is shaken to the core. She learns that people are not always who they seem - the ones she trusts are not all trustworthy; those she distrusts are not what she feared.
The Last Plea Bargain is fun journey through the legal system. Randy Singer’s writing can be compared favorably to that of Robert Whitlow (author of Water’s Edge, Greater Love, and Life Everlasting, et al) an accomplished author and lawyer. Jamie Brock and we, the readers, will learn to look at people with grace filled eyes, rather than the boxes that are so easy to build around them. And when we do, good things are bound to happen.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
John MacArthur’s At The Throne of Grace proves that point. His prayers, if truely said from the Sunday pulpit as the book claims, is as much about teaching as it is about speaking to God.
Each prayer begins with a brief scripture reading and a devotional - then comes the sample prayer. The prayers are well-written - a pleasure to read; though, as a pastor, I would feel uncomfortable using them in a worship service. Here is a portion of a prayer following a devotional on I John 2:1-19:
Dear Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,
we confess that You alone are the giver of every good and perfect gift,1
and You have given us so many things,
richly supplying us with things to enjoy.2
And we are reminded by the passage we have just read that
the greatest gift of all is Your Son, Jesus Christ,
who sacriﬁced His very life in order that
we might be freed from sin’s bondage.
Fill our hearts with gratitude, and may our lives
reﬂect overﬂowing thankfulness
so that all who see may honor You.
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1.James 1:17 2.I Timothy 6:17
The most helpful part of the book is how it has directed my attention to other books on prayer:
Alexander MacLaren, Pulpit Prayers
C H Spurgeon, The Pastor In Prayer
Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
Stormie Omartian, Powerful Prayers For Troubled Times
Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers
Those of the ones that I added to my reading list as a result of starting MacArthur’s book of prayers. Each reader will want to add their own selection as they continue to think about the role prayer will play in their own life.
Do you want to learn to pray? Begin by praying. Then read the prayers of those who have gone before - let them teach us.
Though I reside firmly in the Wesleyan/Arminian camp, I did attended a Calvinist leaning seminary and taught at a Reformed Church of America college during my career. I have heard and studied the arguments from both sides and have come to some conclusions on my own. Taking the time to read Horten and Olson has allowed me to revisit decisions that I made some 35 or more years ago. Those decisions have not changed, but these two books did allow me to rewalk a path that I traveled years ago.
Olson’s book is not so much a defense of a Wesleyan/Arminian faith, but a reflection of the problems presented by those who follow the teachings of John Piper or R C Sproul. Though I, as indicated above, did find myself immersed in their teaching, I have never read their writings. I found Horton’s and Olson’s books helpful in understanding the Calvinist position as it is being expounded in the first decade of the 21st century. Both draw on the writing of current propounders of Calvinism, but also draw heavily from those in both its early history and the more recent past of the 17th - 20th centuries.
Olson’s book is not merely a restatement of non-biblical writers, he also reflects on both the obvious and the more difficult passages of scripture - which one would expect from a well-written theology text.
Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism is recommended reading for those both in and out and on the fence as they relate to Calvinism. Reading Michael Horton and Roger Olson together is the best solution in studying and understanding the current issues involved in this five century old debate.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Intro.: There are some who think that Thanksgiving is the best holiday.
Lots of food, family, and fun.
But we don't have the added complications of decorating a tree (yet), buying or wrapping presents.
Dinner is just as good, but only half the work.
It is time to focus on all that we have received – both in the past and especially the past year.
It is a time to thank the people that have contributed to our lives in one way or another. It is also a time to thank God for all that he has done – be it for His salvation or the care and love he has shown to us.
I want to spend some time this morning thinking about this thing we call the “Love of God”.
Read: I John 4:7-12
Trans: For those of us who are a part of the church, there is a connection between Thanksgiving and Love –
Brennan Manning once wrote “I believe that the real difference in the American church is not between conservatives and liberals, fundamentalists and charismatics, or Republicans and Democrats. The real difference is between the aware and the unaware. When somebody is aware of the love that the Father has for Jesus, that person is spontaneously grateful. Cries of thankfulness become the dominant characteristic of the interior life, and the byproduct of gratitude is joy. We’re not joyful and then become grateful—we’re grateful, and that makes us joyful.”1
T.S. In the next few minutes, as we prepare for Thanksgiving I would like to spend time looking at this thing called the love of God.
Their is no reason to believe in God's love, short of the fact that Scriptures tell me so.
I look in the daily news paper and I have no reason to be convinced that we have a loving God:
The number of violent crimes committed in the US is virtually unchanged since 1980. Though the number of murders and robberies has decreased, but all other types of violent crimes has increased.2
Nearly a 1000 US military personnel die each year in the course of doing their duties.3
There are 1.5 million new cancer cases diagnosed each year. Each year almost 600,000 people will die either from that cancer or from complications related to it.4
A casual look at the daily news leaves a great deal of doubt of God's love.
Unless, I turn to the word of God, there is no way I could know of God's love. I can know of God's existence, I can know of God's power. I could even sing of an awesome God – but until I turn to the scriptures, I can know nothing of God's love. It is there that it is revealed.
No one but God could have revealed that to the world.
Scripture tells me “God is love”;
Scripture tells me “For God so loved the world ...”
Scripture tells me “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you...”
Though there may be times that I don't feel that love, but God's word never changes.
His love is constant.
A Father's Love5
(Ill.) One of my favorite country songs from the past few years is sung by George Strait - “Love Never Ends”, though it goes by the more common name of “A Father's Love.”:
The problem of course is that each have a different concept of a Father's Love – depending on love, or the lack thereof, was shown to us as children.
For some of us, the image of a father that comes to mind might be a very stern man – with an impossible set of rules, that no one could follow. I wonder if God is like that father?
Or you may have grown up in a home where the rules were always changing – you could never know for sure whether you were obeying the right set of rules on Tuesday, because on Thursday the rules would be changing again. The person growing up in this family could never get it right. I wonder if God is like this?
Then we need to ask the question – how do we really learn about God?
Our parents may or may not have reflected a loving, caring God.
Or do we turn to the media for our spiritual instruction – movies like Bruce Almighty, or TV shows like Joan of Arcadia, or even music like “A Father's Love”
The media only show a glimpse of God – and likely as fractured glimpse at that.
Jesus told us something about God's love, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9) John, the brother of Jesus tells us more,
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be
called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the
world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved,
now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we
will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him,
because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:1—2, NASB)
- But I think Paul says it best, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'“ (Romans 8:15) “Abba” was the way that children would have said “Daddy”.
Our relationship to God is to be personal, close, loving. We are God's adopted children I God's adopted children in Christ Jesus, through Him we have become spiritual sons and daughters.
(Ill.) Max Lucado tells of a time when he and his daughter Jenna were spending several days in the old city of Jerusalem.
One afternoon, as we were exiting the Jaffa gate, they found themselves behind an orthodox Jewish family—a father and his three small girls. One of the daughters, perhaps four or five years of age, fell a few steps behind and couldn’t see her father. “Abba!” she called to him. He spotted her and immediately extended his hand.
When the signal changed, he led her and her sisters through the intersection. In the middle of the street, he reached down and swung her up into his arms and continued their journey.
Isn’t that what we all need? An abba who will hear when we call? Who will take our hand when we are weak? Who will guide us through the hectic intersections of life? Don’t we all need an abba who will swing us up into his arms and carry us home? We all need a father.
Manning, in “The Dick Staub Interview: Brennan Manning on
Ruthless Trust,” ChristianityToday.com quoted in Larson, C.
B., & Ten Elshof, P. (2008). 1001 illustrations that connect
(31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
5Blemins, Winfield H. (2011). Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of the Historic Christian Faith (460/2261). Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I looked forward to reading this graphic novelization of Sherlock Holmes, but ultimately found myself less than satisfied. The stories were certainly not the same quality as I would expect from a Holmes author, be it Arthur Conan Doyle or otherwise. The title attempts to lay down an early history for Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson. It is a collection of six stories originally published as individual issues. At the time of writing, Sherlock is a little known problem solver; Dr. Watson is an employee of London’s Criminology Lab. They have a growing admiration for each other as they stumble through their early cases together.
I did enjoy the artwork, as a whole; though occasionally it did become difficult to track individual characters - I suspect, however, that this may have been a result of reading an electronic copy of the book rather than a printed copy.
The stories introduce us to some of the characters that will become familiar to those who have read Doyle’s original stores: Inspector Lestrade and Irene Adler are good examples.
I expect that the knowledgable Holmes reader would get a great deal from the title. The average reader will enjoy the stories for what they are, stories.
Monday, November 14, 2011
It was with some trepidation that I first picked up this, the first of two books commissioned by Zondervan, evaluating Calvinism. As an established Arminian trained in a Calvinist seminary, I have been disappointed over the years at both Wesleyan and Calvinist who tend to set straw men to define those who have followed alternative opinion. Michael Horton attempts in this book to clearly state a traditional Calvinist position – he is not defending TUPIP, but a clearly stated version of the Reformed position as articulated by Calvin and his heirs. When he does choose to compare Calvinism to Arminianism, he chooses from both classical theologians (e.g. Richard Watson) and more modern spokesman (e.g. Clark Pinnock).
I found the book readable and enjoyable – even as I disagreed with some of the conclusions to which the author arrives. Regardless of whether the reader comes as a Calvinist, an Arminian, or if the reader is searching, the book is a good introduction to the Reformed faith.
I will look forward to reading the other Zondervan title being published in parallel with Horton' text, Against Calvinism by Roger Olson.
This review is based on an electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating an unbiased review.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
How does a man who has been preaching, in one form or another, for over seventy years, a man who has shared his faith with twelve presidents, a man who is probably more well known than any spiritual leader alive today, still manage to inspire and encourage believers? By writing his memoirs and sharing his life, both as lived in the past and as experienced today, with the world he served.
Billy's writing is true and honest – both as he talks about his losses and his joys. He cannot wait to get home, but he also wants to live what years God gives to him to His glory. And as he writes, he asks the same of us.
As I slowly enter what most would consider elderly (I am sixty), I serve as the pastor/chaplain of a group of men and ladies who are ten to twenty years older than I. Graham provides me with goals for myself and for those I serve. My prayer is that I may be as encouraging as Billy Graham is to his readers when, and if, I reach the age of 93.
This review is based on a free copy
of the book provide by the publisher
for the purpose of creating this review.
Jimmy Wayne with Travis Trasher
My wife and I have participated in a number of Christmas based charities: Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child or Heifer International's Heifer Project. Though we have never participated in Paper Angels, when given the opportunity, the book caught my eye.
The stories of Kevin (a father and entrepreneur) and Thomas (a high school student from a broken home) are interwoven. Though they never meet, the decisions and circumstances of their lives bring changes, possibly eternal changes, to both their lives and to the lives of their families. Thoughout the book we are reminded that how we live our lives is not just about us; but the choices we make can reach far beyond our individual lives. Those choices are about families, friends, and communities – for good or bad.
I have come to enjoy the work of Travis Trasher – this is the third or fourth book that I have read by this author. I was not disappointed. At times the book was a bit slow, but it was well worth reading. It is a good introduction to Travis Trasher and his writing.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I am sitting here with very conflicted feelings about this book. At first, I felt that a book aimed at 1st graders about communications and the Internet was a bit premature. Then I remembered a news item that appeared earlier this week saying that 52% of kids younger than eight are using some kind of mobile device - a smart phone or a tablet - on a daily basis.
With that knowledge, Jennifer Boothroyd book make sense. To the average teen, the books contents would seem strange - full of well known information; but to the 1st grader who is just learning about the role that phones, computers, and communication in his or her world, the book will begin to provide a larger perspective to their quickly developing world.
My only concern is that the vocabulary may be a bit beyond that of a 1st grader - the age group toward which the book seems to be aimed.
Though not designed for the grandparent or even the parent, the book would help a young child begin to become an understanding user of modern technology.
This review is based on an electronic copy
of the book provided by the publisher
for the purpose of creating this review.
Dickens tells us the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bennett tells us the story of Jacob T. Marley. It is a touching story - with bits of horror and of grace. I would not call it a “tear jerker”; but as I read, I did find tears coming to my eyes. Marley had to carry the chains of his greed as he revisited his past decisions - and saw the consequences of all that preceded his own death.
As the author creatively interweaves the lives of the Marley and Scrooge families, we not only see the great sadness created by their decisions, but we see the grace which each man was capable of showing, given the chance.
Monday, October 24, 2011
It Couldn’t Just Happen
Lawrence O. Richards
The author has used a gentle touch to introduce theology to children - though as an adult I also found it very readable and challenging. It is the book that can be read as a daily devotional, be read as review of how God’s creative work in this wonderful world, or sit on the coffee table to attract the attention of curious visitors.
Lawrence Richards has brought his lifetime of work in children’s ministry to bear with the colors, the chosen text, the concepts covered, to make the book attractive to children or young teens. The questions that are raised in the classroom are addressed - probably not sufficiently to respond to a teacher’s objections, but certainly to assist the inquisitive child to look further into how God creation came to be.
Grandparent, parent, or child - this book is recommended as a place to begin an exploration of God’s creation.
This review is based on an electronic copy of the text
provided by the publisher for the purpose of
creating this review.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
When an experienced cop writes a police thriller, the result is awesome - at least in this case. Though I cannot speak to the for the authenticity of the action - but it did hold my attention.
When Carley Edwards is pulled off patrol, even after being cleared of the shooting, she cannot but wonder why. At the same time, other questions continue to pop to the surface - the integrity of her fellow officers, a successful mayor is murdered, her mother’s home is firebombed - it does not make any sense.
And in the midst of all this confusion Carley’s faith, or rather the lack of it, is challenged.
Altogether it makes for a readable book that I could not put down - holding my interest as the best police drama on TV or at the theater can do. And when I got to the end of the book, I found I wanted more. And there will be more as Accused is the first in the “Pacific Coast Justice Series” being written by this author.
Throughout the book, Carley is encouraged to examine her faith. Finally, she is challenged to ask God to reveal himself. What does she have to lose - if He does not exist, then nothing has changed; and if He does, she would find her world turned upside down. In the course of the book she does exactly that - and her life is turned upside down.
Janice Cantore has done a good job of blending the drama of the police force, the diversity of life, and mystery of faith into an exciting and engaging novel - which should appeal to men and women from all walks of life.
This review is based on a free copy of the book
provided by the publisher
for the purpose of creating this review.
Friday, October 21, 2011
The last time I read a rewritten classic, I was sorely disappointed. Happily, this was not the case as I read John Bisago's Pastor's Handbook.
I also found myself surprised at the style of the book – I expected to see sample worship service, sample prayers, sample sermon outlines. I found these – but I found so much more. The book is laid out as a series of devotionals – each about 2-1/2 pages in length. Each “devotional” is rooted in scripture, but it is also practical.
Beginning with a series of short devotionals (i.e. essays) on the nature and the origin of the church, the book moves on to more practical matters. The section headings provide a survey of the topics covered:
Part 1: The Church
Part 2: The Pastor as God's Man
Part 3: The Pastor as Spiritual Leader
Part 4: The Pastor as Organizational Leader
Part 5: The Pastor as Preacher
Part 6: Worship Services
Part 7: Programs and Ministries
Part 8: The Church Staff
Part 9: The Church Finances
Part 10: Facilities and Operations
Part 11: Other Important Matters
Part 12: Issues/Taking a Position
A closer look at the table of contents will provide a more detailed look at the subjects covered.
Though the author is now a retired pastor, he does not speak for the graying church. He recognizes the need for the church to be more than it was it was – it will reach out to speak to people from various cultures and different generations.
Though I come from the Wesleyan Church, I found John Bisago's book interesting, helpful and encouraging. Pastors and leaders from across the ecclesiastical spectrum would be assisted in reaching their world for Christ as they take the time to study the 400 pages of the Pastor's Handbook.
I was glad to have the opportunity to read this book
This review is based on an electronic copy of the book provided
without cost by the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.
Friday, October 14, 2011
I was wrong. The book was an easy read - yet full of theological and practical insight as an experienced pastor is challenged, first by God and then by his church, to redefine his ministry. Rather than being the church’s CEO, he was to become its CTO - the Chief Training Officer. Rather than running the business of the church, he was to become the main discipler within the church.
It took time to understand what God would want - but with the advice of a high school principle, his wife, and the local Reformed Rabbi, he gradually understood what God would expect of him - we then watch him fulfill those expectations.
The book itself is a daily, weekly, or periodic look (using a undated calendar) at how Pastor MacDonald (remember, it is fiction) changes his ministry. Practicality is mixed with principles as the author takes us through two years of his life as he changes his job description - and he does a good job of doing so.
This review is based on a free copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.
Beginning with a very strange election to the office of the President of the United States, Independent Robert Long must deal a cast of characters that supported him during the election, as well as those from the Republican and Democratic party. Along with the politicos that define Long’s administration, he must also respond to his Clair’s, his wife’s, alcoholism.
Though the President does get his way, in the end, most of those whose lives are touched by the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice will find their reputation hurt, their families damaged, and a sad lacking of God’s grace.
This review is based on an Advanced Readers Copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of completing this review.