Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel for Real Life

Book Review:  The Gospel for Real Life
By Jerry Bridges

The Gospel for Real Life is a systematic look at the Gospel through the lens of covenant theology. Bridges approaches the topic in a basic academic tone, making it at least approachable for the common reader if not completely accessible. He begins with our need for salvation because of sin’s hold on our life, works through God’s law, the death and resurrection of Christ, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the hope of transformation for the believer today and in eternity.

While I did not find anything particularly wrong with Bridges’ theology, there were two points I was disappointed by. The first is that I was expecting Max Lucado and got John Piper. The title is a little misleading.  I guess I imagined a book with the sub-heading “Turn to the Liberating Power of the Gospel . . . Every Day” would have more common man/everyday applications than just to “pray/remember the Gospel everyday.”  The second disappointment comes because unlike John Piper, Bridges focuses on the means more than the end. The good news of the Gospel is all about reconciliation with God, which means we get to know God. We can talk to Him, and He’ll talk to us. Bridges acknowledges the importance of reoncilation and prayer, but doesn't spend much time on either, which detracts from the Gospel message.  Understanding how our relationship with God is possible is a worthy pursuit, but not as worthy as the relationship itself.

The Gospel for Real Life is a great book if you want to know about God. If you want to know God, you can start with this book, but then repent, study the scriptures, do what they say, and most importantly seek His face.

A review copy was received from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Like Children

In a few days, I’m having a birthday.  I’ll be 33 years old.  Yep, if I live to one hundred, my life will be one third of the way over.  Thirty-three is also the age that scholars believe Jesus was when He died.  From my current perspective, I can’t help but look back and notice how short of a life that would have been, though He accomplished a lot in that short time. 

That said, the other night, I asked God to show me something new.  And He did, and it was a whopper, related to age.   It honestly shifted my perspective about everything I ever thought I knew about life, the universe, and everything. 

Let’s start with some explanation.  God created man to live forever.   When sin entered the world, death followed, and so Adam died after he lived 930 years.  His son lived 912 years, and so on and so on, until Noah, when God saw that 1,000 years just brought man to a point where every thought he had was evil, so God cut back the lifespan of human beings to 120 years, which is our current threshold.  But, Isaiah 65:20 says that there is a day coming when,

No longer will there be an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed.

What is 33 years compared to eternity?  For that matter what is 33 years compared to 1,000 years?  It’s nothing.  Isaiah says a youth will live to be 100 years old.  By those standards a 33 year old is just a child

And when that thought hit me, my perspective on a lot of verses in the Bible suddenly shifted. 

Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15)

"Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

Jesus isn’t talking about shifting our thinking to somehow make ourselves think like toddlers or little kids; He is saying we need to shift our thinking to realize we are just toddlers and little kids.  We die in our youth because of the curse of sin.  No matter how much we think we know, even the smartest and wisest among us is just a baby that might have learned to walk earlier than the rest. 

But then I began to question, “what about the whole, ‘ I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things’ deal Paul talks about.  Doesn’t that mean we grow up in this lifetime?  Hasn’t every pastor and teacher I’ve heard use that verse when talking about spiritual and physical maturity? 

So, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13 to read it again.  This is what it says in context:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

That verse is set in the context of entering eternity.  Yes we will grow up, but not until we see Jesus face-to-face in eternity.  Until then, we have to recognize that in this life we are and will never be anything but children.  This is a humbling thought, just as Jesus said it is.  That’s what it means to be a “child” of God.  That’s what it means to have an eternal perspective, to really understand that this life is just the beginning.

And then I thought about Jesus’ life on Earth.  He was given as a sacrifice at 33 years old, and He is called the “lamb of God,” not the ram of God, but the “lamb”.  This isn’t just semantics to fulfill the atonement of the old covenant.  He was a baby when he died.  And at this point when He returns to Earth, He will be a grown up.  We don’t even have a concept of what a grown up human being looks like.

I’ll leave off with this verse, as I’m still coming to grips with this whole idea myself:

Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. (1 John 2:28)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Review: Max on Life

Book Review: Max on Life
Max Lucado

Max on Life continues his long line of well-written, Christ-centered books.  The difference here is that Lucado answers the “tough” questions of his friends, readers, and parishioners.  There are 172 questions that he addresses throughout the pages of the book.  Lucado organizes his answers by theme, which can be read straight through, read daily like a daily devotional, or even used as a reference book with the topical index in the back. 

What I love about Lucado’s answers is that they are almost never expected, and they are scripture-based.  It sounds a lot like what I imagine Christ’s answers would be.  For example, when asked how one should treat rude wait staff at restaurants, Lucado doesn’t answer with the typical “love your neighbor” and the “love endures all things” answers.  Rather he talks about what Jesus did at supper for those who were serving Him; He washed their feet.  He basically says, if we want to be like Christ, we’d offer to help bus the dishes or at least give a compliment and leave a generous tip no matter what the service was like. 

Max on Life kept me reading and thinking about things I could do differently in my relations with others, and that’s the kind of reaction I look for when I recommend a book . . . which I do, if you didn’t catch my approval in the previous statement.  My wife and I are going back through Max on Life as a daily devotional, so she can hear some of the answers.

A review copy was received from the publishers.  All opinions are my own.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

I Hate Zombies

I hate zombies. I really do. Before I was a Christian, I used to watch zombie movies all the time, and they always gave me nightmares. At this point in my walk with Christ, I have no desire to watch any kind of scary movie, but every once and awhile, I still have a zombie nightmare.

Last night was one of those nights.

I dreamt that I was in a house, and just outside there was a zombie apocalypse. I began boarding up the windows in the hopes of staying alive and not falling victim to one of them to become a zombie myself. That's how it works you know. One bite and it's zombie land for you.

At one point, there was a little zombie girl banging on a window, trying to get in. Her hair was curled in ringlets, and she wore a beautifully blue dress with lace, but it was covered in dirt and dried blood, and her face was twisted in a lifeless snarl. I felt bad for her even though I was terrified to look at her. "A little girl doesn't deserve to become a zombie", I thought as I boarded up the window she was banging on.

The dream ended, as all good zombie nightmares should, with a breach of my defensive perimeters. The zombies were in the house, and I was as good as dead, or at least walking dead anyway.

I woke up from my nightmare, not scared like I used to be, but angry. I demanded from God why He continued to let me have these accursed dreams.

His answer was unexpected and convicting, a sure sign you're hearing the Almighty.

He said, "This is how I see the world. People dead in their sins, pretending to be alive, while they cannibalize one another. And those of you who are alive, board yourself up in your houses and do nothing to help them."

I hate zombies, and that's my sin. I've been given the means to show them life, to bring them the Gospel of Jesus, and yet I am so afraid that they'll infect me and make me one of them, that I've boarded myself up in the safety of my home, my family, my church, and other Christians to keep them away from me. And the ultimate result of this, most assuredly, is that sin will find a way in, and my fear of becoming like them will be realized. Wouldn't it be better to leave the house and make them like me? To show them Christ and Him crucified so that they can learn what it means to be alive and stop cannibalizing one another.

Lord, help me to love people like you do. Help me to love the zombies of this world, and show them You so that they can live.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Church Diversity

Book Review: Church Diversity
By Scott Williams


Much as the name implies, Church Diversity focuses on the diverseness of the American church, or rather, the lack of diverseness of the American church.  The subtitle of the book, “Sunday, the Most Segregated Day of the Week” is a Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) quote.  MLK is quoted several times throughout the book as a man who was passionate about having church diversity.  Williams begins the book with a look at the American Church’s record with diversity and says we haven’t come far since MLK made that statement. 

To begin with, I cannot deny Williams’ claims about the problems of church diversity in the American church.  I was recently privy to a conversation on the issue that elevated to a heated discussion pretty quickly.  In fact I picked up the book for review because of the issue at hand.  That said, I think that Williams’ approach toward the topic in this book was highly confrontational and unnecessarily argumentative.  Much of Church Diversity is focused on criticizing the American church for not doing better.  At one point he talks about the time a shoeshine man told him, “It’s not a white church or a black church; it’s God’s church.” What Williams heard, as evidenced in the book, was that churches should be diverse, and he has apparently made a political platform out of it ever since.  What I read from the shoeshine man is that--white or black, brown or red, segregated or diverse--it’s God’s church. 

Williams’ approach to the issue sounds more like a politician/business man who thinks diversity will attract more constituents/customers than a Christian pastor who is passionate about Jesus Christ and who wants everyone, no matter what their culture/race is, to know Him as their savior.  This observation is more pronounced on the chapter highlighting various successful corporations that have embraced diversity.  In fact, Williams mentions his church and its location on nearly every page of the book.  I felt like I was reading an infomercial about Lifechurch, and I kept waiting to be hit with the “Buy our 10 dvd set, so you can have a diverse church like us, now!” line.  Thankfully, that never came, but the self-promotion was frustrating. 

In my ideal book about church diversity, there would be more focus on God.  He is, after all, the creator of diversity in the human race.  He is planning on having every generation, nation, language, and people group represented in heaven, which means that there are going to be millions of different kinds of worship songs being sung, people of every color, and thousands of different cultures represented.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come on Earth just as it is in heaven,” so we should have diversity on Earth too, right?  Additionally, there would be less focus on criticism of the American church.  It’s become so fashionable to criticize the American church these days, and no one takes the time to say, “Hey I am part of the American church; I’m just criticizing myself.”  My ideal book would have also extolled the beauty of the diverse church rather than criticize the non-diverse church.  It would have had more Christ-like solutions than “make sure that people on the stage are diverse”.  For example: spend some time getting to know people of different cultures/races and share the Gospel with them.  Learn the foreign language most spoken by people in your area and share the Gospel with them. Etc. 

Ultimately, I can’t recommend Church Diversity unless you think of your church as a business and not a representation of God’s Kingdom on Earth.  If you must pick up the book, I’d suggest reading chapter 6, which is a collection of interviews with other pastors who have diverse churches.  Many of them have their hearts in the right place, humble and giving glory to God alone for their churches’ success in the diversity camp.  I wish one of them would write a book about diversity.

I received a review copy from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: The Final Summit


A Review of The Final Summit
By Andy Andrews

The Final Summit is a sequel to Andy Andrews’ The Traveler’s Gift and marks the return of the character David Ponder.  The basic premise of the book is that God, at different points in history, selected people called travelers, who He allowed to travel through time and learn the divine secrets of success.  In The Final Summit these travelers are summoned together to save humanity from the end of time by answering a single question: “What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?”

In general, the book was engaging.  Andrews writes in an accessible style for the average reader.  History buffs will enjoy the historical information that Andrews presents.  I was particularly interested in Eric Erickson, the WWII spy, who was intrinsic to the fall of the Nazi war machine but has very little written about him.  For more information about Erickson, see Alexander Klein’s The Counterfeit Traitor.

On the spiritual side of things, The Final Summit is pretty weak:

Number one: None of the answers that the travelers come up with, including the right one, have anything to do with God.  I kept hoping for one of these great people to say something like, “love God”, “submit to God”, or “faith in God”, but apparently, God has very little to do with humanity’s salvation.  In fact, King David, the man who had a heart after God’s own heart, responded with “self-discipline” as the answer to humanity’s peril.  And at one point, Mark Twain scoffs at someone who suggests “faith” as an answer and calls them a “brownnoser”.  Jesus’ name is never mentioned, though He is alluded to once as the boss’ son.

Number two: Andrews also seems to think that worldly success is what it takes to be great in God’s eyes.  All the travelers are famous people who did famous things on Earth: leaders, scientists, writers, rich and successful businessmen, etc.  There is not a single fisherman or carpenter among them, not a very biblical stance on what it takes to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

All-in-all, the read was enjoyable if you have some time to kill, but there is not much spiritual depth here.  If you want to find success here on Earth, you might find some good tips in The Final Summit, but if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, you won’t find many answers in this book.

A review copy was received by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Charlatan's Boy

By Jonathan Rogers

Grady (no last name) has grown up working for Floyd in the “performing” business, though the performing they do would be better described as swindling.  Grady happens to be one of the ugliest boys in the world, so the first performance they try is passing the boy off as a genuine He-Feechie from the Fechiefen Swamps, and Grady relishes the act.  The Feechies are a mythical race of swamp people that worry townsfolk because they suspect that Feechies are plotting to murder them in their beds.  However, as people stop believing in Feechies, the performance opportunities dwindle.  Floyd and Grady try several other performance trades but ultimately decide that they need to revive the Feechie trade by manufacturing a Feechie scare, which has unexpected results.

In The Charlatan’s Boy, Rogers spins a yarn of fantasy on a mythical island that could easily have taken place in America’s late 19th early 20th century.  The illusion is enhanced by Rogers’ writing style, which as one critic points out, is very similar to Mark Twain, including Twain’s innate sense of humor.  The combination of humor and fantasy is a hard pairing to pull off, but Rogers makes it seem easy. 

There isn’t much on the spiritual side of things, though the book does discuss the morality of dishonesty quite often.  Grady is always questioning his trade of swindling people through dishonest means, but he never questions it quite enough to stop, and though he does get roughed up on occasion, there’s not a lot of repercussions for the things he does. The ending promises a sequel, and I hope that we will see some development of Grady’s moral character in the books to come.

Overall, the book is a fun, captivating read that I definitely recommend.

A free review copy was received from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.
 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The First Escape


Book Review: The First Escape

By G.P. Taylor

The First Escape is the first of Taylor’s Dopple Ganger Chronicles. The book stars three young orphans: two girls, namely Sadie and Saskia Dopple, as well as their male accomplice Erik Ganger. The trio starts out at Isambard Dunstan’s School for Wayward Children, but early on in the story, Saskia is adopted by an eccentric old woman, Muzz Eliot, who decides that her sister Sadie doesn’t have teeth that merit adoption, so the twins are parted. Erik and Sadie battle Isambard Dunstan’s staff, the police, and a mad magician complete with an arsenal of exploding chickens in their quest to find Saskia. Meanwhile, Saskia stumbles upon a mystery that may result in her own murder.

Overall, The First Escape reads like a great piece of Victorian fiction; think Charles Dickens or Emily Bronte. There are elements of the supernatural strewn throughout the story, as well as action/adventure and mystery. While it took a while for me to get invested in the story, by about the middle of the book, I couldn’t put it down. One of the characters is an angel, and there are some broad hints at God as well. I can see future story lines developing this part of the series quite well.

Story aside though, what is amazing about this book is its use of the illustronovella genre. Part novel and part graphic novel, The First Escape, nearly seamlessly combines comic-book graphics, poster art, and full text to create an original reading experience unlike anything I have encountered before. The comic sections aren’t amazing; they are reminiscent of Nickelodeon’s cheap, blocky animation, but combined with the poster art and the full text, they really add something spectacular to the story.

All in all I would definitely recommend the book for a good story and an engaging use of art in the telling of it.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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