Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Judgment Day


By Wanda L. Dyson

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).

Judgment Day’s protagonist, Susan Kidwell is a slanderer, and she is not a truthful one at that.  Her show “Judgment Day” sensationalizes the wrong doing of people in positions of power. In the very first scene when we are introduced to Susan, she is exposing a principal for being involved in the disappearance of some young girls at his school and for having child pornography on his computer.  None of which turns out to be true; however the principal commits suicide because of the backlash of her show.

Susan’s shoddy reporting ultimately leads her into trouble she never expected.  She is framed for murder, so she hires two private investigators, Marcus Crisp and Alex Fisher-Hawthorne to help clear her name. 

Marcus and Alex are Judgment Day’s “Christian” heroes, though their faith seems like more of an afterthought than any kind of driving force in their life.  They are asked to pray a couple of times, and they refer to God as “Father” once.  The only character that refers to any nominal biblical/Christian beliefs is the crazy old woman that Susan has for a cellmate.  She paces back and forth incessantly quoting scripture, which drives Susan nuts.  These scriptures do lead Susan to a haphazard prayer when she thinks she is going to die and a life change when she is saved.

Overall, Judgment Day is a fun thriller that will keep you turning the pages.  The Christian characters don’t seem very Christian, but there is a redemptive change in the main character due to scripture and God’s intervention, so I feel comfortable recommending the book.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Sacred Meal

Nora Gallagher

Communion is one of those sacred practices that every Christian denomination participates in.  They don’t always agree about what it is, what it means, or what it should look like, but they all agree that it must be done. 

That said, if I had to summarize the view of Gallagher’s The Sacred Meal towards communion in a few words, I would use Gallagher’s own writing to do it:

Rituals may seem to originate in magical thinking: we see the ancient practices of primitive people as methods to hold off or thank the gods, to ward off evil, to suck rain from the sky.  But these are not to be dismissed as the inventions of ignorant people (77).

Or

We, too, may come to Communion with twin desires: to give thanks and to seek a magical solution to a given problem.  I see nothing wrong in the desire for magic; it’s who we are (84).

While Gallagher claims to be an Anglican, is a preacher in residence at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, and sits on the advisory board of the Yale Divinity School, after having read this book, I can’t imagine why she would call herself a Christian.  She definitely sits in the Universalist Mystic camp equating taking Communion with Buddhists meditating, Muslims feasting after Ramadan, and Native American rituals in the desert, all of which she has attended and “shared” in the experience.  She talks about the exhilaration of praying to Allah with a group of Muslim women, etc.  It’s all just a mystical means to experience something “beyond” ourselves.

The Sacred Meal gives very little space to the reason why we take Communion at all, namely Jesus Christ Himself.  And when she does talk about Jesus, she imagines that Communion is birthed more out of Jesus feeding the five thousand than the Last Supper.  Never mind that the only reason any Christian participates in communion is because Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me”, at the last supper (Luke 22:19).  Gallagher says that communion is more like a shared meal and represents all the meals Jesus ate with His disciples. Never mind Paul’s whole diatribe on not making the Lord’s Supper just a meal in 1 Corinthians 11:20-34.  If that’s all you’re getting together for, just eat at home. 

Gallagher tries to avoid the association of the death of Jesus Christ and Communion at all costs.  Whereas the Bible says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  This is what communion is all about, not some mystical mumbo jumbo.  It’s the proclamation of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, and looking at in any other light leads to “[taking] the bread or [drinking] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, [and being] guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). 

I do not and cannot recommend the The Sacred Meal to anyone. 

I received a free copy from the publisher for review.  Obviously all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Small is Big

Tony and Felicity Dale | George Barna

What is a church? Is it a denomination, a building, or is it a people?  Are two or three enough to be a church like Matthew 18:20 suggests?

In the book Small is Big, the Dales and George Barna present a look at the growing movement of simple churches spreading throughout the world.  Perhaps the most famous are the house churches of China, which have spread out of a necessity via a repressive government. (See Brother Yun’s Heavenly Man and Paul Hattaway’s Back to Jerusalem)  The stories that have come out of these churches have caused many traditional church goers begin to wonder if they were missing something about what Christ intended His church to look like.  Small is Big looks at models of simple/house churches in the world, what goals of the simple/house church should be, how these churches relate to legacy and mega churches, and also the Dale’s experience in planting and networking simple churches.

Overall, I loved the book.  I have pushed off this review for days trying to think of things that I could critique, and while I can certainly point to doctrinal issues I don’t necessarily agree with, the overall position they take is that the simple church, the legacy church, or the mega church are all God’s churches, and He should be the ultimate power and authority of every position of leadership, revelation, counseling, outreach, and doctrine.  And it’s hard to argue with that because it’s true.

The one thing I did disagree with, that I think is worth mentioning, is the notion that simple churches are largely incompatible with legacy or mega churches.  That they cannot be small groups of those larger churches or that members of the simple churches have to give up going to their larger churches and just focus on their simple church.  I think simple church leaders would benefit greatly by having a legacy or mega church home, especially one that was willing to be a network hub for their churches with a pastor or leader who could give resources, guidance, and prayer when it’s needed rather than just dividing the simple church or networked church from the rest of the body.  I see simple churches as fingers and hands.  They are more outward focused than most of the body, and they do a lot of great, skillful work, but separated from the arms (legacy) and the torso (mega), fingers don’t have much strength or purpose.  The Dales admit to receiving a lot of help from these sources, but they discourage those starting simple churches from continuing to attend at legacies and megas.  It seemed to be a contradiction.

All in all, Small is Big a great resource for the simple church movement beginning here in the West.

I received a free copy of the book for review from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Choosing Joy

In utilitarianism the unit of measurement for benefit is the overall happiness of the majority.  If an action or an idea makes the majority happy, then it becomes the moral standard of the community.  The problem with this philosophy from a Christian perspective is that it assumes that human beings are inherently good and that this morality of the majority will thus be good.

However, the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  When the majority happiness creates moral standards this wickedness quickly comes to light. Some of the greatest atrocities in the world continue to be committed in the name of the benefits to the majority: genocide, slavery, apartheid, etc.  And for a time these things do make the majority happy.

As Christians we do not set our standards according to a majority rule rather we set them according to God’s rule. 

Sometimes we imagine that God just wants us to be happy and that His rule will make us happy, which means utilitarianism in some ways would make sense for Christians. However the Bible doesn’t teach that God wants us to be happy.  He wants us to be joyful.   There is a difference.

It's a lot like the difference between lust and love.  Lust is a fleeting desire/emotion in the body that if we choose to act on it can lead to fornication and adultery, but it will vanish just as quickly as it came if it’s resisted or acted on.  On the contrary, love is a choice that we make, which is eternal (1 Corinthians 13), as is all the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26).  With the Spirit we are empowered to choose these things.

Accordingly, desiring to be happy is a fleeting emotion that can lead to covetousness, murder, and theft, but will vanish just as quickly as lust if it’s resisted or acted on.  Joy is an eternal choice.  What does it mean to choose joy?

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and [that] your joy might be full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

First we must recognize that as a fruit of the Spirit, His joy is our joy.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  Choosing joy is living in Christ, being obedient to Him, and the hope He has given us in the salvation of our souls.  

No matter what circumstance may come, whether it be suffering or pleasure, when we choose God's joy, it can never be taken away. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

I am a Disciple

I am a follower.  I don't follow an idea.  I don't follow a religion.  I follow no ordinary person.  I walk in the steps of one man . . . His name is Jesus.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

On this Mother's Day, remember our example set by Jesus in John 2:1-11.

1  On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;

2  and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.

3  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."

4  And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come."

5  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

6  Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.

7  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim.

8  And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him.

9   When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom,

10  and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

11  This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

Jesus's first miracle was done to honor His mother.  Does God expect any less from us.  Give your mom a call this Mother's Day and tell her how much she means to you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs

By Master Books

Every culture from the beginning of civilization has had stories of dragons, and while some of these cultures attributed magical powers to these creatures, many of them listed them in ledgers alongside real animals.  Dragons asserts that these creatures may have indeed been real.  The book also makes the assertion that the term dragon may be synonymous with the dinosaur.  The book collects various accounts of dinosaurs through the ages, including a few recent urban legends.  I was also surprised to find that the Bible mentions dragons as real creatures 21 times. The format of foldouts and pullouts is geared towards juvenile reading, but I would rate the reading level at 5th grade or above. 


While I do find the commonality of the dragon legend to be an interesting feature of ancient cultures, I can’t say that this book did much to advance the argument of their existence at least not in a scholarly sense.  They ask the right questions, but the evidence presented is not altogether coherent or authoritative: Wikipedia was quoted on a couple of occasions.  Add to these damaging features a text that wasn’t proofread completely with many glaring misspellings and grammatical errors, and Dragons falls even further down the ladder of academic study.  The biblical references raised that bar tremendously, but the scholars involved could have done much better.

All that said, make no mistake, Dragons is an extremely entertaining read if you like dragon stories, and I look forward to my son reaching an age where he’ll enjoy it.

I received a review copy of this book from the publishers.  All opinions are my own.

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