30.7.11

Speaking of Giveaways

Speaking of giveaways, Kristina has one going at her blog as well. You should check that out too!

Reminder: Enter the Book Giveaway!

Just wanted to remind you all again to enter my 'celebrating 100 book reviews' giveaway. 

Details can be found here.

29.7.11

"J.R.R. Tolkien" By Marke Horne




Mark Horne.J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series). Thomas Nelson, 2011. 160 pgs.

Christian Encounters, a series of biographies from Thomas Nelson Publishers, highlights important lives from all ages and areas of the Church.This particular book is, obviously, a highlight of the life of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is not a full biography, rather it is the outline of his life and a chance for you to 'meet' this famous author. The book is organized chronologically, with heavier emphasis on the early parts of Tolkien's life. It concludes with a brief look at his legacy.

As a 'Christian Encounter' this is a decent book. Horne writes well, and one feels as if one gets to know Tolkien a little bit by the end of the book. As far as I know, though I am no expert, this is an accurate look at Tolkien's life, and it was certainly interesting. My only complaint was that I felt as if Horne worked a little bit too hard to relate nearly all of Tolkien's life to The Lord of the Rings. In some ways J.R.R. Tolkien is as much the story of the writing of that epic tale as it is the story of Tolkien's life. And while this is certainly interesting, I would have liked to catch a glimpse of the man behind the work instead of the work behind the man. 

Conclusion: 4 Stars. Conditionally recommended. This was a fun book, the only condition is that you would like to get to know more about J.R.R. Tolkien. But let's face it, you should want that! 


This book was provided by Thomas Nelson for review. 

28.7.11

"Getting Back Up When Life Knocks You Down" By Jeremy Kingsley



Jeremy Kingsley. Getting Back Up When Life Knocks You Down. Bethany House, 2011. 123 pgs. 

The title of this book is very revealing. This is a book of encouragement for when 'life knocks you down.' In each chapter, Kingsley explores a crisis (set backs, rejection, pain, denial, anger, bargaining, responsibility, forgiveness, guilt, and worry) and how working through it in perseverance can lead to growth in many ways. He also fills each chapter with practical advice on how to work through that crisis or problem. 

To be honest, I did not enjoy this book. There isn't anything glaringly wrong with it; no heresy, no mis-use of statistics or sources, no terrible writing. It's just that there isn't anything really right with it either. This is a Christian self help book, and while there is certainly much of the book that points to God, there is also too much of the book which points to our selves. Furthermore, it is overly simple. For example, Kingsley offers six steps to forgiveness, and they are true and right, but they do not deal with the complex realities we often face in issues of forgiveness. Of course, no list of steps could, but that is why I am not sure such approaches to these issues are the right way to go about it. 

Still, despite my reaction to this book, it is filled with decent advice and you could certainly do worse. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended. You have probably heard most of this stuff before, so if you read the book prepare for the repetition. Other than that, it is average in most every way; neither especially bad nor especially good. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group". 

27.7.11

Book Giveaway: Celebrating 100 Book Reviews

As you may have noticed, I posted my 100th book review yesterday!

I want to celebrate this fact by doing another book giveaway.  Not just any giveaway though, no, that would not be good enough for you, my loyal readers! 

Instead, I will be giving away your choice of (almost) any one of these 100 books. The only condition is that I refuse to give away a book that I rated as "not recommended." Sorry, but I simply won't do that to you. Trust me, it's for your own good. You also cannot choose the kindle :) 

Here is how the contest works. You have one week from today, until noon PST on Wednesday August 3rd, to enter the contest. In order to enter all you have to do is tell me, in a comment, which book you would like to receive. 

And in case you find browsing through 100 book reviews a daunting task, let me help you. If you ever take a look at the bottom of my posts you will see descriptive words known as labels or tags. If you click on them you will be taken to every other blog post I have written with the same label. 

To make it even easier, here are the links to some of those tags that you may want to use in order to narrow your search:


The winner will be chosen randomly from the list of entrants. 

26.7.11

"The Sacrament of Evangelism" by Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie



Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie. The Sacrament of Evangelism. Moody Publishers, 2011. 288 pgs. 

Root and Guthrie offer a way of looking at life that makes us open to God's presence everywhere. They then apply to evangelism. The result is an entirely different way of thinking about evangelism; it is not about us doing anything to God, but about allowing God to do things to us. It is about going out into the world, finding that God is already there, and engaging with His ongoing activity. Through four sections, each with five chapters, Root and Guthrie explain this world view, explore it's implications, and offer some practical advice on actually doing it. 

Suffused with wisdom and humility, The Sacrament of Evangelism was an exhilarating read. It is evident that each section of this book seeks to open the readers eyes to God's presence and strengthen in the readers heart a desire for God. This combination perfectly illustrates what Root and Guthrie are after in using the word 'Sacrament.' Their view of evangelism, and life lived in the presence of God, is something you must think about and will benefit from adopting. 

The best section of this book was the third: "The Gospel and Humanity." In it Root and Guthrie take a look at how our desires connect to God, the three desires we all share, and what place our other longings have. These become points at which we can help people see their own desire and need for God.  In contrast, I was disappointed in the fourth section of this book. The practical advice seemed to lack the verve and quality of the rest of the book. Perhaps they missed something or, perhaps, this is because it is very difficult to give practical advice in this sort of thing, other than "go out and do it!" which Root and Guthrie begin saying at the beginning of the book and never stop. Either way, The Sacrament of Evangelism is an excellent book. 

Conclusion: 4.5 of 5 Stars. Recommended. You should read this. Seriously. We all come to the discipline of evangelism with baggage; usually massive amounts of it. This book will not only help you sort through that, but give you something so much better in return. 


Special Note: This is my 100th book review on this blog!!! 

25.7.11

Why Pray? Why Need? Why Want?

     "But if God is so good as you represent him, and if he knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask him for anything?
     I answer, what if he knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God's idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need - the need of himself? What if the good of all our smaller and lower needs lies in this, that they help to drive us to God? Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer. Our wants are for the sake of our coming into communion with God, our eternal need... We must ask that we may receive; but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God's end in making us pray, for he could give us everything without that: to bring his child to his knee, God withholds that man may ask."
- George MacDonald

24.7.11

What is Your Heart's Desire?

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."
- George Bernard Shaw

Last weekend the young adult fellowship at our church went camping. Our theme was "Mute." We wanted to take a break from the noise and have a chance to "be still and know God," to paraphrase a classic.

According to scripture, stillness and quiet are necessary to hear and know God. Yet, most of us find these two things extremely difficult to endure.

We spent two days away from home, without electronic devices, and away from some of the noisy clutter of our normal day-to-day, and this was itself a stretch. As we started the car for the journey home the radio came on and one of the men breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Ahh, music!"  (To be fair, this individual is a musical person)

Of course, knowing this part of human nature was what drove us to 'mute'. We tried to be as helpful as possible and ask people attempt stillness in a place where they were, by default, half way there. 

The inevitable question, when a group of Christians does something like this, is what do you want? What do you desire? If we all accept the witness of scripture, as well as numerous individuals throughout the ages, that we really must be still and know then we have no easy way to explain why we have failed to do so. We must either admit that our desire for God is not strong enough to overcome our distaste of stillness, or we must seek to be still. I am, of course, not speaking of achievement but only intent. Even those who seek stillness will fail many times. 

I was encouraged by the many people who want just this. But, I was dismayed by the number of people who did indeed admit that they had no such desire for God. The reasons varied: I doubt the truth of this practice. I am content where I am and do not need more of God (with the implicit: after all, I am saved already). It's just not a priority right now. I can't do it.

The right answer is that of course we desire more of God. And we ought all to know that God is worth it. That He  who became incarnate, died, continually intercedes for us, and is willing to live in us has done more than enough to deserve the response of longing and love. The right answer is that this is Almighty God we are talking about, and if there were ever anything in life worth chasing it is Him... but the right answers rarely suffice. 


...
And we're waiting but our eyes are wandering 
To all this earth holds dear 

Look at all the pretty things 
That steal my heart away 
I can feel I'm fading 
'Cause Lord I love so many things 
That keep me from Your face 
Come and save me
...


Long ago, St. Augustine realized and noted, as he commented on the psalms, that "the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. Not for nothing did the apostle tell us to pray without ceasing." Much closer to our day, C.S. Lewis made 'the argument from desire.' He pointed out that there are desires in the human heart which no earthly object can satisfy. Yet, it is logical to assume that we can only desire that which is attainable, else whence this desire's origin? So, he concluded, we are made for another world. 

What, then, is your heart's desire? What beauty pulls you from God? For I have no doubt that for most of us it is not a thing of evil and darkness which pulls us away, but a good creation of God put in the center rather than the periphery. The human heart is a desire factory, and our age more than most panders to this deceitful beast. 

Thus we have become expert in the cultivation of desire. You may never think about it, but you know. You have been trained in this art since you were a toddler. The subtle maneuvers of need creation which cloak the initial desire in respectability. The furtive glances frequently placed to stoke that desire into longing. The comparisons, with what you have and what you do not, to once again justify what is now close to covetousness. The purchase, bitter sweet, as you fail to realize, and yet live, the fact that it was the chase which brought you excitement. Then, the eager expectation for the next one to come along. 

Yet, desire itself is not evil. The story only ends in despair if we build up treasures where moth and rust destroy. Nor are most of the things we want evil, not alone. It is wrongly placed desire, desire which stands in the way of God, or desire which is placed in an object that is incapable of answering.  

Shortly after returning from the retreat, I read a sermon by Francois Fenelon on prayer. He lays it out as our way of getting to know God, and begins by telling us why we should pray. As he comes to the end of his first section, he pauses to reflect on those who do not desire to pray. He could just as easily be speaking of stillness and silence, so intertwined are these practices, and so I wish to conclude with His words, as admonition to myself as much as to anyone else.

     "But some will say, 'I have no interest in prayer; it wearies me; my imagination is excited by sensible and more agreeable objects, and wanders in spite of me.' 
     If neither your reverence for the great truths of religion, nor the majesty of the ever-present Deity, nor the interest of your eternal salvation, have power to arrest your mind, and engage it in prayer, at least mourn with me for your infidelity; be ashamed of your weakness, and wish that your thoughts were more under your control; and desire to become less frivolous and inconstant. Make an effort to subject your mind to this discipline. You will gradually acquire habit and facility. What is now tedious will become delightful; and you will then feel, with a peace that the world cannot give nor take away, that God is good."



14.7.11

"On Being a Leader for God" by Warren W. Wiersbe


Warren W. Wiersbe. On Being a Leader for God. Baker Books, 2011. 144 pgs. 

I have posted quotes from Warren Wiersbe before. Here is a man experienced in ministry, having served for over 60 years, offering his advice on being a leader for God. Wiersbe begins his book by defining leadership: "Christian leaders are people who, by faith, willingly use their character, abilities, authority, and opportunities to serve others and to help them reach their fullest potential, to their benefit, the benefit of the organization, and the glory of God." He then spends the rest of the book exploring each part of this definition in detail. 

I have long been a fan of On Being a Servant of God by Wiersbe. It is one of the books I try to give to people starting out in ministry and I make all of my interns read it. I was pleased to find that this companion volume, which compliments Servant without repeating it, will be going on that same list. Wiersbe offers good thoughts and advice on a broad array of topics to do with leadership. This is not an in depth textbook exploring the issues, theological, practical, or otherwise, but, instead, it is a series of reflections on being a godly leader. As that, it is well worth reading.

A few quotes to whet your appetite. In speaking of Jesus as a CEO, a concept which Wiersbe disagrees with, Wiersbe notes that "Nobody ever called Jesus 'boss,' because His title was always 'Lord' - and it still is." He urges Christian leaders to turn to God first, not the wisdom of this world: "If Christians are to make a difference in this world, they must avoid thinking like the world and imitating the world. Right planning and right serving begin with right thinking, and right thinking comes from the wisdom of God." 

In another chapter, Wiersbe offers this excellent quote from Markings by Dag Hammarskjold: "Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated." Wiersbe concludes: "Ponder that statement." Indeed. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. No, this book will not tell you everything you need to know about leadership. Instead, it is an excellent book on thinking rightly about leadership and focusing on God. A must read, especially for those just starting out. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group". 

12.7.11

"Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me" By Ian Morgan Cron



Ian Morgan CronJesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts. Thomas Nelson, 2011. 240 pgs. 


"This is a memoir, but please understand that (to any writer with a good imagination) all memoirs are false... we can always imagine a better detail than the one we can remember. The correct detail is rarely, exactly, what happened, or what should have." John Irving. 

Cron opens up his memoir noting that it is a memoir, not an autobiography nor a history. It is the story of his life, told through memory tinted glasses, as only our own stories can be. As stories go, Cron lays out an engaging and thought provoking story. Growing up with an alcoholic father who also worked for the CIA, and all the attendant pains of both of those facts, Cron has much to tell. Here, then, is the story of his growing up. 

As a story, this book was excellent. Cron touches on, and explores, deep themes of forgiveness, love, reconciliation, and many others. Stylistically, this book was quite enjoyable. I even laughed out loud, making this the third author to ever accomplish that (Douglas Adams and Steven Erikson being the first two on this short and distinguished list). Some of his comparisons did get tiresome; by the time you finish meeting the cast of Cron's childhood you realize that they are all much larger than life. I suppose those are the lenses of childhood. 

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Recommended. This was a very good book and an worthwhile story. 


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".  

11.7.11

And the Winner Is...

The number, generated on random.org, was 172. 

This makes FLORIN the winner!!!  Congratulations :)

Also, for anyone nearby, you can grab the other copy from me any time to read. 

8.7.11

Book Giveaway: "Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me..."

For the first time in the history of my blog I am giving something away. 

Thomas Nelson, the publisher of Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir... of Sorts" by Ian Morgan Cron, has not only sent me the book to review myself. They have also sent me a second copy to give away. 


I haven't finished reading it myself, but I am half way through and thoroughly enjoying it. 

Here is how this will work. I have chosen number between 1-1000. Post your guess. One post per person. The first one to get it right OR the person who is closest as of 11pm PST on Sunday, July 10th will win the book. 

Obviously, I will need a way to get in touch with the winner. Once we figure out who that is, we can figure out the best way for that via comments. 

Good luck everyone!

5.7.11

"Rumors of God" by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson



Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson.  Rumors of God: Experience the Kind of Faith You've Only Heard About. Thomas Nelson, 2011. 208 pgs. 

"Rumors of God is a call to Christians seeking a vision of the life God is calling them to, one that transcends the shallowness of our culture." So begins the copy describing this book. Whitehead and Tyson take the reader on a 10 chapter journey through rumors of the life God wants for us: rumors of an abundant life, a different dream, generosity, love, grace, freedom, commitment, community, justice, and hope. Their prayer in this book is the prayer of Habakkuk 3:2: "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy."

Rumors is a book about vision. It is a book through which you can catch glimpses of God's calling. This is as it should be, for we all see as through a glass darkly. Whitehead and Tyson have done an impressive job of displaying these glimpses with biblical accuracy, literary acumen, and an attractive style. Their grasp of how radically different our culture and God's vision are combined with the clarity with which they hold forth both sides of that contrast make this book very much worth reading. A few cliched statements, a few formulaic chapters, a few loose statistics, and a few minor disagreements (from my point of view) do very little to detract from what is, overall, an excellent book. 

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Recommended. A book which stirred my heart towards God and which I found insightful and relevant. Pick up a copy yourself. 

This book was given to me to review by Thomas Nelson, through booksneeze.com 

1.7.11

June Reflections

June has been the month that wasn't. I don't know why, but somehow I anticipated June being a relaxing month. It was to be a month of less rushed time of immediate needs and urgent priorities and, therefore, more slow time to catch up on reading, thinking, planning, etc. It wasn't. It was to be a month of writing, working on my ordination materials, and getting ready for the fall.  It wasn't. 

Instead, I have posted fewer times than any month since December, and that is at least partially an indication of how much other stuff I have been doing. In fact, since restarting my blog, this is my second slowest month for blog posts. The real kicker is that we are now halfway through the year.  

Ahh, well.


Top 3 Posts of June:

1. Blogtour: "The Next Story" by Tim Challies - I am fairly certain I owe this traffic to http://engagingchurchblog.com/. They flagged my post as "don't miss this challenging review."

2. "Spiritual But Not Religious..." - I am glad to see a serious, non-book-review, post in the top 3. I think this is an important issue that a lot of people think about in an incoherent manner. 

3.Read! - Thank You Very Much! I posted this yesterday, and it has jumped into the top 3 in one day.  You all have warmed my heart :) I do have one question; is it just because I put in pictures of my family? Well, whether you came for the topic or the pictures, I am glad that a topic so close to my heart is on the top 3. 



Thank you all again for reading my blog. Drop me a comment anytime, especially if it is a book or blog recommendation. 

God Bless!

Andrew