Dec 24, 2011

Merry Christmas


May God bless you this Christmas and may we never forget that we have a God who came to be with us.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.


But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”


All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”


Matthew 1:18-23

Dec 21, 2011

Should We Be Leading or Following?

In his new book I Am a FollowerLeonard Sweet poses this question with a fairly obvious answer. Early on Sweet argues that we have bought into the myth that to be effective in ministry we need to be leaders. He believes that we should not be trying to be leaders, instead we need to work on being the best followers that we can. In last few decades, the emphasis in ministry is been on how you can be a better leader and how being a better leader will make your ministry better. Sweet, however, thinks that we need to work on being better followers. The life that Jesus called us to was a life of "followership" not a life of leadership. There is only one leader for Christians, that leader is Jesus. We should not be leaders leading Christians, we are followers following Christ and helping other follow him, too.

Sweet breaks down his book by structuring it around Jesus' statement that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. At first, I thought that Sweet was stretching Jesus' words to make this argument, but the more I read the more it made sense to me. You could break down Sweet's basic argument like this: Jesus' followers are called to be just like Jesus. Jesus says that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Therefore, Jesus' followers should be like Jesus pointing to him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We cannot be those things, but we should be living in such a way that we fully embrace and live out the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The book is divided into 4 parts: Introduction, Way, Truth, and Life. In each portion Sweet explains how a Christians needs to be a follower of Christ and not a Leader of people.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone who holds a role of leadership in the church. My one warning is this: Sweet seems to overstate things in the beginning that make you question where his is going. Then a few paragraphs or pages later he rationalizes what he says. So while he argues against leadership, I don't think that he would say there are no "leaders" in the church. There are people who fill the role of leader in the church, but they need to fill it as a fellow humble follower and not as a extremely well-qualified and potentially prideful leader. Read this book, let it challenge you. There are some places that I disagreed with a little, but overall I found that this  book that challenges me not to try to make myself better, but instead to make myself more like Jesus.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Dec 14, 2011

Putting the Spirit Back in Christmas


It’s the most wonderful time of year. The countdown to Christmas has begun. It is the season of advent. This means that, other than presents, most people have one singular focus: Jesus. For the most part, that’s not bad. I would never stop someone from focusing on Jesus, especially at Christmas. I do, however, think that one person gets the short end of the stick when it comes to this season: The Holy Spirit. He did so much work at the “first Christmas” and is ignored by many at this time of year.

I just finished reading Francis Chan’s book Forgotten God and was very challenged by what he had to say. Christians are supposed to be living by the Spirit, and yet we ignore him so much. We have let ourselves forget what he has done and is still doing in the world, and yet he is probably the most important part of a believer’s life. Even though Chan doesn’t talk about Christmas, I was struck by the fact that Christmas is yet another one of those times when we have forgotten or at least failed to acknowledge the work of the spirit.

Matthew records twice within a matter just a few sentences that Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit. The very incarnation of Jesus, the event that we celebrate each year at Christmas, was done through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, as we remember the time of waiting for Jesus to come and we wait for Jesus to come again, we can’t forget what the Spirit is still doing. When Jesus was preparing to leave, he promised to send another counselor to be with us, the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, Jesus did not abandon us, but instead the Holy Spirit lives with us and in us as we wait for his return.

It may seem odd that I would write about the Spirit before the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus, when the spirit has his own Church Holiday, Pentecost. But it is terrible to forget the entire work of God in this time of year. When you thank God the Father for sending his son Jesus, don’t forget to thank the Spirit for doing his work. I pray that we never forget or ignore the work of God any time of the year.

Nov 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. (Psalm 118:21-29 NIV)

Nov 22, 2011

Thanksgiving and the Eucharist

If you've read my blog at all, you probably know of my appreciation for the church calendar. I think that it is a fantastic way to create regular spiritual rhythms throughout the year. The church year is actually about to begin with the first Sunday of Advent on November 27. Before Advent begins, however, there is another holiday that is not a church holiday. This Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day packed with food, football, family, and afternoon naps. It is supposed to be a day of being thankful for what we have and what we've been given. Thanksgiving is not a church holiday, but I believe that it ought to be.

Since Jesus instituted it, the church has had it's own Thanksgiving feast. This feast, however, is not celebrated only once a year. Many churches celebrate this thanksgiving every week. The celebration that I am talking about is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is now know to many as the Lord's Supper or Communion. The name "eucharist" is a from Greek word and means "thanksgiving." The celebration of the Lord's supper includes a time of giving thanks to God for what he has done for us.

I find it oddly appropriate that before the church calendar begins, millions celebrate a day of thanksgiving.  Before we begin the church holiday cycle again, it seems providential that we set aside a day of thanksgiving and give thanks one more time for what God has done this past year. I would encourage you to be intentional about what you are thankful for this thanksgiving. I'm not saying that everyone should celebrate communion on Thanksgiving day, but we should be remembering what we should be the most thankful for, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus on the Cross. No matter what has happened in the past year, we can thank God for Jesus' sacrifice. We should regularly give thanks like we should regularly discuss Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. But just like Christmas and Easter, the church should set aside a day to throw a large party to give thanks to God for what he has done. So before we enter the season anticipation, give thanks to the Lord for what he has done.

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Ps. 106:1

Nov 6, 2011

Scripture as Story: A Review of The Voice New Testament

This semester I have been teaching Principles of Bible Study 1 at LCU. One of the things that I have been trying to emphasize to my students is the fact that God's revelation comes to us through the medium of story. There are letters, laws, poems, proverbs, and prophetic visions, but the overwhelming sense of Scripture is that it is a story. God's story of how he created the world, we broke creation, he sent his Son to fix it, and how ultimately he will come to restore the world and live with us. This new Bible, simply called The Voice, aims at helping us see scripture as a story. It is a new approach to scripture that combines the efforts of Biblical scholars and Christian writers and musicians in an effort to give us a more dramatic and story like version of the Bible. They have taken great care to translate the Greek as best as possible to communicate the meaning of the text. This is done in conjunction with artists who give the words some depth to engage the reader. Simply, The Voice is a dynamic equivalent translation of the Bible that aims as presenting the Bible artfully.

There are a lot of things that I like about this translation. First, I believe that it is more useful than a paraphrase like The Message. While the Message has been helpful to many, it is the work of one man, while the Voice is a collaboration of many scholars, artists, and pastors which adds to the strength of the translation. Also, when reading sections of the Voice, I was struck by how similar it was to typical Bible translations and yet at the same time it was easier to read than many translations. While it is easier to read like a paraphrase, it doesn't read like a typical paraphrase. It still feels like it is using language that would be familiar to someone who has read the Bible and yet easier to understand for those who do not have much experience with the Bible. In the way that it is written, it would be a great translation to read on a Sunday Morning, especially if you want to "dramatize" the Bible. It has been translated with the help of writers and musicians, it makes for an already dramatized version. The dialogue in the voice even appears in play like format. Since I am on a team that plans Sunday morning worship services, I will be adding readings from the Voice translation when a more dynamic reading is needed.

For those who are worried about the of translation from Greek to English, I think the Voice offers one of the best paraphrase/dynamic equivalents thus far. The majority of the text comes from the Greek text. On occasion they will add in phrases that either aid in understanding or emphasize something in the text that may not be in the Greek text. These additions are in italics so that it is easy to see when these additions have been made. As far as how it has been translated, there were times that I wonder why they changed from the typical wording (like John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Voice"), but so far I have not found anything that concerns me about the way it has been translated.

Overall, I think that this is a fantastic addition to anyone's Bible reading. I, personally, cannot wait for the entire Bible to be released next year and I hope that it will be available for Logos so that I can have it in that form. I even purchased their translation of the Psalms because I think that it will be helpful in worship planning. This Bible is useful for anyone new to Scripture or just trying to get a fresh artistic look at the Bible. If you are eager to read it, they have John available on their website www.hearthevoice.com. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to wait until the whole Bible is available, but I would encourage you to purchase it at some point.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Oct 18, 2011

Review of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas


Most of us are familiar with the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of us have read, or have at least heard of, his books Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. But do you really know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer is? Eric Metaxas has written Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy to show us the amazing life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer lived a life in constant pursuit of God's will. He tried to always do what needed to be done when no one else would do it. When in Seminary, Bonhoeffer dared to go against the liberal theology of his professor Adolf von Harnack. He, instead, sought to teach the truths of the Bible and followed instead the theology of Karl Barth. In the 30's and 40's, Bonhoeffer had to make a different kind of stand, but for the same truths. He stood against the Nazi regime and how it wanted to distort and abuse the church. Bonoeffer helped to organize the Confessing Church when the German church allowed the Nazis to take over. He ultimately involved himself in a plot to kill Hitler believing this to be the only course of action to save his country and the countless lives that were being destroyed by Hitler and the Nazis. It is this plot that led to Bonhoeffer's arrest and execution.

Eric Metaxas has done a phenomenal job of telling the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his struggles. While reading this, I was continually amazed at the amount of detail that Metaxas was able to put into this single volume. His work not only covers the life of Bonhoeffer, but gives detailed history of Germany during the life of Bonhoeffer. Metaxas is able to give a much larger glimpse into history. This book is nothing short of fantastic. There is only one negative thing I can say about it. It is thick. It is a big book with a lot to say. It takes a long time to read, BUT it is well worth the time invested in reading this book. I would encourage anyone to read this book. This is an amazing read for anyone who loves history ( especially World War II) or is interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself. It's now out in paperback, and even though it make take you a long time read, you will not regret it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sep 16, 2011

Harvest

My blog's subtitle (my take on living life in the middle of corn fields) is sort of a joke about where I am currently living. I live in Illinois, most of which is corn or bean fields. I have to admit though, it is really cool to see all that happens in the fields throughout the year. I grew up in the suburbs and never really knew much about farming except that they grew stuff, so living in the middle of corn fields is actually quite fun. It is especially fun around this time of the year when they are harvesting in the fields. Last night and this morning, we watched the combines roll through the field that is yards from our apartment and harvest the corn. This isn't my first time seeing combines; I've even had a chance to ride in my wife's grandfather's combine. It's still cool, though, to see the combines roll through the fields.

Sep 8, 2011

Live Long and Prosper

One of my favorite shows is Star Trek. Because of that, I am sharing this with you:
Today in 1966 the first episode aired on NBC. Today, Star Trek turns 45. If you love technology, you should be thankful for Star Trek, which inspired many of today's devices. So go watch Star Trek and Live Long and Prosper.

Sep 7, 2011

Book Reviewing Update


As you have noticed, I blog for two different publishers. They give me books and I review them. WaterBrook Press has started to giveaway free books to those who read the reviews. Here's how it works: when you read one of my reviews and rank it, you will be entered for a chance to receive that book for free. At the bottom of each post, there is a place to enter your email and a ranking of my review. You can also go to their website and browse through reviews and rank more there.

Here are links to the books that I have reviewed:

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris
Radical by David Platt
Radical Together by David Platt

Sep 6, 2011

Digging Down Deep

Many people under estimate the importance of theology. Joshua Harris wants to curbs this problems. In Dug Down Deep he makes the case for needing to study theology. He argues that we need to be like the man in Jesus' parable and dig down deep to lay the foundation of our faith on the theological rock. He relates this through personal stories of learning how to apply Biblical theology to holy living. To explain how to live a holy life, he breaks down theology in to typical categories of God, Jesus, salvation, the Holy Spirit and sanctification. All of this is an effort to know God better, love God better and obey him better. Harris does a great job of presenting scripture in a manner that teaches about theology in way that is engaging. This is by no means a systematic theology or a very deep work, but it is a helpful. The final chapter leaves the reader with an important reminder that theology is not about gaining knowledge, knowing about God doesn't change a person. It is living out the truths found in scripture that will lead to change, this is done through humility.

Personally, I enjoyed reading this book. There are a lot of things that I have heard before, but he presented the information in a relational and engaging manner. For the most part he presented theology in a way that most people would agree. He did not try to pass of what some denominations hold as the absolute truth. Instead, he presented mainly from scripture in a manner that would not cause many to disagree. The only thing that would some would disagree with is his stance on "charismatic" gifts. He does believe in them, even though there are many Christians who do not think they are still practiced. His goal is clearly to call Christians to live a life that is founded on strong Biblical theology and for that I cannot disagree with Harris. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to know how Biblical theology can be lived out. This new edition includes discussion questions and would be great for church class or group. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Aug 2, 2011

Review of J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

Most of us know of, have seen, and hopefully read The Lord of the Rings. Many are anticipating the release of the Hobbit movie next year. There are also a few who have braved the Silmarillion and enjoyed the brilliant stories written in it by Tolkien. But how many of us really know him or what kind of man he was? Mark Horne's new biography of J.R.R. Tolkien is brief, but informative. It brings you back into the world where Tolkien grew up and gives insight into what kind of man he was. He really is a fascinating figure who lived in a tumultuous time. He was born in South Africa before 1900, fought in WWI, lived through WWII, taught at Oxford and in the midst of all that spent his life creating the world that we know as Middle Earth.


Horne does a wonderful job of giving readers a glimpse into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and helping us to understand what made Tolkien who he was and how that impacted the stories that many around the world love. While this book is not as thorough as a work like Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien, it is certainly worth the read if you are interested in the world behind the Lord of the Rings. Hopefully, by reading this someone would be more interested and dive into Tolkien's world and work since there is so much about this great writer that cannot be discussed in a 144 page book. If you enjoy Tolkien's work, I suggest that you read this book. It's a quick read and will help understand a little more about the world behind Middle Earth.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Aug 1, 2011

Who are the Millennials?

Well, for starters I'm a millennial. So is my wife and so are all of my friends. Those of us born in the 80's and 90's are the Millennials. Most of us probably wouldn't take the time to figure out ourselves, and there really is no way to stereotype all of us. But, Thom and Jess Rainer have tried. While on vacation, my wife and I listened to the audio version of Thom and Jess Rainer's book The Millennials. It was a fantastic listen (and I'm not saying that in a self-centered it's all about me sort of way). I would recommend that you read/listen to it, too.

With almost 78 million, we are the largest generation in America. There are many of us who have graduated and are in the work force and still many left to go through college and enter the workforce. We are literally a force to be reckoned with since there are so many. There is good news, however. Most of us want to make a positive impact on the world. We care deeply about social justice and fairness. We care more about what we do with our lives than how much money we are making. If you are a leader of any type of business or even of a ministry, I would dare say you need to read this to understand the millions of us who will be applying for the job openings at your business and attending your church.

This book does a fantastic job of describing the millennials. There are a lot of us. We are wanting to make an impact on the world. We are very open to different viewpoints, while at the same time most of us are not very religious. We are highly connected to media. Most importantly, we are highly connected to people. We love our families and respect our elders. We love to communicate and build relationships. Thom and Jess (the authors of the Millennials) are very optimistic about us and think that we could make a large positive impact in the world.

Like I said, I think that you should read this book. Please don't read this post as self-serving or as a millennial simply wanting you to like his generation. Read it as a millennial asking you to take the time to understand all of us and as a millennial asking you to give his generation a chance.

Jun 14, 2011

The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi

Vishal Mangalwadi sets out on bold mission to show how the Bible has affected the development of Western Civilization in The Book the Made Your World. This is interesting because Mangalwadi is Indian. He does not live in the West. This gives him the ability to compare the development of the Eastern culture (mostly focusing on India) to the development of Western Culture (mostly focusing on Western Europe and America). Through the course of the book he compares how each culture views things like technology, rationality, heroism, education, science, literature and many others. The main thesis of the book that is developed in each chapter is that the West was able to develop faster and in better ways that the East was able to because the West was built on the foundation of the Bible. He explains that since the time of the Reformation the Bible has been available in many languages for all to read and this dissemination of the scriptures exposed the Western World to higher morals which then led to a better rate and level of development. The East, however, was built on the various scriptures of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern Religions. These scriptures were not available to all and do not hold the same values that the Christian Bible does. Therefore, the West and parts of the East where bible has been introduced are substantially better than the places where Eastern religions have driven the culture.

Mangalwadi has created a strong argument and presented an interesting comparison between the development of the East and the West. As someone who has been exposed and involved in both cultures, he has a unique vantage point to compare the two. The problem is, however, that the premise  that he starts out with is not necessarily the one that he carries through the book. Mangalwadi claims to be writing about how the Bible changed the west, which it did. What he actually writes about is how the Protestant Reformation changed the western world. He rarely jumps into the time between the early church fathers and the late Medeval age. The catalyst of change from his perspective is that the Reformation made the Bible available to the masses in their own language. While I am not a historian, I will agree that this changed the world, but it ignores the fact that the Catholic Church, even with its issues in the end of the Middle Ages, had spread the Bible all over Europe. They had created a Christian culture that is also quantifiably different from the culture of the east. If the church had not spread all over Europe, then having the Bible available in all languages would not have had the immediate impact. The Bible already laid the foundation for culture and then became even stronger after the reformation. It should also be mentioned that with the neglect of the time between the fathers and reformation is also a neglect of the developments of the Eastern Church which, while it did not reach the far east, it still in the East. Lastly, I have a hard time coming to some of the same conclusions that he did. Yes, I agree that the Bible changed the world, but I cannot agree with him that the Bible, and ultimately God, blessed Britain with a global empire and blessed America with the success of capitalism. He seems to attribute these two things to the Bible, and I believe the Bible is not meant for building empires or economies. The Bible changes lives and has influenced many people to go and give their lives to helping others. I believe the stories of people like Mother Teresa, Eric Liddell, and Richard Wurmbrand really show how the Bible has changed the world. Overall, I have to agree with his premise, but disagree with the way that he explains about how the Bible changed the world.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

May 17, 2011

Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

David Platt wants you to take back your faith from the American Dream. American Christians are living under influence of the American dream to have more and better things. Platt, however, wants to call us a different dream, a dream that is Radical. He's not afraid to be upfront about it either.

Platt begins with by questioning the reader's faith. He even says that he wants to show you how, despite your best intentions, have turned away from really following Jesus. Real discipleship (following Jesus) requires something of the disciple, and here in America, we're not giving what is required of us. We've lost sight of Jesus and follow after the American dream. But his question to the reader is whether or not Jesus is really worth it. Jesus calls us to come and die, to abandon our attachments to the things of this world, and turn our lives over to Christ. Platt argues to bring the reader back to that point.

At times this can be a hard book to read, and I think it is harder for those who lived longer in pursuit of the American dream. Platt describes some of his encounters with church leaders and Christians who have told him that they are glad that he has gone into the inner city and around the world so that they didn't have to. This seems extreme, but there are many of us who, although we won't say it, live like this. We want others to go around the world and into the tough places with the good news so that we don't have to. That's not, however, the call of Christian discipleship. Platt writes Radical to remind us that the dream of God is not two cars, three children, and a house with a picket fence, but instead the dream of God is for all people to hear his gospel of love and salvation. And this dream does not just happen, it happens because God's people answer the call of to go and preach the good news.

This is one of two books I have read by David Platt. He writes passionately and honestly. Both of these make his books interesting and convicting. His call is an heartfelt and honest call to get off our couch, turn off the TV, and go do something for God. Radical has changed my view of what a Christian does and how they live. There were times when I got frustrated and thought that he was just another person guilting me into being a missionary, but in his conclusion he makes attainable goals for any person. He doesn't ask you to move out of the country, but instead to give at least a week of your time outside your culture and to give part of your offering to spread the gospel. I would recommend this to anyone. It's an easy read and hopefully it will change the way you live your life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah's book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



May 6, 2011

What is Faith?

I'm currently working on my masters thesis and the topic is faith, specifically faith as described by James W. Fowler. The main question of my thesis is a question of how we understand what faith is. What is faith? How does it work? Who has it?


Faith is essential to who we are and our identity. Fowler writes that faith, "...is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith helps us carry on when there is no longer any reason to go forward. It enables us to exist during the in-between times: between meanings, amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is the sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without” (Life maps: Conversations on the Journey of Faith, 1). According to Fowler, we really wouldn't be much with out faith. That's why I'm writing about faith for my thesis. Not to question faith, but to examine deeply what we really do when we have faith.


So what do you think? What is faith? How would you describe it or define it? (If you answer is good enough, I just might quote you in my thesis.)

Apr 30, 2011

Is there really Greener Grass?

When you're living the American dream, you're always reaching high for bigger and greener pastures. This, however, leads to a life of always looking to the next thing, always wanting something bigger and better.  Life is spent playing the "if only" game. If only you have something nicer, newer, and different you'd be happier. This game of "if only" is at the heart of a conspiracy. Stephen Altrogge believes that American Christians are falling prey to the Greener Grass Conspiracy. Our enemy is tempting some the richest Christians on earth to be richer.

At the heart of the Greener Grass Conspiracy is discontentment. It seems that the people in this world who have the most are the least content with what they have. But why are we discontent? Altrogge writes the Greener Grass Conspiracy to remind us what why we should really be content. God gives us what we need to survive. God also gives what we really need in life: salvation. Altrogge reminds us that God has given us the greatest gift and we should be extremely anything beyond that. The message of this book is the same as Paul's message in Philippians 4: the secret to being content is have Jesus Christ in your life because he will always give us what we need and he is giving us eternal life.

This book is an easy read with a great message. I would encourage you to read it if you are always feeling like you want more. I think, however, this book is really missing the call to take what you do have more than you need and use it for the good of others. It's there, but it's not really the focus. If you are struggling with wanting more and not having enough, this book is a great reminder of what God has done for you, but once you've read this book, you need to remember that the step after contentment is generosity. If you've taken Dave Ramsey's FPU, you should remember what the last lesson is. Dave Ramsey teaches how to live like no one else so that you can give like no one else. When you have learned to be content with what God has given you its not hard to take the next step and be generous with what God has blessed you with.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Apr 21, 2011

Learning to be Radical Together


David Platt has become known recently for his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. In Radical, Platt writes how that we need to forget the American Dream and remember what God is calling his people to do. God is calling his people to be radical. Now, he is writing about how to be Radical Together. If you've read radical you know that life is not about the nicer car, the nicer house, or the 6 figure salary, it's about doing whatever we can to spread the gospel, and sometimes that looks a bit radical. In Radical Together, Platt writes about how we need to be working together in churches and small groups to be radical for God's mission. The gospel will not be spread if people are not willing to do radical things and we do them as the church. God never called us to live this life alone and he does not want us to help other alone either.

It's only appropriate that I would review this book on the Thursday leading up to Easter. Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is related to the word Mandate and is connected to the new command (or mandate) that Jesus gives to his disciples in John 13:34. Radical Together follows that command to love. Platt is calling us to do whatever it takes to show the love of God to people around the world who need help. Just as in Radical, he calls his readers to the radical experimentTo pray for the entire world, to read through the entire Word, to commit our lives to multiplying community, to sacrifice our money for a specific purpose and to give our time in another context.

While I am one to get frustrated by books that seem like they would be just another guilt trip about being a rich american, Radical Together is a great book with a great message. I do believe that this is a book that American churches need to read and implement. Even if the church only did the minimal of what Platt asks in the radical experiment, the world would be a better place. I appreciate what Platt writes in this book and hope that his words are effective in convincing more of the church to rise up and be the church.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



Apr 12, 2011

Review of Tithing by Douglas Leblanc

Tithing is one of the oldest practices in the Bible. It goes all the way back to Abraham giving Melchizedek a tenth of everything in Genesis 14. It is also one of the most widely known about practices in church today. Because of this, one might think that another book about tithing is not needed. The Bible is pretty straight forward: the Old Testament says to give a tenth, and the New Testament says to give generously. Leblanc, however, is not writing just another book on why we should tithe or how to tithe. Instead, he writes to tell the stories of people who are deeply committed to giving their financial resources to the kingdom of God and how God has blessed them in their lives.

In all honesty, I mostly got this book to complete the ancient practice series. What I got out of Tithing, however, was a blessing. Typically people make the argument to tithe based on a legalistic conviction that God will abundantly bless you with more and more wealth if you tithe, but Leblanc gives the stories of real people living in the conviction that their possession are blessings from God and they should pass on those blessing to others. Most of the stories convey a conviction to love those around them. From an author who gives all the money made by his books away to a minister sacrificing to rebuild after Katrina, Leblanc tells real stories of real people loving God and others. Tithing is not just about fulfilling a obligation to God, it is about living sacrificially so that others might live and this book testifies to that.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Apr 11, 2011

Review of the Final Summit by Andy Andrews

There is only one chance to save humanity. David Ponder is summoned to lead a summit of all the world's greatest thinkers to do just that in Andy Andrews' book The Final Summit. In the story, Ponder is summoned by the archangel Gabriel to come and lead a meeting with the world's greatest thinkers and leaders of the past. They are given five chances to determine the two word answer that will put humanity back on the right course. Through the book, Ponder discusses what principle will correctly guide humanity with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, George Washington Carver, Joan of Arc and many others. Eventually they do find that principle, and Andrews leaves the reader with the challenge to live by that one principle.


I have never read anything by Andrews before, and this story was very interesting. He's is able to tell a story that is primarily about people talking in a way that you want to keep reading. He does this through telling the story of each new historical figure that is brought in to help find the solution. It is obvious that Andrews is trying to teach you something in every chapter, but it he does through historical figures and the story of The Final Summit. Personally I enjoyed the book, but I was a bit surprised by simplicity of the solution at the end. I'm not really sure if I completely agree that the solution finally presented in the end is the solution that will really "save humanity" or if it just a good principle in life to remember. Overall, Andrews is a good writer, with a good story and you definitely learn something by the end. If you are looking for a motivational book, than this is a good one, but there may be better ones out there.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mar 25, 2011

Does Love Win?: A Review of Rob Bell's book Love Wins

There has been a lot of discussion around the internet about Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Before this, I have been a supporter of Rob Bell. I have read all of his books (except drops like stars), seen most of the nooma videos, and watched two of his longer videos. And while I have not always agreed with him, I think that he's a great communicator and has brought some great insights to the table. That being said, while I try not involve myself in internet debates, but I felt that it was appropriate to share with the few people who read my blog about Love Wins and what Bell actually says in the book (You should check out my friend David's blog post about this as well).


There were a lot of people crying heresy and accusing Rob Bell of universalism. Those claims were based mostly off of the title and a book trailer. After actually reading the book, I believe that claims of Bell's flee from Orthodox Christianity have been greatly exaggerated.

So what does he say?
First, he plainly says that there is a heaven, a hell, a final judgment, a bodily resurrection and that there will be a new heaven and new earth. Is this Biblical? Yes. Second, he says that Jesus is the only one through which people receive salvation. Is this Biblical? Yes.

So far, so good.

He begins to stray from the pack in his discussion of who gets spend eternity with God and the permanency of hell.

He believes that because God is love, he would never be so exclusive as to make salvation dependent on human effort to spread the gospel. God works in ways that we don't know to save people who would never receive the gospel. It would be unloving for God to never give some people the chance to receive the grace that he so freely gives to all people if they will choose to follow.

Is this Biblical? Bell would say yes. I would say only God knows. God tells us to make disciples of all peoples and we should leave the rest up to God.

He also argues that the gates of New Jerusalem will not be shut and that there will still be opportunity for people to turn to Jesus after the final trumpet sounds

Is this Biblical? Sort of. The gates of New Jerusalem never shut, but I don't agree with Bell's interpretation. The verse says that the gates never shut because there is no night. My interpretation: God is in the city, he has banished the darkness (symbolic of evil) there is no more night (symbolic of evil), therefore there is no need to lock the gates, there is no need for security measures. New Jerusalem is safe because God has defeated evil once and for all.

So Heretic? Probably not. Stretching the interpretation of some scriptures? Yes. His interpretation, however, do not negate the saving power of Jesus and Jesus alone. Therefore, he's not a universalist either. If you need a label, he's an inclusivist. In his opinion there are people who will be saved (through Jesus) that we wouldn't expect.

Honestly, this is nothing new. There have been many Christians through the centuries to hold this. One of whom is C. S. Lewis. Although he never wrote a book specifically about this area of theology, one example is found in the Last Battle Lewis shows a Calormean entering Aslan's country who never followed Aslan. Aslan tells him that all the good he did for Tash, he actually did for Aslan. Another, although it's more like a parable than theology, is the story of the Great Divorce. A group of deceased ride a bus from Hell to Heaven and are given a chance to follow God even though they have already died and gone to Hell. These are both similar to Love Wins, but it should be remembered that these are both stories and not theological explanations.


Why did Bell write this book? Because he is so convicted by the fact that God is love, that he believes should show that love to all people. I think that most of us can get behind that. Christians should be known as a people of love because God is love. God loves people and in the end God's love rules the day. In other words, Love Wins.

Mar 7, 2011

One of my favorite books

A little over a year ago, I read Don Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It is one of my favorites from one of my favorite authors. It's in paperback now, which means it's cheaper. So if you haven't read it, go get it and read it. It's a fantastic and challenging read that will challenge you to ask yourself how you have been living the story of your life. Still not interested, watch the video. Then go read it.





Are you living a great story with your life? from Donald Miller on Vimeo.

Mar 4, 2011

Review of The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

The practice of pilgrimage has almost disappeared from the western Christian culture. Charles Foster in The Sacred Journey is inviting us to remember the practice of pilgrimage and to embark on them once more. Pilgrimages died out around the time of the Reformation because they were being condemned as fruitless and not commanded by the Bible. Foster argues that we lost a lot when we stopped going on pilgrimages. He  believes that the practice of pilgrimage helps remember that we are constantly on a journey and the actual act of traveling somewhere helps us understand that better. While he acknowledges that we are all on a metaphorical Christian pilgrimage in this life, going somewhere helps us to see things in new ways and connect to God in ways that staying at home cannot bring us closer to God. Pilgrimage changes the pilgrims and can open their eyes to see God, life, and their faith in a deeper more real way.

This book was helpful in many ways, and in others I am not sure what to think. Foster rightly brings us back to a practices that, while not commanded in the Bible, is something that has benefitted Christians for centuries. His arguments for Christian pilgrimage are compelling, but he also reaches into the writings and traditions of other religions to discuss what a pilgrimage is and why we should practice it. This is probably the one thing that will keep most readers from reading it. I personally was not offended by it, since other religions practice and write about pilgrimage far more that Christians do, but I did not think that it was alway necessary to delve into other religions' practices. Foster makes a compelling argument for Christian pilgrimage, but at times seems to turn too much to the writings of other religions. It's worth a read if you are interested in pilgrimage as a practice, but be warned that you will encounter references and quotes from people and scripture outside of Christianity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mar 1, 2011

What Charlie Sheen could learn from John Cassian


Normally, I am not one to comment on current events. And really, this is not a commentary about what Charlie Sheen has done. Instead, this morning in my reading of John Cassian's Conferences, I was struck by the stunning opposition of what Abbot Moses says and what Charlie Sheen is saying on the Today Show. We all know who Charlie Sheen is, but in case you are wondering, John Cassian was a monk in the fourth and fifth centuries, and his conferences are his transcription of what he learned straight from the Desert Fathers. Ironically, the Orthodox church celebrates Cassian on February 29th, which would be today if this were a leap year.


The Cassian's first two conferences are with Abbot Moses. In the first conference, Moses discussion how the goal of the monk is purity of heart. This goal is achieved by living a love filled life. For Moses, the greatest virtue, and the one from which all other virtues come. The second conference, is about discernment or discretion, depending on the translation. Discretion teaches us how to live a virtuous life. Love is the chief virtue and discretion teaches us when and how to be loving. This morning I read out of the tenth chapter of this conference. Moses said, "True discretion, said he, is only secured by true humility. And of this humility the first proof is given by reserving everything (not only what you do but also what you think), for the scrutiny of the elders, so as not to trust at all in your own judgment but to acquiesce in their decisions in all points, and to acknowledge what ought to be considered good or bad by their traditions."

If you've watched morning news you've probably seen Charlie Sheen. He speaks of how he, by the powers of his mind, has beat drugs and alcohol. He speaks of how awesome he is and that Chuck Lorre, his producer, doesn't realize it. Throughout everything he's said, the theme is look at how great I am and how I can do it all myself. He even said this morning that he did not want the help of his father or family.

It struck me how the wisdom from Abbot Moses is directly opposed to this. Moses teaches us to be humble and not even listen to our own thoughts, and instead to listen to the thoughts of elders. Listening to the thoughts of those who have gone before will teach us how to discerning of how to think and act in our life. Sheen lacks humility and refuses to listen to others. He has "fixed" all of his problems on his own. If I could speak to him, I would urge him to listen to what Abbot Moses said to Cassian. The road to virtue begins with discretion. True discretion has its root in humility and turning to the wisdom of elders who can tell you what is good or bad.

A very similar event took place in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, rejected the advice of Solomon's advisors (the people who advised the wisest man on earth) and went to his friends. Rehoboam ending up splintering the Kingdom of Israel, which his father and grandfather made great, into two.

The moral of this this story is that we need to listen to the wisdom of our elders and not the wisdom of our selves. Discretion and discernment does not come from inexperience, but humility and the experience and wisdom of those who has lived a virtuous life.

Jan 29, 2011

Review of Fasting by Scot McKnight

What is fasting? How is it done? Why do we do it? Scot McKnight's addition to the ancient practices series, Fasting,  does a fantastic job of answering many questions about fasting in an easily understood way. At the heart of McKnight's discussion is one of the best definitions of fasting that I have heard: "Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life." He uses this definition to explain that Biblically fasting is a natural response to sacred moments in life. In times of our own hardship, in times when we are moved by the hardship of others, or even time times when we are moved by God, fasting is one of the appropriate responses. Many times in the contemporary church, we think that fasting by itself can prompt God to look on us with favor or make us better people, but is a discipline done in response to a need. The needs can very, but fasting is not a magical way of provoking God to action, but is instead a way of expressing the need for a deeper interaction with God.

I heard Scot McKnight discuss fasting at the Stone Campbell Journal Conference and was slightly turned off by his response that fasting is not practiced today as it was in the Bible. This book, however, explains his position more fully and does a fantastic job of explaining fasting in the Bible and in Church history. This is a very practical book for anyone interested in or studying fasting. It is easily understood and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about fasting and the ways to practice it. I have appreciated all the books I read in this series, but this is one of the better books from the ancient practices series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jan 6, 2011

Review of The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Christians live by a different calendar than everyone else. The Christian year begins four Sundays before Christmas on the first day of Advent. That calendar includes the holidays of Christmas and Easter, but also includes Epiphany, Pentecost, the periods of Ordinary time, and seasons like Lent and Advent. This is the rhythm that many Christians have taken part in year after year. Joan Chittister does a excellent job of asking how Christians live out this calendar year after year in The Liturgical Year. The Liturgical Year, or Christian Calendar as some call it, gives a constant reminder of what Jesus did while he was in the world we do in this world because of his life, death, and resurrection.

While this book does not give a in depth description or history of each holiday and season, Chittister describes the emotion and practices associated with each part of the year. She explains how the year affects the lives of Christians. This book does a fantastic job of taking someone through the year in a succinct, understandable, and almost devotional manner. I would suggest that one could read this book throughout the course of one liturgical year. Reading this in the Advent and Christmas season I found myself moved by the discussion of Advent and Christmas. This definitely something I will pick up through the year to reflect on the changing of the Christian seasons. If you are unfamiliar with the church calendar, you should consider picking up this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jan 5, 2011

Spending time with Basil

In a previous post, I talked about journaling with the masters. Part of my time journaling with the masters was spent Basil's writings. His writings are fantastic and I gleaned a lot of wisdom from his writings.

Basil was a bishop in Caesarea in the 4th Century AD. He is celebrated by the orthodox church on the 1st of January, which traditionally is said to be the day he died (more about his life can be found here). I think that it is apt that Basil is celebrated at the first of every year because what he wrote about the Christian life would be great for building a New Years resolution.

What I learned from Basil was to find solitude, reject the world's ways, and practice self-control. Basil taught that we will not be able to really focus on God's word if we cannot find solitude. We need to find quiet from time to time so that we can focus on spending time with God and his word. Second, Christians are not to live according to the world's ways. The world has many things to offer, but it cannot offer us the life the God does. Third, we need to have self-control for the times that we do interact with the world. It is inevitable to have to involve yourself with the world, but being self-controlled can keep us from taking the necessities and abusing them.

These three things stuck with me from reading Basil, I hope that they can help you in this new year. I would also encourage you to find a wise person who has gone before to mentor you. They don't have to be living, you can find a good book and learn from those who have gone before. Just find a wise person, listen to what they have to say and apply it.

Jan 4, 2011

Review of The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher

Communion is a sacred meal and Nora Gallagher reminds us that it is something that needs to be practiced. Many of us might not think of Communion as something to be practiced in the same way we pray, fast, or read our Bibles. Communion, however, is one of the ancient Christian disciplines and Nora reminds us of the depth of communion and how it shapes our faith. Communion connects us to the presence of God in the world as we remember Christ's death burial and resurrection. It also connects to the body of Christ in a way that nothing else can. It makes all equal. All Christians are members of the body of Christ and all are invited to the table to partake of this meal no matter what situation of life you are in. The Sacred Meal reminds us of the unity that Communion brings and shows how the practice of Communion helps us grow and mature.

While this is not the best book I have read about communion, it is good. It is a good reminder of what happens at communion and how it affects the church. I enjoyed this book even though I though that she was a little out there at times. I would recommend this to anyone who has not spent much time thinking about the practice of communion. It is an easy read and a great book to get you thinking, but it is not an in depth study of Communion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”