Thursday, December 19, 2013

Glory Veiled and Unveiled

The subtitle "A Heart-Searching Look at Christ's Parables" is a good way to summarize the book, but far from adequate. I found this book incredibly helpful in learning how to read the bible not primarily for knowledge (though that is certainly there)but for help in seeing how I need to be transformed in my thinking and in my behavior. Have you ever experienced "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple"? Bilkes framework for looking at the parables facilitates this. He arranges each study of a parable under four sections: the scenery, the substance, the Savior, and the searchlight. After crafting these sections, he has a marvelous set of questions at the end of each chapter that greatly aids your thinking about and deepening your understanding of the parable.

Read the parable, try the framework, then read Bilkes. Reload and do again. I think you will be marvelously blessed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prayers for Windows Phone

Those of you who have a Windows 8 Smartphone and are interested in prayers, should check out my new Congregational Prayer application.  Details can be found at

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: Why Christ Came – 31 Meditations on the Incarnation

What would be more welcome for this busy Christmas season than to rest in Christ? And that is what this book will give the willing reader.

These 31 meditations on the riches of God become man are not difficult to understand, but are quite substantial fare for the person hungry for meaning this holiday season. The book is small and the readings are short enough to finish in a 15 minute period while chewing slowing the 3 pages given for each meditation. Each chapter begins with one or more scripture verses, and then elaborates with reference to the appropriate scriptures.

An example of the depth of this book is found in Chapter 12: To Bring Judgment.  Here the authors give a very good explanation for the appearance of opposing views on judgment by drawing attention to the context of different audiences.  In John 9 Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have hardened their hearts in unbelief and in John 12 he is speaking to believers who are slow to confess him for fear of being thrown out of the synagogue. To the one he says “For judgment I have come into this world” and to the other, he confronts their guilt and calls them to repentance so they will not be judged by His word in the last day.  The apparent contradiction in Chapter 21: To Bring A Sword is also resolved by this same technique, looking at the context for Luke 1:79 and Matthew 10:34.

Not many people are interested today in theology, but this short book should deepen your worship this Christmas as you are reminded again of the awesome reality of our union with Christ and the brotherly affection and care for those who call upon his name.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review - God's Great Plan

Written by Melissa Cutrera
Illustrated by Matthew Sample II

With engaging words of rhythm and rhyme we are drawn into the grand story of all time.
With pictures galore it is not a bore and once at the end you must read it some more.
The previous sentences are my attempt to characterize the content and character of this book.  Without any negative connotation, this book is “a superb elevator speech”, telling in a well-chosen sequence, the story of creation, fall and redemption with theological completeness in 27 rhythmic two line verses.  Because it is short, it is a great bedtime read, but as with any book, the parents should assess if the sadder elements of the story make another time of day a better time to read.
I found the book appropriate for a wide range of young readers. I liked the illustrations. They provide plenty of opportunity to interact with 2-3 year olds while reading. Even though the vocabulary may be unfamiliar to them, the pictures, along with the rhythm of the words will keep them interested.  The vocabulary is suitable for preschool and young elementary.  This book will remain in my collection for reading to my many grandchildren. It is a 5 star review.

I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review - Good in My Everything

by Ken Shigematsu

It usually takes more than a few decades for a person to realize that busyness is an enemy to godliness. The enjoying of God and glorifying of God now and forever requires purposeful activity in a certain direction. Ken Shigematsu has written a book that helps us redirect our busyness to activity that brings us to deep and lasting satisfaction. He shows us how we can find a way of living that brings enjoyment in God in the midst of ordinary living.

 In a concise way, Ken shows how the monastic traditions enabled a centering of a busy life on God. Then using the analogy of a trellis that supports a plant and provides the structure for bearing fruit, he shows how to establish a framework (roots) for life that enable us to relate, restore and to reach out.

The appendix contains a summary of his “Rules of Life” and those of several others. The reader will be relieved to find that having a “Rule of Life” is not necessarily complicated, and the examples have great variety depending on the personality and gifts of the person creating his own “Rule for Life”. Mature Christians familiar with Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” will find they may have arrived at the same place using his methodology for creating a rhythm for life.

 I found the questions at the end of the chapters quite helpful in fixing the major points of the chapter in my mind. They are a good aid to assist reflection on the core message of the chapter.

 I would highly recommend this book and give it a 5 stars out of 5.

 I received this book for free from Zondervan via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review - The Briarpatch Gospel

Order From Confusion

I love it when I find examples of how a pastor is able to sift through a person's story and present the hope of the gospel.  Here is one such example from "The Briarpatch Gospel".

He wasted no time before launching into a profanity-laced assault on all things religious, the gist of which was something like this: “I hate God. He’s never done a single thing for me.”
Okay. This is going to be fun. I figured some of his aggression came from the fact that he was on his fourth or fifth whiskey and Coke. “Liquid courage,” as they say. But I knew there was some deep pain beneath the anger.
I turned on my stool to face him, ordered myself a drink, and settled in for what promised to be a long conversation. “Tell me more,” I invited. “I can take it, and I’m pretty sure God can too.”
For the next hour, Dan dominated the conversation as he recounted not knowing his father and being raised by a mother who was loveless and neglectful. She brought into their home countless boyfriends who would beat her, as well as Dan and his younger sister.
When he was old enough, he moved out and found his way to Los Angeles, where he got involved in the pornography industry. He was successful enough to earn a living and support many destructive habits. Involvement in that industry was not conducive to healthy, long-term relationships, so he burned through a string of girlfriends and countless one-night stands.
I kept listening. He kept talking and ordering more drinks. It was one of the saddest stories I had ever heard, and I had the sense that he had never told it to anyone before. I thought it could not get any worse.
I was wrong.
“So what brings you to Decatur?” His story had caught up to the present, and honestly, I was hoping my question would change the subject.
“I’m here to testify in my mother’s murder trial.” He pointed across the square in the general direction of the county courthouse.
My jaw dropped and I began to think, Yeah, I can see why you’re not God’s biggest fan.
“My mother didn’t like my sister’s boyfriend,” he continued. “He would beat my sister, and so my mom got a gun and went and shot him dead."
I was done. Exhausted. We sat in silence for a few minutes, staring into our respective drinks.
He raised his whiskey and Coke to his mouth and muttered into the glass, “So you’ll excuse me if I think God is full of it.”
More silence.
“You know what I think?” I finally said, not waiting for an answer. “I think you’ve been deserted and neglected by those who should have loved and protected you. Your father had no right to leave. That’s not what fathers are supposed to do. Sure, your mother had it bad, but she had a responsibility to protect you and your sister. She let you down. And correct me if I am wrong, but by the way you’re tossing down so much whiskey, beginning at four in the afternoon, I think you’re an alcoholic. You’re looking for meaning and belonging in an industry and illicit relationships that are only emaciating your soul. But deep down, beneath the porn and drugs and abuse and alcohol, your real problem is that you don’t think anyone can love you, not even God. You don’t think God could possibly love someone like you.”
He sat there, head slumped, long enough for the tears to reach his chin. Raising his eyes, he looked at me and said, “You know, you’re right.” “Dan, the truth is, if God can’t love you, then there’s no hope for me either. A lot of bad stuff has happened to you, but you’ve made some pretty bad decisions yourself. The good news is that none of that disqualifies you for God’s affection. Jesus came for broken and stupid people just like you and me. And it’s not fair for us to blame God for everything if we are going to purposely shut him out of our lives. When you sober up a bit and get back to LA tomorrow, I want you to call a friend of mine.”

Wheeler, Shayne (2013-02-18). The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places (pp. 202-206). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Book Review - Surfing For God

Surfing For God
Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle

by  Michael Cusik
Published by Thomas Nelson

"The pursuit of purity is not about the suppression of lust, but about the reorientation of one's life to a larger goal." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

These well-chosen words appearing at the beginning of the book summarize both the content and the flow of this hope inspiring book meant to give freedom to those struggling with lust.  Through the use of personal story, biblical story and stories of well-known writers, Michael Cusick presents a clear and compelling Gospel pathway to real freedom from bondage to pornography.  The author adds very useful information about ancient spiritual disciplines and recent information on the neuroplasticity of the brain to assist the reader in his journey to freedom.

Many readers will identify with Michael's description of the difficulty we have in connecting truths such as "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me" or "the truth will set you free" and the experience of these truths.    Our hearts long to say, as David says in Psalm 119:32 "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free".  In five parts spread over 14 chapters and a helpful conclusion Michael Cusick leads the reader into discovering the divine desire beneath sexual struggle and shows the gospel pathway to freedom.

Why breaking free from porn is so difficult
  • The spiritual roots of addition
    • The ways we avoid and control pain and how this relates to using pornography.
    • The nature of shame and how you overcome it.
    • The familiar cycle of how men become ensnared with porn.
  • Unearthing the lost treasure of the Gospel
    • Our deepest desire
    • Being a spiritual warrior - the need to fight against darkness
    • The way porn subverts your brain and capacity for intimacy
  • The specific path to freedom and wholeness.
  • God's pattern for bringing about change.

Each chapter begins with a marvelous pithy quote. These quotes are like sparkling jewels waiting to be delighted in.  They serve to draw the reader in and provide great summary statements for later recollection of the contents of the chapter they represent.

This book is one on of the best books I have read on this subject.  I think it provides help not just for addiction to pornography, but also for any addiction one might have, including alcohol. For me, this is one of the most helpful reads of 2012.

(I received this book free from the publisher through the 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.")

Book Review - Men of Sunday

Men of Sunday
How Faith Guides the Players, Coaches, and Wives of the NFL
By Curtis Echelberger
Published by Thomas Nelson

I’m not one who follows football all that closely, but since we are in the middle of football season, I thought this would be an interesting read.  Interesting book, but bad choice for me.  I don't know most of the many players and managers mentioned in the book, and for that reason found it hard to stay interested in the book.
But for someone who follows football, there is an incredible number of football players and managers covered.  Given the lack of media coverage on the role faith plays on football teams, players and coaches, I was pleasantly surprised to find an amazing amount of detail on the role of faith and on the religious attitudes and lifestyles of many of the players and their families.

However I do have a caution in reading the book, especially for those whose love of football and the players could blind them to some of the questionable statements that are occasionally made. One obvious one is on page 37 where Washington Redskins safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is responding to the questions of seriously injuring an opponent when it may not be necessary.  He says we don’t want to put the game above the lives of the people He created. However, he then says, “But he has called us to play this game 100 percent without fear or hesitation to His glory, and as long as we do that within the rules, I believe that in His eyes He is pleased with what we are doing.”  The catch in this statement is by what rules is Atogwe playing.  The rules he refers to are the rules of football, but if they are applied in a wooden way, without judgement, then following the rules will violate the biblical requirement to love your neighbor.  There seems to be one set of rules used for football, and another for before and after the game.

That said – if you love football and are wondering how faith is lived out in the lives of the players and their families, this would be a good easy read.

(I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://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.”)

Book Review - Mondays With My Old Pastor

by Jose Luis Navajo

“Old age is like climbing a large mountain. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become, but your sight becomes more free and the view more extensive and serene.” Igman Bergman

An unnamed retired pastor was such a man who from the top of the mountain was able to bring encouragement at a time when Evangelical Pastor Navajo was burned out and disillusioned and ready to quit the ministry.  At his old pastor’s insistence, Pastor Navajo visits the dying pastor for a number of weeks over which 15 encouragements are given to him.  These encouragements bring new life and renewed vision to Pastor Navajo and his wife and will also bring much encouragement to the reader.

Although I profited a great deal from the book and would highly recommend it, it fell short as a good work of art.  I found the book often excessively sweet and sentimental. The author tried to make the book read like a novel, but it was choppy in it’s genre as it often came through as non-fiction.

At the end of the book (don’t read ahead!) the fifteen principles are summarized, and I will probably extract them for regular review. Jose ends with
“During the night, a person asks a thousand questions. … But morning finally comes and the sun restores everything to its rightful place. Then we discover that the grotesque shadows at night that seemed like arms of a skeleton were only branches laden with fruit, and that empty blackness that seemed like an abyss in the darkness was a well of crystal-clear water willing to refresh us.”

 Overall a great book, I would give the book 4 stars out of 5

(I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://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.”)