Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible


The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible features the New King James Version translation and study helps developed and adapted by Max Lucado. The key study helps are “Life Lessons” which elaborate on passages of scripture providing a context to the section, the main point of the section, a associated text taken from other Lucado writings, an application and finally related scripture. Additionally there are other sections that illuminate the text including “Christ in the Bible: which links passages to the person of Jesus and “New Life in Christ” which focuses on discipleship and growing within Christ. There are also “30 Studies for New Believers” which provides looks at questions new followers may have and provides space for providing reactions to these studies and indexes to help guide personal devotions along with others.

I was already an owner of The Inspirational Study Bible which was an earlier version of this Bible. Supporting materials have been reviewed and edited for this new package but the bulk of the text including the helpful “Life Lessons” are largely the same material. I have found the “Life Lessons” as highly useful in both personal study and sermon preparation. The Bible also draws on Lucado “Life Lessons” study series especially in introductory material. However in reviewing the Romans study it was clear despite similar formats they are complementary not overly duplicative. Overall, I have found this Bible in other forms very useful and think it was beneficial to repackage and reissue this book.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chazown: Define Your Vision, Pursue Your Passion, Live Your Life on Purpose.

Throughout Chazown author Craig Groeschel makes one simple thing clear. We are all going somewhere but few are going there on purpose. Our relationships, finances, work, health and more are all moving towards a positive or negative direction; but few people are directing that path to match their purpose. Groeschel introduces his reader to the Hebrew word Chazown, which means dream, revelation or vision. Groeschel argues that everyone has a Chazown which is the God designed purpose for one’s life. He then helps his readers find their Chazown by reviewing their core values, spiritual gifts and past experiences. Groeschel then aids his readers to define their Chazown into a purpose statement. And finally he reviews five key areas of live the need attention in order to reach one’s Chazown; one’s relationship with God, others, finances, health and work. Finally, he empowers his readers to take all that they have learned to take the steps needed to realize their Chazown.



First thought….ShamWow. Second thought….great another book about purpose that’s what we were all looking for! Well, I was wrong. Groeschel doesn’t just tell us and challenge us to live on purpose. No, instead he provides the resources needed to develop and clarify one’s purpose. He asked his readers to keep a Chazown journal to draw out the answers to the key questions he has. I found that I could use the blank space in my book to write responses and look back at them as I went through the book. But Groeschel doesn’t just leave his readers isolated in a book with tasks to perform that are time consuming and perhaps complicated but instead supports the book with www.chazown.com which provides online tools that support the exercises used throughout the book. Groeschel is a great author who speaks truth, painful truth that makes me wish I could just close the book at time. Overall, I think this is an excellent book not just another purpose book that is meaningful as a standalone read or a small group tool.

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah





Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of the Christian Era

In 2007 Gabe Lyons collaborated with David Kinnamen in unChristian a book that showed us the reality of societies views about those who label themselves Christian. Since I had a friend gift me a copy, I have quoted and referred friends and others to this important text and their advice for overcoming the poor impression that society has of Christians. In The Next Christians not only tells us how to overcome negative Christian stereotypes, but he tells us who will destroy them. Lyons leaves his reader excited for the next movement of God through the next Christians, the restorers. These next Christians struggle against the reality of the world seeking to restore creation to what it ought to be not what it is. The restorers place high value on truth, justice, and beauty. Lyons describes in detail the key characteristics of restorers including their high value on calling, community, countercultural behavior, active engagement with culture and a firm foundation in Jesus Christ. If Christianity has lost its relevance by removing itself from the center of culture, the restorers are our best hope to return saved people to the culture conversation.

The Next Christians is a phenomenal book. Lyons has an ability in his writing to connect all of the dots to things we have all seen in our churches and society in large. As he writes about examples of restorers he knows you begin to think of those in your own life. Those examples that come to mind only further show the truth of Lyons’ writing. Additionally, the book is easy to read due to the engaging material. Honestly, as I got to better understand some of those I interact with, I got excited. I was also challenged with questions about myself as a potential restorer, where I am fighting against the restorers, and how can my own background help sharpen restorers. Lyons’ words lead me to celebrate much of what I do, and also grieve my own non-restorative tendencies. What more can we ask of a book other than lead ourselves down a path of self reflection? The Next Christians also helps reinforce books like Not Like Me. The Next Christians provides a general behavioral overview of restorers, while Eric Bryant in Not Like Me describes the relational toolbox of restorers, though he never makes that claim. The Next Christians is an important book that we as the church need to be discussing and acting on so we can move the Jesus conversation back to the center of the cultural dialogue.

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bad Public Relations

Recently I ran against a bad case of PR. I was sitting in church practicing silence and solitude. Instead of mediating over the verses presented to me for my consideration, I found myself stuck on the transfiguration.

In short summary, during the transfiguration, 3 disciples (Peter, John and James) witnessed Jesus in his glory and in conversation with Moses and Elijah:

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen (Luke 9:28-36, NIV).


Here is what struck me. John, we all know about John. He wrote a gospel and epistles and Revelation. Jesus proclaims him beloved. We know a lot about John and his life after the resurrection compared to the majority of the other twelve disciples. John has gotten some great public relations and rightfully we respect him and hold him up as an example to this day.

And then there is Peter, the Rock. He wrote Epistles and his post resurrection actions are documented in Acts and by tradition. We respect Peter, study Peter both his failings and triumphs. And Peter has gotten some great PR.

But then there is James! What about James. He is not the same James who had an epistle added to canon. Acts does not carefully chart James’ movements to help shepherd the early church. Though we can likely assume he was one of the decision makers when Acts refers to the disciples. But beyond being a Son of Thunder with his brother the Beloved, it’s not like we study James’ life intently as an example of holy transformed living or gave him a great nickname.

But why not. Jesus showed James his glory. Jesus not only allowed James into his inner circle of 12 but even added him to the inner inner circle of just three men that got to see this event. So we have to assume that Jesus knew what was in James’ heart and what great work was ahead of him. Jesus chose to reward James by sharing with him this moment. And I have to assume that James did not leave this event changed. I have to assume that after the resurrection, like John and Peter he looked back on this moment and gained strength. And I have to assume that James did great and wonderful things. But again, we don’t elevate him to the position of respect that we do Peter and John.

Now in-depth research, i.e, Wikipedia, shows that James by tradition had a great influence in spreading the church to Spain and was martyred for his efforts. But tradition and history leads me to simply assumption. And my assumption is…James did important things we should all greatly respect. But we fail to place him on the pedestal of John and Peter.

So, what do we learn from this. How about this…..praise doesn’t matter. James did not need accolades to do his important work. James did not need studies completed on his character in order for his efforts to matter. His work glorified Jesus and transformed himself and others. His work was eternal, more eternal than any praise that could be given by men. James mattered to Jesus no matter what raises, plaques, ribbons, gift cards, statues, brand new corvettes or other awards men failed to give him. In the end, seeing Jesus in his glory was more important praise than James could have ever received from men. Jesus’ smile is the best reward any of us can have.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I Hate Podcasts

Over the last six plus years I have been lucky to have a job that allows me to listen to a lot of podcasts on a daily basis while I complete my job duties. Over that time I have found some great advantages and disadvantages to having the time and access to teachings electronically. Today I want to provide my take on the disadvantages of podcasts.

Burnout

There is so much to chose from that eventually it can become too much. And when you become overwhelmed with the sure volume of teachings available online the easiest way to keep from drowning is to turn it off. It is so much easier to move to sports or other less serious topics available on the internet. With the variety of content available online one can simply ignore teachings and not use podcasts as a tool for growth but something that can simply be ignored.



Local Church Discounts

I love the men that I have called my pastors. They have mentored me, they have poured themselves into my life unconditionally. But they have not always been the most studied or charismatic speakers on a weekly basis as the best teachers one can find online on a weekly basis. Let’s face it, the local pastor is simply more likely to have an off week than a teacher God has blessed with gifts that make them as polished as any inspirational speaker who does not need to live by a van down by the river. Our local guy likely lacks the staff and resources that would make him an every week hit. By exposing yourself to fantastic teaching, one can begin to take their local church pastor less seriously or begin to ask why he/she isn’t as good as (insert favorite name here) that I listen to for free online. Basically, if you expose yourself to enough excellent teachings you can begin to take your local teacher less seriously. And this is a major fault on the listener’s behalf. As good as a speaker may be online, that person is not participating in your life on a daily basis and does not love you on the personal level that one’s local pastor does.



Are You Hearing Me

There are things that I don’t want to talk about. There are things I don’t want to think about. When those subjects come up on a teaching, well it’s pretty easy to find another teaching. The reason they hurt is because I NEED TO GROW IN THIS AREA. Since I need to grow it hurts, hey growth is not always fun and happy. I am a completionist, so eventually I return to that message that I don’t want to hear. But the timing may not be a growth moment by the time I return, listening at a time when my focus on the teaching is fairly superficial. However in the local sanctuary, if I was to turn off the message by walking out of dosing off, let’s face it my pastor and everyone else in my community is going to know. In effect, in my community I’m a captive audience, the same cannot be said for a podcast when I control the volume and play buttons.



Selective Listening

When you are listening and multitasking, you don’t always hear everything. And so the speaker’s message can easily get lost. And then you the listener miss the point. The additional hearing problem is when taking in so a bunch of teaching, which is really easy to do it’s pretty easy to forget or ignore the speaker’s main point or call to action. Simply put, I have heard so many talks that it is impossible for me to be impacted on a personal nature by all of them or even most of them. The best I can hope for is that I am being marinated in great teachings that hopefully sharpens my mind, frees my soul and strengthens my relationship with my creator.



These disadvantages should not stop one from interacting with content online. Instead the listener needs to be aware of the blind spots and traps one can fall into by primarily relying on podcasts for teaching instead of engaging in a religious community.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World by Eric Michael Bryant

Eric Michael Bryant in Not Like Me connects authentic relationships with impacting others for Jesus. Bryant provides a call to engage those that don’t look like us, share our culture or even believe the same as us. In fact he goes so far as to call us to love those people that the Christian mainstream hates. He notes that typically we push away people that don’t think or behave as we do removing our ability to influence them. Bryant instead points out the need to engage these not like me people in true friendships. He urges us to love people without judgment or conditions, realizing that though one may not have a relationship with Jesus, that God still loves that person unconditionally. This is the example that we must follow. Bryant shows that only be entering true relationships with people not like us can we have a lasting impact on their lives and help to show them the power of Jesus.

I have to be honest; I have wanted to read this book from when it was first issued as Peppermint-Filled PiƱatas. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. Bryant writes what we know in our own hearts, without a relationship with people we cannot expect to successfully impact them. But not only must we have a relationship, we must have a relationship built on love, respect and honesty not one based on a hidden agenda. By being honest we learn more about others and ourselves. Bryant reminds us that Jesus immersed himself amongst those that the religious establishment considered outsiders. And he angered that establishment as he moved salvation past a religious system of dos and do nots to a relationship with a living God. Not Like Me reminds us the simplest and best way for us to introduce someone to a friend, is to be a friend first.

I think this is an important work. Bryant urges us to move past our fears and preconceptions of others, others that we look down at, don’t understand and honestly fear for their cultural and moral choices and to look at people. Basically, he challenges us to look at people as people, not as sinners. By following Bryant’s charge and advice on friendship building we can find that key to demolishing the negative opinions that general public has of Christ followers especially charges of hate filled and judgmental. Not Like Me reminds us that like Jesus to save people we must first love people.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley



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Andy Stanley in The Grace of God walks readers through the Old and New Testament to gather attributes of God’s grace. Stanley shows how God’s grace was established at creation and is a thread that runs throughout the entire Bible. God’s grace is a gift, freely given and not earned. God’s grace is unfair, given to those who did not earn it. Most importantly, Stanley shows that God’s grace is for you and me and in doing so shines light on God’s deepest desire to be in relationship with everyone, despite our failures and mistakes. Stanley shows us that grace is better and more unexpected than we could ever hope for.



The strength of The Grace of God is the easy to read narrative style. The structure of the book lies on top of the stories that Stanley retells. Stanley restates them in a way that both those acquainted with the stories and those not can enjoy and easily connect to his points about grace. The chronological sequence of the chapters is confusing when the chapter ending in Christ’s burial is followed by his encounter with then woman at the well. Overall The Grace of God is an encouraging book that reminds us that we can do nothing to earn grace and helps us to better understand the awesomeness of God’s grace. It’s a good book, but one I am afraid I overhyped my expectations for.

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson



Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I Love Podcasts

Over the last six plus years I have been lucky to have a job that allows me to listen to a lot of podcasts on a daily basis while I complete my job duties. Over that time I have found some great advantages and disadvantages to having the time and access to teachings electronically. Today I want to provide my take on the advantages of podcasts.

Anytime Anywhere
I can listen at work. I can listen in the car. I can listen on a plane. I can listen in the living room. I can listen mowing the yard. I can listen on the train. I can listen walking. I can listen in the bathroom (though maybe I shouldn’t). I can listen at work at my desk. I can listen on the moon. You get the point. I can listen to this content anywhere where my MP3 player has power after a charge. As long as I have device power, I don’t need or require a cord or access to another device. I could be listening while standing in a cave, and that’s a powerful and convenient tool for enriching one’s spirit and mind. Podcasts and MP3 device liberate me from having to be at a set location and time to access content.

Great Teachings
Podcasts allow you access to teachers and preachers that geographical location would never make available to you. I have lived in both predominantly rural and urban areas during this six year span, but I have always lived distantly from those pastors and leaders I enjoy listening to. Without podcasts, I would not have access to those who unknown to them are helping to spiritually mentor me. Additionally, since these podcasts represent a number of diverse churches they have guest speakers that are either prominent or up and coming that I may not typically seek out on my own. While some of these speakers may be hit or miss they have also introduced me to authors that I would have not have typically sought out. And it was all free.

Variety, Variety, Variety
I listen to a variety of speakers from a variety of denominations with a variety of styles. Additionally, they have differing topics they empathize more than others. Creation care is one great example. For some of these speakers creation care is something that humans are very much a part of with calls of action to actively actively participation in stewarding the environment. For others, they do not stress the care of creation, or advocate the trashing of creation, but place it as a secondary issue behind salvation. Additionally diversity has introduced me to new ways of interacting with theology. I had courses in systematic theology, but it was through podcasts that I was introduced to narrative theology and I love a good story. Additionally, I was able to take in different teachers with different styles preaching to different kinds of communities. The great thing is when you take in so much variety, it becomes easy to see what matters most to us as a “Christian Culture.”

Churchless Does Not Mean Message less
I have been churchless my friend, but the great news is now I’m found. During that time I visited several churches, and during periods of burnout I visited nowhere. But during that entire time span despite not having a community I was not left without teaching and preaching. There really is no excuse for not accessing good teaching and preaching anytime anywhere thanks to podcasts and a little internet access.

These are all great reasons to start browsing the large library of teaching hosted on the internet.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay


Chris Seay in The Gospel According to Jesus explores the meaning of righteousness among American churchgoers and attempts to provide a proper perspective on the theology of righteousness. Seay commissioned a Barna research study that finds that most churchgoers have definitional issues around the word righteousness and focus on behavior and actions viewing righteousness as acting moral. Seay attempts to knock down this preconception and turns to Jesus for an example of what righteousness truly is. He paints a picture of righteousness based on relationships with our Savior and with other people and as a quality that brings justice to a broken world. Each chapter is followed by a prayer and interviews with other thinkers such as Mark Batterson and Rick McKinley for review.

The Gospel According to Jesus is a challenging book. And honestly that’s a good thing. Seay pushes his reader to move beyond acting right, putting up an impression of goodness and behaving as expected by our fellowships. Seay urges us to be honest, care for those in need and model Jesus in interactions with others. He sees the righteousness of the saved leading to actions that bring restorative justice to the world. That is a challenge not every reader will be open to! Quoted scripture is taken from The Voice translation, a translation that Seay is deeply involved in but some readers will find alien. This could be uncomfortable to readers unfamiliar with the style and language used by The Voice team, for example the use of the phrase The Eternal for God may simply seem too” new age” and lead to a decreased comfort level for readers. On a personal note, Seay an Astros fan makes jabs at the Chicago Cubs that lead me to reject any credibility Seay has as an author. Sadly, the Cubs refusal to actually beat the Astros this year may prove his points and return to him his authoritative voice. Though seriously, Seay’s personal illustrations successfully aid his arguments by showing how he and others have attempted to live out righteousness as he describes it.

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference by Max Lucado


Max Lucado in Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference provides advice on leaving a lasting impression on this world with the resources God has given you. Lucado walks through key verses in the Book of Acts, using stories to bring the point of the verses out to his readers. He describes how the Book of Acts shows a small group of devoted believers, with limited education, influence and resources impacted the world from their own time to this day. Lucado notes that the work of the Book of Acts continues to this day, providing a story that has not ended. Key principles the author shares in leaving a permanent mark on the world includes the primacy of prayer, relationships with other believers and non-believers and modeling Jesus’ concern for the poor. Each chapter if followed by a complimentary Biblical verse for reflection and a prayer to focus the reader on the chapter’s content. A discussion guide for small groups is also provided.

Outlive Your Life is a typical Lucado book with a key strength in engaging writing that expertly uses stories to highlight and teach Lucado’s points. Lucado’s clear and entertaining writing allows readers to briskly read the text. Additionally, I think the text is helpful in reminding the reader that Jesus cared for the poor and was sympathetic to those shunned by society. He calls for us to remove our headphones and look around to the brothers we can partner with and the non-brothers who needs our help, help we must give as a result of our salvation. Personally, the most challenging section for me was on prayer, where Lucado reminds us that Jesus did not call his house one of study, sermons or etc but a house of prayer. Being a studious person, it served as a stark reminder that prayer is essential. Lucado puts his actions where his mouth is, donating his royalties from the book to World Vision. Outlive Your Life is a challenging but readable book that challenges Christians to make lasting impacts in the name of Christ.

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews


The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews
Andy Andrews provides a version of his new book The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters in The Boy Who Changed the World. Andrews tells the story of the development of special corn seeds by Norman, a boy who dreamed of feeding the poor, as the boy who changed the world. But Andrews goes on to ask if it was Norman that saved the world or three other boys, Henry, George or Moses whose actions helped lead to the success of Norman’s seeds in saving billions. In the end, the actions of all four boys contributed to the development of the seeds in a series of events that shows that everyone’s actions matter.

I read the book with my daughter. She enjoyed the book and the pictures. She took up the challenge of being a girl who changed the world, and spent the next several moments sharing her plan to help “lost children.” She did at times get confused as the story jumped between boys. And she tried to pick only one of the boys as the one who saved the world. But overall it was a book that succeeded in calling a child to action. There is one error in the portion about George Washington Carver, a mistake only a Cyclone fan would likely pick up on. Andrews states that Carver attended Iowa State University (ISU), the university’s current name. Carver attended ISU under the name of Iowa State Agricultural College. Overall The Boy Who Changed the World is a good book which may inspire a child to think about doing great things.

Review Copy provided by Thomas Nelson

The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters by Andy Andrews


Andy Andrews in The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters asks the question, “Do I really matter?” Andrews answers the question by telling two stories. The first tale details the heroic efforts of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Chamberlain, a man who refused to do nothing, ordered a historic charge that allowed Union forces to win the battle, when a Confederate victory could have decisively changed the history of the United States and the 20th Century. The second story Andrews presents is the chain of effects that led to the development of hybridized high yield, disease resistant corn by Norman Borlaug, a historical figure likely not to be familiar to most readers. Borlaug’s creation has saved billions from famine. But Andrews asks was it Borlaug’s efforts that led to the saving of more than two billion or was it the small efforts of others that lead to Borlaug’s work. Andrews shows that as the Butterfly Effect argues, all of our smallest actions have impacts, and Andrews inspiringly shows that those little things have long term impacts.

This is a gift book, so it’s short. To be honest I have thought about this book for more time than it took for me to read it. The book is visually pleasing starting at the cover, with a shiny butterfly graphic. As the great philosopher Jeff Foxworthy once argued, men are attracted to shiny things. The pages are more graphical than textual. I’m not a huge fan of gift books, but I found myself satisfied with The Butterfly Effect and am glad I took the time to read and reflect on it.

Review Copy provided by Thomas Nelson

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend Edited by Ravi Zacharias





Ravi Zacharias guided the collection of essays by his Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) staff in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend which covers topics as diverse as challenges from non-Christian world religions, evil in the world, spiritual transformation and living a Christ centered life. The text is broken into three sections. The first section, “Addressing the Difficult Questions” provides essays on other world religions including Islam and Hinduism, answering atheists, and engaging youth culture. Additional essays discuss the basics of conversational apologetics, challenges from culture and the challenges of evil and suffering. The second section, “Internalizing the Questions and Answers” provides advice on spiritual growth including dealing with self-deception and a better understanding of the Trinity. In the final section Zacharias provides the two essays in “Living Out the Answers” providing a call for Christians to live out what they speak and claim to believe including practical advice on strengthening one’s body and mind.

To be blunt, this book is and is intended to be heavy lifting. The text covers deep philosophical and theological issues. Therefore this book is likely not for every reader or even mood. It reads much more like a text book than a self help/spiritual growth book in some of the essays. And, being written by multiple authors, the quality of the chapters varies. It is sometimes frustrating to have authors quoting heavily from other authors also in the book, finding me asking what do they think not their colleagues or if they relied so heavily on this essay author why didn’t they write this chapter. Likewise it would be nice to have authors include more personal stories instead of summarizing their study on the topic. The chapters on other religions though informative weigh heavily on global religions which many may not interact with on a daily basis. It would have been a nice addition to include chapters on the Church of Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses as religions that many Christians in the United States may literally have knocking on their door and struggle in understanding Personally, I think the subtitle of “Living the Faith We Defend” is somewhat misleading as only one chapter, which is written by Zacharias, truly addresses living out our faith in a sincere and informed way which was really the topic I wished for the book to address.

Review Copy provided by Thomas Nelson