Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Men Hate Going to Church Completely Revised & Updated

David Murrow has updated Why Men Hate Going to Church, his renowned book with new information and text previously published by him in other books.  Murrow in this text uncovers the gender gap in churches, asking the question where are the men?  Murrow shows his readers that today’s churches are dominated numerically by women and that men are largely absent.  He explores the culture of the church noting that church vocabulary and words like love and relationship are tied to feminine culture and not masculine images.  For example, churches typically use pictures of Jesus as a lamb or dove while generally ignoring the word pictures of Jesus as a lion.  He also shows how church programs, largely academic and feelings based provide boys and men discomfort leading to a male exodus from the church.  In general, churches rely on volunteer positions that are better suited to female preferences instead of male.  And church programming generally also follows this trend.  Finally, he provides suggestions and practical examples of how to return men to church.  Murrow advocates that the greatest way to grow the modern church is call men back by changing our culture.  By bringing back men Murrow argues that men, women and children will all benefit.    
This book creates a lot of conflict in me in my ministry and my personal life.  My ministry has been within one that stereotypically is a women’s ministry, working with families and children.  Part of my personal call has been to have manly guys working within that ministry so kids can see both the masculine and caring side of men demonstrating balance.  But I see exactly what Murrow describes with curriculum that are largely intellectual in nature and put boys at a disadvantage with girls in the “competition” of Sunday school.  And I think that this realization is what has led me to also seek non-traditional curriculum and curriculum that relies on movement and diversity to help keep boys engaged in learning about Christ.  Honestly, one of my best days of ministry was spending a day with a predominantly boy youth group scooping horse manure.  There were no complaints as these boys completed a manly task in God’s name.  As a man I often found myself chaffing at his description of academic pursuits as womanly.  I personally excel in this area while my skills in car maintenance are completely lacking.  But with this prejudice aside I definitely see and have felt the issues he points out about language, frilly decorations and relationships.  My academic training is history, which warns that generalizations are not absolute.  So, there are exceptions to what Murrow describes, but the generalizations are widespread enough that leaders should take notice of this book and assess how their ministries are attracting or repelling men and boys. 
Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile Vs. the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile Vs. the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas surveys the life of 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Born in 1906, Bonhoeffer was raised in a family of German intellectuals where success was assumed.  Dietrich chose the nonintellectual pursuit of theological study, and flourished bringing his family’s tendency for scientific discovery combined with a sincere belief in the God of the Bible.   Bonhoeffer became one of the leading voices of the German Confessing Church in the 1930s challenging the state authorized and often anti-God church of the Third Reich.  Bonhoeffer’s resistance eventually led to his participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler leading to the failed Stauffenberg plot of July 1944.  In the aftermath of this attempt of the Fuhrer’s life, Bonhoeffer and other conspirators were arrested with Bonhoeffer executed by Hitler’s spiteful orders in the last days of the war in April 1945. 
Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is an excellent book.  Metaxas has written a comprehensive book of a complex character a man who was an academic, teacher, son, brother, friend, pastor and a man who lived his faith.  Throughout the book Metaxas shows how Bonhoeffer’s decisions were guided by his faith, a faith that he believed should be lived out in his daily life.  This did not mean that Bonhoeffer lead the life of a secluded monk, instead his life was full of friends, sport, parties, books and music.  Instead of separating himself from “real” life, Bonhoeffer dived into it inviting God into those activities.  Additionally, it was this faith that guided him to stand for the oppressed, especially the Jewish community, within Hitler’s Germany.  From discussions on theology to the biography of a fascinating character who stood against Third Reich in an active way this book offers the reader much to think about and tension for Bonhoeffer’s fate despite knowing his eventual end as a Martyr.     
Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Surly Attitude

Cans, Kegs and Malt
Recently I participated in Surly Brewing tour in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.  Surly was a brand that I had no experience with before this tour.  The only thing I knew before arriving at the brewery is how hard it is to book a tour, with dates closing within an hour from them becoming available.  That should have been my first clue that Surly fans are loyal fans. 
My tour started in early evening.  My small group checked in and received five sample tokens and a sheet describing what they had on tap.  Immediately we started to sample, we were each allotted five small but satisfying samples.  The tap room had a party feel as they pumped in music and groups of friends found spots to stand and talk about their samples and life in general.  It was announced that the tour would start soon and that we could grab a sample before we went into the brewery.  Most guests than grabbed a sample glass to sip on as they were in the brewery.  The first half of the tour focused on the history and future plans of Surly.  There was then a short break during which guests could grab another sample or examine the brewery.  One of my friends a home brewer was impressed with how close he could get to some of the equipment.  I would say for a home brewer this field trip is a treat as they can examine larger scale brewing equipment and compare it to there home setup.  The second half of the tour consisted of how beer is made in the brewery.  The brewery and tour was all held in one room. 
During this tour I was impressed with several things about Surly:
·         Surly is growing:  In 2006, they produced 1,748 kegs.  In 2009, that jumped up to 18,174 kegs.  This year they estimate they will sell around 35,000 kegs.  With that sort of growth, even with new equipment they are clearly busting at the seams.  So it was exciting to hear their plans for future growth. 
·         Surly drinkers are Surly fans:  Surly has created a loyal customer base that knows their beer, knows Surly (including the staff) and associate themselves with the Surly brand.  Several on this tour had taken this tour before! 
·         Have fun and others will learn:  Our tour guide was great.  He was a volunteer that clearly loves Surly the brand.  He loved telling us about the history of Surly and beer making.  And despite some kid questionable language, his attitude helped us to learn about beer and the science behind it better than we would have in a more formal setting. 
I chose the following five beers for my samples,
·         Coffee Bender: One of my companions said this was a must try due to its uniqueness, so I jumped in and selected it first.  It is a dark brew infused with coffee.  The dark stout mixes well with the rich coffee flavor and is a unique taste with a coffee after taste.  My first sample was a success, but of the five I drank this was only my third favorite. 
·         Hell: Hell is a light lager that I chose due its seasonal nature.  It was good but very light and not a preferred beer for someone who prefers porter.  But I would choose this over any large brewer light beer if I had a choice.  But it was my least favorite of my samples. 
·         Furious: Wow, now this is a unique beer.  I chose it because this seemed to be one of Surly’s more popular offerings.  It is an India Pale Ale loaded with hops.  It is probably one of the most bitter beers that I have ever drank where hops is the clear and overriding flavor.  It was my 4th favorite sample. 
·         Bitter Brewer:  I looked over at my friend and said, “Can I hug it?” My first sip reminded me of English Ales that I discovered when visiting the United Kingdom.  This is my preferred taste profile, along with porters, in beers with a rich orange color and bitter flavor.  This was my favorite Surly brew and I would definitely pickup this seasonal beer if I ran across it. 
·         Bender Ale: This is a good, rich and satisfying porter and my second favorite of all my samples.  If I had to pick a Surly when Bitter Brewer is not available this would be my go to option.    
I feel weird rating these beers.  Overall, I enjoyed all five brews I sampled.  Surly Brewing is a growing local company that in many ways is the American dream, with a founder who followed what he loved and found others in employees and customers who shared his dream.  I would take other friends to this party, I mean tour, in an instant and find it easy to cheer on this company.    
Words to Remember

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones

Brian Jones in Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) discusses his voyage of self-discovery that the Hell of the Bible is real and how it has impacted his life.  Jones examines why he personally failed to hold to a personal belief in heaven and why as group Christian by in large do not believe in a real hell.  The then details how a real belief in the doctrine of hell has impacted his ministry and moved him to become very serious about salvation and helping others to avoid an eternity in hell.  Finally, he provide his readers practical advice and guidance to leading non-believers to a saving faith in Jesus, and thus helping them to avoid an eternity of wrath. 

Overall this text led to mixed reactions from me.  First, realizing that I have failed to understand my own beliefs more fully on heaven and hell I have found the recent literary conversation about heaven a timely and interesting one.  And this book definitely falls into that conversation, and provides a different view point of once you believe in hell this is how you can behave.  And I found his evangelism advice helpful, useful and realistic especially as one who sees this area as a weak spot.  And I love his explanation of a Christian as an foreign ambassador living amongst unbelievers.  But there were also misses for me.  He discusses uncovering how Bible study led him to discover the truth of hell for himself.  I would have loved for him to walk his readers from fully through this process.  Additionally, he discusses God’s wrath, but in my mind never fully answers the question of why God is wrathful.  Finally, Jones who clearly is a compassionate man describes himself and statements as a way that can only be seen as harsh and unkind.  These comes especially in the first half of the book where the second half better draws out Jones’ personality.  Overall I was hoping for a fuller discussion of the doctrine of hell than was provided in a book which is really a call for evangelism.    

Review Copy Provided by The B&B Media Group, Inc. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Trip to the Summit

Summit's Really Big Stocked Fridge

One recent Saturday morning I attended a Summit Brewing Company brewery tour in Saint Paul with a few guys.  I had only had a Summit product once before so for me Summit Brewing was a company that I was not overly familiar with other than knowing it’s a local company.

My tour was a late morning tour.  After check in our tour guide gave us a brief history of brewing and the Summit Brewing Company.  I was impressed how the role of monasteries and abbeys were specifically called out in the history of brewing.  Additionally, the lecture gave me information about home brewing and microbreweries that I was not familiar with.  Afterwards we were given a short walking tour of the plant.  Bottling was not occurring this Saturday and I would have loved to see the bottler in action.  The highlights of the walking tour included the giant refrigerator filled with packaged bottles and filled kegs and the fermentation room with its massive steel vats filled with beer finishing as it prepared for bottling. 

During this tour I was impressed with several things about Summit:
  • ·      Summit is a very green company.  Not only do used foodstuff and water get reused or resold     for other purposes but the major brewing equipment was second hand within the plant.  The bottler also was purchased used at a large discount from another brewer, while Summit also sold off their old bottler to yet another brewer.  This pattern of buying used equipment means that equipment in the plant was gathered from locations as far as California and Germany. 
  • ·      No matter your age, everyone loves standing in a giant refrigerator.  I can remember when I had taken kid groups through pizza restaurants with big freezers and watched them giggle.  Adults do the exact same thing. 
  • ·      The staff and volunteers really knew their beer and were enthusiastic in sharing it.
  • ·      Summit is generous.  The samples they gave participants were far from a taste but a satisfying draft.  Additionally they gave away several tap handles in a short trivia game which we found out later cost over $25 a piece in the gift shop. 
  • ·      Spirtual conversations are everywhere as I bored tour guides and my companions with information from The Search for God and Guinness

I chose the following three beers for my samples, samples which were quite generous.
  • ·      Honeymoon Saison from the Unchained Series: I chose this since it was a limited edition brew that I was not likely to stumble on before it was retired.  It was a very hoppy beer that my friends did not enjoy.  I found it interesting but not something that I would typically select for myself.  But the unchained series and Honeymoon Saison are getting some nice press locally
  • ·      Silver Anniversary Ale: Again with this being a limited edition I had to sample it.  Being a highly trained palate, joke, I found the fruit flavors added to this ale to give a tang that I just did not appreciate.  Tang, is that a real word?  My companion who also sampled this brew also did not like it.  

Though I did not love neither brew, I would happily drink both of these if offered and I finished my glasses.

  • ·      Summit Oatmeal Stout: I love dark beers and was planning to sample Summit’s porter.  But availability and knowing my palate dictated my decisions.  I tried the first two because they would not be widely available.  The stout beat out the porter because the stout is only available by draft.  And honestly the spots that have the stout available don’t serve Happy Meals so I would not be likely to stumble on it.   This was by far my favorite of the three samples with its dark smooth goodness.  My mouth is salivating as I think about my beer desert.  

Great Northern Porter Would Like Your Attention!

Overall this was a really good day and tour that I would urge anyone to try once.  My companions would have preferred more but smaller samples so they could have dialed in their own preferences from Summit’s offerings better.  One stated he preferred weird Belgian beers, but with the Summit Belgian not available this day he had to seek something new outside of his comfort zone.  While I knew at the end of the samples, though I was being adventurous, I could guarantee my final beer sample was something I would really enjoy.  And I did enjoy it!  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My First Hands-On Bible

My First Hands-On Bible is a preschool targeted Bible story compilation using the New Living Translation.  The Bible translation is abridged but is not revised for children, so the editors recommend stopping and discussing complicated words when necessary.  Each story is about 3-5 pages long and is accompanied by illustrations that children can understand.  Additionally each story includes cues and activity suggestions that help engage children in the story with actions to perform, like saying a work or pretend playing an action.  Additionally, each story is followed by a short prayer, questions suitable for preschool and short activities.  The text does not include all of the Bible, but selected stories from both the Old and New Testament. 
Overall, this Bible is very appropriate for preschoolers.  The NLT translation does not speak down to them, but provides them a piece of text that their parents could easily be reading in their own Bibles. I used this Bible with my church’s preschool classroom and found that children stayed engaged as I read the story thanks to the brief activities interjected into the text.  Additionally afterwards they stayed on task, and had fun, as we did things seven times in celebration of Naaman’s cleansing.  And each child remembered, thanks to that activity, that Naaman washed in the Jordan seven times as they were released their parents.  I’m very impressed with the post lesson activities and am seriously considering using this Bible with preschooler’s long term.  My only complaint, which another children’s worker had to point to me, is the illustrations.  The illustrations of people are exclusively Caucasian, and I wish they showed the greater diversity of God’s people.  But despite this complaint I would easily consider adopting this text in my ministry. 
Review Copy Provided by Tyndale House Publishers

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley in Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You indentifies four heart illnesses that attack us and have negative impacts to our lives.  Though these four diseases are not physical, but emotional, they can be as harmful as heart disease and wreck out lives.  The four emotions that attack our heart are:
·         Guilt: I Owe You
·         Anger: You Owe Me
·         Greed: I Owe Me
·         Jealously: God Owes Me
These four emotions are underlying causes for relational disharmony with others and for the diminishing of our self worth.  Especially harmful, but not often discussed, is jealously which finds us harboring resentment against God and interfering with our relationship with our creator.  Stanley argues that way to overcome these diseases is the creation of habits that expose these emotions and allow us to break free from their hold on our hearts.  To conquer guilt Stanley advises confession.  Stanley offers forgiveness as the cure of anger.  For overcoming greed, he offers the remedy of generosity.  Finally to escape the hold of jealousy, Stanley prescribes celebration, the honest praise of the accomplishments of others.  By creating these habits, Stanley offers his readers an escape from these destructive emotions. 
In the past I have often found that Andy Stanley books are not for me.  However I really enjoyed Enemies of the Heart.  The book is honest, with Stanley freely using examples from his own life and those he knows to show both the destructive power of guilt, anger, greed and jealously and the power of creating habits to shatter their hold on you.  All four of these emotions are difficult issues to discuss, and his addition of a chapter on lust provides a very frank book that comes face to face with very difficult heart issues.  This is not a let’s feel good about yourself book, it is a text that makes you look into your heart and asses what holds you captive.  This is a book about the heart and what controls it, and it is frank, honest, painful and in the need immensely helpful in making it clear that we can escape the pain we emotionally put our hearts through.  This is a reprint of It Came From Within and it is a worthy title to reissue.                                   

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mirror Ball: Living a Life that Reflects God’s Radiance by Matt Redman

Renowned worship leader and author Matt Redman in Mirror Ball: Living a Life that Reflects Gods Radiance argues that a life of true worship is a life that reflects Jesus Christ.  He goes onto demonstrate that the proof of one’s life of worship is not musical capability but a life lived with God always present in our lives.  A life of worship is one of adventure and a journey to become more like Christ.  A Christian is not one stuck in a neutral position but one moving closer to Jesus.  He reminds us that we have a big God with big expectations and that we should never underestimate Him.  Redman states that we need to put God first in our life and the decisions we make on a daily basis as an act of worship.  In the end, he reminds us that our power only comes from the light of Jesus which shines upon us.  In addition to Redman’s text the book includes an extensive study group intended for both group and individual study. 

For me “worship” is a blind spot.  That is what brought me to picking up this book, looking to get information about an area of church life where I feel inadequate.  I can’t carry a tune and have trouble clapping to the beat.  So for me, what we call worship in our traditional church services often is lost on me.  But what I found was very surprising to me.  This is not a book about musical worship, it is a book about worship by living a life of proper orientation.  Though Redman being a worship leader does use his own life and musical experiences as examples, they do not override his message for the non-musical.  Redman pictures the worshiper as one who properly points his life towards God.  As someone not adept at worship I found Redman’s book unthreatening and inspiring as a call to properly respect an awesome God.  This is a book that honestly anyone can read, not just worship team members.  Redman paints a picture where all of us are worshipers regardless of our ability to pick up a musical instrument.        

Review Copy Provided by The B&B Media Group, Inc. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance Revised & Updated by John Trent and Gary Smalley

John Trent and Gary Smalley in The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance present the principle and practical details of providing blessing especially for our children.  The authors note the need of all humans to be accepted and the power of blessing in giving this gift of acceptance and love to our children as they grow into adulthood.  Trent and Smalley look to Genesis 27 and the retelling of Isaac’s unintentional blessing Jacob instead of his oldest son Esau.  Using this as the model of blessing and providing historical context to blessing in a Jewish world view the authors present their readers the five elements of blessing:
            “1. Meaningful and appropriate touch
              2. A spoken message
              3. Attaching high value to the one being blessed
              4. Picturing a special future for him or her
              5. An active commitment to fulfill the blessing (Trent and Smalley, 45)”               
The author’s argue that a blessing consisting of these five elements will help children to more fully emerge as balanced adults who can then spread the blessing to others including their own children.  Blessing creates a legacy.  The authors then document the devastating impacts of when blessing is withheld from children, the obstacles to blessing in some households (such as children of divorce and death or desertion) and how to overcome obstacles to provide blessing.  Trent and Smalley conclude their text by providing examples of the ultimate blessing expert in action, Jesus. 

Over 15 years ago my grandmother sent me a letter while I was in college.  In that letter she told me of her pride in me and how special I was.  Additionally, she spoke about the future she expected I would have.  A few years later, she passed away.  It was one of the last significant interactions I had ever had with my grandmother, with who I was very close.  Throughout her life my grandmother with me applied some the elements of blessing in our interactions.  And this letter served as the capstone to that blessing.  Today, the letter is framed and sits in a place of honor in my home office.  As I look back, she was just one of several relatives (an uncle and my wife’s grandmother immediately come to mind) and teachers who most likely unknowingly worked to speak blessing into my life.  And that’s not even counting my parents who also spoke messages into my life of blessing.  Where I have confidence and success today, is largely as an impact of that blessing.  As I consider this in light of The Blessing, I wonder how much more powerful could these gifts have been if the blessings had been intentional, because honestly they have a powerful hold on me today even as accidents.  And I am lead to consider how can I even more intentionally speak blessing into the lives of my children, family members and children in my ministry today?  The blessing as I can see in my own life is a powerful tool that cannot be ignored.

This text is an updated version of Trent’s and Smalley’s The Gift of the Blessing in honor of its 25th anniversary.  Along with reissuing the book, the author’s have created a website at with supporting video and text materials.  Throughout the book and the site, they call for parents to accept the Blessing Challenge, one million adults pledging to bless another.  This book and challenges helps to remind us that God has spoken into his story,
 2-3 I'll make you a great nation
      and bless you.
   I'll make you famous;
      you'll be a blessing.
   I'll bless those who bless you;
      those who curse you I'll curse.
   All the families of the Earth
      will be blessed through you (Gen 12:2-3, The Message)

We have been blessed and because of it we must bless!      
Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Spirit in Football by Kathryn Nixon and Ana Boudreau

Kathryn Nixon and Ana Boudreau in The Spirit in Football presents the fruits of the spirits from Galatians 5:22-23 to children through images and word pictures related to football. For example, they present to children the idea of gentleness by not reacting badly to a penalty. Or one learns about joy through the excitement of a touchdown. Each of the nine fruits of the spirit is presented in two pages, with one page providing a supporting verse and the other page matching the specific fruit of the spirit to a concept familiar to those who enjoy football. The book also includes an introduction from National Football League player Matt Hasselbeck and a football themed prayer.

I’m a sports fan and looked forward to sharing this book with my son. He really enjoys playing with sports balls so I thought the pictures would grab his interest. He, a young three year old, sat patiently through a full reading of the book. But on a personal level he was more engaged with the author’s baseball book on the fruits of the spirit. At this time, the fruits of the spirit are over his head. But, this book does help serve to introduce concepts like kindness and self control to young children and begin the foundations of character building.

Review Copy Provided by The B&B Media Group, Inc.

The Spirit in Baseball by Kathryn Nixon and Ana Boudreau

Kathryn Nixon and Ana Boudreau in The Spirit in Baseball presents the fruits of the spirits from Galatians 5:22-23 to children through images and word pictures related to baseball. For example, they present to children the idea of patience through waiting for one’s turn at bat. Or one learns about joy through the excitement of a homerun. Each of the nine fruits of the spirit is presented in two pages, with one page providing a supporting verse and the other page matching the specific fruit of the spirit to a concept familiar to those who enjoy baseball. The book also includes an afterward from Mrs. Nixon’s husband Trot Nixon, former Major League Baseball player, and a baseball themed prayer.

I’m a big baseball fan, so this book caught my interest since I could share faith and baseball at the same time with my son. But to be honest, as a young three year old what engaged him was finding the baseball in every picture. He really likes sports balls. So the great news was he would be willing to sit through multiple reads since he could find the baseball every time. But alas the fruits of the spirit are at this time over his head. But, this book does help serve to introduce concepts like kindness and self control to young children.

Review Copy Provided by The B&B Media Group, Inc.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Ian Morgan Cron in Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me recounts key moments in his life and his growing relationship with God. Cron was born to affluent parents, including a father who was an executive for Screen Gems working in the United Kingdom. His parents socialized with the rich and famous in London, but the senior Cron’s entertainment career was wasted by a curse, the curse of alcoholism. Oh, and his father worked for the fledging CIA on an occasional basis! Cron grew up in fear of this father and seeking to gain his approval and at times just approval. As a young man he developed his own substance abuse problem, which he struggled and struggles with. Along with Cron’s need to connect to his father, Cron also describes hs desir to connect to God in a meaningful way and how he used substance abuse to replicate feeling close to God.

Overall Jesus, My Father the CIA and Me is a highly readable book. The episodes from Cron’s life are typically engaging and you are able to enter into the incidents with Cron. My biggest complaint is Cron occasionally uses phrases or makes cultural references that belong to today and not Cron’s earlier years. For example he makes a reference to “$#*! My Dad Says” which simply removed me from his storytelling taking me a few minutes to return. Cron provides his readers a generally enjoyable tale, which records one man’s walk with addiction and God. It is the sort of summer read that one can both find entertainment and meaning in.

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn in We Shall See God collects fifty experts from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on the topic of heaven. Alcorn has selected from Spurgeon’s vast treasury of sermons excerpts that show Spurgeon’s thoughts on heaven and the importance of Jesus in a theology of the afterlife. After every two to five page Spurgeon excerpt, Alcorn provides commentary on Spurgeon’s thoughts and helps provide linkages to the modern day. Alcorn for his modern reader additionally edited each section to meet modern conventional grammar, often resulting in rearranging large paragraphs into smaller chunks. Alcorn along with the excerpts provides biographical information on Spurgeon for readers unfamiliar with his life and ministry.

For the purposes of this review, I want to focus primarily on Spurgeon’s thoughts. Though Alcorn’s commentary is helpful and helps readers get to the point of sermons written in the language of the 19th century. Spurgeon overall paints a picture of heaven that is exciting, better than one can expect and adventurist. Spurgeon chaffs at those who view heaven as a boring uninteresting existence that humans would not want to spend an eternity in. Instead heaven is a place of rest and sabbath where believers will finally know Jesus in a personal manner. The saved will live in heaven as kings, redeemed by the work of Christ. In heaven there will be no place for sin, but there will be room for laughter and joy. Spurgeon believed that believers would retain their personal identities and friendships, deeper than we could have in the old earth, in the restored creation. This is a devotional book and the cheery and exciting picture that Spurgeon paints of heaven is highly encouraging. On a side note there have been a lot of discussion about heaven and what does it mean to be an Universalist. Spurgeon makes clear that he believes that he believes that there will be more in heaven than those that are lost to hell, an existence without God. Alcorn states his belief that Spurgeon is not an Universalist in anyway, as Jesus is the key to salvation. But it does lead to questions about what does it mean to be an Universalist and the importance to provide each other grace in this debate. In my opinion, we are currently experiencing an vigorous theological debate amongst believers about heaven. In short, it’s nice to see where we have been already to help us determine where we are going.

Review Copy Provided by Tyndale House Publishers

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man by Lee Burns and Braxton Brady

Lee Burns and Braxton Brady in Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man welcomes boys into the adventure of becoming a man. Burns and Brady frame this adventure in word pictures of flight, using stories and examples of flight school, fighter pilots and other aviation allusions. They introduce boys to seven key virtues of manhood:
• The True Friend: Leave No Man Behind
• The Humble Hero: Develop a God Sized Vision
• The Servant Leader: I Am Third
• The Moral Motivator: Make a Difference
• The Bold Adventurer: Don’t Sit Around
• The Noble Knight: Called to Duty
• The Heart Patient: Give Up Control
This is followed by discussions of issues that boys will have to face in a virtuous way as they move into manhood. These topics including relationships, sex, drugs and alcohol, school, success and other issues boys are sure to need to address head on. Every chapter ends with a set of discussion/reflection questions that can help boys examine their own thoughts on the material.

My academic training is history. The old adage was we tell you what we are going to tell you, tell you and then tell you what we told you. Chapter 3 “Flight Pattern” seemed like a great tell them what you’re going to tell them chapter introducing the virtues of a man. Each one of those virtues deserves an in-depth examination. Instead the chapters that follow deal with issues facing boys and young men not further exploration of the seven virtues. Now the discussions of things like sex are frank and handled in a mature and non-demeaning way. But what is missing are strong ties back to the virtues like “The Noble Knight.”

How would I recommend using this book? First, it would be a good discussion piece between fathers and sons. The book would help break the ice on topics I would have loved to have discussed with my own father. I don’t remember my father in I having “the talk” or evening having a glancing conversation on issues like pornography. This book makes it so you can’t but not talk about those issues. It’s that blunt conversation that would make me questioning using the book in some settings as a small group resource. For a group of mature teens willing to engage in a serious conversation about these issues there could be benefits in going through this book in a group setting. But for younger and less mature boys, the use of the proper words for sexual organs will likely result in snickers and laughs. The authors suggest reading the book before age 12, which may work in their setting of a boys school. However, it may not work for every youth leader in their setting with that age group. And for a less mature, and maybe some mature adults, having conversations about sex, your body, or puberty with boys could be problematic.

Overall, this is a good book that outlines the issues that boys face today. The picture of the journey from boyhood to manhood as an adventure is engaging and accurate. And the use of airplane imagery will likely hook some boys reading the book. The best part of this book is it examines some difficult issues, but in a honest, Biblical and grace filled manner. And while some readers may cringe at these topics, transparency is the book’s true strength.

Review Copy Provided by The B&B Media Group, Inc.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Love & War: Find Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage by John & Stasi Eldredge

John and Stasi Eldredge in Love & War let their readers into a secret. Marriage is a battle, it’s more than a battle it’s a war and failure would be devastating. The Eldredges use their own marriage and those they have counseled to detail how this war for your marriage is taking place and strategies in order to win the day. The key principal that they teach is that a couple should include God in their relationship. Only by centering a marriage around God can a couple survive Satan’s attacks and attempts to rip the relationship apart. Additionally, it is only through God’s strength that a couple can overcome the damage caused by the hurts that each member of the partnership brings into the union. In the end, they argue that one of the most important things every marriage needs is healing, healing of the hurts done by others and by each other. They teach that healing can only come by forgiveness.

I went into this book a little apprehensive. I thought Wild at Heart very insightful but also not my typical preferred content. So I went into this book prepared not to enjoy it. Well, I was wrong. I love how the Eldredges focus on marriage as a story, but not just any story but an epic battle between good and evil for your marriage. I believe this imagery speaks to the heart of a man and is more effective in communicating truth than a 12 step self help fix your marriage book. And let’s be honest, it’s likely the husband and the wife that needs to be wooed into reading a book on marriage. Additionally, the chapters do move from topic to topic, but they don’t give us a checklist to fix a marriage but instead show how couples are attacked in different aspects of their marriage and how Jesus can be invited into that particular battle. I find their advice highly practical and realistic, feeling like advice from those that have reached a spiritually mature place in their marriage to those at the earlier steps. They are clear, your marriage will not be perfect, it will not be a fairy tale, it will have ups and down and they are not going to try to convince you otherwise just because you are a Christian. Speaking of realism, I found their discussion on sex honest, transparent and somewhat refreshing in seeing a Christian couple be honest about the need for sex and how they have been sexually disconnected at times and how they have reconnected. If asked today to recommend a book on marriage, I would wholeheartedly reach first for Love & War.

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursing God by Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson in Wild Goose Chase attempts to guide us in chasing the Spirit of God, the Wild Goose. Batterson promises this chase is one that will be frustrating, scary but most of all an adventure that is worth it. Batterson pushes his readers to escape boring religion and replace it with an exciting journey. In order to free ourselves to chase the goose, Batterson reviews six cages that keep us from pursuing God. The cage of responsibility keeps us from chasing God because of the things we must do. The cage of routine keeps us from adventure due to habits that we have worked ourselves into. The cage of assumptions holds us back by the things we believe are true but may be false. The cage of guilt reminds us of our faults and keeps us from acting. The cage of failure keeps us from moving forward due to past mistakes and detours. And the cage of fear frustrates our need for chasing the Goose due to the terror of the chase. Once one overcomes these cages, one can live a life of adventure chasing God.

This is a book I have wanted to read for a few years. I love Batterson’s view of a relationship with God as an adventure. That language and word picture is highly attractive to me, a fan of action epics. Who doesn’t want to engage themselves in an adventure, an important adventure at that as one becomes open to the influence of God in their life? Overall, that’s an exciting proposition. And overall Wild Goose Chase is an enjoyable, easy to read book that reminds us that Christians are not called to boring mediocre lives. We were called for adventure. The only criticisms I can give are minor. I was hoping to get more from the book about the Holy Spirit, which is painted as the Wild Goose by the Celtic Christians Batterson cites. Instead, in my mind, it was best to thing of the Wild Goose for this book as a relationship with the Trinity and not the Holy Spirit alone. Additionally, some of Batterson’s stories were ones that I was familiar with. I’m assuming they were used in Primal or Soul Print which I have also read. But even if repetitive, I wish I had read this book before those two and enjoyed it more than his more recent books.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

To Be Perfectly Honest: One Man’s Year of Almost Living Truthfully Could Change Your Life. No Lie by Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway in To Be Perfectly Honest documents a year of his life and his attempt to avoid lying. The book is a journal of his life for a year, day by day, in his attempt to live entirely truthfully. He records his daily happenings and feelings about the activities of his days. He is “honest” with his readers on his views of faith, relationships and Pac-Man. The journal is a chronicle of a year in which Callaway interacted with Christians and non-Christians, dealt with financial scams, and experienced the death of his mother. At the end of each chapter Callaway presents an honest confession based on his observations for the last month. The book concludes with a discussion guide for use with small groups.

When I agreed to review this book, I was looking for something different than what I typically read. I honestly was trying to seek out a humorous book. And Callaway has plenty of amusing stories and observations, though I honestly, okay I’m going to use honest and truth as much as possible in this review, never had a full out belly laugh. Callaway is very truthful with his reader about how situations made him feel and his opinions on what occurred. He does not hide that he would rather be playing and reaching new high scores in Pac-Man instead of reading his Bible, as a good man of God should. He provides us honest impressions of his interactions with other Christians and how we have failed, he is a reformed Pharisee in his own words. So I do believe this is a very transparent reflection of a man of faith and provides us a window to Callaway’s mind a man honestly seeking to follow Jesus. However, I don’t believe it delivers as a summary of an experiment of truth. Callaway does mention his truth project, but he is not always 100% truthful. For example he has an email exchange with Nigerian scammers where he gives the impression that he wishes to participate in the scammers request. He provides an explanation of why this allowable, but he is not 100 percent truthful. Also when reading the summary of the book I was thinking of a text along the lines of A.J. Jacobs The Year of Living Biblically a book where Jacobs documents his own extreme social experiment. That book delivers due to Jacobs’ review of what his year did to him. It’s especially highly engaging since Jacobs is not a man of faith. Basically I was hoping there was a more in-depth explanation of what his experiment meant to him than the five pages provided from a position closer to my own worldview. I could have taken from this text the same lessons and reflections on a Christian life without the addition of a year of living in truth. And that’s my honest take on this book. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Review Copy Provided by WaterBrook Multnomah

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Daddy Dates: Four Daughters, One Clueless Dad, and His Quest to Win Their Hearts by Greg Wright

Greg Wright has been asked by lots of other dads, how did you get such a good relationship with your daughters? Wright explains his journey to better relating to his four daughters in Daddy Dates. As a father of four girls, Wright came to the realization that he was struggling as a dad. In reflecting, and trying to be logical and planful, to overcome this problem, Wright developed a mission statement, “Don’t Screw Up.” He realized as he considered his relationships that as a teenager he was an expert dater and that in dating a man, or boy, seeks to know more about the female he is pursuing. So Wright, relying on past successes decided to date his daughters. He outlines his rules for daddy dates, the rationale behind some of his choices around daddy dates and how daddy dates have changed as his daughters have grown older. One of the keys to daddy dates is Wright teaching his daughters how they should be treated by the young men that eventually will pursue them romantically. Wright calls his daughters on the phone to make dates, which they can refuse, picks them up at home and shows them the courtesies that any father would want a young man to give their daughter. He is even know to dress up for their time together. In the end, Wright does not claim to have all the answers, in fact he notes he is still learning. Wright makes it clear that daddy dates are about interacting with his daughters so he can learn more about them while also sharing life lessons. A daddy date where no conversation has occurred is a failure.

This book is short and easy to read. As a father of a young girl the topic instantly had me hooked. What dad doesn’t want to get advice from another dad, especially one that has established solid relationships with his girls. Additionally, the book has led to discussion within my house. My wife and I have discussed daddy dates in detail as I read the book. These conversations went beyond the daddy date concept but grew to include how we would like our daughter to learn self respect and what she should expect from boys. Not everything Wright proposes may be for every family. In Wright’s house romantic dating is not allowed, it is daddy’s turn to date his girls others can date his daughters later. For my family that is an issue that we have not made a decision on. But again, it’s very beneficial to see another couple’s rationale for that decision and how they have implemented it in their own home. Regardless your opinion of daddy dating, this book definitely sparks discussion amongst parents.

Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Monday, April 18, 2011

Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions by Max Lucado

Max Lucado in Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions answers the tough questions that many seeking and those who have found God struggle with. Lucado answers 172 questions in one to two page responses in seven thematic sections that include, “Hope”, “Hurt” and “Hereafter.” The questions are a wide range including forgiving others, grief, salvation, parenting and the afterlife. The topics are as diverse as the questions that pastors receive in their day to day work.

Okay, I have to admit it. In the past I have not been a fan of Lucado’s “recycled” writings. Most of this has been due to poor editing or the clear reuse of past material. Lucado informs his reader that some of the responses do in fact come from past writings, though it is only explicitly called out twice that the response came from a past book. However, in Max on Life, the editing works well. The responses really do read like responses to questions. It does not feel like you are reading a copy and paste from other writings. You can easily see Lucado sitting down and writing these out at his desk as a reply to real letters. As always Lucado’s writing is highly accessible and easy to read. If anything, I find myself chuckling as I read some of the responses on heaven and hell, which includes Lucado stating that we would find in heaven many who had not heard the name of Jesus until they awoke to eternity and that people put themselves in hell through their own choices. Though I agree with these responses and see them as highly orthodox, I wonder if this book had been named Rob Bell on Life if Lucado’s views on heaven and hell would have been more heavily debated and criticized. Overall Max on Life is a decent read filled with solid advice and spiritual guidance. Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle that Will Save Humanity by Andy Andrews

Andy Andrews in The Final Summit continues the story of Traveler David Ponder from The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success. Ponder has used the wisdom he gathered as a Traveler well. He has built a successful business, loved well and is loved by those who work for him. He used the seven decisions to not only put his life on track but to overcome a business failure later in life. But Ponder is depressed and alone. In this moment of sadness the Archangel Gabriel returns to Ponder calling him to the Final Summit, a gathering of all the Travelers across history. Ponder as the final and the only Traveler from this time leads the summit in which they must use their collective wisdom to provide the two word answer that would return humanity to the pathway that will allow us to be a successful civilization. If Ponder and the Travelers assigned to aid him are unable to provide the answer, humankind will be destroyed. To find the answer, the Travelers discuss and debate the attributes of mankind that need to be developed in order to return to the proper pathway.

Once again Andrews shows himself to be a master storyteller. At times The Final Summit makes one think they are reading a light science fiction book and not a self-help offering. Andrews also does a great job uncovering overlooked historical events and figures. In this case one of the five Travelers assigned to struggle over the answer with Ponder is a completely unknown World War II figure whose wartime actions really should be celebrated and studied more in history books then we currently do. The Travelers appearing in the book include old friends from The Traveler’s Gift but also new historical figures. The reader begins to speculate who is “in the room” at the final summit. A personal favorite of mine was Fred Rogers! The Travelers work through several answers to the question and discuss in depth how each would personally and collectively benefit mankind. Some of those responses do seem to parallel the Seven Decisions. Overall this is good book which Andrews’ fans will be very satisfied with. The only complaint I have is at the beginning of the book Andrews introduces us to characters who have been impacted by Ponder’s life. It would have more satisfying conclusion if those characters could have been revisited so we could observe how they were impacted by the summit. Review Copy Provided by Thomas Nelson

Friday, April 1, 2011

Best Parenting Advice Ever?

Recently I asked “what is the best advice you have ever received about parenting?”

I got some great answers,

  • Listen to your kids, but don’t listen to their words. Instead, learn what they need by how they act and respond to you.
  • You better have a good reason to say NO. Because if you don’t, then you can say YES.
  • Say what you mean, mean what you say.

I love seeing that parents I know are attentive, realistic and let their kids make choices so they can learn from them. Anyone of these pieces of advice could easily be one of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received. In fact, I may steal them…I mean recycle.

For my family the best parenting advice I ever received was, “Enjoy your kids where they are at.” When I first got this advice during my wife’s pregnancy it really did not make a lot of sense to me. Then my little baby girl began to grow, become more independent, became at times purposely defiant, basically she changed. I don’t sing to her the same songs now that I did when she was two. And, I’m never going to get that back, no matter how I try. At this point I have pictures, videos and at time hazy memories but that little girl is never coming back. She will never need me to carry her around, she will never coo at the simplest things again, she will never again be completely dependent on her mother and me. Luckily, since I was given this piece of advice, I made sure to enjoy my little girl as a newborn, age 2, age 5, today and hopefully tomorrow.

When our second child came, we were really aware of enjoy them where they are at. But will still have to remind ourselves to follow this advice. With a second child and knowing what is to come, often we project him to where he will be and not where he is at. Sometimes I ask, how much easier will life without (cups, diapers, strollers and etc) be? In the end, I have to remember to not run past one time of his life into the next. I need to enjoy him where he is at. Today is not going to get a repeat in the future.

In 1965, the band The Byrds reminded us of the fact that things change in their song “Turn, Turn, Turn” and that there is a season for all things. Or actually, this advice can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. “The teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem,” in this wisdom book doesn’t mince words and brings forth some hard realities. The fact that things change is somewhat the teacher makes very clear.

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace (NIV, Ecc 3:1-8)”.

Please allow me to rephrase the teacher for today’s parents.

There is a time for diapers and a time for undies.

There is a time for bottles and a time for silverware.

There is a time for dependence and a time for independence.

There is a time for VeggieTales and a time for Star Wars (disclaimer, it is possible to make these occur in the same season.)

There is a time for every stage of your child’s development from birth until they move out.

So, make sure to enjoy them where they are at. Tasks and errands will probably wait, your kids will not.