Monday, December 19, 2011

Ascent From Darkness

This book is a first-person account of one man’s spiritual journey from the depths of an evil heart to one of great redemption.  While it does not qualify as great literary writing, the agony of spirit that Michael Leehan experienced is fully described.

The book was somewhat of a difficult read because it took over 200 pages to discuss the darkness in his life, and about 25 pages were devoted to the conversion.  It just seemed a little out of balance for me.  The book was a clear illustration of what can happen when someone rejects the grace of God.  While Mike did encounter many disappointments as a child, I’ve heard far worse stories of abuse, neglect, and rejection.  Others were able to accept the grace of God to overcome those challenges much sooner.

I rejoice that Mike did eventually respond to the gospel and I sincerely pray that the last half of his life is not only productive for God, but with a heart of joy.  Many do need to have this kind of hope instilled in them if they have struggled with addictions and obsessions.  Satan’s grip might be difficult to break, but God always can and will if we allow Him to do so.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Discovering Leadership at All Levels

A review of John Maxwell’s “The 360 Leader”

The general nature of our culture is to grant too much credence to those in positions of leadership.  While Maxwell’s maxims are applicable to the business environment, they are more needed in the church.  People in the pew often do not see their importance and defer to the supposed wisdom of the designated leader, when God can grant every person a significant amount of wisdom.  The church functions best when there is collective wisdom, and everyone is valued for their contribution.

The scope of leadership is determined by the depth of character, and Maxwell encourages those in the middle or lower echelons of organizations to develop their leadership qualities.  No entity can be their best without leadership being exercised at every level.  The biblical principle of giving first, before receiving, certainly applies in the Kingdom. 

I’ve known John, as well as family members, and that allows me to evaluate this author on a different plane.  John’s teachings were hammered out in real life in his various ministry assignments.  While the book seems to be wordy at times, the basic message needs repeating and reliving over and over.  Regardless of where one is in his/her development, this book will add value to your thinking and your life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adoptive Love

In reviewing Jennifer Grant’s book, Love You More, I was reminded of the decision my wife and I made forty-one years ago.  In 1970, there were virtually no cross-cultural adoptions, whereas they are fairly commonplace now.  For us it was adopting a bi-racial girl following the decade of racial unrest in this country.  Our experience was different from the Grants because we adopted first, then had three daughters born to us.  So the younger girls always had a big sister and they grew up without considering that she was different.

Jennifer is transparent in her feelings as she moved through the process of deciding to adopt, and then going through the agonizing wait.  Our experience was very different because we never applied for adoption.  We were simply presented with an opportunity by a county case worker, and we made the decision the next day, and a week later we became parents.

The yuppie lifestyle that the Grants lived before their adoption experience stood in stark contrast to life little Mia lived in Guatemala.  Their experience confirms what most parents realize that children are very resilient in adapting to loving homes.  We have had many friends adopting from other countries such as Guatemala, China, and Eastern Europe.  Recently my nephew and his wife adopted a little boy from the Congo.  Their experience paralleled the Grants.  I affirm that there is a “divine surprise of adopting my daughter.”  Forty one years after the fact, my wife and I would do it again—without hesitation.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Revival's Golden Key

Ray Comfort shares with us the explosive growth of the Christian church in the world particularly over the past two decades.  He also points to research showing the growth of those who claim to be Christians here in America.  Then he highlights the inconsistency with the commands of Christ.  There are those who claim to be Christian who:  practice genocide among other tribes, who have abortions performed, who divorce and remarry at the same rates as non-Christians, who lie, cheat and steal regularly.  Of those who claim to come to Christ, many do not change their behavior or attitudes.

What is the cause of this inconsistency?  One underlying factor is the method of evangelism.  “We are so entrenched in traditional evangelism that we don’t equate real life with the message we preach.”  When the “gospel” is presented simply as God has a better option for your life, most come looking only for the benefits that they can derive.  They don’t come repenting with a deep sorrow.  Therefore, their experience is short-lived.  The call from Christ was to “suffer” not to find it easy.  If the “abundant life” that Jesus promised is not necessarily a “happy” life, why will people respond to the gospel?

The author points out the necessity of presenting the law in beginning a gospel message.  The Apostle Paul describes the law as our “schoolmaster.”  The law then awakens our conscience to our sinfulness.  Then the grace of God is truly good news, because we learn there is a remedy for our sinfulness.

The real message of the gospel is not that trusting in Christ will keep us from hell.  The real message is that Christ’s atoning work can transform our heart and make us righteous.  Only the grace of God can do this!

Evangelism needs to take a different approach.  We are not to be concerned with the number of converts as we are with the quality.  Analysis of most crusades or evangelistic campaigns shows that 95% of those who “make decisions” do not follow through on their decision; Ray Comfort calls them “false conversions.”

Comfort shares with us that “virtually every revival has been birthed out of a great awakening of those who thought they were saved, but were not.  He instructs us that “the cross should be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church.”

If you have an interest in seeing a mighty move of God, this book will definitely help you in your understanding of what you need to do.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Be the People

Carol Swain has written a book that challenges much of current culture’s mindsets.  As a black academic, she has earned the right to be heard simply by overcoming the difficulties that so many others blame for their failures.  I get disgusted with the lame excuses manufactured by the masses.
She correctly discovered that her own journey has parallels in the history of our nation.  Generally, the men and women who came to America had to overcome significant struggles both in leaving their mother countries and in establishing a new home in undeveloped America.  It was often their faith in God that sustained them.
She presents a strong case against history revisionism and refuses to rewrite the stories to accommodate current political correctness.  Her emphasis on the early covenants of those settlers shows the acceptance of responsibility which is the foundation for greatness.

Her call to return to solid moral reasoning serves as a basis to reverse the decline we observe in society in families.  The same philosophy that has cheapened marriage will ultimately destroy any moral bearings.  The same arguments used for gay marriage can also be applied to polygamy, pedophilia, and other perspectives that leave us with no external moral compass.  The polarization of racial differences continues to grow when there is little faith.  Society would be wise to listen to this call to reclaim our faith and its promise to a higher quality of life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Leave Your Brain

As a long-term apologist, Josh McDowell has established himself as an advocate of truth, especially written for teens and young adults.  His latest book, Don't Check Your Brains At the Door, is a forthright challenge to those who think Christianity is a religion for non-thinkers.  He presents the issues in small snippets, which makes for a quick read. He equips the reader with ready answers to those who might put forth one of the myths.  With 38 chapters it is not exhaustive, but he covers the gamut of the philosophies which are promulgated in society, particularly the government or secular schools.

The book is a little reminiscent of J B Phillips book, Your God is Too Small.  Having a correct view of God is tantamount to developing a whole relationship with Him, and others.  While this is not a be-all end-all book, it does serve as a primer to guide young minds into the correct avenues of thinking. 

When we are asked “Who is the smartest man who ever lived?” seldom do we receive the answer:  Jesus.  But Jesus is the greatest intellectual that ever lived.  Believing in God, Jesus, creation, the Bible, and other cardinal truths requires faith, but the end of true learning and life experience, will only confirm out faith!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Place Called Blessing

By John Trent

It is not often that I find a book, especially a novel, which captivates me enough to read it in its entirety in a couple days.  A Place Called Blessing engaged me both intellectually and emotionally.  The story line is simple, but well told.  A couple of ironic twists kept the story compelling.

As a husband and father, I’ve come to appreciate Trent’s teachings on The Blessing for several years now.  While not presenting a different philosophy from his prior books, he enlarges our understanding and application in real life situations.  The events in the story could be read in the daily newspapers.  My life journey has intersected enough people to know he understands one of the basic needs of our society.  Even in families that we would label godly, there is often more of a culture of condemnation than blessing. 

He does not attempt to validate the blessing theory in this book with a lot of biblical references but the inferences are clearly there.  Rather, he shows in a functional way how living in a conscious way to be a blessing has profound impact on those whose lives have been scarred.  It is almost impossible for someone to live with the constant edification of blessing and then reject it.  Forty plus years in ministry underscore my belief that the need for blessings shoul be a part of every home, and especially in every church home.  I plan to keep growing in my ability to bless others!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The More Things Change

Review of Jolt: Get the Jump on a World That's Constantly Changing
by Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke summarizes lessons from life as it relates to change.  There are no great moments of original insight, no epiphanies, and no sense that Phil has captured a new perspective on change.  Still the book is a great reminder of the things we’ve heard and observed most of our lives.  “The more things change the more they remain the same.”

Every one of Phil’s “jolts” centers on an important issue, and if someone were to take them to heart, that person’s life would be radically changed.  However, we tend not to operate in that pattern.  We learn many new things along our journey, and generally forget them.  A few things we may be inspired to try, but habits pull us back into the ruts of the ordinary.

His chapter on the “Power of the ‘What If’ was a compelling one for me.  Seeing ourselves in transition, we must always have a new dream developing or we’re dying.  While this is not considered a book about faith, it is obvious that Phil’s life is framed by his personal faith, and the principles he shares arise from that foundation.
Almost everyone could benefit from reading this book.  Somewhere in all the twenty-five chapters will be a nugget that recalls a truth learned in our past for which we now need a new motivation to achieve what we are fully capable of doing!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Insights

John 20

There is no greater celebration for the Christian community than Easter.  Theologians have often characterized the resurrection as the pivotal miracle of the Bible.  Paul writes of the importance of the event, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty (vain) and your faith is also empty (vain).” 1 Cor 15:14 NKJV

The first Easter is a testament to the historical truth of the resurrection.  The ones who should have been first to proclaim the miracle and its powerful impact upon our faith were struggling even to believe.  John and Peter and the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning had no expectations of Jesus’ rising from the dead.  Mary Magdalene came early to the garden and was astounded that the stone had been taken away.  (Jn 20:1)  She ran to tell John and Peter, but they too had no explanation.  Isn’t it ironic that Jesus had told them plainly that he would rise in three days, but they never connected the dots!  So truth, as it always is, was self-revealing.

Consider the fact that while all of them were scrambling around, the resurrection had already occurred a few hours earlier.  We are never told the specific time when Jesus rose, we only know that it was after the Sabbath was past.  This was not a situation of hoping that God would act, He already had.  How often we are stewing about the things in our life, or in the world, and God has already performed a miracle to which we are not tuned in! 

Jesus in the early days of His ministry had told the disciples concerning His death and resurrection.  “Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. ……. He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.  John 2:19-22 NKJV  Just because someone has been told doesn’t mean they understand.  “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”  John 20:9 NKJV  We are so slow to understand spiritual truths.  Many pastors and teachers assume that because people have been told truth that they all “get it.”

Truth is not learned by being taught.  Truth is revealed and until the Spirit has awakened our spiritual senses, all the truth in the world doesn’t sink in.  For too many in our society, Easter is a historical event, memorialized on the calendar and accompanied by holiday trappings and spiritual symbols.  But to those who have experienced their own resurrection from spiritual death, their life continually speaks of the power of God. 

Easter is about resurrected life.  Our society has succumbed to Satan’s lies that a transformed life is not possible.  So people live in defeat, discouragement, or the doldrums.  I hope that this Easter you experience the thrill of that first one and that it is the beginning of an abundant life!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Doing the Sabbath

A review :  Sabbath, by Dan B . Allender

As a part of “The Ancient Practices” Series, Allender writes on the subject of the Sabbath.  As a core belief based on the fourth commandment, he attempts to redefine and challenge the fundamental approaches that religious groups have taken on Sabbath observance.  It is difficult assignment indeed.  Some literalists and legalists choose to mold their practices into a sundown to sundown seventh day that is defined by many do not’s and a few expected acts such as public worship.  Other groups have gone to the opposite extreme and ignored any attempt to govern their daily practices.

Allender does not attempt to enter that debate but focuses on a different assumption:  the Sabbath is a day of delight for humankind, animals, and the earth.  He directs us to a leisure day that includes feasts and play time.  In all of this, he frequently refers to God being glorified by our delight.

This book evoked diametrically opposed thoughts.  At times, I was giving him a hearty amen for opening up a new realm in which to view the Sabbath.  Having entertained those whose Sabbath observance was duty-bound, uncomfortable, and limited to a few ritual practices, I could see a whole new dimension for those unhappy souls.  They were resigned to Sabbath observance because it was a law and obedience was accomplished without joy.

On the other spectrum, I was left with a feeling that anything that made me delighted could fulfill the expectations of Sabbath.  In the Epicurean world that we find ourselves in, we must resist activity which feeds the unholy desire of pleasure for pleasures sake.  I whole heartedly agree that we should approach all our spiritual activity with the delight of the soul.  But our lives cannot be permanently delighted unless our wills and activities are aligned with the holiness of God.

Thanks, Dan, for opening a needed dimension in thought regarding the Sabbath.  But “delighting in the Lord” is essential for experiencing delight in our lives.  We can thoroughly enjoy our Sabbath and have it move us toward holiness, compassion, mercy, love and all the other attributes of God.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mandino Revisited

Andy Andrews, in his latest book, The Final Summit, weaves a story in both the spirit and general style of Og Mandino.  While both the content and storytelling are decidedly Andrews, this book conjured up visions of some of Mandino’s greatest writings.
I cannot predict whether this series of David Ponder stories will reach classic status such “The Greatest Gift in the World” but it is certain to capture the expectations of a new generation who is eagerly looking for an answer to society’s ills.
Bringing the cast of “visitors” as a means to share the wisdom of the ages is certainly a great ploy.  Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, King David of Israel and many others make their appearance and their contribution.  It is interesting as Andrews creates the interaction between these greats.
As each conclusion is reached, and subsequently scuttled, hope seems to be fading.  And the intermediate answers appear to be quite good as they continue guessing what the conclusion of the final summit is to be.
While I was hoping for some select wisdom to be the conclusion, it was hard not to be disappointed by the end.  It’s definitely worth the read, but it’s hard for me to accept that he discovered “the one principle that will save humanity.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: Love, cultivating Spirit-given character

This six week study is part one of a whole series on the fruit of the Spirit.  Based on Galatians 5:22-23, Calvin has created an in-depth look at the character traits that flow from a life in the Holy Spirit.  Someone has observed that Christianity failure to reach the whole world is based solely on its non-practice.  Calvin focuses in on developing the practice of scripture in our daily lives.

By developing this series, readers/studiers are given opportunity to engage in conversation that goes deeper than the surface relationships that define our current culture.  To see someone’s life transformed by the gospel will always display itself in changed behavior.  Changed behavior results from a change in our thinking, and thought are regulated by the set of our will.  In this linear progression, Calvin assumes that a person who will study this material has become a believer and so this study attempts to invade our minds with scriptural truths.

He begins with the first manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit which is love.  As he states, love “is the most overused and misused word in our language today.  The first week the studies are labeled “The Evidence of Love is Giving.”  God’s love to us is shown by His extravagant gifts.  Contrasting that with our penchant for exchanging, giving with no expectation of return is an insight into God’s character.

With each day’s meditation, he presents a couple of thought provoking questions.  Few people today set aside time to think about God and spiritual things, but reflection or meditation seem essential to integrating the fruit of the Spirit into our daily lives.

He moves from the thought of giving, to forgiving the second week.  The third week love defines God.   The fourth week he directs us to understand that God’s love is demonstrated by His passion for His world.  He then focuses on the unconditional longing of God.  With a comprehensive view of who God is (Love), he spends the sixth week to teach about love being the incarnational force of God.  I believe this study would benefit most every believer.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Life's Bunches

If you are like me, you prefer an ordered and consistent life.  I don't mind the spontaneous as long as I can schedule it!  But I've noticed that life does not move on my timetable, especially as it relates to "trouble."  Trouble can take so many different forms in terms of health, finances, spiritual, and legal.  Even when we are not overwhelmed with trouble, the schedules and demands of legitimate activities can still be too much.  In my life it seems that life comes in bunches.

I am a multi-tasker so taking on two or three projects at a time does concern me at all.  But over the past few years, I seen that things often come in fives, sixes, or even more.  Instead of being able to effectively address each issue and solve them, sometimes I must lay them all aside and spend some time in prayer and meditation.  Just recently I was the victim of identity theft.  While I was able to clear it up, it took several hours on the phone and creating affidavits and working with a variety of agencies to get it initially rectified.  There will still be fallout to address later.

I've hear mothers plead for a place to escape when all their 4-6 children need attention at the same time.  Pastors get multiple calls for assistance and prayer.  Especially at holiday times those calls can upset an already full schedule.  While I seldom get times when there is "nothing to do," there are times when the demands are less. Right now I have 14 projects that need immediate attention--without adding "troubles."  To keep focus, I maintain several daily routines:  Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, exercising and writing.  I sort through the projects and make a prioritized list and work on them one at a time.

God does not expect us to do more than we can, although grace enablement can enhance our productivity.  I also have to daily remind myself to stay focused on what God has assigned me to do, and not on all the things I would like to do, or on what others expect me to do.  My hunches are that you have bunches.  One project at a time, one day at a time, one person at a time.  Only God completed His work.  What I don't get done today, I let Him keep overnight.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Faith, Hope, or Both

Here in the first week of 2011 AD, we see a few making New Year's resolutions, although most are simply going on day by day.  The circumstances in our nation put us into a precarious situation.  Can the government right itself in the economic morass?  Can the nation recover quick enough to present a wholesale meltdown?
Will political clashes continue to produce gridlock?

Perhaps you have encountered personal sickness, bereavement, antagonistic relationships, or other major crises. Your church might be in decline, and a whole host of issues are confronting you.  What should your response be as a dynamic Christian?

Hope exists as long as we can "see" that things will eventually get better.  If we can endure the pain (sometimes by gritting our teeth) and focus on a better future, we can sustain ourselves with hope.  But when all hope is gone, our only sustaining power is faith.  Hope sees what has been, what is, and what could be based on our assessment of available resources.  But it takes faith to see beyond the limitations.  In fact, hope can completely die, and we can still be excited when we have faith.  Faith sees what no human eye can.  When a person has neither faith nor hope, they often opt for suicide (physically, spiritually, and other dimensions).  With faith we are sustained.  With hope, we plod on.  With both, we flourish.

God is the only source for faith.  Get connected and draw on His reservoir to overflow yours.  2011 can be the greatest year of your life!