Saturday, December 21, 2013


Forgiveness:  Overcoming the Impossible
Matthew West

Addressing one of the fundamental issues in human relations, Matthew tackles the difficult subject and presents an excellent approach.  This is not a theology or clinical therapy instruction manual. It is a collection of real life situations where forgiveness was the crucial issue.

In an era when “bullying” seems to capture the media’s attention, we must all admit that life is chocked full of circumstances in which we are hurt.  Whether intentional or unintentional, the hurt is there.  All of the social engineering will not ever erase the friction of relationships.  A better response is to teach forgiveness.  When forgiveness is prevalent, bullying becomes ineffective.

As Matthew clearly points out repeatedly, it that the one doing the forgiving who benefits the most.  Forgiveness is our constant “get out of jail” card that grants us eternal freedom.  Obviously, forgiveness is not an innate trait, and we must rely on the grace of God to enable us to have this forgiving heart.  But God can strengthen our resolve so that forgiveness is not just an event, but becomes a way of life.  

His broad topics, “Forgiving Others,” “Asking for Forgiveness,” “Forgiving Ourselves,” and “Embracing God’s Forgiveness,” are timely and equally important.  Anyone struggling with bitterness will find that Matthew has pointed the way to abundant life in Christ.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Intentional Walk

by Rob Rains

As a fan of the St Louis Cardinals for over 50 years, it was a delight to read this “behind the scenes” look at many of the men who are on the team.  Too much of the media coverage today focuses on the accomplishments or failures of the players’ performances.  Besides the sports aspect the remainder of the news is usually filled with the unholy escapades of various rogue individuals who happen to be an athlete.

So it was very refreshing to know that the core members of the team are highly committed Christians who live out their faith first, and play ball second.  The book ends with a great insight into Manager Mike Matheny, promoted from the ranks of the players.  Perhaps the book should have begun there.  His years as a player formed the faith foundation for him to succeed as a manager, and it certainly sets the tone for the Christian faith to be lived in an everyday environment. 

Rains does not gloss over any weaknesses of the men, nor try to present them as beyond humanity.  Their struggles with their performances, their relationships, as well as external circumstances are addressed. 

As I’ve watched the 2013 team make a run to the finish, and make the playoffs, I am blessed by the stories of how faith plays a great part in them giving their best.  Their “intentional walk” with Christ translates into their everyday “intentional” play on the field.  I’m inspired!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Becoming God's Warrior

Fight:  Winning the Battles That Matter Most
Craig Groeschel

I remember as a boy that one of the favorite church songs was “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  In those post-WWII years, the concept of a war against Satan was still a regular topic of sermons.  As the culture has evolved over the past several decades, there is very little emphasis on men maintaining a “hawkish” attitude.  Blame it on the feminizing of society, or the anti-bullying of our day, but the effect has been to blunt the warrior like spirit that Craig highlights in this book.  Using Samson as an example of many men in current society was certainly apropos.

I remember the great evangelist, Leonard Ravenhill, declaring that what the church needed to confront the sinfulness of our day was a “baptism of holy anger.”  Craig seems to echo a similar theme.  Theologically, we understand that God’s nature is love.  But His holiness simultaneously demands justice and righteousness.  Those characteristics are not mutually exclusive, but are synergistically holiness.

Craig’s call for men to develop strong will is not out of balance.  He balances the presentation  with his insistence that men conquer their pride, lust and anger.  Many “world leaders” were abject failures in the end because they could not conquer themselves.  The book gives hope that regardless of the failures of our past that God can redeem us and change our hearts to holiness, which would form the basis for becoming God’s warrior.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

God Makes Lemonade

When God Makes Lemonade
Don Jacobson

I primarily read books that challenge my mind.  I love learning new things and gaining insights into scriptural truths.  I read few novels.  Jacobson has compiled a great collection of stories who share a common theme.  Life often hands us unpleasant circumstances, and usually we attribute those negative factors to the devil. 

We would love to believe that we are intelligent enough to choose the path in life that would bring us the greatest success as well as satisfaction.  God is more concerned with developing our character and expanding our horizons.  In each of the stories, some kind of “tragedy” occurs.  Most of the time the people involved could not see how those events would be the things that would bring them great benefit.  But serving an all-wise and loving God we discover that God knows far more than we do about ourselves.

In our most difficult circumstances God not only shows His true character, but we discover a lot about who we are.  When we can embrace those disappointments, we discover that God had planned it all along to bring us into His plans.  We reap the greatest benefit when we accept those difficult circumstances with patience and joy.  “All things still work together for our good.”  Read with anticipation for you will be blessed.  I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that life stories touch me deeper than ever.  

Advanced Strategic Planning

Review of Advanced Strategic Planning
By Aubrey Malphurs

This third edition updates the monumental work of Aubrey, having first published in 1999.  The use of the word strategic is needed because planning does not always lead to progress.  The usual definition of strategy implies some type of trickery or surprise.  But in this context, strategy refers to developing a process that produces well-defined biblical goals by wisely and efficiently using the resources that God has made available to us.

Aubrey emphasizes the need for preparation and I hardily agree.  With the current state of decline of the church in the US, correctly assessing both the problems and the personnel are key to producing a forward-moving plan.  Most churches are simply not ready to change in order to re-invigorate the Great Commission into its programs.  I have seen so many that thought they wanted to grow, but no one understood the deep commitment necessary to make it happen.

This book underscores the need for adequate leadership, both from the pastoral staff as well as the laity.  The only motivation that ultimately succeeds is one driven from passion (the heart.)  We end up doing the things we like to do, so if God doesn’t rule the heart, we do our own things that please us, rather than what the Kingdom needs.

Aubrey provides great detail in the process of building teams, as well as making mature disciples.  In the Exponential Conference Orlando 2013, speaker after speaker emphasized the focus to which God had driven them.  That focus was “making disciples who make disciples.”  If the process does not lead to a deeper relationship with God, and closer ties with those with whom we work, it is faulty.  I believe this guide will help the readers to grasp a great understanding of the elements needed to succeed.  I give this endorsement with a deep prayer that God will illuminate your mind and overwhelm your heart with His knowledge and passion.

Godly Therapy

Defeating Anxiety
by Ralph Moore

Ralph Moore has written a "winner." I met Ralph many years ago in seminars and have visited Hope Chapel there in Hawaii. In each of those settings, it did not seem that anxiety would ever be a problem. This personal testimony is a common sense approach (and God gives us common sense if we let him.)

I strongly believe in divine healing, but God does not choose to give out miracles to everyone. As long as we are on this earth, suffering will be a part of our life--and those afflictions will be different for each of us. Ralph makes a great case for allowing various approaches to dealing with maladies.

Until 5 years ago, I had hardly taken an aspirin. I abhor the thought of medicine. But external circumstances put me in a hospital on an extended stay with major surgery and subsequent complications.

My opinion of Ralph has been great, and it is now even greater. Learning to trust God in our weakness is a great Pauline teaching. Living these truths touch many more lives than our successes. Thank God for this living example of overcoming grace.      

Friday, May 31, 2013

When the Truth Hurts

Accidental Pharisees
by Larry Osborne

Over the years various writers have tried to define Pharisaism.  It dates from prior to the time of Christ to the present.  It seems to simply have a different cultural context, but the foundations are the same in whatever generation it appears.  The pendulum swings, and humans react to religious norms by pushing back.  So liberalism is followed by conservatism, and vice versa.  It seems we can rarely achieve balance.

I agree with Larry that some of the more egregious sins of our day are the pride, exclusivity , and legalism.  There seems to be agreement that God expects his disciples to move toward holiness in their personal lives.  As with a lot of concepts, we have extreme difficulty defining it so that it fits every generation and culture. 

Larry tries hard and somewhat successfully not to get into religious ditches on each side of balance.  I do not know him personally, nor his journey, so I must try to understand his perspective gained from life experiences.  Having written a dissertation on a corollary subject (philosophical foundations for creating sects) I offer that Larry has a message that, if heard, could help to bring some balance to evangelical movements.    As always, our danger is to become the complainer about complaining.

Our Savior is our savior.  It is not in our definitions but in our dynamic relationships.  While our tendency toward institutionalization drives us to uniformity, the Holy Spirit emphasizes our unique personalities and giftings.  If you can’t say “amen” to this, you should cry “oh me” and pray for healing grace.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heaven's Lessons

Heaven's Lessons by Steve Sjogren

Personal experience is the “proof” of whether we have incorporated biblical principles in our life.  As with many of us, we don’t usually discover who we are until we are pressed into a NDE.  Steve offers this sequel to “The Day I Died” and tells the rest of the story. 

Life’s lessons are sometimes overwhelming and it takes times to process them and make sense of them.  Steve is transparent in his struggle to accept not only the medical mishap, but the poor treatment he received from those who should have loved him deeply.  But processing these difficult times usually draws us closer to God as we are compelled to pray to survive.

Although my circumstances have been different, I can concur with Steve with each of the lessons.  My journey did include some major medical issues, and I spent five weeks in a hospital and about two years recuperation time.  The last lesson he shares is the greatest:  Be Thankful.  Scripture not only teaches us to “give thanks IN everything” (1 Th 5:18) but also to “give thanks FOR everything.” (Eph 5:20)  By human strength alone, that is not possible.  But with God’s great reservoir of grace, we learn not only to accept these afflictions, but to see how God uses them to enrich our lives as well as make us more effective for the kingdom. 

This book is not literary genius, but it is a life story of remarkable grace!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture

Dr Aubrey Malphurs has created a significant work on the culture of the church.  Very few have attempted to define the culture much less address the essential impact this has on our functioning within the church. 

Many have approached evangelism by trying to enculturate groups with their particular culture.  That has very little impact in raising the level of Christ-likeness over the long term.  Others have tried to reduce evangelism to simply getting people “converted,” i.e., making a decision for Christ.

The tough work is always to disciple people and that requires changing cultures.  Dr. Malphurs gives us a comprehensive view of culture.  On pages 28-31 he gives us 37 characteristics of culture in the first “layer” of understanding and I’m sure that is not exhaustive, though each one is important. 

In Chapter 4 he gives insights on the second layer, or values.  This section is worthy of spending considerable time in prayerful study in order to discern what a church’s values really are.  After fifty years in ministry, I have yet to encounter a church board who really understood their own personal values, and very little of their church’s values. 

In Chapter 5 he moves on to discuss core beliefs.  Core beliefs, not stated doctrine or theology, determine how we act in real-life situations.  On page 60 he gives ten reasons why beliefs are so important.

One measure of great leadership is the ability to define your current location on the spiritual journey.  If you don’t know where you are or who you are, it’s nearly impossible to plan a strategy to move forward.  Dr. Malphurs gives great insight on discovering a church’s culture and a pastor’s culture; both are essential understanding.

The second half of the book provides the process for shaping the culture.  I love his term for pastor as the “culture sculptor.”  With the large appendix he includes many tools to help accomplish the transformation of culture.  While he has presented much of the academic insights, none of this can be accomplished without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  We all naturally resist change, but God can energize us to truly fulfill the Great Commission.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Proverbs Indexed

Gus Dallas provides a subject index for the book of Proverbs.  He provides no commentary or additional insight into this great book of wisdom.  In a way, God’s Word speaks for itself and is sufficient to accomplish the purpose for which it is written without additional comment. 

For someone unfamiliar with the Proverbs, this index might provide a resource to encourage one to seek biblical truth on the various subjects.  If it encourages someone to discover God’s insight on a particular subject and to accept and implement the truth, then his effort to create the index is worthwhile.
I was interested in Gus’s rating system of “good” and “bad” which was really more of an application of truth.  There is no “bad” truth.

However one approaches the scripture, there is value in reading, studying, and applying it.  However, the editing was weak as evidenced by all the typographical errors which creates a distraction to studying.

Since I have read the book of Proverbs at least 100 times, the index is of little value to me.  However, I could easily recommend it to one who was new to the scripture.  For them it would make a handy guide and could encourage additional study.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

When Old is New

A review of 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith

This book was a quick and interesting read.  I don’t think there was a single new thought throughout and yet I found it inspiring.  Similar to some of Og Mandino’s books where the messages were to the point, and extra verbiage was avoided. 

I think the fact that this was an intensely personal story, and certainly not an attempt to establish himself as a major author, gave the book an authenticity often missing in self-help books.   I certainly was reminded of the brevity of life, and the importance of utilizing our time wisely.  Few people achieve even their own dreams, much less dreaming big enough dreams. 

If my calculations are correct, I have lived over 24,000 days, and my mother has lived nearly 34,000 days.  While we seldom are good self-evaluators, it is my hope that I will correctly see the major impact that my mother has had, not only on her family, but on others as well.  My prayer is that I, too, will make a major contribution with my life.

I especially like these chapters:  Living Each Day as if it were Your Last, If We Can Learn How to Die, We”ll Know How to Live, and Motivation is a Myth.  This is certainly a recommended read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When a movie becomes a book!

"Rudy" by Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger

I remember well watching the film, “Rudy.”  Even though it has been nearly twenty years, the spirit and inspiration that it incited can still be felt!  So it was intriguing to see the book come out almost two decades later—the opposite of most processes.

The book was not a disappointment, because it added significant dimensions to “the story.”  The story is told in the first person, and that connected well.  I think Rudy is correct that “the story” became bigger than his life because of the principles that were engrained in the story.  It is such a wonderful contrast to the deficiencies so prevalent in our current culture.  It promotes the value of the large family (and I fully identify with that being the 13th of 15 children.)  It presents the dogged determination of a charactered person and espouses values such as loyalty, persistence, self-control and responsibility.  The book gives great details missing in the movie and helps us to see inside the heart and mind of Rudy.

Another connection for me was that my grandson was named Jeffrey Ruettiger, and is affectionately called “Rudy.”  He already is a joy to the family showing traits of persistence and adventure.  It certainly is my hope that he will emulate these positive qualities as he grows older and will accept the responsibility to pursue a God-given dream even when encountering giant obstacles.  When you read the book, I hope you will discover the “message” for yourself, and write your own successful life story.