Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jesus Swagger by Jarrid Wilson

This fast-paced book is a mixture of how-to, why-to and motivational writing. The title is meant to attract attention. The book is a wake-up call to end what the author calls "poser Christianity" in our local churches, which is not Christianity at all. It is time to end just claiming to believe in Jesus and to actually and completely follow him. This author uses many subheadings throughout his book, making it very easy to read and follow in a literary sense. His introduction and the first chapter provide a blistering description of the problem and includes questions meant for our self-evaluation in our role in it. The rest of the book provides principles to prod us to end our complicity in our part of the problem and shows us how to be part of the solution. Some footnotes are provided at the end of this book.

This book proved incredibly easy to read. I read it it only a few sittings. But it is not emotionally easy to read! Painfully conscious of the areas in my life which are not what I know God wants them to be, I found myself convicted of them in this book. I was thinking especially of the area of social anxiety, where the author includes a segment where he admonishes the reader to make it a lifestyle of practicing love for others by socially engaging with the casual people we encounter daily, including strangers. That was an "ouchie" for me. I'm a person who has never gone out of my way to talk with strangers, even though my rational mind tells me that being outgoing and loving people in this way is a God-honoring thing and would even improve my social life. Also, the author includes a chapter on fear, and I was convicted when he declares that cultivating fear of God (in the sense of reverential awe for Him) will drive out all other fears and he backs this up by including quotes from sources, including the Scriptures. It just left me thinking: If I fear God, then why do I fear these other things? He seems to address all the areas in which I struggle most and so this book hit where it hurt. I would have been totally discouraged and turned off by this book if this author did not include enough Gospel and grace messages about the power of grace to forgive us and then empower us to live as we should. This author avoids any topics that divide the Christian community, keeping the focus solidly on our crying need to live without "poser Christianity" and to be light to the culture. I got the sense that this whole book is just a vastly amplified version of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount for modern-day followers of Jesus.

Who do I recommend this book for? It is obviously directed to all people in the realm of the organized Christian Church in the West, especially in America. This author is clearly on a mission to shatter the lukewarmness, apathy and complacency of many in Christendom who attend worship services but who do not embrace Jesus as the center of their lives. He calls out people who use Jesus as a means to an end, whether fire insurance from Hell or personal happiness, but who do not bow to His Lordship in their lives. I recommend this book to all Pastors, especially to the many who water down the Gospel and make services "seeker-friendly" and give ear-tickling messages for the entertainment of the hearers. I recommend this book for every person who attends worship services and who fill positions of church leadership. If you are one of the many in Christendom, the institutionalized Church, you will be profoundly challenged to answer the call to "take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Jesus." You will take yourself out of the ranks of those many who will hear Jesus' terrifying words on Judgment Day, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

I received this book free of charge from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review of this b

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson

This is a how to book about how to experience the God of the Bible. The author is a speaker and writer with Crown Accounting Ministries, a Christian financial nonprofit. He uses numerous anecdotal stories of experiences from his own life and that of his family, to illustrate his points. He also uses Bible stories to illustrate his points. This author's mission, through this book, is to show readers how to connect with the invisible God of the Bible in ways that are unmistakable. He discusses the three spiritual disciplines of prayer, giving, and fasting and shows from his own life, how they have helped him "connect with God and sense His divine applause." Part 1 of this book lays the foundation for his vision for this book. Part 2 lays out the principles for how to live so as to be "noticed by God" and to experience His "divine applause." Part 3 basically recaps his vision for the book and tries to inspire the reader to his or her own experience with God. Because this book is light on theology and research, there are no footnotes or end notes as sources didn't need to be cited.

The author of this book was unfamiliar to me before I read this book. This is his first book that I have ever read. The title fits this book's content pretty well. I expected the book to have elements of mysticism because of the topic, which is experiencing the invisible God of the Bible. I found it to be light on theology and heavy on personal experience. I found myself being a little annoyed by the author's sharing of his experiences with fasting, even of his fasts which have lasted up to 40 days. He had stressed that prayer, giving and fasting were designed by God to be "secret" so we can have "secrets with Him alone." As this author shared about some of his experiences with fasting, I found myself thinking: His fasting is not secret now! I know that a number of Christian authors will describe their fasting experiences; that is not uncommon. I thought it was rather hypocritical of this author to critique many Christians' practice of posting and publicly sharing of their experiences with prayer, giving or fasting on social networks--while he publicly shares about his fasting through this book. What is the difference anyway? I found myself thinking. He shares how in his ministry among poor people, he would challenge some of them to give, even of the very little that he knew that they had. While I know that giving by the most destitute is highly commended in the Bible, I was rather annoyed that the author would tell those with very little to give of the little they had. Isn't giving supposed to be voluntary, not something we do because we are challenged to do it? It is only near the end of this book that the author discusses the reader's need to live a blameless life in order to experience this "divine applause." I know that those who discuss giving and the Christian tend to get rather defensive about their right to do so, and that we in the Christian community tend to get testy about the subject whether we believe the tithe is binding for Christians today or not. Yes, we are to pray, give and fast in secret and the author does make a case for how doing these in secret enables us to be rewarded with "divine applause" and God's pleasure.

Do I recommend this book? Frankly, I'm not sure. It does not contain outright error and false teaching that leads readers astray. I do not recommend it for non-Christians. It is clearly meant for those who are "already in and who are Christians already. In reading all the material about fasting, prayer and giving and believing this material applies to them, non-Christians who are trusting in their own goodness to save them should stay away from this book. For the application of its principles to their lives will confirm many non-Christians who trust in their goodness to save them, in their legalism. I can recommend it to Christians who are neglecting these spiritual disciplines and need a refresher, including Pastors and others in Christian leadership.

I received this book free of charge from Blogging For Books, in exchange for my honest review of this book. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Something To Fear Even More Than ISIS

Islamic State. ISIS.

It is clear that they are not going away any time soon.

Yesterday, many of us learned that they struck again. This time it was in Libya, where 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded. I did not see the video which is said to have captured their brutal murders. Nor do I want to.

As the video of their brutal beheadings streamed into my Facebook Newsfeed this morning, I must admit my first thought was, "How would I respond if I was faced with a sword ad the order to deny my faith in Christ or die?"

I think that these 21 Christians knew that there was one thing to fear even more than ISIS. What did they know?

Yes, ISIS Is A Danger

Unless you live under a rock, you know about this terrorist group. Like cockroaches, they have sprung up everywhere. Actually, they have been around for awhile. But they did not attract worldwide attention until Americans overseas began to get beheaded at the hand of ISIS. That, of course, began with journalist James Foley. We have heard of the reports of their beheading other people in the West. Last week, they burned a pilot in the country of Jordan alive, and their brutal deed was caught on tape. This past weekend, they beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians from Egypt in Libya. This brutal slaying was caught on video for the world to see. This day, there were unconfirmed reports that ISIS has burned alive some 50 Iraqis. Before all this worldwide attention, ISIS had already been murdering, crucifying, beheading and terrorizing men, women and yes, children in Iraq and Syria. They still are on a mission to wipe out all those who do not agree with their ideology! Most tragic of all, ISIS is using online networks and other means to recruit the vulnerable, even women and children, to their depraved cause with the lure of a "better life"! Recently, a young mom was recruited by ISIS to join them, and she left her husband and took their child. O the news, she was shown in her lack burka with a gun. Yes, ISIS is dangerous and nothing to be fooled around with.

The One Thing That Is Even More Dangerous

There is one thing, however, that is even more to be feared than ISIS. In Matthew 10:28, in the New Testament, Jesus warns: "Do not be afraid of those who who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell," (NIV). I know that many of us, even in the Christian community, refer to duck the idea of a literal, eternal Hell. I myself would very much like to remove this doctrine out of the Bible! But I can't. It has so much Scriptural support that it would be like re-writing the Bible to take this very unsettling teaching out of the Bible. And, whether we like to think of it or not, every single one of us, myself included, will have to stand before an infinitely holy, righteous God and give account of all that we have done in our lives. We will have to account for every thought, word ad deed. WE will not get to put our spin on why we did these things, or shift the blame for our sin to our parents, our genes, the system, government policies, our spouses or to anyone or anything else. No excuses will be accepted. Are you ready for this?

How To Protect Yourself

We do not have to fear that day. We do not have to stand before the Judge in our own merits. That is why Jesus came to Earth, to live the perfect life we could not live, to die a horrible death on a cross to absorb God's wrath at our in in our place, and to rise again. If you sense that you are being drawn to Jesus and you want to be free of sin and its consequences, you need to call on Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Turn from sin, turn to Him and believe. Then you can stand before Him in Jesus' merits and covered with Jesus' perfect righteousness. This was the secret of those 21 Coptic Egyptian Christian whom ISIS beheaded, and of every past and present Christian martyr.

If you have a Bible, read the Gospel of John and lean more. May you be ready to meet your Maker, as these beheaded 21 Egyptians in Libya were.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Loved Back to Life, by Sheila Walsh

This book is written in memoir style, by a Christian music artist and speaker who was working with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). She derives much of the material from her memoir, HONESTLY, a book that I read years ago. This book takes many parts of HONESTLY and adds new material to it. She starts this memoir with the "distant rumblings" of her impending mental breakdown, and follows that first chapter with her mental breakdown, her stay in a psychiatric hospital, what she learned and how her lessons affected her in later years. She uses her experience with clinical depression to educate the Christian community to the reality of mental illness that also affects followers of Jesus but which we seldom speak of or speak of only in hushed whispers. This author is on a mission to end the stigma to end the stigma of mental illness in the Christian community. She takes us inside her stay in the psychiatric hospital and through her difficult experience and journey to wholeness. She includes a short chapter, which appeals to the reader to begin their similar journey on the road to becoming whole and emotionally and spiritually healthy.

I had read prior books by the author of this book. So I was not surprised at this book and it was what I expected. I had listened to Sheila Walsh's music prior to the mental breakdown that she describes, in detail, in this book and in books like HONESTLY and THE HEARTACHE NO ONE SEES, and one of her recent songs kept going through my head as I read this book. I found myself saddened that it takes mental breakdowns and trips to psychiatric hospitals, before we will get real with our brothers and sisters in Jesus. I found myself mentally saying, "Amen!" as the author laments how most of us churchgoers have lost the ability to be honest with each other about who we are and what we are. I have found this to be so true! Even in small groups, which are said to be intended to foster "authentic Christian community," I have found that so many of us in these groups feel driven to "inspire the others" in the group settings with testimonies of the courage and faith of others or themselves. About the deepest sharing we hear consists of cancer stories or cancer prayer needs, or other physical illnesses or needs of grieving people whose loved ones were lost to natural causes. The authentic sharing that should take place in our churches has, sadly, been replaced by paying psychologists, psychiatrists, or other self-help measures, instead of turning to a Pastor or to others in the Christian community. This author, by sharing with us her own experiences and that of others, shows us how critical God's grace and our willingness to lay hold of His grace, is in attaining personal emotional and spiritual health. I found myself wishing that it was not so hard to build this kind of community in our churches. But personal observation and experience has shown me that some things get in the way of the community that this author calls for, such as misplaced priorities, our fast-paced culture, consumerism, materialism and individualism as has been pointed out in other books about the call to build community. At churches, I have often heard of the need for "authentic Christian community," but I have been saddened at how little priority that we place on it. I know that the author's position on clinical depression and how to manage it, will still be controversial in the Christian community. For there are some Christians who believe that mental illness is just sin redefined. Unfortunately, I do not see the kind of transparency that many of us long to see happen in our churches, happen. In the West and especially in America, our self-sufficient, fast-paced and consumerist culture exerts overwhelming pressure against this kind of community. And this culture has slipped into our churches. The result is that since we cannot be real in our churches, we usually have to turn elsewhere if we need "more support." This is what this author had to do, as many of her Christian supporters walked away from her. The end of this book was no surprise to me, as I had read earlier books by Sheila Walsh and knew the end already.

I recommend this book for everyone. I recommend this book for non-Christians, including psychologists and psychiatrists. They need to know that the answer to all forms of human brokenness is found in Jesus and His grace, and in casting ourselves on His mercy. It is not found in spending months or even years, trying to dig out the secrets of one's id, or uncovering the "deep, dark secrets" of one's childhood. Psychology can diagnose the problems of human behavior and emotional ills, but it cannot cure them. I recommend this book for every Pastor and others in spiritual leadership, so they will know that if a Christian music artist experienced a mental breakdown because of unresolved personal issues and faulty biology, none of us is immune. That includes them. I strongly recommend this book for those who co-ordinate small groups as well as small group leaders, to show them the principles of building community in our churches. I recommend this book for every Christian so that they can know that none of us is immune to the brokenness of life and that while it may cost us greatly to know emotional and spiritual wealth, in the end we will find that it is worth it.

I received this book free of charge through Booklook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Does America Need?

Constantly, we are hearing what America needs.

Many, seeing the terrorism that threatens us, are calling for a "war on terrorism" and that if we "reform immigration," we can keep ourselves safe.

One political party insists that we need tolerance, racial reconciliation, brotherhood, peace, and equal rights for all.

One political party insists that we need personal responsibility, reduced taxes, independence and intact liberties.

One powerful lobby is demanding the right to reproductive freedom in the name of equal health care for a certain gender.

One powerful lobby is calling for the right to marriage equality and tolerance.

An active voting bloc is calling for the right to life for all, prayer in the public schools, and the preservation of traditional marriage.

One strong lobby, often because of tragic personal tragedy, are calling for the strict control of guns to protect America.

A centuries long oppressed race of people are calling for justice and equality for themselves.

I can go on and on and on. Everyone has ideas what America needs. So many people believe that they have it down what is wrong with us and what is needed to fix the problem. Can all these people be right? Or do the points each party seek to make have some truth in them? Or are we all turning a blind eye to what America really needs? Or are we content with the way things are?

Peer Pressure & Culture

We often talk about peer pressure as it applies to children and especially teens. I daresay that peer pressure never goes away and we all remain vulnerable to it, no matter what our age. This has much to do with all the ads that hit us constantly, whether via television, newspaper, radio or the Internet, giving us the constant message that what we need is "personal happiness" and that this "happiness" can be found through material things, get rich quick schemes, "magic" products promising to make us thin, lose weight without effort, give us a well-behaved child without loving discipline, "cure" neurological conditions like Asperger's Syndrome or Autism, or to re-capture our youth or halt the aging process. I find myself getting mad at these ads, especially those pop up ads that interrupt my reading when I surf the Internet and make unwanted sales pitches about their products that supposedly will make me "happy" or give me a "better life." Many months ago, someone pitches a product claiming that purchasing it would "cure" the addictions of our loved ones. Really?

Our American President's Vision

In the US, we are as deeply divided as I remember us ever being. We are deeply divided on what America needs to "be taken in the right direction." Is this why our current President is so divisive and we are raking him over the coals with our constant criticism of everything he does, good or bad? I remember when, under President Obama's watch, Osama bin Laden was put to death. I remember when the news was delivered on television. I also remember snarky comments such as, "This President did nothing to put bin Laden to death; those brace Navy Seal soldiers did! Don't give this President any credit!" I'm not disputing that it was the actions of the military that carried out the sentence of bin Laden, but apart from the President's orders I don't believe could have carried this act out. Our President is famous for his promise to bring "change" to America. What we think about this "change" he has been bringing to America depends on what we think America needs.

Republicans, Democrats & What America Needs

My feelings about his "change"? I would be lying if I said that I support the President's policies concerning "abortion on demand" for, at one time, we all developed for some nine months inside our moms. Marriage equality? With Jesus' words on marriage designed by God to be between male and female and with Bible verses telling us that same sex lifestyles are, in God's eyes, as wrong as any other sin, I cannot support "marriage equality either. I do support other policies put fort by this President, such as the ABLE Act, that will let people with disabilities be able to keep their benefits even if they set up special needs trusts. I support his call to raise the federal minimum wage to make it easier for the "working poor" to support their families. I wish that I, as a Christian, did not have to choose between two issues that God has spoken clearly on (the sanctity of human life and marriage) and other issues He has spoken on (poverty, justice for the working classes, caring for the vulnerable and race relations). But with this two-party system, we are not given much choice and are forced to choose one vision over another, though both visions speak on matters on which God speaks.

Where is America Headed?

I know that some Pastors and Christian leaders now believe and declare that America is under the judgment of God or at least is in danger of that. I can only say that with our current loss, more and more, of a moral compass, we may be losing our way as a country. Our children and teens have never been so violent or so vicious. Months ago, two 12 year old girls had viciously stabbed one of their friends of the same age. This girl miraculously survived and was surrounded by international support as her story was made public. But her two friends may, if charged as adults, face the rest of their lives behind bars. They reportedly spent months planning this act and wanted to see what it was like to commit a murder. A few years ago, in my own home state of Missouri, a nine year old girl had gone missing one day. Days later, she was found deceased and her murderer was a fourteen year old girl, not a grown man or even a boy. On television, programs show videos of violent bullying of young people by other young people. We now have what is called a "rape culture" and one college student has been said to boast: "I would rape women if I knew that I would get by with it." Months ago, a "how to guide" was published telling child rapists how to satisfy their pedophile urges. We know of one organization, NAMBLA, set up for males who have an attraction for boys. Have we lost our minds? By our actions, we are saying that we value not the freedom of religion but freedom from religion.

I'm sure that as I write this, most of you are aware of that account of the barbaric burning of the pilot in the country of Jordan, which was caught on camera with this man in a cage (unconfirmed). And two Japanese hostages were beheaded this past week. War is being declared on us.

Well, What Does America Need?

As I read my Bible, I see little that suggests that efforts to reform this country, or any other, will do much to solve our society's ills, moral problems or social-economic injustices. Legislation can do some things to restrain hard-hearted people and to keep them in check, so civilization does not stop. I suggest that we get back to reading the Bible to discover what God says what we need, what He has gone to great lengths to provide us, and what we need to do to be part of the solution to what ails us. Jesus said that He was going to come "like a thief in the night" and at an unexpected time. Are you ready for Him?

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