Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Blessed Church by Robert Morris

This book is a guide to growing a congregation of worshippers. It's written primarily to Pastors and others in church leadership with the authority to start, build and grow congregations. In the first part of the book, Morris shares his story about how he entered the Pastoral ministry, and how he gleaned the principles that he discusses in the bulk of this book. He shares stories about God's miracles in his life and in the life of his family and congregation, which consists of some 20,000 members, to show his readers how the principles he espouses have worked for him. He seeks to show how these principles can and should work for other Pastors in their efforts to start, build and grow their own congregations. This edition contains a guide to planning quality retreats for church leaders, with questions and blanks to fill in to plan how to most effectively spend this time.

I chose this book because I wanted to read a book on how we are to go about our congregational lives. I was not surprised at this book's focus on church growth. Near the beginning of this book and in the introduction, I was soon put off. While Morris writes about being a recipient of the grace of God and doing all things through God's grace, this book smacks of the health and prosperity gospel. Because of my life experiences, this book triggered strong and not always pleasant feelings for me. Other people with other life experiences may not be so triggered. I agree with some of what he says about equipping and discipling church members so they can serve their communities. While I agree with him that we are to be generous in giving of our resources including our money, I was put off by his championing of the wealthy members of his congregation. While I agree with him that being wealthy is okay and the wealthy are to be treated like anyone else, I was offended by what smacked of elitism and almost complete unawareness of the crying need to find a place for poor, marginalized citizens in our churches. But, through this book, I gained insight as to the stresses faced by senior Pastors; I have always been aware of their stress but Morris fleshes out what this stress is. But, overall, I was put off by this apparent call to transform our churches to "spiritual Wal Marts" though Morris cites Scripture to support his views.

This book is for a narrow audience. While the back cover says it is intended for lay people, this book is intended for Pastors and then for others in the church leaderships of local congregations. But I have reservations for even recommending this book for the intended audiences, Pastors and those in church leadership. This is because of all the stress on numbers, though I know that there is nothing wrong with large churches. It is just that Morris gives Pastors the feeling that numbers are almost more important than anything. I'm not even comfortable with handing this book to my own Pastor. There are good things here but I think the stress on numerical growth is unScriptural.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review of the book. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Skeletons in God's Closet, by Joshua Ryan Butler

This book provides an in-depth analysis of three of the teachings in Scripture that most trouble so many of us in the West. These include the teaching of Hell, the teaching of judgment and the Old Testament accounts of "holy war" where the ancient Israelites declared war on Canaanites. This book is divided in three parts. Butler devotes the first part of his book to the Bible's teaching on Hell. He devotes the second part of his book to God's teaching on Judgment and the third part of this book is devoted to the Biblical account of the Israelite "holy war" with Canaan. Butler uses illustrations and stories throughout this book and anticipates many questions that we would ask about these matters. He shares stories from his own life.

This book is pretty much as I expected, using well-reasoned arguments from common sense, to explain what is behind these tough teachings. I found this book interesting but it seems that Butler repeats himself. It has been said, though, that good teachers are not afraid to repeat themselves, if needed, to re-enforce their lessons. Butler, being of Native American origin, uses the argument of our instinct for justice to make all wrongs right, to underscore that our holy God will finally bring justice through judgment and Hell. Until I read this book, I have never heard Hell illustrated as being a source of protection not only for the inhabitants of Heaven, but is protective even for the inhabitants of Hell itself. I was puzzled as to why Butler did not underscore the Biblical fact of the reality and uniqueness of the Church as the Body of Christ until later in the book. It seemed that, earlier in the book, other faiths were seen almost as equal to ours. But I liked Butler's use of stories and symbols to show us what he means by what he says.

I recommend this book to all Christians who have ever wondered about the difficult and hard-to-accept teachings of the Bible. They may find these teachings easier to accept, if not easier to reconcile with human logic. I even encourage non-Christians to read this book, as many of their questions about God in relation to injustice and suffering, may be answered here. Every Pastor needs to read this book so they are better-equipped to answer questions about God in relation to God and suffering, as well as to be equipped to preach on Hell and judgment, which are often neglected in pulpits. This book is too in-depth and intense for youth but maybe Butler should consider writing a youth version in the future.

I receive a complimentary copy of this book through Booklook Bloggers, in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hand in Hand, by Randy Alcorn

This volume is a theological study of God's sovereignty and our human will. Alcorn uses the Scripture throughout this book in his analysis of these two seemingly paradoxical realities. He provides thorough analysis of the different theological systems of thought within the Christian community. The two main diverse thought systems are Calvinism and Arminianism, with radicalized and modified versions of both these thought systems. Alcorn calls for all of us in the Christian community, no matter where we stand on how God's sovereignty and human choice relate to and interact with each other, search all the Scriptures about both and pursue loving Christian unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us. After each chapter Alcorn includes endnotes where the sources he used to compile his information, can be found and this bolsters his credibility and shows that he researched his subject.

For me to read and follow this book took some work. It made me think just how I see both the sovereignty of God as related to my ability to make choices. If you are like me, you are aware that you have the ability to make meaningful choices but given where you stand with God, you may not have considered that He will hold us accountable for the choices that you and I make. Those of us in the Christian community believe that God's sovereignty and human choice, while seeming to condradict each other, really do not. I found all the analysis of how those who subscribe to Calvinism or to Arminianism think about both God's sovereignty and human choice, to be rather head-spinning and I had to work to think along with much of the book. I found this book to be pretty much all I expected, as I have read some of Alcorn's earlier works and I have read a few other books of this same topic. Reading this book, I was encouraged and challenged to see how God's sovereignty and my ability to choose work together in and should motivate me to live the way God tells me to. Also, I was encouraged that nothing, nothing that happens is random, takes God by surprise or causes Him to wring HIs hands or cry "Oops! I messed up!" We can choose but, when it all comes down, God is in control. Praise Him.

This book is targeted to the Christian community. But if you are a non-Christian who is curious about God, you may find this book not only interesting but challenging and enlightening. If you are such a person, I will provide a link below where you can get this book free, under certain conditions that can be found on the site. I recommend all Pastors, would-be missionaries, and Christian leaders to read this book so they will get their thinking straightened out on how God's choices and ours relate. This book is for all adults who are eager to learn more and more about God. New Christians may be overwhelmed by the heavy theology in this book.

I received a free copy of this book through Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review of the book and was not required to give this book a favorable review.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween: What Is it All About Anyway?

It is only a few days away.

It is a big money-maker for many retail stores and specialty party stores. It greatly increases the profit margins of those in the dental profession because of all the sweet treats that we consume. It is a delight to young ones except the minority who deal with developmental or sensory differences. It is tolerated by adults who only want to "make our children happy."

Yes, I mean Halloween.

At the same time that many of us are spending money on Halloween festivities, other things continue. Halloween may not be nearly as expensive Christmas if you celebrate as tradition dictates. But you know what continues to go on while so many of us enjoy this day's festivities?

In the US alone we have great need. We lose four children a day to child abuse. We lose some thirteen veterans a day to suicide. We just learned about another school shooting in Washington State; does this not point to the crying need to increase affordable mental health services to the general population? I can go on. If you think of yourself as a world citizen you are aware of the sea of need, especially all over Asia and Africa. From late October to the end of December, many dollars are lavished on festivities when so many in need are crying out for our help. Yes, I know this is not pleasant to think about. Reality often is not pleasant.

No, I'm not against anyone of any age having good, wholesome fun. This brings us to another point. Is Halloween fun actually good and wholesome? Even if we have our children wear wholesome costumes and observe child safety, such as never leaving children unattended and inspecting their candy, many children (and some playful adults) will dress up as witches or warlocks or some other unsavory or creepy character. I don't know about you but my Bible tells me that in this world we have a personal devil who hates humanity and is bent on destroying us. Halloween, with its overtones of occult and pagan roots, is an open invitation to this devil to wreak havoc upon us. This havoc can take many sickening forms such as child abductions, adult abductions (especially of women) shootings, knifings, gangs, rapes, human trafficking, and other horrific things that are blights on us and that break the heart of our Creator. And to some people who have suffered satanic ritual abuse or experienced satanic oppression, this time of the year can be upsetting and disturbing. To Christians who take Satan's existence seriously, Halloween is a real concern.

So what if you plan to participate in Halloween anyway? That is your choice. A local church in your area will offer Halloween events that will be far safer and more wholesome than the traditional trick or treating. If you decide to participate in traditional trick or treating this Friday, ask yourself what memories this will give your children of your involvement in their lives? What will it teach them? All of us who celebrate this day use it to have fun, or let our children have fun. I "get" that. There is a but. Can you be more creative in your family fun than observing a supposed "child-centered holiday"?

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