Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Called to Worship

Called to Worship

Called to Worship
by Vernon Whaley

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Just as the narrative of redemption is interwoven through the pages of the Bible, God's plan for us to worship Him is articulated, explained, illustrated, documented, and applied throughout the pages of His Word. Called to Worship is the story of worship from Genesis through Revelation. It begins with the truth that God is the ultimate creator, and it concludes with the hallelujah chorus celebrating the consummation of God's eternal plan. Throughout, principles of worship are drawn from the lives of biblical heroes, ordinary people, events, Old and New Testament practices, biblical poetry, the wisdom books, the life of Christ, the epistles and prophecy.

This exploration of worship in the Scriptures is a resourceful tool for ministry professionals, as well as seminary students, who are interested in digging deeper into the roots of worship.

My one sentence review: Your time would be better spent in searching the Bible for what it says on worship rather than in reading this book.

Long review: Several years ago, my mother studied the Scripture for what the ultimate purpose of mankind was, and she learned some wonderful things about worship. I did a similar study and thought "everybody ought to do this...but I doubt I can convince many people to try it." So when I saw Called to Worship was a study on what the Bible had to say about worship, I was thrilled that someone had written the results of such study down for others. However, by the time I finished chapter two, I was extremely disappointed and frustrated.

Whaley rarely pointed out Scripture where God tells us how He wants to be worshiped--and there are plenty of them.

Instead, much of Called to Worship was the author's paraphrase of a Bible story (adding in motives that are usually not in the Bible and I often didn't think correct) with a small section at the end drawing lessons that he felt that Adam & Eve, Cain and Abel, Abram, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jehoshaphat, and Job demonstrated about worship.

He asks the reader to trust his often very speculative take on how he thinks God wants to be worshiped instead of looking for what God stated on the subject. (For example, the Garden of Eden supposedly demonstrates that perfect worship is that which is done all alone and totally secluded from all distractions.)

Another thing that distressed me were statements Whaley made in chapters 2 and 3 which directly contradict Scripture. For example, his statements strongly imply he thinks God has no control over Satan and that God couldn't protect Adam and Eve from Satan's influence any more than a father can protect his son from hearing a man cussing in public. He also says that Satan always had dominion over the earth (rather than Adam), that Satan existed "before Creation" (so he isn't created?), that suffering and the curse on the earth came from Satan's actions (instead of Adam's), that all of the resulting suffering was outside God's plan and completely harmful (now here's someone who needs to read If God Is Good!). And, finally, that God lost to Satan--not the war in heaven, but the war on earth.

The author made some statements throughout the book that he later contradicted with a verse he quoted or a statement he made, and I sometimes was unsure just what he believed. I was very concerned about what someone not firm in Bible knowledge would think he was saying. (And, frankly, if you're familiar with the Bible, you won't learn anything new about worship from this book.)

The later sections of Called to Worship looked at books of the Bible (like Psalms, Proverbs, the epistles, etc.) and were better because the author stuck with actual Scripture. The only two chapters of this book that I felt were good were those studying how Jesus worshiped--Jesus is both God and the perfect worshiper so He is a good example.

The book was written in a very conversational style and was like a bunch of mini-sermons loosely focused on worship. While I did agree with some of the points he made, it was because I knew of verses that specifically state the point rather than because of the example.

So, as I said above, your time would be better spent in searching the Bible for what it says on worship rather than in reading this book. Don't bother spending your time or money on this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
It seems as if just yesterday my brother, Rodney, and I stood outside the doghouse of our Siberian husky, Chena, as she gave birth to a litter of six puppies. At eleven and thirteen, we had no idea that nature was simply acting out a normal, God-ordained process. But intuition told us we were witnessing a miracle. We had absolutely nothing to do with this phenomenon. We could neither cause nor prevent the births of these canine babies. But we were eyewitnesses of the breathtaking event that is birth.

In her book God's Story, Anne Graham Lotz uses the word eyewitness while explaining how God made the world: "Who was the eyewitness of Creation?" she wrote. "The simple yet astounding answer is God Himself!" God was the one writing, telling, and acting out the drama. He Himself developed the plot, prose, characters, and dramatic tension of a script placed in His heart long before the dawn of creation. And as the ultimate Storyteller, He alone is responsible for the pacing and continuity of the storyline.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Love Revolution's last winner

I feel like I've messed up in how I handled this. I should have been more careful in making sure I had contact information for each winner before announcing them. Now I feel terrible that I announced Cyber Wytch was a winner only to find out I can't get in contact (at least, not quickly).

So now I'm in the position of having to debate "pick a new winner or only have 4 winners?" I know what a lot of people are hoping for, so...

Congratulations, Lucyinthesky!

I'll be contacting you for your address.

Book Quotes: Motivation for Holiness

From Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite (pages 76-77):

I began to realize that the way I would overcome sin in my own life was not first by effort. I had tried that. It was by knowing that God had already done it in my life. Rather than constantly praying for help in a certain area of my life, I began to thank God for already delivering me from that area "in Christ." I began to live out my new identity "in Christ." I began to live more out of gratitude than out of guilt. Grace finally was flowing into my heart and life...

It is like when Jesus says, "Abide in me." I immediately think, Okay, what are all the things I need to do to get to a place of abiding? But Jesus was saying, in essence, "You already abide in Me. God has already placed you there. Now simply believe it and remain there."

...This is seeing ourselves as God sees us.

From page 78:

Each day we give ourselves to [God], we surrender our will, we live as servants for God's purpose. Precisely because of our position in Christ, we are motivated to live holy lives. God does care how we live and what we do. Understanding my position in Christ helped me live more like Christ. I strive harder to be holy, not out of guilt and misconstrued fear, but out of thankfulness and joy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cyber Wytch, please contact me

Cyber Wytch, I just realized I have no e-mail address for you. But, since you're a follower, I decided to this a try since you'll probably see this. :)

Congratulations! You're one of the winners of the "The Love Revolution" book giveaway. Please send me your address (remember, no PO Boxes. The book is coming UPS or FedEx directly from the publisher). Thank you.

You can contact me at ChristFocus @ hughes . net

However, so that the other winners aren't held up too long on receiving their books, you only have until Friday noon (Central Time) to contact me.

And the winners are...

It's time to announce the five winners of "The Love Revolution" by Joyce Meyer. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winners are:

Cherie J
Sherry and Gena
Cyber Wytch

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book from Books-A-Million (see the sidebar for instructions of getting a ChristFocus Book Club discount on your order) or your favorite bookstore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review: If God is Good

If God is Good

If God is Good
by Randy Alcorn

Trade Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Multnomah
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.

In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God--Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.

In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Alcorn offers insights from his conversations with men and women whose lives have been torn apart by suffering, and yet whose faith in God burns brighter than ever. He reveals the big picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world–now and forever. And he equips you to share your faith more clearly and genuinely in this world of pain and fear.

Randy Alcorn delves deep into a profound subject, and through compelling stories, provocative questions and answers, and keen biblical understanding, he brings assurance and hope to all.

If God is Good is an excellent God-focused, Scripture-based book. It gives a comprehensive and balanced look at what the entire Bible says about evil and suffering. If you have any question about why an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God allows evil and suffering, this book thoroughly answers it. Some parts got a bit heavy and a few chapters weren't as convincing as others (like chapter 20), but most of the book was excellent and very easy to understand.

The major drawback to this book is it's sheer size. Five hundred pages is daunting enough for the average reader. When I realized that the small font makes this book equal to about 850 normal pages, I began to wonder just who the target audience was. Most people I know wouldn't have the time or interest in reading such a large book, no matter how good the material. This is too bad since the information is excellent.

However, part of the length problem is that there was a lot of repetition. I wonder if this book was really meant to be a debate reference book rather than a book read from beginning to end. In each section, he answers the question of evil and suffering from a slightly different angle and often repeats previous material in the argument. Yet you can't skip any part without potentially skipping the bits of excellent new material woven into it.

If you get into debates about evil and suffering and need to know all of the possible questions and answers, this is an excellent book to read. If you want to understand the idea of free will better, this is an excellent resource. If you're a pastor or ministry leader, you owe it to those you lead to know the information in this book. However, if you're suffering deep sorrow, I'd suggest reading Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie. It gives many of the same points in a sympathetic, caring manner and with much fewer words.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter 5, page 41
As frequently expressed, the problem of evil assumes that an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God cannot have good reasons for creating a universe in which evil and suffering exist. But shouldn't this assumption require some proof?

We may not understand why a good God would allow terrible suffering. But this merely establishes that if there is a God, we do not know everything he knows. Why should this surprise us?

Suppose we add only one premise to the argument that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, and yet evil exists: God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. You may disagree with this premise, but it does not contradict the others.

We've all seen people say or do things that we considered unjustifiable. When we later learn why they did them, everything may change. The man who passed us on the freeway, honking his horn, was driving his injured daughter to the hospital. Realizing he had compelling reasons, we say, "I get it now; I misjudged him."

To disprove the God of the Bible exists, someone must demonstrate there can be no moral justification of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God to allow evil. Has this been proven? No. This doesn't mean the question isn't valid, only that a question is not the same as proof.

Read from chapter one.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review delay

Today is the first sunny day we've had after seven days of heavy rain. The rain will begin again later this afternoon. I really need to spend today doing outdoor work.

Not to mention that the book I'm reviewing is 500 pages long with more words per page than is typical, and I only got it last Monday night. I'm only on page 300. :(

(The delay in getting the book was partly my fault. The publicist was very quick to get me a review copy when she found out I hadn't yet received the one she previously sent.)

I'll post my book review late tomorrow morning. Sorry for the delay.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Quotes: In God's Timing

From Listening for God by Marilyn Hontz (page 66-67):

Our culture elevates independence. But God asks us to stop trying to work things out in our own way and depend on him and his timing. Scripture says he is "able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of" (Ephesians 3:20 TLB). I am learning the truth of God's Word when he whispers, "In the time of my favor I will answer you" (Isaiah 49:8).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW Interview with Booking Mama

BBAW 2009

As a part of Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, a number of book bloggers are interviewing each other and posting the interviews on their blogs. My interview partner is Julie of Booking Mama. (You can also read Booking Mama's interview with me.)

I've really enjoyed getting to know her better, and I hope you do, too.

Debbie: Tell us a little about your book blog, like when you started it, what types of books you review, and what other types of posts you have on Booking Mama?

Julie: I began Booking Mama in January 2008. I initially thought I would talk about book "things;" but within a week, I knew I wanted to do more so I started writing reviews! In the past 20 months, I have read hundreds of books and written hundreds of reviews. I consider myself to be a pretty eclectic reader, but I do tend to enjoy women's fiction and literary fiction the most. While the majority of books that I read are "book club" type books, in the past year and a half, I have also read and reviewed Christian books, cookbooks, memoirs, chick lit, self-help, Young Adult, Middle Grade, picture books, and more.

Besides my own reviews, I also occasionally have guest reviews on my blog. Booking Daughter, Booking Son, Booking Aunt, and Booking Pap Pap have all contributed their thoughts on a variety of books as have a few of my friends. I like that I can give others' viewpoints on books that I might not have read or just haven't had the chance to read yet. In addition, I also host guest bloggers (mainly authors) who have written features about themselves and their books especially for my blog. And every once in awhile, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask an author a few questions!

I have also been fortunate enough to giveaway hundreds of books! I love that my blog has been a vehicle for me to share books and my love of reading with others!

Debbie: How is Booking Mama different from other blogs (i.e. unique features, etc.)?

Julie: I don't know if I'm all that different than a lot of blogs out there, but I hope I bring my own thoughts and feelings about the books I read. As a mother of a 10 year old girl and a 5 year old boy, I love to read to (and with) my children so I do feature/review a lot of middle grade and picture books. I also try to include my kids' thoughts about the books in addition to my own.

Another thing I hope that my blog does is appeal to members of book clubs. I do my best to let my readers know if the books I've read lend themselves to good discussions. I also try to include some of the topics and themes that occur in the book as well link to readers' guides. Since I am a member of three book clubs, I know how difficult it can be to pick out a book that will be a good fit for your group, so I hope I help a little!

Debbie: Let's get to know you a little better. Why did you start book blogging?

Julie: I'm not even sure where to start...I have always been an avid reader; but when I discovered that "Book Blogs" existed, I realized that there were a whole bunch of people who were an awful lot like me -- a community of people who shared a love of books! Within a week or so, I realized that I could maintain a book blog too -- it probably wouldn't be as good as most out there, but I loved the idea of having some place to write down my thoughts about books. So one night I just decided to give it a go. I wasn't completely sure what my vision for Booking Mama was, but I did know that I wanted to talk about books with other book lovers. I had no idea how much it would grow in just a relatively short period of time!

Debbie: What do you like most about book blogging? The least?

Julie: I think I most enjoy the camaraderie within the book blogging community! I can't even begin to express how lucky I am to have met so many incredible people through blogging! I attended BEA this year and actually got to meet so many of my "virtual" friends. I had such an amazing time, and everyone was even nicer in person. I also love getting feedback on my posts. There are few things as fun as hearing what other people think about the books I've read or the reviews I've written.

As far as the least thing I like about book blogging....I'd have to say the pressure! I know it's my own doing, but I tend to over commit to reviews and posts, and then I drive myself (and my family) crazy trying to meet all of my obligations. I sometimes forget that blogging is my hobby and that it's supposed to be fun! Like most book lovers, I have the constant frustration that there are so many good/great books out there and so little time!

Debbie: What's an interesting/unique fact about yourself that most of your blog follower might not know?

Julie: I really don't like writing and I don't think I'm very good at it! I have always thought that I was stronger in math than language arts; and despite my love of books, I am much more comfortable with numbers! I majored in Finance with a minor in Economics from Penn State; and I went to graduate school for an MBA at George Mason. I worked for the Federal Government for almost 15 years before deciding to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. While I have always read a great deal, I never in a million years thought I would spend so much time writing for fun!

Debbie: It has been wonderful getting to know you, Julie. Thanks!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Giveaway: The Love Revolution

The Love Revolution


This is Book Bloggers Appreciation Week! Valerie Russo of the Hachette Book Group agreed to let me host a giveaway for The Love Revolution by Joyce Meyer. So we're having a giveaway for this excellent book!

Read my review to learn more about the book.

Five copies are being given away. This giveaway is for residents of the US & Canada only (no PO boxes).

To enter the contest, either:

On Twitter, send me a tweet saying "@christfocus Enter me to win THE LOVE REVOLUTION by Joyce Meyer."


Leave a comment on this post asking to be entered in the contest for The Love Revolution and also leave some way for me to contact you if you win. I'd also love to hear why you're interested in winning this book.

I'll randomly select the winner at noon (Central Daylight Time) on September 23, 2009 and announce them on this blog. I'll inform the winner and ask for their mailing address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Book Review: The Love Revolution

The Love Revolution

The Love Revolution
by Joyce Meyer

Hardback: 272 pages
Publisher: FaithWords
First Released: 2009

Author/Book Website
Author on Twitter
Book on Twitter

Source: Review copy from publisher

Book Description (from publisher website):
Joyce Meyer is not satisfied with the status quo. She believes that we each need to become a revolutionary and practice love every day. And if Joyce has her way, the revolution will spread - person by person, house by house, town by town, until the old culture of selfishness and greed gives way to a new culture of concern for others.

The book is a revolutionaries' manual, a hands-on primer for bringing the Golden Rule to life in the twenty-first century. Meyer starts out by giving some stunning statistics. Right now...210,000 children will die this week because of poverty; 640 million children do not have adequate shelter; every day, 3,000 children are abducted into the sex-trafficking industry; every day, 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. She goes on to say that although crisis is global, the solution is local. We can't solve the world's problems, but that isn't a reason to remain idle.

LOVE REVOLUTION focuses on personal behavior on the local scale. It's not just a call to action; it is a call to being: being the person who goes out of your way to encourage someone who's out of hope; being the one who smiles at a stranger; being the one who is willing to do something for nothing. The paradox: when we do something for nothing, what we often get is something far greater.

The Love Revolution is an excellent Scripture-based, God-focused book. If you questioned her past theology, I urge you to give this book a chance. If you liked her past books, definitely get this one as well!

I'd summarize this book's message as being 'the fulfillment of our faith in Christ is following his example (and showing our appreciation for the mercy he has shown us) by showing that love and mercy to others.' She teaches a Biblical, balanced view of how to do life.

The book is written in a conversational, easy-to-understand style. She gives practical suggestions of things we can do (both big and small), cheers her readers on, and explains why showing love to others in real, tangible ways is important. I liked that she stressed doing small, everyday acts of love for those around us as well as the big, obvious things like helping stop sex trafficking and such. Little things might not seem important, but I've seen how they can make a huge impact.

She repeats several points throughout the book, but they are important points that bear repeating. She often uses the outreach ministries done by her organization as examples of possible ways to love others, but she also gives examples from other people's ministries, suggests doing things her organization doesn't do, and tells how her personal experiences in showing love (which often resulted in a new outreach) has impacted her life.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book, especially to those who haven't really thought about helping others as a way to grow closer to God or who want ideas on more ways they can show Christ's love to others.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Six
At the age of thirty-two, I found myself very frustrated because my Christianity didn't seem to be helping me in my practical, everyday life. I believed I would go to heaven when I died, but I was desperate for some help to get through each day on earth with peace and joy. My soul was filled with pain from the abuse of my childhood and I manifested that pain daily in my attitudes and inability to maintain good relationships.

God's word tells us that if we seek Him diligently we will find Him (see Prov. 8:17). I began seeking God on my own for whatever I was missing, and I had an encounter with Him that brought me much closer to Him. He suddenly seemed very present in my daily life and I began to study diligently in order to know Him better. It seemed that everywhere I turned, I heard about faith. I learned that I could apply my faith in many circumstances, which would open a door for God to get involved and help me.

I believed with all my heart that the principles I was learning were correct, but I still experienced great frustration because I couldn't seem to get them to work for me, at least not to the degree to which I desperately needed them to work. At that time, God was using me in ministry, and my ministry to others was actually quite large. I had definitely made tremendous progress, but still felt deep within my heart that something was missing, so once again I began to seek God in a serious way. Through my searching and deeper study I learned that I was missing the main lesson Jesus came to teach us; to love God, love ourselves, and love others (see Matt. 22:36-39). I had learned a lot about faith as I walked with God, but I had not learned about the power of love.

During the several years of my journey of learning about this marvelous subject, I realized that faith only works through love. According to Galatians 5:6, faith is actually "activated and energized and expressed" through love.

The Holy Spirit led me to study Psalm 37:3: "Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good." I was startled to realize that I had only half of what I needed to know to connect properly with God. I wanted good things to happen to me, but I was not overly concerned about being good to others, particularly when I was hurting or going through a time of personal trial.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Quotes: Focus on Christ

From Because He Loves Me by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick (page 99):

...if she thought her wounds were too serious to be so easily healed she would miss God's gracious gift. This is the downfall of everyone who sees their failures as being greater than God's grace.

Look up from your reading again and focus on [another] object for a moment. When you looked away you couldn't read this page, could you? In the same way, the Lord calls us to fasten our eyes on him and not on all the sinful toxins in our heart (Isa. 45:22; Mic. 7:7). We're invited to look away from ourselves and our great need and to focus on his overflowing bounty...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giveaway Winner for The Mormon Mirage

The winner was randomly selected by numbering the entrants in the order they entered and picking the winner using a random number generator. The winner of The Mormon Mirage by Latayne C. Scott is:


Congratulations! I'll contact you for your mailing address.

If you didn't win, you can always get this book from your favorite book store. (If you're going to buy online, please consider buying through the Books-A-Million ad/link in the sidebar so we can have more giveaways in the future.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

November Book: Fearless


by Max Lucado

Hardback: 224 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: review copy from the publisher

Why I Chose This Book:
I chose Fearless to be our November/December book club discussion book because it's God-focused, Scripture-focused, and deepens the reader's trust in God.

This excellent and timely book covers why we fear and how to be released from the fear of not mattering, of disappointing God, of running out of time, of not being able to protect your kids, of challenges that might overwhelm you, of worst-case scenarios happening, of violence, of not being able to provide for your family, of an unknown future, of death, that maybe God isn’t real after all, of global calamity, and of God doing something you don’t want him to. There's also a discussion guide at the back of the book.

With so many people telling us that we need to fear (not to mention give them money to make the fearsome thing go away), sometimes it's hard to keep our focus on Christ. As Christians, we know that we shouldn't worry, yet we often do. This book helps readers get their focus right and find lasting peace in the deep-down assurance that God really is in control, does care about us, and will fulfill his promises.

Even if you decide not to buy this book, please still take the time to read the first chapter. It's a good reminder even if you already know these truths, and it's vital for those who don't know but who want peace and assurance about the present and future.

A smaller booklet, "Imagine Your Life Without Fear" by Max Lucado, also came for review with the hardback book. It contains the first chapter of the Fearless book (which is an excellent chapter) plus a short, outreach chapter and a chapter containing Bible verses pertaining to all the fears covered in Fearless. If you can't afford to buy Fearless for all your friends, this booklet is an excellent alternative.

Back Cover Description:
Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear.

They're talking layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flare-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, downturns in the housing market, upswings in global warming. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word terror. Fear, it seems, has taken up a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversized and rude, fear herds us into a prison of unlocked doors. Wouldn't it be great to walk out?

Imagine your life, wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, or doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, where you could trust more and fear less.

Can you imagine your life without fear?

Except from Chapter One:
[Max Lucado has been discussing Mathew 8:23-28, where Jesus is sleeping peacefully through a sudden storm that has hit the lake as he and his disciples are in a boat sailing to the other side.]

The question: "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38).

They do not ask about Jesus' strength: "Can you still the storm?" His knowledge: "Are you aware of the storm?" Or his know-how: "Do you have any experience with storms?" But rather, they raise doubts about Jesus' character: "Do you not care..."

Fear does this. Fear corrodes our confidence in God's goodness. We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in our storms, if his eyes stay shut when our eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after we get on his boat, does he care? Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts.

And it turns us into control freaks. "Do something about the storm!" is the implicit demand of the question. "Fix it or...or...or else!" Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of a house, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.

Read the first 35 pages.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Review: Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller
by Gary M. Burge

Trade Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
Communication in Jesus' world involved the use of word pictures, dramatic actions, metaphors, and stories. Rather than lecture about religious corruption, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as "whitewashed tombs." Rather than outline the failings of the Temple, he cures a fig tree. Without a perceptive and careful use of the culture of the ancient world, we read the stories of Jesus as foreigners.

In this second volume in the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series, Gary Burge applies the insights of biblical scholarship, cultural anthropology, and the traditions of the Middle East to reveal glimpses of Jesus' original meaning now lost to us. Featuring beautiful color pictures, maps, and artwork, Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller is written for the reader that loves the Bible and its history and yet wonders if more discoveries still lie ahead. They do.

[Note: "Cures a fig tree" should be "curses a fig tree," but the error is printed in the back cover copy so I repeated it here.]

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller is a useful Bible reference book. It gave some basic information on Middle Eastern storytelling techniques of Jesus' time period, then discussed cultural background information and the meaning of several parables: a friend that comes at midnight, a father's gifts, the great banquet, the good Samaritan, the servant forgiven of a huge debt, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, and the foolish rich farmer.

The information was interesting and filled out what was happening in the parables, but only once did it change my understanding of the meaning of the parable. I was baffled by how the author often stated that Westerners assume or teach certain things about a parable, yet I've never assumed or heard such taught about it. I guess that's the problem with using generalities, though, and I suppose the author must have heard it taught that way somewhere.

The author gave mini-sermons on how to apply the lessons of the parables to our own lives. The book contained lovely color photographs that illustrated what the text was referring to.

Several times, the author briefly referred to details of an Old Testament story but gave the wrong information. (For example, he states Jacob sold his heritage for a pot of stew, yet it's Esau who sells his birthright. And he has Cain claiming to take a sevenfold revenge when it's God who makes that promise.) Unfortunately, this made me wonder how carefully the author checked the accuracy of the other information he stated--though I do believe most of it is correct.

Overall, the book was a quick read and easy to understand, and it's a good book on the parables of Jesus for those who can't get enough of this type of information or who wouldn't bother with a longer book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Matthew notes that when Jesus had finished his inaugural sermon in Galilee (Matt. 5 – 7) the audience was utterly astounded, “When Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (7:28). Luke writes that when Jesus completed his first presentation in his home synagogue in Nazareth, the audience was thrilled, then stunned, then enraged; finally, they nearly killed him. Speakers know when they have successfully “landed” their message: either the audience carries you out on its shoulders with cheers and acclaim or they plot how they might toss you off a cliff (Luke 4:29).

Skilled teachers in Jesus’ day could spin a good tale. They used gross exaggeration and ridiculous comparisons simply to keep their listeners with them. They used humor and puns, drama and harsh comparison in order to make their point. On one occasion Jesus criticized his opponents by telling them that their religious pursuits were absurd. They overlooked weighty spiritual matters but debated the minutia of religion as if the entire world depended on it.

He told them, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24). No doubt when the crowd heard such statements, they couldn’t help but laugh at the image of Pharisees picking gnats out of their teeth but swallowing entire camels. The gross comparison is both offensive and humorous — and it is clever. In Jesus’ native speech (Aramaic), the word for gnat is galma while the word for camel is gamla. Jesus had actually said, “You strain out a galma but all along you swallow gamla.” Reversing two simple letters gave the saying a sharp-edged and memorable poignancy.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Book Quotes: Where Was God?

From Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz (page 145):

Two of the biggest questions I wrestled with as I thought back on my abuse were, Jesus, where were You? and Why didn't You intervene? Two answers have come to my heart and have helped bring peace, even though these questions cannot be fully explained. First of all, Jesus was with me. I have no question about that. He has revealed that over and over through His word, and His Word is truth. He was and is with you as well. Second, Jesus did do something. He did intervene. He died on the cross. He entered this sinful world where people have and will continue to do horrendous things and He did something about that evil. We may not see the good this side of heaven, but we will one day.