Book Review

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#Atheism#Confrontation#BadRep

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

In one of my posts last week I reviewed two books dealing with abuse. You can read that here. Bookending those two books were two books of similar vein on a subject, but approaching it from different perspectives.  I had this first book and then read the two on abuse, but I needed to get away from that subject for a bit so I read the book which is my second review.  I’m now reading a totally different book because I like variety as well as needing a more biblical study.  So here are my reviews of the two books.

My first is Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion

Rebecca was not raised in “Christian” America, but in the UK. Her Christianity was not handed to her on a silver-plated American Christianity platter (my words not hers). But trust me when I say she is nobody’s lackey.  This woman is smart and knows her stuff. Her book is subtitled 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion and she delivers the goods. I wondered if I would be overwhelmed by the sheer “brain power” she brings to the table. I am happy to say Rebecca has done an excellent job of making it so that even we who are not deep thinkers can understand her writing. This book is so good I have given one copy to my small group leader, one to a searching college student, and have another copy for someone I love. Here are just a few of the questions she asks and answers (masterfully I believe) :

  • How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?
  • Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?
  • How Can You Take the Bible Literally?
  • Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
  • Isn’t Christianity Homophobic? {Note: Rebecca admits to her former struggle with SSA so she writes from an “insider’s” viewpoint.}
  • How Can a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?

That’s just half the questions. This is one of my nominees for “Book of the Year” (as if I have any say).  I love Rebecca’s writing style and her attention to the answers. Never harsh but always engaging. I do believe you will benefit from this book.

I followed Rebecca’s book with another that intrigued me: Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp (MJ). 

Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God

Her book is subtitled “A Former Atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” The book is aptly titled. MJ came from a non-religious home and chose atheism, but eventually came to know Jesus as her Savior. (You can read the book’s introduction for her story).  How she stayed with Jesus and the church is a miracle in itself (in my book anyway). The day she came to church with her husband to declare her choice to follow Christ, the pastor’s wife did not welcome her or congratulate her but to tell her she needed to wear a different dress-one that showed less cleavage. She doesn’t say whether it did or not, but I would have probably turned around and walked out. Eventually, she and her husband found themselves involved in ministry full-time (he was a worship leader). Meanwhile, she is struggling with Christians who are giving God and the church a bad name. One heart-breaking example (and one which made my blood boil) came when she brought a friend who was an atheist-seeker to church and he was literally blown off and embarrassed by the self-righteous teacher and the pastor of the church (who publicly humiliated him) because he dared ask a question which challenged their way of thinking. From her own awkwardness of defending her belief in the resurrection with a co-worker (she is a music teacher in a public school); to learning about Islam (a great discussion and info on Islam is included) from her dear friend, the late Nabeel Qureshi; to her confidence in apologetics, she never loses sight of her purpose: how annoying and “turn-off-ish” many Christians can be. I’d have to say it is a good thing she had a pretty solid faith and a good husband who helped her stay grounded. 

MJ’s book was different from Rebecca’s in that it took on issues facing the church within, whereas Rebecca’s focused more on questions from without. MJ’s book read easily also. And she gave some great answers along the way in a very clear style.

I would highly recommend both of these books be part of your reading list. If you know of someone who is struggling with their faith or have questions about hypocrisy within the church, have them read these.

#HardReads#Abuse#Essential#Review

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

I haven’t been on here much lately. There are various reasons but they are legitimate. Least I think so. 🙂 First, there is that thing called “work.” You know…that thing that helps pay the bills; gets me up in the morning; has me traveling to multiple hospitals. You know…non-essential stuff.

Then (and this may not seem legitimate to you but is to me) I have been doing a copious amount of reading. Aside from my regular sermon prep time and my at-home Quiet Time, I have been a “reading fool” of late. I have started some books and laid them aside because another has taken precedence or is more relevant at the time.  This review is going to be of two of the three powerful and impactful books I have read recently. The reason is they are along the same subject line. Another review will follow on the third book, which is completely opposite of these two. I read it for that very reason.

My first review is on a book I simply had trouble putting down. It was one of those sad, “I hate to read this book” book, but it was also contemporary because of its recent news coverage and its topic.  What Is a Girl Worth? by Rachel Denhollander is a non-fiction account of her coming to grips with the United States Gymnastics Association (USGA) and her abuse at the hands of the gymnastics sports doctor, Larry Nasser.

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics (Hardcover)

Rachel was working her hardest to become a world-class gymnast when physical issues led her to a sports doctor who was recommended by many others- Dr. Larry Nasser. The abuse began immediately but it took awhile for her to realize what was happening. Strange thing: her mother was in the room and Dr. Nasser did it in such a way to hide it from her so that she had no idea what was happening. Rachel was the first to speak up against Dr. Nasser’s abuse. Rachel became the trickle which became a waterfall which became a hurricane with gale force winds that eventually exposed Dr. Nassar and those complicit with him.

This was a hard book to read and I wept as I read some of it. Be prepared to be convicted; alerted; informed; and even a tad bit angry as you read her story. Stonewalling. Denial. Cover up. Finally justice for Rachel and countless other young girl gymnasts. Rachel is a Christ-follower and makes that known almost immediately. It even comes out in her presentation at Nasser’s trial. She also helps the reader understand why the “wheels of justice turn slowly.”

The other book was a bit different. More clinical and technical and far more biblical. Not that Rachel’s wasn’t but it wasn’t the same type of book. Not Forsaken by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is her story of life after abuse.

Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor

This abuse was (in many eyes) much more hideous. The abuser was her father, a man who studied and taught the Bible in church but was totally different at home. Her mother helped cover it up. Jennifer’s abuse was mental, physical, and at times sexual. This is her tale of coming to grips with it all. Her book is different from Rachel’s book in that Jennifer’s book analyzes and shows how the abuse from her father clouded everything-her relationships with men, especially her husband, and her relationship with God. Like I said, far more technical in that she spends a lot of time helping the reader understand her mental state and spiritual struggle as she came to grips with her father’s abuse.

I would highly recommend both books.  I still have one more book to read along the same lines called Becoming a Church that Cares Well for The Abused by Brad Hambrick (General Editor), which also includes material from Rachel. But after reading these two books I had to take a break. That is where my next review comes into play.  If you choose to read these two books, bring a Kleenex and check your anger at the door.

#ReadThis

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

We are so different…she and I.

I’m white. She is not.

I’m a man. She is not.

I’m tall. She is not.

I have no hair. She has tons of it. 🙂

I like rock music. I’m guessing she does not.

I’m a lifetime heterosexual. She was a lesbian.

I write for fun. She writes for her livelihood.

But one thing we have in common. We both believe in the power of redemption that comes from the Cross of Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on that cross.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been

I have to admit my first thought about reading this book since its release several months ago was I don’t want to read or hear of another “I-was-born-this-way-so-don’t-ask-me-to-change” book.  But after reading review after review I decided to take the plunge and buy it. Then I had to read it after a few weeks on my shelf. (In fairness, I was reading another book at the time).

I. AM. SO. GLAD. I. READ. THIS. BOOK!! I would highly recommend it to everyone. JHP’s way of saying things shows her “wordsmith” talents. I don’t need to be a fan of her style of poetry or music to like the way she says things in this book. Straight-forward.  Non-compromising in her stance. Honest in her discussion of her past (molestation, abuse, drug use and lesbianism). I was impressed when on page 37 she said, “It is important to note that sexual abuse is not what made me gay. Nor did fatherlessness. They only exaggerated and helped direct the path for what was already there-which is sin.”  No blame. No “I was born gay.” Just a note at the bottom of the page stating sin was the culprit. Thank you JHP for that truth.

I tire of those who hate gays. No…make that I distance myself from them. I don’t hate gays; I just don’t believe their lifestyle choice is biblical. I firmly believe same sex action is sin. But hating the person is not Christ-like nor is it ever going to reach someone with the message of the love of Christ.  Just the exact opposite.  Our little community has a very vocal homosexual community. It boasts of having one of the best attended PRIDE festivals in the state, maybe the country. Tolerance they ask for only goes so far until you disagree with them. Recent vandalism against their property was uncalled for. But they are still people. Still people like thousands of others in our community and around the world who need Jesus.  Thanks to JHP’s book, I not only have a better attitude toward them, but I also have a book I can put in their inquiring minds and hands that will show them Jesus’ love.

My plan is to include some of her quotes in another post since this one has already gone on so long. I’d like to think you will look forward to that post. 🙂

I’d highly suggest you buy and read this book. Then pray for opportunities to pass it along or to put it into practice.

QuietRoar

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

A Quiet Roar: Sometimes Disruption Is Overdue

Over the years I have read a ton-and I mean a ton!- of books. As you might imagine, most are of the non-fiction type. After all, my work as a pastor requires I read, read, and read some more.

But every once in awhile I come across a fiction book that grips me and won’t let me go. Back in 1994 I read the very first book by Randall Arthur called Wisdom Hunter (WH). I read it one year later on a personal fasting retreat and wept through most of it because it was like looking into a mirror-seeing what I didn’t like-but wanting so badly to be what I read. WH was the final nail in my coffin of legalism. The follow up to that book was titled Betrayal, and once again I was filleted. Jason Faircloth, the pastor from WH made a very pointed appearance in Betrayal and once again pointed out the dangers of legalism. In between Mr. Arthur wrote Jordan’s Crossing, another Jason Faircloth book, only this time dealing with Jordan’s emptiness caused by liberalism. The final installment (or so I thought) was Forgotten Road, a novel dealing with the emptiness of the health/wealth (un)gospel. Jason made an appearance in that book as well.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when Randall Arthur’s publishing company announced a new novel! Man, I jumped on that like bugs on a night light. As it was I was #102 of 120 signed copies. I gotta tell ya! If you read no other novel this coming year, please please please read Quiet Roar. The main character is like a female version of Jason Faircloth. Take a hot topic (female pastors…which I am saying neither yay or nay to here); add in a lot of small town church drama; a mysterious woman; and even more mysterious benefactor; a dash of contemporary culture and world events (Muslims, the church not staying so “white”, and some other events); and I kid you not, you have a recipe for a lot of sleepless nights (or at least staying up past your normal bed time).  Right now it is only available from Amazon on Kindle. HOWEVER, you can purchase it directly from Randall’s website.  I personally know Randy and he is the real deal.

May I also suggest reading Wisdom Hunter and Betrayal (since renamed Brotherhood of Betrayal) as companion volumes? You can find all his other books on Amazon as well as his website. I GUARANTEE your life and faith will no longer be the same.

Think

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

Paul says in Philippians 4:8- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.”

Over the past week or so I have been reading God of Tomorrow, Caleb Kaltenbach’s new book.  A normal review will give the pros and cons , good points and bad points, and whether it is worth your while to read it.  I’m going to take a different approach in this post. I want to highlight several of his included quotes and thoughts. Then let you decide at the end if it is a book you want to invest your time in.

God of Tomorrow: How to Overcome the Fears of Today and Renew Your Hope for the Future

First, an explanation. Caleb’s book’s premise is focused around hope for tomorrow being the solution to the fears of today. He analyzes the culture pretty well and what should be the Christ-follower’s approach to the people who are the culture. Change is inevitable. It is how we react to that change which gives us our approach to people.  (My comments appear after)

“Combativeness without compassion is always going to be counterproductive.”  We need to have our beliefs but we don’t have to cram them down someone’s throat nor do we need to be militant.

“Our differences with people should drive us to them, not from them.” This is sure opposite of our “hunker down” attitude.

“Our fear is no match for the unlimited power and uncontested reign of God.  When will we learn this? Instead of fearing change, let’s hold to our beliefs but not shy away in fear.

“Hope reminds us that our best days are ahead, not behind us.”  And I might add not right now either. No apologies to Joel for that.

“Out-of-place people always have a place with God.”  I seem to remember someone telling a story about going to the highways and bi-ways to bring people into a meal. Hmmmm.  Maybe this would change our approach toward “unlovely” and “unacceptable, despicable” people we often have.

There are plenty more and I plan to use them during the next week as I post some thoughts. But the coup de grace for me was this one:

When people look at your (my) life, it should be so easy for them to see Jesus in how you (I) treat them, love them, and share truth with them. (p.201)

What do you think of those quotes? Think you might get this book?

 

Suicide

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Warning. Spoiler Alert. This is not going to be a fun post to read. Or write for that matter.  This is not a fun subject, a joking matter, or something to be taken lightly. Everyone of us has probably, in some way, been touched by suicide. Either we are survivors of it (those left behind) or we know someone who has threatened suicide or someone who died of suicide.  As a pastor I would love to say it has never touched a church I have pastored or affected someone in the church. I could give you statistics but that would belabor it.  Because I am a pastor, and because I want to reach out to the survivors, I felt a definite need to “read up” on it. I feel God definitely led me to a book called Grieving a Suicide by Albert Y. Hsu. A few months after his wedding, Dr. Hsu’s father took his life. No doubt depression played a major part in his father’s actions after a major stroke three months earlier.

What makes this book so helpful is his personal involvement in it. It is not a clinical “this-is-what-is-wrong-with-people” approach. Nor is it a book which condemns people to hell who take their life (I won’t do that either). What I especially liked about the book is it can be read and understood by the common person. Like me. I have no visions of grandeur about my intelligence. I like things simple. Dr. Hsu does that. He doesn’t back down from the hard questions but neither does he get heavy-handed. The ones who won’t like this book are those looking for proof of condemnation. If you are one of those, go looking at the comics. I prefer not to cross swords or paths with you.

Here is one example of down-to-earth teaching: there is some discussion about the use of terms-committed suicide vs  completed suicide. I have always use the former but there is someone in the church who uses the latter. His thoughts? Survivor’s react against the former saying it sounds criminal. I’ll grant that now. The latter, he says, “sounds like a laudatory accomplishment…It comes across as somewhat clinical and cold.” (p.169)  His suggestion? “My dad died from suicide” or “my dad took his own life.”  He also recoils against describing suicide as “successful.” (p.170).

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. It is also interspersed with excellent and informative items like “Warning Signs of Suicide”; “Facts About Suicide”; and others. It is helpful if you are a survivor and are looking for help, and it is helpful if you want to help someone. Check out the right sidebar of my blog for more information on the book.

Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope

Devotional

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Product Details

I know what you are going to say (least I think I might): “You really like that Paul David Tripp don’t you?” The answer would be “Yes.” I have recommended several books by him here on my blog: New Morning Mercies, a 365 day daily devotion; and Whiter Than Snow, a devotion on sin and mercy. I read and reread one a week. I’ve read several others by PDT and have not been disappointed by any. His Dangerous Calling may be the best book on Pastoral Ministry I have ever read (get your pastor a copy) and Awe is a phenomenal book on recapturing awe for God.  My latest has been the one highlighted, Come Let Us Adore Him.

I wanted something different this year for Christmas (Advent if you prefer). When I saw this book I confess I went on his track record. I was not disappointed! I did something unique (I think). I bought it in October so I read 2 chapters a morning so I could go through it by the end of the month. During this month (November) I have taken one day (read December 1 on November 1, etc) each morning. Starting December 1 I will read it again for the third time. Each time I highlighted something different. For some books one time through is enough. Not for this one! There is so much meat in each day’s devotional I have this sneaking suspicion even three times through won’t be enough (but I will stop at 3 until next Christmas). To make it even more interesting each chapter ends with Scripture to follow up with and also a what-to-do-if-you-have-children suggestion.

I know it may be getting late for you to get a copy of this book and make use of it, but I don’t think it is.  I’d suggest ordering this book and “get with this program” during the month of December. I believe it will make your Christmas season “pop” a little bit more.

Awakened

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Several years ago I reviewed a book by an online friend. It was called Shaken Awake by Allen Madding.  Since it was before I met many of you here, you can read my review of that book here. Several weeks ago, Allen contacted me and asked if I would review his newest book, Awakened.

Product Details

Shaken Awake was centered around a snow storm which hit Atlanta and literally crippled the city. After all, since when has it snowed like that in Atlanta? You can read my thoughts on Shaken Awake by reading the review.  Allen follows on the heels of that book with a sequel, which he has entitled Awakened.

The sequel follows the soul-stirring result of Pastor Sam and one of his leaders, Phil, as they are both moved to the depth of their soul because of the snow storm. Not only that, Pastor Sam is deeply rocked by the death of a homeless man on the steps of the Peachtree Church which he pastors. The church is in dire straits financially, as well as morale, and “what will we do about our future?” Pastor Sam comes in contact and befriends Fred, Miss Gladys, Lewis Davis and other homeless people in his continuing journey to come to grips with the homeless population and how he can help. We also meet others who are not part of the homeless community- community leaders, movers and shakers- who take an interest in the homeless of their city.

Eventually Pastor Sam and Phil hear of a community in Austin, TX (a real-live one in real life) called Community First! Village and its corresponding outreach called Mobile Loaves and Fishes, which has done an amazing job of listening to and addressing the needs of the homeless in Austin. That real life ministry is led by Alan Graham. After a visit to Community First!, Pastor Sam and Phil know they have their work cut out for them. Community First! is a planned community designed to address homelessness. (I have Alan’s book in my Amazon cart).

I don’t want to say any more about the gist of the book because I would have to put up Spoiler Alert! all over the place. So let me just encourage you to buy Allen’s book. I had trouble putting it down, but forced myself so I could go to bed several nights in a row. My reading time was limited so finding the time to read was a real struggle but I made time after I started reading. 10 minutes here. Half hour there. An hour or two here. That is how caught up I was in this book. My emotions were all over the place. My mind raced to make application to my little town. I want to do something to change this whole situation. I believe you will also be stirred by reading this book and may even want to become locally active in addressing the homeless situation in your community.

Allen has written a great book and has presented a doable challenge to all of us.

Enjoyment2

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

In my last post I reviewed the first three books in my blogging friend, Martha Orlando’s, Glade series. You can read that review here. I’d like to review the final three (for now) in her series which she titled Adventures in the Glade.

This series picks up where the other three left off. Jim, Davy’s step-father, has a cousin who was introduced in the first three books. Martha fleshes him out a lot more in these three books, as well as his family and those whom Cousin Ronnie is in league with. Yeah…that’s a Spoiler Alert because I’ve just told you that Cousin Ronnie is rotten to the core and his master plan is to not only take over the house but also the property, which houses the Glade (better known as the place where the Old Ones live).

What I won’t tell you is how it turns out for all the parties. The Old Ones run into some difficulty, especially “Reverend” (the Owl renamed by Davy). Racer, the Grey squirrel (also renamed) plays a prominent part in all three novels as well.

I got into these last three so much I wanted to keep reading. I found myself wondering how this was going to be solved and how that was going to be straightened out. I was surprised (as was Jim) with a certain revelation which comes to light in Book 3.  No Spoiler Alert here because I’m not going to spill the beans. These last three were a thoroughly enjoyable read and a fitting conclusion to the series. Although…like all good writers Martha has left the door open for maybe at least one more book.  I’m hoping she finds the inspiration to do so.

Note to Martha: You did a fine job crafting a good and entertaining series.

Note to you, the reader: check these out. If you have children they would make great stories to read to them (any age) or let them read themselves (I’d say above the age of 10). Like Davy, your children may find a world of fascination not in a video game, a Gameboy, or a TV/DVD, but in books.

Enjoyment

Monday, August 7th, 2017

I have had some pretty heavy posts lately so I thought I would lighten up a bit. My blogging friend, Martha Orlando, has written a six-book series of “fantasy novels.” I use that word fantasy because I don’t know what else to use. 🙂 Much like the Chronicles of Narnia, they use animals and children to tell a much deeper story. Below is a picture of the first three in The Glade Series. I started reading them well over a year ago but since the second half were not complete at the time, I laid them aside. But since I was unable to do much of anything except sit in a solid chair and read, I decided to pick them up again and read all six. This post will review the first three…The Glade Series.

What would you say to a 10 year old boy who misses his father (died in the military); doesn’t like his new step-father (Jim); argues constantly with his sister; is always angry at his mother; and is now being taken to a house where he will spend the whole summer with his family AND no internet, no TV, and no friends? Yeah, I don’t know either.

But Davy’s first night there he finds something is different and has a surprising encounter with a squirrel (Grey) and an owl (Wise One) that changes his entire summer. Well, let’s just say it changes him. I can’t and don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to have to write Spoiler Alert in this review. Let’s just say Davy is in for a fantastic summer, along with his whole family, as he meets the “Old Ones.” I thoroughly enjoyed the escape this series offered me. You will too.

I’m glad I went back and reread these three before moving on to the final three (next post).  It was a good refresher for me, plus there was so much I had forgotten. Someone is bound to say, “You are an adult. What are you reading children’s books for?” I would simply say, “Have you ever read the Chronicles of Narnia?” C.S. Lewis wrote those for the children in his life, but they are enjoyed and appreciated by adults as well as children. (least this adult). Martha has written an entertaining Glade Series and I have already passed them on to some of our young children.  I hope you will also give them a read. You can get them from Amazon or directly from Martha’s Glade site.