Book Review : What Works

whatworksThere is no shortage of books espousing a particular political viewpoint these days. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or somewhere in between, someone has written about what you believe. Such a book has been written by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. His book, “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” is a strong summary statement of conservative Republican beliefs and viewpoints. Going one step further, Thomas also writes from the conservative Evangelical Christian worldview. He believes it is Groundhog Day in Washington, DC. What Thomas sees coming out of Washington are the same ideas, the same talking points, the same “fixes” that have never worked with simply a new name. He believes Congress is stuck in a loop that mirrors Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day.

Thomas is a newspaper columnist. This book is certainly written in that vein. He is direct and to the point. He pulls no punches. His research is solid and allows our founding documents to demonstrate how far we have drifted from our traditional Judeo-Christian beginning. He smartly uses these documents, the verbal positions of lawmakers today, and the Bible to show where we truly are as a nation today. His book has four main parts with multiple sub-points. Part One deals with looking to the past at what did not work and employing common sense for future work. Part Two magnifies the importance of people and minimizes the importance of politics. Part Three gives practical steps on solving our problems today. Part Four gives attention to those things what make a difference going forward. If you are looking for a book that lays out the conservative Republican agenda, this is it. Smart. Timely. Educational. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Harper Collins Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Killing Jesus

killingjesusThis week is what is known as Passion Week within the Christian community. This week represents Jesus’ last week on earth. Within these seven days we see Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday. We see Jesus observing the Passover meal with His disciples and the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper. We see His passionate and burdened prayer to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. We see His betrayal by one of His own and His subsequent arrest. We also see His mock trials before the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas and the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Within this week we also see His scourging, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Questions surround Passion Week. Questions such as “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?”, “Why did Jesus have to die?”, “What part did Rome play?”, and many others like these are asked, some deep within ourselves. In his new book, “Killing Jesus; The Unknown Conspiracy Behind the World’s Most Famous Execution”, New York Times Best Selling Author Stephen Mansfield has written a monumental work that sets the stage for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mansfield’s approach to this book is unlike any I have ever seen in this subject. In his introduction he writes, “The execution of Jesus was a crime born of the streets, the barracks, the enclaves of the privileged, and the smoke-filled back rooms of religious and political power brokers.” This simple sentence will be fully developed as the book unfolds and the reality of Mansfield’s conspiracy comes to light. He writes as if he is putting onto paper what the characters and onlookers might have been thinking. His brilliant symmetry of four different languages, three different calendaring systems, and lesser known historical accounts make this book work, and work well. In his twenty-one chapters, Mansfield introduces the players in the conspiracy, the cultural contexts and nuances, and the motives behind the conspiracy to put to death the Son of God.

Killing Jesus is an all-out assault on the senses. Mansfield employs a writing style that mimics that of a painter. He enables the reader to feel as if they are part of the crowds at the arrest, the trials, and the crucifixion. His style of writing lets the reader taste the disgust that the High Priest had for Jesus and see the disappointment in Jesus’ face at the betrayal. The reader can hear the bleating of thousands of lambs being slaughtered on Good Friday and the smell the blood that was subsequently shed. He writes, “Then, in that otherworldly voice that has come from him just moments before, he shouts, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’. It is more than a shout. It is a scream, really. And since it is three in the afternoon on the Day of Preparation, his scream blends with the screaming of the lambs. And he is gone.” This book is more felt than read. Mansfield has a winner here. This book is powerful, convicting, sobering. I would dare say it is a must read for all who wish to better understand Jesus’ Passion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Worthy Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Movies of Faith : Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

In the past decade or so, we have seen a rise in the number of faith-based movies coming out of Hollywood. Beginning with Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, we have witnessed a steady stream of movies that highlight personal faith in Jesus Christ and how that faith makes a difference in everyday life. Sherwood Baptist Church has offered encouraging and inspiring works such as Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. History Channels’ The Bible television mini-series offered a look at the life of Christ through the New Testament. Most recently, we have seen three movies that have done, and are doing very well at the box office. Those movies are Son of God, God’s Not Dead, and Noah.

The success and positive witness of certain movies have also been met with doubt and skepticism within the Christian community. There seems to be, at least to me, a disturbing trend developing among Christians and Christian leadership related to faith-based movies. The trend: when the film deviates from the biblical narrative in any way whatsoever, the film should be dismissed as having no value. Of all the movies listed above, all but one were produced from an unapologetic Christian worldview. They have enjoyed very little criticism and doubt.

The movie that is causing a firestorm today is Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. According to the press release, Noah is an “epic biblically-based fantasy film” and is “loosely based on the story of Noah’s Ark. The Christian community seems to be in an uproar because a Hollywood movie about Noah does not resemble the Sunday School story and look of Noah. There is some heartache that the movie takes some liberties as it relates to the person of Noah, the historical record of the flood, and the nature/character of God. As a pastor and Christian, I do not like to see a biblical narrative skewed and distorted. To be honest, I have not seen Noah at the box office. My thoughts are based on what I have read about the movie. I would point you here and here for a solid review of the movie by Dr. Jerry Johnson, President of the National Religious Broadcasters. As you try to decide whether or not you will see Noah, or any other faith-based Hollywood film, let me offer a few things to consider.

1. It is unrealistic to expect a Hollywood producer or director who is not a follower of Christ to produce a biblically-accurate, true to the gospel narrative film. Priorities and motives are different for Christians. I can only assume Noah’s director wanted to make a movie that made money.

2. It is critical that every Christian know what the Bible teaches for these reasons:

a. Your understanding of the Bible will keep you from being misled and pulled away toward any falsehood.

b. Your understanding of the Bible will allow you to hold a conversation with the person who believes the Hollywood movie is the truth.

3. Any conversation, whether positive or negative, that focuses on Jesus Christ, faith, the Bible, or redemption is better than no conversation at all. I’ll take a “biblically-inspired fantasy” and a “loosely based story of Noah” any day of the week if it will begin a conversation about God and His plan and love for this world.

Book Review : Mission Drift

missiondriftEvery business or ministry had a reason for its beginning. In the mind of the executive or ministry leader, there was a specific reason for launch. At the root of their existence was a service to be provided; whether it was for profit or not. In the beginning, it is very clear what the purpose and mission is. It is very easy to hold onto it. Over time however, the organization begins to make decisions and set priorities that pull them away from the original mission which causes a blurring of the lines. In the military community this phenomenon is known as mission creep. It is the broadening of the mission beyond the original goals and objectives. In the secular world it goes by a different name: mission drift. Peter Greer and Chris Horst, both serving with HOPE International have written a new book dealing with this very issue. “Mission Drift; The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches” is their contribution to the defeat of this silent killer.

Mission Drift can be defined as the gradual movement of a business or ministry away from its founding principles and mission. This is the natural tendency of any business or ministry. The authors begin their explanation of mission drift by providing a case study. They highlighted Harvard and Yale. Both Ivy League schools were, at their inception, schools dedicated to the training and equipping of pastors in the proclamation of the gospel. Fast forwarding to the current day, we see these two institutions have drifted from their distinctively Christian founding. Greer and Horst smartly weave stories of other companies who drifted from their original mission. Mission Drift organizations include Harvard, Yale, Big Idea® (Veggie Tales), Child Fund®, YMCA®, Pew Trusts®, and United Airlines®. The authors introduce another phrase into the discussion early on: mission true. Mission True organizations protect their identity and remain faithful to their founding principles/mission. In an attempt to educate organizations on how to remain true to their mission, Greer and Horst offer thirteen characteristics of Mission True organizations. A sample of those characteristics are that these organizations make hard decisions to protect and propel their mission, assume they will drift and build safeguards against it, and boldly proclaim their core tenets to protect themselves from drift. At the end of each chapter, there are steps to carrying out the given instruction. Examples of Mission True organizations are HOPE International ®, Intervarsity®, Young Life®, Cru®, and Buck Knives®.

As a pastor, I can see the reality of this book. Knowing our true purpose, it is a challenging task to keep society and culture from dictating what we do. Greer and Horst have written a book that will serve organizations positively in their pursuit of remaining mission true. The authors close with this statement, “Today, you have the privilege of choosing which path your organization, church, and ministry will take. Will you follow the path toward Mission Drift or will you have the intentionality, courage, and resolve to follow a path of faithfulness?” A solid, helpful, and much-needed work. I would recommend this book to all organizational and ministry leaders.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Things That Must Take Place; A Commentary on Revelation 4-22

thingsthatmustOf all the books in the Bible, the book of Revelation is arguably the most exciting book to study and the least understood. The language, imagery, and future events make it interesting, yet complicated. While at points invoking a sense of fear and angst, there is a greater sense of peace and comfort to be found in the fact that Jesus Christ will deal with this world in a way that honors the Father. There is no shortage of books, commentaries, and movies that deal with how the events of Revelation will unfold. Recently, I finished reading one such commentary. Pastor Tony Kessinger has written a commentary entitled, “Things That Must Take Place; a Commentary on Revelation Chapter 4-22”.

Kessinger, in his introduction, front loads a great deal of information that will help the reader as the book moves along. Kessinger begins with chapter four of Revelation which marks, as Kessinger states, “a break in the narrative” moving from the things that have been to the “things that must take place after these things.” It is also in chapter four that we find the church having been raptured out of the world. Kessinger speaks of methods of interpretation. He suggests that many scholars interpret the Bible literally until they get to Revelation and then shift to symbolic interpretation. He gives fifteen reasons why Revelation should be interpreted literally. Kessinger also describes the different millennial views of the Second Coming of Christ. The author holds to, and writes from, the premillennial viewpoint. Also, Kessinger explains the significance of certain numbers used throughout the book that cast a helpful light in many places.

The remainder of the book flows like most commentaries. Each chapter of Kessinger’s book deals with one chapter of Revelation. In these chapters, Kessinger offers a verse-by-verse exposition and giving appropriate attention to the weightier portions. He brings other prophetic scriptures (Daniel, Ezekiel) into this commentary for a balanced biblical exposition of end-times prophecy. What is unique and very helpful about this commentary is that Kessinger offers background information (word studies, historical people/places, etc.) that seem to pull everything together. For example, in the chapter covering Revelation 15, Kessinger offers what he calls a “Comparison of the Plagues of Egypt and the Revelation Judgments”. At the end of a majority of the chapters are two helpful features. There is a Sequence of Events that quickly gives a recap of the order of the previously described events. There is also an Application section. It is here that Kessinger answers the question, “What does this mean for me today?” This is a great book. I really enjoyed the work and will use it without a doubt.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Worthy Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Blood Moon Rising

4bloodmoonsProphecy and end-time discussion is big business today. We constantly see new books, studies, and movies that deal with various interpretations of end-time events. People are curious. People are scared. People today want to know if the failing economy and ongoing wars are a precursor to some apocalyptic event. The Bible is very clear in two things: the world as we know it will come to an end and there will be signs that point toward that end. Pastor and attorney Mark Hitchcock has written a book that addresses one of these believed signs pointing to the Lord’s coming. His book is called “Four Blood Moons; Bible Prophecy, Israel, and the Four Blood Moons”. The theory that a series of four blood moons are linked to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ was first brought to mainstream media by Mark Blitz and then picked up by John Hagee.

Hitchcock, speaking of signs says, “Simply stated, prophetic signs of the times are current events that foreshadow future events predicted in the Bible. Signs of the times are like signs on the highway: they point toward or herald what’s ahead. They indicate what’s coming. Signs of the times are not fulfillment of prophecy per se but are events that indicate future fulfillment of prophecy.” One such supposed “sign” that is gaining traction today is called the Blood Moon Prophecy. This prophecy is wrapped up in an astronomical event known as a tetrad. A tetrad is the appearance of four blood moons (lunar eclipses) falling on two Jewish feast days (Passover and Feast of Tabernacles) in successive years. Adding to the interest of this prophecy is the reality that significant events have happened in the nation of Israel in conjunction with the occurrence of these blood moons. There have been three previous tetrads (1493-1494, 1949-1950, and 1967-1968) with the next predicted for 2014-2015. This will be the final tetrad of this century. Hitchcock begins his book with an introduction as to what spiritual signs are how one should approach and respond to them. In order to present the proper framework and context for this later discussion regarding blood moons, Hitchcock gives ten signs that he believes are the “biblical framework or mirror for events today that serve as true signs of the times”. Chapters five, seven, and eight offer the much needed background and context.

Hitchcock’s book takes on a critique feel toward the latter half. He deals a lot with John Hagee’s book, “Four Blood Moons; Something is About to Change”. Hitchcock is not convinced that the blood moon prophecy, as an actual signpost to the Lord’s coming, holds water as many proponents do. Beginning in chapter seven, Hitchcock lays down his own groundwork as to why the blood moon prophecy is full of holes and is not reliable. The major premise of the blood moon prophecy is that the four blood moons serve as signs of major events in Israel’s history. Hitchcock examines the five passages of scripture that blood moon proponents base their theories upon. He concludes that blood moon theorists have two main problems. First, the major events that took place in the nation of Israel occurred before the actual tetrad. So, in the author’s conclusion, they cannot serve as a sign pointing forward. Second, the blood moon theorists are guilty of faulty methods of interpretation. When they look at the scriptures dealing with blood moons, they neglect the other signs that go along with it. Having read John Hagee’s “Four Blood Moons” prior to this one, I am convinced that blood moon theorists are guilty of proof-texting and sensationalism.

Mark Hitchcock has written a great book. It is well researched, balanced, and fair to the other books on the same subject. As this subject gains attention in the future, it is important to have a work that deals with the Blood Moons Prophecy in a way that highlights its flaws and shortcomings. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian who is interested in the signs that are pointing to the coming of the Lord.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : The People Factor

peoplefactorIn life, you cannot get around relationships. Regardless of where we go or what we do, there will be people involved. Whether it is school, work, church, or family, it is important that we know how to involve ourselves in healthy, functioning, and beneficial relationships. This is the premise of Pastor Van Moody’s new book “The People Factor; How Building Great Relationships and Ending Bad Ones Unlocks Your God-Given Purpose”. On this subject, Moody writes, “You have some kind of relationship with everyone you encounter. Some relationships are extremely personal and some are strictly professional. Some are casual and on-the-surface relationships, and some are intimate and deep. But every relationship you have influences your life. There are no neutral relationships. Each one lifts you up or weighs your down. It moves your forward or holds you back. It helps you or it hurts you.”

Moods begins the first section of his book by giving the reader ten relationship laws that govern all relationships regardless of the nature. These include the Laws of Being Real, Mutual Benefit, Agreement, Letting Go, Selectivity, Sacrifice, Against Secrets, True Value, Loyalty, and Constructive Transition. In each chapter, Moody goes into detail about how each law is fleshed out in our daily lives. Also, each chapter also has a Relationship Reminder section at the end that are simply bullet points that summarize the chapter. In addition, there are questions designed to dig deeper into the covered material in each chapter. In Section Two, Moody covers how to deal with unhealthy relationships by explaining what they look like and how to get out of them if necessary. In Section Three, Moody talks healthy relationships. He introduces the reader to what he calls the Vertical Factor. Speaking of God’s love, Moody writes, “This is the vertical aspect of relationship; it goes up and down, between God in heaven and us on earth.” Moody has a good book here. It is in-depth without being too much like a textbook. I highly recommend.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”