Book Review : No Greater Valor

nogreatervalorOne of my favorite genres of book is military history. I enjoy reading the accounts of actual battles that occurred at specific points and places in time and helped to shape history as we know it today. Of this entire genre, books that tell the true-to-life stories of the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War are the most intriguing to me. I recently finished a book that falls into this category. “No Greater Valor, The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle that Sealed Allied Victory,” by Jerome Corsi tells the story of the battle for the small, yet strategically important city of Bastogne in eastern Belgium. This battle, which lasted from December 20th –27th, 1944, was part of the larger Battle of the Bulge involving Allied and Nazi forces. Corsi tells how the 101st Airborne Division found themselves surrounded by German forces in an attempt to keep the Nazis from gaining control of the crossroads in Bastogne which led to their intended goal, the harbor at Antwerp. For their determination, toughness, and fierceness in battle, soldiers of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne earned the nickname the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne. “

No Greater Valor is more than a military narrative that simply explains people, places, missions, and tactics; although it does that very well. What makes this book an interesting read is the way in which Corsi explored the faith backgrounds of a number of the commanders and other key leaders in the battle. He provided a look into the loves of those such as Major General Troy Middleton, Major General James Gavin, Father Francis Sampson, General George S. Patton, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In doing so, Corsi proposes that the faith of the individuals allowed God’s providential care to be experienced by everyone. At points, the book felt like a textbook or military tactics manual. Regardless, Corsi’s book is a good work. If you enjoy military history, you will enjoy this book. It is well worth your time.

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.”

Book Review : When Lions Roar

lionsroarArguably the two most famous families of the twentieth century were the Churchills and the Kennedys. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II and was a fierce ally of the United States. His assertive and sometimes flamboyant persona made him a figure of constant attention. Few would argue the impact that the Kennedy’s had on this nation. With John F. Kennedy’s election to the presidency in 1960 came the public image of many referred to as “Camelot”. His brother, Robert served as U.S. Attorney General during JFK’s presidency. The Kennedy family owes their political start and passions to their father Joe. These two families come together in Thomas Maier’s new book, “When Lions Roar; The Churchills and the Kennedys”.

Maier begins with the initial meeting of Joe Kennedy and Winston Churchill as Kennedy was appointed as ambassador to Great Britain under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is from this point that Maier sets out to tell the story how these two families became close friends and political allies. However, that is about the best part of the book. Maier, in an attempt to tell the side of the story that many may not know, he reduces the end product to that of a Hollywood tabloid. Some may enjoy reading of extra-marital affairs and the like, but it didn’t work for me. If you are looking of a serious rendering of the careers and contributions of these two families, you may want to look somewhere else.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah 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 : Churchless

churchlessI have been in the pastoral ministry for sixteen years. I have seen a lot of things in those years; some good and some not so good. One of the disturbing trends that I have seen is the lack of church attendance by professing Christians. For whatever reason, people are choosing to not attend organized religious services. The reasons are many. There are some who would say that attending church is not worth their time. There are some who would say that they can worship God apart from organized religion. There are some who would say that they will attend a church service if they can fit it into their already busy schedule. David Kinnaman and George Barna tackle this phenomenon in their latest book, “Churchless; Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect With Them.”

The content of this book is the compilation of a five year study which surveyed 20,000 unchurched and churched adults. As a result of this study, Kinnaman and Barna demonstrate that Americans fall into one of four categories as it relates to their relationship to the church.

1. The Actively Churched are those who attend church on a regular basis, meaning one a month or more.

2. The Minimally Churched are those who attend church services several times a year and whose attendance patterns are unpredictable.

3. The de-Churched are those who have been “churched” in the past but are now taking a break from the church. The authors discovered that this group is the fastest growing segment.

4. The Purely Unchurched are those who never attend a Christian worship service.

Kinnaman and Barna utilize eleven chapters to give their readers an in-depth look at those who made up their survey. They include topics such as demographics and self-descriptions of churchless people, what the unchurched think about religion, religious behaviors of churchless people, religious beliefs that define unchurched people’s faith, the paradox of trusting Christ but not the local church, understanding why people leave the church, family life among unchurched people, and goals, morals, and values of churchless adults.

Churchless has more positive notes than negative. The book does a great job of highlighting a sobering reality that the church is facing today. The authors also link to their website where their readers can gain access to color slides for further presentation. The greatest negative I would say is that the book left me asking “What do I do with this information?” It’s kind of like a doctor telling you that you are sick but not offering any medication to make you well. All in all Churchless is a great work. Church leaders would benefit greatly from reading this work.

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.”

Monday is For Missions : What Are You Doing For Others This Year?

mmThe Christmas season is upon us. Our city has begun putting up lights and decorations on the light poles that line the streets. Families have begun putting up their trees and are well into their Christmas shopping. Our church calendar is filling up quickly. Between class and ministry parties, choir celebrations, and Christmas-themed sermons, we are reminded at every turn that we have entered into a very special time in the life of the church; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It would be very easy for us to get lost in all of the fun and fellowship side of the holiday. There is certainly a place for all of these. I often tell our people that the priority in all that we do is life-changing ministry that leads others to worship the One True God and His Son Jesus. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy Christmas parties. I enjoy spending time with our various ministries/classes in times of fellowship. I enjoy the fun of the Christmas season. I am thankful that in the midst of all this, we prioritize ministry opportunities that intentionally introduce people to the love of the Savior. What does this look like for us?

1. Angel Tree Christmas Party

Angel Tree is a ministry program of Prison Fellowship which reaches out to the children of inmates who are incarcerated in our state prisons and their families with the love of Christ. Angel Tree gives us the opportunity to share the Savior’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the prisoner’s family. Angel Tree works to connect the gift requests/desires of the inmate for his/her family and the need for the children to remain connected to their parent during an especially emotional time of year. All of this happens while maintaining the dignity of both the inmate and the family. We help to provide toy and clothing gifts to the children as well as hand-written letters and family pictures to the inmates.

2. Christmas Party at Local Multi-Housing Complex

Across the street from our church is a multi-housing complex that have been volunteering and ministering in for many years. We take time on a Saturday and provide a simple party for the residents and children. There is food, games, a small gift, and a gospel presentation through the telling of the Christmas story. The greatest present we give here is our presence. This party is a simple way for us to communicate that each one is important and that we care about them. We have found that this event, along with other seasonal events (Easter, back-to-school, etc.), are critical to building lasting and meaningful relationships.

3. Operation Christmas Child – Charlotte Distribution Center

We have some of our people heading to Charlotte to work at the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center this year. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse which delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, candy, etc. to children around the world who may not have any gifts this Christmas season. Once the shoeboxes leave local collection centers, they make their way to Charlotte to be prepared for their final trip to over one hundred countries around the world.

Allow me to leave you with a question today. What are you doing this Christmas season for someone who will in no way be able to return the favor?

Book Review : Persuasive Preaching

Tpersuasivepreachinghe preaching of the gospel is a two-sided coin. On one side there is the grave responsibility of faithfully preaching the “whole counsel of God” correctly, contextually, and free of any personal agenda. On the other side of the coin there is the challenge of not coming off as a used car salesman who is trying to simply move inventory. Every time a preacher stands behind a pulpit and delivers a sermon that he believes God has given him he, in essence, wrestles with this tension. At the very core of this tension is the purpose of preaching. What is the purpose of preaching? Is the purpose to simply dispense information? If this is true, churches would be better served to hire a professor to lecture or give the congregants a list of suggested reading. Is the purpose of preaching life transformation? If this is true (I believe it is), then sermons that are delivered must ask the listeners to do something, positively or negatively, with what they have heard. This is clearly the biblical example. The Old Testament prophets of God and the New Testament apostles/preachers, upon delivering God’s message, asked their audience, whether individuals or nations, to respond to the message. In his new book, Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion, pastor and professor R. Larry Overstreet takes the position that biblical preaching must bring, even guide the listener to/toward a decision. He goes one step farther by arguing in favor of public invitations in church services.

I was skeptical when I first read the title of this book. Immediately I put on the defensive thinking that it is not my job as a pastor to persuade anyone. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preaching. To me, persuasion was too close to manipulation for me to be comfortable. As I read the book I began to understand that Overstreet’s premise is not the support of the manipulation of people to do something through preaching. His premise is a call for a return of persuasive preaching as a means of positive change in the lives of the listeners. Overstreet’s book has four main topics. They are: Identify the Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching; What is the Biblical Basis of Persuasive Preaching; How to Structure Persuasive Messages; and How to Apply Persuasion.

In Part One Overstreet sets forth what he believes are the seven purposes of persuasive preaching. Here he stresses the importance of being transformed to the image of Christ. He also lists the barriers that persuasive preaching run into. In Part Two Overstreet meticulously shines a light on biblical preaching by examining the use of persuasion throughout the New Testament. Highlighting the Greek word for persuasion, peitho (πείθω) Overstreet shows that persuasion is about convincing people toward some action and not only accumulating head knowledge. He highlights the apostle Paul’s preaching theology and how he employed the three most commonly used modes of persuasion: logos (logical appeal), ethos (how well the presenter convinces his/her audience of their qualification to speak on a subject), and pathos (emotional appeal). The author also highlights the Old Testament example in the prophets persuading the hearers to return to and follow God above anyone else. Part Three provides the scaffolding for persuasive preaching. Overstreet speaks on the topics of problem-solving, attention, and motivation. Part Four is the “how to” part of the book and concludes topics such as the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, eight ways to distinguish persuasion from manipulation, and public invitations. In today’s churches, most often seen in those of the Reformed Theology persuasion, are moving away from the public invitation. Overstreet deals with this unbiblical position by giving biblical support for the public invitation and gives his readers advice on how to craft the invitation. He unpacks these pointers: Be Sensitive to Length, Be Clear in Appeal, Be Exact in Action, Be Loving in Presentation, Be Consistent with Message, be Positive in Expectation, and Be Earnest in Delivery. Also included are the liabilities that accompany the public invitation.

Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion is a great book. Overstreet does a superb job of reminding us that moving people toward action/change is the true purpose of biblical preaching. This book is well written and heavily documented/footnoted. This is not a book that you can simply pick and expect to do a quick read of. It reads more like a textbook. I believe that all pastors, regardless of the congregation size, will benefit from Overstreet’s work. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews 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 : Invitation to Philippians; Building a Great Church Through Humility

Invitation-to-PhilippiansI recently received Donald R. Sunukjian’s new book “Invitation to Philippians; Building a Great Church Through Humility” for review. This book is part of the author’s “Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church” with books on Galatians, Mark, and Joshua forthcoming. Sunukjian is the Professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. The content of this book is a series of sermons that the author delivered at some point in the past that have been “slightly edited to their present form in order to adjust from the hearing ear to the reading eye.” The focus of the book is to present a case for personal humility based on Christ’s example of humility.

Simply put, this book doesn’t work. Sunukjian published a textbook entitled, “Invitation to Biblical Preaching”. He writes, “The purpose of this series is to offer models of the principles presented in the textbook.” Although the material of this particular book is okay, the fact that the reader would need to have read the textbook to properly understand what Sunukjian wanted them to understand creates a huge vacuum. I cannot recommend this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from CrossFocus Reviews 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 Last Rescue

lastI always enjoy books and movies that are based upon true-to-life military stories. Movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down; books such as No Place to Hide and Fearless have been instrumental in educating the general public as to the reality of war. I would say that this affinity to the military genre of entertainment has to do with the fact that I am a former Marine. The instant connection through terminology and experience makes the reading/viewing much more enjoyable. I recently finished “The Last Rescue; How Faith and Loved Saved a Navy SEAL Sniper” by Howard Wasdin. Wasdin is a former member of the US Navy’s SEAL Team Six, the elite of all SEAL teams. He is also the author of a book, “SEAL Team Six.”

Wasdin was a member of SEAL Team Six in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. His team participated in the recovery of two downed Black Hawk helicopters and crew who were participating in a mission to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s top military leaders. This battle was made famous by the 1999 book, Black Hawk Down; A Story of Modern War and the 2001 movie with the same title. This book is not a full account of the Battle of Mogadishu. The book begins with a snapshot of the battle and the leg/ankle injuries that Wasdin received through enemy fire. Following his injuries, Wasdin was evacuated and eventually separated from the teams and active duty altogether. What follows this separation is the major part of the book.

The Last Rescue is the story of a man’s struggle to heal; physically, emotionally, and psychologically. To use a familiar expression, this is a story of a man dealing with a journey from “hero to zero”. Wasdin went from being part of the toughest and most respected special forces unit in the world to being confined to his house in rural Georgia practicing wound care on a daily basis. At times throughout the book he himself how things could have went from so good to so bad and if he could deal with it all. The reader is allowed to follow Wasdin on his journey through a difficult and long physical recovery, divorce, raising children, finding meaningful employment that matches his military experiences, years as a car salesman, marriage to his new wife Debbie, college, and finally the opening of his medical practice as a chiropractor. Through these major life events, his military life and experiences are never too far from Wasdin’s mind. He often has to deal with the desire to “get back in” his old life. We also experience Wasdin’s battle with survivor’s guilt over the loss of his close friends in Mogadishu. The subtitle of the book speaks of faith and love. We are introduced to Wasdin’s personal faith in God and the love of and for his family is seen throughout. These are what gave him the ability to not only survive coming out of the military but to thrive in life. This is a great book. It is easy to read, informative, enjoyable, and encouraging. I highly recommend it.

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.”