Friday, August 22, 2014

An Unlikely Story – Bob R. Agee


© 2014 Create Space Publishing (internet)


I first made the acquaintance of Dr. Bob R. Agee when he and I both transferred into Oklahoma Baptist University. I was returning from a year at Howard Payne to complete my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies. He had just been called as president of the university moving from a position at Union. I liked him immediately. He was enthusiastic, affable, and both academically and spiritually sound. He did not know me from the man in the moon, but he treated me (as he did all of the students) with the utmost of dignity and respect.

A couple of years later, when I graduated, I still expected that he didn’t know more than that I was one of the crowd graduating with a baccalaureate degree. He surprised me, deepening my respect for this leader. As he shook my hand and handed me my diploma he did not say, “Congratulations, Mr. Potter” or even “Benjamin.” Nor did he jump to everyone’s favorite diminutive “Ben”; but he said, “Congratulations, Benjie!” Wow, he knew me—even though we’d only spoken or nodded in passing during those years at the school. What I really liked (and still do) about Dr. Agee was his simple statement through actions that “you are somebody important”, and it was his habit of making that message known to all of his students.

And his recently published memoirs offer an understanding of why he is that man, and why he served as an excellent pastor, then educator, then administrator. An Unlikely Story opens the window on Agee’s life to the point of writing and (as good memoirs should) really gives the reader a taste of what made the man that became the author. Through the pages, one can see how the humble beginnings as a sharecropper’s son shaped and molded a man who knew the advantage of hard work and had the grace to accept an opportune challenge.

Those who have had the acquaintance of Agee over the years will enjoy reading about his rise through academia, his relational style that started with family and spread to church and college and community. I know that I found it a real blessing to get to know better this man who has held my respect over the decades. Especially inspiring are the pages in which he tells of his on-again, off-again battle with hairy cell leukemia, which attacked early and has re-visited in some of the later years.

Particularly interesting to me was his reflection on “Reflections” (see page 124) quoting a couple of elderly friends who were facing the declining years with gusto. It put me in mind of a dear friend who continued to play piano for her church well into her 90s (even until only about a year before her passing). This retired school teacher told me on more than one occasion that following a bout with heart trouble, “I decided that I’m gonna die living.” I think that this attitude sums up the goal of Dr. Agee, and I say keep on fighting.

I recommend this book for anyone who likes to be inspired by inspiring life stories, but especially for former church members of Dr. Agee’s congregations from his early adulthood, and also for members of Union University and Oklahoma Baptist University families. His memories will bring to mind your own memories. This is a quick and enjoyable read at only about 150 pages. It flies by. Order a copy to day with my five reading glass endorsement.

—Benjamin Potter, August 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Power of Prayer and Fasting – Ronnie W. Floyd



© 2010 Nashville, B & H Publishing Group

Ronnie Floyd is the pastor of a large and growing church in northwest Arkansas. The church actually exists in two campuses (First Baptist Church of Springdale and The Church at Pinnacle Hills). His most recent (as of last month) accolade is to be the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

When I received this book from the North American Mission Board, I thought, “This will be good. I’ve been wanting to study a little more into fasting.” Within the pages of this “Revised & Expanded” edition, I found many challenging and worthy reminders of the call of Scripture for God’s people to be not only a people of prayer, but also a people who fast. Floyd includes a number of heart-touching testimonies of how prayer and fasting have become essential in his own life and ministry as well as that of his church and other people he has had influence with.

One of the most mind-numbing challenges I encountered as I read this book was the call to bring the local church into a corporate time of fasting. Floyd defines fasting as the “abstinence from food with a spiritual goal in mind.” (see page 4) And his encouragement to the body of Christ to fast is based on that definition. I can agree with him, that this is the basic definition of fasting. I think that the process can be expanded to abstain from other things (like media), and that the purpose of the fast is spiritual in nature. While there is such a thing as a fast for the purpose of weight loss, this book is dealing with the spiritual kind of fasting.

The problem with my expanding his definition lies in this: when we abstain from food, it is doing away (for a time) with something that the body cannot live without. Refraining from watching television or using smart phones, while these things seem important to a modern society, is not necessary to the survival.

Floyd bases his thesis (and includes it in the title of the book) on fasting and prayer as a means to tap into the power of God. I don’t think that this is his ultimate intention (he even says as much in the book), but the reader often comes away with this impression: that if I will pray and fast, I will experience magnificent power from God. I would suggest that if the reason for one’s fasting is to tap into godly power, then the intention is a false front. My best understanding of fasting and prayer is that the purpose of these activities is not for me to get something from God, but for me to focus my entire being on Him. Prayer and fasting are for my sake in the respect that they bring me into God’s presence for the purpose of complete worship. To approach them with the thought that “if I do this, I get to see something spectacular” (which is a selfish realm from which to start) I miss the point of prayer and fasting altogether.

I think that this is a good book for Christians to read, but I would advise caution not to get caught up in the selfish side of Christian disciplines. Instead I would encourage (as Pastor Floyd has encouraged me in the writing) to practice both prayer and fasting, but to do so with the goal of spending precious time with our Father in Heaven. (I can also agree that doing so will open our eyes to a greater spiritual explosion than ever before—but that’s the residue, not the intention). (3 out of 5 reading glasses)
 
—Benjamin Potter, July 1, 2014

Read but not Reviewed (Recommended Anyway)

While I like to respond to as much of what I read with a thoughtful opinion in the form of a quick review, I don't always fulfill this desire. I am a fairly slow reader because I have to digest every word. Then, I want to be truthful and thoughtful when I do write my opinions down. When life gets hectic, I find that just fulfilling the normal duties of a small-church pastor can keep me from setting my thoughts to keyboard. So, I thought I'd just give a quick recommendation concerning a few books I read in the first part of the year (and then maybe I won't feel so bad about getting to the next--freshly read--review).

Compound Murder (A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery) by Bill Crider (Minataur, 2013). As with anything by Bill, and especially starring the Blacklin County Cast headed by Dan Rhodes, I heartily recommend this book. I read it around Christmas and the next installment is supposed to hit stores next month, so I thought I'd better at least mention this one (4 reading glasses).

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Harper Collins, 2000 edition). I finally got a chance to give this classic defense of the Christian Faith a good solid read and found it to be timely and quotable. This is a book anyone should read. It has my highest recommendation (five reading glasses).

Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels (IVP Books, 2008, 20th Anniversary Edition). This one is a modern classic on prayer, It is another challenging read with much advise. I recommend it for the Christian who wants to dive deeper into their own prayer life. (4 reading glasses)


Check Out This Auction Opportunity

We now have our son home with us. And we are still raising funds. Ahead are post-placement visits from our home study agency as well as the cost of adoption finalization. While we are not familiar or sure about the total cost, we know that we need nearly $1000 more rather quickly for the post-placement visits.

So, here is a proposal: I have listed two items on eBay to help raise some of the needed funds, and if you are interested you can view and bid on these items. Both of the items have a special significance which I will describe here with a link to each auction.

A couple of years ago, I gave my dear friend, Dave, a copy of What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. I was able to get the author to sign the book (the inscription reads: 
“To Dave—
May God make His Gospel precious to you!
Blessings,
Greg”
Since then, my friend passed away, and the book found its way back into my hands. Knowing how supportive of our adoption efforts Dave had been, his wife has graciously given her permission for us to use this item as part of our fund-raising efforts. In this way we can make Dave a bigger part of our process. (Read my thoughts on the book here.) The book lists with a 99 cent starting bid, and we would love to see the bidding go through the roof, so bid early, bid high, and bid often.

Also from Dave’s collection is a set of “Operation Desert Shield” trading cards (vintage 1991 from Pacific Trading Cards). While these are not boxed, the set includes all the cards numbered 1-110, and are in excellent condition. Again the starting bid is 99 cents, but we would love to honor our dear friend’s memory by saying that his items helped finalize our adoption process.

Thanks for reading; thanks for clicking the links; and thanks for bidding.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rich in Years – Johann Christoph Arnold


 Rich in Years

© 2013 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Everyone faces aging and death. Many people are frightened by the idea. We want to live long, but we don’t want the side effects of aging. With the advent of life-prolonging technology and lifestyles, people are “ripening” more and more. Life expectancies are increasing. And fears and prejudices that plague the aged and aging are increasing right along with them. People don’t know how to respond to the aging of their loved ones, and in turn don’t know how to respond to their own battle with aging.

Kudos should be given to septuagenarian pastor Arnold for taking the time to address some of these fears. In this short book the author touches on all the issues that face people who are living longer, from accepting the changes that are inevitable, to dying with grace.

If I have one complaint about the book, it has more to do with my deep-seated evangelical roots than the information and quality of the book and its advice. I would like to see a stronger proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (it’s there, but softer than I’d like, and later than I care for).

Other than that (which is probably more me than the author and his thoughts), the book brings together some excellent stories from people who are or have lived the aging process. Arnold challenges readers, young and old alike, to take a fresh look at the twilight years. Advice to the aging includes things like sharing your wisdom, and passing on the reins of control. To younger readers, the advice includes soaking in the wisdom of those who have been there and reveling in the new child-likeness of a parent who seems to have lost their mind.

I would recommend this book for a number of audiences: Clergy who work with the aging and dying; members of the older generation who are fearfully facing the silver-lined, silver-haired years; younger generations whose parents and grandparents are already there. Anyone could benefit from this positive look at what is to come should we live so long.

The book is well-written, and the information about aging is sound. I’d have to give the book 4 out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, April 3, 2014

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for this review.]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Is Coming . . .and Have I Got a Deal for You


We are still awaiting word on our adoption process (We're THAT close!). We also know that there are still more costs (travel, adoption services fees, court fees, etc.) And so we wanted to take this time to thank all of you who have been generous to help with this process so far.


That being said, we are still raising funds--the more we raise, the less we have to borrow. And I have an excellent idea if you would like to help. Two of my stories are Christmas related: "Something Special at Leonard's Inn" and "Just a Simple Carpenter". I still have plenty of copies of both of these stories ("Leonard" sells for $7 and "Carpenter" for $10) Either or both would make super Christmas gifts. If you would like to purchase one or more copies of my books, send me an email at LoomandWheel(at)pobox(dot)com and reference this post. Tell me how many of which book you would like to order, you buy the books, I'll pick up the postage (in the continental USA), and all the payment will be applied to our adoption costs.

If you have both of these stories, but would like to participate, let me direct you to my Lulu Store. I will dedicate the proceeds from any purchases of my books listed there during the month of December to the adoption costs (I have no control over shipping costs from Lulu). Please note that my daughter has a book listed there, and I cannot dedicate her royalties (they go to her), and also note that books bought through Lulu net me somewhere between 25 cents and 2 dollars a book (the more you buy, the closer we get to our total cost goal).

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Author on the Horizon

Here's a new author you may want to check out. The book is available at my self-publishing page. It is a short story (only about 50 or 60 pages) but it's fun. The author is only 12 years old! (sorry it's only available in paperback, I'm working on figuring out e-publishing to make it less expensive).

http://www.lulu.com/shop/joanna-potter/the-alien-invasion-of-2017/paperback/product-21216128.html

Friday, September 6, 2013

Theodore Boone: The Activist – John Grisham



 Theodore Boone: The Activist
© 2013 New York, Dutton Children’s Books

This is the best Theo Boone yet!

There now that the blurb is out of the way, you’ll want to run down to the local library or bookstore and obtain a copy of this little YA gem.

This time, Theo puts his debate team skills to not only defeat his opponents from the cross-town rival team, but to try to help save his friend’s family farm. It seems that all the politicians in the state and the businesses in the county want to push through a by-pass project which will displace a number of families on the outskirts of town at a cost of multiple million dollars while schools are getting shorted in the funding department.

Theo learns some valuable lessons about activism and ethics as he works through his case this time.

This is some of the better writing involved in the Theodore Boone series (see opening sentence above). It is one of the very best examples of internal struggle available on the current market. The moments where our protagonist wrestles with what is right, wrong, and just are on a par with FrankStockton’s classic short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?

I can’t hold back my five reading glasses for this excellent example of juvenile suspense.

—Benjamin Potter, September 6, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

10 Sacred Cows in Christianity that Need to Be Tipped – Jared Moore



© 2013 CreateSpace

When Jared Moore, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, Kentucky, offered a few copies of his new study “Ten Sacred Cows” up for review, I signed up. He explains that sacred cows are traditions that have moved from the place of practice to the position of worship in our churches. Some of these are simply practices that have become more than comforting to parishioners, others are points that have been adopted by ministers as they lead local churches in a direction not intended in Scripture.

Moore chooses ten and discusses why they are poor theological substitutes for the God we should be worshiping. I would suggest that the list might be expanded and modified as each local church is studied for practice and procedure.

Concerning the booklet itself, it is a relatively short read (slow reader that I am, it took me about thirty minutes to read and digest the whole thing—including acknowledgements). The cover leaves a little bit to be desired, though. The stick drawing of a cow that is periodically standing or “tipped over” gets the point of the exercise across, but won’t see the study taken as seriously as the author would like.

Be that as it may, I think the little study has merit on its premise, but I should like to see it do a bit more than it does. The book serves to introduce and simply define the “sacred cows” within it. There is even a glancing blow at “tipping” them. Each topic is only give a couple of pages’ discussion—some expansion would prove to be healthy for the topic. As a matter of fact, the book itself reads a little more like a book proposal (and I’d probably read the expanded version, too).

Here are the “cows” which Moore introduces to us:
  1. Entertaining Sermons – not that sermons being entertaining is bad, but that making them so for the sake of entertainment is (lesson to preachers: don’t bore your audience, but be preachers not stand-up comics)
  2. Anything for Souls – the idea of “buying” your audience.
  3. Numbers Equal Revival – the struggle of many preachers (especially Southern Baptists like Moore and myself) to judge the success of ministry with the bottom line of numbers/
  4. Experience-Centered Worship
  5. Nostalgia – the “good old days”
  6. Relevant Sermon – always beware of buzz words.
  7. Relativistic Interpretation
  8. An Easy Life
  9. Tolerant Love
  10. Successful Ministry

Some of the “cows” chosen by the author bear a bit more explanation that others, and the two to three pages spent on each one gives less than adequate time for either the explanation or the debunking, and certainly not enough to both. If the purpose is to start the conversation, then the study is a good one. However, the assumption of agreement on behalf of the reader may be a little optimistic without a bit more detail.

I think this is a pretty good start because with the slightly humorous approach, Moore keeps from sounding overly curmudgeonly in his discourse. For that I give high marks. As I’ve stated, though, the book would do well to have a bit of expansion on the ideas. (3 out of 5 reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, August 14, 2013

[An electronic form of this book was made available by the author for the purposes of review. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review all opinions are that of the reviewer.]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Back on Murder – J. Mark Bertrand



© 2010 Bethany House, Grand Rapids

Back on Murder (Roland March Series #1) 
I like to read books that I can get for free if they look interesting to me. Author J. Mark Bertrand has made the first of the Roland March mysteries available for free in the e-Book format for a limited time (it was still listed as “free” as of this writing at both Amazon and Barnes &Noble) to do just what I like—introduce new readers to his writing. So, here I am just waiting to have the opportunity to read the next installments in the Roland March series.

March is a cop who’s gotten past his prime. He has been coasting for several years after having a stellar performance back in the mid-2000 decade. Now, instead of an up-and-comer, he finds himself being assigned to suicide cop investigations, or worse shuffled around from team to team on career-killing cases.

In some fluke, he finds himself trying to find a missing Jane Doe (or more likely her body) which leads him to become involved in a high-profile missing persons case. All the while struggling with a 9/11 related personal tragedy that keeps coming home to roost.

I found the writing genuine, the characters engaging, and the police procedures utterly believable. Occasionally the main character would jump around in his telling of the story, but that is easily overlooked because the story is so compelling.

The one big distraction in this Houston-based story (it’s very accurate, even down to the multiple mentions of local independent mystery bookseller Murder By The Book), is the overuse and mis-use of a Texas colloquial term. I encountered this error repeatedly when I was grading sophomores’ papers in east Texas. The term which was misused almost to distraction was a phrase which indicates out of the blue happenstance, and should be rendered, “all of a sudden.” However, as with my high school students, Mr. Bertrand insisted on writing “all the sudden.” Perhaps in some newer editions of the book or in later March stories, we’ll see this infraction either removed or used less often (rant over).

Other than that distraction, I found the book to be a readable feast. Grab a copy and enjoy—get hooked on Roland March. (4 out of 5 reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, August 9, 2013

[I got this eBook for FREE from Book Bub!]

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