Thursday, May 31, 2007

EKG: The Heartbeat of God – Ken Hemphill

I will admit that I was originally skeptical when Ken Hemphill was tapped to succeed Russell Dilday as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Perhaps it was my distrust of the way that Dilday was disposed of. It took some time for me to get over political issues and give Hemphill a chance, but I was surprised to learn that his heart was beating in much the same realm as mine. That led me to finally purchase and read this book.

EKG (Empowered Kingdom Growth) is the desire to live in the Kingdom of God and develop as a Kingdom citizen. The book does not hit home runs throughout, but it does strike a resounding chord. The most engaging portion of the book is the commentary put forth for the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Hemphill makes the Beatitudes come to life, the salt/light and law passages begin to vibrate, and then he whets our appetite for prayer with a glance at the model prayer. What is distracting is that this major portion of the book doesn’t even start until you have waded through half the pages. Many, I’m afraid, won’t stick with him to get to these nuggets of gold to be mined.

The thrust of the book is to challenge people to ask some poignant questions:

  • Am I a Kingdom person?
  • Are we a Kingdom church?
  • Do you want to be?

These questions are useful for every Christ-follower to ask. The answer to the third may influence the way that we address the first two—how do I/we become one?

If you are looking for a feel-good book to help you bolster your current way of life, skip this one. If you want to read something that will challenge your theology, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a resource to help build Kingdom-mindedness into your life and your church, then this is a good place to start.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Stop Dating the Church – Joshua Harris

Pastor and author Joshua Harris has made a name for himself writing relationship books. He reached the status of fame with his first book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Then he became one of the pastors of a church and met a woman with whom he felt he could spend the rest of his life. His follow-up response: Boy Meets Girl. He showed that he understands American young people when he wrote about the challenges of sexual temptation in Not Even a Hint. Harris now serves as the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, where he had been serving in an associate role. He admits to have been an avid “church dater” before being confronted by the teaching of his pastor, C.J. Mahaney (who preceded him in the senior pastor position).

This short volume comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. The opening scenario in which Harris likens the response of most church-goers and their commitment to a dating couple in which the woman is ready to have something of a stable relationship while the young man is happy to have a good time without any strings attached really catches the reader's attention. Harris understands the new generation’s disenchantment with what they see as an irrelevant church. He himself went down that road. He describes the “church dater” as a person who knows Christ, but doesn’t have the desire to become a part of any one church. This person is one who is willing to go to worship—anywhere, anytime—but don’t ask them to become an active part, that would mean they must give up the freedom to go where they want to, to judge what is happening, and even decide to stay away from the established church altogether for awhile.

Many of the points made declare the biblical and even God-mandated participation in (1) the Church created by Christ and (2) the local expression known as church. Joining and being active in church shows your commitment to Christ and indicates the reality of your faith. The final chapter offers an invitation to the reader to say yes to a real commitment, though it waxes soft compared to the material between the opening and closing of the book. Halfway through the book Harris assumes he has made his point and gives advice on how to determine that you do want to join a church and even how to determine which church will be best for you. The criteria he uses center on the marriage of the church’s commitment to being and doing what God desires and the believer’s decision to do the same.

All in all the advice is good advice. It is sound and biblically based. The book is readable and succinct. I would recommend two audiences for this book: first, those who fall into the category of “church dater.” If you have not yet come to the point of wanting to join a church, if you are a believer in Christ and are satisfied with just watching from the sidelines, if you’ve bought into the philosophy that says you can worship and serve God without joining the spiritual club called church, then you should read this book. Read it with the understanding that Harris comes out of that point of view.

A second audience for this book is the leadership of local churches everywhere. If we have given the impression that people need not be a part of the church and so now we must program and address the “felt needs” of the masses in order to get them into our pews, we need to re-think our approach to church. Harris includes a list of ten important questions to ask when looking for a church to commit to. It is imperative that church leaders begin to evaluate their church on the basis of these questions rather than on the basis of their “target audience.” If we commit to becoming the church that is about living and doing God’s Word and His Will, we will see that we are also becoming the church that is appealing to new believers in Christ who are disinterested in a church that simply plays at the game of church.

If there is a drawback to the book, it is in that Harris is now trying to win a new generation over to his way of thinking now that he is a pastor. Some may find the book self-serving in this manner. However, I believe that if you actually read the book you will find in Harris’ words a genuine desire to lead true believers into true followship of the Lord they say they love and serve.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Howard Hughes Affair – Stuart Kaminsky

Stuart Kaminsky has been writing for years. One of his favorite series features 1940s LA private investigator, Toby Peters. The Howard Hughes Affair is the fourth in the series. In each story Toby meets and works with someone famous. This one is no different.

This time, Toby finds himself employed by the elusive (reclusive?) Howard Hughes. Hughes hosts a pre-War dinner gathering staged to raise support for the impending war effort and his own production of a plane he believes will end the war. He is afraid that one of the guests or servants present has stolen the plans. Working with one of the guests, Basil Rathbone (known by multitudes as Sherlock Holmes), to interview all those present in hopes to determine if Hughes’ fears are well-founded.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was also at the dinner party, but he has no knowledge of the theft. The German couple, as well as the German and Japanese servants seem to be innocent and guilty at the same time. On the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Toby discovers the truth about the murder of two Germans and one drunken major in the Army Air Corps.

As with all good mystery series, Kaminsky includes intrigue and action. The one drawback for a reader like me is that the chapters are long. The story moves and closes with a glimpse of the next one to come.

If you like a good murder mystery, nostalgic settings and names from Hollywood’s heyday, you’ll love reading any of the Toby Peters mysteries. If you want the story broken up into bite-sized pieces, then read something else.

—Benjamin Potter, May 16, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl – Barbara Park

In her thirteenth appearance Junie B. finds out that her Aunt Flo is getting married. When she tells her bestest friends, Lucille and that Grace, they told her all about being a Flower Girl. It wasn’t until after she got home that Junie B. learned that Aunt Flo’s Flower Girl would be her fiancé Joe’s niece, Bo.

To ease the tension in the family, Flo made Junie B. the “alternate” Flower Girl. Junie B.’s mother bought her a new dress, pantyhose, and shoes (but not a fake bunny fur to wear). At the wedding, Junie B. learned that Bo wasn’t so bad after all.

Another fun and funny learning time for Junie B. during her kindergarten years. Great to read to or with your daughter (like I did with mine).

—Benjamin Potter, May 13, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

This Is My Story – David Liverett

Several months ago I purchased this when Jonathan Martin did a concert at our church (of course he signed his page for me). I used the book as a devotional aid in the evenings as long as it lasted—reading one short bio a night.

The premise of the book was to include as many artists as possible with a portrait on one page and a biographical sketch of that artist on the opposing page. Each bio was preceded by a scripture verse. Some of the bios were inspirational, others not so much. Artists included Dottie Rambo, George Yount, Andre Crouch, and even Elvis Presley.

The entries have a tendency to be more or less a tribute to gospel music, the gospel music industry and the Southern gospel genre of music rather than a commentary on the influence of Christ on the lives of these artists. The highlights about the majority of the performers includes their walk to fame instead of their walk with Jesus.

Fans of Southern Gospel music will be delighted to have this collection. People who would like to be inspired will want to look elsewhere.

—Benjamin Potter, May 11, 2007

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