Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Is a Healthy Church? – Mark Dever

© 2007 Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

One thing that struck me the first time I had opportunity to encounter Mark Dever was “this guy thinks a LOT deeper than I usually do.” I’m glad that he does, because it’s given him the opportunity to develop what he calls the “9 Marks of a Healthy Church.” On my shelves I can find both a booklet and an expanded book by that title. This little book is the replacement for the booklet in introducing people to Dever’s brainchild 9 Marks Ministries.

The book itself is divided into three parts—the definition of a healthy church; then two parts dealing with the nine marks—three of which are described as “essential” (if one or more of them are missing, your church is probably not really healthy), and six remaining marks that are designated as “important” (desired, and expected in healthy churches, but not essential—these are marks that will develop as the church grows spiritually).

For the most part Dever, keeps the material flowing, and writes on a level for most readers to follow. At other times, he slips into his academic mode and will leave the unsuspecting reader behind. My advice—bear with him. He is working diligently to remain faithful to Scripture, and you’ll catch back up in a few pages. There are occasions in the reading that some will disagree with Dever’s conclusions—which is okay, but disagreement will still cause the reader to do two things (at least that is the author’s desire): think more intently about what they believe (and why it varies from Dever’s viewpoint), and study more Scripture to find the foundation for their beliefs.

This is a good little introduction to church life. You should read it. (four out of five reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, August 31, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mister St. John – Loren D. Estleman

© 1983, Doubleday, Garden City, NY

Loren Estleman is an award-winning writer in both the mystery and the western genres. He excels when writing westerns. Mister St. John is a trail’s end novel that chronicles the very end of the era of ‘cowboys and Indians’.

Irons St. John, former tracker in the “Nations” (Oklahoma) for Judge Parker’s court, has tried career after career unsuccessfully. His last effort is a failed attempt to win a Congressional seat for the state of Missouri. Just as he’s starting to celebrate his losses, in walks a Pinkerton agent named Rawlings who has a proposition St. John just cannot refuse: gather a posse to capture and incarcerate a gang of bank robbers led by Race Buckner.

The result is a motley crew made up of an old Indian tracker who had worked with St. John in the Nations (and who brought with him a sharp-shooter who once was the prey that the lawman had hunted—and who is going blind, too boot), a reprobate Sunday school teacher on the run from a town sheriff he had left for dead, and a couple of Mexican bandidos who hired on for the money.

Estleman’s expertise at spinning a story is evident in what you read here. And the occasional mention of an automobile has its own place in this turn of the century setting. Telephones are also a new-fangled tool used by these gun-toting, horse-riding, rough and tumble hombres.

This is western writing as it should be—even in the twentieth century. It is better fare than the house-name dime novels that usually grace the “westerns” shelves in your local bookstore. Even so, the fans of those serial westerns will enjoy this book as well. (4 out of 5 reading glasses).

Benjamin Potter, August 26, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Re-Post from Loom & Wheel

So, yesterday was my birthday (as many of you who follow me on FB know--and thanks for all the well-wishes btw). I took a relaxing day, spent time with the family (just before the mad rush of BACK TO SCHOOL grabs hold like a pit bull). We walked across the historic "Chain of Rocks" Bridge (the old Route 66 Mississippi River span) which is now relegated to foot and bicycle traffic, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Steak 'n Shake on the way home. It was really a restful day.

I also received the following information (prepare for shameless self-promotion) from Lulu (the site I currently use as publish on demand printer for my books):

Get Two for Christmas with Free Summer Shipping
Hurry - offer ends August 23
Two for Christmas

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Two for Christmas
Purchase Two for Christmas and get free shipping.

* To qualify for Lulu FREE Summer Shipping, your cart has to total at least $19.95 in printed book merchandise, but that total excludes taxes. Since the US Postal Service will deliver your order, we can only offer FREE Summer Shipping to valid US delivery addresses. We can also ship to APO/FPO addresses, but just make sure you use a valid US zip code with your order. Unfortunately, FREE Summer Shipping can't be combined with any other promotional codes at this time. While we don't have any plans, desires, intentions or wishes to do so, we can change or discontinue Lulu FREE Summer Shipping at anytime. Maximum discount of $19.95. This offer ends on August 23, 2010 at 11:59PM so try not to miss out! Please note that shipping methods are limited within this promotion.

If you'd like you can click on the buttons in the ad and order your very own copy of this compilation of my first two stories (that includes a chapter not included when the books were printed separately). But hurry--the free shipping deal is almost over.

All in all, I would have to say, it was a pretty happy day!

Friday, August 13, 2010

What Is the Gospel? – Greg Gilbert

© 2010 Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

Periodically I check out Tim Challies' Friday giveaway. If I think I might enjoy what’s offered, I put my name in the hat. A few weeks ago, I thought I might be interested in the titles being offered—I didn’t pay much attention to the author names. Imagine my surprise when my name was chosen and on top of the stack of books was this little volume by a name I knew from “way-back-when”. While Greg was already preparing to graduate from a small east Texas high school where I started a short teaching career, I did get to know him (and I did get to teach his brother). Greg has since moved on to higher education and deeper thinking than what we offered at the high school, and everyone can be glad that he did.

The personal connection prompted me to set aside other reading and dive head first into this little book, and it was a superb decision. Gilbert addresses the title question in a most succinct, clear manner. He does it with the clarity of a seasoned theologian. In a day when people—including evangelical Christians—have muddied the waters and frayed the edges of the biblical understanding of the gospel, this easy read brings us back into focus. The author challenges readers to re-focus our understanding of God, Man, Christ, and our Response to Christ. Two points that have been blurred over years of semi-theologians’ treatment are a proper view of sin, and a misplaced focus (leaving the cross of Christ as an afterthought in the backroom of theology). Gilbert takes the evangelical church to task on just these issues.

This book is an excellent resource—for one who has yet to respond to the gospel, it is a clear presentation of God’s plan and good news; for the Christian, it is a wakeup call to what the gospel really is, as well as a challenge to return, to refocus, and to make the gospel (the good news) the core of our being and our living. With the exception of the gospel itself, this may be the most important book to read in the twenty-first century. Read this book and then give a copy to a friend. (Since I’ve limited myself to a 5-reading glasses rating system, I give What Is the Gospel? a five +++ reading glasses rating.)

Benjamin Potter, August 13, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wonders Never Cease – Tim Downs

© 2010, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

There is a reason that Tim Downs has won awards (2000 Gold Medallion Award: Finding Common Ground; 2007 Christy Award: Plague Maker), and that’s probably why I enjoy his writing so much. He’s an acclaimed cartoonist as well as an accomplished writer, making his mark in both nonfiction and fiction arenas. His suspense novels are page-turners that have excellent plot lines and character development. If you pinned me down I’d just have to admit that I would read Downs because his name was on the cover.

So I picked up a copy of Wonders Never Cease (actually got it for my blushing bride—another Downs reader) and read it. Leah Pelton sees angels. But nobody will believe her. Not her teachers (or anyone of significance at the Episcopal School she attends in southern California), not her mother nor her mother’s boyfriend and colleague at the UCLA Medical Center. The only one to really give her an attentive ear is a wise and wizened old janitor named Emmett.

The boyfriend—a low, self-centered, waste of space calling himself Kemp—capitalizes on Leah’s stories when the opportunity of a lifetime arrives in the form of an almost-has-been actress named Liv Hayden. Kemp feeds “messages from God” in the voice of an angel to the semi-conscious silver screen starlet in the hopes of making millions of dollars in a book deal (and maybe even landing the role as her paramour) when she is released from the hospital.

The book lacks Downs’s typical driving plot line. The story itself is entertaining for an afternoon’s read. But the characteristic struggle, character development, and comic relief known to fans of the Bug Man series are not as prevalent.

In the book’s favor: it’s about angels, publishing, and the film industry. If you have any interest in angels, books, or movies, you’ll enjoy this book. I know that I enjoyed it three and one-half reading glasses’ worth.

Benjamin Potter, August 9, 2010

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