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!]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Faithful Preaching – Tony Merida

© 2009 B&H, Nashville

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to attend a short retreat for pastors in Indiana. It was a pleasant weekend with a group of mostly young, hungry preachers. I think I was one of the four over the age of 35 (including the leaders and presenters). Our key speaker for the event was another young preacher who serves a growing congregation in Raleigh, North Carolina, while teaching preaching on the side at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. No, he didn’t look like a preacher or a preaching professor—at least not one from our day (maybe more the camel’s hair clothes and locust diet variety), but he knew what he was talking about. Not only that, but he was personable with all of the participants in the weekend. His name was Tony Merida.

Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scritpture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity 
I’ll admit that I’m a little long in the tooth to be reading fresh books that teach preachers how to craft and present their sermons, but I find that it always helps to be refreshed in what you know. So, I’ve picked up a stack of preaching texts and am slowly working my way through them.

Merida offers up a book with a fresh look at preaching that (while it hearkens back to the preparation texts of yesteryear) is unique in its presentation. Designed to be used by the student of preaching, the book takes the reader through a step by step process that should lead to solid biblical preaching. The author insists that the Gospel preacher must remain faithful to the text of the Scripture in order to present the message from God. (I’ll agree with this assessment with a hearty “Amen!”)

Throughout the book as a closing to each chapter, Merida leads his readers through this step by step process in preparing messages based on the books of 1 and 2 Timothy. This is helpful for the young preacher in order to set strong study and preparation disciplines as he is learning to preach.

The early chapters setting the foundation for expository sermon preparation are the most helpful in the book. The reading slows down as Merida turns to the actual delivery and character of the preacher. He leaves a lot of room in delivery understanding that all preachers are different and are to be themselves in the pulpit. These aspects of delivery and lifestyle are often omitted from typical texts dedicated to sermon preparation. And even if the reading does slow down, the necessity for addressing these matters in a sermon prep book are utterly welcome. Many preachers do really well in their study time and pulling together the right  connections when writing their sermons, but fall apart when trying to present these nuggets of knowledge to their audience.

Every young preacher needs to start his education with this book. And I would daresay that many old preachers would benefit from using this textbook as well. I give it four and one-half reading glasses out of five.

—Benjamin Potter, August 9, 2013

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Plastic Donuts – Jeff Anderson

Plastic Donuts: Giving That Delights the Heart of the Father

© 2012 Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

Sometimes it takes the act of a child to get our attention. That’s what author and financial advisor Jeff Anderson discovered when his young daughter presented him with, you guessed it, a plastic donut.

The gift which became a happy game between father and daughter made this money-numbers man begin to think about his own faith and giving habits. After all, the toy was one of the toddler’s prized possessions. She wanted Daddy to have something special—and it delighted her to give it while delighting him to receive it.

Anderson’s point in the entire book (readable in one or two sittings, depending on your rate of reading) is that those of us who are God’s children should get to the place of giving to God that which brings us most pleasure—and that in turn will bring Him most pleasure. The author makes the point that if one of his older sons brought him a plastic donut it would be little more than a joke, nor would the gift be well received.

Anderson addresses two of the most common giving traps into which Christians fall today:

First, there is the “give until it feels good” group—these are the people who give of the passing thought to God. Much like in the story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament book of Genesis—we give to God out of our sense of duty, but only that which will not bother us to give. Consequently our churches are filled with untunable pianos, broken-down toys, and second-hand furniture that wouldn’t sell in the rummage sale. And we wonder at the state of our spiritual lives.

The other group (at another extreme) are the “give that 10% and not a half-penny more” givers. These are the modern-day Pharisees who have developed a legalistic view of tithing to go along with their legalistic view of worship, service, and church in general.

Anderson does not espouse not tithing, but he suggests that we, in our giving, can get to the place where the tithe doesn’t matter so much as the pleasing of God. What does God want from us? The very heart of us—that which brings a smile, a giggle of joy, a glow to our face—and when we give that, He returns that smile, that giggle, that glow from His very throne.

This is probably the best book on giving that has been published in a number of years. The author’s message moves us from no giving, and slow giving, to meaningful living giving. I’d recommend this to every Christian who wants to take the drudgery out of the Christian life, one plastic donut at a time. (4 out of 5 reading glasses)
—Benjamin Potter, August 9, 2013

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ransom Betrayal – Steven Hunt

© 2009, Electric Moon Publishing, Tulsa

It took me nearly four years to get around to reading Steven Hunt’s sophomore effort (his debut being Guardianof Light). A departure from his first and third novels, the first of what promises to be an action-packed series centered on John Ransom and his team of experts deals less with angelic/supernatural beings, and more with action and adventure.

Ransom, a spy/operative in covert activity—specifically disposing of unwanted officials secretly, effectively, and cleanly (read that “murderer for the government”) discovers a high-level betrayal at the very last moment of the job he tried so hard not to take. In the end, he is almost fatally wounded trying to get away from the assignment that will either kill or discredit him.

The bulk of the book is spent on his recovery from the accident, his finding himself again, and his re-establishing his good name by finding the mole in the organization and doing away with the bad guys.

Although it is a departure from the “other-worldly” material we encounter in both Guardian of Light and Chasing Christmas, Hunt likes to bring the Supernatural in, and does so in an exciting scene where Ransom, in a new-found faith, is able to receive a vision from God, and consequently diffuse another attempt on his life after he has fully recovered from his injuries.

This book has a lot to offer for the reader: espionage, intrigue, action, adventure. Hunt throws in a little romance along the way. The characters are likeable, the action is fast-paced, and we all look forward to another adventure with this team of wrong-righters.

The strong faith elements that characterize Hunt’s writing are definitely present here. It is always nice to see the church and the servants of the church portrayed in a positive light rather than as the conniving, superficial, hypocrites that we encounter in most main-stream literature.

One will also find a few draw-backs when reading the first Ransom novel. Some of the struggle in reading the book comes in the faith-based elements: our hero has a tendency (after his turn to faith) to become overly preach-y which may turn a reader off to not only the book but the message the author is trying so hard to convey. Also, in these moments of excessive spirituality, Ransom—a brand new believer—shows a greater understanding (if not, simple knowledge) of the Scriptures than one would expect of someone so young in his faith—and this without any discipleship from more mature believers.

Even so, I would like to see some more outings for Ransom. I also understand that if you did not acquire your e-copy (the only ones available) a few months within its publication (that’s 2009), you are out of luck for reading it. I would love to see someone pick up this series, re-releasing the debut o
f Ransom, and promising three or four (or more) more novels for readers to enjoy. It is an excellent rest for readers of The Executioner series or the Mack Bolan series or even the Nick Carter, Killmaster series and it doesn’t include scenes that require readers of faith who like action to switch on their internal censor for language, sexual activity, and gratuitous violence.

Keep writing the Ransom stories, Steve. Your readers want more. (4 out of 5 reading glasses)

—Benjamin  Potter, August 9, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

North of Hope – Shannon Huffman Polson

North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey© 2013 Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids

First, my excuses – I’m late (about three months late) in posting this review. Excuse 1, life got busy as I was trying to finish reading and reviewing this book. Excuse 2, the book was really hard to read and I was finding other more favorable reading material. Excuse 3, I just got lazy.

That said, I will probably fall out of favor with the provider of these review copies for being so lax in my timing. Now, on to my thoughts:

The author is writing in response to the tragic loss of her father and step-mother. The book, because of this purports to be a book that will be cathartic to those who have lost loved ones. It reads very much like the journal that was used as the springboard, and then it jumps back and forth between the present, the past, and the accident that caused the writing in the first place.

I, for one, was not touched by the story line. It became tedious to sit through. I have no doubt that there was a good amount of cleansing, refreshing, and permission to move on for the author and her brother who took the journey with her. I struggled to see where reading of the journey of another so intimately would be of help to the reader.

I suggest that the audience for this book will be more limited than the publishers expected. If one would like to read on how to deal with grief, there are hundreds of other titles which would be more helpful. (1 out of 5 reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, August 6, 2013
[This book was provided to the reviewer by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions are my own. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review.]

Monday, August 5, 2013

Catch a Falling Clown – Stuart Kaminsky

©1981 St. Martin’s, New York

Stuart Kaminsky follows up High Midnight with this Toby Peters adventure in which our ne’er-do-well hero finds himself returning to the small town of Mirador, California in search of a circus. Of course he isn’t welcome in the little town because of the last case that had him visiting—when he got on the grumpy side of the local law enforcement. They haven’t forgotten Mr. Peters and would just as soon he not have shown up again.

Toby’s problem is that he has yet another famous client. This one tied to the circus, namely Ringling Brothers’ famous clown Emmett Kelly (who performs as Willie). It seems that someone’s been trying to kill off the circus elephants in the off-season show that Kelly has hooked up with.

By the time Peters arrives, the targets are not only the elephants, but Kelly himself, and then the flying Tannuccis begin to fall victim to the murderous plot.

Kaminsky gives us another page-turning puzzle of an adventure. This time he includes cameo appearances by great director Alfred Hitchcock “doing research” for a possible film set on a circus lot. It’s interesting that when Hitchcock shows up, so do the accidents. Peters employs his regular team of misfit helpers to help him solve this mystery before he’s either dead or incarcerated.

Find a copy of this old story to enjoy over a cup of joe. (three and one-half reading glasses)
—Benjamin Potter, August 5, 2013

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