Monday, December 29, 2014

Discipleship – J. Heinrich Arnold

© 2011 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Living through the middle of the 20th century (1913-1982) J. Heinrich Arnold discovered a deep and lasting faith that guided his every step. In this volume we have a collection of his writings (drawn together by his children and friends) that bears reading by every follower of Christ.

This leader of a Christian community (without formal theological education) walked deeper in the word than most of the men and women considered great heroes of t
he faith today.

First of all, I must admit that the book is not an easy read for several reasons. Arnold‘s writings are collected piece by piece making the book more a collection of sayings that a “read-through-me” volume. In this respect the book does not have flow. On the other hand this makes Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind a perfect reference volume. The writings are collected under general to specific headings. Want to read about “Faith”? Look under the heading. “Communion”? It’s there too.
The other main reason for the difficulty in navigating this book is the depth at which Arnold hits the reader’s spirit. This is not a book to pick up if you want no-challenge, feel-good fluff. It is however, the perfect read for the Christian wanting to be more like Christ (which is after all, the ultimate goal of becoming a Christian in the first place).

Arnold tackles man in his sin nature and his salvation. He writes readily about the nature and community of the church. I would give this book 4 out of 5 reading glasses and join greats like Mother Teresa and Elisabeth Elliot in recommending the book to any Christian.
—Benjamin Potter, December 29, 2014

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

30 A.D. – Ted Dekker

A.D. 30: A Novel©2014 Center Street, New York

Ted Dekker is one of the more popular writers in a new generation. I personally have jumped on his bandwagon for several of his thrillers (such as Thr3e, and Showdown), was impressed with a couple of hisChristmas tales, but haven’t enjoyed some of his writing nearly as much. That’s okay, because sometimes we get so caught up in an author that we are blind to the things that they write that aren’t so good (I have blind spots for JohnGrisham and Bill Crider). In this new book, Dekker stretches his Christian beliefs to the highest of heights and attempts a story set in the days of the New Testament and resting heavily on the shoulders of the saints who penned the sacred books.

Dekker weaves for us the tale of an outcast Bedouin princess (Maviah) who finds herself on a task to earn back her father’s honor and avenge her son’s murder. Aided by two of her father’s trusted servants—a large black mercenary (Saba) and a Jew descended from the wise men who followed a star, she sets out on her quest. The mission leads her from the oasis stronghold, now overrun by her father’s enemies, into the land of Palestine. Here she meets with King Herod, as well as with Miriam (Mary), Peter, and even Yeshua (Jesus). In the midst of her travels and struggles she finds her heart changed and her view of her mission re-structured.

The historical setting and Biblical background of the story give the reader pause because of the attention to detail and the desire for accuracy. Dekker did such a superb job of weaving this story that I can hardly wait for 33 A.D. (the promised follow-up story). I give this book an easy five reading glasses. Even those who are skeptical of the truth of the Scriptural record will find this story intriguing, inviting, and interesting.

—Benjamin Potter, December 16, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Their Name Is Today – Johann Christoph Arnold

© 2014 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Children are the vast, untouched treasure of the world. And it seems as though our American Society is bent on crushing that treasure. We need a breath of fresh air that brings childhood back to our children. This is the call of writer, counselor, pastor Christoph Arnold in his new book, Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.

As with any book, I cannot say that I agree with every word of what Arnold writes, but he does bring to light some important research and thinking concerning the direction that childhood and education is viewed in America today.

In this little book, I was reminded of the innocence of children. An innocence that is often overlooked, misunderstood, and even squashed in an attempt to make our children to become “little adults.” Some of the tragedies of our modern approach to education (in the name of trying to “be competitive on the world stage”) that the author notes are starting our children in rigid classroom settings at too early an age, overuse of screen presence in the lives of these little ones, and expectations that even some adults cannot live up to.

In the midst of a world where government agencies are invading the education space trying to correct what’s wrong with the next generation, we are losing the next generation. Setting standards that are impossible to reach only breeds discouragement. Is it okay to let our children fail? Of course it is—if the failure is in genuine effort. It is not however, safe nor appropriate to set goals that our children cannot even begin to reach. Children are not “little adults” they are children, so let them be . . . children.

Arnold suggests that it is appropriate, and even preferable, to allow children a few more years to play, so that they are actually for classroom activity when the time comes. Perhaps we would see more classroom success without coddling, if we let children be children for a year or two longer. I personally believe that three years of age is excessively too young for a child to be immersed into a classroom setting. Besides, the more of this pushing we place on our schools, the less likely our good teachers are to be good teachers. The newer trends thrust upon educators by politicians (who are not really educators, nor do they understand educators) forces them into cycle after cycle of paper pushing rather than educating.

In this new book calls for a move to letting children be children, to delay the leash known as “screen time” as long as possible (let the children play outdoors, exploring, rather than with the newest techno-gizmo), and to love them with the love of a teacher or parent. Our goal is to have healthy children, not neurotic rat-race participants.

This is a book that would make a perfect Christmas gift for a favorite teacher who is feeling overwhelmed in today’s marketplace.

I highly recommend this book for parents, teachers, or anyone who is concerned about children and give it five out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, October 28, 2014

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

© 2005, Pan McMillan, Australia (US version © 2006, Knopf, NY)

I first started noticing this one on bookstore shelves about five or six years ago. The Book Thief. What a great title for a book-lover like myself. I wanted to read it. Then I heard that it was getting an award or two. That made me want to read it more. Then they made it into a movie—now I have to read it before viewing the movie. Well, now, I’ve read it and haven’t decided whether to rent the movie or not (you can let me know what to decide in the comments section). While I was waiting for the book to make it to me on library request, we found a nice trade paperback copy at the local school Scholastic Book Fair. As I bought it the librarian indicated that another parent had said it was “one of the best books ever.” Now, I’m hooked.

I must tell you, dear reader, it took me about three months with stops and starts to get through the book. It isn’t a page-turner as such, and it isn’t for the light of heart. American publishers chose to market it under a YA labeling (Knopf Books for Young Readers was the first to release it), and I’m not sure that I’d place it in the Juvenile section. There is some really dark imagery in the book, the subject matter is really heavy, and from time to time the language is not appropriate for younger readers. That said, I would let my soon to be thirteen-year-old read it if she so chose with the proviso that she and I make some discussion out of it.

It wasn’t until after I started reading the book that I realized that it dealt with the Holocaust. That’s not necessarily a problem, I just hadn’t done my usual fly-leaf, book back scanning, and so I had to put on my Anne Frank/Hiding Place glasses to get into the book. The story, narrated by none other than Death himself, follows the life of Liesel Meminger—a young German girl who loses her family and is thrust into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann as a foster daughter. It is with a compelling eye and a heavy heart that you dive into the society of Nazi Germany on the poor side of a Munich suburb and feel all of the tragedy that befalls people who are just trying to survive. And then the air raids start.

Readers are not spared the death, the politics, the cruelty, or the heroism that could be witnessed in the streets of Germany during a horrible time in world history. We see the maltreatment of the Jews—just for being Jewish; the harsh punishment for people—just for being humane; and the travesty for boys—just for being boys. From the story side, this book is good, but not great.

From the literary side, this book is a masterpiece. I cannot say that it is the best book I have ever read, but the weaving of the language to build the right word pictures is nothing less than stellar. I would recommend this one over Frank’s Diary to study the Holocaust if the purpose was to see the event from a literary side (from a historical viewpoint, stick with Anne Frank).

This book is not for everyone, but it deserves accolades and it gets four out of five reading glasses from me.

—Benjamin Potter, September 17, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Half in Love with Artful Death – Bill Crider

© 2014 St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York

Everybody’s a critic. This is because everyone has their own opinion, and some are more inclined to share their opinions than are others (just read this on-line review journal). There’s really nothing wrong with having, or stating, an opinion about, let’s say art, until the critic turns up dead.

That’s just what happened to Burt Collins (local complainer about everything in Blacklin County Texas) when he makes his opinions noted about the art exhibit in town and the artists it has attracted.

The latest episode in the long-running Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series is another rip-roaring good time. With the help of his faithful force of deputies, his long-time friend and thorn in the side C.P. “Seepy” Benton, and an array of colorful characters (including an orange-haired artist), Rhodes is able not only to solve the mystery, but also a string of convenience-store robberies, some escaped donkeys, and the mystery of the naked woman at the roadside rest area. He even shuts down a local meth lab a la his fictional counterpart Sage Barton in an excitingly dangerous shoot out.

I can’t recommend this series enough. But I can especially tip my ten-gallon Stetson to the newest story in the life of Dan Rhodes. It includes art, music, and some interesting poetry along the way. I give Bill Crider another set of five reading glasses for his latest story.

—Benjamin Potter, September 9, 2014

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!
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.]

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