Thursday, October 10, 2019

Something Needs to Change – David Platt

©2019  Multnomah, Colorado Springs

In 2010, David Platt stormed the Christian publishing world with a radical book with radical ideas about how average Christians and the typical church could move beyond mediocrity and into, well, radical living for Jesus. The book was called Radical (I reviewed it here) and called for us to step up our faith to include looking outside ourselves—and even to the world—in order to live more like Jesus. It was Platt’s leadership through the ideas in Radical and starting a movement known as “Secret Church” that led the Southern Baptist Convention to call him to serve as president of the International Mission Board (a position he held for a couple of years before moving on to be Lead Pastor of McLean Bible Church in the Washington D.C. metro area.

Something Needs to Change is the logical progression for this pastor who likes to challenge us into the uncomfortable places in life. On the surface, this book is an invitation for the reader to virtually join the author and a group of others as they spend a week hiking in the mountainous region of the Himalayas. Along the way readers encounter starvation, disease, sex trafficking, and abuse all resulting from abject poverty. Then we are faced with the deep questions of our faith—what is God doing when He allows me to live in relative comfort and ease, while atrocities occur in this other part of the world? Is it right for me to feel faithful in the comfort of my weekly visit to a multi-million-dollar, air conditioned, audio-visual spectacular of a worship service, when people are living entire lives without ever having heard of the Savior that I follow? Is my attempt at living faith really living faith if I am only willing to “sacrifice” as long as the sacrifice costs me only a little?

In the midst of this journey, Platt throws in some pretty heavy Bible study from the book of Luke that spurred him on along the way.

The good news is that you can join in this visioning trip without leaving the comfort of your own home. The more difficult news is that, like any encounter with Jesus, you will meet with some serious soul-searching along the way. The subtitle tells much about the intent of the book: “A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need.”

Can you read this book and walk away as if nothing has transpired? Certainly. And many readers will. Will you feel called out to do something more with your faith-walk? Of course, if you read with a heart for Christ’s best in the world that He created.

The book itself is a fairly easy read—which one might expect from a talented communicator such as Platt—and at the same time one that requires much chewing before you try to digest it. I do not recommend this book for the satisfied Christian (although it would be worth their time because it is among the satisfied community that something most needs to change). I suspect that those who are thirsty for a more meaningful life this side of Glory will gravitate toward this book. As for me, I was challenged to be more meaningful in my living out of the faith that I claim and that my daily devotional reading leads me into. If you read this book, I pray that you will be as well. I give Platt four reading glasses for this book: it is well worth your time.

—Benjamin Potter October 10, 2019

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

Christmas Days – Joseph C. Lincoln

©1938  Coward-McCann, New York

I am a sucker for a good Christmas book. I would probably go so far as to say that the book doesn’t have to really be that good if it has a solid Christmas setting and it may win me over. The Blushing Bride is aware of my affection for Christmas literature, so in the most recent Christmas season (when times had been tough) she found a well-worn and inexpensive ex-library copy of this little gem entitled Christmas Days.

A cursory glance tells the prospective reader that the book covers three Christmases—one in the ‘50s, the next in the ‘60s, and finally in the ‘70s. Having noted the copyright date of 1938, it didn’t take long for me to decide that the Decembers covered were in the middle 1800s. And I must add that I really did enjoy my excursion into the Cape Cod community filled with sailors and ship-masters.

A selling point for the gift-giver (aside from the Christmas setting) was the claim from the fly-leaf (pasted into the end papers in the habit of libraries) that the book promised “shortly to take its place in that select and enduring little group of Christmas classics which began with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.”

The title is more than just about days during the Christmas season, but follows the lives of two brothers, Rogers and David Day, who come from a line of seafaring captains. During the three important Christmases promised we see the boys grow into men and become ship-masters in their own right.

The writing has an easy pace with a plot line that is easy to follow if not flat out broadcasting intent to the reader. The author’s use of dialect and mid-19th century shipping jargon brings the characters to life although he does have the habit of chopping dialog which forces both character and reader to finish the thoughts of a speaker. I invariably hoped that my conclusion to a statement was the same as that of the character speaking. Whether Lincoln assumes too much of his reader, or just has difficulty smoothing out dialog may be a question better answered by someone who has read more than one of the author’s books.

As for the claim of a seat among the greats of Christmas literature: it’s a good selling point, but maybe more wishful thinking than anything else. I don’t expect to be hearing as much about Rogers Day in future as I already hear about Ebenezer Scrooge, but it is a fair tale. There is more of the Jacob and Esau in the story than the Scrooge and Marley, though I can’t say more without running up the spoiler alert.

The bottom line is this: if you enjoy a nice Christmas story—one with lots of feeling, nostalgia, and miracle—this little tale will provide a few good hours of holiday escape for you. If you like to read about the sea and shipping, Christmas Days has a smattering of it for your taste. If you are looking for a gut-wrenching, plot-twisting, soul-changing, last-for-centuries Christmas classic, you would do well to pick up Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or Evans’ The Christmas Box, Christmas Days leaves too much detail of the changing in the heart of Rogers Day to fit the bill.

For our rating, I’d give the book three and one-half reading glasses. I’ll probably read it again some Christmas to come, but I won’t give it berth with some of my annual re-reads. Would I be willing to read any more of Lincoln’s “Cape Cod Stories?” The writing is plain enough and certainly free enough of the curse and caper that requires a 24/7 censor to be engaged in the reader’s mind that I would have no problem picking up one of Joseph Lincoln’s books—although he hasn’t won my heart like my good friend Bill Crider did with his mystery stories.

For those who want to hang their hat on a phrase or two to decide whether to give this unfamiliar voice a try, I give you: snow, sailing, and romantic tangles.

—Benjamin Potter January 14, 2019

Saturday, November 4, 2017

I Will – Thom S. Rainer

©2015  B&H Publishing Group, Nashville

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Since taking that position, Rainer has made a point of developing books that are helpful to the local church leader and the local church member be better at church. Books like Simple Church (co-written with Eric Geiger), I Am a Church Member, and Autopsy of a Deceased Church [all published by B & H]. This book is no exception.

In the same vein of Church Member and Autopsy, I Will is a small volume that reads well and gives sound advice on how church members can be the best church members they can be. Whereas I Am a Church Member deals with the actions of a church member who makes a difference, I Will addresses the attitudes that lead church members into joyous church membership. Within its pages, Rainer dispenses advice on removing selfish “I want” attitudes and replacing them with outward focused “I will” ones.

Rainer takes a page from his son’s book on financial decisions (Art Rainer, The Money Challenge, reviewed here) by introducing his topic with a fictional story that could be anybody’s story—it could be your story if you are finding yourself burdened by church. Perhaps the answer is not jumping ship on the church where you are, but adjusting your attitude. Here are the nine traits that the author identifies in an “outwardly focused Christian”:

  1. Moving from an “I Am” to an “I Will” attitude – finding biblical solutions to attitudinal issues.
  2. Worshiping with others – stop trying to go it alone.
  3. Growing with others – get into a small group where people know, love, and encourage spiritual growth.
  4. Serving – instead of expecting others to serve me.
  5. Going – taking the love of God with me everywhere.
  6. Generous giving – everything belongs to God anyway.
  7. Perseverance – don’t drop out of church because it gets difficult or I don’t get my way.
  8. Avoiding “Churchianity” – playing at church instead of being the church.
  9. Making a difference – look for ways to advance the Kingdom of God.

In a culture where cafeteria-style Christianity and church attendance has become the norm, it is time for church members (and all Christians) to develop an attitude adjustment that leads us to looking outside our own shell of contentment in order to strengthen the church and obey her Master.

This little volume may not have the impact of I Am a Church Member, but it certainly hits the mark as a genuine partner work. I give Rainer four out of five reading glasses here.

—Benjamin Potter, November 4, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Leading Through Change – Barney Wells, Martin Giese, Ron Klassen

©2005  ChurchSmart Resources, St. Charles, IL

Some wag once said that the only person who wants change is a baby with a dirty diaper. And I once heard a comedian indicate that that person may have questions about wanting change with the statement, “Leave it alone. It’s my mess. I made it; and I want to keep it.” However, change is inevitable if we want to exhibit life.

We see how change shows life if we watch the rose bush we planted last spring. We want to see growth, buds, flowers, and even the falling of the flowers. We want to see the plant go dormant for a season so that it can come back to growth, buds, and flowers again in the spring.

In church life, change must happen if the church is to exist to see the next generation become a part of our congregation. The principle is that the church must change or die. This is true not only for the church in the urban or suburban setting where the community is changing around them, but it also applies to the rural or small town church where the community itself seems to be drying up. If we are to exist—to continue to be effective in our communities—we must see where change is necessary, and make change.

With this in mind, I would like to recommend the book Leading through Change to pastors and leaders in country, rural, and small town setings. With shelves of books on leadership, church growth, and change for the good of the church in bookstores today it is difficulty to choose the one that fits for you. This book addresses the need for change, but more importantly it gives advice (not cookie-cutter process) on how to approach change that will remove lifelessness and add life to the local Town and Country church.

Section one of the book sets the foundation explaining the need for change, indicating the difference between change that works in the suburbs (which is addressed by most of the volumes on change available) and what will be helpful to bring about necessary changes in a rural setting. Section two develops some of the key ideas about change that will help the leader of a small-town our country church breathe new life into a church that needs to reach new people.

The authors, representing over 100 years of ministry (most if not all of which is in the small town or rural setting), develop nine steps (some “spiritual” some “cultural”) to approaching change in the church. A basic idea is not to force change, but to “lead through change” (as implied by the book’s title) by adapting to the change that is going on around you in your community.

This is an invaluable book for the pastor of the rural church. It includes encouragement (reminding the pastor/reader that just because some statisticians are bemoaning the decline in membership of churches as a sign of death without taking into account that some specifically rural communities are experiencing decline in population), and some practical helps about having a vibrant ministry in a culture that once was but is no longer the “preferred” culture of our society. Country living is still a viable option.

Here are some of the plusses about the book: It is short. Pastors (many who are bi-vocational) don’t have as much time to read the 300-400 page textbooks available on church growth and health. It is written by men who are part of the culture to whom they are writing, including real-life examples of what worked (and did not work) in their own ministries. And it is practically biblically based. We can see the Bible foundation for the actions taken as a church ministers in the midst of change, and the practical application of that Scripture.

One more bit of advice concerning leading through change. If you get a copy, start by reading page 77. This will give a good picture of leading change and leading through change in the small town and country church. It will also give you a good snapshot of what is to come as you return to page one and read the entire book.

For the small church, country church, rural church pastor, this is a must read and will be a positive resource throughout the years of his ministry in such a setting. I give this resource 5 out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, October 24, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Convicted – Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins (with Mark Tabb)

©2017  Waterbrook Press, New York

The caveat on the cover of this book reads: “A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship.” When I saw the title and the cover of the book, I was intrigued. Since I usually turn to mysteries or suspense novels (with a western thrown in for good measure) for my leisure reading, and concentrate on mostly ministerial books as a general rule for work, I find that the “True Crime” genre rarely catches my attention. But this one looked like it might be worth a minute or two.

I received the book in the mail about two days before leaving the country on a personal trip that wouldn’t allow time to read (even on the plane—which I don’t read well on planes anyway). So, I socked it away with the hope of getting into it upon my return. I was pleasantly surprised by my reaction to the book. From the first page of the prologue (don’t skip the opening “Author’s Note” for background, but the story doesn’t start until the prologue) I was hooked. I almost wished that I hadn’t read the descriptor on the cover, though, because from the very outset my reader’s mind was set against the cop (one of the book’s voices).

The story is exactly as advertised: an innocent man gets caught in the cross-hairs of a policeman doing whatever he can to put criminals away—which includes fudging with the truth to a certain extent. After all, in the neighborhood where he works, most of these people are drug users or dealers anyway, right? Within these pages you will read the sad state of corruption that plagues police departments (and is, one must say the exception rather than the rule). The outcome of the story is that once the cop (Collins) was caught in his web of deception, he had to come clean with details of all the arrests he had made that had been compromised by corrupt practices. All of which were overturned. Meaning that a lot of guilty criminals went free because one dirty cop wanted to cut a corner or two—in the service of justice.

At the same time the story is about a man just about to embark on a promising future (especially coming from the neighborhood in which he lived), who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, by the wrong policeman, with the wrong friend. It is a case of mistaken identity, misused power, and misplaced trust. And the result is a three-year federal incarceration for an innocent man.

The final outcome of the story is not such a depressing thing though. With all of the ill-will, all of the bad blood, and all of the system abuse, Convicted is the story of how God uses unusual circumstances to bring sinners into relationship with Him. Even more, it is the story of how two men who start out as mortal enemies—and according to all conventional wisdom should remain so until they reach the grave (maybe at each other’s hand)—become friends through forgiveness only available through Christ and knowing Him.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It has action, suspense, and an unusually unexpected happy ending. It’s in stores or online today. And read this 5-reading glass treasure about forgiveness.

—Benjamin Potter September 20, 2017

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

Popular Posts