Tuesday, December 28

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker, a review

The first book by Ted Dekker that I read was Thr3e and within pages I was drawn completely into the story. Shortly after that the Circle trilogy was released and I delved further into Ted Dekker’s words, and loving them.

Ted Dekker’s latest novel is Immanuel’s Veins. It is set in Russia during the 1700’s. Though it is supposed to occur in our world, it fits loosely into the Books of History Chronicles that Ted Dekker has been working on ever since the release of Black.

Toma, the main character and occasional narrator, along with his friend Alek are charged with protecting two beautiful young women (Lucine and Natasha) from danger. Toma grows nervous when a strange group of Russians seem to appeal for the affection of these women. Toma, operating under the direction of the Empress of Russia, has reason to believe this strange group has villainous plans. However, he too has fallen for one of the daughters. Now he is at odds with the leader of this strange group – Vlad – for her heart.

Thursday, December 23

Slave by John MacArthur, your true identity in Christ

In his newest book, Slave, John MacArthur examines the way the Bible in commonly translated. Specifically he examines the term that we commonly render as ‘servant.’ According to MacArthur, this may be a mistranslation and the original language may mean something closer to – “Slave.” Don’t expect to read this in a single sitting.

The books itself is not written in a way that is difficult to read. To the contrary, MacArthur writes in a way that non-Bible scholars can understand the concept and the implications. However there is just so much information that I found myself wanting to take time after each chapter to reflect.

MacArthur slowly develops his argument, starting with his findings. He then goes on to describe what slavery at the time would be like. This is an especially interesting section. Many times, Slavery brings to mind the history of the United States with slavery and modern day forms of slavery. However, slavery during the time of Christ was different, and the roles of slaves and masters is shown to be important in understand our relationship with God.

John MacArthur is an excellent writer . His writing is concise and thought provoking. He writes in a way that can appeal to those interested in delving further into the Bible as well as providing good material for Bible Studies to use. In fact, there is a companion piece to this book aimed at such studies (though I did not review that particular item).

The one thing I didn’t like in this book is the marketing of it. It is being pushed as revealing a cover up in the Bible. He mentions it briefly throughout the text, however it seems more to be a selling point for the book rather than a fully supported idea.

4/5 stars

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, December 19

Mere Churchianity

Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Some of you may know Michael Spencer by his blog, Internet Monk. There he often wrote to those who were growing disillusioned with the church as we see it here in America. Michael passed away in April of 2005 from cancer.

Mere Churchianity is the only book he has published. It is subtitled, “Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.” At first glance it would be easy to group this book into the rest of generic books on spirituality and how to be a spiritual person. However, after perusing a few chapters you’ll be able to quickly tell that this is not the case. Rather, this book is a response to said books.

The forward by Water Brook’s editor reveals that Michael was apprehensive about how his book would be received by the Christian Community, and especially by the Christian School he worked for. This book is often direct and does not always show the modern church in the most pleasant light. He offers his thoughts on how the church is pulling away from true spirituality and is trying to present their own manufactured ‘god.’ In trying to move past the stereotype Christianity created by fundamentalists, the church now moves in a whole direction. Let me give you a quick sample of Michael’s thoughts on how the western world presents Jesus.

“In the Western world, we long ago passed the point where Jesus was someone only religious leaders could talk about. Jesus is now a corporate, political, and social symbol. He is appropriated by those who want to claim their products or agendas are recommended and endorsed by God. The image or mention of Jesus conveys authenticity in a way that nothing else can approach.”

While present a sharp critique of the church, a critique is more what the book lends itself to. For Michael offers his thoughts on ways the church might be able to overcome this.

It is a thought provoking read and I liked how Michael was able to express his problems with the church without being overbearingly negative. However, I don’t fully agree with Michael’s conclusion. While he doesn’t entirely dismiss the church as not being necessary, he certainly leans in that direction. He acknowledges the importance of the church but at the same time seems to underplay the role of the church as a community of believers.

This is a great book to read if you are someone who struggles with church and for anyone who is starting to question the church as a whole while unsure of whether they can retain the Christianity. However, if you are part of a church and you feel as if it is having a positive effect on your Christian life, you may find this book a tad harsh or biting at times.

3.5 stars

You can download the first chapter here if you would like to get a better taste for the book.

Rate my review here.

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, December 14

The Social Network, a review

The Social Network

At first I was ho-hum when I heard about. But then I noticed the guys at ScriptShadow (who I follow quite closely now) reviewed the script and loved it. Reviews praising the film rolled in and I figured I had to see it.

The Social Network does so many things right. Right away they firmly establish Mark Zuckerberg’s character. It perfectly starts Mark’s emotional arc and is a key event in the film. Starting right on a forward movement really propels the story.

Even when characters are working on computers, a scene that would be boring in nearly any other movie, there is a feel of tension and driving force. Each character is introduced brilliantly. Stakes are constantly raised. There are three threads woven in this story. Two of them are lawsuits brought against Mark. Then, intertwined between these two lawsuits is the story of Mark Zuckerberg. While a bit about Facebook, it is more about the hurdles he faced and the people who influenced him, whether negatively or positively. Though for much of the film he is not entirely sympathetic, the final act brings everything to an emotional close. During this final act the tension continuously ratchets up.

This film has so many great qualities. The story is engaging and the characters have depth to them. Though often heavily fictionalized it does not prevent it from taking you on an emotional ride with the characters. It also deals with many themes, including friendship and greed which come across strongly in the film as well.

8/10 stars

Wednesday, December 8

Is Jesus A Luxury For You?

Is Jesus a luxury for you?

This question was posed recently by Tamrat Layne to students at Cornerstone University. For those of you who don’t know, Tamrat is a former Ethiopian Prime Minister. He was a communist, an atheist, and guerrilla fighter.

The idols of Tamrat were Marx and Lenin. He read 48 volumes by Marx and 52 by Lenin, and dozens more by others promoting the communist cause.

In 1977, around the age of 21, he went to the mountains of Ethiopia to join a group calling for freedom from the reigning communist regime. As Tamrat describes it, the communist regime in power could be considered a different ‘denomination’ of communism and the ‘demonination’ the rebel group belonged to held antagonistic views toward their government.

“Freedom comes out the barrel of a gun.”

Working with many others he helped build a guerilla army of tens of thousands of soldiers, where he ended up serving as a chairman on the military committee. They spent fifteen years fighting, communist versus communist.

So, through guerrilla warfare they fought and eventually overthrew their government. Tamrat was elected as Prime Minister. After four years he shifted positions and was the defense minister for one year. After that one of the former friend’s rose to power and order Tamrat to be arrested for misuse of power. He was given an 18 year sentence. During those early months Tamrat tried killing himself.

When he could not succeed he started searching for a new life. He read book after book, philosophy, history, and religion. He read Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian texts. For a while he studied the Koran diligently until one day a nurse brought him a Christian flier. After reading it and accepting it he prayed and Tamrat said that Jesus appeared to him in a vision.

“I am Jesus. Believe in and follow me…If you follow me I will give you the life you are searching for.”

Tamrat answered, “I surrender.”

And for the first time in his life Tamrat said he felt peace, joy and hope, though for a while he still carried thoughts of vengeance toward his former friend. Tamrat was later released for good behavior, serving 12 out of the 18 years. When he reconnected with his wife, she told him that Christ came to her around the same time as Tamrat. And after being released, Tamrat was finally able to forgive his friend.

“My heart was so strong and calloused he had to come himself and hammer it.”

Tamrat came to Cornerstone to bring a message. The message was not only of the importance of Christ but of the necessity of Christ. He asked the students, “Is Jesus a luxury for you? ... It is not a luxury. It is not a part time thing. It is a necessity. It is a breath. It is not business as usual.”

Having grown up on the completely other end of the spectrum, Tamrat realizes this importance. However, he realizes that to American Christians who are used to it, it is easy to get used to. Jesus should not be a fad or something to just show off. Being a Christian requires more than a smile and fish bumper sticker. It requires devotion. It calls for you to carry your cross. It calls for you to forgive your neighbor, even if he had you arrested.

Tamrat said he has given up politics. His only desire is to spread the gospel of Jesus. He hopes that someday he will be able to return and minister to his own people. Recently Christianity has been growing in Ethiopia, a report that gladdens Tamrat, though he still knows the journey will not be easy even as he seeks to grow in faith.

“I have faith, complete faith. I am still being transformed.”

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light,that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world." John 1:4-9, Tamrat’s favorite Bible passage.

Sunday, December 5

The Silver Hand - a review

The Silver Hand by Stephen R. Lawhead

The second book in the Song of Albion trilogy, and, for me, the strongest book in the trilogy.
Before I give the spoiler warning I will tell you this: This is one of my favorite books told in first person. Lawhead does something completely surprising and dangerous, but it works. Either read past the spoilers or pick up the book for yourself to find out (I recommend the later to begin with).

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Paradise War and The Silver Hand.
The Silver Hand takes place immediately after The Paradise War. The first thing I should note is that the POV changes. While the first book is told first person from Lewis (now Llew), this book is told first person from Tegid’s perspective. I also will not be detailing the plot as much as I did in The Paradise War and will be offering more of what I liked/disliked.

First of all, Lawhead is a master at descriptions. In reading this book I can completely envision this world. I can almost smell the sea and hear voices of the characters. This is made even stronger less than a quarter of the way through the story.

What happens?

Prince Meldron, envious over his father’s throne and enraged that Tegid is about to hand the kingship to Llew leads his war band to take over. During this violent regime change Llew’s right hand is cut off (a maimed man cannot be king) and Tegid is blinding. Yes, the narrator is now blind. For much of the book Tegid relies on his sense of smell and hearing as well as Llew describing the scene for him. And despite this availability to have Llew describe everything, it does not feel as if it burdens the dialogue. In fact, much of it deepens Llew’s character as we can see Llew becoming even more a part of the world his is in. Also, Tegid is granted an ‘inner’ eye, a gift that seems to be from Albion’s deity that allows him visions of the present. Though this may seem cop-out, it is used sparingly and Lawhead follows a strict rule when granting Tegid this ‘inner’ eye.

Second, Lawhead works the prophecy from the first book well into the narrative. Though they can be cliché, Lawhead was not wrote a interesting one, but it unfolds slowly over the course of the book, and at its conclusion it still isn’t completely satisfied. Generally when I see prophecies a few things are addressed in the beginning of a story and then the rest is rushed at the end. Not so here.

Depictions of evil are done incredibly. As a reader, I get a great feel for how evil Meldron is. His seizure of kingdom is literally destroying Albion It is a strong metaphor for the corruption of power and yet it never feels like an overwhelming metaphor. Instead I grow anxious to see the final confrontation. For here is an evil that is truly powerful and that may be more than a match for the hero. That tension is held magnificently.

I don’t really have many complaints about this book. If I did it is that it felt episodic. After being cast out, Tegid and Llew begin to raise up their own army, slowly but surely. However, a lot of the events that happen feel almost like a film montage only in chapter form. They are written well and there is tension maintained and built, which is why I did not find it distracting.


9/10




I received no form of compensation to review this book.

Thursday, December 2

Churched - a story of bitterness

Reading Christian memoirs after reading Blue Like Jazz is a lot like watching fantasy movies after The Lord of the Rings came to theaters. It is inevitable that they would be compared. And when the memoir makes a special point to appear extra humorous while picking at Christianity that comparison only grows.

Case in point, Churched by Matthew Paul Turner. The subtitle is One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess. Matt grew up in a Baptist church during the 70’s. And not just any Baptist church. A Fundamentalist Baptist church. Matt makes that point very clear. Occasionally jumping around in time when events call for it, the book starts around the age of four or five, detailing much of what went out in the Turner household and within the Baptist church.

Any of you who grew up in a Baptist church during the 70’s may recognize much of what he experiences: a fire and brimstone pastor, going to movies was a sin, and dancing was sure to send you straight to hell.

Matt tells this much as a semi narrative story of his life., however it was I found hard to engage. A major distraction for me the lack of large conflict. Yes, he had trouble with his church and was scared of going to hell. But much of what Matt writes seems over exaggerated. He goes into great detail what he thought and did at the age of four. When I remember that age I don’t remember everything I though nor even if it was three, four, or five. I tend to have quick emotions as memories. And I sure doubt I could effectively read an adults mind as if he were an adult.

I guess in a nutshell, the book is a series of stories from Matt’s life. Each story is presented humorously at first. However at the end of the story, instead of a full punch line Matt verbally punches the Baptist church in face. In writing about the extremely fundamentalists in his church Matt often comes across as writing a scathing review of church.

He also includes completely unnecessary asides to his story. In one instance he mentions how a high school student at his school (a Baptist school) would fill in for the secretary for a short time each day while the secretary taught a class. Later he mentions that there were rumors that the principle was accused of sleeping with the girl. It is something that feel completely out of place. The principle is not a key character in his story and only serves to give information that not only is unnecessary but it seems to intentionally cast some from his church in an ugly light for no other sake that to put them in the ugly light.

Finally, there is no strong resolution to the story. There is a quick couple pages at the end where Matt explains that he finally found a church he likes as an adult. But that too feels like an aside. I felt like the whole story was going to lead up to him forgiving the church, though not always agreeing with it. However at the end, the bitterness still seems present and that bitterness infects too much of the story that it almost drowns out the moments of humor.

As I mentioned earlier, this book will draw comparisons to Blue Like Jazz. However that book was told well. There was conflict that felt real. There was loss and disappointment. And then there was forgiveness and there was hope. There was no bitterness, even when Donald Miller would disagree with something. There was love, and love is not something I felt in this book which was saddening given how much Matt seemed to desire his church to show love instead of fire and brimstone.

2/5


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, November 30

Seeds of Turmoil - The Biblical Story Behind Conflict in the Middle East

The story of the conflict in the Middle East is a troubled one. Today that conflict seems to reach headlines nearly every day. Whether a terrorist bombing, the current US military operations, or Islamic leaders decrying Israel. The story behind this is also a long one. For many people, the issue is thought to have arisen in the late 1940’s (1948 to be exact) when Israel officially became a recognized state in our world. And while that event certainly has led to much conflict in the Middle East, author and pastor Bryant Wright suggests in his book, Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis of the Middle East, that the issue is much deeper, dating back to the time of Abraham.

What’s that? Wasn’t Abraham the father of Israel? Yes. However, Wright also explains how Abraham was also the father of Islam (even though that was not his intent). If you want to know the whole explanation, I’ll let you read the book.

I’ll give you the short version here: Sarah could have children. Abraham had a kid through the maid, Hagar. Abraham then had a kid with Sarah a bit later. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and Sarah to Isaac. Ishmael’s descendents include Mohammed, the ‘founder’ of Islam and Isaac is one of the father’s of Israel.

Wright then goes on to explain the relationship between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael through many biblical periods and then leads up with today. In fact over half the book is the biblical history. The rest is mostly comprised of Israel’s, Islam’s, and Christianity’s views on the conflict.

As far as the book itself, I found Wright to be repetitive when explaining the biblical history. Often he would mention one event multiple times and explain it. One such example is the reference to Abraham sleeping with Hagar. While that might’ve been important to reference in various chapters, Wright then goes on to explain that it would’ve been sinful. And that was fine the first time. But the second, third, fourth, etc. time, we don’t need the extra explanation. We already understand his view.

And while the Biblical view is interesting, valid, and important, I wish Bryan would’ve spent some more time deconstructing current events and relating them a bit more. Though, I think perhaps he tried to avoid this to differentiate this book from others about the Middle East. Still, the Biblical history perspective was interesting and fresh, a view I haven’t engaged before and one that deserves thought. This is a quick read and an easy one.

3/5 stars

Read more about this book on Thomas Nelson's product page here.
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, November 25

Another Obsessive Holiday Disorder

What do you do for Thanksgiving? Or maybe that’s not the best question. Maybe I should ask, “Why do you do Thanksgiving?” Or, “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” I’d bet most people would say the thing they love about Thanksgiving is getting together with friends and family. An occasional person may say ‘turkey,’ but then they try to make it obvious they were kidding, especially when they weren’t. Most people will also say that it makes them slow down and be thankful for what life has brought them.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of thankfulness, contentment is a word that also pops up in my head. When I am thankful for something I am perfectly content with it, I’m happy with it. I don’t need more. And on Thanksgiving, when we declare what we are thankful for, don’t we often mean that we’re happy with it and content with it? There may be something flashier and more exciting, but I don’t need it. And so, every Thanksgiving we count our blessings and take time to be thankful….

….only to turn around and become enthralled with our consumerism-based society on a day affectionately called “Black Friday.” And I know many of you spend days gearing up for Black Friday. You scope out all the deals and go to bed early so you can be at the store front before doors open so that you can be one of the first in. If you’re really ambitious, you pitch a tent the night before so that you are guaranteed your spot in line. And this is all for what? That 42” TV screen? Oh yeah, because the 36” one you bought last Black Friday just doesn’t make the cut anymore. Plus that TV is on sale for hundreds of dollars less than the starting price. It’s practically begging you to buy it. And while you’re at it, you might as well buy that cheap blu-ray player and some of those $10 blu-ray movies so you can make use of all 42” of high definition heaven (which would make 36” something less then heaven?).

What happened to the contentment? What happened to the thankfulness for what you had? It was the promise of saving money on something you probably wouldn’t get otherwise. Even worse, it becomes a battle with every other shopper turning into your enemy. Thanksgiving day we applaud and may even volunteer for organizations like Mel Trotter, who serve dinner on Thanksgiving for under privileged families and individuals, but on Friday may God have mercy on the one who buys the store's last of the item you wanted five minutes before you arrived.

To make it better, stores even started instituting Thanksgiving day sales! Hurry up and eat that turkey and pumpkin pie, otherwise you won’t make it to Wal-Mart in time. Let’s all wait and share what we’re thankful for while we’re waiting in the mile long lines that develop.

What would happen if you didn’t go Black Friday shopping for once? Maybe you won’t get that pair of shoes you wanted. Or maybe you could take that money and save it, putting it towards repaying your school loans. Or maybe you spend it on Christmas gifts for others (unless you use Black Friday as your Christmas shopping day, in which case you might be granted some leniency in your craziness). Or maybe you take the money set aside for the day and donate it. You’ll also be a lot calmer. Getting up at 2 a.m. can’t be good for your health or your attitude.

Wait, I know what you can. You can put in that Christmas album you’ve been dying to hear because you know that Christmas music isn’t supposed to played until after Thanksgiving. Now unless I’m mistaken you’ve got some pumpkin pie leftovers calling your names.

Wednesday, November 17

The Paradise War - a review

The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead
The Paradise War is the first book in Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy. Lawhead is best known for writing stories infused with Celtic mythology and history. The Song of Albion Trilogy and his King Arthur series are two of his most well known series, though his retelling of Robin Hood has garnered many fans as well.

There may be minor spoilers throughout.

In the books I’ve read, Lawhead tends to write two types of stories. One type is the retelling of a famous myth, such as King Arthur or King Raven. These stories usually chronicle their early days and work in many of the popular elements of the myth while using his knowledge of history to add realism. His second type of story is that of an apathetic person suddenly thrust into a strange new world. The Paradise War is one of the later types.

Lewis Gilles is an unassuming Oxford scholar with an adventure seeking roommate/best friend, Simon. When Simon begins investigating the supposed appearance of mythological beasts, Lewis rolls his eyes at Simon’s eagerness to believe everything. While investing these appearances, Simon enters a Cairn and doesn’t come back out. This obviously unsettles Lewis. He teams up with a man named Nettles, who is an older scholar with a deep knowledge of Celtic history. Lewis ends up entering the same Cairn and it transports him to an ancient Celtic land called Albion.

The first person Lewis meets is a battle crazed warrior who tries to kill him. The second person Lewis encounters is Simon, who slays the warrior but has Lewis pretend to have done it. Lewis quickly discovers that Simon has been in Albion for 5 years, even though in our world much less than a year has passed.

Lewis is accepted into the kingdom and is sent to a training school where he will learn to be a warrior. A bard named Tegid is sent to bring Lewis back after the training is complete. They take a brief detour as Tegid attends a gathering of the bards, a gathering that proves fateful. An ancient evil creature attempts to escape bondage and is held at bay by the chief bard. Though the creature is repelled, it kills the chief bard. Before dying, the chief bard breathes into Lewis his ‘awen’ or spirit. Held within the spirit is the key to locating the Song of Albion.

Tegid and Lewis continue back to their king, to give him the fateful news. Upon their return they find the castle destroyed, though the king and his war band are gone. They discover that a demon named Lord Nudd managed to escape the pits of hell while the chief bard held off the greater evil and this demon is ravaging the land.

Tegid and Lewis are able to rejoin the king and they hold up in another fortress where they are repeatedly attacked by Lord Nuffen and his horde of demons that cannot be killed by mortal weapons. Lewis’s only hope is in retrieving the hidden Song of Albion. For his part in saving Albion, Lewis is renamed Llew (renaming is a common tradition in the book).


One of the things that immediately strikes me about this story is much of the realism that is present. When Lewis is trained, he doesn’t become a sword master overnight. Rather he goes to a training school and is there for years. He also doesn’t master the language immediately. At the end of the book he still needs to ask for clarification for words. While the way it is done is used more to cue the reader into certain Celtic phrases/words, it helps create a realistic setting for Lewis to be learning in.

Another great thing is that the story is largely self contained. Though there are scenes that hint at a larger story (as well as a huge cliffhanger I won’t reveal here), the primary narrative here isn’t ‘part one’ of a larger one. Rather the narrative has a beginning/middle/end contained in this book as well as containing the ‘beginning’ of the larger narrative. One thing that often bugs me in trilogies is when the end of the first (or second) book offers no true conclusion but rather a cliffhanger with no satisfaction. At least the cliffhanger here comes with

I also tend to be picky about my first person narratives, but Lawhead handles it well, creating a great environment of an Oxford student thrust into an ancient/mythological Celtic world.

My biggest complaint is that the beginning dragged on too long. After Simon disappeared, it seemed to take forever for Lewis to eventually follow. I get that Lewis is supposed to be an apathetic type of person at first, but this was too apathetic. Your roommate just DISAPPEARED into a pile of rocks. I wouldn’t go home and tell his girlfriend that he made an impromptu vacation thus missing a dinner date. Even if I thought it was a joke, I would call the police when he wasn’t back after 24 hours, not seek the help of an old professor much, much later!


7/10

Friday, November 5

Jesus Had HIV

Jesus was HIV-positive.

This is a metaphor recently used by a South African pastor in a three part sermon series. He is quick to acknowledge that there is no proof of Jesus actually having HIV, nor is it truly important whether or not he did. Pastor Xola Skosana says, “the best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to...create an environment where they know God is...not ashamed of them."”

His choice, however, seems to have sparked an intense debate across religious circles. Some see this as scandalous whereas others see it as a chance to reach out to those who are HIV-positive and gives people better means to reach across cultures for mission work.

My first reaction to this article was one of shock and disagreement. Jesus having HIV? Living in the culture of the United States of America HIV is often associated with sexual promiscuity. Therefore I was quite angry that this preacher would insinuate that Jesus was sexually promiscuous for the purpose of making him seem more human.

But then I took into account the culture of Africa, where HIV is not necessarily a product directly from sexual promiscuity (though of course it would have roots there), but rather from the HI-virus being genetically passed down from parent to children. According to avert.org, in 2008 over 2 million children have HIV across the globe with ninety percent inheriting it from their mothers. And then those children grow up and are adults with HIV aids, and in many cultures they are looked down on.

Pastor Skosana goes on to say, “The message to the church is that it is not enough for us to give people food privately and give them groceries, we must create an environment that's empowering because most people who are HIV-positive will not necessarily die of Aids-related sickness but more of a broken heart, out of rejection.” It is when I considered this that I began to appreciate what Pastor Skosana is doing. The last thing a church should be doing is to create environments of hostility. And this is the point of the sermon. Christians are called to reach out to the hurting and the poor. Sadly, there are Christians who view those suffering with HIV/AIDS as having received punishment for their sins. But we need to remember a few things. 1) HIV can be inherited and may not have resulted from anything done by the person suffering with it. 2) If HIV was contracted as a result of sexual promiscuity, it does not prevent anyone from God’s grace. All have fallen short of the glory of God – people with HIV, people without, Pastors, political leaders, CEO’s, regular everyday people.

In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes about in living life we are creating our own story. So let us help those with struggling stories. Let us lift them up in prayer. Let us learn about their situation so that we can speak truthfully and knowledgeably about it for ourselves and to others. Let us not vilify those who are victims. When believers can band together in this, then I believe Pastor Skosana’s wish of HIV being de-stigmatized will finally come about.

It is an interesting way of getting his point across, but I hope Pastor Skosana is successful in the message he hopes to spread.
If you wish to read news articles concerning this event they are here and here.


And here are two great posts I found about the topic.
One (by someone currently suffering with HIV)
Two

Monday, November 1

Christmas Overdose

Let’s play a word association game.

First word: November. Write down the words that first come to mind. Here is what I got.
Turkey. Fall. Leaf piles. Apple cider. Fresh apple sauce. Thanksgiving. Pilgrims. Pumpkin pie. Gravy.

Please notice, I did not mention snow. Nor did I mention three wise men, or baby Jesus, or Santa Claus. For this game these are important things to take note of.

Next word: December: Write down what you think of.
Snow. Cold. Pine tree. Christmas. Presents. Family. Candy. Caroling.
Hhhm. There’s my Christmas reference. And my references to Christmas songs.

I for one, am not a fan of Christmas songs in November. I get sick of them in a month’s time. Why would I want two months? Perhaps if there were more original (and good) Christmas songs out there, I would like them better. But each December I hear the exact same songs. Radio stations play each song at least once every hour. And hearing The Twelve Days of Christmas ever hour for 25 days is probably the most painful mental experience ever. Wait, I take that back. The Hippopotamus song is worse.

Don’t agree with me? Let me see if I can persuade you.
Usually the day after July 4th is when stores start putting up Christmas decorations and sales. They use fear tactics to make you buy everything early so that you won’t forget anything. Christmas candy seems to go on sale as soon as school starts and Christmas lights are up by Halloween. This is the consumerist society we live in.

I would argue that by voluntarily playing Christmas songs early, you are aiding this consumerist society. You are telling the world that you want more Christmas earlier. This results in Alvin and the Chipmunks singing every possible Christmas song and, heaven forbid, will prompt Justin Bieber to release a Christmas album which your thirteen year old sister will blast at full volume. And I know you don’t want that.

Tuesday, October 26

"About" my blog

“About” pages….

I had one when I first created the blog. But it was dry and really boring, and very non descriptive. I laid out my planned ‘use’ of the blog, and nearly completely failed. About all I’ve used it for was to review products for Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze program. And that’s been great fun, giving me the opportunity to read many stories that I might not ever have picked up.

Ah. There’s that word. Story, the thing that drives everything. As one of my college professors says, “Story is king.” That is something that I would like to reflect more in this blog, and something I want anyone reading it to keep me accountable. I still plan on posting reviews for Thomas Nelson. But I want to do more than say if I liked it or not. I want to examine the story. Was it a story worth telling? Was it a story told well? If I fail to do that in a review, post a comment asking for that. I hope to become much more involved with this whole blogging thing, but some accountability will be needed.

I also hope to branch out beyond just Thomas Nelson products that I receive from Booksneeze. I hope to actually review other media. I also hope to examine stories that I have written, and offer my thoughts on stories happening in the world around us. Maybe I'll even post a few of the shorts that I've worked on. You'll just have to wait for those though :)

As a side note, unless indicated otherwise all my posts are my own creation and intellectual property. If you wish to republish any part of this blog, please contact me first.

Friday, October 15

Illegals by Darrell Ankarlo

Illegal immigration has become a very politically charged issue in the past couple of days, with both sides engaging in heated debates. Illegals is no exception. Ankarlo is strongly opposed to illegal immigration (though not immigration itself). He is firm in his position and often exudes what could be called ‘righteous anger’ at the problem.

However, what Ankarlo does right is to recognize that he needs to do more than believe in his point of view. He actually needs to interact with the opposing views, and see where they are coming from so he can fully dialogue with and understand people who don’t agree with him. Thus, he travels to Mexico. He actually goes out and speaks with illegal immigrants and with coyotes (people who lead illegal immigrants to the US and help them over the border). He seeks to understand why they do it.

In short: he takes the problem of illegal immigration and tries to put a human face on, even though he doesn’t like it.

He also explains legal problems that arise from illegal immigration. He doesn’t limit it to considerations of drug trafficking and violent crimes against US citizens. He discovers how often the immigrants themselves are assaulted by each other, or by their guides. One heart wrenching moment involves the discovery of a ‘rape tree.’ But I’ll let you read the book to find out what that is, and what it means to illegal immigrants.

Ankarlo closes the book with a list of ideas he has to help solve the problem of immigration. Whether or not you will agree with him depends on your political affiliation. But, I liked that he actually outlined ideas instead of just spouting rhetoric saying that we need to control our borders.

This book was previously released as Another Man’s Sombrero.

4/5 stars.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, September 24

Demon: A Memoir

When I finished this book I had two reactions: I loved it. And I hated it.
I am, by nature, an aspiring screenwriter. And one of the first things any screenwriter will tell you is to avoid exposition. Exposition is death in film and so I have learned to run away from exposition whenever possible. However, Demon: A Memoir is almost pure exposition. It is the story of Clay and a demon named Lucian. Lucian tells Clay of how Lucifer fell and then tells the story of creation and salvation through a demon's eyes. In some ways this book brings to mind Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, in that almost the whole book is a conversation over various dinners. Because of this, it is jarring when in the middle of a description of the creation of man and waiter might come up and refill glasses. Sometimes these events later become important, but other times they are mere distractions.

There is not must action in this book, and as such it can adopt a slow pace.

Slow however, does not mean boring. On the contrary, Tosca Lee manages to keep the excitement up, which is hard to do in a slow moving novel.

Here's what I liked: the descriptions used by Lucian about the fall and about human nature are beautifully done. It reminded me of descriptions used by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity only more poetic. It is the different viewpoint offered in this book that allowed me to take in the exposition. For this novel, it worked. And Lee avoids the demons present in stories such as The Exorcist or even Ted Dekker's Adam. Her demon is still evil, though at first almost sympathetic. But the way she makes him sympathetic and then turns it around is haunting and scary. Much more frightening than many others.

3.5/5

Thursday, September 23

The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay
When I picked up The Gospel According to Jesus, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At first I expected something along the lines of The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. I quickly realized this wasn’t the case. What this book is instead, is largely a look at the idea of righteousness, what we interpret it to be, and perhaps what it should mean to us instead.

Chris Seay (who also authored The Gospel According to Lost) has a great way with words. His ideas flow well together and he seems like a mix of Donald Miller and Shane Clayborn, not only in style but in content. His thoughts are extremely relevant to today’s society. It especially hits on how our modern idea of morality and sin affect younger generations.

One thing I found particularly interesting was some artwork in the middle of the book. It was done by a contemporary artist and seemed to blend a Christian worldview with issues of today. Page numbers are then given to help show which areas of the book the images go along with, to support the authors idea.
4/5 stars

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, September 10

Outlive Your Life - Lucado

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

If you have ever read a Max Lucado book before, you probably have noticed that all of his books follow a similar set up. The same is true with Lucado’s latest book – Outlive Your Life. Lucado follows the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”. And it’s not broke as far as I can tell (though I have only read a couple of his books).

Outlive Your Life is sort of how the title describes: encouraging people to do something more with their life than following your now stereotypical daily routine. In reading it, I realized that it is a very timely book, especially for younger generations. As a college student, one of the questions I face often is wondering what I will do with my life. How can I better the world? And Lucado speaks to these worries.

The chapter that stood out to me the most was the sixth chapter – “Open Your Door; Open Your Heart” — a chapter on hospitality. In a culture consumed by smart phones, twitter, and text messaging it is easy to see how we have lost the gift of hospitality and human interaction. And yet Lucado describes why it is important.

For anyone asking questions about how they can live to make their life worth something, this book will be push you and show you what you can do. If you are in a job where you feel that you are doing something worthwhile, let this book encourage you. It is a simple book but profound at the same time.

4/5 stars.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, September 7

Falling Away

The Falling Away
The Falling Away is the latest book by T.L. Hines and the first book of his that I have picked up.
This is the story of Dylan, a wounded Iraq war veteran and a man who ends up being in the middle of a huge conflict of good and evil. Plus, he has a past that he feels the need to escape from-run away from (a bit of obvious irony on the part of the author as the character’s full name is Dylan Runs Ahead.
Overall the story is fast paced, moving quickly through plot points and it was supported by a strong writing style. I appreciated that although it was a spiritual/supernatural thriller, Hines doesn’t try to make the book overly religious to the point where it would bog down the story.
However, one of the weaker points of the book is what I am finding to be the typical wounded war veteran character. More and more those veterans were victims of an IED in Iraq and the opening pages/chapters recount their recovery process and the pain they’ve gone through while they are beginning to be affected by deep psychological side effects. *sigh*. I will give Hines the credit of creating a well rounded character who is easy to connect with
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, August 12

Patton

Patton by Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin

I usually find biographies a hit or miss. And If they miss, it’s usually because the writer makes even exciting events sound boring and fill the book with information that I never cared about. Thankfully Patton avoids these problems.
Patton tells about the famous World War II General, most widely known for leading at the Battle of the Bulge. Patton has also been the feature of an Academy Award winning movie (which I have not seen). One of the first things this book does though, is to take the portrayal of Patton in the movie versus the Patton of history. Movies are famous (or maybe infamous) for re-telling real life or exaggerating it.

At times funny, other times serious, this book paints a vivid portrait of Patton. It shows him to be the master strategist he was. He was an early proponent of the use of tanks, and is one of the men who really helped the army use them effectively.
Even though many of Patton’s victories make him seem almost superhuman, the authors take care to list many of Patton’s failings. His womanizing during some times of stress put a strain on his marriage. Also, battle fatigue wasn’t known as a medical problem at the time, and often he punished soldiers who displayed its symptoms thinking they weren’t exhibiting enough self control.

The first several chapters took me a bit to get into, but the pace really picks up when Patton enters the first World War. At just under 200 pages, it is a brisk read and doesn’t require a degree in history to appreciate or understand it.

4/5 stars

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, July 28

Beyond Opinion

Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

Beyond Opinion is not a book a I would suggest reading in one sitting, or even in a couple settings. It is a compilation of essays from various people who practice apologetics. Ravi Zacharias is the general editor for the book and also contributed some of his own articles. So instead, I would recommend reading an article, maybe two, and then setting it down for a bit (unless apologetics is really your thing).
The purpose of Beyond Opinion as I saw it is informing Christians as to the reasons that apologetics is vitally important to faith as well as being an easy and quick reference. Though it does offer information that can be used while witnessing, that is not the book’s primary purpose. This book was inspired by a question asked of Zacharias: “why is [supernatural conversion] more evident in the lives of so many Christians…]”

To help answer the above question, the chapters cover a variety of topics. The book begins with different worldviews that often question or come in conflict with the Christian faith, including Atheism, Islam, and Postmodernism. Next, essays address questions generally aimed at Christianity. These topics include a discussion of evil and suffering written by Zacharias. Later articles seek to explain the importance of the Trinity as well as a final article about the importance of apologetics. All weave together to make a large point: If you are a question, and especially if you hope to witness to others it is important to know not only why you believe, but you have to have an understanding of the worldviews that disagree with you so that you can be prepared for their questions.

One of the great things about this book is you skip chapters. If you are in a situation where you witness to a Buddhist, you can read the chapter on Eastern Religions. If your friend expresses frustration with the suffering in the world, you can read the essay on pain and suffering and will hopefully glean something useful. That’s what this book is for—a reference. Not an all knowing here’s all the answer, but a good guide.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, May 10

Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs

WARNING! If you are a fan of Tim Downs and are expecting something along the lines a Bug Man Novel, drop all expectations. This is not a gritty thriller that dives into the details of crime scenes leaving your heart pounding and sweat beading your forehead.

If you have never read Tim Downs and enjoy this book, be warned that his other books are much more intense.

Wonders Never Cease follows the story of nurse-should’ve-been-Doctor-Kemp McAvoy. One day an aging movie actress gets in a car accident and is put in a medically induced coma. Kemp is her night nurse and concocts an idea: make her think that she has seen an angel. He works with a publisher and an agent and they have a plan to strike it rich. At least, until the bumps come.

Wonders is a fun little book. It’s fast paced and everything is clear and concise. It’s not action driven like Downs’ other books, but it is a refreshing change. I think he proves that he knows more than just thrillers. The characters seemed real and there was enough humor and suspense to keep interested. Downs always is good on the research side, and seems to understand medical procedures quite well.

It is a lighter story though, and if you don’t want to read something lighter, you may not enjoy it. It is pretty simple, and fairly predictable but I left feeling satisfied.

4/5
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, May 9

Plan B

Plan B
Plan B, by Pete Wilson, reads like a generic “What Do I Do When Something Terrible Happens and I’m Wondering Where God Is?” sort of book. He offers examples of time when things go wrong in life that God is still present, even if it is not obvious. He interchanges personal experiences with experiences of those close to him. However, often the experiences of those he knows are the most heart wrenching.

I feel awkward reading the book when in one chapter he tells a story about his son peeing in a swimming pool and in others he writes about friends who suffered dissolving marriages, deaths of those close to them, and much more. This isn’t to say Pete doesn’t have a voice in this pain. One chapter outlines how he and his wife went through a miscarriage, and I think that chapter is one of the strongest out of the book, and that is because it is the most personal to him. The other chapters clumsily move from a funny story of embarrassment to serious stories of heartbreak. While everyone needs to laugh, the funny stories are often out of place.

Second, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the book is generic. Almost every Christian self-help book I see now deals with finding God through personal crisis. And they all use the same Bible stories (Joseph) and all presume the reader is asking the same questions (But what did I do to deserve this?). This is not necessarily bad, but for me I don’t see a difference in reading a different book over another. If I was struggling, I would go first on a friend’s recommendation. If they recommended this one, then Great! If not, I’d choose a different one. There isn’t enough to differentiate the tangle of other books.
2/5 stars
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, April 13

After the Hangover - review

After the Hangover

No, it’s not a written sequel to the hit movie.
“Oh no, not another political book about the awfulness of Liberalism and the death of Conservatism”—this was my first reaction when I saw the description. I received the book from Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze Program and none of the other books looked interesting so I decided to give it a shot.

Is this a political book? YES. The author also favors conservatism over Liberalism, so if you are left leaning I can guarantee that will not like this book. If you are a moderate you probably won’t like it either. If you are a conservative who loves Sarah Palin and hopes she runs for President in 2012 you also won’t like this book, as R. Emmet Tyrrell Jr. is not a Palin fan.

However, even given his bias, he is fairer than many. He picks out flaws in conservatives and Liberals alike as well as specific people within each party. The book proclaims itself as to how the conservatives should/did react to their losses in Washington. However, it turned out to be more of a history lesson. More time is covering pre-Bush times than post-Bush. He also does not give much space to his ideas on reform. Only in the last 50/60 pages does he actually outline what conservatives need to do to get back on track.

His writing is strong, and he can write with humor. However, political jargon mars many pages and if you are not a political junkie, you may be lost.

Though published by a Christian publisher, the book is much more political than religious, barely touching o religion. If you are interested in the political fate of America, you many enjoy the read.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, March 22

Why You Say It

Why You Say It
Being a lover of words and phrase as well as being a writer, I decided to try Web Garrison's Why You Say It as part of Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program. Little did I realize this is not a brand new book, but rather a reprinted one. It was first published around 2000 (according to the copyright page) and it has recently been reprinted with a more stylish cover. So if you read the first edition, there is nothing that indicates anything new here.
Garrison takes popular words/phrases and gives a brief description of them. This description can either be the way they are used now, or a story of where the word originated from. Each description is about one paragraph long. It's like a cross between an encyclopedia and a dictionary, which different chapters for different types of phrases (i.e. "The Great Outdoors," or "The World of Entertainment."
Some of the words will make you groan with the obviousness of it such as Babel. Most people could probably think of a realist background for it and probably be right. Other words have more intriguing or little known backgrounds. One of these words is sandwich, named after John Montagu who was the fourth Earl of Sandwich who ate meat between two slices of bread.
What I didn't like was how short the definitions were. I would've much rather seen few definitions with more space devoted to them. Some of the words sound like they have a great back story and five lines is all too little to tell it effectively.
If you are a wordsmith and enjoy knowing random trivia questions this may be the book for you. It won't be riveting, but is fun to randomly search a couple words at a time.
Better yet. Check it out from the library.
3/5
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, February 9

Word of Promise. New Testament

Word of Promise – New Testament

Previously I have reviewed Word of Promise: Next Generation. That audio set featured voices of many teen stars and was aimed at the teenage audience. This audio set is the New Testament (as was the other one) but features “mature” voices such as Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ) as the voice of Jesus. It is presented in the New King James Version. In addition to vocal acting for the many people, it also features a musical score and sound effects which add to the ambience of listening. It is a 20 CD set and comes with an bonus DVD featuring “behind the scenes.”


On the whole I enjoyed this audio Bible. The quality was very high and easy on the ears. Hearing adult voices for the various roles put it a step above Next Generation for me as well. Though I would prefer to sit down and read a Bible, I can see where this would be of great help. If you travel a lot, you can play it through a CD player or rip it to your computer and play it on your mp3 player. If your vision is going, it may be relaxing to hear a collection of voices read scripture.

Of course, this like any audio book can easily be blocked out if you are distracted easily. I sometimes found the sound slowly turning into a soft whisper as my attention shifted elsewhere. On the whole, though, a great product.
4/5

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255