Friday, November 1

This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley

When teaching on Jesus, many look at his miracles and the parables he taught. In doing so, they often miss that his parables and teachings painted a picture of, ‘the kingdom of God.’  WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) was a common catch phrase in the 90’s, but there’s more to Jesus than what he would do. He described to us what God’s kingdom will be like. This look at the Kingdom is the heart of Rick McKinley’s book, which was originally published in 2006 and is now updated with 3 new chapters and a small group guide.

McKinley breaks his book into three parts, Discovering the Kingdom, Re-Visioning Life in the Kingdom, and Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom. In addition to exploring parts of the Gospels, McKinley takes examples from the present, using well know events as well as more personal ones, for illustrations, and they are consistently effective. At the end of each chapter is a poem that reflects the chapter.

Saturday, October 26

You'll Get Through this by Max Lucado

Sometimes life just seems to beat you down: A cancer diagnoses, a death in the family, divorce, or abuse. They wear you down and you just wonder, “How am I ever going to get through this? Will I ever get through this?” If you ask Max Lucado, he will tell you that you can get through it.

Lucado illustrates his points with the story of Joseph, from when his brothers tossed him into a pit to reuniting with his family. Joseph’s life seems to spiral downward. Yet through it all he did not lose hope. He kept hoping and praying. He is never shown to grow angry or bitter at his situation.

Mixed with the story of Joseph are the stories of people who Lucado knows as well as stories about historical figures or events.  One such story is that of a woman who grew up abused and abandoned. Despite the hardships she grew up with, she now works in fighting against human trafficking.

Thursday, October 17

Outlaw by Ted Dekker

There are places on earth that are so removed from modern civilizations that to visit them would feel like stepping back in time. These are places where the laws of the jungle rule and the people are fractured into tribes. Modern technology is usually glimpsed from afar and usually seen to be the work of evil spirits or gods. Julian (Julie) Carter, a young woman from Georgia, is thrust into the heart of such a place after a savage storm pummels the boat she is on.
And that’s not the worst part. 
Her son, Stephen, is swept with the sea, lost to the crashing waves, while Julie is pulled on shore by the natives. She is taken captive, her life on the line unless she agrees to bear a son for one of the princes. Then she finds that her son may still be alive and is the same island she is. Julie risks her life to save him. Stephen becomes known as Outlaw, and he may be the only person who can rescue his mother.

Saturday, October 12

The Hero's Lot by Patrick W. Carr

After a promising first book in Patrick W. Carr’s “The Staff and the Sword” series, The Hero’s Lot picks up the story shortly after the end of the first. After a corrupt church leader flees the capitol, Errol Stone thinks that the fight is over. However, life does not return to peace. Errol is accused of working with spirits, a grave offense. As punishment, the church puts a compulsion on him to find the traitorous church leader, Sarin Valon.

While Errol is on his journey, the priests who mentored him in the first book, Martin and Luis, are sent to investigate Errol’s past. During their journey they uncover they discover information that Errol could’ve never guessed.

Tuesday, July 16

Outreach and the Artist by Con Campbell

What is the place of evangelism in art? This is a question many Christians have asked in the creation of art. It is certainly a question I have thought of. Campbell outlines the three ways he sees how artists can engage in outreach: Outreach With the Arts, Outreach Through the Arts, and Outreach To the Arts. He also includes chapters on other topics, such as how artists can interact with the church and. Each chapter includes an artist profile which shows how others approach their faith and the arts.

I appreciated how Campbell understands that not all artists seek the same thing through their arts. Some Christian artists display an obvious religious message through their work while others do not necessarily have a religious message but instead would rather share their faith within the artistic community. Too often artists who are Christians are pressured to make ‘Christian’ arts, even when their intended audience would not react well to it. Out of all the chapters, the one on the church and the artist is one that could benefit many congregations. There is also some overlap from this chapter with the chapter on Outreach With the Arts which shows how many venues do not correctly understand an artists’ needs.

Thursday, June 13

Dead Lawyer's Tell No Tales by Randy Singer

Landon Reed is a changed man. He used to be a quarterback, but served time in prison for a point-shaving scheme. While imprisoned he converted to Christianity and worked to turn his life around. After being released, he sought a law degree, knowing full well that his time in prison may prevent him from ever working as a lawyer.

Harry McNaughten, a cofounder of a law firm, decides to give Landon a change. Landon quickly accepts, grateful for the trust put in him. When the two of them start working on a murder case, Harry is killed in a seemingly random accident. However, others at the law firm as soon targeted as well. Will Landon end up in the cross hairs and will he be able to sustain the case without his mentor?

Thursday, May 16

Bound Together by Chris Brauns

Individuality is something desired by many, especially in the United States. We want to be judged by our own choices and make our own path. When someone else's choices negatively affect us we want to be disassociated with that person. In Bound Together, Chris Brauns wants to show that we are not isolated, but are bound together.

The phrase Chris uses throughout the book is the ‘principle of the rope,’ meaning that we are tied to each other, or bound to each other. He starts out by explaining how Adam’s sin binds us together. Because of Adam’s sin, Chris writes, we have a corrupt nature and that the pain and suffering we experience today was, “predicated on Adam’s failure in the garden.” Chris is quick to point out though, that this is not the end, nor the only rope. We are also bound together because of Christ.

Saturday, May 11

Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We by Claire and Eli

Ring by spring. That seemed to be the motto of the Christian University I attended, and I saw this played out more than once. And it wasn’t just that college. It seems that many churches, regardless of the denomination, strongly push marriage, even to those who are not in a romantic relationship. While the churches encouragement toward marriage can be good, it also has the ability to be too forceful and Christians may feel pressured to marry earlier than they otherwise might.

This idea is deconstructed in Altared by Eli and Claire (both pseudonyms). They are not saying that marriage is bad, however they believe an unnecessary amount of focus in put on marriage by the church. While marriage is good and is biblical, churches sometimes make it feel like a commandment. Instead of encouraging singles to practice discipleship and serving, the stereotypical ‘singles’ class feels like dating prep class. Eli and Claire use the story of their relationship to illustrate how this over emphasis on marriage hurt their relationship. They also take time to look at what they find the Bible says about marriage, as well as looking at other Christian writers say about marriage. All in all it reads as part story and part devotional/bible study.

Thursday, April 18

Captive in Iran - A Review

Occasionally you may hear a news story about religious persecution around the world. A church being burned, rights for certain religions lost, or people being arrested or killed for their belief. But the news just reports the occurrence. Rarely do they seem to show the whole story of persecution. While the persecution is a terrible thing, there are sometimes glimmers of hope.

Maryam Rostampour and Marzieyeh Amirizadeh are two friends who lived together in Iran. Though they each grew up in an Islamic household, they never believed themselves to be followers of Islam, instead becoming Christians. They knew that rejecting Islam in Iran could be dangerous, yet they willing shared their faith with people who asked. In 2009 they were arrested and eventually made their way to Evin Prison in Tehran, which has a history of torture and executions. In all they spent 259 days in Evin Prison merely because they were seen handing out some Bibles.

Saturday, April 6

God's Not Dead by Rice Broocks

It seems like attacks against Christianity are growing more direct and reaching an ever widening audience. At the same time, it is rare to hear a solid defense to the attacks. Usually defense’s offered seem shallow, or they don’t hit as wide an audience. This is what prompted Rice Broocks to write God’s Not Dead. This is his attempt to answer Atheisms charge.

The book is roughly divided into two sections. The first section is focused more on faith and science, with Broocks arguing that Christianity is not incompatible with science. This focus is heaviest in chapter 4 and 5, which are about creation and God’s creation of mankind. Early chapters also cover topics such as the presence of evil and faith versus reason. The second half of the book focuses mostly on the accuracy of the Bible, which includes looking at historical proof for the texts.

Friday, March 29

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

Errol Stone is a nobody. An orphan and a drunkard, he does odd jobs so that he can buy more ale. He has no dreams or aspirations, and seems to be the stereotypical hero found in fantasy stories, as well as being somewhat of a stereotypical hero in Christian themed fiction. Fantasy stories seem filed with heroes who come from lowly backgrounds. From Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins, they hardly seem heroic when they start off. While this can lead to a strong transformation in the hero, not much seems to be done to differentiate Errol from other similar heroes at first. The drunkenness is a common character trait I’ve seen in Christian fiction, as a way to make the character flawed. The character can then fight against this flaw, and if/when the beat it, we can see them as true heroes. There isn’t much new to this flaw either, and sometimes it comes off as gimmicky and unnecessary space is given to it.

Friday, February 22

Oscar Predictions 2013

This year I made an effort to catch as many nominees as I could. Compared to past years, I feel that I did pretty well, especially in some of the major categories. Here are my picks for who I think will win, and who I think should win. I’m not including every category, only the ones I’m most interested in. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, February 18

Fearless by Eric Blehm

The SEALS are the United States’ elite military force. Those who enlist undergo intense training for their missions. SEAL Team SIX especially has received much attention after the raid which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. But that is not their only story.

Adam Brown was a member of SEAL Team SIX before the raid. He grew up as a young boy in Arkansas and was a person who never backed down. He’s the kid who jumped off of roofs and who jumped off a bridge from a moving vehicle as a teenager. Adam was also the kid who refused to take off his life vest when boating with friends because he promised his parents he wouldn’t. Loyalty was something Adam held close. But, as he grew older, that loyalty began to be overshadowed by darkness. He fell into the wrong crowd and his life spiraled in addiction, and then to jail.

Monday, February 11

Savior Next Door by Max Lucado

Too often Christians explain Jesus in terms that can make him seem unreachable. Or they go in the opposite direction, and talk about his humanity while neglecting the divine. In his book Next Door Savior, Max Lucado writes to bring both to the table. One of the things I appreciate about Lucado is his simple writing. He is down to earth and I can imagine him sitting across the table talking with me. However, the simple writing does not mean he dumbs things down. While not an exegetical paper, he does work with a multitude of different topics.

The beginnings of most chapters read as a dramatization of a biblical story. Without changing the meaning of the story, Lucado adds little details. These might be sights or smells that would be encountered. When reading the Bible, it can be hard to actually imagine these events happening. Yet Lucada breaths a life into the stories that I think we too often gloss over when reading. We can read about the blind man that Jesus healed with a gob of spit, but we don’t always try to think of what it would’ve been like

Tuesday, January 29

Darkness Rising by Lis Wiehl

Darkness is moving around East Salem. After the events in Waking Hours the darkness is getting worse. After discovering the person behind a gruesome murder, Dani and Tommy wade deeper in the supernatural world. No longer is it a fringe element, with angels and demons making their appearance. Working together, they realize that a nearby school, St. Adrian’s, has a deeper role to play in the mystery than they first thought. But what is that role? Where does the school stand?

After the fairly conventional whodunit tale found in the first book, Darkness Rising takes a sudden turn. I opened the book expecting another murder mystery but got something else entirely. For one, the supernatural element was much stronger. Its low profile in the first book was one of my biggest complaints about the story, and I was excited to see more of the supernatural work its way into the story. Unfortunately, part way through I was wishing otherwise.

Tuesday, January 22

Waking Hours by Lis Wiehl

Murder. Mayhem. Mystery. That it is October and nearing Halloween makes it spooky. That all of this is taking place in a town called East Salem means that the spook factor is going be notched as high as possible.

A high-school girl is murdered in a park. The way she was murdered seems like something out of a crime TV show.  Forensic psychologist, Dani Harris, is on the case, aided by former NFL linebacker Tommy Gunderson (who has dreams of being a Private Investigator).  The only group of suspects is some teenagers who were at a party with the murdered girl, only they seem to have no recollection of what happened. To top it off, Dani is waking up at 2:13 every night with nightmares, and Tommy has an encounter with an elderly woman babbling in Latin.  Something evil is afoot, but is it something from this world?

Sunday, January 6

Judge by R.J. Larson

Shortly after the events in Prophet, Ela of Parne is once again called by the Infinite. Her task is to travel back to her hometown, where the people have fallen away from the Infinite. If Parne does not repent, it will be destroyed. At the same time, Kien is on military leave. He has fallen in love with Ela and would join her, except the Infinite calls him away on another mission. Separated, they must hope they will be reunited and not die in service to the Infinite.

Once again, R.J. Larson captures an Old Testament feel to her story, as the story contains even more overtones of the prophets. One story thread in particular carries themes and ideas from Jonah, though it doesn’t follow the story beat for beat. Like the first book there are some strange creatures, though this time around they feel more natural to the world and the story. As before, the destroyers often provide comic relief.