Wednesday, October 27, 2010

‘The Twelfth Imam’ by Joel C. Rosenberg – Book Review

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Two of my topics of interest in recent years is Islam and the Middle East. Author Joel C. Rosenberg has built a successful career writing novels focusing on both of those topics. The latest is ‘The Twelfth Imam.’

Here is the synopsis of this book:

          Tensions Rise in the Middle East.
·         Israeli Defense Minister Says Someone Must Hit Iran’s Nuclear Sites “Before It’s Too Late”
·         President Warns Against Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities
·         U.N. Security Council Considers New Round of Iran Sanctions
·         Iranian President Warns Israel “Doomed” If Zionists Attack
As the apocalyptic leaders of Iran call for the annihilation of Israel and the United States, CIA operative David Shirazi ships into Tehran with one objective: use all means necessary to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program – without leaving American fingerprints and without triggering a regional war.
As David begins to infiltrate Iranian government circles, news spreads throughout the region of a mysterious cleric claiming to be the Islamic messiah known as the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam. News of his miracles, healings, signs, and wonders spread like wildfire, as do rumors of a new and horrific war.
With the prophecy of the Twelfth Imam seemingly fulfilled, Iran’s military prepares a final strike that will bring about the End of Days. Shirazi must take action to save his country and the world, but the clock is ticking.

Here is the biography of this author:

Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, Dead Heat, Epicenter and Inside the Revolution, with more than a million copies in print. The Ezekiel Option received the Gold Medallion award as the “Best Novel of 2006” from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Joel is the producer of two documentary films based on his nonfiction books. He is also the founder of The Joshua Fund, a nonprofit educational and charitable organization to mobilize Christians to “bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus” with food, clothing, medical supplies, and other humanitarian relief.
As a communications advisor, Joel has worked with a number of U.S. and Israeli leaders, including Steve Forbes, Rush Limbaugh, Natan Sharansky, and Benjamin Netanyahu. As an author, he has been interviewed on hundreds of radio and TV programs, including ABC's Nightline, CNN Headline News, FOX News Channel, The History Channel, MSNBC, The Rush Limbaugh Show, The Sean Hannity Show, and Glenn Beck. He has been profiled by the New York Times, the Washington Times, the Jerusalem Post, and World magazine. He has addressed audiences all over the world, including those in Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, and the Philippines. He has also spoken at the White House, the Pentagon, and to members of Congress.

The son of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother, Joel is an evangelical Christian with a passion to make disciples of all nations and teach Bible prophecy. A graduate of Syracuse University with a BFA in filmmaking, he is married, has four sons, and lives near Washington, D.C.

Here is the book trailer for this intriguing novel:

I really appreciated the fact that Mr. Rosenberg included a ‘Cast of Characters’ at the beginning of the book. There are a lot of characters, and it is valuable to be able to have a place to look to remind you who all of them are!

One of the main characters is Najjar Malik, a physicist with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. He had a very interesting encounter with a stranger at the age of ten who came to his defense when two boys were beating him up:

The stranger was not a man but a boy – one not much older than he. He certainly wasn’t more than eleven or twelve years old, and he was short, with a slight build. He had jet-black hair, light olive skin, a pointed, angular, almost regal nose, and a small black spot like a mole on his left cheek. He didn’t wear street clothes like others his size and age. Rather he wore a black robe and sandals. But what struck Najjar most was the boy’s piercing black eyes, which bored deep into his soul and forced him to look away in humiliation. (p. 36)

This boy went on to tell Najjar his name, his ancestry, which languages he spoke, and many other details. Here is a portion of what he was told:

“Allah has chosen you, Najjar Hamid Malik. You will become a great scientist. You will help the Islamic world achieve ultimate power over the infidels and establish the Islamic caliphate. You will help usher in the era of the Promised One. But you must follow Allah without hesitation. You must give him your supreme allegiance. And then, if you are worthy, you shall live forever in paradise.”
Najjar hoped it was true.
“Yes, I will serve Allah with my whole heart,” he said with all the strength and sincerity he could muster. “I will devote myself to preparing for the Promised One. But who are you? Are you the One that---?”
The stranger raised his hand, and Najjar stopped talking.
“When the time is right, you will see me again.”
Najjar stared into those black eyes. And then, without warning, the stranger vanished into the crowd. (p. 38)

Another main character, David Shirazi, was personally invested in the events of September 11, 2001. He fell in love with Marseille Harper. They had been in a remote section of Canada when the events occurred. When the floatplanes that had dropped them off were finally able to pick them up – three days late – they discovered what had caused the delay:

“A group of terrorists hijacked four commercial jetliners – two from Boston’s Logan Airport, one from Newark International, and one from Washington Dulles,” MacKenzie explained.    
David gasped.
“Two of the planes plowed into the World Trade Center,” MacKenzie went on. “Another flew right into the Pentagon. The fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Everyone on the planes was lost. No one knew if there were more hijackers on more planes out there, so the entire air transportation system was simply shut down. Believe me, we wanted to come get you guys. But the Air Force was threatening to shoot down any unauthorized plane in the sky. The only planes in the air were F-15s and F-16s, all armed with air-to-air missiles and ready for action. I’ve never seen anything like it. But again, I apologize for what you’ve been through. If there had been any way to get you – or get word to you – please know that we would have done it.”
The group stood there in stunned silence. And then it got worse.
“Was anyone in the towers hurt?” Marseille asked.
David noticed that she was ashen, and her hands shook.
“I’m afraid the towers don’t exist anymore, young lady,” MacKenzie replied.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean the towers collapsed not long after the planes hit them.”
“Both of them?”
“I’m afraid so,” MacKenzie said.
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Are you kidding?” MacKenzie asked. “At this point, they’re saying almost three thousand people have died, but there may be more.”
“Three thousand?” David’s father asked.
McKenzie nodded. “There’s a big gap in the middle of Manhattan where the towers used to stand. There’s smoke rising as far as the eye can see. Whole thing took less than two hours, and whoosh, they were gone, both of them.”
Marseille collapsed to the ground and began to sob uncontrollably. David looked to Mr. Harper, expecting him to comfort her. But Marseille’s father just stood there, the blood draining from his face. (p. 90)

Unfortunately, Mrs. Harper worked for a bank in the South Tower. She did perish in the tragedy, and David had a purpose in life – to hunt down Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Another eye-opening aspect of this book is a window into the mind of some Muslims. Here is the reaction of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Hamid Hosseini when a young aide disturbed him to tell him others were waiting for him:

          “Everyone is waiting for you, your Excellency,” a young male aide said.
          “Did I not ask to be left undisturbed?” Hosseini fumed.
          The aide blanched and began to back away. “You did, but I thought…”
You wicked son of a Jew!” Hosseini shouted. “How dare you disturb me as I enter the holy place!”
With that, Hosseini shot the man in the face.
The sound of the explosion echoed through the retreat facility. Hosseini stared at the dead man as a pool of blood formed on the hardwood floor of the hallway. Then he knelt down and dipped his hands in the blood and began to pray aloud.
“Allahu Akhbar. Highly glorified are you, O Allah. The prophet – peace be upon you – taught us that when we find those who are unfaithful and disobedient infidels, we must ‘kill them wherever you may come upon them,’ that we must ‘seize them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place.’ The Prophet – peace be upon him – taught us to ‘strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern against them’ for ‘their final refuge is hell.’ May this sacrifice, therefore, be acceptable in your sight.”
With that, Hosseini rose, his hands dripping with warm blood, and turned to the chief of his security detail, who stood stone-faced and trembling in the hallway.
“I will come out soon,” Hosseini said calmly. “Make certain my way is not obstructed.”
With that, the Supreme Leader entered the bedroom alone. The security chief shut the door behind him. Hosseini then returned to his prayer rug, knelt again facing Mecca, and bowed down. (p. 179)

That passage is just about as chilling as any horror novel I have ever read…

Immediately thereafter, a voice that Hosseini identified as the Lord of the Age or the Twelfth Imam spoke to him:

“You shall finish the weapons and test them immediately. When I finish roaming the earth and all is set into place, we will proceed to annihilate the Little Satan first and all the Zionists with it. This is your good and acceptable act of worship to me. You must bring to me the blood of the Jews on the altar of Islam. You must wipe the ugly cancerous stain of Israel from the map and from the heart of the Islamic caliphate. This is right and just, but it is only the first step. Do not be distracted or confused. This is not the ultimate objective. I have chosen you above all others not simply to destroy the Little Satan, for this is too small a thing. The main objective is to destroy the Great Satan – and I mean destroy entirely. Annihilate. Extinguish. Obliterate. Vaporize. In the blink of an eye. Before they know what has hit them. The Americans are a sleeping giant. A dying empire. A sinking ship. And their time has come.” (p. 180)

Anyone who has read the Bible can see the similarity in the wording at the beginning of this paragraph is strikingly similar to 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

David had reservation about Islam, the religion which he loosely held to his whole life:

The problem, as David saw it, was that Islam provided no way for a Muslim to assess how he or she was doing throughout his or her life. There was no Web site to log on to and check daily scores. There were no quarterly report cards. There were no annual performance reviews. How, then, could anyone know for certain whether he would spend eternity in paradise or in punishment? How could anyone find the assurance of salvation that every thoughtful soul seeks before death?
The brutal truth was, no one could. That was what terrified Davis most. He had lied to almost everyone he had ever known. He had been unkind to people he loved. He had been ungrateful to people who had treated him well. He didn’t stay in touch with his parents. His professional life required that he be a liar and, more recently, a hypocrite – playing the part of a religious man but denying Islam’s truth and power. And then there were his secret sins, the ones he dared not confess. The more he cataloged his bad deeds, the worse he felt, and he had no idea where to turn.
No wonder devout Muslims took the verses in the Qur’an about waging jihad and killing infidels so seriously. Why shouldn’t they? To disregard the command to Jihad would be to disobey, and such disobedience could tip the scales of justice against them in the final reckoning.
Which brought him to martyrdom.
The mullahs and ayatollahs taught that the only true assurance or secure promise of eternal salvation for a Muslim was to die as a martyr, ideally as a suicide bomber, in the cause of Jihad. Osama bin Laden himself had once said, “The call to jihad in God’s name…leads to eternal life in the end and is the relief from your earthly chains.”
There was no way that was true, David was certain. But what was? (pp. 228-229)          

Miraculously, Jesus revealed Himself to many characters in this book. This is happening with regularity to many Muslims in real life lately. Here is the encounter Najjar Malik had with Him:

          “I am Jesus the Nazarene,” came the man’s deep voice.
Najjar felt the sound of its rattle in his chest, as though the words went through him.
“You have come?” Najjar cried. “The lieutenant to the Twelfth Imam has actually revealed himself to me?”
But at these words, the ground below Najjar shook so violently that he feared it would open and swallow him. Rocks skittered across the road from ledges above. The wind picked up strength. Najjar flattened himself to the ground, covering his head with his hands.
I AM first and last. I am the One who lives,” Jesus said. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever after, and I have the keys of hades and of death. Come and follow me.”(p. 293)

I find the subject of Islam to be very interesting. I have my own interpretations on their beliefs, and where the religion originated. It was interesting to see that Mr. Rosenberg’s characters followed the same line of thought in one section. Here is an exchange between Najjar and his wife, Sheyda (who also had a bodily encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus). Sheyda begins:

“Sometimes false prophets and ungodly rulers can do signs and wonders. Sometimes they can do tricks that look like miracles of God, but they are really tapping the power of the devil. But we should not fear because God is greater, and in due time, He will swallow the enemy and thwart the enemy’s plans.” (p. 385)

This is the first time I have read a Joel Rosenberg novel. I have a friend at church (for whom I have a lot of respect) who speaks very highly of Mr. Rosenberg’s work. I have to agree with that assessment! This book is highly intriguing, very interesting, and well researched. In addition, the writing is exemplary. I did not want to stop reading it, and stayed up a little too late a couple nights doing just that!

I think this is an incredible book! My only criticism – and it is minor- is that I was rather disappointed and taken aback by the ending; it was rather abrupt and unsatisfying. I am not sure if the finished product ends the same way (I have an Advance Reader Copy), but it certainly leads to the conclusion that there will be a second book taking up where this one left off. Despite the disappointment that it ended (!), I look forward to seeing what happens next in the Middle East that Rosenberg’s portrayed – the one in which Jesus is still moving in a mighty way!

You can order this book here.

The Advance Reader copy of this book was provided by Tyndale House for review purposes. The quotes and page numbers cited in this review are from the ARC; they may not match up with the final edited and printed version. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winner of 'Rescuing Ambition' - Was It You?!

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The Random Number Generator has chosen the winner of 'Rescuing Ambition' by Dave Harvey. That winner is....


Congratulations, Linda! I will be sending the book out to you shortly.

Thanks to those of you who entered; loved reading your comments about Christian ambition! It's all about our motivation, as is the case with many things, eh?!

Thanks to Angela at Crossway for providing the two copies of this fine book! 

Please come back for more ponderings, reviews and giveaways!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

‘Don’t Look Back’ by Lynette Eason – Book Review

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In my neck of the woods (the Metro Detroit area), it is starting to get cold; we are having our first freeze warning around here. This is perfect weather to curl up with a good book that gets the spine a tingling. The latest book for me of that ilk is ‘Don’t Look Back’ by Lynette Eason.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

One Man Lives to See Her Dead – The Other is Fighting to Keep Her Alive. Twelve years ago, forensic anthropologist Jamie Cash survived a brutal kidnapping. After years of therapy, she has made a life for herself – though one that is haunted by memories of her terrifying past. She finally lets herself believe that she can have a close relationship with a man, when signs start appearing that point to one frightening fact – her attacker is back and ready to finish the job he started all those years ago.
Can she escape his grasp a second time? And will she ever be able to let down her guard enough to find true love?
Filled with heart-stopping suspense, gritty realism, and a touch of romance, Don’t Look Back pulls you into its twists and turns to hold you there until the very last page.

Here is the biography of this author:

Lynette Eason grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. She graduated from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and then obtained her master’s in education at Converse College. Author of ten inspiration romantic suspense novels, including Too Close to Home, she is a  member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). In 1996, Lynette married “the boy next door,” and now she and her husband and two children make their home in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

It was clear from the beginning of the book that there were some sparks between the two main characters – at least on the male side of the aisle:

FBI Special Agent Dakota Richards stared down at a pile of bones unearthed by the backhoe. Jamie would have her hands full with this one.
He looked up to see her coming toward him. She was dressed in a Tyvek jumpsuit she’d donned to avoid contaminating the scene. Underneath, he’d bet she had on her standard khaki capris and white long-sleeved t-shirt. In her right hand, she carried a pair of blue booties she’d placed over her red tennis shoes before entering the area.
As always, Dakota’s heart gave that extra little beat in response to her presence. And as always, she held herself at a distance even as she came closer. (p. 7)

A couple pages later, we learn the feelings are mutual:

Jamie ignored the thumping of her heart that Dakota’s presence always seemed to incite and turned her attention to her job. His dark curly hair, keen blue eyes, Stetson, cowboy boots, and Texas drawl combined to make him one attractive man. The problem was, she didn’t know what to do with her reaction to him, so she pretended it wasn’t there. (p. 9)

Fortunately for Jamie, she developed a closer relationship with God after her kidnapping twelve years earlier (as opposed to rejecting God, blaming Him for her ordeal). Here is her prayer after some odd occurrences:

“I don’t know what’s happening, God, but you’ve gotten me this far and I know you won’t leave me…no matter what. Please let there be a reasonable explanation for what’s going on and that I haven’t finally snapped and lost my mind.” (p. 27)

Jamie made the decision that she was going to turn her nightmare into an opportunity to help others:

Drawing in a shuddering breath, she berated herself for dwelling on the past. “You can’t change it, but God can use it. Let him.”
Just saying the words out loud brought her a measure of peace she’d never been able to explain. So she didn’t try to analyze it. She just accepted it for the gift that it was.
Her Savior. Her Lord. Her strength.  (p. 39)

I was really grateful to see that Jamie did not harbor bitterness over the events of the past – something so many people do so easily- but instead allowed it to grow her relationship with her Lord.

At several points in the book, we are given a glimpse into the mind of Jamie’s attacker, who resurfaces in her life after twelve years. He called himself ‘The Hero.’ The passages are chilling:

The Hero laughed softly to himself as he studied the pictures in the album. His treasure, his keepsake. One by one, he flipped the pages. His first damsel in distress, then the second, the third – the one that got away.     
He’d gotten careless with her. She’d begged him not to slit her throat. “Anything but that,” she’d wept. “I know you’re going to kill me, but do it any way you want, just don’t use a knife.” (p. 63)

Although some people might be offended by reading these types of passages, I personally think it is instructive to us to see how a psychopathic mind operates, so that we can be aware what abuse (as one example) can wrought.

Jamie’s testimony touched Dakota deeply. Here is their exchange prior to Jamie’s meeting with a victim of a traumatic incident:

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. Silently, she prayed. Lord, you brought me here to help this young woman who’s experienced a terrible trauma. I need you to give me the words, the right thing to say. I need your peace. I need to feel your presence and your unconditional love. And she needs to know that you’re the only one who can fully heal her.
As she prayed, she felt her breathing slow, her thumping heart calm, and her desire to fidget lessen. For several more moments, she just sat as she let God flood her with his presence. Finally she was ready.
She opened her eyes. “Okay. I can do this now.”
Dakota stared at her, his blue eyes narrowed, a look she couldn’t define shining from their depths.
“What?” she asked.
“What just happened?”
“I prayed.”
“I know that. But something happened while you were praying. I watched it.”
She frowned at him, not really understanding what he was asking. “I just asked God to cover me with his presence and love. Plus I asked for peace, to be calm, and have the right words to say.”
“But you changed physically.”
“Yeah, it was like…something just…came over you. All the tension and anxiety that were coming off of you on the ride over here just…dissolved.”
Jamie shrugged and grinned. “Cool.”
He blinked. “Yeah. It was.”
Hesitantly, she asked, “You want to talk about it later?”
A slow nod. “Yes, I think I do.” (pp. 142-143)

Here is another spiritual exchange later in the book between Dakota and Jamie – further evidence of Jamie’s strong faith, and its impact on Dakota:

“‘For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.’”
She’d whispered the words to herself so quietly, he hadn’t understood her. She looked at him with deep, soul clenching sorrow and clarified, “First Peter 2:21. I have to quote it when the desire for revenge takes over.”
Curiosity stared at her. “And it’s wrong to want revenge?”
“It’s not wrong to want justice, the desire to right a wrong or help put away the bad guys. But revenge, that’s not right. It’s not healthy and I won’t have it in my heart.”
She’d managed to render him speechless, she could tell. When he found his voice, he asked, “How?”
“How what?”
“How do you keep trusting him?”
“Because I can’t not trust him. Because he is who he says he is and he hasn’t let me down yet. Even when his ways aren’t my ways, he hasn’t failed me.” (p. 233)

That is powerful!

I really enjoyed this book! It was full of sympathetic characters and action that had a lot of twists and turns – perfect for the romantic suspense genre! I guessed who the protagonist was about two-thirds of the way through the book, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Lynette made it easy! She is a very talented and creative writer, and I was intrigued enough to keep reading even when life didn’t necessarily allow me that luxury (life always gets in the way of our reading, doesn’t it?!). This is the first book by Lynette that I have read – and it will not be my last!

I was really appreciative of the way in which Lynette wove so much scripture into the book. The Word of God is powerful, and it is so common for books that are considered to be ‘Christian’ not to have any scripture references at all in them. This one has enough to get the point across that Jesus is the answer, and there is no other!

This is the second book in Lynette’s ‘Women of Justice’ series; the first book was ‘Too Close to Home.’ My research uncovered that Jamie’s sister Samantha and her husband, Connor, who are secondary characters in this book, are the primary characters in ‘Too Close to Home.’ The fact that I felt such a connection to this book makes me want to go back and read that book. And I look forward with great anticipation to reading the third book in the series – and any subsequent books after that!

You can order this book here.

Available October, 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Books. This book was provided by Revell for review purposes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

‘Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing A Diverse World’ by Eric Michael Bryant – Book Review and Giveaway

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Our church will be embarking on a campaign to give all residents of southeast Michigan the opportunity to hear the Gospel. The campaign is called E.A.C.H. -Everyone A Chance to Hear – and will be happening over the next nine months (you can learn more at
The Lord has been directing me to books that are helping me to expand my worldview. The latest book in this vein is ‘Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing A Diverse World’ by Eric Michael Bryant.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

How You Can Become Responsive To and Reflective of the Global Community. According to author Eric Michael Bryant, in Not Like Me, formerly titled Peppermint-Filled Piñatas, people can become agents of change, creating genuine unity among people from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems, through their relationships.
Through humorous stories and pointed insights gleaned from Eric’s own personal experiences and failures, the experiences of others, and the life and teachings of Jesus, readers will discover how to move beyond ethnic, racial, cultural, or ideological barriers toward genuine friendships with others.
Bryant urges readers – women and men, democrats and republicans, church leaders and lay people from every denomination – to create a new future that connects to God’s heart by removing the religious baggage of Christianity to discover the world Jesus intended.
Followers of Christ will be inspired to actively engage the world in order to overcome stereotypes placed on us and influence those who have not been interested in Jesus because of these stereotypes. Spiritual seekers will find that, when stripped away from the religion created around him, Jesus dreams for the world is remarkable and refreshing.
Includes “Field Notes” from Ed Stetzer, Margaret Feinberg, Kevin Harney, Lon Wong, Amena Brown, Mark DeYmaz, Gerardo Marti, Kim Martinez, Princess Zulu, and Dan Kimball.
To learn more, visit

Here is the biography of this author:

Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator with the leadership team at Mosaic  in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. He is part of the core teams for the Mosaic Alliance and The Origins Project. Bryant completed his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership with Bethel Seminary.  He lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi, in the middle of Los Angeles County.

And here is Eric (from Dodger Stadium earlier in the year) talking about this book (I always get a better grasp of the book when I know more about its author):

The Foreword is by Erwin McManus, the primary communicator and cultural architect of Eric’s church, Mosaic. He explains what he thinks is going to be of utmost importance to leaders in this century:

I am convinced that this is the leadership challenge for the twenty-first century: It is not whether we can embrace diversity or accept and love people who are different from us; it is whether we will be able to identify and reach the future leaders of world.
The challenge we face is more than how to add some color to our churches. The future of our churches and the vitality of the movement of Jesus Christ hinge on this very issue. Christianity’s credibility rests on the church’s resolve to not only embrace the differences in people but to celebrate and unleash them. (p. 12)

I love the idea put forth in the Introduction: The Art of Woo:

Rather than coming across as judgmental, homogeneous, isolated, conflict-filled, and irrelevant communities, we need to show the world what Christ truly intended us to be. We need to practice what I call “the art of woo.” In the sixth century BC, Sun Tzu taught us how to destroy others in The Art of War. Someone else has taught us how to manipulate people in The Art of Seduction, so why can’t we learn “the art of woo?” I love the Gallup Organization’s definition of woo: “winning others over.” The more common definition implies a romantic pursuit, one’s attempts to gain the affection of another person. Both descriptions are helpful for us in this journey. We need more woo. Since we are God’s children and representatives, those around us need to feel loved by us.
My hope is that these pages will inspire us to develop “the art of woo” so that we might learn to develop diverse communities, resolve conflict, overcome bitterness, create a better future, and even heal our fractured world. Wouldn’t it be amazing if as followers of Christ we found ourselves as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem? In the end, don’t people matter most? (p. 25)

That sounds like heaven on earth to me!

Eric has an interesting ‘take’ on the early church:

These early Christians spoke often of death – personally dying to self, the martyrdom of some in their community, and the death of the Messiah on the cross. More radically, the men and women who met together daily to study the Scriptures and to serve others claimed that the Messiah had died, had miraculously rose from the dead, and now was mystically communicating with them through the Holy Spirit. I can guarantee, the early Christians weren’t following the advice of Dale Carnegie and “winning friends and influencing people” as a result of their beliefs – so what was it? Perhaps they were reversing Carnegie’s mantra. Could it be that the early Christians were “winning people and influencing friends”? Developing friendships takes longer and requires more effort, but the impact is greater and longer lasting. (p. 35)

Dr. Bryant makes an observation about the tendency of many Christians these days:

Over the past few years, I seem to be meeting more and more people who choose their neighborhood as a place for ministry rather than simply as a place to have a house and catch some sleep at night. On the other end of the spectrum, too often I meet Christians who are just like everyone else, choosing to live in the places that provide the greatest safety and convenience or have the highest rated school districts. Then, as we have more income, we move out of our current locations so we can have even greater safety and convenience and even better school districts. This very natural way of living, sadly, has a way of circumventing the impact we can have in our neighborhoods for what we get rather than seeing them as places where we can find opportunities to give and to serve. We should think more like John F. Kennedy thought: “Ask not what your neighborhood can do for you, but what you can do for your neighborhood.” (p. 57)

He gives us guidelines for what needs to be done:

We need to create genuine relationships with those near us, and we need to be near those who need us. We need people moving into the high-rent districts, not to avoid the rest of us but to reach those who are there; we need people moving into impoverished areas to show God’s love. Both will require different types of sacrifices. We need people to rise up where they are to serve, to love, and to be a neighbor in the way Jesus intends us to be. (p. 60)

He also had a suggestion that I can really embrace:

Like Levi, we should throw parties for Jesus – parties on behalf of Jesus – by inviting those who are disconnected and lonely and who need a friend. We must create opportunities to serve and to love, and to introduce people to the living God through our relationships. God is found through people. God’s Spirit resides within those who follow him. Of course, God makes himself known in many different ways, through his creation, signs, visions, and the deep longings we feel inside, yet at the same time, he has created us as interactive and interconnected beings. God chooses to spread his message of love and hope through the lives of those who have experienced him. We meet God and introduce him to others in the context of our friendships. (pp. 70-71)

Our church regularly does outreaches to serve the community. This weekend, we will be hosting a Family Movie Night; we are encouraged to invite our friends and neighbors. That is a great way to show those outside the church that Christians are loving – and like to have fun, too!

In the ‘Field Notes’ in the Party chapter, Lon Wong makes this observation:

Parties aren’t essential to life, but they surely do make life a lot more joy filled. Wouldn’t it be amazing for people to see that Jesus compels us toward hope and celebration that tangibly spills over into our communities?
People are longing for someone, especially a friend, to do something out of the ordinary that they can become a part of. Our world is desperately in need of spaces that create meaningful connections. Throw parties; they can change everything. (p. 80)

Eric points out that Jesus did not cloister himself behind four walls with his disciples; he went out into the community and engaged with the people. Eric’s church does the same:

He invited this unlikely group to lose their lives in serving others. Contrary to what we would expect, Jesus did not invite them to follow him so that he could teach them the Scriptures, answer their prayers, meet their needs, or even take them to heaven. Jesus led the greatest small group in history because he was more than a Bible study leader or prayer group facilitator. Jesus was a revolutionary. His small group went on field trips to exorcise demons and perform miracles. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ small group changed the world.        
Jesus’ eternal cause also creates a diverse community. A community on a mission to love and serve its city becomes diverse through the natural connections of relationships. At Mosaic, for example, we have seen homosexuals, followers of Hare Krishna, Scientologists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, secularists, Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians, children, adults, senior adults, entire extended families, and even “Christians” choose to follow Christ. How did this happen? These men and women from diverse backgrounds are all relationally connected to someone who goes to our church. The people we befriend will be the people we reach. We are not targeting people because of their heritage. We are trying to love, serve, and reach our friends, who just happen to be named Javier, Sandeep, Pam, Hwee Ching, and Molene. (p. 88)

I loved this example that Eric shared from the life of a teen member of his church:

Once Maria committed to the cause of Christ, she realized that her life didn’t match her beliefs. How could she share with her friends about the life-changing power of God when she wasn’t allowing God to change her? Even though I had shared with the teens the importance of sexual purity and challenged them to read the Scriptures, none of this mattered to Maria until she became more concerned about her friends that about herself. Connecting to the cause of Christ guided her through her moral struggles and even pulled her into the Scriptures. By attempting to help change the lives of her friends, her life was changed. (p. 91)

I could really relate to this perspective on relationships and conflict:

How many times have our relationships ended up embroiled in conflict, only to be solved the moment we sat down to talk about it? We end up having fights in our minds with people before we sit down with them. We assume that things are much worse than they really are and that people have evil intentions, but those assumptions are usually just the result of a misunderstanding. Jesus, knowing that we lean toward pride and conflict, guides us toward lives filled with peace. (p. 120)

In the ‘Field Notes’ in this chapter on ‘Uncivil War,’ Dr. Mark DeYmaz offers this godly advice:

Therefore, be prepared to extend grace and mercy to all who offend you, knowing that wounded people react in wounded ways. Many are driven by deep-seated insecurities, sensitivities, and loyalties of which we are, for the most part, largely unaware. Consequently, they live in a state of self-deception and in bondage to the hurts or regrets of their past. Mix in diverse social and cultural perspectives, and the resulting conflicts can get quite complicated. On the other hand, those types of relationships – when patiently developed – can be like mortar to the bricks, forming a sturdy foundation of trust and authenticity between people of different backgrounds. The fact is that a single act of forgiveness to someone of another culture who has offended you will manifest the power of Christ to break dividing walls before all who witness it. (p. 122)

There is a family relationship that is fractured, and I need to put this advice into practice – before it’s too late…

I love this perspective from Dr. Bryant on the political landscape over the last several decades, and how it has been destructive to the cause of Christ:

The Christian Coalition (and in earlier days the Moral Majority) has often been so vocal about its stance on issues such as abortion and homosexuality that its members have yelled themselves out of genuine conversations. Like protester facing off across the street from each other, they yell and scream and chant to make their point, but they are unable to hear their opponents, who are doing the same thing.
So it is with those who reside to the left of center on the political spectrum. Some Christians believe that they will find answers to the nation’s problems by joining with the Democrats, who claim to be more loving and more tolerant than their conservative counterparts, yet some of the people who support a more liberal government have moved toward a more liberal theology.
I am inspired when I meet people who decided not to just get angry about an issue but to do something about it. Rather than debating with others about pro-life or pro-choice, they adopt a child, become foster parents, and mobilize others to care for babies whom some moms could not keep. We should not be content with just being moved when we watch the news or hear of something that angers us; we should be moved to action. (p. 173)

And I love his perspective on eternity and the Kingdom of God here on earth:

When we understand this revelation from Christ, everything changes. We cannot see our relationship with God as simply our ticket to heaven. When we enter a relationship with God, we become citizens of a new kingdom. Our calling in life is to serve the King by serving others outside of this kingdom. We must infiltrate earthly kingdoms by guiding others to switch their loyalty to Christ’s invisible kingdom. Stepping into the invisible kingdom reveals out destiny. We discover who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do. (p. 222)

One of my favorite things about this book is Eric’s transparency about his life and his heart. At Baylor University, he was on a Revival Steering Committee. The subsequent revival event was particularly profound for him personally, as he stepped up to an open microphone:

At first, no sound came out of my open mouth. I worked harder, fighting through my own tears and emotions to share my deepest need. The words came stumbling out of my mouth louder than I had imagined they would: “God, I desperately need you. I don’t love people. I don’t care about people who do not know you. All I care about is myself. Help me to love people, no matter who they are or what they do. Help me to love people the way you do.”
....I honestly don’t know if we really did experience revival that night, since no long-term changes seemed to happen on campus. (Really, I don’t even remember short-term changes). The one thing I knew for sure was that I would never be the same. Jesus had answered my prayer. The world looked different to me. Rather than seeing the world as a place in which I had to conform, conquer, or comply, I saw people. I saw people with genuine needs – needs that could only be met by a God who loved them. I realized that God actually wanted me to be a part of meeting those needs, and, even more miraculously, I actually wanted this to be the case. I caught a glimpse of how God must feel when he looks at the billions of people in this world. When God looks at those who do not love him, he sees hope, potential, possibilities, and uniqueness – and he feels love. Suddenly I saw and felt the same things. Rather than the anger or judgment I had felt toward the “hypocrites” on campus, I felt concern, sorrow, and even shame, for I realized that I, too, lived a duplicitous life. (pp. 238-239)

For someone’s perspective to be changed so profoundly in such a short period of time is indeed a miracle from the hand of God!

I was profoundly changed by this book. Eric looks at the world through the eyes of Christ; it is a worldview that all of us should exemplify. I intend to keep this book close at hand to remind me how the Lord wants us to look at His world. I thank Eric for writing this heart-felt and practical field guide for those of us who are moving forward on this journey in Christ.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Zondervan and provided by the Blog Tour Spot for review purposes. I am happy to be participating in this blog tour with these other bloggers.

I have one copy of this insightful book that I would love to send along to one of you! 

There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me which thoughts I shared from this book agree with or disagree with your worldview. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back! If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too! Please leave a new comment to that effect.

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So there are five chances to enter! Please limit one entry per option.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Friday, November 5, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Saturday, November 6, 2010 and will be contacted via email. The best to all of you!

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