Wednesday, March 31, 2010

‘Imaginary Jesus’ by Matt Mikalatos – Book Review

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I have a tendency to view the world in an unconventional manner.  I heard about a book coming out called ‘Imaginary Jesus’ by Matt Mikalatos and was intrigued.  I wasn’t familiar with Matt at the time, but the title of the book got my attention!  And I like his occupation, as listed on his Blogger Profile – Strategic Coordinator for World Domination.

Here is the description of ‘Imaginary Jesus’ from the back of the book:

In this hilarious, rapid-fire, sort-of-true story, author Matt Mikalatos takes you on a wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon in his quest to find the real Jesus, destroy all imposters who stand in his way…and finally get an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years.

Here is the trailer for the book:

A hilarious book about Jesus? I am there!  I am sure that God has a great sense of humor and obviously loves laughter!

The main character in this novel is Matt Mikalatos.  Hey, he wrote the book, he can give himself the starring role!  He lives in Portland Oregon with his wife, Krista and his daughters.  He is eating with a fellow named Jesus at the Red and Black Café.  A gruff character joins them; his name is Pete and he claims to be the apostle Peter.  Pete tells Matt that this Jesus of his is not the real Jesus. 

I found this book to be laugh-out-loud funny.  Here’s an example – when Matt and Pete head back to first century Judea and encounter a talking donkey named Daisy:

          “I assumed that Daisy would be a, uh, person.”
The donkey snorted.  “Well, you know what assuming does.  Look, you’re going to be back in Portland soon, Matt, so you don’t have much time.  You need to walk into the synagogue over there, because Y’shua is about to give a speech.  Pete wants you to see it.” (p. 26)

Yes, that Y’shua!

Later on, when Matt saw Y’shua again, he describes Him:

          “That’s not how Jesus really looked, is it?”

“Humans all look the same to me.  Does it matter?” [this is Daisy the donkey speaking]

“I’m not sure,” I said.  In fact, it disturbed me deeply.   Jesus shouldn’t be an ugly twisted man.  He should be compelling, beautiful, and charismatic.  He should look like a president.  He should look like JFK in a robe.  He should look like my imaginary Jesus.  (p. 38)

Back in Portland, Matt, Daisy, Pete, and a former prostitute turned Jesus follower named Sandy go looking for the real Jesus.  On their excellent adventure, they run into the Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses: Magic 8 Ball Jesus, King James Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, Bargain Jesus, Conservative Truth-Telling Jesus, Political Jesus, Hippie/Peacenik Jesus, etc... – all of the Imaginary Jesuses that we construct in our minds to fit our particular mindsets and situations, to make Him fit into our lives, not to allow Him to live out His life in us. 

Matt even ran into George Barna, the famous researcher.  Mr. Barna had this to share with Matt:

“Listen,” George said.  “The core belief of Christianity has to do with this spectacular moment when Jesus overcomes death by the power of his resurrection, and he shows that he is God when he rises from the dead.  If God doesn’t care about our suffering, why would he be in the process of repairing the world?  Jesus said that he came into the world so we could have life, abundant life.  He’s not a God of the dead, but of the living.  You’re at a vulnerable place right now, Matt, where you’re more susceptible to imaginary Jesuses.  You’re window shopping.  You need to stop and look at these Jesuses carefully.  Test them.  Question them.  The real Jesus isn’t afraid of your questions.  The truth is our friend.  That’s why I do my research, so we can look at what’s really happening in the church and society instead of what’s we wish was happening.  Jesus called himself the truth, as I’m sure you know.  The way, the truth, and the light.” (pp. 137-138)

I have never read a book quite like this.  Those in the ‘religious’ crowd definitely need to read it with an open mind.  Not only is it funny, but it is solid biblically.  Matt brings up a lot of important theological issues, including the Trinity, the inerrancy of scripture, justice, the supremacy of Jesus Christ and so much more.  He also makes so many good points, such as the fact that we drown out the still small voice of God with the static of the world’s noise and that we often overlook our everyday blessings.  I think ‘Imaginary Jesus’ will end up being a classic, and I look forward to more books from Matt Mikalatos!

You can order this book here.

This book was provided to me by Tyndale House Publishers for review purposes.

‘How People Change’ by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp – Book Review

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Being that all of the beings who are reading this are human beings (!), I think I can safely assume that we all need to change in one way or another.  In ‘How People Change,’ authors Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp provide important information on how to bring about lasting change.  

Here is the ‘blurb’ on the back cover of the book:

What does it take for lasting change to take root in your life?  If you’ve ever tried, failed, and wondered why, you need How People ChangeThis book explains the biblical pattern for change in a clear, practical way you can apply to the challenges of daily life.  But change involves more than a biblical formula: you will see how God is at work to make you the person you were created to be.  That powerful, loving, redemptive relationship is at the heart of all positive change you experience. 

Dr. Lane and Dr. Tripp start off with the premise that there is a Gospel Gap.  People are blind to the power and hope of the gospel today.  They describe three kinds of blindness in believers:

1.   The blindness of identity – our identity in Christ
2.   The blindness of the awareness of God’s presence in our lives here on earth
3.   The blindness to God’s process – our acceptance into the family of God is the beginning of God’s work in us.

They go on to explain what fills the Gap:

1.   Formalism – filling up our time with church activities
2.   Legalism – this is “not just a reduction of the gospel, it is another gospel altogether (see Galatians), where salvation is earned by keeping the rules we have established” (p. 8)
3.   Activism – “whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the “evil” around you” (p. 9)
4.   Biblicism – the gospel is reduced to a mastery of biblical content and theology.
5.   “Psychology-ism” – “whenever you view the sin of another against you as a greater problem than your own sin, you will tend to seek Christ as your therapist more than you seek him as your Savior” (p. 10)

The gentlemen also make the important point that we need to see the Big Picture – that our earthly time is so brief compared to eternity.  That helps us accept that the Lord is sovereign and working on our behalf.  We need to prepare for the “final destination” (p. 43) – it will redirect our thinking.

The big picture consists of the following elements:

1.   Heat – this is the person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations.
2.   Thorns – this is the person’s ungodly response to the situation.  It includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result.
3.   Cross – this focuses on the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love.  Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change.
4.   Fruit – this is the person’s new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart.  It includes behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow.  (pp. 83-85)

The book is chock full of real-life examples of wrong thinking, and the antidote – the godly alternative.  It is of highly practical value.

Another matter of utmost importance is for us to see ourselves as the Bride of Christ.  What does it mean to be married to Christ?  The authors explain:

Christ has made us the recipients of his affection, and, in turn, we are to make him the ultimate objects of ours.  Paul speaks to the Corinthians as a jealous father who wants nothing to supplant or compromise this relationship.  He urges the Corinthians to shun false saviors and false gospels and to place their hopes and affections solely on Christ. (p. 50)  

This is not from the book, but I love this portrait of “Who I Am in Christ.”  We all need to realize that; we will all be so much better off, and we will come closer to living out the life of Christ.

The gentlemen also emphasize the importance of being involved with a community of believers.  The Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – “lives in perfect harmony, love, and unity” (p. 67).  We need to do the same.

The book ends by discussing the four elements of the big picture, and looking at them in great detail, as well as examining the life of one couple and the example of one church.

Timothy S. Lane is executive director of CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation), faculty member, and a counselor with almost twenty years of experience.  He is the coauthor of CCEF's 'Transformation Series' curriculum and 'Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.'  He and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of two daughters and two sons. 

Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, is on the pastoral staff at Tenth Presbyterian Church, adjunct faculty at CCEF, and has counseled for over twenty-five years.  He is the author of several other books, including 'Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change,' 'Broken-Down House,' 'A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You,' and 'War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggle.'  He and his wife, Luella, are the parents of three sons and a daughter.

I must admit that I tend to steer clear of what seem to be ‘self-help’ books.  But this book is clearly a ‘Christ-help’ book.  It has been apparent to me for a long time that the only real change happens in a person when that person allows Christ and the Holy Spirit to do their repairs in them.  In fact, the ‘motto’ of CCEF is ‘Restoring Christ to Counseling & Counseling to the Church.’  That is exactly what is needed.  Freudian psychology has infiltrated the church – and lasting change is not found in that type of counseling (I have a degree in Psychology; I have the right to say that!).  I am so appreciative of Dr. Lane and Dr. Tripp for writing such a valuable book, and for compiling these principles in one place.

You can order the book here.

This book was provided to me by New Growth Press for review purposes; you can also order the book there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

‘Stuff Christians Like’ by Jonathan Acuff – Book Review

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In my travels across the World Wide Web and the blogosphere – not to mention social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter – I became acquainted with the musings of Jonathan Acuff.  He is the owner of a blog called ‘Stuff Christians Like’ which had half a million readers from 200 countries in a little over a year.  He is now the author of a book by the same name.

Jonathan, the “pastor’s kid with a mind for branding, a sarcastic mouth, and a heart for God, is challenging how we laugh about faith” (as described on the back of the book). 

Here is an example of Jon’s interesting worldview!:

Jon is a wacky guy!  

Being in the church his whole life, he has made some interesting observations about Christians.  He asks the question, “So how did we [Christians] get such a bad reputation for being serious 
people?”  His theory – Somber Christian Syndrome:

Somber Christian Syndrome (SCS) is a disease that tells you that to be considered to be a good Christian, you have to be serious all the time.  That to really reach people for God’s kingdom, you have to be holy and reverent, and instead of laughing out loud, you have to quietly remark, “That’s funny.  I see the humor in that situation.  That’s funny.”….
What’s the cure for SCS?  The verses in Matthew suggest putting oil on your head and washing your face [Matthew 6:16].  If that doesn’t work, put some oil on your face and tell people it’s “Sermon Sheen” and that you’re pretending to be a sweaty minister.  Sweaty minister material always kills. (pp. 15-16)

Another example of ‘Stuff Christians Like’ is “Thinking You’re Supposed to Go Into Full-Time Ministry.”  I think we all go through that on occasion; I know I do.  Here’s how Jon describes it:

And here it comes again.  You start to think about how awesome it would be to go into full-time ministry.  Reading the Bible all day and worshipping God at work.  You’ll never feel frustrated or bored because you’d constantly be doing exactly what you were handcrafted by God on high to do.  Then you meet a minister your age.  And he’s all stressed out and having a difficult time making room for God in his life and you think, “What?  You’re a professional Christian.  You’re not supposed to struggle with the things I struggle with.”  But he does, so you stop thinking about going into the ministry full-time.” (p. 29).  

And on it goes!

Jon also describes the Seven People You Meet in a Prayer Circle (pp. 53-56):

1.   The Opener
2.   The Almost-er
3.   The Rambler
4.   The Cave-In
5.   The Gunslinger
6.   The Shot Blocker
7.   The Closer

He also comes up with some alternatives to the Hedge of Protection, which he thinks is “slow growing, easily jumped, not nearly enough protection for these crazy times” (pp. 68-70):
  •          A Beaded Curtain of Wasps
  •          A Trampoline Moat of Lions
  •          A Rugby Scrum of Angels
I think my favorite part of the book is how Jon confessed to God that he wanted to be famous – and God’s response:

One night while jogging, I confessed that to God.  As ugly and as shallow as that sounds, I said to him, “God, I want my story to bring me fame.  I want fame.  I want to be famous.”
In a split second, I felt like God laughed. Not AT me, but WITH me, which is something I feel like he regularly does.  In my heart, I heard:
“Ha!  You want fame?  The creator of the universe knows your name.  The Alpha and Omega knows who you are and what you care about.  That’s as famous as you’re ever going to be.  Whose acknowledgement of you is going to stand up next to mine?”
…Is whatever you’re doing right now in life going to make you famous?  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  But ultimately it doesn’t matter.  As Christians, we’ve already peaked.  We can stop worrying about trying to become famous Christians.  That’s done.
We are all famous.  (p. 195)

 I really love Jon’s heart – and his sense of humor knows no bounds!  I look forward to continuing to read his thoughts on his blog and seeing the sequel to this book!

Jonathan, with his wife and two daughters, lives in Alpharetta Georgia and attends North Point Community Church, the megachurch founded by Andy Stanley.  In addition to writing the blog and the book, he has spent the last 11 years writing to clients such as his church and Home Depot. 

You can order this book here.

This book was provided to me by Zondervan Press for review purposes. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

‘A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God’ by John Piper – Book Review

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John Piper is one of the foremost theologians in the United States right now.  He is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis Minnesota.  He earned a Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Divinity degree in New Testament Studies from the University of Munich, Germany.  He is the author of over thirty books, including ‘Don’t Waste Your Life,’ 'Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ,’ and ‘Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die.’ 

I have had the good fortune to read his latest book, ‘A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God.’  This book analyzes, as only Dr. Piper can do, the book of Ruth.  Here is the description from the back cover:

Ruth and Boaz were risk-takers – a younger, immigrant, peasant widow and a middle-aged, Jewish landowner, walking along the precipice of social exclusion with absolute integrity.   

Here is the book trailer:

This book is broken down into four chapters – each chapter corresponds with a chapter from the book of Ruth.

Dr. Piper makes the important point that the book of Ruth is just as relevant to us today as it was when it was written 3,000 years ago:

As a means to that end – and everything is a means to glorifying Christ – the book of Ruth reveals the hidden hand of God in the bitter experiences of his people.  The point of this book is not just that God is preparing the way for the coming of the King of Glory, but that he is doing it in such a way that all of us should learn that the worst of times are not wasted.  They are not wasted globally, historically, or personally. (p. 24)

He also addresses the truth of God’s sovereignty as portrayed in Ruth’s story:

Thousands of Christians who have walked through fire and have seen horrors embrace God’s control of all things as the comfort and hope of their lives.  It is not comforting or hopeful in their pain to tell them that God is not in control.  Giving Satan the decisive control or ascribing pain to chance is not true or helpful.  When the world is crashing in, we need assurance that God reigns over it all. (p. 27)

Dr. Piper points out that Boaz is a God-Saturated man, and Ruth provides a wonderful example of Godly qualities in a woman (pp.-62):

·         She takes the initiative to care for her mother-in-law
·         She is humble
·         She is industrious

He goes on:

She is different from most people today.  We have a sense of entitlement.  We expect kindness and are astonished and resentful if we don’t get our “rights.”  But Ruth expresses her sense of unworthiness by falling on her face and bowing to the ground.  Proud people don’t feel amazed at being treated well.  They don’t feel deep gratefulness.  But humble people do…. [T]hey receive the gift.  Joy increases, not self-importance.  Grace is not intended to replace lowliness with pride.  It’s intended to replaced sorrow with joy.  (pp. 64-65)

I love how Dr. Piper gets to the truth of the Word, regardless of how it may make us feel getting there!  I have always appreciated that about his writing, and this book is no exception to that rule.  I love the thorough exegesis of each passage.

I so enjoy Pastor Piper’s writing style.  This section in particular stood out to me:

At one level, the message of the book of Ruth is that the life of the godly is not an Interstate through Nebraska but a state road through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee.  There are rockslides and dark mists and bears and slippery curves and hairpin turns that make you go backward in order to go forward.  But all along this hazardous, twisted road that doesn’t let you see very far ahead, there are frequent signs that say, “The best is yet to come.”  (pp. 99-100)   

As is the case with every John Piper book I have read, I highly recommend this one as well.  He understand scripture so well, and I appreciate his overview.

You can learn more about Pastor Piper at his comprehensive website, Desiring God.  His catalog of sermons from the last 25 years, as well as other materials, is available there at no charge; he also blogs on that site.  He tweets on Twitter; I would highly recommend that you follow him if you haven’t yet.   You can also become his fan on Facebook.

You can order this book here.

This book was provided to me for review purposes by Crossway Books of Wheaton Illinois.

Friday, March 26, 2010

‘Here Burns My Candle: A Novel’ by Liz Curtis Higgs – Book Review and Giveaway

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I have had the good fortune to read so many different and interesting books since I have been reviewing on my blog.  The latest, ‘Here Burns My Candle: A Novel,’ is no exception.

Here is the book trailer for this fascinating novel:

The setting for this novel is Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in September, 1745.  The main characters are Lady Marjory Kerr, the matron of the family and the widow of Lord John Kerr; her son, Lord Donald, and his wife, Lady Elisabeth, a Highlander by birth and a Lowlander by marriage; and Lady Marjory’s other son, Lord Andrew, and his wife, Lady Janet.  They are in the midst of the Jacobite Rising (or Jacobite Rebellion, depending on which side you’re rooting for!), as Charles Edward Stuart (aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie”) fights to return the Stuarts and his father James III to the throne of England.  Elisabeth is a Jacobite sympathizer; the rest of the family does not start out that way.

Although I am of Scottish ancestry (my maiden name is McQueen aka MacQueen), I was not overly familiar with Scotland’s history.  I appreciate the time that Mrs. Higgs has put into her research of the time and place.  She has done research both by reading books, etc… and – more fun – she has actually traveled over to Scotland to see the places in person. 

Liz does a wonderful job in conveying the Gaelic elements that are used in the English that was spoken in Scotland in that time period:

“Leddy Kerr,” he cried, “I thocht ye a bluidy rebel!”  Mr. Baillie sank against the doorjamb, knocking his nighcap askew.  His gray hair stuck out like pins in a cushion, and his chin bore two days’ worth of stubble.  “Pardon my appearance, mem.  I feared the Hieland army had slipped into town like reivers in the nicht.” (p. 73)

Many of the words are included in the Scottish Glossary at the back of the book – which comes in handy!  Most of the words are recognizable – but I need some help with others!

Elisabeth grew up following the pagan rite of worshipping the moon.  As time went on, and the Bible became the only available book to her, she came to know the Lord in a real way.  Instead of praying to The One who may not be hearing her, she prayed to the Lord, who responded to her and spoke to her through His Word – particularly in the Psalms.  She encouraged Marjory to return to her first love:

Marjory bowed her head, listening.  I remember such days.  She had lived without fear, ever aware of God’s presence in her life, shining brighter than any beeswax taper.  When she looked up and saw Elisabeth leaning across the Buik [Book], her eyes glowing and her voice fervent, Marjory fought a twinge of envy.  To have that passion again!  To burn for all that was holy. (p. 423)

An interesting aspect of this book is that it parallels the Book of Ruth in the Bible.  Knowing that as I read the book, I was able to equate the people from the story of Ruth with the characters in ‘Here Burns My Candle;’ it also made the book more interesting to me.  There were two elements of interest – the Scottish theme and the biblical theme.  This book covers the first 18 verses in the Book of Ruth.  Liz’s next book, ‘Mine is the Night,’ will cover the balance of the story. 

In addition to her other historical novels set in Scotland – ‘Thorn in My Heart,’ ‘Fair is the Rose,’ Whence Came a Prince,’ and ‘Grace in Thine Eyes’ – Liz is also the author of ‘Bad Girls of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them’ and ‘Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God,’ among many others.  She and her family live in lovely Louisville, Kentucky.    
I thought this book was very compelling and historically accurate (after I did some research of my own!).  Liz has a real gift, and I am grateful that she uses it for the glory of God!  I hope to read more from her in the future!

You can order this book here.

I have a copy of this book that I would love to pass along to one of you! 

There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me what is appealing to you about this book!  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.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too!  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

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

This give away is for U.S. residents only.  The deadline for entry is Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator ( on Friday, April 9, 2010 and will be contacted via email.  The best to all of you!
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