Thursday, July 28, 2016

What's Darwin got to do with it?

A friendly conversation about Evolution
by Robert C. Newman & John L. Wiester
146 pages / 2000

A graphic novel about evolution vs. intelligent design? Now that's got my attention!

The plot here revolves around an upcoming forum put on by Professor Teller, a Darwinist who believes evolution is a "Fact! Fact! Fact!" Of course forums involve speakers from two different sides, so Intelligent Design proponent Professor Questor steps in to offer up another perspective.

One of the first points Professor Questor makes is how important it is to define terms in this debate. Evolution is often defined simply as "change over time" and if that was all there was to it, even creationists would agree that evolution happens. (After all, we believe that all the dog species – the vast array of them – came from just a couple or so types on Noah's Ark. We certainly believe change can happen over time!) The actual debate is over the limits and direction of this change over time, so when we debate evolution, the disagreement is over whether molecules can, over millions of years, evolve into Man.

But in defining her terms, Professor Questor also makes it clear she is not a creationist. She doesn't attack creationists, but in distancing herself from them, it does leave the impression that creationism isn't quite as...legitimate as Intelligent Design. But that's a minor quibble in a wonderful book.

Other issues and topics the two professors discuss include:
  • Is there room in science for any supernatural explanations? And if we rule out supernatural explanations at the start, then is it any wonder we don't find evidence for God in our scientific explanations?
  • Are Peppered Moths, a "proof" of evolution?
  • Are the changing beak sizes of "Darwin's finches" really evidence for evolution?
  • Why do so many creatures have similar (homologous) body structures if we aren't all descended from a common ancestor?  
  • What is the real role of mutation? Can it do all that evolutionists say it does?
  • Is "bad" design evidence of evolution? (And is it actually bad?)
This might seem like the discussion could get quite dry and dusty, but the authors bring in all sorts of analogies and illustrations to keep things hopping. For example, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a couple of appearances, and mutation and natural selection are personified as two superheroes (with less than effective superpowers) Mutaman and Selecta. And there's lots more!

The result is a very fun book which is also highly educational. It would be a great resource for any high school science class to go through because it touches on a lot of the big issues, and it does so with wit and impressive clarity - pictures are used here to boil down pretty complex concepts into only a few pages or a few panels. And for any comic-loving teen, this would make a wonderful present, expanding and stretching them, without overly taxing them.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

They say we are infidels

On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East
by Mindy Belz
2016 / 307 pages

This is a book ripped right out of the headlines. If you want to understand what's going on in the Middle East right now then this is a great book to start with.

Mindy Belz is a reporter for the Christian (and leaning in a Reformed direction) news magazine WORLD, and she has visited the Middle East repeatedly over the last dozen some years. This is an account of those many trips, and the stories of the Christians she met, and how their lives were impacted by the US invasion of Iraq. It wasn't just Iraqi Christians that were impacted. Belz outlines how all of the Middle East was, and continues to be, impacted by the US activities in the area.

For example, after taking out Saddam in 2003, the US made the decision to also fire anyone with Ba'athist ties. The Ba'ath Party was Saddam's political party, so this seemed to make sense. The problem was, being a member of the Ba'ath party was a basic requirement for most important positions. So in this one move the US basically required that anyone and everyone involved in the former political infrastructure of the country be booted out. So all the military personal, the policemen, mayors, etc....all gone. And with them went the country's stability. Policing the entire country was a task beyond the US's ability. They had to restrict themselves to instead securing certain areas. But those outside those areas were left to fend for themselves.

The US also, in taking down Saddam, replaced a dictatorship that, while certainly not friendly to Christians, at least offered some limited protection to them. Belz shows how, after the invasion, Iraq's Christians were hopeful, and making all sorts of plans. But it soon became clear that their situation was worse than it had been under Saddam. The country adopted an officially Islamic constitution, and Christians outside of the areas where the US reigned were faced with increasingly hostile persecution. Church leaders started getting murdered. Church buildings were blown up.

And then ISIS came and it all got so much worse.

The point of Belz' book is not to try to blame the US for all of the Middle East's problems. The villains are the Islamic terrorists like ISIS and their many supporters and sympathizers.

But it does become apparent, in reading one accounts after another, that for Iraq's Christians, the US invasion did not lead to any improvements for them. They continue to flee the country in droves, and whereas there was once a small Jewish company in Iraq, they may well be all gone now.

This is an eye-opening book by a Christian author who is certainly not anti-American. But her account show that George Bush's aim of spreading democracy across the Middle East was and is a naive one. Democracy can only flourish when a country cares enough about protecting its minorities that the majority will even offer up their own lives to protect the persecuted. That is not happening in the Middle East, or at least, not in the numbers needed.

I should add that Belz also addresses what is happening in Syria and surrounding countries too. Iraq is the main focus, but not the only one.

While this is an incredibly eye-opening story, I did find it took effort to work through – this is no light read. But if you want to know what our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East are having to put up with, then your should grab a copy of They say we are infidels. You can pick one up at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Unashamed

by Lecrae Moore
212 pages / 2016

Though you can't judge a book by its cover, some books definitely have the kind of "curb appeal" that makes them worth investigating. Unashamed is one of those books. Eric Metaxas, Andy Crouch, and Nancy Pearcey, the authors of some pretty acclaimed Christian non-fiction themselves, laud Lecrae's work (both his music and his memoir) for its beauty and its boldness.

Of course, that's all marketing – sincere, no doubt, but still marketing. What really pops out at you from the back cover is the pull-quote from the book: "If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection" – an insight Lecrae has spent most of his 30+ years learning.

Like most of us, Lecrae spent (and still spends, like most of us) much of his life craving acceptance. Several kinds of heartbreak molded that ultimately vain quest into the shape it has taken in his life. First, while he was still very young, he and his mother were abandoned by his abusive father. Second, he was also abused verbally and physically by the other adult males in his extended family. Finally, he was sexually abused by his babysitter.

All these factors meant that not only was Lecrae desperately seeking others' approval, but he was finding it in dangerous and damaging ways. Being involved in the gangsta lifestyle gave him male approval, but from exactly the wrong kind of leader and role model, as well as giving him easy access to drugs that he used to dull the trauma of an abused childhood. Womanizing meant that he could recreate the distorted connection between power and pleasure that his earlier sexual abuse had hard-wired into his brain.

Even after Lecrae became a Christian, he still sought to earn acceptance, this time from God. He became a legalist, frantically trying to make up for the sin in his life with service to God, even seeking persecution by shoving the gospel in people's faces without real love for or relationship with them. Of course, legalism leads to hypocrisy, and Lecrae's life soon became dualistic, living with one foot in the world and one foot on the way out of the kingdom of God. As he puts it, "I saw my connection with God as a contractual relationship, rather than a covenantal relationship." His contrast of the two is, at first, a little iffy: "All contracts have terms, but covenants don't. They last forever." It would be more accurate to say that covenants, unlike contracts, are all-encompassing, demanding total commitment; however, his last statement regarding the contrast is a good way to counteract the danger of covenantal arrogance that both ancient Israel and modern Christians (especially Reformed Christians?) fall prey to: "In a covenantal relationship, you're only concerned with loving the other party as much as you can."

By God's grace, Lecrae began to finally understand that grace, and his hip-hop music paralleled his life in his transition from contractual legalism (leading to preachy condemnation) to understanding and response to God's covenantal love in Christ – reflected in honest, unashamed admission of his own sins and weaknesses. This outreach to both Christians and non-Christians was also prompted by his reading of Francis Schaeffer and Andy Crouch, who call Christians to do more than merely condemn, critique, consume, or copy culture - but instead to begin creating culture.

While creating music that reaches out to a fallen world and working with others in the music business whose artistry does not stem from a love for Christ, Lecrae faces the challenges of what 1 John 2:16 calls "the desires of the flesh" (lust and sex), "the desires of the eyes" (love of luxury), and "the pride of life" (the desire for people's acceptance). His revelation of these dangers in his life, and how he copes with them, is a good reminder that we need to worry more about worldly culture – advertising, social media, movies, music – than about worldly people. You can't minister to culture; you can only resist or conform – but you can minister to people. When your interaction with the people of the world around you is truly ministry motivated by your response to the gospel of salvation, then, Lecrae makes clear, like the apostle Paul, you have nothing to be ashamed of: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

If you believe that Lecrae's book can give you a good glimpse of what it means, personally and culturally, for Christians to be Unashamed - you can get it here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists
by the Voice of the Martyrs
293 pages / 2016

This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone."

So I started reading out of a feeling of duty.

However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down.

Encouragement

It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind.
"I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare.
With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game.

There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing.
"During the final evening of [a bible] conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists.
Challenging

Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord.

In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'"

Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers.
"Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" 
This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord.

Awe-inducing

Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't?

They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough!

Cautions

When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would ever do. But we know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines.

At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings.

Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic.

Conclusion

I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10.

The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44).

I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Parenting the Internet Generation

by Luke Gilkerson
144 pages / 2016

This is a great, informative, and very, very important book on how to help our kids resist pornography.

Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we parents might be, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen.

So how can we protect them? How can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Parenting the Internet Generation.

And not only is it fantastic, it's free!

Parenting is foundational

What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us.

The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly.
Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. 
One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame—the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways.
  • Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do.
  • Failing to really listen to them as we correct them. 
  • Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”)
  • Showing little compassion 
  • Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive 
  • Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks 
  • Showing favoritism to other siblings 
It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits.
See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes):
Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there.
I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids.

But it's just that understanding is key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on.

So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear:
Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance.
Contents

In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out:
  1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 
  2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 
  3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 
  4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) 
Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples:
"“If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? 
If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? 
At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn?
Each chapter also includes a link to a short  (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over.

These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker.

Conclusion

This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with.

I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents.

And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get it here for free... and you really should!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shigeru Mizuki's HITLER

by Shigeru Mizuki
307 pages / 2015

This is a fascinating graphic novel (aka comic) biography on the world's most notorious mass murder, written by a cartoonist who fought for the Japanese during World War II. Mizuki fought for the Japanese, but, as is depicted in his autobiographical graphic novel Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan  he was an unwilling participant, not at all sympathetic to the Axis powers, or Hitler or the Nazis.

Still, the strength of this biography might be the dispassionate distance evidenced throughout that probably comes from the fact that neither he nor his country fought against Hitler. This isn't a sympathetic portrait of Hitler, but it is a "just the facts ma'am" kind of account, with the author feeling no need to demonize Hitler. Depicting Hitler's actions does that all by itself. The result is a presentation of Hitler as an egomaniac and a monster but also far more understandable then we all might find comfortable. We know people like this. "Follow me, and I will save you" he cried, and millions, fed up with the incompetence of their political leaders, turned to him as a savior.

Does that sound familiar?

This has been the rallying cry of demagogic politicians the world over, throughout history. So when we hear it today we must not be fooled. In desperation, the German people turned to someone who promised he would make Germany great again but God has warned us clearly: "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). When we don't take that to heart – when we look to a mere man to be our savior – then we can expect evil to result.

The all too recognizable Hitler that Shigeru Mizuki shows us is one we can most certainly learn from, and take warning from.

CAUTIONS

For a book about the world's most infamous man, this has surprisingly few cautions to share.

Violence: Since Hitler is the focus, and he didn't do the killing himself, there isn't all that much violence depicted, and none of it gory.

Sex/Nudity: Hitler wanted to portray himself as a chaste leader, so the relationships he had with Eva Braun, (his mistress who married him only hours before he committed suicide) and his 17-year-old niece Geli Raubal (who was rumored to have also been his mistress, until she committed suicide at 23) are detailed, but nothing more than a couple of kisses are depicted. As to nudity, there are a few panels showing skeletal naked Jews but genitalia are obscured in shadow.

Language: I only noticed once instance of anything particularly vulgar being used: someone is called an "asshole."

There is also one instance where God's name might be taken in vain. When Czechoslovakian President Hacha is pressured to sign over his country to the Nazis (or have it destroyed if he does not), right before collapsing in stress he thinks "Dear God..." While it is not noted in the book, Hacha was a Catholic so this may well be an appropriate usage, showing a man in stress turning to God. But "Dear God" is often used as a way of saying "Oh no!" and in those instances it is indeed taking God's name in vain. So I don't know quite what to think, and share this so you can make your own assessment. God's name comes up in a few other instances (ex. Hitler describes himself as being protected by God) but all other occasions are clearly appropriate uses.

CONCLUSION

Graphic novels at their best are the combination of two mediums, drawing and writing; by this combination they surpass what could be done with just art, or just literature. Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler is an example of this medium at its best. It is informative, eye-opening tale, and, while thick at 300 pages, more informative than any book that size.

It is also written in a form that might engage even someone who finds reading very difficult - graphic novels, even serious and lengthy ones, are far less intimidating to struggling readers and could be used to create confidence in them. After all, if they can read a 300 page book, that's really something!

This is a comic, but it is also a serious novel about a serious subject, and as such is suitable only for teens and adults. I would recommend it for 12 and up, and suggest it as a potential tool for English teachers who are trying to find challenging books for high school boys, especially those who don't normally like to read. This could also be put to good use by any high school history teacher as well.

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.






Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Is a Healthy Church Member?

by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
127 pages / 2008

Why a whole book on this subject? In the introduction, the author himself acknowledges that the healthy church member is essentially a healthy Christian. Well, doesn't the Belgic Confession define the marks of the true Christian fully enough in Article 29 (read the fourth paragraph of this link)?

Well, can we ever know enough about being not only a true Christian, but a Christian who shows himself or herself healthy enough to be used, by the grace of God, to build up a healthy church?

The first nine marks of Thabiti Anyabwile's profile of a healthy church are the other side of the coin's profile of a healthy church, which are developed in the 9Marks series from Crossway. For instance, a healthy church has expositional preaching (what the Belgic Confession calls "the pure preaching of the gospel") and so should have members who are expositional listeners, who are willing to be taught, to talk about the sermon with others, and to apply what they have learned to their own lives. Various other titles in this series deal with other marks of a healthy church - Biblical theology; Biblical understanding of the gospel, conversion, and evangelism; and Biblical practices regarding church membership, church discipline, discipleship, and church leadership. Each of these has its counterpart in the healthy church member.

Anyabwile discusses how a healthy church member is a Biblical theologian - eager to know the whole counsel of God in both Old and New Testament, and with Christ in view in both Testaments. He shows how a healthy church member is saturated with, yearning for, and protective of the Biblical gospel; how such a member shows the marks of genuine conversion, including love for God the Father and for other believers, as well as the work of the Spirit in his heart and life; and how such a member understands the need for others' conversion and hence is eager for evangelism because of the sin in all of us that requires the work of Christ and the cleansing power of the Spirit.

Just as a healthy church seeks much from its members in their service to God and their neighbour, so healthy church members are committed to the good of the church. Such members thus welcome the discipline of the church for both themselves and other members, and want to grow spiritually and help and urge others to grow spiritually through the means of grace (preaching and the sacraments). Finally, a healthy church has faithful leadership and thus also has members who are humble followers.

Anyabwile adds one characteristic to the nine we have looked at. If a church and its members are to be spiritually (or even physically) healthy, such strength can only ultimately come from God Himself. Hence a healthy church member must, and eagerly will, seek God's help by being "A Prayer Warrior."

What Is a Healthy Church Member? would be an excellent book study for leadership training, and for every church member who cares as much for the Body of Christ - the church - as for Christ the Head
of the church. If you believe that Anyabwile's book can give you a better understanding of what promotes healthy church membership, you can get it here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther

by Steven J. Lawson
145 pages / 2013

This is a book that every Protestant minister should read. Why? Because it uses the story of the first Protestant minister, Martin Luther, to show what Protestant ministers should be doing with the word of God.

This book is by no means a complete biography of Martin Luther. It does not deal with any of the flaws that are sometimes mentioned with regard to his life. What it does do (very well) is show how God used Luther to redirect His people back to His word.

And how was Luther equipped, and how did he equip others, to do that? First of all, he had, in the words of the title of Chapter 2, "A Deep Conviction about the Word" - its verbal inspiration, its divine inerrancy, its supreme authority, its intrinsic clarity, and its complete sufficiency.

A deep conviction about God's word is not effective unless one also knows it deeply, and Luther did. Chapter 3 portrays the second key characteristic of Luther's approach to the preaching of God's word - his "Relentless Drive in the Study." First of all, he humbly followed wherever God was leading him through His word. Second, he stressed going back to the Bible rather than any commentaries - reading through the Bible himself twice a year. Third, Luther departed from much earlier interpretation of God's word by sticking to the clear meaning of the text rather than spiritualizing it. Finally, he emphasized the reading of the text in the original languages, and the need for the work of the Spirit to work with God's word.

Next, Lawson shows the structure and content of  Luther's sermons: concise introduction, biblical exposition, a stress on God's law, the exaltation of Christ and His work on the cross, personal application, and the invitation of the gospel. This is similar to the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism - sin, salvation, service. Luther's sermons were also delivered powerfully, with an indomitable spirit, fervent intensity, accessible speech, and colorful expressions.

Finally, Luther preached with full disclosure of the truth, confident assertions of Scriptural wisdom, determination in the face of opposition, undaunted courage, and a daring defense of Biblical teaching.

Lawson concludes with an exhortation to continue the Reformation by emulating his high view of the Scriptures, a high view of God, and a high view of the pulpit. If you believe that Lawson's view of Luther gives us a good way to see the value of the kind of preaching that Luther preached and promoted, you can get his book here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Farm Team

by Linda Bailey
illustrated by Bill Slavin
32 pages / 2006

I'm a Canuck living in a house full of American lasses, so every now and again, I hit my daughters up with a dose of good ol' Canadian culture. And boy was this a goodie!

The Farm Team is about a bunch of chickens, pigs, sheep, and one cow, who love hockey and want to bring the championship trophy back home. For the last 50 years, the Bush League Bandits have always come out on top, but this year the Farm Team has a great goalie and they think they have the right stuff to get it done.

But the Bandits are cheaters, and when the score gets tight their porcupine drives for the net and punctures the Farm Team's porky goaltender. How's the Farm Team going to handle it with their best player injured? Never fear, coach Clyde (a Clydesdale) will think of something!

Parents could use this book to teach children a little about sportsmanship – the Farm Team are great examples of hardworking and clean playing sportsmen sportsanimals – but the real value of this book is in just how fun it is to read out loud. There's lots of action, some good twists (what's the Farm Team going to do when the Bandits' new star player is an enormous bear?!?), and some very fun play-by-play dialogue to shout out. It's the kind of book that is so well written it made it easy for me to become quite the performer. My kids loved it, and even my wife, who was busy making supper as we read, really got into the action.

So a good dose of Canadiana and a great big heaping of fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Finding Winnie

The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear
by Lindsay Mattick
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
56 pages / 2015

As we were working our way through The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh I was delighted to find this treasure at our local library. It turns out that Winnie, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort.

It begins with charm. Just as Winnie the Pooh is begun with a father telling his son a story, so too this book starts with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case the storyteller is the great granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way he met a man with a baby bear and ended up buying him. To make a long story shorter (and not to spoil too much of the tale) this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown - ended up in the London Zoo where a boy name Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced and inspired.

It is a wonderful story, but what makes it remarkable is the charming way it's told. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, the same, did I mention charm? is there throughout.

The book concludes with a few pages of the real Winnie, along with Harry Colebourn.

Cautions

The First World War is made mention of, but nothing of the battles are shown.

Conclusion

For any fans of Winnie the Pooh this will be a real treat, no matter their age. Both my daughters and I were entranced! You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

In 2015 another picture book came out about the bear behind the bear. Winnie: the True story of the Bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is also very good, and if it had come out on its own, it would have found its own spot on our blog. Very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books. Check out more on it at Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough
320 pages / 2015

Match an astonishing story with a superb storyteller and what more could we ask for? David McCullough clearly had fun delivering a story that, if it weren’t true, would never be believed – the Wright brothers seem simply too good to be true. These two former journalists, now bike builders, simply decide one day to get into the plane building business. They begin by firing off a letter to the Smithsonian Institution to ask for all the information that can be had about flight because they are determined to succeed where all others have failed.

McCullough gives us the measure of these two men, by highlighting just how audacious their goal really was. At the time many thought human flight was an impossibility, and based this conclusion on the decades of failed experiments that preceded the Wrights’ interest. And while the two brothers are not poor, they don’t have the resources some other experimenters have been able to muster. So how could the Wrights manage what they did? McCullough credits it to determination, brilliance, patience, curiosity, and, did we mention determination?

At 320 pages this might seems a bit on the big/intimidating side. But but with 50+ pages devoted to the footnotes and index, it isn’t nearly as large as it seems. Who should read it? Anyone with an interest in aviation, or underdog stories, would love it. But I would most like to see this in the harnds of young men and older teens. This would be a wonderful book to inspire them to investigate, experiment, study, dream and work hard. That’s what the Wrights had going for themselves, and look at how far it took them!

To be clear, this isn't a specifically Christian book. Their father was a church bishop, and a man of principle and dedication, but he didn't seem all that worried about his boys irregular church attendance. While the two brothers were always very strict about taking the Sabbath rest, there isn't all that much in here about their relationship with God. So a fascinating biography but not a spiritual one.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Don't Worry - Rejoice!

Parents in Pain
by John White
1979 / 245 pages

Worry: Pursuing a Better Path to Peace
by David Powlison
2004 / 40 pages

While parents are not the only ones to worry, I suspect most every parent struggles with it, which is why David Powlison's Worry pairs up rather naturally with John White's Parents in Pain. We have reviewed both these authors on the blog before, but not their books on these topics.

John White is better known as the author of the Archives of Anthropos, a children's fantasy series. In that series he actually alluded to some of the concerns of his "real job" when his protagonists meet a girl with an unnamed trauma in her past. As a Christian psychiatrist, White is upfront about the fact that parents will experience pain, and that he went through that pain in the raising of his own children. Our children will not turn out exactly like us, and we do not have to take personal responsibility for their mistakes and sins that bring us pain.

One chapter in particular dealt with the issue of worry as a parent when White urges us to relinquish our certain "rights" and expectations parents have created for themselves. He urges us to give up:
  • our "right" to tranquillity, 
  • our "right" to repayment for all our work in bringing our children up, 
  • any expectations of respectability in the eyes of other parents, 
  • and any expectation that we can shelter our children from the consequences of their own action. 

In other words, let us stop making idols of our own powers to change others.

Some references to free will (but not in the Arminian sense), and to abortion as a possibly acceptable solution to teenage pregnancy (though strongly discouraged), should not keep discerning parents from benefiting from much good counsel and encouragement when our children put us through pain.

David Powlison's booklet is not specifically about parenting, but he uses a careful meditation on Christ's well-known words on worry in Matthew 6 to bring us (again?) to the recognition that "your Father is God." He is in control!

One other piece of counsel that both share is to act rather than worry! White mentions that while happy is an adjective, rejoice is a verb. Paul commands us to rejoice even when we have no earthly reason to be happy. Similarly, Powlison reminds us to exercise our Spirit-led will by deliberately focusing on God's promises (wonderful reasons for rejoicing!), and by giving to others in response when we are tempted to worry.

If you believe that either or both of these books will help you stop worrying and start rejoicing and acting in love rather than fear, you can order David Powlison's book here and John White's book here.