28 June 2006

The Gutter

When my wife first saw that I was reading The Gutter, she thought it looked like a book about God's grace reaching down to us & rescuing us from our sin & about God's acceptance no matter what.
In a way, The Gutter is about that. But the method of God delivering from the gutter is you & me. According to Mr. Gross, "The gutter is the place I am least likely or inclined to go because it is a place where people are not like me; they are not Christians."
God calls each of us to reach a select group of people. For some (Mr. Gross) its porn stars & porn addicts; for others its people suffering from homelessness; for still others it people in a nursing home. The idea is to find the gutter God has called you to.
Mr. Gross divids the book into 3 segments. His personal gutter, God's gutter & our gutter. In this work are stories of people who have listened to God's call to get out of our comfort zones & be His love to those who need it.
People just want to be known & loved. Whether they are drug pushers, housewives, or nuns.
This is more than just reaching out to help those in need. This is about having a relational lifestyle, getting into the lives of people. The thing Jesus calls us to (as well as modeled himself) is to love - really love - the unlovely. Who has God called you to love? Where is your gutter?
This book is an excellent start for those looking to find the ministry which God has called them to.
You can pick it up at NextStep for 20% off.
-posted by cubfann

23 June 2006

The Secret Message of Jesus

What Jesus born to die, or was Jesus born to teach?

- posted by cubfann

21 June 2006

An Autobiography

A few years back, for reasons I can't remember, I rented & watched Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi. I was fascinated. It is an amazing movie, one that I cannot recommend enough. It is a overview of his life & gives a basic understanding of Mr. Gandhi's thought.
I wanted to learn more after watching the movie, so I went to a bookstore & picked up An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with the Truth. It is a thick book. It is over 500 pages & that delayed me jumping in for a few weeks. Once I did start, I did get a little bogged down. He begins with telling the story of his family before his birth & then spends a good deal of time on his early childhood. I ended up putting the book down for months before I returned to it.
I must admit, the thing that brought me back to the book is the war in Iraq. I am very much so interested in peace & how others live peacefully. I picked the book back up with the drive & determination of finding out the story behind the movie as well as to form my ideas about peaceful living.

I had since bought the DVD of Mr. Attenborough's film & at this time showed it to my wife. She too was entraced. I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the book as a whole. This is mainly because of the expectations I brought into the reading. What Mr. Gandhi's purpose for the writing of the book was to document his "experiments with the truth."
These experiments ranged from eating habits to sexual habits to living habits. It is less a comprehensive narrative than it is a series of reflections on his life. The development of Mr. Gandhi's thought is spread out throughout his lifetime (as any serious thought should be) & is written as such.
Although a bit difficult to read, it is well worth the time & struggle. Also available for those interested in delving further is The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, & Ideas, as well as Non-Violent Resistance.

All are available at NextStep Resources for 20% off the list price.

Category: Biography

19 June 2006

Jesus in the Margins

I really enjoyed Don Miller's second book (Searching for God Knows What). In his books he talks about his church, Imago Dei. So when I saw that this book was written by the pastor of that church, I was pretty excited. But after the second chapter, I felt that I had read it before. Not this book, per se, but the ideas. I read a little further, & every concept was sounding familiar.
Then it hit me. There are different stories, obviously different words, but the concepts were the same. Only it wasn't as well written. The book it is similar to is The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I have read this book a number of times (the first in high school) & have really enjoyed each time through.
The material is phenomenal. The basic concept is that God's grace reaches us wherever we are, that His love lifts us out of the darkness & blackness of in & breathes in us new life. A great message (very Pauline), and one quite important for all to hear, from those who are down & out to those who are trying to jump through all the "right" hoops to win God's favor.
I highly recommend all of Mr. Manning's works (especially The Signature of Jesus). Mr. Mckinley's book is a good read, but he is not the writer that Mr. Manning is, nor are the concepts fleshed out as much.

- posted by cubfann

16 June 2006

The Dirty Little Secret

Pornography is "The Dirty Little Secret". It is easier to access than ever & just as addictive as alcohol or drugs. I can almost guarantee you that someone you know has or does have a problem with porn. You just don't know about it. It's a secret. We are flooded with images of scantily clad women on TV, billboards, even when checking our hotmail. This is where we begin. This is what Craig Gross (the author of The Dirty Little Secret & one of the founders of xxxchurch.com) calls "porn training wheels".
It then moves on with you mom's or sister's Victoria's Secret catalog. You see, the thing about porn is, it's a progression. You eventually get desensitized to something & look for something a little more extreme, etc. The average age a boy starts looking at porn is 11. Increasingly the largest age demographic to become entrenched in porn is 65+. This is a widespread issue.
For me, it was when my friend Mike & I were at the mall when I was 13. We went into a bookstore & he said, "Hey check this out." It snowballed from there. I could not get those images out of my head. Once I could drive, I would go to bookstores & steal a magazine & look at it at home. One night, while I was at work, my parents found "my stash". It just made me more determined to hide it better. Then the internet came along. This just made it easier to look at & easier to hide.
I only recently told my wife about this & with her keeping me accountable as well as having accountability software installed on my computer (free from xxxchurch.com); hopefully we can close the book on my dirty little secret.
Enough about me. This book is a behind the scenes look at xxxchurch.com & the inner workings of the porn industry. It is eye-opening & insightful. In it are stories from people (men and women) who struggle with porn, stories of porn stars who have been helped out of the industry by the guys at xxxchurch.com & stories of the widespread epidemic that porn is.
I really think that every pastor, every youth pastor & every parent needs to be informed about this topic & this book is an excellent resource to get informed. Craig also hosts a podcast with the other founder of xxxchurch.com, Mike Foster, which is very good (quite funny, as well). The website also has links & helps for those seeking relief from this addiction & for those hurt by a loved ones addiction & for those merely attempting to be informed about the problem porn poses.
This is a topic that makes people uncomfortable to talk about. But in order to help people, the church, family, friends need to be willing to get uncomfortable & bring it out in the open. Only then can those engulfed in porn finally find relief.
I know this first hand. I talked with two different male friends about it (both of which also struggled with porn), but we never really followed through on consistent accountability. I can't tell you how many times I prayed that God with purify my heart & give me the strength to overcome this. But I didn't go the extra step I needed to & find accountability. Only with God's strength & a friend's (& wife's, in my case) accountability can we quit this pattern of behavior.
Great book. Not for the faint of heart, though - Mr. Gross doesn't hold back too much. But this book is well worth the time & money for the read. If you are a parent, please read this book, or at the very least visit their website. Please get informed about this problem & get in the faces of your children, as uncomfortable as that will be. They may not thank you, but their future spouse may.

You can pick this book up here for 20% off.
Download the x3 accountability software here. (free)
Subscribe to the Dirty Little Secrets podcast here. (also free)

-posted by cubfann

14 June 2006

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.

Biographies are one of my favorite genres of books. You get to learn about a real person, struggles they went through, how (or if) they overcame them & most times get inspired to find your own outlet to change the world or at least your little part of it.
This is very much so the case with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. While not an autobiography in the traditional sense, it is edited by someone handpicked for the job. Clayborne Carson interweaves notes, sermons, speeches, & personal testimony of Dr. King seamlessly & if you didn't know that Dr. King didn't just sit down & write it, you would never guess.
One of the highlights in this book for me is the presentation of many of Dr. King's sermons & letters. The full text of his Letter from Birmingham Jail is included as well as his famous I Have a Dream speech. Even better is the context regarding those & other writings & speeches.
Dr. King takes the reader through many of the rallies & marches he led, into the minds of the leaders of the movement & the development of his thought - especially for the philosophy of non-violent resistance.
I have to say that this philosophy has taken hold of me. Non-violent resistance, I believe is the "philosophy" which Jesus taught (for further discussion on this see Richard Hayes treatment in The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, chapter 14, Violence in Defence of Justice - fantastic), & it was also the philosophy which Gandhi held to in staving off the British in South Africa & India.
This encapsulation of Dr. King's work & life really shows you the man - both publicly & privately. It is a fascinating read & shows you the heart of the civil rights movement in America. Definitely worthwhile.

You can pick this book up for 20% off the list price here.

Category: Biography

12 June 2006

Mudhouse Sabbath

Lauren Winner is an author who you will hear a lot about in the coming months & years. She is a Christian converted from Judaism (as told in her memoir girl meets God). I have heard her described as a female Don Miller. But just as we are waiting for the next Jordan, labeling someone doesn't do them justice. Miss Winner has her own voice, one that is unique & important.
In this, her second book, Miss Winner discusses eleven spiritual practices within Judaism which can be practiced within Christianity (& more likely should be). She writes about each practice & how it is used within Judaism, the importance of it & why Christianity misses out on its importance or blows it off altogether.
She talks about the spiritual disciplines of fasting, sabbath, prayer, eating, mourning, weddings & others. The big thing that you get the sense throughout is the high regard for community life within Judaism. We Protestants claim it as important within our churches & schools, but it seems that Jews are way more intentional about it. It is woven into the fabric of their daily existence.
The other concept I took away from this read was how everything in Judaism is somehow traced back to God. Any activity can be turned into a spiritual act. Not to get off-color or anything, but rabbi's even can spiritualize using the bathroom. I don't think there is much danger bringing God into too many areas of our lives.
This is a quick, fun & quite interesting read. I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to learn more about spiritual disciplines, or about Judaism. I trust it will challenge you & give you yet another author in which you await their next release.

You can purchase Mudhouse Sabbath here for 20% off.

- posted by cubfann

09 June 2006

Which is More Damaging - Narnia or Da Vinci?

I saw The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe in the theater when it first came out & was quite excited about the quality of the film. I was excited when I learned that it did so well, that plans were made to turn the second book (Prince Caspian) into a movie. This past weekend, I saw the film again on DVD. This time I watched it more critically than I did at first. I have to say that I was quite disappointed with some of the dialogue. I was laying in bed that night thinking about the movie & had this thought:

Narnia is potentially more dangerous a film than the Da Vinci Code.

I know this is a blog regarding books…but both of these films began as books. I have not seen the Da Vinci Code, but I did read the novel when it came out, so I believe I can speak to it.

As to why I say Narnia can be potentially more dangerous than the Da Vinci Code is this. Even before Narnia opened, Christians everywhere (this writer included) were very excited. Some went as far as calling it a Christian film. Christian musicians wrote songs inspired by the film. Christians saw (& read) Narnia as an allegory for the Christian story of redemption. Sure it has bits of the redemption story & Aslan’s Passion is similar to that of Christ.

But Aslan is not to be equated with Jesus. There are Things which Aslan says in the film that would never ring true of our Messiah. In the first exchange Aslan has, the writers add the question “How could this happen?” (a line which Lewis never wrote, incidentally). Anyway, as people equate Aslan with Jesus, they equate Jesus with not being God – not having omniscience.

Later, Aslan is speaking with Peter about the impending battle with the White Witch. He mentions that he may or may not be there…& that this is his (Peter’s) battle, not Aslan’s. Two more examples of how unlike Jesus Aslan is. Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that he will always be with us…even to the end of the age. More telling was the fact that Aslan tells Peter it is Peter’s battle, not his (Aslan’s). I found this to be a very humanist statement. At best, it puts us up as “partners” with Christ in the work of the Kingdom; at worst, it is something we have to do, with marginal help from our King.

I think most people know the basic premise of the Da Vinci Code. Jesus didn’t die on the cross, & eventually married Mary Magdalene & settled in France to a normal life. Not even nominal Christians would have their faith shaken by this premise. Granted, people without faith may believe this to be true (13% of Americans according to a CT poll), but most Christians don’t give this slander much of any thought. And I would submit that those people who would hold that premise to be true are looking for excuses not to commit to faith in Christ.

Narnia may be more dangerous because it forms our idea of who God is, of who Jesus is. Our society gets its history & facts from film & television. We are not a reading culture, for the most part. Even if we are, little things like what I mentioned from the Narnia film get filed away in the back of our mind.

It just seems to me that slightly bad theology packaged in a semi-Christian way is much more heinous than awful theology packaged in an anti-Christian manner.

- posted by cubfann

06 June 2006

The Unexpected Journey

For many years, my dad (a Salvation Army officer), used to preach God was still in the business of changing people. Back then as a young child I believe Dad, and I still do today. This newest offering from Thom Rainer affirmed this belief once again. The Unexpected Journey” is a captivating chronicle of how a dozen people were eternally changed!

Thom Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, personally interviewed Christ-followers who once wandered the paths of major religions and lesser known forms of spirituality. The interviewees share personal struggles, as well as the doors God opened to bring them from other belief systems to Christianity. It is written in a very conversational style. With most of the chapters, I wanted more information . . morere intimate details of their faith journey.

Mormonism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Atheism are among the twelve faiths” highlighted. Other belief systems include Jehovah's Witness, Wicca, Agnosticism, Buddhism, Islam, Unitarianism, New Age, and
Satanism. Most of these chapters are guaranteed to open your
tunnel-vision” eyes to God'’s powerful ways of drawing unbelievers into the body of believers. The book encourages readers to stay involved in the lives of others while sharing the love of Christ through both words and actions.

Pull-quotes explaining their former non-Christian belief systems are included in each chapter. These help clear up any assumptions and hearsay the reader may have unknowingly accepted as fact.

Study questions, (at the end of the book), enable small groups to gain useful insight into evangelism today and the variety of spiritual journeys people travel.

Don'’t delay in picking up a copy today and then by all means, pass it on!

This review was submitted by Dale Lewis who works at the EFCA & attends Hope Church in Oakdale, MN.