Plant Trees (Plural)

tree-sun-shade-background copyA BOOK REVIEW
Mentor Like Jesus is filled with great insights from Regi Campbell who has been successfully mentoring men for several years. Every page is filled with stories on how to mentor next generation young men and produce godly leaders.

Regi reminds us that the process is selfless and messy but it is well worth the effort. It’s about being real and vulnerable with a group of younger men chosen for their potential kingdom impact. You give your time and attention, let them learn from your mistakes, and get nothing (or little) in return. He reminds us that we are reaching more than just a group of men. Their circle of influence (their spouses, children, employees, friends, future mentees) will also be changed forever because of the effort you put forth.

The author gives several ideas garnered from his years of mentoring experience. He reminds us that the best mentoring sessions facilitate lots of questions, brings real issues to the table, and have a tailored message for those involved. He has found that one of his best mentoring methods has been to have everyone read the same book for a month and share together regarding its content and lessons learned. He also makes sure to encourage the leading mentor to pay close attention because there are often things he can learn from the group as well.

Although I was hoping the book was more about one-on-one mentoring, I found the book to be helpful and also walked away thinking that maybe a group is the best way to make an even larger kingdom impact. If you want solid and time proven ideas on how to better impact a group of next generation men, I would highly recommend you give the ideas within the pages of this book a chance. I received this book for free from the publisher through B&H Publishing Group in exchange of my honest opinion.

Distant Deity

DD1A BOOK REVIEW

In his new book Aloof, author Tony Kriz takes us on the journey of “finding a God who hides” with transparent and personal stories interweaved with great quotes, poetry, and intriguing artwork provided by artist Jonathan Case.

Right away, I knew I was going to love the book. I could relate with the raw honesty of Tony’s writing style, thoughts and questions that many of us (if we were honest) have asked ourselves:

“What are we to do with a companion who hides?”

“There are long stretches where he is wholly silent and at least a few moments where he is as loud as a hangover.”

“Sometimes I wonder if this someone, the person that this book is about, actually exists.”

Tony talks about the struggle of performing busy Christian duties in the hopes of getting God’s attention. Our exhausting business often results in a God that must be “to busy to bother” with us. This aloofness, he says, is “leading to an unprecedented exodus out of churches . . . It is causing faith famine.”

He makes sure to point out that many have acquired a skewed theology along the way – perhaps maybe it’s not God who is standing at a distance. “There is an over obsession with seeing the ways of God in terms of people just like me . . . no matter how much interpretative gymnastics those beliefs require,” he suggests. In fact, he even points out that many of us are probably quite content with God being silent and not interrupting our world and plans.

One of my favorite chapters in the book explores the disservice to God and His image that is often exemplified in some of our churches. He talks about the conjuring up of “God’s presence” at our gatherings. We fill our “church calendars with well fashioned outreaches, elaborate programs, and improved mechanisms for entertainment,” Kriz offers. And then he knocks it out of the park: “If God is real, maybe the mechanisms of spiritual longing already exist all around us. Now if we could only be attune to it.” He ends the chapter by heralding a much needed axiom: “what would happen if we just lived so that we were prayerfully prepared to be WITH (my emphasis) people in the God-longing moments that seem to happen all to regularly in this broken and cover_1hurting world?” Once again, he shares from his own story and encourages us to “live in their space” and “walk the rhythms of their world.” God’s presence should be seen by the way we live, sacrifice and love!

There is a wealth of intriguing questions and spiritual advice on every page. Some of the greatest encouragement I gained from the book came from the “betrothal discussion” between Tony and his friend Josh – look it up! If you want to be challenged beyond the “lovely little tight answers” to life’s eternal questions and want to embrace the mystery of a God who is challenging to comprehend but altogether loving, do not wait – pick up your own copy of the book this week! I received this book for free  from publisher through BookLook Bloggers in exchange of my honest opinion.

Tree Down

Fallen-tree-in-Arizona“A tree is best measured when it’s down.”
~ an old Woodsman’s Proverb, Chapter 20

A BOOK REVIEW
I was excited when I found out that I was chosen as a Goodreads First Reads winner for the book Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith written by Charles R. Swindoll. I remember sitting by the radio as a teenager captivated by Swindoll’s creative storytelling and message mastery. As I read the book and followed it’s opulent outline on Abraham and his courageous faith, I could hear the author speak forth its truths as thought it was yesteryear. Although I do not agree with everything within its pages, I appreciated much of the message and encouraged by most of the content of the book.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from Abraham’s life and we are challenged from the very beginning to embrace the good as well as learn from his mistakes. His faith was immense: “Abram had to leave behind everything he relied on for safety and provision — homeland and relatives — and trust that God would honor his commitment.”

Patience and trust are key lessons learned from the book: “Do you wait for the Lord to move” OR “do you embrace the adage that ‘God helps those who help themselves?’” We must remember that God is “never accidentally late.” Dr. Swindoll encourages us to follow Abram’s example and not “wait for all the details to be worked out” before following Christ fully. Many things could have shaken his commitment, but Abraham did not waiver.

Thank you Tyndale & Goodreads for the opportunity to read and offer my review.

chuck-swindollCHUCK SWINDOLL
Chuck’s prolific writing ministry has blessed the body of Christ for over 30 years. Beginning with You and Your Child in 1977, Chuck has contributed more than 70 titles to a worldwide reading audience.

 

Paradoxical Highlights

“Faith is the art of living forward in obedience, not in the absence of questions, but in the face of them.” Ken Wytsma

DSC_3662t1-653x435How does someone rate a good book? Well in my case, if the highlighter runs dry before the end of the book – that’s a sign of excellence. Ken Wytsma’s new book The Grand Paradox did not fail to deliver! Time to purchase a new highlighter.

Quotes were being highlighted as early as the Foreward by Eugene Cho when he describes Jesus and the near death experience that his disciples faced in the torrential storm on the lake. Cho points out that Jesus initiated “this life and death episode.”

Immediately we are thrown into the tension, the paradox, the apparent contradictions within the Word of God. We are challenged by Wytsma to embrace the unknown and realize that “faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion.” If God hasn’t swept “the confusing under the rug” then maybe it has been left there for us to realize that His ways are truly above (and greater) than our own.

Just recently I challenged my high school students to not accept a simple or comfortable faith and suggested that Jesus was radical because of his paradoxical challenges. Things like finding wealth by giving it away, finding life by giving it up, and finding yourself in first by humbling yourself and serving. The book adds to the list of life-giving paradoxes: the weak will be strong, walk by faith and not sight, and suffering can be a blessing.

“Life is messy. God is mysterious. And accepting this tension-filled truth, no matter the circumstances, is the pathway to peace.” Ken Wytsma

The Grand Paradox covers a wide variety of subjects, including (but not limited to) prayer, joy, doubt, contentment, despair, the will of God, spiritual fatigue and renewal, rhythm and sabbath. I would highly recommend this book even if it only contained Chapters 11 and 12 on wrestling with and understanding our cultural landscapes as well as religion and the church. WOW! (I think this is where my highlighter lost it!!)

We must learn to live in the tension. Want help along the way on how to navigate and differentiate between the actual and potential? Make sure to grab your own copy of The Grand Paradox today (and don’t forget to purchase a new highlighter).

PURCHASE YOUR BOOK HERE

PURCHASE YOUR HIGHLIGHTERS HERE

Ken-headshot-653x435Ken Wytsma is a teacher, entrepreneur and author. He is the founder of The Justice Conference and president of Kilns College, as well as the author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things.

A Terrible Place To Live

carnival“You are Christian only when you believe you have a role to play in the realization of the new kingdom, and when you urge everyone you meet with holy unrest to make haste so that the promise might soon be fulfilled. So long as you live as a Christian you keep looking for a new order, a new structure, a new life.” ~Henri Nouwen

A BOOK REVIEW
The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski – Why did I wait so long to read this one? This book should be added to the “must read” list of any Christian seeking to add depth to a shallow soul, wholeness to a fragmented life.

Exhausted by “American Christianity” and the masquerade of faith left Michael yearning to experience Christ’s promised and transformative abundant life. This book takes us on his life changing “sacred year” adventure along with his friend and mentor Father Solomon.

Yankoski talks about his disillusionment as a Christian motivational speaker stating that he felt like a professional juggler fit for the modern day carnival we call worship and Christian service. Father Solomon advises: “a carnival is a wonderful place to go every now and then but a terrible place to live.”

I have read several books that attempt to make ancient spiritual practices relevant only to find them lacking. The Sacred Year eloquently blends both old and new spiritual practices to help draw us into a deeper relationship with self, God, and the others God left us to impact with our story. These practices include but are not limited to: confession, simplicity, creativity, attentiveness, solitude, Sabbath, justice, pilgrimage, community, protest, and wilderness.

There is no lack of great quotes and challenging thoughts throughout the entire book. A few of my favorites from the text include:

“We are conditioned to never be content, to always be hungry, to lick and lick again the razor that is not only our death but the death of this world as well.”

“Breadcraft is – in the highest sense – contemplation of the divine mysteries hidden like yeast right in the exquisite mundanities of life.” (My daughters are South Korean drama fans and this section of the book reminded me of the life lessons Kim Takgu learned from his bread baking mentor in the television series King of Baking.)

“Though I use to look with suspicion upon mystery, I find myself drawn to it now, intoxicated by the ineffable, yearning for something overwhelmingly inexplicable and humblingly grand.”

“The relationship between God and human beings is much more dance than methodology, more delightful partnership than rote coercion.”

Are you tired of doing so much for Christ and lack the practiced art and simplicity of being and wholeness? Grab a copy today. You will NOT be disappointed!

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers through Book Look Bloggers and was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

10 Intriguing Books On My 2015 Want To Read List

booksBelow you will find a list of books that are on the top of my want-to-read list for the new year. I own the last three and I’m hoping to be able to purchase the first seven sometime soon. I like a good challenge and I love a good book. Take a moment to read a little background about each book and maybe consider joining me on an intriguing new year reading journey?

MY 2014 TOP SIX LIST

The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated
Author: James Emery White
Amazon Link
This book comes highly recommended from my friend and author Drew Dyck. James Emery White lends his voice to one of the most important conversations the church needs to be having today. He calls churches to examine their current methods of evangelism, which often result only in transfer growth–Christians moving from one church to another–rather than in reaching the “nones.”

Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity
Author: Matthew Paul Turner
Amazon Link
Matthew Paul Turner says that God didn’t just change America-America changed God. As a result, we may not even recognize the “real” God. Turner examines how American history and ideals transformed our perception of God. This book challenges us reconsider the way we think about America as a “Christian nation,” and helps us re-imagine a better future for God and country.

The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art
Author: Erwin McManus
Amazon Link
With poignant, inspirational stories and insights from art, life, history, and scripture interspersed throughout, McManus calls us to reclaim our creative essence and reveals how we can craft our lives into a work of art. We all need to create, to be a part of a process that brings to the world something beautiful, good, and true, in order to allow our souls to come to life. 

Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God
Author: Paul Copan
Amazon Link
In this timely and readable book, apologist Paul Copan takes on some of the most vexing accusations of our time, including: God is arrogant and jealous God punishes people too harshly God is guilty of ethnic cleansing God oppresses women God endorses slavery Christianity causes violence and more Copan not only answers God’s critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both.

The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith
Author: Peter Rollins
Amazon Link
Peter Rollins (known for pushing the boundaries of theology) presents another stirring vision at the forefront of re-imagined modern Christianity in his new book. He explores a radical view of interacting with the world in love and uses his “magical” framework to explain the mystery of faith that has been lost on the church.

Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity
Author: Brian Zahnd
Amazon Link
Brian Zahnd presents the argument that a loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture, and especially for the church. For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. Now we live in a day when convenience and practicality have largely displaced beauty as a value. The church is no exception. The full message of the beauty of the gospel has been replaced by our desires to satisfy our material needs, to empirically prove our faith, and to establish political power in our world–the exact same things that Christ was tempted with and rejected in the wilderness.

Beyond the Broken Church: How to Leave Church Problems Behind Without Leaving the Church
Author: Sarah Raymond Cunningham
Amazon Link
One of the favorite books on my self is Sarah’s “Dear Church.” This is the revised and expanded version that revisits the existing book with additional chapters, fresh statistics, new insights into why people are leaving the church, and a resource guide for those who care about the disillusioned and want to understand them better.  Beyond the Broken Church will be a breath of fresh air to others who have experienced frustration in church as well as an insider’s guide for those seeking to understand current trends in church attendance, particularly among the younger generation.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
Author: Eric Metaxas
Amazon Link
I’ve already began reading this one and can’t wait to dig in deeper! “Miracles” is a powerfully winsome challenge that miracles are not only possible but are far more widespread than most of us ever might have imagined. Metaxas provides the measured and wide-ranging treatment the subject deserves, from serious discussion of the compatibility between faith and science to astonishing but well-documented stories of actual miracles from people he knows. 

Both-And: Living the Christ-Centered Life in an Either-Or World
Author: Rich Nathan
Amazon Link
We find ourselves caught between competing factions, secular or religious, conservative or liberal. We are pulled between extremes on one side or the other. But the Christian faith holds together seemingly contradictory ideas: Jesus is both human and divine; God is both three and one. There is a paradoxical power in the both-and. Rich Nathan and Insoo Kim show how Christians can live out the fullness of the gospel through the both-and. They affirm that we believe in both proclamation and demonstration of the gospel, justice and mercy, and unity and diversity as one body with many parts. The answer is not to choose one or the other, but to hold both together for a richer, more holistic experience of Christianity.

The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible
Author: Mark Batterson
Amazon Link
I plan to read this one while also delving into Metaxas’s “Miracles.” In this book, Batterson reveals the incredible power of the seven miraculous signs of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. He shows how they were not simply something Jesus did in the past, but something he wants to do now, in the present. He shares true stories of people today who are experiencing miracles in their lives. And he brings to light countless miracles, big and small, that we take for granted every day that point us toward the One who healed the sick, calmed the storm, and yes, even raised the dead. “There are miracles all around us all the time,” says Mark Batterson, “but you won’t see them if you don’t know how to look for them.”

Defiant Joy

“The true power of joy supersedes a chirpy disposition, candy-coated emotion, or saccharin fantasy.”

A BOOK REVIEW
070714_Cover_1024x1024Margaret Feinberg. God interrupted her “misguided joy experiment” with cancer and took her on an expedition of fighting back with joy. Her new book is not just a must read for those who are facing a cancer crisis but for anyone who finds his or herself bombarded with any life struggle. She challenges her readers to practice “defiant joy,” for it is the very thing that will declare that “the darkness does not and will not win.”

Fight Back With Joy written by Feinberg and published by Worthy Publishing is packed full of encouraging advice, personal story, and impacting Scriptures BUT does not sugar coat the pain, fear, emotion, and mourning that comes from life’s battles.

This book helps us fight back with joy by reminding us that . . .

  • Fighting back with joy includes surrounding ourselves with support.
    “They become incarnate reminders of God’s fierce love.”
  • Mourning is a gift.
    “The more we strive to hold everything together, the more we fall apart.”
  • Fighting back with joy rarely makes sense.
    “Rejoicing is not a prescription as much as a gateway to possibility.”

Margaret’s creative writing style abounds with illustrations and great quotes. I was also delighted to find a section in the back of the book written by her husband Leif on the lessons he learned as a caregiver and co-fighter on their expedition of joy. I highly recommend this book to those who are facing some of life’s hardest battles and for those pastors, spouses, and friends who want to encourage them along the way.

“Jesus is not a sorcerer handing out a magical formula whereby we conjure results because of what we do; rather, he issues a call to step out in radical faith, dependent on God’s promises and provision.”

 

Don’t Miss the Miracles

“Our planet is speeding through space at an average velocity of 67,108 miles per hour. That’s not just faster than a speeding bullet. It’s 87 times faster than the speed of sound. If that isn’t miraculous, I don’t know what is. Yet when was the last time you thanked God for keeping our planet in orbit? I’m guessing never! My point? There are microscopic and macroscopic miracles all around us all the time, but if you aren’t looking for them you won’t see them. Every breath of air. Every second of time. Every thought that fires across your synapses. Every sunset and moonrise. Each of them is miraculous in their own way.” Mark Batterson

Christmas-MiracleThis past year was, well, different. It was the first year in many that I wasn’t working in full-time ministry. It has been a year of waiting – waiting on God to show us what He has in store for us and where our next place of ministry might be. If I have learned anything in the waiting, I have learned to slow down a little and not miss the miracles.

Sometimes we get so busy that we get bogged down with ordinary, the mundane, the projects, and the results. We wonder where God is in the midst of the craziness or the loneliness and we miss the every day miracles.

As you are preparing for a new year, make sure to not miss the miracles that are going on around you. Watch for God’s hand and pay attention to what He is doing for you, in you, and with you. Don’t miss out on all the wonderful provisions He has provided and ask Him to increase your capacity this year. Don’t miss the miracles and ask God to make the impossible possible this year! Happy New Year from istoriaville.com!

“Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” John 14:12

Understanding the Unchurched

churchless-headerIf we want to reach those who choose not to be a part of the church, we need to know how they think. George Barna and David Kinnaman of the Barna Group provide us with a wealth of surprising trends from two decades of interviews and analysis in their new book Churchless: Understanding today’s Unchurched and How To Connect With Them.

The number of unchurched adults in the U.S. has grown almost one-third larger in the last decade and so a book that helps us know how to connect, invite, and engage is timely and life giving. Churchless is quick to point out that “young adults have the highest levels of church avoidance and that they expect to contribute not just consume (as evident by their ability to create, edit, connect, and share their opinions online). The authors suggest, “If you consider how most churches deliver content – appointing one person as the authority and encouraging everyone else to sit (consume) quietly while he or she speaks – it is easy to see how that delivery system can come into conflict with changing cultural expectations.”

Even if you don’t agree with the suggested methodologies in the book, it would be wise for every elder, pastor and ministry leader to pay attention to the “cries” of the unchurched and ask the hard questions for God has called us to reach them with the Good News of the Gospel. Those who found church least favorable included men, the Mosaics (ages eighteen to thirty), and those who never married to name just a few. They don’t see church as a meaningful place of community.

There are many insights and recommendations. The key to reaching them, the authors suggest, is to listen to them. We need to know what they are thinking and contextualize to make an impact. We need to be able to back up our claims in a world of skepticism and involve them in difference-making projects.

When we listen to them we also must change some of our assumptions. “To assume that churchless people are irreligious or have no spiritual dynamic is to misunderstand many of them.” I agree whole-heartedly. I have found in working with and entering the stories of young people that many of them are quite spiritual and crave an authentic spiritual experience and life. At the same time, they want to be heard and given an opportunity to ask the hard questions. And we don’t have to always have all the answers. The book addresses why the church is still important and how to navigate a post-Christian culture.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishing in exchange for my opinion. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

A New Year: Time to Lose It!

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

A BOOK REVIEW
It only takes a short time to catch on to the premise of this entire book. As early as Chapter One, the author speaks of our marching orders as Christians and (like Jesus) doesn’t sugar coat our call to obedience: “He was sending His followers out ‘like sheep among wolves. (Matthew 10:16-22)’” Jesus told them they would be hated and arrested. For “those who would obey Him, persecution was a certainty.”

So, we’re about to start a new year and many of us are thinking about our goals and resolutions. What if God wants us to wake up and live beyond the American Christian norm? If you want to be challenged to live beyond your capacity and see some amazing things from God, consider reading The Insanity of Obedience written by Nik Ripken.

Nik explains: “We generally want to relegate passages like Matthew 10 to the past. We want to keep passages like Matthew 10 as far as possible from our own experience . . . all the same time, we claim that we are utterly devoted to Scripture.” This book has a wealth of facts and challenges that come from fifteen years of in-depth interviews with over six hundred believers in seventy-two different countries. The results are eye opening, jarring, and convicting. One of the most prevalent messages of the book lies in the fact that we will face persecution and when it comes, we must remain obedient. This insanity of obedience helps us find true purpose and joy. Through story and Scripture, the author shows us that God wants to use our pain and sufferings for His purposes. I’ve always loved sharing that God wants to take the messy parts of your story and make them beautiful. I recently heard one pastor say, “My mess is part of my message!”

One of my favorite sections includes the exploration of obstacles that keep Christians from taking radical steps of obedience and the Gospel from taking root. The first obstacle shared is the preoccupation with a spiritual harvest – a measurable result. We are reminded that our task is to share the Goods News and leave the results in God’s hands. Because of this mentality, the author suggests that we gravitate towards ministry and mission fields were we will more than likely get great results instead of following God’s leading to the hard places. There are several other well explained obstacles in the chapter including the idea of only doing church one way, the need for security, staying away from harsh climate, and the pain of persecution.

Pick up a copy of the book and you will be challenged to consider the possibility that every Christian has been called to risk, that sometimes the hardest thing is to stay and not go, and that the Western church often idolizes it’s children and discourages them from taking radical steps of obedience in favor of seeking the American dream. Ya, I know. Right!? Tough stuff, BUT messages that will make us all rethink our allegiances and obedience.

91DcFDSWZbL._SL1500_If that’s not enough, the book takes us on a journey of God’s supernatural work in reaching Muslims and Hindus. God is at work in these areas and those who go to minister must join in on what God is already doing. The author states that 90% of Muslim followers of Jesus came to faith “without an outside believer from another culture.” The spiritual journey of many MBBs begin with dreams and visions and it has been through the encountering of miraculous healings that many Hindus have been starting their journey toward Christ. The final analysis? God has called us all to take BIG risks (even if we are not seeing BIG results) and God uses different (and sometimes supernatural) methodologies in different places to make Himself known. B&H Publishing provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for my review which I freely give.