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Thursday, October 16, 2014

REVIEW: Journey to Jesus DVD Curriculum

Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-centered Friendships with Muslims is a six episode DVD curriculum appropriate for small group teaching. Interspersed with teaching sessions that illustrate the faith of Islam and the different approaches we can take to sharing the gospel are three role play dramas. One mini-drama shows us a Christian woman befriending a Muslim woman, one shows a Christian and a Muslim man, the final one involves two male college students--you guessed it, one Christian and one Muslim.

I found the curriculum interesting. To me, the takeaway on the course is the importance of building relationships with Muslims, finding common life ground from which to begin an eventual sharing of the gospel. The teaching session about the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam was most instructive to me, because now I know more about what Muslims believe about Jesus. The session that describes the different types of Islam and the way these types break down across the Muslim world was helpful as well.

Although as a woman I found the drama about the two women to be the best role play for me personally, the one between the two college students got my attention because of my involvement in youth ministry. The young Christian man was clearly unable to articulate his faith, a fact which made the Muslim student (who knew his Koran inside out and upside down) openly contemptuous. We are always praying that our youth will have sustainable, defendable faith when they enter college, and to that end I will share this curriculum with our youth pastor.

I think this curriculum would work well for churches seeking to better understand the Muslims in their communities and reach out to them in friendship, love, and the gospel of Jesus.

I received this curriculum for free from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Willie's Redneck Time Machine

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Once again, the Duck Dynasty does not disappoint! And that's a fact, Jack--to quote Uncle Si.

Willie's Redneck Time Machine is the first of four choose-your-own-adventure books by John Luke Robertson (with Travis Thrasher), the other three being Phil and the Ghost of Camp Ch-Yo-Ca, Si in Space, and Jase and the Deadliest Hunt. This book is pretty much as many books as the reader wants it to be, all in one. Let me explain.

You are Willie Robertson, discovering an odd outhouse in the back yard. At the same time, you realize John Luke is nowhere to be seen. Upon closer inspection, you realize the outhouse is actually a time machine, and at that point the choices begin: do you step inside, or wait outside to see what happens? Depending on your choice, you are directed to turn to different pages...and at the end of that chapter, you have two more choices (occasionally, there is only just one). The fun just multiplies as you go on to have adventure after adventure. There are even different endings possible to the story--but once you've ended, you can always go back to any point in the book and make a different choice than you did the first time, ending up somewhere completely different. Sound like fun? It is!

On top of that, all the Duck Dynasty characters are to be found in the adventures, saying and doing pretty much all the things you would expect them to. I found that I heard their voices in my head as I read the (very believable) dialogue. It was like hanging out with people I already "know."

My 10 year old son, who isn't a big reading fan, really enjoyed this book. He said it was "full of adventure" and carried it around everywhere he went, even reading in the car on the way to church or football practice. I can see this being a great book to have on hand for times when young ones are sick with the flu, or if you have a kiddo down with a broken leg; using their imaginations and choosing where to go next in the story could definitely alleviate times of boredom or get their minds off feeling crummy.

I received this book for free for review purposes from Tyndale Publishing.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rear view mirror

How good are you about checking the rear view mirror when you drive? I check it often, but sometimes I get to relying on the side ones too much. A couple weeks ago I almost caused an accident because a car that wasn't in my side view would have shown up in my rear view--but I didn't look back before changing lanes.

Um, what's the spiritual point here?

Tuesday night I sat alone in the prayer room. For various and completely reasonable reasons, none of the other prayer moms could make it that night. I thought about just going outside to watch kids play the ongoing epic saga of capture the flag, but felt instead God tug on my heart to just be alone with Him. So I sat in the prayer room, opened my Bible to read through the chapter for the Bible study that night, and prayed.

As I prayed, I remembered. I remembered praying before there were prayer moms. Before I ever knew there would be prayer moms. Before I ever thought the words "prayer mom." When my oldest son was in jr high and God had me in a 7 year holding pattern of praying for His green light to enter youth ministry, I used to arrive early to pick him up. I didn't know any of the youth kids or the leaders, so I didn't go inside; I just sat in the car, listened as strains of a worship song or the Bible study wafted out through the open doors if it was a warm night, and prayed.

I prayed for those kids and leaders I didn't know. I prayed for the spiritual battle I thought I understood. My heart would pound and sometimes I would cry, though I didn't know why. I just knew God had planted this passion of prayer for youth in my heart, and this was the only thing I could do with it.

It's been 10 years now since God called the prayer mom ministry into existence. And as I remembered those nights in the parking lot, I also remembered many things during the years between then and now. I remembered lots we'd shared together in prayer through the years. I also remembered times we were variously so broke we were putting change in the gas tank to get to meetings, or were really grateful for the leftover food at some event that someone suggested we take home for our families. I remembered times of spiritual oppression so heavy we could barely drag ourselves to meetings. And hard times of fasting that brought powerful spiritual fruit.

See, it's good to remember. This morning I read this in Jeremiah 2:

“‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown."

It's good to remember because sometimes we forget. God says remember when you were so broke you couldn't pay attention and I sent you home with those leftovers? Remember when you were crying in the car because the battle was so fierce in your family and I showed you My power in every situation? Looking back, you remember that He led you through the "land not sown"--which would mean it was hard, dry, wasn't producing any crops.

Jeremiah 4:1, 3-4 says,

"Return to Me...break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts." 

There's something about looking back that's good. Because I don't know about you, but sometimes I forget. I take things for granted. Ok, it's Tuesday...hop in the not-jimmy-rigged car, park where I belong now, go inside to talk with kids and leaders I know, pray about the usual things, eat some nachos, head home. Now it's not "wilderness..a land not sown." Now it's "(my) unplowed ground" and I'm being warned not to sow among thorns. I'm being urged to "return" and to cut away the places I've become complacent so that my heart is once again tender like "the devotion of your youth" when "as a bride you loved Me."

This is a transparent post, but hopefully it challenges you to look back on your own "land not sown" that He led you through..and then to readjust your "go forward." God never says go back and live in those years--He says remember them and return to that attitude of heart.

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Check the rear view mirror. 

That heart-thing: not a crazy daydream

I'm laughing as I finally sit down to write this, because I've tried three other times today to do so, and that very fact highlights the point of this post.

Do you have something you believe God has called you to do? Something that you think about often, that just seems to be a direction your life is supposed to be heading? I do. Over a year and a half ago I felt like God was stirring me to a new thing, and I've been obedient to just surrender it and acknowledge that I don't have a clue how to get from here to there. I'm beginning to think it's all just a crazy daydream rather than a calling from my Creator.

Last night I was thinking about this thing and it just feels so far away given many circumstances of my life (such as, two busy sons who need me every time I sit at the computer). I fell asleep praying Philippians 2:13--"For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good purpose."

This morning He reminded me through Isaiah 55:8 that His thoughts aren't mine, and my ways aren't His. He does not think the way I think. He does not get from here to there the way I would deem plausible. No. In fact, He specializes in the impossible. Excels at the extra-ordinary. He uses the weak to shame those with power-point maps of their career roads (ok, that's a paraphrase, smile--the Word actually says,"to shame the wise" in 1 Corinthians 1:27).

He gave me (and you) that "thing" in our hearts that is His good purpose. And if He gave us the want-to, He will give us the "oomph to" (another paraphrase). It is Him working in us both to will and to do, for whatever reasons He has for us to do this thing down here on earth while we live and breathe.

So what do I do? As my pastor reminds us often: keep it simple, silly. I will surrender each day to Him and ask Him to help me hear His directions for it. I will do the next thing. And I will grab opportunities to do the thing He has called me to do, one small step at a time--this post being one of them.

By the way, it is now 4 days since I first started this post, because the "next thing" in front of me hasn't been this--it's mostly been those two busy sons. But here it is. I hope that encourages you in your purpose-thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Who's going through something out there?

Maybe the better question is: who isn't going through something out there?

If we're honest and real, most of us will admit there is some kind of trial, difficulty, challenge going on in our lives. Maybe more than one. Probably more than one. I'm raising my hand right with you.

In the midst of the whatever-it-is, we can find strength in God's Word--but you probably knew that already. We often encourage each other with verses that speak of God's strength in the midst of our weaknesses, His power to handle our circumstances, His provision for our needs. And we're right to do so. We need those verses. I need those verses.

But today I read a verse that got me thinking about things a bit differently. I read this:

"In that day they will say, 
'Surely this is our God;
we trusted in Him, and He saved us. 
This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; 
let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'"
Isaiah 25:9

See, someday we'll be on the other side of this thing. Someday, God will have brought an end to it and it will be behind us. Someday we'll get to look back and say, wow that was a rough one--but it's over. We made it through. We hung in there and held on to Jesus and He helped. He's a good and faithful God. Wow, is He good.

Can you go stand in the someday with me for a minute? Put yourself there, on the other side of whatever it is that's facing you right now. The illness. The empty checkbook. The relationship. The regret. Whatever it is...go stand in the someday. Because you are gonna get there--that's a promise that threads through from Genesis to Revelation. And if we can stand there long enough to feel what it's going to be like on the other side of this something, we can go back and face it with new courage and hope.

What's the key? "We trusted in Him, and He saved us." It doesn't say we have to be this or be that or do this or do that. Trust in Him. That's it. Keep it simple, saint.

Hang in there. Hold on. Trust God.

What is your "something"?

Today and every day till it's over, let's remember that there's a "someday." Because there's a Someone. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Dancing on the Head of a Pen

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Dancing on the Head of a Pen, by Robert Benson, is a beautiful book about the process of writing. Written in short chapters--with a warm tone of voice and simple metaphors to illustrate different aspects of the writing process--this book gives heartwarming advice to anyone who seeks to write a book. Because I am (of course!) writing a book, I found myself captivated by this one.

Gently passing through aspects of writing such as self-discipline, the importance of daily writing, and reading others' writing for inspiration, Benson gives kind hope and encouragement to those of us navigating our way through this art called writing. He suggests ways to draw inspiration for writing, and how to choose an audience for whom to write. He even tells how you might know your book is done.

I love the thread that runs through this book of letting life itself show you what and how to write. He encourages writers not to lose touch with the beauty of a neighborhood stroll or the practical lessons gleaned from talks with neighbors. Ultimately, it is recognizing that God knows what you are to write and when you are to write it..and will fill you in on the plan if you'll just listen long enough to hear it.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah for review purposes. If you would like to learn more about Robert Benson, go here. If you'd like to read the first chapter of this book, go here.

BOOK REVIEW: Revangelical

Warning: don't read this book if you are comfortable in your Christianity.

Challenge: read this book if you are comfortable in your Christianity.

I seriously challenge every Christian who checks "evangelical" on his or her list of what-niche-I-fit-into to read Revangelical. I needed the wake up call, and you might need it too. Evangelism means bringing good news...but too often we don't. Too often people looking at the evangelical movement from afar would instead say, with Gandhi, "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Lance Ford draws from his own experience as a mainline evangelical and his progression through a transformation into a revangelical...people who, in his words, "seek to live their lives as Good News people of the Kingdom of Heaven, even if it costs them the American Dream."

Beginning right between the eyes, Ford addresses our political stances and then moves on to our "tweetable gospel"--the one that often starts and ends with the sinner's prayer. We give ourselves pats on the back for leading people to Jesus, but then sometimes walk off and leave them there--without the meaningful investment in their lives that will help them walk in this new life (#prayedtheprayer #savedfromhell #awesome).

He goes on to challenge the way we often get fired up with devotion to right-wing talk show hosts and authors who incite us to develop an "us-them" mentality against our fellow human beings...rather than get our wisdom and direction from the One who died for them. He points a finger at our self-righteousness. He confronts our attempts to hang on to what we deem ours, whether it be a standard of living, a political position, or a border. He even likens us to Pharisees who don't "see" "sinners," forgetting that that's who we are every day. Jesus had much to say about self-righteous religious leaders who tithed meticulously but were unmerciful to those they deemed "unclean."

Yes, sadly, sometimes as evangelicals we deem certain people "unclean."

Revangelicals are those who realize we have become Pharisees, repent, and begin looking at the example of Jesus for how to bring Him to our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. Revangelicals realize we are to be salt and light, people that others are drawn to. Remember that the "common people heard Him gladly"? Revangelicals are heard gladly by others because they are willing to get involved in doing life with them.

Ford gives examples throughout the book of revangelicals who have made a demonstrable difference in the lives of those around them. I liked this because it helped me to put pictures to what he presents.

Here's what I appreciate about this book: it doesn't advocate condoning sin. I've read books in which the pendulum swings so far to the left that we are told to embrace things the Bible says are sin, out of an ooey gooey love shift. Ford makes it clear that what the Bible has always said is sin, is still sin. However, fulfilling Jesus' mission statement in Luke 4 means getting inside people's lives, as He did. Rather than pointing at their sin, point them toward heaven so that, between your example and the truth of the Word, they decide to make life changes. Now that's good news.

I received a copy of this book for free from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for this review.