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Tag Archive: Christianity


Clouds 1When I was growing up, my grandmother on my mother’s side – Grandma Kelley – lived in the other side of a duplex from my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Adele, Iowa. The large screen porch led to separate entrances for each side. But when you went up the stairs in one side, you could walk all the way down the hall and then down the stairs to the other side of the duplex. I don’t remember if there was a bedroom on the first floor of either side, but if there was, there was only one and it belonged to my grandmother, and my aunt and uncle, respectively.

My brother and I slept upstairs. On one occasion, I was sleeping by myself. I don’t know why. We usually slept together at relatives’ houses. I think I was ill, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I was sleeping on one of the old, raised beds, the kind you had to climb into – particularly if you were under the age of twelve.

There were vents in the floor upstairs – or the ceiling downstairs, whichever way you look at it. I assume it was a way to keep the house warm in the winter – letting heat rise to the rooms upstairs. You could see down into the lower floor through the vents. You could also hear everything that was said over a whisper. Which could be embarrassing, but it also kept me from making several unwanted entrances into family rooms.

I remember having a hard time going to sleep with the voices coming up through the floor vent. It was hard trying to go to sleep and still trying to hear what the voices were saying. They sounded as if those talking were in the bottom of a shallow cavern. A head cold or flu would have increased the effect (I don’t remember having anything worse than that away from home).

I have no idea exactly what I was dreaming about. But I do remember the voices guiding the dream on some level. At some point I imagined stepping off of the bed and dropping through the floor. I kept falling, with clouds below me and no earth in sight. I remember actually having a falling sensation.

While I was falling I was frightened, but it never occurred to me that I would hit anything – much less hit it hard enough to die. I was sure that God would save me. As young as I was, I had faith in a loving and just God. I didn’t have all the baggage I have now. Baggage that makes me question something when I should just take it on faith.

I finally woke up, of course. But what one would consider the innocent dream of a naive child was actually an implicit assumption based on unquestioning faith. We all have had a similar type of experience when we were younger. A time when (real or in a dream) we mentally and physically had no control and had to depend on God.

I’ve had numerous experiences since that night – both in life and in dreams – in which I felt out of control. Unfortunately, I wasn’t always as successful as that night in trusting God to help. And I know I am not alone. We need to get some of that naivete back. True, we cannot undo experience and knowledge. But we can return to a childlike wonderment of God. Trusting him to protect us, even in our dreams. He does keep amazing us if we’re paying attention.

What was one of your most memorable faith experiences or “God moments?”

Peace be with you.

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Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions, written by James A. Beverley and published by Thomas Nelson is the ultimate comprehensive guide on religions of the world. It is the most thorough book on the numerous religions I have encountered. When I received the book at one o’clock in the afternoon, I spent the rest of the afternoon skimming  through the 740 page volume, reading much of it. I returned to other projects, but I kept picking Beverley’s book back up for another look. It is a book I will keep close at hand for future reference and referral.

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to name a religion or cult that Beverley does not identify. The author is commendably objective in his reporting on the many religions and cults of the world, past and present. Other than the most common religions of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha’i, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Scientology, Unification Church, and Sikhism, Beverley also includes chapters on groups of the New Age movement, Christian Sectarian groups, Satanism, and Witchcraft.

The Illustrated Guide to Religions includes a chapter on the Branch Davidians, their timeline, and the tenuous connection with the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Davidian Seventh Day Adventists (included in the section on Christian sectarian groups). Each section contains a history of the religion, movement, or cult, a timeline(s), chart of facts, and list of resources for those who wish to inquire further. A list of frequently asked questions follows many sections, particularly where misconceptions abound and are common.

In sections on religions not having a Christian worldview, Beverley provides ways for  Christians to respond to those religions. As Professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario and Associate Director at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, Beverley is extremely knowledgeable on the subject and presents a thorough, in depth overview of religions of the world. The author’s research was extensive and thorough, even listing the top subgroups, histories, and myths/facts pertaining to each religion.

Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions should be on the shelf of anyone desiring a knowledge of world religions, and Christians seeking  to know more about other religions in  order to dialogue with people of other faiths. The overall quality of the book itself is superior, with beautiful photographs and illustrations – combined with the text in an eye-catching layout. It is the most comprehensive guide for a Christian on the subject of other religions. It is, without a doubt, the book to suggest to anyone who only wants to buy or read one book on the subject of religions.

Peace be with you.

[Note: I was given the book for review by Thomas Nelson. I was not required to write a positive review and was not compensated in any way.]

The full title of Rubel Shelly’s book published by Leafwood Publishers (ACU Press) is “I Knew Jesus Before He Was A Christian…and I Liked Him Better Then.” When I was asked to review the book, I was intrigued by the title. As I began to read, it became apparent that the title was not merely cute to boost sales, but was entirely appropriate for the material. Our small group was deciding what book to study next and I suggested this one. Rather than read through it before the group studied it, I waited to review the book in order to include it’s effectiveness for a small group study.

The conclusion is that I Knew Jesus… works well for small groups. Precisely because it compares the original churches to churches now and the Jesus of the Bible to the Jesus nonbelievers perceive to be preached in churches today. The subject is – and should be – on the minds of all church and small group members.

Shelly begins by asserting that we can be both pro-Jesus and pro-church simultaneously. But not as long as a perception exists of disconnect between the two. Changing the perception necessarily requires elimination of the disconnect. The author quotes Stephen King when he wrote, “And while I believe in God, I have no use for organized religion..”

That is what many Christians have heard, unfortunately, far too often. Then there is the oft-quoted “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” In chapter four, Shelly tells the story of author Anne Rice. Rice renounced the Catholic religion at age eighteen. After a series of tragedies, including  the near loss of her life, she renewed her commitment to the Catholic faith. Rice wrote a book about the experience, dedicated herself to “glorifying God,” and launched a series of Christ the Lord books.

On July 28, 2010, Anne Rice posted a statement on her Facebook page that she was giving up Christianity and doing it “in the name of Christ.” She said that she remained committed to Christ as always, but not to being ‘Christian’ or part of Christianity. Rice followed the next day with “my conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I don’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following his followers.”

Which is precisely the point Shelly is making. The Jesus of the Bible – and by extension, of the original churches – is not the Jesus the people of the world see proclaimed by many of today’s churches. We should strive to be more like the Jesus of the Bible than the Jesus we portray through the filter of our organizational structure and polity. Rubel Shelly, in I Knew Jesus…, looks at different aspects of the disconnect and barriers between Jesus and the church. The author challenges and encourages the reader to work toward solutions in their own lives and churches, with questions found in the discussion guide.

Too many people have decided they are done with the church. They do not want to have anything to do with the church. “But you just might get attention with this radical, engaging, challenging, life-transforming, healing, rescuing person named Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I think it is the only hope we have for communicating with a postmodern world. The best argument is…a living demonstration of kindness and acceptance, grace made incarnate, or love emptying itself for the sake of others.”

In I Knew Jesus Before He was a Christian, Shelly uses real-life and biblical examples to illustrate that while church membership may be declining, there are still souls searching for the life-affirming love of Christ. For a church to be a model of the first Christian churches and the life Christ displayed, they must first exhibit Jesus in the community and participate in ministering to those in need.

Peace be with you.

[I received this book free from Leafwood Publishers for a review. I was not required to write a favorable review.]

[Re-posted from former blog]

Faith and Pop Culture is the eighth installment of the Christianity Today Current Issues Bible Study Series, published by Thomas Nelson. As stated in the introduction, “[t]his Current Issues Bible Study is designed to facilitate lively and engaging discussion on various facets of entertainment and how it connects to our lives as Jesus’ followers.” The Faith and Pop Culture study examines the compatibility of our faith with the current culture as it pertains to the various parts of the entertainment industry. The book includes observations on movies, books, sports, television, and violence in entertainment media.

The study also takes a look at how entertainment affects Christians and vice versa. Must all entertainment Christians enjoy be “family friendly?” Can Christians influence the entertainment industry? With “entertain me” as the cry of our culture, is it compatible with a life of faith? These are questions to be discussed during the eight weeks of this study.

The Current Issues Bibles Studies are designed to be small group studies. Each session of the Faith and Pop Culture study begins with a Scripture Focus which provides the passages pertaining the lesson. After a brief introduction, a relevant article from Christianity Today magazine and ChristianityToday.com follows. The study guide of each session following the article are Open Up – discussion activities, The Issue – focusing on the main issues with which the session is concerned, Reflect – sharing thoughts and observations on the Scripture Focus passages, Let’s Explore – discussion questions, and Going Forward – taking what is learned and discussed and putting thought into action within our culture.

Each study guide includes ample questions and activities. Which allows for flexibility within the small groups using the study. If the group meets for two hours, they have plenty of questions, scripture reading, and activities. A group that meets for a shorter time has many options to choose from. Some sessions have “bonus” ideas or extra activities which could also be done outside of the regular group time.

In a time when many books and articles are written about modernism, post-modernism, and, indeed, faith and culture, Faith and Pop Culture is an intriguing Bible study that allows Christians as a group to actively apply their faith to the culture in which we live. The studies are also relevant for any small group in any situation. After reading the study, you might find yourself mentioning the book and series to group leaders whom you know.

Peace be with you.

I was given this book by Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of  review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I receive any compensation other than the book itself.

 [Re-posted from former blog] The Noticer, by Andy Andrews, published by Thomas Nelson, is an interestingly quick read. The plot was rather predictable. Jones (no Mr., just Jones) is the noticer, a seemingly ageless old man who appears in the life of people who are at a major crossroads in their life. Jones appears without warning and talks them through their situation and helps them to get a new perspective, after which they are forever changed.

The old man appears to be a charismatic person who not only quietly demands the listener’s attention through his steady voice and calm demeanor, but also renders the person incapable of hearing anything but his voice. His listeners pay rapt attention to what he is saying without knowing why. After talking to him the listener not only has a new perspective on his/her life, but actually feels refreshed.

Despite the predictability, I kept reading, hoping there would be a change in the plot or a surprise. The way in which Jones adjusted his vocabulary and conversational style to each listener was interesting and well done. The Christian overtones were subtle yet solidly present. Some of the dialogue though, seemed as if Jones was approaching Christ-like status, and was rather tame and too obvious.

The ending, while also rather predictable, and drawn out more than necessary, was still successful enough to leave the reader with a warm feeling. It was not, however, the desired effect that Jones had on his listeners throughout the book. All in all, The Noticer is a pleasant and heartwarming story despite occasional straying and the predictability aspect. While I wouldn’t recommend The Noticer to everyone, there are many people to whom I would certainly recommend it. The book would make an appropriate gift for someone going through any type of crisis in their life.

Peace be with you.

 I was given this book by Thomas Nelson for reviewing purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I receive any compensation other than the book itself.

[Re-posted from former blog.] Christianity in Crisis 21st Century, written by Hank Hanegraaff, published by Thomas Nelson, is a book every Christian should have on his or her bookshelf. I wished I had read Hanegraaff’s first book, Christianity in Crisis when it was published in 1993. It would not have changed my views, but would have given me a source to which to turn for proof in my discussions on the subject. I commend Hanegraaff for having the faith and mission to read and listen to these preachers of fallacies and their obvious distortion of God’s word in order to alert the general populace of Christians – many who have themselves been deceived by prosperity and faith healing preachers.

In the 1970’s, after a night of sitting with my jaw on the floor while watching the 700 Club, Pastor Gene Scott, and the like, I wrote a song called Buy One God (Get One Free) portraying the ridiculousness of the prosperity gospel. At the time, I felt alone in my convictions, not even being able to bring the subject up in church. Now I find that I am not alone – thanks to Hanagraaff and others – but the problem has grown much larger and more ingrained in our society and economy.

It is not necessary that I repeat some of his arguments here – he does an excellent job and you must read it for yourself. Although you will be completely repelled and incensed at the audacity of these false preachers – which under other circumstances would leave you feeling lost and praying that it was not so – Hanegraaff points out the fallacies, which offsets the discomfort brought on by their demented interpretation of scripture.

In chapter seven, Back to Basics – as well as the appendixes – Hanegraaff leaves the Christian readers with positive thoughts and theology on their journey through the teachings and theology of these false “prophets.” The reader finishes the book with the comfort of knowing that there are those such as Hank Hanegraaff to point out the false preachers and their fallacies.

Peace be with you.

I was given this book by Thomas Nelson for reviewing purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I receive any compensation other than the book itself.

Beyond Opinion,” edited by Ravi Zacharias and published by Thomas Nelson, is a book for anyone who writes apologetics, enjoys reading apologetics, wants to know what apologetics are all about, or someone who would like to have answers when asked about their faith in everyday life. It is not a book that will be read in one setting. It took me longer to read than most books I review. Fortunately, I found I was not alone, according to reviews by fellow reviewers, Angie Boy and Christian Salafia.

“Beyond Opinion” is a book to be read, re-read, and savored, mentally devouring each delectable morsel – made up of theology and reason. Each of a number of today’s leading apologists, including Zacharias himself, takes on a different aspect or topic of apologetics. Though each chapter stands on it own, it is also a unique part of the cohesive whole.

As is noted in the marketing copy, “Beyond Opinion” is Zacharias’ response to the question posed to him by a Hindu friend. “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” To achieve his objective – an apologetic to enable Christians to be theologically informed enough to answer the tough questions in such a way as to persuade rather than argue – he asked the leading apologists, working with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), to write on the different challenges to the Christian faith.

“Beyond Opinion” is not only a relevant and useful apologetic compendium, it may also be used as a topical apologetic in particular situations. Beginning with the postmodern challenges to the Bible, part one also addresses the other most common challenges such as atheism, youth, Islam, eastern religions, and science. For those wanting to delve further into apologetics and theology in order to be equipped to ” simultaneously defend the faith and be transformed into a person of compassion,” section two of part one digs deeper by addressing conversational apologetics, broader cultural and philosophical challenges, the existential challenges of evil and suffering, and cross-cultural challenges.

Part two seeks to internalize the questions and answers acquired by venturing into the Trinity as a paradigm for Spiritual Transformation, the role of doubt and persecution in spiritual transformation, and idolatry, denial, and self-deception – hearts on pilgrimage. Zacharias rounds out the tome expounding on the church’s role in apologetics and the development of the mind.

Unfortunately, space does not permit in a short review a discussion of the theological points so eloquently stated in the book. And where would one begin? Or end, for that matter. It is better that you read it for yourself in its entirety (albeit not all at once). Your faith will become stronger and you will become spiritually assured. More importantly, the next time you find yourself in a conversation about your faith in a public setting, you will be able to respond knowledgeably and in a manner aimed more toward “winning people rather than arguments.”

Peace be with you.

Max on Life,” the new book by Max Lucado and published by Thomas Nelson consists of the author’s answers to questions he has received over the years in letters, emails, and phone calls. Questions he has been asked as both a pastor and a writer. The letters Lucado received as a pastor are separated by categories (and chapters) entitled Hope, Hurt, Help, Him/Her, Home, Haves/Have-nots, and Hereafter. The questions asked of Lucado range from basic theological questions to marital questions related to God to why go to church. The pastor writes about the role of prayer, the purpose of pain, and the reason for our ultimate hope.

The writing questions are answered in an essay in the addendum, The Write Stuff. The well-written essay deals almost exclusively with writing for the church and as a calling, using the prophets and other authors of the Bible as examples. Lucado deals with basic matters of writing in the last couple of pages. He does not tell an aspiring writer how to be published. But he does tell anyone who feels called to write in the service of the Lord how to proceed from the call, the desire and an idea.

Some readers will read the book cover to cover. Others will use it as a devotional reference or as a topical reference when they are facing hard questions in their own lives. Lucado directly answers most questions with personal experiences and/or Biblical references combined with insights gained from his study, reflection, and prayer. Even answers to questions I will probably (and hopefully) never have still evoked deep feelings, causing me to reflect on my own spiritual journey.

“Max on Life” is an interesting read. Regular readers of Max Lucado will enjoy this book as well as those who are not familiar with his earlier books.

Peace be with you.

Grief and the Presence of God is a Bible study using the book of Job with observations from C.S. Lewis and my own experiences. Originally written for use in a Sunday school, I recently revised it. The study is in three parts, with study questions in the back for each lesson.

Lesson one, Grief and It’s Symptoms, delves into the symptoms and resulting effects of the grieving process. The Book of Job certainly has a lot to say about grief and it’s effects. As I mention in the study, Job is probably the only person in the history of the world – with the exception of Jesus (and he knew what his mission was) – who can truthfully tell someone that they do not know how he feels.

Lesson two, Meanwhile, Where is God?, discusses what is arguably the most destructive symptom of grief – when you think God is not around when you need him. When one is grieving, being told that the departed loved one is in God’s hands is little comfort when one considers that they were in God’s hands even as they were on the road to death. It is even more disconcerting if the death was slow and painful.

Lesson three, Alone into the Alone, is concerned with Lewis’ Cosmic Sadist theory and what I consider to be the myth of closure. Whether you agree or disagree with Lewis’ theory or my own theory of closure, you will come to your own conclusion and perhaps progress further in your spiritual journey. After which you will hopefully be better equipped to face times of grief in the future.

Grief and the Presence of God is available in the bookstore at www.danroark.com.

Peace be with you.

The King of Glory Lutheran Church’s Dr. Debbie Jacob Life Enrichment Series presents Living a Real Life in a Real World with Dr. Walter Brueggemann on Sunday and Monday, March 6-7. Dr. Brueggemann will preach at all three worship services on Sunday morning. A program on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. and a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Monday will round out the event.

A Rest from the Rat Race will be the topic on Sunday evening. Brueggemann will discuss the answer to questions such as: Does our acquisitive culture keep us too anxious to rest? What alternatives do we have to our frantic lives? How can Sabbath keeping help us withdraw from the rat race and refresh our souls? The suggested donation is $5, but due to limited seating, registration is required.

The topic for the luncheon on Monday is Giving In Without Giving Up. Is U.S culture hostile to our living the Gospel? Can faith survive in our militant and materialistic environment? How can we learn to respond intentionally? Registration is $20 and includes luncheon.

Dr. Brueggemann is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where he taught from 1986 until his retirement in 2003. A respected author and one of the world’s leading theologians, Dr. Brueggemann bridges the Old Testament and contemporary Christian worlds with imagination, scholarship, and a passion for justice and redemption. He is a contributing editor for “Sojourners” and “Christian Century,” he has received honorary degrees and awards from numerous institutions, and is a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Before her death in 2005, Debbie Jacob and her husband, Will, created a program to fund speakers in adult education on topics such as sociology, economics, art, music, and theology. Dr. Brueggemann’s visit is the second in the series. King Of Glory began as a mission church more than 50 years ago and moved to its current site in 1968 so that it might be more visible within the community. King of Glory is a “place where people can grow together in faith and make a difference in the world for Christ.” Its mission is to be and to make growing disciples.

See the King of Glory website for registration, directions, and other information.

Peace be with you.

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