A Major Announcement

As of today I will be posting only book reviews and other thoughts on this blog.  This is something that I have been considering for quite some time, I know that my sermons have been sources of inspiration and help as well as the back bone of this blog.

But a question posted to me on Twitter a few months ago about intellectual rights of sermons has kept nagging at me and got me to do some research. I have discovered that the issue of “work for hire” has an impact on who “owns” the sermons pastors deliver to their congregations.  Most articles indicated that the church owns them and some did not give clear indication and others suggested a written agreement. So, erring on the side of caution, I have pulled all of the sermons from this site. To those who have visited this blog for the sermons, thank you, I pray that they have been of benefit. My thoughts and reflections on ministry and some written prayers will continue to appear but my sermons will no longer do so.

Jim

My Review of Wilbur Smith’s Desert God

20721959Set in what historically is called the Second Intermediate Period of Ancient Egyptian history, Wilbur Smith brings to life in his newest novel Desert God, the struggle between a defeated Egypt and their foreign invaders, the Hyksos. Through the eyes and life of a wise and cunning Egyptian eunuch named Taita who seeks to gain an alliance with the Cretians and the Sumarians for the purpose of driving them out of Egypt and restoring Pharoah Tamose as the ruler of a united Egypt, Smith takes us on a colorful, tense (and intense), at times graphic, and highly detailed journey into that ancient world.

With strong character development in the both the main characters of Taita, the two royal princesses Tehuti and Bekatha, and the supporting cast and combined with a significant attention to detail across a variety of settings and situations, Desert God drew me in and kept me reading as the plot unfolded. As it did, I found myself thoroughly immersed in the journey as I felt as if I was walking and riding alongside Taita on the Mediterranean Sea as they raided their Hyksos enemies, approached the forbidding island of Crete, and ambushed the Hyksos on the coast near the town of Sidon (located in modern day Lebanon). Additionally, Smith’s detail descriptions of military uniforms, tactics, and weapons alongside the topographic detail add a depth to the narrative and a level of realism that good historical fiction includes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wilbur Smith’s Desert God. I look forward to reading more of Smith’s books!

I rate this book an “outstanding” read!

Note: I received an ARC of this novel via the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Dave Clark’s Living in the Power of My Weakness

20972327I am very glad that every so often I read a book that moves beyond information and entertainment to inspiration. Dave Clark’s book Living in the Power of My Weakness is one such book.

An accomplished and award-winning Christian song writer, Dave truly does talk about his weaknesses in this book but not in a gloomy and morose way. Instead with a simple honesty, Clark talks about his struggles and as he does he reminds the reader of Christ’s sufficiency  to strengthen and empower us through our weaknesses. And while it is written primarily for those in ministry, this book is a welcome volume to those who are seeking to faithfully serve God day in and day out in life. And since the focus is on pastors and those who work and serve in a ministry, whether a local church or on mission field, Clark’s simple and inspirational tone sets the pace for soul feast that really spoke to this reader, often at a deep level.

The pages that follow reflect the steps of an all-too-human seeker on a journey to know more about the God I have served since childhood but continue to discover each day. I write not as one who claims to understand the deep mysteries of the call, but rather as one who has yielded to its leading.  (from the Introduction)

I really think that this book is an ideal book to give to persons considering the ministry as Clark offers some very important and helpful thoughts regarding how a person feels who is believe he/she is being called into the ministry:

The good news is that God doesn’t wait until we have all our questions answered or our insecurities conquered before he calls us. It is not for us to determine our readiness to serve or debate what we have to offer to the building of his Kingdom. It is enough that he has uniquely and distinctly called each of us despite our issues, infirmities, doubts, and worries. He has found us worthy.” (from the Introduction)

But those, like me, who have been in ministry for awhile also find helpful reminders of God’s ability to help no matter what the circumstances are regarding ministry and life!

If there is a positive aspect to finding yourself alone in crisis moments, it is that God has better access to your attention.

There are many such nuggets waiting to be mined by the reader. This book was a joy to read. And ss I read I felt the Dave was talking, on many issues, to me. I liked this book for its honesty and yet hopefulness of living and working in the challenging field of ministry despite our human weaknesses and frailities.

I rate this book an “outstanding” read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book via the publisher, Nazarene Publishing House, in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

My One Word: Listening to “My” Fears

I knew that when I took ‘listen’ as my one word for this year that it would, “take me a direction that I was not prepared to go.” And it has.

Over the past week or so, I have been brought to the place where I have had to listen to my fears.

Lest you think that I am a spiritually sadistic person, I assure you I am not!

But one morning I awoke with a head that was full of angry thoughts. But then I heard, really immediately, that “small still voice” which said to me, “Jim all of this is what you’re afraid of.”

It was true.

In a recent post on his website Kenneth Justice made this statement, a quote from his Uncle Bob, “Fear isn’t something to be taken lightly, it’s a heavy force that keeps people from growing up”.

Well, Uncle Bob, you do have a point!

When I posted the words “fear not” into the search engine at biblegateway.com I found 82 results starting at me.

We read them in verses such as:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, Psalm 46:2

You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.” Lamentations 3:57

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

I think also about the Lord telling Joshua:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

And I think that when He said to Elijah, running for his life after a threat made by Queen Jezebel, “What are you doing here?” God was really saying, “What are you afraid of?”

As I consider the context of these quotes, I think that Uncle Bob’s point about fear being a spiritual growth inhibitor is true.

  • Joshua was afraid as he took both the leadership reins from Moses and prepared the ancient Hebrew people for a time of conquest. If he would have given in to his fears, Israel would have stalled.
  • Elijah was afraid even after a significant spiritual and moral victory over the prophets of Baal because of a threat. Had Elijah stayed in the cave and not taken the time for God to help him rest, some vital work that God had for him to do would have not gotten done. (Read 1 Kings 19:15-18)

It has been a painful, but liberating and essential, thing to learn in the past couple of months that fear has been a constant companion for most of my life. I really have not wanted to admit to this but it is true.

And as I have listened to my fears I have found that they are based:

  • In the false accusation of Satan himself who loves to do such a thing.
  • In my own insecurities rooted in self-pity and selfishness
  • In a weary spirit who needs to rest and renew
  • In trying to do too much and not letting go and letting God

So as I continue this journey of listening, I am finding (hearing) the voice of God say things to me which are re-framing, re-energizing, and re-focusing my attitude and direction.

 

Fear isn’t something to be taken lightly, it’s a heavy force that keeps people from growing up”. Uncle Bob

My Review of Marja Mills’ The Mockingbird Next Door

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Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, is etched into American literary history and culture. The characters of Atticus, Gem, and Scout Finch, and Boo Radley and the tense story line of race and justice in a small southern town and brought to fuller life on the movie screen on Christmas Day, 1962, is forever a favorite in the minds and hearts of people around the world. Its successful publication and Pulitzer award guaranteed its author, Harper Lee, a place in American literary history alongside fellow southern writers such as William Faulkner. But  four years after the book’s publication, three years after winning the Pulitzer, and two years after the movie debut, Lee shuts the door on all publicity and becomes a recluse refusing to give any more interviews about her, her writing, and her next novel.

And people ask “Why?”

In 2001 Chicago Tribune writer Marja Mills is asked to do an interview of Lee (know to her family and friends as Nelle) in conjunction with a Chicago Public Library city wide effort called One Book, One Chicago in which To Kill A Mockingbird was chosen as the book to be read across Chicago. With great skepticism by her editor (“We know she doesn’t give interviews. But I think it’s worth going there anyway.”) Mills heads with a staff photographer to Monroeville, Alabama and hoped for interview with Lee. She gets the interview (haltingly and cautiously at first) and more – a rare, very rare glimpse into the life and world of Nelle Harper and her sister attorney Alice (“Atticus in a Skirt”) in a fascinating truly behind the scenes look at who Nelle Harper Lee had become (or is that “always was?”) nearly fifty years after her self-imposed “retirement.”

If you are looking for answers to main questions as to why Harper Lee never published another novel and why she has refused to give interviews since 1964, you will get bits of answers to your questions but never a full answer. For as Mills makes clear in her book the Lee’s still kept many things from her (including in large measure , I think, themselves).

If you are expecting this to be a biography detailing Lee’s life since her withdraw, you will be disappointed. Instead you will find a wonderfully fair and humane depiction of two sisters (as I, also think, Mills spends as much ink on Alice as she does Nelle) who have never let fame, fortune, modernity, and even post-modernity influence them. For one of the things that I love about this book is that not only are we treated to a wonderful portrait of two sisters, one world famous, but also a sketch of history in one small town in the American South.

I was not sure what to expect as I began reading as I was aware of the conflict over the issue of whether or not Mills had been “authorized” to write the book. I believe she was and perhaps the denial of approval was another part of the Lee mystique, but may not.

But I loved this book and feel that is a gift to us as a respectfully “peek” into the lives of two extraordinary women, one of whom has become a true legend and inspired many people to put pen to paper (or key stroke to screen) and seek to write a novel about life, hope, hate, justice, and the run of human experience. Thank you Marja!

I rate this book an “Outstanding” Read

Note: I checked out this book from my local library and chose to write a review.

 

 

 

My Review of Rick Campbell’s The Trident Deception

17934508The last time I read a military and political thriller involving a submarine it was a thriller about a sub named Red October ! But this time the sub is named USS Kentucky and, like the Red October she too, is a ballistic missile submarine. But instead of defecting to the other side, the Kentucky  is infiltrated and sabotaged by agents of the Mossad through both human and technological means to receive the order to launch not just one or two but all of it’s 24 nuclear missiles into Iran who is just a short time away from possessing a nuclear weapon. The result is a true thriller that has more twists and turns in its plot than did Hunt for Red October which I consider to be the gold standard of military thrillers.

As the Kentucky’s CO Brad Malone and its crew struggles with their mission, elements of the US government and military, led by Christine O’Connor, the current National Security Adviser, seek to find a way to either communicate with or destroy the Kentucky. As she does, she encounters both deception and espionage in people that she works closely with and the result is an unfolding realization of not just why but who is behind the situation.

As the novel unfolds Campbell, who has a background in submarines, really tightens and twists the story in some great ways and I was truly reading faster and faster as the highly climatic ending approached. His familiarity with military tactics, procedures, and policies as well as a very good knowledge US military doctrine adds a tremendous amount of detail and depth to the plot and the characters in the story.

I really enjoyed this book for both its realism, plot, and characters. Campbell drew me in the first pages.

I rate this book as a ‘magnificent’ read!

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book via the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Michael Harris’ The End of Absence

“Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?” from chapter 1 This Kills That

20821373I read the majority of Michael Harris’ The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection prior to trip with nearly twenty young adults and teenagers to a youth convention of nearly five thousand of them and finished it prior to an eight day vacation which I promised my wife I would refrain from getting on the computer, and thus the Internet, during both events.

I failed as I:

tweeted about the event during the event (and was encouraged to tweet)

dialogued with some people via my cell phone (a non-smart one, by the way) via Facebook private messaging,

and exchanged texts with a colleague about what faced me after my 12 day “absence.”

And Harris’ words about the lack of absence, -a state in which free time is becoming less and less experienced, were a constant reminder about his fear that the “digital natives” of this age will never experience such absence but instead be consumed by the constant demands of a smart-phone world, – served as a reminder to me of a constant battle that I, as part of what Harris calls the Before generation, the generation who remembers what life was like before the Internet, now fight.

Some might read The End of Absence and consider it a rant by someone who is too introverted or sensitive to handle the new reality of on-line life. Others might read it and think that it is a call to a new kind of digital monasticism. I don’t think so either way. Rather I think that Harris argues that intentional absences must become a part of our lives so that absence keeps us in touch with our humanity.

Divided into nine chapters, Harris uses a combination of history as he recounts the changes resulting from the Gutenberg press; current scientific research related to brain waves and malleability of the human brain to adopt to the changes current technology is causing; human resource management as he speaks with motivational speakers about how to keep technology within limits so that personal and corporate productivity is enhanced; literary criticism with the stories of how the democratization of book reviews and other once “elitist” activities are changing how people read and buy books; and the personal stories of how the digital world we now inhabit causes people such Amanda Todd to take her own life while seeking meaningful connection from this same digital world that so abused her. As such, End of Absence is a fast-paced book that weaves throughout these fields while Harris weaves in his own wrestling and journey to unplug from the digital world for one month.

I found the following chapters to challenge my thinking regarding the value and need for absence in order to think, remember, even believe in a larger context than what appears on my phone and computer screens.

Chapter 3 – Confession was thought provoking one as it addreses the issues of acceptance and how our on-line confessions are taking us away from working through “the mysteries of our own existence without reference to the demands of an often ruthless public.”

Chapter 5 – Authenticity serves as a reminder that the importance of  personal experience is slowly being replaced by a digital life in which “we can maintain confident-if technically less authentic-versions of ourselves.”

Chapter 7 – Memory (The Good Error) took me back to Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts on memory in his book Outliers as Harris suggests that “human memory” (compared to digital memory) “was never meant to call up things, after all, but rather explore the richness of exclusion, of absence.”

Harris’ book serves as a reminder to me and, he hopes (so do I), to others that the need for absence is a critical one in order for us to live a life untethered to our technology. Or, as Harris says,

“Give yourself permission to go without one weekend – without any screens you look at when you are bored… Ask yourself what might come from all those silences you’ve been filling up.”

I think Henry David Thoreau would be pleased.

I rate this book an “outstanding” read.

Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book via the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Behind the Pulpit: The Hardness of “Listen”ing

Listening is hard work for me.

But it is not just hard for me to.do 

It is hard because of all the noise that we live in. 

And by noise I mean…

the screaming calendar which requires me to be here, there, and everywhere

the screaming need of people to be heard and listen to… sometimes so loudly that listening is impossible at times

the screaming expectations of doing more and better and more and more and better and better

(I got exhausted just writing that passage!)

So much SHOUTS within and around me…

And trying to listen is just plain scary for me sometimes because the pull of making noise because “everybody wants to be heard” and “you have the right to be heard” is so overwhelming. It makes me feel like an outsider when I am not joining in the noise.

But the connections, insights, and experiences  that come together when I choose to listen and keep listening no matter how hard it is to do without feeling left behind (and left out) is worth it.

Here is one example.

As I have sought to listen to and for the voice of the Spirit,  I have been moved by the Spirit  to speak  to the issues of anger and rage in life, the building blocks of faith, hope, and love, the simplicity yet difficulty of what God’s will truly is as noted in scripture, and whether being busy is the same as being hurried.  And what makes this wonderful is that I have begun to have a larger understanding AND experience of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life and see and hear it in  the lives of others.

But oh how hard this is to do! The noise of life, and quite frankly even faith today, is filled with the  noise of…

More! Bigger! Better!

And we all seem exhausted from it.

 

l Signore sia con voi!

 

 

Good Morning Everyone!

Sent from my mobile.

 

The evening skies have been magnificant the past few days!

Sent from my mobile. Enjoy.

 

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