My Review of Justin Marozzi’s Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood

cover52018-mediumJustin Marozzi’s Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood – A History in Thirteen Centuries is a fascinating, intense, at times graphic, sad, and yet hopeful portrait of an ancient city that is very much in the post-modern world’s eye.

To be published by Da Capo Press, it tells the story of Baghdad against the backdrop of history from its time as a progressive and elegant city in the forefront of Islamic learning and culture beginning in the 8th century (762 AD) through the current state of affairs in post-Saddam Iraq. As it does, the reader is drawn into the never ending cycle of peace and blood – spilled in the battle against the Mongols, the Persians,  the Turks, the British, and the Americans; but also, and this is central to the story of Baghdad, spilled in battle within itself and by that I mean, within the long list of rulers and their dynasties, as well as the very known enmity between Muslim, Jew, and Christian, and, most important within the Shia and Sunni split that is as active today as it has ever been.

This is not just a political or even religious history of the city though those two themes run through the book and are adequately addressed. This is a story of Baghdad and its people, its development and architecture, its expansive and expressive cultural periods which led to advancements in learning across the disciplines notably of math and science but also of literature, most notably poetry, which Marozzi points out, was central to court life for centuries. The result is a comprehensive look at Baghdad’s development as a key city in the Middle Eastern world.

As he tells Baghdad’s story, Marozzi becomes a defender of Baghdad and this is clear in both his wrenching telling of life in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, the morass of post World War One and mid-twentieth century imperialism under British rule, and in the chaotic aftermath of post-Saddam Baghdad a decade ago. His assessments of these periods, and those who were in power during them,  is pointed and strong because of the painful changes they brought to Baghdad and its people.

Overall, the result is an impressive and important work in revealing Baghdad’s past as a way of understanding its present. It is a well-researched book and draws upon contemporary observations and literature of each period about the city as well as Western observations, both enamored and not so enamored, of Baghdad as the west came east.

I really liked this book as it tells an important longer and wider story of a city that I knew little about except as the capital city of a nation which has been in the news, especially in the past quarter century and will remain so in the years to come.

I rate this “an outstanding” read.

Note: I read an uncorrected proof in a Kindle edition from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

On the Book Table and the Kindle 9.15.14

Good Monday morning all!

In spite of a busy weekend, two books were finished and reviews will be posted, hopefully, this week!

Those two books are

18812076 Jeff Shinabarger’s Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life

which is a very focused book on the process of decision making. Using the image of a coconut seller, Shinabarger focus on the value and importance of making decisions no matter what they are about – personal life, work, faith, family, or community.

My Goodreads rating: 4 Stars

Publisher: David C. Cook

Review copy via Icon Media Group


Then there is Justin Marozzi’s Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood – A History in Thirteen Centuries cover52018-medium

It is a marvelously written and multi-sided history of this war-torn and historic city. Review coming out this week!

My Goodreads rating: 5 Stars

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Review copy via Net Galley and the Publisher


Two books sit on the book table, one I have dived into and the other is waiting to be opened. They are

20665260Next: Pastoral Succession That Works by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird

Publisher :Baker Books

When I saw, through Baker Book Bloggers that this title was available, I jumped at the chance to read it because I believe leaving well in any job  is a very important thing to do.


and finally Chuck Swindoll’s

Abraham: One Nomad’s Journey of Faith22782825

Publisher: Tyndale House

I have long enjoyed the sermons and writings of Chuck Swindoll and when I saw through the Tyndale Blogger program that it was available, I requested it.

Have a great week


see you behind the page!



Hump Day Prayer: A Prayer for our Fears

Father God

We are afraid.

We read that your good word to us is “Fear not, for I am with you.”

We hear that you said “Don’t be afraid.”

We acknowledge that you said, through your servant John, “perfect love casts our fear.”

But we are afraid.

We are afraid of another job loss.

We are afraid of another conflict.

We are afraid of another act of terror.

We are afraid of those we call “different” from us.


So again this day and this week…especially this week

We bring our fears to You.

We surrender them to You.

We ask that You break their power over us.

We ask that You will help us not act on our fears but on our faith and confidence in You and in who You are.


My One Word: Learning to Listen…Differently


What great timing to read the above tweet posted yesterday afternoon as it coincided with thoughts about a post on my One Word for 2014 listen.

It has been over a month since I last posted about listening and specifically, learning to listen to my fears. Quite frankly, I have not thought much about this word listen as I have been trying to listen, to God, to others, even to myself. (I have finally begun to notice that when I react to something, I often do not take the time to ask “Why?” and then listen for the reason why.)

But the progress I have made with my One Word, no matter how much or how little that progress is, has helped me become aware of a glowing lack in my life. The lack of gratitude.

A week or so ago, I awoke to (again) sense the Holy Spirit say to me in my first moment of consciousness, “You need to be more grateful.”


a well timed blow to the solar plexus of the soul.

But, the Spirit was right!

As I listened to my guilt-ridden heart in response, I realized that while I have been working hard at following the Lord, being a better follower of Christ, and paying more attention to the things, and people, which truly matter, there was a gaping hole of gratitude in my life because I had become so focused on  being the right kind of Christian, that I was failing to express my gratitude to Him for what I already had!

So I know take time to pray, and even write down, what I am grateful for. And in line with the theme of this post I express gratitude for an increasing and Spirit aided, ability to listen.





Photo Post: Sandcastles in the Sky?

Earlier this morning I saw a magnificent cloud formation and noted it. Then several moments later I saw another one and thought, “I have to take some pictures!”

Please enjoy these wonderful cloud formations!

On the Book Table and the Kindle

Good Monday Morning!

It has been a while since I have posted what I am reading (and going to review) and so on this September 1, 2014 I am glad to tell you!

There are two books one the Kindle and one on the book table which is getting my attention.








The Kindle book is Justin Marozzi’s fascinating historical portrait of Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood – A History in Thirteen Centuries It has kept my interest and offered me a broad introduction to this fascinating and conflict laden city. It is to be published by Da Capo Press and is a galley copy from Net Galley and the publisher.












The book table book is Jeff Shinabarger’s Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life. Published by David C Cook and offered to me for review by Icon Media Group out of Nashville. Looking forward to Shinabarger’s take on decision making and leadership.

See you behind the page!


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.


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 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


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