Wednesday, March 02, 2016


Move Toward the Mess: The Ultimate Fix for a Boring Christian Life by John Hambrick Published by David C. Cook

I am constantly reminded as I walk in malls, in hospitals and in churches that we live in an antiseptic culture. We fear infection.  Go anywhere and there is the ubiquitous hand sanitizer. While I do support universal precautions within the clinical context John Hambrick reminds us that as Christians we do not have the luxury of ministering in a clean, germ free environment. He invites us to move toward the mess.

Early in the book the author tells about going into a large, unfamiliar mall and finding the directory of the stores so he could locate himself and where he wanted to go. He found that someone had scraped off the “You are here” sticker so he still did not know where he was and therefore didn’t how to get to where he wanted to go.

His book is a good resource for churches who want find out where they are.  A church can then decide if it wants to go anywhere. His book will be a tough sell for churches who want everything neat and clean. In my opinion some Christians may read the book and decide to stay right where they are because there are germs out there.

I find it strange some churches are foregoing the shaking of hands and, in my tradition, the washing of feet and because of the fear of germs. I do not know of any medical journal detailing the story of someone who died because he/she shook hands. But I digress…

The author continues a theme addressed in an earlier book by Mike Yaconelli entitled Messy Spirituality. Both books remind us that working with people is messy.  It is not sterile but it is necessary to move towards the mess if we want to engage culture and reach people for the Kingdom.

Mr. Hambrick takes us from Georgia to Northern Ireland to Pakistan to introduce us to people who moved towards the mess. He writes about ministries begun to reach those who need Jesus. He writes about a couple who took prostitutes into their home. He tells us about a man who builds homes.

This book isn’t just about people who have been given extraordinary gifts. This is about ordinary people who were touched by the God of compassion and who in turn want to touch (literally and figuratively) others with the good news of the Kingdom.

And some of the people who moved toward the mess started ministries years ago that continue to this day under the leadership of others drawn to the mess. One of these ministries is Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Each chapter ends with a hint about the next chapter drawing us in. Each chapter ends with a series of discussion questions about the chapter just read. These discussion questions make this book a valuable resources for churches serious about getting their hands dirty.

The final section of the book gives practical information on how to take the ideas and illustrations and put them into practice.

I highly recommend this book and I will promote it whenever I have the opportunity.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley.com with only the understanding that I would write a review.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wisdom from the East

Wisdom of the Sadhu (Complied by Kim Comer) Plough Publishing House I first heard of Sundar Singh when I was in college but I heard more about him then I did from him until this book arrived. I vaguely remember a hint of suspicion hanging over Sundar in my very conservative, western thinking school so I was reluctant to go further. That was my loss. On one hand though I can see why he was viewed with suspicion in some circles. He wrote from an Eastern perspective that emphasizes narrative while those of us in the United States often give more weight to facts and propositions. Many Western readers are uncomfortable with narrative and stories. We prefer propositions. For example I was listening this morning to a well known pastor give an outline and several points for a story in the Old Testament. I am driving my car yelling at the radio, “Tell the story. Tell the story” Sundar Singh knew how to tell a story. I appreciated his allusions to nature. For example to talk about prayer he pictures the crane standing in the water waiting for lunch to swim by not noticing the water but just looking to get something. That is how many of us see prayer, “Seated on the shore of the boundless ocean of God's love, they actually give no thought to his majesty...Instead they are consumed with the thought of receiving something for themselves.” pp 112-113. I gained much insight into the Christian life from my brother, Sundar and wish I had met him sooner. Another area in which some may have been critical of Sundar is in the area of verbal plenary inspiration. Sundar may have placed more emphasis on the spoken word of God then the written word of God. He says on page 65 that Master never wrote anything down nor did he ask his followers to record his teaching. However it is clear from Revelation 1 that Jesus in fact asked John to write down his words to the church. Sundar Singh wrote at a time when the inspiration of the Bible was under attack and he may have been a victim of the battle for the Bible taking place then. If so is unfortunate because we have much to learn from our Eastern brother and the Eastern Church today. I received a copy of Wisdom of the Sadhu from Handlebar Publishing with the only expectation that I would write a review.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I must have been in a cave for the past two years or so because I had never heard of Jessie Rees, DIPG or Joy Jars until I read this book. I am certainly glad I know about them now. Though the book is a difficult read because of the subject matter, an 11yr old girl being diagnosed with a rare, incurable brain cancer, it is worth the time. It is a story of a family struggling with a serious disease with all the pain and questions that brings. I appreciate the honesty of Eric Rees, the father, as he yells out his lament to the God who seemingly has abandoned them. (As a father I probably would have kept the prognosis from my child as he did. But as a chaplain I think knowing that death is imminent is important.) However this is not just the anatomy of an illness it is as also the story of a young girl with a heart for other kids who are hurting. From the time Jessie began treatment she asked what could be done for other kids with cancer. This led to the creation of JoyJars that could be given to children in the hospital. Her goal of 50,000 jars distributed was reached after her death. This is also a story of a supportive community, a church community and the larger community. The reader also gets an unflattering look at the state of medical research and the sad statistics reveal that not enough is being done in the area of pediatric cancer. Unfortunately one of the reasons for the paucity of research is there is not much money in it. I certainly have no answer to the why question but I have to say Jessie's cancer and death have had many positive outcomes. I have two minor points of concern. At one point Eric Rees says that Jessie's death was God's will. It would require more space than I have to explain why I disagree with that phrase. Suffice it to say that God allowed rather than willed her death. Also on page 198 in the Rees' family letter announcing Jessie's death we read that Jessie earned her wings. I know people often say this but there is no indication that humans get wings at death. Minor points aside this book can change life for kids with cancer and may change the face of research. I received a copy of this book for review from Handlebar Publishing. For more on the book and Joyjars #NEGUbook

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leadership Principles from an Unexpected Source

When I received a review copy of Joseph James Slawek's book from Handlebar Publishing I was already reading another book on leadership and I was interested in seeing what "Ingredients for Success" would add to my search. I found much that was useful and some great points for discussion as well as one area that raises some concern. My concern does not take anything from the value of the book but it is serious enough to give the book only three stars.

One of the helpful points is in chapter 3 (the third principle: Know, Develop and Use Your Unique Abilities) in which the writer states that not all leaders are five-talent people, two-talent people and one-talent people. Our goal as leaders is not to become  5 talent leaders but rather to become the best leader we can with the abilities God has given us.

He also reminds us that we can't do anything we want. That is a good point in a society that seems to tell us that everyone can do anything they want. Listening to the American Idol competition is a good example of what happens when people think that can do anything they want--of course it is good entertainment.

I think all ten principles spelled out in the book are helpful but I found it strange they were based on three parables from Matthew 25 when there are so many other places in the Bible that seem more fertile ground for leadership principles.

However, there was a red flag for me in the first chapter that gave me pause and hung over me through the book. In chapter one he seems to raise his book to the level of divine authority. Slawek states "...these are concepts that come from God's word; therefore it is beyond a man's opinion...It is the God of the universe speaking personally and profoundly to each and every one of us. That should send a shiver up our spines." 

I have to admit a shiver went up my spine but not for the reason the author suggests. What caused me to shiver was the thought that the writer seems to think he has just written principles that rise to the level of divine authority. As good as these principles may be they are not on the same level as the Bible.  In fact one of the key concepts in the book (the 2 x 4 principle) is contradicted by another passage of Scripture in which God promises not double the  increase but 30, 60 or 100 percent increase.

In my theology the canon of Scripture is closed.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Persistence Pays Off

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead was my introduction to Agatha Raisin. Maybe if I had met her earlier I would have a different impression but without the context of the rest of her story I found her off-putting. Though she does seem to have a big heart I wonder if she was more polished before she became a raisin. Not that the current book isn't good. It was, in fact, a good read, The characters and locale are well developed. The Cotswold Villages seem very inviting as they are portrayed in this book although I would stay away from Piddlebury where the current story is set. I have already lived in too many villages where strangers were viewed with suspicion.

In this book a newcomer to the village, Gloria French, has jumped into village life and become a fundraiser for the church (which certainly ingratiates her to the local pastor). However, Gloria has a habit of taking things from the people of the village and not returning them. (The good thing about being a kleptomaniac is you can always take something for it). One morning Gloria takes a nip of borrowed wine and ends up dead. Agatha is called in to solve the mystery. Her presence is not appreciated and she gets little help from the good people of Piddlebury.

If a reader is expecting to find the observation skills of a Sherlock Holmes or the forensic science of a CSI they will be disappointed. It seems that what Agatha brings to the case is persistence. Maybe that provides a balance we need in the kind of world in which we think some test will provide all the answers. Sometimes the solution comes because we keep working.

I would be interested in reading some other books in the series to read more about Agatha Raisin but I did find this one a good read.

I received a galley of the book from NetGalley with the understanding I would write a review. The book is by M.C. Beaton and published by St. Martins Press

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fiction or Prophecy?


The Troop by Nick Cutter can be read in two ways. It can be read as a work of fiction, as advertised, and reviewed as a good read with well-developed characters and a good plot line. If it is read this way the reader can finish the book, put it down and say, “That was a good read”.

Or it can be read as a prophecy—a look into a possible future—in which an amoral scientist experiments with a simple worm that is genetically altered and the face of the earth is changed forever.

The Troop is so gripping because it could happen.  That is why it is a good thriller.

The story opens with Scoutmaster Tim Riggs taking his scout troop to a deserted island for their annual camping trip. This is usually the time when the scouts have an opportunity to earn some badges in orienteering and survival skills.  The arrival of an emaciated stranger on the island during the night changes the camping trip into a battle for survival where the last thing on their minds is a badge

As the story unfolds we are given details about the stranger, the experiment and a mini- biography of each one of the boys on the trip.  We are left to ask who will survive and at the same time hoping that one of the scouts will not survive. 

In this book published by Simon and Schuster Nick Cutter succeeds in writing a story that will change the way we view camping trips.

I received a galley of this book through Net galley.com with the understanding that I would read and review it. This was no explicit or implicit demand that I write a favorable review. In this case there was no need to ask that. I truly like the book.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


We used to tell a joke about a guy who wanted to find God's plan for his life through the Bible by opening the Bible up and pointing. The first verse said, “Judas went out and hung himself”. The second verse said, “Go thou and do likewise”. The last verse read, “What thou doest do quickly”. Of course the joke stopped there so we never asked what the guy did next but in the new biography of Francis of Assisi we see Francis using a similar method and acting on it. He used a practice, accepted in his day, called sortes biblicae. In which the priest opened the missal three times and for Francis the three verses set the course of his life. “Go, sell what you have; take nothing for your journey: let a man deny himself take up his cross and follow me” became the first step in the founding of the Franciscan Order.

This practice of sortes biblicae shows that Francis was very much a man of his time as well documented in this new biography by the Dominican priest Augustine Thompson, published by Cornell University Press. The writer makes it clear from the beginning that he is telling the story of a saint of the Church without the glitter and glam that similar biographies contain.

I admit that as I read there was something in me that looked for more of the spectacular but that would have taken away from the reality of the man Francis—the privileged young man who gave it all up for God and the Church. (Francis love for the Church, rightly ordered, is a theme running through the whole biography.)
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This was my first in depth reading of Francis of Assisi and it was a good start. The writer shows us a man with faults and flaws like the rest of us but who was mightily used of God because he was willing to be used, even though he was uncomfortable in the roles God gave him. This book reminds us that God can draw straight lines with crooked instruments.
 
I received the Ebook edition of this book through NetGalley.com but there was no expectation other than an honest review