BOOK REVIEW: The Cause Within You, Finding the One Great Thing You Were Created to do in This World, by Matthew Barnett, with George Barna

I chose  The Cause Within You for it’s title in the Tyndale Summer Reading Program, and was fascinated by the stories Matthew Barnett tells of his visionary downtown Dream Center in Los Angeles.  Recounting stories of hope, healing and restoration, while reaching out to the ‘untouchables’ of our culture in south central L.A., Matthew weaves a hopeful slice of encouragement onto my plate today.  I had expected a 10-step book, or at least some practical suggestions, given the title, but that was not to be.  Rather than be discouraged, it was astounding to hear of the self-sacrifice he and many of his congregation had made to serve their community. I particularly liked the insistence he had that service to Jesus must come quickly, steadily, and solidly into the lives of others – waiting for long planning, or committee meetings is not how Jesus did it, nor should we.  He quotes Nike’s favorite slogan as an impetus to their response to ideas, and given the book, stories and web-site I reviewed, it seems to be working.  He appears to be a modern day St. Francis of Assisi – complete with Twitter feed and Facebook page.  I wouldn’t knock it – when the church gets practical, God is preached.  Many times, more effectively than any amount of theology could explain.  This book was enjoyable, easy to read and encouraging.  It inspires practical attempts to live out faith in your world, your city, your home.

This review was completed for the Tyndale Summer Reading Program – you can join also!  I found the copy at the library (no free book today!)

Resources:

Matthew Barnett bio

Dream Center 

BOOK REVIEW: Unstuck: Your Life. God’s design. Real Change, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Written for the Christian whose faith seems stagnant, Unstuck, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross attempts to reach a very select audience.  Citing extensive research, a three-step plan for breaking out of a faith rut is written by two men who are part of the Back To the Bible ministry.  Further, the endorsement of Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is featured prominently on the cover and first pages of this book.

But even with all that, the book felt flat.  While I agreed in principle that the Bible, and engaging in study of it, is a vital means for revitalization of life, faith and relationships, this book did not inspire me in the execution of it.  Part one focused on the deadness: burnout, busyness, and the research behind suggesting the Bible was meant to combat these struggles.  I didn’t need a book to explain the research, in fact, if I had picked this up at a bookstore, it would have been because I wanted to get unstuck.  So Part two    described the process of the “Power of Four:” time with God, refreshed thru the Bible, recharged by it, and having a 2-way connection with Him.  Part three applied this process to personal experience.

The book extensively relies on, quotes from, and refers to research.  Just from my daily glance at Google news, I have become very skeptical of ‘research’ and while this may be the most researched method on the planet – it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before I picked up the book.  While I think the authors meant to simply establish their credibility, it made the book feel like required textbook reading, rather than an encouraging walk with a friend.  After reviewing so many of this genre of books, I am partial to those who do have a plan (this one is 45 days), but am cynical about research.  I am further cynical when chapter one is titled “Confessions of a Spiritual Loser,” as that just doesnt smack of the charisma needed to get me ‘unstuck’ from my current hang-up.  While I don’t want Tammy Fay Baker to smile at me from each page, simple honesty goes far with me.  The author’s story of his return to faith was moving, yet his continual use of this title suggested a lack of insight to me.  Leaving the faith, or lonely in the faith, is not a loser – it is a lost and hurting person out of touch with his Saviour.  And no research will help.  The 45 day plan might, but I found the Scripture suggested and questions to be unconnected at best, and left me with more questions when finished.  This would be very frustrating if read alone.  In a group, it might work.  (Where’s the research on that?)

On the flip side, the web site (gotandem.com)suggested in each chapter as a resource for further follow up, seemed well-done, engaging, and clear: daily Scripture delivered at your specified times, for the purpose of continual growth.  The authors did not cite the research involved in the creation of the web-site’s name, a story I would be curious to hear.  I would simply skip the entire book, and go to the site: the author’s stated purpose would be fulfilled (you would be getting into a lot of Scripture, in timely doses), and not have to wade thru pages of research and ineffective counsel on the very deep woes that bog down believers.

From personal experience, in the addictions, hangups and sins that enslave, being told to ‘read more Scripture’ or ‘go to church more’ simply angers – because it shows a lack of understanding of the enslavement.  A slave is not free to simply do those easy things: it is foreign, untrusted and means nothing.  Only when the enslaved reaches bottom, cries out to the Saviour, and has counsel and accountability is change possible.  No amount of reading or attending works when internally, the message can’t change, and the reader cant ‘hear’ what is being said.  That’s where this book misses the mark: it is written without concern for the audience.  Stuck people don’t want research, they want help.  Coating the help in statistics makes it that much more ineffective.  This would be the equivalent of a researcher extolling the numbers of hungry, the value of a sandwich to a homeless man on the street: just give him a sandwich for crying out loud, and keep your research!  Give him a hug, a shower, a smile – anything but this tome of boring (if well-meaning)facts.

In comparison, it is no surprise to me that The Purpose-Driven Life is a bestseller.  Read it instead, and the resources there are far more apt.

This review is in return for the copy of the book Bethany House provided me.  My opinions are my own.  No surprise there!

Resources:

Arnie Cole

Michael Ross

Back to the Bible

BOOK REVIEW: God Loves Broken People, (and those who pretend they’re not), by Sheila Walsh

Sheila Walsh, who needs little introduction, begins this engaging book with the statement: “If I could write one book in my lifetime, I would ask God to make it this one, the very book you hold in your hands.”   The book is not only available, it is written with the best in her.  She writes real encouragement for life’s trials, in embracing the love He offers us in and through them.

Offering healing from life’s very real hurts, her stories span from the 2 Theresa’s: Mother Theresa and Theresa of Avelioux, Bonhoeffer, and other assorted saints and Biblical figures – some expected, some surprising in their offerings, as well as stories from her friends.  The mingling of story and Scripture brings refreshing glimpses of hope into old tales, making them applicable and comforting.  Her recurring themes of love, forgiveness, hope and grace resound.

An example from chapter 6: “What can I know for sure?  Three rock-solid truths to keep you standing, whatever happens,” she offers first, Nothing surprises God, second, therefore, you can trust Him in your pain, and thirdly, Nothing separates you from God’s love.

I appreciated her breezy, yet truthful style; the fact the study guide is at the back, not interrupting my read with boxed questions, and her vulnerability in sharing her own personal story thru this book.  Thank you, Sheila, for writing your book of a lifetime.  It seems God took you at your word.

Resources for further study:

Sheila Walsh, bio

other works

blog

My thanks to Booksneeze, for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.  It was a pleasure, as always to review new content: and you can join too!  Click the Booksneeze button on your right…

BOOK REVIEW: The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, by Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker, with free book giveaway!

To start off your new year strong, you may consider an excellent new devotional for men by Tony Dungy: The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge.  Each day of the year is given a story, primarily sports-related, but with pithy spiritual insights, and (the uncommon part), a key principle to put into action that day.

VIDEO SITE:

the-one-year-uncommon-life-daily-challenge

For example, December 14th (the day I received this copy) includes the text of I John 4:7-8, 12  and a story of Tony’s friend James Brown.  “JB believes that every person is a valuable and special child of God.  And JB acts like he believes it.”  Summarizing, the Uncommon Key recommends “Spend time with the people God brings into your life today….”  As you can see, this is a simple and straightforward devotional for men who seek to begin living their faith, or need a basic push in that direction.  This will not contain deep theology, only practical living examples.  But for most of us, that’s the Jesus we are supposed to be: real.

In that vein, I recommend this devotional, and offer a free copy to the person giving the 5th comment.

This book was provided freely to me by Tyndale Publishers, in exchange for my candid review and giveaway (you get a new book, not my copy!)

Resources:

Tony Dungy personal website and challenge

Amazon page of Tony

Tyndale Publishers

BOOK REVIEW: The First Gardener, by Denise Hildreth Jones

Drawing upon the perspective of gardener and governor’s family in a historic Tennessee mansion, Denise Hildreth Jones‘ novel The First Gardener examines the faithful response to overwhelming tragedy.  Interspersed with humor, patience, and Southern pride, it is an easy read for such a difficult subject.

The family of Gray London, governor of Tennessee, fills the mansion with light faith, laughter, and familial joy.  Then an auto accident strikes, and all are affected, beginning with Gray’s wife Mackenzie, mother to Maddie, their only child.  In the wake of the accident, their faith, family, and even functioning are challenged – to exist, even to make it past this terror.  The joy of the book is the soulful gardener Jeremiah, who monitors both the plants of the mansion, and tends gently with the inhabitants by gifts from his greenhouse.  Mackenzie’s mother Eugenia, with her gaggle of elderly girlfriends, rounds out the support system with laughter and nearly impossible Southern spirit.

I found the novel thoughtfully written, the faith fully functional with deep trials, and the interactions sincere.  There were points that found me laughing out loud, and Jeremiah’s quiet reflections about the Lord were balm, while his idiomatic speech was a bit strained at times.  The first sentence, “The sides a my bologna gone and curled up in that cast-iron skillet when a pop a grease splattered out.”  I almost laid the book down.  I did also struggle with the trials, because the well-drawn characters made me hurt with them, and for them, but I thought the author’s conclusions were well drawn.  Pulling through infertility, pride, denial, depression, adultery, or death, Jones does not take the easy way out on any topic, and the journey is worth a few bumps.

As this is not her first book, you may enjoy the author’s website, which includes the first chapter to most of her prior writings.

I rate this book 3 stars, for enjoyable Christian contemporary fiction, and was pleased to receive a complimentary copy for which to complete my review from Tyndale Blogging Network, of Tyndale House Publishing.  You are welcome to join their team!

Book Review: Put Your Dream to the Test, by John C. Maxwell

In his 52nd book, the tenth of which I now have in my own home, John C. Maxwell brings the esoteric dream into living, breathing color.  Coming from the simple perspective that most of us have a dream, yet lack the tools to turn its greyness into the black-and-white of reality, he proposes ten leading questions to help us get there.  My version of this book also included its companion volume: My Dream Map, a 50-page workbook for personalizing, journaling, and living your vision.

As with any Maxwell book, the challenge comes early: Put your dream to the test.  Spiced with powerful quotes, energizing stories of common-name successes, he draws you through the 10 questions to uncover the gritty realities of a dream you may only have held to yourself.  From the beginning of the book, he encourages sharing with three people you are close to, for both evaluation and encouragement of this pursuit.  Whether you can only tackle small portions of this book, or are working through the entire thing with your goal clearly in mind, or even simply need inspiration to allow yourself to dream, Maxwell has provided it.  Consistently, he also points solidly towards Jesus as the author of our dreams, and the enabler of them to be accomplished.

I found his engaging style to be an easy read, perfect for myself, or a gift – Father’s Day?  I highly recommend it.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review, as part of the Booksneeze review blogger group.  You can join also!  Just click on the button at your right.