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Month: September 2010

Book review: Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids

We’ve had Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: A 365 Day Journaling Devotional for some time and it has been great. My wife would even read it to the kids much of the time. When we saw the devotional coming out for children, we had to jump on that. Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids is not going to disappoint.

The Scripture readings and references between the original (older folks) version and the kids version are virtually the same from day to day. So, a parent doing their devotional will easily transition to either helping a younger child go through the day’s reading and contemplation, or having a relevant conversation with an older child.

It’s a rugged hardcover book with bright, well colored pages. Even the attached book mark is nice and bright. I can easily see this text working for kids 4 on up through the tweens. The portions are short and support thought, contemplation, and discussion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What does our religion say to them?

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against the wall. It is urgent that my meaning be crystal clear. The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is not what it counsels them to do for others whose need may be greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life.

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg. 13

DVD review: The Least Among You

The Least Among You was inspired by the story of Richard Kelly shortly after the Watts riots in the 60′s. Kelly, as part of his probation, entered an all white seminary and was quickly thrust into the activity of change and integration.

While there is a great story underneath, the movie never brought it out. We were treated to a fairly poor Hallmark-esque depiction of the trials and struggles and accomplishments of young Richard Kelly during his first semester at the seminary. But the telling of the story was very disjointed, and left you wondering about far too much that the writer and producer I don’t think meant for you to sit and wonder about (the unexplained, yet still mentioned three times, illness of the seminary dean’s wife, for example).

I do not blame the low budget (you can tell) for the poor quality result. The acting was shoddy, the story was choppy and confusing, and I could not comprehend any one of the theological discussions brought up among the students and teachers. A point was trying to be made along the way, but that was sorely missed.

There were some moments in the dialogue where “fowl” language showed up. I was surprised; I thought they would Hallmark it up and keep it clean. I honestly don’t care about that, nor am I offended at hearing it in a “Christian” film. I graduated from a Christian college. I heard and saw far worse.

Overall, there really is no need to watch this movie. No need for me to say anything dramatic or poetic here. Very disappointing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My upcoming reading list

I saw someone else throw out their future reading list and thought I would put on (virtual) paper the books that plan and hope to read between now and the Summer.

Some of these are contingent on my actually obtaining a copy of the text mentioned, but a boy can hope.

Currently Reading:

Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus by Ched Myers.

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. Second time through. Too much quality to let it sit on the shelf.

Homilies on the Book of the Revelation Volume One by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios. Borrowed from a friend at work. A look at Revelation from a Greek Orthodox perspective. Refreshing.

An Introduction to Mennonite History edited by Cornelius J. Dyck.

What About Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World by Robert Brimlow. Second time through, but this time with my wife. It is an amazing, challenging read.

Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’dell.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. This is a powerful read so far. Definitely impacting me already.

Culture Makers: A Worldview Approach to Re-engaging the World by Josiah Vencel. Wife and I will read it together. The author’s a friend of ours.

Future Reading:

“Come Out My People!”: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond by Wes Howard-Brook. This one won’t be published until next month I believe.

All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery by Henry Mayer. Do not own a copy yet.

Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation by Werner Packull.

Neglected Voices: Peace in the Old Testament by David Leiter. Do not own a copy yet.

The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray. Do not own a copy yet.

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David Holmes. Do not own a copy yet.

Marpeck: A Life of Dissent and Conformity by Walter Klaassen and William Klassen. Do not own a copy yet.

Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now by Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther. Do not own a copy yet.

I do not plan on reading these in this order. But, if I’m able to snag copies, at my current reading pace I’d be able to have these done by late Summer of next year. All in God’s time, though. My list is always subject to change. My wishlist currently has 129 items in it with about 15 or so set to Highest priority. I can’t control myself.

If anyone has any recommendations, feel free to drop them in the comments. Always looking for a good text to pick up.

Chess and The Enemy

Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT) “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

I have been going through a study of Ephesians with a wonderful group of women in our community. It has been a really great experience and I look forward to meeting with them every week! This past week we wrapped up Ephesians and as we were discussing it in our small group, it hit me how much our spiritual battles are like a game of chess. Now, before I begin to explain this, I should say that I am about the worst chess player there is in the whole entire world, but I get the basic idea of the game.

First of all, you start with a king, a queen,  two bishops, two rooks, two knights, and eight pawns.  The entire point of the game is to take the opposite player’s king. This is accomplished by a strategy that will put all your pieces in the right place at the right time to conquer other pieces. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t.

Okay, now let’s say that our spiritual journey is like a chess game. On one side, you have The Enemy who cannot possibly ever take our King. He has all of his pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, and queen doing his bidding, whether knowingly or unknowingly. The Enemy manipulates his players and sacrifices them as he needs to to accomplish his plans. On the other side, you have Jesus and those who have heard His call and followed him willingly. They seek to know His plan for their life, so when the time comes for His plan to be fulfilled, they are willing participants in that plan.

Now let’s take this a step further (stay with me here). If our battle is not against flesh and blood (as stated in the passage above), then when these pawns of The Enemy are pushed into our path to block our move, who should we actually be battling? Is it the pawn? Should we push them aside, knock them down, and get on with the game? Or should we appreciate how lost they are (as we once were)?

Have you recognized these “pawns” in your life? You are having a miserable week. Your children are misbehaving, your car just broke down for the third time in a month, your dog keeps eating your underwear, your boss has asked you to re-work a project for the tenth time today, someone just cut you off at the traffic light and almost caused an accident, and the checker at the grocery store just will not accept three rolls of dimes to pay for your groceries, even though that’s all you have left. How do you respond to these “pawns”? Do you feel mercy for them? Do you treat them in the manner they are treating you? Do you fall for The Enemy’s strategy or do you block his move?

I think this concept is an essential one when thinking of how we deal with those who are not walking with God or do not know God. Our battle is not with them. We have to be plugged in to the Master strategy to be able to know what God’s plan is for us, and ultimately for them. We must not focus on our feelings for a particular flesh-and-blood individual. We must be willing to forgive offences that are given to us by an Enemy that we cannot see, even though we see them being dished out by a flesh-and-blood person. Could you unwittingly be a “pawn” of The Enemy in someone else’s life? If so, ask for pardon where pardon is needed and offer forgiveness where forgiveness is needed so that you may in that way thwart The Enemy’s strategy.

Blog a Qur’an Day: Surah 25:60-66







Muhsin Khan

And when it is said to them: “Prostrate to the Most Beneficent (Allah)! They say: “And what is the Most Beneficent? Shall we fall down in prostration to that which you (O Muhammad SAW) command us?” And it increases in them only aversion.
Blessed be He Who has placed in the heaven big stars, and has placed therein a great lamp (sun), and a moon giving light.
And He it is Who has put the night and the day in succession, for such who desires to remember or desires to show his gratitude.
And the slaves of the Most Beneficent (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility and sedateness, and when the foolish address them (with bad words) they reply back with mild words of gentleness.
And those who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing.
And those who say: “Our Lord! Avert from us the torment of Hell. Verily! Its torment is ever an inseparable, permanent punishment.”
Evil indeed it (Hell) is as an abode and as a place to dwell.

Book Review- The Devil in Pew Number Seven: A True Story

When my husband told me we would be receiving this book to review I was very excited and this book did not let me down. It had me from the very first page. In fact, I started it in the evening, read until 1:30 in the morning, got up at 6:30am to read some more and finished it by about 10am. It was that good.

Let me give you a little bit of info about the book and then I will tell you why you should definitely read it, too. This is the true story of Rebecca Nichols Alonzo and her family. She was born into a little community called Sellerstown. The book shares about about her parents’ love story and travels as traveling preachers before she was born, but the main story mostly takes place at the Free Welcome Holiness Church in Sellerstown, North Carolina where her father took over as the pastor in 1969. A man that attended the church decided to make it his mission to terrorize the family until they left the church, as he had lost a lot of control over the congregation when Rebecca’s dad came to town. He tried to accomplish this through numerous bombings of their house and church, threatening phone calls and mail, sniper fire and even trying to pay someone off to run the pastor down with a car. Throughout the entire story Rebecca’s parents stand steadfast and instead of teaching their children to be fearful and hateful, they repeatedly encourage them to trust in the Lord and forgive their enemies.

I knew that I would like this book from the very beginning, but this book turned out to be so much more than I had even hoped it would be. This book truly addresses the issues that hold us back from forgiving, and the true toll that anger, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness can have on our own lives and walk with the Lord. This book made me step back and take a look at the condition of my relationships present and past. I realized that I am not as good at speaking “the language of heaven” as I thought I was. That is something that God is now working on in my heart because of Rebecca’s courage to tell her story and share the wonderful lessons of forgiveness that her parents taught her and her brother. I am so thankful for this book. I plan on reading it again and again so that these lessons are never far from my mind. I am grateful that Rebecca had the courage to share her story and I hope that you will pick this book up and be blessed by it as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: One Hand, Two Hands

Max Lucado’s One Hand, Two Hands engages tiny children, say, up to age 4 or 5. The children will be counting their fingers, clapping their hands, squeezing, flopping, waving, and all sorts of fun activities for those youngsters. We read this to our kids and they like to actively follow along.

But the kicker for this book is toward the end where the kids are encouraged to help others with their hands, to use them for doing things around the house, and to encourage them to be creative and think about other ways they can use their hands to be helpful.

It’s a good, simple book with fun illustrations. There is a very helpful focus that any parent could use. We think this book would server better as a board book as opposed to the 10″ x 9″ nice hardcover it is now. It will last longer. My kids kept wanting to flip through the pages, using their hands of course as encourage. That tends to shorten the life of books, if you know what I mean.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book review: “Permission to Speak Freely”

This is going to be an odd book review, and I don’t care.

That sort of honestly and freedom isn’t necessarily what this book is talking about, but, in a way, it’s close.

The book is called Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art On Fear, Confession, and Grace. Anne Jackson got the spark for this book after she posed the question on her blog, “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?”

That is a very challenging question. The book itself…a surprisingly pleasant and uncomfortable challenge. An uncomfortably pleasant challenge? An intoxicating struggle? I don’t know what you’d call it. But, it will test you if you let it.

The text is about Anne’s story, and how she’s using her story as a spring board for others to start telling theirs. She had the courage to start talking, to be vulnerable, so that others—anyone at all who feels afraid, hurt, in bondage, cast down, absolutely alone—can be less afraid to start talking. When someone else speaks first, especially about some of the difficult, dark things going on, it’s a lot easier to speak second.

Church leaders need to read this book. Home fellowships need to read this book. Brothers and sisters in Christ need to read this book. Any church body, at any time, should be ready to discuss the more difficult topics in a community, and do so without alienating, hating, and excommunicating the folks that don’t agree with the “traditional” idea. There is freedom and grace ready and waiting.

The book itself is not structured in a normal, average book sort of way. It has art and design pieces (submissions of responses to the question) that get you to meditate a bit, to look deeper past your own walls and safe guards. Plus, it doesn’t give you all the answers in the end. It doesn’t expect you to follow these 5 steps toward freedom. It doesn’t give you the layout of exactly how your life in gracious liberty should be, what it should look like, and exactly how to get there from here.

This is a great book. It will be a wonderful addition to your must-pass-it-along library. If you read this book and keep it…then you’ve missed the point entirely. You need to read it again (don’t worry, it’s quite a fast read). Then, trust me, pass it on.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book review: “The Boy Who Changed the World”

The Boy Who Changed the World welcomes youngsters to consider themselves special, to see that what we do matters, and what we do makes a difference. By jumping into the lives of four historic men—who are not necessarily the same old, run of the mill, always picked, everyone knows about them, historical figures (Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, George Washington Carver, and Moses Carver)—kids will get an important understanding into how history has been shaped and effected.

This book does a wonderful job showing the kids how everything they do matters; how special, important, and significant they are. Any child can easily feel encouraged (though they’d never say it) that they “can be the kid who changes the world.” And what child doesn’t enjoy playing such an important role in life? What child doesn’t pretend to be a superhero, or the good girl coming into the picture just in time to save the day? Except The Boy Who Changed the World helps them see there’s no need to pretend. They are special and they can change the real world.

The reading was simple and engaging. The illustrations were superb and fun. This will be a very good book to pick up for your little ones.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Not that happy with CEB’s Sermon on the Mount

I really wish all translations would have translation notes like the NET Bible. I would love to understand what they were thinking, why they made the decisions they did, and even what resources helped them come to their conclusions. The Common English Bible (CEB) is no exception. I’d love to see their reasoning behind some of the odd and questionable readings, as well as the why they went with some of the readings I really like.

The Sermon on the Mount is a primary, crucial, fundamental, vital (or choose any other similar adjective you like) portion of not only the Gospels, but of the New Testament and Bible as a whole. In Matthew’s “Sermon,” the CEB translators probably had David Crowder Band on the brain.

Happy are people who are downcast . . .

Happy are people who grieve . . .

Happy are people who are humble . . .

Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness . . .

Happy are people who show mercy . . .

Happy are people who have pure hearts . . .

Happy are people who make peace . . .

Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous . . .

I can’t say I’m all that happy with happy. While happy is one of the words that fits the meaning of makarios, I don’t see it working in this passage. We tend to understand happiness as an emotion, something that changes with our mood, reactions, circumstances. Happy conveys a smile, a cheeriness. And though in a sense there’s truth to the happiness in connection with what Jesus said (grieving, the harassed; is “downcast” really a good translation?), it’s not what he meant.

I think it will cause more confusion than anything.

Later in Matthew’s text, when Peter proclaims (his misunderstanding of?) who Jesus was, the CEB reads:

Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you (makarios ei), Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you.” Mt. xvi.17

Happy doesn’t make sense to me here. Take the phrase, “Happy are you.” I’ve never said that. I’ve never read that. I’ve never heard anyone else say that. It doesn’t come off as normal, common English. And Jesus was definitely not telling Peter that the disciple was really happy and giddy.

I want to look at another example. Even later in Matthew’s text we run into this passage:

“Who then are the faithful and wise servants whom their master puts in charge of giving food at the right time to those who live in his house? Happy (makarios) are those servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes. I assure you that he will put them in charge of all his possessions.” Mt. xxiv.45-47

Happy here brings the focus of the sentence on the servants. And that’s not the point; the focus is on the master and what he is doing. While most translations render makarios here blessed, not straying from how they translated the word in Mt. v, I think it’s easy to see the idea of favor in this passage. And favor is one of the translation options for makarios.

In fact, while most translations of Revelation i.3 use “Blessed,” “God blesses,” or some other variation of blessed, the CEB has

Favored (makarios) is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it.

While I can see favored here in Revelation as a good rendering, I don’t believe “Favored is the one” makes a compelling case for “common English.” There has to be an easier, less awkward way to put the phrases together. And, although favored I think fits better in Mt. xxiv than happy does, neither works out well in the so called Beatitudes.

Someone might consider it a trivial issue. But, I find the Sermon on the Mount so critical to Christianity that we need a clear reading of the text available. There is no need to be watering down or confusing a reader.

But, I must say I appreciate the translation of Mt. v.48:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

I like the added explanation, “in showing love to everyone.” That should definitely clear up the confusion.

Relevant, readable, and reliable English?

The new Common English Bible (CEB) is said to be “relevant, readable, and reliable.” From the back cover of the paperback New Testament I received last week (though you can also find this info online at commonenglishbible.com), this new translation was worked on by “115 leading biblical scholars from 22 denominations,” and was “field tested by 77 reading specialists in 13 denominations.” All of this with the intent to produce a text that is

easier to read and understand. For many, reading the Bible and then truly grasping what it means can be a challenge. Yet the Bible is meant for everyone. The Common English Bible is a brand new translation of the Bible in a language that readers naturally speak and communicate—a common language.

Here’s a little test for you. There isn’t necessarily a right answer. Just be honest. Go with your gut.

I’ll list several translations of a passage. The CEB will be one of them. As you read these translations, answer these questions: (1) Which is the CEB translation?; and (2) Which is the most comfortable, readable English version?

First passage, Mark i.21-22:

  • (A) Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum, and every Sabbath day he went into the synagogue and taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one who had real authority––quite unlike the teachers of religious law.
  • (B) Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts.
  • (C) They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
  • (D) Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law.

So, think about it for a minute. Read them over again. Then, answer. Which of these four is the CEB? And, then, which of these three do you think is most comfortable, most readable, in English? I only picked four, and there are many more English translations out there. So I’m not asking for the most readable of all translations out there . . . just these four.

Is there any of these four that you think read poorly for an English translation?

Here’s another passage to look at: John vi.32.

  • (A) Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
  • (B) Jesus said, “I assure you, Moses didn’t give them bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven.
  • (C) Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.”
  • (D) Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.

Again, run through the same questions. Take a minute.

Do you have your answers?

Whether you do or not, you’re probably ready to move on and find out which was which. Well, here you go.
Mark i.21-22:

  • (A) Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum, and every Sabbath day he went into the synagogue and taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one who had real authority––quite unlike the teachers of religious law. New Living Translation (NLT)
  • (B) Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Common English Bible (CEB)
  • (C) They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
  • (D) Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. New English Translation (NET)

John vi.32.

  • (A) Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. New King James Version (NKJV)
  • (B) Jesus said, “I assure you, Moses didn’t give them bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. New Living Translation (NLT)
  • (C) Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” Common English Bible (CEB)
  • (D) Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Message (MSG)

So. How’d you do? Or, I guess, more relevant to this post, did your guess of which one was the CEB match up with your idea of which one presented the more readable, comfortable English?
I must say, though this is early in my readings of this translation, I have not been all that impressed. In fact, I’ve struggled to see the translation as very easy to read for us English folk. It staggers, stutters, and feels choppy at times. It fortunately seems to avoid the theo-technical terms like justification, but then unfortunately turns repent into “Change your hearts and lives” (see Mk. i.4, Ac. ii.38).

There’s still more reading to do. Honestly, I’d much rather the great minds and hearts behind these English translations turn to help the more than 2,000 languages out there that don’t have a word of the Scriptures in their heart language yet. For us English reading folk, the NLT, NET, NASB, and NRSV are plenty good enough. The New Living Translation and New English Translation are my top choices.

Have you read the Common English Bible yet? What are your thoughts? What translations do you prefer? Why?

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