Thursday, May 14, 2015

John Newton, by Jonathan Aitken

John Newton is well known for his hymn writing, specifically Amazing Grace. The reason for the popularity of this hymn is more due to the fact of the truth of the words, "That saved a wretch like me!" John Newton truly was a wretch. As a matter of fact in reading this biography of his life you are left a little bit in dislike of the man.

John Newton's early life was terrible. His mother died when he was still a boy, his father remarried and had three more children with his second wife, but they treated John a bit with contempt.

His father had him put to work by the time he was 13 and by the time he was 15 he was accomplished as a sailing man. BUT, he was not a good, righteous man. Indeed, he was a vile obnoxious sailor who could swear with the best of them, drink others under the table and found that he never had a ships Captain that he could respect.

John Newton was a "wretch." He was a deserter from the Royal Navy and when caught he was flogged and demoted and despised by all other sailors. He also was such a pain in the neck to the captain that he traded Newton to a merchant vessel to obtain a more able bodied navy sailor.

Newton was then introduced to the slave trade. He was taught how to capture, incarcerate and demean African's to the point of inhumane means. But what he dished out came back to haunt him as he was himself enslaved for a time and almost starved to death.

Further he was on board ship after ship where he should have died, but always a strange twist of circumstance would spare his life. Was this God's doing to prepare him and spare him for a life of service to the Lord?

The first third or so of the book describes Newton's upbringing, his sin, his wretchedness and his terrible acts of vileness as a slave trader. Frankly I just didn't like him as I learned more about him.

But then the change takes place and his life does a complete 180 degree turn. God has captured his heart and sets him on a path of service that is truly amazing. Newton becomes a beloved pastor and hymn writer. He is a true Shepherd to the people in his flock and cares deeply for them.

He also takes up action as an abolitionist to defeat the slave trade business and set Christians on a proper course to understand that slave trading is not Biblical nor honorable, but just inhuman. Newton will join forces with William Wilberforce and also mentor Wilberforce as they work towards the abolition of the slave trade.

The work of John Newton for the Lord is truly amazing and an inspiration to all of us. After disliking him completely through the beginning of the book I come to admired and trust his faith and his teachings on the Christian life. He is an inspiration to all of us.

I actually stopped and thought, the modern day version of John Newton would be Chuck Colson. Both started out as terrible sinners and God captured their hearts in captivity and turned them to a true walk with Christ and they both became Shepherds to their flocks that were honoring to the Lord.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

One Universe, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Charles Liu and Robert Irion

What a wonderful book. I can't decide if it is a coffee table book or a textbook? There are so many pictures involved that are stunning that anyone just sitting down to peruse through it would be fascinated for an hour or more. They would also find themselves learning about the universe, the Cosmos. That's because when you see the pictures you are just drawn to want to read the captions and learn what they are, then in turn you want to read the textbook portion to learn even more. The learning experience is fascinating.

I am a Theologian and thus I am happy to say that I am a young earth believer and also a believer in Intelligent Design, i.e. in God, Yahweh, Elohim, the I am of the Bible. So, I have a definite take on the details of the creation of Earth and the creation of the universe. I am not drawn to the "scientific" or "Astronomic's" of the Big Bang Theory.

BUT, I must say that as I read through this textbook I found that it was teaching me more and more about the Universe and the Galaxies and stars and planets than I ever imagined I would learn, and learn quickly.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a great job in this textbook of laying the ground work for the "Big Bang Theory" and the resulting galaxies that "evolved" out of it. Like I say, I am not a fan of that theory, BUT, it was so interesting to read and understand his concepts and they helped me to form even more knowledge and belief in the fact that the universe is incredible and I believe must have had an intelligent designer to create it.

The book takes you through four main sections:

Each is described and the history of the men and women who brought us the great thinking regarding these areas and the theories that come out of them is amazing. Taking about Plato, Galileo, Einstein, Newton,Copernicus, etc. There is so much to learn.

The writing style is very straightforward and easy for school age children to read and understand. Thus it is a great primer for thoughts regarding our Cosmos/Universe and the lessons that can be drawn from the research and science that is detailed.

I loved the section on "Evidence for Supermassive Black Holes." That was so cool to read and understand. It is just amazing.

Then the fact that our galaxies are moving away from each other at anywhere from 186 miles per second to 700 miles per second, THUS, the universe is still expanding. This is mind boggling.

Why is that? What can it mean? and what is the final result? Those speculative questions will be talked about but not necessarily answered.

Maybe the most disconcerting thought was that while Galaxies are moving, all but one are moving AWAY from the Milky Way, where Earth resides. But the Andromeda galaxy is moving "TOWARDS" the Milky way at a rate of 186 miles per second. You must ask yourself, "What will happen when the Milky Way and Andromeda collide? Fortunately Andromeda is so far away this won't happen in our lifetime or our children's or grandchildren's lifetime, so at least for now we are safe.

But that kind of information is found in this textbook and brings you to stop and think and have to ask questions.

I loved the book, even if I did disagree with it's main scientific thoughts on the Big Bang.

I think you would enjoy it was well and it would be a good teaching tool for you with your children.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Vines of Entanglement, by Lisa Carter

For a Christian Themed Novel I was very impressed with the writing and the storyline as well as the Character Development. Many "Christian" based novels are either a bit to shallow, the plot line stinks, or the characters are a bit to syrupy to be believable, or they are "Bible Thumpers" who come across as sanctimonious.

Lisa Carter though gives us a "Christian" novel that has characters that are true to human nature. They have problems. They have hurts. They have doubts about God. They struggle to live a good Christian life. Some of them have major self-esteem issues. But the nice part is that when or if they turn to God they do so in a very natural human way that most of us can relate to. They turn to God in prayer when things are going poorly and they don't necessarily believe that God will answer, or that if He does answer it won't be for their good, and He might not even be listening because their sins are to deep and dark for God to overlook or forgive.

That makes this novel good. The other thing that makes it good is that as a Christian Themed novel it does a good job of applying scripture and Biblical themes to the issues at hand without it coming off as preachy. They are presented in believable ways that make you want to keep reading. Thank you Lisa Carter for writing the novel so well.

The general plot of the novel is that Laura Mabry stumbles across a murder scene and almost becomes a part of it. When the police respond the lead detective turns out to be a long lost love of hers from ten years before that she really never wanted to see again because he reminds her of the sin in her life and her deepest darkest secrets.

Detective Jon Locklear can't believe  that he has been brought into contact with Laura again. His heart does a flip flop when he sees her. His old feelings are there but she does her best to drive him away.

The case will be one that has major issues for both of the main characters. There is a murder to be solved and a question of whether Laura may have done the murder or whether she is now in danger.

Underlying all of this is the long dashed love interests of both Laura and Jon. The tension is built well and frankly the themes of anger and bitterness that are developed are so real and thick you can feel it in your bones that this is how you would feel and react even though it isn't very Christian.

The story moves well, the characters are developed really well, the depth of plot and the turns that it takes are natural and well written. All in all this is a great detective novel, a great romance novel and above all a great Christian themed novel.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Pluto Files, by Neal deGrasse Tyson

This was a really interesting read. Although you might find that Tyson deals more with personal mail he has received and some of the discussions with other astronomers takes a large chunk of the book. But with that said the book is very informative.

The main controversy came when a new Planetarium that Tyson was working with decided to not include Pluto in their displays of the "planets" of our solar system. The main reason was because they were not convinced that Pluto can hold planetary status.

Our solar system has four Terrestrial planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Then it has what are classified as Jovian (gas giants) planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. That left Pluto out on it's own as an Ice Ball in space, not fitting with either of the two main classifications of planets.

There is a good discussion about how Pluto was originally discovered and then excellent material describing how with increasing sophistication of equipment that Pluto was downgraded in size several times, taking it from a large planet to a small "ice rock" in space.

Then the discovery of the Kuipter belt of asteroids sent another frenzy through the astronomy community. There were items out there as big as Pluto that also had a somewhat regular orbit around the sun. So what to do?

The answer is very interesting and I am particularly interested in their diagram of figure 4.9 on page 91 which shows 8 "dwarf" planets (including Pluto). One is larger than Pluto and six are smaller. But they are all past Neptune and have orbits.

So, I was left with do we have 8 planets in our solar system or do we have 16 planets? That is an interesting question.

You'll need to read to find out the answer.

Taken all together this was a very fascinating book.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Angels are Crying, by Mohammad Rehman

First of all I want to thank the Cadence Group and Mohammad Rehman for making a copy of this book available to me for a review.

As a conservative Protestant Pastor you might wonder why I read this book and am posting a review, well, the simple answer is, I am interested in people of faith and their religions. Muslims are one of the largest Religious Groups in the world today. They get lots of press and much of it is bad. They seem fanatical about Mohammad and the Koran and the press paints a picture that is not always positive. Islam takes on a bad taste in many Western People's minds because of groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden.

Mohammad Rehman has written a book that all people will find interesting. His desire was to write an honest look at Islam and the faith behind the people and the movement. He wanted to draw out aspects of Islam that have been lost in the Public View because of those radicals that have hijacked the faith.

What I liked about Rehman's approach is that he starts by giving a historical background lesson on the faith and how it came about. He talks about the fact that the faith incorporates teachings from Moses, Jesus Christ and obviously Mohammad. He also does not ignore people of other faith. He acknowledges the persecution that Jew's had at the hands of Hitler. He acknowledges that the Taliban is bringing a harsh treatment to the Muslims of Afghanistan and he paints a picture of ISIS that I think is very accurate. Rehman has taken a chance in writing this book. He has wanted to stay true to the Koran and the teachings of Mohammad, but he has also wanted to point out the problems of the terrorist that have taken the Koran out of context and are trying to set up their own world. I applaud Rehman, and I pray for his safety.

The second section of the book takes a look at the Koran and gives a background lesson regarding the text and it's teachings. This section is about a third of the book. I would suggest that you have a copy of the Koran (you can get a copy from Penguin Classics for a good price) and have that with you as you go through the book. I found that Rehman did a great job of posting the text of the Koran and then explaining in his view what he believes it is teaching and how radicals have hijacked the teaching.

The last part of the book is a look at 50 countries that have a significant Muslim population. He describes the countries and the people of those countries. He gives a brief thumb nail sketch of the country and the positive and negative things that are going on.

If you are a Protestant and are familiar with Operation World you will see how this book is very similar to that one and it's approach to giving you information regarding a country and it's population.

I was very intrigued by this book and am grateful to Mohammad Rehman for all the work that he put into it. I believe that it gives some good insights and background on the Islamic faith and how it has evolved.

I believe that Christians would benefit from reading this book as it will help them to understand their Muslim Neighbors a bit better and provide a good jumping off point for dialogue between the two faiths.

Peaceful Neighbor, by Michael Long

First of all I want to thank the publisher and Net Galley for making a copy of this book available to me in exchange for a review.

My son grew up watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood, thus that meant that we his parents also watched this show. There was just something special about Fred Rogers and his ability to bring a soothing yet educational show to young children. From the opening of the show when he would enter and sing a song and change out of a coat and put on a warm sweater (made by his mother) and sit down to talk with you it was just calming and soothing.

But there was more to Fred Rogers than what the children saw. He was a Presbyterian Pastor who was highly educated and had a high sense of morals and family values. He was also someone who loved his country and the people whom he served as a Pastor.

So, to read this book is to discover another side of Fred Rogers that wasn't completely apparent as you watched his show. He was an activist sharing his views on current events, but done in a way that kids could understand and learn from and parents could discern a deeper meaning.

This book does a great job of sharing more about Mr. Rogers and his views on the war in Viet Nam, his thoughts regarding racial divide and his concern for the decline in America of family values.

As someone who watched the show with his son I was drawn into the book to learn more about the man behind the on stage presence. If you or your children were fans of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood you will enjoy this book.

Learn what a committed Christian can accomplish when he puts his mind to it.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover, by Rabbi Evan Moffic

Well written, simple explanations, plus a Passover Dinner Guide to help you plan a special event for you, your family and some friends.

Rabbi Evan Moffic gives a clear explanation of what Passover means for the Jewish community and why they celebrate it in the ways that they do. I found the information very helpful and enlightening. I was interested in how some of the traditions were developed and the significance they have. Such as, "during the Passover meal, when the plagues are recounted, we let a drop of wine fall from our wineglasses for each plague. For the final plague, we let two drops spill. The drops represent the tears of the Egyptians. They suffered because of their despotic leader, and we respond with empathy." (Found on Page 13)

That was an interesting insight, they respond with empathy. How often do we respond with empathy for one of our enemies or even someone whom we just happen to dislike?

Chapter four, Cleanse Your Spirit and Cleanse Your Kitchen. This is an interesting chapter in drawing some distinctions to the Passover Feast and the preparation leading up to and the Protestants season of Lent leading up to Holy Week. Both are intended to prepare the individual for a Spiritual Experience in remembering the history of the culture and the history of What God Has Done! For the Jew it is the rescuing out of Egypt, for the Protestant it is the rescuing out of a sin nature.

What I found a bit disheartening in Chapter four was what appeared to be a legalistic cleansing of the house by making sure that there is no Leaven anywhere in the home, no where! Yes, the Jew's made bread without Leven for the first Passover, but that was because time was of the essence. Now it seems as though they search out and remove Leaven for weeks to make sure there is none in the home. That seems a bit drastic, but at least Rabbi Moffic explains why they do it and how it helps prepare them.

I liken it to this, once we have come to know of Christ and His work on the Cross do we search our heart and soul for the areas where sin is hiding so that we can drag it up and offer it to the Lord as a sacrifice to cleanse us. The issue are the same, but I fear the legalism that can happen.

All in all this was a great book. I especially like the guidelines in Chapter 10, Celebrating The Passover Seder Yourself. It gives a clear and direct guide on how the dinner should be observed and how the leader should guide the participants. If you have ever wanted to host a Passover Seder this would be a good guide for you.

I'm sorry I posted the review after Holy Week, but I think that it will be a good book for every Christian who truly wants to have a more thorough understanding of Passover.