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.

When Grace Sings, by Kim Vogel Sawyer (book two in a triology)

While this is a novel regarding an Old Order Mennonite Community in Kansas it has more to it than just a study about a simple way of life. The premise is that a reporter for a Tabloid paper comes to the community to live for several months to closely observe and get himself in close with the community. His real goal is to find the truth about their lifestyles to write an article to debunk the concept that their lives are ideal and peaceful. They want to run countercultural to the articles in most papers that paint a surreal lifestyle of the group.

But while that is the premise it gives the author the ability to deeply examine several issues that the characters are facing in the novel. It gives her the platform for delving into things with the hope to point out that they have problems, they have dirt in their lives that make them just like everyone else in the world.

The issues that will be addressed and addressed well are;
1)  Abandonment (parents who don't want their infants/children and give them up)
2)  Distrust (finding that people you trusted have not been completely honest with you)
3)  Acceptance (each of us has a need for acceptance, but often times that is illusive)
4)  Faith (Is there really a God? If there is does He really care?)
5)  Finding your true vocational path (i.e. old order Mennonite Farmer, or maybe something else)
6)  Secrets (how they can do more harm than good)
7)  Truth (why can't we just learn to tell the truth and be honest with each other)
8)  Sin (finally, the issue of sin, why we want to hide our sins from others)

In this second of three books we find that Alexa has opened the bed and breakfast at her grandmothers farm. It is just starting to get business and there are the usual ups and downs for a new small business enterprise. But then a long term customer, Briley Ray, a reporter, comes to stay for several months to learn about the Old Order Mennonites. Also, Anna-Grace and her future husband, Steven come to Arborville to fix up his grandparents old farmstead and possibly make it their home. But will the past catch up with Anna-Grace and make it impossible for her to live here in peace?

If you have not read the first book in the series you need to start there. I was fortunate that the publisher sent me a free copy of the first novel in exchange for a review. I loved it so much I paid for this second book. I loved this one so much that I am anxious the the third and final novel to be published, I can't wait to see how things in.

There is a readers guide at the end of the book in which Kim Vogel Sawyer gives book clubs a great set of discussion starters to talk about the book. I think that more than just an entertaining novel we have here a teaching platform for many issues that face our culture today. This would be a great novel to read with your teenage children to start discussions regarding, love, acceptance, vocation, God, etc.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Mercy Rains, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

First of all I want to thank the publisher, Water Brook, for making a review copy of this book available to me.

Life in a Mennonite Community can be fun, interesting, pleasant, frustrating and a place where a mistake can cost you much! For Suzanne Zimmerman her mistake of youth will cost her the fellowship of her family and community for twenty years. She and Paul fall to the temptation of sex outside of marriage, just one time, but it was enough to cause havoc. Suzanne is pregnant, now what will she do.

Suzanne's mother sends her away to stay at a home for expectant teenage mothers. After the birth of her child she will give the baby to her mother's cousins who will raise the child as their own, they have been unable to have children. Then Suzanne can return. All of this is done so that the family will not face shame in the community, well at least mom, Abigail, won't face shame in the community.

But Suzanne does not return. Instead she is raising a daughter in Indiana far away from the family in Kansas. Oh, yes she gave a daughter to the cousins, but she still has one of her own to raise. She doesn't tell her mother or anyone else in Kansas about her daughter.

Twenty years later mom has a farming accident and is paralyzed, she needs full time care. Suzanne who has become a nurse is called on by her siblings to come and care for their mother as they can't afford an outside care giver.

When Suzanne shows up in Kansas with a 19 year old daughter things will become complicated.

The story is well written although a bit predictable. But what is good is the discussion of Shame, Pride, Arrogance, Bitterness, Anger and Lying, not to mention a few others. All themes will be developed well. As you read you will work through each characters issues and come to see how they have grown bitter or frustrated and don't necessarily know it. Also the theme of forgiveness will be great.

I loved the book and immediately bought the second book, When Grace Sings, to continue the story.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Matheny Manifesto, by Mike Matheny

Mike Matheny shook up the world of Little League Baseball when he agreed to coach a team of kids, but the shakeup was when he wrote a five page letter to the other parents declaring how he would be different in the way he approached the task. Bottom Line, Matheny wanted to teach kids how to play the game, he wanted to teach them character, he wanted to help them develop into good young people who show respect to the other players on their team, to their coaches, to their parents, to the umpires and to the other teams they play. Character is more important than winning!

That is quite different from other things that little league coaches want. Most want to win at all costs and this usually leads to very poor character development and to allowing many kids to sit on the sideline and never really getting a chance to play and develop.

In his book Matheny talks about his own development through little league and then high school, college, the minor leagues and then the majors. His focus is on the many coaches that were getting it right and how they helped him to develop into a fine young man.

The other thing that is really good is the fact that he honors Coach John Wooden from the U.C.L.A. Bruins for his coaching style. Coach Wooden was also one who sought to develop character in his college athletes instead of just wanting to win. What's interesting is that Coach Wooden was working with Basketball Players not Baseball players. BUT, the coaching style works no matter what the sport.

In our culture parents have become a major problem with youth sports. Matheny addresses that and proves his point of the fact that building character over winning will also bring a winning style. Coach Wooden had a winning percentage of over 800 for his entire career, that is impressive and won't easily be out done.

If you want an encourage story about coaching for character this is the book for you.