Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Soul Feast, Newly Revised, by Marjorie Thompson

Marjorie Thompson gives us a wonder look at Spiritual Disciplines and a how to guide on your personal Spiritual Development. Her book is a revised edition of a title she brought out in 1995. It has been added to, but not overly changed from it's original form. Thompson became enamored with Spiritual Disciplines by Henry Nouwen and a class she took on the subject. She takes the topic and develops into what is sure to become a classic work on Spiritual development. As mentioned in the introductions this book has become one of the main texts for many Universities and Seminaries on the topic of Spiritual Development.

It is well written, well researched and it is obvious that Marjorie has personally practiced each of the disciplines that she will define, explain and give examples for how to grow in their use.

The book very much reminds me of Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Disciplines. Marjorie will mention his work in her book and frankly you will find that they are so similar in nature that if you have read one you have read them both.

I am very impressed with her method of writing, Her gentle encouragement of the reader to take the "baby steps" necessary to start growing, but then encourages you to continue to work at it and development the disciplines into a life long habit that will draw you much closer to God.

I think that all Christians, lay people as well as pastors, will find this book useful for growing their relationship with the Lord. I would encourage you to not only read this book but if possible enroll in a course at a local Christian University that offers a course in Spiritual Formations, you will not be disappointed.

I pray God's blessing on you as you feast on these concepts.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, are protestors going to far?

As citizens of the United States we are granted the freedom of speech and the freedom to lawfully gather to protest actions that we feel are detrimental to the well being of our community. So, with that said I have no problem with the "peaceful protests" that have been happening in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of Michael Brown but a local police officer.

There have been a few violent protestor's and they have been arrested as necessary. As pointed out in an earlier blog over 80% of those arrested have been people who don't even live in the Ferguson, Missouri area or for that matter, many don't even live in Missouri.

But we have entered into a new strategy by those protestors who want to go further than peaceful demonstrations. Protestors are now searching out the families of police officers and following them around town and harassing them as often as possible. This includes verbal taunting, kicking their cars as they enter or exit them, throwing things at them, etc.

To me this seems way beyond the action of peaceful protests. The family members of officers who were not even involved in this shooting are being threatened. Their children now fear to leave their home or even go to school.

Is this truly what our society meant to have happen when it gave the rights for peaceful protests? I don't think those. All this does is anger the police officer whose family has been intimidated, verbally abused and threatened. This action spans three different branches of law enforcement officers and their families. At last look Michael Brown was shot by just one officer, none of these others were involved and certainly none of their families were involved.

So, I call upon the Rev. Al Sharpton and the local Clergy and Protest Leaders to call for calm, to call out those using these tactics and do what they can to get them to stop before we have more violent confrontations between the officers and the protestors.

The protestor's need to stop and think, wouldn't they protect their family from someone attacking them? Well, what do they think the police officer will do when he sees his children in danger? So far they have shown great restraint, which again goes back to show the training they receive. But if these actions continue to happen I don't think that these officers can restrain their natural protective instincts forever. Eventually human nature will kick in and they will protect their families.

So, what is the answer?  Jesus Christ is the answer and the following of His teachings. That is why I am calling on the clergy to step up and teach their congregations and their communities what proper action is on the part of a "peaceful demonstrating public."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, by Gregory Cootsona

Gregory Cootsona gives us a glimpse at the life of C.S. Lewis and the profound writing that he brought to our world. He also gives us his story, his journey through crisis and how reading the works of C.S. Lewis he was able to navigate a path through the wilderness of evil, doubt and meaningless to find the true path of righteousness, mercy, grace, salvation and the way to God and a meaningful life.

Throughout the book Cootsona will refer to the many writings of C.S. Lewis to explain the issues of our day and why so many people can't seem to get a handle on things and find that they need a guide. For Cootsona and many of the rest of us that guide is C.S. Lewis. Lewis brings us a proper view of Good vs. Evil, Morality vs. Immorality and the answer to 'Why or how can a loving God allow suffering and evil in the world that He created.'

Probably one of the best quotes form the works of C.S. Lewis sums up the purpose of Cootsona's book. In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis writes, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading . . . God is, If I may say it, very unscrupulous." In my own words I might paraphrase this to say, "If you are an Atheist you better watch out what you read because God cannot be hidden in the words of ill informed, He cannot be buried in the verbose words of the moralist, He cannot be dismissed in the tomes of science. God will get you in whatever you read with an open mind, because God has informed it all and it all points to Him."

C.S. Lewis started out his life as an Atheist, he then progressed to becoming an Agnostic and finally had not option but to turn his life over to Jesus Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior. Even though Lewis saw the horrors of mankind in the trenches of WWI, he still came to realize that man has a moral code that guides him, some of evil, but most for good. It is this moral code that Lewis determines is woven into the very fabric of every human by God Himself. There is no denying this moral code and thus in the long run there is no denying God.

Cootsona will take you on a journey through the writings of C.S. Lewis that you will thoroughly enjoy. If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis you will find this a comfortable book that reminds you of the truth you found in the writings of Lewis. If you are not a fan of C.S. Lewis and have never read his works then you will find yourself thinking, I really need to put this book down and start reading C.S. Lewis himself. Bravo, that would be a wise choice. Then you can come back to this book and smile, nod your head and find yourself agreeing with everything that Cootsona has to say about Lewis.

So, where to start? Maybe with Mere Christianity, the most profound apologetic book of the 20th Century. Or maybe a fun read such as the Chronicles of Narnia where you will find the epic battle of good and evil and a God who loves His creation enough to provide a plan of salvation. Or maybe you might want to read the science fiction trilogy that many people forget C.S. Lewis wrote. Out of the silent planet, Prelandria and That Hideous Strength.

Maybe my favorite though is "Surprised by Joy," in which C.S. Lewis gives his exclamation of what he discovered through all his searching.

Whatever you do just know that this work by Gregory Cootsona will give you a good glimpse into the life and writings of C.S. Lewis and apologetics master who has given us classic volumes of work to help us find our way in a world of corruption and evil.

Enjoy!

Hidden in the Stars, by Robin Caroll

My review will follow in a moment. But first of all I wanted to say that this is another very good Christian Novel. In the past I have been somewhat disappointed with Christian novels that tend to "preach" or beat the reader over the head with the Gospel. But recently I have read several Christian Novels where the author's are weaving the Christian life and the Gospel of Jesus seamlessly into the story. The main character has a good walk with the Lord, depends on Him and serves Him. But the testimony appears more from the way the individual lives their life than what they "preach."

Don't get me wrong, the people in the stories will give a clear testimony of the Lord through their spoken words, but it is their lifestyles and their building of relationship with others that will have the Gospel shine forth to bring about change in a person's life.  So, now for the review.

As a combination romance and police novel you will find that Robin Caroll does a good job of pulling both aspects together to provide an enjoyable experience. The story line is simple, there are no complex plot twists, no rambling dialogues about police procedures and no intense romantic scenes. But, with all that said the story is so enjoyable that I found myself left for wanting more. When the story was over I was kind of sad, the writer had captured me into this world of the life of Sophia Montgomery and I wanted more.

The general story line is this, Sophia Montgomery is a young woman who is a great gymnast. . She has just made the U.S. Olympic team and is spending a couple of days at home with her mom before heading out to join the team at their training facility. But her visit home is anything but lighthearted and fun. While there two men barge in one evening and beat her and her mother. They keep asking her mother, "Where is it?"

When Sophia wakes up from the beating she finds herself in the hospital. She has been severely beaten, so much so that the men left her for dead. One of the major injuries that she sustains is that of damage to her throat and vocal chords. She is unable to speak until some healing of the injury.

Upon waking up she is visited by Julian Frazier, one of the detective's assigned to her case. He is tall and handsome. His presence starts something within Sophia that she doesn't fully understand. Little does she know that the attraction she feels towards him is also an attraction that he is feeling towards her. Thus throughout the remainder of the story we have this simple growing attraction of one for the other that neither appears to want to acknowledge.

Julian has the unfortunate task of having to inform Sophia that her mother, Nina, did not survive the intruders, she was murdered by the men who barged in. So this is a homicide investigation.

Julian is drawn to Sophia and so desperately wants to solve the crime to give her some peace of mind. But he also wants to protect her from anything else the two men might have planned for her, such as another attack to finish her off.

Underlying the whole story is Sophia's trust in God. Her knowledge that God will protect her, provide for her, comfort her and use this situation to bring Himself honor and glory. Julian on the other hand has no trust in God. He questions where God was when his previous partner was gunned down. He has no use for a God who is suppose to be loving but allows evil to happen.

Two other characters in the story will provide Julian with more background and prodding about his relationship with God. His new partner, Broady, is also a Christians as well as Charlie, the lip reader that is brought in to communicate for Sophia who can't speak out loud. These two will keep asking Julian questions or answer his questions about God and bring him to a point of having to decide what he thinks.

There are some more interesting aspects to the story, but you will just have to buy the book and read for yourself.

This book is part of a series called Quilts of Love, each story revolves around a Quilt that has been sewn. They each of stories of their own. I so enjoyed this particular story that I am looking forward to reading another in the series.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tables in the Wilderness, by Preston Yancey

The sub-title of the book gives a good description of what you are going to find, "A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again.

This is Preston Yancey’s story about his life within the home of a family whose father is a Pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Texas. For those who don’t know this is about as Bible Belt as you can get and Preston was raised to know the Bible, to know about God and to understand the doctrine and life of the Southern Baptist Church.

He is not sure when he became a Christian, he states, “My mother says that there was a time when I was about three that she was pushing me around in a shopping cart in the store . . . . . I looked at her seriously and said, ‘I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart.’”

That comment should give you some insight; at an early age he knew the language of the church and the Western view of “asking Jesus into your heart.” What he didn’t understand was what that was going to entail.

This book will document his struggle with the church, with God and with doctrine. It is mostly about the time of his college years when he was attending Baylor University (a Baptist University). He will start attending an Episcopal church as well as the Baptist church and then even work with a few other students to start a church.

But all that searching is really not about being a good church attender, it is about his inability to comprehend truly in his life who God is, who Jesus is and what the Holy Spirit can do.

I’m grateful for his book, but I must say that it describes the life meandering of an immature young man who just wants to discover the truth, but doesn’t realize that is what he is looking for.

Probably the best comment he makes to sum up his book is in the first chapter when he says, “While I intellectually know God is still present, while I intellectually know God will never leave me, while I intellectually know God desires the best for me—my heart and my soul, they don’t seem so very sure anymore.”

The book is written in a way that you will learn about his struggle to “hear from God,” and his frustration with the “silence” that God takes him through. What is interesting is that God told him there would be silence, God told him that he would have to be still and wait for that still small voice to give direction and guidance. But Preston is like most of us, he wanted his way with God on his terms and wasn’t necessarily eager to “wait” for God to direct him.

The struggle is painful to read about, but it is also encouraging because it is the struggle that many young people have with the church. As a former youth Pastor I can say that this book summarizes the life of many students that I taught. Many had this same struggle. I’m sure if they were to read Yancey’s book they would find themselves writing in the margin, “yes, that is exactly what I felt.”

The book is frustrating for me to read, but also true to the core about the struggle that many students have with God.

Read, think, meditate, absorb and then ask yourself, “am I just an intellectual Christian or am I a Christian who fully embraces God with my whole  heart, soul, mind and strength?


Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Unintended consequences, but civil unrest creates problems

The civil unrest in Ferguson Missouri has been well documented by the media both local and national. It has created problems for local and state authorities who have had to respond with increased manpower (police presence) for a lengthy period of time.

It is hard to imagine that unruly crowds who were protesting the shooting of Michael Brown were only causing problems on a three or four block area of Ferguson. Although they did then move on to the area surrounding the Police headquarters and city hall.

But the unintended consequence of their protests has had a major effect on the businesses of Ferguson, especially those in the area of the main peaceful (yet sometimes violent) marches. The local news media has reported on this in short little pieces, but the national news media ignores it while still sensationalizing the issues.

Businesses in Ferguson report almost a 20% drop in business. Some on West Florissant report as much as 70% drop in business. Several local beauty parlor's, barber shops and clothing stores report that their customers have called and cancelled appointments because they are afraid to come into the area, based upon the reports they have seen in the news.

What is truly frustrating for these business owners is that during the day when most of their customers would come there has been no real danger and very little in the way of protests. I have personally walked the streets there in helping clean up and in meeting store owners and have never felt in danger during the day. I will admit that I have not gone back after dark because of what can happen.

But even now the protests are very minimal on most days, there are only a few times when they grow in numbers.

But the long range problem for Ferguson is this, 30% of the small business owners might not survive the next month because of the downturn of business. Add to that the fact that the economy is tough anyway and it just compounds the problem.

Many businesses depend on the holiday season to provide major income for their business.  If this situation continues they will not have that income and the number of closures could mount even higher.

This is not even considering the dollar amount of damages. Quik Trip has already had a 5.5 million dollar loss of a building and it's contents. Add on the loss of revenue and it is growing. Then add on to that the loss of jobs for the twenty plus employees, who live in Ferguson, and you have a truly outrageous problem that was untended by the local community protestors.

Yes we need to get resolution to this situation. Yes there needs to be "Justice" for Michael Brown and all involved, including the police officer. Yes, we need to have a stop to these situations.

So, my question today is this, does the Rev. Al Sharpton really care about the people of Ferguson, or is he just riding the political coat tails of the situation. If he cared about the people he would be advocating for peace and asking the people to support the businesses of Ferguson.

Stop and consider what you can do.

Our church is going to walk the streets of Ferguson today for a prayer walk. We are going to pray for the business owners, the homeowners and the entire situation. Join us in prayer. But also if you live in the area join in coming back into the area to do business and help the local store owners.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More Civil Unrest happening in St. Louis

Well, it is official that there will be more protests in St. Louis in regards to the Michael Brown shooting. For the most part these protests are now non-violent, although there are small outbursts of trouble at times between protestors and the police.

What is the bigger issue is this, why did the U.S. Government make a big show of President Obama and then Attorney General Eric Holder getting involved in this local issue? Was it political? Or was it because they felt Justice wasn't being served?

Well, it appears to me that it was political. There has been no resolution to the issue either on the State level or the Federal level. Also, on the Federal Level we have heard nothing for quite some time. Has Michael Brown and the Ferguson Police Department been forgotten by the President? Has the resignation of the Attorney General caused the issue to fall off the radar?

Don't get me wrong, I did not think it appropriate for the Federal Government to get involved in this, it only escalated the issue. Speaking of escalation, the protests this weekend are happening because, "There has been no resolution to the issue." The people are frustrated. So, why is the President or his government officials not here to answer to the people?

It seems to me that the "Politics" of the issue trumped the "Justice" that people demanded. So, congratulations Mr. President, you got a bump in your ratings for stepping in. I wonder if you will get a decrease in your ratings for not having accomplished anything when you did step in.

So now for one last question, "Is there no 'Justice' yet because none of the inquiries can find an civil rights abuse by the officer?" Just asking.

One final item. I should be fair here, the Attorney General's office and the local State Attorney General did tell the public that they had one recommendation for the Ferguson Police Department, and other departments as well. "All Police Officers should wear their name badges as part of their daily uniform!"

Wow, that will surely stop unwarrented violence! Really, is that the best recommendation you can come up with out of this horrific situation?

Tomorrow I will post my thoughts on the true damage being done by this situation.