Review of Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman

I really liked the book and this author. He owns the same exact car as me. Go Plymouth Breeze!

This book was recommended by my dad and others in my family. I am glad that I picked it up and finally read through it. The book is written in an easy, pastoral style, and it does a good job of being practical. In the first part of the book, Kyle helps the reader diagnose whether or not they are a fan of Jesus or a follower of Jesus. He uses the DTR or define the relationship construct to see where we are with Jesus. That DTR acronymn was quite the thing at my Bible college, but it was used solely for romantic guy/girl reasons. In this first part, Kyle will highlight a Bible passage and then expound on it in order to do an either/or diagnosis. You are either a fan or a follower, you are making a decision or a commitment, you have knowledge about him or intamacy with him, etc. Then, at the end of each chapter, Idleman gives a testimony of someone who has come from the one side of easy fan belief to follower belief.

In the second part, Kyle discusses Luke 9:23 and uses 4 chapters to go over each thought from the verse. He starts by saying that people love to share John 3:16, but you don’t see many signs proclaiming Luke 9:23.

Lastly, in the third part, there are three chapters that deal with following Jesus wherever, whenever, and whatever may come. Again. Kyle usually starts with a Bible story and then applies it directly to the reader along with some compelling stories.

The stories that Kyle tells are probably my favorite part of the book. I feel like I really know the guy after reading. Which, I guess, explains my joy in finding out he drives a Plymouth Breeze. I truly enjoyed reading this book and the thoughtful style that Kyle uses. He is like a loving and concerned pastor or father and tries to be straight with his reader. I highly recommend this book. Pick it up.

P.S. At summer camp I read some of this book to the high school boys in my cabin. They seemed to relate to his tone and message. I am going to try to give the book away to a high school boy.

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Bible Books for Little People

I have some recommendations for children’s books that promote the Gospel in a unique and effective way. My two year old son does not regularly go for the many Bibley books we have around. I usually have to pick them out for him; his favorites these days are the Seuss books and the Fly Guy books. So these recommendations are more from me and not from his three-year-old mind.

My Big Book of Bible Stories, by Phil A. Smouse – Got this one from Truth for Life. Try to find the audio online of Alistair Begg reading the Ruth story. The book contains 17 stories from both the Old and New Testament. They are rhymed to the tune or style of Dr. Seuss. We would read them at dinner times with our two little boys.

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd Jones – I have this one on my e-reader. The way she works Jesus into all of the familiar stories is great. Our fave story is the one about the little girl that Jesus raises from the dead. Sally clearly shows the kindness and compassion of Jesus. She also fits in a reference to Lord of the Rings, by stating that Jesus is in the business of making the sad things come untrue. Amen!

More to come…

Just a side note… Be sure to have a hymnal or other songbook in your home in order to sing some songs together as a family. My son is so excited to pick songs from the hymnal and then end with Luther’s “Mighty Fortress” as he affectionately calls it. He has all the first verse memorized. The fun part for me is trying to sight read some obscure hymn that I’ve never heard before, just because my son picked it. All the while my wife sits nearby and laughs.

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Dystopian Fiction Recommendations

Recommended:

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth – Better than Hunger Games by far. This young Christian author weaves a great story of the fight for good and the evil that can exist within us all.

Pathfinder Series by Orson Scott Card – His Mormon background adds some much needed morality to the dystopian malaise. A strong and loving marriage is also on display in the book, which is often not a characteristic of a YA book. I just recently finished the second book in the series, Ruins, and though it is a little heady with the philosophy, it still kept me interested and caused me to think.

Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness – A great, innovative concept, but very graphic at times. I see boys enjoying this series more than girls. The final book in the series is one of the best. This series will get your moral imagination working. Also, romance is a part of the story, but it is meaningful and not overdone.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – Fast paced story about a boy beating the odds. There is some language and tough situations, but I believe it is shown in a truthful light. He has a new book called “The Drowned Cities.” I’ll hopefully read that and be able to review it soon.

Not Recommended:

Hunger Games Trilogy – I say this only to be different, but N. D. Wilson has shown that Katniss’ sacrifice is really no sacrifice at all. She goes on to do great evil against her fellow man. See his take at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/05/17/why-hunger-games-is-flawed-to-its-core/

Any crazy romantic paranormal dystopian fluff… I have to say that I haven’t read them, but they don’t look redemptive just by their covers. I know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. But sometimes, yes, do judge it. I watch many high school students, regardless of their faith, reading books that I wouldn’t want anyone to read no matter their age. It is my hope that parents would be more aware of the content going through the heart of children.

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Review of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Highly Recommended!

If you haven’t read any of Trenton Stewart’s books, then you are missing out. I would choose any of his Mysterious Benedict books over the Wimpy Kids and Twilights of recent times. Trenton is able to keep you interested and keep you guessing at the same time. As a young parent of little boys, I have already started compiling this series for my shelves. My younger brother, a married man in his 20s also loved these books.

This title in the series goes back in history in order to tell us Mr. Benedict’s childhood story. Like many troubled children in stories, Nicholas has been passed from orphanage to orphanage. He has no friends, no consistency, no purpose. Part of the wonder in this book is Nicholas’ growth into a purpose and a meaning for his life. Of course, Stewart includes all the humorous wordplays and situations throughout the book.

I was rooting for Nicholas throughout the whole book. I hope that some upper elementary and middle school boys especially can find some hope and purpose from the story of Nicholas. The words in this book, although not explicitly Christian, show us the truth of relationships and sacrificing for the good of others. This is a needed corrective to the self-seeking, what’s in it for me type attitudes in children’s fiction. May the word dwell in us richly.

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Fun Reading Test

My score was 466 words / minute. See how you do.

 

http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/technology-research-centers/ereaders/speed-reader/index.html

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Review of Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

A quick read dealing with the need to be explicit about what the gospel preaches. Chandler separates the good news into two categories: the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air. The gospel on the ground is basically the personal message that we share with our friends and loved ones. In this part of the book, the author works through the biblical teachings on God, man, Christ, and then our response as fallen people to that good news. The gospel in the air is then the wider good news that spreads to all of creation. God’s glory will not leave anything untouched. It is in this second section that Chandler touches on creation, fall, reconciliation, and consummation. He argues for a healthy balance between the two. Reading this book after Word versus Deed, by Duane Litfin, was helpful, as Litfin works through this same issue of social gospel versus the concrete message of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross.

In his section on man’s need for a savior, he deals with the severity of God. This, Chandler notes, is an area where many Christians have stopped being explicit. We don’t want a God who is severe. In one place the author writes, “…it makes no sense to run up a tree afraid of a kitten while walking up to a lion and slapping it in the face. Will we fear man while outing God?” Chandler offers us a healthy discussion of God’s wrath.

One of my favorite parts was his discussion of hardened hearts. He notes that the “gospel of Jesus is dangerous.” It has the power to put people in their place. Some people in Christian circles don’t seem to give the gospel this respect. They play around at church, being moralistic and commenting all about what Suzy is wearing to church.  I love this quote: “The religious, moralistic, churchgoing evangelical who has no real intention of seeking God and following him has not found some sweet spot between radical devotion and wanton sin; he’s found devastation. The moralism that passes for Christian faith today is a devastating hobby if you have no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing him in Christ.” How will we treat the dangerous power of the gospel? How will we present it to the youth we come into contact with? These are important questions that Chandler brought me to. I know for a fact that some young people go into a church and only receive a moralistic rant about their clothing and behavior. Chandler notes that the gospel will cut some people open; others it will only scar, further hardening them. Let’s be serious. Let’s be explicit.

Also, his application section at the end had some interesting stories and a good breakdown of moral therapeutic deism. Chandler talks about a VBS where he sang a song about liars going to hell. All he remembers from that VBS was that God hated liars. In another part, Chandler writes, “If you listened to Journey, you’re going to do meth and kill your parents. So don’t listen to Journey. If you like Journey, then you should like this Christian band.” He says that this was the main message he would get from Christians early on in his faith. The story about a dirty rose that he shares is also a powerful example of the problem of moralism. “Moralism doesn’t do that. (point to the beauty and glory of Jesus) The moralist tends to forsake sin so that God might love him, so that he might earn the favor of God. All of his effort and striving become his foundation of hope and comfort. And it simply doesn’t work. If anything, it’s shame upon shame upon shame as we continue to fail.” Wow.

Don’t assume the gospel, Chandler pleads, be explicit. The disciples of Jesus knew for certain that Jesus had the words of eternal life. May that be our case as we lead people toward the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ.

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Review of Shelter by Harlan Coben

This book did not meet my expectations at all. I probably went in with too many of them, but I was disappointed with the story as a whole. It was quite a chore to keep reading. As a Christ follower, I would not recommend this to any of the youth I work with. As I read, I like to try and notice truth and redemptive themes in a book, and there just wasn’t much here. I’m not too familiar with the Bolitar series by Coben, but I guess this YA book connects with his adult fiction in some way.

Mickey Bolitar, loses his father to a car wreck and his mother to substance abuse. Because of all this tragedy, he basically takes care of himself, and we get to follow him as he survives high school and uncovers a mystery. Coben tells us all about Mickey’s struggle, but never really lets the reader enter in. I just felt like an observer throughout the book. I wish Coben would have shown more of the inner struggle inside Mickey’s heart. He just reacts to stuff that happens.

Also, I am very concerned with how belief in God and respect of adults is portrayed in a children’s novel, and this particular story showed neither of these in a positive light. It’s not that there was anything horrible, but it seems like Mickey is left to his own instincts and feelings, which is a bad place to be. There’s gotta be some outside standard or moral. “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey “people.” People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war…. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest….” C.S. Lewis. Mickey seems pretty lost at the outset, and I felt he wasn’t any closer to any truth in the end. Any truth that mattered at least.

For any parents or teens out there that were wondering about this one, I would go elsewhere. Comment if you would like to know more.

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