Book Review: Plan B by Pete Wilson

plan-b

Title: Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?
Author: Pete Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

I wish books like Plan B didn’t need to be written.

And if I had to guess its author, Pete Wilson, does too.

“Do you remember the day you discovered your life wasn’t going to turn out quite the way you thought?” asks Wilson (p. 1).

Whether it’s a certain job, or for children, marriage—whatever it may be—we’ve all got plans and dreams for our lives. The question is, are our plans and God’s the same?

Whatever you wanted for your life, if you’re a Christian, you may well have assumed God wanted it for you as well. You might not admit it, even to yourself, but you were pretty sure God was going to sweep down and provide for you as only God could do.

The problem is, what you assumed was not necessarily what happened. (p. 4)

Wilson reveals our issue when dealing with any sort of trial: We are completely flabbergasted when it happens! We assume that our plans are what God intends—and when those things don’t work out, we’re left spinning our wheels.

And Wilson seeks to encourage his readers to move forward in their new normal and look to Christ as their only source of fulfillment.

Loving People with the Cross

One of the things I appreciate most in Plan B is Wilson’s obvious pastoral heart. His love for people saturates every word of this book as he describes the end of marriages, the self-destructive behavior of godly parents’ children and a host of other situations.

But, where it becomes most evident is when he approached the real issue: The cross.

“You need to know that the cross is not just the starting line,” he writes. “It’s the very centerpiece of your story with God. It’s the place where the pain of ‘you will have trouble’ meets the triumph of ‘I have defeated the world.’” (p. 149) [Read more…]

Book Review: Free Book by Brian Tome


Title: Free Book
Author: Brian Tome
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Are you living a life of freedom or one of fear? That’s the question at the heart of pastor & author Brian Tome’s latest, Free Book. Tome is “a fanatic about freedom” (p.3). He hates that people are beaten down by systems that prevent them from experiencing true freedom, “the kind of freedom that God offers” (p. 4). He wants to see people living in that freedom. And that is a good desire. How he expresses this desire, however, is lacking.

Lost in the Noise

This book is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some really good and helpful things, but much of it is just noise. And sometimes it’s a real challenge to see which is which.

Tome like far too many authors, tries too hard to be funny and edgy. He goes for the punchline, for the “shocking” statement in an attempt to show his freedom and it’s incredibly unappealing as a reader. It actually made me want to not read the book. He talks about his hatred of wearing a motorcycle helmet and how, whenever he’s in a state where it’s not required, he’ll ride without. This is one of the ways he exercises his freedom in Christ. The Spirit is a Spirit of freedom yes, but He’s also the Spirit of wisdom. Freedom is not an excuse to be foolish.

Other points are contradictory or just plain silly. Defining freedom, Tome writes, “Freedom is being who God designed you to be. It’s living free of condemnation and free of others’ concern. It’s developing a healthy conscience and not allowing things in your past that you’ve repented and been forgiven of to still taint your conscience. It’s believing that if God is okay with you, then who gives a rip if someone else isn’t?” (p. 19) Now, in a certain sense, this is true. We should rest in the assurance of God’s favor, absolutely. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” wrote Paul in Romans 8:31. However, it doesn’t excuse the valid concerns of others, something that Tome even acknowledges later in the book. “If your community says you have a blind spot, you probably do” (p. 193). [Read more…]

Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel

hole in our gospel

Title: The Hole in Our Gospel
Author: Richard Stearns
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Poverty is a serious issue without an easy solution. But there’s one group of people placed on Earth by God to be a part of it’s solution: The Church.

That’s the big idea behind World Vision US president Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel.

And it’s a good message. More importantly, it’s true.

An Important Message

Christians are to be salt and light in this world, to seek justice for the poor and oppressed and to bring hope to those without it. This is something that sometimes is easy to forget, especially for those of us, like me, who live in one of the most decadent societies that has ever existed.

I mean, our family doesn’t make a lot of money by North American standards; but it really puts things in perspective to realize that our annual income is far greater than 99% of the rest of the world’s. And God has given us what He has as stewards. It’s all His.

Stearns really wants readers to catch the vision of living a life fully submitted to Christ. One in which we see all our time, treasure and talents as gifts which we are to steward for God’s glory, not simply for our pleasure. And he is extremely passionate about using those gifts in service to eradicating extreme global poverty (which is defined as living on less than $1.25 U.S. per day).

Powerful stories of the transformation that happens in the lives of people affected by World Vision’s ministry are scattered throughout the book. And Stearns shares his testimony and how God called him to lead World Vision in a winsome and humble manner. He doesn’t set himself up as anything but a normal guy, which is something I greatly appreciated.

But for as much as Stearns gets right in The Hole in Our Gospel, there’s more than a few places where he misses the mark. [Read more…]

On Self-Publishing and Book Proposals

self-pub

For the last year I’ve been working on a short book based on a teaching series I did in my small group. My original plan had been to write a series of essays based on the study to provide to our group members. From there it grew into a full book.

The material itself is pretty solid, and I’m pretty excited to share it with people.

Some day.

Maybe.

I hope.

Truthfully, I do want to publish this work. I think it’s actually worthwhile and people who’ve been reading snippets here and there have found it enjoyable and helpful.

Where I’ve been stuck has been on the issue of publishing. [Read more…]

Book Review: Called to Worship

Title: Called to Worship – The Biblical Foundations of Our Response to God’s Call
Author: Vernon M. Whaley
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

What does the Bible say about worship? That’s the question that Vernon Whaley answers in Called to Worship. And the answer is, quite a bit.

In Called to Worship, Whaley guides readers through an overview of the entire Bible, illustrating principles of worship from Genesis through Revelation, in an extremely accessible style that will no doubt be helpful to new believers and pastors alike.

A great benefit of a survey like this is when it calls attention to details in familiar stories that are easy to overlook. One example: Joshua is preparing to lead the men of Israel into battle against Jericho, and as he approaches the city, he sees “a strange man standing in front of him, sword in hand. ‘Are you an enemy or a friend?’ Joshua asked him.”‘Neither,’ the man replied. ‘I am [the] commander of the Lord’s army’ (5:14 NLT)… [W]hen he identified himself, Joshua instantly fell with his face to the ground and worshipped” (p. 90).

The author goes on to comment that Joshua, having been selected by God Himself to lead the people, would not have bowed down to an ordinary man (nor any created being, for that matter). “Yet he bowed down to this commander, absolutely prostrate… What’s more, the commander received Joshua’s show of deference,” revealing himself to not be a created being, but Christ Himself (see p. 90).

The Old Testament portion of the book, for the most part, lists and explains actions that should accompany our worship, and generally, the author does a great job explaining each principle. There are a few weak spots here and there, but nothing that damages the essential message of the book.

As he follows the storyline of the Bible, Whaley gives a twist as we reach the New Testament, as he essentially tells readers, “All of these things we’ve talked about are the ways to worship the true God. There’s just one catch—we can’t do any of it on our own. We need help. We need Jesus” (my paraphrase; see pp. 222-223). And as the book transitions to how worship looks in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there’s much that readers will find profitable. From the importance of singing to Jesus, sacrificing our lives to Jesus through service and the putting-off of “self,” gathering corporately to share what God has done and is doing in our lives, partaking of Communion and proclaiming His Word through preaching, the chapters on the Gospels and the Epistles are delightful and remind us who the true object of our worship is: Jesus.

Finally, Whaley does a great job explaining what the true purpose of the book of Revelation is actually about: Worship. It’s refreshing to see this important aspect focused upon, as it’s easy to miss with all the debates that involve charts and graphs. Revelation is a book steeped in worship, and this chapter alone makes reading this book worthwhile.

Called to Worship is an extremely accessible and profitable book. If you’re looking to develop a strong biblical foundation for worship, it’s well worth your time.

Recommended.


This book was reviewed as part of Thomas Nelson’s Blogger Review Program

Book Review: Find Your Strongest Life

Title: Find Your Strongest Life
Author: Marcus Buckingham
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

It’s not often that I find finishing a book feeling like a chore—but that’s what I found with Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham.

Buckingham wants readers to discover their strengths and weaknesses—what tasks, events and people motivate, energize, and inspire them? Conversely, what tasks, events and people are draining, joyless and painful? The key to living a strong life is to minimize or outright eliminate our weaknesses and maximize our strengths. There will always be some difficulty, but there will be a certain satisfaction that comes from it.

That’s the message of this book, and Buckingham illustrates it well, particularly with Charlie, a woman gifted in developing systems who was ill-suited for a career as an office manager and lacked the assertiveness to talk to her boss/husband about it.

While there are some helpful insights, this is a book I cannot recommend. Why?

First, I don’t find Buckingham to be particularly skilled as a writer. I do not enjoy reading his words and felt there was a lot of filler. Admittedly, this is subjective, and other will disagree.

Secondly, this book feels like an episode of Oprah (due, in part, to Buckingham having been a guest on the show). Women (men, too) need to look to themselves and self-actualize their potential to find their strongest lives, according to the author. It’s standard self-help gobbledygook.

My final concern: The author’s belief that it’s a great thing for moms to go back to work right away, rather than stay home. “The good new is that this isn’t stopping women from on-ramping back into work after having kids, in spite of media stories of a new generation of women choosing to opt out. Today, when women leave to have children, they return fast and in great numbers” (p. 38). It’s certainly not wrong for women to work after they have children if they need to, but the author fails to address why they are going back so quickly. In nearly every instance I’ve seen, poor financial decisions, student debt, debilitating injury or illness, and laziness are key factors in the decision to go back to work. Rarely have I seen a woman go back to work because they genuinely want to. Perhaps this is an unwarranted concern, but it is a major red flag for me, simply based on my worldview and values.

In the end, Find Your Strongest Life fails to live up to its title. You may want to look elsewhere to truly find your strongest life.

Not recommended.

Book Review: Fearless

Title: Fearless
Author:Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Can you imagine a life without fear?

That’s the question posed by Max Lucado’s latest, Fearless.

It was with some trepidation that I dug into Fearless. The last time I read one of his books, it was painfully squishy—big on feelings, light on content. And I honestly expected another squishy book about how we’re all snowflakes and God loves us with a love not unlike sappy teen romance  (this does show up—once—when Lucado writes about how “[God] can’t stop thinking about you!” in chapter 2).

What I got instead was a book that actually provides the answer to overcoming our biggest fears: Jesus. Over the course of 14 chapters, Lucado emphatically states that it’s only when we take our eyes off of Christ that fear overcomes us, and it’s only as we focus on Him that we have the ability to overcome fear.

I was impressed by Lucado’s boldness in the final two chapters.  He (rightly) names someone as a false prophet, and he gives a great definition of false teacher: One who fails to direct his or her listeners to Jesus, maximizing the role of humanity at His expense.

That’s a huge deal, and a much needed reminder for all of us today to be, in his words, “doctrinally diligent” (p. 155).

He also boldly asserts that there is one healthy terror that we need: The Fear of the Lord. Many of us lack this, and instead have created a god-of-our-own-imagining, who won’t call us out for our sin, who will only pat our heads and tell us things will be okay, but has no power. Instead, we need to embrace the God of the Bible, our fears are less powerful. Because “[w]hen Christ is great, our fears are not” (p. 169).

Bravo, sir.

So, the real question: Would I recommend Fearless?

Particularly on the strength of the final two chapters, I would. It’s a book that, ultimately, directs people to Christ as the true answer to overcoming fear. It’s not a perfect book (none of our books are, after all), but it’s one that I believe many will find profitable.

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Reading Different Teams

Reading Different Teams

A few weeks back, Brett McDonald wrote a review of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy at Evangelical Village, and he started off his review in a way that caught my attention:

A professor at Southern (who shall remain nameless) once said in class “Incestuous breeding produces bastard children.” In context, I think what he meant was that serious scholars and pastors should not consume themselves with only reading things with which they agree. It is good for the mind and even sometimes good for the soul to read people who have different opinions and even different theological positions.

This really left an impression on me.

It’s very easy for me to get very narrow in who I read and listen to. I like reading old dead guys. I like guys who are highly theological. I like listening to and reading the work of men like Piper, Driscoll, Mahaney, Harris, Dever and Chandler. But it can be problematic if I only read and listen to guys who I agree with. “Incestuous breeding produces bastard children,” as Brett’s professor said. If I don’t give an ear to guys who I might disagree with on some issues, but who are firmly evangelical, I’m doing myself a disservice.

This is as eays a trap for guys who dig more Reform-ish pastors and authors as it is for folks who prefer the self-proclaimed “Revolutionaries” who sometimes ask good questions but rarely offer good answers to fall into.

And that’s why I’m extremely grateful for blogger review programs that are offered by publishers like Thomas Nelson, NavPress and a host of others. [Read more…]

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl


Title:
Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Author: N.D. Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Have you ever tried to use your sense of smell to describe how a fresh bowl of fruit looks?

What about sight to describe the sound of a two-year-old happily playing in her room?

If so, you understand a little more about the challenge N.D. Wilson faced writing Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.

This book is downright peculiar. But it’s peculiar in all the right ways. You see, Wilson’s trying to describe the indescribable: God speaking Creation into being, ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Wilson frequently writes in an almost stream-of-consciousness style that, while can be a bit distracting at times, is quite entertaining. His illustrations are hilariously (and appropriately) absurd. And his pace is quick and lively.

Wilson spends a great deal of time deconstructing the absurdity of the idea that our world, in all of it’s beauty and bizarreness happened on a fluke. A random act of chance. But it’s in its seeming randomness, that we see the complexity and intricacy of how this world has been created. And he finds philosophers arguments to the contrary ridiculous, an excuse to sell more books. And that includes, Nietzsche, who Wilson describes as “the only philosopher to ever make me laugh out loud” (p. 199). High praise indeed. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Noticer

Title: The Noticer
Author: Andy Andrews
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Recommended: The Noticer offers a little perspective and hope that greater things are still to come.

It’s all about perspective. Whether you see your life as being the worst it can possibly be, if you see your influence as tiny or insignificant, it all depends on your perspective.

That, in a nutshell, is the heart of The Noticer by Andy Andrews.

I’ll be honest, I was nervous about reading this book. I don’t much care for Christian/inspirational fiction, in large part because it can too easily go off the rails theologically.

Fortunately, this book doesn’t do that.

The Noticer is a deceptively easy read. It’s prose is pleasant and fast-paced; a book you can blast through in one sitting (about two hours).  And while it’s a fast and easy read, it’s impact is anything but. The book repeatedly asks the question: Are you seeing your life with the right perspective? The vignettes that make up the book’s 10 chapters implicitly demand that readers’ examine themselves and understand that as long as they have breath, there is hope, and there is work to be done.

However, The Noticer’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. Because it’s written as a series of vignettes connected by a loose narrative involving the enigmatic Jones (just Jones, no “Mister”), it gets a little repetitive. Whether that’s a problem depends on your perspective, I suppose.

The Noticer is a great book, although the cover blurb stating that it’s the best book Nancy Lopez has ever read might be overstating it’s quality. It’s message definitely warrants careful consideration, reflection, and action.