On the bookshelf: Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma

It’s been difficult to write a review of Pursuing Justice. It’s not that I don’t want to write a review. It’s just that I don’t know where to start.

So let’s start with this. There’s a very real chance that this book will turn your ideas about justice upside down by setting things right.

Ken Wytsma methodically traces justice from simple definition to its intricate interaction with righteousness, morality, worship, race relations and daily life. Along the way, he sheds new light on stories that we think we knew – like the story of David and Bathsheba that Wytsma redefines as the story of a rich man using his power and position to take from the poor.

Along the way, Wytsma uses the life examples from the people he has met through his work with nonprofits like World Relief and Food for the Hungry as well as his experience as the pastor of Antioch Church.

In the powerful chapter, “Playstations and Poverty,” Wytsma tells the story of a friend from the Congo visiting an American classroom. The interaction between the friend and the children becomes the launch pad for an explanation on how our thirst for consumer goods fuels fires of civil unrest that burn through countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wystma takes the reader on a journey to justice without casting blame. Yes, he acknowledges that as individuals and as a community we have fallen short, but emphasizes that the path to justice begins with changing our daily lives and living out a life of justice in our faith communities.

A short, powerful chapter closes the book with a call to live and die for bigger things. In as sense the entirety of the writing that goes before can be summed up in these sentences from the final paragraphs:

Justice is about my relationships here and my compassion there.

Justice is about knowing God as much as it is about serving God.

Justice has become both a daily necessity and an impossibility

Justice makes immoral pleasure distasteful and grows a deep and abiding happiness.

Justice leads me into a way of living by faith that is beautifully awkward.

Justice highlights the amazing grace of a God who allows me to stand before him as if I was fully just.

Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

On the bookshelf: Mondays with My Old Pastor by José Luis Navajo

I wanted to read this book – I wanted to love this book – from the moment I read the description on the Booksneeze web site:

In lyrical prose, Navajo shares the personal anecdotes, fables, and deep spiritual insights offered by the old pastor and his wife. By turns funny, heartbreaking, and thought provoking, Mondays with My Old Pastor is a comfort to anyone who struggles in his or her walk with God. As readers follow Navajo’s journey from desperation to rejuvenation, they will find themselves similarly transformed and inspired. This moving, beautifully written account is sure to reignite every soul’s longing for renewal.

While full of truth about love and service, loss and love, the book simply didn’t live up to the description for me. Each chapter settled into a rhythm of a knock at the door, entrance into the old pastor’s home, a short conversation and the old pastor inevitably telling a story before the young pastor would leave with a new revelation about God. It started to seem, to me, like a series of sermon illustrations strung together by brief snippets of conversations.

In fact, I wonder if it wouldn’t have made a better read if it had been written without the conversational tone. A loving recounting of the lessons taught by the old pastor would have been just as insightful.

I was also a bit skeptical about the participants’ astounding ability to quote writers as varied as Leo Tolstoy and Benjamin Franklin. Since it’s a memoir, I assume they really did speak like this.

On the basis of the lessons taught by the old pastor, I could easily recommend this book.

But, on the basis of the writing style and presentation, I just can’t. As it progressed, I found it more and more difficult to continue.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and their Booksneeze program for giving me a free copy of this book for my unbiased review.

Struck by the wonder of a faithful God

Grammy was not happy when she sat down next to me at church.

“I lost my hearing aid,” she said.

I knew what this meant. Even with the hearing aid, she barely could hear the pastor. Today, she would hear nothing and, yet, she came because it was that important for her to be with God’s people.

Thankfully, the service hadn’t started yet so I said loudly, into her better ear, “I’ll come home with you after church and look for it.”

When I arrived at her house, I asked the obvious question, “Where were you when you lost it?”

“In the yard,” she replied.

The yard? That big, double lot?

Needle meet haystack.

She pointed me to an area where she had been doing some yard work. I slowly started walking back and forth in the area and suddenly, inexplicably quckly, I found it.

“Oh!” Grammy exclaimed. “God led you right to it.”

Grammy’s like that. These litte, everyday experiences are tiny displays of God’s majestic grace and a sign of his deep care for even the mundane parts of our lives.

That’s also the message of Margaret Feinberg’s new book that releases on Christmas Day.

The new book and 7-session Bible Study called Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God is a personal invitation for you to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life. Wonderstruck will help you:

  • Recognize the presence of God in the midst of your routine
  • Unearth extraordinary moments on ordinary days
  • Develop a renewed passion for God
  • Identify what’s holding you back in prayer
  • Discover joy in knowing you’re wildly loved

 To learn more, watch the Wonderstruck Video:

A Sneak Peek At Wonderstruck from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

Follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. You can learn more about this great book by visiting www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble  for all you savvy shoppers.

So where have you seen the wonder of God in your life? 

On the bookshelf: Enough by Will Davis, Jr.

Keeping up with the Joneses can be exhausting … and even the Joneses may not be as happy and content with their possessions and lifestyle as it seems. So, what does it mean to live on enough in a culture that’s conditioned to constantly strive for more?

That’s the question Will Davis Jr. strives to answer in “Enough: Finding More By Living With Less.”

He begins by defining enough before moving into sections discussing “more than enough” and “less than enough” with a fair portion of the latter section being a call to action to those who find themselves in the former category. The final two sections describe the path to living with enough and cultivating a “less” mindset.

Throughout each section, Davis weaves Biblical insight with personal stories to illustrate his points. His experience as a church plants has, in many ways, given him plenty of access to stories of God’s provision that may go unnoticed or unknown by others.

Parts of each section were challenging in a good way and brought out points of Scripture that I had never considered. Other parts were more of the same interpretations that I have heard before from other teachers.

The bottom line is that we may disagree on some points, but can agree on the basic premise that our culture of constant craving consistently draws us away a core mission of the church (and individuals); that is, to love God and love people. To that end, Davis offers a path to living a life of less.

And that is enough.

Available July 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
Thanks to Revell for giving me a copy of this book for my review.

On the bookshelf: Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale

I wanted to love this book. After all, the book description promised stories of changes taking place in Muslim communities where imams, sheikhs and entire mosques are turning to Christ.

In that, Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus, met with moderate success. Of course, there weren’t hundreds of thousands of stories, but there were several that showed God to be at work in the Muslim community to draw people to him.

It’s when author Jerry Trousdale strayed from storytelling that the book became less fascinating than I had anticipated.

To be sure, there were passages with which I absolutely agreed. For example, Trousdale writes early on, “… it is tragic when Christians look at Muslims, not with compassion, but with a default to fear, anger and rejection.”

And, there was this passage that called into question our hearts for engaging Muslims:

“Do we, as Christians, typically respond to Muslims with compassion and an desire to engage them with the gospel, or are we more inclined to respond to them with fear, anger, and resignation regarding their fate?”

Difficult questions for difficult times.

It was actually a question of style that frustrated me with this book. I firmly believe bullet points should be used sparingly and only when it’s the absolute best way to organize ideas. Sadly, many of the chapters seemed to adhere to a pattern of relating a story that was followed by pages and pages of bullet point listings on the application of the story.

That may not be enough to turn others away from what could be an otherwise interesting look at evangelism in the Muslim community, but it was enough of a frustration to me that I nearly gave up reading.

And that’s sad, because this is a topic that Christians would be wise to explore.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.

On the bookshelf: Choose Joy by Kay Warren

Joy doesn’t come naturally to most people. If left to our own devices, we whine, complain and deem it necessary to share our misery with others.

Joy, then, is a choice.

This is the theme Kay Warren explores in Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough. Weaving Biblical examples with personal stories, Kay reminds us that choosing joy comes long before the trials begin. It begins with recognizing that Jesus himself was a man who knew joy and continues with adopting a way of thinking that drinks deeply from the living water God himself offers. Finally, with this foundation firmly in place, joy is nurtured through our actions from internal actions to our interactions with others.

Written in a highly personal style, each chapter reads like a conversation over coffee with an old friend. It is encouraging to read about her journey to choosing joy. Too often, we think that joy comes easily to women like Kay. She’s married to a well-known, popular pastor of a megachurch. She’s a published author. She advocates for those suffering with AIDS and HIV. And, she has a loving family.

Yet, this self-described Eeyore reminds us that choosing joy is a journey framed by the choices we make every day. In a strange sense, it helps to know that even this role model would be annoyed and frustrated by something as simple as parking spaces.

Available April 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Revell for providing me with a copy of the book to review!

On the Bookshelf: Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman

An admission. The very first thing I did when I received Hiking Through: One man’s journey to peace and freedom on the Appalachian Trail was flip to approximately the center of the book to see if Stutzman mentioned any local trail landmarks or towns.

Of course, he did. There in black and white was the tale of eating the traditional half-gallon of ice cream at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, just to the south. And a mention of the beautiful village of Boiling Springs, where I went to school. Several pages were devoted to Duncannon, a town just north that’s about to be designated an Appalachian Trail community.

But, I soon discovered Stutzman’s journey was about much, much more than the landmarks a hiker passes on the great trail from Georgia to Maine. Along the path of the trail, Stutzman found comfort and peace and he experienced God through the people he met, the beauty of the trail, and the “coincidences” that marked his 2000 mile journey.

Hiking Through is a book about a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but that adventure is not just about putting in mile after mile through difficult terrain and dangerous weather. It’s also about opening your mind and heart to God’s guidance, understanding that every choice influences the path ahead.

And that’s an adventure any of us can take.

Available May 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
Thanks to Revell for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

On the bookshelf: Love Does by Bob Goff

True confession? Two aspects of my personality have always been at war with each other. One, which gets expressed now and then on the blog, is the free-spirited, neo-hippie girl who would love to ditch the 8-4 and write all day. The other – the one that wins the battle most days – is the one that goes to work (aka a job with steady, if minimal pay) and pays the bills.

To use a sentence formulation similar to those that start each chapter from Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World:

I used to think that being responsible meant there was no room for whimsy in my life, now I know that it’s irresponsible not to follow God into the whimsy.

Whimsical invitations come to us everyday. While reading Love Does, I was pretty sure those invitations came to Bob Goff more than they ever come to me. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God is providing me with opportunities every day to love extravagantly. Maybe I just need to develop the sense to identify them and seize upon them. Maybe I actually need to do something rather than be trapped by the “ought to” and “should” syndrome.

Each chapter uses stories from Goff’s colorful life to illustrate how his thinking changed by following turning love into action. Goff’s one of those delightfully filterless people who thinks nothing of telling his children to go ahead and write to various heads of state – and take the children to meet those heads of state. Or do this with the books he received from the publisher, hot off the press:

Though it’s easy to rush through and read these inspirational stories in one sitting, it’s probably better to take them one, sweet bite at a time and savor them. Don’t miss the “I used to … but now … ” sentences that start each chapter. Use them as a way to frame your perspective on the day.

And let a little whimsy come your way.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.

On the bookshelf: The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief

When a book about grace begins by describing a dinner with Christopher Hitchens, you know you’re in for a treat. Larry Alex Taunton’s The Grace Effect absolutely does not disappoint.

Taunton presents the idea that society needs “Christianity’s gentling, inspiring, and culturally transforming power.” Using the story of the adoption of his daughter from a corrupt Ukrainian system, Taunton paints a picture of a dark world in which life itself loses its value. Throughout the story, Taunton deftly weaves the religious, political and social history of Ukraine with the very real present-day challenges of adopting a child from a former Soviet bloc country.

The story is peppered with memorable scenes illustrating the effect that the suppression of Christianity during the Soviet era had on the country from the inescapable moment that Taunton is faced with the first official asking for a bribe to the utter disbelief from locals that he was there to adopt a child that they had all but forgotten.

Mixed in with these scenes is a simple scene much like one we encounter in the U.S. Taunton describes what happened when he and his teenage son took a walk around their Ukrainian neighborhood and decided to stop at McDonalds. Here, we wait in line and allow others who arrived before us to go ahead of us. There, customers brush each other to get to the counter when the cashier asks, “Can I help the next customer?”

It’s a simple moment, but it’s one that simply and brilliantly illustrates Taunton’s thesis … and leaves you thinking about the role of grace on the simple moments of your own life.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.

On the Bookshelf: Primal by Mark Batterson

Cover of "Primal: A Quest for the Lost So...

Cover via Amazon

Can Christianity be stripped of centuries of traditions to reveal its primal elements — those very characteristics that drew thousands on the day of Pentecost?

In his book, Primal: The Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, Mark Batterson contends that it can, but he doesn’t go to the church of Acts 2. He steps further back to the teaching of Jesus himself. Using the great commandment as his outline, Batterson explores what it means to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. Drawing examples from the trials of growing and living through the great commandment at various stages of the growth of his church, National Community Church, shows what the commandment might look like in practice in community.

In the end, Batterson distills pages of creative dissertation and vivid imagery into what he believes is the simple rallying cry of the next reformation: Love God.

This is one of those books that brings theory and practical examples together seamlessly. Personally, I appreciated most that Batterson drew these examples not just from the “church” world but also from literature and social sciences.

One last thing … don’t think this is a book for church leaders only. It’s a book for any follower of Christ who wants to explore the kind of faith that turned the world on its ear 2,000 years ago. Frankly, looking at the news these days, this world could use a little turning.

Thanks to Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program for providing me with a copy of this book for review. If you like this review or find it helpful, please click here and rate it at Multnomah’s site.