Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review of Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts
by Ian Morgan Cron
ISBN 978-0-8499-4610-3
Published by Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The beginning of this story begins with an ending of sorts. Ian Morgan Cron is entering his father's funeral, and seeing a number of men that he has never met. They are all lauding his father for his honor, his acheivements and his patriotism. The priest is speaking of his father's kindness and generosity. And the author is left to surmise that the people at his father's funeral knew a whole different man than the one that he grew up with.

Cron knew that his father was in the CIA, after all his father had told him as much. The father Cron knew, however, was a self-centered fame-seeking drunk. Could it be that there was a whole new side of his father than he knew? And, how did he not know this part, perhaps the best part of his father?

These questions lead Cron on a journey to discover who his father really was in relationship to himself, his Lord and his country. It is a fascinating, well written journey. A book that many will read not only for inspiration, but for entertainment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review of Praying with the Grain by Dr. Pablo Martinez

Praying with the Grain: How Your Personality Effects the Way You Pray
by Dr. Pablo Martinez
ISBN 978-0-85721-152-1
Published by Monarch Books/Elevation
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Previously published over 10 years ago under the title Prayer Life, Pablo Martinez has recently republished Praying With the Grain in partnership with Monarch Books and Elevation Books. Appropriately retitled, Dr. Martinez attempts to guide believers through a study on how prayer works, and how one's style of prayer is heavily influenced by one's temprament and personality.

Much of Martinez's study of personality discusses personality based on the Kiersey/Myers-Briggs model for understanding personality and temprament. For instance, extroverts like gathering with other believers for times of prayer together. Meanwhile, introverts enjoy preaching alone (pp. 20-23). However, that does not mean that we should just pray based upon our style with a king of "psychological determinism" (pp. 15).

The author does not simply cover the Myers-Briggs relationship to prayer. It also discusses how someone's emotional life can effect how one prays, and how one can heal emotional roadblocks to prayer. Martinez then begins to approach the prayer event with the heart of a counselor and therapist, which is completly appropriate because that is what he does by profession. Finally, in an apologetic effort, Martinez argues for the unique power in Christian prayer in comparison to what kinds of prayer other worldviews and religions have to offer.

Praying Against the Grain uniquely takes on a subject that many avoid or do not really speak to. It does well in doing this. Because of the unique role that it plays, it should have a place on anyone's bookshelf that is developing a library on prayer and/or spiritual formation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

30 Minute Book Review: Empty Promises by Pete Wilson

Empty Promises: The Truth about You, Your Desires, and the Lies You Are Believing
by Pete Wilson
ISBN 978-0-8499-4851-6
Published by Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Pete Wilson is one of the top young leaders among evangelical pastors today. He is smart, witty, and trendy. The way he thinks connects with everyday people, especially people who are younger believers in Jesus Christ.

Wilson's most recent book is Empty Promises. It is quite simply, a book about idolatry. It begins by describing what idolatry is by saying it is "when I look to something that does not have God's power to give me what only God has the power and authority to give" (p. 5).

In each subsequent chapter, Wilson speaks about a thing that people, especially believers, lift up as an idol instead of directing their full trust and devotion toward the Lord. As he speaks about each idol, he shares about the lies that people often believe that cause them to adopt and place their security in that specific false god. Wilson covers all of the big issues such as love of money and vanity, but also some more subtle idols such as religiosity and the longing for approval.

Empty Promises would be a great study for young believers wanting to know how to follow Jesus, and what some of the challenges and pitfalls are on the journey of faith.

30 minute book review: Leaving Egypt by Chuck Degrood

Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places
by Chuck DeGroat
ISBN 978-1-52255-673-1
Every Square Inch Imprint
Faith Alive Publishing
Reviewed by Clint Walker
(Book Provided for Review by Amazon Vine)

More and more people are beginning to rediscover Exodus as a guide for their spiritual journey. I could not be more pleased with this development. Exodus may be the most neglected book in the Bible. In fact, understanding the spirituality of Exodus is central to our understanding of what Christ did on the cross, what God is doing through the church, and what the future holds for the children of God.

This book does several good things. Specifically, this text acknowledges the pain and sin that many people live with. It calls people to be transformed by the grace of God. And it does so while also countering the prosperity gospel that tries to teach that "wilderness" experiences and hardship equate to spiritual failure.

Leaving Egypt tries to help people move from a place of slavery to a place of promise. DeGroat is a counselor and a director of spiritual formation. The tone of a counselor and spiritual guide pervades this journey through the Exodus story. The goal is to encourage the reader to claim the Exodus story as "their story", and to grow into the hope and victory that this practice will provide.

DeGroat included a discussion guide and several good quotes in Leaving Egypt. It is obvious that helping people live in the Exodus narrative is a passion for him. Those who choose to purchase this book may find a similar passion growing in their lives as well.

Mattea Birth Story: The Following Days

Tuesday: Blood sugar for Mattea was still being stabilized. Grammie Kris and Jennifer got to hold baby Mattea for the first time, and Karis got to meet her little sister

I went home to make sure I put Karis to bed and told her good night on Tuesday as well. I slept for about 5.5 hours, got KK out of bed and set up in the morning, and went back to the hospital.

On Wednesay, KK and Grammie made it back to the hospital

On Thursday, Grammie came to the hospital to see the baby, and then did her tour of the Hills, and then picked up Karis from day care. I got to the hospital in the late morning and left in the evening.

On Friday, we were able to bring Jennifer and Mattea home. Everyone was tired at this point.

Saturday was an even longer day. Mattea had her nights and days mixed up. Jennifer got an infection, and we had to go back to the ER and get what the doctor called an "antibacterial cocktail". She has been feeling better since.

Grammie left today (the following Wednesday). So tonight is our first night managing a 2yr old and an infant as parents and as a family. Wish us blessings. We will need them!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mattea's Birth Story Part 3

When my wife left the delivery room for the surgical room she looked at me in the eye, grabbed my hand, and said, "Don't leave Mattea until after I get back from surgery".

I said, "What do you think I am going to do?"

"I know, but I just want you to know...."

Then they wheeled her off.

So, when I was in the emergency room, and I had been given an assesment of the situation, I decided to stay with the baby. The nurses invited me to go to post-op to see Jennifer. I told them I had made a promise to be with my daughter until she arrived in the nursery or the child was taken to the room.

After a while Jennifer arrived in the NICU. I went to see her after she went in her room. Then I went back to check on the baby. At that point the oxygen issues had resolved themselves, and I was allowed to hold my girl. I sang songs of faith in her ear, so that he first words from her father would be words of faith.

Here are a few pictures:

I then went back and visited Jennifer in her post-partum room

It was 1am at this point, and I needed to find a place to sleep. I was concerned about our family finances, so I went to the Budget Hotel. This was a big mistake. A guy followed me around at the hotel in the middle of the night saying, "You aren't from around here, are you." The room was suspect as well, as the piping was rusted, the tiles would jiggle when you walked on them, and the curtains were moth riden.

It was a residential hotel for many I think. I slept on top of the sheets, told myself I made a bad decision, and fell asleep for 4/5 hours before I headed back to the hospital.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mattea's Arrival--Part 2

Jennifer was taken off into surgery. I was left in the room awaiting further instruction. Eventually a nurse came and got me. She told me to stand in the hall outside of the surgical room. Then, a few minutes later, they got me a chair to sit on. Here was my view of the surgical room

The guy that put Jennifer asleep came out first. "You have a big, beautiful baby," he said, "Congratulations".

I asked if the baby was healthy. He said that she cried loudly, but other than that he could not say.

It seemed like I was waiting forever for my daughter to get out of the surgical room. Then, in a flash she came out. The nurses asked me to follow them. Instead of going through the nursery door, the nurse took me through the ICU. A oxygen hood was placed over Mattea's head. I tried to touch her. They began to hook up wires to her. The nurse practicioner began to explain her situation. I asked her to repeat herself and speak a little slower. It seemed to be more than I could take in.

By the time they took me over to show me the baby's x-rays, they informed me that Mattea had several problems to overcome:
  • She had swallowed some meconium and thus was...
  • Having problems with her breathing and her lungs
  • Her blood sugar was 16, and so she would not be able to eat until they could find a way to stabilize her blood sugar
  • She had an enlarged heart (which normally corrected itself)
  • She had a heart murmur (which usually corrects itself)
I sat there with Mattea. I was not allowed to hold her, because she did not have enough oxygen. So I held her hand and rubbed her belly and arms. Here are some pics of her at this point

Mattea Birth Story: Part 1

Today, the house is relatively quiet and back to normal. Both kids are at home. Jennifer has not gotten a fever or chills today, and I even got in for a little bit of work done at the office. Our life was not nearly as serene a week ago.

We visited the OB/GYN for our weekly appointment on May 7th. That monthly appointment was followed by an ultrasound. We expected to hear that our child was larger than average for her gestastional age. What we discovered was that at 36 weeks our child was measuring at 9.5 lbs. The doctor told us that he would induce labor a week later, on May 14th.

On Monday, May 14th, we were instructed to call the hospital at 530am, and then we were told to arrive by 730am. We arrived closer to 8am to Rapid City Regional Hospital. They took us immediately to the labor and delivery room, and began to ply Jennifer with drugs to induce labor in short order.

The doctor broke Jennifer's water around noon. Soon after labor began to intensify. At first the contractions appeared to be "normally" painful for Jennifer. But, after a few hours, it became apparent that there was something wrong. Even when her body was not contracting, the pain in her birth canal continued to intensify. A pain reliever was provided. Then two epidural treatments. The pain was continuing to get worse, and the baby was not moving when she was examined. It became apparent that the baby was not going to be able to fit through Jennifer's birth canal. Thus, Jennifer and the doctor opted for a change in course, and put her under general anastesia to deliver the baby Caesarian.

This left me in an empty delivery room, alone. I was instructed to wait until someone came to get me. I cleaned up the room, and looked around at an empty room that was supposed to be full of the joy and pain of childbirth. Filled with concern and a lack of control, I began to feel my throat get a little tight and my eyes began to sting. I decided to take pictures of what I saw. Here they are:

Quick Pic Share


Book Review of the Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry by David Rohrer

The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry: Preparing a People for the Presence of the Lord
by David Rohrer
ISBN 978-0-8308-3824-0
Intervarsity Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

book cover

Every once in a while, a book comes along that helps me as a pastor to slow down, take a deep breathe, and see what ministry is about all over again. The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is just such a book.

The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry sets John the Baptist before church leaders as a model of pastoral ministry. This is a brilliant idea, if for no other reason than that most people do not think of the cousin of Jesus as a model of a leader of a local church. He was a prophet after all, not a pastor.

The prophetic nature of John the Baptist is, of course, why Rohrer thinks we need to look at John the Baptist as a model of ministry for our time. Pastoral ministry is a unique calling, lived out in response to the Holy Spirit's leading. Too often, Rohrer teaches in a number of ways, pastors adopt models of their vocation that are prescribed by the surrounding culture.

Much of the way we lead the modern church has more to do with common business practice that spiritual leadership. Often pastors are tempted to build a little kingdom with their church, to make a name for themselves, and to gain esteem from others inside and outside of the church. In contrast to this we have the model of the Baptist, who goes out into the wilderness, speaks truth to power, and calls people to a radically different way of living together.

A lot of what Rohrer does in this book is to challenge the narcissism that is prevalent in churches and pastoral ministry. We as pastors need to constantly be on guard against attempting to make our churches reflections of us. As pastors, we need to be the kind of people that point people to Jesus instead of drawing attention to our skills and accomplishments. We need to have the courage to hear the hard truth of the gospel in the context of where we live, and we need to have the courage to teach and preach that truth even if it means being rejected by those whose gifts provide our financial stability. Pastors need to be less concerned about developing programs, and more concerned about being present with their congregation and parishioners in meaningful ways.

The gift of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is not just what has been said though, it is how Rohrer says it. He is adept at bringing his narrative alongside the narrative of John the Baptist and the Corinthian church in order to communicate a counter-cultural way of leading a congregation. It reminded me of the writings of David Hansen (The Art of Pastoring: Ministry without all the Answers) and Eugene Peterson (especially Under the Unpredictable Plant and Working the Angles) in some ways, only based mainly in the Los Angeles metro area. Rohrer is perhaps less poetic than either of these guys, and yet he is more raw, honest, and vulnerable about the challenges and sins of his pastoral journey.

This book should be a text in a class focused on the practice of ministry, and it should find its way to every pastor's bookshelf. It is just that thoughtful. It is just that good.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review of the Province of Joy by Angela Aliamo O'Donnelgf

The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor
by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
ISBN 978-1-55745-703-1
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker
The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor
Paraclete Press has a lot of nice, innovative products coming out of their publishing house. An ecumenical organization rooted in the Catholic tradition, what I appreciate about Paraclete is that they create a number of texts to guide the Christian spiritual formation and development of their constituents. The latest text I have been given to review is The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor

The Province of Joy is a prayer book that weds morning and evening prayers for a week with the writings and spiritual influence of Flannery O'Connor. This "book of hours" is similar to other prayer books in a series published by Paraclete. I also have one based around St. Francis of Assisi.

Ms. O'Donnell has collected an excellent group of prayers and has organized it well. The morning prayers include a brief passage to meditate on, a sentence prayer, followed by a psalm, and a  thought from O'Connor to meditate on. After that, a canticle, a guide to intercessory prayer, the Lord's Prayer, a time for reflection, prayer to St. Raphael, and a dismissal are included. Finally, there is a guide for further reading and reflection based upon the writings and spirituality of Flannery O'Connor.

The evening prayers have a similar format, but are much shorter than the morning prayers, excluding the prayer to St. Raphael, the Lord's Prayer, and some other prayers.

Each day also has a theme. These themes parallel some of the spiritual themes that appeared in O'Connor's writing. They are very contemporary as well, and address common struggles, concerns and issues in everyday life.

At the end of Province of Joy also has several prayers and poem/prayers for occasional use at the end of the book. I loved this. Included were poems by Hopkins, writings from de Chardin, Prayers from Ignatius of Loyola and Catherine of Sienna are also included. It is a fine collection of quotes, and very appropriate.

For me, The Province of Joy is an excellent guide to formal prayer times. I appreciate the structure of the prayers. I appreciate the influence of O'Connor's work in this book. Most of the writings in this book are from her letters and prose. I am primarily familiar with her fiction work, so with this book I get a fuller picture of O'Connor and her spirituality while praying and growing myself.

For a person who is deeply fed by study as a spiritual discipline, and who appreciates structure in my prayer time, this resource is a godsend. My prayers become informed by Scripture, tradition, and the insight of a Christian leader of the caliber of Flannery O'Connor.

I am not necessarily a big fan of praying to saints, and many of the readers of this blog are not either. But I tend to treat this prayer as something to meditate on instead of something to outright reject.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

On faith....

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2, NIV)
Faith is an important word to us as believers. Unfortunately the word “faith” may be one of the most overused and least understood words in the English language. When we speak of other religions we call them “other faiths”. We talk about our own faith as if it is a possession we own. We speak of faith like it is more of a sentiment than an active force in the world. I look at faith differently. I think faith is more like a muscle we exercise than a feeling we have. In order to allow our faith to get “worked out” and to grow strong, we need to exercise it in certain ways. As I list some ways faith can be exercised below, I pray you will consider how this makes its way into your life in the world and our lives together.
1.   Active faith acts out of assurance instead of anxiety
Most Christians undervalue confidence. Yet at least twice in the two little verses above, God calls us to be confident and to live in a state of anticipation that He will create a way for us into the future. This means that we must ruthlessly eliminate worry from our life. It also means we make decisions and go through our days acting in trust instead of letting the concerns of this world suck the life out of us. Decisions made and actions done out of insecurity and worry are never good ones. More often than not they lead to regret.
The word picture for worry is a picture of a dog, like a pit bull, that when it grabs hold of its prey, does not let go of it until it has strangled the life out of it. When we let anxiety grab a hold of our days, or our lives together, it will drain every bit of life out of us. We must ruthlessly remove it from our lives.
2.   Active faith takes risks instead of being reticent.
Read the rest of Hebrews 11. God does not always call us to play it safe. As a matter of fact, God often calls us to take risks.
Faith is about living into the future. If we do not exercise faith, we can spend a lot of time trying to recreate the past, or trying to hold on to the present moment. We like to do this because the present and past are familiar, but the future is unknown.
The best decisions I have ever made in my life required me to take a leap of faith. Those choices forced me jump into the great unknown, often turning my back on what was safe and familiar, and place myself in the hands of God’s grace and completely depend on him. When I have made courageous decisions like this, I have found that God has always blessed me for depending on him.
It is amazing what God can do when we make ourselves totally His! God bless you in the journey!

Book Review of Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia

Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to a Well-Ordered Way
by Stephen A. Macchia
ISBN 978-0-8308-3564-5
Published by IVP Formatio
Reviewed By Clint Walker

book cover

Between 1500 and 2000 years ago, Benedict of Nursia began a movement within Christian circles that continues to this day. He led people to an isolated place, and called them to live in intentional community so that they could teach and live out their Christian beliefs more faithfully. At the center of this community was the Rule of Benedict, which was covenant written by Benedict that guided their lives together in community. A "rule" in this sense is not so much a legalistic document that contains do's and don'ts, though some "rules" do include that, it is instead a structure to live by as a believer and as a community that helps those who follow it to grow spiritually.

Crafting a Rule of Life strives to follow in the footsteps of Benedict. Whether used in a community or individually, it guides students through ten-steps to creating a rule of life. Each of these steps are actually focused on understanding one's values, and one's priorities so that one can create a structure for one's spiritual life. That structure, in turn, will embrace disciplines, attitudes, and priorities that will create a spiritual rhythym that will guide a believers life into Christian faithfulness.

In adddition to the ten-steps, there are two chapters that help the student integrate their personal rule of life into a spiritual community of accountability and support. A "rule" really struggles without the support and accountability of community, so this section of the book is essential.

Each chapter has a similar structure. First, the topic is introduced. Then, an essay is included that communicates the Biblical foundation of why addressing the specific issue is central to healthy Christian living. After that, the author looks to history to reinforce the importance of including the issue in your "personal rule of life". Then, some leading questions are provided that will help a believer create their rule of life. After that, there is a section that guides believers in sharing what they learned about following Jesus in a group together. It is a good system, but will be best for those who are committed to this process. This is not a study that can be done "on the fly". It requires the commitment of each of its participants.

I love the idea of developing a rule of life. I think Macchia offers a helpful guide in making that happen. I am eager to use this resource in a group. However, the book is not without its limitations.

My biggest disappointment with the book was that it did relatively little in communicating Benedictine Spirituality in light of claiming to be influenced by St. Benedict's Rule. I would have liked to have seen more about the actual Rule of Benedict, and how that has influenced the author and the text.

Having said that, I think  Crafting a Rule of Life  is a great book. It would be wonderful to use with folks that are really interested in being serious about their Christian faith, and trying to look for a way to begin their practice of following Jesus.

Book Review of Witness Essentials by Daniel Meyer

Witness Essentials: Evangelism that makes disciples
By Daniel Meyer
ISBN 978-0-8308-1089-5
IVP Connect
Reviewed by Clint Walker

book cover
IVP Connect is the arm of Intervarsity Press that produces materials to disciple and teach Christian believers on matters of the faith. Specifically, they produce a number of curriculum resources of different kinds that individuals and groups can use for study. Recently, IVP launched their "Essentials" series, which is created to do in-depth discipleship with a leader and a small number of committed students. Witness Essenials is the fourth book in this series, and trains spiritual apprentices to share their faith with others.

Witness Essentials is well-organized. The introduction of the book clearly communicates the need for evangelism training, and its inclusion in an in-depth discipleship training curriculum. The teaching sessions are logically arranged in four parts. The first part of the study helps students see the "big picture". Then, it gives helpful information in reaching out to people. After that, significant time is spent teaching how to life a life that draws others to Christ. Finally, tools are given to transition people from spiritually interested to devoted followers of Jesus.

Each chapter has a biblical foundation, a memory verse section, a reading that offers teaching about the section discussed, and an application section. The material can be gotten through in one-hour, but it would be better covered in a lengthier time period.

I have not used Witness Essentials with my church yet, but I have used other books in the series. I have found that adults who are serious about being disciples enjoy this study immensely, regardless of age or what part of the country they live in. With Discipleship Essentials, there was one octogenerian who said that this kind of study was the best study she had ever done in church, and she learned more with this kind of study than many other studies she had been to. We also had several people who were eager to learn in this more serious format that were not willing to study in other formats. I love the Essentials series! For me, and for my church.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Book Review of Imperfect by Jim Abbot and Tim Brown

Imperfect: An Improbable Life
by Jim Abbot and Tim Brown
ISBN 978-0345523259
Ballentine Books
Reviewed by Clint and Jennifer Walker

Sports biographies are notoriously difficult books to write well. This is especially true with sports autobiographies. If the athlete says too much about their career accomplishments, it can sound like bragging. If they share the details of all the games they played, it can sound too much like shop talk, and be hard to relate to. Athletes can also share too much about themselves, and expose themselves to unecessary public ridicule. Who can forget Wilt Chamberlain's braggadocio about how many women he had sex with? Furthermore, many athletes, even with a co-author, do not know how to understand their lives as story, and communicate their journey with drama and intelligence.

Jim Abbott avoids many of these pitfalls in his book. Alternating between telling the story of his perfect game as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, and stories of his upbringing and how his parents raised him to accept and believe in himself, Abbot communicates a lot about who he was, who he is, and the journey that he continues to be on. Even avid fans of Abbot will perhaps find new parts of his story that inspire them to be more than they thought they could be. Abbot is honest about his struggles without sounding like a coward. The idea of using his experience as a pitcher with an imperfect body pitching a perfect game as a metaphor for his life is a master stroke.

Having said all of this, despite its inspirational quality, there are parts of the book that do drag along. The book could have used some better pacing to keep grabbing the readers attention. But then again...I could say the same about the sport of baseball in general. So it could just be me...

Other than that, this was a good book, and a book I would not mind passing on to a friend, or recommending it to the people I know that really love baseball.


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...