Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review of Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Wally Armstrong

Practicing the Presence of Jesus
by Wally Armstrong
ISBN 978-1-60936-702-2
Summerside Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Part testimony, part guidebook for the spiritual journey Practicing the Presence of Jesus is a book about learning to live with and walk with Jesus in one's everyday life.

Wally Armstrong is a friend of a person I greatly admire--Ken Blanchard--and an accomplished golfer as well. He loves the Lord Jesus and wants everyone to have the kind of real, genuine, authentic relationship with Him that he has experienced.

This book is small and simple. It could easily be read in an hour or two, and yet there will be people that re-read it once they have grabbed it and read through it the first time. It is conversational in tone, and the whole book has a "can-do" attitude for the spiritual journey.

My biggest disappointment with the book is that I thought it would be more like "practicing the presence of God". It is not really that, in my opinion, although it is a good read. It is more like a basic primer for how to take the next steps in your spiritual journey once you have accepted Jesus and might be wondering what it might be like to know him better.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pastoral Staycations

When I was in seminary at Central Baptist Theological Seminary offered some advice about self-care and the practice of taking vacation and leave time. O John Eldred gave the following advice from his experience in the ministry and in teaching ministry:

1.  Try and be as unavailable as possible when you are on leave, otherwise you will never really get away from the ministry.
2.  Try and get out of town, one way or another, when you are off at church, or you will never really be off.
3. Do not return for funerals or other emergencies from vacation, no matter what
4. Make sure nobody has your phone number while you are on vacation or leave, or people will call you with concerns
5. Try and take more than one week at a time off, because it takes more than a week to extract yourself from ministry concerns.

I have to say, I believe wholehearedly in Eldred's ministry advice, and I have followed almost none of it. This year, after battling cancer and having Jennifer switch a job, we have had no money or ability to get away as a family for an out of town vacation. So, we are stuck with me having to take time off, mainly to spend time with kids while their daycare provider is taking the holidays off. I have been practicing the pastoral staycation.

As I have shared on earlier posts, this does not work very well. People drop by for keys. The supply preachers want to talk through their messages (they are all lay persons). We have to find ways to escape the house early on Sunday so we are not visibly home while the congregation is at worship. I think we are going to have to go into debt if we have to and get gone for our next season of respite.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review of Changing Signs of the Times by Crystal L. Downing

Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication
by Crystal L. Downing
ISBN 978-0-8308-3966-7
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Changing Signs of Truth is a fascinating book by Crystal Downing. It discusses the power of "signs", or at risk of oversimplifying things, how symbolism in our communication forms how we understand and view the world.

As the title indicates, this book is also a book about how the meanings of words, signs, and symbols change over time, and how signs get reinterpreted especially today in our changing world. Downing impressively engages thinkers such as Derrida and Saussure in order to help Christians--especially evangelical Christians--learn how to engage and communicate with the culture around them more effectively.

This book is not for the faint of heart. It engages the disciplines of communication, theology, philosophy, and sociology in a thoughtful and academically informed way. The interdisciplinary work on display here is fascinating, but it takes some slow-reading and re-reading for the average student and reader.

A great addition to my library, and a book I want to delve into more at a later date.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review of Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion

Feasting on the Word Advent Companion  -     Edited By: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, Kimberly Bracken Long
    By: Edited by D.L. Bartlett, B.B. Taylor & K.B. Long

by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long
ISBN 978-0-664-25964-8
WJK Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion is such a nice resource for pastors to have. For many of us, it will save us a lot of work during the holiday season. Furthermore, the Advent Companion puts several different resources right at a worship leader, teacher, or pastor's finger tips. Included in this book are four worship services designed to use during the four Sundays of Advent. There are also four midweek studies. There is also a service provided for a "darkest night" services that uses the Psalms to speak to many people's profound sense of loss, brokenness and sadness during the Advent season.  There are also a few Eucharistic resources for Advent and Christmas in the back of the book.
Each Sunday also has a rather extensive preaching commentary that follows the pattern of the Feasting on the Word resources, sharing homiletical, pastoral, theological, and exegetical perspectives on each of the passages chosen.

What is surprising to many with this resource is that it does not strictly follow the Revised Common Lectionary, as many of the Feasting on the Word resources do. Instead it just offers one service for each Sunday of Advent. Perhaps this is because much of the groundwork of pure lectionary-based services has already been laid with their commentaries and worship companions. This is a great resource, however, for busy pastors leading a church through a busy season, and a resource I would recommend to any church that is in the least bit liturgical.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review of She Calls Me Daddy by Robert Wolgemuth

She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know about Building a Complete Daughter
by Robert Wolgemuth
ISBN 978-1-58997-785-3
Focus on the Family Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This fine book is a reprint of an old favorite. She Calls Me Daddy is a practical, winsome guide to parenting daughters. Very conversational in style, Wolgemuth focuses on some vision and values for establishing yourself as a father that can raise healthy girls. Full of first person stories and helpful illustrations of both successes and failures of the author, the book is not only informative it is entertaining.

In this addition, I appreciated the section on non-traditional parenting such as single parenting, step parenting, and non-custodial fatherhood. It shows that the author is seeking to be in touch with the experiences that many men are going through in our culture that is rife with divorce and deadbeat dads.

This book was reprinted because it is a nice read and it has also proved to be helpful for Christian men who want to be good parents of girls for over a generation. I recommend picking up this book right away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review of Not A Silent Night by Adam Hamilton

Not A Silent Night: Mary Looks Back to Bethlehem
by Adam Hamilton
ISBN 978-1-4267-7184-2
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Designed to partner with a video series if desired, Not A Silent Night is a brief, accessible study of the Advent and Christmas story through the eyes of Mary.

In this study Adam Hamilton takes a unique approach. Working back in time through Scriptural references about the life of Mary, Hamilton begins with the cross and the resurrection and works back to the manger. In doing so, he gives us a unique perspective about the purpose and meaning of Jesus' birth before we get to celebrating it.

His study, through the eyes of Mary awakens us to a new kind of beauty involving what happened. A beauty that redemptive, well-acquainted with suffering, and at the same time powerfully simple and strong.

Grab this book. And if you are a pastor, plan on teaching through what is in this book at some time in the future.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Book Review of Mercy and Melons by Lisa Hickman

Mercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet
Lisa Nichols Hickman
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a wonderful, feel good book on being thankful and counting your blessings.

When I was a youth pastor, I used to use a little game to teach gratitude. I would put the kids in a circle, and I would have them pray through the alphabet, finding things to be thankful for with each letter of the alphabet. That is exactly what this book does, only with more beauty and depth.

In Mercy and Melons the author reflects on two things that she is grateful for with each letter of the alphabet. Each chapter, much like the cover drawing above, has beautiful calligraphy and illustrations that gives a visual for each thought. It is a fast read, and a good one.

This book would be a great collection of devotions for folks that need to lead meetings with devotions. It would keep the meeting positive and move it forward.

Book Review of The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman

The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life
by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman
ISBN 978-0-310-34429-2
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Rick Warren is a well-known author, pastor, and Christian leader. He was beloved for being a normal guy who was also a pastor. The kind of guy that for several years loved to wear beach shirts and flip-flops to work, who preached straight-forward sermons, who at one point said that Mastercard saved his marriage, and was a little bit portly.

One day, after a mass baptism, he came to the conclusion that he needed to do something to help him get healthier, and he invited his friends at Saddleback Church to join him on the journey. He brought in some leading health experts, and developed with them what became known as the Daniel Plan, a health journey that combines some biblical principles on caring for one's body with some sound science and dietary wisdom.

The Daniel Plan as a book lays out the plan to begin a journey toward healthier living. Included are calls to eat better, to care for one's body through exercise and fitness, to find social support for healthier living as well as personal and emotional growth, and a challenge to grow deeper in faith disciplines. Also included in the book is a meal plan, a detox guide, and more.

I think this book has some solid advice for more disciplined living. My only struggle is that I have an aversion for overcommercialized trends, especially in the realm of Christian discipleship and marketing. Nonetheless, a great book and perhaps a fun community activity in churches for a season such as Lent.

Book Review of I Like Giving by Brad Formsma

I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life
by Brad Formsma
ISBN 978-1-60142-575-1
Waterbrook Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I picked up this book as part of my ongoing study on stewardship. One of the most most "invested" teams in our congregation right now is our stewardship team. They are studying what stewardship is all about, they are seeing the value of generosity, and they are trying to teach our church the importance and value of generous giving.

Brad Formsma may the most passionate, contagious advocate for being generous that I have ever read. He is simply passionate about giving. Especially when that giving goes toward the kind of things that allows lives to be transformed and relationships to grow.

I Like Giving begins with Brad sharing about his giving journey, and about how learning about, participating in, and advocating for the spiritual discipline of generosity has changed his life. It then begins to share about how giving works, different ways persons can live generosity, and how that generosity can form one's entire life.

I Like Giving is also a website which produces videos and shares stories of other people's giving stories. Some of the stories will move you to tears.

The only drawback for this book for my purposes (and most likely not a drawback for others) is that it proved to be relatively unhelpful in encouraging people to tithe to their local church, which is part of what I was looking for.


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