“Jesus Continued” by J.D. Greear

UnknownThis was the first book I have read by this author. I found his writing style easy to read and I will look for additional books he has written.

Writing a book about the Holy Spirit is not an easy thing to do. Every denomination has there ideas of how the Holy Spirit is supposed to work. There are extremes in all of the view points. I think J.D. Greear provides a balanced and Biblical view of the Holy Spirit and how He works.

He divides the book into three main sections: Part 1 “The Missing Spirit,” Part 2 “Experiencing the Holy Spirit,” and Part 3 “Seeking the Holy Spirit”.  Most books written on this subject are hard to understand and use words that the average person will not know. J. D. Greear does a good job of explaining the basics of the Holy Spirit in a way most people will grasp what he is trying to convey. You may not agree with all of his view points, but I doubt there is any one writer whom everyone will agree with on this subject. I found myself underlining sections several times as I was reading. This is a great book to recommend to friends, people in your bible study class, and people who are wanting to know more about this subject without getting bogged down in a lot of what may be new vocabulary. If you are looking for a book that will give you a basic understanding of the Holy Spirit; then this is a great book for you.

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Why I Moved To An E-reader

imagesIn this day and age you may be wondering why anyone would still buy a dedicated e-reader. I had not given an e-reader much thought until the last couple of months. Let me explain.

This year as I was setting my goals I wanted something different and something that would engage me. I set a goal to read 1,000 books in ten years.  I am fifty-five and this would carry me close to my retirement age. I may write a blog post on the details of this goal and more of the why in the future. Today I want to write about the e-reader.

I love reading a physical book. However, carrying a physical book  with me all of time is not practical. Because of this goal I always want some form of a book with me. You will be surprised how much you can do with 5 minutes. I own a Mac, iPhone 6Plus, and a iPad. So why would I need to add something else to the mix? I soon found out my iPad would not keep up and stay charged. My iPad took what seemed forever to recharge and I did not want to drain my phone. Therefore, I began to look for other options.  After much researching I landed on the Kindle Voyage. Most of the books I get digitally are discounted or free, and they come from Amazon. Therefore, looking at the Kindle made sense.

The Voyage was delivered and I opened the package. It was much smaller than I expected. The actual size of the device was about 6 inches, but the screen size was around 4.5 inches. Since the Voyage was here I decided to put the e-reader through the paces. Here are my thoughts.

I grew to like the size of Voyage. It fits easy into one hand and is super thin and light. After a few minutes of using the Voyage I began to enjoy the size.  I found reading on the Voyage easier than on the iPhone due to the fact that the iPhone was long and thin. The Voyage mimics the size of a small paperback which I like. I was also interested in the E-ink. You would think the color on the iPad would be easier, but my eyes seemed to like the black and white experience. The research points out neither is bad for your eyes, but some people will prefer one over the other.

I had  a couple of  unexpected benefits with the e-reader as well. I was able to quickly get lost in the reading of the book. I am not sure why, but it was better. Maybe it was a color issue compared to the E-ink. I also found myself reading more. I do know why this was true for me. All you can do on this device is read. That is it. Nothing else.  With my iPad and or iPhone checking email or looking something up on the internet was too easy. Thirty minutes had passed before I realized I had not been reading. I know this is part discipline and part ADD, but it was a factor.

Are there any drawbacks? I found one this weekend. When I bought my e-reader I opted not to pay the extra $20 to turn off the advertising. Not a big deal. The advertising only shows up as a screen savor and never interfered with the reading. This past Sunday the book Amazon kept pushing was 50 Shades of Gray.  As a Minister I did not want this in my house for my family to see. I always carry my reader to work with me and most people would not realize this was an advertisement and would think I had downloaded the book instead.  I do not use a cover on my Voyage so you can see the screen at all times. It feels better in my hand without the cover. I emailed Amazon and expressed my feelings about the situation and how I could not carry it to work. They responded back in a couple of hours and told me how to go into my settings and remove the book from showing up. They also offered to take away the advertising on my device at their expense. I took them up on their offer. Kudos to Amazon for a quick response and for absorbing the cost to change my device.

Overall I am happy with my Kindle. I still prefer reading a paperback, but the Kindle offers a more pleasant reading experience than my iPad or iPhone. Your milage may vary as the saying goes. I chose the Voyage over the PaperWhite because of the higher resolution. I am not sure you could tell much difference between the two, but there is no way to compare them side by side. The box stores in my area only stock the PaperWhite. I knew I would be reading a lot so I decided to try the Voyage and I am happy with my choice.

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We Are All Torn Between Two Worlds

As I was reading the account leading up to the last Passover Jesus would spend with HIs disciples I noticed two opposite people in His world. The first was Mary the woman who came and worshiped Him, broke the alabaster of perfume and poured it on Him. She was a part of His inner circle and that would have placed her near Him all the time. Her life had been changed. She was a different person and all her heart could do was worship Him. She gave one of her most precious and expensive gifts to Jesus. Nothing was good enough to give Him. She “got it”.

Contrast that in the following verses with Judas who was conspiring to betray Jesus. Here was a man who was in the inner circle of Jesus also.  He saw all of the same and more of the miracles, the healings, and he listened to all of the teachings of Jesus. With all of this advantage over Mary; he did not “get it”. Nothing was more important than the pursuit of money. Greed encompasses more than just money. It affects every area of our life.  His character had not changed. No matter how much time he spent doing religious things he never made a decision to truly follow Jesus. The contrast between the two shows up in worship.

Before we pile on Judas we need to stop and evaluate where we are in life as well. Maybe we have made the decision to follow Jesus, but is it evidenced in our worship? We can attend church multiple times a week, sit in a Bible study, listen to a sermon and still not be right in our relationship with Jesus. We can have the Jesus here and now all around us and still miss out. The key is our daily walk with God. When I am not reading my Bible to hear personally from God and spending time praying and talking with God; then I am missing the important part of the relationship. Where does this show up? In my worship.

imagesRemember the first story? Nothing was enough for Mary to show her love for Jesus. She was not focused on anything other than Him. She gave sacrificially our of love for what had happened in her heart. Judas? Just the opposite. He was focused on everything but Jesus. Every Sunday across America ministers hear all of the trappings of unfocused worship. The music was too loud. I could not hear the music. I was too cold. I was too hot. The preacher went overtime. I don’t like that kind of music. The preacher is too evangelistic. The preacher was boring. You get the picture.

Yes, we all have preferences, but that is all they are, just preferences. A heart that is truly focused is not overly concerned about all of those things. What happens during the week comes out in our worship on Sunday morning. We need to make sure that we do not miss Jesus. There is more to worship than just showing up. There are days when we are torn between the two worlds.

What can you do this week to make sure you are ready for worship?

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“Ask It” by Andy Stanley

coverWhat I always like about Andy Stanley’s books are the fact that they are easy to read, but have very practical advice. I think this is what most people are looking for in this day and age.

He starts off with the statement “most of our problems in life happen are gradual.” Situations that are not wrong, but may not be the best. The “question” Andy refers to is found in the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers. Ephesians 5:15-17 states, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Andy walks us through different life situations and shows us how to apply the “question”.

We have all been in situations where we do not know what to do next. The question gives us some insight of what we need to do. The problem is most of us will not slow down and use the question when we need to. Sure we think about what we should do when we are stuck in a problem. However, we do not think about it when we face temptations.

I think this is one of those books everybody should read, but especially youth and college students. This book could save them a lot of heartache and misery for the future.

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I was given a copy of this book by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Bible Reading Plan for the New Year

I love this time of year and the whole idea of starting over and the excitement of what lies ahead. Each year I always pick a new Bible reading plan to try out. I have done everything from chronological to reading the Bible completely through in 90 days. This year I am doing something different with my Bible reading plan. I saw this option and thought I would give it a try. You pick a book of the Bible and you read the entire book all the way through each day for 20 days straight. At the end of that time you pick out another book and do the same thing. They suggest starting with a short book and working your way up.  I have started with I Thessalonians since I am teaching that on Sunday mornings. I am looking forward to seeing how becoming immersed in a book like this will be. I am also journaling each day to see what new thing God shows me.  I will let you know how it goes, but I am excited about this.

What is your plan and why did you choose it?

Have a great year.

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The Sneakers – by Mark LaGrone

Exciting for me this is my first fictional short story that has been published! I was not sure what to write so I Googled “trigger words” and picked the word “sneakers”.   I hope you enjoy the story.

The Sneakers

by Mark LaGrone

 

Standing next to the trashcan, his hand hovered above the dark hole. How could he just nonchalantly drop them into the bucket like leftover coffee grounds? He looked intently at the shoes. He remembered the first time he pulled them from the box. They were bright and shiny and had that awakening smell of new leather. Now they looked more like a shoe version of the velveteen rabbit. Why was this so hard? They were just an ordinary pair of sneakers, nothing special. His mind drifted back to the day he first saw them.

He had seen them in the window. Nothing in particular made them stand out. They were dull by some standards. Yet, something triggered a feeling inside him. Maybe it was a throwback to his childhood or some form of subtle advertising that reached only his subconscious, he did not even remember. But oh, that feeling of oneness and comfort; it was like meeting someone for the first time, yet feeling like you’d known them all your life. He just knew he had to have them no matter what they cost.

Five years out of college and he still dressed like he was a sophomore: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Who needed more than that? Change and growing up was hard. Not wanting to conform, but still not wanting to stay the same. A lot of life had happened since the first day that the shoes came out of the box. Gradually his peers had transitioned their wardrobes. His best friend from high school, Toby, was not even recognizable. He always had longer hair, not quite ponytail length, but longer than the average man’s. He looked as if he should be on the cover of a Nashville music album, scruffy stubble on his thin muscular face, ripped jeans and shirt halfway tucked into his jeans. After graduation, Toby had landed a job in a law office, and suddenly he changed overnight. Toby became Tobias. The hair, corporate cut; face, clean-shaven; nails, manicured; clothing, Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss. His friends were making changes and growing; why did he hate it so?

His sneakers were still new and could be worn to events, especially by a recent college graduate. Getting married seemed to be the only traditional thing he was doing in his life. The ceremony was a casual affair held in the park where they met. There were no creases in the leather, yet somehow it seemed appropriate to start their marriage relationship together wearing his sneakers. He looked at his bride and wondered how God had blessed him with such an unbelievable person. They had started dating his senior year in high school and continued their relationship through college. She was a vital part of everything on campus: cheerleader, Editor of the paper, and high-ranking member of some sorority whose Greek letters he could never remember. She was outgoing and the exact opposite of him. He preferred to stay in the shadows. He only had three real friends growing up, but they were closer than brothers were.

Now he was standing across from her in his new pair of sneakers, jeans that were dark, and a starched shirt.  Wearing a white summer dress, she looked more beautiful than ever. They were starting their new life together. The minister finished the ceremony, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Six weeks later when he was interviewing for a new job, he woke up that morning and laced up his sneakers. If his mom knew he was wearing sneakers to a job interview, she would have killed him. He did not care. It was a casual environment, and he thought if they wanted him, it needed to be based on what he could bring to the job, not what he looked like. Besides, when he dropped off his application, he had seen some guys around the office wearing Khakis with sneakers.

He always thought that was a weird look, but he thought he would give it a try since it was an interview. When he walked into the office he began to feel out of place, but it was too late now. Everyone had on a coat and tie. He gritted his teeth and walked into the interview. They glanced down at his shoes as they were making notes. Forty-five minutes later, he walked out with the job, shoes and all. It was a good feeling. After his marriage and the job interview, they had become his “lucky” shoes.

Three years later as he was walking down the hall of the hospital, his shoes squeaked and made light noises. He turned into the room where his wife was laying. There was a slight noise like the cooing of a dove. He looked down at his new, healthy, infant daughter. Thankfully, she looked more like her mother than him. They both looked beautiful as the baby snuggled next to his wife. They had been trying to have children for two years, and when he got the news, he was both nervous and excited. People asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” all the time. Truthfully, he did not care; he only wanted the baby to be healthy. Now in this moment, he realized that he did not know anything about girls. He was raised in a family of boys who wrestled and punched each other growing up. His thoughts were every parent’s first thoughts. “I hope I don’t screw her up.”  Yes, they were his lucky shoes.

The shoes ran out of luck two years later as he sat beside his dad in the hospital. Of course, even lucky shoes could not overcome bad eating habits, two packs a day, and no exercise. Still, hope lingered. His dad had been his mentor, advisor and friend. He was always vibrant and full of life. Now he lay here in the bed, pale and drifting in and out of consciousness. For the first time in his life, his dad looked helpless. The two of them had always been able to fix any situation and problem. This time there was no fixing. You just had to accept. All he could do was pray and trust God. He knew that one day he would see his dad again in heaven, but it still hurt to lose someone you loved and admired.

He thought about the day they buried his father. He endured the pain of the tight dress shoes that were appropriate with a coat and tie. Funny how he felt numb everywhere except his feet, they were in pain. How did people wear this kind of shoe every day? All he could think about was getting out of these shoes and back into his sneakers. Finally, after the last person left he made a quick exit. He laced up the shoes that, after five years, perfectly outlined his feet, imperfections and all. Together they raced out the door, running with no particular direction except only to escape. Twenty minutes, thirty, forty-five, he kept going. Tears streaming down his face and the cold wind blowing, he just wanted to keep going. When he could run no more, his lungs burning, out of breath, he bent over at the waist looking down at the shoes that had been his daily companion for so long. They were becoming worn and scuffed.

His wife said, “Things don’t last forever, you need to replace your shoes.” Yes, he knew that—just as he knew they had developed a “certain smell”, but still they had been through so much together. How could she suggest that he throw them away? Did she not know they were his lucky shoes? They had been together through their marriage, his job, and their child. All of that was due in part to his lucky shoes.

Looking down at the dark hole once again, he began to notice the fading whiteness, the numerous holes, and the paper-thin rubber soles of his shoes. Thump! The sound seemed so loud when the shoes hit the bottom of the trashcan. Maybe they were like a certain Velveteen Rabbit from a children’s story where they were worn down by being loved too much. Crazy to be an adult and miss a pair of shoes; yet, to him they were a friend and a constant companion.

There was a pair of leather Alden shoes that had caught his eye in a window yesterday. They cost more than four pair of his sneakers added together. Maybe it was time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to grow up and change.

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“Doctor Who – The Blood Trail” by James Goss

dr whoReading is not just what I do to stay current at work, but it is also the way I relax. Therefore, when an opportunity came to review a book that would be just for fun  I was excited. I have watched several of the TV shows on the BBC of Doctor Who and always enjoy them, but I am not a true fan that knows all of the details about the show.

When the book arrived I was surprised how short it was when I thought about how complex the TV shows are. However, in today’s world this length is probably a requirement. I begin my reading with great expectation. The author did a good job of writing in a style that is easy to read.

The story felt a little long on the front end. What I mean by this is the author spent a lot of time setting up the story and laying it out. However, the ending felt rushed because of this. Again, this may have been due to the length. I enjoyed the story and there were moments at the end of each chapter where I continued to read the next chapter to find out what was happening next. Overall this may be one time when the TV show is better than the book.

** Full disclosure. I was given a free copy of this book for review.

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Your Wild and Precious Life

UnknownIn the closing line of her poem “ The Summer Day” Mary Oliver asks the question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. There are times when we are faced with tragedy that we realize just how precious life is, but I would imagine very few of us consider our lives to be wild and precious. I love the way she puts these two words together and how they play off each other. When we think of wild we usually think of reckless abandonment, unstructured, and not knowing what crazy thing will happen next. The word precious con jours up the idea of something that is valuable, prized, and protected. Putting the two words together to describe our life is interesting.

However, as Christians this should describe what our life. Precious we understand. Most of us realize how precious life can be and we value life. Being reserved is something we seem to strive for. Wild is what we have a hard time with. Yet when you look at Jesus’s life and others in the Bible your see that their life was wild. Following God should be wild in the best sense of the word. What words would you use to describe the lives of people in the Bible? Words like: unsafe, unknown, and unconventional come to mind. The Disciples never knew what the next day would hold. I think that was part of the attraction.

By most people’s standards my life would seem pretty boring. Our family’s favorite things are eating out and going to a bookstore. Every weekend you will find us at some local bookstore just hanging out. I am also a pretty regimented person. I have my morning routines and my calendar has my appointments. It is all pretty straight forward.

I got to thinking what would have to change for my life to be described as wild and precious? Remember you are talking about the guy who for his mid-life crisis got his first pair of Kakis. ( I wanted a Blonde and a Harley, but my wife would not let me have those ) I do not think we are necessarily talking about tons of activity, but rather a shift in attitude. It is approaching each day and each hour with “God what do you want me to do or who do you want me to talk to today?” As the Holy Spirit leads me my life will take on the characteristics of Christ. I will have conversations that I would have never had, and served people I would have never know before. None of us need more activity in our lives. We need the right activity in our lives.

Tell me – what changes would you have to make for a wild and precious life?

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Storm by Jim Cymbala

UnknownIt is hard not to like Jim Cymbala’s books. He has a great blend of theology and real life stories that help you relate to what he is saying. This book is no different. It has been a long time since I have underlined this much in a book. If there were ever a book that I think is for this time in the life of the United States it is this book. The statistics he uses in the first chapter are mind opening and challenging. This set of statistics is now being used in other books that are out at the moment as well. What sets this book apart is that he does not have the same gloom and doom mindset that some of the others portray.

The main emphasis is how we need to get desperate before God and cry out to Him for His leadership. Not better programs, not slicker services, but a genuine broken heart before God. The days may be dark ahead, but Cymbala reminds us that God does some of his greatest work when everything seems at it’s worst. Our man-made systems do not hold the key, but God alone holds the key for the future and what lies ahead. No one seems to disagree’s that the church of the future will look different. God will always have a remnant.

 

** For full disclosure I was provided a free book for a review.

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A Tale of Two Singing Groups

A couple of weeks ago we had a group that was on tour that sang at our church. For the first time there are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe how incredible they were. The blending of harmony, the songs they chose to sing. There was not a person in the worship center that was not touched. To be honest my taste in music runs a little more contemporary but this was at such a high level of professionalism that you could not help but be impressed. Remember I have been in the ministry for almost 30 years so I have seen my share of groups. This was by far the best I have ever seen. I walked away from that experience thinking to how really incredible music will transcend styles of music and even ages of the people. I could truly listen to these people all day. Admittedly I have a low tolerance for music that is halfway done. I have had to listen to it my whole life.

This past Sunday night was completely different. The crowd was small, different room in the church. The group was completely different. Our senior adult choir joined in with a group of Special Needs adults from a local mission. To see these individuals worship was an experience I will never forget. They sang a song we all knew from our childhood, “Jesus Loves Me”. There was no blending of voices, no harmony, no fancy movements. Just people singing straight from their heart. Yes, my snobby music heart melted. I found myself remembering a quote from C. S. Lewis:

 

“I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

imagesI truly got a chance to worship. It was one of those services where God touched your heart and you will not forget it. We all have preferences when it comes to music, and I do not know how the Minister of Worship survives in most churches. However, we must never forget that worship is not for us. I often hear people comment how they did not get anything out of the service. It was not for you to get anything out of; it was for you to give something to. Our purpose in worship is to give God glory.

I still believe in excellence. God wants our very best. However, we cannot forget the heart. The problem was not that one group was more spiritual than the other. Trust me, they were both worshipful. The problem was my heart. The moment it is about me, my preferences, my disdain for weak music, is the moment I have lost the focus of what I am supposed to be doing. True worship know no boundaries. I am grateful that God still teaches and speaks to me.

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