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Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

A New Book on the Horizon???

A New Book on the Horizon???

The last book I released was my first book, #TheWalk in 2014.  I had no intentions of it being my one and only, but sometimes life puts you on standby.  I did contribute to a devotional in 2016.  I have been writing, I just haven’t been finishing.

The release of book #1 was exciting but I didn’t anticipate what happened next.  I had heard of it, but never truly experienced it.  Runners call it “the wall.”  Nerds call it “writer’s block.”  

I have never run far enough to make it to the wall.  I give up before I get tired.  Honestly, I just hate running.  Carrying too much fat will keep you out of any danger of going too far.  

I can tell you, writer’s block is a very real thing.  Whatever it is or isn’t, it will serve as my excuse for 2015.  My computer contains the partial manuscripts of now three other books I started and hated.  It also contains numerous blog posts that seemed more like meandering rather than anything of substance with meaning.  Writer’s block is your brain hitting the wall.  I think it is you being trapped in the last thing you did.  I wrote #TheWalk, then I couldn’t leave it.  I found myself writing #TheWalk only using different words and topics; if that makes any sense.

2016 was an emotional, physical, and spiritual drain.  Emotionally I shed a lot of tears.  For the families in our church it seemed like one devastating loss after another.  We buried a lot of very loved people in what seemed to be a dark year.  In some seasons you don’t need to write, you just need to cry with people; and cry we did. 

Physically I was leading a growing church, teaching a class, and serving as chaplain for a football team.  Each of them wonderful experiences, but I just couldn’t keep up.  

Spiritually, 2016 was a walk in the wilderness.  I’ve been there before.  I’m not sure why those jaunts into the dry are necessary, but God does seem have a purpose for you in them.  It’s the place where you’re not quite sure what God is doing because it seems like nothing productive is happening.  You’re just stuck.  I’ve counseled people in that place before so I took my own advice to just keep reading, praying, and doing.  The oasis is out there, somewhere.  Sometimes you find it.  Sometimes it finds you.  

At the very least take courage, four remarkable men in the Bible had long walks in the wilderness: Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul.  You’re in good company. 

In the midst of the emotional, physical, and spiritual; I wanted to write, I just couldn’t.

Good news, I’m back - I think.

With some staff reorganization, emotional rest, spiritual refreshment and some web help (kudos Bridgette!) I have tried to tame life and get back to the place where I can create content.  So here is what I want to do.  

1 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that you will hold me accountable to finish it.

2 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that I will feel the internal pressure of getting it done.

3 - I want to see who may be out there willing to help me.

4 - I want to give us all something  to which we can look forward with anticipation and excitement.

The current project is a book about David that is emerging in two, possibly three versions.  In 2005 I had a vision for this book as I preached a series of sermons and was impacted deeply by the content that came of it.  This was one of the few series of sermons we did not publish on audio because I wanted to write it before everyone heard it, but it never happened.

As a monument to intentions without execution, last week my amazing wife produced the cassette tapes of these sermons.  For those of you born later than about 1993, if you ever get your hands on one of those things DO NOT put it in anything until you search YouTube for an instructional video on just what to do with it.

David revisited has come on the occasion of my chaplaincy with the Christian Heritage School football team.  As part of our pre-game I took our team through the life of David and talked about 12 characteristics of a man after God’s own heart.  The first printing of the book will be a personal version I plan to give to the team that is born from those chapel talks.  My goal is to get this printing completed by graduation.

That said, I see a potential version that could be tailored into a devotional for student athletes.  That’s where I need some help.  Perhaps there are some coaches, FCA leaders, or student pastors out there who would like to massage that message into something that would impact some athletes.  If so, let me know, I would love to talk with you.

The final version of the book will be a printing for a more general Christian audience.  I am currently reworking this material as I am preaching through it with Liberty.  I am encouraged by the content that is coming from this and from the comments people are making on Sundays.  Perhaps this version will be ready by early fall.

As that version nears completion I would love to gather a team of people who may be interested in creating discussion material for small groups and sermon guides for pastors.  FeelMyFaith.com needs a few more fingers!

So that’s the update.  Pray.  Encourage.  Help me if you can!  

Before you go, leave me some ideas.  Maybe there are some good things online, perhaps some apps or some services for writers/authors of which I am not aware.  Please share them with me.

I would love it if you would leave a prayer.  My experience with #TheWalk was supernatural as I had a group of people praying for me as I wrote the manuscript.  I penned over 170 pages for the rough draft in 4 days.  It just flowed!  This one is happening more slowly, but the good news is - it is coming and I want the Lord’s guidance as it does.

Perhaps if enough of you leave a prayer in the comments, I would like to include them in an after material type section of the book.  Thanks for reading, supporting, praying and helping!  I look forward to hearing from you.

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Charles Finney

When God is pleased with a leader's life, his divine presence is unmistakable.  Charles G. Finney was a nineteenth-century evangelist whose life demonstrated the obvious presence of God.

During a visit to New York Mills in 1826, he visited a cotton manufacturing plant where his brother-in-law was superintendent.  As Finney passed through a spacious room in which many women were working at looms and spinning jennies, he noticed several young women watching him and speaking among themselves.

As Finney approached them, they became more agitated.  When Finney was about ten feet away, one woman sank to the ground and burst into tears.  Soon others were sobbing, overcome with conviction of their sin.  This outpouring of the Spirit spread rapidly throughout the building until the entire factory was singularly aware of God's presence.

The owner, an unbeliever, realized God was at work and temporarily closed the plant.  He asked Finney to preach to his employees and tell them how they might find peace for their souls.  Finney had not spoken to any of the laborers.  He had simply entered the factory.  God's powerful presence in Finney's life had been too overwhelming to ignore.

excerpt from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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Multiply


August 11 we (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) will begin using a valuable resource from author Francis Chan entitled Multiply.  The reason I like this book is because it is solid, simple, and short!
As a pastor you are always looking for ways to get your people grounded in the Word quickly and to bring them to a place of Spiritual health where they are bearing fruit and bringing other people to Christ.  As simple as this may sound, this is not an easy task.  
The Bible is a HUGE book.  It is not only huge, but it is old and difficult for most people to understand.  As a pastor, I need something that can help people grab on to the story quickly.  You may not understand everything you read in the Bible, but if you can grasp the basic concepts and the premise of the story you are at least heading in the right direction.  Multiply spends a great deal of time helping its readers become well acquainted with the Biblical story and its redemptive theme in Christ.  
Life is crazy.  Most of us generally use the same adjectives to describe existence; hectic, busy, demanding.  We don’t have time for a virtual, mini-seminary class at church.  Crazy life fosters short attention spans.  If you’re discipleship material is just as huge as the Bible, most people will begin with good intentions, but crash and burn quickly.  As a pastor I need something I can give my people that offers the most critical information in the shortest possible segments.  I don’t need a book that reads like molasses, I need a book full of gun powder.  Six to eight pages a week of BOOM!  In Multiply Francis Chan has not sacrificed what is necessary for the sake of brevity.  The reader will leave the book with the solid doctrinal foundation he or she needs to understand salvation, the church, and how to walk for a lifetime with Christ.
Evangelism is scary.  Years ago we turned evangelism into a propositional presentation.  Bringing people to Christ meant memorize and regurgitate.  To me it felt more like selling knives than bringing people to Christ (and, yes, I have sold knives).  As a pastor I need something that will help my people have long term conversations, make disciples, not simply win converts.  Multiply is not designed for one to simply read.  It is designed to be a conversation between people who want to follow Christ.  Most books simply pass along information.  Multiply becomes an experience between brothers and sisters in Christ; and ultimately it leads one to continue bringing others into the conversation.  
Francis Chan’s Multiply is helping me as a pastor lead my people to fulfill our call, be disciple makers.  If you haven’t picked up a copy of this book, I highly recommend it.  As you read it, you will immediately begin thinking of people to whom you would like to give a copy.  I started reading it and bought ten more to give away within a few weeks.  The great news is, if you don’t desire to purchase the book, the material is offered free online at http://www.multiplymovement.com.  The website also offers videos and other resources that will help your journey through Multiply be the most effective experience possible.  I highly recommend Multiply to every pastor, leader, and follower of Christ who wants to be and make disciples.

For those of you who will be going through Multiply with us at Liberty.  I recommend that you begin downloading the material now and go through one unit per week as a family.  I would love for us to get to Aug. 11 with several people already "down the road" in the journey.  This will be the most effective platform for leading others to Multiply.
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J.I. Packer on Grace

From p. 129 of J.I. Packer's Knowing God

"To be sure, there have always been some who have found the thought of grace so overwhelmingly wonderful that they could never get over it."

Throughout the history of the church there have always been those who would fight for grace.
Many have suffered for grace.
Grace has inspired some of our finest and most deeply felt songs.

"With Paul, their testimony is, 'By the grace of God I am what I am' (1 Cor. 15:10), and their rule of life is, 'I do not frustrate the grace of God (Gal. 2:21).'"

"But many church people are not like this.  They may pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop.  Their conception of grace is not so much debased as nonexistent.  The thought means nothing to them; it does not touch their experience at all.  Talk to them about the church's heating, or last year's accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness.  They do not accuse you of talking nonsense; they do not doubt that your words have meaning; but they feel that, whatever it is that you are talking about, it is beyond them, and the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that at their stage of life they do not really need it."

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Random Thoughts on Friday 2/3

Shannon and I celebrated 15 years of marriage this week.  The official wedding anniversary gift almanac says that this is our crystal anniversary.  I did not buy Shannon crystal.  Instead I bought her tickets to Wicked.  This is our wicked anniversary.  Strange to hear a preacher say something like that.


I am continuing to trudge through the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a gifted theologian with an amazing story.  There are plenty of books about his life that will help you get the jest of who he was without reading the most recent 500 + page edition.  I'm not saying the book is bad, it is just really, really, really detailed.  At this point I am too far in to put it down and I have too much pride to quit.  There is just something nerdy cool about saying you read a 500 page biography about a German theologian.  Another thing keeping me in the book is to see how many casual conversations I can drop the name Bonhoeffer into and share an obscure fact about his life.  If you are having a hard time finishing a book, make it a game to keep you in it.


Greg Garrison at the Birmingham News wrote up a nice article this week on the response of area churches in the cleanup effort.  You can read it on al.com here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2012/01/birmingham_area_ministries_chu.html
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Just Ask from Ed

Question from Edvard in Montreal: 
I have two questions:
1)  What podcasts would you recommend and why?
2)  If I only had to read 5 books, which ones would you recommend?

1)  Podcasts and Why?
There are multitudes of great podcasts particularly in the Christian genre.  My subscriptions are limited to preaching and theological teaching.  I have yet to find a “conversational” or “show” type podcasts that keeps my interest.  I love to preach and love to hear others preach well.
My other criteria would include variety and thought.  I tire easily to listening to the same three or four guys over and over.  I also enjoy great preachers and teachers who are great thinkers.  A lot of bad preaching is covered by pithy sayings and passionate presentations, so I do appreciate those who pay attention to faithful interpretation.  That said, here is my list:
I subscribe to three seminary podcasts (this gives me great variety):
Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY:  http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast//id305918399
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary:  http://www.nobts.edu/chapel/podcast/default.html
Here are my “thinker” podcasts:
2)  5 books you must read (in no particular order):
·         Is God a Moral Monster, Making Sense of the Old Testament God – Paul Copan
·         Knowing God – J.I. Packer
·         Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire – Jim Cymbala
·         The Pleasures of God – John Piper
·         Any one or all of the following:
o   Mere Christianity – C.S.Lewis
o   Simply Christian – N.T. Wright
o   The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel
Bonjour Ed!  Great to hear from you bro.
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How to Read a Book (Part 4)

Pace

How long has it been since you have read a book cover to cover?  If you do not particularly enjoy reading you may find that it has been quite some time; perhaps even measured in decades.  There may even be a small shelf of books in your home that you intended to read, started, but never finished.  How can you make 2012 the year you finish a book?  The key here is pace.
Because I have yet to publish a book I do not know the ins and outs of marketing them, but I have noticed that 90% of the non-fiction books on the shelves are 220-240 pages in length.  I do not know what this means for authors and publishers, but I do know what it means for readers.  If you average 30 – 40 pages a day, this equates to a book a week. 
If you have not historically been a reader, 30-40 pages a day may seem like a daunting task.  It is true that the more you read the better reader you will become.  If 30-40 pages is too much for you right now, shoot for 20.  At 20 pages a day you will read a book every two weeks.  This is two books a month, which means in 2012 it may not be that you finish 1 book for the year, but 24 of them.
Things happen.  It is at the point of things happening that most of our resolutions are flushed.  We diet well until there is birthday cake.  We put money into savings until an unforeseen repair frustrates our budget.  We read our 20, 30, or 40 pages a day until another show as awesome as LOST enters our life, or little Johnny starts baseball, or for whatever reason things get busy.  How do we keep pace when things happen?
I say to our church often, “You will do what you want to do.”  There is an old proverb that illustrates the often flighty nature of Baptist commitment that says, “It takes a tub full of water to get a Baptist in, but a drop to get them out.”  For a people so closely associated with water it is amazing how attendance will drop on a rainy Sunday morning.  Yet the University of Alabama could be playing West Chickasaw in the middle of a category 5 hurricane and there will be 105,000 people in the stands determined not to miss a play.  You will do what you want to do.  This is why I enacted what I called “The Wal-Mart Policy” when I served as pastor in Crossville, TN.  On a snowy Sunday morning my phone would begin ringing early, “Pastor, we need to cancel services, it’s just too dangerous for anyone to be out.”  So I would.  But later in the morning my wife and I, bored out of our minds, would travel to the amusement park of Crossville, TN, Wal-Mart.  There we would find half the church, many of whom had called me that very morning telling me it was too dangerous for them to drive to church.  You will do what you want to do.
Do you want to read books?  The question then is not what are you going to do, but what are you NOT going to do?  As a pastor I am amazed at how much we desire to add virtuous things to our lives without forsaking things that seem to make us stumble.  We like to add.  We do not like to take away.  If you are going to add reading books in 2012 you must subtract something out of your daily schedule, the 30 – 40 minutes a day that it will take you to keep your pace.  I will offer you this advice right out of the gate.  People who read well watch less television.  If you are going to read there is less you need to watch.  If family activities are a hindrance, practice, homework, insanity, then try to identify those moments when you can fit in some reading.  I promise you that if you think hard about your family schedule you can find those moments.  Wake up 30 minutes earlier, before anyone else is out of the bed.  I do my best reading and writing early in the morning.  While your child is at practice, instead of staring aimlessly at the field, read.  I have a book nearby almost everywhere I go.  With the plethora of e-readers on the market as well as smart phone technology you can carry a library with you at all times.  I will offer a response to a book entitled The Swerve next week.  I read about 50 pages of it in the parking lot of the mall while Shannon was Christmas shopping.  You will do what you want to do.
I hope this is the year that you want to read.  Not to read only one book, but lots of them.  I usually read fully 35 books a year.  Keep a list.  Watch it grow.  At the end of the year share your top ten.  Everyone else does.  Make 2012 the year you read.
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How to Read a Book (Part 3)

As I mentioned in a previous post reading the notes may pave a trail to other good authors who write good books.  This practice will also help you accomplish another key to reading that I find helpful; read in themes.
I find reading entertaining, but that is not the primary reason why I read.  I read to learn.  I read so that I can be a better communicator.  I read to gain wisdom and discernment.  I read as an act of worship.  The Bible calls for me to love the Lord with my mind (Matthew 22:37).  Our faith is not to be without the brain, so I read. 
Because reading is about learning I like to read in themes.  By reading in themes I mean that I like to read several books about a certain subject consecutively.  This is not a strange concept, especially if you attended college.  Your history professor required you to read in themes, as did your biology teacher.  For a semester they had you search, research, and read books that were focused on a certain discipline. Reading in themes makes you a student in the field.  With each book the information builds.  A few books down the path you will begin to notice repeated arguments, research, people, places, and events.  Every author offers his or her unique perspective, but because you have “done a little reading” on the topic you will find yourself not merely a passive reader, but a discerning one who is joining the conversation.
I also like to plan ahead.  Because I have been in school for the past few years my professors have picked my themes.  But from time to time when I had a month or two between classes I chose my own course.  The year before last I had a WWII summer.  The summer before that I read all the classics I was supposed to read in High School, but barely did.  Have fun with your plan.  Be creative.  Here are a few suggested “thematic” reading lists:
1.       New York Times Bestsellers from the year you graduated high school.
2.       Great leaders.
3.       Because I don’t know enough about _____________.
4.       It’s all Greek to me – perhaps a summer of Greek history, poets, and mythology.
5.       A few months of theology.
6.       Biographies of dead presidents. 
7.       Three Bible commentaries on a certain book cover to cover.
8.       The guy who invented _____________.
9.       Versus.  For example – read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath.  There are several excellent 4 views books series published by various Christian publishing houses such as 4 Views on Hell, Divorce and Remarriage 4 Views, 4 Views on Eternal Security, etc.  These books have never really changed my views on certain positions but they have helped me learn to appreciate those with whom I do not agree and to better understand them as people.
10.   How to be a Biblical husband, father, man OR wife, mother, woman.
Perhaps planning ahead will help you not simply accomplish books (read them cover to cover), but to learn from them.  For me the fun is in the planning.  Once you determine what you want to learn, begin searching.  Use your cell phone to take pictures.  Make a wish list.  Ask questions.  If you want to spend some time in the classics, don’t be ashamed to send a note home with your kid’s English teacher and ask for a suggested list.  The teacher will probably find it refreshing that a student’s parent hasn’t stopped learning themselves.  Go to the library and tell the librarian what you want to learn.  Those people are book worms and they will point you in the right direction.  As I stated in a previous post – ask your pastor.  If your pastor is a great preacher, I promise you he is also a reader.  He will have some suggestions.
 Every great book has a theme.  So do great readers!
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How to Read a Book (Part 2)

Read the Boring Parts
A common resolution amongst the Christian community is to read the Bible cover to cover in a year.  This goes well until one reaches the boring parts; a genealogy filled with ancient names that sound like you have marbles in your mouth when you pronounce them or a tedious list of details on how Israel is to build a tent.  Inevitably this means that our resolve fails us either in late Genesis or mid Exodus; which in calendar time equals early February.  Although many may consider the genealogies and tedious instruction passages of the Bible to be boring, this does not mean they are unimportant.  In fact, they are some of the most critical pieces of material in the story.  These passages are unexplored theological goldmines that convey to us some of the obvious themes of Scripture.  This is why.  This is how.  This is who.
When it comes to books we often begin with chapter 1 and end punctually on the final period of the final chapter.  We do this because we neglect to read the boring parts; the preface, the introduction, the notes, the bibliography.  Yet these are the portions of the book that convey to us the most critical information of the author’s work.  This is why.  This is how.  This is who.
In my previous post I discussed the importance of reading the notes.  Books without notes are little more than 240 page blog posts.  They are unsubstantiated, un-researched opinions.  I am not saying books without notes have no merit, but I am saying that we should be discerning in our choice of them.  While the notes help us find the path to other authors and other works, the preface and/or the introduction is the place where we find our path toward purpose.  What is the thought that holds the book together?  What is the outline?  What is the author trying to prove, argue, or convey?  Why did the author spend so much time writing a book?  Why is it worth your time to read?  And if I may add any bit of nerd advice here, it would be that when you are searching for a book, don’t read the endorsements on the back cover; take some time to read the intro.  Force the author to convince you that his or her book is worth the money and the effort.
As you read the preface/intro you are searching for the theme of the book.  As I said above, the theme is this thought the holds the book together.  Mark it.  Great books are not about 3 things or 10 things.  Great books are about 1 thing.  There may be 15 chapters, but each chapter should be a supporting argument for the 1 thematic idea the author is trying to convey or prove.  Once you find the theme and mark it, refer to it often.  Make sure you have it squarely in view throughout the entire book.  As you read be constantly asking these questions:  1)  How is the author supporting his/her argument?  2)  Is the argument logical?  You may need to modify these questions based on the genre of the text, but generally these principles hold true for most any non-fiction work.
Be sure to read the boring parts.  The boring parts give us the most important information of the book.  The intro/preface indentifies the theme.  The notes tell us from where the information comes.
(to be continued)
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How to Read a Book (Part 1)

As we come into a new year the air is filled with chatter of what we are resolved to do.  Perhaps your list includes the traditional diet, budget, and exercise.  What about a book?  How about several of them?  Would you consider in 2012 recovering the lost art of reading books?

America has become an illiterate society.  While it is true that most of us can phonetically pronounce combinations of letters and attach definitions to them, which strictly speaking is the act of reading, most of us do not devote time to reading meaningful content.  If we are not illiterate in the strictest sense, I would argue that we are at least a tautological society (look it up!).  Due to Twitter, texting, and Facebook words have become little more than smoke signals of the mundane, “Me thirsty”, “Me miss you”, “Me about to eat”, “Why you care?” 
In literate cultures people are connoisseurs of well communicated thoughts, structured arguments, and compelling themes.  A century ago we explored the world with words.  We once discussed the meaning of things.  Now we care only to discuss what Snooki said or what Gaga wore.  We producing more words than ever, but saying nothing at all.  Twitter handles 250 million “tweets” per day.  That means we are writing the equivalent of a 10 million page book every 24 hours.  We are chirping about everything but are we learning?  Are we adding to knowledge?  If Twitter is a reflection of what America is thinking, we have lost our minds. 
As Americans we have always believed ourselves to be the great saviors.  Over the last thirty years our concerns have become environmental.  Save the whales.  Save the ozone.  Save the polar bear.  Save the owl.  I propose that in 2012 our theme be, “Save the brain, read a book.”  Let us not just read one of them, but lots of them.  Yet how do we do something we have not done for so long?  How do we read a book?
Finding the Good Books
If it has been awhile you may find that good books have gone the way of the VHS tape.  They are rare finds indeed.  Yet they do exist.  It is also important to note that good books are expensive.  The problem is that bad books are also expensive.  If we are not to break our resolution concerning the budget in 2012 we must be careful then that we do not waste our funds on bad books.  If books were priced according to content it would make our quest much easier.  If this were the case we would probably find that most of the books that meet us in the doorway of our favorite bookstores would then be the cheapest, probably worth no more than 10 cents.  Because we are not discerning we have become the easy prey of marketing.  Publishers are counting on the fact that you will immediately break the cardinal rule of reading.  You will judge a book by its cover.
Because I have been burned by the cover more than once allow me to share my quick list of how I weed out the bad books.  I do not read books by actors or athletes.  Sorry Tim Tebow.  I do not read a book by a politician unless he or she is OUT of office.  I read very few autobiographies.  We are not honest about ourselves.  I do not read books with warriors, wizards, dragons, horses, flowers, people kissing, or people holding swords on the cover (that’s just me).  I do not read books that I know good and well that the people on the back cover who have endorsed them have not read.  One good way to weed this out is to go down the aisle of the bookstore and turn an entire row of books over.  You will probably find the same people endorse them all.  Pastor/authors are notorious for this.  This is why I do not read very many books written by pastors.  Yet, if I ever publish a book, please read it (appease the hypocrite in me)!
Read books about meaningful historical events.  Read books about people who changed things.  Read books about critical issues.  Read books that offer various viewpoints.  Read books written by people who are nothing like you.  Read books that will make you angry.  Read books that will make you think.  Read books that are not only endorsed, but are critically peer reviewed.  There are countless internet forums that would offer such reviews.  By peer review I mean books that are purposefully subjected to the experts in the applicable field.  If we are to read great books we must learn rule #1, Oprah was a talk show host.  Jerry Springer is also a talk show host.  Their purpose is first and foremost to entertain, not critically review books.  Oprah discussed everything but was an expert in nothing.  Her opinions chase the wind.  If a historical book happened to make it on Oprah, but is not being kicked around by other historians this should be a warning sign.   If it was not worth an expert’s time it is not worth yours.
If you want to find good books do the most obvious thing, ask the people who read them.  Ask your pastor, your child’s English teacher, or the guy at work who is always reading on his lunch break.  An odd habit of mine is going into university and seminary bookstores and seeing what books the professors are requiring for their classes.  I once despised these shelves, but I have found that when I am not reading a book for a grade there is a lot less pressure and I enjoy it even more.   
If we are to be good readers we will find that it is important to read the boring parts, the preface, the introduction, the footnotes/endnotes, and/or the bibliography.  I will speak to the preface and the introduction later, but I have often found that the most important place to find good books is within good books.  If you find yourself reading books without footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies realize that you are reading unsubstantiated, unsupported opinions.  Good books will be full of notes.  This means the author has spent a great deal of time researching his topic before he brought the information to you.  Books without notes may be about interesting things and they may be written by someone you count to be an interesting person, but in the end a book without notes is nothing more than a field guide to finding Sasquatch.  It is a misleading search for nothing.  Books with notes will lead you to other critical topics and intelligent authors.  If you read the notes you may find yourself going to places you have never been before – the deeper shelves near the back of the bookstore.  You may also find yourself in a long lost city of Atlantis of American culture, the library.     
 (to be continued)
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Getting Your Borrowed Books Back

I have a fairly large library. My policy has always been that you can come to my office and use any of my books, but you can't take any out. Selfish? Maybe, but I have learned over the years that what is borrowed is forever gone.

In his book The Swerve, How the World Became Modern Stephen Greenblatt shares how monks once cursed their books to deter humanist book hunters from taking them:

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in disolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."

I wonder if the curse works on tools?
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The Good Books on The Hard Issues

Here is a list of books that will help Christians be more prepared to answer the hard questions people are asking. The list is by no means exhaustive, yet I have tried to compile one that is laymen friendly and representative of a wide range of issues. This list represents not only my personal reading but recommendations from other pastors and some seminary professors I have had along the way. These books represent apologetics, creation/evolution, the existence of God, basic theological surveys, the problem of evil, textual issues with the Bible, church history, ethics, cults and world religions. I do not have time to break them all down by category, some do well to address several issues. If anyone has any to add to the list (please pay attention to the purpose of the list), please share.  Thanks to Jason Dollar and Dave Delmotte for contributing.

C.S. Lewis

The Problem of Pain
Miracles
Mere Christianity

Lee Strobel

The Case for Christ
The Case for a Creator
The Case for Faith

Francis Schaeffer

The God Who is There
Escape from Reason
He is There and He is not Silent (all three of these books are published in a single Trilogy volume)
How Should We Then Live?

William Lane Craig

Hard Questions, Real Answers
On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision
Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors

Norman Geisler

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
When Skeptics Ask
When Critics Ask: A Handbook of Bible Difficulties
Philosophy of Religion
From God to Us – (textual issues of the Bible)
If God, Why Evil?
Making Sense of Bible Difficulty
Innerancy

Wayne Grudem

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know
Fifty Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns About Manhood and Womanhood
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (With John Piper)
Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture

Paul Copan

When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics
Jesus’ Resurrection, Fact or Fiction
Is God a Moral Monster?
True for You, But Not for Me, Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith
How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless

Daniel Wallace

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament
Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ
Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture

Darrell Bock

The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities

Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus

Erwin Lutzer

The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage
Hitler’s Cross: The Revealing Story of How the Cross of Christ Was Used as a Symbol of the Nazi
Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible
Slandering Jesus: Six Lies People Tell About the Man Who Said He Was God
Where was God? Answers to Tough Questions about God and Natural Disasters

Alister McGrath

Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution
Intellectuals Don’t Need God, and Other Myths of the Modern Mind
The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World
Historical Theology
The Dawkins Delusion
Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life
Science and Religion: An Introduction
Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things

David Nobel

Understanding the Times
The Battle for the Truth

Apologetics

Handbook of Christian Apologetics – Peter Kreeft
Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions
The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism – Timothy Keller
New Evidence that Demands a Verdict - Josh McDowell

Ethics

Moral Choices – Scott Rae
Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World – Dennis P. Hollinger
Ethics for a Brave New World – John S. Feinberg

Church History

The Story of Christianity (Vol. 1 & 2) – Justo L. Gonzalez
Defending Constantine – Peter J. Leithhart

Cults and World Religions

Understanding Secular Religions - Josh McDowell
Kingdom of the Cults - Walter Martin
Another Gospel - Ruth Tucker
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Christmas: A Candid History (Book Review)

Christmas: A Candid HistoryOne book I would recommend in researching the history of Christmas is Bruce David Forbes' Christmas, A Candid History.  I usually refrain from recommending books I have not read completely, but yesterday I finally finished this one, I think.  I have used this book as a primary historical resource for the “Recovering Christmas” series and in doing so, I have not read it consecutively, but in sections.  I have criss crossed, highlighted, and notated it, and I must say it is very entertaining, easy to read, and incredibly interesting.  As far as its historical accuracy, I have found that when it comes to Christmas, as stated in my previous post, there are many versions of the legends, but always similarities.  At most every point I have cross referenced Forbes‘ information with other historians and he holds consistent with reliable sources.   

The author is a fellow believer, a United Methodist, and a religious studies professor, who seems to be struggling, like many of us, with the indulgences we associate with Christmas.  "On the one hand, I love the music, lights, and family gatherings along with the story of the Christ child, shepherds, and wise men, and the messages of generosity, love, joy, and peace.  On the other hand I am frustrated by how hectic and commercialized the season has become, and worried that all of the cultural trappings can overwhelm spiritual aspects of Christmas."  His introduction is an apt description of how many of us feel during this season, but really don’t know what to do with what we know has gone wrong. 

This is the profit of history.  History explains why we are as we are and how we may be able to make some corrections.    As a preacher I am not big on rote historical recitations.  I look for interpretation and application.  How has history shaped us and what can we learn from it?  I really appreciate Forbes’ work in this respect.  He shares great history and a great message.  For me, the overriding message is that left to itself, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ.  If we want this to be a truly meaningful season for our families, we must be intentional, but careful.  The gospel does not declare itself, nor does Christmas in itself declare Christ.  The message needs the voices of people who have been deeply changed by it.  Throughout history, Christians have been able to do some very meaningful things with the season, some have gone well, others not so much.  We should learn from our mistakes, especially those that explain why Christmas has so easily slipped away from us.  Perhaps the most convicting message I gleaned from the book is that Christ didn’t ask for, command, nor does He need Christmas.  He is who He is without December 25th.  In “The Earliest Centuries” and “Christmas Comes Late,” Forbes shares how the church knew nothing of Christmas for at least 300 years after Christ.  They were a resurrection people.  The birth of Jesus, though important, was not the central message of the early church.  Reading this chapter has challenged me that when it comes to Christmas, sharing the birth narrative is not enough, we must be the gospel incarnate and proclaim its full message if we desire to see people come to Christ. 

Although Forbes claims to be a believer, he seems to purpose his book for a much wider audience.  In appealing to a wider audience Forbes explores some issues and draws a few applications that require discernment.   One such issue, is that early on Forbes makes the very conjecture I warned us about at the outset of this series; critiquing historical tradition is not the same as critiquing the Biblical text.  In a section entitled, “Is The Christmas Story True,” Forbes seems to speculate that since the history of Christmas is so sketchy, and not quite what the church would believe it to be, that the birth narrative of the gospels may need to be questioned as well.  This is an illogical and unnecessary connection.  Just because the church gets it wrong doesn't mean that the Biblical text is errant.  The Bible has enough internal evidence to sustain its own integrity without the interpretations of the church throughout history.  If I could illustrate my point, God was God before people believed upon Him.  He did not become God when people began to believe.  In the same sense I would also say that because all of the horrible mistakes people have made in their application of Scripture, those human errors do not diminish the glory of God.  In the same way, the Bible is the Word of God with or without the church.  The church is fallible and errant and as a result has made some gross mistakes in misapplying or categorically ignoring Scripture in Jesus name.  Though these mistakes have been made by the church the Bible remains infallible and inerrant.  I could by a car manual at Auto Zone and make a horrible mess of an engine.  The horrible mess is not so much as testimony to the manual or its writer as it is to my sheer lack of mechanical skills.  Shade tree mechanic I am not!  

With that said, it is not uncommon to disagree with writers and still appreciate their work.  Disagreement is evidence that we think.  And I am, at some level, comfortable recommending books with which I disagree at various points.  I trust that if you read my blog you are curious, have a desire to learn, and that you are discerning.  Use your brain, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible, you can figure out what's what.  So if you want a great historical read this Christmas, check out Bruce David Forbes’ Christmas, A Candid History.  Even if you did not enjoy it as much as I did, at the very least, once you finish it, you will be awesome at Christmas Trivia! 
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Surveying the Bible

On Wednesday nights I have been sharing a series entitled “The Story of the Old Testament.”  Telling such an incredible story does not come naturally.  Unfortunately there is not a spiritual gift of Old Testament knowledge.  I was forced to know this stuff.  If I had not acclimated myself to this story several times, from various viewpoints, I would have failed any and every college and seminary class that had anything to do with the Old Testament. 
Surveys of massive books or portions of the Bible do not come easily.  In fact it is a more difficult discipline than just interpreting a few verses, because you are covering such vast amounts of material.  However, it is a necessary discipline if you want to become a good Bible student.  Surveying the Bible provides you a cultural, geographic, and storyline context for interpreting particular verses or portions of Scripture.  For example, if you want to interpret Exodus 20 (the chapter in which the 10 commandments are given), your interpretation will gain new life if you have a good grasp on the back story.  When you compare the demands of the Ten Commandments to the morality of the gods Israel would have encountered during their wilderness journeys, you will gain clearer insight about the Holy nature of our God and why He demands that we travel through life as a morally distinct group of people.  Surveys provide context for proper interpretation.        
You probably don’t have the time, nor the nerd capacity necessary to go to Bible college or seminary.  Yet, you would really like to know more of the back story of the Bible.  Where can you access this type of information? 
1.       There are several great archaeological websites that contain articles, maps, and photographs about Bible lands, events, and artifacts.  The one I use most often is Biblical Archaeological Review - http://www.bib-arch.org/.  You may know of others, please share them in the comments section below.
2.       Old Testament or New Testament surveys:  These books come in varying degrees of detail and reader level (this is code for various weights ranging from 1 to 98 pounds).  Go to your local Christian bookstore and they will probably offer a few of the most popular ones.  Pick one up, open it to a random page and read it.  If it bores you to death, drop it straight to the floor, try another one.  Watch your toes.  These books will provide you with an outline of each book of the Bible, theological highpoints, themes, and articles that deal with literary issues, various interpretations, and cultural issues.  There are loads of good ones out there.  Here are a few of my recommendations.
a.       A Popular Survey of the Old and New Testaments (2 vols.) by Norman L. Geisler
b.     The AMG Concise Bible Survey (this one is very concise and really gives you some good info. quickly) Dr. Harry Adams
c.     An Introduction to the Old Testament (this one is probably the most technical of the three, but I have it on my iPad so it weighs virtually nothing!) – Longman and Dillard
d.      An Introduction to the New Testament (this one can be very technical when discussing authorship and literary concerns) – Carson, Moo, Morris  
e.     New Testament Survey – Merrill Tenney (this one is a little old, but so is the New Testament!)
3.       Any decent commentary that focuses its attention on one or a few books of the Bible should provide great background material.  For instance, this past Wednesday night I consulted the New American Commentaries volume on Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther by Mervin Beneman.  All of the NAC commentaries provide great survey material.  I would also recommend any commentary in the NIV Application Commentary Series.  The background information, as well as the method of interpretation/application is fantastic in this series. 
4.       You may want to invest in some books like The Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible by J.I. Packer or Merrill Tenney or Holman’s Bible Atlas (this one is awesome)!  These books provide great maps, photos, and articles.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
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The "Books You Should Read" Page

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Since the inception of the feelmyfaith blog I have tried to review and recommend some books along the way.  To help you find those books I have created a new page associated with the blog that is virtually a Brian Branam bookstore.  It is labeled “Books You Should Read” under the “Pages” box.  Amazon now offers a feature that allows bloggers to easily post links to books they would recommend for purchase.  A byproduct of the page is that it will hopefully provide me with some change in my book fund.  It is going to take some time to get all the books I have recommended linked on the page, but I intend to eventually get them all posted there.  The books are not arranged in any sort of recommended order. 
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2009 Favorite Books

I must admit this was not a particularly heavy reading year for me. 2009 was a very heavy Hebrew year instead. I maintained my habit of reading about 1 book per week until August; which is the very moment I lost shalom. All in all, I read 23 books this year. Two other factors served to shipwreck my reading; long books and bad books. I tried to intersperse historical reading in 2009, which meant long books. I am not a history lover. Being a novice meant inevitably picking bad books. So here is my ’09 top 10, which may help you get off to a good reading 2010.
1. Rocket Men, Craig Nelson. I reviewed this one. Mr. Nelson actually wrote me back, which was my 2009 blogging highlight.
2. The Blind Side, Evolution of a Game, Michael Lewis. I reviewed the movie which is factually not quite the same as the book, but close. I must confess I am not quite finished with this one, but close enough to call it one of my favorites of this year.
3. What Would Jesus Eat, Dr. Don Colbert. I reviewed this one as well. This year marked my second time through this book. Both times I read it I lost weight. I should add that I also read The Maker’s Diet this year. WWJE was a little more my speed, much easier to implement, and in my opinion a much more balanced way to live.
4. Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand. I read this one just before going to Romania, which made it even more meaningful for me. You can get this book free at http://www.torturedforchrist.com/. They ask for a donation. I highly recommend giving one and reading the book.
5. Valkyrie, Philip Freiherr Von Boeselager.
6. Encounter God in the City, Randy White.
7. Crazy Love, Francis Chan.
8. Tell it Slant, Eugene Peterson. This is the fourth in a great series!
9. Water From a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries, Gerald Lawson Sittser. As the name implies, this one is deep, but great.
10. Its Not My Fault, Townsend and Cloud.
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Rocket Men

Rocket Men by Craig Nelson, true to its subtitle is, “The epic story of the first men on the moon.” This is one of the most well written books, cover to cover, I have read in quite some time. With so much data and historical time line to communicate, Nelson could have easily turned an epic story into a wade through slow drying concrete as many historical writers are prone to do. In Rocket Men, Nelson has truly captured the epic nature of Apollo 11 and reflected the pure genre of history in communicating the event in a very human story.

The book is a great documentation of the Apollo 11 mission. For those who enjoy techie Nelson provides a steady diet of stats and NASA acronyms. Yet the tech is not cumbersome nor detached. Nelson feeds the techie craving in such a way that it helps immerse even the novice tech reader into the moment. I now know who CAPCOM is and that try as I may, my Altima will never reach escape velocity. Nelson’s method of immersing the reader into the distant planet of NASA is what makes the book unique. The reader is not merely pealing through a manual, but hearing conversations, watching events, and feeling the various tensions between the people involved. History is not about events, history is about humans. Humans are inspiring and awful. Apollo 11 was birthed from the same cloth of humanity. We went to the moon out of fear of the Russians, but it was this fear that called for us to unleash our new generation of explorers. Our greatest rocket scientists were Nazis. Some of the science of NASA was born in the slavery of concentration camps. Yet landing on the moon made the whole world proud. Inspiring and awful seems to be our own cocoon of human atmosphere, an atmosphere we cannot escape with any measure of velocity. Nelson was honest about this journey. I was surprised by this part of the story. Even at this moment I am not sure what to make of it.

It has taken forty years to answer the question, “What does it feel like to go to the moon?” Nelson has unearthed what journalists in 1969 so desperately wanted to know but the astronauts could not find the words to answer. “How do you feel?” The lingo of engineers does not allow for one to communicate the subtleties of human sensation and emotion. This unemotional techie jargon annoyed the journalists. The journalists in their inconsiderate prying annoyed the astronauts and their families. To quell the symbiotic frustration Life magazine became the envoy between humans and astronauts. By documenting the families' recollections Nelson reveals that the world Life magazine printed was a fabrication. The astronauts were perceived as super human, perfect fathers, model men. They were superb in their accomplishments, but they were not super. Their families suffered for space. The cost of going to the moon was in the billions for the American taxpayer. The price of going to the moon for those involved was estranged children, privately suffering women, and strained marriages. Going to the moon is a precarious risk of life. Returning from the moon is a precarious risk of family. Apollo 11 made a difference in the world, but for the astronauts and their families it made a once familiar world different, almost alien. They were smothered by popularity, Buzz Aldrin was plagued by the demon of being second, and none of them were able to adequately answer the question, “What now?” Rocket Men is not simply an astronaut story, but a portal. The reader is able to get some sense of what it may be like for your dad, your husband, or if you were able to get a seat on a rocket, for you to go to the moon.

The final 20 or so pages were sermonic for me. As a preacher I always want to know, what’s the point? The closing essay is an issued challenge. It is inspiring and introspective. What is my dream? What am I working desperately to do with my life, or am I hopelessly complacent? Am I willing to overcome the human instinct to quit? What are we doing as a nation? Will we go back to the moon, or will we go further? If we go, what impact will that event have on me, my family and the way I view the world, my faith, and the universe as a whole? Apollo 11 was a worldview in a rocket.

In telling the story of Apollo 11 Nelson revealed to me that I am bored. I am bored with athletes, actors, and classless morons being our most inspiring voices. People can do truly great things that cannot be measured in statistics. There are great things happening in this world that are not reported on the talking head media, ESPN, or E. I am bored with a world that makes the words “entertaining” and “great” synonymous. I am ready for someone to do something truly great. I would like to be involved in something great. My generation craves great but cannot stomach the sacrifice. Apollo 11 was birthed in the circumstances of an odd world in an odd time. As a result men went to the moon. Right now the world is weird. We are ripe for something great.
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Read Contend

Many people say they believe in God, but when you listen to them explain their faith in conversation it becomes crystal clear that they really do not know what “believing in God” means. This is not only a discipleship issue but one of evangelism as well. The church is at a crisis. In a Biblically illiterate culture the people of God are unable to articulate their faith.

My friend Jason Dollar has just published a book, “Contend” which he designed as an apologetics primer for high school students. Although this book is written at a student level my experience has been that student level is the perfect place to start, especially in the area of apologetics. You may be wondering what “apologetics” is, are, was, or were. If so, you need this book. We must be able to explain what we believe and why. I highly recommend every person who names the name of Jesus Christ as Savior spend some portion of their year studying apologetics. Allow my friend Jason to begin your journey. Read Contend.

Purchase the book Contend by Jason Dollar
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What Would Jesus Eat?

At the beginning of the year I resolved to read Dr. Don Colbert’s What Would Jesus Eat, again. The first time I read it was about three years ago while at the beach. There is nothing better than reading a book about eating while your belly sunbathes at the beach. “Is that a solar panel or your gut badly in need of a tan?” There is no better wake up call for the human body than Destin, FL.

The first time through the book I gleaned the value of grains. My wife and I immediately changed the quality of foods we were eating, mainly by ridding our home of white bread, white rice, and white pastas and replacing them with whole grains. It was not long until my colon thanked me – several times.

This trip through the book I took my time. Having learned to love grains I wanted to pay attention to other aspects of the book. It is this educational approach to the book I most appreciate. What Would Jesus Eat is not a diet in the sense of The Maker’s Diet, or the Atkins Diet, South Beach, or even Weight Watchers. What Would Jesus Eat is an education about the interaction of food with your body. It is less about how much you eat and more about what the things you eat do to your body.

What Would Jesus Eat is not a spiritual guilt trip. Though Dr. Colbert touches on some of the spiritual aspects of eating, his purpose is not to bring you salvation through salmon. We all remember Weigh Down and the cult it became. If you read What Would Jesus Eat there is little chance you will shave your head and become a hyper-Calvinist. There may be an annoying moment or two at a restaurant as you inform your eating partner that the yeast roll covered in butter he is about to eat has little chance of making it through his colon in the next couple of months. But who really wants to be that guy?

All in all, I would highly recommend this book. Since the beginning of the year I have improved the quality of my foods along with Tony Horton’s workout P 90 X and have enjoyed incredible results. I feel better than I have felt in many years. Two weeks ago I bought a Medium shirt and 34 pant for the first time since the 8th grade! Many thanks to Dr. Don and to my personal torture trainer Tony Horton.
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In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day (Book Review)

A couple of weeks ago I read Mark Batterson’s In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. The book was an incredible blessing in two ways. Today Evangelist Scott Dawson was to speak at our church, but it was a snowy day. We had to reschedule for next Sunday (3/8) which meant that I found out I would be preaching at our 9:30 and 11 a.m. services at 7:30 a.m. With the book fresh on my mind it gave me some great material to share with those in our church who braved travel to church on a snowy day.

Blessing number two: this is a very inspiring book; one that I needed to read on so many levels. In his book, In a Pit, Batterson takes an obscure passage of Scripture, 2 Samuel 23:20-22, and uses it to motivate his readers. The passage is about one of David’s mighty men named Benaiah who had a more than impressive resume. He was not only a mighty warrior but he had killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day.

Obviously using this passage for teaching would require some creativity. Sadly creativity in modern Christian writing often leads to something strange and less than Biblical. I love creative writers, but because I had become so accustomed to this path in modern writing I fully expected Batterson to follow the trail. Yet with Batterson, though the book is creative the application is solid and insightful. The manuscript is easy to read and contains some good teaching on worship, prayer, and the will of God in the midst of our most difficult trials. For those who love obscure studies and strange trivia, Batterson provides plenty to satisfy the craving.

If you are content to turn and run from challenges, leave In a Pit on a shelf. If you desire to find opportunity in your most difficult moments this is your book. I think the promo on the back flap provides the essence of the content of In a Pit:
What if the life you really want, and the future God wants for you is hiding right now in your biggest problem, your worst failure. . .your greatest fear?

The church is in dire need of men and women of strong courage and valor. I dare you to read this book.
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