Christians in the Age of Outrage | Influence Podcast


America is angry. Turn on TV news, tune into talk radio, check your timeline on social media, and chances are good you’ll see someone angry—outraged!—about something. Some commentators even worry that our nation is on the verge of a civil war.

It would be nice to say that Christians in America are tamping down the fires of outrage, but unfortunately, that’s not always true. Instead, some Christians are fanning the flames. They’re kicking outrage up to 11.

One Christian leader who’s trying to turn the outrage down is Ed Stetzer. He thinks outrage is unbiblical and anti-Great Commission. In his new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, he explains why Americans are mad, why that’s bad, and what Christians should do about it.

Ed is Billy Graham Distinguished Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; dean of its School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership’ and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. He’s also my guest for Episode 159 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

P.S. You can read my review of Ed Stetzer’s book here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

Advertisements

Past Tense | Book Review


Midnight Line, Lee Child’s previous Jack Reacher novel, was a page-turner, but it left me wondering whether Reacher was getting a bit old for all the action Child put him through. I gave it a four-star review, but to be honest, I promised myself I would give Child only one more chance to keep my interest in Reacher. Past Tense kept my interest.

The novel has three storylines. One, Reacher finds himself in Laconia, New Hampshire, where his dad was born and raised. The only problem? There’s little trace of Stan Reacher there. Two, while searching for records of his dad, Reacher beats up a man bullying a woman. Unfortunately, the man is connected to bad actors who come to Laconia looking to settle a score. Three, a Canadian couple find themselves stranded at a remote motel where the owner and his business partners act more than a little strange. The owner’s last name? Reacher.

As always, Child brings these storylines together in an explosive conclusion that kept me turning pages, which is the primary way I evaluate suspense novels. (I read the novel in two long sittings.)

This isn’t the best of the Reacher novels. However, it’s good enough to keep me interested through next year when, come fall, I’m sure Child will publish Reacher’s next adventure. I hope it’s set in San Diego. That’s where Reacher is heading, and lots of interesting happens in San Diego, or could happen, if Reacher were there.

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Dark Sacred Night | Book Review


Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night picks up where his two previous novels, The Late Show and Two Kinds of Truth, left off. Renée Ballard continues to work the late shift for Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division. Harry Bosch continues to work cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department.

They meet by happenstance when Ballard finds Bosch snooping through Hollywood’s case files in search of information about the murder of Daisy Clayton, whose mother, Elizabeth, Bosch rescued at the end of Two Kinds of Truth. They strike a bargain and investigate the case together. Along the way, Ballard and Bosch investigate other cases on the side, but it’s the Daisy Clayton murder that drives the plot forward.

As per usual with Connelly’s novels, this one is a page-turner. I started reading it after dinner and finished it before I went to bed. It held my interest throughout. Even the side plots kept my interest. What I love about Connelly’s novels is the way he moves the plot forward by means of good detective work, rather than an investigator’s flashes of insight. You see Ballard and Bosch working the evidence, piecing the story together bit by bit. This approach keeps you hooked, because you want to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Additionally, I love the fact that unlike other serial novelists that I love to read—I’m looking at you, Lee Child and Craig Johnson—Michael Connelly is smart enough to realize that Bosch is getting older and simply can’t sustain the pace, the intensity, or the beatings he endured (or gave out) in previous novels. With this novel, Connelly seems to be moving his focus toward Ballard and transitioning Bosch into a lesser role. That’s great, as far as I’m concerned, both because Ballard is an intriguing character and because I still enjoy Bosch.

I’m not giving Dark Sacred Night a five-star review, however. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend reading it, but it’s not at the top of Connelly heap. I have two reasons for this: First, the side cases. One of the side cases is designed solely to introduce a character. Ballard’s side cases (an accidental death, an art theft, and a gruesome murder) are solved too perfunctorily. Bosch’s main side case is more interesting, but it’s difficult to tell whether how it ends is designed to set up a transition in Bosch’s life or to introduce a problem for a future novel. Second, a moment of intimacy between Bosch and another character seems way out of character for him. You’ll know what I mean when you read the novel.

Despite this, I’m happy with Dark Sacred Night, and I look forward to whatever Connelly cooks up next year. My guess is that Renée Ballard will play the leading role and Harry Bosch a supporting one. And that’s okay with me. They’re both great characters.

Book Reviewed
Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night: A Ballard and Bosch Novel (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Leading Healthy, High-Performance Teams | Influence Podcast


It’s been said that teamwork makes the dream work. That’s true for any organization, but it’s especially true for churches. After all, the business of Church isrelationship — with God and with others.

Unfortunately, many churches experience relational dysfunction in the leadership team, the congregation as a whole, or both. They also often fail to realize the vision for the Church laid out by Christ in the Great Commission. In High Impact Teams, Lance Witt explains why churches don’t have to choose between relationships and results. He then shows how to bring those two things together for greater effectiveness in ministry.

Witt is founder of Replenish, a ministry with two goals: (1) to help individuals live and lead from a healthy soul and (2) to help teams and organizations become healthy and high-performing. Before launching Replenish, he served 20 years as a senior pastor and six years as an executive and teaching pastor for Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

He’s my guest on Episode 157 of the Influence Podcast.

 

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Here’s my brief recommendation of the book from the November-December 2018 issue of Influence:

Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explain how to up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Moana Fashion Kit | Amazon Review


Making Moana-themed wooden-bangle bracelets with my young daughters is an hour of my life that I will never get back. I’m an older dad–nearly 50, while my girls are 6.5 and 5 years old–and not particularly crafty. But, while my wife was out of town over the weekend, my girls begged me to do this with them. So, I did.

They had a blast! They painted the bangles. It took about an hour for the paint to dry. Then they each picked a sticker. My biggest complaint about this kit is that the sticker edges don’t lay flat on the founded edges of the bangle. Then we strung beads on the hemp cords, which sounds easy, but I finally had to use a pin to push the easily unthreaded hemp through the bead hole. I tied those threaded beads around the bangle. Then we used glue to fasten flowers, jewels, and shells. All these items are included in the kit.

Like I said, it’s an hour that I won’t get back. Then again, the joy in my girls’ eyes and the creativity they displayed as they created their individual bracelets made it more than worthwhile.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

With God in the Valley of the Shadow of Death | Influence Podcast


Psalm 23 is one of the best recognized and most loved passages of Scripture. For three millennia, its words have comforted believers in good times and bad.

In his new book, Grace in the Valley, Heath Adamson explores a baker’s dozen of lessons the psalm teaches about life and ministry under the Shepherdhood of God.

Heath Adamson serves as chief of staff at Convoy of Hope, “a faith-based, nonprofit organization with a driving passion to feed the world through children’s feeding initiatives, community outreaches and disaster response.” He also serves in leadership roles for Empowered21’s Next Gen Networkand the Next Generation Commissionof the World Assemblies of God Fellowship.

The Prodigal Prophet | Book Review


If people know anything about the prophet Jonah, they know he was swallowed by a big fish. Consequently, because we live in an anti-miraculous age, people tend to dismiss Jonah’s story as just another fish story, the product of an ancient, credulous imagination. That dismissal is a shame, for the Book of Jonah tells a story with a timely message for people who live, as we do, in a moment of resurging nationalism.

The timeliness of that message is evident throughout The Prodigal Prophet by Timothy Keller. The book grew out of a series of expository sermons Keller preached at various times in his ministry. It reflects evangelicalism at its best: a biblical, Christ-centered, relevant call for conversion, not just in our spiritual lives, but in the totality of our lives.

We first meet Jonah in 2 Kings 14:25, which says that Jeroboam II, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel, “restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” Although Jeroboam II “did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (verse 24), God kept covenant with His people (verses 26–27) and the territorial promises He had made to them. Jonah was the prophet of God’s promise-keeping.

Jeroboam II reigned from 792–751 B.C., a period during which the Assyrian Empire, which had earlier threatened Israel, had stagnated. After his death, however, it resurged and began to threaten Israel once again. In 722 B.C., it conquered Israel, brutalized its victims, and deported the population. Israel never recovered as a political entity. When we read the Book of Jonah, we need to keep the tension between Jonah’s prophecy of territorial expansion and the subsequent history of Israel’s destruction in mind, for it is key to understanding the book’s message.

It explains Jonah’s reluctance to take “the word of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1) to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Though God instructed Jonah to “preach against” that “great city” (verse 2), Jonah knew that God’s judgment implicitly carried a promise of mercy to the repentant. “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2). As a patriot, the prophet didn’t want to see good come to his nation’s enemies. But God did, and so He asks Jonah (verse 11): “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?”

The tension between Jonah’s prophecy and Israel’s destruction also explains the book’s continuing relevance to us. The book ends without an answer from Jonah to God’s question. “The main purpose of God is to get Jonah to understand grace,” Keller writes. “The main purpose of the book of Jonah is to get us to understand grace.” Grace is God’s kindness and compassion to all people, not just our kindof people. Its ultimate embodiment was the incarnation of the Son of God, who died as the substitute for our sins and rose as the harbinger of our eternal life. When we understand this, it not only changes our hearts, but it changes the ways we relate to others. That is why God’s question at the end of Jonah is left unanswered. It is a question those who claim to follow God must answer anew in every generation.

The Prodigal Prophet makes for compelling reading. It explains the meaning of the Book of Jonah in its original context, but it draws out the implications of that meaning for our context. It shows the baleful ways Christians can worship ideological idols, misuse Scripture, and fail to love their neighbors as they should. But it also shows what a gospel-centered mission looks like, as well as how the gospel shapes our relationship with neighbors in our everyday lives. I’ll close this review with Keller’s penultimate paragraph, which itself ends with a question:

We live in a world fragmented into various “media bubbles,” in which you hear only news that confirms what you already believe. Anyone whose uses the internet and social media or who even watches most news channels today is being daily encouraged in a dozen ways to become like Jonah with regard to “those people over there.” Groups demonize and mock other groups. Each region of the country and political party finds reasons to despise the others. Christian believers today are being sucked into this maelstrom as much as, if not more than, anyone else. The Book of Jonah is a shot across the bow. God asks, how can we look at anyone — even those with deeply opposing beliefs and practices — with no compassion?

How you answer that question reveals what’s in your heart.

Book Reviewed
Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (New York: Viking, 2018).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.