Thursday
Apr182013

The Insanity of God

Book Review by
LaVeta Sergeant

After six years of serving day after day the people of Somaliland “who had witnessed profound evil, endured horrible living conditions, and suffered so much heartache and loss,” Nik Ripken said he found himself desperately wondering if the problems in Somaliland were too big for God. He found it nearly impossible to face a new day knowing he and his team would feed 50,000 people animal food – grains – to keep them alive and also bury 20 children before the day was over.

After the death of one of his own children from an asthma attack, he and his family returned to the United States to heal and recover from the physical and emotional trauma they had experienced. He found himself considering questions like, Can God truly overcome evil? Is love really more powerful than hate? How can a person maintain even a small hope in a dark place? In earnestly seeking answers to these and other questions, Ripken and his wife felt that he should go to countries where the believers were severely persecuted and learn firsthand about the “spiritual survival strategies and faith lessons they had learned through their experiences of suffering, hardships and persecution.”

Ripken had countless clandestine and dangerous meetings with people under severe persecution in Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, China, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and in a large, strict Muslim country. He heard countless amazing and miraculous stories and came to realize that God is still doing the things He has always done.  

The inspiring stories and eye-opening revelations in “The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected” should move the reader to re-examine their faith and seek to change how they live their lives each day for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Thursday
Mar212013

‘Public Reading of Scripture’

Book Review by
Doug Hibbard

In “Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture,” Jeffrey Arthurs, professor of preaching and communication at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., presents his case that the Bible needs a more central role in the corporate gatherings of our churches. By this, he does not mean we are neglecting biblical theology or even a commitment to know the Bible. His point is we do not spend enough of our effort in the simple practice of presenting the plain Word of God. Many services are focused on what we say and singing about the Word of God, but the Word itself receives less time than the announcements.

The typical evangelical church service, which is his (and my) primary experience, devotes very little time to reading the Bible aloud. Arthurs states that part of our problem is that when we do read the Word, we do not read it well. He echoes the late Roy Buckelew of Ouachita Baptist University, who often lamented the dying art of oral presentation of Scripture. 

“Devote Yourself” first addresses the “why” question and then delves into guidelines for “how” the Word can be read, and read well. Arthurs’ view is that nearly anyone can, with some practice and coaching, participate in public reading.

Arthurs presents very basic oral interpretation guidelines on reading Scripture in public. “Devote Yourself” does not push into the over dramatic, though a few basic readers’ theater ideas are presented at the end. The overall thrust is this: Learn to read aloud, and learn to read aloud well.

The included DVD shows demonstration of technique and provides almost all one needs to have an oral interpretation class focused on Scripture. This moves the material from, “I read it, and I think I get it,” to, “Ah! I read it, I see it and I can do it.”

This is a practical little book that I hope finds its way into more hands. If we will begin to read Scripture well, then instead of hearing, “That’s boring,” when we suggest reading the Bible aloud in the service, we will find volunteers to both listen and read. After all, getting more people involved in the life of the church through the Word can only be helpful.

I highly recommend “Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture.” It has value for church use and for training anyone who needs to start or strengthen public speaking skills.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church, Almyra.

Thursday
Feb212013

Dispatches from Bitter America

Book Review by
Caleb Yarbrough

In his second book, Todd Starnes, host of the radio show “Fox News & Commentary” and frequent political contributor, asks the question, “Is the average American bitter?”

Starnes’ inspiration comes from a speech given in 2008 by President Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, in which he claimed that conservative Americans hold on to their guns, religion, aversion to people who are different from themselves and economic ideals as a way to rationalize their frustrations. 

“So it is not surprising then that they get bitter,” Starnes quotes Obama as saying.

In order to test what he perceives as a “liberal” theory and a “culture war,” propagated by those in our country who want to see traditional values fall, Starnes embarks on a quest to find out if America really has become a nation where enlightened secularists have taken the upper hand and where vehemently angry religious people populate a decidedly powerful, yet less “evolved” mode of thinking.

Starnes’ travels take him north, south, east and west. He eventually concludes, through the observations of his gallivanting, that most Americans share his same general values, values that contradict those claimed by the mainstream media and progressively minded social pundits but to Starnes, are essential to the “American” identity.

During a visit to a New Hampshire diner, Starnes writes that he had a “political epiphany” that there is a general thread that binds most Americans, regardless of their location, a thread defined by love of God, country and traditional American ideals, ideals that are ingrained throughout our country’s history and have only recently become taboo.

“Dispatches” is written with essay-like chapters composed of Starnes’ opinions and is interwoven with interviews and conversations with prominent figures of the American political right wing. Starnes speaks with Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, Fox News host Sean Hannity and Fox News contributor and political commentator Michelle Malkin, to name a few.

Often tongue-in-cheek, mostly satirical and always keen, Starnes argues that most Americans, 78 percent according to a Gallup poll he mentions, proclaim to be Christians, even in a culture moving hastily towards modernism.

Starnes is idealistic, which makes the reader want to hear what he has to say. And while he often glosses over issues that don’t fit nicely into his argument and overly “Southernizes” America’s varied viewpoints on faith, politics and morality for the sake of his cause, his words are thought provoking.

Overall, the book’s best quality is Starnes’ honesty and humor.

Toward the end of Chapter 35, he makes the most poignant statement of the book.

“The Bible calls us aliens in this world. Aliens are people who have placed their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. There’s a song made famous by R.E.M. called ‘It’s the End of the World as we Know It.’ … And you know something? I feel fine,” writes Starnes.

As believers, it is so easy to forget we are aliens living in a world that is not our own and that, in it, we are not called to create for ourselves gated communities with signs reading, “Believers only.”

Starnes does not mean his claim that most Americans are God-fearing people to be taken as a beacon of hope for believers. It is a challenge.

While he loves his country and  believes it was founded with biblical Scripture in mind and continues to be home to millions of Christ followers, Starnes argues that the only truly “Christian nation” is heaven, its citizens being the Body of Christ.

At times “Dispatches” is disconcerting. However, Starnes’ conclusion seems to be that Christians should never accept sin, yet they should also never expect nonbelievers to act like they are saved – and that our country’s destiny is ultimately up to Christ.

Until the Lord returns, the world will embrace sin and consider Christians “bitter” because of their beliefs, which is to be expected.

According to Starnes, in the end, our fight should not be a “culture war,” but a war for the hearts of men. Christ will take care of the rest.

Contact Caleb Yarbrough at caleb@arkansasbaptist.org.

Thursday
Feb072013

Prayers from the Pews

Book Review by
Valerie Inman

Jada Swanson, a friend and fellow pastor’s wife in Washington State, introduced me to the book “Prayers from the Pews” by Teri Lynne Underwood. After reading it, I have figured out what is wrong with church – it’s me, and not only me, but all of us who call ourselves Christians and neglect the God-given gift of prayer.  

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Teri Lynne Underwood has been hiding in my closet, peeping out from under my bed, watching and listening to the thoughts of my heart. This book is amazing in speaking the things that have been on my heart a long time about church, how we do church and why we do church.

The book challenges you to get honest with yourself and with God about what is wrong with our churches today. This book points out the fact that too many of us are talking more than praying, sitting in pews more than kneeling, worshipping ourselves more than worshipping God.

I believe every person who calls himself a Christian needs to read this book and then put into action the call of revival and prayer. Every church needs to use this book for a Bible study class. If I could afford to buy this book in bulk to hand out to everyone I know – I would.  

My copy will soon be dog-eared, highlighted, written-in and worn-out from using it. It has discussion questions and a reading plan for the Book of Acts. My favorite chapter was Chapter 3 – “The Weakest Link.” She had to be peering into my heart and soul because she has me nailed in that chapter. At times I am indeed the weakest link in my church.  

My family and I are planning to use it as a family Bible study and Bible reading. I challenge you to do the same, but be warned, fellow readers – get this book, but you will need steel-toed boots, as well as full body armor.

Valerie Inman is wife of Billy Inman, pastor of Diaz Baptist Church, Newport.

Thursday
Jan102013

The Reason

Book Review by
Valerie Inman

This book first caught my eye because of the front cover. It’s not often I pass through the book section and see a cover with a white church and large wooden cross being struck by lightning. 

When I turned it over to the back to read the description, the question at the top of the book jumped out at me: “When facing the impossible, will you believe?”

Growing up, I was blessed to have a grandmother, Sue Dell Free, who repeatedly told me throughout my life to “trust God and only believe.” That is the central theme of this book – “only believe.” 

Written in a style very similar to Frank Peretti, Sirls tells the story of a blind pastor and a small-town congregation that has to keep their faith in the midst of adversity. 

It is about relationships with others and with God. Through an unlikely collection of characters that at first seemed to have nothing in common, a believable and loveable community of friends is brought together as they face their individual trials. Their faith is tested to the limit, and the test is heartbreaking as they struggle to understand.

The story centers around the cross that is struck by lightning and how to fix it; a carpenter named Kenneth and the amazing things that happen whenever he is around; a young oncologist named Macey Lewis and a little boy named Alex, who is her patient, and Alex’s best friend, Charlie. There are too many characters to mention, but they all come to life and seem to jump off the pages as you read this book. The story is so believable that you feel you know them all personally.

I will be sharing this book with friends and encouraging others to purchase it. This story will challenge your faith, your beliefs and how you live them out in your life and the lives around you. This is a story of the fight to hold on to your faith in the midst of the impossible. 

Valerie Inman is wife of Billy Inman, pastor of Diaz Baptist Church, Newport.

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