Thursday
May302013

Surf the Woods

Book Review by 
Matt Ramsey

Have you ever had a God-inspired dream you abandoned along the journey of life? Perhaps you chose the “safe zone” and let the dream die and now it seems like life is just passing by.

In his book “Surf the Woods: The Ordinary Man’s Trail Map to the Extraordinary Life,” Arkansas native Holt Condren leads readers on a journey of renewed hope that the dreams they once aspired to can be a reality. “Surf the Woods” is the first book from Condren, who is a successful entrepreneur, men’s ministry leader, avid wilderness explorer and lead mountaineer on a team of scientists and archaeologists who are exploring Mount Ararat in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark.

Through personal stories and a series of principles, Condren’s main goal is to help readers move past the monotony of life and start living the fulfilling lives to which God has called them. The author leads readers through what he calls the “Four Dreamer’s Principles,” which are to “plan ambitiously,” “prepare persistently,” “persevere courageously” and “accelerate toward fear.” 

Condren shared the inspiration behind the title of his book. In his early 40s, Condren decided to put his wilderness skills to the test and go on a four-week journey of solitude into the largest contiguous wilderness area in the south central United States. While on the trip, he experienced difficult terrain and had to constantly look at his GPS as he cut new trails with a machete in order to reach his destination. After spending several exhausting hours going just a few feet, Condren decided to try a new strategy. He took one look at the general direction he needed to go on his GPS and exchanged the machete for trek poles and pushed the heavy brush to the side. This allowed him to keep his head up and take a better look at the landscape and helped him better plan his route. Once he had the right tools and had his eyes focused on the goal of finding the best route, he was able to accomplish the goal. He nicknamed this method of wilderness travel “surfing the woods.”

“It is an easy thing to be a dreamer; it is far more difficult to walk effectively in your dreams,” Condren writes. In light of this, he developed what he calls the “Dreamer’s Creed,” which is meant to help people overcome fear and pursue their dreams. The creed states: “I’ll go where I’m scared to go, I’ll face what I’m scared to face, I’ll say what I’m scared to say, to live the dream God has for me.”

The author sums up his book, saying, “If you apply the principles in this book, no longer will you sit back watching a select few live their inspiring dreams. You will start feeling the joy and contentment that goes along with living abundantly. You will be surfing the woods!”

Matt Ramsey is a member of The Summit Church, North Little Rock, and a member of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention staff.

Thursday
May162013

‘Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart’

Book Review by 
Caleb Yarbrough

There have been numerous points of contention among Southern Baptists over the past three centuries; but the eternal destination of human beings who die without accepting Christ has never been one of them. Understanding the necessity of salvation, however, is much different than having absolute assurance of being saved. 

In his new book, “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved,” J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., tackles issues of assurance of salvation, issues he says are an “epidemic” within today’s church.

Greear places problems of assurance of salvation within two categories: lack of assurance and false assurance – the former affecting those who are saved but struggle with doubting their faith and the latter categorizing those who have not yet accepted Christ but falsely believe they have. 

The author cedes that the book’s title is a loaded one and explains his reasoning behind it. Greear writes there is no inherent harm in what he calls the “gospel cliché,” the “evangelical shorthand” used by many evangelicals when they call for unbelievers to make an immediate decision for Christ and “ask Jesus into their hearts” in order to be saved. He says that it is neither heretical to “ask Jesus into your heart” or to press for a decision when sharing Christ with nonbelievers. The problem with the shorthand in reality, Greear writes, is that so many people, even those witnessing, rely more on the “Protestant ritual” of asking Christ into one’s heart, rather than the more biblical concept of gaining salvation through a “posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.”

Through eight chapters (and two appendixes), Greear aims to make the argument that assurance of salvation is not simply a luxury given to a select few, but an essential element of one’s salvation and personal relationship with Christ.

Greear states his goal for the reader at the end of the first chapter, writing, “My prayer is that by the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly where you stand with God.”

Thursday
May022013

Fatherless: A novel

Book Review by 
Valarie Inman

first read about this book in a column on the Religion page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I was so intrigued by the storyline and description that I immediately ordered a copy. It arrived to my home on a Thursday, and other than to eat or sleep, I did not put it down until I finished it – late in the afternoon on a Saturday. Thankfully, I have a very understanding husband and daughter who have realized that once I get engrossed in a book, they are on their own until I finish it.

This is a series of three books, “Fatherless” (available now); “Childless” (available in fall 2013) and “Godless” (available in summer 2014). After finishing “Fatherless,” my copies for the next two books have been preordered, and I cannot wait for them to arrive. 

As the book jacket states in its description, “‘Fatherless’ vividly imagines a future in which present-day trends come to sinister fruition. The year is 2042, and the long predicted tipping point has arrived. For the first time in human history, the economic pyramid has flipped.”

I have wished many times to have a crystal ball to be able to see into the future, but this is not a future I ever hope to see. In the 2042 world, there are too many feeble and old versus vigorous and young. Transition centers are being set up to “help” the old and feeble die, marriage and children are considered a thing of the past, ‘pregenetic’ testing is required if you do want to have children, Christianity is only for religious extremists and churches are almost nonexistent. It is not a world I would want to live in, but it is one I can easily see coming to fruition.  

There are many characters and many storylines – Antonio, who chooses to die because of his disability, a burden to his family, considered a detriment in society, and his family’s reactions to that decision; Matthew, who desires to be a college professor but does not have the means to attend college unless his mother transitions and leaves him the money set aside for her care in her senior years; Julia, who is a feminist supporting the idea that women who marry and have children – “breeders” as she calls them – are somehow faulty in society, but at the same time finding herself yearning for that life; Kevin and Angie, who are a set of Christian parents finding it hard to follow their sense of Christian values and ideals in light of the new world.

The scary part is I see a lot of truth in this book, even though it is supposed to be fiction. This book is not for the faint hearted. It is an intense book to read. It was frightening and fascinating at the same time. Along with laughter and tears, cold shivers went up and down my spine the more I became engrossed in this book because I could easily see this becoming the future of America – my America – our America, an America we as Christians must pray and fight to see that it never happens because if it does, may God have mercy on us all.

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.

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