Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Flash Fiction: Never Too Late

This is another flash fiction story I wrote.

Never Too Late
by Tom Farr

Wendy wanted to rush at the man standing over her son's bed, but the gun aimed at her face and the knife held to Billy's neck caused her to stand planted in the doorway. A villainous smile crossed the man's face.

"If you do anything to hurt him, I swear..."

Wendy could feel the rage well up as the man laughed and made a pinprick cut with the knife into the flesh of Billy's neck.

Billy screamed, and Wendy began moving toward him when she felt a searing pain in her right thigh. A loud pop rang throughout the room. Wendy collapsed, staring at the dark gash where the bullet went in.

Billy was still screaming, writhing in the bed.

"Shut up, or I'll shoot her again!" the man said.

Billy stilled. "Mommy..."

"Mommy's okay, sweetie. Just listen to what the he says." To the man, "What do you want with us?"

The gun was leveled at her face again. "I want him to show up. He can end all of this by merely coming here. We'll leave together. And you and Billy will never see me again."

It can't be that simple, can it?

"Are you going to hurt him?"

"If he doesn't show up, Billy dies. Don't you think he'd be willing to make that sacrifice?"

The man threw her a cell phone. "Call him."

Wendy made the call. No response.

"He didn't answer."

The man frowned. "Bad news for you."

The man laid the two weapons down and reached into the inner pocket of his black jacket. Wendy saw a syringe in his hand.

"What are you going to do with that?"

Before he answered, the man jabbed the syringe's needle into Billy's leg and injected its contents into the boy.

"No!" Wendy lunged toward the man on her good leg, but she was met with a back-arm to her face. She fought the need to black out.

The man trained his gun back on her. "That was a very lethal virus. My own design. Billy has exactly one hour to live. More like fifty minutes, really, because in the last ten minutes his body will be ravaged beyond anything anyone could possibly survive."

Wendy felt her body shaking.

"Please..." she said with tears blurring her vision.

"There is an antidote." He reached back into his jacket and pulled out another syringe. "Get him here and Billy will be okay. If he doesn't show up, Billy dies."

Wendy grabbed the phone again. She waited as it rang.

Why isn't he answering? He always answers.

She finally got voicemail.

"Dad! You have to answer...please answer...Billy is going to die if you don't get to my house now...Nate is going to kill him...please Dad!"

She heard herself screaming the words, but it felt futile. She threw the phone on the ground.

"You can't do this, Nate. Please just give him the antidote."

"No! Either Dad shows up to save the day from his prodigal son or Billy dies."

Wendy sighed. "Will you just let me close to him?"

Nate stepped aside as Wendy came to Billy's side. She held his hand and watched his chest rise and fall. Unconscious had already set in. Nate kept the gun pointed at her.

Please, Dad. We need you.

Wendy looked at the clock on the wall next to the door. Thirty minutes had passed, and nothing from her father. Why was he ignoring her?

She grabbed the phone to call again.


"Dad? Tell me you got my message."

A pause. "It's going to be hard to understand, baby, but I'm not going to make it."

Wendy froze. "What do you mean?"

"I know it's going to hurt, but I promise it's going to be okay."

How can it be okay if Billy dies?

The call disconnected.

Wendy felt her breathing quicken. "No...Why would he do this? Why wouldn't he come?"

"Either he doesn't care," Nate said, "or he's a coward and powerless to stop it. Either way, Billy dies."

"Please...I'll do anything."

A smile crossed Nate's face, and Wendy thought that maybe he would have mercy.

"I know you would," he said, "but the one person who could do something about it failed you."

Nate lifted the gun and brought the butt of it down on the back of Wendy's head. She crumpled to the floor as everything went to black.

When she woke up an hour later she found Billy's tortured body lying on the bed. Nate was gone. She began sobbing, begging Billy to wake up.

She heard the front door open and close. She grabbed the knife that Nate had left on Billy's bed and prepared to use it on whoever was in the house.



Her father walked into the bedroom. "I'm here, baby."

Her father leaned down in front of her. She began to pound his chest with her fists.

"You're too late! Why didn't you show up? If you would've just came, Billy would still be alive! Why weren't you there for me?"

Wendy buried her face in her hands and begged God to let her die. Her father was too late, and now her son was dead.

She felt a hand on hers and heard a tiny voice,"Mommy, I'm okay."

Through blurry eyes she looked up to see Billy standing in front of her. Fully alive.

She looked up at her father. "How?"

He smiled. "Too late isn't always too late."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson

Many of the most life-giving aspects of God and Christianity exist as mere rumors in the eyes of many in America, followers of Jesus or not. Authors Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson in their new book RUMORS OF GOD suggest that people's imaginations have been taken captive as everybody chases after the same individualistic American dream, yet left completely dissatisfied. There are rumors of another dream, one that wraps us up in the life of God and causes us to bring us hope for this dream to the people of a dying world.

Whitehead and Tyson explore the rumors of...
• Generosity
• Love
• Grace
• Freedom
• Commitment
• Community
• Justice
• Hope

While these things exist as mere rumors in the eyes of many, Whitehead and Tyson give us great hope and practical steps to prove these things as a reality through our lives.
I loved the personal stories the authors shared throughout the book, and their insights were very eye-opening on things like generosity and community. My favorite chapter of the book was the chapter on justice. Like the authors, I didn’t quite realize how much the fight against injustice is an integral part of the gospel of Jesus.

The book makes the incredible call to beleivers everywhere to show the world that the rumors about God’s existence, God’s love, and God’s redemptive plan are true.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Vigilante by Robin Parrish

The streets of New York City are overrun by organized crime. Many of the city's police officers are corrupt. Families are being torn apart, and people are dying. Hope is lost. All over the world people are suffering as the wicked roam free, devouring whatever and whoeverk they want.

The world needs a hero to show them a better way, and one man personally takes on the challenge. A man with incredible skill and a firm faith. A man convinced that for people to change they need an example, a symbol to inspire hope and motivate love in action.

Robin Parrish's latest novel VIGILANTE is about this hero. Highly trained military soldier Nolan Gray is tired of the wicked having their way and has faked his own death to reemerge as a vigilante superhero in New York City known as The Hand. With the help of a retired general named Branford, a gadget expert named Arjay, and a nurse named Alice who was rescued from an abusive home life, The Hand daily makes his way through the streets of New York doing good for people and inspiring hope.

The Hand seems nearly unstoppable until the night a tragic accident claims the lives of the wife and daughter of the city's most powerful crime boss Yuri Vasko. Believing The Hand to be responsible, Vasko vows revenge and pushes Nolan to his limits. Can this one man really change people for the better or will evil win in the end?

Parrish has been one of my favorite authors since I picked up his book RELENTLESS in a book store 3 years ago to see what the book was about. I couldn't put it down until I read through all three books of the DOMINION TRILOGY. With each book it's clear that he's getting better and he has an incredible ability to craft a truly interesting and emotionally-driven story.

I loved VIGILANTE because I've always loved superhero stories like Superman and Batman, and Parrish's hero is well-crafted and memorable. It would be great if the story could achieve widespread appeal beyond just a Christian audience because the story is so compelling and inspiring.

VIGILANTE is great because there's nothing supernatural about the hero. Nolan Gray is a man who has been stretched more than any human being should and is resilient and resourceful as a result. Nolan is also surrounded by a great cast of characters who care about Nolan and his cause, as well as a very resourceful villain who helps define The Hand as a hero.

Throughout the story Nolan struggles with the nature of the evil he's trying to stop, as any human would. It prompts the question, "Can a flawed man truly stop evil without succumbing to it himself?" Parrish handles this tension in a way that is completely unpredictable and kept me turning the pages.

I loved the story and it would be great if Parrish wrote a sequel to The Hand's story. The Hand could join the ranks of all our favorite superheroes.

I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishing.

Review: The Writer's Manifesto by Jeff Goins

Some people wake up every morning with an intense desire that won't go away. Though many of them make countless excuses why they shouldn't do it or that they'll have plenty of time to do it later, it's still there, and many don't know what to do with it. The desire often verbalizes itself in the form of, "I want to be a writer someday." The problem is the word "someday." As long as we keep saying that we'll be a writer someday, it always remains a mere possibility in our future.

If this is where you find yourself, Jeff Goins' concise book THE WRITER'S MANIFESTO is a call to action. Writers write because it is what they love to do. It's not about getting published or being known; it's because we have a relentless drive to create. And we're called to honor that drive by "showing up" and simply beginning each day to write. Goins gives writers the courage to say, "I am a writer today."

For years I told myself that I was going to be a writer someday, even as I would write every now and then when inspiration would strike. Then I realized if I wanted to be a writer, then I had to start writing regularly. So I did, and the feeling of creating and exploring is incredible and freeing. This is the call of THE WRITER'S MANIFESTO.

It's a quick and easy read, making its point thoughtfully and clearly, and freeing a writer up to create.

For more information about Jeff Goins he blogs regularly at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Why God Won't Go Away by Alister McGrath

In WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY author Alister McGrath explores the beliefs of a movement of militant anti-theistic thinkers known as the New Atheists. This movement’s leaders are known as the Four Horsemen—Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. Unlike atheists of the past who haven’t believed that God exists but have at least been tolerant of those who do, members of the New Atheism are characterized by their firm attack on religious belief. In fact, people like Christopher Hitchens have labeled religion as inherently evil and the cause of the world’s most significant tragedies.

McGrath engages the New Atheism in three areas—violence, reason, and science. Tackling violence, he shows that religious belief, while sometimes a cause of tragic violence when abused, isn’t the sole source of violence in our world. Using examples from history, he shows that atheism when abused has been just as much a cause of violence. The New Atheism relies on reason and science and propose that since belief in God cannot be proven by either of these, he cannot possibly exist, yet McGrath shows clearly that reason and science are limited on what they can do. For example, science cannot speak on issues of meaning or value. Reason can only take you so far. However, he does show that belief in God can actually be rational, using examples of philosophers of religion such as Alvin Plantinga and his idea of the “other minds.”

McGrath does a great job of showing how misguided the New Atheists are. They staunchly oppose religious belief as inherently evil, but provide no solutions of anything better. Their belief, which Christopher Hitchens asserts is not a belief, seems to be really more about what they can tear down than what they can construct. As McGrath shows, this is a shaky foundation on which the New Atheism is struggling to survive. As he explores the works of the Four Hoursmen in particular, it’s hard not to get a sense a deep resentment and anger by these men toward the God they claim doesn’t exist. And their hatred and insulting remarks toward those who believe in God aren’t endearing to a movement that seems to be seeking to rid the world of its evils.

WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY is a quick and informative read about a crucial issue, and McGrath comes out making his point clearly and respectfully.

I received this book for free from

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Erasing Hell by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle

Is there a hell, and will anyone really go there when they die? The thought is terrible, and it is one of the hardest things to swallow for most people trying to conceive of a loving God as Christianity tries to present him. It doesn’t make sense to us. If God loves us, why would he send us to hell for not believing in him in this lifetime? If we could just have another chance when we face him after death, then surely seeing him with our own eyes would be more than convincing for us to change our minds, so why won’t he give us that? How is that fair? How is that God showing us he loves us? On a smaller scale, why would God send me to hell for telling a lie if that was the only bad thing I ever did in life? Would God really send a good person to hell? What does that mean for the people I love the most?

Hell is a terrifying concept in anyone’s mind, but what if we’ve gotten it wrong? Those are the kinds of questions asked by author and pastor Rob Bell in a controversial book LOVE WINS, and the kind of questions author and pastor Francis Chan tries to answer in his latest book ERASING HELL. I haven’t read LOVE WINS, so I can’t speak authoritatively on it, but it seems that the controversy surrounds Bell’s cryptic proposal that punishment in hell may not last forever and that, in the end, God’s love wins over the hardest of hearts. Though Bell never makes this statement outright in the book, his belief seems to be that, in the end, everyone ends up in heaven. That sounds great. If that’s true, then we don’t have to worry about hell, or about believing in Jesus for that matter because God will win us over in the end.

But, as Francis Chan points out, on this issue, we can’t afford to be wrong. People’s eternal destinies are at stake. Chan with co-author Preston Sprinkle take us on a journey through the biblical text as well as what the Jews in Jesus’ time believed about hell to show us what Jesus confirmed about hell in his own teaching. It turns out that hell is a reality that Jesus wanted to make very clear to people, and for good reason. Jesus and the biblical authors warned about hell so often because they wanted to prevent people from going there. In fact, Jesus suffered and died as punishment for sin so that no one would ever have to suffer for their sin in hell themselves. But, as the book clearly shows, sometimes people reject Jesus and what he’s done for them, and they take on the punishment for their sin on their own in hell. In all this, the authors reveal a God who loves people enough to warn them about hell and give them a way out of it, but it must be chosen in this life. After all, changing our minds after death when we’re in hell would only be coercion and not a genuine faith in Jesus.

Chan and Sprinkle’s journey through the text is very compelling, highly accurate, and thoroughly sobering in light of what God says about us and the people we love and the people we see everyday. If hell is real, then there are people all around us everyday who are on a trajectory toward it, and Christ followers cannot, with integrity, stand by and not do something about it.

The book seeks to answer…
What the Old Testament taught about hell
What Jews of Jesus’ day believed about hell and whether Jesus refuted or confirmed their beliefs
What Jesus said about hell
What Jesus’ followers said about hell
Why it should matter to us
What we should do about it

Chan’s writing style, as always, is warm and inviting. As you read, you can sense the emotion poured out on the page as he was writing, revealing a deep passion for Jesus and the people he loves throughout. The book was a thoughtful look at what hell is all about, and I came away from the book just wanting to love people more, to show them that Jesus loves them and died so they wouldn’t have to go to hell. Christians often turn people off to following Jesus by coming off as judgmental and unloving when they speak of hell. But, as I read Chan’s book, I felt that it was clear that Jesus talked about hell so much because he wanted to drive us to show people the way out of hell. He wanted to keep people from going there. The reality of hell is meant to shake us out of apathy, to understand why people need Jesus and his sacrifice, and to lovingly lead people away from hell and to a relationship with Jesus that results in eternal ultimately satisfying life.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The greatest stories reflect something bigger. A desperate longing in all of our hearts for redemption and for freedom from the evil that threatens to undo us at every turn. The greatest stories are about the epic struggle between good and evil, a form that's lasted for thousands of years, yet we never tire of it. Because it's our story. We suffer. Something plagues us, and we need a hero to set us free from the most despicable of evil.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 was the end of one of these epic stories. Throughout the books and the movies based off of them, Voldemort has represented an oppressive evil that has grown and threatens the world's existence. But there is one who is prophesied and destined to defeat him, and he is the hero of our story - Harry Potter. The tension mounts to it's highest peak in HP7.2 as the questions of Harry's future and the future of the world hang in the balance. Will Voldemort kill Harry Potter and become the most powerful man in the universe, free to destroy anyone be pleases? Will evil win? Will good even stand a chance? What will the cost be to rid the world of its greatest evil?

The movie was brilliant, a very compelling ending to the story. I read the books a few years ago, and I was instantly hooked. There's not many stories that compare to J.K. Rowling's masterpiece in my mind. I think most people who read the books would say that the books were better. I would have to agree. There's so many intricate story threads woven throughout the books that the filmmakers just didn't have the time to focus on. (There's a lot more Dumbledore backstory in the book). Yet to see a movie try to capture what the books were about was incredible, from the intensity of their hopeless situation in the beginning to the climactic battle at the end.


There were several things about the movie that were high points for me. I loved seeing Professor McGonagall step into the role that she did as protector of Hogwarts. It was great to see the reunion between Harry, Ron, and Hermione and the rest of Hogwarts. It was good to see some brief reappearances of some old characters like Sirius Black, Harry's parents, and of course, Dumbledore. Severus Snape's climactic death scene was very emotional, as well as the deaths of some of the core characters of the story. Harry Potter's determination and care for others were something we should all strive for in the fight against evil in our world. I loved that Weasley mom was the one to fight Bellatrix LeStrange. Finally, the scene at the end 19 years later was one of my favorites in the book.

There were also some things that could have been better. Snape's revelation as Harry's protector near the end seemed very rushed, especially compared to the book. It didn't seem real clear whether Harry died after Voldemort's Avada Kadavra curse or not. No one ever had the revelation that Harry's invisibility cloak is one of the Deathly Hallows or that Harry's father was one of the descendants of one of the three brothers of the Deathly Hallows. Voldemort's death seemed a little anti-climactic in that it wasn't clear that he died until he started disintegrating.

I think there's a reason why people write stories about someone having to die in order to destroy evil. C.S. Lewis said something similar. It seems like messianic sacrifice has been written into the fabric of our world as the one solution to evil. It seems quite clear, to me at leadt, that Harry was a Christ figure in the story who died and was resurrected so others might live. The stories that people write are never meant to replace the actual story or to reinterpret it. The stories are meant to reveal our desperate need for redemption and a hero to provide that redemption. While I don't think HP7.2 will send everyone to the Bible looking for a hero, I think it gives us a great opportunity for conversation about what we need most.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

In THE BRIDE COLLECTOR by Ted Dekker, FBI Agent Brad Raines is on the hunt for a demented serial killer known as The Bride Collector. The Bride Collector believes he's on a mission from God, finding a pure and perfect bride for God and sending her to him the only way he knows how--by killing her. To see God, his bride must die, and it's the Bride Collector's job to ensure it's done perfectly. The FBI finds each of his victims with her back glued to the wall and no signs of violence done to her except a small hole in her heel where he drains her of life. On her head is a wedding veil.

Agent Raines enlists the help of The Center for Wellness and Intelligence, a mental health facility for gifted individuals, and meets four unique characters, one of which is a girl named Paradise. Tragic events from her past cause Paradise to suffer from psychosis and a deep fear to leave the comfort of the Center. Agent Raines befriends Paradise and begins to see the world differently through her perspective. Though society would say she's deeply flawed and incapable of love, Raines finds himself drawn to her. But he's not the only one. The Bride Collector has his sights on her as well, and Brad Raines must uncover the truth about The Bride Collector to rescue Paradise before it's too late.

THE BRIDE COLLECTOR is really a beautiful story about God's love and pursuit of all people. Through the story of a very misguided and disturbed villain, Dekker somehow reveals to us the heart of God. God has a favorite, the one person he loves the most in the world, the one he gave his life for. Yet because God is infinite, he can have more than one favorite.

As Raines battles The Bride Collector and fights for Paradise's life, he gets a sense of God's pursuit of all people through his pursuit of Paradise.

The Bride Collector himself is truly disturbing. He really believes that he's searching for God's favorite and sending God's favorite to him by killing her. He reasons that he's doing the will of God, and his reasoning is that of a man not in touch with reality.

The highlight of the story is Paradise. She's an incredibly likable character, probably the most likable character Dekker has ever created. We see her flaws and insecurities and realize that, although she's mentally handicapped, she's really just like us. And when we see her through the eyes of someone who truly loves her, we see God's pursuit of us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Story Time: The Voice

A short story I wrote a couple years ago...

On a subway in New York, a man was riding to his office in the city. As he sipped his Starbucks coffee and read the morning newspaper, he suddenly felt the urge to barge in on the subway driver and demand that he stop the subway. He had no idea why he felt the urge, but it was really intense. He felt like something very bad was going to happen if he didn’t stop the subway. He looked at all the people around him who were oblivious to what was going on inside his head. He decided his imagination must have been getting to him and went back to reading his newspaper.

Several minutes went by and he felt the urge again, and this time he felt like he could hear an almost inaudible whisper inside his head telling him that he needed to stop the subway. He thought he should be freaked out by the voice, but he wasn’t. It wasn’t scary, but it clearly wanted him to stop the subway. He looked around again. He was the only one experiencing whatever was going on inside of him. People would think he was crazy if he said that he was supposed to stop the subway because a voice inside of his head told him to. The thought crossed his mind that maybe he was crazy, and he didn’t want to do something that would seem completely stupid just because he thought he heard a voice inside his head. For the second time, he went back to reading his newspaper and sipping his coffee.

Only thirty seconds passed before the intense urge to stop the subway and the inner voice returned, and this time he saw an image inside of his head of a woman lying on subway tracks in the dark. The woman looked terrified as a subway came racing toward her. This time the man knew he couldn’t ignore what was going on. Even if he was crazy, he couldn’t take the risk of putting a woman’s life in danger if there really was one on the tracks up ahead.

The man raced to the front of the subway and demanded to see the driver. He told the driver that he had to stop the subway because someone’s life was in danger if he didn’t. Not wanting to sound crazy, the man didn’t mention that his information came from a voice inside of his head. The driver wasn’t convinced. After several minutes of arguing, the man knew that time was running out, so he finally pushed the driver out of the way and grabbed the brakes himself. The subway came to a screeching halt. The driver wrestled the man to the ground.

Several hours later the man learned from local authorities that a woman had been kidnapped by her ex-husband and placed on the subway tracks, bound up and left to die. Because the man stopped the subway, the woman’s life was saved. He wouldn’t have known to stop the subway if he wouldn’t have heard the voice.

Book Review: On the Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson

ON THE VERGE by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson is a book about what the church once was and what it could be again.

When Jesus created the church from a small band of ordinary people 2,000 years ago, it was a grassroots missional movement. Life-transformation was normative for the lives of those committed to the movement. And the movement was growing rapidly as a result of the movement's devotion to bringing people close to Jesus and his community. Structure was low and innovation was high.

Fast-forward to today, and the majority of churches in the West look more like an institution than a movement, with hierarchal structures, extravagant buildings, and a culture that unfortunately stifles innovation and is in sharp consistent decline as they fail to get outside the walls and embrace the apostolic mission of the New Testament church begun by Jesus. Thanks to the marriage of church and state by Constantine in 320, the church in the West often stands as an unaffecting monument of what used to be, a constant reminder to those most dissatisfied by it that the church is one of the only social movements that doesn't seem to move forward into the future. As the authors say, "What was largely an illegal, underground people-movement was now given money, status, power, and legitimacy. Everything changed."

ON THE VERGE gives a lot of hope for what the church could be -- a movement once again. The authors give us a step by step process for churches to become what they call a Verge church. The book suggests that every church has all the potential built into its DNA by God to be a missional movement. In fact, every single believer has everything inside of them they need to create a movement. The authors call this latent potential Apostolic Genius, and it is composed of the six elements of what they've termed mDNA:
1. Jesus is Lord
2. Disciple-making
3. Missional-incarnational impulse
4. Apostolic environment
5. Organic systems
6. Communitas

A commitment to and embracing of these six elements, which were foundational to the church as Jesus designed it, will inevitably transform the church into an apostolic movement. But commitment to these elements doesn't come natural to churches mired in institutional Christendom. The church needs a paradigm change, which is the subject of Part 1 of the book -- Imagination.

The Imagination portion of the book is worth the price of the book. The authors show us that the process of change from institution to movement must begin with changing the way people in the church think. The same thinking that got us to where we're at won't get us to where we need to be. I loved the part about the 2% of people who are innovators in a group of people and the 13.7% of people who are early adopters. If we can win over the innovators and the early adopters -- 16% of the people in a church -- to the Verge paradigm, then we will reach a tipping point that will cause the paradigm to spread throughout the entire organization. This is great news, especially for someone like me who is part of the 2% of innovators. It gives me hope for the burning desire inside of me to see the church become a gospel-driven movement that draws people to the heart of Christ again. Part 1 gives some great ideas on how to change the hearts and minds of the people in your church to a missional church paradigm.

Part 2 goes into detail about Apostolic Genius, a subject that Alan Hirsch has obviously devoted much focus on. I loved Dave Ferguson's elaboration on the Disciple-making element as Apprenticeship. Jesus' disciples learned from Jesus by living their lives with him in apprenticeship. It was more that just information transfer; they were living the mission out with Jesus. The authors make the crucial case that all believers need to be expected to live on mission, not just hearing information about mission, but actually putting it into practice. The church has for too long relegated ministry to the church leaders and the members have been left with nothing to do. Life transformation occurs when people are genuinely becoming a vital part of the movement. Hirsch suggests defining your church's core values and assigning practical actions for your people to live those core values out in their everyday lives.

Part 3 is about Innovation. Innovate or die, as one of the chapters is called. Churches are called to move forward. Practices that work today may not work tomorrow. Churches need to be constantly taking risks for the sake of innovation, or the church will eventually become outdated and obsolete. Dave Ferguson points out that God is always doing a new thing. He gives some great examples of how to discover innovation.

Finally, Part 4 is called Move. This is about putting the theory of the first 3 parts into practical application and create momentum. The Blink test to determine if you're heading in the right direction is great.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "Christianity is designed to be a people's liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake." This is the movement God designed to spread his love and rescue throughout the world.

There's not much to not like about this book. It's packed with incredible insights and ideas to put into practice. Above all, it gives great hope for the church becoming a movement that draws people to Jesus.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Coming Alive: A Review of Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson


What happens when churches assume the gospel? What happens when a church treats the gospel as one of the many things they teach or something merely to tack on at the end of a worship service when the pastor says something along the lines of, "Please come forward if you want to ask Jesus into your heart"? These are the questions Jared Wilson explores in his upcoming book GOSPEL WAKEFULNESS.

Many churches across the country assume the gospel week in and week out by assuming that its members are already well-acquainted with the transforming message of Jesus and that the gospel is merely for the salvation for unbelievers. Once you're in, it's use is finished for you. The problem is that so many people who are assumed to have embraced the gospel aren't living transformed lives. So churches teach many practical biblically-principled messages while its members are effectively asleep to the life-changing power of the gospel. This leaves people exerting a lot of their own willpower to apply really good biblical principles, but without the motivating power of what Wilson calls gospel wakefulness. Without gospel wakefulness people are left exhausted, dejected, and feeling like their faith isn't really doing anything in them. They may continue, or they may turn away.

But for many, Wilson tells us, there comes a moment when the gospel truly comes alive and changes everything. Wilson asserts that this might be simultaneous with conversion, but many times it's not. People often believe in Jesus without understanding the full implications of that faith for their lives. The moment of gospel wakefulness comes on the backside of a time of incredible brokenness when we come to the end of ourselves and find ourselves most desperate for Jesus alone. Our affections are changed from the things that leave us empty to the God who rescued us. We find ourselves most satisfied in Jesus, and this drives our behavior rather changing our behavior, thinking we're going to earn God's favor.

Wilson does a great job of defining the gospel and what he means by gospel wakefulness. The book has many compelling personal stories from people the author knows. Wilson effectively shows the path to gospel wakefulness, and these stories illustrate the path powerfully.

One of the concepts I enjoyed the most from this book was what Wilson called Gospel-driven Sanctification. Christians are often more than ready to admit that our rescue is a work solely of God that we receive by faith, even if we're tempted to try to earn it. But the prevailing thought is that our journey of becoming less and less sinful is something we must accomplish by our own work. This leaves us exhausted and feeling like a failure when we aren't able to accomplish our own sanctification by our own willpower. Gospel-driven Sanctification is something I've been committed to for a long time, and I was excited to read someone else's thoughts on it. The gospel that saves us is also the gospel that transforms us. We work as a response to Christ's work, not to earn Christ's work. So churches must be committed to preaching the gospel as the focal point of their message week in and week out, showing that the gospel is for believers and unbelievers alike.

This is a great book for church leaders to go through to understand the need for their people to hear and understand the gospel that changes them over and over again.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway through

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore

An obscure man from a small town who's been whispered to be someone very powerful walks into a desert wasteland, completely alone except for one very angry and powerful being who wants to slaughter him. The man walks into the equivalent of a haunted house to enter a struggle with the most vile and ruthless spiritual being who has ever haunted the world we inhabit. The man is someone very powerful, but not from a human perspective. In fact, he has been in this desert wasteland for forty days, and he hasn't eaten anything since the day he entered. For forty days his body has been wasting away, and he is the weakest he could be. And this has been his preparation to face the spirit in the desert. The fight won't be won with human ability because human ability has always lost against this spirit.

The spirit is the devil, and he has been tempting humanity to be stripped of what makes them human created in the image of God and surrender to his destructive will for their lives since the first couple in the Garden of Eden.

The man? His name is Jesus, and he's on a mission to face and defeat temptation on our account, so that we too can walk away from it unscathed. He will do this as a man dependent solely upon the power of God.

This is the context of TEMPTED AND TRIED: TEMPTATION AND THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST by Dr. Russell Moore. If Christianity is about salvation from our sin, why do so many Christians struggle so much with sin? Why are we tempted to do the things that betray God and cause us to see God as someone to hide from rather than run to? Is there anything we can do about temptation and make sin less and less a part of our lives? These are the questions Dr. Moore tackles by looking at the wilderness temptations of Jesus.

Dr. Moore's book reveals that the reality of temptation is that we are in a war. The devil wants us far away from God, which means he needs to keep us as close to sin as possible. Temptations are personality specific. They're not merely coincidental, but a strategic plan to lure us where we're most weak. Through Jesus' temptations in the desert and using other biblical texts on temptation, Dr. Moore shows us how the devil uses temptation in our lives and why we struggle with it. He also shows how Christ's victory gives us the opportunity to have victory as well.

Dr. Moore does a great job of showing how Jesus' three temptations are the prototypes of our own temptations, and he does this in a way that feels fresh and incredibly engaging. He is humbly transparent throughout the book as he shares personal stories about his own struggles with temptation. Ultimately, he does a great job of showing Jesus as the one who was victorious over temptation so that we could be also. I would recommend this book as a foundational resource for churches active in discipling believers as well as any believer to work through on their own.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson

There was once a movement of people who lived full of compassion, full of wonder, full of curiosity, and full of energy as they loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. It was a movement that that impacted the world and attracted followers who committed themselves to the hopes and dreams for the world of the God who made them. The movement became known as Christianity, and the raw primal energy that characterized it two thousand years ago slowly calmed down, and the movement that once turned the world upside down has largely become a small remnant of our world as a generation of people who claim Christianity but don't pour their whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength into their love for God. For many Christianity has become a comfortable religion that holds little sway over a world that desperately needs something much more dramatic to shake it out of apathy and toward life-altering love for its Creator.

Washington D.C. Pastor Mark Batterson believes Christianity needs a new Reformation, and he prescribes how this will happen in his book PRIMAL: A QUEST FOR THE LOST SOUL OF CHRISTIANITY. PRIMAL is about the needs for Christians to discover the primal call of their lives as defined by Jesus two thousand years ago--Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all mind, and with all your strength. The Great Commandment is the Primal Commandment. This is what we're left with when we strip Christianity down to its core, and it is powerful.

Batterson touches on the profound truth that familiarity with the core truths of the Bible causes us to lose sight of how life-changing these truths are. We lose the amazement, and the Bible seems to lose its power over changing our lives. His suggestion is that the way forward is looking backward to the movement as Jesus started it.

The book is broken up into four parts as Batterson elaborates on The Heart of Christianity, The Soul of Christianity, The Mind of Christianity, and The Strength of Christianity. Early followers of Jesus were heartbroken over the things that broke the heart if God. They were filled with wonder over the God who created them and everything. The were filled with a holy curiosity that caused them to explore and embrace God ideas. The were energized to put their love of God into action through blood, sweat, and tears.

I absolutely loved this book. Mark Batterson's writing style is always warm and you can sense his great love and amazement of Jesus and love for the church. He's excellent at drawing upon personal stories and insights to illustrate what he's writing about. He writes with conviction and yet with complete humility. Ultimately, this book will point Christians back to the birth of their movement that is anything but boring. It will inspire believers to love God completely and be culture shapers as a result.

I would recommend this book to any Christ follower who is struggling with a faith that doesn't seem to make a difference in the day to day.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Monday, July 4, 2011

Prayer: Life vs Survival

"Our Father...Give us this day our daily bread." (Matt. 6:9, 11)

It's interesting that only a few chapters back from when Jesus says this he's in the desert, without food for forty days and slowly wasting away before the devil shows up to tempt him. We need food to survive, but Jesus faced the devil in complete human weakness. Did God not provide what Jesus needed to be healthy and to survive? There was no bread to be found in the desert, yet after the devil tempts him to turn stones into bread Jesus responds, "Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." He was quoting Deuteronomy 8 when Moses is reminding the Israelites that God provided manna for them in the desert and reminding them that God's word provided for them. The manna, they needed it, but without God's word speaking and making it happen, they wouldn't have the manna. Manna allowed them to survive, but God's word allowed them to really live, though they never really understood it.

So Jesus trusted God to sustain him in the desert and to give him life more than mere survival. For him it was trusting in God even in the midst of extreme physical hunger.

Jesus tells us to pray that God would give us our daily bread. It's a call to trust God to take care of us. In John 6 Jesus said that he was the bread from heaven. In other words, he is the One we most desperately need to live and be satisfied.

So we pray, trusting that God won't abandon us and will take care of us. Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask him. And that we're to ask for what we need relentlessly.

We can trust that God will give us himself and that, as a father, he will provide for more than just what we merely need to survive. He is eternal life, not eternal survival. Life with God is an unrelenting adventure as we wake up each day, not knowing exactly what's going to happen, but trusting that we can find genuine satisfying life in him in the midst joy and chaos.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Forbidden by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee

Every single person on the planet is dead, and none of them know it. Stripped of every single emotion except fear, people are only a shell of what it once meant to be human. While there are no feelings of pain, disappointment, or sadness, there's also no experience of love or joy. Humanity simply floats along, merely existing and nothing more, believing they're alive.

This is the post-apocalyptic world of Ted Dekker's new fantasy-thriller FORBIDDEN, co-written with Tosca Lee, the first installment of THE BOOKS OF MORTALS trilogy. 480 years have passed since the world's final global-scale war that prompted a group of scientists to eliminate emotions from humanity's genetic code. A unified world Order, void of the things that drove men to kill, rose from the ashes of humanity's destruction. All this in the name of peaceful existence.

In the midst of this world a young man named Rom is given an ancient vial of blood wrapped in a vellum with the power to resurrect humanity's emotions. Rom drinks and feels what it's like to be alive for the first time. But being alive is forbidden, and he's on the run, searching for answers of how to reawaken humanity. With new emotions he'll face pain like he never knew could exist, as well as love. Living is all about love, after all. And his race against impossible odds centers around the prophecy of young boy who will rescue the world from their death and the people who want him dead.

FORBIDDEN doesn't come out until September, but I got an advance copy by winning one of Ted Dekker's Forest Guard missions on Facebook. My initial thought was that this is possibly Dekker's best book to date. The addition of Tosca Lee as cowriter was brilliant. The story is intense and emotional all the way through, especially as a story about people reawakening to emotion for the first time in their lives.

The world the story takes place in is very well crafted and believable. The world we know is not only ancient history, it's barely even remembered. Without emotion the world's religions have become extinct, though there is still a certain form of religion that all the people on earth adhere to. A religion void of passion or love.

The characters are really the highlight of the story. Rom, the protagonist, is an unlikely hero. His journey of discovering his new emotions is gut-wrenching, and his experience reveals a certain sympathy toward those who believed that the world would be better off without emotion. Saric, the antagonist, was clever and determined, and his emotional journey shows the struggle and evil that uncontrolled emotions often lead to. It's an incredible exploration of human emotion and the need for genuine love. The other characters, such as Feyn the soon-to-be Sovereign of the world and sister of Saric, the keeper called Book, and the little boy Jonathan are equally as unforgettable.

The storyline centers around a prophecy about a rescuer that Rom and his friends must find and protect. Like Dekker's CIRCLE TRILOGY before it, this looks to be a beautifully told epic redemption story that is reflective of the ultimate redemption story of Jesus Christ.

Dekker's stories are all about discovery and exploration of life's most important questions, and I'm excited to see where Dekker and Lee take this story. I just wish I didn't have until September 2012 for the second book in the series.