Book Review: How Joyful People Think

I love expository preaching. The deeper you go into the text, the better it gets. To take one verse and expand it into eight to twelve chapters worth of content is great!

Pastor Jamie Rasmussen has done just that with How Joyful People Think. Using Philippians 4:8 as his treasure chest, he pulls out so much by way of spiritual nuggets and practical adornment. More than just the power of positive thinking, joyful thinking takes on a very realistic approach. It is truthful and honest, vulnerable about weaknesses and shortcomings, but always hopeful.

Beginning with the first phrase, Rasmussen discusses what the word “whatever” really means. Rather than a sarcastic reply or an empty gesture, “whatever” is actually “a word used to refer to limitless volume and extent.” The capacity for us to think joyfully is beyond measure! And the returns we get for doing so are innumerable.


Continuing through each of the eight ways to think, Rasmussen gives us deeper thoughts rather than surface understanding. “Whatever is true” means that we combine our personal reality with transcendent truth. “Whatever I honorable” means we keep our head cool under pressure from others. “Whatever is commendable” digs into the power of confession and integrity.

This book was not only a joy to read, it’s practical applications will live with me for a while. I recommend this to anyone, especially pastors looking for a way to preach this particular passage to their congregation.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Jesus the Bridegoom, by Brant Pitre

In Jesus the Bridegroom, Brant Pitre takes a look at a metaphor we often overlook. At least until it comes to later Pauline passages that equate the church with the bride of Christ. But even then, there’s a tendency in modern Christianity to tone down the metaphor. Let’s not go too deep with the idea that we are married to Jesus, after all.

But Pitre presses forward. He urges us to take a look at the intimate relationship we have with Jesus in terms of a wedding, a honeymoon, and a continued love affair. Such imagery can be difficult to take at first, but once you get into the study you find it fascinating to say the least.

I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that the Last Supper was a weeding feast (and his conflation of the Old Covenant with a wedding ceremony will have its detractors), but when you link the wedding at Cana in John 2 with the rest of Jesus ministry, up to and including the cross, you see parallels for sure.

This book is worth a read just for the curiosity factor. It will also challenge you to see your relationship – your worship, your service, your giving – in a new light. The light of a marriage of Savior and sinner.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Is Justice Possible? The Elusive Pursuit of What is Right, by J. Paul Nyquist

Is justice possible? J. Paul Nyquist answers this question with scripture and clarity. However, the answer may not be what we expect or want. Due to our sinful nature, many times justice is perverted. But when we lean on the power of God, justice will always be there. It may be delayed or seem unjust to us. But it’s still there.

In regards to his search for justice within the legal realm, he does a great job. Framing the conversation around misapplied justice is smart. He uses stories of wrongful convictions to drive his narrative. And he supplies some good reasoning as to why we so often see justice misapplied.

I do wish that Nyquist would address the so-called “social justice” of the day. In fact, many would claim that wrongful convictions is definitely a part of that. Instead, he separates legal justice from social justice, which is fine. But I would love to hear what he has to say on these other topics. Perhaps a follow up to this fine work?

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom

Mo Isom is a respected speaker and blogger. Many have gained so much from her words and her life. Unfortunately, I can’t say I have. At least not from this book.

I really wanted Sex, Jesus, and the Conversation the Church Forgot to be a new, refreshing take on the subject matter. Instead, I feel I got more of the same that I’ve heard since I was a teenager. Sex is bad. Doing it before marriage is dirty. If you’ve sinned sexually, you’re filthy. It’s that last word – filth – I found completely despairing. Isom used the word throughout the book rather liberally in talking about sexual sin. That type of word sticks with you, sculpts your identity. When we hear the word “filth” thrown around, we take it personal.

I don’t know what others may think of this book. I’m sure many will love it. But I fear that some will feel the grip of shame tightening. And that’s a shame. Because we are never defined by our sexual sin – or any sin, for that matter. We are defined by who we are in Christ! We are not filth. Our future is free and clear.

I pray that you will find that freedom – and not filth – in your own life despite your struggles.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, by Lois Tverberg

I’ve loved studying the Jewish background of the New Testament beginning with my undergrad days. At that time, my Hebrew professor shared details of life in Israel where he earned his Masters Degree in Jewish studies (before going on to Hebrew University in Cincinnati). He would often share a snippet of insight from the intertestamental period, a geographical detail about the Holy Land, or an interesting linguistic note that added to the text.

Since that time I’ve added to my knowledge whenever I can. Reading about Jewish history from the end of the exile to the fall of the temple has vastly increased my understanding of the New Testament texts. Lois Tverberg feels the same way. In Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, she opens the text and offers examples of details we would wash over in our western mindset. By resetting our minds to an Eastern way of thinking, she says, we get a fuller picture.

This book is less academic than it is autobiographical, honestly. She speaks less about her personal life than the New Testament. However, her own journey of discovery comes through brilliantly. I learned some things I had never heard before, but many of them I had. But I really loved hearing her passion of discovery. It matched my own.

This is a great book for those who have never studied Jewish backgrounds before. A great primer on the topic in a very easy to read and understand text. I can’t wait to read more from Tverberg!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

If your church doesn’t have small groups, then they are missing out on a huge facet of ministry. Not only that, but they’re lacking a vital part of the intended purpose and makeup of the church. It’s almost like you’re missing a limb.

Most churches skip small groups because they’re just too difficult. They’ve tried in the past and failed. But perhaps they haven’t tried the right approach. Searcy and Thomas turn most of the prevailing wisdom about small group structure on its head. Throughout the book, they call out the given rules of thumb that most churches run their small groups. They’re myths, according to the authors.

What we have left is more handbook than memoir of a successful small group ministry. But the authors have led their fair share of successful group ministries. So what they have to say is solid. For instance, instead of hiring a pastor who focuses solely on small groups, get each staff member involved. Only recruit during a one month window tow or three times a year, not year round. These types of ideas run counter to most ways churches run their small groups. And we should probably listen.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: The Prayer Wheel

The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice

Patton Dodd, Jana Reiss, and David Van Biema

Ever since I discovered the examen prayer a few years ago I’ve been fascinated with finding different ways to pray each day. I grew up in a church without a strong liturgical tradition, so these things were new to me. However, they are ancient to Christianity.

One ancient, though lost, way to pray is through the use of a prayer wheel. The practice goes back to the time of Augustine, though the seven-spoked wheel illustrated in the book dates to around the mid eleventh century. It was pasted into the inside front cover of a manuscript of the Four Gospels where it stayed for two-hundred years, before being shelved for eternity it would seem. That is until 2015 when it was discovered in a New York gallery. This ancient practice has now found new light and new life.

The prayer wheel combines seven aspects of the Lord’s Prayer with seven gifts of the Spirit, Seven events from the life of Christ, and seven Beatitudes. As you pray from the outer wheel to the center, where “God” is printed prominently, you pass through each aspect until you reach the opposite side’s fulfillment. For instance, “Holy is your name” leads through the gift of wisdom and the Incarnation of Christ. This leads one to seek out being a peacemaker and thus being called a child of God.

This would seem like a novel approach to prayer, however it’s application can be quite powerful. I’m excited to spend some time in prayer through these seven positions. The best part of the prayer wheel is that you can actually make it your own – adding more wheels, like the seven deadly sins or the seven days of creation. It will definitely be another prayer tool in my toolbox.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: This Strange and Sacred Scripture, by Matthew Richard Schlimm

The Bible is your friend! That’s what Matthew Schlimm wants you to know. From the first lines of Genesis to the last vision of Revelation.

But Christians and the Old Testament have had a love/hate relationship at times. So Schlimm wants to offer some reconciliation. In order to do that, he tackles some of the trickiest aspects of the old sacred text. I love how he handles the topics in a very orderly manner, beginning with the creation account and working his way through the Tanak. And he leaves no stone unturned.

Instead of offering concrete answers to all your questions about the texts, he gives an overview of the leading discussions. Then he lets you decide. More than a polemic on the problems of scripture, Schlimm wants to reintroduce his audience to the text in a way that provides both clarity and comfort. The Bible is our friend, after all.

By the end you’ve covered a lot of ground. And Schlimm gives plenty of resources to go deeper. What you won’t find is the old tired apologies about inerrancy or infallibility. What you will find is a new love for the Old Testament. But don’t take my word for it. Pick this up and say hi to an old friend today!

Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

We love a good pile on, don’t we? We love to see someone get what’s coming to them. Except when it’s us. Then we cry for mercy.

At the heart of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is this dichotomy. How has the advent of social media given us such a ready outlet for (sometimes violent) shaming? And how can we turn it off when it’s directed at us?

Shaming works. And that’s why so many publicly shame others. But at what cost? Ronson delves into the data to determine how lives have been wrecked and who has paid the greater price when publicly shaming goes awry. From a poor joke at a conference to a photo splashed throughout Twitter to a rape-themed backlash on 4Chan. A simple misspoken word in a moment can lead to a lifetime of regret and ruined reputation.

Ronson himself faced publicly shaming and backlash from the publication of this book. When he offered that shaming a joke sent on Twitter about AIDS and Africa was overblown, he was called racist. He readily ascribes to the title of Social Justice Warrior, and this book gets at the ugly roots of that endeavor. What strikes me is what we call justice nowadays. No longer do we look out for victims. We see blood in the water and plunge in like sharks. But justice and punishment aren’t the same. Shaming is punitive, never restorative. And justice must be more wholistic.

I would love to hear what you get out of this book. And if you enjoy it, by all means find more from Jon Ronson. He’s one of my favorite writers, and there’s no shame in that.

Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster

Want to read better? I don’t mean read faster or read more. And I don’t even mean read better books. I mean just flat out read better. I mean read and know what you’re reading. Well then, you should read like a professor.

And professors – or at least literature professors – do read better than you and me. Because they understand what is going on behind the words. Thomas Foster invites us to go behind those words with him. His book How to Read Literature Like a Professor gives insights that you can only gain by taking several years of deep study classes in the classics.

For instance, did you know that when it rains in a book it may actually be talking about a character purifying herself or her surroundings? And that trip the hero took and encountered all kinds of problems? It’s really a shout out to Homer’s Odyssey. And don’t forget the Bible! Never forget how much literature borrows from the Bible.

Each chapter is rich in examples from literature and even film, and that may be the only time this book bogs down a bit. But otherwise this is a rich reservoir of information for any reader out there. Pick it up and put it in your library!