Book Review: “When God Made You” by Matthew Paul Turner

When God Made You

As a pastor and a father of a young daughter, I deeply care about the books she “reads” (she’s only 2½) and has read to her, especially the books that speak of God. I want my daughter to have an understanding of God that reflects the beauty, love, wonder, passion, and creativity we see of God in scripture. I also want her to see herself and her neighbor in compassionate and grace filled ways, as seen in how Jesus loved and called us to love.

So it matters to me what books will fill her bookshelves and be found on her nightstand. If I’m being honest I approach most Christian children’s books with an expectation that they are going to be just awful. The thing that bothers me the most about many of the Christian children’s books I have seen is the poor theology they contain and the dumbing down of the message of the Bible.

When I received this book, When God Made You to review, the gloves were off. I was ready to mercilessly pick it apart and tell you why you should never read it to your children. But instead, after reading it I couldn’t wait to read this with my daughter and I hope it becomes one of her all time favorites!

When God Made You is written by Matthew Paul Turner who has written numerous books, including: Hear No Evil, Churched, and The Coffeehouse Gospel and is illustrated by David Catrow who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books.

This book is beautiful in every way. The writing is poetic, the theology is rich, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Visually this book is stunning and unlike any other children’s book I have seen. My daughter couldn’t take her eyes off the pages as we read the story together.

The main theme of the book is celebrating and holding onto the fact that we are all uniquely created by God and we are to live and create and love in the fulness of our God ordained uniqueness. Turner writes in a way that inspires. Not only does my daughter love the story but as an adult I was taken aback by the depth of the writing. This is a book that young ones will enjoy and even as my daughter gets older I want to continue to unpack more of the beauty found in these pages.

I so badly want to quote the entire book for you, but since that breaks way too many copyright laws, here are a few of my favorite lines:

‘Cause when God made you, this much is true, the world got to meet who God already knew.

Discover. Explore! Have faith but love more.

‘Cause when God made you and the world oohed and aahed, in heaven they called you an image of God.

A you who views others as sisters and brothers and lives by three words: love one another.

Buy this book for your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, your grandson or granddaughter, your neighbors kids, or your friends who just had a baby. When God Made You is a rare find in Christian children’s literature. It’s a perfect combination of excellent writing, really sound theology, and unbelievable artwork.

To see a trailer on the When God Made You, click HERE.

To see a great video of the author Matthew Paul Turner talk about the inspiration of When God Made You, click HERE.

To visit the authors personal website, click HERE.

* Publisher recommended age range for this book is 3-10 years old. 

** I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Book Review: “The Last Arrow” by Erwin McManus

Last Arrow

The Last Arrow: Save Nothing For The Next Life is the newest book from best-selling author Erwin McManus.

Erwin McManus is the founder of MOSAIC, a well known and influential church in Los Angeles, and is the author of a number of books including: The Artisan Soul, The Barbarian Way, and Soul Cravings.

This book is about living your life well. It’s about spending everything, holding nothing back, and getting to the end of your life knowing you lived it to the fullest. It’s about not settling, not being defined by your past, and being driven by where you want to go and who you want to be. It’s about honoring God with all you’ve got and enjoying all that God has to offer.

So much of this book left me asking big questions about where I am and where I’m going. These questions were both very difficult and very motivating. One of the more convicting sections of the book for me was in the chapter called Act Like Your Life Depends On It. In this section McManus talks about the difference between living a simple life and a negligent life. I think this slip into negligence can come even in the name of trying to live a more “balanced” life or even in the striving to attain a healthier pace of life. Although I certainly don’t support being unhealthy with the pace of our lives, especially in the name of Jesus, the following quote was a good heart check for me.

Be careful of embracing the type of spirituality that has a deep disdain for ambition and hides apathy behind a language of simplicity. If you want to live a simple life, that’s a beautiful thing. If you want to use it as an excuse to live beneath your God-given capacity, that is negligence (p. 110). 

The whole time I was reading this book, the word “inspirational” kept going through my mind. Between his personal stories, his passion, his reminder of the gift of life we have been given, I couldn’t help but feel inspired the whole way through.

My only issue with this book is that in my “theological opinion”, the author takes a few “artistic liberties” when applying certain passages to fit the theme of the book. One such example for me is found on page 200 where he is reflecting on a passage from 2 Kings.

Some Israelites were burying a friend when suddenly they saw the band of raiders. So they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. ‘When the body touched Elisha’s bones,’ we’re told, ‘the man came to life and stood up on his feet.’ I think this is a not-so-subtle reminder that if you truly live before you die, your life will have a power that not even death can conquer. 

Do I agree that a well lived life will have an impact on others even after we die? Definitely. Do I think that’s what the author of this passage was trying to tell us? Probably not.

This book is packed with outstanding content and the pages of my copy are littered with stars, underlining, and notes in the margins. Here are just a few standout quotes from the book that caught my attention:

Time seduces us into believing that it is the one friend who will never run out on us, but the cruel truth is that it always does (p. 25). 

What Jesus did two thousand years ago is a call not to live in the past but to create the future (p. 38). 

…if you want a different life, you have to give up the one you have (p. 48).

…know what you are about; know what your life is given to; know what matters to you and always move forward in that direction (p. 70).

I do not want to watch God work from a distance. Neither do I want to hear the amazing stories of God’s activity in the world as if they are fables made for other people in an ancient time. I want to live the kind of life that cannot be lived without the fulness of Christ in my life (p. 88). 

It is not an overstatement to say that the church has become more of a reflection of what we are running from than what we are running to…We are seen as the guardians of tradition. The church is known for fighting the future rather that creating the future that humanity desperately needs. (p. 139-140). 

I highly recommend this book. I love the passion of Erwin McManus, you can feel it in every chapter, and maybe this quote from from page 72 best sums up the heart of The Last Arrow:

I’m not going to watch life happen. I refuse to be the audience. 

To see a trailer for The Last Arrow, click HERE.

For more information on The Last Arrow, the author, and to read an excerpt, click HERE.

To visit the authors website, click HERE.

* I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: “The Myth of Equality” by Ken Wytsma

The Myth of Equality

After reading a book we instantly label it. It was a “terrible” book. It was an “ok” book. It was a “decent” book. It was an “amazing” book. If I had to label Ken Wytsma’s newest book, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, I’d have to say that it is an incredibly “important” book.

Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference and president of Kilns College. He is also the author of a number of other books including: Pursuing Justice, The Grand Paradox, and Create vs. Copy. His book Pursuing Justice is absolutely brilliant and a must read on the subject of justice (find my review of that book HERE).

The conversation on racism here in America is all over the place. It consumes the news networks, it dominates our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and has even become the primary narrative of the NFL and the NBA. It is a conversation that is going to continue and it should continue. It has to continue. But for us to move forward in healthy and helpful ways, we need to do so with open ears, open eyes, and an open heart. I am so thankful that this book has come out at this time.

The Myth of Equality is divided into three parts: The Story of Race, Equality and the Kingdom of God, and The Challenge of Privilege.

The first part alone is worth the price of the book. Although this would certainly be considered a primer on the history of racism and inequality in America, it is a powerful overview touching on subjects like: colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the war on drugs, and redlining. This section completely floored me and opened my eyes to things I had no idea about. To have an accurate understanding of our history as a nation concerning race issues is critical and makes it possible for us to have conversations based in reality about the subjects of racism and inequality. Without an understanding of our history, not only will we be unable to fix the problems we have, we won’t even be able to have a conversation about them.

In the second part, Wytsma does an outstanding job unpacking how justice is not just an add-on to the Gospel, but that it is inherently a part of the Gospel. He walks through portions of Isaiah, the incarnation of Christ, the message of Jesus, and the cross, and shows how justice, righteousness, and shalom are all connected. One of the highlights of this section for me was his exposition of “the golden rule” (Matthew 7:12). To do unto others as you would have them do unto you, isn’t just about not doing bad things to others, it’s equally about being active in doing good things for them (ie. justice). Would I want my neighbor to stand up for me if I was being marginalized or just want my neighbor to not marginalize me?

Finally in the third section of the book, the discussion on charity and compassion is both sobering and deeply convicting. Although compassion and even acts of compassion are great things, they rarely if ever address the root systems and causes of racism and injustice. Wytsma points out that, “Doing acts of compassion is different from helping to make sure people exist in a just state” (p. 161). This is where the Church should shine, not just in acts of compassion, but in actively pursuing justice for our neighbor. To close this section the author also lays out a way forward for us, involving: listening & learning, lament, confession, and laying down of privilege.

The book is full of great content, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

“When we address racism, we often make the mistake of trying to resolve the problem without diagnosing or understanding what or who created it in the first place…Who benefited from racism? Under what conditions and under whose authority did it occur? How was it able to permeate societies and take firm root in cultures across history?” (p. 29-30)

“If our imagination is captured by the empire rather than by Christ, we will defend the empire – even if we are inadvertently defending it against Christ.” (p. 92)

“Speaking biblical truth can be costly when our ears have been attuned to what a political party or the world says about truth.” (p. 96)

“Perpetuating a system we inherit is the same as creating the system anew for those who come after us. To pass along is to create.” (p. 156)

“It is a lack of faith, and a narrow view of the depth and richness of the body of Christ, that fears there will be no trustworthy, biblically faithful, or well-motivated people who might disagree with me or who I can learn from.” (p. 172)

Lastly at the back of the book there is an excellent recommended reading list for further study and education on issues of race, racism, inequality, and justice.

I learned so much from this book. I was heart broken, I felt convicted, I felt sick, I felt angry, I felt humbled, but I also felt inspired and empowered. I felt inspired to live differently, to have greater empathy, to be slow to speak and quick to listen, and empowered to have more informed conversations about racial inequality in my church and my community. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, especially if you are white and consider yourself a follower of Jesus.

ken wytsma

Book Review: “The Day the Revolution Began” by N.T. Wright (Lent Series: Part 3/3)

The day the revolution

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 3 of 3

If you are unfamiliar with who N.T. Wright is…Merry Christmas! This blog post is my gift to you. I was introduced to N.T. Wright’s work a few years ago through his book Simply Christian and have since gone on to buy quite a few of his books.

N.T. Wright has a very storied career. He was the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, Bishop of Durham, and is now the chair of New Testament & Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is considered to be one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and has written over 70 books and commentaries.

Early on in the book, in a chapter called The Cross in Its First Century Setting, Wright unpacks the presence, role, and the practice of crucifixion in the years before, during, and after the life of Jesus. This chapter deeply affected me and was incredibly eye opening. I had never considered what Jesus would have seen, and known, and grown up in as He approached the cross Himself. This look at first century crucifixion will profoundly impact how I read the New Testament and especially the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, with respect to the mental and emotional state He would have been in.

One of the main highlights of the book is Wright’s commentary on atonement theories. He argues with ample scriptural support that salvation is far more than “getting into heaven” and that unfortunately much of the Church today doesn’t go beyond this in it’s preaching and practice. Wright argues that to make salvation purely about going to heaven is to build a theology on portions of the Gospel and not the entire Gospel narrative. Essentially it is an incomplete, cheaper, and even a selfish view of salvation.

Almost nobody talks about “going to heaven.” When Jesus talks about the “kingdom of heaven,” he doesn’t mean a place called “heaven,” but the rule of “heaven,” that is, God’s reign, coming to birth on earth. (p. 196)

Jesus’s death is seen, right across the New Testament, not as rescuing people from the world so that they can avoid “hell” and go to “heaven,” but as a powerful revolution – that is, a revolution full of a new sort of power – within the world itself. (p. 220)

…salvation in the New Testament is not seen as an escape from the world of space, time, and matter, but rather as its redemption. (p. 348)

Sin matters, and forgiveness of sins matters, but they matter because sin, flowing from idolatry, corrupts, distorts, and disables the image-bearing vocation, which is much more than simply “getting ready for heaven.” (p. 363)

Wright points out that the Church can make the grave mistake of building it’s beliefs on cultural or inherited theology and not necessarily on scripture itself. So although some theological positions may be supported by the Church and may even be considered “traditional theology”, they may not actually fall in line with the Biblical narrative.

The historical questions and answers are the place to go if we want to find the theological answer. If we cannot see it there, that might be an indication that we are trying to answer the wrong question. If the gospels do not seem to be “saying the right stuff,” maybe it is our idea of the “right stuff” that needs adjusting. (p. 199)

This book challenged me deeply on how I understand what Jesus accomplished in and through the cross and His resurrection. I don’t mean to say that it fundamentally changed what I believe about the cross, but it certainly broadened what I believe and how I understand it. Wright does an excellent job in presenting what I would consider to be a holistic and Biblically faithful understanding of the purpose and work of salvation.

The cross stands at the center of the story of Jesus, Israel, the human race, the creator God, and his world. This is where the biblical narrative finds its heart. (p. 255)

Of the three books I read over Lent, this was the thickest book of the three, both physically and in theological depth. Wright himself would consider this a less academic “popular” offering, but I found this book to be quite dense at times. There are a few chapters that were slow moving for me, but they all still contained incredible insight.

The Day the Revolution Began is a truly exciting book. It is a reminder of who we were created to be, a reminder of the passion and commitment of God towards us, and a call to live fully in our vocation as image bearers of God, engaged as active participants in the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

Like I do with all of his books, I highly recommend you check this one out. It is not a casual breezy read, it will be a commitment, it will challenge you intellectually and theologically, but it will be completely worth it.

nt wright

Book Review: “24 Hours That Changed the World” by Adam Hamilton (Lent Series: Part 2/3)

24 Hours

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 2 of 3

24 Hours That Changed the World (2009) is written by Adam Hamilton, who is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas and the author of 23 books.

This book is theologically rich, is packed with revealing historical information, and yet it is completely accessible for anyone to read. Throughout the book Hamilton discuses in great detail: the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial, His torture and humiliation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, including touching on various atonement theories.

One of the more disheartening things I read about was what the culture around Jesus was like when it came to issues of power and fear, and realizing how much of humanity today still seems to be stuck in the same place.

Fear performs its poisonous work within all of us. How often are we still motivated by it? In what ways does our fear lead us, individually and as a nation, to do what is wrong – what is at times unthinkable – while justifying our actions as necessary. (p. 50)

We must each be aware of the power of fear, and we must not forget the lessons of history. All of us, if we let our call to love be overshadowed by our innate fear, are capable of supporting and doing the unthinkable. (p. 50)

The question we must ask in our personal lives and in public policy as Christians is not “What is the thing that will make me feel most secure?” but “What is the most loving thing for me to do?” (p. 51)

Hamilton’s writing on the moment where the crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus was also an incredibly difficult thing to think about because I’m not confident our modern Western culture (including much of the Church) would make a different decision. Even with the advantage we have today over those in the crowd on that day, of having a Bible and knowing how the message, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would impact the world for the last 2000 years, I am not confident the undying devotion to Jesus we sing about on weekends in our churches would be reflected in how we would choose our leader.

If you picture yourself as part of that crowd, which one do you pick? One is going to lead by force; throw out the Romans; reclaim your tax money, wealth, and prosperity; and restore the strength of the Jewish kingdom. The other’s leadership involves loving these same oppressors, serving them as they dwell among you, doubling the service they demand of you. Whom do you wish to see freed? Whom do you wish to see destroyed? When we see the choice in that way, it is not so difficult to understand the crowd’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus. They chose the path of physical strength, military might, and lower taxes over the path of peace through sacrificial love. (p. 73)

How far could such an approach be taken today? Is it possible to live as Jesus of Nazareth urged in our own world? Could a nation or government even survive that way? I do know that Jesus asks us to choose his way over the way of Barabbas; but I also know that while many admire Jesus of Nazareth, they feel safer, and prefer, Jesus Barabbas. (p. 74)

Please don’t read the above comments and quotes as a cheap instigation towards an argument between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Jesus and the cross happened long before our political parties were established. Forget what your favorite political party champions, if you identify as a follower of Jesus, what does He call us to? What did He model with His words, life, and death? Was Jesus too much of an idealist? Was He being serious that it would cost us everything to follow Him? These are really difficult questions to answer in our increasingly complex world, yet for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus, they are questions we must humbly and lovingly wrestle with in the context of true community.

24 Hours That Changed the World is a perfect blend of ancient cultural information, theological insight, and a call to action to live today in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you are looking for an outstanding book on the final hours of Jesus life, the meaning of the cross, and what it is to follow the resurrected Jesus, this is it. I highly recommend this book.

adam hamilton

Book Review: “Show Me the Way” by Henri Nouwen (Lent Series: Part 1/3)

Show Me the Way

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 1 of 3

Show Me The Way (1992) is a book of daily Lenten readings based on the writing’s of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Nouwen was a priest, a professor, and an author of numerous books including the well known: The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Each of the daily readings begins with a few verses of scripture, then a selection of Nouwen’s writings, and closes with a prayer. Unlike the other two books I read during Lent, Show Me the Way is not focused on describing ancient culture in great detail and unpacking difficult theological ideas, but rather the focus of the book is on heart transformation. With Nouwen’s writing being as beautiful and honest as it is, he is a master at writing for spiritual formation.

Throughout the daily readings Nouwen touches on a number of different subjects with subtle power, beauty, depth, and compassion:

loving our neighbor:

  • It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible. (p. 22-23)

what the reality of God means for us:

  • …as soon as I say “God exists,” my existence no longer can remain in the center, because the essence of the knowledge of God reveals my own existence as deriving its total being from his. (p. 31)

finding our identity in our Creator:

  • By accepting our identities from the one who is the giver of all life, we can be with each other without distance or fear. (p. 44)

incarnational compassion:

  • Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human… (p. 44)

I highly recommend Show Me The Way to anyone looking for a book of daily Lenten readings. I found myself almost every day being blown away by the power of Nouwen’s words. This book is a deep dive into reflecting on the condition of your heart and how that translates into how we live in our world. To quote Nouwen again: “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it” (p. 109).

Reading Show Me The Way through Lent was such a meaningful experience and it will certainly be a part of my annual Lenten experience moving forward.

nouwen

Pink Potty: A Reflection on Time

potty

Two weeks ago, my daughter and I went out shopping and we were charged by my wife to come home with a very specific item. A potty.

My daughter is at that stage where we are transitioning her from diapers to a potty, so we needed to go pick one up. After learning from Erin about where one goes to buy a potty and a discussion on our budgeted price range for one, Maddie and I were off to the store.

After some time wandering the aisles looking for the “potty section” (I’m new to this), we finally found them. Maddie had one request when it came to the potty, it needed to be pink. So I found two pink options, I put them on the floor, and Maddie made her choice.

Then as she sat on the potty she looked up at me with a huge smile on her face and…I started crying. Not sobbing, but tears filled my eyes. The tiny baby we brought home from the hospital just over two years ago, who was completely dependent on Mom and Dad for everything including all decisions, just picked out a pink potty.

Where did the two years and three months go?

My head immediately started racing to the future. The day I take her to buy clothes for her first day of school. The day I take her out to buy a prom dress. The day I take her out to buy a wedding dress. In that big beautiful smile she was giving me from that pink potty on the floor of the aisle of that store, I felt like time was going at warp speed, and now the tears were really starting to roll down my face.

In an article called Time – A Non-Renewable Resource, Chad Walters says:

Time is the ultimate non-renewable natural resource. Once a second has passed, it’s gone…Every day, every living person is provided with 86,400 seconds. The richest person in the world has just as much as the poorest person, and every day we are presented with the same amount, no more and no less.

Time is priceless. This day, this moment, this breath matters. Once it is gone I cannot get it back. If you’re like me, it is easy to live outside of the moment, to focus on the past and how you would have done things differently or to focus on the future and worry about what MIGHT happen then. But when we are lost in the past or the future, we are absent from the moment. And this moment matters. Life is happening in this moment.

The Bible talks about time and about being present in the moment:

4 Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered-how fleeting my life is. 5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. (Psalm 39:4-5)

18 Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. 19 And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life-this is indeed a gift from God. 20 God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

(Jesus said) So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. (Matthew 6:34)

When our head and heart is locked in the past or in the future, we miss the moment and we miss the life that is happening all around us right now.

Author Rob Bell says in his book How to Be Here:

Are you breathing? Are you here? Did you just take a breath? Are you about to take another? Do you have a habit of regularly doing this? Gift. Gift. Gift…the first thing that can be said about you is that you have received a gift.

Be present today. Live in the gift you’ve been given today. Have a conversation with a friend over coffee. Hold the hand of a friend or family member who is sick. Pray with someone. Read a passage of scripture, close your Bible and think about it for 5 minutes. Give forgiveness and receive forgiveness. Say hello to the person at the cash register and ask them how their day is going. Visit a loved ones tombstone, thank God for what was and thank Him for His presence now. Kiss your spouse. Tell your son or daughter that you love them. Fill a bag with food and take it to the food bank. Smile at someone. Laugh at a joke. Say thank you. Go for a walk with no headphones on and just listen. Celebrate that today your daughter has picked out a pink potty.

Yesterday has already happened. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. So live fully in the gift of breath God has given you in this moment. Be here now.

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Books I’d recommend on the gift of time:

  • How to Be Here by Rob Bell
  • Death By Living by N.D. Wilson  (click on title for a review)