Journey to the Cross from the (in)courage community — Book Review

This forty day devotional is meant to be used during the Lenten season.  The book itself is attractive:  hardbound with a crisp white and green cover and green satin ribbon bookmark.  There is a calendar at the beginning (for those who like to check off their progress) and a space for recording important insights.

Each day is not alike.  Some may be just a Bible verse to ponder;  others are a devotion plus reflection questions;  some are for journaling.  I enjoyed the variety.  Topics covered included fasting, sacrifice, gratitude, obedience,  our calling and more.  If you’re looking for a personal spiritual discipline to undertake during Lent, this little book would be a good resource.   It could also be used with a group, along with regular meeting to share and discuss the material covered.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  I would recommend this book to others, and it would make a nice gift for a friend.

If you would like to purchase this book, follow this link:

To learn more about the (in) courage community visit:

To see a review of another devotional from this community follow the link below:

Women of Courage: a Forty-Day Devotional — Book Review

The Lutheran Ladies received a free copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

Son of God — Movie Review

I just finished watching Son of God which was produced by Roma Downey (she also produced the mini-series, The Bible) and Mark Burnett.  This film follows the life of Jesus from His birth through His crucifixion.

I thought the first section, which included many of His miracles, His teaching, and calling the disciples seemed choppy and disjointed.  Many scenes were incomplete and not in the correct sequence.  Of course, one problem is, if you are quite familiar with the Bible, you quickly notice everything that seems different, or not quoted exactly right. Of course, in fairness, it is difficult to boil down several years into an hour.  I understand that, and nothing was misrepresented.

I found the portion from the Passover, including the Last Supper and Crucifixion much better and closer to the Biblical text.  Many of the scenes were moving and realistic (yes, I shed a few tears).  The resurrection and things that took place for the following 40 days, were once again compressed with some things being left out.

The acting was excellent, especially Diogo Morgado as Jesus and Greg Hicks as Pilate.

VERDICT:  I would give it 4 stars.  It would be a good choice to watch during Lent, reminding us of the suffering and sacrifice Christ endured for us.

Anatomy of a Revived Church by Thom S. Rainer–Book Review

Thom Rainer has once again hit the nail on the head in describing how some churches have reversed a downward spiral and regained health.  It boils down to this:  we must change or die.  Sometimes we humans know what we need to do to avoid death — give up smoking, eat healthier diets, exercise — yet we choose not to do those things.  Churches are no different.  Even when they know what they should do, they often choose not to.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each addressing one issue the church needs to deal with:

  1.   Accepting Responsibility — too often we seek a person or situation to blame.  However, we cannot blame the Pastor, the community, our location, the mega-church that opened nearby, or other factors for the church’s decline.  All members must accept their responsibility for the church’s failure to thrive.
  2.  Overcoming the Traps of Tradition — We cannot allow our personal preferences or long-standing traditions guide the church going forward.  If a program is not working, or has lost a vision, it is time to change or end it.
  3.  Expanding the Scorecard– Numbers are not everything, but churches can hold themselves accountable by reviewing certain “scores” such as attendance, new members, and financial giving.
  4.  Committing to Powerful Prayer — It is not necessary to have a large group, but Ranier insists that revival never comes without consistent prayer.
  5.  Dealing with Toxins — Toxic members are rare, and criticism is not always toxic.  However, a member who is consistently undermining the unity of the church must be approached and dealt with.
  6.  Seeking Silver Bullets No More– This is similar to the chapter on accepting responsibility.  There is no “magic” cure for a declining church.  Changing the music, replacing the Pastor or moving will not work.  Changing to an outward focus will.  It is a process that takes time.
  7.  Choosing Meaningful Membership — Rainer recommends a New Members program which emphasizes not just information, but involvement and assimilation.

VERDICT:  5 stars.  This book is well organized and easy to read.  It offers a number of useful suggestions to make your church healthier.

For other posts on books by Thom Ranier go to these posts:

Scrappy Church – Book Review

Scrappy Church by Thom Rainer–Book Review #2



Questions for Lent

Frederick Temple (1821-1902) was an English academic, teacher and Bishop of Canterbury.  I found this quote of his that seemed appropriate to ponder on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.

“Am I really what I ought to be?  Am I what, in the bottom of my heart, I honestly wish to be?  Am I living a life at all like what I myself approve?  My secret nature, the true complexion of my character is hidden from all me, and only I know it.  Is it such as I should be willing to show?  Is my soul at all like what my kindest and most intimate friends believe?  Is my heart at all such as I should wish the Searcher of Hearts to judge me by?  Is every year adding to my devotion, my unselfishness, to my conscientiousness, to my freedom from hypocrisy of seeming so much better than I am?  When I compare myself  with last year, am I more ready to surrender myself at the call of duty?  am I more alive to the commands of conscience?  have I shaken off my besetting sins?  These are the questions which this season of Lent ought to find us putting fairly and honestly to our hearts.”

For another quote by Frederick Temple, visit this post:

Do You Serve Cheerfully?

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers — Book Review

In case you have not heard of Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), she was an English crime writer and poet.  She was also a Christian.  In this book, she maintains that, as humans, we can only understand God through analogies or metaphors that reflect human experience.  For example, we have been taught to think of God as a Father — the perfect Father, of course, with attributes that are recognizable to us as children with parents.  Another analogy is one we have been exploring this month — the Shepherd and his sheep.

The Mind of the Maker uses a less common analogy.  Since God is the ultimate creator, Sayers compares Him to a human artist, most specifically, a writer.  Like God, the writer has a trinity which makes up the creative process.  This trinity is composed of the Idea –as in, ‘I have an idea for a book’ — the Energy –which is the sum and process of writing the work itself– and the Power–the thing that comes back to the author as it is communicated to other readers and produces a response in them.  Each of these parts are separate, yet all are inseparable in the completed book.  If you have a bit of trouble following this, don’t worry, so did I!

Here’s how Sayers explains it:

“…it is the pattern of the creative mind–an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges and communicates the work:  all these three being of one and the same in the mind and one in the same in the work.  And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God.”

As a writer myself, I found this to be an appealing metaphor.  To Sayers, the “image of God” in each of us is this trinitarian creative principle.  Of course, it applies not only to writers and artists — it is in our nature as humans to create something.  The difference is that God created the universe out of nothing, while we can only create with things that already exist;  still, we are able to take existing items and turn them into “a new thing.”

If you decide to pick up this book, be warned that it requires deep reading and concentration.  Sayers is extremely logical and detailed in her presentation.  It found it more like reading philosophy than literature.  I’m not sure I would have persevered, had she chosen an analogy that resonated less with my own experience.

Verdict:  Four stars.  Well written, but not for everyone.  If you are a writer, or a logical thinker you may enjoy it.


Are Sheep Dumb?

Actually studies have shown that they are not!  They have an impressive ability to remember and recognize other sheep, they respond to facial expressions and can navigate complex mazes.  They’re not completely fearful or defenseless either.  They can kick hard, and even a ewe will charge if threatened.  That being said, sheep are herd animals.  They tend to follow the sheep in front of them. They may panic when separated from their fellow sheep because they are safest when they are together. This is not stupid behavior — it is simply realistic.  It is also sheep being true to their nature.

Where am I going with this?  I think there is a reason that Christians are referred to as a flock of sheep.

“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”  Isaiah 40:11

We, too, are social animals.  We do best with others.  As Christians, we will be better nourished if we stay with our flock.  We will hear the Word and receive the sacraments.  There is less chance that we will go astray.  There is safety in numbers, and a good shepherd (which we certainly have) will guide us in the right path.  Fellow members will keep us accountable, and search us out when we wander.  The young and weak will be protected.

So don’t be a lone ranger Christian.  Be one of the sheep and follow the best Shepherd ever.  It’s not dumb, it’s smart — and it’s the way God created us.!

A Saintly Quote

“I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold, my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way.”

St. Jerome

The Agnus Dei

“Agnus Dei” is a Latin phrase which literally means, “lamb of God.”  If you are a Lutheran (or Catholic or Anglican) you will know that it is a liturgical prayer addressed to Christ, our Savior, the lamb who was sacrificed for us. It is based upon these words spoken by John the Baptist:

   “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:29

It has been included in the liturgy since the 12th century, and used in choral pieces by many famous composers.  In our church we sing it before Holy Communion.  These are the words:

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace!”

The themes are forgiveness and sacrifice, appropriate as we approach the table of the Lord and remember His last supper with the disciples.

For more on the liturgy go to these posts:

Learning from the Liturgy

The Laity and Liturgy

Liturgy as Prayer



Is This a Christian book? #2

I just finished reading as wide as the sky by an author I’ve not come across before– Jessica Pack.  The book has an interesting premise:  there are short chapters from the viewpoint of different characters, some central to the plot, others peripheral.  Each chapter begins, not with a date, but with the number of days, years or hours after a particular date –an event that caused the character to “restart” their life because something monumental had changed.

For the main character, Amanda, the reset button is pushed on the day her son is executed for killing nine people in a shopping mall.  We journey along with her as her new life without her child begins.  On the way, we meet others who have been affected by Amanda or her son Robbie.  We learn that people are complicated, and nobody should be judged solely by the worst thing they have ever done.

It left me pondering what moments were turning points in my own life.  It addresses many interesting ethical questions such as:

  • Can/should we forgive someone who has committed a terrible crime of violence?
  •  Is capital punishment an appropriate punishment when the offender is mentally ill?
  • How do we maintain a balance between work and our home life?
  • How do we, as parents, maintain a balance between the needs of our children?
  • How should we care for our aging parents?
  •  How much responsibility should we have for the actions of our family members?

A number of the characters are portrayed as Christian.  There was no inappropriate language (what a relief).  These elements, and the type of themes included left me wondering if the author is a Christian.  I contacted her, and she is.  So this book may never show up as “Christian” on any book list you find, but in my mind it is.  It promotes Christian values in an appealing way that will influence many.  I look forward to reading more books by this author.

VERDICT:  5 stars.  It’s an enjoyable and thought provoking read.  It would be great for a book club.

For a review of a similar book, visit this post:

Is This a Christian Book?



Quiet and Peaceable Lives

Almost every Sunday in church, we pray for the leaders or our country, in the hope that their work will enable us to “live quiet and peaceable lives.” Isn’t that what most of us desire above all else? The thought comes directly from these verses in 1 Timothy:

urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 1:1-2

I’ve been reading and watching a good bit of historical fiction these days, and it has made me realize how fortunate we are in our country these days.  Most of us alive today have not experienced the day-to-day chaos of war.  We’ve never had to flee our homeland to escape persecution;  we’ve never been occupied by a foreign power;  we’ve not had to make hard choices about whether to resist or support an oppressor.  We don’t need to fear being taken off to a concentration camp, or worry about where our next meal is coming from.  This is a blessing!

When I think about true peace and serenity, the first thing to come to my mind is the Shepherd’s Psalm, number 23.


“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley ,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Even if we ever do experience the worst, our Shepherd is with us.  He will provide for us that which is truly needful;  He will keep our soul safe.  Not even war or death can remove our peace in Him.  This is an even greater blessing.  Thanks be to God!
For more on Psalm 23, visit this post: