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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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book reviews

the-magnolia-storyThe Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino. Thomas Nelson. 208 pages. 2016

This book tells the fascinating story of Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s popular Fixer Upper television series, now in its third season, and how God has worked in that story.  The book is written by both of them, with Joanna taking the lead. The audiobook version is well-read by the authors.

The book begins with the incredible story of how they got their television series to start with. We also hear how God worked in their lives to get the property for Joanna’s first store in Waco, Texas, an unexpected loan of $100,000 from a friend when they were literally broke, as well as how they got the 40-acre farm they live on with their four children as well as the old cotton mill where their new Magnolia Market is located.

Both Chip and Joanna go back and give us a glimpse of their lives growing up. Chip was an entrepreneur. He was known as the “Mayor of 3rd Street” in Waco, about a mile from the Baylor University campus. He was a star athlete in high school and would go on to play baseball in college. Joanna’s mother is Korean, and she writes of some difficult times she endured in high school because she looked different from the other girls. Chip and Joanna are opposites in many ways, but write of how they have used their individual strengths to be good together.

The authors write openly of their faith and how God has led them along their journeys, oftentimes referring to His still, small voice leading them.

Joanna writes about being inspired by visits to boutiques she visited in New York City, eventually leading to the opening of her own shop (The Magnolia Shop), which she closed in 2006 to concentrate on her family.  But other businesses would follow, a home furnishing brand and Magnolia Homes, which really took off after their first shop closed.

Life changed significantly for the Gaines when the pilot of Fixer Upper aired in 2013 and with the show’s first season in 2014. Joanna would later feel led by God to open Magnolia Market, bringing in her father to assist with the business.

We read that the Gaines have never had a television in their home in the thirteen years they’ve been married, and that they do better as a couple the more time they spend together.

Joanna shares some of her thoughts about design and decorating as well as philosophies about life, such as:

  • Thrive, don’t just survive
  • Focus on thankfulness and contentment
  • Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you are happy
  • Don’t worry about always keeping the house clean

This is a quick and enjoyable read, especially for those fans of the TV show Fixer Upper.

killing-the-rising-sunKilling the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 336 pages. 2016

This is the sixth book in Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing series, with previous volumes on Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton and Reagan. Next to the book on Lincoln, this book, which addresses the events leading up to the end of World War II, has had the most impact on me. As with the other books, this one provides day-by-day, and at times hour-by-hour accounts of the events leading up to the end of the war. The central character in the book, in my opinion, is not a person, but the atomic bomb.

The book contains graphic depictions of war violence and war crimes – killing, beheading, rape, the abuse of “comfort women”, kamikaze pilots flying suicide missions, and the almost unbelievable destruction and devastation from the dropping of the atomic bomb first on August 6, 1945 on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later on the city of Nagasaki.

The book begins with President Roosevelt in failing health. Harry Truman is his Vice-President, and he will take over as President when FDR dies. The authors depict the Japanese attack on the Philippines and the war crimes they committed in Manila.

FDR had authorized the $2 billion Manhattan Project, which would develop and test the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer, who would be known as the “father of the atomic bomb” led the effort in New Mexico. He referred to the bomb as his “gadget”. He was a devotee of Eastern philosophy and nicknamed the bomb “Trinity”, after three Hindu gods.

Although FDR had authorized the development of the bomb, it was Truman to whom the military and moral decision fell as to using it on an enemy so close to surrender – a weapon with the power equivalent of 20,000 tons of dynamite.  Truman would give his approval to use the bomb as he felt that there would be significant US casualties if they went forward with an invasion of Japan.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan is still debated today. The authors asked the living U.S. Presidents to weigh in on Truman’s decision.  Although Presidents Obama and Clinton failed to respond, letters from Presidents Bush, Bush and Carter are included in the book affirming Truman’s decision.

The book includes much about General Douglas MacArthur and his rocky relationship with President Truman, which eventually lead to MacArthur being relieved of his command in 1951.

I enjoyed reading about American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist and subject of the upcoming film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved 75 men on Okinawa.

As I have with the other books in this series, I listened to the audiobook version well-read by Robert Petkoff who also read Killing Reagan. Small portions of the book at the beginning and near the end, are read by Bill O’Reilly. The book ends with a summary of what would later happen in the lives of the major characters from the book.  The book also features a good use of footnotes.

I learned a lot about the ending of World War II from this book. Again, the development, testing and use of the atomic bomb is what will most stick with me from it. The authors tell us that nine nations now have power to wage nuclear war, a sobering thought.

book news

  • christianaudio-book-of-the-monthChristianaudio’s Free Audiobook of the Month. This month’s FREE audiobook from Christianaudio is America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker. Their description of the book is “During a career spanning sixty years, the Reverend Billy Graham’s resonant voice and chiseled profile entered the living rooms of millions of Americans with a message that called for personal transformation through God’s grace. How did a lanky farm kid from North Carolina become an evangelist hailed by the media as “America’s pastor”? More than a conventional biography, Grant Wacker’s interpretive study deepens our understanding of why Billy Graham has mattered so much to so many.”
  • On My Shelf: Life and Books with Tim Challies. Ivan Mesa interviews Tim Challies about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped him, his favorite fiction, and more.
  • Reading the Reformation: 5 Top Books. Ivan Mesa reached out to several scholars and asked them to each recommend one title on the Reformation.
  • 5 Business Books for Pastors. Eric Geiger writes “While we must not compare the bride of Christ to another organization, there are some helpful insights to be learned. Here are five business and leadership books I have recommended.”
  • Why Hillbilly Elegy is for More than Hillbillies. Trevin Wax reviews the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. He writes “Hillbilly Elegy tells a tragic story but doesn’t offer much hope. Still, I’m grateful for Vance’s work because it opens our eyes to the class divisions we too often ignore.”
  • how-should-we-then-liveHow Will We Live Now? Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live” After 40 Years. Albert Mohler reflects on Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live? forty years after its initial publication.
  • Top Five Books on the Five Solas: Solus Christus. Keith Mathison writes “When we discuss the Reformation slogan solus Christus, it is important to understand the precise point of dispute. The Reformers did not reject the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of the person of Christ. The problem was the work of Christ.”
  • Top Five Books on the Five Solas: Soli Deo Gloria. Keith Mathison writes “Soli Deo gloria is not precisely parallel to the other four solas because in one sense, it is both the beginning and the end of the other four. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures to the glory of God alone. Christ humbled Himself to the point of death and was raised and exalted to the right hand of the Father to the glory of God alone. Grace and mercy are offered to rebellious sinners to the glory of God alone. Justification is by faith alone to the glory of God alone. Soli Deo gloria, therefore, is central.”
  • Why Christians Love Books. Tony Reinke writes “Early Christians embraced the technology of the day, and used it for serious truth. They wrote long, and they wrote a lot — but they didn’t wait until life was comfortable to write. Their writing habits were counterintuitive to the image-building pattern of the Greco-Roman world. And this is our heritage today: We are bookish people — people of words, words, words, in service of the God who is holy, holy, holy.”
  • The Radical Book for Kids. Tim Challies reviews The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton. He writes “We’re living at a time when we have some exceptional children’s books available to us, books to complement and supplement the precious truths we want our children to know and to believe. The Radical Book for Kids is just such a book. It is especially noteworthy in that it is meant to be read by children rather than to children and in its excellent design that will effectively draw and hold their attention. It’s a book I recommend and one I will be encouraging my children to read.”

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Jesus Outside the LinesJesus Outside the Lines BOOK CLUB

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls

This is a book I’ve been wanting – and not wanting – to read for a while. I’ve wanted to read it because I enjoy Scott Sauls’ blog posts and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the book. He’s a pastor in the same denomination I serve in, he served with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, graduated from Covenant Seminary and is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. What’s not to like about the guy?

I’ve not wanted to read the book because I think it’s going to challenge me to get out of my comfortable box. How about reading along with Tammy and I?

This week we look at highlights from Chapter Five: Affirmation or Critique?

* Jesus was offensive to smug, judgmental, religious people. He was a breath of fresh air to broken, nonreligious people. Can the same things be said about his followers today?

* But if people are going to get upset with us, let’s at least make sure they are the same types of people who got upset with Jesus.

* What is it about the human heart that makes us so sensitive to criticism? Why are we so undone by it? Why does it unravel us as it does?

* Christians should be the most affirming people in the world.

* Jesus, the author of all truth, beauty, and goodness, was quick to affirm expressions of truth, beauty, and goodness wherever he saw them.

* If we want to follow Jesus, we have no choice but to follow him into the world and into affirming friendships with as many people as we can, including people who do not believe or behave as we do.

* The closer we are to Jesus, the further we will be from sin. Likewise, the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will be to sinners.

* Have we grown accustomed to relationally including and excluding others based on a list of spoken or unspoken “clean laws” that have no basis in Scripture? Have we grown accustomed to scolding others for certain sins while exempting ourselves from judgment over other sins that we commit daily?

* Maybe the problem with the world isn’t other people. Maybe the problem with the world is us.

* An affirming critique always comes from the motive of restoring and building up, unlike criticism, which aims to harm and tear down.

* Affirming critics stand for and on behalf of one another, not against one another. They have high hopes for one another, not disdain toward one another. They are committed, covenanted allies for one another’s good, not proponents for one another’s harm.

* That’s what Christians do when they are in their right minds. They start with themselves. They examine and address the flaws in themselves before they examine and address the flaws in others.

* They critique when called for, but as they critique they are careful not to criticize.

* As Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, used to say, we are able to speak truth to people once we have earned the right to be heard. One of the ways we do this is by realizing that it is not, it never has been, and it never will be a Christian’s job to judge non-Christians.

* Instead, we must affirm wherever we can and critique when we must—while never being critical.

* Critique when you must. Human flourishing and redemption depend on it. Affirm whenever and wherever you can.

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.

This week we look at Chapter Seven from Volume Two, “Seven Treasures on Earth and in Heaven”

* The theme of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is, you remember, the relationship of the Christian to God as his Father. There is nothing more important than this.

* The great secret of life according to our Lord is to see ourselves and to conceive of ourselves always as children of our heavenly Father. If only we do that we shall be delivered immediately from two of the main temptations that attack us all in this life.

* The first is the very subtle one that comes to every Christian in the matter of his personal piety.  In that connection our Lord says that the one thing that matters, and the one consideration for me, should always be that God’s eye is upon me.

* In handling this question of personal piety He deals first with the temptations that come from the flesh and the devil.

* But having dealt with that, our Lord proceeds to show that there is another problem, and that is the problem of the world itself.

* One of the most subtle problems with which the Christian ever has to deal is this problem of his relationship to the world.

* Our Lord teaches that this attack from the world, or this temptation to worldliness, generally takes two main forms. First of all there may be a positive love of the world. Secondly, there may be anxiety, or a spirit of anxious care with respect to it. We shall see that our Lord shows that one is as dangerous as the other.

* Here is the injunction: `Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. That is the injunction; that is the exhortation. The remainder, you see, goes into the realm of reason and explanation.

* But look first of all at the exhortation itself. It is a twofold one-negative and positive.

* Our Lord is concerned here not so much about our possessions as with our attitude towards our possessions.

* It is a question of one’s whole attitude towards life in this world.

* What He is warning against here, in other words, is that a man should confine his ambition, his interests and his hopes to this life.

* No matter what it is, or how small it is, if it is everything to you, that is your treasure, that is the thing for which you are living.

* How do we do this in practice? The first thing is to have a right view of life, and especially a right view of `the glory’.

* We are walking through this world under the eye of God, in the direction of God and towards our everlasting hope. That is the principle.

* If we have a right view of ourselves in this world as pilgrims, as children of God going to our Father, everything falls into its true perspective.

* We begin to think of ourselves only as stewards who must give an account of them.

* It matters not whether it is money, or intellect, or ourselves, or our personalities, or whatever gift we may have.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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