Book Review: The 60 minute Money Workout

Financial Expert, Ellie Kay,from Good Money (ABC News), author and frequent guest on various news stations offers here a unique approach to personal finances in The 60 Minute Money Workout. Rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all financial plan she presents a series of ’60 minute money workouts’ where you take the time to reflect on how you use your money.

Each chapter consists on a pretest to evaluate how you handle your money in regards to the chapter topic. Then there is the ‘work out’ which involves a five minute ‘warm up’ where you say something positive about your handling of money (or your spouse) and commit yourself to the task at hand. This is followed by ‘strength training’ for 10 minutes, which for Ellie Kay means goal setting. ‘Cardio Burn’ is where you really get to work organizing, planning, writing out steps to take, etc(20 minutes) After the Cardio Burn you ‘Take your Heart rate’ which is another 20 minutes of work, either continuing research, filling out a plan, or taking some sort of action. Finally there is the ‘Cool Down’ where you spend five minutes congratulating yourself on your progress and planning your next worko

This is not the typical read for me, but because I need to get a better hand on personal finances I thought it would be a good read. There are some helpful tips and the idea of spending 1 hour evaluating how you are handling finances and planning for your future is a good idea. Kay covers various topics related to finances: Financial Freedom, Your Money personality, Spending, Retirement and Saving, Debt, Paying less, Travel expenses, Allowances, Kid Entrepreneurs, College funds, Home Based Businesses, Couples and Giving. In each chapter there are helpful evaluative tools and insights.

The work-out format is a little cutesy for me and I find the 10 minutes of each hour devoted to positive-thinking self talk to be a little over the top. As I haven’t read many books similar to this I don’t know how it stacks up against other treatments of the topic (Ron Blue for instance) but I think Ellie Kay does have some good things to say.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.EllieKay-60 Minute

Book Review: Healing is a Choice

HealingchoiceThere was a man who lay by the side of the pool of Betheda. When Jesus saw him he asked the man, “Do you want to be well.” His story is recorded in John 5.

The implication of the story is healing is a choice. Steve Arterburn, best known as a coauthor of theEveryman series (Everyman’s Battle and spin-offs), takes the position that healing is available to everyone who chooses it. Of course he casts this broader than physical healing. He speaks primarily of emotional healing.

In 11 chapters, Arterburn explores 10 choices we need to make if we are to experience the healing that comes from Christ. These Choices are as follows (these are also chapter titles):

1. The Choice to Connect your life
2. The Choice to Feel your life
3. The Choice to Investigate Your Life in Search of Truth
4. The Choice to Heal Your Future
5. The Choice to Help Your Life
6. The Choice to Embrace Your Life
7. The Choice to Forgive
8. The Choice to Risk Your Life
9. The Choice to Serve
10. The Choice to Preserve

In these pages Arterburn unpacks these individual choices, asks workbook questions which help you to process personal issues related to each choice and articulates 10 lies corresponding to each choice that we tend to believe. These are:

1. All I need to heal is just God and me.
2. Real Christians should have peace in all circumstances
3. It does no good to look back or look inside
4. Time Heals all wounds
5. I can figure this out myself
6. If I just act like there is no problem it will go away
7. Forgiveness is only for those who deserve it or earn it
8. I must protect myself from anymore pain
9. Until I am completely healed and strong, there is no place for me to serve God.
10. There is no hope for me.

As you can guess from the chapter headings and ‘big lies’ Arterburn has his finger on the pulse of many of the things that keep us from experiencing Christ’s healing in fullness. Each chapter is packed full of anecdotes and he is eager to help you make the choice which will allow God’s grace to pour into your life more fully. As someone called to pastoral ministry I can appreciate some of his insights and diagnostic tools.

Perhaps the only reason that I am rating this as a middle of the road sort of book is that my own need for personal healing, though obviously there because I am as wounded as anyone, is not felt by me particularly acutely at the moment. This made the workbook questions hit or miss for me, though I can see how it would be helpful to someone

But I am also suspicious of the self help genre in general, even and especially the Christian self help genre. The man who lay by the pool of Bethesda answered Jesus, ” Sir I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. (John 5:8)” As in the case of this lame man, there are sociological factors that mitigate against healing. I am not saying that Arterburn is unaware of these, I just think that healing is experienced as a gift which often is bigger than our choosing. When we lay on the ground unable to help ourselves and realize we are at the end of ourselves, this is when Christ breaks in and offers grace and healing in fresh ways.

That being said, I saw little in this book that I would take issue with on theological grounds. I would recommend it for those who find themselves in a crisis and yearn for a fresh touch from God to come and heal them. This book shouldn’t replace a trusted mentor and spiritual friend but could be helpfully utilized by one as they journey towards healing with you.

I recieved a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via booksneeze.com in exchange for this fair and honest review.

holy spirit in the Hebrew Tradition: a book review and reflection

Breath of Life CoverAs a somewhat disgruntled (wounded) charismatic and committed evangelical, I am always searching for an intelligible depiction of life in the Spirit; however I have never read a book exploring the Spirit of God in the Judaic tradition (despite having an M.Div with an emphasis in the Old Testament). Rabbi Rachel Timoner does a fine job of illuminating the role of the Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Rabbinical tradition. She writes of the Spirit in hopes to speak meaningfully to both Jews and Christians. Certainly as a Christian I affirm the Trinity and have a different list of religious authorities to appeal to than Timoner does; still there is much here that is fruitful for Christians to grasp and grapple with if we are to do justice to our shared scriptures and lay hold of the gift of God’s spirit (through out this review I will try to respect Timoner’s lowercase usage of spirit to denote it as God’s possession rather than triune person; that I believe more in this regard, does not mean I don’t respect her integrity to her tradition and think that it has something to teach us).

Timoner received her B.A. from Yale University, was ordained at Hebrew Union College, has won several awards, is an advocate of justice and the Assistant Rabbi at Leo Boeck Temple in L.A. She grew up as a synagogue-drop-out with no particular interest in God or religion. That was until she began to pay attention to life and had the growing sense of the transcendent, a reality she names as God. The Hebrew words for spirit, ruach and neshamah, name God’s immanence and transcendence. Timoner traces the role of the spirit of God through the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition exploring three themes which correspond to the parts of this book: Creation, Revelation & Redemption. Rachel Timoner

Creation
The Hebrew Bible begins with ‘the spirit’ hovering over the waters breathing life into the cosmos. Humanity is enlivened by the ‘Breath of life-nishmat chayim. Our life is sustained by the spirit of God. Timoner’s picture of sustaining power of God’s spirit giving us life, underscores the relationship between God’s spirit (breath) and our own. I think any pneumatology which strives to be Biblical should start here.

Revelation
As protestant, I am comfortable talking about specific and general revelation. General revelation, is God’s self revealing through creation. Specific revelation is God’s historic self-revelation through scripture (and as a Christian I think ultimately revelation through Jesus). What Timoner does with the term revelation does not fit into the neat boxes of my protestant systematic theology. She uses the examples of the spirit’s revelation in the Hebrew scriptures, but she uses these evocatively to speak of a universal outpouring of God’s Spirit. Thus she points out the gift of the spirit to enable leaders, artists, the wise and courageous and the eloquent; yet the spirit of God is also what is given to each of us in all walks of life. It is God’s gift of the spirit which helps us clarify our life’s calling. Because ultimately the gift of the spirit of God is given in the context of covenant, a special relationship where we live out God’s purposes for the world.

Again there is little I would disagree with here. I would personally push for more clarification on the nature of covenant than Timoner offers (i.e. obligations and conditions, how you enter covenant with God, who is excluded). But certainly seeing all of our lives, our gifts, talents, insights, proclivities as gift from God seems good and right. Timoner insists that God gives gifts and has an agenda in the world in which we are called to participate. I would not want to say less than this. Her attentiveness to the gift of the spirit takes aim at the practical Deism of our age.

Redemption

In exploring this theme, Timoner has a rich heritage to draw upon. Of course the story of the Exodus is paradigmatic for God’s rescue. But there are also the prophets that talk about redemption, restoration, reviving dry bones and re-dedication. It is the spirit of God issues in an age which is characterized by where God’s people live out God’s redemption for all of humanity. This means advocating for the redemption of the poor and marginalized. The Spirit that creates, sustains, gives and guides directs us to treat our fellow humans with justice and love.

Here is another point where I think Christians can learn from this very Jewish reading of the new age of the Spirit. Sometimes Christians use the same prophets Timoner used to speak of redemption as though they were fulfilled with Jesus and the New Testament (i.e. Redemption, the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh). The Judaic tradition is a living tradition which holds the same texts sacred; they long for their fulfillment in the same way that we Christians long for God’s kingdom to come in fullness. That our approaches are necessarily different doesn’t obscure the common ground. Jews and Christians both draw on the resources of God’s spirit as we seek to live out God’s redeeming presence in the world.

So I really liked this book and found it helpful. Admittedly it harder reading as a Christian because it draws on a number of sources which are not as readily familiar. Yet it talks of the God of the Hebrew scripture with wonder and reverence and illuminates aspects of the holy spirit (our Holy Spirit) which should help us to understand more fully.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of Breath of Life in exchange for this review

Get Passionate about God Fast

Has the passion gone out of your relationship with God? Don’t let the fire fizzle, but Awaken to all God has for you (cue the infomercial).

Stovall Weems, the Lead Pastor at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida has written Awakening in hopes of igniting in you a passion for God. Along the way he offers helpful advice on starting your day by focusing on God’s greatness, goodness and glory. He advocates the practice of giving to charity, prayer and fasting as means of ‘making space for God’ in your life. And then he uses the rest of the book to unpack this, particularly in regard to fasting. Along the way, each chapter is punctuated by ‘awakening stories’ of those who have a fresh experience of God, because of their fast. The last section of this book, is Weems’s 21 day fast plan, daily devotionals and practical advice on fasting.

I admire and share Weems’s enthusiasm for getting people excited about God. Certainly I want my pastor to be so passionately motivated. Having read his book, I likely will refer back to it the next time I fast. However I am not sure that I would recommend it. Below I would like to signal two notes of caution and two criticisms of Weems book:

The first area that gives me pause, is this book seems to be tainted by a prosperity gospel. Weems is generally focused on our relationship with God and stoking the flames there. However sometimes, Weems does act like the evidence of that is ‘financial miracles’ and healing. Certainly God does provide and care for his children, but miracles and prosperity are not the only way God draws near to his people. I am not sure that Weems ever says that it is, but the general feel of some passages, and the little testimonials kind of leave this impression.

The second area of caution is related. I am kind of bothered by a relationship with God being reduced to a formula. The idea that intimacy with God is achieved by a three-week-fast is to apply a technique to gain relational intimacy. Techniques, disciplines and practices are important. Yet I think intimacy with God is not something you get in a few easy steps. It is much more dynamic and exciting than that. Now that is it for caution, let the firestorm of criticism begin.

While reading this book, I kept wondering where the footnotes were. The fact that there were none is problematic. I say this not because I love more academic books (okay, not just that), but there is almost no evidence of any dialogue with anyone else. At all. As part of his fasting guide, he does reference Wayne Cordeiro’s devotional reading plan(SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer). But he doesn’t reference anyone else despite dispensing a lot of spiritual insights. Where this seems the most suspect for me, is when Weems describes the health benefits of fasting. He admits that he is not a doctor and shares anecdotally about how fasting cleanses his system and helps him lose weight. huh? Claims for health benefits of fasting are controversial at best and spurious at worst. I at least want to know that Weems talked to someone before spotting off medical advice (why is this chapter even here if fasting is about your relationship with God?).

Furthermore, the lack of dialogue with the Christian tradition of fasting, does mean that what is presented here is somewhat shallow. Christians have practiced and mis-practiced fasting for centuries, would like to know if Stovall is aware of any of it.

Which leads me to my last point of critique. What exactly is Weems theological understanding of fasting? Some fasting is dualistic, hating the body and exalting the spirit. This is not Christian fasting. Weems seems to hold some dualistic notions. He is also dismissive of the example of fasting in the Old Testament as pre-christian and unrelated to our current practice. For Weems, you fast to recieve, rather than as a response. I find all this as theologically problematic and would direct people to Scot McKnight’s accessible treatment on the theme.

This book was given to me by Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging For Books Program in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Mercy is the Name of an Old Lady?

Arterburn encounterI wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. A book about a middle-aged man on a self-destructive path having to face past wounds and in the process being met by God, sounded just a tad ‘Shack-y’ for my tastes. When the synopsis of the book online said:

The Encounter, the unique new book from best-selling author and counselor Stephen Arterburn, is a moving parable involving Jonathan Rush, a wealthy and famous entrepreneur, who is tortured by bitterness toward his mother who abandoned him when he was four. He travels to Alaska to find her but instead meets an enigmatic old woman known only as Mercy…

I just figured that this was a new twist on the same theme (meet God in your place of wounding and be healed). And that kind of was it, but not exactly. Actually the story doesn’t just follow Jonathan as he searches; it also tells the story of Ada, the woman who gave him up for adoption when he was four. It tells of how she made the choice, the regret she had afterwards and the ways she still tried to love him even after giving him up for adoption and forfeiting her legal rights to be in her life.

This then is a story of forgiveness. Jonathan learns how to extend grace to his mother (SPOILER ALERT: The woman he meets named Mercy, is in fact his mother Ada). Ada also has been walking around in guilt and shame since abandoning her son 31 years later. She has to forgive herself.

This story while fictional, is based on two true stories. One of these stories is reenacted in the climactic scene of this book. That is the best part of the book and is a vivid picture of what it means to extend grace to others, and the ways in which God extends grace to us.

I appreciated this book and it certainly caused me to reflect on where I harbor unforgiveness in my heart and what it does to me. I think on that level, this story illustrates well the dangers of letting bitterness to take root, and the experience of grace.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson via Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review.

Brooding Russian Novelist for the Lighthearted (or Leitharted)?

Leithart-Dostoevsky

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of Peter Leithart’s Fyodor Dostoevsky. Below is my fair and honest review:

I was interested in this book for three reasons:

1. Dostoevsky is one of the best and most profound novelists whoever lived. Crime and Punishment is incisive in its critique of 19th century European philosophy and insightful on the complexity of the human heart, illuminating both its darkness and its goodness. <The Brother's Karamazov is a classic of Western literature. But what about the man? Before reading this book, my only exploration of what sort of man Dostoevsky was, was Wikipedia and a chapter from a Yancey Book. So I was eager to read more.

2. Peter Leithart is an excellent author and has published books in several genres (theology, historical theology, sermons, literary criticism, cultural criticsm, commentaries and other books about the Bible). He also blogs, A LOT at http://www.Leithart.com and has published numerous articles. To use the adjective prolific, may be an understatement. And while I haven’t read everything he’s written and know it can’t all be good, generally he has keen insight and is worth listening to.

3. I fancy myself a history buff and Russian history is incredibly interesting. Dostoevsky lived in 19th Century Russia, a period fraught with growing political unrest and conservative entrenchment. Anything focusing on Dostoevsky and needs to explore these dimensions.

In this thin volume, Leithart gives us an intimate portrait of Dostoevsky, the lover of Russian and lover of Christ. This is not a work of hagiography, Dostoevsky is too real to allow himself be sainted. He drinks to much, he is arrogant and full of rage, he is a gambler and a poor money manager, he is a scoundrel who has a mistress while his first wife is on her deathbed. But he is also somebody who sees with clarity the bankruptcy of European philosophy on Russian soil and that the only hope for his beloved country is Christ.

Leithart’s book is copiously researched as his end notes attest. Though his biography is written in narrative form, many of Dostoevsky’s words come from various of his correspondence and writings.
Having not read another biography on Dostoevsky, this sufficed for my purposes; however I imagine that a better book than this could have been written. This is relatively a brief treatment and while Leithart is fair, this is not him at his most creative or insightful.

But I do recommend it as a short, engaging treatment of a great novelist.

Traveling through the Text-Part 1: Mile High Bible Society

Genreally, Biblical hermeneutics is about how you read the Bible. Here I want to talk about how fast you read the Bible. Metaphorically, the mode of transportation you take determines what you see. This is the first series of posts on traveling through the text. The metaphor I am exploring here is flying. Please fasten your seat belts and put your trays and seat backs in the upright position:

A Bird’s Eye View

Recently I took a flight to see my grandfather in Alberta. My wife and kids weren’t with me, which meant I had the rare privilege of a window seat. I watched as our plane lifted off the runway and ascended, eyeing landmarks and favorite hangouts. Before long the plane was high in the sky and the sights become harder to distinguish. I no longer saw people walking their dogs and the morning traffic. Instead I saw a grid of roadways and farmland, the topography as we passed mountains and valleys. I noted significant changes in the environment. On an overcast day, all you can see out a plane window is a blanket of white; however on my plane ride I had a clear bird’s-eye view of the entire landscape below. And over everything, the vast expanse. The horizon stretching out far beyond my view in all directions.

When we were making our final descent into Calgary, I noticed the change in the land from Canadian Rockies, to the rolling foothills of Prairie Alberta. I also saw the trees. I had left behind the tall green cedars and Douglas fir of the Pacific Northwest and saw bellow me sparse patches of Aspen and Spruce. Autumn had not come to my part of the world (this was late September), but here the yellowing trees checkered the landscape bellow had already greeted her arrival.

The thing about air travel is it’s fast. A distance that would be a twelve-hour drive was traversed inside of a couple of hours. A few magnificent views aside, you don’t really get in a jet plane to go see the sights, you get in a plane to get somewhere fast. And that is the gift of that mode of travel. As someone whose family is spread across the continent, I know that I would not see them much if I lived in a world without planes. But because of it, I get to connect with the people and places I love, traversing distance and time with relative ease.

How to Fly Through the Bible

So what does it mean to fly through the Bible? How is reading quickly, like looking out the airplane window?

The quickest I ever read the Bible cover to cover was two weeks. I read in every spare moment, obsessed with getting through the entire Bible, all 66 books as quickly as possible. Nobody told me I should do this, but I am glad that I did. Here are some of the things I experienced on my Biblical flight:

1. While flying, you don’t get tangled in the brush.

    When you fly to a different city, you fly over the buildings, trees, railroad tracks. Other than waiting for other planes and a place to land, all impediments are far bellow. Similarly, when I was flying through the text, I didn’t get caught up in thorny theological matters, controversies, or dead ends. I just kept reading without stopping Genealogies, details about the sacrificial system, lists didn’t entangle me. Basically I just flew over them as fast as I could (anyone who has decided to read the Bible cover to cover and got stuck and got mired down in Leviticus can see the value of pressing through!),

    Flying high and not getting caught in the brush means you keep reading no matter what. Mile High flyers don’t linger places. When I saw something interesting or questions came up, I noted them and planned to circle back to them later, but I kept reading. Of course flying above the fray meant I wasn’t reading with an eye for details. How can you see details at 23,000 feet? Yet what you do see is worth seeing. Some of what you see out the window of a plane, you won’t see any other way.

2. A bird’s-eye view reveals topographical changes

    In my flight over the Canadian Rockies I saw changes in the topography. The bare high rocks were different from where I had come from, and different from the rolling prairies where I landed. Similarly, when I flew through the Bible, I encountered various genres. The historical books, gave way to the poetry of the Psalms; The oracles of the prophets were a different terrain from gospel stories and Pauline epistles. Noticing this switch in the landscape gave me clues on what sort of place I found myself in (in the text) and what grew there. It is with a bird’s-eye view, you see the lay of the land.

3. Flying connects distant places together

    Air travel allow you to visit distant friends and relatives, return home, go to weddings and funerals or go on exotic vacations that you otherwise would not be able to go. Because of this modern technology, our world feels more connected. Closer, somehow.

    On my own flights through the Bible I have noticed the connections between different passages I wouldn’t have otherwise. Hebrews came alive to me when I just read through the Pentateuch and the prophets the week before. Flying through the Bible showed me the connections between different passages. If I hadn’t flown there, I might not have made the journey; yet having made the flight, the connections between the testaments, the covenants and distant relatives are much clearer to me. Closer, somehow.

4. Flying gives us a look at the big picture

    Just like the view from the plane reviews the vast expanse, so a flight through the text reveals the big picture. By starting at creation and making the journey with God’s people from there to new creation, I got a sense of the whole story. The horizon extends far beyond our view in every direction; I only saw this when I flew through the Bible without getting lost in the details.

So I commend flying through the text as one way of reading the Bible. Care to join the Mile High Bible Club? Tell me your thoughts.