What is a Plastic Donut?: a book review

I had assumed that a plastic donut was an inflatable pillow for those in need of a little tenderness. It turns out that sometimes a plastic donut is just a plastic donut.  In Plastic Donuts: Giving that Delights the Heart of the Fatherauthor Jeff Anderson describes a scene between he and his eighteen-month-old daughter. Jeff was sitting at his laptop working on something when he was interrupted by his little girl. She had brought him a plastic donut from her kitchen playset and gave it to him with absolute delight. Jeff loved getting that donut and it got him thinking.  Isn’t our giving to God a bit like this plastic donut?  God doesn’t need anything from us (he made everything, he has everything) but he delights in receiving gifts from us. And so Jeff uses this ‘plastic donut’ experience as a metaphor for our giving to God.

Jeff is a CPA turned day trader turned non-profit leader. Jeff says the plastic donut experience described above transformed his approach to giving. Previously he was a saver and a tither but he  had never thought of giving beyond that ten percent. After getting the plastic donut, he searched the Bible for what it told him about giving. He discovered that giving sacrificially and cheerfully to God was an act of worship. Furthermore of all the references to giving in the Bible, tithing only accounted for about 2% of the references. Jeff  was encouraged to go beyond tithing in his giving to God.

Jeff also takes aim at the often repeated aphorism, “It isn’t how much you give, it is the heart behind it.” Of course, the heart behind it is important and you can give oodles and not be worshipping. However our willingness to give and give sacrificially (a gift that costs us something) also reveals the ‘heart’ behind our gift. If we throw pennies at God but thousands of dollars toward our home entertainment system, then we worship at the wrong altar.

For a short book, Jeff has a lot to say that is challenging to contemporary church goers. I am not sure the story of the plastic donut bears the metaphoric weight that Jeff puts on it (his daughter isn’t giving sacrificially when she playfully hands her dad a toy donut). Nevertheless Jeff issues a good challenge to us to give generously, cheerfully and worshipfully.

I give this book 3.5 stars. Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Firsthand Faith: a book review

Josh and Ryan Shook are brothers and the sons of Kerry and Chris Shook (pastors, authors and conference speakers). Josh is a musician based in Nashville. Ryan a filmmaker living in L.A. They grew up in church and struggled to navigate expectations, rules and ‘the way things are supposed to be.’ At some point they realized they could not rely on the faith of their parents; they each had to have a faith of their own. Faith was a ‘firsthand’ experience. It didn’t matter that their parents knew God or that their church believed the good news. Josh and Ryan learned that they needed to know God for themselves.

Firsthand: Ditching Second Hand Religion for a Faith of One’s Own by Ryan & Josh Shook

There is a lot of books written which tells us that when many people graduate from high school or college they graduate from church and from Christianity as well. Some find their way back to faith later in life, but not all. I’m a Gen X-er. Many of  my church friends growing up, are no longer people of faith. Spiritual-but-not-religious millennials have also exited enmass out the church back door.  In Firsthand, the Shook bros. share a piece of their own journey and the things that helped them in their personal pursuit of God. They talked about their spiritual thirst, how confession enabled them to live in freedom, how their faith transformed them as they learned to live it out, how they cultivated their relationship with God,  their ongoing struggle with doubt, how they learned to listen to the Holy Spirit’s ‘disruptive’ leadings, and the importance of community for growing in their faith.

But Ryan and Josh  don’t just talk about themselves. They also share snippets of other stories of those who have stumbled towards God, pursuing a ‘firsthand faith.’  Some of these are friends of the Shook brothers. They also conducted research and invited a number of people to share their own story of what having a ‘firsthand’ faith has meant for them. In one such survey they talked to a James from Blaine, WA (yours truly).  I commented in their survey about the importance of other people for my faith development. The Shook bros. included this paragraph of mine in their book:

In college I had friends I could tell my darkest thoughts and deeds to, and they would uphold me in prayer and keep me accountable. But they weren’t just accountability partners. I think the greatest gift I got from other people was when they shared where they saw God’s work in my heart and His hand on my life. I am who I am because people spoke life into me. (186)

Each of the chapters of this book closes with suggestions which help readers think deeper about and put into practice the theme.  These activities are integrated with the firsthandbook.com website.  Ryan Shook also has several short films which explore the books content and there is an accompanying student and church small group curriculum.

This is a book written by two Christian men in their twenties about having a faith of your own.  It is a helpful resource for encouraging young millennials to pursue a personal faith. I would recommend this book for high school students or young college students.  Older Christians may also benefit from some of the content of this book (we all need a faith of our own) but the tone of the book seems to aim at a younger crowd.  I give it four stars as a youth resource, though I would be reticent about recommending it to some of my jaded–thirty-years-old and above–friends.  They might need something a little harder to take the edge off.

While the tone and message of this book emphasizes the necessity of personal, experiential knowing God for oneself, the Shooks also have benefited from the way their parents invested in their spiritual formation. They had to own their faith, but their parents and church leaders also provided places for them to take transformational risks in following Jesus.  They know God firsthand, but they also have the experience of a ‘faith handed down’ to them. This is obscured by some of the rhetoric of the book which focuses on a personal pursuit of God.  I do wish there was more emphases on the mentoring, nurture and intentionality of their church family. The data I’ve read says that young persons that maintain a meaningful faith as they transition to adulthood,  have developed significant intergenerational friendships. There is more to this than the Shook’s are telling. Personal responsibility is important, but it is not the whole story.   Perhaps a follow up project?   Graceful Hand-Me-Downs? 

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for a review.  Thanks to Ryan and Josh for including me in their project.

Go Then: a book review

Sent by Hilary Alan

“The two greatest moments of your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why you are born.”

Curt Alan heard those words at a conference and came back and shared them with his wife Hilary. The two of them felt that despite the fact that they lived the American dream–two kids, comfortable income, security, they were not doing what they were put on this earth for.

Curt  got involved in community ministry at their church and Hilary tried to support her husband as the pressed into God’s calling for their family. In 2004 after the Tsunami which decimated South East Asia, Curt took six weeks off work to help with the relief. This led to a course change for Hilary and Curt and their two kids Jordan and Molly.  The Alans moved to a Muslim province in South East Asia to continue to help with the relief. This is the story of their three year tenure there. Hilary Alan tells the story of how they risked everything to follow God, overcame obstacles and culture shock and sought ways to be good neighbors there.

From this book I know very little about the organization that they went with or what the Alans did while they were there.  Instead Hilary Alan shares about the significant relationships they built there and where she saw God at work in their lives. She tells the story of Lee an injured doctor friend, Natalie their housekeeper, Glen a shy friend who is drawn in by the community in their home, Adele a Muslim woman who believes in Jesus but has not become a Christian because of a promise she made to her dying mother. Hilary and her family are able to share the love of God with all these people and more through prayer, conversation and acts of compassion.

I liked this book a lot because it is honest about the struggles of following Jesus when it costs you something.  I would recommend this book to those who love a good story of God’s faithfulness when we step out on what He’s calling us to. I find stories like this encouraging and Alan is honest about where it has been difficult. She trusts God, but she also struggled with the effect the culture had on her kids and the ways God doesn’t always seem to answer prayer.

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this review.

Man Alive: A Book Review

Men’s ministry leader Patrick Morley is an expert on men. He must be, he keeps writing books about them. The Man in the Mirror sold more than three million copies, he has a Bible study with 5000 men (okay most of those watch the webcast) and he has had coffee with thousands of guys. He also has a Ph.D in management and races his 1974 Porsche 911 for sport. All this tells me, he knows and understands what it means to be a man!

Okay, so the case for Morely’s expertise may be laid on a little thick, the proof is in the pudding. Does Man Alive prove his mastery over manhood? Well yes and no. Morely is complementarian in his approach to gender roles (which I am not) but most of his advice is sound. A lot of what he says would applies equally to both genders but men behaving badly don’t always get the message. His ‘seven primal needs’ which, when addressed, can transform your spiritual life can be summarized as follows: the need for community, the need for faith in a benevolent God, that one’s life has purpose, that there is freedom from sin/addictions, the need for transcendence, the need for love/intimacy.

None of these needs seem particularly gender specific to me but I agree with Morely that if you address these needs of the soul, you will become a better man (providing you already are a man, otherwise I can’t help you). This book is full of personal stories and stories of men that Morely has been privileged to walk alongside. It is evident that Morely has helped men come out of their isolated shells, fulfill their God-given potential, and grow in their love for God and others. So, yes, Morely has some good stuff to say here.
I agree with Morely that part of what men want is to love and be loved, do something significant with our lives, and that we were created for transcendence.

Where I would critique Man Alive is that Morely seems to apply an instrumental and formulaic approach to spiritual transformation. The stories shared here are all victory stories. Sometimes men follow God and their lives still fall apart. With Morely, I trust in God’s providential care, but I wonder how helpful this book would be for those guys who have been ‘doing the steps’ but are still stuck in the mire. I know, because Morely tells me, that he has walked alongside men facing divorce, contemplating suicide, and other really bad stuff. So I know he probably sees the reality of things, but what is presented here is a little too simplistic.

That being said, this book would be read profitably in church men’s groups and ministries. Each chapter has questions for reflection and discussion and there is a brief leader’s guide at the back of the book (and a two page bio of all Morely’s accomplishments).

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review