Thinking Out Loud

August 29, 2019

September 19, 2014

Book Review: The Grave Robber

“Everyone wants a miracle. But here’s the catch: no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! Of course, you can’t have one without the other.” (The Grave Robber by Mark Batterson, p. 14)

Grave Robber - Mark BattersonHe just keeps getting better.

I honestly can’t wait until Mark Batterson’s next book; I think he’s now firmly in my Top Five Authors circle, but for different reasons than the other four. He doesn’t go deep deep, but he does manage to get me thinking. If someone had simply never read a Christian book, then this is would be a good introduction, and hey, December 25th is approaching.

The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible is Mark Batterson’s tenth book as well has his first for Baker Publishing Group. It’s an exposition of the seven miracles recorded in John’s gospel; plus an eighth for those who are paying attention. Each miraculous event is given three chapters wherein Mark shares some context, lots of application, and some faith-building stories from his own life emerging from the discussion of each miracle. There are also some details in Grave Robber‘s retelling of these familiar stories that I had not heard or considered in a lifetime of going to church.

There’s a DVD Curriculum available as well, but a competent small group leader would have no problem generating seven weeks (or more) of discussion just by having people read the book. You could also read the book for study on John’s gospel, or devotionally.

Again, the book is very transparent; very personal. Mark is very realistic in his approach to increasing your faith. As an asthmatic who has longed for a healing, he knows what is like to pray and be prayed for and still not see the answer, yet this does not diminish his belief in God’s supernatural power in the least. This is therefore an excellent choice for someone who finds themselves in the middle of a season where perhaps hope seems lost, or God seems distant.

Jesus is pictured in the book’s pages as the Wine-Maker, Rule-Breaker, Water-Walker and Grave-Robber. You cannot escape encountering him as you read.

Coming this Spring: Regular Batterson readers are familiar with his son Parker, who is collaborating on a student edition of the book, releasing in March, 2015.

May 14, 2014

Wednesday Link List

not entirely dead to sin cartoon

from Church is Stranger Than Fiction by Mary Chambers an IVP book from 1990

If it’s Wednesday, it’s time for another list of things you may have missed from the Christian corner of the web.  Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE where the list officially resides. Then click the story you wish to read.

From CBD, for women who don’t have the joy of the Lord:

Joy of the Lord Lipstick

 

May 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: AHA by Kyle Idleman

AHA Church Kit - Kyle Idleman - City on a Hill ProductionsAfter veering off into a more documentary style with the small group curriculum for Kyle Idleman‘s Gods at War, City on a Hill Productions returns to the cinematic type of production it does best: an integrating of multiple dramatic story lines with direct teaching. AHA: Awakening.Honesty.Action takes a modern look at the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel and has the courage to suggest that not every wayward son who has a moment of clarity while feeding the pigs actually makes it back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all six episodes. The video clips run about a half hour each. The acting is superb to the point where I wondered, with all the Christian movies releasing lately, if City on a Hill ought to be reaching for an even wider audience.

There are various applications to this curriculum. So far, Idleman, the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has released three books and three videos, plus the H20 video series (see the review linked below) which landed him on our radar. So that leaves you with several choices, and these are just my suggestions:

  • If I were working with new Christians or even seekers for whom the story of The Lost Son in Luke is foreign, I would probably use the video.
  • If I were working with people who have been Christians for awhile, I might do the book study.
  • If I were working with people who have been in small groups for a fair amount of time, and like to think and like to discuss, I would do the video.

The video really provoked some thought when we watched it as a family in ways that the book didn’t. And like the parable, not everybody lives happily ever after. But the book is excellent by itself as I stated earlier this year.  And the curriculum possibilities get even more complex:

  • The church kit comes with a leader’s guide and a journal. You could simply watch the videos, have a weekly discussion, and a small homework assignment for the following week.
  • You can also get a journal for each group member, for which a sample is included. It provides a day-by-day writing assignment between group meetings, so the teaching content remains fresh when the group reconvenes and there is opportunity for personal transformation.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might argue there’s nothing new here. In many respects, Idleman’s Gods at War covered material also found in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods or Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and AHA is reminiscent of Keller’s Prodigal God which Idleman quotes at one stage in both the book and the video.

But Jesus’ parable in Luke offers limitless applications; it’s the story that keeps on giving.

[Note: This is a review of the Small Group Kit; AHA is also available for a teaching series in your local church in a Pastor’s Kit, which is an entirely different product containing only short video clips at a much lower price.]

At the end of the last episode, we watched a couple of the features which clearly reveal the hearts of the director and cast. They are truly committed to excellence. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where City on a Hill Productions goes next. I leave you with their corporate tagline:

Story is the language of our Hearts
Media is the language of our times
We use both to share Jesus with the world

June 6, 2013

Kyle Idleman – Gods at War: The Video

Gods at War Video CurriculumThe Gods at War video curriculum is a six-week, interactive, DVD-driven Bible study for small groups that can be offered in a 90-minute weekly format, or if the group is time-constrained, in a 60-minute weekly format. The video clips themselves run 22 – 30 minutes. The curriculum is based on Idleman’s sophomore book with Zondervan by the same title, though the curriculum offers its own Follower’s Journal which retails for $9.99 US; therefor it isn’t necessary that group members read the book, although some will want to.

The Gods at War video teaching series is one of five major DVD-based church resources released from City on a Hill Productions to feature Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky; however unlike the Not a Fan and H20 group studies This one abandons the cinematic style that had him teaching on location and doesn’t have any scripted dramatic vignettes or story line. Instead, the teaching is interspersed with documentary style interviews with five individuals who have wrestled with various ‘gods’ in their past: Pleasure, love, money, power and self.

One of those interviews is with the late Chuck Colson, and that, as the saying goes was worth the price of admission. It’s a story about the lust for power that everyone needs to hear, not just Americans. But two of the interviews are with individuals, a woman and man respectively, who wrestled with same sex attraction and sexual addition and infidelity. For that reason, I suspect the DVD series may be a little to edgy for more conservative churches and/or certain teen groups. The intention is that for discussion purposes, small groups would split up into male and female subgroups, and in that context these portrayals are real, and honest, and probably a best fit for generating conversation.

The curriculum package retails for $59.99 US and contains a sample of the 208-page Gods at War Combat Journal — also available separately — which was written by Southeast’s Ross Brodfuehrer and offers two phases of processing the video material; as well as a 44 page leaders guide with discussion questions. The DVD also offers a 15-minute message from Kyle to group leaders with tips on managing discussion in a small group format, which should be required viewing for people using any DVD curriculum to lead a Bible study.  

The curriculum kit should not be confused with the Pastor’s Kit which retails for $29.99, not reviewed here, which is for pastors who want to teach through a six-week series on Sunday mornings and contains much shorter video clips.

With the Not a Fan book and video series still riding high on national sales charts, many churches looking for something else may want to move on to Gods at War. The book covers similar themes to Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, but the video series is more distinct. While I missed the full movie treatment used in previous City on a Hill series — I referred to H20 as Alpha Course meets Nooma — I think this series has the potential to promote life change even among those of us who would never think that idolatry is a factor in our lives, even if its expression in our lives is more subtle than those in the featured interviews. 

Watch the series 2-minute trailer here.

January 18, 2013

Review: Awakening of Hope – The Video

Several months ago I reviewed the book Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, which looks at several of the elements of what is sometimes called the new monasticism.  While there’s no mention of vows of poverty or silence, and nobody is wearing matching robes (or even hoodies), the book is an excellent study of everyday people who either choose to live in community, or find themselves living communally due to circumstances. The link in this paragraph leads you to a list of the six topics actually under study, which include the concept of a shared meal and the importance of pacifism.

Awakening of Hope - Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI was quite taken by the book. The text is rich, and JW-H has a wealth of travel and experience to draw from in his writing. But all this time I was dying to know what the accompanying video would be like. Finally, I got my wish.

If your perception of Zondervan curriculum involves packages hosted by Philip Yancey or Andy Stanley, you’d be a little out of your depth with this one. Owing more to NOOMA than anything else, the six 15-minute sessions involve some very raw footage — with varying sound levels — that may or may not be in focus. In the very first minute Shane Claiborne is interrupted by a child at the door of the house where he’s filming, Chris Haw is distracted by backyard chickens and the people whose dining room Shane is using come home to find a film crew in their house.

More to the point, the segments are more of an extension to the printed book. When you’ve read the chapter and people have gone around the circle and discussed the various take-outs, you then start the DVD and are immersed in the topic on a whole different — and probably unexpected — level. The interviews — including one with L’Arche founder Jean Vanier — complement rather than continue what the book was discussing. (The book also contains the DVD study questions, there is no additional resource needed.)

I asked Gary O’Dwyer, a local pastor friend who is working with both the book and the DVD to confirm this and he agreed,

“The video is not tied directly to the book. The main portion of the video does offer some very interesting/inspiring individual examples of Hope as well as living Christ’s message.”

The six segments are somewhat equally hosted by Shane and Jonathan, and the DVD also contains nine short bonus clips, including Shane’s story of how The Simple Way got started.  Running time is about 90 minutes total with a U.S. retail of $26.99. Click the image above to watch a three minute preview. If you can only choose one item to purchase, I would suggest getting the book.

October 3, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Well they don’t build megachurches like this anymore… This is the First Church of Christ, Scientist (i.e. Christian Science) in Boston in a 1907 photo at Shorpy.com.

To begin this link list, you need a blank piece of paper.

  • Let’s start out with something completely different. Without clicking through… One of the best selling Christian books of the past 20 years has been The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Name the five languages without peeking.
  • How about another top five list? Again, without clicking, what’s your guess as to the top five churches in the United States by attendance. It’s about 3/4 of the way down the page.
  • Finally, before you click that link, what do you think are the top five Bible verses searched for at BibleGateway.com? Oh, and the one you think is number one, actually isn’t.  [More on that subject with our People’s Bible page sample.]

The regular links

  • If you lead a small group, here’s a YouTube channel you should know about while it lasts, because when it comes to small group discussion-starter videos, Zondervan is giving away the store.
  • Is the window on religious freedom in Russia about to close? Some people feel Christians could be adversely affected by a new law.
  • Borrowing material from the “public domain” Bible simply makes good economic sense for Hollywood.
  • He was an Independent Fundamentalist Pastor and now he’s an atheist and humanist.The blog Galatians Four looks at what can happen when your church is filled with abuses.
  • Russell D. Moore knows that the 2012 election has got more people talking to and about Mormonism. So he offers a few suggestions on confronting LDS theology.
  • Stephen Colbert gets serious at a Catholic university to profess his love for his Roman Catholic faith.
  • Being the worship leader in a church isn’t easy. That’s what Jonathan Sigmon’s pastor said one recent Sunday. But there are also some blessings that come with the job.
  • Not everyone will agree with one of the points on corporal punishment, but the rest of these seven tips for Christian parents should meet with approval.
  • For those of you who like to go deep, here’s an article about Augustine and the literal interpretation of Genesis 1.
  • You know it’s a slow news day at Christianity Today when the Facebook page, Awkward Couples of Liberty gets its own article. (My wife points out that in this instance, the university is not aptly named…)
  • Listen online to three sample songs from Matt Maher’s new album, The Love In Between.
  • This will cause a few people to say ‘I told you so.’  Brian McLaren led a same-sex commitment service in Maryland; one of the grooms being his son Trevor. The story has attracted over 120 comments so far at the CT Live blog.
  • Here are a dozen things that, thankfully, your pastor probably won’t hear in heaven.
  • The Big Picture pics of North Korea are obviously propaganda, but it’s the unanimous response of reader comments that seal the deal. 
  • Happy Birthday to the Compact Disc, which turns 30 this week.
  • Meanwhile, over at the daily comic strip Retail by Norm Feuti, the “Christmas” versus “holiday” semantics debate has already begun:

February 27, 2012

Living the Red Letters

Before beginning a review of the actual content of this six-session, small group DVD by Tony Campolo, I need to take a paragraph or two to wave the flag, for this is a homegrown production.

In the Canadian Christian bookstore environment, about 90% of everything of everything on offer is U.S. produced. True, Canada is the point of origin for a number of Christian music artists; and a number of top Christian authors have a Canadian birth certificate; but many of these products turn up on the label or imprint of U.S. record labels and publishers. Material produced for domestic consumption is rather rare, though The Word Guild is always reminding me that we do have quite a few talented people who haven’t made the leap to the American market. Yet.

But a DVD curriculum? There have been a few, but nothing that takes on the production and packaging ambitions of The Red Letters featuring “progressive” Christian Democrat and social activist Tony Campolo, with Colin McCartney of UrbanPromise Toronto playing the role of interviewer.  That Tony’s blog is called Red Letter Christians and Colin’s book is titled Red Letter Revolution makes these two a natural pairing.

The six sessions deal with: What it means to be a red-letter Christian; consumerism and materialism; compassion, especially as it applies to three hot button issues — homosexuality, poverty and the environment; religion and politics; personal spiritual discipline and prayer; and the Christian life as a joy-filled life.

The DVD clips run between 8 and 17 minutes. Our normal family Bible study doesn’t use prescribed questions, and so this was somewhat foreign, but we used the small group guide and went through the five sets of questions for each episode. At first I tended to approach each set as a single question, but soon realized you could take hours to properly consider each discussion subject.

The DVD was a multi-camera production filmed at Toronto’s Church of the Redeemer whose auditorium and chancel actually serve as background. Knowing this was produced primarily for the Canadian market — though available in the U.S. on A-zon — I was significantly impressed with the camera cuts and editing.

Colin McCartney is extremely relaxed as an interviewer and Tony is… well… he is, as always, uniquely Tony Campolo. If he can’t get your small group going on some of these subjects, then nobody can. There is no denying his personal conviction that to claim to be a Christian is to make living out the red letters part of daily life.

The Red Letters DVD curriculum was produced by World Vision Canada and Colin’s organization UrbanPromise Toronto. A review copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Canadian based agency providing enhanced marketing support to Christian authors and publishers,who are also rolling up their sleeves on this one to facilitate distribution to Christian bookstores in Canada.

This is a product I can recommend with confidence, and on a personal note, if you live nearby, I’d be more than happy to walk your small group through all six weeks of this excellent series. If it’s a weeknight meeting, I prefer decaf. Here’s a short preview:

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