Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Against the Flow


Against the Flow
By John Lennox
Monarch Books, 2015


Summary

A wide-ranging discussion of the place of Christianity in the public square . . .

Daniel's story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power. It tells of four young men, born in the tiny state of Judah around 500 b.c., and captured by Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon. Daniel describes how they eventually rose to senior positions of administration.

Daniel and his friends did not simply maintain their private devotion to God; they maintained a high-profile witness in a pluralistic society antagonistic to their faith. Their story carries a powerful message for us today. Society tolerates the practice of Christianity in private and in church services, but increasingly it deprecates public witness. If Daniel and his compatriots were with us today they would be in the vanguard of public debate.

This is a lucid and erudite examination of the life of Daniel from a leading expert on faith and science. In his first biblical work, Dr. Lennox provides a unique perspective on both Western society and biblical exegesis that will make Against the Flow an instant classic encouraging Christians to speak out in our modern Babylon.


My thoughts

"Babylon is the ancient version of our secular society."

Against the Flow is a book that combines theology, apologetics, and Christian living - and I simply cannot state how powerful a book this is! Most people are familiar with the fiery furnace and lions' den stories, but not until reading Dr. Lennox's compelling book did I realize how relevant the book of Daniel is for us today.

Just like the young Daniel, we live in a pluralistic, tolerant society that is becoming increasingly antagonistic to the Christian faith. Rather than becoming paralyzed by the move toward political correctness, there is much to be learned from the pages of Daniel, and Dr. Lennox has done an incredible job in this book that informs, challenges and inspires.

Against the Flow explores the book of Daniel from theological, historical and cultural aspects. While it's not light reading, Dr. Lennox writes in a style that is easy to understand and I often found it hard to put down. There is a wealth of valuable insight - these thoughts about tolerance, for instance . . .

Tolerance asserts the right to have convictions, to make judgments about right and wrong, which differ from those of others. Tolerance does not demand that we accept the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles of others, but only that we learn to live without forcing them to line up with us. . . . The new tolerance, however, is completely different. It seizes on the idea of offence and holds that I must not ever offend anyone else by expressing disapproval of any aspect of his or her behaviour or ideas. . . . To put it another way: the old tolerance accepted the existence of other views while disagreeing with them; the new tolerance insists on accepting the views themselves and not merely their existence.

In the introduction, Dr. Lennox writes about Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:  "Daniel's story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power in the full glare of public life. . . . In this book we shall try to learn something about what it was that gave that ancient foursome the strength and conviction to be prepared, often at great risk, to swim against the flow in their society and give unequivocal, courageous public expression to what they believed."

Litfuse Publicity put together a wonderful interview with Dr. Lennox that is very eye-opening and informative. Against the Flow has a powerful message and I highly recommend it.

John Lennox is a fascinating teacher. Here is one of several teaching videos that are available on YouTube:



John C. Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College. He lectures on Faith and Science for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He is author of a number of books on the relations of science, religion and ethics. He and his wife, Sally, live near Oxford.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Litfuse Landing Page:
http://litfusegroup.com/author/jlennox

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Interview + GIVEAWAY: John C. Lennox, Author of Against the Flow


Part theology, part Christian living, Against the Flow by John C. Lennox is an important read for Christians, especially when you consider today's political environment. Dr. Lennox writes in a style that is easy to read, compelling, and downright hard to put down. I will be posting my review in a couple of days.

I want to thank Audra and the team at Litfuse Publicity for giving me the opportunity to share this interview and to offer a copy to one of our readers. If this is a topic you find interesting, please leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

Here's the John C. Lennox interview in its entirety . . .



The concepts of tolerance and political correctness are having a chilling effect on the public practice of Christianity. That’s why readers will find Dr. John C. Lennox’s new book Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism incredibly timely. Lennox, who has defended the Christian faith in debates against the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, gives every follower of Christ the intellectual foundation they will need to argue the role their faith should have in the public discourse.

While anyone who has spent time in a Sunday-school classroom is familiar with the biblical story of Daniel, Lennox mines this classic historical account to encourage cultural bravery in Christians trying to find their place in a postmodern society. The story of these four young men born in the tiny state of Judah around 500 B.C. and captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylon, is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power. The book of Daniel describes in detail how each of them eventually rose to senior positions of administration.


Q:  You have studied and lectured on a number of different biblical topics – why did you choose to write Against the Flow about the biblical story of Daniel?

It is one of my favourite narratives in the Bible because it records the life of an individual who was prepared, even when he was given high office, to publicly stand up for God, despite being under immense pressure to renounce or privatize his beliefs. He didn’t just maintain his private devotion to God, but a cutting-edge public witness which is much rarer.


Q:  Why should every Christian be familiar with the themes found in the story of Daniel?

Much of the book is of direct relevance today. Babylon is the ancient version of our secular society, and Daniel and his friends were called upon to stand for their faith even though they were in a tiny cultural minority.  They did this in the full glare of publicity rather than run away to form a ghetto. Their values were challenged – is there anything of absolute value or is everything merely relative?  Are our religious beliefs just a result of our upbringing? What evidence is there that the supernatural realm exists?  What do we do if God’s law clashes with human law? When is the status of humankind compared to animals? Do we live in a closed or open universe, and how ultimate are the laws of nature? Does the Bible have any predictive power? The real weight of many contemporary intellectual spiritual, moral and ethical questions come out clearly in Daniel’s remarkable book.



Q:  Babylon, where Daniel was captive, was a hub for commerce, culture and education. How was this possible when it was built on false religions and moral ambiguity? What can modern Christians learn from this juxtaposition?

This was one of the questions that Daniel and his friends must have contemplated. Was the sheer scale and might of the city a sign of God’s favour or even a confirmation of the power that the Babylonian gods wielded? Yet, as the story shows, Babylon was built on very shaky and inadequate moral, spiritual and philosophical foundations as we see in Daniel’s analysis of the reasons for its ultimate demise.


Q:  Why do you call the times in which we live a “modern Babylon?”

The city of Babylon is used throughout the Bible to describe a society that has turned away from God, indeed is founded on defiance of God, basing its confidence on human ability and intellectual capacity to “make a name for itself.” Its ancient ziggurat was a forerunner of the modern skyscraper and all that such buildings symbolize. It was a powerful city within which a plurality of beliefs existed and the same kind of idols that its inhabitants worshipped (many of which were based on deifying the laws of nature) still predominate in society today (sex, greed, power, wealth, etc). Daniel, though he lived in Babylon, didn’t live for it. He, like Abraham, lived for a heavenly city which has true foundations and whose architect is God.


Q:  Why do you think Daniel and his friends were able to rise to power in the midst of such a corrupt culture?

What is interesting about their rise to prominence is that they were not prepared to keep their faith in God a secret, which they could easily have done in order to save themselves. Instead, they deliberately stood up for their belief in the public sphere and, as a result, crucially, they were seen to be different (in a positive sense). Daniel was known for his “insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom” (Daniel 5:13). His life was such that his accusers were unable to find anything to charge him with (Daniel 6:4).  He also showed immense courage to interpret the dream for Nebuchadnezzar, as the King had already threatened to execute his wise men for their inability to do so.  Nebuchadnezzar’s promotion of Daniel was a result of Daniel’s obedience to God.  Those that honour God, he honours.


Q:  What should the focus be for Christians who have found themselves placed in positions of power and influence?

The focus of all Christians should be to live for God in whatever sphere of influence they are in. It is in our work environments that our faith in God is most likely to be tested.  People in positions of power are under particular pressures. In one sense they have a great opportunity because of their influence, but in another they have a great responsibility, as well as much to lose. Yet these concerns were exactly the same for Daniel who provides an amazing model for us today, whether or not we are in positions of power.


Q:  It would be hard to find a child who grew up in church who has not heard the story of Daniel in the lion’s den – but this is more than just a thrilling story – what does it tell us about the relationship between law and religion –specifically, the Jewish religion?

The genius of Daniel is that it shows how important law and legislation is. Once laws are passed, they can be very difficult to overturn and it can be too late to protest about them. So in Daniel, a central theme is about how we should focus on living under God’s law in a culture that is prepared to pass laws that discriminate against believers publicly expressing their faith.


Q:  What has been the effect of political correctness on the public practice of the Christian faith? Could Daniel have identified with this?

There is a pressure in society to respect all different viewpoints and to keep our faith private, so we don’t ‘offend’ anyone. One problem with this is that it causes confusion about how to judge between different ideas (their truthfulness), for example, or right and wrong. In society we have relativized the absolute and yet we can’t live without absolutes, so we tend to do the opposite and treat as absolute what is merely of relative value – like money, power, status etc.


Q:  You say in Against the Flow, that there is one point Richard Dawkins has made that you completely agree with. What is that point and what does it mean for Christians?

Dawkins is not a postmodernist, nor am I.  We agree upon the fact that there is such a thing as truth that is independent of you and me.  We agree that if someone makes a truth-claim, then you should be able to ask them what evidence they have for holding that viewpoint. Christians don’t have to be philosophers or academics, but they should be able to give reasons for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15). Yet this is not a one-sided thing, as the same must go for the naturalistic beliefs that most atheists hold.


Q:  Why do you think our culture has accepted the idea that faith has little or no place in the public discourse?

A major reason for this is a misunderstanding of the word. The new atheists have helped to propagate the notion that faith is believing in something in the absence of evidence. This is an idiosyncratic and incorrect use of the word and is what is usually referred to as blind faith.  My faith in Christ is evidence based – the main evidence being the resurrection in history and my own experience.  It is also helpful to remember that faith is indispensable to science. No one would do any science if they did not believe = have faith in the fact that = science can be done.


Q:  What is the proper place of Christianity in today’s postmodern society?

Although our culture is informed by postmodernism, most people believe in truth in one form or another and certainly in areas they consider important. There are several worldviews in our western culture today – naturalism and Christianity being two of them – and what I object to is atheistic naturalism being regarded de facto as the default world view.  That is not the case – all worldviews ought to be free to enter discussion in the public space.


Q:  Do you see the stand for righteousness in a wicked culture as being in competition with Christian compassion?

I wouldn’t see the two as being in competition with each other, as the key is how we convey our faith to others. We must always communicate righteousness in a way that also conveys our compassion. This isn’t always easy, which is why we have to ask God to help us in our conversations.


Q:  You have debated well-known atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. What was one of your most challenging debate moments? Most rewarding?

The most challenging thing is probably after a debate, when you process what was said and what might have been said. The most rewarding part is hearing from those who have been helped by them, such as those who have subsequently become Christians or those whose faith has either been strengthened or revived by seeing the discussions. One of the motivations for doing them is that people are influenced by what public intellectuals say. It is not surprising that if Stephen Hawking says there is no God, people think “who am I to question him?”


Q:  What is the single most important lesson for the Christian from the life of Daniel?

It is intended to be a clarion call to our generation to be courageous and to not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted or squeezed out of the public space, thus rending us spineless or ineffective. Hopefully it will help strengthen our resolve to swim against the flow, not only to put our heads above the parapet, but also to make sure in advance that our minds and hearts are prepared, so that we do not get blown away in the first salvo!

Learn more about John C. Lennox and Against the Flow at www.johnlennox.org or on Twitter (ProfJohnLennox).


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GIVEAWAY

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Review: God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea


God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea
By Rose Chandler Johnson
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, 2013


Summary

In the South, nothing is more refreshing than a glass of sweet iced tea. Nothing, that is, except experiencing God in those small, everyday moments.

God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea is a deeply personal collection of spiritual treasures designed to help readers experience new mercies each morning. Seasoned with insight and grace, this tender devotional points to the divine presence of God in everyday moments. God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea will help readers develop a daily habit of turning to God in those quiet moments of reflection.


My thoughts

First of all, there's a lot of excellent devotionals out there, several of which I've used, but there's something about God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea by Rose Chandler Johnson that just clicks with me. These meditative thoughts have blossomed out of her personal walk over the years, and Rose writes with honesty from a depth of experience and maturity.


The subtitle, Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments, couldn't be more descriptive. Rose states in the introduction that she likes to focus on God showing Himself in everyday things - and since we live in the "ordinary," I think it's when we're able to see God in the everyday things around us that life's most eternal lessons are learned.

The purpose of a devotional is to temporarily move our focus from all that demands our time and attention in the world so that we can draw closer to the heart of God, and that is exactly what this collection does. This is not a deep book, nor does it need to be. It's actually a simple book, and therein lies its beauty and effectiveness.

The daily format is basically Rose's thoughts, Scripture readings, journaling prompts, and prayer focus. In spite of my best efforts over the years, I struggle with journaling, yet this is something I long to do. Rose makes this the easiest I've ever seen and both her journal prompts and prayer focus are my favorite parts.

Now, I'm a southern girl - in fact, I live in the same state as Rose - so I have to say how much I enjoy this southern connection. I share her affinity for sweet iced tea and love the way she brings it into intimacy with God. Rose writes that our quiet time is "a time for intimate conversation, like chatting with a friend as you sip a glass of tea or a cup of coffee." I'd like to end with this thought that especially spoke to me, from the "Be Still and Know" meditation . . .


In the early evenings, I sat on the deck with a glass of iced tea, watching the clouds float by and listening to the birds. During these times, my soul became quiet and still. I communed with God in my heart and mind. Like the sun bursting from behind the clouds, joy burst into my heart. . . . I experienced a renewed appreciation for who He is, the Creator of the universe and the lover of my soul. I believe God is truly pleased when I practice this Scripture. Be still and know Him.

God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea is a wonderful devotional resource that would be appreciated not only by new believers, but seasoned Christians as well. I personally look forward to slowly working my way through this collection, probably spending more than one day on each.  God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea is indeed drawing me closer to God - and for that, I give it 5 stars.

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Rose Chandler Johnson's devotions, poems, and articles have appeared in numerous Christian publications. She enjoys writing for her popular blog, Write Moments with God, and engaging with her readers. Rose is from a tiny Georgia town, and has lived near Augusta, Georgia, for the last twenty-eight years. For the last twenty years, Rose has been a French and English teacher. She's also worked as a counselor, librarian, and ESOL teacher. Rose enjoys baking, gardening, and spending time with her six children and their families.

Meet Rose online at writemomentswithgod.blogspot.com

Litfuse Landing page:

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Win a $150 Horse Lovers Prize Pack!




Tell us why you love horses for a chance to
win a $150 Horse Lovers Prize Pack!


Do you know a young girl, 13 years old and under, who loves horses? David C. Cook, the publisher behind Miralee Ferrell's new Horses and Friends series, is sponsoring a fun contest featuring a $150 Horse Lovers Prize Pack.



For details and entry, click on this link:




SILVER PRIZE
The Silver Prize is the Breyer Show Jumping Classics Toy Horse with Accessories, Breyer Classics Chelsea Show Jumper, and a copy of Miralee Ferrell’s new book, A Horse for Kate.


GOLD PRIZE
The Gold Prize is a Horse Lovers Prize Pack (a $150 value!) of Breyer Horses products plus two copies of Miralee Ferrell’s new book, A Horse for Kate.



For details and entry, click on this link:


Miralee's book, A Horse for Kate, is included in both prizes:



A horse of her own would be awesome. But Kate figures that might be a long way away, especially since she had to give up riding lessons and move to her late grandfather’s farm. Besides, it would be a lot more fun to have a best friend to ride with.

When Kate discovers a barn on their new farm that’s perfect for a horse, and a dusty bridle too, she starts to think that her dream might come true. Then she meets Tori at school, who is totally the best. So when they discover a thoroughbred that appears to be all alone, could it be the answer to her prayers? Maybe. If she can convince her dad … and figure out what’s going on with that horse.


Purchase now: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Books-A-Million |Christianbook.com | DeeperShopping | Parable | Family Christian Stores


Learn more about the entire book series on Miralee Ferrell's website.


Miralee Ferrell is the author of eleven popular novels, including the bestselling Blowing on Dandelions. She and her husband live on eleven acres along the Columbia River Gorge in Washington state, where she loves horseback riding on the wooded trails near her home. She also enjoys playing with her dogs, Lacey and Sophie.

Review: Love Unexpected


Love Unexpected
By Jody Hedlund
Beacons of Hope, #1
Bethany House, 2014


Summary

1859 - Presque Isle, Michigan

What is the secret that could shipwreck both of their lives?

All Emma Chambers ever wanted was a home, but when her steamboat sinks just outside Presque Isle, she's left destitute and with no place to stay.

An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper arrives in town. He's just lost his wife and is having a difficult time caring for his child. So a traveling preacher gets the idea that the keeper and Emma might be the answer to each other's dilemma. After a hasty marriage, she finds herself heading to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger. Nothing in her aimless life, though, has prepared her for parenting a rambunctious toddler, as well as managing a household.

Emma soon suspects Patrick may be hiding something from her, and then she hears a disturbing rumor about the circumstances surrounding his late wife's death. It seems as if her wish for a home and family of her own could end up leading her once more into turbulent waters.


My thoughts

Love Unexpected begins Jody Hedlund's Beacons of Hope series with a touching and poignant story set on Presque Isle, Michigan, in 1859. I've read enough of Jody's stories to know that she excels at historical detail, characterization, captivating storylines, and romance - and Love Unexpected is no exception. Freshwater pirates on the Great Lakes...the allure of a remote lighthouse...a man, woman and child in need of each other...tender romance...this story has it all.

The humanness of Emma and Patrick is portrayed beautifully and they are so easy to connect with. I felt for Emma, as an Irish immigrant longing for home and family, and loved her sweetness and the courage with which she embraced her new life. It was delightfully refreshing to see a heroine who struggled with cooking, housekeeping, and a child's tantrums in scenes that often had me smiling. Jody has a gift for writing strong, appealing male leads, and Patrick captured my heart from the very beginning. Encumbered by guilt and self-condemnation, he has a tenderness,  vulnerability, and longing for spiritual freedom that drew me to him.

Plots that revolve around misunderstanding and a lack of openness often frustrate me, but it worked well in Love Unexpected. I loved how the remote setting of the Presque Isle Lighthouse allowed Jody to focus on the interaction between Patrick, Emma and Josiah, which I thought was one of the story's strengths. The "marriage of convenience" is one of my favorite storylines, and it was so much fun watching their initial attraction grow into something much deeper.  Patrick and Emma enter marriage with a lot of personal baggage, which many of us can relate to, and it is inspiring to see them strive to make their marriage everything that God intended marriage to be.

A lot of romances end with a wedding, but Love Unexpected begins with the uniting of Emma and Patrick in a marriage that solves their respective needs for home and someone to care for Josiah while Patrick tends the lighthouse and fishes in order to provide for his family. Another strength is that we get to see the natural growth of romantic feelings and desire within their marriage, and this is something that Jody always handles extremely well, in a realistic and touching way.

One of my favorite secondary characters is the travelling preacher, Holy Bill, who has a major impact on the life and marriage of Patrick and Emma. Spiritual themes of trust, forgiveness, and accepting God's grace shine through Love Unexpected - and while Patrick and Emma found love in each other, they also found a "love unexpected" through God's grace. Holy Bill's words to Patrick touched me:  "God's not just in the business of saving us from our sins. He's also in the business of forgiving those sins and putting them as far as the east is from the west."

Most of all, I loved the message that God can take our wreckage and turn it into something beautiful. From the time I first heard the old gospel song, The Lighthouse, I've been drawn to lighthouses and the symbolism that Jesus shines the light of rescue into the physical wreckage of our lives. Jody's words that I came across in an interview sum it up well:  "No matter where we’ve wandered, no matter what we’ve faced, he’s there as steady and constant as a lighthouse, bringing us safely into his harbor where we can find rest."

Love Unexpected is a beautiful story that thoroughly entertains, but also inspires with its message of grace and redemption. Highly recommended.

I also look forward to the story of Emma's brother, Ryan, in the next novel, Hearts Made Whole.

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Jody Hedlund is the bestselling author of seven novels, including Captured by Love, A Noble Groom, winner of the 2014 Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and he Preacher's Bride, winner of the 2011 Award of Excellence. She received a bachelor's degree from Taylor University and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, both in social work. She lives in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.

Find Jody online at jodyhedlund.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Thank you to Jody Hedlund and Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.