Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Review of Derek Webb's Black Eye Tour - The 930 Arts Center - 9-17-09

I'm contributing occasional reviews to another great site, RethinkMission.org, run by Jonathan McIntosh. It has quickly become one of my daily internet stops, and I really like the way Jonathan is approaching things. Here's just a little bit about the site from their "About" section:

Rethink Mission is about inspiring gospel-centered missional churches. We are committed to doing that in three ways:
1. Blogging on the intersection of the gospel, the church, and culture.
2. Interviewing church leaders to provide a resource library on how other leaders do ministry in an ever changing culture.
3. Providing coaching and teaching for pastors and church planters.

My reviews will fit into the blogging part of that. Today, you can check out my review of Derek Webb's Black Eye Tour. Some friends and I made the trip down to Louisville on September 17 to check out the first date of the tour and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Here's the conclusion to my review:

Overall, I came away very satisfied with my decision to make the two-hour drive to Louisville for the show. Derek’s music is entertaining and challenging. So are his words, which are intended to spur actions, as is his inclusion of people from Blood-Water Mission on the tour, as they try to raise money to provide clean water to people in Africa. For all the controversy surrounding this man and his new album, the bottom line is this: he makes interesting music and knows how to entertain while at the same time maintaining a social conscience. I’m not a Webb fan-boy who thinks Stockholm Syndrome is the greatest album of all-time, but I enjoyed it, and I definitely enjoyed the live show to support it.

You can read the whole review at Rethink Mission.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 29, 2009


I’m not a Donald Miller fan-boy. Let’s just make that clear and get it out of the way.

Despite being a not-entirely-un-trendy Christian man in his twenties, I never read Blue Like Jazz. In fact, the only Donald Miller book I had encountered was Searching For God Knows What, which I quit halfway through (which I almost never do). I guess I saw why some people were drawn to his writing, but I just didn’t connect. At all.

Then, I read his new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

You should see the looks on the faces of my friends when I tell them how good this book is. I’m not the guy you’d expect to think a Donald Miller book is good. And it’s very good. So good I honestly feel inadequate to write a review of it. I haven’t been so emotionally moved by a work on non-fiction in a long time. I almost feel like I’m going to take away from the experience by trying to put it into words, which will inevitably miss capturing the soul of it.

Here goes anyway.

The premise of the book is simple. Miller has some filmmakers interested in making a movie about his life based on an earlier book he wrote. During the process, Miller studies stories, what makes them good, how to write good characters, how to make audiences care. And he comes to a discovery: He doesn’t have a great story to tell.

From there we follow as Miller sets off to write a better story for himself, creating “inciting incidents” for himself and “pointing to the horizon” and actually going there. Written mostly in narrative form, Miller recounts the tales of those he encounters as he writes his own stories. This is all held together within the framework of the idea of “story,” as Miller explores the different elements in real-time.

Fighting his own tendencies towards complacency, Miller decides to track down his absentee father, hike the Inca Trail in Peru, ride his bike across the country (literally), and start a mentoring program to help young kids who have no fathers. Miller states, “We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”

And it's not just the things he does, it's the people he meets. It's clearly the relationships that make the story great.

The book is full of stories that will inspire you to truly live life, not simply exist in it. The book isn’t a self-help book, but it will help you immensely and give you a picture for what life can be, if we are only willing to step into the stories God has for us. It involves risks, yes, but that’s what makes the stories worth caring about. It’s what makes us sit on the edge of our seats, wondering if the protagonist will accomplish what he set out to do. It’s what makes us give ourselves permission to feel.

If you’re the kind of person who finds this mushy and naïve, that’s fine. I have plenty of moments where I feel cynical and pessimistic. But I didn’t feel that way while reading this book. I don’t want to feel that way in life. This book isn't a rah-rah speech to motivate you or your typical Christian book of empty platitudes; it's an articulation of a worldview that trusts God and forces us to truly engage His world. Miller states, “Before I learned about story, I was becoming a fatalist. I was starting to believe you couldn’t feel meaning in life because there wasn’t any meaning to be found. But I don’t believe that anymore.”

Neither do I.

- Recommended.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Q&A: Mosaic Editor and Contributor Jordan Green

The Mosaic NLT Bible from Tyndale released last week. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, and I'll be publishing my review in the next couple of days. In addition, I was given a certificate for a free copy of Mosaic that can be used at any Christian bookstore or redeemed directly from Tyndale. You still have until tomorrow to enter this contest.

Finally, as part of the extensive blog tour for the Bible, today I am hosting a Q&A with Jordan Green, who served as a project editor and also contributed one of the weekly meditations (Pentacost, Week 7). Sorry it's a little long, but Jordan gave such good answers, I just couldn't cut it down.

Jordan is from Portland, Oregon. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Burnside Writers Collective (great site, check it out), an online Christian magazine he co-founded with Donald Miller. Besides editing and writing, Jordan Green has also worked as a courier, a barista at a large coffee purveyor, and as a US Army Counterintelligence Agent, among other things. He currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, Mindy, a daughter who is due in a month, a dog, and two cats.
_______________________________________________

Matthew Robbins: What appealed to you most and made you want to get involved in the Mosaic project?

Jordan Green: My favorite subjects in school were always history and English, and this project combined Christian literature and church history so well. The art makes it even better. For modern Evangelicals, it often seems like "art" is Thomas Kinkade, and "history" is C.S. Lewis (nothing against Lewis). The contemporary church doesn't seem to have much interest in creativity anymore. If you compare our modern worship to old hymns, our modern art to the frescoes in Italy, there's just no comparison.

Growing up in the American church, Christian history is sometimes seen as "Paul did his ministry, then 1,500 years passed, then the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock." Outside of Calvin or Martin Luther, we seem to have very little perspective on the brothers and sisters who came before. And I'm not even talking about how our faith in Asia or Africa, or Eastern Europe. We're even less aware of Christianity in those areas.

MR: How do you anticipate people responding to a project with this scope of diversity, including quotes from all ranges of the theological spectrum and time periods? How do you answer critics of this approach?

JG: That's a good question. To be honest, I'm not sure what the criticisms would be. Some might view the project as "emergent" or something, but I don't see that. I mean, it's about Church history and art, and features individual meditations on Scripture reading, which seems like the sort of thing happening in Bible studies all over the world every day.

As for the spectrum of theological thought, I don't think you can view our history without those differences popping up. I mean, they're in Paul's letters! From day one, believers were struggling with how to live out their faith through the lens of their cultures. The Corinthians were different from the Romans, who were different from the Colossians, who were different than the Hebrews. Paul wrote to the churches in these cities, addressing concerns specific to that church body, you know?

I'm certainly not saying all faith is relative, but I think within Christianity, even extending to Eastern Orthodox and Catholic faiths, we're a lot more similar than we think. Even if we don't agree with someone's theological stance on, say, pre- or post-millenialism, they might have a perspective on faith we can learn from.

MR: How did you determine the topic for the meditation you contributed? What do you hope people take away from it?

JG: I did mine on the rules in the Old Testament. I wanted to write one that touched on an area I struggle with. Numbers 20 has this bit about Moses bringing forth water from a rock, and he doesn't follow God's instructions perfectly. Because of that, God tells Moses he won't see the Promised Land.

I read that, and the instructions for building the tabernacle, and all the laws, and I think, "Oh my gosh...I would've been a disaster back then." I would've been breaking rules left and right. I'm a disorganized person, very scattered. I'm perfectly willing to cut corners to make my life easier, and I'm very forgetful.

So that becomes one of the things I'm most thankful to Jesus for: the fact if I forget one of the laws, or don't follow things exactly, or even outright break a commandment, I have God's grace to save me. I don't think I'm alone in that. I want people who struggle with the same things to read that and say, "Yeah! Thank you, Jesus! I would've messed up there, too!" Even if Moses deals with the worldly consequences (not seeing the Promised Land), he still knows God loves him.

MR: Were there any specific meditations you reviewed that really stood out to you? What criteria did you use in evaluating the different meditations?

JG: Beyth Hogue, who was organizing a lot of the project (and wrote a piece herself), would send the meditations to me by number. I didn't want to see the author names, because I knew some of the people contributing. I'd read the piece, then suggest some improvements. Most of it had to do with writing rather than concepts. Most of the time, I just paid attention to flow. If I found myself wading through a clunky opening sentence, or fading out in the third or fourth paragraphs, I'd mention that, and I'd offer some ways to fix it.

Of the 40 or so meditations I read, there were only two or three I really did not like, and thought needed to be completely rewritten.

There were also only two or three I loved immediately, and sent back saying "This one is perfect as-is." There was one I just loved, and I learned later it was written by my good friend Penny Carothers, who is the social justice editor at Burnside. I can't tell you how happy it made me to find that out.

MR: American Christianity seems to be functioning somewhat in isolated bubbles, detached in many ways from historical Christianity and believers across geographical and/or theological boundaries. Mosaic seems to fight against this in some ways. How do you see this project contributing to American Christianity, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

JG: I really hope it contributes in the very ways you mentioned. If we can glean some perspective from our Christian past, or from our brothers and sisters overseas, that would be awesome. Even if it's just remembering how huge and ancient and awesome our faith is. The modern American church is comprised of beautiful tiles making up the mosaic of God's creation, and I love the idea of us taking a step back and getting a better glimpse of that work of art as a whole.

Also, I'd like it if the art in this project helped restore creativity to a place of prominence. For all the great attributes the American church emphasizes, like generosity and deep communion with God, I feel like we fall short on art. All art falls short on one hand -- even the most beautiful cathedral pales in comparison to the Rocky Mountains -- but that doesn't mean our best effort should be an overwrought painting of a lighthouse with a beam of sun coming through the clouds.

MR: Is there anything else about your involvement in Mosaic you’d like to share?

JG: Well, it was a lot of fun to work on, I'm thankful to David Sanford and Tyndale Publishing for letting me in on it. If I can shamelessly plug (though I don't get any royalties from it), I think it would make a great gift, and an excellent addition to any library. I mean, I'm guessing we all have plenty of Bibles to spare, but this is unique. Thanks so much for your time, Matthew.
___________________________________________________

Thanks to Jordan for taking time to answer some questions about Mosaic and the fine people at Tyndale for helping arrange it.

Music Video of the Week

Kings of Leon - "Notion"

Friday, September 25, 2009

International Blasphemy Day

Wow. Very sad.

Next Wednesday, September 30, is apparently going to be the first-ever International Blasphemy Day. In an effort to "to expose all religious beliefs to the same level of inquiry, discussion and criticism to which other areas of intellectual interest are subjected," the Center for Inquiry is planning the day. They will have a contest to see who can come up with the most blasphemous statement (winner gets a t-shirt and mug!) and people will take the Blasphemy Challenge, where they must expressly deny the Holy Spirit, among other things.

The whole thing is very sad.

Al Mohler's take:

The Blasphemy Day events are certain to draw media attention, which is no doubt the whole point of the observance. That is how a group like CFI can gain publicity for itself and its cause.

How should Christians respond?

First, take no offense. Refuse to play into the game plan of those sponsoring International Blasphemy Day. The Lord Jesus Christ was and is despised and rejected of men. Our Lord bore the scorn heaped upon him by his enemies. Christianity is not an honor religion. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not commanded to defend his honor, but to be willing to share in the scorn directed to him. Is the servant greater than his master?

Read the whole article from Mohler.

He goes on to state that we should mourn the blasphemers who are playing games with their eternal souls. We should also clearly recognize the foolishness of their actions.

I would add that this should spur us on to share the truth with people even more. People misunderstand the gospel constantly, and there are no doubt thousands who will participate in mocking a religion they really know nothing about next Wednesday. Some will flat out reject the truth, but we must make sure they hear it.

Some More Friday Humor With Rhett and Link

The 80s rocked.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interview with Keith Williams - NLT Mosaic Bible

Next Monday, I'll be participating in a blog tour for Tyndale's new NLT Mosaic Bible. I wrote a little about it the other day, and I'm currently having a contest to giveaway a free copy of the Bible as well (really good odds of winning at this point). My blog tour stop next Tuesday is a Q&A with Jordan Green, one of the contributors to Mosaic (he wrote the meditation for "Pentecost" Week 7, so if you have any questions you'd like asked, feel free to leave them in the comments.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a sample of this interview with Mosaic's General Editor, Keith Williams over at The Participatory Bible Study Blog. Visit the blog for more great stuff.
Q: Could you expand on what it means for this Bible to be Christocentric and how you accomplish this through the choice of readings and the layout?

A: This is a great question! There are two primary ways that I hope believers will be able to “encounter Christ” through this Bible. First, they will most certainly encounter Christ through his Word, which is presented on its own without the distraction of other content sharing the page. All of the supplementary content in the front is intended to drive readers back to the Scripture readings, the revealed Word of God. Second, I believe people will be able to encounter Christ through the witness of a community of believers from various times, places, and traditions of the faith. The readings, hymns, prayers, and artwork are all representations of Christ’s work in his people. They are brought together in a way that highlights the fact that Christ is truly present among his people, despite (and perhaps even through) our obvious differences.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tyndale Releases NLT Mosaic Bible - Win a Free Copy!

It's giveaway time again, and this is a good one. The fine people at Tyndale Publishers have created the Mosaic Holy Bible, which releases this week. I was lucky enough to snag a review copy of this, and I'll be part of a blog tour for it next Monday (the 28th), where I'll be doing a Q&A with one of the contributors to the Bible. I've already received my copy, and it's sharp. You can order your copy from Amazon.com. There are 2 parts to this Bible, which they've completely divided and even used different types of paper to distinguish:
  • Weekly meditations including artwork, scripture readings, quotes, poems, essays, etc. from believers from all different time periods and locations, organized around the Church calendar. These are designed to paint a diverse picture of the body of Christ throughout time and place. As a supplement to the scriptures, they are designed to help believers experience God in new and fresh ways. I've read through a few of the weeks so far, and they are very solid.
  • The scriptures (New Living Translation) with 2 column, center reference format, and passages used in the weekly meditations marked. I've become a fan of the NLT over the past year, and it works well in this devotional format.
I'll be publishing a complete review next week after the Q&A, but I was also given a free copy of the Bible to give away (a certificate that can be used at any Christian bookstore or redeemed directly from Tyndale, to be exact).

To win, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post detailing why you want the Bible. You can double your chances by re-tweeting my post about this contest on Twitter. U.S. entries only, please.

That's it. I'll choose a winner next Tuesday, the 29th (the day I publish my review).

You can also enter to win a deluxe edition along with an Amazon.com gift card over at the NLT Blog.

Music Video of the Week

Skillet - "Hero"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Review: Ted Kluck - The Reason For Sports

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Moody
Publication Date: September 1, 2009


People worship sports. They just do. They sacrifice enormous amounts of time, money, and energy to follow their teams and favorite athletes. They heap praise on these heroes and hold them up as god-figures. Every Sunday, thousands of people gather to praise their god of choice, filling stadiums decked out in team colors to signify their allegiance to their god as they chant and cheer. Sports is a religion, and it has millions of followers, many of them also Christians.

With these things in mind, how should believers approach and engage sports?

Ted Kluck (Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church) attempts to help us think through this question, as well as provide numerous funny, poignant, and telling stories from his experience as a sports writer, in his new book, The Reason for Sports. More a collection of short essays than a unified whole, the book addresses issues such as: jock apologies, steroids, honesty, fantasy football, sports films, humility, and race relations, among others. The book is far from a complete treatise on the issues presented, but Kluck clearly understands two things well: the culture of sports and athletics, and the gospel.

My favorite chapter was probably the one on Mike Tyson and Ricky Williams. Kluck previously wrote a full book on Tyson, and some of his anecdotes about the boxer were very poignant. Both athletes, he points out, are a rare breed in professional sports, in that they are willing to be honest with people. Kluck states he’d rather listen to Williams discuss “his weaknesses than listen to Kurt Warner thank God for his Super Bowl performance” (p. 50). This isn’t a knock on Warner, who I greatly respect, but it’s nice to hear a Christian author give permission to find non-Christian athletes intriguing. He thinks like an evangelist, not a Christian desperate to find a successful Christian athlete to co-opt as one of our own and hold him up to the world as a shining example that yes, Christians can win (there’s also a chapter where he talks about how this has been done with Tony Dungy as well).

The discussion on sports movies was also interesting. I don’t agree with everything Kluck says about Braveheart (this isn't a sports movie, obviously, but by comparison he points out he’s not a fan), but the discussion about what made Chariots of Fire so good was great, and something Christian filmmakers need to seriously consider (listen up Sherwood). Another favorite chapter was on humility called “Why I Love Muhammad Ali (but Why He Also May Have Ruined Sports)". Kluck’s discussion of the way athletes behave in the me-first culture of sports today was spot on, while avoiding Christian clichéd responses.

I think that’s what I enjoyed most about this book. He doesn’t fall back on the traditional Christian responses to things. He doesn’t make everything black and white either (for example, can my favorite athlete be someone who is known to be a bad guy off the field?). The discussions are nuanced, exploring the genuine contradictions that are present for many Christians who love sports. These questions need to be addressed. Kluck doesn’t answer them all, but he’ll get you thinking, and provide some enjoyable reading in the process.

- Recommended.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Hate The Phillies, But...

This is awesome. Great job by this dad.

Music Review: The Letter Black - Breaking The Silence (EP)

Genre: Rock
Label: Tooth & Nail
Release Date: September 22, 2009


Rating: 3.5/5

The Letter Black, formerly known as Breaking the Silence, have to know the Flyleaf and Fireflight comparisons are coming. It’s inevitable, given the limited amount of female-fronted hard rock bands. TLB’s six-song EP, utilizing the band’s old moniker, Breaking the Silence, showcases Sarah Anthony’s impressive vocals and the band’s crunchy guitars well. The song-writing, though not overly inventive or lyrically-astonishing, presents six enjoyable straight-ahead rock tunes. If these are representative of what the band is capable of producing with consistency, then TLB might have a successful career ahead of them.

“Moving On” and “Hanging By A Thread” are a good first two songs to introduce listeners to the band. You can’t help but think of Flyleaf’s Lacey Mosley as Anthony’s powerful voice accompanies the driving guitars and baselines, but she clearly has talent worthy of the comparison at least. She strikes a great balance between aggression and beauty on the majority of the album. Interestingly, however, on “Best of Me,” the aggression is completely gone. The song is pop-infused, and I couldn’t help but picture Michelle Branch singing (I know, out there. Anyone even remember her?). The song is extremely catchy, but it seems a little strange in the context of what comes before and after it.

The rest of the tracks are more in the vein of the first two. The closer, “Pefect,” was one of my favorite, as they managed to mix the beautiful and aggressive elements in their music well. There’s some interesting guitar work on this collection, and the songs are solid. Lyrically, things stay pretty vague, and most of the songs could have numerous interpretations. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I just prefer when at least of few of a band’s songs tell a specific story or delve into a particular feeling a little more overtly.

Overall, I found the collection enjoyable, but I’m not sold that it will have staying power. Other than “Best of Me,” with its ridiculously catchy chorus, none of the songs really stayed with me after listening, which is interesting because that song is very different stylistically than the rest. I’m not sure the people who would really enjoy that song will like the rest as much, and vice-versa. Sarah Anthony has a great voice, though. I’m sure many will be attracted to the band because of that voice and the solid guitars. Others will write them off as Flyleaf wannabes or worse. The EP format gives Tooth & Nail the ability to more cost-effectively gauge which response will outweigh the other. I’m hoping it’s the former, as I think there’s quite a bit of potential with this band and I’d like to hear more than these six tracks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: Andrew Peterson - North! Or Be Eaten

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Publication Date: August 18, 2009


It’s been revealed that the Igiby children are actually the precious and extremely sought-after Jewels of Anneira: King, Throne Warden, and Song Maiden. This revelation has dictated the need for Janner, Tink (now Kalmar), and Leeli, along with Podo, Nia, and of course Peet The Sock Man, to head north to the Ice Prairies in Andrew Peterson’s second installment of the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten (see review of Book 1).

Adventures galore follow, as one obstacle after another puts the children to the test, revealing moments of cowardly shame, only to be redeemed by brave feats of courage and self-sacrifice. Readers are taken on a roller coaster of emotions, as Peterson doesn’t shy away from dark themes and settings here (the scenes with Janner in the black box are particularly difficult), but he never fails to bring that “pinprick of light” through the darkness as themes of redemption abound.

Whereas the first book in the series was a little slow for the first half as Peterson had to lay a lot of groundwork to develop the characters and vast world he’d created, book two hits the ground running and never stops. The action is non-stop, plot twists are interesting, the characters are hilarious, the settings fascinating, and the ending perfect. The story engages your imagination and gives you permission to experience it as a child.

While trying to conjure up adjectives to describe the wonderful story Peterson has created here, the only word I kept coming back to was “magic.” This isn’t Harry Potter; there are no spells or wizards or anything like that, but the themes themselves are magical. I feel like a 10-year-old even writing those things, but I think that’s the point.

At one point, Oskar Reteep, the overweight book-lover, makes this statement:
“Here I sit in the presence of queens and heroes and magic. Yes, magic. It is only when we have grown too old that we fail to see that the Maker’s world is swollen with magic – it hides in plain sight in music and water and even bumblebees” (p. 279).”
Reteep was stating my own feelings when he said that. In a cold, cynical, dark world, we long for something magical, something that reveals the Maker’s power and the awe of redemption. That’s what this book was able to do for me (that and make me long for the third installment in the series). It might be classified as Young Adult Fiction, but I think its engaging brand of storytelling will connect with the young person inside many adults as well, giving you an excuse and reason to believe, even if just briefly as an escape, in the magic of stories and the power of redemption.

- Recommended.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Andrew Peterson - On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Publication Date: March 18, 2008


Welcome to Aerwiar, more specifically, to the Glipwood Township in the land of Skree, where the Fangs of Dang make it their general pastime to wreck the lives of the townspeople. Things are generally quiet, though, except during the Dragon Day Festival, when things come alive as people come from near and far to hear the Sea Dragons' beautiful song and awaken a deep longing. That’s where the tale of Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby begins. A run-in with Slarb the Fang ensues. Soon, they are tracking down the location on Oskar N. Reteep’s map, encountering ghosts, horned hounds, and toothy cows, all while they try to understand the link between their mother, Nia, their grandpa, Podo, Peet the Sock Man, and the Jewels of Anniera.

Andrew Peterson, a storyteller who utilizes music, plays, and now novels as his mediums of choice, crafts an epic tale following in the footsteps of Lewis and Tolkien with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the first installment in the Wingfeather Saga (a review of book 2 to be published tomorrow). While the book is targeted towards the Young Adult age group, people of all ages will enjoy Peterson’s ability to weave together mystery, awe, wonder, suspense, and humor within a story of giant scope.

While the story is told from a third-person perspective and develops all characters well, the focus is mostly from the view of Janner Igiby, a 12-going-on-25-year-old, who struggles to find his way when his world is turned upside-down. His father is gone, leaving Janner’s grandpa Podo to instill lessons in manhood. When the Fangs begin to threaten their way of life, Janner must learn many of these lessons very quickly. Peterson has a great ability to see things from a 12-year-old’s point of view, combining wonder with fear and insecurity in Janner as we see him becoming a man and taking on new responsibilities throughout their adventures.

Peterson’s other strength is his imagination, which has created a world in Aerwiar that is enormous. Providing maps, appendices, and detailed descriptions, he enables the reader to completely immerse himself in the world by including unending amounts of detail. Footnotes regularly appear to give back stories on places or people, quoted from books in epochs past such as Eezak Fencher’s Comprehensive History of Sad, Sad Songs (published, of course, by Blapp River Press). These touches create a sense of reality about the fictional world.

The story moves just a little slowly at first as Peterson develops the landscape and characters, but once it gets going, the narrative is exciting and engaging. The book ends with a final revelation that provides a satisfactory ending to book one and will lead nicely into book two, where the adventures will no doubt continue in top-notch fashion. Peterson is a magnificent songwriter, and the moniker of great storytelling writer can now be added as well.

- Recommended.

Book Giveaway Ended: Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Reviewing books has its benefits. I get the chance to review some great books (and some not-so-great ones now and then), and many times, I get to read the books well before they are available in stores.

The latest book I've received is Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I'll be posting a review of the book on the official release date (September 29th), but Thomas Nelson was kind enough to send me 2 copies, so I have an extra one to give away.

Here's where you come in. To enter to win a free copy of the book in advance of the release date, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post and include some way for me to contact you (email, blog, address, etc.). If you want, you can leave your comment and send that information to me in a separate email to matthew_robbins AT mac dot com. Sorry, US entries only.

That's it.

I will pick a winner next Wednesday (the 16th) and send the book out as soon as I can get shipping information. If you know others who might be interested in reading this book, please pass this along to them, and thanks so much for reading my blog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

David Robinson's Hall of Fame Speech

There's been quite a bit written about Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech the other night. Many thought he was less than gracious during his comments. The thing that really struck me was how much he loved the game, and how little he seems to have now that he's out of it. He claimed basketball was where he went for comfort and peace. What about now that it's gone?

I pray that he will eventually find the perspective of David Robinson, the Hall of Fame center from the San Antonio Spurs. Robinson, in a fraction of the time Jordan was allotted, thanked everyone he could think of, and closed with a much more eternal perspective. I really enjoyed his speech and I'm thankful to have people like him to point to when I want to teach my son about humility and graciousness. Thanks, David.

Music Video of the Week

Mute Math - "Spotlight"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jimmy Needham on The 700 Club

LOVE this guy. Amazing testimony and awesome musician.

Music Review: Seven Stories Up - Falling (EP)

Genre: Rock/Worship
Label: VSR
Release Date: May 19, 2009


Rating: 2.5/5

Atlanta-based trio Seven Stories Up exists for one reason: to proclaim the message of hope and restoration in Jesus Christ. Lead singer Andy Rocker states, “It’s not about us; it’s not really about the music…[We’ve] been given a message…” This mindset shows on their 6-song EP debut, Falling, where the lyrics are blatantly worshipful, and layered atop catchy, albeit mostly generic, pop/rock tunes. The result is a solid, enjoyable collection, but likely not one that will stand out from the crowd of CCM bands churning out “worship rock.”

“My King” begins lyrically exactly where you would expect given Rocker’s above quote. As he sings, “I give my life for you. My all, my world for You. May it crumble in the hands of the great I Am.” If Switchfoot were less subtle in their lyrics, this might be the result. “Taking Over” follows, where a very bland pre-chorus leads into probably the catchiest choruses on the EP.

The piano-driven “Hallelujah” was probably my favorite, and it would likely sound great sung congregationally. The piano riff is combined very well with guitars that sound somewhat inspired by a band like Angels and Airwaves, building to a driving chorus. Subtle strings are added towards the end while Rocker sings of Jesus’ imminent return to earth. This is a very solid worship song.

The rest of the songs on the EP are mostly forgettable, with your standard variety worship lyrics, formulaic song structures (with some catchy hooks), and mostly generic pop/rock sound. Shifting between sounding like Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin, Leeland, and others, Seven Stories Up really hasn’t crafted a sound of their own. They have a knack for writing catchy, easy-to-sing songs that would mostly work well in congregational settings, but you get the feeling there is untapped potential here. It just feels like they are capable of more than a generic sound, and the lyrics, though unabashedly praising Christ, are less than spectacular.

Honestly, it comes across as though they were trying so hard to present the message of Christ, that they haven’t yet developed a musical identity as a band. They’ve just borrowed bits and pieces that seem to work for others. I’m not against bands deciding their music will be a conduit for a message, but when the music is lacking, the message gets muddled as well, not to mention potentially ignored.

It’s hard to get a full picture of a band from an EP, but the potential is there for these guys. Hopefully, they will get the chance to put out a full length project, and will take the opportunity to stretch themselves a little more. They’ve played it a little safe on this EP.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Music Review: Skillet - Awake

Genre: Rock
Label: INO Records
Release Date: August 25, 2009


Rating: 3.5/5

I’ve been a fan of Skillet since their self-titled debut about 10 years ago. I was hooked by songs like “Gasoline” and “Saturn.” Very little in the Christian music scene sounded like that at the time, and I was thrilled to find them. Hey, You, I Love Your Soul followed, with its electronica-rock sound, which intrigued me. Songs like “Locked In A Cage” showcased a hard rock sound combined well with the electronic elements, while “You Love (Is Better Than Life)” and “More Faithful” were beautifully-crafted ballads that were lyrically moving.

Much has changed since then. Skillet has modified their sound over and over, finally experimenting with a “symphonic rock” sound on 2006’s Comatose, which garnered all types of praise among critics and fans. The band has returned now with Awake, and the shifting styles seem to have settled on the sound that made Comatose so successful. Awake packs a similar power to it, combining crunchy guitars, strings, and soaring melodies. The album is enjoyable, but in some ways, it made me long for the days past.

As I said, the song-writing and sound on Awake are both very similar to Comatose, and the first two songs, “Hero” and “Monster,” would have fit right in on that album. There are more slow songs this time around, with “Don’t Wake Me,” “One Day Too Late,” “Should’ve When You Could’ve,” and “Forgiven” doing excellent mainstream rock ballad imitations (think Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman, etc.). The lyrics deal mostly with relationships and seem targeted mainly at teens, which make up a large part of Skillet’s now-giant fan base (in fact, the album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200).

The crunchy guitars return on the powerful “Sometimes,” as John Cooper sings of the struggle in believers between fighting sin and giving in to temptation. The real surprise on the album to me was “Lucy,” a piano-based ballad sung to a girl named Lucy who has apparently passed away. It’s difficult to pick out exactly who Lucy was, but the longing and sadness of experiencing her loss is poignant in the lyrics. It served as an interesting change of pace to close out the album.

Overall, fans of the band will likely not be very disappointed with Awake. They’ve settled into their identity, and the production is again top-notch. While reviewing this, I went back and listened to their debut and Hey You… again, though, and I was just a little nostalgic for those days, when Skillet was a pushing the envelope a little more and there was more of an edge to things. That shouldn’t really take away from this very solid album, though, and I can still enjoy Awake for what it is, a polished modern rock collection that will keep Skillet right near the top of the Christian music scene.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

David Crowder Band - Twitter Will Kill You

Hilarious.



HT : Jared Wilson

Why I Love Reading

Not everyone enjoys reading. Many view it as a necessary evil to obtain information they need to accomplish something. Others enjoy reading, but only if it can be done with the most minimal intellectual effort possible (i.e. magazines, etc.).

Reading is so much more than that, however, and it should be especially so for Christians. I've tried to explain this to people before, but I stumbled across this quote that explained it so much better than I could.

There is so much to be gained from reading, but my call is not merely for Christians to read, but to read more, to read more broadly, to read more broadly together.

Reading more makes reading easier. The more material you have been exposed to, the more you will be capable of reading. We need a grid on which to hang facts and perceptions. Reading gives us categories, and the more categories we have, and (what is more important) the more solidly these categories are fixed in our minds, the more we will be able to glean from what we read and experience.

Reading more broadly keeps us from getting into ruts. Narrow reading makes the world itself seem narrow. Broad reading reminds us that the world is enormous. It also allows us to see the same thing from different points of view.…

Reading broadly together will keep me from always being on a new crusade to the bewilderment of Christian friends. The Christian purpose of all of this reading is to glorify God. Reading alone may do this, but when we become passionate about an issue, it is nice to have company. When we have seen things rightly, others can support us. When we have missed the mark, they can correct us. It is gratifying, however, when the new viewpoint which seemed so exciting to me is adopted by the others. When I make a new discovery, it will often seem implausible for the simple fact that no one around me sees what I now see. If friends travel the same road, all is different. Those of my readers who have come to Reformation convictions understand this, if they have been lucky enough to have fellow travelers.

—Rick Ritchie, “The Well-Read Christian: Why Bible-Lovers Should Be Bibliophiles” in Modern Reformation (July/August Vol. 3 No. 4 1994; pp 18-23).

HT : Tony Reinke (via Zach Nielsen)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Max Lucado - Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 8, 2009


Life is fraught with uncertainty, seemingly now more than ever. For many, this uncertainty leads to fear. We fear the unknowns in the economy and worry about having enough money or keeping our jobs. We fear the unknowns in parenthood, and worry about the safety and character of our children. Turn on the news, and you’re bombarded with reports designed to heighten your fear and keep you tuning in. What is the Christian response to all of this? Max Lucado’s timely book, Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear seeks to answer this question. With chapters designed around specific fears (insignificance, raising children, money, violence, even death), Lucado utilizes scripture, along with a vast amount of anecdotal stories, to communicate the Christian worldview’s response to fear.

This is one of the best-timed books I’ve seen. News outlets, politicians, marketers, and others all seem to have decided that scare tactics are the best way to get people’s attention and get them to listen. Additionally, the world itself can be a difficult place, with natural disasters, disease, abuse, and other perilous situations. Fear has become a normal part of life, but Lucado reminds us that Jesus commanded his disciples not to fear over and over again. Fear is not necessarily a sin, but it does signal a lack of trust.

I’ll admit this is the first Max Lucado book I’ve read. I’ve avoided them like I avoid pop music. If it’s popular, I don’t want it. Lucado’s success, with Christian bookstores plastering his books across entire walls, indicated to me that he must be very surface level, and while Fearless is not a theological treatise on the issue of fear, Lucado is dead on in his assessment of the sources of and antidotes to it. Yes, his anecdotes are corny at times, and yes, this book is clearly written for the masses, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Time after time, Lucado counters our fears with the person and work of Jesus, the sovereignty and character of God, and faith in both.

Lucado is a good writer as well. He writes with a pastor’s heart. He’s charming, weaving humor and poignant stories together in well-constructed chapters. The book is enjoyable. He does tie the bow on each issue a little too cleanly, as he tends to gloss over some really difficult situations without really digging into the mess too much. These times are pretty rare, though, and Lucado isn’t writing to quell all doubts and solve all issues. He’s writing to the mass audience of Christians who aren’t going to read a theological heavyweight to address their issues. Someone has to write for these people, and Lucado does it very well, providing theologically accurate, albeit sometimes incomplete, answers to the fear being propagated by many today.

I wouldn’t really recommend this book for serious readers who like their theology challenged and sharpened, but if you know someone who reads a little more casually and struggles with fear and worry, this might be a good gift to counter the numerous voices they are hearing today. Lucado doesn’t fail to point them to Christ as the answer.

- Neutral.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Music Video of the Week

mewithoutYou - "The Fox, The Crow, and The Cookie"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Music Review: Jason Gray - Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue

Genre: Pop/Rock
Label: Centricity Records
Release Date: September 2, 2009


Rating: 4/5

“God’s redemption plan is already in effect. It’s not for ‘someday when,’ it’s for right now, in this moment. Even when the worst in happening, the seeds of its undoing are already sown.”

~Jason Gray


With a title inspired by a Samwise Gamgee quote in “The Lord of the Rings,” Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue is the sophomore studio album for singer/songwriter Jason Gray. As the title and above quote suggest, the album explores themes of redemption as Gray contemplates practical applications of gospel truth layered over slick pop/rock gems. Unlike most pop songs, however, Gray has plenty of depth to his lyrics, refusing to settle for clichés or easy truths. The result is an emotional, provocative album that is musically satisfying at the same time.

The collection kicks off with the two catchiest songs. First, “More Like Falling In Love” explores the difference between religion and relationship, information about a savior versus really loving him. This is followed by the first title track (yes, there are two), which features slick production along with lyrics about the signs of and hope for redemption.

Other issues delved into include our need for accountability and honesty in relationships (“Holding the Key,” “How I Ended Up Here”) and the need for our worship of God to extend into all of life and not be limited to singing (“Fade With Our Voices”). “For The First Time” brings a big, anthem-like chorus as Gray sings of re-committing to Christ and asking for renewal, while “Hold Me Back” asks God to restrain us however possible to keep us from sin.

One of my favorite songs, however, was “The Golden Boy and The Prodigal.” Here, Gray sings of the “two sides to every person,” the one we show people and the one we hide. A stripped down acoustic melody accompanies poetic lines such as:
One of them’s the golden boy, the man I’d like to be
I show him off in the parades for all the world to see
The other is much weaker, and he stumbles all the time
The source of my embarrassment, he’s the one I try to hide
Very rarely will you find such honesty that captures this particular aspect of the Christian experience so well. Personally, I connected with this song in a profound way and was encouraged to know I’m not alone.

The album closes with the second part of the title track, a much more stripped down song than part one. Lyrics deal with specific applications of the gospel and redemption (confession to a spouse or friend, death, relationships, sexual sin, to name a few). The hope is extremely palpable here as Gray sings, “Could it be that everything sad is coming untrue? I believe that everything sad is coming untrue in the hands of the One who makes all things new.” This is a beautiful song and perfect culmination to a beautifully-profound album.

Some will enjoy it for the sweet melodies, catchy tunes, and slick production, but I sincerely hope people take the time to listen to what Jason is saying. Jason gets the gospel and communicates it well. His honesty and hope are sorely needed by many today.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Music Review: mewithoutYou - "It's All Crazy..."

Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Release Date: May 19, 2009

Rating: 4/5

It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright, which easily qualifies for one of the strangest (and longest) album titles of the year, is the fourth album from the quirky band, mewithoutYou. It follows up on 2006’s Brother, Sister, and since I’ve not heard any of their previous work, this will be a newbie’s perspective of Crazy. From what I’ve heard, this is quite a different direction for the band, but they’ve crafted a diverse, somewhat hectic collection of songs that highlight the steam-of-consciousness lyrics and unique singing voice of Aaron Weiss and the free-flowing rock instrumentation of the band.

The album explores some very deep themes, which, at times, are almost veiled behind the idiosyncratic musicality of the songs. On “The Fox, The Crow, and the Cookie,” Weiss sings lyrics based on the sufi teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. The story speaks of the dangers of pride and desire for the esteem of others. This is juxtaposed against music that almost sounds like it could fit in on a children’s album. Other songs have a similar dynamic, where Weiss’ understated voice almost belies the depth of issues being explored.

Other times, though, things mesh perfectly. On “The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room,” the song builds perfectly as Weiss sings of the inevitability of death from the perspective of King David. The song contains elements of Middle-Eastern music and strikes a perfect, ominous tone. My favorite song, however, was “A Stick, A Carrot, and A String.” Here, Weiss sings of the animals in the manger where Jesus was born, each giving a perspective on what his birth means. The sheep thank him for coming to take their place. The donkey prophesies about Christ riding into Jerusalem. Issues of grace are explored with reference to the prophecies of Isaiah that we can “come and buy with no money.” The song transitions into the Garden of Gethsemane, and the snake perks up when Christ asks for the cup to pass from him. But ultimately, Christ crushes the tools of snake (the carrot and stick). One of the strangest and more poignant songs I’ve heard.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag, really. There’s also a little controversy in the lyrics as well. On “Fig with a Bellyache,” issues of sexual temptation are explored, and there’s this line: “We pretend to care and like we understand, our eyes go soft but know it now, what we're thinking about is your mammary glands and how to sail your birth canal.” I understand the point of the blunt lyrics, but some will no doubt object to such explicit imagery. In other songs, Weiss mentions different types of drugs (marijuana and cocaine). Finally, God is frequently referred to as “Allah” (most notably on the final track “Allah, Allah, Allah”). I know there are reasons behind this, and the band doesn’t claim to be a “Christian band.” Say what you will, but the fact is that “Allah” is very different from the orthodox Christian view of God.

These few lyrical issues don’t really stand out that much, though. Musically, I enjoyed the eclectic rock sound and unusual nature of the lyrics for the most part. I’m not sure how different this album is from their previous work, but I may just have to check those out as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Darrin Patrick on Preaching to Men

Over at ReThinkMission.org, Jonathan McIntosh has been interviewing Darrin Patrick in a 3-part series on missional preaching. In part 3 posted yesterday, Darrin answers the question of how to preach to men. I found this insightful and dead-on for the most part.

RM: Talk to me about preaching to men. How do you do it?
DP: I think the direct piece is huge. If you look at what speaks to men, if you look at what guys are in to – depending on their political persuasion, if they’re politic guys, they’re watching Keith Olbermann on the left, they’re watching Bill O’Reilly on the right, they’re listening to Rush Limbaugh on the right, they’re listening to Bill Maher. On the sports side, they’re watching Jim Rome; the polls show that’s what they like. What is the common thread with all those guys? Direct, kind of sarcastic, not afraid to offend, politically incorrect. I think there has to be an element of that in your preaching. You can say, “You’re just trying to go with the cultural current.” Well, those things are biblical. The prophets are sarcastic, Jesus was sarcastic, Paul was sarcastic; obviously they were all direct. Obviously they were all politically incorrect; they died martyrs’ deaths.

A self-deprecating use of humor is helpful, to get guys not to take themselves so seriously. To counter some of the macho pride issues, self-deprecating humor seems to help that. If they can laugh at me, they can laugh at themselves. If they can see that I’m not taking myself that seriously but I’m God’s word seriously, maybe they’ll do the same.

You can read the whole interview, starting with part 1, over at rethinkmission.org.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Formation of Desiring God

Desiring God, largely the ministry of John Piper, has had a huge impact on me, shaping many aspects of my theology, and pushing me further in my love for Christ daily. I've ready most of Piper's books (hard to keep up), and I regularly listen to his podcast sermons (link to iTunes). I highly encourage both of these mediums for people wanting to grow in their walk.

I also found this video on The Resurgence interesting. Pastor Tim Smith, a worship pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, sat down with Jon Bloom, the director of Desiring God, to talk about how the ministry started, how it has grown, and how they have worked to keep up with the work God is doing through them. Great stuff.

Tim Smith and Jon Bloom from The Resurgence on Vimeo.

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