Top 10 Books Every Christian Should Read

28 06 2017

I’m an avid reader, with a tremendous appreciation for how so many books have greatly impacted my life. But there are certain books that are transformational—they either bring the most important things into crystal clear focus, or take us to new places that we absolutely must go.

These books may not get the notoriety of Christianity Today’s or Amazon’s Top 100 Lists, but I guarantee they will all rock your world!

1. How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity by Morgan Guyton

The Pharisees had the Scriptures but had created a religious culture that kept the common folks from God—have we done the same today? This book is ripping me up right now!

2. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

Los Angeles gang members’ hearts get melted by the raw love of God—I cried through the whole book. Read my review here.

3. The Seven Mountain Renaissance: Vision and Strategy through 2050 by Johnny Enlow

A prophetic, insightful and hopeful view of the glorious Bride God is forming us into and how this maturing Church will be powerfully impacting all aspects of culture by 2050. Read my review here.

4. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis

Whether talking to a Hezbollah terrorist or a gay activist, Carl convinces us that Jesus would rather hang out with them than visit Carl’s church! Read my review here.

5. The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind Expanded Edition: Access to a Life of Miracles by Bill Johnson

“Jesus is perfect theology,” Bill states, then gives us a “mind-makeover” to step into a supernatural life with Him.

6. Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit by River Jordan

What if every day we took time to stop and pray for a stranger? River Jordan did, and it changed her life. Read my review here.

7. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa’s personal letters and thoughts reveal long struggles in the darkness, along with a determination to see Jesus in the face of the dying and “offer Jesus my smile.

8. Culture of Honor: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment by Danny Silk

A revolutionary book on moving from punishment-based discipline to honor-based relationships without fear. Read my review here.

9. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

For those over 30, the second-half of life requires a new way of thinking, and Rohr is a brilliant guide.

10. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God by Brennan Manning

Walking through darkness, taking risks, releasing our need for clarity—all these require deeper levels of trust—not in Biblical principles, but in a faithful Father who is completely trustworthy.

Click on any book below to buy it for yourself or a friend, or add it to your Wish List for your next birthday or Christmas gift! You’ll never be the same.





Anti-Muslim Protests Planned Across America

27 05 2017

On June 10, 2017, in 22 major cities in America (Yes, you, Houston! Seattle! St. Paul! Kansas City! Raleigh! Orlando! etc.) a group called ACT! for America is planning anti-Muslim “March Against Sharia” protests. This conservative group expresses their prejudice against Muslims with the typical fear-mongering outlandish claims about an Islamic conspiracy to take over America; that “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government” and asserting that radicalized Muslims “have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.”

The website for one Florida branch of ACT! for America even makes this highly offensive claim: “It is not ‘fanatical’, ‘radical’, or ‘extreme’ Islam that we are fighting, but normal, orthodox, canonical, typical, accepted, traditional Islam.” This is pure prejudicial hate-speech against all the upstanding Muslim-American citizens around us who ACT! wants to deny their freedom of religion.

This group’s solution is to ban ALL Muslims from entering America, and to pass Anti-Sharia laws in every state before it’s too late and America falls to Global Islamization.

[Interestingly, my award-winning book A VIOLENT LIGHT introduces a similar group with a similar name (“Act Now to Save America”) though I hadn’t known at the time that ACT! for America existed.]

What can we do to show our support for our Muslim neighbors? Here are some ideas from my contact at the group Shoulder to Shoulder:

  • Rather than planning counter-protests or vigils or anything like that (which could add fuel to ACT’s desire to gain media attention), it might be more fruitful to use the fact that it’s Ramadan to encourage interfaith Iftars [fast-breaking meals] on the nights of June 9 and 10 in particular, and we could help pitch these to local and national media as the “counter-protests”, in that they are ignoring the fearmongering that ACT is doing and instead, getting together with neighbors to celebrate a beautiful time for the Muslim religious calendar.  Of course, just encouraging interfaith partners to connect with their Muslim contacts in these cities to find out what they are doing/thinking is the first step.
  • Muslim Advocates is working on a letter that could be sent to mayors, police chiefs, etc., to alert them of the anti-Muslim marches and to make sure they understand that these are hate groups leading them.  We could encourage faith leaders at local levels to be part of the group that sends/delivers those letters, showing community leaders that a broad segment of their constituents (not just Muslims!) are concerned about this.
  • ReThink Media is willing to help us with drafting and pitching op-eds from local clergy in some select cities.  I will do some outreach to clergy on our rapid response list, but if you have people you’d like to recommend to me in any of the cities displayed on this map (where protests are planned), please let me know.  We’d want the op-eds to run the weekend of the protests, not before, so that we don’t give them extra publicity.

Is your city on the map? If so, and if you’re interested in doing something in your city, perhaps Shoulder to Shoulder or I can link you with others who are also committed to religious freedom and loving your neighbor.

Is your city not on the map? Then I recommend you begin now to make friends with the Muslims in your school, workplace, neighborhood, park, and city. Don’t let the nightly news convince you that all Muslims are out to kill you. They’re not. Get to know a Muslim and find out the truth for yourself.

If you are a Christian and with the goal of self-preservation want to close your nation, your city and your heart to Muslims, I suggest that your fear is too great and your God is too small. Ask God to enlarge the capacity of your heart to love–whether you consider Muslims your neighbors or your enemies–Jesus offers no second option for those who follow him.

And please pass this on to other groups or churches in your city. Letting our Muslim neighbors know they’re cared for as an important part of our multi-cultural America is the best way to keep them from being radicalized by angry, disenfranchised extremists.

 





Awards for A Violent Light

20 05 2017

After seeing my 2nd novel win awards, I was thrilled to see my 3rd is doing just as well. In the category of “Religious Fiction,” A Violent Light was a finalist for the 2017 National Indies Excellence Awards. And it won the 2017 Next Generation Indies Award.

My hope is that these awards convince new readers to try this book, and allow God to take them to a new place of understanding and desire for peace.





You Can Go to Hell

15 05 2017

“I can’t wait for the Day of Judgement when Jesus is made to stand before Allah, his Lord and Creator. And is made to testify against you infidels. He will denounce your worship of him and disassociate himself from you all. Then, Hellfire for eternity for all of you who worshiped Jesus…”

These are the words of my Muslim acquaintance who had gotten himself into an argument with some Christians that quickly deteriorated into mutual swearing, name-calling, and arguing over who was headed to Hell.

Later he sort of apologized to them and explained his frustrations: “You’ll have to excuse me for my rather blunt tone. I deal with Christians regularly. I get so annoyed and frustrated when they constantly tell me that my religion is false, I’m going to hell because I refuse to bow down to Jesus, ‘Muhammad was a false Prophet,’ ‘Islam is a death cult,’ ‘Allah is the moon god,’ etc. I’ve heard it a million times and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. It’s an eye for an eye out here. If you Christians want to tell me that my religion is false and that I will burn in hell for eternity because I refuse to worship Jesus. Then I’m just gonna give you what you gave me, straight intolerance and disrespect.”

Honestly, while watching from the sidelines, I felt some sympathy for the guy. No one likes to be attacked, and in his eyes, he was responding in the same spirit that the Christians treated him. If they thought they were successfully convincing him of their “superior truth,” they were sadly self-deceived.

I decided to enter the conversation for the first time, but to come in the opposite spirit.

I apologized for how we Christians are so often guilty of hate, unforgiveness and judgment, all of which create a veil through which it is hard for people to see our Jesus, who only ever acted out of love, forgiveness and healing of others, even those who hurt him. As I gently turned the conversation back to Jesus, this man’s tone softened, and he surprisingly agreed that neither he nor Muhammad himself could live up to Jesus’ standard—he quoted Jesus’ words about “turn the other cheek,” “pray for your enemies,” and “forgive seventy times.” It turns out that this Muslim may know as much about Jesus as the Christians who were arguing with him. But the way they talked about Jesus fell far short of the beauty of Jesus himself.

The Bible tells us that part of seeing Jesus’ glory is in seeing how he is “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus spoke truth graciously. And the only people he ever argued with were his own religion’s leaders, never with someone from another religion. From what we read in the Gospels, there is no basis to assume Jesus would tell this Muslim man that he is going to hell. It’s far more likely he would look for a way to bring healing and blessing into this man’s life, and see if he’d come back for more.

After our brief dialogue, this previously enraged Salafi Muslim had completely calmed down and offered this:  “I have to thank you. Because you opened my eyes to something. You taught me to be less harsh and more compassionate and understanding towards Christians… Because of you Jim and you alone, I have decided to ‘lower my wing’ in humility and be more patient and understanding towards Christians. As opposed to being harsh, blunt and intolerant. Thank you and may God bless you.”

A transformation had taken place. A small part of that veil was torn, inviting him to come closer. I thanked him for his gracious words, and began praying in my spirit over our next encounter.

Before we parted, he added this spontaneous prayer of blessing for me: “I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey to eternal salvation. And I pray that God blesses you and that He bestows upon you mercy and makes your life long and prosperous. Take care and God bless!”





Another Award for A WAY OUT OF HELL

2 05 2017

A WAY OUT OF HELL takes its 2nd award this year, this one a 2017 eLit Award for Religious Fiction. It’s encouraging to see the recognition this book is getting, hopefully not only for the quality of the writing, but also for the power of its message. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues to carry some of the deepest wisdom for mankind today, including how we face threats like prejudice, religious extremism and ISIS.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can order it here:

Purchase at Amazon: A Way Out of Hell

(also available at iBooks, Nook, Kobo and other e-book sites)

Please tell others about it!





Andrew Garfield finds Jesus in SILENCE

25 04 2017

     I write a lot about loving your neighbor, or even loving your enemy, in the context of Christian-Muslim relations, where everything from prejudice to outright violent persecution is a daily reality for millions of people of faith. This crucible of the human experience is not lost on Hollywood either.

But rather than make a politically controversial film about Muslims persecuting Christians or vice-versa, Director Martin Scorsese brought to life the horrifying persecution of Christians at the hands of the Japanese shogunate 500 years ago in his film entitled SILENCE.

In the film, Andrew Garfield plays the role of a Jesuit priest tasked with searching for his mentor (Liam Neeson) who is rumored to have abandoned the Christian faith. To prepare for the role, Andrew studied diligently with a Jesuit father, James Martin. In a fascinating interview, Andrew shares that those studies became more important to him than the film, and what transpired through the studies surprised him.

“What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ. That was the most surprising thing,” Andrew says.

Andrew wasn’t a Christian when he started the film. But he recognized a certain pain in his heart. “The main thing that I wanted to heal, that I brought to Jesus, that I brought to the Exercises [the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola], was this feeling of not-enough-ness,” he said. But in meditating on Jesus’ life and words he found himself being transformed.

“I feel like this is what God is showing me,” he said. “I’m praying that I’m freer to offer myself vulnerably…and that these other voices, whether they’re internal or external, don’t have the same power over that flame, over the ability to offer that purest, vulnerable, cracked open heart…in service of God, in service of the greater good, in service of love, in service of the divine….If I can make storytelling a service, if I can be of service, and be as humble as I possibly can while doing it…”

He concludes, “There were so many things in the Exercises that changed me and transformed me, that showed me who I was…and where I believe God wants me to be.”

Meeting Jesus does tend to have that effect on people…

Back to the film…I absolutely loved it! The story presented two levels of religious conundrums. At the first level, Garfield’s character is challenged to deny his faith in Christ or die. He chooses his faith over his own life.

But then a more difficult choice is presented—to deny his faith in Christ, or others will die. This young Jesuit priest has to wrestle with whether it’s more Christlike to publicly bear witness to your faith though it will cost others their lives, or to sacrifice what is most precious to you (your public faith) in order to save others.

I won’t spoil the movie with what choice Garfield’s character makes. But I’m curious which choice YOU think is better—if you’re told to deny your faith or ten people will be executed, what do you think Jesus would want you to do? Post your comments below.

And then, check out the movie SILENCE.





Refugees—Fresh Starts Require New Friends

16 04 2017

(an interview with Nick Armstrong of Glocal Community Partners)

For the past 3 years Nick and Laura Armstrong have been working with refugees in Boise, ID. Over 50% of the refugees coming to Boise are Muslim, and not everyone in the community is ready to welcome them. So Nick and Laura built relationships with 45 local churches to train and mobilize Christian families to start a friendship with a refugee family. I asked Nick to share about the refugees’ rocky path to starting a new life in America.

JB: How does a refugee end up in Boise, ID?

NA: It’s actually quite difficult to come to America as a refugee. About 1% of the over 21 million refugees in the world get resettled to a “third country” such as the US (for example, a Syrian flees to Jordan and gets refugee status there and then applies for a third country resettlement) and about half of those actually get approved to come to the US. Those refugees who get approved to come to the US go through a vetting process that is, by far, the most stringent of any entrant classification (e.g. tourist, student, business visa), and it takes a minimum of 18 months to go through the US vetting process which includes the involvement of the National Counter-terrorist Center, the FBI, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense) with an average time of 3 years to pass through a stringent vetting process before they can come to the US. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in cooperation with “3rd country” resettlement governments determine where a refugee will go, which means they could end up in Finland as easily as in Boise, ID. The family ties a refugee has in a “3rd country” can influence that decision, but there are no guarantees.

JB: Who takes care of them once they arrive in Boise?

NA: The Organization for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Washington D.C. coordinates with resettlement agencies such as World Relief, to determine the allocation of refugees to the various resettlement cities and agencies throughout the US. In the case of Idaho, once the refugees arrive, they receive an 8-month Transitional Refugee Assistance (TRA) from the resettlement agency which receives federal government funding. There is additional financial support from state and local governments. This helps them to rent a home, look for a job, get kids signed up in school, get medical coverage, join English language classes, etc.

Our role in this process is to help the newcomers to find local friends. They’ve lost their friends and community, and we want them to find new friends and a new sense of community in Boise. These new friends can also offer much needed social capital to people who need as many positive connection points to the community as they can get.

JB: What are some of the challenges resettled refugees face?

NA: These refugees have spent their most recent years in camps, etc., with a service-oriented mindset. They fled their homes with nothing, so everything had to be provided for them. They arrive in a similar place of need and similar mindset. They need integration and independence skills, especially language, and this takes time and a lot of help.

Many refugees come with various degrees of mental stress and traumas from the past, some come with PTSD. Most come with feelings of isolation and grieving tremendous loss. They need healing for their hearts. Some are finding healing and a new sense of community. But a few, like one woman we know whose PTSD is so overwhelming she continues to hide in her home after 2 years, need more help than the 8-month government program. They need a loving community who will reach out and walk with them through this tough transition.

JB: How have the citizens of Boise responded to the refugees?

NA: Well, I think that overall Boise has been a very open city with a mayor who has led the way in reaching out to refugees, recognizing the many benefits they can bring to the community. Having said that, there are still instances of hate crimes and bullying. The recent political climate has stirred up fear of refugees being potential terrorists, although the data doesn’t support such fear. Since 1975 over 3 million refugees have entered the US, and not one single terrorist attack on US soil has been perpetrated by a refugee! Our refugee crime rates are lower than the general populace. So that’s one of the challenges for us, to educate people and especially the churches that we work with to cast aside their fears and offer true friendship.

In our program, we require each Christian family to commit to weekly visits for 3 months with a refugee family, after that their level of involvement is up to them. I’m happy to share that 44 of the 45 Christian families in the friendship program have continued long past the original deadline and are delighted by the two-way friendships they’ve developed with the refugee families.

JB: Nick, I want to thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing! I love showcasing people on my blog who really live out “love your neighbor as yourself.” God bless you and your work!