Life on a Mission

LifeOnMission_Book_TransparentLife on a Mission

Dustin Willis/Aaron Coe

Moody Publishers

I need to state my bias at the beginning of the review. I am a pastor in a congregation of one of the most liberal denominations on the planet.  That doesn’t stop me from seeing the value of what Dustin and Aaron talk about in their book Life on a Mission. In this easily readable book filled with anecdotes and challenging question they lay out the truth that in order for us to be part of God’s mission, we need God. We find God through the person of Jesus Christ.

The mission in Life on a Mission is the work of evangelism – telling the world of the Good News that they are loved and forgiven by God.  Already, right now, without needing to do anything about it. They get evangelism right too. Narry a single comment about Hell or lost souls, instead they talk about spreading grace and joy, building relationships respecting the culture and the people they meet. It is a work many people in my denomination need to hear. Not that we aren’t believers, but we forget that we must nurture the soul to nurture the person.  To follow Jesus is to see people in an entirely different way, not as objects of pity or usefulness, but as the created and beloved children of God – our brothers and sisters, even our enemies (perhaps especially our enemies).

Yet I found a few things made me uncomfortable. The first was the statistics that talk about evangelicals in a way that implies that other denominations are not doing God’s mission too.  Some statistics were also misleading. Talking about the number of churches per population of a particular denomination gives a skewed view. For one it ignores that there are other denominations with churches, sometimes too many if we are honest. A more honest way of speaking of churches in respect to population would be to talk about church per claimed membership. In the United Church of Canada that means about 3000 churches for 600,000 members (I’m using very much rounded numbers here.) Meaning we have a church for every 200 members. If you look at the number of people who claim association with the UCC that number might be a church for every 1000.  These numbers reflect that we have Anglican, Salvation Army, Pentecostal and more churches in our communities. The reality is that even with all those churches, probably less than twenty percent of the population attends worship on any given Sunday morning. A smaller percentage sees themselves a part of God’s mission to the world.

God’s mission to the world. For Dustin and Aaron it is clearly the mission to make believers in all nations. I have the same problem I always have when I’m presented with this as God’s mission.  I want to ask ‘why?’. What are believers for? If creating believers is the only purpose of God’s mission,  why did Jesus talk and act in a way that challenged unjust assumptions of the society he lived in? His mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 is

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He is quoting Isaiah 61 and pointing to something the prophets spend a lot of time saying. Our love for God is shown by how we treat the poor, the lonely, the unwanted. The proof they held up that Israel had wandered far from God was not that attendance at Temple worship decreased. It was that the people on the margins were being pushed further away. News about God wasn’t enough, justice is necessary in this world. Not once did Jesus tell someone that they could wait until they got to the next world to receive either the spiritual blessing of the Gospel or justice in this world.

It isn’t that Life on a Mission is wrong, It isn’t. It is just that they’ve only written half the book. The reason for us to help shape disciples for God is not that God wants more people on his team. It is because those disciples can then pick up on Jesus’ mission statement (we are the body of Christ in this world after all) and challenge the things in this world that stop the poor from hearing good news, the blind from seeing, and the prisoners from being freed. The year of the Lord’s favour was the Jubilee, the Sabbaths of Sabbaths when all debts were forgiven (literal debts!) and land was returned to the family that had relationship with that land. The call is not just to bring people into a spiritual kingdom, but to move that kingdom into the world. That means fighting against principalities and powers for the lives and souls of our neighbours.

It is the split in the Church that is causing us to fail. We put all our efforts into winning souls, or we put all our efforts into fighting for justice. What God wants is both. We win souls so more people may seek justice in this world. We strive for justice for all so that people might ask “Why are you doing this?” and we can answer with confidence that it is the Gospel that calls us.

So read this book. It will get you thinking and give you hope that evangelism is possible; in fact it is the inevitable result of faith. But don’t stop there, wonder how God can use you and the people around you to shape more just society. It isn’t enough  (to pick on example from the book) to reach out to young single mothers by helping them with childcare and care for their homes, if we don’t also seek out the reason why all these women are struggling single mothers and try to address that root cause.

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Take Back the Memory

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Augustine Sam
Melange Books LLC
Paige is a successful psychotherapist, but the recent death of her husband has sent her into a tailspin. Her daughter convinces her to seek therapy which she reluctantly does.
Her story starts in Kenya where she’s fallen in love with a boy named Bill. His is whisked away by his father to join the priesthood leaving Paige heartbroken. This heartbreak stays with her and becomes the driving force in her life.
At eighteen she returns to Africa and loses her virginity to the son of the ranch’s owner. When they return home her newly released sexuality becomes a weapon for her to destroy the priests around her in revenge for the priesthood claiming Bill.
There is a lot of sex, I will leave it to the reader to decide if that is a good thing or not. There is a little bit of plot to hold the sex scenes together. As is not uncommon in romances the point of view moves around a lot, and we aren’t always clear whose head we are watching from. In spite of the sex, there is not a lot of evocative emotion in the book, and I found it challenging to empathize with the main character.
If you like plenty of graphic sex, I can recommend this book for you. If you don’t, you won’t enjoy it.
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Distant Suns

41i1Xc0VIwL._SS300_Distant Suns

Patricia Smith

Distant Suns begins with the discovery of a massive cloud of hydrogen headed toward Earth.  The cloud is hijacked by Jupiter and for a brief time those who knew of the world’s potential death heaved a sigh of relief. Then Jupiter begins to heat up. The extra mass kicked started its fusion furnace and the massive planet becomes a second sun in the solar system. Even the much smaller amount of energy from Jupiter is enough to push global warming into high gear.

Like another John Wyndham, Patricia Smith weaves a story of the Earth’s demise caused by some random unfortunate occurrence. As in any murder story, the manner of the death is carefully constructed. The science is plausible enough to make it possible to let go and enjoy the ride. Patricia’s cast of characters are two astronomers and the beautiful young Lauren, who is a recent astrophysics grad. They follow the ups and downs of the story and provide a continuous thread that is interwoven with the stories of a wide range of characters.

While Distant Suns is a disaster novel, Patricia stays away from the gruesome and the people of her world are oddly orderly. Nonetheless she creates an evocative story, and hints at what might still be our fate, with or without wandering gas clouds.

I recommend Distant Suns to sci fi readers and any who enjoy a good disaster.

You can buy it here.

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Down the Wormhole

51ONJxd317L._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-40,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Down the Wormhole

Ana Franco

Kitty is an orphan, and the story begins with her walking into an orphanage and demanding that they take care of her for the next year until she is eighteen. She is assigned a room with Natalie and Anna. Before she knows it Kitty is caught up in an ancient battle between four gods who look and act like normal teenagers and the goddess of chaos.

In spite of some technical issues in the writing Ana creates a gripping world that is a mash up of Celtic, Norse, Greek and even Egyptian mythology. The mix of teens and mythological gods works well and the characters, especially Kitty’s are well drawn. I would have liked to have seen a little stronger ending, but it works as it is.

If you can see past the technicalities,  this is a fun read. I recommend it to readers who like to mix their fantasy with teen novels.

You can buy it here. It is being released March 17, 2015

 

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The Liar Charms

The Liar Charms

Lorain O’Neil

Lorain introduces us to Remy who wakes up in a room with seven other young woman. They quickly discover that they are to be sold to the highest bidder, all except Remy who way pre-purchased by the creep she met in a corner store years ago. What they have is the ability to detect deception, an ability which has made their owners rich and powerful.

Remy isn’t interested in making Isaiah Grommet richer and more powerful. She’s only interested in freedom and revenge, and not necessarily in that order. Events at Pakken, the company that bred and sold her change the rules and Remy becomes a pawn in a larger game than she imagined.

Remy is a gritty young woman who isn’t going to take being sold lightly. From the moment she meets Isaiah she challenges his patience, but even among Charms she is unusual. I enjoyed the way Lorain shows Remy as foul-mouthed without making the reader wade through her language. What does show on the page is edgy, but not offensive.

The Liar Charms is urban fantasy the way it should be done. She has a clearly defined system of abilities with a believable reason behind it. Remy is fully drawn and the people around her show their own complexity. This is not the book I expected at the start, it is much better. I recommend it for lovers of urban fantasy and strong female characters.

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The Witch Princess and the Dark Magician’s Son

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Karyna Kellar

This fantasy book introduces Sachin, the son of an Archmage who destroyed a city in his madness and is executed for his crime. Sachin lives in secret with his aunt and uncle after his mother dies. The worst Sachin has to deal with is bullying from some of his cousins until it is learned that he has magical talent. He’s whisked off to Whestyr to learn magic. To Sachin’s surprise he is also good with mundane weapons, once he gets past the hatred of the man who trains him, and who lost his family and home in the fire caused by Sachin’s father.

Larissa is a princess of the realm who also discovers that she has magic ability, but where Sachin is depressed and lonely she is outgoing and everyone loves her. Their paths only cross a few times but Sachin falls for her, like every other male student.

There is a new leader of the Santorim, a man who may be an Archmage. Assassins attack Whestyr and the lives of Sachin and Larissa are turned upside down.

There are a few issues with point of view and odd construction in the story, but don’t let that stop you from reading a good solid fantasy with an interesting world and some new rules for magic. The plot is well put together and the characters three-dimensional.  I recommend this book for sword and sorcery fantasy lovers.

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The Sulfurings

The Sulfurings

Allen Taylor, editor

Garden Gnome Publications

The Sulphurings is the second anthology inspired by a Biblical story. In this case it is the tale of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The stories range in length from flash fiction to longer short stories. They also run the gamut of genres and plots from sci-fi to horror to fantasy. The only consistent element is the fire of destruction raining down from the heavens.

Reading the stories it is easy to forget they are inspired by The Bible as Lot and his daughters are mentioned only tangentially in a few stories and don’t appear in the rest.

This is the kind of book you pick up to read a short story here and there. Read all at once they become a little overwhelming. The stories are well crafted and chosen by editors who know their way around paper and ink as well as fire and brimstone.

I’d recommend this book to short story enthusiasts.

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The Mexican Connection

The Mexican Connection

Pendleton C. Wallace

Ted Higuera is enjoying life. He’s with his family and he’s even managed a break from the restaurant to vista his buddy Chris in Seattle to see him graduate. It all comes apart when Ted’s younger brother vanishes into Mexico, then his father is murdered while looking for his son. Ted and Chris head south to find justice in a city where the law belongs to the highest bidder.

Meanwhile Lisa Adams life is turned upside down when her home is raided by police looking for her husband. James, unknown to Lisa, worked for a cartel in Mexico. Now Lisa is in jail, her daughter is in foster care and they won’t see each other until Lisa is and old woman. Not unless James returns to take the rap. Catrina Flaherty is hired to track James down and bring him back to the US.

The Mexican Connection is a romp. The characters are interesting and the main ones well developed,  but what works well is a story that doesn’t stop. It is set in the Mexico of the headlines, run by drug cartels who are at wore with each other and the police, but he creates as many sympathetic Mexican characters as villains and being aware that sensational headlines are just part of the picture.

There are a few spots where I might have wished he’d hired an editor to tighten up spots where he runs a little long, or gives a scene short shrift,  but just a few. On the whole this is a solid professionally written book. I can recommend it to action and adventure lovers.

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672

672

J.S. Lee

672 is set in a future society in which humans mostly live in glass towers. They are separated by floor with the elite living high above while the “piggies” live below. In this setting we meet Emilia, who lives near the base of the tower, and John and Penelope who live near the top. Emilia wakes with no memory or concern of who she is and floats through life with her friend Anna until she meets a man from the highest floor who is smitten with her and asks her to marry him. All is fine, until she meets a friend and we realize that perhaps she knows him from before she woke up.

In the meantime,  Penelope upstairs has decided she wants a baby. She convinces John to steal one from the extremely important decade long genetics project he’s involved in at work.  Life is good until Penelope’s mother shows up and warns John that he’ll have to give up his casual affairs.

I want to like this book, there is something endearing about the story line, but there are a number of technical issues that get in the way. Point of view shifts rapidly between characters, sometimes making it hard to know what is going on. Much of the story is told to us in a way that makes all the characters feel the same. There are issues with plot, but perhaps the biggest issue is the amount of exposition explaining what is happening instead of letting the reader experience it unfolding.

It isn’t that there are no redeeming qualities,  but one must be patient and work hard to find them.

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Dragon’s Curse

The Dragon’s Curse

H L Burke

Shannon is a scholar and healer sent to the Kingdom of Regone to treat its King for his injuries received while killing dragons. King Edmond has sworn revenge on all dragons for the death of his brother. That makes it awkward when Shannon befriends a dragon named Gnaw who has taken up residence outside the city.

Shannon has to deal with the King, the aloof woman who is always near the king, and Sir Roderick who believes Shannon should fall at his feet. He is increasingly upset that she doesn’t.  With all that going on, visiting a dragon is relaxing. Her friendship is put to the test as the king sends more knights after the dragon.

I enjoyed this book. The plot is well thought out with sufficient bumps and turns to keep the reader engaged. The characters a well drawn out with unique voices and very well written dialogue.

I’d recommend The Dragon’s Curse to all fantasy lovers.

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