Spirituality

Overcoming Adversity by Carl Garrigus: Book Review

Overcoming Adversity The Book of James

(Photo Credit: CrossLink Publishing)

In Overcoming Adversity: Life Lessons from the Book of James, Dr. Carl Garrigus demonstrates how the Book of James can be employed to aid people in rising above life’s challenges. For Garrigus, who holds doctoral degrees in History and Theology, defeating adversity requires a stronger relationship with Christ and an increasingly maturing faith in Him. A false relationship with Jesus will leave one powerless to combating the trials life presents, and a person may struggle with these trials for many years, years without joy and peace. Garrigus teaches the reader how to establish and maintain an authentic and effective relationship with Christ, one that leads to pure gratitude for such a relationship.

Garrigus emphasizes the significance of responding to God’s call to perform good works, which strengthens their ability to experience victory over the adversities they face. Instead of viewing trying circumstances through a negative lens, the scholar exhorts readers to use these circumstances as opportunities to perfect one’s faith.

As a believer, one has to recognize he or she is not seeking victory; he or she is operating from victory. This is a biblical reality for believers I wish the author would have explicitly stated. To experience such victory, one does not need to “reengage” with God as Garrigus posits; he or she simply needs to believe what God said: Christ leads us to triumph in all phenomena we encounter. “Reengage” seems to communicate that believers need to do something, perform some work, some work of the flesh, to earn their victory. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Jesus has already made our victory available to us through the finished work of the Cross.

To his credit, though, the scholar does explain that believers have God available to aid them in developing a constantly maturing and effective faith. Dr. Garrigus provides a powerful word of wisdom: “When a trial comes, don’t turn away from God but toward Him” (p. 13).This statement would be even stronger by instructing readers to remain focused on God and never “turn away from” Him. If he would’ve made this point, then there wouldn’t be a need to advocate for his readers to “reengage.”

Overall, this is a worthwhile read that can help many believers, especially those struggling with their faith, to rely on God for their strength to conquer adversities. I very much appreciate how Dr. Garrigus articulates such confidence in the efficacy of a true and engaging relationship with God. Each chapter of this short book (fifty-five pages total) ends with “Five Questions for Exploration,” affording readers opportunities to plumb nuances of ideas communicated.

Book Crash provided a copy of this book to assist with this review.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Never Give Up by John Mason: Book Review

Never Give Up by John Mason

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

John Mason’s Never Give Up: You’re Stronger Than You Think offers readers 52 powerful “nuggets,” motivation keys, to encourage them to choose faith in what’s possible over toxic unbelief. Mason, a minister, inspirational speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including You Can Do It—If Others Say You Can’t and You Can Be Your Best—Starting Today, desires for people to remain committed to their dreams. The author contends that people fail to tap the perseverance that lies within them.

Mason’s principal inspiration for penning this book is those on the verge of surrendering their dreams. He desires for them to regain their commitment to their dreams and to pursue those dreams with passion. As I reflect on the millions of people living in poverty, I wonder how many of those individuals stopped believing in their dreams, how many stopped believing in themselves before falling prey to poverty.

The author notes that everyone has been blessed with certain abilities, and those abilities can propel them to success. Unfortunately, too many people compare their abilities with those of others, leading them often to feeling inadequate, an inadequacy that emerges because they’re too busy concentrating on what they don’t have instead of cherishing what they do have.

For Mason, when a person receives God’s salvation, He places purpose, His purpose, on the inside of him or her: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). The author states that one of the most vital points in this verse is “the fact that God doesn’t quit. Therefore, we can have great confidence that He will complete the good work He has begun in us” (p. 15). When we place our confidence in God’s confidence about us, then fear doesn’t have an opportunity to disrupt our belief in what God declares we can accomplish.  

I teach my students about the value of a question, and I was pleased to see Mason share a similar value and enthusiasm for inquiry. People often rush to arrive at an answer without investing the necessary time to pose the right question.  

Even if a person is not deeply spiritual or is an atheist, this book still offers significant value. Mason’s book serves as a constant reminder that believing in yourself is essential to executing any task and achieving your heart’s greatest desires.

I strongly recommend everyone to purchase and read this book. It’s one of those works you can treat as a devotional, one you can use as daily motivation to overcome challenges the day may present.

Revell Books provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

All In For Him by Gwen Thielges: Book Review

 

Gwen Thielges

(Photo Credit: Gwen Thielges)

In All In For Him: Twenty-One Devotions For College Athletes, Gwen Thielges offers college student-athletes a 21-day devotional that empowers them to combine strong athletic preparation and performance with robust spiritual practice and commitment. For Thielges, any athlete, including a college student-athlete, cannot become a complete athlete without building and buttressing his or her spiritual life and foundation. Intending this book to inspire college athletes to develop a closer relationship with Christ and use their platform to display His glory, the author wants these athletes to maximize the potential of their platform to spread Christ’s message and win souls for Him. This book aims to help college student-athletes practice daily gratitude for the opportunity Jesus has given them to perform athletically and be a part of an athletic team.

Athletes, at any level, will find the “Day 1” devotion quite useful: begin the season with a prayer for God’s favor.  The “Day 3” devotion calls for them to abandon negative thinking and discourse and refuse to surround themselves with negativity in any form. On “Day 7,” Thielges makes an important point for college student-athletes to pray for their coaches. As any athlete knows, and the author highlights, a coach is a critical dimension of any team’s success, for if the team is to experience success, it will need a coach who employs principle and discipline.

In a postmodern epoch where many college student-athletes demonstrate such egregious selfishness, “Day 8” provides a sobering reminder of their need to commit themselves to humility and place their confidence in Christ. If athletes, as “Day 10” explains, walk in humility and in the confidence of God, they will serve as role models for their community, nation, and world. Living a humble life, one where confidence in God is at the center of the athlete’s life, he or she will have a proper understanding of how to conduct himself or herself when using social media, as revealed in “Day 12” and “Day 13.”  

Thielges encourages college student-athletes to win with grace. When one considers how nasty, how vicious college sports have increasingly become, her words are timely, calling these athletes, specifically Christian athletes, to serve as an example of what grace looks like in athletic competition. For the author, when athletes win with grace, it’s not about belittling their opponents but more about thanking God for the opportunity to perform successfully and more about showing gratitude for the spirited competition their opponents gave them.

As a coach and scholar who focuses on student-athletes, I am happy to see this book published. For this book to reach its maximum value, it must reach the hands of as many college student-athletes as possible. The publisher and/or author needs to send a copy of this book to college athletic departments across the nation. While this will cost some money to do, I’m confident that this will be a profitable investment, leading to a significant increase in sales, and more importantly, strengthening the lives of college student-athletes.  

To have an interest in purchasing and reading this book, one, most likely, will need to an authentic investment in student-athletes, especially college student-athletes, for its written to and for them. Having said that, though, I would recommend that coaches, athletic administrators, higher education administrators, advisors, mentors, and tutors of college student-athletes, parents of current and future college student-athletes, and serious college sports fans read this book. By reading this book, one gains a stronger understanding of what college student-athletes need, the challenges they face, and how to maximize their impact on and off the field.

Book Crash provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison  

Victorious Living through Heaven’s Great Hope by Victor Morgan: A Brief Book Review

Heaven's Great Hope

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

In Victorious Living through Heaven’s Great Hope: A Divine Revelation of Hope Granted for Overcoming in Challenging Times, Victor Morgan offers readers a scriptural treatment of hope. For the author, closely engaging the biblical notion of hope is necessary during these precarious times. According to Morgan, those who will experience success during these times will embrace and apply hope in every area of their lives. Dr. Morgan declares that hope is God’s gift to humans, allowing them to find wholeness even in seemingly impossible conditions. While this book does not intend to provide the reader with an exhaustive understanding of biblical hope, the reader comes away from a reading of this work with some valuable knowledge about hope.

The writing could have been much better. Lower tiered seminaries or theological schools like Interdenominational Theological Center and Zoe University aren’t known for the most rigorous research and writing standards/expectations, however. Also, at times, the writer makes statements that need to benefit from scriptural support. When Dr. Morgan cites verses, he gives a fairly decent explanation of them and how they relate to the “divine revelation of hope” he intends to divulge.

The greatest strength of the book lies in the inspiration it furnishes about the hope we have in Jesus. This book will motivate you to do a careful and comprehensive study of biblical hope.

Although Dr. Morgan’s work has its problems, it’s a worthwhile read. The author demonstrates a strong understanding of biblical hope and passes it along to the reader. In media and politics we hear and read much about “hope,” often a deeply confused idea of hope; this scholar, however, imparts an informed, scriptural-based rendering of hope.

I recommend this book.

Book Crash supplied a copy of Dr. Morgan’s book to help facilitate this honest review.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Should Church be a Restaurant?

Black People Eating at Kitchen Table

(Photo Credit: The Main Board)

While occasionally incorporating food into church events or activities is fine, one should never view church as a restaurant, as the place to eat. Eat before you come to church. Many of the folks who love to eat at church are the very ones who don’t need to be thinking about food at church. When a church becomes so focused on, so consumed by food, it’s a symptom of a larger, more disconcerting problem: a church that has become too jejune, too casual, too insipid—devoid of purpose.

Yeah, we all know people primarily attend church on Easter to eat, especially black folks in the South. An all-year Easter mindset pertaining to food, however, should never develop. Church leaders who posit or assume that maintaining and increasing church attendance necessitates food need to benefit from retooling, from a reappraisal of their leadership approaches and strategies. Lacking confidence in delivering compelling teaching and preaching, some pastors substitute food for engaging, authentic, transformative ministry, ministry centered on the Word of God—not decentered from the Word of God.

Ineptly handled, unfortunately, food can produce significant problems. Even though one may think it’s a nice gesture for a meeting or service, too many parishioners become distracted by food, losing their proverbial heads about it. You really have a chance to witness just how “saved” someone is when it comes to food at church. For church leaders who insist on food being served, they need to grow in their practical awareness of how their congregants respond to it. It may be the appropriate time to have an “altar call” when those foul attitudes and discordant spirits emerge while food is being served.

Pastors and church leaders, stop organizing meetings and services just to eat. Ultimately, you guys and gals are the problem.

Church hospitality leaders and staff must play a more instrumental role in ameliorating this problem. Keenly aware of the real issues with serving food, hospitality leaders and staff need to inform their pastors about how challenging it is to prepare and serve food regularly. It can even be a challenge to keep non-hospitality staff out of the kitchen. Why does non-hospitality members need to be in the kitchen? Because they feel entitled, because you’ve allowed them to do what they want for so long, because you’re not being adamant about rules governing the kitchen and food service. Do you actually have rules? How are they promulgated? Are the rules disseminated in such a clear and professional way that all members and visitors are aware of them? Be willing to be firm, even aggressive, with your pastor about your requests—and demands.

Food and church can coexist, of course; they do at successful churches. Just make sure you know what it takes to incorporate food effectively into meetings and services. The food needs to be de-emphasized and the purpose(s) of meetings and services should be elevated. That, of course, requires you to have a purpose and know it.

A misreading of this piece is to perceive it as an attack on food being served in a church. Quite the opposite is true: when you serve food, do it with professionalism, in a spirit of excellence, never distracting from the true purpose(s) of meetings and services.

Again, the best practice is to eat before you come to church.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Did Trump Teach You that God is the Supreme Ruler?

Trump Black Church

(Photo Credit: The Washington Post)

With the arrival of President Donald J. Trump, a “newfound” understanding of God as the supreme ruler of all has emerged. What’s most troubling about this, however, is the “novel” recognition is more about expressions of anger, protest, and resistance than it is about the truth of our sovereign God. Being “woke” should begin with the reality that God has been the sole ruler of all long before Trump—even long before George Washington. If you want to oppose, criticize President Trump, that’s more than fine. Please, however, don’t act like God just became the King of all of humanity and phenomena. The Lord’s supremacy should always guide all of our thoughts and actions, regardless of political party or ideological persuasion.

Psalm 82: God the Supreme Ruler

Psalm 82 states, “God presides in the heavenly council; in the assembly of the gods he gives his decision: ‘You must stop judging unjustly; you must no longer be partial to the wicked! Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless. Rescue them from the power of evil people. ‘How ignorant you are! How stupid! You are completely corrupt, and justice has disappeared from the world. ‘You are gods,’ I said; ‘all of you are children of the Most High.’ But you will die like mortals; your life will end like that of any prince.’ Come, O God, and rule the world; all the nations are yours.”

Justice and Political Action and Discourse in the Era of Trump

Presidents come and go, politicians come and go, kings and queens come and go, but God is eternal. His kingship is eternal and it’s not based on human votes or anything else of the material world: He serves by the divine authority of “the heavenly council; in the assembly of the gods.”

Yes, as Psalm 82 makes clear, we’re to resist injustice and wickedness and champion the rights of the powerless, the voiceless (“the poor and the orphans…the needy and the helpless”). Without a true understanding and commitment to the already eternal supremacy of God, the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the marginalized will never find liberty from “the power of evil people.” If you, therefore, consider President Trump among “the power of evil people,” then a real sincerity toward God must govern your discourse, your approach, your resistance.

In short, God didn’t just show up on the scene when you surrendered your equanimity to the truth that President Donald J. Trump is your legitimate president of the United States—not simply to be called “45,”—but He’s always been the supreme ruler of all, for “all nations are yours,” even before any human was created.

Ground your protesting and resistance in the truth of God’s eternal supremacy, a supremacy that has always existed.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Church Attendance Matters—Don’t Get It Twisted

Black Women in Church

(Photo Credit: Religion and Politics)

In “20 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Leaving The Church,” Makiah Green offers 20 “lessons” she has learned about church attendance since leaving her church. Green writes, “I never imagined that I could exist outside the Church I once held so dear. But due to the routine state-sanctioned violence that is being inflicted on my people, and the inadequate response from the church (among other things), I have decided to remove myself entirely from a system that claims to value my soul, but fails to show up for my Black body.” While I have (and continue to) passionately critiqued (see 5 Reasons Why Many Black Churches Are Failing) many churches, especially many black churches, for their various failings, bible-based Christians are required to be spiritually and theologically sound in their praxis—not just with their social and political practices and ideologies.

While I agree with some of Green’s “lessons,” much of what she asserts lacks substantive grounding in biblical truths and doctrines. For the sake of time and space, I will address two statements unsubstantiated by proper biblical context and exegesis.

A Hasty, Sweeping Generalization: “These pastors ain’t loyal.” Really?

Before I address the dearth of accurate biblical context and exegesis in the selected statements, it’s vital to highlight one of the glaring fallacies, a hasty, sweeping generalization, in her article: “These pastors ain’t loyal.” Although proffering such a position allows for one to add some hip flavor to the piece, evoking Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which is problematic for several reasons in itself, painting all pastors with a careless broad brush is toxic, faulty argumentation and unbecoming of a serious “writer” and “revolutionary,” as Makiah Green identifies herself.

Another Hasty, Sweeping Generalization: “White evangelicals (and the Black evangelicals spouting the same white, patriarchal values) are modern manifestations of neocolonialism.” Really?

When she posits that “white evangelicals (and the Black evangelicals spouting the same white, patriarchal values) are modern manifestations of neocolonialism,” the author, again, makes a hasty, sweeping generalization, abandoning the intellectual necessity of pinpointing nuances and variances in this population of believers.

Another Hasty Generalization: “I don’t need a church home in order to facilitate a relationship with God.” Really?

Green, as well as too many professing believers, unfortunately, claim the following: “I don’t need a church home in order to facilitate a relationship with God.” Hebrews 10:25 reads, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The context of this verse is meeting in a church or synagogue—not in one’s home, not streaming live, not gathering with a group of saved friends in one’s home. In the aforementioned verse, God issues a command to attend church regularly. He wants us dependent on one another, and in his infinite wisdom, He demonstrates how essential church or synagogue is in facilitating such dependency and “exhortations.” God intends, through our interactions with fellow believers at church, to supply the encouragement and persuasion on various issues each believer needs.

Church-based Teaching and Christ-centered Fellowship

Also, Acts 2:42, penned with attending church regularly as a context, says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” From this verse, one finds that God desires for an immense amount of one’s learning about the Word of God to come from teaching done inside of a church or synagogue, and that He mandates us to partake in the “fellowship” with one another and Him in which we were called when we first received salvation. Christ has created us as one body, for which there is no life and fellowship with Him outside of this one body: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12).

The Church in the Believer-Messiah Relationship & the Significance of the Preacher

The Apostle Paul delivers this line of rhetorical inquiry: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Here, Paul responds to the importance of receiving from God in church and through His messenger, “a preacher.” Moreover, Romans 10:17 informs us that “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Again, in the context of church activity, “faith,” necessary for the Christian life, “cometh” by “hearing” the preached Word of God. The foundation one needs in the Word of God, therefore, emerges in the church setting—not in one’s home, not simply in one’s private bible study.

“As a Black woman, I have the power and autonomy to make my own decisions.” More biblical precision is needed, though.

Although Ms. Green is accurate in part about “As a Black woman, I have the power and autonomy to make my own decisions,” she overlooks the more vital death of self that takes place as part of the new birth in Christ. Yes, God has given us free will; however, our will is to be dominated by His will as we yield our mind, mouth, and ways to Him (Philippians 2:5; Philippians 2:13). When she contends that “I have decided to remove myself entirely from a system that claims to value my soul, but fails to show up for my Black body,” this constitutes a “falling away from grace,” a grace for which she claims to be enthused about receiving (Galatians 5:4). For Galatians 2:14 proclaims, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” A believer must remain “established in God’s righteousness” and not a righteousness based on his or her own self-effort, self-performance (Isaiah 54:14).

Conclusion

In short, in as much as I strongly agree with Makiah Green’s frustrations with how many churches aren’t mobilizing to fight “the routine state-sanctioned violence that is being inflicted on my people [black people],” she has capitulated to a flawed spirituality and troubling theology. Wouldn’t it be better for a “revolutionary” to seek the change in her local church from within—instead of simply avoiding and disengaging with it? How about joining a church where black liberation theology is employed?

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison