7.08.2015

"The Printer and the Preacher", by Randy Petersen (book review)

This is a thoroughly researched and meticulously written dual biography of two influential forefathers: George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin.

Whitefield was a principal catalyst of the Great Awakening of the 18th century who traveled the globe preaching the message of Jesus Christ.  His religious contemporaries included Jonathan Edwards and Charles & John Wesley.

Benjamin Franklin was one of our nation's founding fathers who was passionate about writing and science. But he was also instrumental, as we know, in orchestrating the original documents and framework upon which our country was founded.  He believed in God, but was an avid deist who thought God is worthy of worship, but that Jesus's divinity is questionable. Yet he also believed people and society should be upright, moral creatures who do good because that is what's good for society. He believed we should treat each other right -- not for Christ's sake, with some eternal reward in mind, but because we see value in being friends here and now. Could Been have been suggesting, "Stop trying to convert me...just friend me" (p.187)?

Although Whitefield and Franklin were not close friends, their life work brought them together as partners. Whitefield wanted to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and relied on the trustworthiness of Franklin to be his printer.  Franklin, on the other hand, saw that there was money to be made by printing for Whitefield due to his enormous popularity.

While Whitefield made every attempt to encourage Franklin to trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sin, Franklin was resistant. Despite their religious differences, the two never really lost touch with each other.

ENCOURAGEMENTS:

I happened to read this book at a time when a health issue afflicted me. Randy Petersen wrote that Whitefield was cut to the heart by the writing of William Law in "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life".  His message was this: "Get serious about what's most important" (p.88).  When I read those words, I placed the book on my lap and began to reflect in my own life. Have I made my life count? Is my Lord pleased? Do I have regrets, and if so, what will I do from here forward to live without regrets? Am I ready to meet my Maker?

Another quote on p.108 inspired me: "If we are truly converted, we shall not only be turned and converted from sinful self, but we shall be converted from righteous self."  So often, it seems we followers of Christ can find great ease in condemning and judging the unconverted world, but neglect the sins that remain in our own lives. The Apostle Paul addressed this very topic in 1 Corinthians 6.  Somehow, we grow self-righteous and forget that we are saved by God's grace, and not because we deserved it for having done any good works to earn it.

Petersen's conclusion is wonderfully written, tying in the lives of Whitefield and Franklin to show how we owe thanks to each. They teach us to continue talking and listening, even when we don't agree; they teach us the prized value of good character, including integrity, honor, and honesty; their lives remind us to be creative in communication and in not allowing our minds to sit idle; and they teach us that loving actions -- not just nice words -- are crucial to human interaction.

RATING: I give "The Printer and the Preacher" 5 stars for its depth of research and it's impact through the messages conveyed.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and the thoughts expressed in this review were not forced upon me.

5.31.2015

"Legend", by Eric Blehm (book review)

“Legend” is the riveting historical account of Sgt. Roy Benavides, a US Army Green Beret who fought valiantly during the war in Viet Nam.  Benavides perilously risked his life to save others, while sustaining his own life-threatening injuries.  Benavides earned a Silver Star for his actions on May 2, 1968, but the full scope of his actions sat in obscurity for years.  A local newspaper caught wind about him and published it what they had.  Benavides’ comrades wrote letters on his behalf to the US Army powers-that-be in order to recognize his efforts as worthy of the Medal of Honor.

The opening chapters introduce readers to Roy’s mischievous boyhood.  Eventually, however, he enlisted in the Army, which took him to the Vietnamese war theatre.  After setting the stage, Blehm brilliantly inspires readers to consider the many soldiers and helicopter pilots who fought there.  While telling their stories, Blehm casually assigned Benavides to the shadows for a handful of chapters.  At just the right time, though, Blehm reintroduces Benavides to the war action, explaining his heroics in gripping detail.

While I’m certainly no history buff or war historian, this is one of the most gripping and enthralling war stories I’ve read.  Focusing primarily on southern Viet Nam and its local battles, Blehm also uncovers the secret conflict waged in Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Not only did I enjoy reading “Legend”, I also learned a great deal of history I never realized existed.  I don’t regret reading it. Because I don’t want to spoil the story for you, I’ll let you decide if you’ll read the rest.  In the space remaining, though,  I’d like to discuss a few thoughts that came to mind while reading “Legend”.

First, I continue to marvel at the heroics of brave men who have fought valiantly for our freedoms.  Not only have they and do they fight four American’s freedoms, but they do it for complete strangers on the other side of the globe.  It is one of mankind’s wonderful feats, that we lay down our lives for others in need.  I am truly thankful for their courage in the face of danger, and for their sacrifice.  As one of my father’s tee-shirts reads, “All gave some; some gave all”.

Next, stories like this remind me that greatness is primarily demonstrated, not merely earned.  Although Roy Benavides grew up in humble beginnings, and often finding himself at the center of trouble, he grew to understand honor and the value of a good name.  At one point in life, Benavides made a decision to be a man of valor, rather than one of trouble.  He demonstrated that change of character by his heroic actions.  He didn’t simply give a nice speech or accomplish mere academic accolades.  He demonstrated character and action.

This leads me into my final point: Seek out some of the great men and women around you -- learn their life story, discover who they really are, seek out their wisdom.  You will certainly find something you can learn from their example and experiences.

RATING: I give “Legend” 5 stars out of 5.  Eric Blehm is a brilliant author and phenomenal story-teller!  I read one of his other books (“Fearless”), and after having read this one, I will no doubt read others he has authored.

DISCLAIMER:  I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and my positive comments were not forced upon me.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Eric Blehm is the bestselling author of Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown  andThe Only Thing Worth Dying For, which recounts the story of the first Special Forces A-team to infiltrate Taliban-held southern Afghanistan weeks after 9/11. Both titles were New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. His book The Last Season was the winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and was named by Outside magazine as one of the 10 “greatest adventure biographies ever written.” Blehm lives in southern California with his wife and children.

5.05.2015

"Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World", by Stephan Bauman (book review)

"Can we change the world?" is Bauman's question, and his goal is to convince us that we can.  Unfortunately, Bauman fell short -- way short -- of achieving his goal with me. 

As an ordained minister, Bauman certainly began early in the book with fluffy religious talk and soft references to God.  He even cited numerous people, like Mother Theresa, T.S. Elliott, Dallas Willard, and Nelson Mandela, to name a small handful.  While I respect what little I know of those individuals, I would have expected an ordained minister to open the first chapter with a strong introduction to what he believes is the call of God to "change the world" from the lens of Scripture.  But the book was so full of theological garbage that another book could be written to refute all of his Emergent-like errors.  I don't know where to begin, so I'll start at the beginning, I suppose. 

CHANGE THE WORLD:
Bauman laid out 3 main points that he calls the "blueprint" for changing the world:
(1) "The first is universal, archetypal, and invitational.  It's God's divine blueprint for saving the world"...and you and I are "...invited, by design, to join in";
(2) "The second is personal: how God has uniquely created, called, and designed you to participate in remaking the world"...and "we'll explore and expand the idea of creativity and our role in remaking the world";
(3) "The third is practical: what you must do to effect positive change..." (p.12)

In short, according to Bauman, you and I are invited to "change" and "remake" the world, and not to introduce people to Jesus Christ, the Forgiver of sin.  Bauman's approach to "changing the world" was so worldly-based that I wonder if he ever considered the possibility that God never asked us to change the world. Do you want to know why?  BECAUSE IT ISN'T THERE!

In fact, he omitted two all-important comments, both of which were spoken by Jesus: "You will always have the poor with you..." (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), and "Go into all the world an make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19).  But then, I suppose acknowledging the truth of Jesus's words would likely derail Bauman's goal of convincing us to "change the world".  Ironically, Bauman wrote, "Too often we tackle age-old problems of poverty or injustice by retreading ideas that have failed.  Sometimes we give up because we are convinced the problems are impossible to overcome" (p.72).  Maybe that's because Jesus was actually correct about poverty, and that he meant make disciples, and not "remake the world".

WHERE'S THE GOSPEL? 
NEVER THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BOOK did Bauman EVER introduce his readers to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  Chapter 5 was close.  It was chock-full of gospel-sounding words, but never the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  Just when I thought Bauman was sure to tell us what it is, he capitulated to universalism with the following: "But what is good news today?  Is it not that we can be free from pain, shame, wrongs, and suffering, temporally and eventually, once and for all?  The gospel in its purest form puts suffering out of business, and it begins here and now" (p.80).

Did you catch that?  Bauman turned the message of the Kingdom into a message that is no better than one of our freedom from earthly suffering.  He had the perfect opportunity to explain that we are all riddled with sin, and that we stand to be condemned under God's wrath if we die in our sins.  He failed to offer any explanation into the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in our place. He did not explain that the great news of the gospel is that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ secures (for those of us who trust him) our freedom from sin (not from earthly suffering) and rightness with God!

Later in the book, Bauman cited Jesus as the ultimate example of a prophet, saying, "He (Jesus) offered ultimate solidarity through his death while also demonstrating a sort of divine protest through the resurrection" (p.119).  Really?  Ultimate solidarity?  Divine protest? No!  That's not what Jesus's death, burial and resurrection were about.  They never were -- nor ever will be -- about uniting mankind under a banner of divine protest against injustice.  They were -- and always will be -- about making sinners right with God, and he rose from the dead to give forgiven sinners eternal life!  Sadly, though, "Being prophetic is calling attention to the will of God...for Belinda (Bauman's wife), it means telling the world about...the people of Congo" (p.119).  Her prophetic message to the world is about Congo?  I wonder when Jesus said, "Go into all the world and tell them about the suffering of people in Congo, and not about me."

TAKE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD:
I didn't find myself agreeing with Bauman very often, nor was I at all inspired to "change the world".  But the entire book couldn't be junk, could it?  Here's one (of only a few) quote I appreciated: "...our actions tell us more about our values than our stated beliefs.  Our behavior, in fact, is a window to our value system.  And our values tell us what we really believe" (p.95).  I agree!  The great mercy bestowed upon forgiven sinners ought to inspire us to proclaim the same message of grace to others, and to extend grace to them in their joy AND their suffering.

CONCLUSION:
I fully recognize the predicament in which I place myself when I disagree with such a book as "Possible", because doing so might suggest I disagree with righting wrongs, defending the defenseless, feeding the hungry, or clothing the poor, etc.  But that is absolutely not it.  In fact, I believe true followers of Jesus Christ ought to be doing those things.  But those things ought not be the central focus, or a false gospel of sorts.  Those things ought not replace the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for no amount of clothing, food, shelter, justice, etc. will EVER make a sinner right with God.  Instead, the sinner will simply die a sinner with clothes on his back and food in her belly.  The good news of Jesus Christ must be spoken in conjunction with good deeds!  And Bauman has failed to do just that in this book.

I cannot support this book (and, by the way, I am disappointed Louie Giglio would write an endorsement for "Possible"), nor can I recommend it to anyone.  In fact, when I was offered the book for review, I was asked to request and give away some small booklets to people in my church.  I didn't want to be greedy, but I was obligated to request at least one packet of 10 booklets.  So I received a pack of 10...but I will not be giving ANY of those booklets to anyone -- not in the church, nor at the supermarket.  Sorry, Multnomah.  But shame on your for peddling this theological garbage for profit!

RATING:
Just 1 star, because zero is not allowed.

DISCLAIMER: 
I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was not required to provide a positive review...which I didn't.

I guess if you're still interested in the book, you can click here to visit the author's web page.

4.22.2015

Prayer is Only Play...

It seems that with regular frequency I'm seeing a disturbing trend regarding how people say they will "pray" for others. Maybe this observation is due to the prevalence of social media and email that opens access to others' thoughts. I will explain with an example that is an amalgamation of recent social media posts and emails received:

"Hello friends, please say a prayer for Suzie. She is having surgery this afternoon to remove a tumor in her lungs. Thank you."

I'm satisfied with the request for prayer...it's a serious need.  However, many of the replies to the request give me heartburn.  Here are some examples:

-- "Prayers and thoughts sent!"
-- "Done!"
--"Prayers headed her way!"

So what's my beef?

First, we have a rather cavalier approach to prayer these days.  After all, we have emails to send, Facebook feeds to read, and candy to crush. To many people today, the average prayer is akin to a short tweet or email sent up the chain to God, only then to be checked off the list of things to do that day.  I imagine God opening his web browser and reading, "You've got mail!"  His reply?  "Oh, super!  Let me just reach down there and fix things now that I've read all these little notes asking for my help."

I imagine people praying (if they actually pray for the requested need at all), "God, please heal Suzie", then clapping their hands together like they're removing dirt from their palms, saying, "Good, done with that one. Ok, now what am I going to make for dinner?"  We may not actually SAY those words, but our approach to prayer seems to suggest that's exactly what we believe.

Pastor David A. Redding, in his 1962 book, "The Parables of Jesus", when discussing the parable of the persistent widow, wrote, "Those who take prayer so lightly they can't remember what is was they meant to pray for and never pray for the same thing two weeks in a row, who assume one mention is enough, at least to be mad about if He doesn't answer within the hour, make prayer a pity.  Prayer demands determination and patience." (p.39).

Next, what exactly are "thoughts" sent?  This has also been translated as "positive vibes", "good thoughts", etc. How can one's positive vibes or nice thoughts help even the most distressed person in this world? "That guy down the street sure is cold and hungry, but I'll just think positive thoughts, and everything should be alright."  James wrote, "What good is it if a person goes without clothes or daily food and you say to him, 'Go, I wish you well. Be warm and well fed?' and you do nothing for his physical needs?...faith without deeds is useless!" (James 2:14-26).  Our thoughts cannot truly help anyone! The hurting, the hungry, and the lonely crave our ACTION, not simply our "positive thoughts and vibes".

Finally, and this is probably my biggest beef of all -- whenever I read something like, "...sending prayers your way", I get, well....  NO!  Don't send your prayers to me, or to Suzie, or to the doctors, or to anyone else.  What value is in that?  Pray FOR me, or Suzie, or the doctors, but not TO us.  Sadly, this is not just something I've observed only from non-believers; I've also read this from professing Christians!

Prayer offered to anyone but the Father Almighty is not only pointless, but is an idolatrous abomination to God himself! (Ex. 20:3).  Please, if you're truly going to pray for this-or-that need, please earnestly approach the throne of Heaven (Matt. 6:9-13), and beg God for His mercy and favor.  If you pray for me, please do so in this manner, or I must kindly ask you not to pray for me at all.  Please don't ever send prayers "my way".  Instead, "...in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Php. 4:6). Approach HIM, not me -- or anyone else.


Lord, may I take prayer so seriously that I will "pray with passion -- until all the yawns are gone and the sleepy, halfhearted hopes and dreams become burning desires".  May I remember "prayer is only play until it is intense, relentless." (Redding, p.41).

2.27.2015

"Patriots, Redcoats, & Spies", by Robert J. and Robert A. Skead (book review)


I requested this book for review because my 9 year-old son was studying the founding of America at the same time this book was made available.  I told him I had requested the book, and that it was my hopes that he would read it and type a review.  This book is written for youngsters, so I thought it would be best for a youngster to read and review.  What you are about to read are HIS words, not mine (I only helped with very minor editing for flow), so please be graceful when you read my 9 year-old's thought processes and sentence structure.

HIS REVIEW:  There were two kids named Ambrose and John and their father gave them a letter to give to George Washington about the secret plan the Redcoats were going to play on them. When they were gone they had to get horses. They arrived at a barn to get some horses to ride but they had to do a trick to get the horses. They did their trick and they got 2 horses.

When they rode in the woods they got caught by some spies. Their father told them to trust no one and that’s what they did. They rode off into the distance.

When it was getting dark they went in to the woods and slept for the night. In the morning they saw someone took their horses. They went to the thief’s camp and they got their horses and rode away. When they rode away they got to George Washington’s house and got caught by his guards. The guards took them to Washington. When George Washington saw the kids he said to the guards to let them go and give them bread.

So the kids gave him the letter. He read the letter, which said the Redcoats were going to attack. He got right to work on preparing for the fight against the redcoats.

LIKES: I liked that it was very kid friendly and it was very entertaining to read.  I learned that the Redcoats did not like George Washington.  It was good that my class had already learned about George Washington, the Redcoats, and the Patriots.

DISLIKES: I liked the pictures, but they weren’t as nicely drawn as in some of the other books I’ve read.

RATING: I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Zondervan).  None of the opinions were forced upon us, and we were not required to provide a positive review.

2.22.2015

"Chasing the Woodstock Baby", by Steve Hagood (book review)


INTRODUCTION: Legend has it that one, two, or three babies were born during the 60's Woodstock concert, but none of those babies, now long grown (if they exist) have been identified.  Identifying one of the Woodstock babies would require the sharp skills and diligent efforts of a trained investigator.

When two lovers, one of them being a pregnant 19-year old Caroline Wolf, and their friends attend Woodstock, a drug-induced high led to the birth of a child who would disappear.  Decades later, Caroline's other child is ill and in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.  Caroline reaches out to Chase, a retired Police officer from Detroit PD.  Chase has a never-give-up attitude, the perfect candidate to find Caroline's lost Woodstock baby.  

The problem was that Caroline wasn't exactly sure the baby was still alive, and didn't know where to suggest Chase begin looking.  Using his investigative skills, Chase's leads take him into Saline, Michigan, a city gripped in the clutches of a corrupt Hannigan family.

What would Chase uncover?  Would he find the baby? Would good prevail over evil?  Read the book to find out!

LIKES: The author, Steve Hagood, is a Michigan native who decided to write the setting of his book in his hometown of Saline. Being familiar with that city myself, I was excited to follow the story around town in my mind.  I saw clearly the buildings, roads, and turns as he described them, and I even imagined where certain crimes had taken place -- even though he didn't suggest exactly where they occurred.

The book contains only one story line, which makes for a quick, easy, and entertaining read.  (In fact, I completed the book in two sittings.) The chapters are short (typically 2 or 3 pages), and he keeps readers turning to the next chapter. I like this because many cookie-cutter books have two or three story lines, one of which is usually just a "filler" plot to make a book a little thicker so publishers can bump up the prices. Being an independent book, however, there was no need for unnecessary fluff.

Steve is a gifted writer whose scene and character descriptions provide just enough detail to paint a mental picture, yet not so much that bogs a reader down.  He writes with wit and real-world humor that caused me to laugh aloud a number of times.

I smiled when I reached the end, and I said to myself, "Well done, Steve".  While there was no major twist to the story, I was pleasantly surprised how one relatively minor character came into play at the end of the book.  I couldn't help but think Steve's was a brilliant conclusion.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

DISLIKES: Lower-budget publications tend to have a few editing flaws, and this one was one of them. There were several in this book, but none detracted from the plot.  However, I had to re-read a few sentences to think about what Steve intended to say in those particular instances. Because I know the author, I sent the list of necessary edits to him in case this book goes to additional printings.

RATING: If you're into investigative stories with creative wit, I think you'll be pleased with this book.  I think Steve is a talented writer who has a serious potential to be on a best-seller list one day if a big-name publisher will pick up on his work. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.  It was a fun page-turner, but in need of some edits.  The 155-page, soft-cover book retails for $9.95, and the Amazon Kindle edition retails for $4.99.  Please support an up-and-coming author by purchasing your copy today!

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge directly from the author in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review; all opinions are mine.

2.21.2015

"The Matheny Manifesto", by Mike Matheny, with Jerry B. Jenkins (book review)


When I recently watched the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs on television, I was stricken by the imposing figure who was the team’s head coach – Mike Matheny.  Every time the camera showed him, I couldn’t help but admire how he led his team – from the way he stood calmly and stoically in the dugout, to the manner in which he argued close calls.  I make no bones about it, I’m a Tiger baseball fan!  More than that, however, I’m a baseball fan as there are so many aspects of the game I enjoy.  Baseball is so much more than a sport of bat, ball, and glove.  And Matheny models character that youngsters (and oldsters alike) would be good to emulate. 

Matheny appears to live the class he preaches.  While fans can watch him in action in person and on television, now we can read about it in his new release, “The Matheny Manifesto”.  Here’s the gist: Prior to agreeing to coach a youth-league baseball team, Matheny wrote a letter to and for the parents of the boys on the team.  It became known as his manifesto.  The general synopsis was that parents need to keep quiet and trust the coaches to coach.  While explaining his coaching philosophy, Matheny lays out 8 keys to success: Leadership, Confidence, Teamwork, Faith, Class, Character, Toughness, & Humility.

“The Matheny Manifesto” is not just another hoo-rah book spouting various leadership principles supposedly valued by some high-paid, upper-class, successful individual.  Instead, it is a short, easy, leadership primer that highly encourages one central theme: Class!  Class is weaved into each of the keys to success.  Win, lose, or draw, in order to teach youngsters class, we must be adults who model class. Even if you’re not a baseball coach or fan, the principles laid out in the book apply to all arenas of life.

DISLIKES: I fully recognize Matheny didn’t intend for this book to be about him.  It’s about his philosophy of success.  However, high-profile figures have the ability to espouse their philosophies in books people will buy because we look up to these individuals.  That said, there is not one picture in the book…and no, I’m not like a 4th grader who chooses books based upon the number of pictures it contains in order to make it a quicker read.  Like I said, I’m a baseball fan, so I would have liked (even expected) to see some pictures from Matheny’s high-school-to-the-pro’s playing days.  Especially for the outrageous price being asked for this small 221-page book ($24 USD), I would hope it would contain a few glossy pictures.  That being the case, I think the pricing will be the main discourages from people buying this book…and it’s unfortunate because the book is so well-written, containing much encouragement!

RATING: 4 stars out of 5


DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.