Book Review of DNA of a Christian by Daren Wride

DNAHaving never heard of the author, Daren Wride, I loaded this book onto my kindle because it was offered for free on Amazon and it had a catchy title. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect too much. As the title suggests, Wride offers what he feels are the essential traits of a believing Christian, as follows:

 

  1. Lover of God
  2. Lover of People
  3. Holy
  4. Truth Based
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Persevering
  7. God-Dependent
  8. Focused on Eternity

Wride admits that this list is not exhaustive, however, he tried to create it in a way that includes all other possibilities. As might be expected, some traits were more challenging than others, however, as a whole this book serves as a great reminder that our faith should change the way we live our lives. I actually used this book as a teaching tool in our church covering a different trait each week. It served well for that purpose.

Book Review of “No God But One” by Nabeel Qureshi

nogodbutoneFrom the moment I read Nabeel Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I wanted to read more from him. His first book details his conversion from Islam to Christianity and essentially serves as his testimony. In this book, Qureshi offers the reasoning behind his conversion. In essence, he subjects the claims of Islam to the same scrutiny skeptics demand of Christianity and the Bible, however, he does so in a fair and heartfelt manner. In doing so, he details the debates he used to engage in with his Christian friends and compares the claims of Islam with the claims of Christianity. In scrutinizing his Islam, Qureshi eventually arrives at a place of spiritual bankruptcy and discovers that Christianity holds up well to scrutiny. This discovery is what leads him to sacrifice all he’s ever known for the conversion that is detailed in his first book.

When I learned of Qureshi’s passing last year, I immediately resolved to read this book. I am glad I did so. He writes with the authority of one who has lived both faiths and loves people from each religion. His writing is honest and his testimony is incredible. His voice is unique and is sure to inspire. I highly recommend his work to anyone who wants to learn more about Islam, especially as it compares to Christianity.

The Answer to Our National Heartache

Public debate always deepens after horrific events like the one that happened in Florida on February 14. After a shooter tragically took the lives of 17 individuals inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, much of the debate has revolved around gun control. Well-intended people on both sides of the debate argue over the means and methods necessary to save future lives and I fervently believe it is a debate that we must have in our country. Our children’s live are very much at stake and I believe we should explore every possibility to save them. However, it is not the gun debate that I woke up thinking about this morning.

This morning, as our country tries to understand and make sense out of events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, Florida, God is often at the center of discussion. The memes and comments I see most often on social media flow as follows:

“God, how could you let this happen in my school?”

“Child, I am not allowed in schools.”

The point is easily derived. In a country where God has been outlawed in our schools, we should expect horrific events to occur. Right? I fear, however, that the culture shift we have seen in the United States goes even deeper.

Consider, if you will, the very notion of outlawing God? How can we outlaw the Divine  Supreme being? The Almighty God is omnipresent. He exists in every time and every space at once. God can be manifest to every person and every situation as He sees fit (Isaiah 57:15, Psalm 33:13-14). We cannot control where and when God decides to make Himself known. He is God and we aren’t. In the early sixties, the Supreme Court made decisions that removed forced prayer and Bible readings from our school systems across the country. Prior to that time, communal prayers and Bible readings were common place in our schools. However, removing those prayers and those studies did not remove God. Why? Because the Supreme Court has no power over the Supreme Father. You cannot simply remove Him with the pounding of a gavel. Our God doesn’t change (James 1:17) and He has not changed since the sixties.

However, something has changed dramatically in the short 50+ years since the Supreme Court first ruled on prayer in schools. We have changed. Prior to the sixties, students in the public schools grew up watching their teachers and school leaders pay reverence to God. Even if they weren’t believers, they were exposed to people who were. Students were exposed to Scripture and were allowed to consider the truth of God’s Word without facing ridicule or derision. Such lessons left a mark on their personas and when they faced heartache, angst, and confusion they knew where to turn for answers. That influence has been removed from our school systems and what we now see is a troubled generation at a loss for what to do and where to turn. In two short generations we have begun to reap what we’ve sown.

The answer to our national heartache is not more or less guns. The solution is more Christ. Undoubtedly, some will read my words and call me a zealot or a “Bible thumper.” I’m okay with that. But mark my words, if we don’t figure out a way to bridge the divide between the secular and the sacred in our school systems we will continue to suffer heartache after heartache.

Know that I am not advocating “forced” prayer or “forced” Bible studies. I am convinced by God’s Word that He values the freedom of choice. However, we need to create environments where our young people are able to consider the Truth of God’s Word free from ridicule and mockery. These environments need to be fostered primarily in our homes and in our churches, but also in our schools.

Christians, please join me in praying for our young people. Pray for our school leaders. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for the brave men and women in law enforcement who have accepted the call to protect our children. Know that what happened in Florida can happen in any school district in any town in America. I believe we need to tighten our security wherever able and protect our kids as much as possible, however, we also need to arm our youth with something far more powerful than any weapon. We need to arm them with the truth of God’s Word.

“7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” Galatians 6:7 (NASB). 

 

 

Mini Book Review of “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller

AWOLThis is a book about a guy hiking the Appalachian Trail. It is not full of action or excitement. He didn’t have to battle any bears or mountain lions with his bare hands. Rather, he just walked. But his story is engaging. David Miller quit his job to begin his quest of hiking the entire trail and as I read I became invested in his adventure. I wanted him to succeed. It took me quite awhile to read as I often put it aside in favor of other books, but I always found myself returning to check on his progress. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are sure to find this book interesting and, to make it more enticing, I’m pretty sure I found it for free on the Kindle.

Book Review of “Christian Horror” by Mike Duran

DuranThis book serves as an apologetic for the “Christian-Horror” genre. On its surface, the term Christian-Horror may seem like an oxymoron, however, Duran makes compelling arguments for Christians to embrace the genre. The most logical argument for me is that Christians must first acknowledge the evil in the world to then present the Light. Duran spends a great deal of time examining the history of the horror genre and its close relation to Christianity. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Duran argues that many classic horror stories are deeply spiritual and ultimately redeeming in nature. Duran also points out that the Bible has much in common with these stories of redemption as it refuses to shy away from presenting evil in a way that ultimately glorifies God.

I appreciated that Duran was careful to differentiate this type of redemptive horror from the more senseless or grotesque examples of the genre. “Hack and slash” movies that needlessly glorify violence or entertainment that serves to romanticize evil ultimately have no redemptive qualities. Duran also points out the difference between Christian Horror and Naturalistic/Atheist Horror such as H.P. Lovecraft, “Christian horror is based on the God Who Is There while naturalistic horror is based on the God Who Isn’t” (p.82). Basically, there is enough variety within the “horror” genre that Christians need to be discerning as they engage it. Christians should be reminded that there are some examples of the genre that could be damaging to their spiritual walk.

This book is carefully written. Duran does an excellent job of evaluating the weight of Scripture on the subject. It is obvious he knows both Scripture and the horror genre. My only real complaint with his treatment of the subject is that Duran seems to rail a bit against evangelicals. Duran seems critical of evangelicals who have withdrawn from the horror genre in favor of whitewashed “Christian” media. I must admit there are some “whitewashed” stories I enjoy a great deal. Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous are among my favorite movies! Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I believe Dracula and Facing the Giants can both be enjoyed and are not mutually exclusive. However, literature and film are ultimately about entertainment. If a Christian chooses one over the other, it is exactly that, a choice. I see no reason to be critical of the Christian who avoids horror stories as a rule. I also see no reason to be critical of a Christian who enjoys a redemptive horror story provided they are engaging their discernment and are actually watching or reading a ‘redemptive’ story. A Christian who spends their Friday nights enjoying Faces of Death probably needs to be criticized!

Overall, I enjoyed this thought-provoking work. Duran has also written several books that I assume fall into the Christian/Redemptive Horror genre and I plan on trying one of them out soon. I recommend this read to any Christian who enjoys a good scary story and is looking for ways to be discerning as they choose their books or movies.

Book Review of Never Binge Again by Glenn Livingston, Ph.D.

neverbingeI typically don’t bother writing reviews for books I didn’t like. Heck, if I’m being honest, I typically don’t finish a book I don’t like. This is one of those instances. I picked up this book of because of the promise embedded in its title, “Never Binge Again.” As someone who has always struggled with maintaining a healthy diet, this book appealed to me. In this book, Livingston spends a great many pages explaining that we need to change the way we look at our inner binge eater. Rather than love the inner glutton that lives inside us, we need to develop an animosity toward it. He recommends that we call this inner self ‘the pig.’ In a sense, he is recommending that we personify our inner binge eater in a way that allows us to see it for what it really is – an enemy. The author offers this solution as an alternative to a self-love approach to healing.

Livingston’s approach may work for some people but, if I’m being honest, I thought it was all a little goofy. Livingston continued to lose me when he began attributing our inner binge eater to evolution and our “lizard brain” which is only concerned with self-satisfaction.

I’m glad this book was free for my kindle because I didn’t feel too bad when I quit reading it.

Mini Book Review of ‘The Spy With No Name’ by Jeff Maysh

spyThis short Kindle Single book can be read about an hour. It tells the true story of a Cold War era spy deeply embedded in Great Britain. The plot thickens however when the long lost mother of his assumed identity tracks him down in an attempt to orchestrate a ‘reunion’. There is something devastatingly sad about the lives that got tangled up in this single spy’s espionage. If this book lacks anything, it is that some of the details are lost in its brevity. I feel like it just scratched the surface of the story that could have been told.

Review of Jack Barsky’s “Deep Under Cover: My Secret Life & Tangled Allegiances As A KGB Spy in America”

BarskyI was fascinated by this book from the first moment I saw it. It was on a Christian shelf at Barnes & Noble, however, at first glance I couldn’t figure out why. It is the story of Jack Barsky; a deep, undercover KGB spy who was deployed to the United States during the Cold War as part of the Russians’s “illegals” program. I love Cold War stuff and thought I had lucked into a book that had been placed on the wrong shelf at the book store. I snatched it up.

Barsky grew up in post World War II East Germany under the thumb of the Soviet Union. He lived in an atheist, communist state and his personal ideoligies reflected his surroundings. It is no exaggeration to say that Barsky was a genius. He was recognized as an academic and became a brilliant professor of Chemistry and Math before he was recruited by the KGB. Once in the United States, Barsky actually graduated as a valedictorian with a degree in information technology.

In this book, Barsky details his life as a spy and the way his lifestyle ran roughshod over his personal life. But along the way he undergoes a remarkable transformation. From KGB spy to American. From communist to capitalist. From atheist to Christian. To borrow the book’s afterward, Barsky went from a devotee of the gospel of Marx and Lenin to a devotee to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is an incredible story and proves the notion that truth truly is more fascinating than fiction. I highly recommend this book.

Mini Review of “The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal” by David E. Hoffman

billionspyI’ve attempted reading fictional spy stories over the past couple of months and given up on each of them. This book, however, has taught me a powerful lesson. While I enjoy Cold War era history, it is a subject matter that proves the truth is far more fascinating than fiction. The Billion Dollar Spy is is a detailed account of the CIA’s handling of Adolf Tolkachev. Tolkachev spied for the United States deep under cover in Soviet Moscow and provided the United States with technology secrets that gave them a definitive advantage in aerial combat.

People who are looking for a “James Bond” like thriller will find the pace of this book slow. However, the appeal of this book isn’t in the action; rather, it is in the decisions the CIA made in handling their most valuable spy. Do they meet his demands or risk making him unhappy? Should they attempt to sneak him and his family of the Soviet Union? What techiniques should they use to keep his presence secret from the Russians? I found this all very interesting!

If you are interested in the Cold War, you need to learn about Adolf Tolkachev. His story is incredible and the United States owes him a debt of gratitude for the risks he took.Mini

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer.