My New Year Un-Resolution

It’s January 1st. The time we all make resolutions for the coming year. I had many possibilities to choose from: lose some weight, exercise more, write more, worry less, and reaching out to some people I love were among my top considerations. But then it occurred to me not to make any resolutions at all. Why? Because resolutions are flawed. Just look at the definition of the word “resolve”:

As verb, to resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action, to make up one’s mind or to make a decision. As a noun it is a firm determination to do something.

While there’s nothing wrong with being determined or decisive, I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I need more than my own will. I need God’s power in my life. I’ve seen the limits of my own determination while God’s power has no limitations.

God’s word says we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13). The sad truth is that even though we can, most of us don’t. The larger context of that verse is about enduring hardships. If I’m being honest, I tend to face all challenges in my own strength. Doing this tends to make my obstacles even bigger because I inevitably reach the end of my strength.

Thus, my un-resolution is to rely on Christ more, if not for everything. In 2018, I want to experience Christ’s power and strength in my life.

In short, I want more of Him and less of me. I also wish the same for you.

Happy New Year! God bless you.

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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