Book Review of Still Growing: An Autobiography by Kirk Cameron

stillgrowingKirk Cameron and I are the same age. When his TV show ‘Growing Pains’ was on the air, I was in the age demographic it appealed to and, I must admit, I was a pretty big fan. I can somewhat remember the controversy between Cameron, the writers on Growing Pains, and his fellow cast members when he accepted Christ and subsequently began objecting to some of the content, dialogue, and plots on the hit show. I mean, I remember it, but it’s not like it was that big a deal to me. I wasn’t a Christian at the time and, though I was a fan, it wasn’t like Darth Vader started going to church or anything – I mean, it was a pretty small glip on my radar.

Flash forward several years and it turns out I am still a fan of Kirk Cameron. Now that I’m a Christian I appreciate how outspoken he is regarding his faith. He is actively promoting the gospel and I have nothing but respect for that. In addition, His movie Fireproof is one that I’ve literally seen dozens of times and really enjoy. So when I picked up this book it was out of mild interest at best. I was kind of interested in his memoirs considering the Growing Pain years and looked forward to reading his take on what it was about the gospel that impacted him so much that it changed the trajectory of his career. This book delivered on each of those fronts.

It was interesting to read how Cameron became a teenaged heart throb and how that stardom impacted his everyday life. Cameron details every aspect of his career from bit parts in commercials to star of a hit TV show along with the events in his acting career after Growing Pains. But he also shares his testimony and how the gospel impacted that same life. He explains why he made the choices his made and what his reasoning was at the time. I enjoying seeing things from his perspective.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was that Cameron allowed the gospel to impact his life. How many times do we see people accept Christ yet refuse to allow His grace and mercy to change them. That can’t be said about Cameron. He was willing to answer God’s call even if it damaged his career. A career, by the way, that was successful by any definition of the word. Cameron trusted God with his career and, by all appearances, has been blessed for his faith.

I enjoyed this book. If you are a fan of Growing Pains and of Kirk Cameron, there is no doubt you will too.

Book Review of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

seekingNabeel Qureshi’s story is incredible. The first several chapters of Qureshi’s testimony details his life growing up in a devout Muslim family. The reader will learn about the Muslim faith, but perhaps more importantly, he will grow to genuinely like Qureshi’s Muslim family. Too often, we fail to see people of other faiths as individuals – or even as human, but Qureshi’s family is filled with good people. His parents were loving, responsible, and interesting. Amid this backdrop, Qureshi, an honor student, grew into an outspoken apologist for Islam.

What follows is essentially the story of Qureshi leaving his Muslim faith in favor of Christianity. It is a gripping account of a young man engaging the Quran and Muslim literature in a search for truth. There are two aspects of his story that really impacted me. First, was his Christian friend David. Despite their different faiths, the two forged a fast friendship. In that relationship, is a lesson for all wanna be Christian evangelists and apologists. David didn’t just share his faith with Nebeel, he befriended him. His evangelism came packaged in the form of a true and lasting friendship. The two men’s lives became intertwined with one another. For years, they debated and engaged one another’s faith. There’s a lesson in that for all of us when engaging others for the sake of the gospel.

Secondly, it was incredible to see the Bible through the eyes of Qureshi whose journey from Islam to Christianity wasn’t an easy one. It came at great cost:

“These are the costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life it- self, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife in paradise. It is no under- statement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.”

Qureshi stood to lose everything he loved for the sake of the gospel; his family, reputation, friends … yet the beauty Jesus trumped everything:

“I could not put the Bible down. I literally could not. It felt as if my heart would stop beating, perhaps implode, if I put it down. I ended up skipping the whole day of school, but I really had no choice in the matter. The Bible was my lifeline.”

To hear the words of someone encountering the truth of God’s Word for the first time touched me and reminded me why Scripture is so precious. It changes lives. Certainly, it changed Nabeel Qureshi’s life. His story is one you should read.

Book Review of Heart of Iron: My Journey from Transplant Patient to Ironman Triathlete by Kyle Garlett

heartI started reading this book expecting an inspirational story wrapped in the context of training for triathlons and, if I’m being honest, I got much more than expected. Kyle Garlett is a cancer survivor. His story details his first discovery of lymphoma as a high school student and the prolonged battle that followed. In spite of his battle with reoccurring cancer, Garlett managed to get a college degree and build a career for himself in sports television. I was over a hundred pages in when I realized there had been no mention of triathlons – instead, I found myself engaged in Garlett’s battle. I found myself rooting for him and stunned by the battle he fought. This story will certainly impress upon you the battle that cancer represents and you will learn to appreciate those who have fought that battle.

Garlett’s battle eventually led to a heart transplant. The treatment he received for cancer destroyed his own heart and necessitated a new one. Not only did Garlett fight that battle, he recovered. And yes, his story does eventually lead to competing in triathlons. His spirit to not only survive, but thrive, is one we can all learn from.

I highly recommend this book.

Mini Book Review of Inside the CIA by Ronald Kessler

CIAAlthough I love books about spying, espionage, and the CIA, this one was too bland for my tastes. Ronald Kessler is a journalist who was granted extraordinary access to the inter-workings of the CIA. Unfortunately, he writes like an outsider rather than an expert. He has no personal stories, anecdotes, or first-hand experiences. As a result, this book reads like a distant documentary. While it is chock-full of information, I found myself dreading reading it more and more with each page.

I gave up on it about 100 pages in.

Book Review of Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You by Steve Brown

3freeLet me preface this review by saying I loved this book, but I would not recommend it for everyone. Why? I think new or young Christians may be confused by the rhetoric employed by author Steve Brown. Make no mistake about it, Brown is presenting some solid doctrine. His book is is all about grace. He is an advocate of eternal security and writes to convince his audience that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross frees us from the cost of sin once and for all and there is nothing we can do in our own power to earn or lose salvation. My concern is not necessarily in Brown’s doctrine or theology, rather, it is in his presentation. Brown says and writes things that seem to be inflammatory. Consider his title – “Three Free Sins” – the connotation is that because Christ has paid for our sins, they cost us nothing and are “free.” While this is might true on the surface, anyone with a working knowledge of the gospel knows there is greater depth required to unpack and explore such an assertion. Brown has his reasons for packaging his message the way he does, and I believe they are noble reasons, but I fear his message may get lost in its packaging.

A surface reading of this book suggests Brown may be pushing the heresy of antinomianism on his readers. He’s not, but I get the feeling he enjoys being viewed as a heretic. As I read his words, though I was digging what he said, I kept asking myself why he seemed to be intentionally walking that fine line. The answer come’s when Brown answers the question, “Why don’t you write and teach in a normal way?” His answer is as follows: “I’ve tried to say it in a normal way. Nobody listens. So I decided to be … as outrageous as God was in his giving of himself for us.”

So there you have it. In a way, Brown is right. I only read his book because of the provocative title. However, while I appreciate and agree with his message, I fear his method may be confusing to some.

Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

Book Review of Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life by Jerry B. Jenkins

WritingSoulWhen a guy that has sold more than 70 million books writes a book about writing, aspiring writers should probably pay attention. While Tim Lahaye was the theological advisor for the Left Behind series of books, Jenkins was the guy who put pen to paper and made it happen. If I’m being honest, while I read most of the Left Behind books, I’m not nearly as rabid about them as most Christian readers. While I liked the plot, I felt some of the characters were a little wooden with dialogue to match. But Left Behind is only a drop in the bucket that is Jenkins’ writing portfolio. His book I Saul, a historical-fictional account of the Apostle Paul’s final imprisonment is very well written and represents the kind of fiction I would like to model my own writing after.

In Writing for the Soul, Jenkins gives readers a book that is part memoir (detailing his own life as a writer) and instructional guide that is packed with practical and useful advice. Jenkins addresses practical matters such as equipping your writing space, scheduling time to write, and pursuing publication while, at the same time, exploring matters such as motivation, pace, plotting, and tension. I would recommend this book for all writers, Christian or not.

Book Review of “The Long Run: A New York City Firefighter’s Triumphant Comeback from Crash Victim to Elite Athlete” by Matt Long

longrunI start off every year with the resolution to offer a mini review of every book I read in the upcoming year and, year after year, I fall short of that goal. Part of the problem is I read quite a bit, often juggling several books at a time, and often ditching a book as soon as I realize it’s not worth completing. If I fall behind a week or two in my reviews, it’s near impossible to catch back up. Recently, however, I finished Matt Long’s book The Long Run: A New York City Firefighter’s Triumphant Comeback from Crash Victim to Elite Athlete and felt the need to recommend it. Besides having the longest subtitle in literary history, Long’s book details one of the most heroic recoveries from severe injury imaginable.

Long is a firefighter who, among other things, responded to the tragedy that was 9/11. Though he would deny it, he is a hero. Being a hero is just part of who the guy is. The long-distance runner and triathlete has spent his career serving others. In 2005, however, it was Long who needed help. While cycling to work during a nasty transit strike, Long was literally ran over by a bus. In response to the transit strike, the bus was hired by a private company to haul employees into work. Apparently, the driver was unfamiliar with New York City streets – the end result was tragic.

I won’t detail Long’s injuries or recovery because you would be better off reading it in his own words. Suffice it to say, however, that his recovery involved dozens of surgeries and years of physical therapy. This guy’s story is incredible. Once I started the book I was unable to put it down and I have been unable to get it our of my mind since. His story is a testimony to the human spirit and is inspiring on every level.

Long didn’t just recover, rather, he once again became an endurance athlete. The man who had once qualified for the Boston Marathon and had his eyes set on a personal best in the Kona Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii had to learn how to walk again before he could run, but he did it.

I’m not an endurance athlete. Yes I run a little and yes I cycle a little, but my battle is more a fight against diabetes and excess weight than it is trying to set a personal best in a triathlon. Long routinely ran 20+ miles before his injury while my best so far is 5. But when I’m running and my legs are telling me I should quit, I can’t help by think of Matt Long. Even though no one would have blamed him, Long never quit. Despite excruciating pain, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. His example inspires me to take one more step when I don’t feel like it. For that, I am grateful.

Disclaimer: Long describes his injuries and recovery in graphic detail. If you have a weak stomach, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Review of Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir by Jennette Fulda

half-assedAfter being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes last year I’ve been on my own weight-loss journey of sorts. I’m down a little over fifty pounds since last year and recently joined Weight Watchers to help keep myself headed in the right direction. I found this book on Scribd and thought it might be inspirational. In reality, however, it really didn’t provide that much inspiration. The author was, however, likable and just funny enough to keep me from quitting part way through the book. It reads kind of like a blog and, if nothing else, does demonstrate it is possible to lose massive amounts of weight and maintain a positive and healthy attitude during the process. If you’re looking for a “how to” book, take note that this isn’t it. The author offers no recipes, exercise, or weight loss tips. She does bring honesty and a good sense of humor to the table. Readers should be warned that while the author is not profane, she does have a tendency to use some foul language at times.

Review of "Cycle of Lies" by Juliet Macur

cycleTitle: Cycle of Lies
Author: Juliet Macur

There was a time in my life when I was a card-carrying fanboy of Lance Armstrong. His heroics on and off the bicycle were a source of great inspiration for me. I must admit that I bought his story hook, line, and sinker. When the truth came out concerning his use of performance-enhancing drugs, along with the pervasiveness of such drugs in the pro cycling tour, I kind of quit following him and the sport all together. This book served to remind me why I no longer pay much attention to Lance. His sophisticated program of doping on the pro tour more closely resembled a mob ring than a training program. In some ways, Lance and the other riders were victims of a corrupt system that encouraged the use of performance enhancers. However, Armstrong’s bold-faced denials and attacks on the sport’s whistle-blowers blew any chance of sympathy on my part. I recommend this book for anyone interested in Armstrong or professional cycling. Be warned though that Lance and his buddies have a bad case of potty-mouths.