Sunday, May 17, 2015

Faraway



Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer

We grimace at the sight of Louis CK’s recent comedic interaction with child molestation on SNL because know deep down inside that this is nothing to laugh about.  In a new book by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer tell the story of Kevin’s journey through adolescence, trying to find out his orientation as a gay teen living in St. Louis.  He met a man who he thought he could trust, but things turned out to be a nightmare.  Instead of guiding him in the right path, Ray pushed him into a life of sex trafficking, whereby he sent young Kevin to homes in St. Louis to meet with older men.  The story is a sad tale of the kind of thing that can happen right under our noses if we aren’t careful to become aware of such things.

The thing that is striking in the book is how Kevin befriends Stevie and Squirrel and he sees how a friendship should work, even in the hellish circumstances they were in.  The authors write, “I realize now, of course, that the day I had just experienced should not be a day experienced by any kid.  There was nothing normal about it.  But, for some reason, I felt at home with Stevie and Squirrel (43).”  Stevie didn’t have a home but stayed at Sam on many days, and Squirrel was also all around the town.  These three shared times at Forest Park, at the zoo, even at the Muny as a way to stick together.  And yet, they also shared each other.  The thing that struck was that Kevin felt a tinge a guilt about his actions, even remembering in church the lector quoting Romans 1 about unnatural and natural relations, but not enough guilt to make him stop.

The disgusting nature of the events in Kevin’s life come to the forefront as he is forced within an inch of his life to have sex with a boy while being filmed.  The abuser told Ray that he could use the boy again next time, a word that is appropriate for such repulsive activities.  Yet, this is not the end of Kevin’s story, for as he tells in the chapter on hope, he became an ELCA minister, eventually dealing with his own past through psychiatry in Hawaii.  Kevin puts the blame for his past on every institution that sought to denounce and ridicule gay teens, from the church to the schools and families. 

Thanks to Two Harbors and Speak Easy for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression



Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine

Downtrodden, long-faced, we have a penchant for the sorrowful in our culture.  Many of our congregants and even our pastors suffer from one form of depression or another.  What do we do with a culture that is so experienced in the lows and highs of depression, yet has no definitive way to deal with such a condition?  Fellow sufferer and pastor Zack Eswine immensely helps us as he looks at depression from a unique perspective; one which focuses on the life of Charles Spurgeon and how he dealt with a very debilitating form of depression.

Zack gives us a glimpse in the goal of his book as he writes about Spurgeon, “The fact that such a prominent Christian pastor struggled with depression and talked so openly about it invites us to friendship with a fellow sufferer. As this pastor and preacher grappled with faith and doubt, suffering and hope, we gained a companion on the journey. In his story we can begin to find our own. What he found of Jesus in the darkness can serve as a light for our own darkness (15).”  Spurgeon didn’t come out of his depressive states unscathed but by the grace of God he managed to hold onto to faith, or rather God continued to hold onto him.  In the larger story of Scripture, Charles found great resources to engage the struggles he faced.

Zack begins his book by looking at painful circumstances and how they relate to depression.  He writes, “Sometimes sadness in response to painful circumstance takes a dark turn. It morphs into something other than itself. Grief doesn’t end and the dark creature we call depression wakens from its lair (19).”  For many, sadness does not immediately go away or vanish but stays an indefinite time.  Those wanting to help people immersed in deep sadness often don’t have the words to say or say things that are hurtful or pious sounding with no respect for the sufferer.  Rather, Zack calls people to offer mercy, compassion, and acceptance to those walking down the path of deep sadness (21).

There are a whole host of metaphors in the Bible for depression.  Spurgeon capitalizes on these metaphors by using some of them in his sermon titles; “Even Charles’ sermon titles began to utilize the metaphors that Scripture offers for the sorrowing; titles such as “the frail leaf” (Job. 13:25)16 , the “wounded spirit” (Prov. 18:14, kjv), the “fainting soul” (Ps. 42:6)17 , and “the bruised reed” (Isa. 42:1-3). Jesus is “the man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). He does not quit us amid the agony of a fleshly thorn (2 Cor. 12:7) (52).”  The metaphors of sorrow in the Scriptures give words to our suffering and expression to our experience that often we cannot communicate otherwise.  Charles makes the point that this language is a gift from God, a true grace for those who suffer from depression. 

Even in the midst of such fits of depression, there is a very real sense that despair is our entire lot.  To this feeling or frame of mind, Zack sees the words of Spurgeon a real remedy, he writes, ““What was under Elijah when he fell down in that fainting fit under the juniper tree? Why, underneath were the everlasting arms (65).”  Grace goes deeper still, down all the way and at the bottom of such a steep drop is God Almighty. 

This is truly a tremendous book for those who suffer from depression.  Not only does this book gives us a glimpse of Spurgeon’s battles with depression, Zack gives us a window into many aspects of depression from medication to natural helps, from the healing comfort of the Scriptures to good friends.  My only criticism is that I wish the book were longer.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


A Nice Little Place on the North Side



A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

Social and political commentator George F. Will has written a splendid and entertaining book on the history and people surrounding Wrigley Field.  With glimpses into the lives of Philip Wrigley, Hack Wilson, and Scott Joplin, George outlines the way Wrigley Field shaped the imagination and psyche of so many luminaries.  Centering his narrative around the rise and fall of the Cubs, including many disastrous years, Will writes with an eye towards the way Wrigley shaped its many players and attendees.

George gets into a time when owner Philip Wrigley wanted to advertise for the sole purpose of bringing more women to the ballpark.  From a doggerel in a Chicago Paper,

“I saw a wounded baseball fan tottering down the street.
Encased in bandages and tape, wounded from head to feet,
And as I called the ambulance, I heard the poor guy say:
“I bought a seat in Wrigley Field, but it was ladies’ day (36).”

The goal for Philip Wrigley was to get as many women into the stands to not only boost sales but bring the whole family to the ballpark.  Will writes, “In 1930, the twelve ladies’ days drew 240,000 women…(35).”  Although the free or less admission price for women went away, Wrigley was invested in advertising to reach the masses for a product on the field that wasn’t always the best.

Under the ownership of Bill Veeck Jr. the beauty of Wrigley blossomed in its appearance.  Borrowing an idea from Perry field in Indianapolis, Veeck decided to plant ivy on the outfield to enhance the greenery of the ballpark.  Veeck made many changes during his tenure as owner of the Cubs, eventually buying up the White Sox as well.

Will gets into movement to integrate baseball with the coming of Jackie Robinson into baseball in the 40’s.  Will writes, “Why had so many people flocked to Wrigley Field to see their Cubs lose their fifth in a row?  Well, this was the arrival of Jackie Robinson, 46,000 fans crammed into Wrigley to see Jackie play ball (72),

You get a sense of the desperation and the torrid losing that the Cubs have endured through the years.  Yet, the book is also filled with years when the Cubs were in contention.  Will has written not so much a book about Wrigley particularly, but of the people who have shaped and influenced Wrigley and the Cubs.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Divine Progression of Grace




The Divine Progression of Grace by Bob Santos

We hear it repeated throughout the halls of church that men and women are saved by God’s grace, not by the efforts of their own hands, and yet there is more to grace than this.  Founder of Search for Me Ministries Bob Santos has written The Divine Progression to seek to draw out how grace is not only for salvation for all of the Christian life.  His book is winsome, full of wisdom, and careful in understanding a key biblical truth, namely that God’s grace is evident in God saving us and also in God sustaining us in this world as we work for good and His glory.

In seeking to understand grace for all of the Christian life, Bob focuses his efforts on grace as God’s unmerited favor, transformation grace, and empowering grace.  Each stage is part of the plan of God for believers to grow up in Christ.  Whereas God’s unmerited favor or grace is God drawing us to Himself in salvation, transformational grace is the life-blood of God that produces the fruit of the Spirit while giving us victory over sin.  Further, empowering grace is that grace that God gives us supernaturally to advance God’s kingdom (51).  Bob uses these last two kinds of graces differently, namely that transformational grace is formative, those avenues that we practice and develop that bring us along to maturity (prayer, fellowship, Bible reading, etc.).  But, empowering grace is those activities and actions that we could in no way come up with, for they are imbued with the supernatural work of God. 

Bob is careful to note that success in the Christian life cannot be divorced from fruitfulness.  What does he mean by fruitfulness?  Namely, that fruit that exhibits humility.  Further, true fruitfulness is a life given over to self-control, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and truth.  By abiding in Christ are able to nourish and produce the fruit that God is calling forth from our lives.  Yet, as Bob hints at, we cannot grow in grace without realizing that our motives stink without Christ’s divine influence upon our hearts.  I would add that it is the Spirit’s work of opening our eyes to sin and to repentance that helps us along the way to Christian maturity.

Lastly, Bob is right to call us to believe, stand on, and live out the gospel not just in our initial moment of salvation but every day.  Yielding to the Savior in salvation, realizing that our efforts only bring about ruin, and then living daily by the freedom that God provides in Christ is the remedy for our souls. 

I think many will benefit from reading this book, including those who need a reminder that God’s grace is for every day.


Thanks to SfMe Media and Book Crash for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Uncovering the Life of Jesus





Uncovering the Life of Jesus: Six encounters with Jesus from the Gospel of Luke by Rebecca Pippert

Rebecca has written a winsome and wise bible study on six encounters with Jesus in Luke’s gospel.  The bible study opens with a question that focuses the reader on the topic displayed in the passage.  Next, there is an outline of historical context that situates the student in the biblical world but also how this is seen today.  The passage is then listed alongside some inductive questions that flow straight from the text.  Near the end, there is quote that goes along with the major themes, sometimes from C.S. Lewis or other excellent writers. 

What I most enjoyed about this study is how Rebecca gave us a glimpse into the initial audience of the text in the first century.  She is careful to get as thinking about what the initial readers might have thought of these stories, including their perceptions about the religious leaders of the day, their astonishment at the healing ministry of Jesus, and the way Jesus turned their lives upside down.  Further, Rebecca is constantly pulling us back to see Jesus as bringing the hope of God in his concrete teaching and healing ministry. 

Also, the tone of the book is designed for those getting acquainted with Luke’s Gospel but also for those really seeking the truth about Jesus.  Rebecca raises questions concerning who Jesus is for her readers, including focusing on who the centurion thought Jesus was, and how seeing Jesus as fully divine and fully human changes the course of a person’s life.  Further, Rebecca combines the idea that what we believe really matters and has consequences for how we live in this world as Christians.  Lastly, Rebecca helps her readers really get into the text of the Bible, not someone else’s opinion but the Word of God itself, and this pays dividends in an eternal way.


Thanks to the good book company and Cross Focused Reviews for this bible study book in exchange for an honest review.