Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grace is Enough

by Willie Aames and Maylo Upton-Aames
B & H Books, 2007

In alternating chapters, Willie and his wife, Maylo, share the stories of their growing-up years, their Hollywood lives, their meeting, epiphany of faith, and subsequent marriage. At first, it's a bit confusing trying to keep track of all the relatives, but this smooths out as the book progresses.

Willie and Maylo both experienced a fair amount of "freedom" during their youth and young adult lives, and also more than their share of personal suffering. Both became deeply involved in drugs and alcohol, dabbled in (oc)cultic practices, and Maylo even lived on the streets at one point. It's amazing that either one came out of their situation as well as they did.

The last section of the book deals with their coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, an encounter that transformed and informed their lives thereafter. Willie talks briefly about his stint as Bibleman (a DVD series my son still enjoys) and the couple discusses their financial difficulties and disappointments (being a Christian doesn't make your problems all magically go away).

If the book is reprinted, it will need a postscript. Just a year after it was published, Willie and Maylo went their separate ways, Willie "fell off the wagon", attempted suicide, and declared bankruptcy. A very sad part of a story that I hope will yet have a happy ending.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective

by Andy Andrews
Thomas Nelson, 2009

LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez says, "This is the best book I have ever read in my life." While I can't agree with that, I do affirm that the book is well worth reading.

Confused initially as to whether it was fact or fiction - it seemed too fantastic to be true - I consulted the CIP (cataloguing-in-publication) information at the front and ascertained that it's shelved in the library's "philosophy" section. Upon discovery that one of the author's other books is considered allegorical, I determined that this title also falls into that category.

Readers who enjoyed the Touched by an Angel television series will very much enjoy The Noticer, the story of a man named Jones, who shows up at critical moments in people's lives and helps them get the perspective and wisdom they need in order to make informed decisions and choices. He stops short of saying, "God loves you," but you sense that he means that just the same.

Very much in the allegorical style of Spencer Johnson's One-Minute and Who Moved My Cheese? books, and with the emotional feel of a Richard Paul Evans novel, Andrews combines a captivating story with important ideas about living effectively. Can be read quickly for plot, then read again slowly for life application. Comes with a Reader's Guide to enhance one's experience of the book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

by Richard Stearns
Thomas Nelson, 2009
(includes a study guide)

Richard Stearns is the current president of World Vision U.S, a Christian non-profit organization. He did not seek this position, but accepted it reluctantly as God's will for his life, after much objection and delay. Since joining the charity in 1999, he has seen and experienced much, and was encouraged to write this book to people of faith in order to communicate a message of vital importance.

So, what does he want to say to us? What 'hole' does he refer to? The cover of the book gives us some idea by posing the question, "What does God expect of us?" The answer he found "changed [his] life and might just change the world". His basic assertion is that Christians, -particularly those of us living in the west - have accepted a partial gospel, and that we need to instead embrace the "whole" gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel remembers Jesus' concern and compassion for the poor, the sick and infirm, the widowed and orphaned, the disenfranchised and distressed. It is not insular and tight-fisted, but reaches out beyond four walls, with the time, talent, and treasure that God has entrusted us with. God does not bless us so that we might enjoy, but so that we might in turn bless others and, in so doing, glorify Him.

The Hole in Our Gospel challenges the reader with the realities that exist in our world today. In many parts, AIDS is taking a huge toll, clean water is lacking, people are suffering and dying needlessly. Stearns provides information, statistics, and compelling stories to open our eyes, and uses Scripture effectively to remind us of what Jesus had to say about our responsibility to serve and help others. He argues that the western Church has become too comfortable, apathetic, and self-serving, and rebukes us individually and collectively for neglecting a significant part of the gospel of Christ. Ultimately, he challenges the reader to ask, "What am I going to do now?" We cannot claim a lack of awareness, access, or ability as generations before us may have been able to do. Therefore, we must do what we can do. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

It is a disturbing fact that Christians are no longer viewed favourably in North America. Nonbelievers look at us and see a disconnect between how Jesus lived and what motivated Him and how we are living and what compels us. "God's name is defiled when His people willingly and apathetically accept the status quo, lacking the vision to lift up God's holiness, goodness and justice in a crumbling world," says Stearns. He encourages us to capture the vision of rebuilding what is broken and lifting up God's righteousness. "If each child of God does his or her doable part, then collectively we can set aright a topsy-turvy world."

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Jesus asked. God doesn't expect you to act alone in your own strength, but provides what you need in order to get the job done - all He needs is your willing heart.

Stearns' book met me at the right time in my life. My heart is willing to follow up with action, so that with Mother Theresa I might say, "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world." If you need a push to be able to say the same thing, read this book, think deeply about what it says, then do.

Note: at the author's request, all royalties due the author will go to benefit World Vision's work with children in need.