Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Small to Ignore: Why Children are the Next Big Thing

by Dr. Wess Stafford,
Waterbrook Press, 2007

Over the years I’ve had a variety of experiences with children. I started off as one, as we all do; babysat them as a teenager; took children’s literature courses in library school; had two children of my own; and wrote the text for several as-yet-unpublished picture books. Yet I don’t think I ever really thought about children – except in the sense of enjoying them, engaging them through library programs, or parenting them to the best of my ability (with liberal doses of heavenly guidance, to be sure). That is, until I read Dr. Wess Stafford’s book, Too Small to Ignore: Why Children are the Next Big Thing. This book turned my beliefs about children upside-down.

Too Small to Ignore should be required reading by church leaders, children’s advocates, parents, and Christian adults. Stafford, the president of Compassion International, is a humble, yet passionate proponent for children around the world. It’s his goal in this book to prompt a paradigm shift in the rest of us, that we too would see the value and importance of children and be motivated to change our actions (more often thoughtless than malevolent – though sadly, the latter can also be true) toward them.

Stafford’s premise is that children matter to God. He supports this with a number of Scripture references. Of course, if children matter to God, they also matter to Satan, whose absolute hatred of the Almighty motivates him to attack that which is closest to God’s heart. Children have no power, no voice in this world, and so Stafford reminds us that, if we call ourselves believers, it is our duty to take up their cry, work for the betterment of their world, and protect them from preventable pain. And even if our own resources or mobility are limited, we can still do something for the children within our sphere. We can get down on their level, make eye contact and smile; we can offer a kind word, prophecy into their lives, or talk to them about Jesus.

This book contains far more than I can tell you in a few short paragraphs. I hope you will read it. Before you do, pray that God will use it to change your heart, your attitude, your thinking toward children. Pray that He will show you what to do with this newfound information. I truly believe that if we all acted on its principles, we could create a ripple effect that would change not only ourselves, but our church, our community, and the world, to make it a better place for “the least of these” on planet earth.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

by Francis Chan,
David C. Cook, 2008

In this perspective-changing life-changing book, Chan argues that Christians have a wrong view of God, and consequently, of ourselves. In the first three chapters, the reader comes to truly understand and appreciate that God is holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, fair and just. We are reminded that He wants us and that our time on earth is short. The final seven chapters warn against being spiritually lukewarm and serving God leftovers. Chan advises us of our high calling and purpose and urges the reader to surrender completely to the God who loves us. He gives powerful examples of those who have lived a radical, love-motivated life and exhorts us to follow suit.

Read this book once, then read it again with your highlighter in hand (make sure it's not a library copy!). Let its truths guide your life and make your time on earth time well spent, so that when you face your Heavenly Father, you will hear those longed-for words - "well done, good and faithful servant."

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Full House of Growing Pains: a Hollywood mother's journey...

by Barbara Cameron with Lissa Halls Johnson,
Bridge-Logos, 2006

Penned a couple of years before son Kirk's autobiography, this tells the story of Barbara Cameron, mother, wife, and entrepreneur.

Growing up in a loving but rather strict environment, Barb had self-esteem issues from a young age. She met her future husband when she was eighteen and married him within about a year. Several years older, Robert had a university education and a career as a teacher. He also had loads of confidence. It wasn't long before Barb's low self-regard plummeted even further.

Four children came along in quick succession and Barb was busy with all the duties of motherhood. When Kirk was nine years old, he and his siblings auditioned for one of the best Hollywood agents. The three youngest went on to have success in commercials and/or television at one time or another, and from the outside everything looked rosy. But eventually, terribly unhappy in her marriage, Barb surprised everyone by leaving her husband and beginning a new life on her own. Her story is largely about the events that led up to that decision and about what happened afterward.

Although Barb's book was written before his, I actually found it quite helpful to read Kirk's book first. Without having read Kirk's, I'm not sure I would have had the same interest in his mother.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in women's biography or books about women of faith.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Meet Mrs. Smith: my adventures with six kids, one rockstar husband, and a heart to fight poverty

by Anna Smith and Carolyn Johnson,
David C. Cook, 2011

This is the companion book to Delirious (see previous post), and tells the story of Anna Smith, wife to Martin, former lead singer of the Christian band. It's an interesting  read that describes what it was like to be along for the ride, building a family and keeping the home fires burning when the kingdom work of the music ministry grew bigger than the two of them. It gives a perspective that complements (and in some ways, differs from) the first book, and is good reading for anyone who wonders what it would be like to be married to a "rock star." The mother of six children, Anna is an incredible woman who surely has done better in her role than I could hope to have, had I been in a similar position. She sounds like someone who would make an excellent friend and this book is written as if she is sitting with you in her living room, sharing a chat and a cup of tea.

My review of this book was not influenced by the fact that I received it for free, courtesy of The B & B Media Group, Inc.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Delirious: My journey with the band, a growing family, and an army of historymakers

by Martin Smith and Craig Borlase,
David C. Cook, 2011

In this book Martin Smith, lead vocalist of the now-defunct group, Delirious?, wants to tell a story of God's grace, to show others how God "can take anyone and give them a life of faith and hope," and for people to recognize how Christian music needs to be in the mainstream so that everyone can hear the "sounds that can pry open the hardest of hearts, allowing people to know that God is God."

The stories of Martin Smith and Delirious? (yes, that's a deliberate question mark) are fascinating. Until I read this book, I hadn't realized that I'd actually listened to the group's music and sung their lyrics in congregational settings. I Could Sing of Your Love Forever; Lord, You Have My Heart; Shout to the North; and Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble? are just some of the songs that have been penned by its members over the years. I have to admit that on learning this, my preconceived opinion of the group went up several notches as it cut through my stereotype and perhaps disdain of the oxymoron "Christian rock band."

Delirious?, the book, is very well-written and describes how the band went from playing Sunday morning worship services in their local church, to playing different venues on weekends while maintaining "day jobs," to quitting their jobs and committing to life as full-time musicians. It tells how they managed to balance (with reasonable success) their work and family lives, and how they went from playing in intimate settings to playing for crowds numbering in the thousands, even fronting for the secular group Bon Jovi on its UK tour. The decision to disband after 17 years together was easy in some ways, difficult in others. Martin went on to found CompassionArt, a fundraising venture whose purpose is to help the most-poverty stricken people in the world. Today, his main roles are as husband to Anna, and father to their six children, as he waits on God's direction for the future.

I think this is an important book for anyone who is interested in music ministry. It troubles Martin to receive e-mails from people asking him how they can have a career as a worship leader, and reading this book would help people understand why such a question should trouble us as well. It's also a valuable book in terms of allowing the reader to see the hearts of a particular group of Christian song-writers and musicians. I was encouraged by what I read, and I think you will be too.

My review of this book was not influenced by the fact that I received it for free, courtesy of The B & B Media Group, Inc.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Still Growing: an Autobiography

by Kirk Cameron,
Regal, 2008

If you're familiar with the old television series, Growing Pains, you'll remember Kirk Cameron, who played likable goofball, Mike Seaver, during the show's seven-year run.

In Still Growing, Kirk shares his story of growing up in a pretty regular family, with three younger sisters and parents who loved and guided them well. He tells how he was introduced to the entertainment business at the age of 9 after his friend Adam Rich (Nicholas Bradford on Eight is Enough) put the Cameron family in touch with legendary Hollywood agent, Iris Burton. After learning the ropes of the audition process, Kirk landed several television commercials before being selected for his famous role on Growing Pains, which also starred Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller as main characters.

Solid family grounding coupled with Kirk's own personality kept him miraculously away from the traps that snare many young celebrities  - drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, run-ins with the law. At age 18, as he began contemplating the larger questions of life, he started dating the sister of a "very pretty girl on the set," and was invited to attend their church. After listening to several sermons and doing a lot of independent reading, Kirk made the decision to follow Christ. It was a decision he took seriously and it gave him a new lens through which to view his television character and Mike Seaver's choices. Often enough it caused problems with the writers and directors of the show, who were accustomed to Kirk's previous willingness to go with the flow.

Much was made of Kirk's conversion to Christianity, and his conversion has informed and transformed  his life. Kirk admits that he made some mistakes early on in his faith as he was figuring things out. His stance on moral issues and on roles he is willing to play have certainly cost him work. He quotes one famous scriptwriter as saying "for an actor in Hollywood, you sure picked the one unacceptable religion, didn't you?" (p. 200). That must be the understatement of the century, and one has to give Kirk a lot of credit for standing firm in an industry where pretty well everyone is willing to compromise and it is difficult to see the difference between actors who self-identify as "Christian" and those who do not.

I admired Kirk before I started reading this book, and I admire him even more now. Here is a worthwhile role model for those who wish to live out their Christian faith, whatever their chosen profession. Here is a book worth reading.