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Book Review | Jesus Loves You This I Know

 Summary

Sometimes you just need a reminder.

Gross and Harper provide an insightful, touching and sometimes raw reality for the reader to consider. There are some people, maybe even a lot of people, who do not know this simple truth. Craig Gross is the pastor of Strip Church and leader of XXXchurch.com, a ministry that reaches out to those engaged in the pornography industry. Jason Harper is the founder of The Extra Mile a non-profit organization.

The book provides various accounts of individuals that both Gross and Harper have interacted with in their ministries. The people range from those who were in church, to those who have left the church hurt or angry, to a prominent porn star, to those who think that they should not even be doing this kind of ministry. The exchanges are as varied as the personalities. The book is a series of narratives chronicling the history and effects of the relationships. Jesus Loves You This I Know is a quick read, but provides various opportunities to stop and consider your own engagement of the world “out there.”

My Thoughts

This book was a clear reminder that there are many more opportunities to reach outside of my comfort zone. And, I think that this is part of the problem. When did a person, someone created in the image of God, become another “opportunity” for evangelism? Relationships are at the heart of what it means to be a community on mission and a family of faith. This is the reason that Jesus Loves You This I Know is powerful. Gross and Harper remind us that God sent Jesus for people, for individuals, and not institutions. It does take a shift in thinking to see this. There are several examples of this throughout the book, but the one that stands out in my mind is the following one.

God loves and accepts people where they are, not where we think they should be. [135]

Many of us might read that and think that they are watering down the message, or that they are too open, or that they are not faithfully preaching what the Bible says. But, I have to ask, why do we tend to respond in this way to what is said here. Could it be that we would really like for God to agree with us about where such and such a person should be? That may be more the truth than many of us would care to admit.

Here is another example of what is wrong, or maybe, has been forgotten by those within the church. Look at this very perceptive comment.

Now the concept of living a sacrificial life that is attractive to the broken has largely been replaced with a religious exclusivity that has made people broken. [16, emphasis in original]

Think about that. What has been replaced? Is it not a clear and simple presentation of Jesus’ love for people who truly need it? The very thing that should be drawing others toward Jesus has become the reason that they are running from. Jesus loves you… but they do not know.

Jesus Loves You This I Know does not really offer a way for fixing what is wrong with the way the church may have gotten off track. It simply and poignantly paints a picture of what could be, of what should be.

I had a lot to think about after I read this book. I think you may as well.

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Book Review | “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account”

For reasons that I can not explain, I have, for as long as I can remember, had an interest in the events that led up to and made up World War II. I do not know what it is about that time in human history that captures my thoughts when it comes up in conversation or in my reading. I may be that the horrors that the descriptions and stories of depravity relate just defy possibility and comprehension. And yet, they can not be denied by a sensible person.

I finished reading the kindle version of “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account” by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli today and was left with several impressions. Amazon’s brief summary provides the following background to the role Dr. Nyiszli’s played at the infamous concentration camp.

A Jew and a medical doctor, the prisoner Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was spared death for a grimmer fate: to perform “scientific research” on his fellow inmates under the supervision of the man who became known as the infamous “Angel of Death”–Dr. Josef Mengele. Nyiszli was named Mengele’s personal research pathologist. In that capacity he also served as physician to the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners who worked exclusively in the crematoriums and were routinely executed after four months.

There were several thoughts and impressions that I was left with after reading Dr. Nyiszli’s account.

1.  The propensity of the human mind to deny what is plainly before them.

This was probably the one thought that emerged and that I found the most disturbing. How quickly many of those within the camp, both prisoner and captor alike, accepted the normalcy of the situation. This was the plight in which they found themselves and they were made to “make the best of it” in whatever way they could.

As I read the book, this really disturbed me. How could they make sense of this? In the end, they didn’t try to. The prisoners and the guards just took each day as the only day they needed to worry about. It is so difficult for me as I write this in the safety of my home, on my laptop to understand how life could descend into that kind of sinister routine.

2.  The ability of some within the human family to devalue another man’s worth.

As Dr. Nyiszli recounts the various individuals that were perpetrators of the crimes of Auschwitz an interesting picture occurs. The mental constitution of the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele and SS-Oberscharführer Eric Mußfeldt was such that they could disassociate their own humanity from that another’s. The philosophical and racially motivated logic that was used to justify the atrocities enacted against the Jews and other minority races across Europe astonishes the mind.

There are instances in Dr. Nyiszli’s retelling of the events that show that the human mind can not bear the strain of the dehumanization of others for long. But, the power of the will to continue in a course of action that is evil and despicable is almost as amazing as the effects of committing evil on another. The need to move the “traffic” (as the prisoners selected for murder were called) was unrelenting.

3.  The wide dichotomy of the human spirit to either see hope or despair in the same circumstances.

The third observation that I was left with was the way that people responded to circumstances in which they found themselves. Some people found a way to survive, to make it through each moment. Other’s succumb to the situation and gave up all hope of survival or rescue. The greatest revelation of this was that way that, not just hundreds, not just thousands, not just hundreds of thousands, but MILLIONS of people allowed themselves to be herded to their deaths. This is how Bruno Bettelheim records this notion in the forward.

Strange as it may sound, the unique feature of the extermination camps is not that the Germans exterminated millions of people–that this is possible has been accepted in our picture of man, though not for centuries has it happened on that scale, and perhaps never with such callousness. What was new, unique, terrifying, was that millions, like lemmings, marched themselves to their own death. This is what is incredible; this we must come to understand. (pg. 4)

How is a man’s mind and will so coerced and trained to obey without questioning? This is the hardest part of the story to process and understand. Over and over again, by the thousands each day men, women and children were gassed and cremated. The senselessness of the whole things is hard to comprehend.

Final thoughts

I finished reading the book and was left with a sense of sadness. Sadness because the human spirit may not be as strong as some may paint it to be. Sadness because the depth of evil to which one man can subject another is truly terrible. Sadness because if we are not careful we run the risk of forgetting the tragedies from the past and find ourselves in similar circumstances in the future.

I find Richard Seaver’s words from the introduction a fitting ending to this review.

Inevitably and inexorably, history reduces the personal to the impersonal, subsumes the individual into the collective, renders the immediate remote. Monuments and museums, however eloquent, can never truly or fully convey the experience itself. (pg. 5)

I commend the book as a powerful and disturbing retelling of the events that took place at Auschwitz during Dr. Nyiszli’s stay there. It is not light reading, so proceed with caution.

Book Review | Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

I was not even sure if I was going to enjoy Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, but it turned into a very good read. The storyline was easy to follow and I felt drawn into the conversation. The issues that are addressed are general enough to attract a wide range of readers. The book is short at 128 pages, but it reads a lot faster.

I have often wondered what a conversation with Jesus would look like. I think that the one characteristic of the book that stands out is the way the Jesus is portrayed. Jesus is always calm, always collected and in control of himself. Nothing flusters him. Nothing seems to distract him from his task of talking with and helping Nick Cominsky, the protagonist of the story. Continue reading Book Review | Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

Book Review | Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy

Book Cover: Jerry Falwell: His Life and LegacySometimes you read a biography because you want to know if what you believed about a person is true or not. This can also be a dangerous endeavor because the author’s perspective will color the light in which that person is seen. And with that reality comes the real possibility that your perception will be changed. This is definitely true with Jerry Falwell.

I was still relatively young when Falwell’s public life was winding down. At the same time his presence and influence could be felt in so many different facets of American culture. The evangelical community felt his influence because of the size of Thomas Road Baptist Church and the church’s influence in the trends that it set. The academic arena felt the challenge of a competing university that offered a liberal arts education, while maintaining a strong evangelical point of view. The political realm was forever changed because of the rise of the religious right and the formation of the Moral Majority. Jerry Falwell was very much a larger than life person, but that was not what motivated the man.

Falwell’s widow, Macel, lovingly and honestly provides the reader with an insider’s view of Who shaped the man and what made the man. The conviction of Falwell’s life was that God sent His son into the world to provide salvation to whoever believed. This was what led the young and inexperienced pastor of the newly formed Thomas Road to knock on one hundred doors a day, six days a week.  This was what motivated him to start radio and television ministries before the idea of preaching in these mediums became popular. This singular conviction was what drove Falwell to attempt things that the “normal” pastor would have thought foolish or ill-advised. But, that was exactly what appealed to Falwell, dreaming so big that only God could make it happen.

If anyone knew what made Falwell tick it was his wife. And yet in many ways the picture that is shaped by her recollections is not inflated or exaggerated. The difficulties and the heartaches are described and detailed as only she could have done. Seeing into the life of a man that was portrayed according to the most public facets of his life only creates a caricature of the whole man.

One event spoke to the devotion and intensity with which Falwell followed the leading and prompting of God. Liberty University was, and will possibly be, Falwell’s greatest achievement. The lengths to which he went to bolster its success is captured by a difficult time in the school’s history. While enrollment and growth was increasing, the school was carrying too much debt. This caused Liberty’s accreditation to be jeopardized.  So what does Falwell do? He fasts for forty days, calling upon God for a financial miracle. While this may sound extreme, Falwell did this twice within a eight month period. A liquid only fast, twice in one year. The miracle came. Falwell’s faith was vindicated and the university was spared.

I found myself moved by the faith of a man that many portrayed as close-minded, bigoted and extreme. I am glad that I read this book and would recommend it to you as a testimony of what God can to in a man and women that become single-minded in their trust and devotion to God. On multiple occasions my heart was touched to tears. Not so much because the man was great, but because God was great in this humble servant. I was convicted and challenged to surrender, not just more of myself, but all of myself to the will and work of God.