Book Review: A Second Look at the Savior

A Second Look at the Savior: Hearing His VoiceA Second Look at the Savior: Hearing His Voice by Byron Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purchased and read A SECOND LOOK AT THE SAVIOR: HEARING HIS VOICE because I have known and loved the author for many years. I have worked with him when I was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gulf Coast Bible Camp. During that time Byron became our first full time Director and Fund Raiser for the camp, a work he still engages. I have enjoyed long conversations with him under those tall pines and appreciate all that he does for the Lord and his beautiful family. Byron Smith is in my estimation a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and I wanted to read what he has written.

Especially so, since he was writing about taking a second look at our Savior … which we all need to do every day. I appreciated the emphasis on escaping the habit of approaching Scripture with the same presuppositions we always have, and seeking to open our eyes (and ears) to the Lord. We will never fully exhaust everything the Bible has to say about Jesus. Often we presume to know everything Jesus says and we fall into traps.

Often we become captain and navigators of our own destinies and then blame God for every raging storm we encounter.

The author faces very directly the truth that many things happen in life that confound us in our relationship with God. Whatever struggles you have with God, or even believing in God, I think you’ll find some things to think about in Second Look.

Questions should not be used as excuses to walk away from Jesus and Christianity. Instead they need to be asked, answered, and then allowed to change our lives.

Smith uses many episodes in the Bible to illustrate the principles he wants to communicate. These help us to see the humanity of biblical men and women rather than view them as simply stories. I think the major emphasis on the book is seeking God in the most difficult moments of your life, and not giving up. I especially enjoyed chapters of the book where Byron details his own personal struggles and faith experiences. I liked the section where he talked about going to Faulkner University (a private Christian college in Alabama) without knowing how on earth was going to pay for it. You’ll have to read the book to know how that was amazingly resolved.

My favorite chapters were the two written about Psalm 49:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that some of the thoughts expressed here are nothing less than profound.

This passage has so much depth to it. I’ve learned that I need to revisit it often when my heart has given out. … Even the strongest people will eventually ‘wear out.’

I appreciate that attitude because I’ve read too many authors who thought they had everything figured out and were ready to just tell the rest of us dummies how to live life. Byron gives all credit to God.

You can’t be still in the storm and find some addiction to distract you. You can’t be still and waste time feeling sorry for yourself and accuse God of abandoning you. … watch what strength is given when we wait upon the Lord.

Each chapter ends with a prayer that can be prayed, reflecting the thoughts of the chapter. The last two chapters tie in the contents of the book with the life of Jesus and an expression of how to seek and find salvation through faith in Christ.

There’s a lot of good in this book and I’m glad I read it. I want to be up front, though, so I won’t be accused of giving a cushy review and ignoring some issues. I haven’t asked Byron (and I won’t) if he hired a cold-hearted and thorough editor, but if he is moved to reprint the book that would be a good idea. This is the greatest danger (in my opinion) of self-publishing. It’s hard to read our own writing and find errors and cloudy areas. And it’s hard for people who love us to be unrelentingly specific with the red pen. I only mention this because I think any of my friends who read this book will take notice of the same things I did – and I’m no professional editor. I feel certain there are errors in this review! So that’s the reason a ‘cold-hearted’ editor is a writer’s best friend.

Even so, please don’t let that keep you from giving this book a chance. I think it would be a good book for a Sunday School class or Small Group to work through. There is a ‘Study Guide’ in the back of the book, although it functions more as a ‘Teacher’s Guide’. The ideas and suggestions in the ‘Study Guide’ give helps to those who are teaching both young and old, with a good variety of activities and questions.

Byron Smith (I have thus far avoided using his nickname, the only name I knew him by for a long time. You can thank me later, Byron.) suggests that this is the first in a trilogy of ‘Second Look’ books. I hope he keeps writing and I look forward to reading what he composes. I don’t know this but I’m sure he writes with the beauty of Gulf Coast Bible Camp in view … perhaps the lake in the center of the camp. I imagine that it is quiet except for the symphony of crickets and birds and other creatures of the forest that surrounds that place that is very special to my heart. I pray that when he writes his books he hears the voice of the Lord in the breeze that flows over what I have always considered to be Holy Ground.

To purchase, please visit the website HERE.

JD

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Book Review: A Light in the Darkness, Light of Loian

A Light in the Darkness, Light of LoianA Light in the Darkness, Light of Loian by Heather Sutherlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because I know someone who knows the author, I decided to read A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS. It is certainly not in the category of books I typically read, but I did enjoy it. It could be classified as Christian Fiction, but only in an allegorical sense. It would also classify as fantasy fiction, with ghostly figures, princes and kings, and mystical powers.

The story chronicles the development of Merrilyn from an orphaned girl into a powerful healer who has powers she did not know she had. One of the King’s sons has disappeared and his other son, Prince Justan, is charged with finding out what happened. Justan and Merrilyn grew up together and have a growing love interest. There is danger and intrigue as they battle the forces of darkness who are attempting to destroy Merrilyn because of her newfound abilities.

The reason I gave it a good rating was because the story was well written, enchanting, and engaging. The story moves along fairly rapidly but with enough detail that one is drawn into the imagery and begins to feel that we know the characters. As a 53 year old man, I would think that I’m not the core audience for a book such as this. But I suppose anyone can enjoy a good story. I think this would be a great story for a preteen through adult to read. It is free of profanity and graphic (or any) sexual content, which I appreciated.

I’d happily recommend it to a youngster who was looking for a good story and also to any adult who just enjoys a good story. This is the first in a series.

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Book Review: Food – A Love Story

Food: A Love StoryFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I tend to overload my reading with theology and devotional books. Occasionally I read through a fiction book. After reading Jim Gaffigan’s FOOD: A LOVE STORY I’m going to have to try to read more humor books.

Supposedly there are good fats and bad fats. I like to think of myself as a good fat. It helps my self-esteem when I look in the mirror.

Especially Jim Gaffigan. What I like about him both in writing and on stage is that his talk is not peppered with profanity (rarely) and graphic sexual content. He’s a dad and married to a devout Catholic and I think he really keeps his family in mind when he’s writing his material. They are there, present in all of his bits … and that tells me he’s not only a comic, but a husband and father who loves his family.

I struggled through my twenties and thirties, and then one day I looked in the mirror, saw my belly, and said, “I give up. It’s all over.” It wasn’t defeat as much as it was acceptance. I figured, I got a hot wife. If she leaves me for getting fat, that means she’s shallow. “Honey, do you think looks are important? No? Good. Now pass the gravy.

Another reason I enjoyed this book is that I’m as fanatical about food as Gaffigan is and his unabashed love affair with food had me laughing and agreeing all the way through.

These pompous responses are because no one admits they go to McDonald’s. McDonald’s sells roughly six billion burgers a day, and there are only three hundred million people in this country. I’m not a calculus teacher, but I figure some of these people are lying.

Yes, I believe we need to do a lot of serious reading but every once in a while it helps to just smile a little … enjoy an outright laugh … and realize the Scripture is true that laughter is good medicine.

I’d never want my last real meal to be a kale salad or a PowerBar.

I’m with Jim.

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Book Review: I Died Last Night

I Died Last NightI Died Last Night by John Orr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I DIED LAST NIGHT is a fictional account of a regular church member who dies and finds himself in an eternal state of torment. The descriptions of the experience in hell are quite detailed and graphic (if you’re squeamish, just move along to another book). Scripture references are supplied in case one might think that hell is not that bad, which would be a mistake. Following a quite miserable perusal of the kinds of thoughts one might have while being tormented by demons, the souls of those we hated in this life, and ultimately Satan himself, we are asked to examine our commitment to the Lord and ask ourselves the question of the title: Where would you be if you died last night? It appears to me that this book is not written for the non-Christian, but for the church member who has become lax in their commitment to Christ.

I’m not 100% sure what this book is supposed to do … reading other reviews and the conclusion itself I see the words “wake up call”. I do agree that many in the church need to be awakened to a greater level of faithfulness and love for the Lord. I’m not sure that when I read this book that’s what I get. I will allow that there might be some for whom a fear-driven religion will keep them on the straight and narrow. But in both the beginning and end of the book the author reminds us that only a few are going to make it without waking up in hell (and I assume the author counts himself among the few!).

Aside from reading it for myself, I don’t know that I would hand this book to anyone with the hopes of igniting a greater love for Christ in them. The two main culprits of the narrative that lead us to an afterlife in hell seem to be the false teachers who have led the lost person to believe something wrong and the idea those who lived under the illusion that we can just be a good person and that will be enough to save us.

To quote the departed theologian Jerry Clower, “I have made arrangements to miss hell.” I’m sure I don’t understand all there is to understand. I’m certain I fall short in performing the duties of Christianity at times (I added ‘at times’ to make myself feel better). I don’t doubt that in God’s hands in the afterlife I will realize that some of the things I thought I knew were totally wrong. But I don’t think any of those things will cause me to be lost, for the blood of Christ is a powerful cleanser and it continues to flow in my life. And, to me, that’s what’s missing in I DIED LAST NIGHT. God’s greatest desire is to save me, not to send me to torment. My largest impression from this little book is that if I don’t get my knowledge and deeds all squared away, too bad – off to hell I go.

If this book really does make someone ‘wake up’ in their Christianity or decide to repent of some practice they know does not please the Lord … or even begin doing some things they’ve been neglecting…well, then good. Yes, it made me squirm a bit (I’m certain that is an intention of the story), and that’s not all bad. But I do think if I give this book to someone who really struggles in daily life, they are more likely to give up than to persevere.

That’s because I’m not sure that grace has a place in this book. The preacher who was grace-full, writhes in the fire along with the main character. In fact the character asks him, “What happened to all your grace?” That, to me, was the most offensive thing I read in the book. I expect that Mr. Orr believes in grace. I don’t want to suggest he doesn’t.

I can see from the other reviews that it impacted some in a more positive way. Good. That wasn’t my experience. I did give it two stars for creative presentation of the experience of hell by the author and the graphic art by Stewart Yeakley that was, indeed, graphic. I also liked the cover art by Josh Feit and the general design of the book. Start2Finish books always have a professional appearance to them. I would not discount anything else written by John Orr, as he has a way with words and I’m sure he has a lot to offer should he dedicate himself to another volume.

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Book Review: The Five Times I Met Myself

The Five Times I Met MyselfThe Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Story Where We Can All Meet Ourselves

It took me a little while to warm up to this story but I am glad I stayed with it. Redemption is such a big word… and we often feel we are beyond it. What character Brock Matthews finds out is that putting the ‘code’ in place poses a remarkable power to set things right. But getting to that code….well, it’s quite an adventure.

The relationship between Brock Matthews and his brother, father, wife, son and even himself all are impacted in this story. If you have ever felt that you wish there was something you could change about your past that would impact your future, I think you will get a lot out of this book.

This book is Christian Fiction. The ‘Christian’ element is not so heavy handed that it sounds like a sermon. Well written in my opinion. I look forward to reading more from James L. Rubart.

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Book Review: Jesus and the Disinherited

I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but they blessed me in a huge way.

Jesus and the DisinheritedJesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An amazing book. I regret I did not read this as a younger man. The insights into the lives of the ‘disinherited’ and the life of Jesus were eye opening and challenging. The final chapter presented hope and a path. I wish it were required reading for every college freshman or even high school seniors.

As I look back through it I highlighted much of the book. I especially appreciated the viewpoint of Jesus as someone who could be viewed as one of the ‘disinherited’ … living an impoverished life under the rule of a foreign power that did not identify with his race. Sometimes in exalting the Son of God perspective we can lose sight of the man Jesus of Nazareth who lived in a particular setting and time with challenges that were enhanced by the powerful Roman establishment.

As I read this and considered what Mr. Thurman was presenting I wondered how this book could have been written today with the refugee crisis in mind? A lot to think about. The answer, as Thurman rests his case, is love as taught and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. But he doesn’t suggest it is easy or uncomplicated.

Very grateful to have spent time with this book and Im sure I will return to it.
JD

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