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Book Review: Nearing Home by Billy Graham

I was interested in reading what will probably be Billy Graham’s last book, Nearing Home. The subtitle, “Life, Faith, and Finishing Well” is an apt one. This is not a book of theology, but a book of wisdom, written by a faithful servant of God who is facing the debilitating effects of advanced age with honesty and grace.

Although organized into ten chapters, the book takes a meandering course, as if you were sitting down next to Graham and he was relaying his thoughts informally to you. There are passages of scripture exposition, and some just practical advice (like the importance of a will), but the bulk of the book is simple wisdom about the realities, physical and spiritual, of aging and how to deal with them.

Over and over he circles back to several key themes: the importance of coming to peace with the limitations and realities of aging, of continuing to minister to and impact others around you, and of keeping Christ the foundation of your life. Scattered throughout the book are nuggets like:

“What testimony are you passing on to others following you? Remembering what God has done for you will invigorate you in old age. Others are watching your actions and attitudes. Don’t diminish the impact you can make; pass on foundational truths of God’s word.”

“No matter who we are, retirement presents us with two choices. Either we can use it to indulge ourselves, or we can use it to make an impact on the lives of others. In other words, the choice we face is between empty self-indulgence and meaningful activity.”

“Life is seldom easy as we grow older, but old age has its special joys– the joy of time with family and friends, the joy of freedom from responsibilities we once had, and the joy of savoring the little things we once overlooked. But most of all, as we learn to trust every day into His hands, the golden years can be a time of growing close to Christ. And that is life’s greatest joy.”

Although I am only 47, I found much in this book to reflect on and consider. It was a joy to read, & I heartily recommend it to anyone who is aged or is hoping to be someday.

New Book Published!

 

My Newest Book–

The Sunflower:

A Parable of Life

Once upon a time there was a sunflower seed…

…so begins a simple tale of trust & beauty that we can all relate to.  Often it is the simplest of ideas that can lead to profound shifts in our lives. Dr. Hollandsworth’s new inspirational gift book The Sunflower tells such a story, one that is well worth reading, pondering, and sharing with those you love.

Available in a free PDF to read, and in a beautifully illustrated full color softcover gift book.

Price is $6.99 from Amazon, or order direct from the publisher CreateSpace and use the coupon code CGXAP6SS to receive one dollar off the list price.

Book Review: Max on Life

Perspective. Wisdom. Guidance. They’re always welcome, and often sorely needed, in each of our lives.

And that’s exactly what Pastor Max Lucado delivers in his new book Max on Life— godly pastoral wisdom and counsel on 170 different topics. Questions that he has been asked over his decades of ministry, ranging from “How can I be sure of my salvation?” to “How can my husband and I agree on spending?”

The questions are grouped under seven topics: hope, hurt, help, him/her, home, haves/have-nots, and hereafter. Each question is succinctly answered in Lucado’s trademark straightforward style in a page or two. At the back of the book is a short addendum with some of his advice to aspiring writers as well.

What shines through each page is how pastoral these answers are. They are not the discourses of one theologian to another, nor are they simply feel-good self-help mantras. They are ordinary answers targeted to ordinary people, gentle, kind, soaked in Biblical wisdom, always looking to God’s love & grace. Even though you probably will think, “Yes, I knew that…” at each answer, Lucado’s way with words will cause you to pause, reflect, and see the truth just a bit more clearly.

I can see this book being used as a devotional, as a gift to a young believer, and as a resource when you need a starting point for counseling or encouraging a friend on a difficult issue. A fine addition to any Christian’s library.

Book Review: A Place of Healing


“Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty” is an apt subtitle for this book, for just like Jacob wrestled with God many centuries ago, Joni has been wrestling with God for decades, ever since she took that dive into a too shallow lake as a teenager and became a quadriplegic.

Joni doesn’t speak on suffering & healing as a lofty theologian, or as some shallow social commentator, but as a real woman who has walked through real suffering and pain for all her adult life.  Unlike many sufferers, however, she has developed a rock-solid conviction of both God’s love for her and God’s sovereignty over her quadriplegia. This fusion of personal experience with Biblical truth is what makes this book so powerful.

She starts the book with a quote by John Stott: “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” She then launches headlong into a discussion of the question of healing and God, both personally and theologically. Further chapters discuss the benefits of suffering, how the sufferer can bring God glory, regaining perspective, and the impact of suffering on the Kingdom of God.

The title of her final chapter is a phrase she has earnestly repeated over the years: “Thank you, God, for this wheelchair.” In it she opens her heart to say that she really is content, for contentment is “realizing that God has already given (me) everything that (I) need for my present happiness… If there were anything more that I needed, God would have given it to me.”

A Place of Healing is a rich treasure of wisdom & comfort to share with anyone who is struggling with any kind of suffering. Highly recommended.

Stuff Christians Like


“I laughed, I cried, I kissed ten bucks goodbye…”

Well, ok, that title isn’t 100% accurate— I actually only laughed through this book.

If you’re not familiar with Jon Acuff, he is a wildly popular blogger who has built a reputation out of being able to see what’s comical about this crazy business called evangelical Christianity.

Never sarcastic, never bitter, cynical or critical, but playfully and affectionately he pokes fun at all of our little idiosyncracies in dozens of short essays with titles like “Ranking Honeymoon Sex Slightly Higher than the Second Coming of Christ” “Watching R Rated Movies… But Only If They’re Violent” “Being Slightly Offended that the Pastor Has a Nicer Car Than You Do” “Feeling Slightly Disappointed When Someone Accepts Our Fake Offer of Generosity”…. ok, I could go on an on and on here, just like Jon does… this guy is scary good about mixing up social commentary, hip pop culture references, and humor in a no holds barred cage match of a book.

“Seriously, why would I hire a full-time youth minister when I can get a real working traffic light for only $378?”

“I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, but if I ever do, I want to be honest with you. I’m going to name-drop God.”

“Christianity needs to be more relevant… How can I witness to someone about the love of Christ if I can’t hang in a conversation about Family Guy?”

But what I liked most about the book is the last collection of essays, which were the “serious ones.” Jon proves that he thinks deeply and sincerely about what it means to walk with Christ in a fallen world. In the last essay of the book, he concludes that the message of Christianity is that we are sick, but we are loved, and that we must embrace both. And I think humor helps us to do that. So let’s be sick, and let’s be loved, and let’s have a few good laughs along the way.

Book Review: Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas

I think a Christian must have first said the words “guilty pleasure”— because sometimes we seem to be incapable of separating the two. Our understanding of the importance of fleeing sin, dying to ourselves, & focusing on God has often confused us of the place of pleasure in the life of a follower of Christ.

We seem to swing between the two extremes of rejecting any “earthly” thing that feels good or else embracing anything and everything under the justification that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

It seems that legitimate pleasure is a ground so tricky and full of land mines that few pastors or teachers will walk deeply into its territory. At most they seem to skim around it with some humorous quotes or iron clad rules.

Gary Thomas, however, does neither, plunging into the heart of the place of pleasure in the life of a Christian with a deep, thoughtful book filled with wisdom.

Well known as a thinker and writer who draws upon centuries of ancient and classic theology and philosophy throughout his books, Gary does the same here, carefully considering the topic from a variety of angles, from the place of pleasure in God’s creation and plan, its dangers and delights, how it fits into our love & devotion to God, and how it truly can be purely enjoyed in a holy life. He speaks to Christians who have tipped too far in both directions: to those who reject pleasure, he calls them to enjoy what God has given for them to enjoy as a way of strengthening their souls and their love for God. To those who have put pleasure above all else in their life, he calls them back to remember the Giver more than the gifts, and shows them a better way.

As with all of Thomas’ books, it is chock full of quotable insights. Here are a just a few of my favorites:

Nonbelievers are supernaturally thirsty because they do not know God, whom they were created to enjoy. Many believers are thirsty because they do not know how to enjoy God and the life He has given them.

It would be the height of folly, the triumph of arrogance, for me to assume I can do without what God has laid at my feet and blessed as good gifts from his gracious hand.

I walk with Christ because a life with Christ is a beautiful life, the most incredible journey I can imagine.

To the child of God, pleasure becomes the destination we reach when we walk the path of obedience.

All we can do is walk the road God lays out for us.

If you’ve ever wondered or ever struggled with the right way to feel pleasure in your life, you will love reading this book. (Just don’t feel guilty about enjoying it!)

For more information on the book click here to view it on Amazon.com.

Book Review: This Is Your Brain in Love

Dr. Henslin’s first book, This Is Your Brain on Joy, presented a good introduction to the physiology of some common biochemical disorders of the brain and steps to diagnose and treat them.  I was expecting this new book to be a helpful exploration of the physiology and biochemistry of love.

However, this book really isn’t much about the biochemistry of love at all, but is instead an uneven and disappointing mashup of various topics, some helpful, some confusing. There is a short first chapter which serves as a warm introduction to the concept of romantic love and its biochemistry.  Next is a chapter on sexuality and spirituality, which was a nice read but has really no connection to the rest of the book.

Suddenly, he launches into the main part of the book– talking about the five “love styles” which are trumpeted on the book’s cover but are really just a thinly retooled rehash of his first book— describing five basic types of brain pathology.  I was frankly confused— “wait, this is just talking about pathology, this isn’t about love at all”  ”what if my spouse and I don’t have any biochemical pathology, do I just skip the next 130 pages?” “where does personality style end and pathology begin?” “Is he implying that most people have deficient biochemistry that needs treating?”

He ends the book with another unrelated chapter titled “The Secret to Lasting Love” (short version: be kind, patient, honest, & forgiving), and then appendixes on brain-healthy eating, sexual addiction, brain scans, and hormone therapy for women.

Overall, the book has some helpful new information, but fell far short of my expectations.  Read his first book instead.

Book Review: L.O.V.E.

There’s no shortage of books on marriage: Amazon currently lists over 14,000 under the search term “marriage help.” And there’s no shortage of books by the married psychologist couple Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott: they have already written over a dozen.

So what does this book add that is useful? It is a good discussion of personality temperament psychology as it applies to marriage. Originating in ancient Greece, temperament theory poses that there are four basic flavors of personalities, that cause people to desire and react differently. In the ancient system, these were known as choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. Forty years ago then young Christian writer Tim LaHaye re-popularized this theory with a series of books including his classic Spirit Controlled Temperament. In the 1990s psychologist Gary Chapman repackaged the four temperaments concept in his popular marriage book Making Love Last Forever using the animal word pictures of lion, beaver, otter, & golden retriever.

In L.O.V.E, the same basic breakdown is used, but repackaged as “love styles” with the labels Leader, Optimist, Validator & Evaluator (that spells out L. O. V. E. in case you weren’t looking.) There are chapters that explain each of the four types, and then chapters on how to best relate to each of the four types in a relationship.

The material is well written and organized, and provides some useful insights both into yourself and your mate. Reading through L.O.V.E. I had some new “aha!” moments even though I have read other personality typing books in the past.

A few qualms: I didn’t appreciate that the four “styles” are presented as original, even though they are obviously based on previous typing systems. Second, I was bugged by the book’s repeated references to the extra cost online typing test that the Parrots’ have on their website. Lastly, except for a few generic Bible verses, this shouldn’t be considered a “Christian” book— there is no talk of grace, no talk of the role of the Spirit, no talk of God’s plan for marriage or the differing roles of husband and wife. Overall, however, L.O.V.E. is a good read that should be useful for any marriage.

Book Review: How People Change

It’s the unspoken elephant in the room: why aren’t professing Christians, by and large, any different than non-Christians? We often struggle and fail at the same sins, have the same divorce rates, and generally don’t stand out as being more kind or loving than devoted moral adherants of other religions— despite our theology that we have been “born again.” Ask many, including pastors, the question, and the reply often comes down to some variant of “they aren’t trying hard enough” or “they aren’t really saved after all.”

But the question behind the question is “So, how do people really change— how does a person who has become a child of God actually become radically more loving, more peaceful, more self-controlled, in a way that isn’t mere psychology and that can’t be explained or experienced by a non-Christian?”

Few people can give a robust, Biblical, detailed explanation to this fundamental question. Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp can, and do, in this wonderful book. They give us a truly Biblical & congruent theology of how people change, and show us a path to meaningful personal change in our own lives.

The first five chapters lay a foundation for what real Biblical life change is and isn’t– they talk about how easy it is to substitute external change like formalism and activism for true change of the heart. They lay out the crucial understanding of our marriage to Christ, and how God designed real change to take place in the context of community. There is a lot of rich thought provoking truth on every page of these foundation chapters.

Next, they move onto their central Biblical picture of how God has designed change: that of the tree. They explain chapter by chapter that the “heat” of living in a fallen world brings out fallen human responses of sin and evil “thorns.” But as we turn to the cross of Christ and His presence we gain the ability to bear beautiful fruit, new supernatural responses to the same “heat” that before would only produce thorns.

True “fruit” only comes from the nourishment that God provides, and we need to be able to recognize the thorns and the fallen nature behind them to be able to choose Christ instead. This book is a wonderful Biblical mirror to hold in front of your soul, to be able to see yourself, the good and the bad, and see the work of God within. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Jesus You Can’t Ignore

How do you handle people you disagree with?

An honest answer would be “it depends.” If it’s a trivial issue, then often you ignore it. Othertimes you negotiate, or acquiesce. We often hear that the wisest and most productive path is to find common ground, to engage, to dialogue, to fully understand the other person so that they will try to fully understand you.

But what do you do when the issue concerns God, concerns worldview or religion? Many Christians would say the path of gentle dialogue is not only the most productive but is certainly the most loving, considerate, and “Christian” approach.

But in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, John MacArthur literally asks, “What did Jesus do?” How did Christ actually interact with people and religious leaders who differed from Him? Did He choose dialogue, discourse, & common ground? How did Christ handle the touchy, thorny areas?

In The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, MacArthur examines the Biblical record carefully & exhaustively, & concludes that Christ did exactly the opposite: He chose bold confrontation of theological error; He went out of his way to expose hypocrisy; He deliberately provoked the wrath of leaders who would not acknowledge His truth claims.

This book is classic MacArthur: readable, well-structured, on-target, and full of sound Biblical exposition. However, I don’t think I enjoyed or benefited from it as much as some of his previous works, just because I didn’t need 200 pages to convince me that theological error can’t be molly-coddled. For most people, I think a single article would have been all they needed to read on this subject, but having an entire book that is solidly written is still a welcome addition to my library.