Category Archives: Autobiography

Book Review: Craving Grace by Lisa Velthouse

Craving Grace chronicles the real-life journey of one woman as she struggles with balancing the scriptural expectations for holy living with the promise of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Author Lisa Velthouse composes this memoir to share her story of  “faith, failure, and [her] search for sweetness.”  While I never even heard of the book, some of you may recognize her name as the author of Saving My First Kiss – a book she wrote vowing that she would never kiss a man until she got engaged.  As Velthouse travels through her life she comes to the realization that it is her belief in God and how he loves her (or doesn’t love her) that impacts everything she is and does.  Velthouse writes about 1/3 of the way into the book:

“[T]here have been – there are still – times when I don’t feel convinced he can be trusted for another tuft [of grass – referring to the idea that the Lord is our shepherd] or for what seems like the right one….I had all but stopped asking God for things, even small things that had a chance of being important to me.  I assumed he would rather teach me another hard lesson than disk me up some asked-for happiness or relief.  I had become afraid to pray my most weighty and meaningful requests, out of ear that God might deny them instantly, for sport.

“My only fallback plan was to…keep trying to be extra good.  I hoped my obedience and good behavior would compel God to send me some of the favor I had been asking for.  The problem with this fallback plan, however, was that it was held together by two assumptions: I’m deserving and God isn’t loving.”

While at times her struggles to me seemed simplistic and her expectations unrealistic, I also recognized myself while reading the book that it was my own sense of self-righteousness that was causing me to judge her attempts at holiness as being that way.  In all honesty, reading the book reminded me that holiness is much than what we don’t do but also what we do do.  Later in the book Velthouse identifies her own struggles and failures with that of Peter in the Gospels, and this one struck a chord with me:

“Here [is Peter], a man who only days earlier had with confidence and maybe cockiness put stock in his own ability to follow Jesus boldly.  “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never.”  There were perhaps, valid reasons for Peter to believe he could pull that off – he had already given up his career and left his family to follow Christ around the countryside for who knows how long – probably years.  He had once gone out on a limb and had, in fact of all the other disciples, dared to say that Jesus was the Son of God.  On top of that, he had attempted to walk on water and for a short time had even managed it.  His discipleship to that point had demonstrated gall and a fierce tenacity, no doubt.  Even so, in a few gray moments before dawn, he found he was still fundamentally lacking and wrong…Peter couldn’t keep even one denial down his throat.

“I tend to look at myself and think, Good too.  Good at following God more than most other folks.  Good at holding my tongue for the most part.  Good at being an example, especially when there’s a stage to stand on…Good at not needing forgiveness most days.  Good at making up for my flaws and foibles….It is a story cut from the same stone as Peter’s “I will never,” and somewhere there is a rooster about to crow…

“Par of the message of Christ’s death, God’s sacrificing his own Son for humanity, is that even at our best and brightest, at our most spot-on and well-intentioned, we are incapable of being the people we would need to be in order to get to God.  So I am more than just a person who sins; I am a sinful person.  On my own I am fundamentally, unchangeably full of sin, no matter how good I try to get.  My only hope for a future apart fro my sin is to accept the one gift I can never deserve: Christ’s sacrifice.”

As with most people I know (including me) who struggle with this big concept of living by the grace of God, Velthouse found that once she discovered grace she began to abuse it, in a sense.  But then she realized, correctly, that our response to God’s grace is not sinning more but trusting more.  She writes of her rebellious stage, “The phase didn’t last long…Over time I discovered that reveling in God’s grace didn’t necessarily require emphasizing how crude and irresponsible I could be.  When the dust settled, I returned to careful behavior, to pursuing obedience as best as I could.”

Overall this book was a pleasant read, though my over-all disappointment with the book is that it spent more space talking about life before her discovery of living in God’s grace and not much about what that discovery meant as she lived it out day-to-day.  If you’re looking to read the journey one of your sisters in Christ makes as she discovers – truly discovers – God’s grace, this book is worth your time.  Don’t look to it for any radical insights or revelations – but be careful as you read it, because you may find it is like looking into a mirror and seeing yourself.  I’ll give it 3.5 stars.

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Book Review: Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella

If you want to read a book that falls into the category of “I can’t put this one down” then add Now I Walk on Death Row to your summer reading list.  Wow!  How do I summarize this one?  It was, truly, one of those books that once I started to read it I couldn’t put it down.  This is the true-life story of Dale Recinella, a Wall Street finance lawyer, who decides to ask the question, “Does Jesus really mean what he says?”  The answer, he concludes, leads to a transformation in his life that can only be explained as miraculous.  Over time he leaves his work as a finance lawyer and enters the full-time ministry (volunteer, ministry, I might add, not paid ministry) serving “the least of these”.  Mr. Recinella begins by serving the homeless and down-and-out in the inner city where he lives, then transitions to serving AIDS patients, then works with men in prison, and eventually ends up as a volunteer chaplain ministering to the inmates on Florida’s death row.  It is a remarkable journey – one that is a model of what it looks like to “walk by faith and not by sight”.  This book at times made me laugh, cry, and even get angry – it was everything a good book should be.  And to top it all off, it is a true story.  Now I Walk on Death Row challenged me – and will most likely challenge you – to examine if you’re really taking Jesus at his word and if you are truly living the life God has called you to live.  What was shocking (and humbling) as I read the story is not how bad life is for many people in this world, but how ignorant I am of the pain around me and how unwilling I can be to sacrifice my own self to share with them the good news of Jesus’ love.  This book receives 5/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

I have to say I was very excited to read this book.  Ian Cron wrote a book I reviewed earlier in the year entitled Chasing Francis, and I enjoyed his style thoroughly – I even gave the book a good review.  But the further I got into this book the more disappointed I became.

Perhaps it was my expectation from the title, but with “Jesus” as the first word I thought Jesus would play a bigger role in the book.  But I was sadly mistaken.  The book focused on the life of Ian as he grew up with an alcoholic father.  This is a story many people relate to and many books are written about, though what sets it apart for Ian is that his father works on-and-off for the CIA.  But Jesus?  He figures as a minor role in the story at best (let’s be honest – after reading the book I think his Nanny may have had a bigger influence on him that Christ), quite different than what I expected.

The writing was whimsical and I found myself laughing so hard in spots I cried, and if I was reading just any old autobiography of any person who was not claiming to be a Christian and who didn’t include the word “Jesus” in the title I would have given this book 5/5 stars – it was that enjoyable to read.  But I was looking for more spiritual insight, more discussion regarding how Ian found Christ and how that experience changed – neigh, transformed – his life.  But what I experienced were some passing references to Christ.  It gave me a greater understanding of what it must have been like to live with an alcoholic, spy father, but it in no way drew me closer to the cross.

So, regrettably, I have to give this book only 1/5 stars.

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Book Review: What Good is God? by Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors because he tackles the questions most others are afraid to even talk about – and he does it in a raw and honest way.  Yancey pulls no punches in his struggles and is not afraid to answer with “I don’t know” if that’s really the case.  What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters takes no detours from this style, and it does not disappoint.  Yancey asks some big questions and offers some great answers.

The book chronicles 10 trips Yancey has taken over the years to address and interact with people going through terrible trials: victims of the Virgina Tech massacre, a trip to post-apartheid South Africa, and a trip to Mumbai, India during the terrorist attacks there in 2008.  Most people look at tragedies such as these and ask, “Where is God in all of this?”  Yancey asks the same question – and then answers it.  He finds the good in what appears to be evil.  Scripture tells us that “My ways are not your ways”, and that God is in control, yet at chaotic times in this world it is hard to believe.  Yancey doesn’t try to explain away these evil events with simplistic answers – instead, he acknowledges the evil and then searches for good that comes out of it: the churches and Christians who minister to those in need.  God is present in our world, as is evil, and we need to remember that this world is still under the realm of the evil one.  Yancey never tries to explain away the hurt or disappointment of the people in the situations he chronicles.  Instead, he looks for others who are meeting their needs in the name of Jesus.

And in so doing, he challenges us to do the same.  This is by far one of the most convicting books I’ve read in a long time – and it has re-opened my eyes to the hurt around me as well as how God can use me to minister to the needs of the hurting.  If you are looking for a book to encourage your faith by helping you see God working in the lives of people across the world then this book is for you.  If you pick the book up thinking Yancey will answer the question “Where is God in all of this” by trying to explain away the evil around you, you will not find it here.  Evil is present – and Yancey admits that; what he does is look for (and find) God in spite of (or perhaps because of) that evil.  This is a definite 5/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Filed under Apologetics, Autobiography, Christian Living