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Book Reviews

The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown.  Public Affairs. 307 pages. 2017

Many baseball fans will be aware of Rick Ankiel who was a top pitching prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals. In his rookie season at the age of 21, he started a playoff game for the Cardinals with great anticipation. His career had such promise. As a left-hander, he was being called the “next Sandy Koufax”. Then it happened. He writes that on a day when he asked his arm to be more special than ever, it deserted him. And for the next five years he chased the life he wanted, the one he believed he owed to himself, and the one he probably believed the world owed to him.
I was familiar with his story, but not the details that this honest book will give you. I came away with a new compassion for what he went through as he tried to understand what had happened to him and possible cures so that he could get back to being an elite pitcher with a great future. What happened to Ankiel is called “the Thing” because there’s no diagnosis and no cure. It is also called the monster, the yips and the phenomenon.
But there is much more to his story than what happened on the pitching mound in St. Louis on that fall afternoon.  He writes of his volatile father, who was often drunk, in trouble with the law and abusive to Ankiel’s mother. They were never married and he never acted as though they were, which Ankiel writes explains his half-sister— a whole other family—across town as he was growing up.
He writes about the nightmares, awake in the dead of night, waiting for his heart to settle, cursing the thing that would not leave him alone, not even in his sleep. He tried to drink and medicate those nights away. He tried to pitch them away in the minor leagues for the better part of four years. But four and a half years after “the pitch”, a pitch that even all that time later seemed so innocent, he retired at age twenty-five. His career was over almost before it had started, and yet he was not at all unhappy about it.  But within three hours of retiring as a pitcher, the Cardinals wanted him back – as an outfielder.
Ankiel returned to the major leagues as an outfielder on August 9, 2007, a game I remember watching. Incredibly, he hit a three-run home run in that game. Cardinal manager Tony La Russa stood by the dugout steps, applauding and smiling. Nobody could ever recall seeing that before. Years later, La Russa would recall it as one of the happiest days of his life. As a hitter, Ankiel was soon called “the Natural.”
Ankiel writes of Dr. Harvey Dorfman, a sports psychologist, who played a very important part of his life. They met in the spring of 2000, and Harvey became one of his best friends, in many ways replacing the real father he despised. Ankiel writes that Harvey saved careers, that he probably saved lives, or at least made them exceedingly more livable. He became what Ankiel had hoped for in a father and what his two boys should’ve had in a grandfather.
Ankiel retired for good after the summer of ’13, when the New York Mets released him. All in all, he played for six teams in six cities—St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, and finally New York. Seven years a pitcher, seven years not. He then took a job with the Washington Nationals as their Life Skills Coordinator.
He states that he has written this book about his story for his two sons so that when they are old enough and curious enough they will hear it from his perspective. The book does include a fair amount of adult language and is certainly hard to read at times. Ankiel’s story is sad, tragic and ultimately triumphant. He is a survivor; his life story would make a great movie.
Sadly, he does not speak of having any faith. One wonders how that would have helped him in his times of darkness.

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms by Tim Tebow. WaterBrook. 224 pages. 2016

Much has happened in Tim Tebow’s life since the publication of his 2011 best-selling book Through My Eyes. As someone who has a lot of respect for him and what he stands for and does through his foundation, I have followed closely the highs, and the mostly lows, of his NFL career, and have even had the opportunity to hear him speak live. I’ve looked forward to a follow-up book in which he writes about those experiences. It’s easy to write a book after winning championships, but how does a former Heisman Trophy winner respond to being traded after leading the Denver Broncos to the playoffs, and then being cut by three NFL teams, plus all of the mean-spirited criticism he has received.
This book is not an autobiography, but about the truth Tebow has discovered along the path of life’s storms. Throughout the book he includes several moving stories about some of the people he has been inspired by in life as well as through his foundation’s outreach program. He writes that what he has learned in the process is not to allow either the highs or the lows in life to determine who you are. He writes that who he is has nothing to do with wins or losses, applause, or negative criticism. It has to do with whose he is.
The first seven chapters of the book covers some of those lows he has experienced, and glimpses into his life that have not previously been shared publicly. He also shares the lessons he’s learned through that time, like what it means to stay grounded in the face of doubt, fear, and criticism; why others matter; and how our objective in life is not to be like everyone else. The concluding three chapters focus on how we can all impact others in our journey of faith and purpose.
He writes that when who you are is grounded in whose you are, you realize it doesn’t matter what life throws your way. He states that God has created us for a reason and purpose. When your identity is grounded in God, when you trust in Him, you become part of a bigger picture. He writes that with Jesus, you have everything. With Him you have what it takes to fulfill a purpose. He writes that though we may or may not know it in this life, there is a plan. We can doubt. We can question. We can wonder. But there always is a purpose.  Sometimes things happen for reasons we can’t explain, that don’t make sense, that seem unfair. If today you’re going through a tough time, know that it’s for a purpose.
He writes about “taking a stand” in life. He describes that as standing up for something or someone you believe in, and that it’s a way of life. We just need to find a need and fill it. Ask God to put something or someone on your heart. Do something different. He will use whatever you are able to offer for the greater good.
He challenges us by asking how we are leveraging for a greater purpose the person God created us to be. Are we impacting others through our kindness, our courage, our compassion? Are we sharing hope? Are we living a life of love? Are we taking a stand? Doing something that matters?
He states that when we know whose we are, we live differently. We are no longer the same. Our outlook changes. Our perspective shifts. We understand that some things we do on earth will last for eternity.
I really enjoyed this book. It offers helpful encouragement for believers to remember our foundation and whose we are when life does not go as we had hoped it would. You can go deeper with Tim in his four-session Bible study book Shaken Bible Study: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms.

  • Christianaudio Free Audiobook of the Month. May’s free audiobook from Christianaudio is a good one. It is from Steven Lawson’s series A Long Line of Godley Men Profile. I’ve read several of the books in that series.
  • The god of William Paul Young. Gavin Ortlund reviews the latest book by the author ofThe Shack. He writes “Unfortunately, the theology espoused in this book represents a wide and unambiguous deviation from orthodox Christian views.”
  • The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story. Eric Metaxas writes “I’ve told Robinson’s story before, most notably in my book “Seven Men.” But a new book “42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story,” by Ed Henry of Fox News, and more importantly, of Astoria, New York (which is where I’m from!), fills in the details in a way that reinforces the central role of Christian faith in this story.”
  • 3 Problems with the Benedict Option. Jesse Johnson writes “I say, “it is really as bad as he says,” and yet for a Christian The Benedict Option is no option at all. Here are three reasons why: It necessitates a revisionist view of history (which I’ll call a “racial” problem), lacks the gospel (or, the “Catholic problem”), and sacrifices religious freedom (a “Baptist” problem).”
  • A Sneak Peek atThe New City Catechism with Tim Keller. In this short video, Tim Keller briefly explains why resources like The New City Catechism are so important for the church, especially in our “post-truth” age.
  • Technology Is In Its Proper Place When….Kevin Halloran reviews Andy Crouch’s new book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. He writes that he suspects the book will “be a game-changer for many families”, and that “He doesn’t so much lay out the “how to” on protecting your family and kids from the wiles of devices and the internet, but rather shares a much-needed paradigm for thinking about technology”.
  • John Piper, George Mueller, and The Pleasure of God. Randy Alcorn shares this excerpt from John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God.
  • Does13 Reasons Glamorize Teen Suicide?  Russell Moore writes “The streamed television series 13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s newest hit program. The program is about a teenage girl’s audio recording, left behind after her suicide, which explains the reasons why she killed herself. Many school systems and psychologists are warning that the series could be dangerous, if already depressed or troubled teens watch and see suicide as an option for them. If not already, every Christian parent of teens and certainly every church youth ministry ought to be ready to explore the questions raised by this dark series.”
  • John Piper Wants You to Encounter Glory in Your Bible. Derek J. Brown reviews John Piper’s new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture.  

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.

This week we look at Chapter 15 from Volume 2, “Judge Not”

  • He now comes to this final section. And here, it seems to me, He is enforcing again the all-importance of our remembering that weare walking under the Father’s eye. The particular subject He handles is one which is mainly concerned with our relationship with other people; but still the important thing to realize is that our relationship to God is the fundamental matter. It is as if our Lord were saying that the final thing which matters is not what men think of us, but what God thinks of us.
  • We are undergoing a process of judgment the whole time, because we are being prepared for the final judgment; and as Christian people we should do all things with that idea uppermost in our minds, remembering that we shall have to render an account.
  • There is nothing that so utterly condemns us as the Sermon on the Mount; there is nothing so utterly impossible, so terrifying, and so full of doctrine.
  • The Scripture itself teaches us that judgment has to be exercised in connection with affairs of State. It is Scripture which teaches us that judges and magistrates are appointed of God and that a magistrate is called upon to deliver and pronounce judgment, that it is his duty to do so. It is part of God’s way of restraining evil andsin and their effects in this world of time.
  • But you also find the same teaching in the Scriptures with regard to the Church. They show very clearly that judgment is to be exercised in the realm of the Church.
  • It is almost true to say that such a thing as discipline in the ChristianChurch is non-existent today.  Discipline, to the Protestant Fathers, was as much a mark of the Church as the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.
  • This question of judging applies, also, in the matter of doctrine. Here is this question of false prophets to which our Lord calls attention. We are supposed to detect them and to avoid them.
  • He is not telling us that we are not tomake these assessments based on judgment, but He is very concerned about the matter of condemning.  So that while we say that it does not mean the refusal to exercise any discrimination or thought or judgment, we must hasten to say that what it does warn against is the terrible danger of condemning, of pronouncing judgment in a final sense.
  • What is this danger against which our Lord is warning us? We can say first of all that it is a kind of spirit, a spirit which manifests itself in certain ways. What is this spirit that condemns? It is a self-righteous spirit.
  • It seems tome, further, that a very vital part of this spirit is the tendency to be hypercritical.
  • There is all the difference in the world between exercising criticism andbeing hypercritical. The man who is guilty of judging, in the sense in which our Lord uses the term here, is the man who is hypercritical, which means that he delights in criticism for its own sake and enjoys it.
  • If we ever know the feeling of being rather pleased when we hear something unpleasant about another, that is this wrong spirit. If we are jealous, or envious, and then suddenly hear that the one of whom we are jealous or envious has made a mistake and find that there is an immediate senseof pleasure within us, that is it. That is the condition which leads to this spirit of judgment.
  • It shows itself in a readiness to give judgment when the matter is of no concern to us at all.
  • Another manifestation of this spirit is that it puts prejudice in the place of principle.
  • Another way in whichit shows itself is in its tendency to put personalities in the place of principles.
  • A further way in which we may know whether we are guilty of this, is to ask if we habitually express our opinion without a knowledge of all the facts.
  • Another indication of it is that it never takes the trouble to understand the circumstances, and is never ready to excuse; it is never ready to exercise mercy.
  • This spirit really manifests itself in the tendency to pronounce final judgment upon people as such. This means that it is not a judgment so much on what they do, or believe, or say, as upon the persons themselves. It is a final judgment upon an individual, and what makes it so terrible is that at that point it is arrogating to itself something that belongs to God.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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