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Author Eric Blehm has found his niche- books about the brave souls who serve in the military and do astounding things. I previously read Fearless which is about Navy Seal Adam Brown. It was a very good book that also highlighted his personal struggles and his faith.

Blehm’s newest book is Legend which focuses on Green Beret Roy Benavidez and his role in a rescue mission of a special forces team behind enemy lines in Vietnam. Its focus is not a narrow, so to speak, as in Fearless. He provides background on other key figures and Special Ops in that area to a far greater extent. Benavidez’ faith (he was Roman Catholic) is present but not as prevalent a subject as Adam Brown’s.

Legend begins with Benavidez childhood and early adulthood. His was a hard life in a difficult part of the country. His was an immigrant family, and he lost both parents to TB at a young age. As a result his uncle and grandfather played significant roles in shaping him. Living with them meant hearing their stories including the adage, “When someone needs help, you help them.” This Good Samaritan mentality was consistently worked into his heart. His body was made strong by the extended summers working in fields as the family did migrant work.

Losing his parents did leave him angry which led to a number of problems at school, and into his early career in the military. It was one of those events that led him into an office after striking a drunk and obnoxious officer. There he saw the motto of West Point, “Duty, Honor, Country”, and took it as his own. His honesty meant a demotion instead of charges. Eventually Benavidez would join the 82nd Airborne.

He career seemed over when during his first tour in Vietnam he stepped on a mine. Amazingly he was not killed and didn’t lose any limbs. But he did have a severe back and spinal cord injury. They thought he would never walk again- but he did. He kept talking them out of discharging him. Soon he had a desk job, and then set his eyes on becoming a Green Beret. Walking led to jogging (and getting off pain medication) and to running with a pack. But he had to re-qualify for jumping. To be over 30 and recovering from such injuries and qualify to be a Green Beret is quite astounding.

Blehm then focuses on the history of Special Ops in Cambodia. Both sides violated the neutrality of Cambodia. The North did first with the Ho Chi Min Trail. The South, and the U.S., did so in reaction to stem the tide of troops and weapons. Almost all the work was done by Special Ops inserted and removed by helicopter teams. All of this was strictly off the books to maintain plausible deny-ability- no paper trail.

In May 1968 a team was inserted into Cambodia with a goal of proving the presence of the NVA. For some reason the Cambodians didn’t seem to think they could send any of their own people there. They were to capture a soldier and perhaps one of the Russian-made trucks.

Unfortunately the NVA had adapted and constructed hunter teams to counter act the Special Forces teams sent in. Worse no one realized they were basically inserting the team into the heart of an NVA division. After being discovered everything went wonky. Blehm’s account of the battle and rescue attempts is harrowing.

Benavidez had been sleeping in after a late night when he awoke to discover a mission had gone incredibly wrong. He discovered one of his friends was leading the mission. One rescue attempt had already failed miserably and what remained of the team was surrounded in a field, taking shelter among some trees. At the base Roy helped unload a chopper. The chopper was refueling and reloading to go back, but without a belly man. He quickly decided to help them, and possibly his friend on the ground.

It was a rash decision because all he had was a medical bag, his bottle of Tabasco for breakfast seasoning, and a recon knife. That’s it! Never has a soldier done so much with so little. The harrowing story resumes as Benavidez survives numerous wounds and a helicopter crash to save the lives of the remaining team. He took over on the ground to establish defenses while rockets and napalm rained down around them until the rescue helicopter could gather them all up.

It is a moving story. It is a powerful story. As in Lone Survivor what a person does to survive can seem more like an action movie at times. Here Benavidez does it to keep others alive. Although he didn’t get his Medal of Honor until 1981, it was much deserved. And his story deserves to be read.

[I received a promotional copy for the purposes of review.]

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As usual, I depart from the usual blogging practice of listing the best books of a given year. I focus on the best books I read in that given year. So here are the best books I read in 2012! Perhaps some will make great gifts for Christmas or upcoming birthdays. Click those links!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. This is one of my favorite books on marriage. Keller just has a way of expressing himself, and bringing in contemporary issues in a way I haven’t thought about before. He does some good cultural exegesis in addition to the biblical exegesis needed to resolve that cultural quandary. There is enough here for singles to think about to make it worth while for them too!

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (my review). This moves beyond marriage into various relationships and how the gospel is at work in the mess that they are. That really is the point- the mess is part of how God changes us. So, it isn’t about mess-less relationships, but growing and loving in those relationships.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. I find Newton to be a fascinating man. Aitken does a good job telling us his story. He shares his shame without trying to be scandalous or make him look bad. He shares his success without trying to glorify him. It comes across as a balanced, hopeful book about a man much used by God in his own generation.

Towards Spiritual Maturity by William Still. This small book is full of “spiritual dynamite”. It is a great little book on sanctification. It is obviously not meant to be exhaustive. But he hits on some much neglected realities in our sanctification.

Union With Christ by Robert Letham. This is an historical and scriptural study of our union with Christ. This is a much neglected subject that is of great importance. While it is more “intellectual” I think he does a good job of showing the benefits and implications of this doctrine that is foundational for Christian experience.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges. What if you took the best ideas from most of his books and put them into one book? You would get this book! It is a great book about how the gospel changes us. Easy to read and full of great stuff.

Loving Well (even if you haven’t been) by William Smith. Yes, another book on relationships. This is for the person who really wasn’t loved well by their parents (which is most of us). You’ll still learn something if you were loved well. This is a great book about what it means to be loved and how God has loved us well in Jesus Christ. So, it isn’t about trying harder but being loved so you can love.

Fearless by Eric Blehm. This is the story of Adam Brown, a member of Seal Team Six who overcame great obstacles to even become a Seal. It is also about his faith in Christ and the destructive power of addiction (Christ is greater!). It is a very moving story, but not for the squeamish.

Jesus Loves the Little Children by Daniel Hyde.  This is a great little book arguing for infant baptism. He makes Meredith Kline’s arguments accessible to mere mortals. Well worth reading.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. I re-read this book as I was preaching through the life of Daniel. Hers is an amazing story of a middle aged woman who became a resistance leader, was imprisoned by the Nazis and was set free to preach God’s love in Christ to generations hardened by the war.

Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings. Billings approaches the subject from a different angle than Letham did, but wrote a very helpful book as well. He is a Calvin scholar and focuses on Calvin’s work on the subject, but by no means limits himself to Calvin.

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. This short book is a treatment of Romans 8. It is a great treatment of Romans 8. I think it is must reading for all struggling with assurance or painful providence.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. A great little book on sanctification. It is not exhaustive, but I think he pretty much hits the struggles most contemporary Christians have in this area. He draws from Scripture, the Reformed Confessions and various theologians. It is an edifying read.

The Masculine Mandate by Richard Philips. There are lots of lousy books on mahood. This isn’t one of them. He doesn’t just proof test a theology derived from movies, he established a solid theological framework from Genesis to help us understand our calling within the context of our covenant relationships with God and others.

Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Phil Ryken. This is like an updated version of Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits. He follows the essential pattern, but in each chapter brings us to how Christ has loved us illustrating the particular aspect of love. Lots of other great stories to illustrate it as well.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper. The last (?) in the series The Swans are Not Silent. He begins by handling a difficult passage in Colossians 1 and then illustrates his conclusion thru the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton and Adoniram Judson. That conclusion is that the suffering of the church and missionaries is how God males the gospel known and delightful among the nations. Our suffering is not simply caused by the gospel but meant to be the means of propagation.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This is in anticipation of its greatness. I’ve started to read it, and it holds plenty of promise. As usual, Keller is pulling a number of threads together to create a beautiful picture of God’s intentions for our vocations. I’m sure it will be very good.

A few thoughts:

My reading is often directed by my ministry and needs for personal growth.

This year was light on the classics. I’ll have to remember that for 2013.

While there are 4 biographies there, I should probably be reading more of them.

I filled in some gaps in my theology. This year I addressed our union with Christ. There are not many books on the subject out there. I’ve got a few more to read in 2013.

It is heavy on sanctification and love. I recognize my need to grow in grace and its manifestation in love. Books alone don’t mean I am growing. But they can be helpful in the process.

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Sometimes you find strange bedfellows in the course of publishing. Fearless is a book published by an overtly Christian publisher. It is the story of Adam Brown, a Christian who served on Seal Team Six. It was written by Eric Blehm, who doesn’t seem to be a Christian, but who specializes in books about military men and exercises. So it all works.

“Adam was a friend, teammate, and brother in arms. Adam was a husband and a son and a father. Adam will always be a hero. His actions on his final mission were indicative of the way he lived his life. Fearless.” Adam’s CO in Afghanistan

Eric Blehm keeps the pacing of Adam’s story moving. He does not linger too long in any one place.  He is honest about Adam’s life. Early on he seems bigger than life, as the qualities that made him a Navy Seal reveal themselves in his childhood. He was tough, relentless and kind-hearted. Adam stuck up for the little guy.

But, like many, he needed direction. Soon after graduating from high school, a dating relationship would lead him down a bad road that would long outlast that bad relationship. She would introduce him to drugs, including crack. This is the drug that nearly cost him everything.

Adam’s story is about 2nd and 3rd chances. After a few arrests, time at Teen Challenge and yet still struggling with addiction he decides he needs to enter the Navy with a long term goal of becoming a Navy Seal. It is then that someone takes a chance on him- Captain Buschmann, the father of one of his best friends.

It is the story of love, perseverance and faith. His parents, siblings and wife struggled to love him because of his addiction. It never completely went away. Like most addictions, it re-surfaced at inopportune moments.

Not only did they have to persevere with Adam, but Adam had to persevere through numerous injuries that would have forced a lesser man to give up. He had a high pain threshold, to say the least. Being a Seal takes a tremendous toll on your body due to the physical conditioning necessary (at one point he had a 4 inch long bone chip removed from his ankles, and should have had the bones fused). He would suffer freak injuries to his right eye and hand that should have resulted in him being washed out to the Seals. But he learned to shoot left-handed and passed the training and tests to join the elite Team Six despite them. He was prone to accidents as well. He could have (should have?) taken disability long before his final deployment. But that just didn’t fit who Adam was.

In his youth his grandmother would bring Adam and his twin sister to church since he parents didn’t go to church. He prayed that God would save them. He would bring them to saving faith, and the means was Adam’s destructive addiction to crack. Broken, Adam would eventually reaffirm his own faith in Christ. He was not a Bible-thumper, but loved the men he worked with and invited many of them to church. After Adam’s own death on a mission, one of his best friends came to faith. Six weeks later, that Seal was with the others on the CH-47 that crashed.

“Are we going to abandon our faith, or apply our faith?” Adam’s father Larry Brown

Blehm tells a very engaging story about a unique sort of man. Passionate in his love for his country, an expert in warfare, Adam was also a goofy dad who loved to play with kids at church and while in the field. Seeing Afghan children without shoes and winter approaching, he started a drive that provided over 500 shoes for children. His was not a merely intellectual faith.

The book is understandably short on mission details. Most of his work is still classified. But the book relays lots of information about the final mission that took his life. It was his last deployment. He’d just received his bachelor’s degree and hoped to get an MBA. He was ready to settle in at home with Kelly and the kids. His death rocked the faith of his whole family, which is understandable. Their faith didn’t present them easy answers. They struggled.

Mild Cautions-

First, there are aspects to their faith that come across as more superstitious than biblical. I’m not saying they aren’t Christians, I think they are. But the idea that someone is “with you” or “present” after death is contrary to Scripture. Christians are in the presence of Jesus and did not suddenly become ubiquitous.

Second, since it deals with military culture there is some off-color language and experiences that most non-military people like myself don’t get. For instance, he takes a bet to place his scrotum (Blehm used the more common slang term) on a fire ant hill for 30 seconds. Having been bitten by fire ants often, I’m not putting the most sensitive part of my body on a hill to be attacked.  Especially as my friends watch, or hold me down.

There was much to like about this book. I’ve read other books by and about the Seals and Delta Force. This was up there with Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor. You get a glimpse into the training and personal lives, shaping influences and more. You are left with a deep appreciation for the work they do for the other citizens of the country they love.

[I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review]

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