Jim's #26: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

What a classic!  I don't really have a ton to say about the book since I'm sure everyone that's reading this has already seen the movie and most have probably read the book.  It was great.  A great story line, wonderful character development, and altogether fun and engaging.  After reading the Magician's Nephew first, it is clear through some references in this one, that this was meant to be read first.  Jon Freiburg's comment on my last post points to a neat article in Christianity Today on the chronology of the anthology. Again, the depiction of Aslan as the Christ figure was great to read.  There were other biblical features that Lewis through in that I thought were particularly neat.  The deep magic of course referred to the law and the broken stone table simulating the torn veil.  Aslan's words to Lucy and Susan on the night of his death were neat as well, instructing them to keep him company, but only to a certain moment, after which he would need to proceed on his own like the Garden of Gethsemane.  After his resurrection, it was the girls who were the first to see him as well and then he went to the Queen's castle itself to free the souls she had claimed.  So many references yet they weren't forced in any way and if you weren't looking for them, I could see missing them altogether.  I spose that's part of what makes the series so universal.

I think my favorite part of the book, however, was the pictures of Aslan, both in his playful, loving manner as when he was playing with the girls after his resurrection, and his ferocious, fearsome demeanor towards all things dark.  His emotions throughout the book were captivating in themselves.  His is certainly not a tame lion, but he is good.

Jim's #24: A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada

If you aren't familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada's life story, you should remedy that.  Talk about someone making the most out of her disability to the glory of God and the good of millions of people worldwide.  A diving accident in 1967 left Joni paralyzed from the neck down for the past 43 years.  Since then she has become an internationally known mouth artist, accomplished vocalist, hosts her own radio show, and started Joni & Friends, an organization which provides wheelchairs to handicapped persons in third world countries.

Joni has grown to appreciate her disability over the years and see God work in miraculous ways through it.  Because of this, she is able to whole-heartedly thank God for making her a quadriplegic, an incredible healing in itself.  As she writes this book, however, Joni is faced with arguably an even more ominous foe: chronic, debilitating, unrelenting pain.  The pain relievers she is on barely dull it and her husband is forced to come in numerous times a night to help her roll over, providing a fleeting moment of comfort.

Every once in a while I like to listen to an audio book on my commute to and from work, and I am thrilled that I decided to choose this one to listen to.   Most people going through situations like this will write about it years after the event, allowing them to properly reflect on the difficult time.   But Joni decided to write it during her battle with chronic pain, and even record the audio book herself.  What a blessing this was to the listener.  She was only able to do portions at a time before the pain became too great, and you could hear it at times in her voice.  This made the points she was driving home on the sufficiency of God in suffering all the more believable, as there was not a hint of hypocrisy in her voice.  She also quotes many hymns in her book and sings them for you in her beautiful voice on the book--another treat!

I often find myself wondering how my faith would sustain me if I were to face something like Joni.  Would I be able to stand through it and see God's hand in it all or would I falter.  Hearing Joni's story makes me all the more confident in my God and helps me appreciate the biblical doctrine of suffering and the hope found there-in.  One day all those in a wheelchair who love Jesus will receive new, glorified bodies free of any ailment or handicap.  I'm guessing that they will have a greater appreciation for these bodies than I will... and I pray that helps sustain them in the present.

As I write this, Joni, has now been diagnosed with breast cancer on top of everything else.  Here is an interview with her from Christianity Today that helps drive home her perspective and the big idea of her book:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/october/12.30.html

Jim's #23: Tactics by Greg Koukl

This is a book I've been meaning to read for quite a while.  I first heard about it on the White Horse Inn podcast and was intrigued.  Unfortunately, I was deployed when the rest of the Harbor went through it during Apologia.  I finally got around to it again and am thrilled that I did. Greg Koukl is the founder of a site called Stand to Reason (www.str.org) whose mission statement is to train Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.  This book follows this mission closely and effectively.

In Tactics, Koukl walks us through a few approaches he takes in conversations with non-believers.  The first part of his book is focused on the Columbo tactic.  The premise is that Christians all too often are forced to defend their beliefs, but never hold others to that same standard.  The Columbo tactic involves asking clarifying and directing questions in a way that forces the other side to explain their reasons for their beliefs.  In so doing, Greg has found that many people simply don't know why they believe what they believe or have never been challenged in their own beliefs.

I thought this book was incredibly thought provoking.  And I can see how powerful using these strategies would be.  I really liked that Koukl emphasized the necessity to use all these strategies with character and tact.  I think this is a downfall of way too many Christians.  This book also challenges me to preach the gospel more frequently and use those interactions to develop my own tactics.

The bottom line is, we have a very very strong leg to stand on as Christians.  We simply need to know how to use the information we have to influence others and guide them to the cross. This book certainly helps do that and I enjoyed it immensely.


Jim's #22: Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die by David Crowder and Mike Hogan

A few very interesting events led up to the reading of this book.  First of all, I bought it at a David Crowder Band concert last week because 1. I love their music and 2. they're hilarious, so naturally the book would be as well.  More on that in a second.  Then, last Friday, as I was getting my oil changed, I read the prologue of the book and then forgot it at the register.  I finally came back yesterday to pick up the book only to notice that one of the employees of Jiffy Lube was already a good chunk into it and wants to borrow it when I'm done.  Well, I'm done... 24 hours later and 257 pages.  Just an idea of how captivating this book is. Yet surprisingly, it is not primarily funny.  I was sure it would be (and the footnotes are still), especially after reading the hilarious prologue, but the book took a turn for the worse?/better?... both I suppose.  The tone became a mix of melancholy and hope, of pain and healing.

It's a book about death, bluegrass, and the soul.  It's part academic in their analysis of the history of the soul and that of bluegrass, presented in a way that makes you wonder how it will all tie together in the end (which it does).  These parts help break up the weightiness of the rest of the book.  Death is the resounding theme, something that is very real to both authors, David Crowder and Mike Hogan, and a difficult topic to handle with care and sobriety without losing a reader's interest.  In particular, they recount the story of their pastor and friend, Kyle, who died unexpectedly by being electrocuted in the baptismal of their church.  The pain of this instance resonates throughout the book, focusing much more on the hard realities than the eventual hope offered.  One of the most unique and genuine parts of the book are the 7 IM (instant messenger) conversations printed between the authors.  This is the area where it all ties together and where we see the unplanned thought-processes of the authors.  Toward the end of the book David reflects again on Kyle's death with resounding hope through one of these conversations:

What we want is rebirth.  We want something beyond what we are currently experiencing.  We want new life.  And there Kyle was, standing in it [the baptismal]!  The whole weight of his person immersed in a metaphor, chest deep in burial; the Christian representation of movement from mortal death to the residence of God.  To follow Jesus leads you to the grave; it leads you to death.  You must follow him up the hill, and there was Kyle, standing in a metaphor, and became it.  And it was what he said at the end, the very end that was so simple and profound. "Someone help me. Someone, please help me." The supplication of humanity.  He enunciated our plea while standing in the figurative response to it.

Amazing insight and all that on the fly.

Their album, A Collision, is an album about death (and my favorite of theirs to date); I had no idea until I read this book, but it makes sense now.  Shortly after the album release, Kyle died.  David wondered if they wrote the album as much for them as for anything.  Then in another IM conversation, he comes across something incredibly profound.

Well, hallel consists of 6 Psalms that are recited at the Jewish celebration of passover.  A group of songs really. You know, the recitation of "His love endure forever..." well that's part of it.  So you get the tone.  Now this might be a little crazy but follow me... ok?  So the night of the last supper, we can, with a fair amount of safety, assume that Jesus recited the hallel with his disciples the last night they were together.  So if we believe that scripture is inspired by God, that it is God-breathed, and if we believe that Jesus was divine, that He was God-incarnate, then would it be unreasonable to wonder whether God breathed out a song that he knew he would need later in his human form?  Did He know that something as simple as a bit of art could help shape the reality He saw with His human eyes and heart? That in a moment of such weight and enormity it could make all the difference.

This ended up being one of the heaviest books I have ever read (which is kind of funny because my mom just called me and told me I need to do some lighter reading) :), but one I will probably read again when the unfortunate reality of death strikes nearby.  It's difficult, but helpful, hopeful, and makes me want to listen to some bluegrass right now.  I guess I need to return this to Jiffy Lube now!

Jim's #21: Cowpens: "Downright Fighting" by Thomas J. Fleming

Part of my coursework for the Captain's Career Course is to help conduct a battle analysis of the Battle of Cowpens from the Revolutionary War.  It's an interesting battle in its own right, but frankly, I really was not that interested in it.  Maybe that comes from the fact that it's basically required reading.  Nonetheless, it still counts as a book, so here it is.  If you're interested in a book on the Battle of Cowpens for any reason, I would suggest A Devil of a Whipping instead.  If you want the short, reader's digest version to get a basic feel for what happened (which is exactly what I was looking f0r) then this one, at barely 100 pages, might be your best bet.

Jim's #20: The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

I first read this book a couple years ago and remember being so struck by it I thought I should take another look at it.  I truly believe that this is one of the most important pieces of literature in Christendom.  I know that's a huge statement, but it certainly is when compared with all the other Christian literature I've read (which is an admittedly small sample size).  Part of what makes this book so profound and useful is the importance of the topic discussed and the lack of understanding of God's holiness in the church; this is reflected in the disparity of books on God's holiness verses His love or His grace or His peace (and the disparity in results found on a google search).

If you're like me, you've read the old testament and have found yourself wondering why God did certain things.  There are just some things that seem out of place to a loving and merciful God.  Why did God kill Uzzah for steadying the ark of God when it was going to fall into the mud?  Why did He strike down Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu for offering additional sacrifices to Him.  Why does God destroy complete nations, or command Joshua to extinguish all of Canaan?  I had to wrestle with those questions myself.  Plenty of explanations and inferences have been made to reconcile the apparent disconnect, but Sproul throws those away and offers the biblical and awe-inspiring answer to these troubling passages and much more.  "The question is not, why does God punish sin but why does He permit the ongoing human rebellion?"

But Sproul does not begin there.  He starts by calling us to see God's holiness throughout the scriptures, looking at Isaiah's vision, Moses and the burning bush, and the difference between Lord and LORD in the bible.  Understanding these passages and encounters with a Holy God lead us to a grasp of His works in all of creation, even most the difficult ones.  "How we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives.  It affects far more than what we normally call the "religious" aspects of our lives.  If God is the Creator of the entire universe, then it must follow that He is the Lord of the whole universe... His holy character  has something to say about economics, politics, athletics, romance--everything with which we are involved."

If I get the privilege to lead another bible study, this is a book I want to go through.  The questions at the end of each chapter are thought-provoking and would further great discussion within a group.  The holiness of God is such an important aspect of the divine to understand.  Without it, we have a hard time resolving the inner difficulties of our faith in relation to a fallen world; more importantly, we diminish the value of the cross and lose sight of the awesome chasm bridged by the death of Christ.