Category Archives: Book Reviews

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

“A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War”

I have always been interested in World War II. The clear line between good and evil, the many stories of heroism, even by people who seemed so normal and ordinary before the demands of war loomed over them. There is just something epic and heroic about it.

Despite that interest, I have never really cared to learn about World War I. The endless, pointless trenches, the deadlocked armies with no real cause, the victory that only spurned another international war less than twenty years later. I never really understood any of it.

According to Joseph Loconte, however, two incredible literary masterpieces were influenced by the horror and meaninglessness of WWI. It was during the horrendous conflict of World War I that two writers were shaped for their future classics, and without their wartime experiences, we may never have known and loved their works.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War opens with a description of WWI that is hard to imagine—and stomach. The early 1900s were a time of extreme optimism in the Western world, as the general opinion was that mankind was improving and socially evolving to a higher being. Many actually promoted war as a short and effective force of change. Needed change, the progressive minds thought. This change involved finding higher and better answers to questions of life, origin, and God—and, therefore, morality.

It was also a time of technological advances. Factories sprang up, and cities around those factories. More could be made with less time, effort, or money, and a whole generation had more time on their hands. Countries now had access to factory-produced, higher-grade firepower in more quantities than at any other time before.

Philosophy and technology had combined in a deadly way, and WWI would decimate an entire generation. “Between 1920 and 1923, Britain delivered four thousand headstones a week to France” Loconte writes. Millions died—and even more millions were injured. “In France, the casualty rate (dead or wounded) was an astonishing 75 percent.” The day’s belief in human progress had been shattered by the bitter reality of death rates and irreversible injuries.

In its place it left a gaping hole, experienced as despair by veterans and grieving loved ones alike. The loss and disillusion shook many who had been so confident.

But it was in that despair that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien found a hope that can meet any hopelessness.

Throughout the pages of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, Loconte shows examples from Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works that illustrate how WWI affected them. We see their love for nature (in defiance of industrialization), their love for simplicity (over technology), and, overall, their still-standing faith when it seemed the rest of the world had lost theirs. We are given glimpses into Lewis’ spiritual wrestling and conversion, impacted in no small way by WWI and Tolkien.

In that searching they found a hope that is bigger than world wars and unmeasurable tragedies, and a foundation that stood firm no matter what headlines tried to shake it.

With over 600 footnotes for about 200 pages, Loconte’s work is researched to the extreme. The quotations from Lewis’ and Tolkien’s writings—both their books and their letters—give a deeper insight to the works that have been loved by so many.

“All the horrors of all the ages were brought together,” Winston Churchill said of the Great War. Lewis and Tolkien found hope that withstood the horror, and they decided to share it with others. By probing for their thoughts and documenting the worldview depth behind their works, Loconte has further shown that faith to us.

“Safer Than a Known Way: Discover How Liberty in Christ Lies in Surrender”

Pamela Rosewell had three reasons to hesitate. The twenty-one-year-old from Hastings, England, worried that if she followed God completely, He would call her to great lengths in her newfound faith. She could not risk being called to 1) travel outside her native England, 2) speak in public, or 3) be single for the rest of her life.

Anything but that.

Unlikely Stories

When I first cracked the cover of The Hiding Place and finished its last page that same night, I was hooked. Since then I’ve been thrilled to find each new glimpse into the incredible story of the watch shop on the Barteljorisstraat and the unassuming family who lived upstairs.

After devouring several resources on the most exciting points of Corrie’s life, I read The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom, learning for the first time in detail of the stroke-induced silence of Corrie’s last years. What a surprising ending to such a vibrant life. The Five Silent Years was written by Pam Rosewell, Corrie’s personal travel assistant and eventual caregiver, who later wrote a second book: Safer Than a Known Way.

Corrie’s story is an unlikely one of an ordinary family of middle-aged and elderly Christians simply trusting and obeying God—and spearheading Haarlem’s resistance to Nazi horrors. Pam’s story is of an ordinary young woman intent on leading a normal and easy Christian life—and finding excitement and joy in parting with what she thought she could never give up.

For both of them, their lives were much different than their expectations. For both of them, their God was faithful.

“There Were Changes Ahead That I Could Never Have Imagined”

It really started with Sylvia.

Pam’s eighteen-year-old sister Sylvia begged her to attend a Christian conference. At 21, Pam wasn’t interested in her sister’s religious enthusiasm. “I wanted to follow Christ from a distance,” she wrote later. “To follow closely might mean He would ask of me something I could never do.”

But she went anyway, determined to participate as little as possible.

It was a determination she would not be able to keep. Despite her strongest intentions, just a few hours into the event, Pam wholeheartedly surrendered every part of her life to God. “I knew that [my surrender] was real and that it would last…God had revealed His love to me and had moved into my life on this particular night, giving me grace to surrender.”

But this was only the beginning.

Always an Adventure

Pam’s first international trip was a year-long mission assignment in Africa. Soon after, she began working with Brother Andrew in Holland and eventually agreed to accompany Corrie ten Boom on her travels all over the world. Her earlier commitment to never leave England’s shores had given way to an exciting life full of new people and places—and Pam was surprised to find that, most of the time, she actually enjoyed it.

Years into her travels, churches began inviting her to speak about her experiences to their congregations. “Although I continued to be nervous,” Pam wrote, “public speaking had lost its terror. People listened and responded. I saw that God used me and this fulfilled me deeply.”

Pam had now faced two of her three fears. God had been with her in her fears, and He had used those experiences she had dreaded to enrich her life more than she could have expected.

Through all of these things, Pam was single. She spent years caring for a woman who had been single all her life, and, in light of all she had learned through facing her first two fears, lifelong singleness was very possible for Pam.

Once Tante Corrie (as many called her) asked Pam if she was content to be single. Pam realized she was. Whether or not her singleness would be lifelong (and you’ll have to read the book to find out!), “I had to believe that this difficult way that I was now taking was…His perfect way for me.”

Safer Than a Known Way

Why do we always give our surrenders with caveats? Why do we think we have any right to ask God to meet our stipulations?

Even when we think we have surrendered wholeheartedly, we usually haven’t. As soon as things start unraveling, we grumble and question and give our human reasons as to why we shouldn’t be in this situation.

This isn’t what I had in mind. This isn’t what I expected. This isn’t what I signed up for.

If we would only give it all away—all the doubts, all the questions, all the fears.

Pam did. Soon she found herself facing the very things she had vowed to never risk. But in that road, in that way, she found so much more than just a neat and comfortable little Christian life. This life was so much better.

“Yet God has fulfilled my life through the very things I feared…I would so much like to tell people that they have nothing to lose in trusting God with all their lives…Only the Lord sees the end of my story. It is not in my control. But I do know this: when I surrender to Him, I am safer than if I had chosen a known way.”

Friends Like This

My family and I were late to the party when it came to smartphones. We weren’t into texting yet, and really only used phones for calling, so flip phones worked just fine.

During our flip phone days, we found ourselves traveling home from Texas under a cloudy sky. As we approached the Kansas border, rain started falling, eventually becoming a deafening presence on the roof of our van.

My mom fielded several calls from a friend back home, calling with updates about the storm and giving us information that helped us “see” through the blinding rain. It will get worse, they told us. It was just a hard rain then, but at their advice we pulled over at a rest stop and went inside to wait with other travelers. The rain came down harder, with pieces of hail even, and the winds were crazy. We couldn’t see anything.

Messy Beautiful Friendship

After reading Christine Hoover’s From Good to Grace, I was excited to launch into her newest book: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As a church-planting pastor’s wife, Christine has many experiences with making new friends and working hard to make those relationships work. Her insights cover everything from our misconceptions about friends and friendship to healing from friendship hurts to learning to give and receive biblical friendship.

Through her book, Christine reminds us that friendship isn’t as easy as we think it is, and it will take work, but the encouragement of Christian friendship is worth the effort.

“May our friendships in the present day be received as gifts from God for us—but may they not be only for us. May they be signposts, guiding any who will stop and seek directions toward what our hearts innately crave most, pointing the seeker toward a Person and a place where all longings will be longings no more. For it is only in true Christian friendship that two people who are different in every way possible—race, background, language, personality, socioeconomic level—can love like this.”

Friends Going Somewhere

Friendship is a universally recognized gift. People from all walks of life, nationalities, worldviews, and life seasons find other people—typically like themselves—that they call “friends.”

What stands out about Christian friendship? How are our friendships different? Our sameness is found in our deepest convictions and our worship of the same God, though in our individual friendships, many of our other interests or passions can be very different. But what is it about Christian friendship itself that might be different from other friendships?

In the pages of Messy Beautiful Friendship, a quote from C.S. Lewis stopped me.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”

That’s it. That is how Christian friendship is different: our destination.

Friends as Traveling Companions

We may not think of our friends as traveling companions, but that is what we are, because while friendship can certainly include common interests and similar daily patterns, it is so much more than that. We are all going somewhere. As Christians, we know that friends are there to help us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and remind us of truths we might forget (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we journey to Heaven.

“We’re not at the supper table yet,” Christine reminds us, “and it’s going to be a long, arduous journey to get there.” Friends come alongside us on this journey through life, and in a thousand different ways spur us on.

You may have heard the overused question If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?

How about this: If you were traveling on a long and sometimes difficult journey, what kind of friend would you choose to go with you? Are you that kind of friend to the travelers around you?

That Kind of Friend

Christine says it well. “When we sit side by side at the supper table, we will be celebrating that, by God’s grace, we made it to our destination. We made it because of Christ, we made it with the help of our friends, and we made it together.”

As we traveled home that torrentially rainy day, the dangers of flash floods and hail damage and being stranded on the side of the road were lessened because of a friend’s warning. A friend who knew where we were in our journey, shared with us resources we didn’t have (a weather radar map, primarily), and were quick to contact us to warn us of danger. A friend who, when hearing about potentially dangerous weather, thought about us, and spent time studying the weather radar to pass info on to my parents. As if they were traveling on the road with us.

Because, in a way, they are.

“From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel”

I don’t think I have ever highlighted a book as much as I did this one. There are so many books available that are helpful, interesting, or timely—and then there are books like this one. Written as if someone has been watching my every move. And reading my journal. And guessing my thoughts.

Don’t Forget Grace!

For Christine Hoover, life as a church planter’s wife came with a long to-do list and the guilt found in not completing it. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t live up to what she knew God must want from her. There was always another person needing something. Always another mess to clean up. Always another activity to add to her plate.

“This was my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian: If I do good things, then God is pleased. If I do things wrong, then he is angry. This is actually the basis of every religion on earth except Christianity, this idea of a scale where the good must outweigh the bad in order to be right with God. I had religion down pat, but the religion I practiced wasn’t true and biblical Christianity.”

It was a light-bulb moment: the grace we are given for salvation is also given for every day of our lives. Once we come to Christ for salvation, He doesn’t send us back out to face our daily lives alone and in our own strength. There’s grace for that. And this grace changes everything!

“Paul also made it clear that our response to the initial invitation is no different than our response once we’re at the table: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). In other words, just as we received the invitation to the table by faith, we are to continue receiving from Christ each day by faith.”

Try as we might, we will never fully stretch our minds around this truth. We are accepted, loved, and welcomed—no matter what!

And so are the people around us.

Not Meant for That

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when we live by the goodness gospel we live by others’ opinions. After all, if our worth is found in what we accomplish, those accomplishments must be recognized and applauded in order for us to feel validated. This aim-to-please-and-impress-and-outdo attitude stands in contrast to the true gospel, but the solution isn’t to avoid people altogether.

In the beginning, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. While the crux of that passage has to do with marriage, its implications reach into humanity as a whole and are echoed centuries later by Paul’s illustration of the church as a body. We need each other. God gives us relationships and community for our mutual good.

Not for judging each other. And not for judging ourselves based on each other.

“[We] assent with our mouths to being followers of God but in reality we are followers of man. We are people-pleasers. We are people-impressers. We are also people-judgers…I know, in fixing my eyes on others, that I am turning from the ocean of approval and belonging found in Christ to a puddle of imperfect love found in people. But sometimes the approval of others drives me, and it drives me right into anxiety, fear, and self-sufficiency.”

Living by popular opinion isn’t living. When we fully recognize the freedom we have through God’s grace, we won’t want to measure ourselves by anyone else’s standards ever again. We are freed from all of that—forever.

Free!

Read that last sentence again.

Can you believe it? Seriously! This story of free, unmerited grace is real. And it’s your story. My story. Sometimes we forget the wonder of grace in its daily-ness. But that daily-ness of grace doesn’t cheapen it; it strengthens our dependence on it and proves it’s always enough.

“Normally when I think of gaining freedom, I think of charging forward in battle or fighting to be released from ties that bind me. But this is a freedom that has already been won for us. We simply walk by faith out of the open jail cell and rest in what has been given.”

So, so much has been given to us. No need to worry about being good enough anymore. No need to return to our own weak efforts. We have abundant and unbelievable grace, and it will always be more than enough.

“So we rest in what’s been given. We receive what’s been given. We respond to what’s been given. We’ll never go back to our pitiful, man-made goodness gospel, thinking it can give us life. We know the truth: Christ is our life…This is the gospel: not that we are right with God because of what we do but that we are right with God because of what Christ did for us.”