Category Archives: Book Reviews

“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.”

My 7 Most Memorable Books of 2016

It’s that time of year. Resolutions, goals, recounting memories of joys and sorrows. It is a time for measuring and appraising the year that has passed and looking into the still-opening year that has come. For me, 2016 was a year of more reading and now seems like a good time to memorialize my favorite books from last year.

The books I share here may or may not have been written in 2016 – in fact, I think most of them were written earlier. I read them during 2016, however, so here is where I thought I’d share my 5 favorite books from the past year.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t narrow it down to 5.

So, should you care to know, here are my SEVEN favorite books of 2016. With a couple of runners-up at the end, because even seven was hard. Oh, and in alphabetical order, because order of significance would be really hard.

They were all significant. All engaging. And they all shared stories now impressed on my heart.

Bruchko: The Astonishing True Story of a 19-Year-Old American, His Capture by the Motilone Indians and His Adventures in Christianizing the Stone Age Tribe

Bruce Olson

How’s that for a title?

Most people who strike out on their own at 19 are a little reckless. If they do so in a foreign country with no job, connections, money, or language skills, they’re really crazy.

Bruce was really crazy. But the story that came from his total obedience in 1961 is unlike any other. Through the decades that followed, God guided his ministry and many people came to Christ through his work.

The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever

Brian Ivie

I wish everyone I know could read this book! A few years ago, I watched Brian Ivie’s documentary (also called The Drop Box) about a Korean pastor raising abandoned orphans with special needs as his own children. Now Brian tells the rest of the story—and there is so much more to it! In these pages that draw you in chapter after chapter, Brian tells more of Pastor Lee’s life, and how it impacted his own more than he ever expected.

See my review here.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up

Ian and Larissa Murphy

So…if I had to pick just one…this might be it. Maybe. So hard to choose…

Ian and Larissa’s story of love and commitment (and weakness and doubt) in the face of debilitating and permanent disability is not one to miss. Larissa’s revealing honesty and powerful writing style made an already fascinating story impossible for me to put down.

See my review here.

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus

Rifqa Bary

I remember seeing the drama unfold on TV, as a Christian teenager fought in court for asylum from her Muslim parents. Her story of persecution while in her American home was shocking, and the jaw-dropping story of her escape shows God’s guidance more clearly than most of us ever see.

See my review here.

In My Father’s House: The Years Before “The Hiding Place”

Corrie ten Boom

It just wouldn’t be a list of my favorite books without a Corrie ten Boom title! Corrie wrote IMFH as a series of seemingly isolated stories from the years before World War II and The Hiding Place. But as she tells her stories, we find—at her guidance—that there is no stand-alone chapter in our lives. Everything we ever experience prepares us for the next twist in our stories.

See my review here.

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction

Caleb Kaltenbach

Homosexuality has quickly become a hot button issue. We can’t ignore it. How do we respond? Caleb gives a loving and deeply personal account of honoring his gay parents while also remaining steadfast to biblical truth. It is possible. Caleb tells us how.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

Beth Moore

This one barely counted for this list, as I finished it just a few hours before the clock and the calendar heralded the arrival of 2017.  Beth Moore has written countless Bible studies and nonfiction books, but jumped into a fiction project for the first time with Silvanus. While the first several chapters seemed to move slowly to me, I am so glad I didn’t close the book. The rich characters and complicated, action-packed plot wouldn’t let me do anything else until I read the last page. Enjoying a story that gripping was fun. Knowing that it had deeper meaning and spiritual significance made it even better.

Runners-up: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Michael Horton); The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Courtney Reissig; A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (Joseph Loconte); and The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Mike Cosper).

 

There you have it! My favorites from the last twelve months. What books made you glad you cracked their covers this past year? Please do share!