What I’m Reading

I don’t know what got into me, but I’ve gone book crazy. I’d already pulled Bryan Davis’s second book in the Echoes from the Edge series, Eternity’s Edge, off the shelf at my church library. Then I made a stop at my local Christian bookstore.

I went because I wanted to do a little research connected to a book idea I have—a non-fiction project. But then I went and bought five books. Five! True, some I’m giving away, but still.

One was Stepping into Sunlight (Bethany) by Sharon Hinck. Somehow or other I must have gotten bumped off the reviewer list for Sharon’s books. I keep hearing great things about this one, and I really like Sharon’s writing, so I just couldn’t resist.

Then I stumbled on Randy Ingermanson’s Premonition (Zondervan). I’m not a particular fan of time travel, but I like Randy’s writing, too, so I decided to take advantage of a discount and picked that one up as well.

But I wasn’t finished. I also saw a book I figured a Christian fantasy writer should have, just to understand the discussion about fantasy among Christians. Until I got online, I had no idea there were believers who thought there was something spiritually wrong with the fantasy genre. Anyway, the book I found is Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings: What you need to know about fantasy books and movies by Richard Abanes (Harvest House). I’ve only dipped into it, but I’ll undoubtedly be reporting back on this one.

What else am I reading? Well our April CSFF Blog Tour book arrived: Blaggard’s Moon by (newly nominated Christy Award author) George Bryan Polivka (Harvest House), so I’ve started that one. Bryan’s writing is so good. He has a wonderful voice for his pirate protagonist and another delightful one for the entertaining storyteller. I have a feeling this upcoming tour will be a good one.

Then Sunday I was at our church library again, and I saw Wayne Thomas Batson’s Isle of Fire. I’ve read the Door Within trilogy and the Isle of Swords, so it just seemed right that I pick up this one too. I’ve liked each of Wayne’s books better than the one before it, so it will be fun to discover what goods this story holds.

Well, there was another one I saw in the library—one I don’t actually want to read, but one I think I should. I’m talking about The Shack. I’ve read so many reviews, commented, discussed, listened to just about everyone I know give their views, and I figured I needed to stop giving a second-hand opinion, and read the book for myself.

I’m also reading about three other non-fiction works—a couple history-of-the-church books and Gracia Burnham’s second book To Fly Again: Surviving the Tailspins of Life Those I nibble at as time allows. Good stuff, but not meant to be devoured.

So what about you? What’s on the top of your to be read pile these days?

In the Presence of My Enemies – A Review

One good thing about being sick was that I had time to do more reading. I usually have a non-fiction book or two going, but I make my way through v-e-e-e-r-r-y s-l-o-o-o-w-w-l-y. That changed this week. After polishing off one of the novels I was reading, for a change of pace, I finished off In the Presence of My Enemies a memoir by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill (Tyndale).

If you don’t recognized Gracia’s name (pronounced gray-sha), you might, nevertheless, remember the news in 2001 about a missionary couple kidnapped by a terrorist group in the Philippines. Gracia and her husband Martin were that couple.

So the book title, In the Presence of My Enemies, is most accurate because the Burnhams spent more than a year in captivity, moved from one place to another to evade the Philippine army searching for them, with little food, in abysmal circumstances.

The book is an amazing but true account of those thirteen or so months, with a wonderful window into the heart of Mankind. It is the latter that makes this work especially potent.

As Gracia points out from the start, Martin, who was killed in the rescue operation that freed Gracia (though she was also wounded), was not a martyr in the true sense of the word. The Burnhams were not kidnapped because they were Christians. They were not held for a year because they were missionaries, and Martin was not executed by the terrorists who took them.

Rather than Martin’s death delivering a strong message of faith, it is his life that conveyed God’s power and love and faithfulness. And it was his life that prepared him for death. Through this book, his life can speak to all of us.

Don’t misunderstand. In the Presence of My Enemies is a true memoir. As Publisher’s Weekly said:

Impressively, Burnham makes no attempt to dramatize these events [the brutal actions of their captors] for shock value, nor does she use this book as an occasion for Christian triumphalism. Instead, she chronicles both her high and low moments as a Christian during that year …

The book reads as a “this is what happened” piece. It doesn’t shy away from the fear, though it isn’t written in such a way as to make the reader feel afraid. It doesn’t shy away from the anger, but it isn’t written to generate anger in the reader.

Instead, the real potency of this book is to show that the pressure-cooker of adversity reveals our hearts. Here’s one part that had special impact on me:

“You know,” Martin said to me one day, “here in the mountains I’ve seen hatred; I’ve seen bitterness; I’ve seen greed; I’ve seen covetousness; I’ve seen wrongdoing.” I nodded my head vigorously, thinking back to incidents I had observed as well.

But then he surprised me. He hadn’t been talking about the Abu Sayyaf [the terrorists] as I had assumed.

“I’ve seen each of these things in myself. The Lord has been showing me how incredibly sinful I am.” He then proceeded to go back through the list.

“Hatred? At times I have hated these guys so strongly … At other times … I coveted [other people’s food] rather than being happy for that person.”

He kept going through the list. We talked about how our hearts are wicked, and how we had rationalized that by saying we were the ones being wronged and so our feelings were only “natural.”

“But Jesus said to love your enemies … do good to those who hate you … pray for those who despitefully use you,” Martin continued. “He said we were to be the servants of all—and he didn’t add any exception clause like, ‘except for terrorists, whom you have every right to hate.'”

What an example Martin Burnham is. His faith in God and His ability to deliver the Burnhams from the terrorists, yes. But much more, his commitment to God’s word when his circumstances cried out for him to abandon his beliefs. His willingness to look at his life without rose-colored blinders and see what God sees, and thus to accept the forgiveness and fellowship of His Savior that allowed him, before he died, to say

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Psalm 100—what it says about serving the Lord with gladness. This may not seem much like serving the Lord, but that’s what we’re doing, you know? We may not leave this jungle alive, but we can leave this world serving the Lord ‘with gladness’; we can ‘come before his presence with singing’ [Psalm 100:2].”

By the way, Gracia wrote a second book, also written with Dean Merrill, about her processing what she went through—To Fly Again: Surviving the Tailspins of Life. Again from Publisher’s Weekly:

[Gracia] uses her captivity and her captors as springboards for helping readers understand such issues as anger, forgiveness, kindness, heaven and faithfulness. Her main mission is to encourage readers as they face events and challenges beyond their control. Her gentle teaching through stories of her captivity and life afterward may seem lightweight and a bit simple, but the biblical truths she explores are not. This is no exegetical study of the Bible, but an honest, heartfelt look at how one woman deals with her past and her present.

The power is in the living. What Gracia shares is not hypothetical. What she suffered and what she lost is not trivial. Hers is the voice of experience, and she seems to take up where Martin left off.

Worry and the Media

I’m not discounting the fact that financial institutions in the US took some foolish risks that put some of them out of business. Or that their demise had a domino effect on the economy. I’m not discounting the fact that unemployment is on the rise even as the stock market continues it’s herky-jerky slide.

But I have to tell you, I think we Christians are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the media. Haven’t we learned yet that the media thrives most on bad news? Sure, they love the hero story of a pilot successfully bringing down his plane in the Hudson, especially because they were able to get a few pictures.

For a while they even loved a moose-shooting, basketball-playing female governor, too, but then they found out she was a Christian. You see, what the media mostly loves is what fits in with their worldview.

Well, that makes them human, not monsters, but we Christians should not allow ourselves to fall in line with their thinking. Most recently that means worrying about the economy.

I’ve read on blogs by Christians and Christian writer groups questions about the economy, the scary economy. What’s it mean, how is it affecting us, how are we coping? It seems as if we are on the verge of panic.

The thing is, when we look at the world, the facts just aren’t all that bad for US citizens. I don’t have the stats in front of me and I’m not interested in looking them up either, but let’s say unemployment has risen to 10 percent. That means that nine out of ten Americans are working. I know a lot of places that would love to have that kind of number! Others are worried about how much their retirement fund has shrunk, but most people in the world live without knowing what retirement is, let alone a retirement fund.

I recently read in To Fly Again (Tyndale), the book by Gracia Burnham, survivor of a year-long captivity by a terrorist group in the Philippines, that only 25 percent of the people in the world sleep in beds. The other 75 out of a 100 sleep in hammocks or on mats or on the ground.

We Americans don’t have it so tough. And yet, the media has convinced us we should worry.

Worse still is the fact that the Bible explicitly says we should NOT worry. Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing.” Jesus said, “Do not be anxious, then,” and a little later adds, “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow.”

But it seems “tomorrow” is exactly what we worry about. Yet the Bible doesn’t stop with the commands not to worry. First, God reveals Himself in the pages of Scripture to be Sovereign. That’s reason enough not to worry.

Second, Paul tells us we have an alternative: “By prayer and supplication, let your requests be known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus said we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteous and then trust. Well, OK, technically, I added trust. Jesus said “all these things”—food, clothing, the stuff we need to live—would be added. So if I believe Him, isn’t that trust? And if I trust Him, will I still worry?

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 2:19 pm  Comments (5)  
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