Reading a Biography

This year I am endeavouring to vary the genre of the books that I read. I think one of the most interesting genres can be reading a biography.

At the time of writing this posting, about 25% of the books that I have read in 2019 would be classified as a biography. The subject matters come from a different number of fields e.g. sport, Christian leaders, spies, writers, political leaders. No matter what field the person is in there are a number of recurring themes that interest me.

How did the person become well known?
Although it may not be true of every single person for the majority of them there was a time when they were not very well known. You could even call them a nobody. Then they became famous and well known. How did they make this transition from a nobody to a somebody? Was it years of hard work that eventually paid off or did they suddenly appear from absolutely nowhere? Maybe they were in the right place at the right time and things just worked out for them?

What were they like before they became famous?
It can be interesting and enlightening to read comments from their contemporaries before they became famous. That might be from their school teachers, school friends, people they grew up with, their coach at the local sports club etc. Did they display obvious talent at an early age or were others better then them?

What are they really like as a person?
Most of us have only seen the public face of the person in the biography we are reading. However what are they like in real life? We may be reading about a famous Christian leader but what is he / she like away from the pulpit? Are they a good family person? Do they always make time for their children? Are they known for their humilty or do they have a high opinion of themselves? What do the neighbours say about them?

What did it take for them to be successful in their field?
It’s likely that the majority of us do not appreciate the hard work and commitment it takes to be successful in a field. Whilst we need to have a talent in that field, hard work is also needed to make the most of that gifting. I may be the most naturally talented tennis player in the world but without a lot of training I will not reach my full potential. This will no doubt involve sacrifices which may include me not seeing my children for weeks on end because I am at an overseas training camp. Am I willingly to to make that commitment? Do I want success at any price? The person we are reading about has had to make these difficult decisions.

What about their failures?
Unless the person writing the book is very selective in the biography then at some stage in their life the subject matter will have encountered failures and setbacks. We all encounter these but the important question is how did they respond to them? Did they just give up or did they persevere? How did they cope with their failure? Did they learn from it or was it repeated constantly? This part of the biography has the potential to be a great source of encouragement to us. We often put people on a pedestal and don’t expect that they will fail. However, when you read that someone that is well known has made mistakes and come out of the other end you realise that you can too!

If you have never read a biography why not visit your local library and have a look at what they have available to borrow. You can always start with a short one to get you in the habit of reading a biography. Alternatively your local Christian bookshop should have some biographies, if you wish to discover more about well known church leaders. Whatever one you select they are an interesting genre to read,

 

Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas

With echoes of the Last Supper this book is based around John 21 with the risen Jesus eating with his disciples. The book examines the reality of faith and what it means to truly believe and trust in that which we cannot see, even when the going gets tough. Be encouraged as Jeff talks honestly about his struggles with doubt and depression.

We are invited to share in the author’s anguish as he admits how he sometimes struggles with the day to day walk of faith and wrestles with doubts about prayers which appear not only to be unanswered but at times even unheard. Jeff also talks about the guilt and shame that so often seem to afflict Christians who find themselves unable to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm that they experienced when first coming to faith.

Whilst this book won’t make you feel instantly better, it will likely make you feel less alone and more able to cope with the feelings of doubt and despair that we often find so hard to admit to, and which can in turn make us feel guilty and rob us of the joy of our salvation.

Jeff Lucas is a writer who is always very honest and real about life and this book is definitely worth reading.

Taking Communion Unworthily

Whilst writing to the church in Corinth Paul instructed them not to take communion unworthily. What though did Paul mean by that phrase unworthily? The following quote from a book called “The Lord’s Supper” by E.F. Kevan explains this well.

We are told in 1 Corinthians 11:27 that “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”. What does that stumbling word “unworthily” mean? So many true-hearted believers have been disturbed by a misunderstanding of this. It is said if you feel ashamed, and crestfallen and depressed because of your failure and sin that therefore you must not come. Oh no! That is the right way to come. To take the Lord’s Supper unworthily is to take it without regard to its true worth. To do it unworthily is to come complacently, to come light-heartedly, to come without a care about your own sin and your shame. But to be burdened with your sin, even to be weighted down with a sense of your guilt and utter unworthiness – that is the take the Lord’s Supper worthily. Only in this spirit do you truly reckon it at its worth.

Let me illustrate this by a lovely incident in the life of Dr Duncan of Edinburgh. The story is of a communion service at which Dr Duncan was presiding. In the front row there was a woman weeping and obviously distressed over her own spiritual state. As the elder was proceeding along the line handing the cup first to one and then to another, this weeping woman shook her head and bade the elder omit her. At once perceiving the spiritual situation, the minister stepped down, gently took the cup from the elder and, stepping back, held it to the woman and said: “Take it, woman, it’s for sinners.” That is the way to take it. It is for sinners. That is the truly reverent and worthy attitude.

This requires that we shall approach the Lord’s Table with self examination. In 1 Corinthians 11:28, Paul says, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup”. It is with searching of heart that we must come to the Lord’s Table. Let us not come contemptuously or unmindful of the deep solemnities of it. What a searching kind of remembrance this is!

The Lord’s Supper by E.F. Kevan (Page 27-28)

That Incredible Christian

That Incredible Christian is a book compiled by Anita M. Bailey based on editorials written by A.W. Tozer from his time as editor of The Alliance Witness during the years 1960-1963.

The book contains 41 chapters, the vast majority of which are less than 4 pages. Chapter titles include: What it Means to Accept Christ, The Inadequacy of “Instant Christianity”, The Freedom of the Will, Why the Holy Spirit is Given, God Walking Among Men, We are Saved To as well as From, The Christian Life is Not Easy, The Giver and the Taker, The Increasing Knowledge of God, Spiritual Things Must be Spiritually Discerned, The Futility of Regret, The Importance of Self-Judgement, How to Keep from Going Stale, Marks of the Spiritual Man, The Act of True Worship, Meditating on God.

Whilst it is possible to read each chapter separate from the others, Anita M. Bailey believes that the reader will profit most by reading consecutive chapters.

Although as mentioned above the chapters are short, the book is deeply enriching and well worth reading repeatedly. If you are familiar with the writings of Tozer then you will certainly enjoy this book. For those who have not read any of Tozer’s material previously then I would highly recommend that you check this book out.

Old but not out!

There can be a tendency for us to write people off when they get past a certain age. This habit can on occasions even surface in churches too. In his book “Old, but not out!” James Taylor looks at what we can discover from the bible about serving God in older age.

The book looks at some inspiration men and women who continued to serve God faithfully and be used by Him in old age. We see the example of Abraham and Sarah, Caleb, Naomi, Simeon and Anna and also the apostle Paul at the end of his life. The author shows us important and valuable lessons that can be learnt from each of these bible characters. This is both an encouragement and inspiration to us that God can still use people whatever their age. Interestingly, the author also includes a chapter on Eli in which we are challenged not to allow our standards to drop in our old age.

I particularly like the way that James Taylor encourages the reader that they can still serve God in their old age. We may have retired but that does not mean the end of any ministry for God. He gives some interesting modern examples of how Christians are doing this. It’s inspiring to read about people in their nineties starting bible study groups!

Sometimes older people can feel that aspects of church services are very different to when they were younger. However, the author reminds us that our security is found in God.

Anyone who reads this book will certainly discover that older people are not “the church of yesterday.” Although this book is only 107 pages long there is a very good depth to it. I would highly recommend this book for readers of all ages!

 

Darwin and God by Nick Spencer

Many books have been written looking at Charles Darwin’s theories and the legacy he left behind. This book though, written by Nick Spencer, is not just another one looking at the debate in Christian circles between evolution and creation, but in it he has set out to actually examine Darwin’s own religious beliefs.

The author traces Darwin’s religious thoughts from various writings he wrote throughout his life including letters, notebooks, manuscripts and also his autobiography. Some of this material expressed views that Darwin carefully kept out of public sight during his life. However thanks to the wonders of modern technology these writings can now be accessed on line.

The book looks at the way in which his religious beliefs changed over the years and examines the sort of Christian faith that he grew up with, one which seemed to often epitomise the era in which Darwin lived. We see how he struggled to reconcile his religious beliefs with the scientific discoveries he made.

Nick Spencer also looks at how the death of Darwin’s favourite daughter Annie had a profound effect on his beliefs too. Darwin like many before him and since struggled to understand the hows and whys of suffering, and the author believes it was this that finally brought about the end of his Christian faith. We then see how in later years he moved to an agnostic position.

One of the characteristics of Darwin which impressed the author was the courteous way in which he dealt with those who disagreed with his views. And the book concludes with him reflecting that this courtesy is often missing from those who engage in fierce debate about evolution and religious beliefs.

For anyone who wishes to look closely at what Darwin did actually believe as opposed to what they think he did or did not believe then this book is a good read and may offer you some surprises.

The Road Home

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is one of my favourite bible passages and I am always keen to read any books that cover this amazing story. The Road Home, by J.John, is a book based on this parable which I read again last weekend.

J.John retells the story through the eyes of a servant who works for the father. He captures the heartache that the father experiences when the younger son leaves and the wonderful joy when he returns. We also see clearly the bitterness and anger of the older son too. The book concludes with the servant himself also discovering the father’s love, which deeply affects him as well.

I think that this is a very clever spin on the parable of the prodigal son. The introduction of the servant and another couple of characters works well. I found the book both moving and encouraging. The author through this story reminds us of the grace and forgiveness and extraordinary love of the father. I also like the fact that he reminds us that there are two sons in this story. There are lessons that can be learned through the rebellious attitude of the older son too.

Although I have read it before it was good to read it again. The book is a short one, only 95 pages and can be read straight through fairly quickly. This book is both encouraging for Christians and also challenging for those yet to experience the wonderful joy of returning to the father.