Sunday, February 22, 2015

Three stories on Eric Liddell

I've been researching some of Eric Lidell's life for a piece in a new product were developing at FamillyLife. One of the things that really struck me about his life was the surprising amount of parallels between Liddell's life and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's. Here's just a few of the similarities:

  • Both wrote a book about Discipleship.
  • Both focused on the needs of others while in a prison camp.
  • Both were in prison camps because of circumstances surrounding World War Two. 
  • Both died in prison just a few months apart.
  • Both gave up opportunities to save themselves for the sake of others.
  • Both cared more about obedience to Christ than wealth or fame.
In the midst of this research I came across three stories that I hadn't heard before and found particularly interesting. Of course many people aren't even familiar with the more fascinating second half of his life. Most only know of his "Chariots of Fire" fame. But after his Olympic success he went on to be a missionary in China, eventually dying in a prison camp.

Before sharing the three particular stories, I found the general testimony of his life to be a great encouragement. Especially his commitment to the daily discipline of spending time with God. Even while in the prison camp. One of his fellow prisoners observed the following (All quotes in this post come from a chapter in Eric Metaxas' book 7 Men):
"No matter how busy he was, Eric never neglected his daily time with God. Each morning, Eric and his friend Joe Cotterill woke early and quietly pursued their devotions together by the light of a peanut-oil lamp for beginning a long day of work." (P82)
There are many days where I find myself tired, frustrated, and scatterbrained. And I often lament having not spent personal time in Bible study and prayer. Sometimes I even blame it on busyness. But it's a great encouragement to know that even a man in a prison camp kept this a priority. If he can, so can I.

And now, Three stories:

Story #1: The Spirit, not the Letter

One of the things Liddell was most famous for was his stance on keeping the Sabbath holy. He would not run races that were held on Sunday, which was a significant part of the plot of Chariots of Fire, and most probably the reason why his story became so well known (can you name any other Olympians from the 1924 games?) But the following story speaks to Liddell's spiritual maturity and shows how he knew when to hold to the letter of this conviction, and when to hold to the spirit of it.
Throughout these difficult years, Liddell maintained his belief that Sundays should be reserved for God. But when teenagers got into a fight during a hockey match, Eric – to the astonishment of those who knew of his famous stand at the 1924 Olympics – agreed to referee the game on the following Sabbath. Joyce Stranks, who was a seventeen-year-old fellow internee, said that Eric, "...came to the feeling that a need existed, [and] it was the Christlike thing to do to let them play with the equipment and to be with them… Because it was more Christlike to do it than two [follow] the letter of the law and let them run amok by themselves. And for me that was very interesting because it was the one thing, of course, everyone remembers about Eric [that he would not run on Sunday because the Sabbath was the Lord's Day]." (P82)
Eric in Chinese prison camp.

Story #2: Hold on Loosely

Eric's sincere Christian faith was everywhere on display. Stephen Metcalf, who was seventeen in 1944, remembered one remarkable incident. Metcalf's shoes had completely worn out. One day Eric came to him with something wrapped up in cloth. "Steve," he said, "I see that you have no shoes, and it's winter. Perhaps you can use these." Eric push the bundle into Steve's hands. "They were his running shoes," Metcalf says. We can only imagine that Eric had been saving the historic shoes as a memento of his past triumphs, but in the difficult conditions of the internment camp, their practical value to this young man far outweighed their sentimental value to Eric. (P83)

Story #3: Women and Children First

I mentioned above that one of the parallels between Liddell's life and Bonhoeffer's was that they both turned down opportunities to leave prison in order to protect others. Bonhoeffer stayed in prison, even though he could have escaped, because he knew his family would have suffered if he had escaped. Liddell's situation was a little different, but he still was thinking of others first:
...63 years after Eric's death, just before the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government revealed something that even Eric's family didn't know: Eric had been included in a prisoner exchange deal between Japan and Britain but has given up his place to a pregnant woman. (P86)
Part of me isn't sure how to feel about this, knowing he had a wife and children to care for. But of course, the other side of me is inspired and moved to live sacrificially as a result of his example. Either way, there's no doubt Liddell was an amazing man, firmly committed to Christ, and active in his love of others. I love it when there's so much more to the story than what the popular versions reveals. The things that occurred in his life after the Olympics are really some of the most fascinating parts.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top Books of 2014

Another annual summary of the top books of the year. This year I had a goal of reading 60 books, but didn't quite make it, instead landing somewhere in the mid 50s. 

Anna Karenina – One of the most revered novels of all time. I was inspired to read it because of Teddy Roosevelt’s interest in the book (There's a story in Edward Murrow’s biography of TR describing how he read the book during a river boat journey while in pursuit of thieves). Definitely worth reading and a great reminder to not let sin grow, but bring it out in the open.

Command and Control – Recounts the many near misses in the atomic weapons program, centering on the tale of a missile silo explosion in Arkansas in the 80s (one of my co-workers lived nearby at the time and remembers feeling the explosion some 30 miles away). Fascinating read. Given all that is covered in this book, It really is amazing that there has not been an accidental explosion of a Nuclear weapon. 

Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry – Great, great book for putting in the hands of those who question whether one can be both for the preservation of marriage and yet also extend love towards those who would find a homosexual lifestly acceptable biblically. Allberry lays out the biblical case for traditional heterosexual ethic, and does it from his own perspective of being a same-sex attracted man who is fiercly committed to a life of celibacy. I had a chance to interview him last fall for a project we’re working on at FamilyLife and was VERY impressed with his compassionate, humble spirit.

Defiance by Tec – Reading this book was ridiculously inspiring and humbling at the same time. It recounts the brave leadership the Bielski brothers gave to hiding upwards of 1500 Jews from Nazi persecution in the Bellarussian forest. What incredible men! Made me feel very small, and yet emboldened to do brave things. You can watch the movie version of the book by the same name starring Daniel Craig. Very inspiring as well and fairly accurate.

Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards – Wow this book blew my mind. It was much more influential than I could have ever imagined. And I am under no illusion that I even really comprehended the main point of the book. In fact, most of it was very difficult to follow and tedious in its repetiion. But after completing it I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the soul and the various factors that weigh in on every motivation and decision we make. How ‘free’ are we truly? It deepend my trust and faith in God’s sovereign hand to guide me through life. Definitely worth taking the time to read. I read it with a couple of other guys (and was the only one of the three to finish it... and if one of you two are reading this I hope you feel just a twinge of guilt) and it was a great forum for reading and making better sense of it. I think this was honestly one of the most influential books I've read in the last few years in terms of understanding the human soul.

Bomb by J. Shankin – Tells the story of the building of the atomic bomb and also weaves in the espionage efforts by the Russians to steal the key program secrets as they happened. Written for a High School student, but a great read for anyone. Reads like a novel. Enjoyed the audio version during the daily commute.

Pensees by Pascal – one of the most widely read books of all time. Pascal’s theological ponderings are thought provoking and soul enriching. I read this in small daily doses over the course of the year (some of which are posted on this blog) and found that to be a tremendously enriching approach.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry - Not my favorite of Berry's books, but still good. I think the whole book is worth the essay from which the title is drawn (the last half of the book), as well as the essay on tobacco. 

A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry - Started reading this book because of a friend's
recommendation. He had heard Tim Keller say this book was the best single summary of why we think the way we do today. Written by an atheist French philosophy professor, you wouldn't know it (that he's an atheist) till nearly the end of the book, as he treats Christianity pretty fairly, even emphasizing the importance of it in shaping western thought. Readable, interesting, accessible. Need to read it again. If anyone wants to read/discuss, let me know.

Mastery by Robert Greene – Every young man or woman should read this book. It is so good at outlining some of the basic principles that lead to someone becoming a “Master” in their field. In fact, Greene presents these more as laws than principles, showing how they work time and time again, even debunking the belief that only ‘geniuses’ really become masters in their fields. Instead, he seems to make the case that those who work hard to become Masters in their field also become geniuses. Great read, though laced with some evolutionary mumbo-jumbo, but one can sort through that and still benefit greatly from the book. I was put on to Greene by reading some of Ryan Holiday (who reads like crazy and publishes an excellent monthly reading list – sign up for his email here). Ryan points to Greene as his mentor and as the man who taught him everything he knows about his research method. I'd put this book at the top of your reading list for 2015 if you are under 30. If that is you, then don't let the year end without reading it.

Other good books I'm working on right now:

J.R.R. Tolkien Bio by Humphrey Carpenter - wow. what an amazing biography. I love, love, love reading about his life. Most fascinating part about him is learning that he wrote LOTR to make sense of the languages he had created (and not the other way around).

Strange Glory - Another excellent bio on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In some ways I like this better than the one by Metaxas.

"S" by J.J. Abrams and some other guy - fascinating approach to a novel. Amazing design detail. I don't think I've ever seen a book quite like this.

As always you can check my Shelfari feed to see what I’m reading right now. The theme for reading this year will be “Book discussion groups.” Right now I’m reading 5 different books in discussion groups, sometimes only covering a chapter or two a month. They are as follows:

  1. Center Church by Tim Keller
  2. Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
  3. Lost in the Middle by Paul David Tripp
  4. The Story of Christianity Vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez
  5. Slaughter House Five (finished the book but waiting to discuss...)

Discussion groups are a GREAT way to trick yourself 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Bibles for a Young Boy to Read

A friend recently sent me the following email:

Hey John,

Was just wondering if you knew of any other Bible/Spiritual publications similar to the Action Bible
My son has read and re-read it a few times and recently asked us for a "new bible" that is similar to that one. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks buddy,

This is a great question because it's one I think a lot of parents worry about. How do I put engaging Bibles in front of my kids that help increase their interest in Scripture and pave the way for them to eventually read a real Bible? If you don't have an Action Bible, It's a GREAT start. It's like a Bible in a high quality comic book form. 

Here's how I responded....

Have you seen the Jesus Story Book Bible? Love that one.
It's not the same as the "Action Bible" in terms of the art and comic book style - but it is really good for the whole family and seeks to weave all the stories of the Bible together and point out how they relate to Jesus (instead of simply telling the major stories of the Bible as stand alone stories).
You can also get this version with audio CDs and a DVD. These are great for the kids to listen to as they fall asleep.
John Isaac also really likes "The Picture Bible" - definitely an older style, but it's great.
I know some families that also love the Lego Bible, called the "Brick Bible". I looked it over briefly, but never got a copy.
There's also an action bible devotion book. again, I've not used it yet. But I think we may check it out soon.
BUT, this week I got John Isaac the ESV Action Bible Study Bible. It's basically a full blown ESV Bible (all the same text of any other ESV) with pages from the Action Bible weaved throughout and kid-level study notes. He LOVES it. He's been reading it a fair amount on his own - much more than I expected him to do. And he's carried it to church. Prior to this he was carrying his Action Bible and a copy of the ESV (so he could look up the text the preacher was reading, but also read the Aciton Bible during the sermon). It's really turning out to be the perfect Bible to help him transition from a kid's story Bible to a real Bible.
 [Ok so there's even a "trailer" for the Bible - I didn't put that info in the email... but see a glimpse below]
On another note, I bribed John Isaac to read this kids church history series when he was 8, then again this year. He really liked it. Great to get this stuff in them now. Be aware that this is not a picture book format - much more like regular books, but all story based. Might try reading one of the stories to the family each week over dinner.
This one's great as well. Definitely picture based - aimed at younger kids.

Let me know if you've run across any other Bibles you like, (or any you don't for that matter) - and put your thoughts in the comments.