That is not only how one might describe the image on this particular post, but also, perhaps, the books I have chosen to commend to you in this third installment of my 2011 recommended reading list. My selections for you are diverse, but I trust you will find each of them brings a peculiar satisfaction and, indeed, joy.
Speaking of joy, let me begin with a recommendation that will indeed bring not only joy but life, and that from a surprising place in the Bible.
I’ll never forget one of my friends, a young assistant minister (who is now a senior pastor of a great church in Los Angeles), beginning his sermon series on Habakkuk by saying: “If Habakkuk were to come to you in heaven and ask you, ‘what did you think of my book?’ What would you say?” I remember that I chuckled. Then I gulped hard. Many dedicated believers will, of course, not be able to answer the prophet’s question because we didn’t give due diligence to this beautiful little book. There is great power for living in this oft-neglected book of the Bible. Therefore, it is good that I recommend one of the books that I read earlier this summer:
The Expectant Prophet: Habakkuk Simply Explained by Dr. John D. Currid (EP Books, 2009). Dr. John Currid, a colleague at Reformed Theological Seminary, began his fine, pastoral commentary on Habakkuk by examining and diagnosing the current situation in the world today. This is not only helpful to better grasp the challenge before the Church today, but is important for me to better understand Habakkuk for today. Dr. Currid wrote,
“The Zeitgeist of the day is man self-centeredness — that is, that the entire world revolves around humanity. The self-absorbed ‘me-ism’ of the day in the West is almost overwhelming. We need a radical change in thinking that acknowledges that God is the center of reality, and not we ourselves. It should be theism him over ‘me-ism.'” (9)
As Dr.Currid wound his way through the fascinating three chapters that form this neglected, yet God-breathed book, the reader will come to enjoy the exegetical work of Dr. Currid combined with his pastoral insights. I particularly liked his application sections which he calls “points to ponder.” The pastor-scholar at work is good to behold in a day when many seminary professors are either one or the other. The book of Habakkuk, and this book, of course, concludes with the joyous strains of the sovereignty of God. In the midst of mystery, suffering, trial and affliction, the reader is able to identify with Habakkuk. As Dr. Currid concludes,
“At the close of the book we see no complaints by the profit. He now understands. So what we see is Habakkuk pure, unadulterated joy and triumphal singing to the sovereign God of Israel.” (135)
Pick up this fine little commentary which reads like a wonderful story that it is. Then, you will be able to answer the prophet’s question, if he does inquire, and say, “Yes, Habakkuk, I did read your book. I was greatly blessed by it. I saw the beauty of the Lord shining through it all, and it gave me hope. Than you Habakkuk.”
Tonight We Die as Men: The Untold Story of Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment from Taccoa to D-Day by EM Gardner and Roger Day, forward by Ed Shames (Osprey Direct, 2009). For me, there is nothing like the gritty, gripping epic story of a unit of ordinary men brought together in extraordinary circumstances to accomplish an unimaginable goal. In this fantastic World War II book about a famous battalion attached to the fabled 101st airborne division leader is brought face to face, page by page, and word by word with just such an extraordinary historical scenario. From Toccoa, Georgia, where the unit was brought together in trained, to Wiltshire, England in 1941, through their landing on D-Day, and then, for who survived, their advancement “against horrendous odds,” This great American story is told by the very soldiers who were there. It holds a special place on my library shelf, as it helps me in my family remember the great sacrifice of the greatest generation and the inspiring stories that lead us to consider what we, too, can do for our God and for our country. This, too, I commend.
The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After— Lyndon B. Johnson‘s Pivotal First Day as President by Steven M. Gillon (Basic books, 2009). “If you were alive then, you will never forget that day.” Phrases become clichés because they’re true. I was alive at that time, though a youngster, yet I, too, will always remember that day when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Like many of you, I have read quite a bit about the events surrounding that day. My family and I have even gone to Dealey Plaza, the site of the Texas School Book Depository–the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas Texas—seeking to relive that moment which, without hyperbole, marked a turning point in modern American history. I have even read some of the more technical books on everything from ballistics to autopsies conducted on the beloved, controversial, deceased leader of America. What I have not read, and what I had not really thought of before reading this book, was the impact of all of this on the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. To be honest, LBJ was not one of my favorite presidents then, and not much as changed over the years. It is all the more amazing, then, that I should actually find myself sympathetic towards LBJ as I read this book. He and Lady Byrd made the journey from a once-powerful-player in Congress to then-neglected vice president selected against the judgment of Bobby Kennedy and chosen undoubtedly only for political gamesmanship, to becoming the leader of the free world amidst the unspeakable tragedy that commenced at 12:30 PM on November 22, 1963. I did not realize that such political intrigue was unfolding even in the hospital as the president lay dying, or more correctly, was already dead. I had not comprehended the difficulties that Johnson faced in both providing comfort for Mrs. Kennedy, deference toward the Kennedy political handlers, concern for the Kennedy family, including a telephone conference with the Atty. Gen., Bobby Kennedy, and how those difficulties intermingled with the lives of others to bring about that unforgettable photograph of the constitutionally ordained President of the United States raising his right hand, taking the oath of office, with his wife on his right side and his predecessor’s widow, still bloodstained, on his left side. In a matter of “24 hours” (yes, this is another heart-t**** “24” book, like Rawhide Down—I can’t hide the fact that I really enjoy this new genre) the reader will be convinced that there were “troubling hints of what was to come” (237) in Johnson’s “minor failings,” as well as his “character flaws” that led to irreparable damage with needed political allies. As the author states with poignant brevity,
“In the end, JFK’s death made the Johnson presidency possible, but it also doomed it to failure. The tragic circumstances that allowed LBJ to ascend to the office would make him one of the most influential, but also one of the most tragic, of modern presidents.” (236)