As Easter approaches, churches and believers around the world place a special emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah—events that are the cornerstones of modern Christianity. As reading selections for the season, we’ve chosen five new books that offer messages of faith, resilience and hope and expand on the promise of Easter.
FILLING A VOID
Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing examines the many things we chase in the quest for fulfillment. Some are obvious—wealth, success, appearance—but others are surprising, including religious practices like trying to pray more or do good works. Wilson’s point is that even though we try many solutions for the emptiness we feel, if God isn’t at the heart of our journey, we will find only empty promises. As in his previous book, Plan B, the Nashville pastor writes in a conversational style that’s easily accessible, while still offering moments of great challenge, like a tap on the soul to say, “This is you, pal.” If you’ve been chasing after “the next thing” that will finally make your life worthwhile, I highly recommend Empty Promises—you might discover you’ve bought into a few dead ends yourself.
Also calling us to re-evaluate our lives and our religion is Jim Cymbala’s Spirit Rising: Tapping into the Power of the Holy Spirit. The pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, Cymbala believes that the true power of faith is found not in prayer and worship songs, but comes only from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Cymbala acknowledges that many Christians today hear the term “the Holy Spirit” and picture emotional church services dominated by bizarre behavior. As a result, they become cautious and withdrawn from what the Spirit really is—the presence of God as a guide and comfort. Using examples from the teachings of Christ and the writings of Paul, Peter and more, Cymbala reveals how fundamental the Holy Spirit is to Christian faith. He also shares effective accounts from friends and members of his own church who have experienced the Holy Spirit’s power to transform lives. Spirit Rising is a thought-provoking call to Christians to set aside “to-do list” religion and seek the power of God as a real and active presence in every moment.
A PRESIDENT’S DEVOTIONAL
During his time in office, President Jimmy Carter displayed a candor about his Christian faith that until then was remarkably rare in a modern president. Others had kept their faith largely private, but Carter spoke readily about both his faith and his personal failings as he strove to live by it. Through the Year With Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President is a reflection of that life of faith, offered as a guide for other believers. Drawn from Sunday school lessons Carter taught throughout his life (a ministry he followed even while president), each daily devotion offers the insight of a man trying to connect with God and understand his place in the world, not as a leader or politician, but as a child of God and a follower of Christ. The passages are brief—a Bible verse, Carter’s personal thoughts on the passage and a closing prayer—but the thoughts are often rich and surprising. Neither politics nor history nor memoir is the point here; this excellent devotional is all about looking at life and faith and learning how to live them together.
LOST AT SEA
The Fourth Fisherman, by Joe Kissack, is a story about men lost at sea—one lost in the sea of worldly success and excess, and the others lost in the actual vast waters of the Pacific Ocean. The story begins in 2005 as three day-laborers gather to act as hands for a small fishing boat captain in the remote Mexican village of San Blas. Their fishing trip goes awry when an unexpected storm and their captain’s misjudgment set them adrift in the powerful currents of the Pacific. As the fishermen struggle to survive exhaustion, dehydration and lack of food, Kissack contrasts their story with his life as a driven television executive headed for his own personal storm. The stark hardships the fishermen face and Kissack’s life crumbling under the weight of his material success serve as effective counterpoints. The fishermen, who have never had anything, find a faith that sustains them against unbelievable odds, while Kissack, who has everything, must almost lose it all in order to come to the realization that what he really needs is Christ. In the end, Kissack suggests, all of us are lost at sea, and the only thing we can do is place our faith in the One who can bring us safely home.
FROM GRIEF TO HOPE
The worst fate most parents can imagine is to live through the loss of a child—especially a child lost to murder. This is the tragedy that has weighed on John Ramsey for more than 15 years. The murder of his daughter JonBenét was a media sensation, sparking a frenzy that saw accusations raised against John, his wife Patsy and even JonBenét’s nine-year-old brother. For Ramsey, it felt as if he had entered the life of Job, going from successful business owner and happy family man to a shattered father hounded by paparazzi and cynical policemen. The Other Side of Suffering is Ramsey’s story of his struggle, compounded by the death of Patsy from cancer and the loss of all he thought he was.
One might expect such a story to be bitter, with railings against a heartless media and incompetent investigators, not to mention JonBenét’s killer (whose identity remains unknown). The Other Side of Suffering, however, is instead a beautiful and soul-wrenching account of a man’s struggle to find God’s grace in the midst of tragedy and injustice. Ramsey’s growing faith through mounting grief and disappointments is moving, stirring the heart with both the pain he has felt and the love he has experienced. Amid crushing sorrow, Ramsey finds uplifting peace; through sadness and loss, he learns the real promise of God’s joy. As he puts it himself, he has survived to reach “the other side of suffering” and discover hope again. And in the end, isn’t that the very heart of Easter?