Was Your Life Changed By A Book?

Last week, a friend wrote on Facebook about a challenge from the New York Times. The Times is asking for entries to answer the query: Was your life changed by a book?  Readers are encouraged to submit an entry of 200 words or less about a book that has influenced your outlook.  I’ve been thinking about this question. What one book would I choose?

On my bookshelf there are many books that helped shape my way of thinking. I thought about Rich Thinking about the World’s Poor by Peter Meadows which helped shape my views on poverty and missions.  I considered a humorous book of short stories by Bailey White, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Or, perhaps I would select a book from my childhood enticing me to enjoy novels. I particularly recall my delight at ten years old reading The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.

My mind kept returning though to the obvious book: The Bible, the book of books. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the dramatic, inspirational, and practical dynamics of the sacred book of books. The Bible has inspired multitudes of persons in its uniqueness among books. But let’s keep it short.

My first true encounter with the Bible was almost absurd. I was probably eleven years old at the time that I read excerpts from another book, a bestseller at the time, The Exorcist. My oldest sister had a copy, and I glanced a bit too long at it.  I was scared, maybe even scarred,  by the story of the demonic possession of Regan, an eleven year old girl. I had trouble sleeping for fear that I would share the fate of Regan.

At this time, in the early 1970s, the movie was released, too. I felt like I even resembled the actress, Linda Blair, who portrayed the demon-possessed girl. I was doomed.

My sister assured me that it all was a story, make-believe if you will. However, I knew just a smidgeon about the Gospels mentioning demons. So, I looked up instances in the Gospels of demonic possessions.  Not only did they exist, but they had the power to possess the body and mind. I was terrified even more than before I read the Bible’s accounts.

Demons existed!

So my first forays into reading Biblical texts made me a believer, not of the love of God, but in the power of the devil. If the Bible had accounts of demonic possession, then I could not idly dismiss the existence of such evil personified. I felt terribly hopeless.

My heightened fear of potential demonic possession eased, but a general malaise stayed with me. I had no hope. All life seemed purposeless. It wasn’t just the specter of Linda Blair that frightened me. It was just life in general. What meaning did my life have?

Then, I heard something when I was around 12 years old.  I heard a man speak at my  church who seemed to have an unmistakable sense of the divine about him. It was as if he spoke from a different perspective, not his perspective but from God’s.

I was convinced that the man in the front of the church had something more powerful than words with him that night. He offered me Hope. And I, like John Wesley, felt my heart strangely warmed. I reached out and took hold of Hope.

After that day, the Bible was no longer a book that just offered evidence of the power of the demonic. It offered a story of the One who was more powerful than any demon. I read the Gospels with new clarity. How had I overlooked it before? You see, Jesus did indeed confront demons but he had power over them. People were liberated from the power of the devil.

Since then, I see the Bible in so many ways. It’s not a book to condemn but to set free. It’s about light, not darkness. It’s a book of hidden treasures, with new insights to be gained daily from its reading.

I am certain that the New York Times is not looking for essays on the efficacy of the Bible in influencing a preteen girl both towards fear, and later, freedom. We, in the United States, live in a post Christian world. That great and glorious best-seller, the Bible, has been relegated to a place where it’s influence can be explained as a history lesson, a cultural milestone of years gone by. Current Bible enthusiasts are regarded as oddities, stuck in cultural backwaters that is being swept away by the modern cynical age we live in.

I remain, though, convinced of my convictions. The book that has changed my outlook more than any book I’ve ever read is the Bible. No matter how trite or how inane it sounds, the Bible remains my bedrock and foundation as the most powerful book in my life.  It’s words are like my daily bread, new every morning.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 

Isaiah 43:19

If you want to submit your entry about a book that has shaped your life to the New York Times, you must do it now. Entries must be submtted  by 10:00 a.m on January 15. 

Shorts

No, I am not wearing short pants. It’s unseasonably cold in Louisiana. We’re having days  upon days of subfreezing night temperatures. I am speaking of short bits of information that I will write about in this space.

  • I finished a Shutterfly book this week about my father’s family. I wrote about my family’s arrival to the New World in the early 1700s to the present. Lots of pictures of my modern ancestors kept it fresh.  I will try to flesh out a few stories into blog-worthy posts in the next several weeks. Especially intriguing are the stories about my ancestor whose first name was a derivative of the word, Bear. Ursin, from the Latin, Ursa, was bearish in his pursuits, accomplishments and appetites.
  • Since the weather has been unseasonably cold, I took the opportunity to read a bit. Three books captivated my interest.
  • White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik is not the best-written book. However the subject was intriguing and it was well-researched. The story is about a woman who left New Orleans with a black identity and white skin, married into a white family, and forever left her black roots behind. At least she did until she died. Her daughter tells an intriguing story of New Orleans society, where the one-drop rule kept otherwise white-looking people forever in the colored/black social class. Thanks, Carol King, for the tip on a good read.
  • The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee and David John was a gripping tale of a girl who, at first, left North Korea for a few days lark, but could never return. Her story makes one wish fervently for the overthrow of the North Korean regime. Thanks for the suggestion, Michael Dickson. 
  • You Were Born For This: 7 Keys to a life of Predictable Miracles by Bruce Wilkinson and David Kopp is a book I haven’t completed yet. The premise is that we all experience nudges from God to do sometimes simple things that have great impact. Here’s an excerpt:

    We’re never more fully alive and complete than when we experience God working through us and in spite of us in a way that changes someone’s life right before our eyes Nothing compares to the wonder of seeing God’s goodness and glory break through – and knowing we played a part in it. p 26

That’s a wrap for this post. Stay warm. And don’t forget to wait on God for nudges to bring forth a miracle in someone’s life.