Monday, August 25, 2008

Keeping it Between the Ditches: Living the Christian Life - Ray Sikes

Honest, non-religious writing about the stuff that matters

Keeping it Between the Ditches: Living the Christian Life
Author: Ray Sikes (raysikes@gmail.com)
Publisher: Ray Sikes
Pages: 201

Ray Sikes won me over right from the start in Keeping it Between the Ditches. He writes, "I’ve tried to avoid ‘religious’ writing and simply tell the truth about believing in Jesus." It’s a simple concept, but it’s what makes this book so rewarding.

Sikes goes on to tell of his frustrations and disappoints a couple of years ago when he wondered, "What I had missed out on in the ‘abundant life’ that Jesus had promised to his followers?" How many of us have felt the same way? Even though Jesus said that his yoke was easy, many Christians discover that living the Christian life can be complicated. With hope for finding help in my own life, I knew that this was a book that I wanted to read.

As I read further I could not help being reminded of Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz. Sikes’ use of stories from his own life, the non-religious language and the revealing honesty are all reminiscent of Miller’s style.

It’s also obvious that he has a gift of teaching. He has a balanced perspective, his conclusions are Biblically-based and he shares the truth in love. His manner reminds me of the description of wisdom given in the book of James: "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (James 3:17 ESV). These are characteristics that every teacher should aspire to emulate.

This book, however, is not a Bible study. Sikes is telling his story. It reminds me of a thought expressed by F. W. Boreham. No one has ever been born whose story is not worth telling. Sikes makes his own easy to read and fills it with meaning. Anyone with a heart that sincerely desires to follow Christ can benefit from the practical wisdom in page after page. The insights are on target—firmly rooted in reality.

Lines like the following, which speak of the difficulties in life, encouraged me: "Each day is an opportunity to serve God, love others, and rejoice, despite our circumstances. Even in the worst of times, there are glimpses of grace, and whatever comes my way is better than what I actually deserve."

Knowing that I write for a publication that caters to music lovers, I should add that music has been a big part of Sikes’ life. In addition to being a discerning music listener, he has played bass in Christian bands, contributed to songwriting and been a part of worship teams. Reflecting on his varied experience, he writes, "Over the long haul, the music I have loved and don’t get tired of is simply ‘real.’ It’s not so much a performance as a genuine bit of communication from one artist’s soul to the rest of us. I love three simple guitar notes that convey emotion more than a flurry of guitar riffs that are merely fret board calisthenics. Give me a ragged vocal that’s tinged with the scars of humanity instead of a pitch-perfect display of vocal prowess any day. Write an honest lyric about the love of God or even the love of a good woman, but don’t make me listen to religious platitudes or romantic cliches. I have better things to do with my time, and I’ve found that God often is found in silence and not in so much noise."

I think this observation reflects what Sikes has accomplished in this book. He provides a realistic perspective on a multitude of subjects that include: music, substance abuse, cultural engagement, sex, singleness, marriage, family, work, money, church, the Bible, prayer and more.
As a single person, I felt like I gained a more sensible view of sex and marriage. I came across unique thoughts.

I found myself identifying with some of the author’s experience in church life. He lays to rest the idea that the only way to serve God is through vocational ministry. If you have ever lived under that mindset, it can be a real burden and hindrance. His thoughts are freeing.

I was challenged by his desire to live simply and avoid the many forms of materialism. This book is worth reading for a Christian at any stage of maturity. It’s also a book that a non-Christian could pick-up and understand.

Keeping it Between the Ditches is a reminder that treasure can be found apart from well-known names, large promotional efforts and media hype. As Jesus said in one of his parables, it could be in a field, off the well-worn ways of commerce. This book is a keeper.
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