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Book Review--The First Time We Saw Him

I can best tell you how I experienced Matt Mikalatos's book "The First Time We Saw Him" with a story.

In the early dark morning, a jolting loud crash woke me. I wandered around the apartment inspecting for fallen items. When I came up short, I determined that it must've been something outside or in the neighboring apartment, so I went back to bed. 

Just as my eyes closed, my neighbor's kitchen light shone through my bedroom window, and I snarled at its disturbance. This is why I close the shutters at night--why were they open?! Then it dawned on me--the shutters caused the big crash! 

We had been told that the "wind was going to change tonight." With it would come Fall. Growing up in Texas and living there most of my life, this concept was lost on me. Fall breezed into Texas slowly. And it rarely stayed a day or two before Summer returned. A pair of shorts and a t-shirt were kept in our closets beside coats and boots because of the ever fluctuating weather. In Texas, wind is talked about as it effects pollen during allergy season and field goals during football season. People speak the cliche terms "winds of change" metaphorically, not literally. 

But this wind that blew through the city of Bologna, Italy, was a significant thing. Temperatures dropped 25 degrees, and warmth will not return til Spring. The change of the wind was so sudden, so drastic, that it blew open my shutters, which previously rested easily in place--drawn but not locked--for 8 weeks. 

I recalled the line from C.C. Moore's classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas"--"I tore open the shutters and threw up the sash." I recalled the line from the Disney film Mary Poppins, "I shall stay until the wind changes." I recalled that both of these stories take place in Europe, and suddenly I went, 'Ohhh there is more to this experience than I realized!" And just as quickly as the shutters had crashed open, my mind experienced a richer understanding of both these tales.

When I read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" or "Mary Poppins," I understood the stories. The words speak for themselves, but there are subtleties of the story that I don't realize I'm missing. The more I learn about the context, the more deeply I experience the story. 

This is how I experienced "The First Time We Saw Him" in relation to Jesus. 

I have read the Gospels many times. I even spent one year reading nothing else. I am familiar with all of the stories--both the actual accounts of Jesus' life as well as the fictional stories He told to enrich people's understanding of concepts. But because I didn't live when He lived, in the places where He lived, in the culture in which He lived, there are things that I don't fully understand simply because of my lack of experience. 

 In "The First Time We Saw Him," Matt recreates these accounts and stories of Jesus in modern day settings. He is not "adding to the Bible" but brings the experience to life so that the cultural nuances are not lost. And as a result of reading it, I feel I have experienced a richer picture of our Savior. Even though my relationship with Jesus is intimate, and I am fully reliant on the truth of the scriptures, sometimes Jesus' life and stories can seem distant--it was sooo long ago, sooo far away. 

2 years ago I stood in Rome where the apostle Paul preached the Gospel. Suddenly this saint who previously felt like a legendary hero to me, felt more like a mortal man. He was doing the same thing I was doing in the same place I was doing it, feeling the same way I felt [scared].

"The First Time We Saw Him" brings the street of Rome experience to the couch in my living room as I read it, and the book itself is enjoyable and easy enough to read it in that fashion. 

It was my chosen Sunday afternoon read for weeks. I took it slow and read one chapter a week and meditated on the enlightened picture of my Savior until the following Sunday.  But it is captivating enough that you could devour it quickly if that is your preference.

I would highly recommend The First Time We Saw Him for yourself, as a gift to a person of faith or to one who wants to explore the nature of Christ's character. It would serve well in a group discussion as it taps into emotions, perceptions, and current-day circumstances. I really don't see how someone could NOT benefit from it!

Available on Amazon in paperback and kindle versions.

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