About Barbara Harper

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Do More Better

After several days of feeling like I was just spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere, I decided to pick up Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies. I’ve read his blog for years and saw this book on a Kindle sale a while back.

When we think productivity, we often think of life hacks. But before Tim gets to practical advice, he lays a biblical foundation with clarity about usefulness and purpose of productivity.

Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to live out your existing purpose (p. 10).

We somehow assume that our value is connected to our busyness. But busyness cannot be confused with diligence. It cannot be confused with faithfulness or fruitfulness. . . .  Busyness may make you feel good about yourself and give the illusion of getting things done, but it probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering (pp. 20-21).

No amount of organization and time management will compensate for a lack of Christian character, not when it comes to this great calling of glory through good—bringing glory to God by doing good to others . . .there is no great gain in being a productivity monster if the rest of your life is out of control (pp. 24-25).

After sifting through what productivity is and isn’t good for and what our purpose in life is as Christians, Tim shares this pithy definition: “Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” (p. 16).

He deals with enemies of productivity and the need to define our responsibilities and roles.

Then he discusses tools. Old-school equivalents would be a task-management tool, like a Daytimer or to-do list, a calendar, and a filing cabinet of vital information. But Tim brings us into the 21st century by sharing how to use apps that serve these purposes.

He shares his routines for managing his time and energy. We only have limited amounts of each, yet more opportunities to use them that we can handle, so we need to make decisions. “Motivation gets you started, but habit keeps you going. You need to use those times of high motivation to build habits and to embed those habits in a system. That way, when motivation wanes, the system will keep you going” (p. 79).

He reminds us that “Your primary pursuit in productivity is not doing more things, but doing more good” (p. 39). Sometimes that good is not a physical or practical thing one can check off a list. I had to learn this over and over while visiting with my mother-in-law when she was in assisted living. I “felt” like I was accomplishing more when there was something physical I could do, like tidy up her room. But she would get agitated if I puttered around, saying it made her feel like a bad housekeeper—even though she wasn’t supposed to be doing the housekeeping then. What she needed most was someone to sit down with her, look her in the eye, and talk and listen.

Interruptions are inevitable, and we need to view them from God’s sovereign hand.

Because your life is so prone to interruption and redirection, you have to hold to your plans loosely, trusting that God is both good and sovereign. At the same time, you cannot hold to your plans too loosely or you will be constantly sidetracked by less important matters. The solution is to approach each situation patiently and prayerfully and to trust that, in all things, God will be glorified so long as you flee from sin (p. 95).

Tim has some worksheets that tie into the material in the book on his site. One appendix shares a system for taming email; the second lists “20 Tips to Increase your Productivity.”

I read a lot of management books in early married years, but it was good to brush up on vital principles. Plus I don’t think any of them included some of the perspectives Tim shares here. I like that he repeats certain key principles.

This was a short book—128 pages—but it’s full of wisdom and good advice.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragements, Grace and Truth, Senior Salon,
Booknificent,Carole’s Books You Loved)

Disagreeing Like a Christian

how to disagree like a Christian

I’ve grieved the last few years over how angry and fragmented our society has become. Disagreements certainly aren’t new, but they seem to be more numerous and angry than I have ever seen.

Maybe it’s always been this way, and social media just brings it all out into the open. I don’t know.

But hatefulness and personal attacks seem more prevalent now than I have ever known.

I used to hear the phrase, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” People would discuss a point where they differed, come to an impasse, and set it aside. They didn’t let politics or policies come between their friendship. The issue in question might come up again, but they didn’t feel a need to hammer away at it every time they talked.

Nowadays, it seems people aren’t content to just disagree. They have to constantly poke at the issue on social media. They can’t stop with “I think you’re wrong.” They have to insinuate that people who think or do differently from themselves are stupid or somehow morally inferior.

It’s even more grievous when these zinger posts or snarky memes come at the hands of Christians.

Disagreements are inevitable. But is there a way to handle them without destroying our testimony or harming others or making things worse?

I think so. Here are some considerations.

Decide if it’s worth it to voice disagreement. You’ve heard the saying, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” Proverbs 26:17 says, “Like one who grabs a dog by the ears is a passerby who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” Paul told Timothy, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

Now, Paul certainly engaged in controversy. He had no problem taking a stand and even naming people who were wrong. But his arguments were over the truth of the gospel and godly practice. People could be led astray from the Lord by what false teachers were spreading, so Paul had to take a stand. But there were other “foolish, ignorant controversies” that it would do more harm than good to get into.

Paul also told Titus, another young pastor, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). He went on to say, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (verses 10-11). There are some people who love to bait others, to stir up controversy, to do little but argue. We’ve had to unfriend some of these kinds of people on social media after a number of appeals were ignored. Proverbs 26:4-5 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” There are times to answer someone and times not to. We need God’s leading and wisdom to know which.

Keep in mind our purpose. If our motive is scoring points for our side, that’s just pride. That’s not a good enough reason to engage. If we want to correct what we consider wrong in a person’s thinking or change their minds, we can’t just blast away at them. We need to keep in mind our bigger purpose, over and above our current disagreement: to love and please God, to love and minister to people.

Keep the right tone. Paul went on to instruct Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

If I see something on Facebook or Twitter that gets me riled up, I know that’s not the time to respond. I have to give it enough time that I am not angry and I am thinking clearly. I lamented to my daughter-in-law recently that I had tried to be very careful and even on a certain controversial issue online, trying to state my case yet not provoke others. But other people seemed to just blast away without regard to whether they offended anyone else. I pondered out loud, “Why can’t I just say what I think?” She said, “Because the Holy Spirit in you is working.” I’m thankful He checks my spirit. I don’t always respond as I should, but I am trying.

James refers to “the meekness of wisdom” and says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13, 17).

Make sure we understand their position. We need to ask questions and repeat back to them what we think they’re saying. If you follow some Facebook and Twitter threads, you see some people are way off track from the original statement. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” The New Living translation puts it a little more colorfully: “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” James says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

A fear years ago when I was a community guest columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, someone took me to task over something I’d written. The only problem was, I had not said or implied what he inferred. But I could not seem to convince him that he had read into my writing what wasn’t there.

We need to be careful not to presume, infer, or extrapolate.

Look for areas of agreement. In today’s “cancel culture,” when a person publicly does one thing wrong or holds one unpopular opinion, they’re totally blasted on social media. But disagreeing on one point doesn’t mean we’re totally against everything the person says or stands for.

Acknowledge their strong points. Sometimes we think we need to demean or ridicule someone’s position in order to argue against it. That will only make them defensive and unwilling to listen. And often it’s dishonest.

In Andrew T. Le Peau’s book, Write Better, he says, “If we want to be honest persuaders, we will be on the lookout for and stay away from hasty generalizations, false analogies, demonizing opponents, avoiding or sidelining the central issue (that is, using red herrings), and more. Honesty means respecting the truth as best we can know it, respecting contrary viewpoints, giving due credit, and using logic” (p. 44). He points out that “presenting the arguments for these other viewpoints in as strong a form as possible” (p. 55) is not only honest, but doing so actually strengthens our own arguments and the solutions we offer.

Argue against the issue, not the person. We need to avoid getting personal. We don’t need to demean or put down the other person.

Avoid pride. My son commented that some positions are morally superior. That’s true. But if we defend them from a standpoint of pride or condescension, we’re not going to gain hearers.

Years ago, before Facebook and even message boards, people could gather together over shared interests through email subscription loops. Everyone who joined the loop would get all the emails of anyone who participated. I was on one for a medical condition around the time that stem cells began making news. Some of us were concerned about stem cells being harvested from fetuses. Others did not regard a fetus as a viable human being. The issue could have blown up into a shouting match and led to a division in the group. By carefully wording what we had to say, both sides were able to voice their concerns. We could come to a better understanding of each other even if we couldn’t agree.

Romans 14

In Romans 14, Paul discusses how to handle different convictions among Christians on issues where the Bible did not have clear dividing lines. He didn’t tell them to hammer things out until everyone was on the same page. He told them it’s possible to live in love and unity with others in the body of Christ even when people have different opinions. They weren’t to despise or judge each other (verses 3-4). They should do everything as unto the Lord—even if they were doing different things (verse 6). They should be “fully convinced in their own mind” (verse 5) and remember we’re all accountable to the Lord (verses 7-12). They needed to be careful not to cause others to stumble (verses 13-21).

One of the issues of that day concerned what was okay to eat. Paul reminded them, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”

I’m afraid, in our zeal over controversy today, we haven’t put much thought into whether we’re destroying the work of God.

Jesus warned us that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

Most of these points take time and thought. And social media does not lend itself to context and nuance. Social media seems to thrive on drive-by barbs, on flinging verbal fuel for the fire rather than trying to put fires out. So social media may not be the best place to have meaningful discussions on hair-trigger issues. But It’s not impossible. We can let our lights shine there if we keep in mind God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.

Ephesians 4:29. Build each other up with grace

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Faith on Fire,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are a few noteworthy reads discovered in the last couple pf weeks.

On Deconversion. A plausible reason why we’re seeing more of this phenomenon.

Live According to a Plumb Line, not a Pendulum, HT to Challies.

Book Banning in an Age of Amazon, HT to Challies. “Forget the ‘firemen’ from Fahrenheit 451: You needn’t burn forbidden books if people can’t buy them in the first place.”

Is the Crucifixion of Christ Cosmic Child Abuse? HT to Challies. This video clip from the American Gospel film (which I haven’t seen but should) answers that charge as well as the question of why God needs sacrifice to forgive. It might be confusing if you don’t know who the people are in the video, but basically it shows clips from people on opposite viewpoints.

This World Is Passing Away. Beautifully written and a much-needed reminder.

Interactive Bird Map, HT to The Story Warren. This is pretty cool—follow the link to a site where you can click on a bird to see what it sounds like. We have some of these in our yard, but I had not connected which sounds went with which birds except the mourning dove.

“I See the Light” parody—with Ducks. HT to The Story Warren. This is one of my favorite Disney songs, but this parody made me laugh.

Finally, I loved this clip of a baby hearing violin music for the first time.

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Fridays do seem to come around rather quickly! It’s time for another pause to remember how God has blessed this week.

1. Jesse’s move went well. Rain was forecast for the day, but, thankfully, none fell while we were unloading. Jason came over to help. I mostly unpacked and washed the dishes, cookware, etc. that Jesse had bought or been given the last few years. It’s fun to see him excited about having his own place.

2. My daughter-in-law cooked up a storm last weekend. She brought dinner over here a couple of nights, then made several things for Jesse to just heat-and-heat. He won’t need to cook anything but these for at least a week.

3. Pi Day. Since the date 3.14 is the designation for pi—it’s a good excuse to have pie. Yes, we’re silly. 🙂 I didn’t even take a picture since my Facebook memories showed we’d had the same menu the last several years: Hamburger Pie, salad, and Chocolate Pretzel Pie. Here’s the picture from a couple of years ago—they looked the same this year:

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4. Industrious Timothy. Jason texted me one day this week that Mittu had a migraine and laid down for a while. Timothy entertained himself while Jason worked and checked on him at intervals. One time Jason came out and saw Timothy dusting the blinds, and he said he had also swept the stairs.

5. Jesse’s first laundry visit. 🙂 He bought a washer and dryer, but they won’t be delivered for a couple of weeks. We had invited him to do laundry here even before he bought his own appliances. It was fun to have dinner together an catch up on his week.

Bonus: COVID vaccines. Jim’s company has sponsored a few vaccination sessions in conjunction with a local pharmacy for those in certain age groups or with certain physical conditions. Both of us had health issues that qualified us. This last session included the kind of vaccine we wanted, so we went ahead and got them. Normally I’m a little wary of vaccines, since many people I know with transverse myelitis, the illness I had, contracted it after a vaccine. But, all things considered, after doing our research, we felt the risks involved with the vaccine were less than the risks of getting COVID. Everything went well, and we didn’t have a very long wait. We didn’t have problems afterward except a sore arm for a couple of days.

And that wraps up another week! What’s something good from your week?

The First Gardener

In The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones, Tennessee governor Gray London and his wife, Mackenzie, struggled for ten years to have a child. Now little Maddie is about to start kindergarten and Gray will soon be seeking reelection.

Then tragedy strikes. The whole state mourns with the family. But Mackenzie doesn’t seem like she’ll ever emerge from her grief.

Jeremiah Williams has been the gardener of the governor’s mansion for over twenty-five years. Each governor’s family has become special to him. He’s not sure how yet, but perhaps God will use him to minister to Mackenzie’s heart.

The main plot of this book deals with grief: the family’s, plus those who try to help them bear it. You could say a secondary plot is finding and following God’s leading. A subplot centers Mackenzie’s eccentric mother and her group of friends, which lightens the heaviness of the story in places.

Overall, I thought the story was good. You can’t help but sympathize with Mackenzie and her tendency to withdraw into herself. I didn’t care as much for the antics of the grandmother and her friends. I really liked the character of Jeremiah. There’s a twist about him at the end that I wasn’t expecting, though a few clues were sprinkled about. I also enjoyed the Southern flavor of the story.

But the book was marred for me by several unnecessary references. For instance, early on, after the grandmother’s friends leave her house, she takes off her clothes “just because she can” and does whatever she does in the house in the nude. Secondly, one of the grandmother’s friends is well-endowed, and mention is made of her breasts a number of times. And then Gray and Mackenzie are trying undergoing fertility treatments to conceive another child, and when “baby-making time” is upon Mackenzie, she drops by her husband’s office to take advantage of it. None of these is explicit, but they are unnecessary and unwelcome. I don’t want to know when or how often a couple has sex, and I certainly don’t need pictures in my mind of a naked grandmother or her friend’s bustiness. I looked up my review of another of this author’s books from several years ago and noted mentions of nudity in it as well. Since this seems to be a penchant of hers, I’ll avoid her other books.

And that’s too bad, because otherwise she writes a good, heart-warming story.

How to Quiet Your Soul

How to quiet your soul

Has your soul been unquiet lately? The pandemic, civil unrest, the daily news, politics, social media bickering, and a host of other factors can disturb our peace.

We can’t live like ostriches with our heads in the sand. We need to live in but not of the world and minister to others. But what do we do when it all gets to be too much?

We all vary in how much news or social media is good for us. But when it’s too noisy in our souls, here’s how we can quiet them again:

Remember God’s love.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

In my early Christian days, when anything bad happened, my confidence in God’s love was shaken. How could He allow this if He loved me? What did I do wrong?

Though God sometimes uses calamities to discipline us, bad events aren’t always meant to chasten. He has many reasons for allowing trials and suffering. But He assures us of His love all through the Bible. We can rest secure in His love no matter what else is going on in the world.

Hope in God

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 43:5, NASB)

Other translations say disturbed, restless, or in turmoil in place of disquieted, but they all paint a similar picture. Like Peter on the water, we sink if we look at the storm. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be fine.

Wait on the Lord

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:24-26)

Just before these verses in Lamentations, Jeremiah writes of his soul being bowed down, yet having hope because “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:20-23). God will take care of us and meet our needs, but we have to wait on His timing.

Trust the Lord

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. (Isaiah 30:15)

Instead of sinking under the weight of trials. a quiet trust in God gives us strength to carry on.

The last phrase indicates that returning, rest, trusting, and quietness are related to our will (more on that in a moment). We need to deliberately turn to God and place our faith in Him. (Some good commentary on this verse is here, especially the one by MacLaren).

Quiet our souls

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.(Psalm 131:1-2)

The commentaries and ESV Study Bible notes I consulted all seemed to emphasize the idea of contentment here. A baby would normally clamor to be fed in the way it was used to from its mother, but here an older child is content to “simply [have] its mother’s presence.” “So the faithful worshiper is content with God’s presence, even when there are many things he would like God to explain” (ESV Study Bible notes, p. 1109).

Feed our souls truth

Someone mentioned the other day that we can’t tell people who are struggling, “Just trust the Lord and everything will be okay.” We should be empathetic, and there are times friends just need a listening ear. The psalms are full of laments, crying out to God in the midst of deep pain, betrayal, confusion, or loss. Trite answers don’t help at those times.

Yet the psalmists at some point reminded themselves of God’s truth. In all but one or two of them, the writer ended up in a different frame of mind from where he started. He reminded himself of God’s love, power, wisdom, and other attributes. He reviewed times in the past when God had intervened on his behalf.

The passages mentioned above indicate action on our part. Isaiah 30:15 said the people were unwilling to be quieted. Psalm 131:2 says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul. “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God” when he was surrounded by trouble (I Samuel 30:6b). The writer of Psalm 42 prayed, poured out his soul, and then admonished himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (verse 11).

We cry out to God for peace and rest of heart, and He ministers to us from His Word, His love, His providence. His Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Like the psalmists, we look to Him and hope in Him. And we join them is saying:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Psalm 34:4-8

When I looked up the definitions to one of the Greek words for “quiet” in one of these passages, one of them said that the same word was often translated “rest.” Rest would be another valuable word study, but it brought to mind this hymn: Jesus, I am Resting, Resting. May God give us grace to rest in Him today.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth,
Blogger Voices Network)

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

We had a lot of good things going on this week. Here are a few:

1. My husband’s birthday. We had grilled hamburgers with all the sides and Boston Creme Pie. It was a joy to celebrate his special day.

2. My youngest son’s job. When Jesse first started his job over a year ago, he was hired as a contract worker for six months. Then the company was supposed to evaluate whether they’d hire him on as a full employee. And then COVID happened. The company asked everyone to remain at their current status until things settled down. Jesse just got word on Friday that they are hiring him on—and giving him a raise! God’s timing is so perfect: Jesse is moving into his own apartment this weekend. Having more security in his job and more breathing room in his budget are a big help.

3. Friends’ generosity. A few of us are still Zooming into church. Last Sunday afternoon our pastor’s family dropped off a gift bag for Jesse from the church to wish him well on the next stage of his journey. There was a card everyone had signed, a couple of batches of cookies, and about half a dozen gift cards to area stores.

4. A voice text from Timothy Tuesday afternoon asked us if we wanted to “come eat pizza and hang out with me.” Well, what grandparent can refuse an invitation like that? 🙂

5. Signs of spring. While getting Sunday morning breakfast ready, I suddenly realized that it was light outside. The sunrise has been gradually occurring earlier, but it just hit me that it wasn’t dark that time of day. Though it’s still been cold at times, we’ve had some pleasantly warm afternoons. And these little beauties are up as well as some bigger ones in the back yard.

As I mentioned, Jesse is moving out this weekend. We’re happy we had him home longer than usual due to his school and employment situations. But it’s time. We’re excited for him. But we’ll miss him, and our “nest” will be truly empty. Thankfully he won’t be too far away, and he’ll come home to do laundry for a few weeks at least. 🙂

What’s something good from your week?

Hudson Taylor and Maria

Imagine a group of expats working in China in the 1850s. Two of the young people fall in love. The young man asks the girl’s guardian for permission to marry her—and receives a resounding “No.”

This was Hudson Taylor’s experience. He had come to China as a missionary in 1854. He had been interested in someone else back in England. After a lot of correspondence and angst, he finally accepted the fact that this woman would never consent to go to China.

A few years later, he met Maria Dyer. She and her sister were orphans under the care of a single lady missionary in China. As Hudson and Maria grew attracted to each other, Hudson sent a letter to Maria’s guardian requesting Maria’s hand in marriage.

The guardian, Miss Aldersey, not only said no: she stood over Maria while requiring her to refuse Hudson and request him to never broach the subject again.

Part of Miss Aldersey’s objection was that Hudson was not a “gentleman” by the standards of rank at that time. But more than that, Hudson was unwittingly and not on purpose a polarizing figure at the time.

Anti-foreign sentiment was high in China then. Just the presence of Europeans could start a riot in some areas. On top of that, their foreign ways were a distraction. Once while Hudson was speaking, a man watched him in rapt attention. Hudson thought the gospel was finally breaking through to someone. But the listener questioned him, not about his message, but his jacket: why in the world did it have decorative buttons that didn’t fasten to anything, and what a silly waste was that.

Hudson decided to dress as a Chinese. He shaved his head except for a patch at the back to have extension woven in for the long queue fashionable at the time. He dressed in the style of a Chinese teacher.

And it worked. He could move about freely, and the Chinese were not immediately put off by him. It didn’t take them long to realize he was a foreigner, but his integration into their way of life went a long way toward furthering his mission. In later years, his dress and demeanor also helped establish the fact that he was not trying to establish an English church or convert people to English ways, but to Christ.

But much of the European community found his actions eccentric or even harmful.

By the Victorian standards at the time, Hudson couldn’t just rush over to Maria’s house to talk things out or ask her to meet him at a coffee shop. But as God arranged things, they found a few moments alone together while at a mutual friend’s house. When he found that Maria did love him, he felt he could pursue their engagement.

John Pollock tells their story in Hudson Taylor and Maria: A Match Made in Heaven. He begins with Hudson’s salvation story and leading to China, then he details their work together.

I love the passages describing Maria’s influence on Hudson. “Her religion had been more orderly; she served to steady Hudson’s faith while he deepened hers” (p. 113). Furthermore:

Maria tempered without quenching his zeal, was largely responsible for the common sense and balance characteristic of Taylor at the height of his powers. She made him take holidays. Under the influence of her less mercurial yet gay temperament he shed those moods of melancholy; he could discuss every matter with her and forget to be introspective. He became more assured, grew up.

Though his was the finer intellect, Maria had a more thorough education. She improved his cumbrous style, teaching him to write good English though she never cured him of split infinitives.

Together they had such a reservoir of love that it splashed over to refresh all, Chinese or European, who came near them (p. 114).

Hudson Taylor had not intended to start a new mission agency. But while home in England recovering from some physical problems, he wanted to recruit more people to go into the interior of China. Most missionary effort was on the coast, leaving the biggest part of the country unreached.

The agency under whose auspices Hudson had come had failed him miserably, leading him to resign them while still in China.

Between the new recruits and Hudson’s experiences, the necessity for a new mission agency became apparent. The pressure on Hudson was excruciating until finally, after a friend’s sermon, he realized:

If we are obeying the Lord, the responsibility rests with Him, not with us. Thou, Lord! Thou shalt have the burden. All the responsibility lies on Thee, Lord Jesus! I surrender. The consequences rest with Thee. Thou shalt direct, care for, guide me, and those who labour with me (p. 141).

Thus the China Inland Mission was born. Taylor needed those assurances for the rocky path ahead.

One of Hudson’s mottoes was “Move man, through God, by prayer alone.”

In later years Hudson said, “As a rule prayer is answered and funds com in, but if we are kept waiting the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial (p. 125).

Another of his principles was this:

Pray ye to the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers unto the harvest.’ Taylor decided that the divine method of riding missionaries did not lie in ‘elaborate appeals for help, but, first, earnest prayer to God to thrust forth labourers, and, second, the deepening of the spiritual Life of the Church, so that men should be unable to stay at home‘ (p. 128).

Although I don’t think this was meant to be a theme in Pollock’s book, one factor that stood out to me was that many of Hudson’s main problems were not with anti-foreign sentiment or the government: his most trying problems came through other Christians. The criticism of his Chinese dress, the division over his proposal to Maria (one of the leaders refused to give him communion over the issue!), the new recruits grumbling and fussing like the Israelites in the wilderness, dissension in the ranks, people spreading disinformation, and armchair commentators from afar touting uninformed opinions about everything he did, all weighed on him. He tried to be gracious, and he was not above rebuke or correction. But a lot of the opposition to his work and methods was fleshly and burdensome.

I also noticed with him as with Jim Elliot, whose story I reread a few weeks ago, that in their twenties, they were not at their most mature state (who is at that time?). For instance, in Hudson’s youthful zeal, he “suffered scruples about putting on a life jacket” during a storm at sea because he felt it showed “lack of faith in God’s power to intervene.” In later years, “he laughed at such extravagance. ‘I believe I can trust the Lord in some respects as much as I ever could, but I am a good deal modified in some of my views and do not think it right to neglect proper precautions'” (p. 84). But they still had a willingness to do God’s will no matter the cost to themselves and to think outside the box. They both grew in wisdom with more experience of walking with God.

After a particularly lengthy and trying period in his early days, he wrote to someone:

At home, you can never know what it is to be alone—absolutely alone, amidst thousands, as you can in a Chinese city, without one friend, one companion, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men—of those you wish to benefit, your motives not understood or respected—thus to learn what it is to have nowhere to lay your head, and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit—His holy, self-denying love, which led Him to suffer this and more than this—for me; this is precious, this is worth coming for (pp. 81-82).

Sadly, Hudson and Maria only had twelve married years together. Pollack ends the book a little abruptly right after Maria’s death. He has a recommendation elsewhere in the book for the rest of Hudson’s life story. I had not read the one he mentioned, but I’ve read others. the classic is a large two-volume set written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law (though Pollock asserts that the daughter-in-law revised and left out some things, it’s still a great set). Even though I was familiar with much of Taylor’s life, I was blessed by going over parts of it again in this book.

Though this book was originally written in the 1960s, the style of writing seems much older to me. But the book is easily readable and well worth one’s time.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
InstaEncouragements, Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Silas Marner

In Silas Marner by George Elliot (aka Mary Ann Evans), Silas is a weaver active in a small congregation. One morning, after helping take care of a sick deacon through the night, Silas is accused of stealing the congregation’s money that had been stored in the deacon’s house. He is suspect not only because he was there, but also because his pocket knife was where the money should be. But Silas distinctly remembers loaning his knife to his best friend, William Dane. The congregation decides to draw lots to determine Silas’ guilt or innocence, and Silas believes God will show that he’s innocent. However, the lot does just the opposite and finds him guilty.

Feeling betrayed by both God and man, Silas packs up and moves away to a rural area. He finds business weaving again, but he interacts with people as little as possible.

He hated the thought of the past; there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he had come amongst; and the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him. Thought was arrested by utter bewilderment, now its old narrow pathway was closed, and affection seemed to have died under the bruise that had fallen on its keenest nerves.

Because he’s such a loner and the folks are quite superstitious, rumors swirl about him. Because he doesn’t go anywhere—not even church—or do anything, the money he makes multiplies to the point of his idolizing it, counting it every night.

And then the unthinkable happens. One foggy night while out on a quick errand, he comes home to find his gold all gone. He’s completely undone, but the situation opens his neighbors’ hearts to him.

Then on another dark and snowy night, a little child wanders into Silas’ home, changing his life.

Intersecting several times with Silas’ story is that of the Cass family. The older Squire Cass, leading citizen of the area, has several sons. The oldest, Godfrey, has a secret that could ruin him and prevent his marriage to the woman he loves. His brother, Dunstan, knows the secret and uses his knowledge to manipulate Godfrey. Dunstan is a selfish cad. Godfrey is weak-willed and indecisive. He keeps turning his problems over in his mind but never doing anything about them, assuming somehow everything will come out all right in the end.

Silas Marner was first published in 1861 but set a few decades earlier. Elliot always delves deeply into the psychology of her characters, so the main action of the story deals with what they are thinking and why. But she also explores other themes: religion, change, class differences and parallels.

This book is much shorter than her others, so it’s a good one to give Elliot’s writing a try.

Hope has mentioned the Literary Life Podcast. When I looked it up, I saw they were discussing Silas Marner, so I decided to give them a try. I was a little put off during the first episode because it was an hour and twenty minutes just to cover the first three chapters, it took fifteen minutes before they started talking about the author, and another sixteen minutes to get to the book. The only other podcast I have listened to regularly is the Christian Publishing Show by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. He dives right in and puts all his “commercials” at the end—which I appreciate. But once the folks at the Literary Life Podcast got into the meat of the book, I enjoyed listening to them. They brought our several things that I missed and added insights from the times and Elliot’s life. The podcast doesn’t advertise itself as Christian, but from the discussions, the participants seem to be believers. I’ve listened to the first two podcasts on Silas and am in the midst of the third.

Some years ago I heard a Focus on the Family Radio Theater production of Silas Marner that was quite well done. From that, I knew the basic story but had forgotten many details. And the book is a richer, deeper experience.

I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive the Little House on the Prairie TV series for making me think this would be a boring book. 🙂 In one episode, Albert mourns having to read it for school instead of doing something else he’s rather do. I had never heard of the book before that.

On the other hand, I’ve heard others say that they didn’t like it when they first read it, either. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t go over so well in high school? I don’t know. But I am glad I read it when I did, because I enjoyed it quite a lot. I listened to the audiobook very nicely read by Andrew Sachs but also looked up parts in the Kindle edition, which, at the time of this writing, is 60 cents.

I’m counting this book for the classic by a woman author for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Have you read Silas Marner? What did you think?

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Rejoice…with Trembling?

Worship includes awe

What defines worship for you?

Many associate worship with the singing time at church, although that’s not the only time and way we worship. But, even within that context, I think many would say they “feel” worshipful when their heart has been touched and they feel warm, cozy, loved, affirmed.

In our church’s reading through Leviticus this week, we came across quite a different worship experience:

The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23b-–24)

It’s not clear in the ESV translation above, but other translations say the people shouted for joy and fell face down.

What was the occasion of this reaction? Israel had left Egypt not long before, where they’d been for 400 years with only oral traditions of their faith, surrounded by pagan religions and cruelty. God was very patient with their grumbling and lack of faith at first. But after several manifestations of His power during the plagues in Egypt, His parting of the Red Sea for their deliverance, His provision of food and water and everything they needed, it sure seemed like they’d start trusting and obeying.

Instead, while He gave His law to Moses on the mountain, the people built a golden calf to worship.

God dealt with their idolatry severely. Now He had them camp for a while to teach them more about who He was and how He wanted to be worshiped. He gave them instructions to build a tabernacle with deeply symbolic accoutrements. He designated the priests and detailed their attire. Now He instituted the sacrificial system by which they could be forgiven, express their dedication, and fellowship with Him.

People had been sacrificing animals since the time of Noah. But now God designated specific rules and rituals that symbolized the coming Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.

In Leviticus 9, the newly inducted priests offered the very first offerings under the new system.

God responded by manifesting His glory and sending fire to consume the offering.

The people responded by shouting for joy and falling on their faces.

I can understand shouting and falling face down. I’d likely be startled out of my wits by such a display. But joy? Shouting for joy and falling face down in awe seem like opposite reactions. But the Greek word for shout here indicates both being overwhelmed and joyful.

In Warren Wiersbe’s short commentary on Leviticus, Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God, he says of this verse:

The paradoxical response of the people helps us better understand the experience of worship, for they were both joyful and overwhelmed. There was joy in their hearts that the true and living God had deigned to dwell among them and receive their worship, but there was also fear as the people fell on their faces in awe. The two attitudes balance each other. “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2: 11). Paul saw this as a desirable and normal experience in the local assembly (1 Cor. 14: 23–25). If our ministry doesn’t glorify God, then God can’t bless it and use it to help others and win the lost.

“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

This is not the only time where people fell on their faces in awe in the Bible.

Feeling warm and loved are wonderful parts of our relationship with the Lord. But I think we sometimes miss the awe, or we avoid it because we’d rather feel cozy.

But perhaps a sense of awe generated by a glimpse of God’s glory and power might do our souls better sometimes. Awe would encourage us to avoid sinning against such a holy God. It would assure us that God is more than able to take care of any need we have. It would remind us how small we are. And we would rejoice in His holiness, in His power, His care, and His gracious love to us.

Someone at my college used to say that worship is worth-ship—ascribing to God His worth. The more we come to know Him for who He truly is, the more we can worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Echoing the scene in heaven in Revelation, the last two stanzas of Charles Wesley’s hymn invite is to join in awe-filled worship:

“Salvation to God, who sits on the throne!”
let all cry aloud, and honor the Son;
the praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,
fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give him his right:
all glory and power, all wisdom and might,
all honor and blessing with angels above
and thanks never ceasing for infinite love.

Worship God with joy and awe

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