Be Right (Romans): How to Be Right with God, Yourself, and Others

Warren W. Wiersbe sheds some light on the book of Romans in Be Right (Romans): How to Be Right with God, Yourself, and Others. The title comes from the fact that some form of the word “righteousness” is used over sixty times in Romans. Also, the most important pursuits in the world are being right with God and our fellow humans.

Romans has some of the most familiar verses in the Bible, but also many difficult passages.

We typically use verses from Romans when sharing the gospel with others.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

But these are not isolated verses. They come from a context of Paul’s detailed explanation of man’s sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and more.

Chapters 6-8 detail the struggle between the flesh and Spirit.

Romans also discusses God’s plan for Jews and Gentiles. He has not forsaken the Jews, but he has “grafted in” the Gentiles (chapters 9-11). Paul shows that this was God’s plan all along. The section about election and free will from Romans 9 was very helpful to me.

Then chapters 12-14 are full of practical instructions. Paul often deals with the doctrinal first, then shows how doctrine manifests itself in everyday lives. Romans 14:1-15:7 particularly deal with disagreements among Christians over what we call “debatable” matters.

Romans ends with Paul’s warm greetings to several individuals.

As always, I have several passages marked. Here are a couple that stood out to me:

In the Christian life, doctrine and duty always go together. What we believe helps to determine how we behave. It is not enough for us to understand Paul’s doctrinal explanations. We must translate our learning into living and show by our daily lives that we trust God’s Word.

Christian living depends on Christian learning; duty is always founded on doctrine. If Satan can keep a Christian ignorant, he can keep him impotent.

The law was a signpost, pointing the way. But it could never take them to their destination. The law cannot give righteousness; it only leads the sinner to the Savior who can give righteousness.

Does a strong Christian think he is making a great sacrifice by giving up some food or drink [for the sake of a weaker believer]? Then let him measure his sacrifice by the sacrifice of Christ. No sacrifice we could ever make could match Calvary.

A person’s spiritual maturity is revealed by his discernment. He is willing to give up his rights that others might be helped. He does this, not as a burden, but as a blessing. Just as loving parents make sacrifices for their children, so the mature believer sacrifices to help younger Christians grow in the faith.

Spiritual gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with or weapons to fight with. In the church at Corinth, the believers were tearing down the ministry because they were abusing spiritual gifts. They were using their gifts as ends in themselves and not as a means toward the end of building up the church. They so emphasized their spiritual gifts that they lost their spiritual graces! They had the gifts of the Spirit but were lacking in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5: 22–23)

This is a fairly short commentary, so Wiersbe didn’t go into as much detail as he could have in some sections. But I think this is a good book for those who want more insight from Romans without slogging through a massive volume.

Book Review: Hidden Among the Stars

In Austria in 1938, Annika Knopf is the daughter of the caretaker of the Dornbach family’s castle in Hallstatt. She and the Dornbach’s only son, Max, have been friends since childhood. But now they are grown, and she has quietly loved him for a long time.

When Annika discovers Max is hiding treasures of their Jewish friends on the estate grounds, she wants to help. Max wants to protect her as much as possible, but the time comes when he must accept her offer.

Max has never seen Annika as anything but a good friend. He’s in love with Luzia Weiss, a beautiful and brilliant violinist with the local orchestra. The Dornbach and Weiss families have been friends for years. But as Hitler’s forces advance, it’s not healthy to associate with Jews like the Weiss family. Max loves Luzia still and looks for ways to avoid fighting for the Reich and to get Luzia and her family out of Austria before it’s too late. In the meantime, he brings Luzia to the family’s lake castle to hide and asks Annika to watch over Luzia.

In modern times, Callie Randall runs a book store with her sister. Her tumultuous early life, with rejection from both parents and and betrayal by her fiance, has turned her naturally introverted character into someone who enjoys hiding out and is afraid of . . . almost everything except her job and shop.

Callie’s sister gifts her an early edition copy of Bambi, and Callie finds within its pages a list of items in the same script as the book’s font. The name written in the front is Annika Knopf. Callie begins an Internet search, hoping to reunite the book with Annika or someone in her family. But Callie discovers Annika’s story may intersect with Charlotte, the woman who took Callie and her sister in and whom she loves like a mother. Callie yearns to find Annika and restore to Charlotte something of her lost history. But first she must find the courage to step outside her safe haven.

I had read several WWII-era books this year, and was determined to read something from a different time. I love stories from that era, but I was starting to get a little tired of it. However, when I read the description of Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson, I had to read it next. A main character with a personalty similar to mine, a bookstore owner, mention of several classic children’s books, a castle on a lake—all these drew me in. And I am glad. I think this might be my favorite of Melanie’s books so far—and that’s saying something, because I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read from her.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Nancy Peterson. Unfortunately, the audio version didn’t include any back matter that books sometimes have about the author’s inspiration for writing, historical research, etc. However, I did find that information on Melanie’s site here. There really is an abandoned castle in Hallstatt! I enjoyed hearing about Melanie’s trip there.

I’m pretty sure this will be one of my top ten books of the year. Highly recommended.

The Devil in Pew Number Seven

“The story you are about to read actually happened, every last detail of it. As the plot unfolds, my hunch is that you’ll need to remind yourself of this reality more than once.” So Rebecca Nichols Alonzo opens her book The Devil in Pew Number Seven.

Her hunch was right.

Rebecca tells the story of a man who harassed—no, terrorized her family for several years as she was growing up.

Rebecca’s father was the new pastor of a small church in Sellerstown, NC, in 1969. He found that one man, a Mr. Watts, held key positions in the church even though he was not a member. Recognizing Mr. Watts’ “stranglehold” on the church, Pastor Nichols “made changes to end his dominance” (p. 48).

Mr. Watts did not take his loss of position well, nor the pastor’s difference of opinion over issues like the style of the new church roof. Mr. Watts started acting up in church from pew number seven, making faces at the pastor while he preached, tapping on his watch, walking out and slamming the door loudly before the sermon was finished.

The Nichols family started receiving threatening anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night and unsigned letters. One letter promised the pastor’s family would leave “crawling or walking, running or riding, dead or alive” (p. 54).

Then followed several incidents of escalating attacks: home invasions while the family was away, which one time included water in the fuel tank and oil in the water pump; shots fired at the outside walls; dynamite set off near the house.

The Nichols family, the neighbors, the church, and even the police knew who was behind these attacks, but no one could prove it. Some of the incidents occurred while Mrs. Nichols was pregnant and then while the family had a newborn.

Finally events came to a tragic head. (It’s no spoiler to say this since it’s mentioned in the first chapter).

The rest of the book tells of the long-term effects these years had on the family and the necessity of learning to forgive those involved.

Rebecca was a child when much of this happened, but she read her parents’ journals, newspaper reports, court documents, and interviewed several people from the town.

It’s hard to fathom how far this man went to drive out the pastor. Rebecca’s father felt he couldn’t leave, because that would mean Mr. Watts would again assert his dominance over the church if Pastor Nichols left. The pastor and his wife also believed and modeled for their children “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

I first heard of this book from my friend Lou Ann. But I kept passing it by on my TBR list because I thought it might be too hard to read. I finally listened to the audiobook nicely read by Pam Ward. Then I checked the book out of the library to see the pictures and read the afterword.

The book was not hard to read or listen to. Rebecca doesn’t sensationalize the violence. She begins with the climactic incident, but then backtracks to tell how her parents met, were called to the ministry, how they came to Sellerstown, and other “normal” occurrences.

Some of my favorite quotes:

With a few rare exceptions, everyone in Sellerstown was related to one another in some way. Which is why at times, shotguns in hand, they watched out for one another. The Sellers kin are true salt-of-the-earth people . . . although some were saltier than others (p. 31).

I knew [God] said in the Bible that He’s a father to the fatherless and to the brokenhearted. I was both, so we had a perfect fit. There was one more insight I came to embrace. I needed God more than I needed to blame God (p. 235).

I didn’t ask for this abrasion on my soul to be a part of my life; it just is. Now, day by day, I have the choice to forgive the two men who took so much from me, or I can choose to wallow in a toxic brew of bitterness. True, I forgave . . . a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t have to forgive him again and again . . . (p. 250).

I’m the one who remains in jail if I withhold God’s grace by failing to forgive when wronged (p. 251).

My one critique is that the author seems to belabor some points overmuch. For instance, with the first threatening phone call, a little more than a page is spent on describing what happens inside the phone when it rings, explaining how phones in those days didn’t have optional ring tones and couldn’t be left off the hook without setting off a warning tone, how her father couldn’t take the phone off the hook anyway because a country pastor was “on call” 24/7 just like a country doctor was. Maybe this was supposed to build suspense with three rings leading up to the first threat, but it just seemed extraneous and a touch irritating. But, this is a minor criticism and for the most part doesn’t hinder the story.

Sometimes the circumstances were hard to read about and illustrated how “truth is stranger than fiction,” But I highly recommend this book. Ultimately it’s about God’s grace and strength through the most difficult of times.

Be Strong: Study of Joshua

Our church has been reading through the book of Joshua the last few weeks. I read Be Strong (Joshua): Putting God’s Power to Work in Your Life by Warren W. Wiersbe along with our daily Bible reading.

Joshua marks two major transitions in Israel’s history. First, Moses, their leader of over forty years, had just passed away. Then the Israelites had just finished forty years of wandering and were about to enter the land God had promised their ancestors long ago.

Either situation would be daunting to a new leader. So God encourages Joshua right off the bat:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them (Joshua 1:5-6).

God also gives Joshua vital instruction:

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:7-9).

Joshua seems to have followed God’s instruction faithfully throughout the rest of his life. He made a couple of costly mistakes: going up to Ai and making a pact with the Gibeonites without seeking counsel of the Lord. But Wiersbe spends a lot of time pointing out that when we err, we don’t give up: we confess our sins, pick up again, and get back on the right path.

Wiersbe discusses the difficulty of God having His people slaughter the nations in Canaan. He points out that the Canaanites weren’t innocent: they were known for cruel acts like sacrificing their children to their gods and vile sexual acts in the name of worship. And he reminds that God gave them plenty of space to repent. Rahab was one who heard of the God of Israel and turned to Him in faith (eventually becoming an ancestor of the Messiah).

Some hymns have portrayed the promised land as symbolic of heaven. But Wiersbe repeatably points out that the symbolism doesn’t fit: we don’t battle our way either into heaven or after we get there. He says that entering the promised land symbolizes our maturity in Christ. God often said that He was the one driving out the nations before Israel, yet they had to pick up their swords and fight (most of the time. Jericho and some of the other cities had different battle plans). So with us: we’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing. And we’re sanctified by grace as well. Yet we only become mature Christians as we pick up our “sword of the Spirit,” God’s Word, and believe it and apply it. We can and should pray for God’s grace and help in taking temptation away and helping us overcome, but He expects us to read and apply the Word He gave us. “What Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explains doctrinally, the book of Joshua illustrates practically. It shows us how to claim our riches in Christ. But it also shows us how to claim our rest in Christ (p. 22, Kindle version). Wiersbe discusses briefly the different kinds of rest Hebrews 4 and 5 tell about, then says, “This ‘Canaan rest’ is a picture of the rest that Christian believers experience when they yield their all to Christ and claim their inheritance by faith” (p. 22).

The victorious Christian life isn’t a once-for-all triumph that ends all our problems. As pictured by Israel in the book of Joshua, the victorious Christian life is a series of conflicts and victories as we defeat one enemy after another and claim more of our inheritance to the glory of God (p. 23).

The main point of Joshua is that God kept His promises to His people. Not only did He give them the land He originally promised Abraham, but He provided for each of the tribes. At the end of the book, Joshua tells the people, “You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14). He encourages them to “cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day” (23:8) and warns that just as God kept His promises to give them the land, He’ll keep His promise to punish them if they go after other gods.

Wiersbe has a closing chapter of the example of Joshua himself in his following the Lord and leading the people.

As always, I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s insights into this book of the Bible.

 

Memories of Glass

Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson is a time-slip novel. One time line is modern day, and one begins in 1933 but quickly progresses to WWII.

In the older timeline, three childhood friends in Amsterdam are joined by a fourth when Anneliese Linden moves into their neighborhood. Just a few years later, the war has begun. Eliese’s father’s bank was closed because he was Jewish. Samuel works in another bank and sends his sister, Josie, on missions to deliver hidden correspondence in baskets of flowers and jam when she’s not taking classes at the teacher’s college. Klaas—well, no one knows quite where he stands, so they don’t trust him.

Eliese had moved to London for a time. Her friends don’t know that she’s back in Amsterdam with a young son. Her father has a position helping the Nazis, which he thinks will protect him and Eliese. Eliese feels conflicted registering the families that the Nazis round up, but she doesn’t know what she, as one young woman, can do. When she finds that Josie is working at a creche nearby, they form a plan to rescue some of the children.

In the modern timeline, Ava Drake helps her grandmother, Marcella Kingston, with her charitable foundation though the rest of the family disapproves. Ava’s mom had left the family years ago, but when she and Ava’s brother died in a fire, a case worker found Ava’s connections to the Kingstons. The Kingstons all view Ava as an outsider except Marcella, and since Marcella is the matriarch and holds the purse strings, they all go along—at least in public.

Part of Ava’s job is to vet the charities that apply to the Kingston Foundation for grants. In that capacity, she travels to Uganda to visit a man, Paul, who runs a coffee plantation as a means to help Ugandans. Later, Ava travels to the coffee company’s headquarters in Portland and meets Paul’s sister and grandmother, where she finds a surprising connection.

Ava determines that her family won’t heal until its past is brought to light. As she digs into her family history, she finds connections with the young friends from Amsterdam—connections that some of the Kingstons don’t want known.

The part about rescuing children away by deleting their names on the registration forms was a true one, and Melanie tells that story in her afterword. It’s a reminder that even thought it looks like someone is collaborating with the enemy, he or she might have another purpose in mind.

I felt for Eliese here—there were probably many who were in similar positions, stuck “helping” the Reich. If she resisted, she and possibly her father would have been killed. I was glad she found a way to help after all.

I found myself reading parts of this while also reading Women Heroes of World War II, mentioned yesterday. It was interesting seeing some of the activities there fleshed out in the novel.

There were a lot of details to keep up with, and I am not sure I caught all the threads in the end. But I enjoyed the stories of hope and redemption.

Women Heroes of World War II

Irena Sendler and her best friend, Ewa, were social workers in Poland when the Nazis took over. The Germans erected a nine-foot wall around the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. The women were then separated, because Ewa was Jewish.

But Irena used her position as a social worker to visit homes in the ghetto and then secretly make arrangements with parents to take their children to safety.

She was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated, and beaten to the point of breaking her legs and feet in several places. They decided to execute her, but she was suddenly released due to a bribe someone offered an official.

Kathryn J. Atwood has collected several stories of brave women such as Irena in Women Heroes of WWII: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

The women cover all ages, from teens on up. They ran the gamut from nurses to actresses, students to countesses, a pastor’s wife, a watchmaker.

Some were famous, like Corrie ten Boom, Josephine Baker, and Marlene Dietrich. Most were unknown.

Some hid Jews. Some were couriers. Some were saboteurs; some helped downed airmen get out of the country. One was an assassin. Some worked with organized resistance groups: some worked on their own.

What they all had in common was human decency, bravery, and a desire to help that overshadowed any reluctance or fear.

Kathryn gives an overview of the war in the introduction. Then she grouped the women by country, with a brief introduction of that country’s involvement in the war. I’ve read a lot of books about WWII, fiction and nonfiction (Irena’s story, mentioned above, sounds similar to the plot in The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, making me wonder if that book is based on Irena’s story). But Kathryn’s summaries helped me see the bigger picture and taught me a few things I hadn’t known.

Each chapter is just a few pages, with a list at the end of other books, movies, or web sites featuring each person.

This is a YA book, but it’s not juvenile. It’s easily readable.

It could spark a lot of questions. What would you do in similar situations? Where is the line between helping and going too far? This is a secular book, so it doesn’t go into right and wrong. For instance, one dancer was required to wear skimpy costumes, but the author says this wasn’t “considered immoral but, rather, artistic and representative of the new Jazz Age” (p. 77). Nothing is said about whether the assassin was right or not. But if I shared this with a daughter, I’d want to discuss some of those issues.

There’s an updated version of the book: Women Heroes of World War II: 32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue. If I had known that before I started, I would have looked for this book at the library rather than the one with 26 stories.

But I am very glad to have read it the stories of these brave women. Thanks to Bev for the recommendation.

I’m going to count this book for the Wartime Experiences category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Gift from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was not only married to famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and a pilot herself; she was also a popular author—and not just because of her famous name. Gift of the Sea is probably her most well-known book, still read widely even today.

Anne was a busy mother of five when she had a rare opportunity to go to the beach alone for a couple of weeks. She took the time to reflect on her struggles as a woman, wife, and mother. Over eight chapters, she uses the metaphor of the sea, island life, and different kinds of shells to illustrate different stages or aspects of life..

For instance, the chapter on the channeled whelk, a shell once inhabited by a creature, speaks to her of “the art of shedding.” What she says in this chapter would fit right in with the minimalist movement of the last few years: the need to simplify and pare down not only our stuff, but our responsibilities and relationships.

The chapter on the moon shell speaks of needed time alone.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before (p. 42).

Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day–like writing a poem or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive (p. 56).

What Anne calls the double-sunrise is a bivalve that reminds her of early marriage, “two people listening to each other, two shells meeting each other, making one world between them” (p. 65).

What she calls an oyster bed has “small shells clinging to its humped back. Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life” (p. 80). This speaks to her of the middle years of marriage.

I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves when have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand. I do not like to put it down. I will not want to leave it (p. 83).

I particularly liked this about middle age: “For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth” (p. 86) rather than the “false assumption that it is a period of decline” (p. 87).

One other quote that stood out: “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after” (p. 102).

I thought it interesting that even in Anne’s day (this book was published in 1955), she felt the weight of what she calls “planetal awareness.” How much more would she feel it now?

The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world, to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print, and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The interrelatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched, but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. I cannot marry all of them, or bear them all as children, or care for them all as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers, and even—with some scrambling—our mothers, lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. We were brought up in a tradition that has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

Faced with this dilemma what can we do? How can we adjust our planetal awareness to our Puritan conscience? We are forced to make some compromise. Because we cannot deal with the many as individuals, we sometimes try to simplify the many into an abstraction called the mass. Because we cannot deal with the complexity of the present, we often over-ride it and live in a simplified dream of the future. Because we cannot solve our own problems right here at home, we talk about problems out there in the world. An escape process goes on from the intolerable burden we have placed upon ourselves. But can one really feel deeply for an abstraction called the mass? Can one make the future a substitute for the present? And what guarantee have we that the future will be any better if we neglect the present? Can one solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own? (pp. 124-125).

Her answer was to concentrate on “the here, the now, the individual,” “the drops that make up the stream,” “not as a retreat from greater responsibility, but as a first real step toward a deeper understanding and solution of them” (pp 127-128).

I mentioned when I read Anne’s biography that she seemed a very conflicted person. Probably most women struggle with how to best use their time, how to meet the needs of others and not feel depleted, etc. She had more pressures than many, dealing with the fame and lifestyle her husband brought to the family. But she seemed to struggle a lot inwardly.

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God (pp 23-24).

I approached this book with some wariness, since Anne’s biographer said this book “is a journey infused with classic literature and Christian doctrine, yet rooted in teachings of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. . . . Camouflaging her Hindu and Buddhist sources beneath the words of Christian saints and modern poets and writers” (Susan Hertog, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, p. 429). I don’t know enough about Hindu and Buddhist doctrines to be able to discern those threads in the book, but I picked up on a bit here and there.

And there’s a lot of feminist thought, though Anne doesn’t take it as far as some. She does believe that marriage and family and even housework are worthy: she just struggles with how to meet the needs of all.

I identified with some of Anne’s struggle, though not all of her angst. I wouldn’t agree with all Anne’s philosophy, and I’d caution the need for discernment in reading the book. But I think one can take the Christian references and common sense passages at one’s own interpretation.

I’m going to see if Shelly Rae at Book’d Out will allow this book to count for the Oceanography category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. This is probably the closest I’ll get to that one. 🙂 If not, it would work for the Essays category.

Have you read Gift From the Sea? What did you think?

Catching the Wind

Melanie Dobson’s Catching the Wind made me want to lay everything else aside to read it. But I also wanted to slow down and savor it and hated to see it end

The story opens with two children playing in 1940 Germany. Brigette Berthold is ten and wants to play nothing but princesses and knights. Dietmar Roth is a few years older and tolerates the game because Brigette is his favorite playmate. Plus he promised her father that he would help take care of her.

When the children’s parents are attacked by the Nazis, Dietmar and Brigette run. If they can make it to the English Channel and get across, Hopefully Dietmar can find his aunt.

After a harrowing journey, they finally do make it to English soil. But then they are separated.

Over 70 years later, Dietmar is a wealthy old man who goes by the name Daniel Knight. He has hired several private investigators to try to find Brigette, with no luck. Now his hopes rest in a reporter, Quenby Vaughn. He has read her stories about refugee children and knows she searches with her heart.

Quenby is working on her own story about a wealthy English woman, Lady Ricker, rumored to have helped and secretly supported the Nazis in the 1940s. Understandably, the woman’s descendants don’t want the story to run and aren’t cooperating.

When Mr. Knight’s arrogant solicitor approaches Quenby with Mr. Knight’s proposal, he’s not forthcoming enough to interest her. But she agrees to meet with Mr. Knight. When she learns that Brigette’s story ties in with the Rickers, she’s hooked.

There are several layers to this story—what happened to Brigette and Daniel, what was going on with Lady Ricker, and Quenby’s family history of a mother who abandoned her, which has crippled her ability to trust.

As one character says, “I believe God uses our pasts, even our regrets to help us and other people find Him.”

I listened to the audiobook (winner of a 2018 Audie award) nicely read by Nancy Peterson. This is one of my favorites of Melanie Dobson’s.

How to Read Books and Support Authors Inexpensively

I’ve always been a little amazed that people will plunk down good money to see a movie or concert or ball game that will last two to three hours, but then balk at paying $15 for a book that will give them 10-15 hours of enjoyment. Or they’ll shell out several dollars a week for expensive coffees which will give them a few moments of pleasure, rather than pay for a book that will feed the mind, imagination, even the soul for years to come.

I believe books are a worthy investment.

However, if we read a lot, $10-15 per book adds up quickly. I read 84 books last year and 76 the year before. That would be quite an outlay if I paid full price for each book.

I want to pay full price as much as possible to support authors. They work months or even years to produce one book. I’ve learned from the multiple writing blogs I follow that most authors do not make a living on their writing. “The labourer is worthy of his hire,” Jesus said. They can’t keep producing books if they don’t make enough to live on. And it’s not sin to pay full price for something.

But it’s true many of us could not read nearly as much if we paid full price for every book.

So how can we read inexpensively?

Public libraries. What a treasure trove! Print, audio, and ebooks are all available just for the trouble of registering for a library card.

Library sales. Many libraries will purge their shelves or sell donated books they can’t use, usually in a big sale once or twice a year.

Little free libraries. Some neighborhoods have mini boxes where people can leave books they are done with and choose others to take home.

Church libraries. Some churches will have a library of donated books, or may have a budget to stock new books.

Discount stores. Costco, WalMart, and other stores have books for lesser prices. Some online sites do as well. Feel free to share in the comments your favorite place for discount books.

Book exchange stores. There’s a big store here in Knoxville where you can trade in your used books for credits for more used books.

Project Gutenberg has many ebooks online for free. I thought they mostly did classics, but they have newer titles as well.

Kindle sales. Books for the Kindle app go on sale every day, anywhere from free to a few dollars. You don’t have to have a Kindle device: you can get the Kindle app and read on a tablet or even your phone. (It would be hard to read an entire book on a phone, but it can be done. It’s handy if you find yourself waiting somewhere unexpectedly.) Some sites online curate Kindle sales almost every day. Tim Challies lists a few most days, usually Christian nonfiction and some classics. Inspired Reads lists half a dozen or so and Gospel eBooks lists several, but you need discernment with these two: I wouldn’t recommend everything they list.

Audiobooks. Audible.com has a few different plans for audiobooks. The one I’m on charges $14.95 a month, which gives me one credit, resulting in one audiobook per month. But they often have two-books-for-one-credit sales, and many of their classics are free or only a dollar or two. And some books are included free with membership. Librivox has audiobooks for free, but they have ads. Plus, they are read by volunteers who may or may not use any kind of inflection. And different readers might read different chapters in the same book. But . . . they’re free.

Free books for a review. Some sites or publishers will give readers free books in exchange for an honest review. The only one of these I tried was for a Christian publisher, but I quit early on. They sent a box of six books for one month. Not only was I not interested in all of them, but I didn’t want my “read for review” reading to take over all of my reading time. I understand there are some now where you can choose which books you’re willing to read and review. I know some of you do this: would you share what sites or publishers you work with in the comments?

Author’s launch teams. Publishers expect authors to do most of their own marketing and publicity these days. One way authors do this is to have a small group of people they’ll send a free copy (usually ebook these days) of an upcoming book before it is published. That way they can get reviews in right away. People are more willing to take a chance on a book that has some reviews. If there are no reviews, people are wary. I would recommend only doing this for authors you know and enjoy and want to support. It’s probably not fair to a new-to-you author to volunteer for his or her launch team if you have no idea about their style and whether they’ll appeal to you.

Gifts. Our family does “wish lists” for gift-giving occasions, and a few books are always on mine.

If your book budget is limited, there are still ways you can support your favorite authors. Word of mouth goes a long way. A review on Amazon or GoodReads or your blog helps more than you know. Even listing a book on GoodReads as one you want to read helps bring attention to it. So does posting a book cover on Instagram with the hashtag #bookstagram and hashtags for the genre, author’s name, and anything else you can think of.

These measures still help even if you get most of your books from a library. Also, a library is more willing to keep an author’s books if they’re being checked out. And asking your library to stock a particular book helps, too. Many have a form on their web sites where you can submit book requests.

Agents and publishers look at the number of a new or hopeful author’s followers on social media or in a newsletter list (one reason you see so many offering newsletters). So following an author’s social media accounts or signing up for their newsletters can aid them. If you’re like me, you can only do this for a few of your most favorite authors (or bloggers hoping to be authors), lest social media following takes up more time than you have. But if you’re active on social media, or want to give a boost to someone whose writing you like, these measures are helpful.

Do you have any other ideas for reading inexpensively? Do you have other ways of supporting authors?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Gentle and Lowly

When I first saw Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, I thought the subject would be encouraging Christians to be humble and kind in their dealings.

But then I learned that the book explores the gently and lowly aspect of Jesus. Jesus described himself this way, but often when people emphasize His gentleness, they deemphasize His holiness, His righteousness, His anger at sin, etc. I wasn’t familiar with Dane Ortlund, so I wasn’t sure how he would handle this topic. I began the book warily.

I need not have worried. Ortlund takes great care to keep in mind the whole picture of who Jesus is.

Yes, he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes and longings (Matt. 5: 17). Yes, he is one whose holiness causes even his friends to fall down in fear, aware of their sinfulness (Luke 5: 8). Yes, he is a mighty teacher, one whose authority outstripped even that of the religious PhDs of the day (Mark 1: 22). To diminish any of these is to step outside of vital historic orthodoxy. But the dominant note left ringing in our ears after reading the Gospels, the most vivid and arresting element of the portrait, is the way the Holy Son of God moves toward, touches, heals, embraces, and forgives those who least deserve it yet truly desire it (p. 27. All page numbers are from the Kindle version).

As we zero in on the affectionate heart of Christ, how do we ensure that we are growing in a healthy understanding of the whole counsel of God and a comprehensive and therefore proportionate vision of who Christ is? Three comments are needed here. First, the wrath of Christ and the mercy of Christ are not at odds with one another, like a see-saw, one diminishing to the degree that the other is held up. Rather, the two rise and fall together. The more robust one’s felt understanding of the just wrath of Christ against all that is evil both around us and within us, the more robust our felt understanding of his mercy (pp. 28-29).

In fact, Jesus’ holiness and righteousness makes it all the more a marvel that “The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ” p. 20). “This is deeper than saying Jesus is loving or merciful or gracious. The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it” (p. 29). “His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort” (pp. 69-70).

Ortlund reminds us that “’Gentle and lowly’ does not mean ‘mushy and frothy,’” and “This is not who he is to everyone, indiscriminately. This is who he is for those who come to him, who take his yoke upon them, who cry to him for help” (p. 21).

What elicits tenderness from Jesus is not the severity of the sin but whether the sinner comes to him. Whatever our offense, he deals gently with us. If we never come to him, we will experience a judgment so fierce it will be like a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth at us (Rev. 1: 16; 2: 12; 19: 15, 21). If we do come to him, as fierce as his lion-like judgment would have been against us, so deep will be his lamb-like tenderness for us (cf. Rev. 5: 5–6; Isa. 40: 10–11). We will be enveloped in one or the other. To no one will Jesus be neutral (p. 53).

Even after so many years of walking with the Lord, we can feel that He gets tired of us falling, failing, begging for mercy again and again. But “He does not get flustered and frustrated when we come to him for fresh forgiveness, for renewed pardon, with distress and need and emptiness. That’s the whole point. It’s what he came to heal. He went down into the horror of death and plunged out through the other side in order to provide a limitless supply of mercy and grace to his people” (p. 36).

For those united to him, the heart of Jesus is not a rental; it is your new permanent residence. You are not a tenant; you are a child. His heart is not a ticking time bomb; his heart is the green pastures and still waters of endless reassurances of his presence and comfort, whatever our present spiritual accomplishments. It is who he is (p. 66).

These qualities of mercy and accessibility and readiness to forgive come from the whole Trinity, the Father and Holy Spirit as well as the Son. ““Our redemption is not a matter of a gracious Son trying to calm down an uncontrollably angry Father. The Father himself ordains our deliverance. He takes the loving initiative” (p. 60).

A few more quotes:

Your salvation is not merely a matter of a saving formula, but of a saving person (p. 91)

The mercy of God reaches down and rinses clean not only obviously bad people but fraudulently good people, both of whom equally stand in need of resurrection (p. 177).

Do not minimize your sin or excuse it away. Raise no defense. Simply take it to the one who is already at the right hand of the Father, advocating for you on the basis of his own wounds. Let your own unrighteousness, in all your darkness and despair, drive you to Jesus Christ, the righteous, in all his brightness and sufficiency (p. 94).

Nothing can now un-child you. Not even you (p.196).

I’m so thankful for Linda sponsoring a book club to read through this book together the last few weeks. I had seen the book mentioned and thought, “Hmm, I might look into that some time.” But the opportunity to read and discuss the book with others spurred me on to read it now. It will stay with me for a long time.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)