The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion

For several years, I hosted a Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge during the month of February. I often referred to Annette Whipple’s site, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion. Now Annette has written a book: The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide.

A chapter is devoted to each book in the Little House series. Annette summarizes the plot, then, as the title suggests, she goes chapter by chapter sharing interesting background information, discussing life in Laura’s time, explaining concepts or situations that might be confusing, etc. Sidebars share even more information.

Laura had not written the Little House books as strict autobiographies. So some information is made up to smooth out the story. For instance, her nemesis, Nellie Olsen, was actually based on three different girls Laura knew. Annette’s “Fact or Fiction?” inserts discuss some of those made-up parts.

Next, each chapter shares instructions and illustrations for several Little-House-related activities. For instance, the first chapter, based on Little House in the Big Woods, tells how to make homemade butter, paper dolls, vinegar pie, snow pictures, pancake people, snow maple candy, and more–all activities that Laura’s family did in the books.

Each chapter ends with a “House Talk” section, several questions for thought and discussion. A few from the first chapter: what would you like and dislike about living in the Big Woods, what kind of work did Laura and Mary do to help their parents, how do you help your family, how did Charlie lie, why didn’t Pa shoot the deer at the end of the book?

Scattered throughout the book are photos of the Ingalls family, their various homes, news photos from the times (like a snowed-in train in The Long Winter chapter).

A final chapter tells “What Happened Next”—what ultimately happened with each of the Ingalls family members.

Annette didn’t shy away from or gloss over the difficulties in Laura’s book, like how African-Americans were depicted or the treatment and feelings towards the Indians.She points out what was wrong and how attitudes have changed today.

[Laura] didn’t tell readers how or what to believe. Instead, she let readers like you decide what to think.

We change and grow as a country and a people. When we do, we realize the ways people lived and thought in the past weren’t always right. We can learn from the past and make changes in ourselves (p. 42).

An extensive glossary defines unfamiliar terms, and a final section lists resources to explore.

This book is a great companion for exploring the Little House books personally, as a family, or as a class or home school. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was a freed slave who became a well-known speaker for abolition and women’s rights.

She was born Isabella Bomefree (or Baumfree—I’ve seen it both ways) in a Dutch community in New York. She spoke only Dutch until around age 9, when she was sold for $100 at an auction along with a flock of sheep. She was sold a total of four times over her lifetime. She endured hard work and excessive physical punishments until her last master promised her freedom a year before the state of New York promised emancipation in 1827. However, he reneged on his promise when a hand injury kept Isabella from her usual work output. Isabella took her youngest daughter and fled to an abolitionist family, the Van Wagenens, who paid her master for her services for the rest of the year so she could go free. Her master then illegally sold hr son, whom she’d had to leave behind. The Van Wagenens helped her sue her former master, and Isobella became one of the first Black women to successfully win a case against a white man.

Isobella had a major religious experience soon afterward and felt God wanted her to “preach the truth,” and she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Her religious views were somewhat muddled. She had never learned to read or write, so her only knowledge came through what she heard. She asked people to read the Bible to her without commentary, but they invariably started explaining as they went along. Finally she found some children to read to her. She had some visions and for a time got in with some folks who believed Jesus would come back in 1843-44. She was a little confused as to just who Jesus was:

She conceived, one day, as she listened to reading, that she heard an intimation that Jesus was married, and hastily inquired if Jesus had a wife. ‘What!’ said the reader, ‘God have a wife?’ ‘Is Jesus God? ‘ inquired Isabella. ‘Yes, to be sure he is,’ was the answer returned. From this time, her conceptions of Jesus became more elevated and spiritual; and she sometimes spoke of him as God, in accordance with the teaching she had received.

But when she was simply told, that the Christian world was much divided on the subject of Christ’s nature-some believing him to be coequal with the Father-to be God in and of himself, ‘very God, of very God;’-some, that he is the ‘well-beloved,’ ‘only begotten Son of God;’-and others, that he is, or was, rather, but a mere man-she said, ‘Of that I only know as I saw. I did not see him to be God; else, how could he stand between me and God? I saw him as a friend, standing between me and God, through whom, love flowed as from a fountain.’ Now, so far from expressing her views of Christ’s character and office in accordance with any system of theology extant, she says she believes Jesus is the same spirit that was in our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the beginning, when they came from the hand of their Creator. When they sinned through disobedience, this pure spirit forsook them, and fled to heaven; that there it remained, until it returned again in the person of Jesus; and that, previous to a personal union with him, man is but a brute, possessing only the spirit of an animal.

She became well-known as a speaker, worked for various causes, eventually met Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and others.

One of Sojourner’s most famous speeches was called “Ain’t I a Woman.” But there are different versions of it around, and no one knows which is closest to her original words. A Frances Dana Barker Gage transcribed the speech to sound as if it were written by a Southern ex-slave, and that became the most famous version. Yet Sojourner was born in NY and spoke Dutch in her early life, so it’s unlikely she had a Southern accent and phraseology. The speech also speaks of thirteen children, when Sojourner had five.

When looking back on what slaves endured, it’s hard to fathom how and why people thought the way they did and treated their fellow humans so cruelly. In describing the poor and unhealthy living conditions one master placed her family in:

Still, she does not attribute this cruelty-for cruelty it certainly is, to be so unmindful of the health and comfort of any being, leaving entirely out of sight his more important part, his everlasting interests,-so much to any innate or constitutional cruelty of the master, as to that gigantic inconsistency, that inherited habit among slaveholders, of expecting a willing and intelligent obedience from the slave, because he is a MAN-at the same time every thing belonging to the soul-harrowing system does its best to crush the last vestige of a man within him; and when it is crushed, and often before, he is denied the comforts of life, on the plea that he knows neither the want nor the use of them, and because he is considered to be little more or little less than a beast.

Of the practice of selling slaves’ children, Isobel said:

She wishes that all who would fain believe that slave parents have not natural affection for their offspring could have listened as she did, while Bomefree and Mau-mau Bett,-their dark cellar lighted by a blazing pine-knot,-would sit for hours, recalling and recounting every endearing, as well as harrowing circumstance that taxed memory could supply, from the histories of those dear departed ones, of whom they had been robbed, and for whom their hearts still bled.

Isabella’s parents, as well as several older slaves, were granted their freedom in their last years when they could no longer work. But then they had no place to live and no way to care for themselves. So the slaveholder was not being generous, but rather relieving himself of the obligation to provide for people who could no longer produce.

In 1850, Sojourner began dictating her memoir to a friend named Olive Gilbert, who added her own commentary and observations. Olive’s opinion of Sojourner was:

Through all the scenes of her eventful life may be traced the energy of a naturally powerful mind-the fearlessness and child-like simplicity of one untrammelled by education or conventional customs-purity of character-an unflinching adherence to principle-and a native enthusiasm, which, under different circumstances, might easily have produced another Joan of Arc.

I listened to this book through Librivox. Librivox is free because all the narrators are volunteers. I am thankful for their service, but they vary in skill, not just in narrating, but in basic reading. So this was not the most enjoyable audiobook experience. But I am glad to be more acquainted with a name I knew very little about. I looked up certain passages in the online version here.

I’m counting this book as a classic by a person of color for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Barchester Towers

BarchesterTowers is the second book in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

Archdeacon Grantly from the first book (The Warden) sets his sights on being named bishop when his father dies. But the new Prime Minister names a Mr. Proudie as bishop instead. Grantly and Proudie are on opposite sides of politics and church issues, thus setting up factions within the diocese.

To make things worse, Proudie is weak and overrun by his wife and his chaplain. The chaplain, Mr. Slope, is smarmy, conniving, and ambitious. He and Mrs. Proudie are allies until they differ on one particular issue: who should take over as warden of the hospital, a position vacated by Mr. Harding in the last book.

Mr. Harding’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, has married, had a son she adores, and has been widowed. Her husband left her well off, so Slope sets his sights on her and finagles to have her father reinstated as warden in order gain her favor.

But Bertie Stanhope, a ne’er-do-well but charming young man with a lot of debts, also decides to woo Eleanor.

This book was much more comedic than the other two of Trollope’s that I have read. Even the names of some of the minor characters are amusing: two farmers are named Greenacre and Topsoil; a clergyman with fourteen children is Dr. Quiverful; a lady with a temper is Mrs Clantantram.

Trollope satirizes the clergy who spend their time battling each other or manipulating events for their own purposes. That, to me, was more sad than funny, but satire is a way to bring such inconsistencies to light. Thankfully, not all of the clergy acted this way.

But there are some sweet moments, too. I can identify much with Mr. Harding, who doesn’t want to cause trouble, doesn’t want any fuss, just wants to live a quiet peaceful life. When he’s stressed (often in conversations with his son-in-law, the archdeacon), in his mind (and sometimes with his hands) he plays an imaginary violincello. The moments with him and his daughter, Eleanor, are some of my favorites.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Considering how much we are all given to discuss the characters of others, and discuss them often not in the strictest spirit of charity, it is singular how little we are inclined to think that others can speak ill-naturedly of us, and how angry and hurt we are when proof reaches us that they have done so.

Mr. Slope was big, awkward, cumbrous, and, having his heart in his pursuit, was ill at ease. The lady was fair, as we have said, and delicate; everything about her was fine and refined; her hand in his looked like a rose lying among carrots, and when he kissed it, he looked as a cow might do on finding such a flower among her food.

Mrs. Proudie: “The bishop merely intends to express his own wishes.”
[The henpecked] Mr. Proudie: “I merely intend, Mr. Slope, to express my own wishes.”

In a long aside from the author on how difficult it is to satisfactorily wrap up a book: “Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgeling my brains to find them?”

Trollope wrote during the same time as Dickens—he even mentions someone reading the latest Dickens publication. But his style is somewhat milder and gentler.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Simon Vance, who also narrated The Warden. Both books were included in my Audible subscription, so I didn’t have to buy them.

I had read the third book in the series, Doctor Thorne, last year, which set me to reading the rest of the series. I’ll take a break before finishing, but I look forward to the last three books.

I’m counting this as the humorous or satirical classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Sons of Blackbird Mountain

In Joanne Bischof’s novel, Sons of Blackbird Mountain, Aven Norgaard is newly widowed in 1890 Norway. She had long corresponded with her husband’s aunt in Virginia, who now invited her to come help keep house for “the boys,” Aven’s husband’s cousins.

But when Aven crosses the sea and arrives on Blackbird Mountain, she finds that Aunt Dorothe has died and “the boys” are grown men.

The three Norgaard brothers invite her to stay. Aven has no other prospects, so she does.

The oldest brother, Jorgan is steady and wise and soon to be married. The youngest, Haakon, is energetic and mischievous. The middle brother, Thor, is deaf. He’s also addicted to the alcohol the brothers produce with their apple orchard. His last attempt to wean himself off the hard cider ended in disaster. But he is kind and considerate.

Thor and Haakon both find themselves attracted to Aven. She had not come thinking about getting married again, she doesn’t want to come between the brothers.

There are so many layers to this story. Thor, Haakon, amd Aven each carry their own private pain. Then there are conflicts with their nearest neighbors, the Sorrels, who head up the local Klan and threaten the Norgaards’ longtime housekeeper and the youths they hire to help at harvest. The fact that the Sorrels own the deed to the Norgaard orchard creates extra pressure.

The author includes a brief preface where she explained a bit about ASL (American Sign Language). I had not realized that the deaf don’t sign every part of a sentence. But it makes sense that they’d streamline their words while signing. So when Thor jots a note (since Aven doesn’t know sign language yet), his sentences are mainly subject and verb with no articles, because that’s how he thinks. The author shared in her afterword how she became interested in sign language and the challenges of having a deaf character who can’t express himself in the usual ways.

All of the characters are nicely drawn, but Thor was the most intriguing. I don’t feel I am doing this book justice, but I enjoyed it very much. I had never read Bischof before, but I am eager to read more from her.

(Sharing with Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Be Confident: Live by Faith, Not by Sight

Our church’s Bible reading program alternates between Old and New Testament books. After we finished Leviticus, our next book was Hebrews.

That was fitting, because Hebrews explains how the OT sacrificial system pictured Christ.

My companions through this reading were my ESV Study Bible notes as well as Warren Wiersbe’s Be Confident (Hebrews): Living by Faith, Not by Sight.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Christ in the first century. Mention is made of the temple as if it were still in operation, and it was destroyed in 70 AD. So we know Hebrews was written before that time.

Jewish believers were facing persecution for varying from what their community practiced. Some were tempted to go back. But the author of Hebrews urges them to keep persevering and reminds them that what they have in Christ is far superior to what they had before.

In fact, the word “better” occurs repeatedly in the book. Jesus is show to be better than angels, Moses, and the priesthood. His once-for-all sacrifice was better than the repeated ones the priests offered. His new covenant was better than the old.

It’s not that the old covenant and practices were wrong: God gave them to Israel. But they were always meant to be temporary, picturing and leading up to Christ’s revelation and ministry.

There are also five major warnings in Hebrews, a couple of which have created confusion. Wiersbe demonstrates that these warnings don’t indicate one can lose salvation, but they do emphasize the need to be sure we’re in the faith and growing in the Lord. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Hebrews 11 is the “Hall of Faith,” sharing examples of those who walked with God through the centuries. Just as they “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), so readers are reminded that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). And in the meantime, the God of peace will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 11:21).

As modern Gentiles, we might not be tempted to go back to Judaism. But we need this book as well to appreciate what we have in Christ and to heed its warnings and benefit from its encouragements.

Here are just a few of the quotes that stood out to me from this book:

More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part. We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10: 25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift. The anchor does not move; we do (p. 35).

What does Canaan represent to us as Christians today? It represents our spiritual inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1: 3, 11, 15–23). It is unfortunate that some of our hymns and gospel songs use Canaan as a picture of heaven, and “crossing the Jordan” as a picture of death. Since Canaan was a place of battles, and even of defeats, it is not a good illustration of heaven! Israel had to cross the river by faith (a picture of the believer as he dies to self and the world, Rom. 6) and claim the inheritance by faith. They had to “step out by faith” (see Josh. 1:3) and claim the land for themselves, just as believers today must do (pp. 49-50).

The Canaan rest for Israel is a picture of the spiritual rest we find in Christ when we surrender to Him. When we come to Christ by faith, we find salvation rest (Matt. 11: 28). When we yield and learn of Him and obey Him by faith, we enjoy submission rest (Matt. 11: 29–30). The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5: 1); the second is the “peace of God” (Phil. 4: 6–8). It is by believing that we enter into rest (Heb. 4: 3); it is by obeying God by faith and surrendering to His will that the rest enters into us (p. 54).

The second conclusion is this: There is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (Heb. 4: 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it (p. 61).

The believer who begins to drift from the Word (Heb. 2: 1–4) will soon start to doubt the Word (Heb. 3: 7—4: 13). Soon, he will become dull toward the Word (Heb. 5: 11—6: 20) and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation (p. 136).

God wants our hearts to be “established with grace” (Heb. 13: 9). That word established is used, in one form or another, eight times in Hebrews. It means “to be solidly grounded, to stand firm on your feet.” It carries the idea of strength, reliability, confirmation, permanence. This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: “You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!” We have a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb. 12: 28). God’s Word is steadfast (Heb. 2: 2) and so is the hope we have in Him (Heb. 6: 19) (p. 23).

Faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word (p. 144).

I enjoyed delving into Hebrews again, especially with the faithful, helpful companions I found in these aids.

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

Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Reading from C. S. Lewis. is a compilation of selections from his writings.

C. S Lewis is one of the most quotable Christians to have lived, maybe second to C. H. Spurgeon. In fact, I have a book titled The Quotable Lewis. So any book of quotes by him will have value.

By the title of this book, you’d expect an arc of quotations on the subject and application of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, leading up to Easter Day. If there was such an arc, I didn’t detect it. The book just seemed more like a random collection.

Of course, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ touch everything in the Christian life, so, in one sense, any subject within Christendom could be related. Yet many selections in this volume didn’t seem to fit the theme. For instance, one had to do with the value of myths. Did the compiler feel that any part of the true Easter story was a myth? Or was he applying this quote to the bunnies and eggs part of Easter? I don’t know.

The book is set up to begin about six and a half weeks before Easter, with the last reading for Easter Day. The readings aren’t numbered in the book, but I numbered them in my notes. I was confused when I ended up with forty-seven. Then I remembered some day’s readings contained two short selections. So, as the title says, there are fifty readings, but not over fifty days. I started a week late, so I ended the Sunday after Easter.

Some readings are familiar quotes, such as those from the Narnia series or Mere Christianity. Others are from more obscure sources, like private letters. I’m always amazed at how literary Lewis sounds even in a letter. I wonder if he was a perfectionist who made several copies of a letter until it sounded just right? Or did such prose just flow from him? I remember reading somewhere that his books did not need much editing, so perhaps the latter is true.

Though some of the selections were easy to grasp, some suffered from the loss of their context.

I was also reminded that, though I love much of what Lewis wrote, I don’t agree with him on every little point of doctrine. I have several of those places marked, but I don’t think I’ll list them all here for the sake of time and space.

So, all told, I was more than a little disappointed in this volume. Nevertheless, as I said, there are always rich nuggets in his writing. Here are a few I found:

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions (p. 7, originally from The Four Loves).

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? (p. 14, originally from Mere Christianity).

We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience (p. 15, originally from Mere Christianity).

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same (pp. 60-61, (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 80, originally from Mere Christianity).

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in (p. 212, originally from Mere Christianity).

One of the most poignant passages to me was a letter from Lewis to a Warfield Firor about facing the ramifications of aging (including compulsory retirement and rheumatism) and letting those “begin . . .to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one” and remind that “what calls one away is better” (pp. 138-139). (A portion of the letter is here.)

Though I doubt I’ll reread this book in coming Lenten seasons, I was blessed by some of its pages. I was also encouraged to reread Mere Christianity some time and to look up The Letters of C. S. Lewis.

 

 

Be Holy: Becoming “Set Apart” for God

Leviticus probably is no one’s favorite book of the Bible. In fact, as one man in our church put it, Leviticus is where Bible reading plans go to die.

But Leviticus is part of God’s inspired word, and “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It is “quoted or referred to over 100 times in the New Testament.” So it’s highly worthy of our study.

As our church came to Leviticus in our Bible reading schedule, the ESV Study Bible notes and Warren Wiersbe’s Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God were invaluable companions.

It doesn’t take long to see that God’s holiness is the main theme of Leviticus. “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.” As I mentioned before, a seminary professor teaching Leviticus had his students try to live by its regulations for a period of time. One result was that holiness was a primary focus throughout the day, in regard to everything the students did.

Also, as Ken Baugh points out in his introduction to this book, “Almost everything in Leviticus anticipates the life and death of Jesus. The sacrifices, festivals, rituals, and laws foreshadow God’s redemptive plan. Jesus becomes the means to remove the guilt and penalty for sin through His substitutionary death on the cross. His death provides the final atonement for all sin.”

Though I saw some of those glimpses of Christ in past reading of Leviticus, this time they seemed to be on every page.

A couple of quotes from the book that stood out to me:

God’s church is supposed to be “a holy nation” in this present evil world, to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2: 9 NIV). The Greek word translated “declare” means “to tell out, to advertise.”

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5: 20 NIV). The first step toward disobedience is often “reclassifying” sin and making it look acceptable instead of abominable.

Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher say that seven is the number of perfection in the Bible? I had, but I didn’t remember ever hearing why that was so. Wiersbe explains here:

The Hebrew word for seven comes from a root word that means “to be full, to be satisfied.” It’s also related to the word meaning “to swear, to make an oath.” Whenever the Lord “sevens” something, He’s reminding His people that what He says and does is complete and dependable. Nothing can be added to it.

This book helped me get more out of Leviticus than ever before.

What we have studied should make us realize the awfulness of sin, the seriousness of confession and restitution, the graciousness of God in forgiving those who trust Jesus Christ, and the marvelous love of our Savior in His willingness to die for undeserving people like us.

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

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Last year I read Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope after enjoying a mini-series based on the book. I discovered Doctor Thorne was the third book of a six-part series called The Chronicles of Barsetshire. I liked Doctor Thorne so much, I decided to read the rest of the series.

The first book in the series is The Warden, a position held by a Mr. Septimus Harding. The warden had various functions in the local church. One role unique to this particular church was overseeing a hospital or almshouse for aged men. In previous years, a man named John Hiram had made provision in his will for such a hospital, for twelve men and a warden to care for them.

A young reformer, John Bold, becomes concerned that the set-up for the hospital is unfair to the patients. He thinks the arrangement is not being carried out according to the Hiram’s will and that the warden is getting more money than he should and the pensioners less. John Bold has no personal quarrel with Mr. Harding himself; in fact, he’s in love with Harding’s daughter, Eleanor. But he’s the type of personality that opposes the principle of the thing and can’t let it go. He begins a lawsuit. Newspapers get wind of the situation and cast aspersions at Mr. Harding’s character.

This might not sound like a riveting plot line, but what makes it interesting is the personalities. Mr. Harding is the meekest of men and only wants to do the right thing. He thought he had been doing right, but now he wants to have the will looked into to make sure. His son-in-law, Archdeacon Grantly, is just the opposite: a take-charge person used to running the show and having his own way. Grantly confers with lawyers to oppose the suit on technical grounds. Grantly probably is probably making too much money from his position: he is described several times as rich. He has no compassion for the old pensioners.

He knew well how strongly he would be supported by Dr Grantly, if he could bring himself to put his case into the archdeacon’s hands and to allow him to fight the battle; but he knew also that he would find no sympathy there for his doubts, no friendly feeling, no inward comfort. Dr Grantly would be ready enough to take up his cudgel against all comers on behalf of the church militant, but he would do so on the distasteful ground of the church’s infallibility. Such a contest would give no comfort to Mr Harding’s doubts. He was not so anxious to prove himself right, as to be so.

Trollope lived and wrote during Dickens’ time, and I wonder what they thought of each other. He satirizes a writer in the story who went by the name Mr Popular Sentiment and who sounds a lot like Dickens or one of his characters. Many of Dickens’ novels seem to have been written to raise awareness and inspire reform. Trollope is not against reform, but he seems to caution here that it can be carried out in a way that hurts innocent people, stirs up negative sentiment without the right basis in facts, and doesn’t accomplish anything good. The question could have been looked into without becoming adversarial. That’s a timely message for these days.

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so.

I especially like Trollope’s characterizations of the newspaper, which in this story is called the Jupiter. I wonder what he’d think of news media today.

From here issue the only known infallible bulls for the guidance of British souls and bodies. This little court is the Vatican of England. Here reigns a pope, self-nominated, self-consecrated—ay, and much stranger too,—self-believing!—a pope whom, if you cannot obey him, I would advise you to disobey as silently as possible; a pope hitherto afraid of no Luther; a pope who manages his own inquisition, who punishes unbelievers as no most skilful inquisitor of Spain ever dreamt of doing—one who can excommunicate thoroughly, fearfully, radically; put you beyond the pale of men’s charity; make you odious to your dearest friends, and turn you into a monster to be pointed at by the finger!’

Oh heavens! and this is Mount Olympus!

It is a fact amazing to ordinary mortals that the Jupiter is never wrong.

A man may have the best of causes, the best of talents, and the best of tempers; he may write as well as Addison, or as strongly as Junius; but even with all this he cannot successfully answer, when attacked by The Jupiter. In such matters it is omnipotent. What the Czar is in Russia, or the mob in America, that The Jupiter is in England.

I like that Trollope addresses the reader, not just as the narrator and member of the community, but as the author.

It is indeed a matter of thankfulness that neither the historian nor the novelist hears all that is said by their heroes or heroines, or how would three volumes or twenty suffice! In the present case so little of this sort have I overheard, that I live in hopes of finishing my work within 300 pages, and of completing that pleasant task—a novel in one volume.

Our tale is now done, and it only remains to us to collect the scattered threads of our little story, and to tie them into a seemly knot. This will not be a work of labour, either to the author or to his readers

I also enjoyed the humorous asides:

The bishop did not whistle. We believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop; but he looked as though he would have done so, but for his apron.

He never had time to talk, he was so taken up with speaking.

In matters of love men do not see clearly in their own affairs. They say that faint heart never won fair lady; and it is amazing to me how fair ladies are won, so faint are often men’s hearts!

[Said of a particular painting] There on her pedestal, framed and glazed, stood the devotional lady looking intently at a lily as no lady ever looked before.

Popularity spoilt him for all further real use, as it has done many another.

I’m thankful I read Doctor Thorne first. It took me a while to get into The Warden, but I came to enjoy it. I especially liked Harding and his youngest daughter, Eleanor. Of Eleanor it was said, “She had no startling brilliancy of beauty, no pearly whiteness, no radiant carnation. She had not the majestic contour that rivets attention, demands instant wonder, and then disappoints by the coldness of its charms. You might pass Eleanor Harding in the street without notice, but you could hardly pass an evening with her and not lose your heart.”

According to a few sources, Trollope had not intended to write a series when he published The Warden. But a few years later, he was inspired by the characters and setting to write another story. When his popularity picked up, publishers asked him for more books from Barsetshire. It wasn’t until after the sixth was published that the books were marketed together and called The Chronicles of Barsetshire.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Simon Vance.

I’m counting this book for the 19th century classic in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

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

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)

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)