Jesus Led Me All the Way

I’ve mentioned before that Margaret Stringer is one of my favorite people. She was a missionary in Indonesia for forty years among former headhunters and cannibals. Though she had a variety of ministries among the people, one of her main jobs was reducing their language to writing, translating the New Testament into their language, and then teaching the people how to read.

The church we attended in SC supported Margaret. When she “retired,” she lived close enough to the church that she was available to come speak to the ladies’ group several times. She could have us laughing til we were in tears telling us about incidents that would have been quite scary when they happened to her.

Jesus Led Me All the Way is her second book about her time in Indonesia, the first being From Cannibalism to Christianity.

Margaret tells how from a very early age, she was sure God had called her to be a missionary. She had a hard time getting the first visa she needed, and it seemed like everyone brought up to her how Paul wanted to go to Macedonia in Acts, but God wouldn’t let him. Margaret wanted God’s will, whether that was Indonesia or somewhere else. But the delays and obstacles just made her more sure that Indonesia was where God wanted her. Later on the field, she was grateful for the hard time she had getting there because of the assurance it gave her that she was in God’s will.

She tells of her arrival on the field, early missionary life, learning the customs and language, getting adjusted to jungle food (like grub worms). She talks about how important it is to understand the world view of the people you’re trying to witness to.

It took a lot of patience to teach people who had not been taught before or hire helpers to learn the language when they had not had paying jobs before. If they wanted to go fishing instead of come to “work,” they did.

One chapter is on “People I Can’t Forget,” most of whom became part of the church there. It took much time and patience and prayer and overcoming many mistakes, but what a joy to see God open people’s eyes to His truth at last.

Margaret includes here one of my favorites of her stories. Once she was in an area where no house or huts were available, so she stayed in a small metal building with open windows (screens but no glass). Once when a terrible storm hit, rain blew in, destroying about 90% of her handwritten translation work. As she tried to salvage what she could and mop up the rest, she felt discouraged. She “fussed” with the Lord about dropping her down in the jungle and leaving her all alone. When she went to bed, something fell off the wall and hit her on the head. She felt like that was the last straw. She turned on her flashlight to see what had fallen. It was a plaque that said, “He cares for you.” She started laughing and said, “OK, Lord, I get it. Thank you.” She comments, “For some people, God speaks in a still small voice. Others of us, however, He conks on the head” (p. 125).

Margaret tells of difficulties in the translation work. She had to consider not just getting the words into Citak, but making them understood in their culture. For instance, they did not have a word for sister or brother—their words were older sister, younger sister, older brother, younger brother. That took some thought when dealing with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. All of their verbs incorporated time of day, so that had to be considered when translating narratives. The suffix “na” at the end of a sentence indicated the information was heard from someone else rather than witnessed directly. In Luke 11:11, when Jesus asks whether a father would give a serpent to his child when asked for a fish, they said, “Of course.” “The Citak people love to eat snake, and a good-sized python has much more meat on it than the average fish, so who wouldn’t want a snake instead of a fish?” (p. 205). they had to find a different word for a poisonous snake that conveyed the idea of the passage, that “no good father would give his son a poisonous snake when he asked for a fish.”

The Citak people had a big celebration day with invited guests, including dignitaries, when they handed out the completed New Testaments. One of Margaret’s greatest joys was seeing the Citak people’s joy at having the Word of God for themselves and their ability to read and understand it. But one of her greatest sorrows was when people from other villages with different dialects wanted the Bible in their language, too. She knew that it would take more time than she had left on the field to translate the NT for all the people there that needed it.

Margaret writes that the people “went from naked cannibals, without the Bible or ability to read, to 23 churches, and having the New Testament in their language. The journey was sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, sometimes discouraging, sometimes dangerous, but always rewarding” (p. xvii). I’m thankful she shared glimpses of that journey with us.

A Book About Death and Dying That Is Not Morbid

Why would anyone read a book on dying if death is not imminent for oneself or loved ones?

Well, in my case, I saw a few quotes that I liked from O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie, in Aging with Grace. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Nancy’s other compilations (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus about Christmas and Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross about Good Friday and Easter). I had not known about this one, but when I did, I wanted to get it, too.

And then, I’ve always dreaded death, even as a Christian. I knew heaven was something to look forward to, with the presence of Jesus and the absence of sin, sickness, sorrow, and crying. I assumed that God would give me grace to die when the time came, and I just tried not to think about it much. So I thought this book might provide some help in that regard.

As with Nancy’s other compilations, this book is made up of excerpts from the writings or sermons of Christians as far back as the Puritans and as modern as Joni Eareckson Tada, John Piper, and Randy Alcorn.

The book is divided into four parts:

  • A Reality That Will Not Be Denied
  • An Aim That Keeps Me Pressing On
  • A Hope That Saves Me From Despair
  • A Future That Will Not Disappoint

Ecclesiastes reminds us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. . . . The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (7:2, 4).

J. I Packer writes:

In every century until our own, Christians saw this life as preparation for eternity. Medievals, Puritans, and later evangelicals thought and wrote much about the art of dying well, and they urged that all of life should be seen as preparation for leaving it behind. This was not otiose morbidity, but realistic wisdom, since death really is the one certain fact of life. Acting the ostrich with regard to it is folly in the highest degree (pp. 15-16).

John Owen says in “Hope Is a Glorious Grace” that we’re like travelers. Some are so busy about other things, they don’t give much thought to the place they are going. Others learn as much as they can about their destination so that they are better prepared and know what they are looking forward to through the discomforts of the journey.

Thomas Boston says, “The less you think on death, the thoughts of it will be the more frightful– make it familiar to you by frequent meditations upon it, and you may thereby quiet your fears. Look at the white and bright side of the cloud– take faith’s view of the city that has foundations; so shall you see hope in your death. Be duly affected with the body of sin and death, the frequent interruptions of your communion with God, and with the glory which dwells on the other side of death– this will contribute much to remove slavish fear” (p. 115).

Several themes came up in many of the selections: Jesus has taken away the sting of death by His own death for us and His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-56). Death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), but it is a defeated enemy. This world is our temporary home: we’re just strangers and pilgrims here (1 Peter 2:11). God is preparing us for “a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16). God will accompany us through the pangs of death and usher us into His presence. Keeping this end in mind should affect how we live here.

One of the best chapters is “Comfort against Fears in the Dying Hour” by Thomas Boston. It’s excerpted from a longer sermon here. The part in this book starts near the end where he talks about different “cases” and gives help for them—fear of leaving loved ones and friends behind, of the sad state of one’s spiritual condition, of dying too soon, of pain or losing one’s senses at the end

I have multitudes of quotes marked, much more that I can share here. But I’ll try to leave you with some I found most helpful.

Death’s sting has been removed, but its bite remains. It does not have the last word for believers, but it remains the believer’s antagonist until the resurrection of the body. The good news is never that one has died, but that death has ultimately been conquered by the Lord of Life (Michael Horton, pp. 23-24).

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). You become like what you choose to behold. Behold Christ, you become Christlike. Gaze upon superficiality and immorality, and it’s equally predictable what you’ll become. Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make (Randy Alcorn, pp. 55-56).

Our witness for Jesus is frequently manifested in our absolute weakest moments rather than when we are at full strength (John Eaves, p. 71).

We forget that throughout biblical history, trials, hardship, and death are equally a part of our witness to an unbelieving world as are healing and deliverance and divine blessing (John Eaves, p. 73).

In sickness the soul begins to dress herself for immortality. . . The soul, by the help of sickness, knocks off the fetters of pride and vainer complacencies (Jeremy Taylor, p. 79).

Richard Baxter says God uses sickness “to wean us from the world, and make us willing to be gone” (p. 97).

What more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of sin, death, and hell. Furthermore, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son, vanquishes them, and renders them harmless for you. In addition, he lets the trials of sin, death, and hell that come to you also assail his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these and how to make them harmless and bearable (Martin Luther, p. 108).

You say that you cannot abide the thought of death. Then you greatly need it. Your shrinking from it proves that you are not in a right state of mind, or else you would take it into due consideration without reluctance (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 148).

O Lord, when the hour comes for me to go to bed, I know that thou wilt take me there, and speak lovingly into my ear; therefore I cannot fear, but will even look forward to that hour of thy manifested love. You had not thought of that, had you? You have been afraid of death: but you cannot be so any longer if your Lord will bring you there in his arms of love. Dismiss all fear, and calmly proceed on your way, though the shades thicken around you; for the Lord is thy light and thy salvation (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 152).

I appreciated that a couple of writers put words to something I had not been able to express: dread of the “strangeness to the other world” (Owen, p. 100). It’s always a little nerve-racking to go to a new place, but it seems silly to feel that way about heaven. But I’m glad I am not the first person who has. Thomas Boston reminds, “Your best friend is Lord of that other world” (p. 113).

This book was a great blessing to me many mornings as I read it. I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future. I heartily recommend it.

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

Where I End

Katherine Clark was visiting her son’s school, playing tag with some children on the playground. One boy climbed up on the jungle gym and jumped off onto Kate’s head. They both fell to the ground. The boy’s arm was fractured, but Kate’s neck was broken, and she was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

Kate tells her story in Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope. She writes, “Strictly speaking, this is not an autobiography, nor is it a piece of journalism about a particular event. Rather, it is a series of reflections—broadly but not strictly chronological—in the wake of an event that has shaped my story as well as the stories of those who love me” (p. 10).

I appreciate that she says her story does not have a fairly-tale ending and she’s not a fairy-tale heroine. “It’s a tale penned in grief and sorrow. But is also a story abounding in hope, beauty, and the miraculous. It is at times humiliating” (p. 13).

Kate intersperses the details of what happened to her on that fateful day and the aftermath of surgery and physical therapy with reflections of the effects of her injury on her children, the inevitable “why” question, coming to terms with the label “quadriplegic,” wrestling with God’s will and His mysteries, and so on.

Her doctors had said she would never walk again. But as her healing surpassed what was expected, she felt almost guilty that she was progressing while so many others she had met in the hospital were not. When someone urges her to tell her story in a small group, often the next person will say something like, “Well, I don’t have anything to follow that,” as if testimonies were a contest. Kate writes, “I hate when the story severs discussion. I hate when the story culminates in a comparison of cross bearing, and as a result, a chasm between us” (p. 198). Kate didn’t want to draw attention to herself, yet her injury and partial recovery were part of her story, her life now. Her history was divided between before and after the accident. As one friend told Kate’s husband, “The only faithful response to living this story is to tell it’ (p. 9).

When one suffers an injury such as Kate’s, the big question is whether the patient will walk again. If that milestone is reached, the patient is thought to be healed. But the patient can still experience life-altering symptoms. In one chapter, Kate details the symptoms she still experiences and the things she still can’t do. She had been in good shape before the accident, a runner, and could no longer count on the body she was once so sure of.

It wasn’t until this chapter that I realized some parallels between my situation and Kate’s. When I had transverse myelitis, I could walk again after a few months of physical therapy and a lot of prayer. But I still have balance issues and numbness in both lower legs and my left hand. I knew exactly what she was talking about when she mentioned her hands feel like she has gloves on all the time, making fine motor skill difficult (though in my case it’s just my left hand, which is not my dominant one, thankfully).

Kate writes also of the mix of feelings she experiences: joy for the amount of healing she has recovered, yet lament for the loss. “I live in the midst of this tension—gratitude and grief—every day” (p. 212).

Though grief remains a part of us, we should not need nor should we desire to be continually affirmed in our sadness. That doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes speak of our sorrow or that we won’t continue to grieve. Some wounds we bear until heaven. It merely means that grief takes its proper place in our stories, and its role is never that of the star, nor does it play the part of the savior.

We live in the shadow, dear reader, but the darkness cannot overcome the light (p. 127).

God shined His light through His Word and His people as they came alongside to help in various ways and to share truth.

I so appreciated Kate’s testimony of God’s grace in hard circumstances.

This book fits the Medical Memoir category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge.

Be Courageous (Luke 14-24)

The gospel of Luke is so full of good things that Warren Wiesrabe divided his commentary on Luke into two books. I mentioned the first, Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know Jesus Cares, earlier in the month. Its companion is Be Courageous (Luke 14-24): Take Heart From Christ’s Example.

Luke 14 drops us right in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, with His healing of a man and then teaching through several parables. The next several chapters continue in much the same way. In addition to parables, Jesus teaches His disciples about the need to take up their cross and follow Him. In chapter 21, Jesus prophesies about the future.

Up to this point, the Pharisees, scribes, etc., have been keeping a close eye on Jesus, trying to trip Him up with questions, challenging His actions. In Chapter 22, things escalate with Judas offering to betray Jesus.

The narrative slows down in the next few chapters to focus on the events leading up to Jesus’ death. He celebrates the Passover with His disciples, institutes the Lord’s supper, is arrested, tried, and is found innocent, yet He is still given over to be crucified. Chapter 23 tells of His crucifixion and burial, and chapter 24 tells of His resurrection, appearance to the disciples, and ascension back to heaven..

There’s a lot in each of those chapters. In our discussion of five chapters at a time at church, we could only hit a few highlights in each one.

Luke’s books were written to his friend, Theophilus, to provide “an orderly account . . . that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).

Wiersbe ably explains things along the way, shares insights, and harmonizes Luke’s account with that of the other gospel writers. Some of his comments:

Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19: 27ff.). We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had and share what we have with others (pp. 21-22, Kindle version).

What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12: 23–28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives (p. 26).

This chapter makes it clear that there is one message of salvation: God welcomes and forgives repentant sinners. But these parables also reveal that there are two aspects to this salvation. There is God’s part: The shepherd seeks the lost sheep, and the woman searches for the lost coin. But there is also man’s part in salvation, for the wayward son willingly repented and returned home. To emphasize but one aspect is to give a false view of salvation, for both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man must be considered (see John 6: 37; 2 Thess. 2: 13–14) (pp. 31-21).

Sin promises freedom, but it only brings slavery (John 8: 34); it promises success, but brings failure; it promises life, but “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6: 23). The boy thought he would “find himself,” but he only lost himself! When God is left out of our lives, enjoyment becomes enslavement (p. 36).

Peter’s self-confident boasting is a warning to us that none of us really knows his own heart (Jer. 17: 9) and that we can fail in the point of our greatest strength (p. 129).

I never noticed this before, but both the ESV Study Bible and Wiersbe point out that Luke begins and ends in the temple. In the first chapter, the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, is announced to his stunned father, Zechariah. In the last, Jesus’ followers “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

May we follow in their footsteps, joyfully worshiping and blessing Him.

Aging with Grace

In Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture, Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt “want readers to ask, ‘What if aging, though challenging, is not a season of purposelessness, but rather an opportunity to discover our true identity in a way we couldn’t in the first half of life? What if we purposefully prepare for the afternoon of life while we are in the first half of life?'” (p. 18, Kindle version). The book is helpful for those already in their later years as well as those wanting to prepare for them adequately.

Susan writes, “The world tells us aging is our enemy, and we should fight it; the Bible says it’s our friend: ‘Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days'” (Job 12: 12)” (p. 27).

God promises the righteous “still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14). Susan acknowledges that, with the physical problems that often accompany getting older, we don’t always feel fruitful, full of sap, and green. But “this promise of growth does not mock my physical reality; it transcends it” (p. 28).

The gospel imperative to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3: 18) does not have an age limit. The same grace that gives us new life in Christ empowers that life to develop, mature, and flourish. We never finish growing. There is always more grace to experience and more to know of Christ’s love. This growth is gradual. We don’t produce it, but as we trust and obey God’s word, we can anticipate it (p. 28).

Susan and Sharon alternate chapters. Some chapters delve into the Bible’s teaching about getting older, particularly Psalm 92 and 71. The chapters in-between take a closer look at some of the older women in the Bible: Anna, The “matriarchs of the exile,” Elizabeth, and Naomi.

Anna was the older widow who came up when Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple in Luke 2. At first the elderly Simeon rejoiced that he had lived to see “the Lord’s Christ” and prophesied about Him. Part of that prophesy was to Mary, that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). I hadn’t thought about it this way before, and the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Anna spoke to Mary, but Sharon proposes that Anna’s coming right at that moment helped comfort Mary.

Simeon told Mary the hard reality that a sword would pierce her soul. Can you sense Mary holding her baby boy a little tighter, her throat constricting and tears welling up? This young mother needed a tangible touch of God’s tender love. At this intense moment we meet eighty-four-year-old Anna. God providentially met Mary’s need through an old woman who hoped in God. At exactly the right moment, Anna shows up (p. 48).

The exile Sharon refers to occurred after Israel had repeatedly rejected God and turned to idols. God had sent prophets and sometimes delivered his people into the hands of their enemies. But even if they repented for a while, they eventually turned away from God again. So God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to remove them from their land and take most of them to Babylon for 70 years. God tells the people as a whole in Jeremiah 29 to settle down, plant, build, marry, and pray for the land of their exile. The older people would have realized they would die in exile and never see their country again. Again, I don’t think the Bible specifically mentions the older women in this scenario, but Sharon posits what they might have done.

Though the elderly women might not be able to physically build houses, their status in the family gave them a key opportunity to influence the attitudes and stability of their households. They could be life-givers or life-takers. They could choose to joyfully embrace God’s call to cultivate a godly, peaceful community or they could choose bitterness, whining, and complaining, and so can we (p. 84).

A few of the other quotes that stood out to me:

There are many things we can no longer do as we age, but age does not keep us from fulfilling our purpose to glorify and enjoy God. An ever-growing knowledge of God’s undeserved love—his grace—changes our motivation: “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5: 14)” (p. 39).

Repenting women who find rest in Jesus become life-giving women who flourish as gatherers. When our heart is Christ’s home, we can become homey places for troubled hearts to find refuge,” (p. 70).

The world equates flourishing with activity and productivity. A biblical perspective does not mean we do more; it means we become more like Christ. We mature in faith, hope, and love” (p. 98).

As counterintuitive as it sounds, flourishing is a slow and progressive death that brings abundant life. Our new heart has new desires. Even as our physical bodies grow old, God causes our new desires to flourish as they are fertilized by his word and Spirit, and we die to self-centered desires, dreams, and demands (p. 99).

As life slows down, we can become controlling and critical, or we can reflect on God’s sovereign love that chose and planted us in his house. The more we live in the light of the reality of his presence, the more we flourish as his Spirit fills us with sap to nurture and encourage others to flourish (p. 105).

One joy of aging is a stillness of soul that helps us see the small moments as sacred moments when we can reflect God’s glory to someone else (p. 145).

The plot of dirt where we die [to self] is also the place where we flourish (p. 146).

To me, flourishing means gratefully accepting the past and present trials God gives me, and looking for opportunities to use what I have learned to help others. . . Whatever situations we find ourselves in as we age, there are nuggets of gold in our past that we can pass on to others. God never wastes a trial, a grief, or a wilderness wandering. We flourish when we give to others the lessons God has taught us (p. 151).

Naomi did not know her ordinary little family would become an extraordinary link to the coming Messiah. In fact, she died without knowing how her seemingly insignificant life fit into God’s magnificent eternal tapestry (p. 154).

At the end of each chapter, the authors include testimonies from older women in various circumstances who share how they found God’s grace to flourish. 

I very much enjoyed this book and it’s encouragement that we can keep growing and flourishing at any age. I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading it again in years to come to keep reminding me of its truths.

Updated to add: I forgot to mention that I’ve been reading this book in conjunction with InstaEncouragements. They’ve been going through the book and summarizing chapters each Tuesday the last few weeks. The comments have been enlightening as well. This book was on my to-read list anyway, and when I saw they were going through it, I jumped in. Reading with a group helps reinforce what I learn plus draws out things I missed. So, if you read this book, you might want to check out those posts as well.

Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13)

In the gospel bearing his name, Luke, “having followed all things closely for some time past,” undertakes “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).

Luke is a doctor and very detailed in his account. He is also a Gentile, and he emphasizes the availability of the gospel to everyone.

Luke begins before Jesus’ birth with the prediction of John the Baptist’s birth. Luke progresses the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the long-awaited Messiah, the well-known Christmas story, Jesus’ ministry and teaching, death, burial, resurrection and ascension.

Because the book of Luke is so full, Warren Wiersbe divided up his commentary on Luke into two books. The first is Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know Jesus Cares.

Wiersbe says Luke’s “key message is, ‘For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19: 10). He presents Jesus Christ as the compassionate Son of Man, who came to live among sinners, love them, help them, and die for them” (p. 16).

In the passage about Jesus’ temptation, Wiersbe says:

Satan questioned the Father’s love when he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. He questioned His hope when he offered Jesus the world’s kingdoms this side of the cross (see Heb. 12: 1–3). Satan questioned the Father’s faithfulness when he asked Jesus to jump from the temple and prove that the Father would keep His promise (Ps. 91: 11–12). Thus, the enemy attacked the three basic virtues of the Christian life—faith, hope, and love (p. 52).

I’ve often heard that this passage shows Satan tempting Jesus with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” that 1 John 2:16 describes. I think that’s true as well as Wiersbe’s viewpoint.

In response to Jesus answering Satan’s temptation with Scripture, Wiersbe says:

Jesus balanced Scripture with Scripture to get the total expression of God’s will. If you isolate verses from their contexts, or passages from the total revelation of Scripture, you can prove almost anything from the Bible. Almost every false cult claims to be based on the teachings of the Bible (p. 53).

Some of the other quotes that stood out to me:

It was our Lord’s custom to attend public worship, a custom His followers should imitate today (Heb. 10: 24–25). He might have argued that the “religious system” was corrupt, or that He didn’t need the instruction, but instead, He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer (p. 54).

Jesus was not teaching that poverty, hunger, persecution, and tears were blessings in themselves. If that were true, He would never have done all He did to alleviate the sufferings of others. Rather, Jesus was describing the inner attitudes we must have if we are to experience the blessedness of the Christian life (p. 80).

Life is built on character, and character is built on decisions. But decisions are based on values, and values must be accepted by faith (p. 81).

There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is a matter of the mind: We cannot understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. Unbelief is a matter of the will: We refuse to believe God’s Word and obey what He tells us to do. “Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong,” said Oswald Chambers. “It may be a sign that he is thinking.” In John’s case, his inquiry was not born of willful unbelief, but of doubt nourished by physical and emotional strain (p. 93).

There are many people today who criticize the church for not “changing the world” and solving the economic, political, and social problems of society. What they forget is that God changes His world by changing individual people. History shows that the church has often led the way in humanitarian service and reform, but the church’s main job is to bring lost sinners to the Savior. Everything else is a by-product of that. Proclaiming the gospel must always be the church’s first priority (p. 94).

Power is the ability to accomplish a task, and authority is the right to do it, and Jesus gave both to His apostles (p. 117).

It is impossible to be wrong about Jesus and right with God (p. 121).

We must first say no to ourselves—not simply to pleasures or possessions, but to self—and then take up our cross and follow Christ daily. This means to be identified with Him in surrender, suffering, and sacrifice (p. 122).

[After the transfiguration] As wonderful as these experiences are, they are not the basis for a consistent Christian life. That can come only through the Word of God. Experiences come and go, but the Word remains. Our recollection of past experiences will fade, but God’s Word never changes. The farther we get from these events, the less impact they make on our lives. That was why the Father said, “Hear him!” and why Peter made this same emphasis on the Word in his report (2 Peter 1: 12–21). Our own personal “transfiguration” comes from inner renewal (Rom. 12: 1–2), and that comes from the Word (2 Cor. 3: 18) (pp. 125-126).

I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s insights and commentary on the Scriptures.

The Four Loves

In The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, he says that when he contemplated writing about love, he thought there were two types: Need-Love and Gift-Love. Need-love is that of a child for its parents, who meet its needs and comfort when frightened. Gift-love is that of a man who works hard for the well-being of his family. Lewis was going to propose that the latter is more like God because He gives and needs nothing. Need-love, however, seemed totally selfish and not deserving of the name “love.”

But, he reasoned, no one thinks a child is selfish for looking to its parents for comfort or an adult selfish for wanting the companionship of friends. And man’s love to God is almost totally Need-love.

It would be a bold and silly creature that came before its Creator with the boast ‘I’m no beggar. I love you disinterestedly.’ Those who come nearest to a Gift-love for God will next moment, even at the very same moment, be beating their breasts with the publican and laying their indigence before the only real Giver. And God will have it so. He addresses our Need-love: ‘Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden,’ or, in the Old Testament, ‘Open your mouth wide and I will fill it’ (pp. 3-4).

Lewis also differentiates between Need-pleasures and Appreciation-pleasures. One quote stood out to me here because I see this in online discussions all the time.

We must be careful never to adopt prematurely a moral or evaluating attitude. The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value; hence those fatal critics who can never point out the differing quality of two poets without putting them in an order of preference as if they were candidates for a prize (pp. 14-15).

Next he writes a chapter titled “Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human”—about love of nature, home, family, country. There’s much to contemplate here, but I’ll just share this one quote from this chapter: “All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service” (p. 30).

Then Lewis determined that there were four loves and dedicated a chapter each to each one.

First is Affection, or storge in the Greek (“two syllables and the g is ‘hard,'” p. 41). He describes Affection as “a warm comfortableness . . . satisfaction in being together . . . the least discriminating of loves” (p. 41). Affection is “the humblest love. It gives itself no airs” (p. 43). Affection can be in combination with the other loves or not.

Next comes friendship. You’d think that would be part of Affection. But Affection can be felt for pets and even people we don’t like very much. If I understand it rightly, it’s not as deep as friendship.

This chapter contains Lewis’ famous quote, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one'” (p. 82).

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it” (pp. 72-73). This book was published in 1960 and its elements were first shared in a series of radio talks. I don’t know if Lewis would say the same today. However, I am sure he would emphasize even more in our day that “It has actually become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual” (p. 76).

Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest (p. 77).

Friendship is also not just between two people, though it can be. A group of friends enhances the friendship of each with the other. “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets” (p. 77).

Friendship also has its good and bad sides. There is a certain exclusiveness to friendship–we can’t be as close to everyone as we are with our closest friends. But that can turn to snobbishness or cliqueishness. It can also form an “us against the world” attitude where we close off criticisms or efforts to point out problems or disagreements. Friendship must “invoke the divine protection if it is to remain sweet” (p. 111).

The third love, Eros, is what Lewis calls romantic love. I’ve always heard the Greek word eros meant sexual, physical love, but Lewis call that Venus. People can experience Eros and Venus together or just one or the other.

Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved. The thing is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one’s own body. . .

Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give (p. 120).

Eros, like Friendship, can have good and bad sides. Our fallen nature can corrupt any good thing.

The last of the four loves, according to Lewis, is Charity or agape in Biblical Greek. Lewis warns many times that our natural loves can act as rivals to the love of God. But he also warns that love of God does not erase or demean our naturals loves. Rather, His love infuses them to be what He created them to be.

Lewis gives an example from Augustine (which, in the providence of God, I just finished reading). Augustine had a dear friend, Nebridius, whose death plunged him into despair and desolation. “This is what comes, [Augustine] says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God” (p. 153). Therefore, he concludes we shouldn’t love other people so much. “If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away” (p. 153). Lewis responds:

Of course, this is excellent sense. . . I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’ To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less (p. 153-154).

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken (p. 155).

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason. . . Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness (p. 155).

We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it (pp. 155-156).

Lewis then goes on to a good discussion of what it means when God says He loved Jacob but hated Esau, or what God meant when He tells us we can’t be His disciples without hating mother, father, etc., which He tells us in other places to love. One helpful quote from this section:

To hate is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil. A man, said Jesus, who tries to serve two masters, will ‘hate’ the one and ‘love’ the other. It is not, surely, mere feelings of aversion and liking that are here in question. He will adhere to, consent to, work for, the one and not for the other (p. 157).

But then we’re called to show this agape kind of love to others. And when we try, we quickly see it’s not in us naturally.

The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be ‘enough’— . . . But in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness. The necessity of practising these virtues first sets us, forces us, upon the attempt to turn—more strictly, to let God turn—our love into Charity. These frets and rubs are beneficial (p. 173).

These can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted—year after year, or in some sudden agony—to transmutation (p. 174).

Even though this is an overly long review, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of the book. And even though I gleaned much from the book, I can already tell I’ll need to read it again some time.

I like to read whole chapters of this kind of fiction at a time so I can follow and hopefully retain the author’s thoughts all the way through. But with only six chapters in a 192-page book, the chapters are long. It wasn’t until the last chapter that I hit on the idea of taking it in much shorter bits and chewing on that for a while before moving on. I’ll have to try that through the whole book next time.

As always, Lewis has a way of stating and illustrating some things in a way to make them startlingly clear and convicting.

I’ll close with one last quote sharing the need for surrendering to God:

This pretence that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy. We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet—or one foot—or one toe—on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf. The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power, and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because we know them to be (in another sense) not ‘ours’ (pp. 167-168).

I’m counting this book for the Nonfiction Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge.

The Confessions of St. Augustine

Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions partly as an autobiography, partly to express his views on doctrine.

Augustine was born in 354 and grew up in northern Africa. His mother, Monica, was a Christian, but his father was a pagan until close to his death. Augustine was sent to school to study rhetoric and eventually taught grammar and later rhetoric in Carthage, Milan, and Rome.

In the school he was sent to, boys bragged about their sexual exploits, even making up encounters so as to have something to tell. He began a relationship with a mistress that produced one son. He later agreed to forsake his mistress and marry, but the girl he was engaged to was too young. In the meantime, he took another mistress.

He was involved for many years in Manichaeism and astrology.

When Augustine first began to study the claims of Christianity, he was plagued by what the nature of God was, the origin of evil, and the seeming unconquerable hold his lust had on him.

Through reading, study, and conversations with others, he eventually he turned away from Manichaeism, disproved astrology, and came a satisfactory understanding of the nature of God and evil. It took a very long time, however, for him to be willing to give up his lust. He once famously prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” He tells how this last stronghold was broken and how he came to believe in Christ for salvation and was baptized.

Confessions is written in thirteen books, the first nine autobiographical and the last four philosophical. He was only in his forties when he wrote it and lived until 76, so the book only covers the first half of his life. Wikipedia says Confessions is the “first Western Christian autobiography.” It’s written somewhat like the psalms, with Augustine’s history or thoughts on a subject followed by bursts of penitence or praise. In his introduction, the translator of this edition says:

One does not read far in the Confessions before he recognizes that the term “confess” has a double range of meaning. On the one hand, it obviously refers to the free acknowledgment, before God, of the truth one knows about oneself—and this obviously meant, for Augustine, the “confession of sins.” But, at the same time, and more importantly, confiteri means to acknowledge, to God, the truth one knows about God. To confess, then, is to praise and glorify God; it is an exercise in self-knowledge and true humility in the atmosphere of grace and reconciliation.

Augustine is considered one of the early church fathers. Though a Catholic, he is also claimed by many Protestants as well. Of course, the Reformation wouldn’t happen until the 1500s. But some of the seeds of Protestant thought are in Augustine’s writings, one being the doctrine of original sin.

Confessions was one of those “I probably ought to read that sometime” books. I put it off several times, thinking it would be hard to understand.

The words themselves weren’t hard to understand. The copy I read and listened to was originally translated by Albert C. Outler in 1955 and then included in this version in 2002, so perhaps the archaic language was modernized. But as Outler said in his introduction, “A succinct characterization of Augustine is impossible, not only because his thought is so extraordinarily complex and his expository method so incurably digressive, but also because throughout his entire career there were lively tensions and massive prejudices in his heart and head.” “Incurably digressive” was a good way to put it.

The dialogue and narrative testimony wasn’t hard to understand, either.

But what I found hard to follow were Augustine’s lengthy trains of thought: for example, over 16 Kindle pages pondering what was meant by “The earth was without form and void” in Genesis 1:2, 20 pages on what time is and how it is measured, similar long discourses on memory and many other subjects.

Also, I am not familiar with many of the schools of thought or warring doctrines and philosophies of the times. In fact, I am sorry to say that I know very little about the first millennium AD after the first century or so.

Augustine’s famous quote, “Thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee,” comes from the first page of his confessions. Some of my other favorite quotes:

Thou wast always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent. But where could I find such pleasure save in thee, O Lord—save in thee, who dost teach us by sorrow, who woundest us to heal us, and dost kill us that we may not die apart from thee.

I especially liked “mercifully angry” and “woundst us to heal us.”

I got a lot from his discussion of the will and struggles with food, especially that “What is sufficient for health is not enough for pleasure.”

He had a section on people with differing interpretations and Scripture and said, “In this discord of true opinions let Truth itself bring concord, and may our God have mercy on us all, that we may use the law rightly to the end of the commandment which is pure love.”

I enjoyed finding an incident I had heard, but did not know came from this book. Augustine’s mother, Monica, had prayed for him for years. She talked to a bishop who had had some of the same struggles as Augustine with the Manicheans. She wanted the bishop to speak to Augustine, but he felt Augustine was unteachable at the moment, and they should just pray for him for now. She cried and begged him, until he said, “It cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.”

There was another illustration I had heard but didn’t realize came from Augustine until I read it here. He tells of a friend, Alypius, who had “a passion for the gladiatorial shows,” but determined they were bad for him and he wouldn’t attend any more. One night he ran into some friends who, with “friendly violence . . . drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater” to watch. He determined to keep his eyes closed. But a cry from the audience caused him to open his eyes, and, “as soon as he saw the blood, he drank it in with a savage temper.” He became enamored once again with the violence of the games, receiving “a deeper wound in his soul than the victim.”

There was one famous illustration that I was looking forward to reading that was not in the book. The story is told that, after Augustine’s conversion, he ran into one of his mistresses on the street. He tried to avoid her, but she kept following and calling to him, “Augustine, it is I.” He was said to have answered, “Yes, but it is no longer I.” This article indicates this incident may not have ever happened. On the other hand, it may have come from some of Augustine’s writings that are not searchable online. At any rate, it’s not in his Confessions.

I am not Catholic and therefore couldn’t agree with his distinctly Catholic views. Probably my biggest disagreement is that, though he expressed faith and his life changed before his baptism, he equated salvation with baptism several times in the book. Also, he spends a lot of time near the end of the book interpreting creation allegorically–the firmament is supposed to mean the Bible, the spiritual gifts are supposedly meant by the sun, moon, and stars. etc. He goes into a great deal of explanation as to how he came to these conclusions. But personally, I think we have to be careful not to make something in the Bible symbolic that the Bible doesn’t convey as symbolic. He and his mother also put a lot of stock in visions and dreams, which I don’t.

So, I have mixed views about Augustine. But I am glad to finally have read this book.

I started out listening to the audiobook read by one of my favorite narrators, Simon Vance. I read parts in this 99-cent Kindle version, but didn’t find Augustine’s arguments any easier to follow. The last few pages, I read along while listening to the audiobook. That seemed to be the clearest way for me to gain the most from the book. If I ever read it again—which won’t be for a very long time to come—I’ll have to try it that way from the beginning.

I am counting this book for the Pre-1800 Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.

Have you ever read Augustine’s Confessions? What did you think?

Be Responsible (1 Kings)

Warren Wiersbe helps us glean understanding in Be Responsible (1 Kings): Being Good Stewards of God’s Gifts.

The book of 1 Kings begins with the death of David, Israel’s greatest king, and ends with the death of Ahab, one of Israel’s worst kings.

In-between those two kings, the temple was built, but then the kingdom of Israel split in two. The southern kingdom, Judah, was ruled by David’s line. The northern kingdom with the rest of the tribes was ruled by various people.

A few of the kings were good to some degree, but most were bad and led Israel in their besetting sin, idolatry.

God raised up prophets to warn the kings and the people about the danger they were in due to their disobedience. This book had Elijah’s famous showdown with the prophets of Baal and Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantle. But there were many unnamed prophets faithfully doing God’s will.

Here are some of the quotes that stood out to me from Wiersbe’s writing:

The two books of Kings record about four hundred years of the history of Israel and Judah, while the two books of Chronicles see the history of the united kingdom and then the kingdom of Judah from the priestly point of view. Besides recording history, these books teach theology, especially the faithfulness of God in keeping His covenant, the sovereignty of God in directing the destinies of all nations, and the holiness of God in opposing idolatry (p. 13).

Integrity is one of the vital foundations of society, but integrity involves taking responsibility and facing accountability. This includes leadership in the home and church as well as in the halls of academe and the political chambers. It’s one thing to make promises at the church altar or to take an oath of office, but it’s quite another to assume responsibility and act with courage and honesty and seek to please God (p. 11).

God took the consequences of David’s two worst sins—a piece of property and a son—and built a temple! “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5: 20 NKJV). This isn’t an encouragement for us to sin, because David paid dearly for both of those transgressions, but it is an encouragement to us to go on serving God after we’ve repented and confessed our sins. Satan wants us to think that all is lost, but the God of all grace is still at work (1 Peter 5: 10) (p. 53).

“Because of our proneness to look at the bucket and forget the fountain,” wrote Watchman Nee, “God has frequently to change His means of supply to keep our eyes fixed on the source” (p. 160).

Responsibility means our response to His ability (p. 214).

I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s help in getting more from 1 Kings.

“Don’t Call Me Spry”

It’s a shock to the system when you realize someone thinks of you as “old.”

For me, it happened when a fast-food cashier rang up my order with a senior discount—and I was only 50.

For Win Couchman, it happened when she ran into an old friend who commented, “You’re so spry!” “Spry” was a “compliment reserved for exclusively for old people.”

As the shock of this well-meant statement brought Win to tears, she began to consider aging.

I am at the young end of old: junior-high old. Youth is gone and now, also, middle age. My life at sixty-four is rich, adventurous, blessed, and full of joy (p. 2).

I am not only wrinkling. I am growing. And while I am forgetting some things, I am learning much that is new. This season of my life is as fearsome and exciting as turning fourteen. Nobody told me it would be this way (p. 3).

She decided to investigate “what it means to grow old” from the Bible, culture, the examples of older people in her life (“Not everything I learned from Grandmother about aging was glamorous, but all of it was valuable” [p.84]). She wanted to “notice and enjoy the perks that come with old age” (p. 4).

The results of her study and contemplation is “Don’t Call Me Spry”: Creative Possibilities for Later Life.

Win noted, “The halves of my life each merit my attention. The tension between the material and spiritual aspects of reality are normal. The struggle is to keep a balance: to live in light of the unseen while resetting the washer from ‘permanent press’ to ‘delicate fabrics.’ In order to live for God’s glory and not lose heart, I have the perspective of the eternal as a gift” (p. 4).

In their fifties, Win and her husband, Bob, began to pray and consider what to do when he retired. For many years, they had hosted a ministry called Forever Family which combined hospitality, mentoring, counseling, and teaching. But they were sensing maybe the time had come to do something different.

Through a series of events and contacts, the door eventually opened for them to minister in a variety of other countries eight months out of the year. They enjoyed the novelty and the opportunities to minister, resulting in some never-to-be forgotten experiences.

But they also experienced stresses with travel and continual adjustments, and they handled them differently. She liked to talk things out when stressed or anxious; he withdrew and became quiet. I’m sure those tendencies were always a part of their personalities, but these new experiences brought them to the forefront and required them to meet each other half-way.

Bob’s retirement brought other stresses and adjustments, like sharing space that she had previously had to herself.

Then new stresses arose when Win developed a heart issue which brought not only their international travel to a close, but their full-time active ministry as well. She had to rethink what she could do within her new reality. “It grieved me to give up thinking I could do anything anyone even a generation or two younger than I can do” (p. 45).

It saddened me to give up the illusion that I could always push myself a bit more if I needed to, that pushing was the thing to do. I could no longer be casual about getting too tired. I was newly aware of another true separation between me and those who are younger (p. 46).

She tells how God led her to other types of ministry, mainly mentoring, prayer, being involved with her grandchildren. She still taught and spoke on a limited basis.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Downside,” dealing with some of the negative aspects of aging. “When you ask me how I am, sometimes it is a little hard to know how to answer” (p. 107).

But even though Win describes herself as a pessimist, overall the book is hopeful and positive. The Bible assures that God’s care and love and grace will always be with us. In addition:

As I have looked repeatedly into the mirror of these verses, I have not only been provided with new assurance of God’s caring for me, but I have a greatly enhanced concept of the possibility of lifelong usefulness (p. 136).

While searching for more information about Win, I came across this video of her.

I had not heard of Win before until I read a chapter by her in The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields. I didn’t discover until recently that her chapter, “The Grace to Be Diminished,” originally came from a magazine here. Then I found her poignant article, “The Beds I Have Known,” about living separately from her husband of 72 years when she could no longer care for him. I saw somewhere that she had written this book, so I searched for it. It’s out of print, but I found a used copy in good condition for $5 at Amazon.

I am glad to have found and read it. It gave me much encouragement as I look ahead.