Book Review: Be Victorious

The book of Revelation in the Bible is a challenge for many reasons. Readers and interpreters argue about what’s literal and what’s symbolic, what the symbols mean, what’s going to happen when. In Warren Wiersbe’s brief commentary, Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer, he mentions “I have dozens of commentaries on this book, and no two authors completely agree on everything.”

But I like Wiersbe’s emphasis:
John’s prophecy is primarily the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of future events. You must not divorce the Person from the prophecy, for without the Person there could be no fulfillment of the prophecy.

In fact, Wiersbe says in his first chapter:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.

Although Wiersbe gives a more detailed outline of the book, this one emphasizes how Christ is pictured in each section:

In Revelation 1—3, Christ is seen as the exalted Priest-King ministering to the churches. In Revelation 4—5, He is seen in heaven as the glorified Lamb of God, reigning on the throne. In Revelation 6—18, Christ is the Judge of all the earth, and in Revelation 19, He returns to earth as the conquering King of Kings. The book closes with the heavenly Bridegroom ushering His bride, the church, into the glorious heavenly city.

Wiersbe suggests four reasons for the heavy use of symbolism in this particular book. At the time John wrote it, he was an old man exiled on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. He might have used symbols as a kind of code, so the Roman officers wouldn’t pick up on what he was saying. Another reason: the symbols’ meaning and strength would last through the years rather than being specific to a certain time and culture. A third possible reason: “symbols not only convey information, but also impart values and arouse emotion. John could have written, ‘A dictator will rule the world,’ but instead he describes a beast.” Also, some of the symbols carry over from the rest of the Bible: the church as a bride, Jesus as a lamb. In fact, Wiersbe notes that “Nearly 300 references to the Old Testament are found in Revelation! This means that we must anchor our interpretations to what God has already revealed, lest we misinterpret this important prophetic book.” And he warns that we “must not conclude that John’s use of symbolism indicates that the events described are not real.”

Something that stood out to me this time around reading Revelation was the parallels between it and Genesis. Wiesrbe has a chart with the things that began in Genesis (heaven and earth created, day and night established, the curse for sin, death, people driven from Eden, beginning of sorrow and pain, marriage instituted) and were brought to completion in Revelation (new heavens and earth, no need of sun, no night, curse, death, sorrow, tears, people restored to paradise, marriage supper of the Lamb). I know these must have been pointed in in previous studies or sermon series through Revelation, but it it was like I noticed it for the first time. Maybe I had just forgotten.

I’m not going to get into the explanation and exposition of Revelation and the arguments over the whether and what and when of millennium—that would take too much time and space. Wiersbe presents the reasons for the different views but confesses to be a premillennialist. That’s what I was taught the majority of my Christian life. Our current church is the first we’ve been in that has a different view. I also read from my ESV Study Bible. The commentator there was also careful to explain the different views before stating which he thought was correct. Though he differed from Wiersbe regarding the millennium, they agreed on many other things. Good people can differ on these things. I don’t think different views of the end times are anything to argue or separate over. But, I agree that, as Wiersbe says, “no matter what ‘key’ a student may use to unlock Revelation, he cannot help but see the exalted King of Kings as He vindicates His people and gives victory to His overcomers.”

One good reason for reading and studying Revelation, besides the fact that it’s as inspired as the rest of the Bible, is that “When you have assurance for the future, you have stability in the present.” As more than one Christian has said, “I’ve read the end of the book—I know how it all turns out.” Plus, “A true understanding of Bible prophecy should both motivate us to obey God’s Word and to share God’s invitation with a lost world.”

Here are a few other quotes that stood out to me:

Labor is no substitute for love; neither is purity a substitute for passion. The church must have both if it is to please Him.

The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.

The “overcomers” are not a “spiritual elite,” but rather the true believers whose faith has given them victory (1 John 5: 4–5).

No amount of loving and sacrificial works can compensate for tolerance of evil.

Unloving orthodoxy and loving compromise are both hateful to God.

The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.

If men and women will not yield to the love of God and be changed by the grace of God, then there is no way for them to escape the wrath of God.

God’s Word will be there. “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12: 48). Every sinner will be held accountable for the truth he or she has heard in this life.

It’s always challenging to go through the book of Revelation, But I am thankful for the help this book gave this time around.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Booknificent Thursday)

 

Book Review: None Like Him

The subtitle of None Like Him by Jen Wilkin is 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing).

God has some attributes that we’re supposed to emulate: kindness, love, compassion, etc. He possesses those characteristics in perfection. We never will this side of heaven, but we should be growing in them as we read God’s Word.

Some of God’s attributes, however, are unique to Him: omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnipresence (everywhere at the same time), immutability (unchangeableness), eternality, etc. Jen devotes one chapter each to these and five more characteristics of God. A subject like this could easily be filled with ivory-tower theologicalese, but Jen doesn’t let it. Her treatment of God’s attributes is both understandable and practical while still invoking awe.

At first it might seem more practical to study the attributes of God that we’re supposed to grow in (and Jen’s next book, In His Image, does just that). But there’s good reason to ponder these unattainable attributes. Studying these characteristics helps us get to know our God better, contributes to our worship of Him, and reminds us of our limitations.

Wait—do we want to be reminded of our limitations? Well, we need to be. Sometimes our overreaching is due to pride. And it’s immensely restful to leave to God the things only He can do.

Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out (p. 25).

For instance, it never occurred to me before reading this book that our constant efforts to be in more than one place (with one person, on the phone with another, with one eye on the news) might be grasping for omnipresence. Subject ourselves to information overload might be reaching towards omniscience. We don’t want to stagnate: we want to keep learning and growing. But we do have limits.

No, we cannot be in more than one place at one time. When we reach for omnipresence ourselves, we guarantee that we will be fully present nowhere, spread thin, people of divided attentions, affections, efforts, and loyalties. Better to trust that these bodies which tether us to one location are good limits given by a good God. Better to marvel that, wherever we are tethered, his spirit surrounds us and fills us. Aware that he is witness to all we think, speak, and do, we learn to live circumspectly. Aware that he views his children through the lens of grace, we learn to choose frank confession over futile concealment. Aware that we cannot outrun his presence, we cease running, and abide. We learn to savor his nearness. No more virtual Twister. When we trust him as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us (pp. 104-105).

Here are just a few of the quotes I marked:

The thought that there might be a way to cast off at least some of these perpetual needs for perpetual needlessness is an enticing one, indeed. Take, for example, our current cultural obsession with caffeinated drinks as evidence of our desire to be sleep-optional creatures (p. 58).

Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependency, not autonomy (p. 63).

Like Samson, when we view a particular strength as the product of our obedience to God, we will use that strength to serve ourselves rather than to serve God and others. All strength, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, can be used either to serve or to self-elevate (p. 127).

The truth of God’s limitless power would be absolutely terrifying were it not paired with the truth of his limitless goodness (p. 135).

Our primary problem as Christian women is not that we lack self-worth, not that we lack a sense of significance. It’s that we lack awe (p. 154).

We too often approach the Bible in a self-serving way: we want to be comforted, affirmed, or assured in some way. The Bible does minister to us, but we need to approach it to learn about God.

God is incomprehensible. This does not mean he is unknowable, but that he is unable to be fully known. It is the joyful duty, the delightful task of his children to spend their lives, both this one and the next, discovering who he is. According to Jesus, knowing God is the fundamental aim of life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We take pleasure in working to grow in our knowledge of him (p. 33).

Meditating on His attributes leads us to worship and increases our faith. The more we know Him, the more we love Him, the more we trust Him.

My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD (Psalm 104:34).

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

Book Review: Breaking Anxiety’s Grip

Dr. Michelle Bengston writes from her own experience as an anxiety sufferer, a neuropsychologist, and most of all, as a Christian, in Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises.

Everyone experiences worry, anxiety, and fear on occasion to some degree. But for some, they are regular companions.

After defining terms, Dr. Bengston discusses what contributes to anxiety, etc., brain chemistry, heredity, example, our own thoughts and heart, and Satanic influence. Interestingly, “While brain chemistry can impact mood and behavior, thoughts (e.g., ‘This place isn’t safe,’ ‘I can’t handle this any more,’ ‘I’m overwhelmed,’ etc.) actually impact brain chemistry” (p. 35).

The author spends the rest of the book explaining “the tools to effectively exchange our worry, anxiety, and fear for his peace” (p. 28). She doesn’t spout empty platitudes: she has put these principles to work in response to cancer diagnoses for herself and her husband, problems in her practice, a son’s major obstacles in his career path, as well as “everyday” problems and concerns. Her tools are based on the sure foundation of Scripture.

I had read a few of Michelle’s posts when she participated in some of the same of the same blog link-ups I participate in. I always enjoyed what she had to say, so when I saw she had written this book, I got it. It sat on my shelf for a while, then I picked it up, then set it aside for another book. When I finally delved into it in earnest, I knew God had led me to read it at just the perfect time. The coronavirus pandemic began just after I started this book, and the chapters I read then helped me immensely in the uncertainty and anxiety of that unprecedented situation.

Here are just a few of the principles that most helped me:

Dealing with worry, anxiety, and fear isn’t a one-time event: it’s a process.

I’m not in control. God is. He knows best and knows the big picture. What He allows may not be what I would have chosen, but He has a purpose in it for my good.

“When concern about the future comes, we can recognize it and then refuse to entertain it. We can determine to stay in the present and in God’s presence, trusting in his perfect plan” (pp. 70-71).

We can reframe our worried thoughts to focus on God’s provision: “Instead of saying, ‘I’m worried I won’t be able to make ends meet,’ exert your trust in God and declare, ‘God, I’m trusting you to provide because you promised to supply all my needs according to your glorious riches.’ Or instead of saying, ‘I’m afraid to be alone,’ look to his promises and declare your trust in him: ‘Thank you, God, that you promise you will never leave me and will always be with me so I won’t be alone'” (p. 119).

“God’s peace is not the calm after the storm. It is the steadfastness during the storm. It is in his presence that we can find peace in the midst of the storm” (p. 140).

“When self-protection is our goal, there’s no room for trusting God’s protective love. That self-protective stance leaves us lonely and unwilling to invite others in, including God. Fear is not from God. It is a direct attack from the one who wants to prevent us from drawing close to God or knowing his trustworthy love. In reality, we are powerless to protect ourselves. Fear doesn’t protect. So self-protection is futile. What we really need is a sure protector—and only a trustworthy God can be that for us” (pp. 171-172).

“Emotions are the outward manifestations of the thoughts we believe. So when we feel anxious, it’s because we’ve believe the thoughts that prompt anxiety. Instead of acting on our feelings, we must speak out against the thoughts that caused them. We must recognize that the thoughts are from the enemy, refute them, and speak back to them” (p. 186).

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (the KJV and NKJV says “sound mind”). Michelle spends a lot of time unpacking and applying those verses.

There were just a couple of places in the book where I had a question mark or maybe would have had a somewhat different view. And I wish she would have said a little more about anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere, not triggered by worry, as described here. But whatever the cause, the solution of taking our thoughts captive and applying God’s truth would be the same.

Overall, however, I found this book a great encouragement to my faith. Much of it was truth I already knew, but as was said earlier, fighting against anxiety is an ongoing process rather than a once-for-all victory. This book is an excellent tool and help in the fight.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul,
Senior Salon, Global Blogging, InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

 

Book Review: Be Rich (Ephesians) Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy

Warren Wiersbe’s Be Rich commentary on the book of Ephesians does not a promote the “prosperity gospel”—insert prayers and gifts to televangelists and receive health and wealth. No, as the subtitle goes on to say. “Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy.”

Ephesians 1:3 says God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Just some of those blessings:

  • Chosen in Him (verse 4)
  • Adopted as sons (verse 5)
  • Redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (verse 7)
  • An inheritance (verse 11)
  • Believers are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (verses 13-14).

Wiersbe says, “‘In Christ’ is the most frequently used phrase in the book of Ephesians, and the point is clear: If you’re in Christ, you have everything.”

Another theme in the book is unity. Not a unity that ignores truth, but unity based on truth. Paul, the author of the letter to the Ephesians, says God’s plan was “to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (1:10). The first half of chapter 2 tells how we can be reconciled with God; the second half says that God, through Christ, broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God … ” (2:18-19). Chapters 4-6 share practical ways that unity in Christ is worked out in the church community, in the home, and in the workplace.

I’ve got dozens of quotes marked, but here are a few:

The Bible is our guidebook; the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. As we search the Word of God, we discover more and more of the riches we have in Christ.

Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Salvation cannot be “of works” because the work of salvation has already been completed on the cross. This is the work that God does for us, and it is a finished work (John 17: 1–4; 19: 30). We can add nothing to it (Heb. 10: 1–14); we dare take nothing from it.

By His death and resurrection, Christ overcame the world (John 16: 33; Gal. 6: 14), and the flesh (Rom. 6: 1–6; Gal. 2: 20), and the Devil (Eph. 1: 19–23). In other words, as believers, we do not fight for victory—we fight from victory! The Spirit of God enables us, by faith, to appropriate Christ’s victory for ourselves.

The Christian life is not based on ignorance but knowledge, and the better we understand Bible doctrine, the easier it is to obey Bible duties. When people say, “Don’t talk to me about doctrine—just let me live my Christian life!” they are revealing their ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer. “It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you live right” is a similar confession of ignorance. It does make a difference what you believe, because what you believe determines how you behave!

Of course, there’s much more to Ephesians and Wiersbe’s book.

Ephesians contains two of my favorite Biblical prayers that I sometimes pray for myself and others. I’ll leave you with those

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (1:15-20).

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (3:14-19).

(Sharing with Worth Beyond Rubies, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: The Women of Easter

Women of Easter book The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs, as the title suggests, tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of these three Marys.

Liz lays out the narrative in eight chapters. I chose to read one a week most of the weeks leading up to Easter.

We learn about each of the the Marys. Mary of Bethany and the famous incident with her sister, Martha, the death and resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, and her anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, wiping them with her hair. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons (Luke 8:2) (and who is never called a harlot or prostitute in the Bible, though movie writers like to depict her that way).

Liz seamlessly weaves their stories in with the last several days Jesus spent on earth, using multitudes of Scripture references in different translations and snippets from commentaries. I can’t imagine all the study she did before writing this book.

Here are just a few quotes:

When Jesus “no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea” (John 11:54) because people were after Him:

Jesus was neither afraid of them nor avoiding them. He was simply acting according to His Father’s will. Whenever my prayers are answered with a firm directive to wait, I remind myself that even Jesus had times of waiting, and more than once He did so in a desolate place.

Of Mary of Bethany’s wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair:

This devout follower, this beloved sister, used her long hair to dry a man’s feet—the “lowest job for the lowliest servant.” … Her perfume wasn’t the only thing she sacrificed. Mary laid her whole being before Him: her pride, her reputation, her social standing, her clean hands, her pure heart. She asked nothing of Him, sought no sign of approval, begged for no favors. Confident of His love and acceptance, she simply gave, expecting nothing in return.

When the disciples (not just Judas) rebuked Mary for her extravagance:

They didn’t just wag their fingers at her. They “scolded” (CEB) and “criticized” (GNT); they “censured and reproved” (AMPC). With no concern for her feelings, “they told the woman what a bad thing she had done” (ERV). Poor Mary of Bethany! To share something holy and then to be treated cruelly, not by strangers, but by those who knew her and claimed to know Christ.

Jesus offered a rebuke of His own, aimed not at Mary but at the disciples. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. John 12: 7

During the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday):

Worship isn’t a task. Worship is a response.

In preparation for the Passover:

Part of trusting God is letting go of our need to know and refusing to fret over the who, what, when, where, and why. When the time comes, the Lord will inform us, just as He did His disciples.

In a passage about Jesus being beaten:

During Lent it’s tempting to hurry toward Easter morning, eager to declare, “He is risen!” Yes, He certainly is. But reminding ourselves what came before His glorious victory over death is how we remain humbled by His sacrifice and grateful for His mercy. We were “bought at a price.” This was the cost.

On the way to the cross …

Jesus stopped to speak to the women. He sees us, beloved. He values us. He cherishes us. On that day He spoke a word of prophecy to these daughters, preparing them for even harder days to come.

When Jesus was buried:

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” Luke 23:55. Really, have you ever seen such perseverance? They stayed and they stayed and they stayed. This is one of the most important lessons these women teach us. Wherever He leads, follow Jesus. Whatever pain you are enduring, keep your eyes on Jesus. Even when hope seems gone, stay close to Jesus.

After the resurrection:

Woman. The first word spoken by the risen Christ, meant for all His daughters throughout eternity. Woman. An assurance that we matter to Him, that we count for His kingdom. Woman. A term of respect. The very word He used when addressing His beloved mother from the cross. Woman.

There were just a couple of places where I put a question mark, not sure if her observation or comment was exactly right. But I don’t recall that those points were anything major.

This book was a great way to prepare for Easter week. I’m sure I will use it again in the future. But, of course, it’s good reading year round since Christ’s death and resurrection affect us every day.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now,
InstaEncouragement, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality

 Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe is a commentary or study guide to read alongside the New Testament book of Galatians.

Paul wrote a rather strongly-worded letter to the Galatians with none of his usual thanksgiving and commendation for his readers. That’s because the Galatians were confusing law and grace.

The first Christians were Jewish and were quite stunned when Gentiles became believers. There was a lot of confusion at first about whether Gentile believers had to follow the same practices as the Jews (see Acts 10, 11, and 15).

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Acts 15:6-11, emphasis added).

The initial confusion was understandable. But some, called Judaizers, persisted in teaching that Gentile believers must keep the OT law, especially the Jewish rite of circumcision. Paul insisted this was trusting in works, not grace, and we’re not saved by works.

It wasn’t that circumcision was good or bad in itself. Paul mentions bringing Titus, a Gentile believer to Jerusalem with no thought of having him circumcised (Galatians 2:1-5). But later in Acts 16:1-3, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Was Paul being inconsistent? No, Timothy was half Jewish, half Greek, and Paul wanted to bring him along on his missionary journeys. As a part Jewish man, Timothy would never have been accepted or listened to by the Jews without being circumcised. So in his case, circumcision was a matter of not being a stumblingblock to those he wanted to minister to. (John Piper goes into this more here.) The difference was that neither Paul nor Timothy were trusting in circumcision as a means to salvation or to earn favor with God. The Judaizers were.

So Paul argues against law and for grace, appealing to the Galatians personally, doctrinally, and practically. They were in danger of teaching false doctrine, of forsaking and perverting the gospel. It was serious enough for Paul to write as he did.

I won’t go into all the details or Wiersbe’s outline here. But Wiersbe makes application to our day. Probably few of us are tempted to observe Jewish law for salvation as the Judaizers were. But we can easily lapse into trusting in the rules or standards of whatever faith group we’re a part of instead of trusting Christ alone for salvation.

Millions of believers think they are “spiritual” because of what they don’t do—or because of the leader they follow—or because of the group they belong to. The Lord shows us in Galatians how wrong we are—and how right we can be if only we would let the Holy Spirit take over.

When the Holy Spirit does take over, there will be liberty, not bondage—cooperation, not competition—glory to God, not praise to man. The world will see true Christianity, and sinners will come to know the Savior. There is an old-fashioned word for this: revival.

Here are a few other quotes.

We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines; he becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him (Rom. 11: 6).

We not only are saved by grace, but we are to also live by grace (1 Cor. 15: 10). We stand in grace; it is the foundation for the Christian life (Rom. 5: 1–2). Grace gives us the strength we need to be victorious soldiers (2 Tim. 2: 1–4). Grace enables us to suffer without complaining, and even to use that suffering for God’s glory (2 Cor. 12: 1–10). When a Christian turns away from living by God’s grace, he must depend on his own power. This leads to failure and disappointment. This is what Paul meant by “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5: 4)—moving out of the sphere of grace and into the sphere of law, ceasing to depend on God’s resources and depending on our own resources.

God revealed Christ to Paul, in Paul, and through Paul. The “Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1: 14) had been an experience of outward rituals and practices, but faith in Christ brought about an inward experience of reality with the Lord. This “inwardness” of Christ was a major truth with Paul (2: 20; 4: 19).

Ever since Paul’s time, the enemies of grace have been trying to add something to the simple gospel of the grace of God. They tell us that a man is saved by faith in Christ plus something—good works, the Ten Commandments, baptism, church membership, religious ritual—and Paul made it clear that these teachers are wrong. In fact, Paul pronounced a curse on any person (man or angel) who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of the grace of God, centered in Jesus Christ (Gal. 1: 6–9; see 1 Cor. 15: 1–7 for a definition of the gospel). It is a serious thing to tamper with the gospel.

Justification is an act of God; it is not the result of man’s character or works. “It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8: 33). It is not by doing the “works of the law” that the sinner gets a right standing before God, but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ.

Reading this book was a little different from reading the author’s Be Reverent on Ezekiel. Ezekiel has 48 chapters, so Wiersbe’s commentary covered broader sections in his chapters. But Galatians only has six chapters, so Wiersbe took two chapters to discuss each chapter of Galatians. If I had been reading this on my own, I would have just read one chapter of Wiersbe’s commentary on half a chapter of Galatians a day. But because I was reading one chapter a day of Galatians for our church Bible study, I had to read two chapters of Wiersbe to keep on track. It had my head spinning a couple of days, especially in the more doctrinal parts of the book. But Wiersbe in generally pretty easy to follow and comprehend.

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

Book Review: Good Tidings of Great Joy

I like to read an Advent or Christmas devotional in December. I didn’t have any new ones on hand last year and didn’t want to reread an old one. But then I came across Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon in my Kindle collection.

I thought I could read a bit at a time, like a devotional book. And I could—but I just wasn’t getting as much out of the sermons as I did when I read them one at a time in their entirety. The only days I could work in reading a whole sermon at once were Saturdays. So that’s why I am just now finishing a book of Christmas sermons.

Spurgeon was not a big fan of Christmas, according to these messages. He thought it was too often used as an excuse for excess. And he disliked a superstitious keeping of church holidays. But he did concede that hard-working people could use the time off and that the holidays provided a time to bring out particular truths related to Christ’s birth.

There are eight messages in all, each focused on a text connected to Jesus’ birth. I won’t go into an outline or summary of each message, but I’ll just share a few quotes.

I. The Birth of Christ, Isaiah 7:14-15: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!

And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy.

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory

II. The Great Birthday, Luke 2:10: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

It is clear that if God condescends to be so intimately allied with manhood, He intends to deliver man and to bless him. Incarnation prophesies salvation. Oh, believing Soul, your God cannot mean to curse you.

If you know yourself lost by nature and lost by practice. If you feel sin like a plague at your heart. If evil wearies and worries you. If you have known the burden and the shame of iniquity, then will it be bliss to you even to hear of that Savior whom the Lord has provided!

God’s Omnipotence comes down to man’s feebleness and infinite Majesty stoops to man’s infirmity!

III. A Visit to Bethlehem: Luke 2:15b: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

“Here,” says this faithful son of Abraham, “is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and promises! The hope, the expectation and the joy of my noble ancestry!”

Do you know, my children, that our comforts were purchased at the expense of His sufferings?

IV. Holy Work for Christmas, Luke 2:17-20

Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship.

That we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.

Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at first. Let Him be crowned anew by us.

We may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season. And considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it, after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.

The mystery of God Incarnate, for our sake bleeding and dying—that we might neither bleed nor die! God Incarnate descending that we might ascend! Wrapped in swaddling cloths that we might be unwrapped of the grave clothes of corruption!

Learning need not be an impediment to grace and may be a fitting weapon in a gracious hand.

Let every man who truly hears the Gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant you require for preaching the Gospel according to your ability. It is not every man who has ability to preach the Word. And it is not every man that we should like to hear preach it in the great congregation, for if all were mouth, what a great vacuum the Church would be! Yet every Christian in some method should deliver the glad tidings. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to every man. Yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister!

We set before you, now, another mode of keeping Christmas by holy wonder, admiration, and adoration.

Think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the Gospel.

You have heard the faults of the preacher—let him mourn them. You have heard his Master’s message. Do you bless God for that? Scarcely will you ever hear a sermon which may not make you sing if you are in a right frame of mind.

V. The First Christmas Carol, Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. They are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.

VI. The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

VII. God Incarnate, the End of Fear, Luke 2:10a: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not

Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all!

Now may I come to God since God has come to me.

That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedient to His command is to be cultivated.

VIII. A Christmas Question, Isaiah 9:6a: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

Now, my hearer, have you a fear of God before your eyes—a filial fear, a fear which a child has lest it should grieve its parent? Say have you a child’s love to God? Do you trust to him as your father, your provider, and your friend? Have you in your breast “The spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father?”

My favorite of these was the fourth, which looks at how different people responded to the birth of Christ.

I wish whoever had compiled these messages had included the dates they were originally preached.

Spurgeon is always good for a thoughtful read and for bringing things out of passages I hadn’t seen or considered in quite as much depth. I disagreed with him in just a couple of places due to our differences on the implications of election and free will. But overall I enjoyed this and benefited from it very much.

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

Book Review: Loving People

I’ve mentioned several times here that I struggle with my own selfishness and with not being more loving (not thinking of romantic love necessarily, but generally loving others) . Recently I was discussing with a friend that overcoming selfishness is not a once-and-done effort. It requires an every day yielding to God instead of ourselves.

So when Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend came through on a Kindle sale, I got it. I had heard of Townsend but never read him before.

Early in the book, Townsend says:

You may have noticed that the title of this book has a double meaning. Loving can be both a verb (the action of demonstrating love) and an adjective (the description of someone who demonstrates love). The intent here is to bring attention to the reality that both meanings are necessary for each other to exist. If you want to be a loving person, you must actively show love to people. And if you want to love people, you are to be a person characterized by loving.

A few more of his introductory comments about love:

Care and love aren’t the same thing. Almost any of us could say that we truly care about some people. We can freely admit that, and we are glad these people are in our lives. We want what’s best for them. But the reality is often that we don’t know how to treat those we care about in the most loving way. We want to be the best for those people, but we don’t know how to love them in the way that is best. That is, we would like to be close to them, to be a positive influence for them, and to bring them to intimacy and a better life. But there is a disconnect between our care for those we love and how we address or approach them.

Love is much more than good feelings or intentions. It has direction, movement, and purpose. But while we may feel love, we may not be doing love. Most of us don’t know how to experience and become competent in the art form of love.

We cannot force ourselves to feel anything. Feelings are the result of changes inside us. They aren’t a cause; they are an effect. Trying to will ourselves to feel love doesn’t work. Yet when we say that love is only a feeling, we reduce it to something less than what it truly is. As I said earlier, love encompasses and experiences feelings, but love is not limited to feelings. It is much more—genuine love involves the heart, soul, and mind.

In this book, I define love simply as “seeking and doing the best for another.” When we love someone, we bend our heart, mind, and energies toward the betterment of someone else. That is what loving people do. It involves the whole person. It is ongoing and intentional.

As the architect of love, God lives out this definition. He is constantly seeking and doing what is for our best, things that help us connect, grow, and heal. He is actively doing whatever it takes for us to be the people he designed us to be. The ultimate example of his love is, and always will be, in the sacrifice of Jesus for an alienated and broken creation: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

He proposes that love is made up of the following components:

  • Connecting—making an emotional bond
  • Truth-Telling—honesty that serves the other person
  • Healing—repairing brokenness
  • Letting Go—giving up what should be surrendered
  • Romancing—the unique love of being a couple

He spends more than a fourth of the book on connecting, which he defines as “a heart-to-heart attachment that goes beyond knowing about someone to actually knowing that person.” He gives multiple examples: one involved a wife who shared problems and frustrations about her day, and her husband, thinking he was being helpful, suggested possible solutions. But she didn’t want solutions, at least, not yet. She wanted the connection: she wanted to know she was truly heard and understood. By contrast, disconnection isn’t just missing someone who is away for a few days, but rather “the inability to feel and experience the warmth of connection over time. It is the absence of the security of being attached. It is the lack of bonding inside.”

I thought truth-telling was an odd inclusion, because of course you don’t lie to people you love. But Townsend means truth-telling as more than just not lying: it means confronting the other person in a kind and loving way when they need to be confronted. “If your loved one’s life is going down the drain, someone needs to say something. Be that person.” “People who are truly loving will confront, limit, and quarantine people who consistently make wrong choices. So keep that distinction in mind: love seeks the best, but it does not enable bad behavior.”

Under healing, he says: “Loving people are the primary agents of restoration.”

About letting go: “Sometimes love means knowing when it is time to let someone go or to let him do something he is going to do. When you accept reality and give up efforts to control someone’s life or change who he is, you are being loving . . . Letting go is the ability to surrender and to allow what is real to exist. By letting go, I mean giving up efforts to control, manipulate, or force someone to do something different.”

About romance: “Romance is a wonderful aspect of love, but it is not as broad or as deep as love itself. Romance must fit into and serve love. Love can never serve romance.”

He discusses the components of each of these aspects and gives numerous examples, illustrations, and balancing considerations.

This book is not a Bible study, so it reads differently from one. Surprisingly absent from a book by a Christian about love was any discussion about the classic biblical passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13 (except for verses 1 and 13). But Townsend provides a biblical basis for most of his points. In the chapter on connection, for instance, I thought, “This is all well and good, but where do you get this from the Bible?” Well, from the One who made the greatest effort to connect with people who were not only uninterested in Him, but opposed to Him. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

The last chapter, “Putting It All Together,” didn’t really put it all together for me. I had hoped it would recap the main points. Instead, it contained instructions to “assemble your team” and “measure and evaluate your process of growth.”

I got a lot of helpful points and thoughts from the book, but I can’t say, “Aha! Now I’ve got it!” Townsend brought up aspects of love that I had not heard or read in other pieces on this subject, but he also did not address other aspects that are usually considered.

While Townsend had a lot of good things to say, his style just didn’t gel with me. Not to say there is anything wrong with his style: he is a best-selling author, after all. But many of the conversations he described in the book are just not the kind I can imagine anyone I know having. Real people did have them, but I guess they were very different personalities from mine and my family and friends.

The best advice I’ve heard about love came from a book I have not been able to recall or find again. But the writer said that for years she berated herself for not being more loving. She was a missionary in a difficult area, and she found herself too often irritated with unloving thoughts towards others. The more she tried to become more loving, the more frustrated she became. But then she started to think about God’s love for her, gracious and undeserved. And without even being aware of it at first, resting in His love overflowed into her own heart and actions.

That’s not to say we can’t learn from books like this. I was particularly convicted about connecting, truly listening and empathizing instead of just offering my two cents to fix the other person’s problems.

I’ve heard similar definitions of love before, that’s it’s a self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the loved person. And I’ve heard that it’s not just a feeling. Yet I struggle with doing the right thing, but with resentment. That’s part of having a sin nature, I guess, and we’ll never have it down perfectly while here on earth. Maybe in some ways love is doing your best for another despite resentment. But that’s not how God loves. And I want to love more like Him.

What helps you to be a more loving person?

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

Book Review on Grandparenting

As I mother, I felt compelled to read every Christian book on parenting I could find. I was the chief babysitter for my five younger siblings (my youngest sister was born when I was 17), so I wasn’t inexperienced with children. But the responsibility of having my own weighed on me heavily. I didn’t feel I knew what I was doing, and I didn’t want to ruin them for life.

I haven’t felt quite as compelled as a grandparent. Perhaps having a supporting rather than a major role relieves some of the pressure. Maybe I’ve grown in the Lord and in following His guidance enough now that, even though I haven’t arrived and am not perfect in any category, I don’t feel I need to find a book for every issue (though I do still read a lot). And much of grandparenting seems common sense on top of the same love and courtesy shown to one’s own children.

The first two books I did read by grandparents to grandparents were major disappointments—not the grandparenting advice, but the theological basis of the authors.

But Michele‘s review of There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe encouraged me to get this book.

Howe’s premise is that there’s a difference between everyday grandparents and grandparents:

Becoming a grandparent is living with eternity in mind—all the time. It means going the extra mile (or more, many more) for the sake of your grandchildren. It will entail sacrifice of every sort. Time. Money. Energy. Sleep. But every sort of giving up and giving away the best of what we have and are is all good . . . in the light of eternity.

Grandparenting is all about bending the knee before our Lord Jesus Christ and asking him for our marching orders. Then we get up from our knees and get busy loving our grandchildren in ways they will remember, value, and appreciate (p. 2).

Grace upon grace. Unconditional love. Total acceptance. Open arms. These are only a few of the attitudes and actions that make grandparents so different from folks who assume a casual role as a grandparent. Which would you rather be: a seemingly insignificant bystander who shows up now and then with a gift but with two closed fists that demand affection from the grandchildren before letting go of the goods; or someone who views every opportunity to interact with grandchildren as having potential eternal impact and takes their love as it comes, without offense? (p. 45).

Howe reminds us that our empty nest years are not about finally having “me time.” We never retire from being a godly influence, especially to our own family.

She highlights the primary roles of prayer, seeking guidance from God, and following the parents’ lead and preferences.

She shares numerous tips and truths. Just a few:

  • Hospitality is not just something we exercise towards those outside our families. We make time and place for our adult children and their families as well.
  • Grandparenting is not about spoiling or over-indulging.
  • We can provide a safe haven when parents fail, as in cases of drug addiction and abuse. Grandparents provide tough love and step in to call authorities in these cases if need be.
  • We need to remember each child is unique.
  • We can make special memories and teaching opportunities out of everyday occasions and tasks.
  • Though sometimes we need to exercise authority, “I never need to yell, demean, or demand. Rather, I can use gentle but firm words to steer them toward making good choices” (p. 29).

Each chapter is only about four pages long and ends with a “take-away action thought,” a prayer, and a few “grand ideas” for how to implement the concepts from that chapter. The thirty chapters could be read one a day over a month, but they’re short enough to read more if desired. I generally read two in one sitting.

To be totally honest, the grandparenting vs. grandparenting repetition became a little wearing after a while. On the other hand, that was probably the most succinct way to make the distinction between casual, aloof, or insensitive grandparents and involved, attentive, spiritually-minded grandparents.

Though I don’t think I learned anything earth-shatteringly new from this book, the gentle nudges, thoughtful reminders, and spiritual focus were all helpful. I’d recommend this book for any stage of grandparenting, perhaps even as a gift to new or upcoming grandparents.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Faith ‘n Friends, Literary Musing Monday,
Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Suffering Is Never for Nothing

Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot is “a very slight adaptation” of a series of talks Elisabeth gave at a conference. Someone had given a set of the conference CDs to Jennifer Lyell. She was so blessed, she gave copies to others. Finally she met and befriended Elisabeth and her husband, Lars, when Elisabeth could no longer speak. Later she obtained permission to transcribe the talks and have them published.

Though this volume wasn’t published in Elisabeth’s lifetime, if you’ve read her books, listened to her radio program, or heard her speak, you’ll hear familiar themes.

Just a bit of background for those who might not be familiar with Elisabeth: she and her husband were missionaries to an Indian tribe in Ecuador when several of the missionary couples were burdened to try to reach a tribe then known as Aucas ( later it was discovered they called themselves Waorani). The Aucas were thought to be a savage tribe: their every encounter with any from outside their world ended badly. After several seemingly friendly encounters, the men thought the time had come to try to meet the tribe in person. The first visit went well, but then the Aucas speared all five of the men to death. A few years later Elisabeth, her young daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to another of the men, Nate Saint, went to live with the Auca/Waorani. Elisabeth shared that story in Through Gates of Splendor. In later years, Elisabeth remarried, but her second husband died of cancer. Before that marriage, Elisabeth lost almost the entire body of the translation work she had painstakingly labored over in the jungle. Along with these major losses in her life, she’s dealt with the everyday ones we all face.

I don’t know if Elisabeth intended to start a writing career when she published her first book: she was still a missionary in the jungle at the time. But God led her to write several more. I was one of many who considered her a mentor from afar, appreciating her no-nonsense, straightforward style and firm foundation on the Word of God.

To come back to this book, after naming several examples of suffering, Elisabeth boiled it down to this definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have” (p. 9). That’s well and good, but what do we do about it? Elisabeth says, “I’m convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with” (p. 8).

Probably our biggest struggle concerning suffering is wondering where God is in it and why He allows it. Verse after verse assures us that God is right there with us in suffering. And some passages give us a few ideas of why He might allow it. Elisabeth says, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God . . . The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering” (p. 9).

Still, “There would be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of Heaven to that age-old question, why. Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God” (p. 12). She shares that when she first heard the news that her first husband was missing, she didn’t hear anything more about his condition or whereabouts for five days. God brought to her mind Isaiah 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” She realized God wasn’t promising anything about her husband, but He promised to be with her.

“The questions remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something” (p. 13).

She discusses the perspective of the cross and the two different kingdoms, the one on this world and the kingdom of God.

It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing (p. 16).

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action (p. 45).

She then discusses our response: acceptance, gratitude, offering whatever it is back to God, and the transfiguration He works in us, with a chapter devoted to each of those.

Now if I had had a faith that was determined God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself. And so, what looked like a contradiction in terms: God loves me; God lets this awful thing happen to me. What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say okay, Lord. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I only had two choices. He is either God or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms or I’m at the mercy of chance and I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so (pp. 26-27).

Many years ago I read a different book by Elisabeth on this topic, A Path Through Suffering. At first I thought this was a republication of that book by a different name. It’s not, though. Some of the information probably overlaps, but they are two different books, both worthy to be read and extremely helpful.

I enjoyed reading this book over the last few weeks with the True Woman Summer Book Club and looking through the comments and study questions there.

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