Gentle and Lowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Portion

Most of us don’t get terribly excited about doctrine. We don’t rub our hands together before opening the Bible eagerly, anticipating what doctrine we’ll encounter this time. We think of doctrine as dry and dusty, full of highfalutin polysyllabic words that go over our heads.

We think doctrine is boring.

But right doctrine is our bedrock. Knowing what we believe and why comforts us and keeps us on course.

If we’re feeling insignificant, lonely, unloved, we might be inspired by an Instagram meme or a friend’s compliment—for a little while. But what truly ministers to our hearts is the foundational truths that God is with us even if we don’t “feel” Him, that He loves us even when we feel most unlovable, that we matter to Him because He created us and redeemed us.

Almost every NT book encourages right doctrine and warns against false doctrine. Doctrine determines and directs our thinking and actions.

With that in mind, Keri Folmar wrote The Good Portion: Scripture: The Doctrine of Scripture for Every Woman “to shed light on the treasure and sweetness of the sacred Scriptures. The book attempts to summarize the doctrine of the Word of God in a way that keeps the relational nature of the Bible at the forefront. After all, the Bible is God speaking to us. It is God revealing Himself with words and calling us into relationship with Him.” The title comes from the example of Mary of Bethany, who chose “the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42) by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching.

The eight chapters cover how we can know God through His Word, the Bible’s inspiration, trustworthiness, authority, clarity (ability to be understood), necessity, and sufficiency. Keri does a wonderful job keeping ” the relational nature of the Bible at the forefront.” The chapters are not “dry” at all, and each feeds into knowing God better and developing our relationship with Him.

A few of the quotes I noted in the book:

God is not silent. He has revealed Himself. He will speak to us if we will take our Bibles off the shelf and taste and see His goodness. It is through regularly hearing God speak that we can know Him and enjoy relationship with Him.

Churches want ‘customers’, so they work hard not to offend. Pretty soon the cross is bloodless, and Jesus becomes merely a good example for some to follow. It all starts with sidelining the Bible. We are told, “Let’s not put God in a box or a ‘book.”’ The Bible may remain a “participa[nt] in all our conversations,” but it loses its authority as the Word of God—all in an attempt to make Christianity more palatable to modern sensibilities. But the apostle Paul would not have agreed. He preached to pagan peoples, using the pure Word of God, declaring, ‘We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word’ (2 Cor. 4: 2). We should also refuse to tamper with God’s Word, not judging it to be obsolete, but letting it sit in judgment over us.

If we believe the Bible is universal truth, we should use it to interpret our experiences and circumstances, not the other way around.

God has communicated to us in a clear way, yet Paul tells Timothy to ‘rightly handl[e] the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2: 15), implying that we can wrongly handle it. Our goal in reading, studying or teaching the Bible is to understand the author’s intended meaning. Hermeneutics can help us in this endeavor. Let’s look at several overarching principles or guidelines to interpreting the Bible.

Mary has chosen Jesus over completing her tasks. Mary has chosen Jesus over pleasing or impressing others with her clean house and good food. She has chosen Jesus over everything else that is tugging at her heart and her time. Mary knows what’s necessary. She wants to know Jesus.

Don’t miss the impact of this passage: Jesus was commending a woman, 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, for sitting under His teaching. He wants women to know Him and be grounded in the Scriptures. He wants women to be serious students of the Bible, studying it and hearing it taught. Godly women choose the good portion by going to Jesus in His Word. And Jesus says this good portion will not be taken away.

Keri writes as a pastor’s wife in Dubai. Her experience sharing God’s Word in another culture and dealing with people from other religions helps to illustrate the truths she shares.

This book is the first in a series of three. “This series of books on doctrine for women is an attempt to fuel your enjoyment of God by encouraging a greater knowledge of Him.” I’ve not read the others, but I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this one.

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

Call of a Coward

As Marcia Moston worked on laying slate stones for a patio outside her comfortable New Jersey home, a sudden thought came to mind. Her husband, Bob, was on a mission trip to Guatemala. What if he returned home saying their entire family should go back? Marcia brushed the thought off as absurd.

But two days later, that’s exactly what happened. The mission Bob had helped needed a couple to oversee a home for widows and orphans, and he felt God was calling his family to the job.

Marcia tells of her family’s experiences following God’s call in Call of a Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife.

Marcia didn’t eagerly jump at the chance to go to a Central American country.

Years earlier we had pledged to follow the Lord wherever he led, but after ten years of marriage, my fervor had settled around me like a cozy comforter on a winter’s night. Zealous promises made on a beach under a starry sky lay buried under the security of paychecks and health insurance. Bob’s return from his mission trip with the conviction that we go to Guatemala unleashed a torrent of fears that shattered my tidily defined world (p. 17).

They were already heavily involved in Christian work. Guatemala was dangerous with rebel activity. What about their ten-year-old daughter, Lily?

Adamant as I was about not going, a glaring contradiction in my theology nagged me. I wondered how I could so easily believe in Someone who created the universe, parted the Red Sea, and rose from the dead, but not trust him to take care of my daughter (p. 18).

God kept working on Marcia’s heart until she finally surrendered. Then the family prepared to drive all the way from New Jersey to a Mayan village in Guatemala. Marcia tells the story of their journey, time in Guatemala, call to a small pastorate in Vermont, and the joy of leading several mission trips back to Guatemala. She writes with with both humor and conviction that God calls and works in and through His people today.

Marcia’s writing first came to my attention in columns for The Write Conversation. I enjoyed what she had to say and her style, and I loved the title of her book. So I bought it and finally read it.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

Those kicking and screaming death-throes moments when you realize you aren’t and you can’t are God’s opportunities to show you he is and he can (p. 34).

Saying grace before eating took on a whole new importance for me. A blithely spoken, “Lord, bless this food” came to mean a seriously earnest, “Kill it, purify it, and give me the grace to eat it” (p. 36).

It’s a noble thing to say you would lay down your life for a loved one. It’s quite another if you are called upon unexpectedly to share your last bit of chocolate (p. 90).

The hepatitis had left us with about as much energy as a sloth on sedatives (p. 121).

Later, I found out that my sister in New York, who had no idea where we were at the time, had woken up that same night we were in the town of the sorcerers, with an urgency to pray for us (p. 133).

The downside of a miracle is the predicament required to precipitate it. That’s also the very place where faith grows (p. 155).

Reflecting on the biblical admonition that any works not built on Christ would be burned, I imagined the glow filling the eastern horizon of heaven as my works went up in a bonfire if I didn’t stop throwing myself pity parties (p. 162).

I looked at the engrossed, saucer-eyed faces and breathed a silent prayer of thanks for being witness to this “first” in someone’s life, for the privilege of bearing words of life (p. 181).

You can find an interview with Marcia here.

I’ve always identified with Moses’s list of excuses why he couldn’t possibly answer God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And I identified with Marcia’s trepidation as well, and was encouraged by how God answered and enabled her. 

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Be Equipped: Acquiring the Tools for Spiritual Success

When we’re about to step into a new phase of life, we stop and reflect about where we’ve been so far, how we got to this place and time, and what we need to do for the future. We even do this at the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another.

So it’s not surprising that Moses and the children of Israel stopped to review their history and look ahead just before they entered Canaan, their promised land.

This was not just a moment of nostalgia, though. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years because the previous generation balked right at this point. And Moses knew he could not go in with them: God had told him he would die beforehand. So Moses wanted both to encourage the people that God would keep all His promises to their forefathers to lead and care for them plus instruct them as to what God required of them.

The book of Deuteronomy covers these reminders and instruction. Warren Wiersbe’s Be Equipped (Deuteronomy): Acquiring the Tools for Spiritual Success shares some helpful insights on each chapter.

It’s when we forget our high calling that we descend into low living (p. 29).

The verb “to hear” is used nearly one hundred times in the book of Deuteronomy. . . . hearing the Word of God involves much more than sound waves impacting the human ear. Hearing God’s Word is a matter of focusing our whole being—mind, heart, and will—on the Lord, receiving what He says to us and obeying it. The Word of God must penetrate our hearts and become a part of our inner beings if it is to change our lives (p. 34).

“His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3, NKJV). Obeying the Lord becomes a joyful privilege when you realize that His commandments are expressions of His love, assurances of His strength, invitations to His blessing, opportunities to grow and bring Him glory, and occasions to enjoy His love and fellowship as we seek to please Him. God’s Word is the open door into the treasury of His grace (p. 35).

Most people find it easier to handle adversity than prosperity (see Phil. 4: 10–20), because adversity usually drives us closer to God as we seek His wisdom and help. When things are going well, we’re prone to relax our spiritual disciplines, take our blessings for granted, and forget to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” The material things that we wait for and sacrifice for seem to mean much more to us than the gifts that fall in our laps without our help (p. 58).

In this part of his farewell address, Moses painted the people of Israel as they really were, “warts and all.” It was important for their spiritual lives that Moses do this, for one of the first steps toward maturity is accepting reality and doing something about it (p. 73).

I enjoyed and learned from our time In Deuteronomy and was helped by Wiersbe’s comments.

Ten Words to Live By

The Ten Words are the Hebrew designation for what we know as the Ten Commandments.

In Jen Wilkin’s book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands, she cites a study showing that more Americans could name all the ingredients in a Big Mac than the Ten Commandments.

“When the Ten Commandments are not forgotten, they are often wrongly perceived. They suffer from a PR problem. They are seen by many as the obsolete utterances of a thunderous, grumpy God to a disobedient people, neither of whom seem relatable or likeable” (p. 12).

Even when people accept that these commandments come from a righteous God, they set them aside because they think they don’t apply since we’re under grace. “Thus, law and grace have come to be pitted against one another as enemies, when in fact, they are friends. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New have been placed in opposition, when, in fact, they are one and the same” (p. 13). Christianity is based on relationship with God rather than rules, but “rather than threaten relationship, rules enable it” (p. 13). “Without rules, our hopes of healthy relationship vanish in short order. Jesus did not pit rules against relationship. It was he who said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) (p. 14). We see this even in our earthly relationships: there are none without boundaries and preferences.

Though we rightly want to avoid legalism, the Bible also condemns the other extreme of lawlessness. “Legalism is external righteousness only, practiced to curry favor. Legalism is not love of the law, but its own form of lawlessness, twisting the law for its own ends” (p. 14).

By contrast, “Obedience to the law is the means of sanctification for the believer. . . . not out of dread to earn his favor, but out of delight because we already have it” (p. 15).

“The Ten Words show us how to live holy lives as citizens of heaven while we yet dwell on earth” (p. 17).

The Ten Words are an expression of love. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus said, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Mark 12:30-31). A former pastor used to say that if our hearts were right, these two would be all we needed. But they’re not, so we need things spelled out for us. “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

With these premises in place, Jen devotes a chapter to each of the ten commandments. She argues not for a letter-of-the-law merest obedience possible, but for an expansive obedience of the spirit of the law. She employs Jesus’s explanation that the law doesn’t cover just outward action, but our hearts.

Take, for instance, the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill,” literally, “You shall not murder.” Most of us would say we’re safe from transgressing that one. But Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Is Jesus adding to the law by broadening our attention from murder to anger and contempt? By no means. He is pointing out the seedling that grows into the thorny vine that chokes out life. He is appealing to us to fastidiously weed the garden of our personal holiness. He is teaching that if every person dealt with anger quickly and rightly, there would be no need for the sixth word at all (p. 94).

Jen also points out the progression of thought from anger to devaluing another.

First, I am angry with you in response to a hurt. Next, I begin to question your character with an insult. Then, I begin to question your worth as a person. As anger degrades into contempt, the personhood of another is devalued (p. 93).

But an expansive obedience “will not be content to simply be not-murderers, or not contemptuous, or not angry. We will not merely refrain from taking life—we will run toward giving it. Let us read in the sixth word’s prohibition of murder the exhortation to take every care to preserve life. Let us run to be life-protectors and esteem-givers and peacemakers” (p. 96).

Thus Jen couches each commandment in its initial setting, then examines how it applies today, then explores not just the letter, but the spirit of the law from the rest of the Bible.

I have markings on most of the pages, but here are just a few other quotes from the book:

Every transgression of one of the Ten Words begins by transgressing the first, to have no other gods before him (p. 34).

When we look to Christ, imitating him, we begin to see restored what sin has diminished. Bearing the image of God does not mean we look like him in physical terms but rather in spiritual terms—not so that others may worship us, but so that they may worship him (p. 42).

Our patterns of work and rest reveal what we believe to be true about God and ourselves. God alone requires no limits on his activity. To rest is to acknowledge that we humans are limited by design. We are created for rest just as surely as we are created for labor. An inability or unwillingness to cease from our labors is a confession of unbelief, an admission that we view ourselves as creator and sustainer of our own universes (pp. 64-65).

No one ever set out to sin against God or neighbor without first desiring something out of bounds (p. 140).

Our actions are the incarnation of our belief (p. 135).

My recent post A Better Blade for Killing Sin grew out of Jen’s comment on what Jesus said about cutting off whatever tempted us to sin. As Jesus always went to the heart,  not just the outward actions, so this admonition shows us something: even if we could cut off the lusting eye or the stealing hand, we’d still have a problem in our hearts.

We need a better blade than any formed by human hands, one aimed at ridding our hearts of disordered desires.

Praise God, we have one. The blade that slays the beast is the word of God, made living and active by the Spirit of God, dividing thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). By the word of God we learn to delight our hearts in the Lord, and the outcome is that which the psalmist predicts: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) (p. 106).

That blade doesn’t just lop off offending members until there is nothing left. It transforms us as we delight in Him. “The antidote to the lust of the eyes is not self-inflicted blindness, but seeing as God sees (pp. 106-107).”

I wish I could share some of the core truths of each chapter, but that would make this post too long. Instead, I encourage you to read the book. It’s one that I probably need to revisit regularly. I was convicted in each chapter.

I’m counting this for the “Published in 2021” category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

 

Be Diligent (Mark): Serving Others

The gospel of Mark is a book of action. Many of the verbs are present participle, indicating continuing action: saying, going, teaching. The word “immediately” occurs in Mark 35 times (in the ESV), more than any other book, though Mark is the shortest of the four gospels.

In Warren Wiersbe’s short commentary, Be Diligent (Mark): Serving Others as You Walk with the Master Servant, he says:

Mark wrote for the Romans, and his theme is Jesus Christ the Servant. If we had to pick a “key verse” in this gospel, it would be Mark 10: 45—“For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The fact that Mark wrote with the Romans in mind helps us understand his style and approach. The emphasis in this gospel is on activity. Mark describes Jesus as He busily moves from place to place and meets the physical and spiritual needs of all kinds of people.

Mark does not record many of our Lord’s sermons because his emphasis is on what Jesus did rather than what Jesus said.

Mark was written by a man known elsewhere in Scripture as John Mark. He and his mother were among the early disciples. When Peter was supernaturally released from prison, he fled to the house of Mark and his mother, where a prayer meeting was held. Mark left early from a mission trip with Paul and Barnabas for unnamed reasons, causing Paul to decline taking Mark along the next time. But later on in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul asks for Mark to come, “for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” So they must have reconciled. Peter calls Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5:13), indicating Peter was probably the one who led Mark to the Lord. Most of Mark’s material came from Peter.

A few more observations from Wiersbe:

Jesus placed a great deal of importance on the hearing of the Word of God. In one form or another, the word hear is used thirteen times in Mark 4: 1–34. Obviously, our Lord was speaking, not about physical hearing, but about hearing with spiritual discernment. To “hear” the Word of God means to understand it and obey it (see James 1: 22–25).

Faithful women were the last at the cross on Friday and the first at the tomb on Sunday. What a contrast to the disciples, who had boasted that they would die for Him! The church of Jesus Christ owes much to the sacrifice and devotion of believing women.

The world’s philosophy is that you are “great” if others are working for you, but Christ’s message is that greatness comes from our serving others.

Because Mark’s gospel was so jam-packed, it was a little hard to discuss in our church’s Bible study time. But the study of Mark was profitable, as were the insights offered by Wiersbe.

EPIC: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History

When Tim Challies first mentioned traveling all over the world looking for objects connected with Christianity for a book he wanted to write, I was puzzled. Our faith rests on the unseen—so why all that trouble for objects?

But then I remembered God used physical things all through the Bible. Stones piled up for a memorial. A brass serpent. A tabernacle and temple. A stone to kill a giant. Even His Son took on a physical body in which to die, be buried, and be resurrected to accomplish the means of our salvation.

Plus, Tim was not looking for these items to revere them, but to learn from them.

Tim’s travels culminated in EPIC: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History. Tim takes a close look at 33 objects and the stories behind them. They cross the centuries from the oldest known fragment of Scripture to the YouVersion app, from the statue of the Augustus who ushered in the Pax Romana, to the traveling pulpit someone made Billy Graham after observing him struggle in a small one.

Each chapter gives a brief background of the person or situation the object represents, then shares what that object tells us about God’s movement through the ages. None of the chapters are very long, and they include a few pictures each. It’s easy to pick up the book here and there and read a chapter or two at a time.

The most meaningful chapter to me focused on Amy Carmichael. Frank Houghton’s biography, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, was one of the first missionary biographies I read. That book and Amy’s own writings had a deep influence on me since my early adulthood. And Amy had a profound influence on Elisabeth Elliot, who impacted my life even more. So when Tim had a post about visiting not only Dohnavur, but also the room where Amy spent the last 20 years of her life as an invalid—that was when I began to get really excited about his book! Here is his video of that visit.

Another chapter that meant a lot to me was the one showing Nate Saint’s airplane. The story of the five missionaries killed in 1956 by the savage Indian tribe they were trying to reach has had a far-reaching impact ever since. I had not known that parts of Saint’s aircraft, which had been stripped at the time, had been recovered and reassembled.

I knew of most of the people mentioned in the book: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, and others. Even Selina Hastings, or Lady Huntingdon, as she was known, one of my favorite people in Christian history. I enjoyed revisiting their stories and even learning a thing or two I hadn’t known.

Some of the folks mentioned were new to me: Marie Durand, Lemuel Haynes, and the folks who built the Papallacta Dam just so they could reach people in the area via radio.

Most of the objects discussed have positive stories and repercussions. A couple do not. One is known as the Slave Bible. Some missionaries wanted to reach slaves for the Lord, but “How could these missionaries teach the Bible to slaves without condemning slavery and therefore angering the slave owners?” Appallingly, they cut out “any passages or verses that condemned slavery or condoned racial equality. So pervasive is the message of freedom in the Word of God that only 232 of the Bible’s 1,189 chapters made the final cut” (p. 119).

One thing that becomes clear in a view over large swaths of Christian history is the realization of how God brought so many things together to accomplish His purposes. The Pax Romana and the system of roads created by the Romans allowed for the rapid spread of Christianity in the years after Jesus died and rose again. The invention of the printing press changed the world in many ways, but perhaps none more so than making the Bible available to the common man.

In one chapter, Tim said, “If I learned anything from my journey around the world, it’s the simple truth that the Lord is always at work” (p. 94). It was enjoyable and encouraging to see some of the Lord’s works in Tim’s book.

A DVD series was also made of Tim’s travels here. And here’s a trailer that gives an overview of the book:

I’m counting this book for the travel category for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God

The book of Numbers in the Bible covers the time that Israel headed to the promised land to the time just before they finally got there after a 40-year detour. As Warren Wiersbe said in his introduction to Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God:

The book of Numbers opens with a count of all the fighting men in the camp. They were counted, but they couldn’t be counted on, because all but two of them died during Israel’s march through the wilderness. Then the new generation was counted, and they were people whom the Lord could “count on.” They trusted His Word, entered the Promised Land, and claimed it for their inheritance (pages 13-14, Kindle).

The book begins with getting ready to march to Canaan. Soldiers are numbered, the tribes are arranged in their places around the tabernacle, duties and procedures are assigned, the tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is kept.

But the people complain about the manna God sent them. Aaron and Miriam, Moses’s own siblings, challenge his leadership. When the people send out spies to look over the land, the spies come back telling how many and how large the enemies are. Instead of trusting that God would give them the land as He promised, the people rebelled.

They looked at the people of the land and saw giants; they looked at the Canaanite cities and saw high walls and locked gates; and they looked at themselves and saw grasshoppers. If only they had looked by faith to God, they would have seen the One who was able to conquer every enemy and who sees the nations of the world as grasshoppers (Isa. 40: 22). “We are not able” is the cry of unbelief (Num. 13: 31 NKJV), but, “Our God is able” is the affirmation of faith (Dan. 3: 17; see Phil. 4: 13) (p. 74).

God pronounced that all those who refused to enter the land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Their children would inherit the land in their place along with Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who urged to people to go forth and trust God.

And then: more rebellion, this time from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership, and God dealt with the rebels severely.

Then as the people complain once again about the need for water, Moses responds angrily. He calls them rebels. Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses struck the rock twice.  “It was a sad demonstration of hostility by the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3), showing that we can fail in our strengths as well as our weaknesses” (p. 105). God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). I’ve always felt bad for Moses, but one man in our church commented that he did eventually get to see the promised Savior in the promised land when he appeared with Elijah during Jesus’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

After a battle, more complaining, an encounter with Balaam and his talking donkey, falling into sin with the false gods of Moab, judgment, revenge against Midian, and another census, the people finally come to their second opportunity to go into the promised land. Eleazar has been appointed to take Aaron’s place and Joshua Moses’s place. Boundaries for the tribes are set. Interspersed in the narrative are some of God’s instructions for promised-land dwelling. These were encouraging reminders that they would eventually get there, that they were still God’s people, and that He would keep His promises. In fact, His faithfulness to His promise is probably the only reason the people did make it. The end of Numbers leaves Israel poised on the brink of Canaan, awaiting Moses’s last instructions to the tribes in Deuteronomy. “Though he wasn’t allowed to go in himself, Moses invested the closing weeks of his life in preparing the new generation to enter Canaan and claim the land God promised to give them” (p. 153).

What are some things we can learn from Numbers? According to Wiersbe:

We don’t have to fail as did that first generation; we can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8: 37) (p. 14).

The more comfortable we become, the less we welcome change, and yet there’s no growth without challenge and there’s no challenge without change. Comfort usually leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of character and spiritual growth. In each new experience of life, one of two things happens: Either we trust God and He brings out the best in us, or we disobey God and Satan brings out the worst in us (p. 58).

So sinful is the human heart that it’s prone to forget God’s blessings, ignore God’s promises, and find fault with God’s providence. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107: 8, 15, 21, 31) (p. 61).

Over these many years of ministry, I’ve learned that it isn’t enemies outside the local church who do the damage, but counterfeiters who get inside the church fellowship (Acts 20: 28–30; 3 John 9–11). These intruders might march with the church crowd and act like they are God’s people, but they don’t have an appetite for spiritual things, and eventually their true allegiance is revealed (1 John 2: 18–19) (p. 62).

The will of God is the expression of the love of God for His people, for His plans come from His heart (Ps. 33: 11). God’s will isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment (John 4: 31–34), not painful chains that shackle us (Ps. 2: 3), but loving cords that tie us to God’s heart so He can lead us in the right way (Hos. 11: 4) (p. 77).

God in His grace and mercy forgives sin, but in His divine government He allows that sin to have its sad effects in the lives of sinners (p. 78).

Be careful what you say to God when you complain, because He may take you up on it! After all, God’s greatest judgment is to let people have their own way (p. 79).

There is no substitute for faith in God’s promises and obedience to His commandments. Faith is simply obeying God in spite of how we feel, what we see, or what we think might happen. When God’s people trust and obey, the Lord delights in doing wonders for them, because they glorify His name (p. 81).

We have to be careful about judging Israel’s penchant for complaining and failure to trust God. Instead, we need to recognize those tendencies in ourselves and seek His grace to trust, obey, and follow.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Hungry for God, Starving for Time

Lori Hatcher has to have one of the best titles ever in her book Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time.

Most of us can identify with what Lori says in her introduction: we don’t always have an hour to spend in the Bible, but “even when we can’t sit down to a five-course feast, even a quick nibble from God’s Word can nourish and sustain us” (p.16).

The devotions in this book each begin with a question to ask God, results of Lori’s own search for answers in the Bible since her early life as a Christian. The responses are designed to take about five minutes to read. They include experiences from Lori’s life and applicable insights from God’s Word.

Some entries are heavier: “The Day the Car Caught Fire” and “When This Sad, Sick World gets You Down.” Some are whimsical: “Bad Hair Days and the Kingdom of God,” “Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy,” and “Caesar, the 115-Pound Lap Dog.”

One of my favorite chapters was “Distressed or Damaged?” Lori and her daughter were furniture shopping when Lori was amazed at the asking price for a chest of drawers with “dinks, scuffs, and chipped paint.” Her daughter explained that “distressed” furniture was considered highly valuable. Another piece, though, was actually damaged rather than distressed. Lori talks about how we can be distressed–shiny finish worn off, chipped surfaces as a result of encountering life. After discussing a few verses about God’s healing and help, Lori concludes: “God’s care reminds us that distressed and damaged is not discarded and defeated. Perhaps the designers have it right—distressed can be beautiful.” (p. 48).

If you’re eating on the run, it’s important to eat something substantial and healthy. Lori’s devotions are like a spiritual protein bar.

Lori’s not advocating that we never spend more than five minutes a day in the Bible. But on those days when we hardly have time to sit down, we can still have meaningful time in God’s Word.

In my case, our church is reading through Numbers. The book of Numbers has some dramatic moments, but it also has some dryer portions. Most of its chapters are fairly short as well. I enjoyed finishing my devotional time with a section from Lori’s book.

I had heard Lori speak at two of the writer’s conferences I attended, so I was sure I would enjoy her book. You can find her also at her blog, also named Hungry for God, Starving for Time, and her Facebook group by the same name.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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