Laudable Linkage

Here are some great thought-provoking reads found recently:

Bored With Christianity? HT to Challies. “In a world that offers such multitudinous choices and options for life and happiness–why persist in this same old religion with the same old book?”

Christ’s Crucifixion Isn’t Child Sacrifice, HT to Challies. “Many professing Christians are uncomfortable with God killing his Son as the penalty for our crimes. They see this as child sacrifice. From their perspective, it’s impossible for such a doctrine to be consistent with God’s character when it’s so clear that God abhors the killing of innocent children.”

Unfathomable. “Give them a taste of this big, wild, wonderful world that was made by a bigger, wilder, more wonderful God. It won’t make any of your problems, or theirs, disappear. But I have a strong hunch that in the presence of something so large, they will be reminded of the One who is Unfathomable himself.”

Cosmic Significance Therapy. “For Moses, the aim of considering the brevity of life isn’t hopelessness, but a proper outlook—an eternal perspective. And this perspective shapes how we live and work today.”

When You’re Up to Your Neck in Mud—Sing! HT to Challies. “Singing in adversity gives hope and lifts spirits. If that’s true in general terms, how much truer wouldn’t that be if we were up to our necks in mud and singing songs that actually spoke of hope, songs like psalms and biblical hymns?”

I’m Not an “Angel Mommy,” and Here’s Why. “As a follower of Christ and a mother who suffered three miscarriages, I have a vastly different view of what my babies are experiencing. People who die don’t earn angel wings.”

The Delight and Distress of Preaching, HT to Challies. I’ve experienced what this writer discusses, even though I am not a preacher and have done little speaking. By the way, I would much rather hear a preacher or teacher who feels like this than one who is brash and overconfident.

Knowledge Is Not a Bank, HT to Challies. “Knowledge is not a bank. It’s more like a garden. Truths and skills that are planted in our minds can bear good fruit in our lives. But just as a neglected garden will run wild with useless weeds, so our minds can easily become a wilderness of distractions, anxieties, and trivialities that choke out the good and productive knowledge we’ve accumulated before it gets the chance to take root and grow into real applications in our real lives.”

Reject the Algorithm, HT to Challies. This isn’t written from a Christian perspective, but makes some good points for being genuine rather than trying to get the most clicks.

Song of Suffering: A Short Film Featuring Joni Eareckson Tada, HT to Challies. This video is well worth 13 minutes of your time.

Book Review: A Spectacle of Glory

I don’t usually do book reviews on Sunday, but I wanted to get this in before the end of the year for those who are considering a devotional book for next year.

SpectacleJoni Eareckson Tada explains that the title for A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day comes from a quote of John Newton’s:

Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.

Joni, as most of you know, broke her neck in a diving accident in her teens and has been in a wheelchair the 51 years since. In addition she’s had breast cancer, chronic pain, and has recently been diagnosed with a second bout of cancer. So she knows about suffering, and she has spent many years seeking God’s grace and purposes through them. The book is not exclusively about suffering, but many of the entries do deal with that and related subjects.

The pages are small, about 4×6″. Each day’s reading takes just one page and includes a Bible verse, a couple of paragraphs of Joni’s related thoughts, and a prayer at the end. So this book is easily readable through the year and tremendously meaty.

I have many more places marked than I can possibly share, but here are just a few samples:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present. God is closer than your troubles and stronger than all your fears. Fix your thoughts on Him, and He will sustain you (p. 28).

When God gives you some extraordinary blessing, don’t clutch it with a white-knuckled grip, or you may destroy the very thing that makes it a blessing to you…Be willing to let the blessings go, should God choose to take them away. One day He will return what He has removed–or replace it with something better (p. 47).

Show people how someone changed by the gospel actually responds to the rough edges of life (p. 110).

It takes spiritual discipline, as well as consuming adoration for the Savior, to not become weighed down and distracted by the hard work of energetic service. Don’t shrink from serving the Lord today; just be certain to keep Jesus and His glory as your goal (p. 114).

Lord, You have never asked me to go where You haven’t gone Yourself. If I find myself on a path of pain or sorrow, I can see Your footprints ahead of me. And I know where this path leads–to joy! Just around the bend, all of the suffering will be over forever–little more than a dim memory on a fresh, eternal morning (p. 135).

If these are mere flashes and keyhole glances of heaven, what will the reality be? Every earthly beauty that moves your heart is a God-sent gift to whet your appetite for the next life (p. 314).

The robust hope of the believer is not that we will escape hurts and sorrows, but that God will make every one of them an instrument of His mercy to do us good–both now and in eternity (p. 168).

Don’t ever tolerate low thoughts of a barely adequate, minimalist Savior who might “keep you going” but not much more. Jesus has riches to bestow on you right now. He will not only give you heaven above, but heaven-hearted joy in serving Him here on earth (p. 242).

Some of Joni’s thoughts spurred my own into posts here:

Why Isn’t God Winning?

Dark Valleys and Fiery Furnaces

Don’t Plug In: Abide

I can heartily recommend this devotional book to you.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story

Joni and KenAt 36, Joni Eareckson felt that marriage was probably not in God’s plan for her, not only because of her age, but because of her paralysis resulting from a diving accident in her teens. Who would be willing to take on all that would be involved?

After Ken and Joni met at church, then got to know one another, then started dating, Ken felt he could. He knew he loved her and he felt their marriage could work.

Joni was afraid he idealized her. He had read about her before meeting her, accompanied her on mission trips, heard her speak, and even though she tried to be realistic about herself and her humanness (when the leg bag collecting her urine broke in public while on a tour behind the Iron Curtain, she quipped that that was God’s way of not letting the attention and acclaim go to her head), she was afraid some people thought of her more highly than they ought to.

But after much time together and discussion, they married, And though they loved each other dearly, after some years the relentless details involved in Joni’s care began to wear on Ken. He began to pull away, to need time to himself to get away from it all. Soon their lives were on nearly parallel tracks, rarely intersecting. She had had a ministry and association before he came on the scene, and he felt unneeded in her world: he had his teaching and coaching and fishing trips.

Then unexplained and excruciating pain descended on Joni, not only requiring more care, but causing frustration because nothing seemed to help. And then came a cancer diagnosis…

Marriage has its rough spots anyway, but add all these to the mix, and any of them could break a marriage. In Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story, with Larry Libby, they want to make clear that what pulled them through was not their own strength, but God’s grace when they came to the end of their own strength. They don’t want to come across as super-saints, but as real people who found God’s grace sufficient in the most trying of times “to attain a new level of love rather than simply surviving or grimly hanging on” (p. 15).

I loved Larry Libby’s preface, talking about fairy tales and sad love songs, then musing:

We all dream dreams and know very well that they don’t always work out. Life is particularly hard on high expectations. Things hardly ever fall together the way we would have scripted them. The fact is, if we put our hope in a certain set of circumstances working out a certain way at certain times, we’re bound to be disappointed, because nothing in this life is certain.

So what’s the solution? To give up on dreams?

No, it is to realize that if we belong to God, there are even bigger dreams for our lives than our own. But in order to walk in those bigger dreams, we may face greater obstacles than we ever imagined and find ourselves compelled to rely on a much more powerful and magnificent God than we ever knew before (p. 15).

I know it’s the style these days to have a book jump back and forth in the time line, but it is somewhat confusing and choppy, and I think would have flowed much better maybe by opening with one incident and then flashing back to the beginning and progressing from there to the current time.

There is one kind of odd spot in the book when Joni had a horrible night suffering from pneumonia and prayed that Jesus would manifest Himself to her in a special way. As Ken ministered to her, suddenly she said.”You’re Jesus!” She went on to say that she could feel His touch through Ken’s, could see Him in Ken’s smile. That I can understand, but manifesting Jesus, being a conduit through which He can work, isn’t the same thing a being Jesus. And I think that’s what she ultimately meant.

I scanned some of the reviews on Amazon and was surprised to find some criticism that the book didn’t contain enough or reveal enough. I thought it was quite gracious of the Tadas to reveal as much as they did in order to show God’s grace and to encourage others: the rest really is none of our business.

Overall I loved the book and would recommend it to anyone.

I linked to this speech of Joni’s before, but it shares a condensed version of some of what is in the book.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

“God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves”

One thing I love about listening to Joni Eareckson Tada is that she’s genuine. She’s no armchair theologian philosophizing about pain and suffering: she has lived it, having broken her neck as a teenager and living in a wheelchair for 45 years. And through it all she acknowledges God’s purposes and perfect plan for her life. “I’d rather be in a wheelchair and know Him that be walking without Him.”

But in this video she pulls back the curtain a little bit to reveal the “low middle years” with her husband, his depression and feeling trapped, her own dissolving in tears over learning she had breast cancer and feeling, “I can’t do this.” I can remember hearing about her breast cancer diagnosis and thinking that that was too much on top of a broken neck and chronic pain (either of which would be “too much” for many people.) Sometimes when we have a major life crisis, we might think, “OK, I’ve had my trial and tribulation, so I’m done: the rest of life will be smooth sailing.” Probably not.

She shares ways God has used her disabilities and suffering, one of which was revealing her sin to her. When I am provoked, I tend to think, “I reacted wrongly because of the provocation,” and then I pray for its removal and think everything will be all right then, But she offers the thought that God allows provocation in order to reveal our sinful reactions to our own hearts, so that we can seek Him for forgiveness and grace to overcome. We can’t say, “That’s not me”…because it is. And we need to learn how to react as Christ did, which we can do only by His grace.

She calls suffering “a splash of hell” but maintains that a “splash of heaven” can be found through intimacy with Christ in the midst of it. And she can say so because she has found it to be true.

This is well worth 42 minutes of your time: